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Rob Neukirch

Featured Author Issue 2.4 Summer 2010

Recently a long-time friend innocently asked “Why do you write?”  He’s a good friend, one that goes way back and he probably wasn’t ready for my response.  I poured out my endeavoring heart to him, citing Wordsworth and James, Freud and Reich, our third-grade teacher Miss Fanning (who, with her long, manicured nails, left marks on both our skulls) and my no-longer-living father.  I recounted a disagreement we had way back in the 70’s but recovered from and also went into impressive (I thought) detail of more recent events in my own life that I have not yet recovered from, all of it just, you know, typical writer stuff.  Awaiting his electronic reply I continued to grapple with my latest attempt to use words in order to make some sense out of some chaos.  A short time later, the doorbell rang and there, on the other side of the screen and looking sharp in his brown uniform, stood one of our local deputies.

Appeared in Issue 2.2 Winter 2010

The Bob and Larry Show


He was straightening the picture above their bed when his wife, phone in hand, walked in.

“Bad news,” she said.

He took the phone from her but kept his hand over it.  Bad news for him?  For them?  Why couldn’t she take it?

“It’s Bob,” she whispered.  And then, with a dismissive wave added, “He’s not dying or anything.”

He put the phone up to his ear.

“Bob?  What’s the matter?  What happened?”

He and Bob had been boyhood friends, same bus route, same Little League team, and, much later on, same girlfriend.  Except that he, Larry, had married her.

“You’re kidding?  Must have hurt like hell.”

Now here they were, a hundred years later, Larry only days younger than Bob, listening to this latest, horrible medical emergency.  Except, Bob was telling him, it wasn’t a medical emergency at all.

  “You’re kidding.”  Larry shrugged at his listening wife.  “They don’t consider something like that an emergency?  But you couldn’t walk!”

In an effort to impress his second eldest’s, second wife, during a backyard volleyball game Bob had gone up high for a kill shot and landed in a heap. Larry winced again at the phrase, “exploded Achilles tendon.”

“Like a fucking bomb went off, in my frigging foot.”

This was not the first contemporary of Larry’s to succumb to such an injury.  In the past year alone, two close friends (closer, now, than Bob), one of them a doctor, had done the exact same thing; one while playing tennis and the other on a basketball court. Exploded their Achilles tendons.  Now that he thought about it, both of them also had to schedule the surgery, even his friend the doctor.

“I’m just old and I know it,” Larry said.  “I don’t screw around.”

Bob let him have it for that, reminding him of what a great athlete he’d been, All-County, All-State, jump shot with a homing-device, should have played in college; the tired, familiar litany.

“I did play in college,” Larry reminded him.  “Sat on the bench.”

Bob got mad all over again, telling him like it was yesterday instead of thirty-five years ago, that he should have stuck it out.  He told Larry -- why did they always have to have this conversation? -- if he’d only stuck it out he would have been a starter, if not the following year than certainly by the time he was a junior.

“Maybe so, Bob, but anyway, you can’t go back.”

His wife, mouthing the words “Tell him goodbye!” turned and left the room.

Every phone call, no matter how infrequent, went like this and he knew why he wasn’t more in touch with Bob; he always had them reliving the past.  Good god, they’d be old men in wheelchairs, still having this ridiculous conversation about a non-existent college basketball career.  Give it a rest!  Larry recognized a sound, a ritual, coming through the receiver.

“Bob, are you stoned?”

“No,” Bob said, holding his breath.  He let it out.  “Okay, now I am.  Now I’m stoned.”

“You’ve got to grow up, man.”

“What for?  Hey, what kind of shape you in, anyway?”  

“I don’t know,” Larry said.  He unconsciously sucked in his stomach.  “Maybe a pound or two over my playing weight…”  Why use that phrase?  “And I don’t do a damn thing except walk.  Every morning I parade around the neighborhood.  I know every goddam crack in the sidewalk.”

Why was he swearing?  It was Bob’s influence, of course.  He heard his old friend’s voice and they were teenagers again, swearing and talking sports.  He listened while Bob told him that, yeah, first he’d had to wait and even then, because of some other joker’s “emergency,” the surgery was rescheduled.

“Some fucking moron blew his knee out in a pick-up game.”

