SOME COLD WAR BLUES: A Short Story, Episode Three

By the time Ralph came out to go to work, Jack had cleared a path on the porch and raked over the front steps and started on the front walkway. It was another of his piss poor jobs. Ralph surveyed it with disdain. The path Jack had carved was much narrower than the sidewalk itself, and he had not scraped all the way down to the concrete, leaving a rough and slippery mat of snow and ice.

“Gimme that,” Ralph said, grabbed the shovel and began to blaze a trail down the sidewalk to his car, which was parked on the street in front of the house. Jack stood on the front steps and dismally compared his life-and-death struggles to Ralph’s effortless rhythm and easy power, and he wondered if he would ever amount to anything in life.

Soon Ralph was standing at the front curb holding the shovel out to him.

“Com’ere and get the God damn thing. Why can’t you do anything right?”

Jack took the shovel and began frantically to dig out the sides of the path Ralph had made, hoping Ralph’s example would inspire him to successful work. For a few strokes he seemed to have the hang of it, but he soon lapsed into desperate and half-hearted combat. The car’s engine chugged, then died. Jack prayed that it would start. If it did not start, Jack would have to endure another eternity of anxiety while Ralph waited for a jump start or a ride. But Ralph held magical sway over mechanical things, and the engine soon rumbled into life. Ralph scraped the ice off the windows, then drove away.

“Fuck you,” muttered Jack, a new phrase Rex had taught him, as Ralph drove out of sight, but he kept on working for a few minutes in case Ralph drove around the block to check on him. When he was sure Ralph would not be back, he grabbed the shovel handle with both hands and flung it as far as he could. It sailed ten yards or so before it plunged into the snow and disappeared into the front yard. He looked around to see if anyone was watching.

He trudged around the side of the house, his galoshes squeaking in the snow, his boot prints marring the perfect placid smoothness of the drifts. Jack’s house was in a two- or three-block enclave that was less prosperous than the surrounding neighborhoods. It had a scruffy semi-rural quality about it, though it was in the heart of town. There was nothing in the backyard except a clothesline and a trash barrel at the back edge of the yard next to the alley. His house was in the middle of an uphill street, the fourth one down from the top of the hill. The alley was a steep hill for twenty yards or so above him, leveling off flat behind the house. The Kryzanowskis lived next door up the hill. Next to them were the MacDonalds. A fieldstone wall, five feet high, separated the Kryzanowskis’ yard from the MacDonalds’ yard. The MacDonalds were an old couple who yelled at kids who strayed into their yard, but Mr. MacDonald was retired and they were gone for the winter. Every winter the bickering old man and woman piled into an ancient rusting camper and went somewhere warm until spring. The Hartigans lived above the MacDonalds, on the corner at the top of the street. The little Hartigan kids, moving around awkwardly in their snowsuits, were trying to build a snowman in their backyard. They looked like penguins as they waddled stiff-legged through the snow, their excitement expressing itself in occasional cries of delight.

Jack fetched his sled from the basement, and, pulling it behind him, slogged up the alley, the sled rope freezing rapidly in his hand. By the time he reached the top of the alley, he had figured out that sledding was a bad idea. On the day of a snowfall, the snow was too deep and too loose for sledding. He tried it anyway and slid about three yards before he crunched to a halt. He stood up and wondered what to do next.

A snowball slammed against his upper back. Enraged, he turned around, ready to fight, but it was only Andy Maher, who was aiming yet another snowball, at his head this time. Andy missed with the snowball and charged and tackled him before he could make his own snowball to return fire.

By Max McBride
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