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HOLDING ONTO NOTHING
By Gordon Bishop
But yet of all I loved once, At last I came to see, The one that wanted nothing, Took the most of me. From Prices by Louis Ginsberg
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© 2011 Gordon Bishop. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author. First published by AuthorHouse 6/21/2011 ISBN: 978-1-4634-0652-3 (e) ISBN: 978-1-4634-0653-0 (sc)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011908218
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To Mom, Dad and Ed – who create my mortal inner Reality and give ‘our life’ its genuine essence.
To some generous believers: Ruth Hannigan, James Basil, CharlesGoddard, Peggy Bishop, Charles Munoz, John Flynn, Jeanne Reed, George Homcy, Louis Ginsberg, Al Smith, Rubin Rabinowitz, Roger Brown, Virginia Rudd, Sandi Dubrow – all of whom helped to sustain my silly sanity over the years...
bridged by a boneless depression—plus the ravages of deadening coronary attacks—had sapped his spirit dry.’ Then she snuggles up next to me and—” With a heavy sigh he ﬂung the dampened towel on the side of the bathtub. I heard dad shuﬄe past my door in the direction of the bathroom. ‘I’m sorry. “Your ma is quite a woman. Then. But the hardships of two world wars.CHAPTER 1 T he bright. patting his face dry. If you ever ﬁnd anyone as good as Hilda. early sunlight beamed through the bedroom window and. “Another big day ahead of us. like a sharp pick. brownish-gray hair airing itself in front of his forehead. “Slept good last night. When the wake-up splashing water hit the sink I rolled on my side and. I stretched long and hard.” he sighed. son. son. lying half out of bed. dad. his thin.” he mumbled into a thick terry cloth towel.” he shuttered coldly. Johnny. son. patting me on the shoulder and shuﬄing back into his bedroom. lifeless and shrinking from the strain of three recent heart attacks. 1 . “Except for mom’s feet. “Morning. pried open my eyes. hold on to her forever. forgetting my presence. holding on to the bottom of the bedboard until my muscles burned from the aching tension. Sleep all right last night?” I chirped. had lost all the strength and determination that had made him so enviable as the indomitable spirit of the Thurston clan.” He pushed the tip of the towel into his ear and his neck broke out in goose pimples. “They’re like icicles. honey. as punctual as the sunrise each morning. pushed the bedroom door open with my big toe. His face. “Always sticking ‘em under my legs and saying. crawling out of bed.” He stood gazing at himself in the mirror.
and handle all the painstaking details. but himself. The tire business came ﬁrst. recognizing my rare and sudden silence. he had to know where very penny went and if it went for promoting sales or replenishing stock.” he muttered. always trying to move some unmovable obstacle. Disgustedly. If only he would let me run the tire plant. I couldn’t help but to wonder about our business—the Thurston Tire Company: dad’s lifelong dream culminating at the wrong moment. Dad slumped down depressively in the chair. he aﬃrmed. There was no money to send him away to specialists. pushing him on. Somehow I just see myself working constantly. except to love him. Knowing a single word would disturb him rashly. *** BY THE TIME I had ﬁnished dressing. Danny Thurston—stopped by nothing. Never. socked open the small bathroom window. and. scribbling notes in one of the many overloaded route books. For every tire he sold. dad was already at his scanty homemade desk in the living room. I pulled up a chair. “But don’t ask me why.Gordon Bishop As the bathroom door closed after him. “Business was damn good last Thursday. always pushing. then shook his head. ignoring my presence. I felt so intensely about his bad heart. Rest was all he needed—desperately.” he talked to himself.” he spatted. “Hope it hits it again this week. which had left him with three crippling attacks in ﬁve months. What could I really do? Nothing. But he could not rest. the desk looked cumbersome pushed tightly against the wall with a nine-inch television set on one side and an old red leather straight chair on the other. No. sat down and crossed my hands in solemn reverence. raising his brow in a gesture of anticipation. A couple more good weeks like this and I’ll be able to sit back and rest awhile. Absolutely nothing. his ﬁngers moved nervously in haste.” 2 . lit was that much more he could apply against the burdening bills. I ﬂushed the toilet. the route. I would do anything to help him—anything. Although small. robbing him of all his restful hours. “Relief? Not for me.” He paused restfully. As his eyes concentrated on the brown-frayed route book. went over to the sink and woke up under a cold blast from the water faucet. “Figuring last week’s totals.
” he began slowly.” As if his lungs willfully stopped breathing.” he reaﬃrmed. It’s . .” I said. a vital lift.” Slipping away again.just destructive what you’re doing. . John. his eyes widening in fear. pulled the heels of my shoes under the chair. dad. But there’s something else—and it burns me up—that you have picked up somewhere. . recuperatively conﬁdent about the success of the business.Holding onto Nothing With a forced smile. readying himself for a heart-to-heart partner’s pep talk. he lowered his head and stared at the rug. You coming in and helping me with the work has given me a . dad?” “Six hundred and thirty dollars. “To sell a tire. “Here we are. And I think you know what I’m coming to. resting his arm on the cash receipts spread out at random. and listened attentively.” I sat erect.” I looked down at all the papers scattered across the desk. . all about successful failures. a . but honest hard work.” His ﬁnger pointed vaguely at me. moving uncomfortably in his chair. “I’m forty four. “I read an article last night. as if it had been a million dollars: “SIX HUNDRED and THIRTY DOLLARS!” He threw the pencil aside and leaned back in the shaky desk chair.” “You shouldn’t read all night. . “You’re getting careless. you have a peculiar outlook on life.” His jaw jounced and he rubbed his chest as though feeling for the beat of his heart.” he said. “. “How much we do last week.” Spreading out his arms. he gasped for air.” he paused. “You’re doing ﬁne. he looked across at me. “It’s good to be aggressive. .” I injected. and it will eventually ruin our reputation. . he continued. “Johnny. his body reacting to every word. a thought crowding his mind. “There’s something special about a father and son team working together. half my sanity left. . 3 . . “But you . “Why spend half your life sleeping?” he snapped impatiently. . operating the largest used tire ﬁrm in North Jersey. but still a helluva lot wiser than the day they forced me to take my ﬁrst breath. “I’ll do anything—even wrap it around a customer’s neck. it’s . “That’s one trait you possess that’s beneﬁcial. . .” He gazed at the ceiling. half dead. Johnny. Then grinning—almost elatedly—he checked the ﬁnal tally and repeated slowly. just ﬁne. Five years of hard work—dirty. John. not from me. Quickly.
4 .G. I knew he was right. barely enough so he could see my eyes. a slight shade of pink spreading over his face. sir. “You’ve taken all the tires I JUNKED and you patched them up. staring straight ahead. . now I can feel that old thump in my chest again. I don’t feel a goddamn bit sorry for you. just rumblings of his irritated breaths drumming loudly in my ears kept time together. a hint of dissatisfaction in his voice. It was easy peddling bum tires and picking up a fast buck. And it’s coming outa YOUR OWN POCKET. I’ll pay for everything. “A DOZEN REJECTS! Do you hear me?” I remained rigid. . .” he resumed. I raised my head. holding my breath. Business means money. . “Yes. then quickly dropped it back as his stern face displayed no signs of yielding.” “Papson?” I asked.” He exhaled nourishingly.” He ﬂipped the ashes on the rug. “You’ve been selling N. I found out! And you know it’s AGAINST my policy. .Gordon Bishop he reached into the middle drawer and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Money means business. “YES! That’s right!” he bellowed. More business. unable to breathe. “I found out last night. ashamed. back to you. “Papson called. no more bills . too. I hear you. . “You’re a go-getter. But I’ve been wondering how you’ve been able to turn out so many tires. I’m sorry. “Wheewwww .” Minutes passed. “YOU are going to make good for each and every one of those tires. He’s got a goddamn load of rejects to throw back in to your truck. Every cent. One of the dealers called. yet I did it only for him. “Well . He removed one. fastened to the chair. lit it and inhaled deeply. It’s all there in the books in black and white.” Standing up. he glared down at me. Nothing was said. John. Every word. and sold them for a swindler’s proﬁt. so we could meet the bills and to show him I could sell tires and he could depend on me. With my own hard-earned money I’ll pay for it. And so fast.” His face ﬂared. painted them. DO YOU HEAR ME?” Guiltily. I tilted my head to glance at him.” “And STOP ACTING!” he shouted heartlessly. “Now.’s!” His voice ﬂooded the small room with wrath. and there’s no doubt about your sincerity for the welfare of the business. more money.” I braced myself in the chair. Money is both the means and end.
realizing I had blurted out my long.” “Want me to make you some more?” she asked. You’re not going anywhere. grabbed the white sales slips and threw them on my lap. puﬃng on her ﬁrst day’s Phillip Morris. “Please. She dropped the half-smoked cigarette in the saucer. NEVER AGAIN!” I promised. John.” “That must’ve added to the ﬂavor. he walked weakly into the kitchen. “it’s coming outa your own pocket. son. None of us are. Go back to every one and give them their money back. “Now don’t try to do everything like your father. AS I GUZZLED the cold. mom sat somewhat nerved at the other end of the kitchen table.” he threatened sharply. “No. Not like Johnny Thurston. I sat staring into space. “I could eat another batchful. “Just learn to take things easy. well-kept and hard-to-live-with secret. All honest men.” His face blank from exhaustion.” she apologized. “Everything seemed to stick to the pan today. 5 . pushing herself up from the table. “I’ll pay those guys back and never do it again. so. fondling her cigarette. where it sizzled in the spilt coﬀee. Sit down. And I had abused their trust. “I’m sorry if the pancakes don’t taste good. tart orange juice.” I replied. I went to her side and took her hand.” Smoke dribbled from her lips and haloed her head. staring at me with heavy eyes.” she scolded gently. “And remember. If they haven’t sold that junk yet—replace it!” Shoving the chair aside. he stood up. “Here’s the list of dealers you canvassed last week. the sweat seeping through my T-shirt. just swallowing spoonfuls of coﬀee now and then and sucking in the smoke as I downed a plateful of steaming pancakes. Stunned and wordless. He scrambled through the desk drawers. sir. folding it in mine.” “You mean there’s MORE THAN ONE? he interrogated ﬁercely.” I cleaned oﬀ the table and piled everything in the sink.” I wetted my lips in satisfaction. “Yes. I’m late as it is.Holding onto Nothing Then I thought of all the bad tires I had unloaded on the other reliable dealers. “Never. the measly pieces of paper lying on my lap.
it seems so long. John?” “No. “Ned . I’ll make him so proud of he he’ll want to live to be ninety so he can just sit back and count all the money. Then. mom. Or I could have years ago.” “He’d a pushed himself anyway. It’ll be like old times again.” She squeezed my hand. . . son?” “I mean it. Johnny?” “Mom. “You mean it. Just wait and see. stop! Do you want to upset dad more? He’ll hear you. and there’s nothing in the world that’s big enough for you.Gordon Bishop mom. with dad.” “Mom— 6 . It’s part of your dreams. He’s bad enough. her eyes set blankly at the soiled white tablecloth. what a thing to say!” She cupped her hands over her ears. “No. “Son. Nobody can tell him what to do. almost painfully. mom—the business.” she sort of laughed. . she asked. helping you with the business. But it’s too late now. Remember?” I brushed her hair back and unruﬄed the bathrobe collar from around her neck. When I get oﬀ the route tonight. He’s not too old for that anymore. wait.” “Maybe I’ve pushed him too hard. Isn’t that enough?” “But look what I did to daddy!” “Mom—stop it! It’s not your fault or anybody’s fault he’s got a bad heart. You just wait and see. I had everything. thinking about it won’t do any good.” “That’s all it’s been—wait. and Ned .” “I can. If only he were here now. mom. You know we both love you. and we’ll pray that dad gets better. Am I asking for too much?” I grabbed her arm. I’ll come home with a pocketful of money again.” She shoved aside the empty cup and leaned on the end of the table.” Her tiny head dropped between her arms. as if not wanting to hear what she was saying. . I miss your brother so. Just wait. what have we got to look forward to?” “Everything. I wish something would happen. “Am I selﬁsh. “Mother. “when you’re young you’re selﬁsh. tell me. pressing her elbows against the edge of the table. I’ll make up for those junk tires I sold. Anything. It’s funny. For a moment she remained motionless. wait. He’ll be home soon. is he. And hope. son.