“Son of a bitch,” Larry said.

Later, the phone call finally over, his wife caught Larry staring at the picture over the bed.  It was a large, horizontal print of zebras, galloping over a spare savannah, black and white with highlights of gold.

“What?” she said.

“Why does it keep going crooked?”

“Must be the rodeo sex.”

He looked at her.  They still had sex, occasionally, though he wouldn’t use the word “rodeo” to describe it.  She never asked to have rodeo sex, whatever that was.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

She turned and, on her way out of the bedroom, swatted provocatively at her rear end.

“Yee-haw!” she said.

She’d never done that before.

Nearly three weeks later, Larry stood at the kitchen counter.  His coffee mug was in front of him, his favorite, the one with the outward curling lip.  Each morning he pre-heated it with water from the tap.  

“A car…” his wife said, absently.

She got up with her own coffee mug and walked across to the bay window that looked out on the lawn and driveway.  Their house was located at the end of a cul-de-sac and cars often turned around in their driveway.  He reached for the container of half-and-half, ready to pour the precise amount.  It intrigued him that his wife always had to watch; that someone turning around in their driveway was an event of great interest to her.

“Just someone turning,” he said.

He stirred his coffee and watched it become the perfect shade of brown.  At night, the image of his morning coffee is often what he fell asleep to.

“I don’t think so,” his wife said.  And then, “Oh my god…”

“What?”

She looked at him with what could only be described as an accusatory stare.

“It’s Bob.”

They all met on the brick walkway, each talking wildly over the other.

“I don’t believe it!”

“Luckily, I can still drive!”

“Bob, do you still have a ponytail?”

They had a quick and awkward three-way embrace and when they came apart, no one could think of anything to say.  Larry dove in.

“So, your leg…”

“Yeah,” Bob said, “just got the staples out, they put on this fiberglass thing.  Nice, huh?  Sleek and sexy.”

“And you need…” Larry’s wife pointed.

“Crutches, yeah.  Big pain in the ass but these, Canadian ones they call them, are the way to go.  Better than under your friggin’ armpits.  Great way to score some pity sex.  They haven’t worked so far but, hey, I’m back in action. ”

Even with the crutches dangling from his forearms Bob was able to smooth back his hair – Larry noticed there was a lot more forehead and a lot less hair now – and redo his ponytail.  There was definitely some gray in his mustache and goatee.  The gold wire-rims made Larry remember the tortoise shell glasses Bob had worn all through school.  There it was though, that unmistakable Bob-face.  In his left earlobe was a small, turquoise stud, set in silver.

“How did you…I mean, how long…”

“Straight through, it’s probably eleven hours but I spent the night near Harrisburg.”

“Pennsylvania?” she asked.

“You know another Harrisburg?”

“Of course Pennsylvania,” Larry said.

Bob had draped an arm and a crutch over his old friend’s shoulder and there they stood, just like the old days, the boys against the girl.  Inside, the phone rang.

“Of course Pennsylvania,” Larry’s wife said, mimicking his voice.  She shot him a look and headed toward the house.  Seventeen again, Bob and Larry snorted and clapped one another on the back.

“You made her an honest woman,” Bob said, “an honest, angry woman.  But that’s good, that’s fine.  I sure couldn’t.”

Larry didn’t know what to do with that, so he moved toward the car.

“Do you have…”

A bag?  Was Bob here with a bag?  Had he driven for most of two days just to come here or was he passing through?  On his way to…Florida?  Didn’t he used to go to Florida sometimes?

 “I brought a couple things because I didn’t know.  Listen, I can stay for a little bit and get right back on the road.  I just had to get out of town, you know?  It was pure impulse is what it was, pure im-fuckin-pulse.”

Larry hesitated.  He couldn’t recall the name of the town Bob had gotten out of.  He didn’t know much of anything, anymore, about Bob.  But aside from that, to just show up, unannounced?   Uninvited?  It was something Larry wouldn’t have done, couldn’t have done, not in a million years.

“Hey,” Bob said, waving a hand and a crutch at him, “don’t worry about it.  We’ll catch up a little and then poof, I’m off into the sunset.”

“Bob?”

Larry’s wife was at the door holding the phone receiver.

