A novel excerpt from Literary Awards Finalist, Michael Schiavone

Call Me When You Land

Chapter 1

He’s found dead in Nevada.

“Your information was in his Camelbak,” the deputy says.

Katie holds the line. Last she heard Craig was in Montana. A few months ago he’d sent them a sunny postcard from Bridger Bowl. He usually sends one or two a year. She’s always sorry as she pushes those cards under C.J.’s door, but she doesn’t want to be one of those mothers who hides the father from the child.

The deputy clears his throat.

“Where?” she finally asks, removing her smock. She stands up and rinses her dirty paint brushes.

“Mr. Hunter was discovered in a motel room here in Carson City,” the deputy says. “An apparent heart attack. They’re still investigating.”

“At forty six?”

Katie hears a toilet flush in the background. While she’s imagined this phone call many times before, heart attack hadn’t played through her mind. Buried by an avalanche, squashed by a tree trunk, frozen on the wrong side of a ski boundary. Always on a mountain. Always fierce.

Craig left for good fifteen years ago. C.J. wasn’t even C.J. then; he was nine month old Calvin James. Her son claims to remember his father’s hands. “Like sandpaper,” C.J. said, but he was less than a year old the afternoon Craig drove away, her mint green Rossignols still strapped to the roof rack of his truck.

“There’s a storage bin here,” the deputy continues. “A pod. He left you the key.” He tells her instructions were written on the back of a restaurant placemat they found folded up in fours inside his Camelbak.

“What’s inside?” she asks, picturing broken skis, worn boots, bent poles, a container full of donations.

“We’ll send it out tomorrow,” he says.

“What are you going to do with Craig?”

“His mother’s handling the body.”

Katie hangs up the phone and pours herself a glass of Grand Marnier. The ice crackles and she waits until the sweet orange liqueur settles before taking her first drink of the day. Of course she isn’t acquainted with Craig’s mother. Katie never met anyone who really knew him. No brothers and sisters, no friends. The poor woman probably has no idea she has a grandson. Leaning back in her late father’s brown leather chair, Katie considers leaving C.J. a note on his pillow. She could even ask Walter to deliver the news while she stays in her studio. In fact she doesn’t have to tell her son anything at all, but when he finds out otherwise he’ll stomp on her, giving him yet another reason to resent his mother.

Outside, workers finish removing debris from last night’s ice storm. The sky’s cold silver. The street’s strewn with trash, sea vines, dirt and sand. A man in an orange suit reattaches a sagging telephone line to Mrs. Seton’s house, his thick body dangling by a belt strap. Most of them huddle together, a swarm of cigarettes and Styrofoam coffee cups, their shift ending with the February light. A gusty wind took out Mr. Kashgarian’s cherry tree across the street, Katie’s view now altered. When the New England wind chill brings them below zero, she gets headaches, the kind you can’t take aspirin for. The bells from Saint Joachim’s ring four times, the church less than a mile from their three story house. Her son will be home soon. She finishes her drink.

The mail startles her as it shoots through the door slot. Katie sorts through the stack and separates three piles on the butcher block. Art gallery fliers and an electricity bill for her, Maxim for C.J., Poets and Writers for Walter. No postcards from Craig. As a swarm of gulls zoom by the window, Katie wonders what happened to him in Carson City. Like many people, he drank and smoked pot, but he exercised religiously, his body durable and strong. Layered in muscle, Craig was a specimen, a man who felt crowded in dress clothes, his forearms too ample for long sleeves, his thighs so thick they rubbed together when he walked. And yet his waist was narrow, almost dainty, which gave his barbaric shape a sense of grace. She just can’t believe that body could surrender. But he was only thirty years-old then, Katie’s image of her him forever dated and unchanged. Having borne witness to their son’s startling fifteen-year metamorphosis, she can now imagine how Craig must have changed. After all this time, she may not have even recognized him in Nevada.

The front door bangs open. Against an earlier promise, Katie pours herself another drink, careful to tread quietly across the studio floor. From the kitchen, the blender churns and she envisions the red potion of creatine powder and fruit punch, one of three daily doses her son guzzles down. With an ear to the door, Katie listens as C.J. rummages through the refrigerator. She pictures him wolfing down cold cuts and hard boiled eggs. He’s always hungry. Cabinets frantically open and close, drawers are slammed shut. He can’t seem to do anything quietly. And not until Katie hears his heavy footsteps on the stairwell does she spit out the ice cubes in her mouth.

