Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Willowick

 

 

 

 

Really, Uncle Jack had been dying for five years, since the cancer took Fran, Aunt Francesca, his wife since a month after he returned from The War. He floated around their empty house like a ghost, smoking his unfiltered Camels, not eating, getting thinner and thinner, till his sons, Dario and Joe, at a loss for what else to do, bought him a cat. Jack didn’t want it, but the boys gently insisted, selling him on how much fun it would be and how, now that they were grown, he could take care of it and it would keep him company in between them checking in on him and Little Anthony and Joe, Jr. visiting with the great grandkids. With little affection Jack fed the animal in the mornings and scooped up its shit and, slowly, stroking the fat warm ball purring in his lap as he watched TV night after night, came to love it, and named it Rudy. Then Rudy died and Jack decided it was time to go and quit. It hadn’t been a month. He just faded. Late in the week he took a turn and now it was Sunday and if it wasn’t today it would be tonight or tomorrow morning for sure. The family converged.

 

Golden autumn sun poured through the leaves along Mayfield Road where it fell toward the Chagrin River. Milo’s Uncle Dom piloted his massive grey Buick too fast down the hill, the sidewalls scraping on the curb at intervals making a sound like a twirling stunt plane. Milo rode beside him, swallowed in the passenger seat.

 

Our base was at Hethel, which is northeast of London, up on the North Sea, Dom was saying. Jack didn’t fly. He was a mechanic. When my plane was shot down and I didn’t come back he wrote about it in a letter to his sister, who is your Aunt Olivia. That was the first time she knew about me, when the Germans had me.

 

Milo knew the stories: Uncle Dom’s eleven months as a POW, how Dom and Jack grew up three streets apart in Little Italy but never knew each other till they met in the service four thousand miles away, how they came back home and married each other’s sisters. Uncle Jack, Aunt Olivia and Milo’s late grandmother were siblings, East Side Italians who had worked their way up and off Murray Hill in Little Italy and into the suburbs. Milo knew those stories too: Grandpa’s years on the line at GM’s Fisher Body plant in Collinwood, Jack’s parking lot in Cleveland and his gas station across from the big Jewish cemetery up in Beachwood, Milo’s own father picking confetti-sized bits of Vietcong shrapnel from his back during droning law school lectures at Case on the GI Bill.

 

The English . . . ho-ho . . . the English were sunzabitches, Dom continued. ‘Say, I’m goin’ into da village, Yank. Fetch ya a bottle or sumfin’?’ And you’d give ’em your money and they’d go and never come back. Because you were gonna go fly and you’d be dead tomorrow or the next day so what did you need money for? And we’re there saving their asses! Hell of a thing, hell of a thing. But we were kids. Younger than you. What did we know?

 

Milo barely heard him. He was lost again in a memory of waking in the black of his bedroom to the wet sounds of sniffles and gentle shakes translating through the bed, Amanda’s quiet sobs. He hadn’t moved, and he never knew if she realized she’d wakened him. But he did nothing, and she’d cried in the dark and he’d listened.

 

He hadn’t known if he would sleep, and he didn’t for a long time, but he must have or dozed at least because the next thing he knew the morning light was clawing in around the edges of the curtains and he lay in bed alone. Downstairs he heard Amanda zipping up her boots and the sound of the door closing as she left. He heard her car start outside and fade away up the street toward Euclid Avenue and the freeway. When he came down he found her key in the center of the kitchen counter. He’d slid it aside and made the morning coffee.

 

He didn’t call her, nor she him, and after about a week he stopped expecting to see her screen name in his inbox when he logged on to his email. Each day that passed made the end of them more of a fact, like concrete curing. He tried to force himself not to think about it. But as the weeks passed a dark feeling settled on Milo like sediment, and beneath it he thought he could feel himself fossilizing. Still, Milo refused to acknowledge his melancholy. He told himself it was merely indignation. He wasn’t going to be made an accessory to some Midwest girl’s relationship notions she’d gotten from Cosmo and reality TV. He wasn’t going to be defined in such a trivial way.

 

Milo stared out through the greenish glass of Uncle Dom’s huge car watching the brilliant jewel purples and candy reds of late October in the Chagrin Valley stream past. He felt bad, like he was supposed to, but not why he was supposed to, not for Uncle Jack, which made him feel selfish and worse.

 

Milo stared out the window. The day was magnificent, magical, electrifying. Milo stared at it.