“It’s for you…”

She held out the phone and Bob half-swung himself over.  You could tell he’d worked on it, a “cool” way to be on crutches.  He took the phone and then looked from one to the other of them.

“I better take this inside,” he said.

When the screen door shut behind him, Larry’s wife strode toward him.

“It’s a woman,” she said.  “I couldn’t get her to stop talking.  Apparently, she’s a big fan of plastic surgery.”

They stood in silence, looking at the strange car parked in their driveway.  From under the hood came an exact imitation of a belch.  Larry’s wife, arms crossed, stepped directly in front of him.

“Is he staying?”

Larry shrugged.

“Don’t ask me,” he said.

“Maybe this is too much for you?”

“Don’t be silly.”

Larry was walking, slowly, in order for Bob to keep up.  This mid-morning walk was something Larry looked forward to doing, each day, alone.

“It’s not a walking-cast, per se” Bob said, “that’s why two crutches instead of a cane.  But I’ve still got to get around, don’t I?”

Bob stopped a moment and reached in his pocket.  He wiped at his forehead with a handkerchief and then waved it in the general direction of the neighborhood.

“Wonderful, Larry, what you two have got here.  I spent my entire life running around like an idiot and maybe all I really needed was something like this.”

“I don’t think so,” Larry said.

“No,” Bob agreed, “drive me nuts, all this fucking regularity.  To me, it’s death.”

They started up again, the two of them side by side, creeping along.

“You never had a regular moment in your life, Bob.”

“I don’t know about that.”  He got quiet.  “Just let me think.”

“At graduation that plane flew over.”

“What plane?”

Larry gave him a look and Bob laughed.

“Wasn’t that great?  Buzzing all of us and pulling that banner, ‘Way to go, Bob!  Onward and upward!’”

He raised a crutch in the air and shook it for punctuation.

“How much did that cost you?”

“I don’t know,” Bob said, “maybe three hundred, including the sign?”

“Jesus,” Larry said, laughing, “three hundred bucks.”

“I think so.  That included the sign.”

“I know, I know, you told me.  Jesus H. Christ!”

Larry put his hands on his knees and laughed while Bob made the sound of an airplane and waved his crazy crutches, like wings.

“Look at those kids,” Bob said.  “What are they, ballplayers?  They’re not ballplayers.”

This part of Larry’s walk took him through a small park and past an ancient, black-topped, basketball half-court.  The single rim was hung with metal chains and even the backboard was metal.  The “kids” Bob referred to were a pair of twenty-somethings that Larry had seen many times before.  They could put it in from anywhere and both of them, without much effort, could dunk at will.  Bob whistled between his teeth, so loud that it hurt Larry’s ears.

“What are you doing?”

“Hey, fellas, over here!  Pass it one time!”

“What are you doing?”

The “fellas” looked over.  They were shirtless, with lean, hairless chests, gold chains and tattoos, two massive heads of endless hair.  The shorts they wore hung dangerously low on their hips, the leg-bottoms nearly reaching their ankles.  One of them held the ball and both chins went up, in question.  Bob balanced himself carefully and clapped his hands.

“Right here,” he shouted, “one shot.”

The ballers said something to one another that was inaudible to Bob and Larry and then, in a slow and easy motion, they sent the ball bouncing over.  Bob stuck a crutch out to no effect and it bounced right into Larry’s hands.

“Show ‘em how it’s done,” Bob said.  He turned to the young men.  “Watch this, amigos.”

“I don’t think they’re Hispanic, Bob.”

“Sure they are.”

Nothing felt right to Larry, not the ball, not his own body, nothing.  He hadn’t even held a basketball for…how long?  Let alone shoot one.

“Let it fly, Loose.”

“Loose” is what they used to call him because of the way his young body had looked, held together, each joint like a string puppet’s; it might bend this way and it might bend that way.  Larry, wishing he could disappear, took a half-hearted shot.

“Whoo-hooo!”

They hooted, both the young men and collapsed into each other as the ball fell short by a good five feet.

“Okay, all-righty, fuckin’ low-lifes,” Bob said and clapped his hands again for the ball, “now you’ve got it sighted in.”

“Come on,” Larry said, sweating from embarrassment, “let’s go.”

