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The Constellations

Kevin Cunninghan

Publication Year: 2012

It’s 1974 in DeKalb County, Illinois, and the planets have failed to align for Roy Conlon. Widowed and broke, he finds that his eight-year-old son Eric is suddenly a mystery to him. The boy has become aware of a sky awhirl with stars and of the universe outside his small Midwestern town. And as powerful forces pull Eric away, Roy’s efforts to hold onto his son are threatened by weakness, guilt, and his participation in a foolish crime.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vi-10

Some writers are sufficiently antisocial to publish a book alone. I am not one of them. My gratitude and thanks to the following: Stuart Rathje and Linda Packer; Russell Primm; Claude Waterman, Michael Kulycky, Judi Mack, Jo Thomas, and Rocco...

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The phone rang at 6 a.m.

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pp. 3-5

Extra work, Roy thought as he hung up. A man never needed it more. He lit a cigarette, already his fourth of the day. Across the table Cammy removed the empty bag from the Cheerios and put the box on her head. Soon the waxy cereal bag was drifting...

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Eric and Cammy listened

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pp. 6-7

Eric and Cammy listened hopefully to the whir-whir from the car, less concerned with the walk to the road than with the color rising in their father’s face. “Piece of shit,” he finally said and he slammed his hands against the steering wheel. For...

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Roy declined a drag

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pp. 8-11

“All fucked up. Permit problem. That’s why we’re off today. You should’ve seen Gordon. That big ol’ vein in his forehead popped out two inches this time. I hope I’m not standing in front of that fucker when it blows.”...

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On Friday mornings

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pp. 12-15

On Friday mornings Eric’s class fanned out into the library, leaving Miss Birch to chat with Mrs. Krakus, the head librarian. On his way back from the astronomy shelves Eric found Julie Garland playing with the library’s fern. At her touch the...

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By late morning Roy had

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pp. 16-19

By late morning Roy had the car and his heart running again. Phyl was busy cleaning the house and insisted he do the grocery shopping. She didn’t want any comments from Deborah, she said, her teeth grinding over the name, as if it tested the...

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When Eric entered the kitchen

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pp. 20-21

When Eric entered the kitchen his Aunt Deb stood next to the sink, holding Grub against her hip and talking about her drive. Five gallons of bottled water sat on the table. After suffering a kiss on the cheek, Eric pulled the milk from the refrigerator....

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Phyl outdid herself

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pp. 22-23

Phyl outdid herself with the accommodations. A knitted quilt covered the pullout bed in the tiny upstairs room Jean had called the study. Two pillows were centered beneath the single small window. Phyl had added a lamp and clock radio to...

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Eric signed up for baseball

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pp. 24-30

Eric signed up for baseball on Saturday morning. Playing the previous season had whittled his daydreams from being Reggie Jackson to escaping right field. In twelve games he had four balls hit in his direction, and two of those over his head. Worse, his...

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“I’ll have to clear it with Fergus,”

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pp. 31-34

“I don’t anticipate a problem,” Deb said. Just the opposite, she thought. Neither new mortgage nor oncoming infant would dissuade her husband from helping. He already contributed to an expanding legion of Girl Scouts, undergrads, acid casualties, downand...

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Roy thought that

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pp. 35-39

Roy thought that Nathan Hale Elementary—a.k.a. Nathan Jail—smelled like all of Eric’s other schools. Maybe all schools, period. Kids, like dogs, might give off any odor at a given moment, but Roy was amazed by the combination of old...

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Phyl had a pot of ham

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pp. 40-41

Phyl had a pot of ham and beans on the stove and a Billy Graham rerun on the radio. The landlady had called to remind him of her visit, she said. Roy grunted. Before he could get to the bathroom, however, Phyl pointed at the floor to his left....

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With Roy back at work

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pp. 42-50

With Roy back at work, Eric and Cammy walked to Aunt Phyl’s house after school. Few of Eric’s friends lived in town so he usually passed the time enjoying Phyl’s superior TV reception or talking to her in her garden. Eric admired the flair for decoration...

