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THE UNEMPLOYED/ Steve Yarbrough SOMETIME DURING THE NIGHT she'd heard him in the Uving room, his fingers pecking the keys on his laptop, sending e-maU messages to people that in most cases he'd never met: folks in the coffee group, the beer group, the Mercedes Benz group, the bluegrass and oldtime music lovers group, any one of the ten or fifteen photographers' groups that he corresponded with. Most mornings, she found printouts scattered aU over the place. One day last week, she'd come across an exchange of views that had consumed twenty-two pages of continuous-feed paper. The subject was diesel fuel additives. She got up and went into the kitchen and put the water on for coffee. On the way to the bathroom, she heard him snoring, the sounds coming through the door of the room he slept in. She'd gone inside that room yesterday for the first time in two months. Brown paper sacks from Piggly Wiggly lined the baseboards. Inside each sack lay two or three copies of a magazine—Auto Monthly, Bluegrass Unlimited, Photography, Consumer Reports—or back issues of the Jackson paper or the Delta Democrat-Times. Some of the magazines and newspapers were as much as five years old. Many of the papers had pictures in them that Clark had taken back when he was still pretending to freelance. Clothes were strewn everywhere: socks and briefs, tee-shirts and jeans, some of them stinking of oU. Empty coffee-stained cups stood on the desk near his camera bag. The mattress he slept on lay in the middle of the room. There was no sheet on it, just the sleeping bag he covered himself with. The room smeUed of stale sweat. Last night, at supper, she'd told him she wanted the room cleaned up today. She'd said it nicely—Clark, please clean up that room you're sleeping in—but the effect had been to make him faU sUent, to bring down that curtain which, recently, seemed to be growing thicker and thicker. His face assumed the characteristics of certain Halloween masks. Throughout the rest of the meal, his expression never changed: it was rigid, plastic, more pitiful than disturbing. She took a fast shower, wrapped herself in her bathrobe, and, on the way back to the kitchen, stopped at his door and tapped it 230 · The Missouri Review Ughtly. Hearing nothing—he'd quit snoring—she hit it hard with her fist. "Wake up," she said. He groaned. "Come on," she said. "I'm serious." "Okay. I'm awake. What is it?" "I want you to take me to school." "I don't need the car. You can take it." He never needed the car—he never needed anything. The car, for him, was a toy, something he could crawl under and play with. He had a thousand hobbies, no vocation. Her heart began to beat harder. Her head felt Ught, but her feet felt heavy—so heavy that for a second she wondered if she possessed the strength to move them. "I don't want the car," she said. "I want you to take me." Lately, there had been several times when whatever struggle it was that engaged them seemed on the verge of some decisive occurrence. This was one of those times. Standing by the door, she asked herself what she would do if he refused. She found no answer, though she knew she would do something radical. She had to beUeve that she would. "Hell," he said. He groaned once more. She heard him roll off the mattress, one or both of his knees hit the floor. Paper crinkled. He was pawing through the refuse, sifting, searching for a dingy pair of underwear, for two socks that matched. They Uved just south of the railroad tracks, in the house that her grandmother had left her. It was all anybody had left her, the only thing she'd ever gotten through the labor of somebody other than herself. She'd come back to Mississippi when her marriage broke up, simply because the house was here and it was hers. Outside, she had to stand...


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