SOME COLD WAR BLUES: A Short Story, Episode Two

He failed to notice Ralph moving through the living room into the kitchen in his baggy boxer shorts and sleeveless undershirt into the kitchen.

“Jesus Christ,” he heard Ralph mutter in the kitchen. .

Jack’s heart began to pound. The back porch door slammed shut. Ralph came to the doorway to the living room, his eyes flickering and dancing in anger, his neck distended, a snake about to strike.

“Didn’t ya know the God damn door was open? Too lazy ta get your ass up and close it.”

Jack said nothing. Ralph snorted, waved his hand at Jack as if pushing him away and went back into the kitchen. Jack thanked God that Ralph had not smelled the gas.

Ralph made coffee amidst mumbled imprecations.

“Bitch…Lazier’n hell…Won’t get up off her ass ta fix breakfast…”

Soon the coffee was perking and Ralph was stomping toward the bedroom.

“Why won’t you get up off your lazy ass and fix breakfast?”

“I’ll be happy to, honey. Wha’ da you want?”

“Forget it. It’s too late now.”

“I’ll be happy to.”

“Forget it.”

Ralph came back through in his work clothes and boots. Jack heard him dial the telephone in the kitchen and tell someone to meet him somewhere. Ralph paced back and forth across the doorway, listening to someone on the other end of the line and staring at Jack. At first Jack tried to avert his eyes, but after awhile he stared back.

“What’er you lookin’ at?” Ralph said.

“Nothin,’” Jack said.

Ralph hung up the phone and walked through the living room toward the front door, casting a brief, contemptuous sideways glare at Jack on his way. Ralph was searching for the newspaper, the only evidence Jack had ever seen that Ralph was literate. If Ralph got absorbed in the newspaper, it could mean another interminable hour of his menacing company.

“Well, where’s the God damned paper?” he heard Ralph ask the silent, frozen world.

Ralph poked his head back inside.

“Get down the basement and get the God damned shovel.”

Jack got the shovel and handed it to Ralph, who was standing there in the cold without even shivering. Ralph took a few swipes and sweeps with the shovel but failed to uncover the newspaper.

“Shit,” Ralph said as he surrendered, leaning the shovel against the house.

Jack moved well back into the room to make way for Ralph, who came in stomping snow all over the rug.

“I want you to shovel the porch and the walk,” Ralph said.


Jack went back to his chair to finish watching the cartoons.


“Can’t I finish watchin’?”


Ralph stepped toward him, threatening, but for some unfathomable reason Ralph hardly ever hit him.

“Get your lazy ass movin’. Now.”

By Max McBride
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