 

* * *

 

Jack and Fran’s house teemed. Four generations of Milo’s kin warmed it with their breath and bodies, filling chairs and clustering in the hallways and in the big open living room rich in browns and burgundy. An ivory and purple painting of a Tuscan vineyard hung in a gold frame above the fireplace where a cozy log crackled and spat. Milo’s mother and father stood talking to Cousin Jim from the West Side and Cousin Dario, Jack’s son. The sweet and slightly acidic scent of pasta sauce hung in the air with the kitchen steam. The familiar aroma gave Milo a twinge. Cousin Lizzy, the cute cousin, with her huge brown eyes and walnut skin, was the first to ask after Amanda, whom she’d liked. She took his jacket and said to him, Where’s Mandy?

 

He had to face the gauntlet of aunt and grandaunt kisses, a ritual he’d hated since childhood. He moved through the room, from Aunt Penny to Aunt Vita to Aunt Edda, doing his duty. They’d touch his cheek and plant him with kisses from their shrunken lips, leaving a cloying aromatic dust of pale powder on his face and a smear of lipstick along with a thin line of saliva. He was sure Aunt Penny was using the same bottle of perfume bought from a defunct downtown department store in 1949. It was like paying dues for something, but without much of a return, just a thing he had to do. Perhaps, Milo thought, that’s why it’s called an obligation.

 

Fr. Phil from Holy Rosary in the old neighborhood was there. It was still their family church, long after they’d left Cleveland for the suburbs and beyond. Fr. Phil was the pastor and their favorite, a short man in his early fifties with thick silver hair and a round belly who wore a perpetually serene smile. He spoke fluent Italian and the grandparents and great aunts drove in from Chardon and Chesterland and Concord—forty, fifty minutes sometimes, longer in the snow—to hear him drop a Buongiorno, or Dio lo benedice, during Sunday Mass. Milo spoke pretty good Italian for the fourth generation, picked up over the years from the older relatives. It pleased him to have some sort of ethnic background and he enjoyed Fr. Phil’s little flourishes too. It was good of him to come all the way out to Chesterland and Milo gave him a hearty handshake and said so and thanked him.

 

Back in the warm, humid kitchen Aunt Millie, another of Jack and Grandma’s sisters, sat leaning forward in a chair, her trembling hand clutching the rubber head of her grey metal cane. Aunt Andrea, Milo’s father’s sister, stood with a Styrofoam bowl, nibbling aortic mostaccioli from the end of a clear plastic fork and talking with Cousin Joe, Jack’s oldest son. Aunt Olivia stood at the stove stirring a gleaming pot of sauce nearly half as big as she. At the kitchen table Milo’s cousins Pammy and Leanne chatted and gently rocked the new cousins, their little babies, on their shoulders.

 

Milo took his kiss from Aunt Andrea and Cousin Joe shook his hand. Joe looked beat.

 

Hey, thanks for coming, Milo, he said.

 

Milo mildly protested: Of course, of course . . .

 

You eat? Joe said.

 

No, I just got here with Uncle Dom, Milo said. How’s your dad?

 

Joe leaned his head and shoulders back, took a deep, resigned breath and placed his palms on both sides of the globe of his belly. He’s, uh . . . well, he’s not good, Joe said. They offered the Mass for him this morning. Dad’s tired, I think. You know? I think he wants to go home.

 

The word struck Milo. He’d never really thought of death like that.

 

Did you see him? Joe said.

 

See him?

 

Yeah, he’s up in the front bedroom. Come on. I’ll take you. Andrea, do you mind?

 

Joe, I don’t—

 

Come on, Milo, Joe said. Say goodbye.

 

* * *

 

They’d put Jack in the small guest bedroom at the front of the house. His plain metal bed had a green blanket stretched tightly across it and took up most of the room. Its corners were military neat, with a bright white sheet folded over the top of the blanket and tucked under Jack’s armpits. Beneath it lay what remained of Uncle Jack, dry chicken bones in a paper sack. Blue veins showed through the translucent skin of his arms and forehead. He looked like something washed from the sea, even more so as he slowly and regularly gulped at air. A double-barreled oxygen tank with chipped green paint stood beside the bed, clear tubes trailing off, a plastic facemask hanging from the valves by a white elastic strap. No one moved to offer it to Jack.