But the ball was already on its way back to them and the two long-shorters were standing on either side of the metal net, pointing up to it.  Their shouts of “Here” and “Right here, man!” drifted over to Bob and Larry.

“Punks,” Bob said.  “Show them how it’s fucking done.”

Larry shook his head slowly, wondering what in the hell he was doing standing in his neighborhood park with Invalid Bob, with a basketball in his hands?  It was some kind of freakish dream but here he was and the time was now.

“Right down your throats!”  Bob shouted.

Larry bounced the ball, held it and then bounced it again.  He moved a step to his left and elevated.  That used to be his shot, though now when he moved he felt like he was wearing a snowsuit.  His left foot slid and the ankle rolled slightly as he released the ball, came down on his right foot and watched its flight.

“Golden,” he heard Bob say.

Jesus, Larry thought, a butterfly must have flapped its wings in Formosa because somehow the goddamned ball sailed right in, nothing but net.

“That’s how you do it!” Bob shouted.  “One more, one more...”

But Larry, laughing and knowing that lightning wouldn’t strike twice, had already started limping away.  He motioned, laughing despite the pain in his foot, for Bob to join him.  

“Yeah,” Bob said, hustling as much as he could, “that’s the way you do it.”

When he caught up to Larry they gave one another a high-five, the shaft of the suspended crutch nearly catching Larry in the groin.

“Fuckin-A,” Bob said.

“Loose as a Goose!”

Larry moved his arms, herky-jerky, in remembrance of something he’d done after every made shot, a thousand years ago.

“Fuckin-A,” Bob repeated.  He was near tears.

When she came back from running errands, they were in the kitchen.  Larry had his foot up on a stool with a bag of ice on it.

“What…” she started.

“He’s still got it,” Bob said and rubbed his hands together.  “Still Loose the Goose with the killer rainbow.”

She looked at Bob with complete confusion on her face.

“Killer rainbow?”

“I sank a twenty-footer…”

“Twenty-five footer,” Bob insisted but Larry waved him off.

“At the park.  I tweaked my ankle, though.”

“Thing of beauty,” Bob said, “those punks are probably still talking about it.”

“It was one shot, Bob.”

“You hurt your ankle?”

She put the packages on the counter and stood by Larry’s foot.

“You should have seen it.”

Bob was up on his crutches and, with one of them, tracing a line through the air.

“Whoosh,” he said.

“I thought it was ‘swish’?”

The two men looked at her.  Thirty years ago they would have laughed and sent her out for sodas.

“Listen, darling,” Bob winked at Larry, “how about whipping up some lunch for the two favorite men in your life?”

She didn’t miss a beat.

“How about if I just stay here and make lunch for you two, instead?”

They were whispering, fiercely, like a couple of kids.

“How long is he staying?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe tomorrow.”

“Maybe tomorrow?”  She got herself up on one elbow and hoped that he could see her face.  “What if it’s maybe next week?”

“He wouldn’t stay that long.”

“Why not?  He’s got his old pal, Loosey the Goosey, and free food.”

“Loose the Goose.  He paid for the take-out tonight.”

“After his first two credit cards were rejected.  It was humiliating.”

“I thought you said he laughed about it.”

“Humiliating for me, Larry.”

“Oh.”

They breathed, in the dark, while the laugh track from the tv floated up through the floor.

“He watches nothing but garbage,” she said.

“It’s all garbage.”

“Why are you defending him?”

“I’m not defending him.”

“You know he patted me, in the kitchen.”

He thought it best not to ask her where, exactly, her kitchen was located.

“Oh, come on,” he said.

“He’s turned into the quintessential, dirty old man.”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Well, I do.”

She rolled onto her side with her back to him.

“You’re stoned.”  

“Oh come on, I took maybe two hits.  Bob smoked most of it.”

After their take-out dinner, he and Bob had gone out onto the back deck and the next thing you know…Truthfully?  He was stoned out of his gourd.  Her voice rolled over him.