I shook her gently. I can’t breathe. “Sure. “Nothing. and started working. You just laugh. I gotta stop laughing. dad holding mom’s hand as she convulsed in the chair. “MOM. Yes. son. THAT STUPID LITTLE GREEN BUNDLE OF NOTHING!” She laughed uncontrollably. already retreating from the kitchen. somehow feeling we could go on like that forever.” “Yeah. As I closed the door. spreading a false smile. so may I leave?” I interrupted.” he coughed breathlessly. “Hilda. daddy. and me sitting home watching the bundle grow. daddy working two jobs. laugh!” he blurted out. Hilda?” he yelled. I just wanted to cry.Holding onto Nothing “All we did for ten years was make love and dream. Then everything that I thought I had was all nothing. daddy. “What’s the matter. 7 . But then the dream disappears—and there’s nothing. Johnny. have a good day. So daddy and I stopped loving—” “Mother—” “and stopped dreaming. She stopped crying. “C’mon. I glanced up at our second ﬂoor livingroom windows facing the apartment court. “You don’t ask questions like that. Let’s laugh. STOP IT!” “Where is it now?” she cried. shoving me out of the way. tiredly. They laughed together.” dad agreed dumbly. We should all laugh once in a while. laugh. waiting for the engine to warm. Dad ran into the kitchen. I could hear dad wheezing. son.” *** I COULD STILL HEAR them laughing intolerably as I sat in the car. “I can’t laugh. His face grew pale and he leaned against mother for support. nothing. laugh. we should. Mom laughed along with him. “Will you tell me what’s so funny?” I asked angrily. seven days a week. I picked up the route book on the desk and ran down the stairs. forcing a laugh. The shades were drawn and I wondered if they would still be drawn when I got back home tonight.” he commanded childishly. No.
examined it approvingly and displayed it to the driver. “You can put one in. It gurgled to the last drop before he took his time removing it. 8 . Next week. I jumped into the truck and headed for Dover. and Papson was hung up at the end of a hose.Gordon Bishop I drove to the warehouse. I hit the horn again. pushed my sickly looking dime under the saucer and dashed out of the diner before the waitress swept away the dishes from the counter and pocketed my skinny gratuity. I honked my truck’s horn three more times. Pap. for Papson’s life appeared rather dull and uninteresting— continuously surrounded by quaint farmers and fertilizer peddlers. Within two hours. greasy rag from his hip pocket and dipped it back into the oil hole. a guy could drop dead from shock.” the driver said. irritably. hoping to create a friendly atmosphere. dumping the contents of the bright red can into the funnel. He opened the hood of the trailer-truck and pulled out an oil stick. “Damn truck hasn’t had an oil change since I bought it. I gorged my burgers briskly and. “Don’t do that.” he yelled. Thursh! You know. and unloaded the truck. I ate a late lunch in a hamburger hut a few doors from the warehouse. After spending the morning soliciting the junkyards for sound. checking the oil stick dripping on his fender. after spotting all the loaded tips by the drivers’ plates. cleaned it with a black. After awhile. pumping gas into a trailer-truck. Another half buck for a quart of oil. Pap. a ten-minute ride into Hackensack. He pulled it out again. Getting out of the truck. hitting the horn to signal his attention. every customer became a proﬁtable prospect. I arrived at Papson’s and nosed the panel truck into his driveway. shaking his ﬁst at me. The drivers would ﬁnish their dinners and drop a conspicuous tip on the crumbspecked counter—plus a note to the part-time prostitutes where to meet them. he thought. Local truck drivers and out-of-state haulers stopped over at The Red Angel to chat with all the premium-paid waitresses who were much more appetizing to look at than the food they shoved before their amorously aggressive male customers. Greasy tools and parts cluttered the station and bays. Papson licked his lower lip. recapable casings. Aware of the routine.” he promised. The waitresses would wink and roll their pink tongues over their lipstick-smeared mouths—indicating conﬁrmation.
Where are they?” He looked out the window and checked the traﬃc crawling along the highway. for that matter. kid.” Papson scuttled back across the tarblistered driveway.Holding onto Nothing “Can’t ya see I’m busy?” Papson barked back. throwing the empty oil can in an overloaded barrel on the gas island. Man. “My sweety should hear me talkin’.” I said. his back-patting ﬂunky face already in place. “I gave you the wrong tires.” “Yeah. The bulging roll of bills in his pocket was evidence enough of his easy success as a gas vendor. another vehicle rolled up to the pumps.” He chuckled sneakingly to himself.” I said automatically. I don’t want my customers seein’ junk like that aroun’ here. you coulda really loused me up. if I’d a sold any of that junk. wid stuﬀ like that you can get me blackballed up here. They were for someone else.” I ﬁred back defensively. or the car. “I dumped ‘em in the back room. Papson banged the side of the big barrel with his ﬁlthy ﬁst—crazed. although I didn’t even see the girl. I gotta good reputation. Thursh? I mean those ever-cuddlin’ boobs. throwing my legs over an empty grease barrel. His customers loved it.” “You mean some poor son’s a bitch is sellin’ this crap?” “It’s not crap.” I slid oﬀ the truck casing. “Whatsa matter. “Jus cause it’s got a lousy patch in it? Whataya want—the cream all the time?” 9 .” “A mistake. roaring aloud. Papson pulled a roll of bills from his side pocket and thumbed oﬀ the change. “Boy. And it’s a good thing I got good eyes. “Hey. she was neat. whatabout those bum tires? I talked to Danny and he said you’d make good for ‘em. “Be wid ya in a minute. I went into his oﬃce and plopped on an old truck tire. slapping him on the back. His face grew serious. Thursh? Can’t ya be patient like yer old man?” Before I could answer. And there I waited—sometimes for an hour. They exchanged a few businesslike swear words and the driver jammed the truck into ﬁrst and jerked out of the driveway. didya see that dame that just left. yet contented—and scuﬀed over to my truck. The driver handed him a ﬁve. Papson’s purplish face was alive with sweat and satisfaction. A mistake. He burst into the oﬃce. Ya know. “Yeah.
write out a post-dated check. “Yeah. “No. hitting his nose again with his ﬁngers. The stuﬀ whirled through the air and landed on the greasy ﬂoor. let’s start movin’ these pigs outa here and make room for some good stuﬀ. he’d—” “He’d what?” “He’d let me keep the tires for a week.” “Lift. too.” “So I’ve seen. man. but I didn’t think you’d be here till tomorrow—or next week. “Christ! These pigs even weigh more. “How ‘bout post-datin’ a check?” He became impatient and irascible. “Well.Gordon Bishop “Yeah! And if you don’t gimme the cream.” He glanced at the Playboy calendar hanging crookedly in front of the grease lift. Nobody’s ass!” He blew his nose with his ﬁngers. “I’m broke. “You order these?” He stepped back.” I said. if that’s what ya want. somebody else will—and they’ll be kissin’ my ass doin’ it. no. “If yer old man was here. a bulbous-breasted blonde nude pictured on it. .” I followed disgustedly with two tires under each arm. . Probably loaded with liners. My tires move anywhere.” he backed oﬀ.” 10 . . We cleared the back room of the patched-up ‘pigs’ and exchanged every tire under intense scrutinization.” “I don’t hafta kiss yer ass.” “That’s Danny. I’ve had a rough week.” “I’m not gonna kiss yer ass. ﬂipping the remnants on the tires.” I pulled out my route book. . You should be lucky I’m taking it. and forget these tires were ever here. I don’t deposit until tomorrow.” “Gettin’ pretty damn independent for a young squirt.” He bent over and grabbed an armful of tires. I can’t buy anything today. the piggy bank’s ﬁlled up now. “Can ya leave the tires I ordered and come back tomorrow for the check?” “Can’t run a business on air.” I opened the route book and shoved it in front of his face. and a bad ticker. about the tires you ordered. It’s guys like you that’ll give anybody an ulcer . Go on.” he snorted. “Now. “Well . The biggest accounts are the biggest cry babies. That’s why he’s sick.
you’ll take it.” he mused. 11 . “Here’s hopin’. Can I get some gas? The cautious attendant searched my eyes suspiciously. displaying it like a model would display a ten thousand dollar mink coat. your looks?” “No. but I ain’t got it. his eyes surveying the tires. “Hmmm. the sun started melting down into the mountains. An attendant marched to my truck. the truck sputtered.” In two minutes the truck was unloaded.” He spit and glanced at the calendar again. “Yer makin’ a thief outa me. He’d smile gratefully: enough reward. The dealers had emptied my truck and ﬁlled my pockets with post-dated checks. believing I came in to peddle my wares. the station slowly came into view. obscured by drifts of exhaust smoke. one of three left over because they contained a small nailhole or two inside the casing. I waved a generous goodbye.” “Whataya think yer doin’ to me?” He barely grinned.” *** FOUR HOURS LATER and ten accounts in the red. He smiled back from inside his grimy oﬃce. “Hi! I ran out of gas. “Twenty tires for a piece of worthless paper.” he exhaled on the drying ink. It was ﬁve o’clock and the working world rides on fumes at ﬁve. not a bad bargain.Holding onto Nothing “Yeah. Cars lined up to the pumps—bumper to bumper. far out of the way to there would be room for the frenzied gashops to clink gas nozzles into tanks and run to the register for change. Rambling back to the warehouse. but I don’t have any money on me—just a mess of checks and a few tires sleepin’ in the truck. “Now get those tires oﬀa that blasted truck and beat it. The gas needle registered empty—and only halfway home. “With what. annoyed and disappointed. then ripped a check from his book and signed it doubtfully . I was eager to show them all to dad and couldn’t wait to tell him the truck had ﬁnally returned home empty. I rolled the truck into an isolated part of the station. the choke coughed and the muﬄer crackled ﬁre and fumes. “Can ya use it?” I asked proudly.” I jumped out of the truck and bounced to the back and rolled oﬀ a tire. In ﬁve minutes. I took the truck out of gear and coasted to the nearest garage—about a mile down the highway. a tire.
Gordon Bishop “It’s a six seventy. “Yer holdin’ up business. By the time I returned to the warehouse. man. his doubts worsening when he saw only two forlorn recaps stranded far apart from one another.” I agreed meekly.” he decided. He coughed and gave me the ﬁnger.” He stepped forward and examined the tire carefully. Dad 12 . “But all I want is a tankful of gas. We pushed the truck over to the pumps and began ﬁlling it. I save a dollar. ﬂooring the accelerator. *** I WALKED QUIETLY into the apartment. still studying the tire doubtfully. man—CASH BUSINESS!” “Okay.” “Then why don’t you have the money to buy gas?” “Big spender.” He looked on the back of the truck.” I caught myself quickly. locked up the doors. I drove the truck inside. “Get this crate outa here.” He plunked the hose back onto the pump.” “Big deal.” I announced heartily. “How much does this wagon hold?” he asked. “Is that all you got to oﬀer?” “What you see you can have. The meter on the face of the pump showed four dollars. He stopped.” I kicked the tire roughly. He jumped up on to the truck and picked up the tires. one in each hand. Dad was sitting in his red leather chair staring at mother. A musty smell of gas and old tires crept deathly out of the old barn. “This takes more ‘n four dollars. pushing it and pulling its side apart and frowning curiously. You can also use six seventies. “Deal’s a deal. knowing all three tires were exactly alike. I sell thousands every week. That ain’t a bargain. “I’ll take the one out there. assuring him it was sound and rugged. She was sound asleep on the couch.” ! boasted. He slammed the truck with the side of his hand. OKAY!” I mimmicked. and headed home. “What’s it worth?” “Five bucks. night had shrouded everything. “You look like a con artist to me. The exhaust whipped around his body. “Around four—or maybe even less sometimes. set the burglar alarm.
as if life had abandoned him for good. His hands were now white and they looked cold. It’s getting harder to breathe. Good doctors to look after you. painful breath. and you gave her an aspirin. John. He sucked in a short.” “But mom can help you. If you get me excited now.” I went over to the couch and. remember? She had acute appendicitis and you thought it was just gas.” He rubbed his chest harder. “Shut up.Holding onto Nothing looked spent. aged. I won’t be able to breathe.” “The doctors and hospital saved Lorry’s life. Mom was stretched out on the couch. “Shhh.” “I’ll wake mother and she’ll tend you.” He stared at mother helplessly. You told mom she’d pass the gas in a few hours. “See what you’ve done. his pupils dilating and his eyes squeezing tightly in pain. Now leave me alone. son. Lorry would be dead today. “Can I please take you to the hospital.” “I’ll soon be at peace: no more trouble for Danny Thurston—or from Danny Thurston. he whispered urgently: “Please.” he panted heavily. don’t disturb her.” “Leave me alone. dad?” I begged him. ﬁnd out what’s wrong so you’ll stop suﬀering. her straggly hair knotted in her limp hands and a dying cigarette clinging hopelessly to the tips of her middle ﬁngers. hoping this time he’d go.” “You can’t take an aspirin for this.” He coughed and his hands stopped pressing into his chest. as I was going to remove the cigarette from between her ﬁngers.” he mumbled.” “Then let somebody help you—people who know how to help. I sat down by the desk and stared at dad. When the prayer ended. I looked at him and then at mother and prayed for help. don’t wake her. He forced a dry smile. I went into the kitchen and made supper. for there 13 . If we’d a listened to you. She’s had a trying day with me. his eyes sore and swollen from crying. son. You need a doctor’s attention. The pain’s tearing my chest apart. John. “You know I hate doctors. “Poor thing.
Gordon Bishop was nothing else a body could do—even with God’s help.” I hesitated before pulling out the mess of crumpled. dad. Business was lousy. He skimmed over the dates and I couldn’t hold oﬀ from telling him any longer. . Why can’t I go right now before all my pride is gone?’ he said. He begged me to tell him how much longer he had to go on like this. They’re making it. “I would have ﬁxed your dinner. dad. Every time he tried to lay down he turned white. but they’re holding on to it.” He thumbed through the checks and was pleased to see such a large amount. It’s better than nothing.” she sighed sleepily. Finally. staring absently at his tattered slippers. “Last night he asked me if he could . post-dated checks in my pocket. “Son. “Those sneaking bastards would never do this if I were with you. son?” he asked. if he could rest his head on mommy’s little titties because he couldn’t lay down. Why didn’t you stop them.” she went on oppressively. “They’re all post-dated.” She went over to the stove and lit the gas. I had to turn them over to him. “Is daddy all right?” “No. He’s dying. “We’ve been married twenty-eight years. I guess. “If he should go. Trying to shake loose a frying pan stuck under a pile of other cookery sent mother scampering into the kitchen. “. . dad. He was hunched over. What I could get I got.” I took her by the arm and walked back into the living room and stood alongside dad. “How did you to today. . . why didn’t you wake me?” she asked drowsily. taking the pan from me. boy?” “It was one of those days. He cried. dad. He won’t let anyone help him. wanting to sound interested. “Pretty good.” “What? He looked at the dates on the checks and chucked the whole score of them on the ﬂoor. “Here.” Her voice cracked and she sniﬄed. I handed him a cigarette. there was a tear to take its place. I felt these checks were better than 14 .” As each word trickled from her mouth.” “Poor daddy. I want to go with him. “Why doesn’t God be good to all of us and let me go.