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Once, when he was eleven

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pp. 51-52

Once, when he was eleven, Roy had watched two of his cousins steal several cases of Coca-Cola from a parked delivery truck. More cases than they could carry very far, in fact. When Dombey held out the coins, Roy thought about how strange...

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The cabbie turned

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pp. 53-58

Deb jogged up the front steps, one hand on the rail, the other under her belly, supporting the baby. A towheaded crossing guard held the door for her. No sooner had she spotted the front office than Maria Spinoza appeared in the door. She wore an unfashionable...

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After Saturday practices

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pp. 59-62

After Saturday practices, Coach Garland hung around to talk with parents and coaches. That left Eric with time to fill before he was taken home. He crossed the street to Nathan Jail and bounced a baseball against the wall to practice catching...

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Roy and Dombey pulled

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pp. 63-67

Roy and Dombey pulled the park’s sole picnic table to the edge of the parking lot while the rest of the crew gathered for lunch. Fraser popped the trunk and turned on the radio. Tiny, the foreman, arrived from the other direction bearing a plate covered...

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After, Lori eased off of him

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pp. 68-71

“Be right back,” Lori said. While she was gone Roy rearranged the candy bars on the night table and, as the delay stretched further, paged through Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book. Lori vaulted onto the bed, kissed each of his shoulders. Roy, uncomfortable,...

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Miss Birch had assigned

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pp. 72-75

Miss Birch had assigned each student in the class a report on his or her hobby. Five kids went each day, and one of the Tuesday presentations fell to Eric. The afternoon before, he arrived home and, after a snack, began to select which of the cans...

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Every spring, Aunt Phyl piled

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pp. 76-81

Every spring, Aunt Phyl piled late Christmas presents and a pair of suitcases into the station wagon and drove to Missouri to see their older sister, who lived on a farm halfway between New Madrid and the Arkansas state line. Parts of the...

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On alternate Saturdays

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pp. 82-85

On alternate Saturdays the First Baptist Church hosted a flea market in the parking lot. Cowell always set up a table of treasures bought at estate sales and through the classifieds. Once in a while he sold something. When Phyl brought Eric from his...

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Clouds rolled in

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pp. 86-92

Clouds rolled in during the late afternoon. The change in the weather disappointed Eric. Of all his relatives—of everyone he knew, actually—Uncle Fergus alone showed any enthusiasm for astronomy. As Eric brooded over his bad luck, a...

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Already Roy was

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pp. 93-99

The instinct to work off the growing tension seemed to catch. On the way downstairs Eric glanced at Fergus writing in a spiral notebook in the study. Outside, Mr. Johnson hobbled off after the rabbits, scattering mothers and kittens in all directions. Deb...

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Fergus had been

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pp. 100-101

Fergus had been a confirmed night owl in his bachelor days. Once married, however, he had incentives to change his ways. First, Deb was a morning person. His chances for lovemaking peaked around 6 a.m. and steadily fell to nil around nine in

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Dombey returned to

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pp. 102-103

Dombey returned to the work site that morning. The look he exchanged with Roy said they would talk. At lunch he announced a run to the convenience store. Roy told Tiny he had an errand. Ten minutes later he met Dombey in the store’s parking lot....

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The cemetery was nestled

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pp. 104-106

The cemetery was nestled in the elbow of a sharp turn in the highway. A few dozen bleached slats stood at the edge of a cornfield, the resting place of founders and farmers and the children of each taken young by pneumonia or scarlet fever. Two...

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He looked like a monster now

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pp. 107-112

He looked like a monster now. Poison ivy had caused the rash, and with help from Eric’s scratching hands it had spread everywhere. Scabs crusted pink with layers of calamine lotion covered half his forehead, hooked around his left eye across his...

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Deb had never acquired

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pp. 113-121

Deb had never acquired The Tonight Show habit. If awake at 10:30 p.m. on a weeknight, she was working. Rather than try to compete with the monologue, she waited for the roar of applause that announced the first commercial break. When she heard...

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The team milled around

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pp. 114-115

The team milled around waiting for Coach Garland, the more dedicated already paired up to play catch, the rest bent over to admire Eric’s scabs and rashes. Tim Nevin pronounced the case beyond the allergic reaction his father suffered when he...

