In the kitchen the cat clock with the tail that hung down and swung back and forth made its clicking sound as the cat’s eyes moved back and forth.
Bollo drank another beer and watched the time slip away until he figured it was too late to call Bridget. He didn’t know what good it would do to call her in the first place. He knew what she wanted, and until he could work something out there was no way he’d be able to get his hands on the kind of money he owed her. When they’d separated earlier in the year he didn’t think he’d have any trouble with the payments, but then he’d screwed up again – first with the trotter that ate up hay, oats and money and still couldn’t run, and second in the card game with Eddy and Benny Rabbi.
The horse was one thing, but Bollo should have known better than to get mixed up with Benny Rabbi. The guy was famous for being a complete low-life loser in everything except stud poker, and yet, when Eddy dragged Bollo into it, saying it was going to be more for entertainment than for the money, Bollo went along with it, knowing better all the time until the beer kicked in, and he started betting out of control, losing whole chunks of money, watching Benny Rabbi’s small hands surround it and press it down and drag it across the table like it was nothing.
With each hundred Bollo dropped it was like a wound from a knife that was so sharp it did it’s work without causing any pain until later when he tried to move and realized that all the strength had been drained out of him.
Bollo finished the beer, walked to the cupboard and pulled down the box with the green trash bags. He emptied whatever remained in the cans in the sink and dropped them into the bag. The cans made a hollow, clacking sound and rumbled about in the bottom of the bag. He picked up the ashtrays on the kitchen table and dropped the butts and the ashes over the cans in the bag. Then he took a sponge to the table and the counter and ran water in the sink. After that he opened the door and took the trash to the barrels standing along the wall beyond the yard in the back of the house.
Overhead some clouds blocked portions of the sky, but where the sky was clear some stars shown. Bollo’s breath made small clouds that rose for a moment and then disappeared. The leaves that had fallen from the trees were scattered throughout the yard and covered the lawn. It was November. When Bollo was a kid November had been his favorite time of the year, because Bollo had been a football hero, and Bridget had been a cheerleader. She was beautiful then, and she’d been his girlfriend from the first dance they went to in High School. But then time had passed, and things had changed, and what Bollo had done on the football field when he was a tough and handsome kid became a memory until the memory itself receded into the past, diminished by other events that happened and became memories for Bollo.
Bridget’s uncle, George Fuchs, the street cop who’d become a detective and who’d given her away at the altar, knew Bollo and liked him, but he worried about him too. He’d seen him move from job to job, never catching on anyplace, never fitting in, and this last time, after Maron Khoury fired Bollo from the newspaper where he’d hired him to run the loading dock (which was about as easy a job as any guy could want), George Fuchs had taken Bollo aside and asked him what was going on.
“Maybe you’re having a mid-life crisis,” George Fuchs said, staring at Bollo, who didn’t know what the Detective was getting at, since it was clear in his mind, meaning Bollo’s mind, that he was too young for a mid-life crisis and that if anybody was having a crisis it was either his wife, Bridget, or crazy Maron Khoury, his Lebanese boss with the ink-stained hands.
“I’ve got to watch out for my little girl,” George Fuchs had said to him that morning at Mr. Phil’s Diner, and Bollo had said he’d take care of whatever had to be taken care of, and George Fuchs had patted him on the shoulder, holding Bollo when Bollo tried to move away.
“Jesus, Bollo,” Fuchs said, “that kid from not so long ago – the kid who filled the stands every Friday night, the kid who gave this beat-up old mill town something to be proud of . . . . That kid was you, Bollo. Not somebody else.”
And Fuchs had given Bollo the benefit of the doubt for all the miracles Bollo had made on Fuessenich Field on cold nights in the Fall when football meant something to everybody in town.
Bollo put the lids back on the barrel and stood in the middle of the yard. Overhead everything was perfect and quiet, but he couldn’t rest or relax with it or enjoy it, not even the rich autumn smell in the air that came with the cool night breeze. Bridget wanted the money he didn’t have, and he knew the next time he saw George Fuchs, he might not be so understanding about it, because Fuchs had to “watch out for his little girl,” and watching out for his little girl meant that Bollo would have to come up with some money. Bollo walked back to the house and looked about the kitchen. It was pretty clean, clean enough. At least Gail wouldn’t be on him first thing in the morning for it.
He walked through the living room and settled in the large leather chair in the den where the old T.V. sat in the corner. He turned it on and watched some idiot singer from the 90’s move his body like a snake and sing stupid lyrics in a screeching voice. He flipped the channel and caught a college game from out west. The instant replay camera followed a tight end who’d run his pattern and caught the ball in the end zone. The film ran three times, and, each time, as the tight end moved, Bollo moved, almost imperceptibly, unconsciously anticipating and then mimicking the head-fake, pivot and turn. Bollo’s body had retained all the muscle-memory of certain movements. But what the body remembered, the mind struggled to forget. Bollo didn’t want to watch football or anything else. He didn’t want to stay inside. He had the itch to go out, maybe meet up with Eddy.
So he went upstairs to his old room and picked up his wallet and combed his hair and grabbed the leather flight jacket Bridget had bought him last Christmas. On his way out he stopped by his mother’s room. The lights were off but the T.V. was on and the light from the T.V. screen blew up and then faded across the room as the scene changed. He stepped inside and heard the quiet voice of a pallid faced middle-aged man wearing a Roman Collar. The guy’s face was pale and his glasses were pale and, except for the black suit with the little square of white under his chin, the guy would have just disappeared and his voice would have been coming from no place.
“What are you watching?” Bollo asked, but his mother just put her finger to her lips and pointed to the screen. Whatever the priest was saying it was too important for Bollo to interrupt. So Bollo started to walk away when Gail, who’d been sitting in the dark corner on the other side of the bed, asked him where he was going.
“Out,” Bollo said.
“Where out?” Gail asked.
But Bollo didn’t answer. He just walked down the hall and down the stairs and out the back door under the autumn sky where the clouds had gathered and where the wind seemed to warm a moment with the threat of rain.
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