There was peace and security in Jochum’s cluttered cellar. Mother nodded good-bye. to do ﬁve hundred push-ups. “Forgive him.” Mother put her arm around his neck and eased him straight up into the chair again. squats. handstands. dad.” Dad refused to agree with mom and he pushed her away lightly. ‘When a truck goes out with tires.’” “When will you learn? How many times do I have to tell you that we cannot operate a business on no capital! Oh. a friend whose cellar had been converted into a gymnastic paradise. Heaven’s Cellar: knock yourself out. your hate. I closed my eyes and waited for something to happen. *** I DROVE TO Jochum’s house in Hackensack. He was trying too hard. Nothing mattered now. breathing now with exerted eﬀort. some last word to end the day’s misery. Freedom: the need to be alone—to work. sweat slopping all over the cleanlywaxed tiled ﬂoor: your sweat. Nothing happened. what the hell am I yelling for? You’ll just go out and do the same thing again tomorrow. “Bye. Want anything from the store or druggist?” I asked. sit-ups—a workout that sent the blood pounding through your head while you held life at bay with all your strength.Holding onto Nothing nothing. bench presses. or do. your anger. “I’m going out for a drive. You even said. the words seeming to ﬂy back in my face like jagged rocks. The minutes ticked by like a frogman entangled in a sunken shipwreck—his oxygen exhausted.” I said. dead on your feet. squeezing the bitterness out of your mind through aching exercises. There was nothing to say. you must sell those tires if you want to be a salesman. the lights upstairs went out. When the door closed. It’s no use. to think. defying death itself. daddy. ﬁfty chin-ups. Even the air seemed too noisy. curls. There was no reply. 15 . I walked downstairs as quietly as I could. Mom and dad wanted to be alone. holding his arm. You made the same foolish mistakes when you were young.
“It’s only Johnny. Johnny?” He rubbed my back briskly. like an eager manager would rub his protégé’s back before a main bout. “Oh.” “Where’s Floyd?” The old man ambled to the cellar door. The muscular old man put his arm around my waist. It just came out. life screaming with anxiety: mouth dry: swallow cold water. work-love . the word drowning the weight room in a sickening drone. ﬂushed out. My head was clouded with delirious thoughts of dad as I knocked on Jochum’s back door. Jochum. wholesome once again.Gordon Bishop your stupidity—all over the cold tile. “Good.” The old man’s son was the best training partner in the area when he wasn’t busy munching sandwiches. “I understand.” “Oh. Johnny. and picked up his son’s sneakers. nothin’. Mr. “Floyd’s getting sloppier by the day. “I’m sorry.” The old man passed it oﬀ calmly and plodded down the cellar steps to switch on the light. I don’t know why. clean.” “No. following him into the house. That’s why I built that gym downstairs. Johnny?” “Will ya shut up!” I blurted out involuntarily. “Gonna do a heavy workout tonight. Jochum shouted into the house.” the small solid man in the doorway greeted warmly. watching the nearly show. “If you say so. “Watching television. shook his head faintly.” Mr.” He smiled forgivingly. . breathe deeply. Jus’ tired. Mr. Jochum. The old man turned on the lights. hello. Come in. Boys need physical ﬁtness. pure. love-work.” he said. dear. Johnny? You look worried. “How’s your father comin’ along. .” I said.” “Yeah. Mr. and went about his business. The porch light popped on and woke me from my confusion.” “Something the matter tonight. Jochum. the late 16 . lifting yourself above the emotional quicksand: love-work. work-love. quench anxieties. furiously.
Johnny. unappreciative bench . “Father asked Floyd if he would like to keep you company. scoring one grueling touchdown after another. late show. Johnny. “Be my guest. the late. Alf. “Didn’t even know you were here. his shower. . You’ll be able to concentrate better without me making all this noise. No ambition.” “I can try. unpainted bench while the feeble skinny malinks played every game.” He crossed his legs loosely and slid his ﬁngers through his slick. loosening up on the chin bar. “Hi. Floyd almost cared. And Floyd—just a mountain of displaced muscles.” 17 . Lucky me. eyeing the coach bitterly because he allowed his barbell body beautiful to sit on the green. articulately. his toilet. I used his weights. “I’ll leave you alone. Felt good—burned. The old man paid for it all. Jochum. Mind if I sit and stare awhile?” Alf asked. but you’re looking good tonight. the sweat beginning to slide down my stomach. I always felt obligated to Floyd. only to condition his muscles for the strenuous Saturday afternoon football games where he would sit on the bench with a blanket covering his mass of masculinity.” I hung loosely on the chin bar. splintery. Three minutes later a soft patter of feet stirred the air. “We can talk.” I grunted. shiny hair. Everybody’s watching Playhouse 90. stretching out on the abdominal board. They were the Saturday afternoon gridiron greats. the eldest oﬀspring in the family. “If I can pull Floyd away from the TV set. Mr.” “Flattery will get you nowhere. He trained sporadically.” “Why aren’t you?” I asked.Holding onto Nothing show. a professional dancer currently featured in a long-run Broadway musical. Then he’d refreshen under a stinging shower he didn’t rightfully deserve and exhibit to the skinny stars his rippling biceps and triceps that were uselessly frozen to a cold.” the old man said starting up the cellar stairs. I’ll send him down. . If was Alf. “My. “Unfair!”— Floyd rebelled in the locker room after each sweltering game. raided his ice box after every workout and swam in his pool summers.” The cellar door closed and I heard him creak across the ﬂoor into the livingroom. I picked up the cue instead. carrying their one-hundred and sixty-pound meatless frames up and down the ﬁeld.
“Isn’t he on to you yet?” “Please, honey. Father’s locked the door on me many a night. My . . . aren’t you straining yourself tonight?” “I’m disgusted. It doesn’t matter.” The abdominal board was soaked with my stinking sweat. “You mad? Really.” He threw the chalk towel through the air. “Here. Dry oﬀ. You’re getting me excited.” “Thanks.” I wiped oﬀ my back and stomach and threw it back across the room. He sniﬀed it. “Mmmmmm . . . Old Spice?” “Guess again, lover.” He giggled and rolled the towel around his neck. “Are you going to do THAT exercise again?” “What?” “The one where I have to hold the weight on your lap.” “No!” Alf remained quiet and contented himself by just sitting and grinning. Near the end of the workout, he stood up on the bottom stair and yawned. “When are we going to elope, honey?” He scratched his privates. “Tonight, Alf,” I answered sharply, hoping that Floyd or the old man would come downstairs. “Oh, you big tease.” He scratched again. “Stop playing with yourself.” I chalked my hands and lay back on the bench. “Want me to hold your feet?” He got up, his pants bulging, his face blushing and his eyes beaming glassily. “My, that’s a lot of weight, sweet.” His slim ﬁngers pressed against my ankles and he started rubbing them smoothly. “Feel good?” I arched my back and pressed viciously, the barbell rising slowly, shakily. “Three more to go,” I struggled, ﬁlling my lungs with air and pushing desperately. “Two more.” My arm felt paralyzed. “Oh, Johnny, you’re beautiful,” Alf sighed, his hand pumping up and down rhythmically.
Holding onto Nothing
“One more.” My head expanded from the blood driving into it and I exerted one last eﬀort. “I love you,” Alf groaned, his semen shooting up in the air and down on the barbell plates all over the ﬂoor. When the last spurt shot out of his mushroomed prick, he sprawled out on the ﬂoor at my ankles. I collapsed on the bench, the workout ﬁnished. After a few restful minutes, Alf wiped himself oﬀ with a soiled towel. “Why did you hafta do it, Alf?” I asked disgustedly, lying on the bench, staring at his sagging prick. “I couldn’t help myself,” he smiled, satisﬁed with himself. “No more holding my feet,” I warned. “I come to work out.” Alf tucked himself in and slicked the comb through his gleaming, black hair. “Thanks, honey.” I slipped my T-shirt over my head. “You’re sick.” He winked, “And you’re not?”—and disappeared into the shadows of the staircase. I ﬂicked the light oﬀ and went upstairs. Mr. Jochum was reading the evening newspaper at the kitchen table. “Good workout, Johnny?” he asked, letting his glasses slide down on his nose as he looked up. “Yeah. Got some milk?” I opened the ice box. “A whole quart for you,” he oﬀered generously. I guzzled the whole quart in one breath. “That’s bad for you, son—a shock to your heart.” Appearing concerned, he folded the newspaper. “Alfred bother you down there?” “No, I guess not.” “He came up here looking like he just had an aﬀair with Samson. I can’t believe a son of mine would ever turn out like that.” Using a napkin, the old man wiped the newspaper ink from his ﬁngertips and then tossed it into a can. “He’s almost twenty-eight, and what’s he done with his life?” I sat down opposite him, sucking a wet ice cube. “He’s one of the top dancers in the theatre. That requires some talent,” I guessed, recalling Alf ’s impressive scrapbook. “Baaa! He should’ve ﬁnished college. He would never tell me but I think he quite because one of the faculty caught him playing with himself in the auditorium one day during class assembly. Floyd’s already set on
going to Princeton,” the old man pointed out proudly. “Think you’ll go to college someday, Johnny?” “Maybe. You need money and time for that. Right now I have to help dad.” “Your father’s got a lot to be thankful for in you.” Alfred lurched in the shadows of the hallway, listening carefully to the conversation. The light reﬂected oﬀ his shiny hair. Just then, the old man got a whiﬀ of his perfume. “You can come out, Alfred,” he said, disturbed over his son’s cunning eavesdropping. “I can smell you the moment you leave the Winter Garden on Broadway.” Alfred stepped under a spray of light. “That’s insulting, father. After all, Johnny is still ONLY a guest in this house.” “And you make sure that you treat him like one—at all times,” the old man reminded him. “Are you insinuating something, father?” I clapped my hands, “How ‘bout a glass of milk, Alf?” “Thank you, N O! Don’t be embarrassed, Johnny. Father’s always coming out with some sly innuendo to try to embarrass me. Don’t you just love fathers, Johnny?” Alfred crossed behind his father’s chair and stopped, holding on to the back of it. “Enough Alfred!” the old man warned. “What’s the matter, father? I do you love. Don’t I show it anymore?—Father?” “ENOUGH, ALFRED!” the old man shouted. “Don’t you know when you have said enough? Or must I come right out with it? You ARE my son. I still hold SOME respect for you. You could at least display some to me when Johnny’s here.” “He knows, father,” Alf disclosed, looking at me warily. The old man shoved his chair under the table and left the room. “Now look what I’ve done, John dear. Tch . . . tch . . . tch.” He ﬂicked a ﬂeck of dirt from beneath his nails, and giggled. I threw the towel around my head and made my way to the back door. “Leaving me so soon, honey?” he asked oﬀendedly, remaining in front of the mirror, stroking his coarse hair.
Holding onto Nothing
“Do you have to be so outspoken in front of your father? Someday you’ll cry for him, not laugh. Then it’ll be too late. But you probably won’t care anyway.” “It’s too late now, Johnny. Time has a way of telling us what we’re always forgetting to do. Time is something we can all do without—forever!” He continued to gaze at himself in the mirror, patting tiny wrinkles around the corner of his eyes. I turned and left. “No one can run from time, Johnny. NO ONE!” I could still hear him howling as I got into the car and backed out of the driveway. *** SILHOUETTES ANIMATED gaily against the frayed yellow shade. The jabbering and joking inside the apartment clashed crazily with the clamoring cars in the street, as I waited outside, looking up at the livingroom window, wondering what was going on inside. Sticking my ear against the slit in the mailbox, I heard the dull familiar drone of nosey neighbors. Dizzy words spilled stupidly from unrestrained mouths—those of the syrupy Samaritans next door. Occasionally, I could hear mother jesting with a loquacious woman, and she’d gingerly announce, “Isn’t it wonderful of the neighbors to stop in for a chat, daddy?” Daddy never answered. The frost caused my ear to get stuck to the mailbox. It hurt, then bled, as I tugged it loose. I cupped my hand over the ear to sooth the biting pain. The night numbed my senses. Everywhere, chilly water crystallized, spreading its frosty coating on man’s and nature’s naked possessions. At last, the bleeding stopped and I opened the door and walked nonchalantly up the stairs. “Good evening, friends, enjoying yourselves?” I greeted them, slinging my jacket and towel over the banister. “Hang them up, John,” mother scolded. The smoke suﬀocated the room, but the pompous patrons continued to preoccupy themselves by lighting up still more cigarettes. “Open one of the windows, somebody,” I ordered, annoyed over their inconsideration. “There’s a sick man in this room, or haven’t you
noticed?” I glanced at dad and saw he needed air immediately. His shirt was discolored from sweat. “Dad asked all his neighbors to come over tonight,” mom uttered, somehow oblivious to dad’s deteriorated condition. “Come sit down, John dear. Talk with your mother and father. We need someone to talk to. You walked out on us tonight, when we needed you the most,” she carried on, her voice constrained, distraught. “Come on, sit down, John,” a ﬂabby-faced woman suggested, managing to lift her massive frame six inches to make room for me on the couch. Two other death watchers sat solidly, holding dripping glasses of what looked like cherry Kool Aid in their hands. Dad held nothing, said nothing, only stared at the thick conﬁgurations of smoke closing in on him. “I made room for you, John,” the fat woman repeated. “No thanks. I have to take a shower.” I passed in front of them and made it to the other end of the room. “Say hello to Sidney, John,” mother scolded again. “Hello, Sid.” “Hello, John,” he nodded. The woman on the couch poked an anemic-looking gent stuck beside her with a full glass of tinkling Kool Air dripping in his hands. They swapped winks, and smirked. I locked myself in the bathroom and threw up Jochum’s milk. *** “HELLO. EMERGENCY SQUAD? Can you get up here right away? Bring oxygen . . . 161 Norwood Avenue . . . second ﬂoor. Hurry!” I slammed the receiver down and ran back to dad’s side. By now, he was breathing hard, loudly, but no air seemed to be ﬁnding its way inside his lungs. In ﬁve minutes the doorbell rang. I ran to answer it, leaving mom to continue to apply hot compresses on dad’s chest, where he complained the pain was not unbearable. Two patrolmen were at the door. They followed me upstairs, one carrying an oxygen tank, the other a stretcher. “Won’t need the stretcher,” I informed them, reaching the top of the stairs. “He’s staying right here.”