 “I forgot how much I hated that smell, yuck.  He just makes me…”

He missed the last word.  Did she say a last word?  Oh well.  She was right, of course.  He was no more comfortable with Bob, really, than she was.  On the other hand, he looked at his old friend and was instantly fascinated with trying to see the boy he’d known so long ago.  He kept thinking of all the stunts Bob pulled, growing up, how nobody liked him back then anymore than his wife liked him now.  Their brief relationship, Bob and his wife’s, had been, like most things, more in Bob’s mind than anywhere else.  She’d kissed him, a couple of times.  When he tried to feel her up in a movie theatre, that was the end of it.  Larry smiled because right in front of his face, in the dark, was Bob’s face that day in the cafeteria saying, “I’m officially handing her over.  Good luck, man, you’ll need it.”

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” he said.  He giggled some more.

“Oh no,” she said, “you’re not stoned.”

When he couldn’t stop, her hand flew over and whacked him under the covers.

The next morning, Larry and his wife moved soundlessly around the kitchen.  They were both, he knew, afraid to ask the same question, afraid of the answer anyway.  Being the best friend, he couldn’t ask it.  He sat with his coffee and put his foot up.

“Maybe you should get an x-ray.”

“It’s fine.  I’m just putting it up as a precaution.”

He was sure it was fine and, besides, under their current policy an x-ray wouldn’t be covered.  When they’d semi-retired -- he’d kept a select, few clients and worked from home now -- he hadn’t made any contingencies for basketball heroics.  You blow up an Achilles, sure, you’re covered.  Roll an ankle trying to prove something?  Don’t think so.

Upstairs they heard footsteps and then the unmistakable sound of Bob, urinating.  Larry looked up from the paper just enough to see if she was looking at him.  She was.

“He can’t even close...”

She couldn’t finish the sentence because they both started laughing.  They were still laughing, or trying not to, when he entered the kitchen.  He was wearing big, baggy shorts and a heavily-creased, black and yellow print shirt.  His hair was all over the place and his face…well, he looked exactly like someone who’d gotten stoned the night before and stayed up late, watching bad tv.  It put them back over the top.

“What?  What?”

“Bob,” Larry’s wife said, “that shirt.”

“Yeah,” Bob said, holding the hem of it out in front of him, “it’s nice, huh?  I get them at this place, four for fifty bucks.”

Larry had a moment of admiration for his friend, invulnerable as ever to criticism.

“I de-fragged your computer, by the way.  It was glacial.”

“Our computer?” Larry’s wife asked but maybe Bob didn’t hear her.  

“I need coffee,” Bob announced.

Larry and his wife looked at the empty pot.  Their habits were so strong they hadn’t thought to make extra.  Bob lowered his foot and headed for the freezer.

“Half caffeinated, half de-caf okay?”

“Not for the living.  Give me the high-test, all the way.”

Larry fished for the specialty blend, medium-roast and fretted about the unequal levels of coffee that, after this pot, would be in each bag.

“Let’s do something fun today,” Bob said.

Larry heard the clap of hands behind him and then the brisk rubbing together of them that had, once again, become so familiar.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.  Drive me around this here Shangri-la, show me more of what I’m missing.”

Larry pushed the button on the coffee-maker and turned to his wife.

“You up for a drive?”

Knowing what he’d find there, he avoided her eyes.  Her answer was half a smile and a shrug of her shoulders.  Bob was still rubbing his hands together.

“Good,” he said, almost shouted, “the three of us, together again!”

The coffeemaker gurgled.

“Oh boy,” she said.

They drove past things like the post office and the shopping mall.  Bob sat in front with Larry and fiddled with the radio.  If any kind of oldie came on he turned up the volume and rejoiced.  He made them stop for coffee, more coffee and he came out of the place with Larry, who was carrying an overloaded to-go tray.

“I couldn’t stop him,” Larry said into the rearview mirror.

“What in the world is this?”

Bob turned to the backseat and took a look.

“Cinnamon Bearclaw.”

“It’s the size of Rhode Island.”

“She’s funny, isn’t she funny?

Bob poked Larry’s arm, the one with the coffee at the end of it and he barely saved it from going all over.

“I could definitely do something with her,” Bob said, “get her a gig.”

“Are you still doing that?” she asked him. “Is that what you’re doing, still, for a living?”

Up until now, the topic had been completely avoided.  Larry thought back, a couple of decades, to a phone call, when things were apparently going Bob’s way.

