Chris in Jeff
“I’ll be damned, heard you was back.” It’s what everyone he ran into said, and the ensuing conversation was mostly the same, too: Back three months, tomorrow. Rented a place on Creamery Road. Yep, the Patty Hearst house. Yep, my dad saw her back in the day, too, eating at the drug store.
Chris was born and raised in Jeff. He went to Jeffersonville High School, and was confirmed at St. George, across the street from the Tavern where he now worked. As for Patty Hearst, that all happened in 1974, the year Chris was born. Rumor was, she was held captive for a time in the very home that Chris now occupied, and practiced guerrilla tactics on rolling hills that undulated behind the house.
“Come by some time,” said Chris. “I’ll buy you a beer.”
Pushing his grocery cart across the parking lot at Peck’s, Chris noticed the moon was already showing itself, though it was not yet dark. All those years living in the City, the moon was elusive. It wasn’t that you couldn’t see it, but you had to be at the right place at the right time. In Jeff, it was everywhere.
These were the things he told himself to make being back okay.
At home, as he mindlessly put away his groceries, he found himself humming New York, New York. Catching himself, he said to no one but the chair: “What a cliché.” It was the line about making it there, then you can make it anywhere, that stood in relief. As a kid, that line meant something different than it did today. Back then, it meant making it BIG, as in your name above the title on a marquee. But after living in the City for more than a decade, he understood it meant something less grandiose, but equally exceptional. It meant merely making it: paying rent, navigating work, auditions, the subway, the people, the traffic, the noise, the anonymity. In that regard, he told himself, yes, he had made it. But now he was tired, and back in Jeff. Was that ultimately a failure? He wasn’t sure.
He picked up Carla on his way to his mother’s. He’d known Carla since the third grade, and at fifteen, they lost their virginities to each other (or so Carla allowed him to believe at the time). Carla was twice divorced now, and had a grown son in the navy.
“After your mom’s,” she said as soon as she got into Chris’s car, “I was thinking you and me could go out on the town. Whattaya think?”
Chris laughed. “What town?”
She smacked his arm, hard. “I don’t know. We could go to Monticello.”
Carla sighed, but then quickly breathed in new hope. “The new casino is opening soon.”
“Ain’t open tonight.”
“No,” conceded Carla. “Fuck it. Let’s go to the City. I’ll pay for a hotel.”
Chris didn’t answer as he turned into his mother’s driveway; he was certain Carla would know he had no intention of driving more than two hours to the place he’d left, three months ago tomorrow.
“Hi Mom,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.
“Hi, Barbara,” said Carla, kissing her other cheek.
“Right on time,” said Barbara. “Come, come. I hope you’re hungry. I made Christopher’s favorite,” she said as though Chris wasn’t standing right there. “Chicken cacciatore. And I put two cans of black olives in the sauce,” she said to Chris.
She ushered them into the kitchen where the table was set with the good dishes. Barbara stopped and tilted her head, taking them both in. She smiled. “You two always did look so good together.”
“I’m just saying, you look good together!”
“I brought wine,” said Carla, extending the bottle.
“Thank you, dear. Open if for her, Christopher. I’ll have a glass, too.”
Around the table, Barbara and Carla chided Chris for losing weight. “A man looks healthier if he’s plumper,” said Barbara.
“I’ve always liked a little something to hold on to,” said Carla with a wink. Chris changed the subject.
“Mom, Carla’s working for Joe Olsen now.”
“It’s okay,” said Carla. “He’s not as big a perv as people say.”
“I always thought Joe Olsen was very nice,” said Barbara.
Chris thought of all the Sunday suppers at this table, whose golden, painted fleur-di-lis around the edge have worn down from years of hands brushing the Formica. It was here he announced (his father still living, in the chair he, Chris, now occupied) that he’d won the role of Scrooge in his eighth-grade production of A Christmas Carol. And it was here he announced he was moving to the City to pursue his dreams. And it was here he announced, on a weekend visit, that he was moving back to Jeff, and his mother wept. Did she cry for happiness, or for what she perceived as his failure? He would wonder.
Back in the car, Carla, a little drunk, put her hand in his crotch.
“I’m just playing,” she said, then paused, leaving her hand where it was. “Don’t you ever think about it?”
“I haven’t played that team in a long time,” he said, removing her hand.
In her driveway, Carla asked: “Night cap?”
Chris shook his head. “Love you,” he said.
“Love you, too.”
Back at home, Chris rambled through the still mostly empty rooms. He put on his JHS Bulldogs sweatshirt and went outside and lay on the deck, taking in the stars. He remembered his father telling him, when he was about seven, how many of the stars we see are already burned out of existence, and the light we see is just a ghost. It occurred to him in that moment that a famous – infamous – person was once kept in this house, and that she may have lay on this very deck, in 1974, and stared at these very stars, which may or may not have been long passed away.
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in various online and print journals, including Crack the Spine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and MoonPark Review. He frequently wakes up in the morning with a song running through his head, usually with no rhyme nor reason. Recent examples are “The Promise” by When in Rome and “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Astoria, NY and Livingston Manor, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his website: www.jedwardkruft.com.
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