Holding onto Nothing
They walked into the living-room. “Is that him?” the cop asked, nodding at dad, who was now slouched over in mother’s arms, only a small portion of him still seated in the red leather chair. He tried to rest, but couldn’t. It was late—almost midnight. The party ended abruptly when dad suﬀered another coughing siege—too much smoke. “You’d better go to the hospital, mister. You don’t look good,” the cop advised, setting the oxygen tank on the ﬂoor. “This oxygen is only temporary relief, sir,” the other cop explained, waiting to unfold the stretcher. “You’d better go to the hospital, mister,” they repeated. “Maybe you’d just better give him the oxygen,” I urged, helping dad to the couch. “Yeah. The kid’s right. Talkin’ isn’t helpin’ this poor guy,” the cop agreed, removing his cap. Together, they helped me to lay dad out on the couch, his back partially propped up with three pillows. He lay comfortably on the soft cushions, his eyes closed, his breathing still in short spurts. They slipped the oxygen mask over his face. “Breathe easily, mister,” the oﬃcer whispered, watching the needle on the gauge ﬂutter as the pressure released. Hissing smoothly, the oxygen ﬁlled the mask and dad’s face suddenly turned sheet white. A chill jerked his body and he sat up. “Whewww . . .” he sighed, pushing oﬀ the mask. “That was the ﬁrst deep breath I’ve had in months. But I feel awfully cold now.” He looked at mother. “Com’ mere, mommy.” He stretched out his arms, waiting for her to ﬁll them. Helplessly, he fell back onto the couch. Mom and I grabbed him and, with the help of the two policemen, carried him into the bedroom. Gently we lay him on the bed as mother sobbed. “I don’t think there’s anything else you can do for the moment, oﬃcers,” I said. “I’ll bring the oxygen tank back in the morning.” “You should still take our advice and have him removed to a hospital. He’s dying.” Visibly alarmed, the oﬃcer placed the tank alongside the dresser. “I wish he would go to a hospital. But dad hates that stuﬀ; calls people like that hypocrites.” I touched dad’s foot. it was cold. “That stuﬀ saves a lot of lives, son,” the oﬃcer said. I walked them to the door. As t hey strode down the walk to their patrol car, I heard them talking:
“Didja see that guy’s face when he took the oxygen?” “Yeah, not much we can do for him now. Looked like he had a heart attack. That’s why he lost his balance.” “Yeah, poor guy. He’ll be gone in a few hours . . .” *** SOMEHOW I MANAGED to get dad into a white shirt. He had regained consciousness, but he was more delirious now than ever. “Do you hurt anywhere, dad?” I asked, slipping his socks on his feet while mom loosened the laces on his only pair of dress shoes. “Numb, a little,” he answered weakly, trying to laugh it oﬀ. “Take away the struggle in life and what is there?” His grayish blue eyes sank tiredly into the sockets of his head and he no longer fought against going to the hospital, for it brought relief to mother and that meant more to him than his personal prejudices. “Perhaps a little happiness, a little rest . . .” He glanced into the mirror. “I need a shave, don’t I? I look a mess.” Mom caressed his bearded face. “I’ll always love you, daddy, anyway you are.” “Hear that, Johnny?” he sighed, his face glowing a pale pink. I handed him his favorite tie, a red-ﬂecked French import he used to wear to church many years ago when he was an usher. He tied a Windsor knot, but left the collar opened slightly. “We always want to look our best when we go,” he quipped, forcing a smile. Mother squeezed his arm. “Daddy, please. Don’t say things like that. If you go, I want to go with you.” Dad drew his ﬁngers over her face. “You’re as precious as the day I married you, Hilda.” Mom and I put our arms around dad’s waist and, with our love sealed tightly between us, left the dim apartment. Leon, a neighbor who worked occasionally at the tire plant to supplement his draftsman’s income, was standing on his front stoop, staring up at the vanishing moon and caressing a cigarette aﬀectionately between his ﬁngers, when he saw us walking to the car. “Can I help ya, Danny?” he called out, skipping down the steps to meet us.
But He tried. and so did I. I began thinking about miracles and God and heaven and hell and all the corny stuﬀ you read about in the Bible when you’re a ﬂedgling Catholic and you go to Sunday school regularly and say your prayers every night before going to bed. sometimes. but never substituting what’s up there for what’s down here. not really believable. and my thoughts began to drift elsewhere after that and. I felt like I was talking to myself. learning more. As I drove to the hospital. And that’s when I stopped thinking so hard about all those things that were so unresponsive and. and eventually just accepting whatever came your way. thanks. his ﬁrst all night. but in a sort of strange and personal way. I never believed in miracles or any of those unreal spiritual things the priests used to preach about every Sunday in the pulpit. bumping along. Danny. sometimes questioning your existence. “I’ll be right here if ya decide to come back tonight. 25 .” Leon assured him. We had a special code between us that nobody in this whole world knew about and. one thing pushing you into another. saying the rosary. immediately lighting a cigarette. as if it were all too far away for me down here on earth. This private God of mine would let me go so far before I realized if I didn’t stick to some of the rules He set up for me alone that I would eventually lose even His conﬁdence in me. sitting down on the brick steps. after awhile you could talk with dad and you understood each other for the ﬁrst time.” “Will do. I kept changing it around so much that I forgot what I was originally supposed to do in order to save myself from hell—all that misery and ﬁre and pain. and. reading the missal and looking at all the statues of the saints glaring at you coldly in the eyes. “No. If I didn’t go around always saying to myself “seeing is believing. striding to the car without our assistance. Then my private God could never save me—if there was anything worth saving at all anyway. Danny. there was something to do. “I’ll be waitin’. had practically all left me in the last few years. Leon. that he really wasn’t listening to me anymore. somehow. I’m in great shape. My faith. yet thinking less. be back in a few hours to tell you all about that damn fool hospital. It never seemed to make sense.” I probably would be praying in church right now with all the rest of them. always. not even He did. or whatever I imagined faith to be. I believed in a God.Holding onto Nothing Dad held his head erect.” dad ejected ﬁrmly. just working and accepting. But after awhile. He opened the door and plopped down on the seat.
it could accomplish three tasks in the same amount of time it would take to accomplish one. He’d never answer until he was thoroughly convinced that he had ﬁrst understood everything contained in that contract. It was nothing to see dad playing simultaneously with a yo-yo in one hand. and he used to tell me how he grew up in Paterson’s slum district in a grimy apartment. He never talked much because the day lady with the accent confused him.” he would laugh after trying it once. Dad forced himself to reach that unattainable utopian state of mind. and conversing earnestly with one of his business associates. but wasn’t big enough. His skin was always white—not like the people outside the window. and he preached that man should be many things in his transient trip through reality. and he tried to look out. trying to entertain the kids on the block. studying the French language. and how he never knew who his mother was—the white haired woman who held him in her arms nights. he slept and cried. “Huh! And we brag.” he would preach. Because he had no friends.m. But mostly. he grew up loving and possessing everything—from ﬂying saucers to comic books. business was conducted from eleven in the morning until six at night. and she never took him with her.” He made it a habit to ﬁnish anything he ever undertook. He believed if the mind could be disciplined thoroughly. And he lived by an inspiring schedule. “Be completely aware of your relaxed faculties—breathing. so he played in the small room all day. Dad believed life should be lived as violently as a charging bull before his hour of death. wondering how the brightness from the world outside slipped through the streaked window.Gordon Bishop for he too had suﬀered from the same disillusionments. sifting through nerve-wracking details and mother’d be yelling at the top of her lungs for him to wash up for supper. While in high school. “Conquer all emotions.—and claiming half that time was ill-spent tossing and turning while envisioning new ideas that only break through the dense fog when you desire sleep the most. or the funny old lady who talked to him strangely in the mornings when he awoke. The night lady who held him in her arms had gone away during the day. sitting. or toys. which had huddled in between a two-hour lunch (frequently 26 . He would be in the middle of a twenty-page contract. day dreaming. he told me that Napoleon could dictate two letters to two diﬀerent people at the same time about two unrelated subjects and would know where he left oﬀ in either letter at any time—to the last comma. sleeping from four to ten a.
to a waitress about the weather and jotting down lastminute notes. The incessant tapping of the typewriter keys echoed through the eerie corridors like columns of marching ghosts. think. With business out of the way. striking the keys frenzily on to tiny white index cards. think . son. struggling up the front steps with mom holding him securely 27 . where a grotesque nurse was spread out behind a typewriter. three-story brick hospital. or think about whatever his mind felt like concocting. We’re here. His hours of creative thinking. I followed a sign that pointed to both the emergency room and front door. Glaring frigidly over her white-rimmed glasses and shifting uncomfortably as if she were sitting on a bunch of cold sour grapes. she blurted out: “Are they with you?” I turned around. knowing exactly where and why progress was made—if any. . cold steering wheel. “—Slow up. she ignored my impatient presence by pretending to clear her throat. and parked by the massive. . breaking her rigid pose. daddy.” Dad’s voice nudged my quiet thoughts. That’s all he ever wanted to do—think.” Dad. Mom opened the door and ﬂung dad’s old topcoat over her arm. almost unconsciously. You have to make a right here. Finally. at the moment. “Come on. Her fact matched her stiﬀ white nurse’s uniform and she seemed to be frozen solid against the square black typewriter. I turned the vehicle into a driveway to the right and its two beams of light instantly illuminated the entrance to the drab. during which time he would recapitulate the day’s events. or. Then he could settle back in his old red leather straight chair and dream. young man?” she twanged. plate-glass entranceway. he required a half-hour nap from seven to seven-thirty. until those deathly-quiet hours. Before I could reply. That’s my mother and father. He said nothing ever congealed.Holding onto Nothing in diners) where he would review his day’s work while talking. Then he ate dinner and spent the rest of the evening reading and discussing world aﬀairs with anyone who happened to be around at the time. “What may I do for you. bringing me back behind the car’s smooth. as he called it—”The Idea Hour”—were from two to four o’clock in the morning. “Yes. logically.” I ran up the stairs to the receptionist’s oﬃce. I coughed to summon her attention.
. I don’t want to move. My body stiﬀened.” he coughed. I heard her swear at me in a muﬄed breath. Oh. I closed my eyes tightly. Suddenly.” Mom stood silently in the corner of the room. afraid to move. . “It’s God!” I screamed. That elephantine nurse trudged out from behind her desk and threw her weight around his waist. I’m sorry. could not make it to the registration desk. if only I could. disgorging my grief and bitterness on the steps. “to leave the ﬁrst thing in the morning.” Realizing that even if there were a God.” His head slumped over and I rushed to catch him.” “You’d better not let him die. God had come. “I thought I told you to leave. “You’ll have to leave now. . I lunged for the railing. I felt soft shaky hand pressing ﬁrmly on my shoulders.Gordon Bishop around the waist. if there’s a God anywhere and if You can hear me. 28 . she glared at me crossly. . God was getting impatient. A gust of autumn air lashed my body like a cool sharp blade piercing through my gut. There was nothing to say or do so I started pacing up and down the hall. Senselessly. My mind froze. .” I was frightened out of my mind. Walking away. In disgust I lay there without an erg of energy left to care about ever getting up again—perhaps to die there. she left. or think—nothing. Could dad? He was forty-four. “Only staﬀ members are permitted to be with the patients at this hour. After the nurse prepared the oxygen tent. “I only want to stay in this place tonight. Unable to say anything.” she informed mother stiﬄy. My feet and head ached: I felt as if I were having a heart attack—to be with dad in his suﬀering. “. but slipped and tumbled to the sidewalk six feet below. The shaky hand nipped into my shoulder again. please tell me what to do. I’ll be ready . I collapsed on the stoop. Why couldn’t I have the attack? I was only eighteen: I could take it. this time harder and more determined. I pushed open the large glass doors leading to the main entrance. He stopped in the middle of the room. I was too far gone to hear Him. All I had to do was to turn over and meet Him. He was here. Only now I . dragging him into the ﬁrst room oﬀ the main corridor. .” I threatened. closing the door on her. out of the way. God. “He DID hear me. I ﬁnd it awfully hard to breathe. I can’t think anymore.
I had God all pictured and I was all ready for Him—well.” dad retorted. Mom helped me to my feet and. We went back into the hospital. nurse. “Son. What if it had been God? What could I have said or done? All I pictured as I rolled over was a gentle. soft-spoken old man with cloud-white whiskers. “May I go to the bathroom?” dad requested.” I heard dad mutter faintly. I rapped again. “We change the sheets every morning. My poor boy.” he said. gorgeous. precious. no matter how strong one is. yet it felt safe and relaxed. “Hey. “She’ll be worried.” dad pleaded. 29 . his voice gaining strength. The nurse was still in the room with dad. how brave. “Be stubborn. “I never used one of those baby pots in my life. I inhaled all the way down to the tip of my blue toes and took a fear-quenching breath. but much older. You’re sick. but the beast ignored my attempts to get inside.” After another short silence. I was alive: my heart was still skipping along frightfully alone. “You have no right locking that door. sort of like Jesus Christ. the door unlocked and I saw dad pushing aside the plastic tent covering his upper body. “What are ya doin’ in there?” I stuck my ear to the keyhole. anything.” the nurse replied harshly. trying to detect a sound. thin and hollow in the cheeks. heard nothing.” she raised her voice. I went to the door and listened closely. A strained silence gapped the conversation. open up. “Use the bed pan. It was locked. my boy.” “At least open the door and let me see my son.Holding onto Nothing took a last deep breath of good ole earthen air and rolled over to meet my One and Only God. how intelligent. almost—for the ﬁrst time in my senseless life. draped in a brown robe and wearing haggard sandals.” It was mom—the most beautiful. once again. jiggling the doorknob. I know him. then knocked on the door. livingist mom I ever saw. Oh. “Or else he’ll break it down. knowing death—the ﬁnal moment—had to be so much worse. I felt like someone had just whipped every inch of my ﬂesh: my skin was screaming in delightful agony.” I demanded.