Above her head, she can hear The Ramones blaring from his stereo. Katie can remember the way music struck a nerve when she was his age, how vital it was to her existence. She’d like to tell him that a portion of her own teenage years were consumed by the Ramones’ punk anthems, but a remark like that would most likely aggravate him. Whenever she tries to reach out, C.J. just rolls his eyes and waits for her to leave. Katie grabs a hockey stick and taps the ceiling, a collection of little divots decorating the plaster above. The volume eventually drops. Some nights this is the only exchange between mother and son. She used to ask him what he learned in school, how the Biology test went, what girls he liked, but routine questions are now invasive. And so she’s stopped. When he wants to speak, she’ll listen. “Just please tell me if anything bad is ever happening,” she said recently. “Promise me that.”

Katie forces down her drink. As she leaves the studio behind, her courage shrinks. Walking up the stairs, she hears C.J. counting out reps: 42! 43! 44! He makes it to 47 push-ups before his body drops. Next he’ll work through sit-ups. Then more push-ups. The routine can last over an hour. Usually Katie’s in the studio painting while he’s exercising, his regiment the soundtrack to her artistic process.

She pauses in front of his door and brushes the grey cat hair from her sweater. Her throat is dry. As if freshly introduced on a daily basis, Katie’s always nervous in front of her son. She knocks.

5! 6! 7! He grunts in between reps. She knocks again.

C.J. opens up, six feet and muscular in the door frame. Vein trails map his forearms. He hasn’t cut his hair all winter, the stringy black bangs almost long enough to shield his eyes. She notices his chin is dried out from too much acne cream. C.J.’s face is a blend of the two of them: his father’s blue eyes, her tiny nose and ears, Craig’s cocky smile when C.J. allows it to appear. She notices a dark shadow of hair through his white undershirt. Only six months ago his torso was bare. Katie can remember the morning he first turned over. One Sunday less than two years ago he came downstairs for breakfast in his underwear: his feet looked as if they’d grown a size, suddenly clownish on his slight frame. The hair on his shins turned from blonde to black. His entire face was flush with change. Like a gallery exhibit, Katie stared curiously at her son, amazed she’d borne such a creature. Until that morning he always used her shower, only a towel wrapped around his waist as he passed through her bedroom. Now he bathes on the third floor where the water pressure lacks and Walter hangs his plants, C.J. likely as upset as her over his bodily invasion.

“What?” he says.

“How are you?” she asks.

“I’m busy.” He squints when he speaks, a tic she hopes will fade in time.

Pushed deep into the dormer, Katie watches the cat clean his paws on the green bean bag. She notices a new poster of Nine Inch Nails taped to the wall by other bands she never heard of like Wolfmother, Godsmack, and Disturbed. Magazine photographs of NHL hockey players are tacked behind his bed, a small shot of Jessica Alba in a bikini above his desk. No pictures of her, of them. The few photos she has of Craig are in storage, C.J. showing no interest in seeing his father’s face since he was a little boy.

“What do you want?”

“I’m doing a load of whites,” she says. “Do you have any whites?”

“No whites.”

Katie breathes in and smells traces of pot. She’ll ignore this for now. After all, it could be coming from Walter’s room above them. The truth is she’d love to share a joint with her son, to be there when his guard unravels. Some way in. On the rare occasion she does smoke up in the bathtub, Katie wonders if all three of them might be getting high at the same time.

“I need to talk to you,” she says.

“You are talking to me.”

“Maybe I’ll come back after you’re done exercising.”

“Spit it out, Mom.”

“Craig’s dead,” she blurts.

He thumbs down the volume on his iPOD, then frowns.

“So what?” he says, removing his headphones.

“Are you upset?” she asks.

“No.”

“Do you want to ask me anything?” Hands shoved in her pockets, Katie pinches the skin on her thigh. She digs her nails in deep.

“I’m busy.”

She wants to hug him to save herself from saying anything more, but Katie doesn’t want to embarrass him. Touch between them on longer exists. Some nights she’ll sneak into his room while he sleeps. There she’ll sit by his bed and watch him, sometimes brushing her hand lightly across his hair, his forehead and cheeks, careful not to wake him. C.J. sleeps soundly throughout, the covers moving up and down with his breath. It’s then Katie feels most like a mother.

“I’m here if you want to talk about anything,” she says.

“I’m not going to any funeral.”

“We don’t have to,” she says. “I doubt there’s one anyway.”

