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1 1 fiction As he heaves down through the weeds with a plate in his hand and a smear of jelly on his lips we watch him and stay silent, stay calm, and listen now to that high Middle Western bitterness in his voice as he talks about the pie cherries and the wonderfully flaky crust and the way he found it steaming on the sill, waiting for him as he’d expected. Our bellies are roaring. Not a full meal in days. Just a can of beans yesterday—while we wait out the next train, the Chicago-Detroit most likely, tomorrow around ten. He talks about how the man of the house was inside listening to a radio show, clearly visible through the front parlor window, with a shotgun at his side, the shadow of it poking up alongside his chair. Same son of a bitch who chased me out of there a while back, he explains. Then he pauses for a minute and we fear—I feel this in the way the other fellows hunch lower, bringing their heels up to the fire—he’ll circle all the way back to the beginning of his story again, starting with how he left this camp, a couple of years back, and hiked several miles to a street, lined with old maples, that on first impression seemed very much like the one he’d grown up on, although he wasn’t sure because years of drifting on the road had worn the details from his memory, so many miles behind him in the David Means Junction The 2 ecotone form of bad drink and that mind-numbing case of lockjaw he claims he had in Pittsburgh. (The antitoxin, he explained, had been administered just in time, saving him from the worst of it. A kind flophouse doctor named Williams had tended to his wound, cleaning it out and wrapping it nicely, giving him a bottle of muscle pills.) He hiked into town— that first time—to stumble upon a house that held a resemblance to whatever was left in his memory: a farmhouse with weatherworn clapboard . A side garden with rosebushes and, back beyond a fence, a vegetable patch with pole beans. Not just the same house—he explained— but the same sweet smell emanating from the garden, where far back beyond a few willow trees a brook ran, burbling and so on and so forth. He went on too long about the brook and one of the men (who, exactly, I can’t recall) said, I wish you still had that case of lockjaw. (That was the night he was christened “Lockjaw Kid.”) He had stood out in the road and absorbed the scene and felt an overwhelming sense that he was home; a sense so powerful it held him fast and—in his words—made him fearful that he’d find it too much to his liking if he went up to beg a meal. So he went back down to the camp with an empty belly and decided to leave well enough alone until, months later, coming through these parts again after a stint of work in Chicago (Lockjaw couched his life story in the idea of employment , using it as a tool to get his point across, whereas the rest of us had long ago given up talking of labor in any form, unless it was to say something along the lines of: Worked myself so hard I’ll never work again; or, I’d work if I could find a suitable form of employment that didn’t involve work), he decided to hike the six miles into town to take another look, not sure what he was searching for because by that time the initial visit—he said last time he told the story—had become only a vague memory, burned away by drink and travel; the aforesaid confession itself attesting to a hole in his story about having worked in Chicago and giving away the fact that he had, more likely, hung on and headed all the way out to the coast for the winter, whiling his time in the warmth, plucking the proverbial...


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