“It’s Bob…,” she said and gave him that look.

When he put the phone against his ear, Bob was singing.

“Eli’s coming, hide your heart, girl, Eli’s coming…”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m backstage, man, backstage!  Three Dog Night!  I’m a promoter, man, a promoter!  And…” he whispered into the phone, “I’m definitely going to get my hum, dingered tonight!”

“Like the comedian said, you call that living?  But yeah, I still got my finger in it, somewhat.”

They sipped coffee – well, Bob gulped his – and devoured the donuts.  At least, Bob and Larry did.

“If we’re going to sit here,” Bob said, “then I’m getting my free refill.”

Larry watched his loud shirt as Bob hobbled past the front of the car.

“He’s a maniac,” his wife said, “and the coffee is lousy.”

Larry smiled and nodded his head.  This lousy donut-shop coffee, he thought, is so much better than what we brew at home.

They drove out to the lake, to the small collection of double-tiered shops above the boat-rental place, near the public docks.  They followed Bob in and out of each store; some he gave only a cursory glance from the doorway but in others he actually got interested in things.  But he bought nothing.  Then he left them in the coolness of the only restaurant’s waiting area while he went to the restroom.

“Hope he closes the door,” she said and then, after several minutes, “Did he fall in?”

“You’re funny,” Larry told her.  “Did you know you were funny?”

When Bob came back, accompanied by a server, a laughing server, he waved them further into the dark.

“Talked them into an early dinner,” he said.

“Oh no, no…” Larry’s wife began to protest.

“Too late,” Bob told her, “it’s already in the works.  This okay?  You tell me.”

He’d scooted over to a window table looking out on the lake but was turned now to the server who, while no longer laughing, was smiling like no tomorrow.  Larry wondered if she and Bob had partaken.

“Take it, sure, go ahead and take it.”

Bob was holding one of her hands in both of his and balanced on his good leg.

“Thank you, my sweet, and just bring it all out, whenever it’s ready.  Just pile it all on the table.”

Her unrelenting smile erupted back into laughter.  She pulled away from him and disappeared through a swing door and into the kitchen.  Bob beamed at them and Larry could see, yep, stoned all right.

“She’s funny,” Bob said, hooking a thumb in the direction of the parting server, “you know?  Funny.”

By the time they left, nearly four hours later, they knew everyone and everyone knew them.  Bob kept introducing Larry and his wife as near-dignitaries and the manager had already personally dropped off a certificate for Sunday Brunch good anytime, for two.

They were also drunk, at least she was and she looked now, unbelievingly, to a spot in the center of the floor where Bob, Larry and a very large, sunburned man from another table were singing, sort of, “Under the Boardwalk.”  The response, when they finished, was something out of the Three Tenors notebook.  It had to be the crutches.  No, no, she thought, not another one and she half-stood and waved Larry back to the table.  Luckily, Bob followed.

“Taking it on the road,” Bob said, “we’ll make millions.  You…” he pointed at her, “open with a couple of jokes, we go on and knock ‘em dead.”

Larry drained his wine glass and put it down in the center of his plate, so hard he almost snapped the stem.

“Life on the road is tough,” he slurred.

“Come on!”  Bob clapped him on the back.  “Life on the road is a kick in the ass!”

He shifted his glasses to his forehead and studied the charge slip, pocketing the four different cards he’d offered up.  He’d insisted on paying and then unabashedly asked the loyal, laughing server to split it between any two of the cards – “Whichever ones work!”  

“Want to treat her right…” he mumbled.  

He licked a finger and pretended to do some mental math.

“Here,” Larry said, reaching for his wallet, “I’ve got some cash.”

He handed Bob two twenties.

“Forty dollars?” she asked.

“Hey,” Bob said, carefully folding his yellow copy, “she earned it and then some.”

“I’ll say,” Larry sputtered.

“My god,” his wife said, “Bill Gates and Spielberg go to the lake.”

The two men practically split themselves open.

“Funny, didn’t I tell you?  Funny.”

When they stood up to leave you’d have thought the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were, sorry, got to go, fleeing heavenward.

What’s worse than a phone ringing in the middle of the night?  