He focuses on the floor. All she can see is his hair. If only he had a brother, someone to share all this confusion. Like other kids would a pet or a video game system, C.J. had begged for a sibling as a small child, but that was one request Katie could not honor, telling him “you’re it.” She feels guilty for this now.

“Was it a motorcycle crash?” he asks.

“No,” she says. “Heart attack.”

She’d almost forgotten about Craig’s postcard from the National Motorcycle Museum he’d sent them last year. It was the first time in fifteen years he had ever written anything more than their names and street address. He told them he bought a used Harley, that “this bike’s given me a new perspective.” The postcard’s tacked on C.J.’s cork board, the only one she’s ever seen him display. Aside from presents for his birthday (hiking boots, a buck knife, a Camelbak) and the occasional FedEx envelope full of cash, Craig never offered his son anything more than a 3×5 glimpse of his latest surroundings. And while this may have been enough for her, she suspects C.J. may have found a future promise in Craig’s postcards.

“I’m sorry, C.J.”

“What’s the difference?”

“No difference,” Katie says. “I was just worried you’d be upset.”

“Why would I be upset?” C.J. lifts his head and glares at her, his expression expectant. This is how he usually looks at her, as if waiting on some guarded confession.

“I don’t know,” Katie says. “I’m concerned.”

“He left us, right? There was nothing you could do, right? So why the fuck are we even talking about this?”

“We’re not,” she says. “We’re done.”

“You tell me like it’s supposed to matter. As if Walter died.”

“Don’t get angry,” she says, stepping away from him. “You’re right, it doesn’t matter.”

A cold draft blows over her from his open window. She rubs the Goosebumps from her arms.

“What’s for dinner?” he asks.

“Do you want to go out?”

He nods yes.

“Anything else?” he asks.

“That’s it,” she says. “I’ll see you downstairs.”

C.J. shuts his door. “Wear a coat,” she calls through the wall.

Katie’s legs are wobbly as she climbs the wooden steps up to the third floor. Her mouth tastes like rotten oranges. She hears a loud bang from C.J.’s room and imagines another hole punched through his sliding closet door. “Jesus,” she whispers, leaning against the banister. For all their sake, Katie wishes Craig could have held on a few more years, just enough time for C.J. to pass through this phase. She remembers asking her last boyfriend, Peter, what it was a teenage boy wanted. “To fight and fuck,” he said proudly. “And unless you’re doing one or the other, it’s hell.” Katie never asked him this question again, preferring to believe there was more to her son’s puberty than sex and violence. Her sister, Caroline, told her it was dangerous to ignore the topic of Craig, that “you’re asking for a world of shit one day,” she’d said. But Katie felt the postcards were enough, the only connection C.J. could manage. “He hasn’t asked about his father since he was a child,” she told Caroline. “If he ever wants more, it’s his.”

In front of Walter’s room she stops to catch her breath. Katie hears Liberace’s piano version of Never On a Sunday play from the other side of the door. His polyester Harvard tie is looped around the doorknob, his signal for privacy. She knocks more than a dozen times until her great uncle answers.

“Craig’s dead,” she tells him.

“Well, that’s something,” he says, tightening his bathrobe. “Who’s Craig?”

“C.J.’s father,” she says.

“Oh, yes, of course.” He lifts the needle from the spinning record.

Katie sits down on the ottoman. The room reeks of mothballs. She tells him about Carson City, the pod, her son’s reaction.

“Let’s go out to the widow’s walk,” Walter says, grabbing his overcoat from the back of the door.

“It’s freezing,” she says.

“I need to take my medicine.”

Katie helps him pull up his wool socks, then steers his feet into his moon boots. She watches as he carefully rubs Bag Balm over his frayed fingers. It’s hard to imagine this room was once empty, that it was just the two of them until Walter moved in nine months ago with a tackle box full of pills and a trunk stuffed with beach clothes, records, and a typewriter. When he called to tell her he’d been evicted from his condo in Saint Augustine for staging a war protest in the lobby, Katie hadn’t heard from her grandfather’s brother in ten years, not since her own father’s funeral.

“It’s depressing being old and retired in Florida,” he’d confessed.

“Stay with us,” Katie said. “We need the company.” She told him he’d have plenty of space, his own floor, that no one would bother him. “It’ll be handy to have a doctor in the house.” He warned her that he only had a few years left, that his insides were failing, that the gun smoke from World War II was finally killing him sixty years later. When Katie ran it by C.J., her son offered to make up the guest room himself, he too craving some distraction.