 

Joe’s wife Susan sat beside the bed opposite the door stroking Jack’s hand. She looked up as they entered and smiled wearily and silently mouthed Milo a hello. Milo waved to her weakly. In a chair in the far corner sat a plump black woman in hospital scrubs, baby blue pants and a white top with tiny bright flowers on it, one of the home aids from Visiting Angels. In the opposite corner stood a tall pale Amish girl in round wire rim glasses, patiently waiting with her eyes cast down and her hands folded before her. She looked about twenty and wore a plain grey frock, black shoes and a white cotton cap. She shouldn’t have been surprising—this was Geauga County and they weren’t far from Amish Country in Middlefield. But her otherness, and the black woman’s, amidst the intimacy of sickness and family, grinding against his reluctance to be there to begin with, chafed something in Milo’s mind. The room smelled disinfected, sterile. It made his eyes ache.

 

Joe approached his father’s bed, patted Jack’s arm lightly. Hey, Pa, he said with gentle enthusiasm. Milo’s here. He came to see you. Joe turned to his cousin and stepped aside. Go ahead, Milo, he said. He can hear you. Just go ahead and talk to him.

 

Milo stepped forward tentatively. His granduncle’s eyes were pressed closed and his head was turned back and away from Milo on the pillow. He swallowed air in second-long intervals. Susan patted his hand.

 

Hey, Uncle Jack, Milo said. How’re you doing?

 

Nothing changed with Jack. He writhed and gulped. Milo looked up at Susan. She smiled at him, sweetly, her eyes tired.

 

It’s a beautiful day, Milo said. The sun’s out. It’s fall. The trees are real pretty. The family is all here. Milo looked around the room, at Susan and Joe, at the round black woman staring at the floor, the tall Amish girl looking down at her hands.  There’s a lot of people to help take care of you.

 

Jack twisted beneath his green blanket, silently swallowed the air. Then again. Then again. Susan stroked his hand.

 

Okay, um, so, I’m gonna go help Aunt Olivia. You take care, Jack, Milo said, and he touched Uncle Jack on the shoulder. It made him think of shattered glass.

 

Milo excused himself and Joe patted him on the back as he left the room. He made his way back through the relatives to the kitchen. On the counter by the stove there were two big jug bottles of store-bought wine, one about two-thirds gone. Milo poured himself a drink from the open one, gulped it, refilled his plastic cup, and took it out back to the glassed-in patio. Chuck Latessa, Cousin Lizzy’s father, was out there filling the space with the acrid smoke of one of his cigars.

 

Hey, Chuck, Milo said.

 

Heya, Milo, Chuck said. He ashed in an empty flower pot then clenched the cigar between his teeth and extended his hand to shake with his cousin. Where’s Mandy at?

 

* * *

 

As the sun began to set Fr. Phil started poking his head in from room to room, saying, Okay, everybody.

 

The family members crushed in the hallway outside of Jack’s bedroom. Jack’s remaining living sisters, Olivia and Millie, were allowed inside, and his two sons, Dario and Joe, stood in the doorway. Little Anthony and Joe, Jr. held hands with their wives in the grandchild layer behind. The remainder of the clan spilled from the hall into the big open living room. Milo’s tier, filled with the second cousins and grandnieces, was back by the kitchen where Pammy and Leanne still sat at the table rocking their babies.

 

Fr. Phil appeared from the dining room with a thin stole of shiny purple silk draped around his neck and holding a small crucifix of antiqued silver above his head. He gently pushed his way through the relatives, sing-songing as he did in only semi-intelligible Latin.

Miserere mei, Deus. Secundum magnam misericordiam tuam. Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam....

He nudged in between Dario and Joe at the doorway and paused. Pax huic domui, he sang, and replied for himself, Et omnibus habitantibus in ea, and then he went in.

 

Milo, crowded in among his cousins far back from the bedroom, couldn’t see what was happening. He heard sniffles and gentle coughs and tried to breathe the heavy air.

 

From Jack’s room came Fr. Phil’s voice again. Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbador. Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam. There was a pause, then, soft and gently, Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.

 

It almost startled Milo when the older relatives replied in unison, Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

 

Reflexively, Milo sputtered, Amen. No one else around him did, and he felt embarrassed and stupid.

 

From inside Jack’s bedroom Fr. Phil sang again, Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbador. Deus in adjutorium meum intende.

 

And the older relatives replied, Domine ad adjuvandum me festina.

 

A moment passed, then, one last time, Fr. Phil’s voice, very clear, almost booming, issued from the sickroom:

Exaudi nos, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus: et mittere digneris sanctum Angelum tuum de caelis, qui custodiat, foveat, protegat, visitet atque defendat omnes habitantes in hoc habitaculo. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. A-men.