When Larry brought it, fumbling, to his ear, he heard a woman’s voice and realized he didn’t have to say anything because Bob was already speaking.  He carefully hung it back up.

She rolled over and looked at him.

“It’s for Bob,” he whispered.

She let a lot of sarcastic air escape and rolled back over.

The unasked question was answered:  it was early the next day and Bob was leaving.

“You sure?” Larry asked him.

They were out in the driveway where Bob, with Larry’s help, had just finished depositing his beat-up rollerbag in the trunk of his car.

“Headed south, Lawrence, where the warm wind blows.”

“South?”  

“You hear the phone ring last night?”

Larry decided to act dumb.

“The phone?”

“I play this right, in nine or ten hours I’ll be between the legs of something you wouldn’t believe.”

“Ah…” Larry hesitated, trying to come up with something.  “Send pictures.”

Bob put a hand gently on Larry’s chest.

“Larry, are you getting laid?”

“Every once in a while.”

“Something needs to be done about that.”

He opened the car door and threw his crutches into the back. Then he hopped around to face his friend.  

“Hey, what’s the qyickest way to that donut joint?”

Larry pointed down the cul-de-sac and enumerated traffic lights, stop signs and turns.

“Excellent, my man, excellent.”

Inside the car, Bob adjusted his injured leg and rapped his knuckles on the fiberglass.

“Pity sex, here I come.”

“How you going to, you know… with that?”

“Where there’s a will,” Bob assured him, “there’s a fuckin’ way, double meaning intended.”

The engine roared to life -- sounded like the muffler was bad -- and Bob checked the driveway behind him.  The car started to roll, slowly, as Larry walked alongside.

“Say goodbye to the funny one for me.”

“Will do,” Larry said.

“And keep shooting the jumper, for Christ sake.”

Larry squinted into the early sun.  His foot still ached.  Maybe he should get it x-rayed after all.

“Right,” he said.

Wow.  Suddenly, in Larry’s mind, there they were, he and Bob and…Gina Rinaldi?  He thought so.  It was after the State Championship and Bob had somehow talked Coach Mitchell into letting Larry drive back in Bob’s car instead of on the team bus.  But then Larry couldn’t talk the cheerleading coach – Mrs. Tichnor? – into letting the wife/then-girlfriend go, too.  So there Larry was, after a game he’d essentially won single-handedly, sitting in the back seat alone while Bob drove with an arm around Gina Rinaldi.  Where were they headed?  He couldn’t remember…someplace south of Albany, he thought, where the game had been, to Gina’s grandparents’ house and the grandparents were out of town.

“I mean it, man,” Bob said, “you still got it.”

Then the name of the place came to him, and the memory of a long night of listening to Bob and Gina having sex upstairs while he sat in kitchen and drank an entire six-pack of Genesee Cream Ale.  He’d walked outside without his shoes on, in a couple of feet of snow, to throw up.

“Hey, Bob,” Larry leaned down into the window, “Stuyvesant Falls?”

The car was turned now and facing down the street.  Bob peered back at him through the open, passenger-side window.  He looked confused.

“Stuyvesant Falls?  No, just this side of Gainesville.  Did I say that?  Stuyvesant Falls?  Never heard of it.  Hi-ho Silver, away!”

The car lurched forward, stopped and backed up.

“Stuyvesant Falls is upstate New York, isn’t it?”

Larry looked into the totally unsuspecting face of his friend.

“I don’t know, is it?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure.  Why I know that, I couldn’t tell you.”

And then he was gone.

Two mornings later a puffy manila envelope arrived in the mail and sat unopened on the kitchen counter.  It was now late afternoon.  They were examining it, again, unsure of what to do.

“I wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to send it,” Larry said.

For the tenth time, she held the package at arm’s length.

“It is addressed in care of us,” she said.

Larry, in a fit of decisiveness, took it from her and, with the scissors from the junk drawer, cut it open. He pulled out a DVD, looked at the cover and snorted.  He held it so that she could see the cover.

“Oh my god,” she said.

He jiggled it in his hand.

“I bet he got it on-line.”

“With our computer?”

Larry looked at her.  

“I’d say so.”

He turned the DVD over in his hands.  Amazing.  It was packaged just like any other DVD.  