pulling the plastic cover back down to his waist. All hate. The 30 . both of you. He’ll be all right—if he listens to reason. the wisdom. “Being you’re here—and it doesn’t look like you want to leave—then you won’t mind ﬁlling these out. “Just some information about your husband and family doctor. “You must leave. How. As mom ﬁlled out the sheets of paper. He gave all—I accepted all. Life was wedged into a vice-like room and the walls had reached the point of tangency. He staggered toward us— the ﬂight into nowhere. “I’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE! I CAN’T STAND IT ANYMORE!” The three of us looked across the room and up the ghostly hall. Now go home and get some rest. I stood there.” she announced formally. going back to her typewriter. the sweat that shook oﬀ his stricken body. He’ll be ﬁne here.” She handed mom a pen. but I was there.” she reported. terror-ﬁlled voice ﬂooded the corridor. I waxed a smile on my face. I wanted to join the panic and terror that slowly pushed our worlds apart. I felt and absorbed his every feeling.” Nothing. snapped the lights out and reentered her cage-like cubicle.Gordon Bishop “Get back under there.” She slipped some white papers across the desk. We watched him struggle with time and life.” the nurse belched. no reservations.” She reached under the desk and handed mom a tiny yellow box. He now had to forfeit his time to someone else. envy-all human frailties and stupidities seemed to dissolve in these last timeless moments—no more tomorrows. I don’t know. no more “I’m sorrys. the end of all security. or the next day.m. reality slowly slipping away from his senses.. the guilt. I wanted his all-the agony. greed. mom?” Mom blew a kiss to dad and returned to the waiting room. “What is it? mom asked suspiciously. “It’s past 2 a. the tolerance. “We’ll be back in the morning. as if they had been poured upon the ﬂoor and I swallowed them up without hesitation. won’t we. momentarily suspended in a world he was about to enter. jealousy. helpless. young lady. a door clicked in the hall and a tired. It was dad—death-white and trembling. “A few sedatives for you. no more foregivenesses. The nurse closed the door. Never before had I felt such an exacting love.
conforming. working. The rules were optional: He grabbed his clothes draped on the lounge. . staring into his icy transparent eyes. Do you hear me?” Trapped by fear. Yet he spoke to me with desperate urgency in his voice. obedience of habit—nature’s preserved pattern that disciplines man to function according to her desired whim: the continuation of creation. falling out of the car. I ran to him. “Get out this instant.” she commanded brazenly. 31 . he glared at the hospital like a living corpse. He crawled to the lawn and then raced crazily in circles. It was there—your results. you weren’t signing oﬀ unfulﬁlled. silly word—end: the last syllable of recorded time. “I’ve had just about enough form all of you. I don’t want to leave in there. realizing for the too-late last time the uncountable words that wanted to hold back the inevitable. Life deﬁned in a ﬂash of blind fury: we live to progress in digressions. and all that ever really mattered in this plotless scheme was the reproduction of life. Death was the game. elbowed his way out the door. I gripped the car door. It was a simple act of nature.” Dad eyed an opening on the other side of the seat and he slid over to the driver’s side. or exercising intelligence. Existence summed up in one simple. knowing now that you’ll never have the chance to express your real love. “You’re acting like children. “Get me out of here fast. Now get in here immediately. I wanted to touch him.” She hoofed down the steps and headed straight for the car. why everything was swept along with the unfathomable forces of creation.” he pleaded vacantly. Dad shook like a frightened lost boy. that you followed nature’s unalterable laws. Isolated in it.Holding onto Nothing end at last surrendered to a ﬁnal beginning . You’re disturbing the whole hospital. It wasn’t a result of reading books. “Please. He wasn’t with us anymore. dizzily spun down the steps and knew where to look for his escape—the car. going to school. for the ﬁrst time. You’ve got to listen to me. I’ll do anything to get away. for even this ﬁnal moment elapsed—in a split second—into total blackness. but— “Get back here this instant. procreating a new generation— the new to replace the old: your one true act of life.” the charging nurse called out. And you know. Johnny. He was dead. I want to go far away. . Please? You’re the only one who knows how I feel.
” I rambled on aimlessly. “First ﬂoor. and we were left with the cold real fact that our father. Halfway up the mount. dad. We stood over him. he dropped. his arms spread toward the heavens. but no blood ﬂowed from the deep dead cuts. Salvatore. The wheelchair squeaked as we pushed it around to the elevator shaft.” the nurse said. his face assuming a lasting distinguished appearance. His nose was shredded. was there on the concrete—dead. Now he’ll know if ﬂying saucers are real or not. 32 . “Did you know that?”’ The priest murmured incoherent prayers while holding on to his small worn missal. . The cables holding the elevator ripped loose from their frozen grips and the car hummed harmlessly in the night. Dad lay dead. It was all like a timeless orgasm. Glittering ﬂakes of ice blanketed the beautiful plush green carpet but dad’s purple feet marred the beauty of his deathbed. “He’s the greatest guy in the world. up the cramped steps. 1956: A cold. only the sad exposure of skin looking as though it had been dragged miles on hard hideous rasping ﬁles. but it did. He staggered toward the hospital. He rolled down the remaining steps. examining life in its humblest form. I approached the priest but stopped when I saw dad’s hand sticking out from beneath the white sheet. The elevator door closed and the tomb-like car vibrated upwards. . bitter October night with frost choking the dew-laden atmosphere.” I said. gagging. But I couldn’t feel anything now because dad didn’t. Mom and I followed listlessly. “Second ﬂoor. father. A priest uttering the last rites over dad’s wheelchair wrenched me out of a walking trance. “He was the only guy in this part of the country to actually see one. The inner muscles relaxed. Someone must have phoned him. .˙ No one wanted it to happen. All I remembered was Salvatore saying. His head tilted backwards and we wiped the dirt from his unshaven chin.Gordon Bishop October 11.” Seeking pity and refuge. The door slid open and the nurse pushed the wheelchair on to the elevator. cutting his face and knees to raw bits of ﬂesh.
on one of those farms where all those houses are now. Go and help your mother. A real library on ﬂying saucers. forever. like this? Why couldn’t you wait until we got to know each other better?” “Did your father have insurance?” the priest asked soberly. but for the others—the ones they leave behind. sir.” The priest glanced at me submittingly and rubbed the top of his head gently with his black missal. and for a long time to come. for she will need consolation.” I looked down at the white sheet again.Holding onto Nothing “Yes. That was a couple of years ago when he—” 33 . “No. Too late now. Isn’t it awful? I mean not for the dead people. encyclopedias. “I think you should phone a relative. though. coloring books. “Do you want me to call the church funeral parlor?” He clutched the little missal in his immaculate hand. he’s got it—or had it. dictionaries— everything. you know.” he advised. “But why did you have to die now. Dad knew a guy in Hackensack who owns a parlor.” I continued uncontrollably.” I prayed in my own unorthodox way. I’m sure your father wouldn’t want it. or friend. sir. sir. father. You name it. crying your heart out. You know.” The priest closed his eyes. dad. Dad sole him a vacuum cleaner once when he was kinda broke. he’d a been up in one of those contraptions. I’ll bet ya on that. He lived by his own set of laws—nifty and nice. He’s got books on everything. We’re not paupers jus’ cause he never had insurance. novels. instead of talking like this. so clean and calm—now he could rest.” “Do you have enough money to conduct a funeral?” “Listen. pulling out a blue ball point pen from somewhere under his black robe. father? If he’d a lived. too: funny books. “No. condescendingly. “He saw the ﬁrst ﬂying saucer in 1947 in Paramus. I mean seein’ dead people like this every day. He’s got the largest collection of books and pictures on that stuﬀ you ever saw. garbling a brief prayer to himself. it must be lousy being a priest. he had all sorts of guts for stuﬀ like that: guts for thinking. “I’m sorry. “Get someone to comfort your mother. He hated stuﬀ like that like he hated hospitals and doctors. “You know somethin’. guts for talking. Even dirty books. guts for working—dad was all guts.” I gaped at the white sheet. Look at mom over there. He’s at peace now.
. . But don’t worry about that now. refraining from reprimanding me at the priest had her within the range of his vision. I don’t remember anything about him—only a picture of him I have in my wallet.” I placed the receiver on the fat county phone book and called mom. just now. “That’s up to you. son?” “John Thurston. choking at the thought. I hurried back to the priest.” The priest turned away. . “My sister didn’t believe me. .” “Evidently. criss-crossing his hands and resting them on hi swollen girth. She thought I was foolin’ or somethin’. . . . . I went over to the nurse’s desk and picked up the phone. yeah.” “I’ll call you Johnny then. to mother. Stop in and see me at the church tomorrow. . Dad only called me John when he was mad at me. Would you like to see it?” “Sure. I know it’s late .” “What happens now. it’s dad . father.” “Black—the Rev. . She undoubtedly has a great deal she wants to say to your sister. father. as if trying to crack the formality between us. . You see. to the clock on the wall and then to me. . Blake. .” I leaned against the wall. Father Blake?” I asked. a bit restless.” he muttered. his eyes shifting from the nurse. I also lost my father when I was young. And yours. “May I make ac all?” I asked. “We’ll wait until your mother gets oﬀ the phone. .” the nurse consented abruptly.” remarked. . no. much younger than you. “Hello. watching him scratching his face. daddy . . But it’s really Johnny. OFM. but the priest told me to call a relative and you were the only one I could think of . already dialing the number. Timothy R.Gordon Bishop “—I’d make a phone call now. he’s dead . . There’s nothing more consoling than a mother and daughter who love and understand each other. “If you must. she’s aware of you too. 34 . . We’ll talk about it. . “I don’t even know your name. at the hospital . I’ll see if I can get her. He didn’t act like a priest. I’m sorry. son. our father! . your brother . She’s even smiling. walking piously toward mother. then we’ll call the funeral parlor. Lorry? Johnny . Johnny. She handed some rosary beads to the priest and came to the phone. daddy . The phone buzzed three times. .
” “Yes. no late hours. all you do is preach tolerance and keep your nose between the pages of a Bible or Catholic digest. one of the old gent sitting proudly on the side of a minacious iron horse. can give them to their children. examining my eyes earnestly. smoking an elaborate Indian peace pipe.” “Isn’t it kinda late for that?” “Too late?” Father Blake blinked. wrapped neatly in tin foil. tucking the miniature sack back into its nesting place. The pouch looked at least a hundred years old.” he answered. sort of like the ones Mississippi gamblers used to wear around their waists during the dueling days of maverick card sharks. We want to give the teachings of God to everyone. I wonder what part and how much? Father Blake reached under his black robe and took out an old black leather pouch. Carefully.Holding onto Nothing I always felt priests had to be way up in the clouds somewhere to preach all that goody-goody stuﬀ. brown with age and badly bruised from over-handling. All these stupid people running around killing each other— 35 . so they. holding them with the tips of my ﬁngers so as not to crumble them. “You priests lead a real strict life—no girls. I opened it. Johnny. “Yes. and the other picture a post-Civil War still life. I think so. actually believing they’re following that sacred code—and to the letter. God bless them. If they did understand any part of it.” “That’s all we want in life. too—that these poor priests preach every solitary day. father. “I mean a good one?” “It’s hard to be a good anything. Untying a raveling string that secured it against his waist. I handed the pictures back to him. Inside. “Is it hard being a priest?” I asked. were two crumbling pictures of his father.” he added. “Nice mother and father. “Yeah. in turn. It felt like oily leather and Father Blake’s eyes remained ﬁxed on the pouch every second. he gently handed me his sacred possession.” I appraised the antique pictures.” he smiled. “They’re sure a ﬁne couple. I never had anything personal against the church—never will—but I always had an aversion to those so-called “Sunday Catholics” you see converging on the communion rail once a month.
” “Johnny. He was nothing. not a marketplace for patrons of heaven. father. indulgently.” “That makes sense. until you leave this world and enter the eternal hereafter.” he shuttered.” he explained. but can you truthfully say that you’re perfectly honest with yourself and everybody you do business with?” “I wish you wouldn’t refer to religion as business. But in order to be a good Catholic.” “We are only the disciples of Christ. “They’re usually better Catholics than those born into it. tomorrow or the day after. I was only a kid when he was converted. shaking his head sadly. That’s personal stuﬀ. rewriting the Bible to ﬁt their own needs.” “Is he in heaven now?” I asked. you’ve gotta tell everything—least that’s what they say when they bawl us out every Sunday from the pulpit. It cannot be bought. son. “Did your father attend mass regularly?” “He did.” he sighed heavily. Do you know what religion your father was converted from?” “He wasn’t converted from anything. That’s what I remember mom saying. only acquired by diligently following the precepts of the church—the Ten Commandments. or confessional. I’d bet. free from the burdens of sin.” 36 . “By telling us your sins. you have—instead of one—two people praying for your soul—not just today.” I confessed dryly.” he pondered. “It’s a sacred vocation. How would you like it if I were to ask you if you ever thought naughty? You’d tell me to mind my own damn business. exactly.Gordon Bishop and themselves!—starting wars. a convert. to release their anxieties.” “But I feel kinda funny when I have to go inside one of those dinky confessional boxes and get down on my knees—and those kneeling boards are like rock—and tell priests like you what’s bad about me. Maybe around fourteen years. They need guidance—a place to shelter their personal problems. “How long?” “I don’t know.” “Hmmmm. “that’s why they DO need us. to leave the parish. but every day. We help give people patience. Even if I tell you I have naughty actions with girls—that’s still none of your business. pointing to the sheet.
Then they’d pass out all sorts of fancy envelopes—pink ones for the monthly mortgage debt. sit down and the same guys were back again with that green velvet basket. “He thought the church was going haywire with all that collection stuﬀ. blue ones for this drive.” “What about my father? Where is he now?” I went on. Who ever knows?” I took a deep breath. Always remember the story of the humble 37 .” the priest said. but didya ever NOT give a donation? Ya feel pretty silly when that long-armed straw basket whisks in front of your nose and all eyes are on you to see if you gave more than the next guy. “You said he attended mass fourteen years. You’d think the church was supportin’ the whole damn world.” “Yeah. bless yourself.” He peered through the glass door and up at the heavens. After awhile. So what did the dude do the next time the old basket ﬂoated under his vain red-veined nose? He put in TWO crisp dollar bills. “The Almighty doesn’t pass judgment on your ﬁnancial status. Who bothered to pray or say the rosary beads anymore?—when. quite remarkable. It seemed you just sat down in the pews when all of sudden out of nowhere come guys in black suits and bowties. startled at the reply. You hardly got a chance to pray. It wasn’t prayers that booked you solidly in heaven anymore.” “Why?” he asked. That’s what church is for. yes. all the people had time to do was to reach down into their worn pockets and pull out money. After awhile.” He came back to his argument.” Father Blake ﬁxed his eyes sorrowfully on my face. red ones for that drive. Then what happened?” “He stopped. passin’ baskets and smilin’ like a bunch of phonies. “Oh. overriding my question in lieu of a clariﬁcation. they could forget their obligations and still be accepted by the church—and maybe even by God. and a white-haired dude next to him popped. “Once dad put in a crisp dollar bill he had saved from his pay envelope. it was a race to see who was the richest character in the pew to give money. kneel. It was money. for a lousy buck. You’d stand up. isn’t it? To pray?” “They are donations. He judges your sincerity toward achieving the truth. “Yes. still gazing at the spooky white wrinkled sheet.Holding onto Nothing “Your mother has done a saintly deed in the eyes of God. son. “You aren’t compelled to give. but his eyes still focused on the heavens.