The older relatives and some of the younger ones immediately replied, A-men, but Milo kept his mouth shut.

 

There were sounds, something like scraping maybe, then perhaps a paper crumpling. Milo really couldn’t tell what he heard. But then there was Cousin Joe’s voice. It’s okay, Pop, Joe said. You can go. We love you. You did a great job. We’re all okay. Go see Ma. We’ll all see you soon. We’ll all be together. Go see Ma.

 

Cousin Lizzy’s shoulders shook. She started to cry.

 

* * *

 

Long minutes passed. Milo heard soft weeping around him and from inside the bedroom. Finally Fr. Phil appeared in the doorway and made a little speech, almost the same one he’d made at Milo’s grandmother’s funeral the year before.

 

Brothers and sisters, Fr. Phil said, our brother Giacomo has gone this day to redeem Our Savior’s promise of eternal life. We do not mourn his passing, merely his going away from us, and look forward to meeting him again in God’s Kingdom, confident of Our Lord’s loving mercy. It is a blessing both to Giacomo and to yourselves that you have gathered together as a family as he completes his journey here on Earth, to share, as a family, with him and with each other, your strength and your love. May God bless all of you—he raised a hand above his head and made a cross over them—in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The relatives, Milo too, all crossed themselves. Amen, they all said.

 

And that was it. They emptied out of the hallway into the corners of the house. Some of the women and girls daubed tears from their cheeks delicately with red paper napkins, trying not to ruin their make-up. Soon some of the cousins began to gather up their children, locate coats and jackets and make preparations to leave. Joe said they’d call with the funeral information. The older women began packing up food. There was a lot of food there.

 

* * *

 

Uncle Dom dropped Milo home around eight.

 

Milo’s key made a crumple sound in the lock. He opened the door and waved back at Dom. The big Buick pulled away from the curb and off down the street and Milo stepped inside.

 

To save money he kept the heat off when he was out, except in the depths of Ohio winter when there was danger the pipes could freeze. That wasn’t an issue in late October and the air in Milo’s dark, still, silent house was dry and cold on his face and hands. Amanda had sometimes teased his frugality, but the cold after he turned on the furnace while they waited for the house to warm up made it all the nicer huddling together beneath the blue wool blanket Milo’s mother had knitted when he was maybe two or three and he’d had forever. Milo flipped on the wall switch beside the door which made an echoey snap in the empty room, and a compact fluorescent bulb blinked on atop a plastic standing floor lamp.

 

The colors of Milo’s decor were clean: white, black, grey. The hard fluorescent light threw deep shadows through the topography of the textured ceiling of Milo’s front room, and the white, straight, regular slats of the diffusers on the air vents near the tops of the walls sometimes called to Milo’s mind the gills of a dead shark. Milo had cleaned his kitchen that week, and the house still smelled of Pine Sol, hygienic. Milo’s head started to ache.

 

He turned the light back off, stepped back outside and pulled the door shut again. In twenty minutes he was seated at the long, polished walnut bar of a dim little steakhouse he liked in Mayfield. He ordered a double Scotch and avoided his own reflection in the mirror behind the cash register.

 

* * *

 

Milo’s friends sometimes accused him . . . . No, accused was too strong a word. Suggested—with love, they insisted—that he was a little cold? Not in touch with his emotions? A little, dare we say, arrogant maybe? Just a little? He didn’t see it.

 