Katie zips Walter’s coat up to his chin. A couple of long white hairs hang from his jowls. “This and codeine are all that work,” he says, lighting a medicinally prescribed joint. He passes it to her.

“I’m real worried about C.J.,” she says. “I feel like he’s going to burst.”

Walter rocks back and forth on his heels and smiles as he breathes in the cold sea air. A white ice line runs along the distant beach rocks, the memory of high tide. “So let him burst,” he says.

“I swear it’s like I can hear him ticking sometimes,” she says. “God, I talk about him like he’s dangerous.”

A black hawk soars above their heads. Walter’s eyes follow the bird’s rhythm. He clears his flooded throat, then spits off the deck. Katie’s fingers begin to numb. “To his dismay, I think C.J. has an artist’s mind,” he says. “And he fights it. If he can make it through the next few years, if he can come to embrace himself, I believe he’ll do something wonderful.”

“If he can make it through?” she says. “Jesus, why do you have to put it like that?”

The cold blows through the mesh on Katie’s sneakers; her toes tingle. A wind chime rings and rings and rings.

“I like being in a teenager’s dungeon,” Walter says. “No other time in life is quite so spirited. When C.J. and I play Halo, there’s no age disparity. We’re connected electronically.” Walter removes his cap and runs a hand through his thin white hair. “This government weed is truly inspiring.” He extinguishes the joint on the wet wood planks.

“It’s getting dark,” she says.

Walter rubs his hands together. “Let’s try and wait for sunset.”

Old snow drops from the roof and lands with a startling thud. Katie turns around expecting to find C.J., but all she sees is a rusty deck chair. She wishes she could grieve, to be stricken with frantic breath and frenzied sobs, but all she really yearns to do is pee.

“What about you, Katie?” Walter asks, touching her shoulder. “What does Craig’s death mean for you?”

She looks up at the crummy sky and sighs. “Trouble,” she says.

Chapter 2

C.J. bangs on her bathroom door. “Where’s the mail?” he shouts.

“Give me a sec,” Katie says, thumbing through an old Victoria’s Secret catalog.

“Is it in there with you?”

“Will you let me pee?”

He knocks again. “Just tell me. My ride to practice is going to be here soon.”

“Nothing came from any schools.”

“Are you lying?”

“No,” she says.

“You sure?”

“Will you leave me alone? I don’t bother you on the toilet.”

He bangs on the door again,

“Godammit, C.J.!”

He walks away. She can hear him drag his heels. For a boy as strong as her son she doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for him to lift his feet when he walks. When he told her he’d applied to six boarding schools, she was shocked. She wouldn’t have been more surprised if he’d found religion.

“With your grades?” she asked him. “Your only A’s in art.”

“I can get in with hockey,” C.J. said. “The admissions guy at Farmley said if I can keep the puck in the net my grades won’t matter so much.”

“Why do you want to go away?”

“If I have a shot at the NHL, this is the first step.”

“The NHL. Since when do you want to play pro hockey?”

“Since forever.”

But Katie didn’t completely believe her son. She wasn’t sure he was even good enough for the pros. Hockey or no hockey, she felt he just wanted to leave home.

From the bathroom window, Katie watches as C.J. throws his hockey bag and sticks into the back of Mr. Farquarson’s SUV. He looks back at the house before he climbs into the car, their eyes catching for a second before he closes the door. Seeing them drive away, Katie wonders what might become of her without him here. Even if they don’t speak for weeks, she feels safer just knowing someone’s upstairs. She can barely remember real privacy, the life she lived before her son. When Katie recalls how recklessly he was conceived, she’s astonished C.J.’s here at all. One simple screw, one little night. Katie and Craig hadn’t imagined pacifiers and puberty as they mingled underneath the sheets. They hadn’t considered any harm.

In the studio she stews over her latest painting, Isabel. It seems every time she picks up a brush this piece tells her something new. Yesterday she tried to insert a ponytail, the week before a French braid, but no hair style seems to suit her subject. C.J. told her Isabel should be bald. The gallery in New Haven has lost patience, telling her “by Monday or no deal.” And while she’d love to abandon this portrait, Katie has nothing else on deck, no inspiration elsewhere, which means it’s Isabel or bust. Switching paints, she dabs Prussian blue over the background and paints around her subject, anything to distract from her from Isabel’s hair.

