A man works hard, and he thinks, and hopes, and goddamn expects that there ought to be a payoff. And his wife tells him, “Don’t eat too much of the peppers,” as he picks through the pepper steak. And he snaps, “You made it. I’m just eating your meal.” But at half past twelve he’s awake in his La-Z-boy with Stephen Ambrose in his lap and heartburn preventing attention to the book just as much as preventing sleep. A man lives a sober life and at least deserves a dinner he can enjoy and a decent night’s sleep.
Someone comes in, stomps his feet louder than is right at such an hour. Christmas break from college. A whole month of “gotta see this old friend” and “is there gas in the Olds?” The son brushes flakes from his coat.
“It’s snowing?” his old man asks.
“Yeah, slow and heavy.”
“The forecast didn’t say – ”
“Well, it’s beautiful out there.”
Just a minute later he is outside inspecting his hidden sidewalk. It is silent as suppertime. Nothing on the streets. No cars and no cabs. Just the mercury-orange glow of the streetlights and the static falling. It’s all around him. It’s because of him. He’s forgotten his son. Feels like Poseidon in the middle of so many fishes, or Glenn Miller in front of all those horns, or even Gus Grissom up among the stars.
And he looks at the walk and thinks it just isn’t fair. Tomorrow morning he’s going to have to shovel, and the walk will be matted down with the footfalls of the drunks stumbling home after bartime. All that clarity of the cold lost on them. Lost on guys who are whiskey-warm and just thinking about how they need to find a place to piss.
You call that fair? All that beauty and silence out there at night, and does Mr. Right-To-Bed-After-the-Ten-O’Clock-News ever get to enjoy it? Hardly. Why do the drunks get to see the isolated beauty that a hard-working man gets to see once, maybe once, in twenty years?
Now his heart burns. Or his esophagus aches. Or his acid has refluxed. Time to go inside and resign himself to the expensive medicine his doctor prescribed.
Martin Brick was raised in rural Wisconsin, but now lives outside Columbus, Ohio. He is Assistant Professor of English at Ohio Dominican University. His fiction has been published in many places, online and in print, among them Sou’Wester, The Vestal Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Blue Five Notebook, and Staccato. He is a former editor of Wisconsin Review and a past Pushcart nominee. His website can been found at www.typewriterhasbeendrinking.wordpress.com.