“Can you believe that guy?”

“Yes,” she said, “yes I can.  Are you kidding?”

He looked at her and then took the scissors back up. He struggled mightily with the wrapping.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to put it in.”

“You are not!”

In their “media” room he closed the shutters against the afternoon light and then pushed the button on the DVD player, found the controller and put in the disc.  He sat through the opening credits by himself but then she joined him.

“Oh my god,” she said, slapping the couch with her hands.  “I do not believe we’re doing this.”

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t believe they were watching people, doing that.

Upstairs in the bedroom, after they’d finished, he sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at his feet.  Comparing them, he couldn’t tell if his ankle was still swollen or not but when he reached down and touched it, it felt tender, behind the bone and toward the back of his foot.  

“What’s the matter?”

“My foot,” he said.

He turned to face her and noticed the zebra print.

“There it goes again.” he said.

She tilted her head straight back to look.  The sheet was twisted between her legs and from the waist up she was delightfully naked.  She caught him, looking.

“Rodeo sex,” she said.

He felt himself get a little red.  He didn’t know about rodeo sex, specifically, but he thought that what they’d just done together might, in fact, qualify.

“Yee-haw,” he said, remembering.  

He leaned over her and kissed first one nipple and then the other.  She reached and felt for him.

“Oh,” she said, “I think someone wants to saddle up again.”

“Wait,” he said.

She kept her hand on him while he reached for the print.  He couldn’t touch the frame without getting up onto his toes.  She slid over and really started going to work on him.

“Wow,” he said, “that is…keep doing that.”

Concentrating for a second, he let her do what she was doing.  He had his left hand on the top of the headboard and thought, just let it be crooked.  But then, steadying himself, he extended up hard off his toes and aimed his fingers for the far corner of the print’s frame.

That’s when he felt a tug and then something letting go and not pain, immediately, but a weird, spreading warmth.  That, the ER doctor would explain, was simply the sensation of his Achilles exploding and, subsequently, the area above his left heel, filling with blood.

His cruiser was purring in the driveway behind him, and I began to construct, mentally, an excuse for not donating while at the same time filing away the unexpected presence of a local enforcement official as a great beginning to some future story.  It was early afternoon and I wished, suddenly, that I wasn’t dressed in my boxer shorts and stained t-shirt.  “Is everyone all right here?” the officer asked.  The only other sentient being in the house at the time was our cat and so I was mystified to whom he might be referring.  “As far as I know,” I said.  He was peering around me and listening, I thought, using all his senses.  “We had a call.”  He mentioned the name of my friend and I laughed, as close to a normal laugh as I could muster, and assured him that my friend and I often carried on like this so, not to worry.  “All right,” he said, “we just like to follow up on these kinds of things.  Have a nice day.”  I did have a nice day and late that night, with my family safe and sound and asleep, I wrote a few more words, grateful that such a past time so often helps one to understand the most difficult parts of life.  On the other hand, sometimes it doesn’t help at all, not one bit.

Rob grew up in Westchester, New York, with eight female siblings.  He notes that the hand-me-downs were the toughest part of the experience.  In 1975, he received a helpful English degree from the University of New Mexico.  He was an actor for about twenty years, dividing time between New York City and Los Angeles, California.  He met his lovely wife, Michele in L.A. and that’s where their two sons, Preston and Cooper, were born.  They moved to Floyd in 2002 to run Oddfellas Cantina which they did for six, long years.  Now Rob substitute teaches on a regular basis at Floyd Elementary school where he is best known for taking his thumb off and making coins and other small objects disappear.


Rob Neukirch says if there is anything better than creating a story and almost getting it right, he doesn’t know what it is. The “almost” part is tough, but people live through greater hardships.  His story, “A Buffalo Mountain Christmas,” was honored with second place in the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest this past year.  “In the Latter Stages” was a finalist with Glimmer Train Press. His work has appeared regularly in The Endicott Review. He also stars as the real estate agent "Rob Bradley" in the upcoming film "House of Good and Evil" filmed in Floyd. Rob finished a novel this past spring called Summer in a Small Town.  Rob and his family still reside in Floyd.  Rob would like to thank Floyd County Moonshine for its continued support.

Links:

House of Good and Evil