No painting has ever defied her like this one, a work that’s been holding her hostage all winter. Three years ago, Katie captured some minor acclaim when she showed four examples from her recently discovered “faceless form” at a gallery in Salem. A Boston Globe art columnist described her creations as “delicate stark white men and women with smooth blank faces like eggs. Fractured human souls who are just like us—ten fingers, ten toes, hopes and dreams, loneliness and dread.” After that exhibit, Katie was able to leave the dreariness of landscape art behind, work which had always made her feel average. Megan Connelly, her boss at Megan’s Harborside Restaurant, says her portraits remind her of elegantly dressed mannequins. Her last boyfriend, Peter, thought her subjects looked like aliens. C.J. once asked her why she didn’t paint faces, “the eyes, noses, and mouths.” Katie told him she didn’t really know, saying she might not be very good with the little particulars.

She turns up the space heater with her big toe and stares at Isabel until she blurs. Little curls begin to form in front of her eyes and she follows the vision by inserting wavy blonde strands along the base of the hair. Even though she’s sold several paintings over the years, she continues to introduce herself as a bartender, a job which makes her feel smaller with each passing birthday. On the brink of forty it’s hard for her to believe she’s still slinging drinks, a single mother and a Dickinson College graduate shaking your apple martinis. But it was her choice four years ago to leave her job as a production coordinator for the Lily Pad Theatre Company, her choice to pick up night shifts at Megan’s, her choice to commit to her art. She’s since tried hard to ignore detractors like her sister who say painting is no career. Caroline told her it was selfish and reminded Katie to consider her child. “Dad paid off the house before he died,” she told her sister. “All I have to worry about is the property taxes. Besides, I think I’ll be a better mom if I do this. If I don’t try I may turn out like our dear, late mother.”

Katie continues with Isabel’s curls, but all she can see is what’s wrong. In the sink, she cleans her best brushes, then sponges up the crusty paint stains from the floorboards, Isabel’s blank face glaring at her while she keeps house. She pours herself a small Grand Marnier. “Fuck it,” she says, turning the easel around.

In the kitchen, Walter butters a skillet. “I’m making Ostrich burgers,” he says.

Behind his back, Katie transfers her cocktail into a coffee mug. “You eat some strange shit, Walter.”

“Ned at Whole Foods says Ostrich is the new buffalo.”

“Oh, no,” she says.

“What?”

She points out the window above the sink. “Look out there.”

They watch as a large truck slowly backs into their driveway. The flatbed begins to descend, lowering a large white container onto the property. One side of the white pod is dented, the roof slightly caved. The sight of it shakes her. She wants it gone before it’s landed.

“How exciting,” Walter says, eating a tomato like an apple. Little seeds stain the butcher block. “It’s larger than I imagined. Maybe it’s an elephant.”

“It’s a tomb,” Katie says, finishing her drink.

A week ago, a FedEx from Carson City arrived containing Craig’s placemat testament, which she hid beneath a pile of summer clothes in her walk-in closet. The placemat was from the Blackbird Tavern, a fisherman’s bar in Gunnerside, just down the street from the town hall where Katie and Craig were hastily married fifteen years ago. The deputy had called to let Katie know that Craig’s mother flew to Nevada and arranged to have the body transferred to Cave Creek, Arizona.

“What about his father?”

“The deceased’s father jumped off the Taos gorge some years back. Mrs. Hunter said it was an accident, but it was ruled a suicide in New Mexico.”

“Does she know about us?” Katie asked.

“Your name never came up. She didn’t ask about anyone. Mrs. Hunter just wanted her son. She said she hadn’t seen him in more than a decade.”

“Now what?”

“Well, it’s over,” the deputy said.

Katie wanted to ask about drugs, if he was trying to kill himself in Nevada. She wanted to know if he’d been alone when he died, what he was thinking about during the last minute of his life. She wanted to know what it was like when your heart stopped, what it felt like to have a hollow chest. But when she opened her mouth to ask a question, Katie realized she didn’t want to hear anything about Craig from another stranger.

“You’re still getting the pod, Ms. Olmstead,” the deputy continued. “Mrs. Hunter doesn’t know about it. She doesn’t need to. The placemat said it was for you and Calvin only.”

Calvin. She didn’t even know who that was. Her son hadn’t been Calvin since he was five, deciding in kindergarten that he wanted his initials instead of a name. Having never warmed up to Calvin, Katie was glad for the change.

Two brawny young men in blue uniforms steady the pod, setting it on the left side of the driveway, allowing enough space for her car to pass between the garage and the street. When they approach the front door, Walter turns off the burner and scatters, his bones creaking as he hustles up the stairwell. He doesn’t like outsiders to see him in his bathrobe.