He’d gone to school in Southern California and stayed there a few years after he graduated but moved back home after his father’s first heart attack. He got a comfortably monotonous job as an Accounts Analyst for Progressive Insurance and bought a small house in Willowick, an investment and tax shelter where he could sleep and get his mail. His friends’ wives pitied him, felt him the lonely bachelor. They invited him for barbecues in the summer, TV Browns games on Sunday afternoons in the fall, post-family-dinner pie Thanksgiving night. They’d get him cozy with a beer or a glass of wine and sit him beside some friendly-looking girl. You remember my sister friend cousin? Barbara Heather Amy? From the gym church work? They knew he didn’t. But, why not? They were pretty. They were nice. He asked them out. They ate, they drank, they laughed, they danced. Occasionally there was sex or activities approaching it, often drunk, or approaching it. But why not? This was what people did. This was fun. This was life. But then, inevitably, after an awkward, halting conversation at some middling Greek restaurant he’d never heard of on the West Side, or walking to the car from some new place in Tremont someone read about in Scene or the Free Times that they had to try, he’d find himself feeling tired, and silently calculating the time it would take to get her home, and how at her door or her curb he could extract himself from staying over, and how good he’d feel on a weekend morning after a good night’s sleep for a change. He grew—he hated to think it but he knew it was true—sorry . . . bored . . . with these women. He knew it was mean, and who the hell was he after all? But in his heart, deep deep down, he knew that’s what it was. They were hair stylists, waitresses, executive assistants. They listened to Faith Hill in their Kias and thought they were getting crazy when they went with their girlfriends to Disco Inferno Saturday Night at the Willoughby Brewing Company. They watched American Idol, then the results show the next night. They subscribed to Oprah. Subscribed, for the love of Jesus! Once the excitement of new wore off he found he had had nothing to talk about with them. He felt bad. Honestly he did, and he confided in close, old friends, men in successful relationships whose discretion and advice he’d long trusted. George told him he’d been in Cali too long, ruined himself for Ohio, become a snob. Ron told him he’d always been an asshole. One by one, over the months, the relationships ended. After a few of these the wives grew impatient, then chilly. He perceived they felt him ungrateful. The set-ups eventually stopped.

 

The lighting at the bar was murky, which by Milo was fine. Tea lights danced here and there on the tables and behind the bar white tapers dripped onto straw-wrapped bottles of Chianti. There was no television. Soft Frank Sinatra played in the background. Besides the bartender—a heavy girl with wide, round hips and a beauty mark on her lip—Milo was the only one there on a Sunday night. She didn’t try to talk to him. Between serving him she retreated to her perch at the far end of the bar in the pool of light spilling from the little round window on the door to the kitchen where she took up a fanned-out paperback. He was glad. He didn’t want to chat.

 

Milo met Amanda without even trying. Had he been trying he probably wouldn’t have. When he learned a new restored black and white print of the original 1954 Gojira—in Japanese and without the American Raymond Burr bullshit—was playing at the Cinematheque at the end of January, he knew he’d go, and, since it wasn’t the sort of thing his Ohio friends were ever in to, he knew he’d go alone. In line in the cold bright first floor hallway of the Art Institute, killing time till the girl came and set up her cashbox and started selling tickets, he stood reading the Season of Mists volume of the Sandman and Amanda appeared—that was the word; he was unaware of her till she was there; she might well have materialized or parachuted in. Before Milo knew it they were talking, Amanda gushing about Neil Gaiman. She wore a dark wool jacket and slung a floppy cloth purse over her shoulder, clutching its straps with both hands. A knit red tam o’shanter lay cocked atop her head and black curls spilled from beneath it. She had grey eyes and a shy, crooked smile and she smelled like snow and cigarettes. They watched the movie together. They walked over to Murray Hill and had a glass of wine after at La Dolce Vita. She was two years older than him. She’d gone to Regina and John Carroll, and taught special needs first graders at the Julie Billiart School in Lyndhurst. She grew up in South Euclid and lived with a roommate, a Pakistani nursing student from New Jersey named Husna, at Cedar-Fairmount in Cleveland Heights. Milo went home with her email address on the ripped-open white inside of a pack of spearmint Dentyne Ice.

 

They were together almost two years, a crazy record for Milo. Once they’d slept together at his place and then at hers, and shared one another’s darkest secret (she had bulimia all the way though high school till finally her period disappeared for four straight months and it scared the crap out of her and she stopped; he, on a desolate grey afternoon between Christmas and New Years, drank a half-liter of cheap Polish vodka from a grocer in Koreatown, then, with a rare impulsivity that surprised and even frightened him, ate a king size bottle of Benadryl, quickly panicked, called 9-1-1, vomited before the EMTs arrived; it was a minor, gossipy scandal in his grad program but no one in Ohio knew, not even his parents), once they’d done those things—and it took months to get there, wonderful months of long, late dinners in noisy restaurants in Willoughby and Cleveland Heights, and bleary, shy this-is-what-I-look-like-when-I-first-wake-up smiles, and Sunday morning pancakes in old loose T-shirts and pajama bottoms, wordlessly touching cold toes to the other’s warm shins beneath the breakfast table while blowing on mugs of steaming coffee above—once they’d done those things he’d felt what there was between them had reached what he considered a pleasant, sustainable cruising altitude. There were fights too, fights over intervals between messages and calls back, and something inchoate about him which nonetheless bothered her, evidently greatly, which she could only name as distance, and how little he seemed to consider said distance as a real problem worthy of effort or even concern, and over Margaret Sanger of all things, and if he hated Ohio so much why did he stay? But in the aggregate there were many, many more naps and pancakes than fights and he had been, he believed—since he thought people convinced themselves they were because they felt they should be and because they wanted to be without really thinking about what they meant by the term—happy.