” “Oh. “I heard that before. Dad used to tell me that all the time— especially when I was a kid and I let air out of tires of cars parked in front of our house. As I watched him place dad in the basket. He took out an Egyptian-like mummy basket and. . .” “What law is that?” I reiterated. .” “Your father was a good man then.” I clicked the receiver into the cradle.” he assured me.” “Think I’ll get a castle when I die?” “If you practice the law of man you will. I didn’t want to bother the nurse and. No .” he smiled gloriously. Mom approached us. . so we let the air out of their tires. THAT law. watching his ﬁngers rubbing the tiny black beads. Wormly speaking. he obviously was praying for my blemished soul. This is John Thurston— Danny Thurston’s son. but I’ve got the dough. I put a dime into the phone slot and dialed the undertaker. But I never thought it was a law. don’t worry . he’s dead . . Yeah . . .” I roused reﬂectively. I realized the obligations already pushing me into the bleak empty tomorrows. that’s the guy. . They never parked there again. the impositions 38 . it was none of her damn business whom I was calling anyway. Half hour later Wormly pulled into the winding driveway in his long sleek black Cadillac hearse.Gordon Bishop young shepherd boy who had a castle in God’s Domain after leaving this world. “Hello. Wormly. . I said NO. besides. at Terrace Heights Hospital . “What law?” I asked meekly. Wormly Funeral Home. Whether I wanted them or not. We could never play baseball if cars were there. all right. . tonight . as he trooped inside to the wheelchair. clayish face with the sheet. clutching his rosary beads in severe sureness. just now . and Father Blake put his arm around her and together they went outside for a recuperative walk. At this point. Mr. . covering his gray. I’ll wait. Well. . “The law of the people and of the land. . he informed me of the necessary details: what to do and how much the whole mess would cost. . enough for the best funeral you ever put on. he had NO INSURANCE. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” “I hope I didn’t wake you. Remember? My dad sold you a vacuum cleaner a long time ago.
I walked to the car. started it and headed for the main Boulevard.” I was now John Charles Thurston— owner of a potentially lucrative tire empire. Dad’s dead face blanked all my thoughts. s spotlight struck my rearview mirror. but I couldn’t recount my actions. I smacked the mirror with the side of my hand and the light ﬂickered to the ﬂoor. the reﬂection stinging my eyes. I felt I had done something wrong. The white patrol car eased up next to my car. chilling my senses. Slowly. scanning the frost-ﬂaked lawn from the front steps. The snooping street lights blazed a shimmering illuminated path for the car and to escape the light I turned the car into a secluded side street. Sharp black letters were emblazoned on the side of the doors—WOOD-RIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT. I couldn’t remember anything. I was no longer Johnny Thurston—”Danny Thurston’s kid. I looked into the sideview mirror and saw a red dot ﬂashing on and oﬀ. befriending only the hushed. zig-zagging up and down each remote unimproved road in Hasbrouck Heights. I didn’t want people walking on it with their scummy shoes. 39 . I scraped oﬀ what little I could with my ﬁngernail. But did the blood really matter—or was it all that was left of dad that I didn’t want desecrated? Inertly. on and oﬀ. Blood? Yet he didn’t bleed. I TREADED TIREDLY out of the hospital. I pulled alongside the curb. a dark and sleepy stretch of macadam where I could just roll along and think. Maybe I slipped through a stop street by mistake. I stood suspended in the darkness for what seemed like an eternity of helplessness. swelling larger and larger. thinking about dad and mom and Ned and wondering if life could ever be the same again without Danny Thurston. I descended the hospital steps. stopping at the one where dad fell dead. already provoking me into maturity. It was a cop. I could still see dad running hysterically in circles in his blue pajamas.Holding onto Nothing were there. He was dead. expecting the worst. The car moved along. A siren screamed from out of the black. lamenting lawn. I felt like drifting in the darkness forever. I sat squarely behind the steering wheel. Suddenly. The blood and skin still stuck to the chipped brick step.
I remained silent. You wouldn’t want that. . “Four twenty-two a. frisking my clothes.” He shined the light in the back of the car. “You bored or something?” “Listen.” “Do you mind if I go? You won’t ﬁnd anything. “You know what time it is boy?” I didn’t answer. “Oh. kit.” I got out.” “The name is John Thurston. I tried to stop 40 . “Why you little punk. kid. Lemme smell yer breath.” “What papers?” I asked dumbly. authoritatively.m. I can take you in for insulting an oﬃcer.” I corrected him curtly. let’s see yer papers. He pulled his gun.” I put my hands down. would you? And I bet your parents would be ashamed of you. Thurston. . “Hey.” He shined the light on his wrist. I really didn’t care what the hell time it was.” I said unconvincingly. “Up with the hands.” I stared at my brake pedal. kid? C’mon. “Everything seems to be in order. Checking the plates against the registration. “A cool one. I said. I lowered my head.” I blew hard in his face and he dropped the ﬂashlight and cussed. “I’ve been following you for ﬁfteen minutes. huh? License and registration. Sizing up the neighborhood?” he bellowed. “It’s exactly .” One parent. wise guy. “Out. “Hiding something.” “What’s with you?” I opened the door. he frowned. you can tell me. playing it cute. kid. as of three hours ago.” he ordered. about to go in. You look like a decent fellow. He found the wallet and rummaged through it. “Okay. I thought to myself.Gordon Bishop The cop snapped on a ﬂashlight and a shower of light encased the whole car. Get outa that car. The lean cop nudged his elbow on the edge of the window. huh?” He ticked his teeth with his tongue. I think I’m gonna like you yet.” I remained fast in the seat. “Not so fast. “Just a routine check.
” I ran down the corridor. kid?” the sergeant asked. He led me to his car. Time check.” He picked up the phone.” The cop picked up the phone. I squeezed my ﬁsts. “Got anything hot to drink?” The cigar-smoking sergeant nodded toward a corridor and Paul disappeared into it. Over and out. “Hungry. instead. kid? You sick or something? Why are you crying?” He tried. 5400.” “No! He shouldn’ve . Paul’s in the other room talking to your folks right now. 5400. “Here. He grabbed my arms. holding on to his gun belt for extra protection. Phil. Don’t. “Is this the young man. He opened the swinging door and I followed on cue. burying my head in his chest.” “No. You won’t be here long anyway. As we strode into the station.” Paul answered. I threw myself at him. the radio blared scratchingly: “5400. “No. I fastened myself around his waist and tried to explain. .Holding onto Nothing myself from thinking about dad. I’ll call your home. But. “What’s the matter. .” All the way to the police station I stared at the little red dot on the police radio and all LI could see was dad’s red spot of blood on the hospital step.” “Don’t worry. awkwardly. Paul?” the sergeant behind the desk asked. mouthing a chewed-wet cigar. but the words never came out. stopping in front of 41 . “Yeah. wanting to belt the cop in the face for threatening to tell my parents. I left the keys in the ignition. leaving me behind. He was trying hard to ﬁgure me out. “Coming in with a young man. No charge. Inside. a wrinkled newspaper folded in his hands. do you?” “What about my car? It’s almost dawn. It’s a safe section of town. the cop exchanged curious glances with me. Just coming in. Where’d that cop go? What the hell am I doing here in the ﬁrst place?” “Paul? He went to get some java. to wiggle out of my grip. You probably want your folks to know what happened to you. 5400. And I don’t know why you’re here.
. . properly. Removing his gun belt. I’ll be at the station every night except Saturday. He’s out in the other room now .” he said. When he came out.” “But I don’t want to get over this hurt.” He reminded me of the priest—so righteously sure of himself with all the right answers. “But you get over it. Franks. “Did you ever feel like you wanted to blow your brains out with your gun?” “At times. no . I was sitting in the chair. . all cut out neatly. Just didn’t talk. Life goes on—with or without us. I’ll drive you back to your car. I looked up at the apartment’s lifeless windows. “Go home to your mother. She needs you now—more than ever.” “Did you ﬁnd out what you wanted to know?” I asked damply. Never. One shade was 42 . “Drive home safely and. the sun was already sneaking up over the shedding treetops.” I got out of the car. “Thanks. Mrs.” he stopped abruptly. good-night.” he said. he hung it on the door knob and went into an adjoining room. “If you need me.” Paul scanned the scratch pad and then his eyes wandered around the room in search of something.Gordon Bishop a door where Paul’s voice was coming from. Bye. Johnny. I’m sending him right home now. It was not the same sidewalk. Only sort of cried. I was not the same person I was six hours ago. alone. I would have to learn to live without it now.” We left the precinct and by the time we got back to the car. . bye. Thank you. Johnny. “He’s simmered down quite a bit since I had him in the squad car. I just wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.” I heard him say as I climbed into my car. “Johnny. Danny took a part of me away with him—and I never wanted it back: it belonged to him. and I could hear him talking with someone.” Paul said. He split the pencil with his ﬁngers and threw the pieces on the ﬂoor. “I know. he wasn’t speeding. I want to be with her now. “Thanks for calling my mother. *** DANNY THURSTON had walked down the narrow sidewalk from our apartment a few hours ago and now I was walking back up it. “you can go now.
Mrs. distantly. ﬂopping down in dad’s red leather armchair. Johnny. soon. and. “Why didn’t you tell mom the cop called?” I awakened her. “Your mother didn’t hear the phone ring and I thought it would only upset her more. several pairs of shoes strewn about her. 43 . lumbered up the dozen or so steps and entered a dwarfed living-room: a sickening sight with cigarette butts cramming every ashtray and saucer. oh. Franks reeked of cigarette smoke. Franks was stretched out on the ﬂoor. I pulled the shades up and raised the windows. A bottle of sedatives on the table tempted me for some time.” She drowsed oﬀ again. But the hum of the refrigerator lulled me into drowsiness. “Johnny. the other half up. “But don’t you want to sleep?” mom asked. Where were you? Why didn’t you come home?” Her face was heavy with worry.” she yawned. I forgot everything. If only I could rest. kicking a shoe under the chair. Everything smelled. clothes draped over every available space of furniture. “Go back to sleep.” Mrs. “I didn’t want to upset her. They’re in the kitchen. ashes scattered on the soiled rug.” “Take some sedatives. The sun struck the room by surprise. I went into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Mother jumped from the couch. I unlocked the door.Holding onto Nothing down.” I said. stretching her limbs out on the ﬂoor. unable to keep her eyes open. “I can’t.
But not tears. Mom and I stood behind the small inscribed head marker. Who art in heaven. I didn’t want to cry. he wouldn’t want those close to him to show any grief. hallowed be Thy Name. Amen. each expressing a personal ﬁnal farewell for Danny Thurston. my arm around her waist. but deliver us from evil. His life was brief but full. who trespass against us. yes. And lead us not into temptation. His family and friends now mourned his passing. Handkerchiefs pulled out individually. squeaking chains lowered the gleaming mahogany coﬃn into a dark pit. not here—not in a public place. Give us this day our daily bread. Her 45 . Mom lunged on the coﬃn as it dropped lazily to its resting place. Danny never cried. Forty-four years had passed since Danny involuntarily sucked in life’s bitter beginning breath. She cried deeper and longer than the rest.CHAPTER II T ranquility pervaded the green velvet patch of grass that embraced in its arms a small group of people bound tightly by the toneless drone of a singular voice: Our Father. There was really no need to mourn. Dad’s love was too sacred for anything like that. Love. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. to cry. I felt awful that mom had to cry so hard with all those people looking at her. one by one. and forgive us our trespasses. But I couldn’t stop her. Rusting. as we forgive those. The priest continued to pray.
” She switched on to another subject. You can’t. When I thought she was going to fall into the grave.” She backed away from the edge of the hole and dropped to her knees in prayer. what do I do now. The priest made a symbolic sign with his right hand. and left. Aunt Floss and I sat at the dining-room table. daddy. Within minutes after Aunt Floss met us at the kitchen door.Gordon Bishop arms pressed against its glossy wooden sides and her hands caressed the closed cover. “Well. It’s your life. and then went into the kitchen to take the cake out of the oven. He was dead. dust to dust. . The tiresome procession had taken its toll on mother. then followed it through with a heaping shovelful of black dirt. mom was out on the bed in the back room.” She got up from the table. Please. sprinkling it on the disappearing casket: Ashes to ashes. smiled restfully. I only wished that mom could be going with him. So much diﬀerent. sucking the breaths back down my throat to hold back the tears. The feeble old man kicked a pile of dirt into the grave. Then a stooped old man stepped out from behind a willow tree. “By the way. We all prayed along with her. dad wouldn’t want you to do this. determinedly.” I added. don’t leave me. He looked beaten and stupeﬁed by his job. for him. The priest bent over and scooped a palmful of dirt. we departed.” I stood gaping at her. he hobbled over to the edge of the grave and lowered his head. “That’s for you to decide. Johnny. Johnny. in fact. sharing suggestions. “I think it’d be best to leave Hilda here awhile. Aunt Floss sipped her tea. You can’t . As quickly as we ﬁled into the cemetery. your business. “Mom. a pitted shovel in his chafed hands. “Daddy. I felt more for her now than I did for dad. “Can you manage the business alone?” “I know the business—too much. But Hilda will need love and attention for a while and the love a son can give is so much diﬀerent from the love of a husband. Aunt Floss?” I said. why isn’t Ned home?” 46 . . checked the back room. The chauﬀeur drove us to Aunt Floss’ house in Franklin. I grabbed her by the arm. I glanced once more at the encroaching landscape and entered the long black limousine. All of this grief and emotion was wasted: dad couldn’t feel any of it. When the crowd dispersed. I can handle what dad left—and plenty more.