The taller one hands Katie a key, telling her to call once she’s unloaded its contents. “We’ll then come and retrieve it,” he says, his voice lower than she expected.

“I’ll call you in an hour,” she says. “I don’t want this here when my son gets home.”

They wear gold wedding bands on their fingers. She wonders if these men are fathers and almost asks, but instead reaches into her purse and hands them each a twenty. Katie figures she has fifteen years on them, maybe more. She likes to imagine they think she’s attractive for an older woman. “A MILF,” one might say to the other once inside the truck. Just last week a fairly cute Papa Gino’s delivery boy said she looked like Helen Hunt. But, in truth, she finds no intention in these men’s eyes. They see nothing lustrous before them, probably just lunch and pay day on their young minds.

She began to sense the change at thirty-five, when she no longer drew the same kind of attention she had in her twenties. Between the crow’s feet and smile wrinkles it was easy to spot in the mirror, but what she really resented were the regular food hangovers. And while each birthday is nothing to celebrate, Katie isn’t saving her money for an eye tuck. Never in a million years will she wear a pair of short-shorts with HOTTIE written across the ass like the mother she saw at Target yesterday.

If she’s learned anything from the celebrities in People magazine it’s that too much plastic surgery only backfires. Even the women end up looking like Michael Jackson.

Outside, Katie circles the pod, rubbing the little keys between her fingers. Wind whistles from the distant marsh land. Dried out cranberries crack under her feet. Walter presses up against it, staring fixedly as if summoning x-ray vision. “I don’t hear anything,” he whispers.

“I’m sure it’s not an animal.”

Katie looks out toward the ocean. A massive battleship pushes slowly past Hatcher Island. She imagines the sailors spying them curiously through binoculars.

“If you have to guess,” Walter says, “what would you say’s inside, Katie?”

“Relics of a poor ski bum,” she says, her breath clouding in the cold wintry air.

Katie inserts the key, the padlock clicks open. She raises the pod door. Walter stands back. His teeth begin to shiver. “I thought there’d be more,” he says.

“Me, too.”

Katie steps inside, thankful to be out of the cold. The pod is empty except for a large item concealed under a black tarp. No brown boxes, no knick-knacks, no stuff on top of stuff.

“I have to piss,” Walter says.

“Do you want to go to the bathroom first?”

“Don’t you dare uncover it without me.” Walter scurries toward the front door. “Wait for me,” he calls back.

Katie walks to the end of the driveway where she has a better view of the sea, where she won’t be tempted to pull off the black cover. Across the street, a rope line of little kids from Newquay Elementary make their way to the pier. They wave to Katie with their gloved hands. She waves back, offering her first smile of the day. Katie can’t remember being that young. She usually just inserts C.J.’s childhood over her own, claiming she liked what he likes, hated what he hates. As the bells of Saint Joachim’s ring three times, birds scatter from the rooftops. C.J. will be home soon.

“Here I come, Katie,” Walter says. “All done.”

Inside the dark pod, Katie sits down and rests her back against the wall. As her belly pushes belligerently against her jeans her mood shoots south. She hasn’t been to the gym in weeks. No one’s seen her body since November, since Peter.

“Hmmm,” Walter says, poking his finger into the tarp.

“Go ahead,” she says. “It’s your Christmas morning.”

Walter claps his hands, then tugs gently on the tarp. Katie closes her eyes. “Let me know when you know,” she says.

“Here we go,” Walter says. He grabs the tarp and tries to draw it off like a tablecloth, but it catches. His arms are skinnier than when he moved in nine months ago and his weight’s dropped ten pounds, maybe more.

“On four, we’ll pull hard,” Walter says breathlessly.

“How about three?” Katie says, standing up to help him.

Walter counts. They yank hard, falling back against the wall, their fists clinching the black nylon cover.

“Are you okay?” she asks, holding his arm.

“I’m fine,” he says. He lets go of the tarp. “My, my.”

“What the heck is this?” she says.

“This, Katie,” Walter announces, “is a Harley-Davidson Road King.”

Michael Schiavone’s fiction has appeared in Carve, New Letters, Mississippi Review, Reed Magazine, Connecticut Review, GSU Review, Cutthroat, and the Tartts 2 Fiction Anthology. His novella, Skin, was a finalist for the 2005 Peter Taylor Prize and the 2006 Miami University Contest. He lives in Gloucester, MA, where he just finished his first novel, Call Me When You Land.

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