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Roy didn’t waste his energy

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pp. 116-121

Roy didn’t waste his energy hoping for a raise. He wanted overtime. The rare person who bitched about working Saturdays saved it for his wife or friends, because his coworkers would kill him. Regular work paid the bills. Overtime paid for...

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Every time Phyl returned

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pp. 122-125

Every time Phyl returned from New Madrid she was full of predictions about the next earthquake. Her source of information was a complicated formula based on local animal behavior, pessimism, and various personal, not to say scientific,...

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Roy stepped off the ladder

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pp. 126-129

Roy stepped off the ladder, unbuckled his tool belt, and slung it over his shoulder. He felt like he’d lost ten pounds in the heat, and it was only lunchtime. Once the work started, the members of the crew went at it mostly without speaking. All...

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The apartment door was open

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pp. 130-132

“Hey, Mr. Spaceman!” A heavyset man in a fringed leather vest and battered jeans shambled through the crowd, his drink in the air, maniacal eyes spinning in opposite directions behind a pair of granny glasses. Centuries of graduate and post-graduate...

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Aunt Deb’s apartment

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pp. 133-139

Aunt Deb’s apartment seemed cramped to Eric after the high ceilings and cross drafts of the farmhouse. Tall bookshelves crowded the living room, and the spines of the books and dark wood of the shelves drank up light. Shelves and dish racks...

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The interview took place

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pp. 140-146

The interview took place in one of Harper’s science classrooms. There were two rows of high black tables, each with a sink in the middle and three stools behind it. A Periodic Table of the Elements chart covered much of the back wall. The windows...

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The next morning dawned

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pp. 147-149

The next morning dawned hot, still, and sticky. Deb lounged naked on the edge of the bed while Fergus dressed for his trip to the zoo with Eric. When he finished he came to the edge of the bed and leered at her breasts....

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Deb tried to time her arrival

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pp. 150-154

Deb tried to time her arrival to miss Phyllis. Instead she found Phyl and Cowell snapping green beans at the kitchen table with Roy. A pyramid of corn gleamed nearby. Deb gave an abbreviated report of the interview. While she praised Eric more...

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On Saturday, the sixth

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pp. 155-163

On Saturday, the sixth, the Earth reached aphelion, just over 94.5 million miles from the sun. Fergus was reading a note about it in Monday morning’s paper when the phone rang....

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When Roy got home

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pp. 156-158

When Roy got home from work he saw Eric in the garden. Grub staggered nearby amidst the hung linen, swatting at it until it knocked her down then struggling to her feet to try again. Roy scooped her up for a kiss and called a hello to Eric. Eric waved...

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Roy sat staring ahead

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pp. 159-161

Roy sat staring ahead for he did not know how long. Slowly the sounds of the world returned. An airplane passing over. Crickets chirping from the dark under the porch. At some point Cammy stormed in and asked if the fighting was over. Instead...

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It was before 8 a.m.,

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pp. 162-165

Cowell lit one of Roy’s cigarettes, concentrated on the smoke and the excuses he might use to explain the smell on his clothes. Roy handed over the first rod, then went to work on the second. A few cars rumbled over the bridge—people on their way to...

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Deb managed to get

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pp. 166-168

Deb managed to get Eric to submit to a haircut, and after a lot of wrestling bought new shoes for both of the girls. When the kids had been sated by ice-cream cones, Deb bought herself a second root beer float for the road, much to the delight of Eric and...

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The bag of cans

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pp. 169-170

The bag of cans landed with a crash in the center of the garbage pit. With a gesture Roy pointed Eric to an old railroad tie and they sat down side by side. Eric folded up into himself, hands tucked between his knees, elbows close against his body,...

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The buildings and church steeples

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pp. 171-172

Eric instead studied those around him. An old, large black woman stood tapping her foot to the tune she hummed. A balding young man dressed in hospital scrubs paged quickly through a much-abused Sun-Times. Near him a young woman with long,...


E-ISBN-13: 9781609090685
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875806839

Page Count: 180
Publication Year: 2012