That guy should be ﬁred. forgetting time. sleep.” She shook her ﬁst at me convincingly. Ned should be home. a symbol of the space age. examinations. I sent the telegram the morning dad died and I haven’t heard from him since. an electrifying moment. working hard. then I’ll hold oﬀ. the billions of miles of nothing belonging to nobody. I thought. We should all be together now. an individual. the governor—the president! You’ve never seen your ole aunty in action. I’ve got to get some work done around her. I leaned against a sturdy oak and observed an uncommitted universe. if your brotherly intuition tells you he’s coming home. he often boasted. imagining Ned whizzing by in his black spitﬁre jet. “Ned’s probably home right now and. forgetting to eat. hero of the unreachable heavens. “That’s the stupidist thing I ever heard of. I know it. ﬁlling the sky like a streak of blazing glory. sipping the milk on the fender of Aunt Floss’ retired old green Hudson. He always looked up at the galaxies and dreamed of the day he’d be streaking across the heavens in his powerful silver jet. Eternity was his limit. by foot—he’ll get here. I’ll have him ﬁred. but alone and sad. aunty. too busy probing for the billions of undiscovered facts. preparation for the day he’d have his own sleep jet. roaring exhaust humming excitedly in your ears.” “You don’t ﬁre generals. Ned’s conquest: space—Air Force pilot. a million sensations of satisfaction: my brother Ned. the moon looked bright and brazen. never stopping—an endless journey through space. studies.Holding onto Nothing “I’d still like to know. training hard. Ned felt alive up there—secure.” “What’s his name. I scanned the vast darkening sky: the stars seemed to be shooting out from behind the silky clouds. the stars—space. carrying a plate of fudge. then she went to the back door and opened it. eyes always searching for adventure. if he isn’t. Senator Perkins is going to be hearing from this constituent.” “Well.” “You mean they wouldn’t give him leave for his own father’s funeral?” She strutted into the room. I’ll write the congressman. Ned loved the sky. a modern weapon of human mechanism geared 47 . dedicated. but if I don’t hear from him by midnight. “Now go outside and eat this. by car. It was cruel. the world’s best.” She handed me a piece of fudge and slid a quart of milk under my arm. leaving only a deep. he’s probably on the way—by jet.” She pecked me on the forehead.
Exhaustedly. His ﬁnal examinations will then be complete. the ambitious strength of a million mythological gods. It meshed perfectly. you could never be absolutely sure. determining the amount of time still left to crack open the solution. His mind was fogging fast. Almost done. waiting for the last answer to pop in his head. MISSISSIPPI: Ned sis patiently. Ned thinks groggily. He looks up at the big black and white clock hanging strictly over the captain’s square gray desk. Instead of being infuriated at his own impatience. The weak pencil point broke under the frenzied pressure of his excited ﬁngers. BILOXI. A slight doubt tip-toed across the exam sheet. teasing his tired eyes. because of some obscure reason . The mist slowly disappeared and the fog lifted from around his thinking mechanism. That was my brother. He worked feverishly with the pen. a piece there. comforting himself by reviewing the answers in the blue exam booklet. he jotted down the last tiny fragment of the ﬁnal answer as it bounced explosively in his head. Seven minutes. . The vague answer still could not crystallize. He pondered. . Another eight minutes and it will be too late. Were these the real right answer? Under pressure like this. Almost on his ﬁrst journey to Venus. Ned somehow was not able to see his father for that one last time. now to ﬁt them all together to see if it forms a familiar picture. he pressed his thumbs deeply into the skin. rubbing the back of his neck with taut ﬁngers. he laughed to himself. Fragments of the answer at last moved into place—a piece here. exactly the way he had learned it. Hurriedly. his father. He felt rather accomplished as he glanced at the captain sitting vertically 48 . If the last answer didn’t focus logically in his mind in eight minutes he could forget about ever having his own jet. Tiny beads of cool sweat raced each other down his steaming forehead. for he had already completed the exam. then released. Massaging his temples. he slouched down in his seat. Yet with all this. trying to dismiss such skeptical notions from his mind. he thought. The hands on the face of the clock point to six ﬁfty two. It felt good. and sighs.Gordon Bishop to the throttles of the Atomic Age. All Ned ever wanted to do was to share the express himself and he was unable to do this with someone very special. Almost a registered pilot. a beautiful being destined for the greatest performance in the Universe.
like bobbing on your back in the ocean and soaking up the succulent sun. like emptying the garbage.Holding onto Nothing rigid in his cushioned swivel chair. race their renovated rods through town. all gaping at his smart superior’s uniform. they were content with what they had. he studied. go out with the gals for kicks and pour gallons of beer and whiskey in their guts every weekend. he could already envision the graduation ceremonies. to learn—that was for the Georges. He had studied hard. snooping for hidden gyp sheets. He was glad the books had come ﬁrst. That kind of work and discipline carried him through the forsaken hours of loneliness. satisfaction. I’m luckier than all of them. That’s how 49 . Even with the exam papers uncorrected. dedicated long hours for this moment: pure pleasure. studying was a snap. He dreamt about Ned Thurston—United States Air Force pilot. He wondered why so many of his high school friends hated school and classes and studying.” but he held fast. This was a truly virgin class. or just ignorant? No. compared to that. They’d rather play poker. gripped his nerves and thought about the stinking toilet and smelly dog coop and. Ned had a whole minute to sit and do nothing—an eternity of sixty seconds. “thrown in the sponge. No luck. Let them have it. Wouldn’t they be proud of him now? He could see their faces as sharply as the day he left them two years ago. a blessed sacrament. He thought about the gang back home. He thanked dad for sticking him with all the tough chores. There was no need to grow. But he wondered: were they lazy. cleaning the dog coop. the light blue USAF pilot’s jacket with its silver wings perched perfectly on his shoulders.” or “taken the easy way out. a genuine feeling of fulﬁllment. his eyes sneaking over each student’s desk. Instead of drinking. instead of sleeping or screwing the girls in town weekends. the blue and white sheepskin. The golden reward of completion was truly worth all the suﬀering and sacriﬁce. There were times when he could have given up. He kissed his hand and placed it over his heart and thanked God he was a George. he knew he had passed—gloriously. he thought. plunging the toilet whenever it became stopped. he dreamed about his future. But did he really suﬀer? Or was it just a social gripe: growing up in an atmosphere of Let-George-Do-It! But now he was that George and he was glad he was George because George had done it. or playing. weeding the wormy garden with its beetles and bugs that crawled in and around his ﬁngers as he shook loose the parasites and weeds harassing the ﬂowers.
or discussing Billy Mitchell while pressing his uniform for inspection. gratefully appreciating their severe application to better themselves—and their country. “Go back to Morpheus’ Kingdom. Ned was last to walk up to the desk. “Don’t you acknowledge an oﬃcer’s hand?” “What. “Nothing. The captain waited for the door to close. and the shining silver wings that already were resting conspicuously on his broad shoulders.” Ned murmured absently. gentlemen!” For the ﬁrst time in four hours a voice cracked through the deliberate silence in the expansive examination room. “And lots of luck. ﬁnding the integral of a calculus equation while eating in the mess hall.Gordon Bishop enjoyable and important studying was to him: the end of all luxury. possessing depth. opening the door leading to the main hallway.” the captain announced. and he shook each’s hand. you bought yourself a new million dollar jet. For two years in the books. sir. It was a lasting victory for him.” the captain yawned. intellectual curiosity. “Time’s up. He saw everything except the captain’s hand. sir?” Ned said dreamily. General Thurston. As each hand lay down the ﬁnal analysis of two years of concentrated study.” “Yes. The students were rare and bright this year—fully aware. wisdom. Where else in the world could you swing a deal like that? The captain acknowledged each student as they passed droopily in front of his desk. felt he had arrived. then he laughed aloud. purposely. Many 50 . each candidate anticipated the reward for completion and passing. the beginning of man. “Put your exam sheets face down on the right corner of my desk and report back to your quarters no later than midnight. he. which was extended as he brushed past his desk. It was the captain’s voice. He warmed over at the thought of reading a book in the bathtub. You deserve it. Only this meant something to him: he was caught up in a constructive movement. As he stared at the exam papers on his desk. he was still dreaming about the jet that already had been commissioned to him and the diploma that already had been framed over his bed.” One by one the students laced their two years’ eﬀort neatly on the corner of the captain’s desk. “Thurston!” The captain’s voice shot right through Ned’s back. philosophy. too.
” and halted dead in his tracks when the colonel threw on the main light switch. “Ned Thurston breaking the sound barrier? He’s batty!” someone exclaimed. Oﬃcers and non-coms darted out of their rooms and peered at Ned as he slid the rest of the way down the hall on his heels. his results. “Zaaaooooooooomm . . “I want the whole world to know about it. “Thurston!” he roared. . I’m in my jet. slipped the exam papers into his slim briefcase and left for the oﬃcer’s quarters. I’m a jet—SEEEEEE!” He threw his arms high into the air and let out another shiverous scream. “Poor boy probably ﬂunked his ﬁnals. his soft. Only the brilliant light in the middle of the hall remained to glare down at 51 .” another awakened spectator assumed. “Into my oﬃce. his heels clicking rhythmically in step: clickityclick-click. “Yyeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!” Ned’s voice whistled in rich reply. he squinted. Ned was ﬂoating lightly down the marble ﬂoor corridor.” Raising his arms. “So what. he thought. clickity-click-click .Holding onto Nothing manhours piled up there. as though the six-hundred mile an hour wind was ripping his face apart. Wwwhhhheeeeeeettttt!” A shiverous shrill startled the sleepy halls. Could a country ask for anything more? He checked his watch. you haven’t a chance when I’m in my jet. In another building on the base. I’m in my jet. He started humming. “Yeah. “I broke the sound barrier and my skin is still in one piece. clickity-click-click. . . Thurston. You took your ﬁnals. sinking chin hanging happily over his tightly-ﬁtted collar. . Immediately!” The lieutenants and captains ducked back into their rooms when the old man yelled and the corridor shriveled back into silence. amazed at his own remarkable feat. . stepped out of his reverie. . “Sccreeeeeeeeeccccchhhhh .” he shouted.” Ned yelled back provokingly.” He winged down the hall on his heels. “Watch out! I’m breaking the sound barrier . You want the whole world to know about it?” a piqued voice shot up the hall. The Air Force had trained the cream of enlistments and it was he who had worked patiently for two years. . it was he who the USAF wanted to train these young men—his men.
” Ned nodded. its faceted crystal design diﬀ using sharp lines of light oﬀ the colonel’s brilliantly polished desk loaded down with three greasy-looking black phones forming a perfect triangle. Dozens of documents and numerous framed pictures breathed vainly on the plush paneling. And he was proud of his record: out of nine hundred men. sitting erect.” 52 . rather informally. vied for the Air Force’s stereotype of a colonel’s colonel.” The colonel’s head bent forward. Ned. His impeccable features. “Sir?” “The exams are corrected. Ned. a Danish optical-eﬀects light hanging perfectly in the center of the room. The fat books looked as if they contained reems of important information and.” The colonel’s hands quivered slightly and he dropped them behind the desk so Ned wouldn’t see them. then signed both copies. and with a reserved frown creeping over his brow. with a wall-to-wall red carpet as thick and soft as a sea of sponges. touched lightly only by a thin silver-gray moustache. I really don’t know how to tell you.” “Oh. the colonel probably had at his ﬁngertips every bit of warfare data from the dawn of time. normally. his eyes stuck on a memo pad.Gordon Bishop Ned as he walked. the following morning. “Sir. A phone number was scribbled on it.” “I ﬂunk the ﬁnal already?” Ned gulped. softly. again adding. His eyes narrowed. Only his decorated shoulders gave expression to the rest of the conversation. Colonel Morton Worthington was the top “Bird” on the base. “Sit down. I received a telegram from New Jersey. Hesitantly. shaking with apprehension. Stacks of bookcases stood at attention against the walnut-paneled walls. explained. yet peaceful. then added. His eyes pondered a considerable length of time on the papers in his hands before they blinked. “We received the telegram just about when you already had begun your exam. “Before you went into Captain Wilson’s class this afternoon to begin your ﬁnal examination. The room looked just like a colonel’s study should: rotund. all told.” the colonel began. He was ultimately responsible for every enlistment assigned to his unit. only one or two were dropped at the outset—somewhere in their lives they had forgotten to pick up a math book and multiply two times two. collectively. he checked oﬀ a word or two on the paper with a pencil. into the colonel’s private room. “Something happened today. focusing his attention on some pink papers in his hands.
his warm body against mine. unconscious . He saw or felt nothing but this mass of sickening deep red blood pouring over him from all over the room and a black vomity pain ripped through his stomach. Mom sat at the table. Floss. Ned stared at the red rug and the deep smooth crimson seemed to ﬂood the whole room with a messy bloody pattern. All we had to do was look into each other’s eyes and we knew what we were thinking. together .” Aunt Floss scored. I’m terribly sorry it happened at this time. “We were just starting to understand each other. “Serves ya right. opposite mother. I want him so much. . . “Everything’ll be ﬁne. “Face it alone .” I said.” she uttered emptily. Your father passed away at about 2 a.” Ned stared at the colonel. . . “Your records are excellent. He jammed his ﬁsts in his stomach and fell to the ﬂoor. “He wasn’t there next to me when I slept. watching mother poking tastelessly at her food. and made my way up the kitchen stairs. I WALKED BACK inside Aunt Floss’ house.” “I feel barren.” Aunt Floss stopped washing dishes and came to the table and stroked mom’s back. You don’t know my father—he’s big. glutton. I sat down at the table.” Aunt Floss chided. . Not dad. Johnny? Country air too much for you? You look peaked.” The colonel’s silence thickened into a blank wall between them. I rubbed my arms vigorously to shake the dreariness that had suddenly come over me. . serving mom a plate of roast beef.Holding onto Nothing Ned shook his head from side to side. It was dark and the fudge and quart of milk had appeased my appetite for the night. . and listened to the clacking of dishes being washed. You’re one of our best students at the base. “Drank the milk too fast.m. . Sir?” The colonel’s eyes met Ned’s for the ﬁrst time.” She stared at the cooling dinner. strong. so many years . Mom began muttering absently to herself. You remember. “What’s the matter. after he lost all that money. stunned and speechless. “What is it. . Hilda. It only happened lately. You’ve got Johnny and Lorry— and even Ned. Floss?” 53 . shared everything . . I need daddy. It can’t be. “It isn’t true. meditating over a cup of steaming tea. Floss. this morning.