 

Milo finished his first Scotch, feeling his chest loosen, his mind unfilling, grateful for it. He waved to the bartender and and when she came back down he asked her quietly for another.

 

Could any of these women he’d been with actually have helped him? Could this really just be occurring to him for the first time? Take Amanda for instance. Just for instance. She was a nice girl. A smart girl. For their one Christmas she went online and got him bourbon fudge from a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. Who else was going to do that? She sweetly taught retarded kids but could tell you the filthiest jokes when she had some drinks in her. She had a purple iPod nano and smoked. At the dawn of the Twenty-first Century what professional woman in her twenties with a graduate education in the United States still smoked? She was a rebel. In her own tiny way.

 

Milo felt lightheaded after the second drink. There was work work tomorrow and he’d have to drive home after all. He wondered if he should order some food and he decided he’d decide after he’d had another.

 

* * *

 

Back home Milo ascended the steep white staircase, his steps deliberate, legs heavy with alcohol. The antiseptic scent remained and the house was still cold, but he’d happily killed his ability to be bothered by any of it. As he kicked off his shoes in the hall outside his bedroom he briefly, dimly considered how he might maybe should call in sick in the morning; he didn’t suppose he’d be prime time for work in the couple hours left before the alarm. Knowing he’d have a funeral to attend soon, Milo had pulled his dark suit from the bedroom closet earlier that day to see if it needed to visit the dry cleaners before he wore it again. It hung on the doorknob. Milo looked at it as he unbuttoned his jeans. He let them drop to the floor and stepped out of them then fell into his bed and pulled the puffy duvet over himself. It was clean, like everything, and smelled like dryer sheets.

 

Milo reached up and clicked off the light. Ognuno muore da solo, huh Jack? he muttered into his pillow. He lay still and breathed and very shortly the room went away.

 

* * *

 

Piecing it together later he wouldn’t think he’d been dreaming but maybe somewhere between waking and sleep, at once remembering the scent of snow and something Amanda had said when they were together. It was about a gymnast. They were having a late supper and a drink at Parnell’s Pub on Lee Road and one of the TVs over the bar was showing that day’s coverage of the Olympics. The tiny pixie girl from Iowa everyone was talking about and everyone said would win the gold flipped backwards on the beam and tottered on one foot, threw her arms out and fell off. Amanda was sad for her. It’s not practice, she had said. You only get the one try.

 

Suddenly Milo was awake. He almost jolted. The collar of his T-shirt was damp, cold on his neck. His chest felt light. The red digits of the clock on the nightstand showed three fifty-three and later, much later when he thought about it he would be surprised to remember that when he woke he didn’t feel drunk. Far from it, in fact. He felt urgent, agitated.

 

Milo rushed from the bedroom into his office in the dark, bashing his hip into the low banister at the top of the stairs. It would leave a bruise, a big purple beauty that would linger for weeks and turn green then yellow before fading. But right then he barely felt it. He opened the closet door and pulled the chain for the light above and on his knees rummaged through papers in his files hoping for something he’d saved from early on, an email with a restaurant address and a Google map and her cell number on it. Something. It took several minutes. His hands almost trembled. Not quite, but almost.

 

The phone was in his hand and he was dialing and he knew she was not going to talk to him and not just that but she was going to see him on the caller ID and not even answer, but he didn’t care and it didn’t matter, he still dialed. He hit the eleventh number and mashed the phone to his ear and didn’t notice his eyes pressed shut hard or that he’d stopped breathing. He floated in the quarter second of buzzing, electrified silence waiting to hear the first purring tone letting him know that out there, in the universe, in the black of the night, there was another phone ringing, another heart, beating.

 

 

 

 

 

Donald J. Modica grew up near Cleveland, Ohio, and earned degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Columbia University. “Willowick” is from his forthcoming collection of short stories set in Northeast Ohio. His story “Willoughby” was featured last winter in the The King's English and was selected by storySouth Magazine’s Million Writers Award as a Notable Story of 2009.  Other pieces from the collection have appeared or will shortly in The Evansville Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, Criminal Class Review, and River Oak Review). Mr. Modica teaches Creative Writing and English.