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.”