Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Old Voices, Old Ghosts

The phone rang again. William still had­n’t fin­ished his cof­fee or shak­en the drip­py sweet flir­ta­tions of Sherri Sneed’s voice. He pulled him­self out of the wick­er porch chair and went to the phone in the liv­ing room. His father’s phone. The one he used to speak with, or rather, lis­ten to the trou­bles of the locals. William did­n’t want to pick it up. It had that sound. The per­son on the oth­er end need­ed some­one and William is the only one here.

Please don’t need me,” he whis­pered as he reached to lift the hand­set. He did not say “Hello,” instead, he sim­ply lis­tened for the voice of this morn­ing’s sec­ond caller.

After an a pause, the caller sput­tered a wor­ried sound­ing “Hello? Hello? Is there any­one there?”

Hello.” William did not imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize the voice.

Billy, is that you?”

This is Billy.” He had­n’t called him­self Billy in over 15 years.

Oh good. Sounds like we had kind of a bad con­nec­tion there. But it sounds bet­ter now.” It sound­ed like an old­er woman.

Maybe. Who’s this?”

Oh, this is Roberta Hoban.” She sound­ed as though he should remem­ber her. He did. She was his 6th grade Sunday School teacher.

The effects of this morn­ing’s joint sud­den­ly seemed to dou­ble. He wished he had brought his cof­fee in with him — refuge in caf­feine. “Oh, Mrs. Hoban. Sorry, I did­n’t rec­og­nize your voice.”

That’s fine, dear. I was call­ing to find out if we would get you in church this week­end.” He was­n’t sure how he knew, but he knew sweet old Mrs. Hoban had just lied to him.

No, not this week­end Mrs. Hoban. I’m not much of a church-goer these days.”

I’m sor­ry to hear that, dear. You know, we all think of you as fam­i­ly, Billy.”

I’m glad.” His turn to lie.

We’re con­cerned about you.”

You should­n’t be.” Through his front win­dow, William saw a bat­tered old dark blue and Bond‑O grey Chrysler ‘K’ Car pull into his dri­ve way.

Well, we are, dear. You are like one of our chil­dren…” and the old lady went on wor­ry­ing over him while William watched an unwel­come ghost from his past step out of the car and walk towards his porch. Luke Bettis did­n’t walk with quite the same bounce any­more, head flipped back and chest out like a roost­er. but a prison yard fit­ness stretched through his old Arrowsmith t‑shirt and acid wash jeans. His long, stringy, dirty blonde hair looked arti­fi­cial­ly high­light­ed on top, but real­is­ti­cal­ly grey at the tem­ples. His face showed the wear of years of fight­ing and run­ning. He stopped and looked at William through the front screen door, knock­ing once polite­ly almost as an after­thought or to ward off a hex.

I’m sor­ry Mrs. Hoban,” William inter­rupt­ed her mono­logue, “I have a vis­i­tor. I’ll have to call you back.”

Okay, dear, but can we count on see­ing you this Sunday?”

Goodbye, Mrs. Hoban,” and he hung up the phone before she could reply. He did­n’t move. “Luke.”

Hey, Billy.” Luke looked away and then down at his dirty unlaced bas­ket­ball shoes, but maybe because he moved too slow­ly or maybe because they had known one anoth­er since they were five years old William knew he had been cry­ing and might cry again now.

What’s wrong?”

I ain’t comin’ in.”

Okay.”

And I ain’t gonna shout fuck­er, so you bet­ter come out here if you wan­ta hear what I got­ta say.”

They could hear each oth­er where they stood now, but William knew that Luke sim­ply did­n’t want any­thing between them as they spoke — prob­a­bly remind­ed him too much of a prison vis­it. He went out to the porch and returned to his wick­er chair.

Luke could have tak­en the oth­er chair or the porch swing, but, instead, remained on his feet, shift­ing from one foot to the oth­er, pac­ing with­in his own body. He bit off a piece of the mid­dle fin­ger­nail of his right hand. “Billy. I screwed up.”