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.”