” 54 . He didn’t want their money. cussing the world: ‘Another zero day. you shouldn’t sit there with only those thin stockings on. Nothing. stop it.” Aunt Floss held her hand ﬁrmly. like a little boy he cried. “Do you want to go home. too. Danny wouldn’t like if he knew he caused all this commotion. This time he was determined to work alone. or food. He couldn’t understand why his friends had left him when he was down and out. Aunt Floss sopped it up with a napkin. He turned to me for help and actually cried in my arms. Business was bad at ﬁst. he just wanted somebody to talk to. Floss. needing nobody. just a friendly little talk about the days when life meant something to him. were the same people who left him when he had hi s nervous breakdown. For a buck less they’d sell out to their best friend. Floss. They’d do anything to get my accounts. “Daddy always talked about his debts and about his friends who wouldn’t talk to him after he lost all his money. I’m not hungry. It’s getting cold. I feel dead. The same people he helped during the depression days.’” Mom slammed the table wit her tiny ﬁsts. too.Gordon Bishop Aunt Floss shook her head.” Aunt Floss lifted the cup to mother’s lips and mom tasted it with her tongue.” Aunt Floss took the plate away. “His pride went. He was afraid of getting hurt again. I don’t want to move. spilling the tea. I loved him so much. He was determined to make it again—bigger than he had ever made it.” “C’mon. “He came home late every night and tried hard to build up a good tire route.’ then he’d sit in that red chair of his and think: ‘You put your heart into the business—for what? For some cheap competitor to come along and sell their crap for practically nothing. I don’t know what I want to do. Hilda.” She rubbed her feet together. “Please. They didn’t come around any more. warming them. and money. even the shirt oﬀ his back. by himself. And those stupid dealers are about as faithful as a prostitute. Daddy trusted people. the ones he gave food to.” I got up. Hilda. Oh. spooning her coﬀee. leaving the cup in front of her. drink your tea. He’d pace the ﬂoor nights. Another wasted day of ﬁghting those goddamn dealers. “No. mom?” “No. Nothing can hurt me anymore. “Mom. son.
just as when I was about ﬁve years old . That’s a girl’s name. asked.Holding onto Nothing She smiled and the room seemed brighter. Johnny. Mommy doesn’t want anything to happen to me because mommy loves me. and this little piggy went all the way .” I grabbed her big toe. . 55 . It was late in the afternoon and Ned.” “Sisters hold hands. With a glint of promise in his voice. I stopped and watched him walk down the street. Neddy. gripping his hand ﬁrmly. “Oh. you’re just like your father. “Just try once walkin’ without me havin’ to hold on to yer hand.” I said. he said. “I like to hold your hand. just as when it was a boy and she cuddled me in her arms and rocked me softly to sleep. “Stop that. Don’t you love me. “This little piggy went to market. We’re brothers. taking my arms and snuggling them around her waist and I felt warm and contented. . .” I knelt by her lap and rubbed her ankles briskly.” “But mommy said you’re to protect me. I . . It was the time I had just started kindergarten and Ned and I were walking home from school. . all right?” He shook my hand loose from his and added. We’re su’pose to hold hands anyway—we’re brothers.” He ran ahead ten feet and peeked over his right shoulder to see if I dared to follow. Not brothers. Ned. . Ned? You should. ECHOES OF THE PAST: . and then slackened his pace. Just from here to home. “And don’t tell mommy. unsure of what to say. as the light ﬂashed green. promise?” “I promise. . He grew smaller and smaller as he shuﬄed freely down the block. She cupped my head in her hands and rested it on her lap. . holding my hand. can’t stand that. aren’t you old enough to walk home without me havin’ to hold yer hand?” “Gosh. Her feet twitched. When he reached the corner.” I shimmied my ﬁngers up her leg and on to her lap. He glanced over his shoulder only once. no. he stopped for a red light and.” Ned looked at me. this little piggy stayed home. .” “And don’t call me Neddy. he skipped across the busy street without once looking back to see if I were behind him. Johnny. I . “Johnny. . sort of worried over the decision.
Johnny’s the only brother I got. I’ll be all right. Only please don’t tell Mommy. Luckily. “Oh.” Suddenly. Always. I’m sorry. and ﬂopped back in the man’s arms again.” Ned pleaded. feeling good inside because all the people were murmuring sympathetically.” “In that case you’d better hold to him from now on. All of a sudden.” Ned bawled. “Neddy! Neddy! Wait a minute! I’ll walk! I’ll walk! I promise!” By the time I reached the corner. for now maybe Ned would hole my hand from now on. I darted out onto the street.” I told him. Mr. then red. but it did scare the life out of me when I tripped and stumbled in front of the truck’s wheels. I ran down the sidewalk. Ned saw no Johnny—only cars and people. Honest. only grazing my arms. Johnny. “You’re more worried about the whippin’ you’ll get than me. bent over and picked up my limp body in his massive arms. “Johnny. “See! You didn’t do nothin’. sir. Johnny. But I was glad it happened. oh. my arms waving wildly in the air. huge and unshaven. I pretended to be unconscious in the man’s thick arms. Johnny. waiting to hear Ned’s voice come pleading from the murmuring ﬂock. Ned’s voice rang through the sighs of the curious passersby.” I opened my eyes and sat up in the big man’s arms. A man. Please don’t tell mommy. mister.Gordon Bishop He had called my bluﬀ. son?” the man asked Ned concernedly. “Johnny. You didn’t hit me. I lay curled in the huge man’s arms. I was su’pose ta be holdin’ Johnny’s hand. looking up at me as I rested cooly in the thick. “I didn’t mean nothin’. I was blinded by sweat. the sound of brakes screeching to a blurry halt. faking unconsciousness. God. I wasn’t hit by the truck.” The man set me down. Ahhh. hairy arms of my new protector. The light ﬂickered amber. begging for forgiveness. what have I done?” the man whimpered as the motorists and few pedestrians gathered closer around him. you can always hold my hand. Johnny?” “Yeah. Thanks. yelling. I only fell down. The crowd disengaged immediately when they saw I was all right. holding my suspenders.” I lifted my pant’s leg and pointed to my knee. People scurried to the scene. a truck shot out from nowhere. Traﬃc piled up. “God. Truck Driver. “Can you stand by yourself. “Is he your brother.” 56 . that poor child. wonderful. the truck stopped. “Yes.
. Ned tugged my arm. When the truck was out of sight. The man pulled down my pant’s leg and patted my head aﬀectionately. Mother frowned. and went back to his truck. with what you were trying to say outside. “Both of you are going to bed without supper. Or have you already forgotten what that little white lie was all about?” I ran to the revolving piano stool and jumped up on it.” When mother looked in my direction. a yellow wooden ruler waving in her ominous hand. his body bending in pain at the sight of the ugly yellow ruler. son. . I’m not. ineﬀectively. Pap’s . my.” She slammed the door after us. “After . Holding my hand. See this?” She raised the ruler in her hand and pumped it up and down a few times. staring at mother and Ned innocently. “Mother . .” He rubbed my knee gently. . “You’ll live. “GET IN THIS HOUSE IMMEDIATELY!” mother commanded. cut . . . as if he were transparent. the words rolling out of his mouth like lead peas. I’ll treat ya to a chocolate malt. Johnny. “This is a reminder. “Well. “No. hairy man.” Then he blessed himself. for 57 . you’ve already forgotten. “C’mon. . Mother was waiting on the front porch. . Johnny pushed his ﬁnger vertically over his lips—a sign to cover for him. John. tired . . And you didn’t even shed a tear. to . “You’re quite a young man.” Ned began quietly. Nathaniel. Ned stood in the middle of the room— alone—his knees wobbling.” Poor Ned continued. “Nathaniel. . Look at Johnny’s knee. . go on. Johnny and I . Look at that knee. “WE .” Ned stuttered frightenedly. Where have you been? It’s ﬁve o’clock.” He winked at Ned and Ned grinned sheepishly.” We got home after ﬁve o’clock. “Johnny fell on the sidewalk and cut his knee . . Johnny. Ned and I waved good-bye to the big. shaking the ruler violently at us. .Holding onto Nothing He examined the scratch carefully.” “You are lying. “Go on. he did buy me a malt—and pointed to my sore knee. he . I shook my head in agreement—after all. him . looking up at the sky. . . . What did your father say about this just the other day? Apparently. his knee . I . . took . “My.” she warned. uhhh . mother.” mother lit into him. Nathaniel. I want to hear the rest of this fairy tale. my. my dear.
a sun-soda! remember you always let us have a soda when we got hurt, mother? . . . I mean—”Ned squirmed, twirling his ﬁngers in his hair. “Did you have a soda, too, Nathanial?” mom asked sternly. “The man put down two of ‘em and Johnny said he couldn’t eat two,” Ned explained, clasping his hands in prayer. “So I HAD to eat it, or lose all the money. You wouldn’t want me to waste money, mother, would you? It’s so hard to earn, isn’t it? Daddy works awfully hard for money, doesn’t he, mother?” “QUIET, NATHANIEL!” mother boomed. “Is that true, John?” She turned to me. “Yessim,” I answered bravely. “Yes, mommy. What Neddy—I mean, Ned—said is true, mother.” I spun around on the stool, feeling proud of my compounded lie. “Get oﬀ that silly stool and come here,” she commanded stiﬄy. The piano stool wouldn’t stop spinning. Mother stopped it. The world stopped. I hopped oﬀ and ran over to the middle of the room and stood at attention next to Ned. She kneeled and raised my pant’s leg. “OUCH!” I jumped fakingly. I wanted her to think the sodas—really chocolate malts—were worth all this agony. “Oh, come John. This looks like nothing more than an itch.” “It doesn’t itch. It hurts,” I pined. “Yes, Johnny cried somethin’ awful, mother,” Ned lied terribly. Mother left the room. Ned and I remained at attention. We knew if we moved, that meant the ruler. After what felt like hours of grueling standing, mother reentered the room with a weakening frown on her face. “Well, what are you two up to now? I believed your horrible story.” She clapped her hands. “Now upstairs and wash. Supper’s almost ready.” She watched us skip up the stairs, Ned poking me in the backside. “And please, boys, don’t tell that same story to your father when he comes home. He’ll surely take you behind the garage,” she said. __________ . . . Aunt Floss woke us from a warm, soothing sleep. Mother apologized for being rude company earlier in the evening, but Aunt Floss didn’t mind, saying the rest did us good and she got a lot of work done while we slept in the kitchen chair. It was past midnight when we all retired.
Holding onto Nothing
I curled up on the couch in the living-room with a stiﬀening cramp in my right leg. I didn’t know if it was the lie catching up with me after all these years, or logically, because my leg had fallen asleep. All that night I dreamt of Ned and the wonderful years we spent in the backyard digging up snakes.
ackensack no longer served as a base of hope from which to operate dad’s wholesale-retail business. Although it was centrally located and appealed to the retail consumer, the city somehow seemed to lack the interest and importance I once held for it, perhaps because I depended too much on a name, a tradition, or community pride, rather than depending on my own ability to create and stimulate business. Hackensack was really the Thurston clan’s home base, when dad was a real estate broken from 1944 to 1962. That’s where the family lived most of my life—at 110 Summit Avenue, in a mammoth, three-story, 21room house, with a four-car garage and attached domestic quarters, and a stable to boot!—before dad suﬀered his irreparable nervous breakdown four years ago. And, now, he was dead. As I rode toward the tire plant the morning after dad’s burial, I felt an urgent sense of determination welling inside me, pushing out the old life, renewing my conﬁdence and faith. This time I was alone—no more Danny, alibis, or kicks. From now on it was all business. There was nothing else—except memory: nothing could ever be as worse as dad’s death. The acceptance of all dad’s disasters and failures forced me into scheming against the everyday outside world—and myself—already pulling me ahead in a race that I had not started or had not even begun yet for me. For no other reason but to live out dad’s unﬁnished life, I just had to succeed—always. I pulled up in front of the tire plant and, viewing it quickly, saw no activity. It was almost noon and the workers were already in front of the lunch counters across the street. I got out of the car and went around to the side of the building where I could sneak in a side entrance, unnoticed by any of the boys who seldom ate at the luncheonette; they’d rather
eat their bologna or liverwurst sandwiches stretched out on a tire and swapping sick jokes. I turned the side door knob slowly, held my breath and, like a lopsided lizard, wiggled past the door. Steam whistled from the four recapping cookers, loudly scalding all the cussing and joking. I spotted Linwood and Tommy just getting up to go back to their chores. They hadn’t seen me—the wheezing machines coughed noisy confusion into the lunchtime routine, and it was like monied music to the boys’ ears. Vulcanized rubber reeked everywhere; the automatic vent whirled too slowly, lazily, to circulate the burning, choking air. Inspecting the shop for the ﬁrst time since dad died, I saw tires piled haphazardly in bending heaps, boxes of uncured camel-back ready to be opened for recapping, gallons of tire paint pillaring to the ceiling, new tires on top shelves, recapped tires on bottom shelves and used tires jamming spaces between. Wedged between two piles of muddy casings ready to be inspected was Tommy, the senior employer, slopping rubber cement on a buﬀed carcass. He was glued to the job—the cementing rail being his second home. Dad always felt sorry for Tom. He wandered north from a Georgian railroad gang and he always worked hard, too hard, dad thought, especially since he came to the tire factory, putting in hours of overtime, often going home with more in his pay envelope than dad or Charlie, the partner in the retail phase of the business. Tom worked three jobs: milkman in the mornings, a tireman during the day, and a deliveryman for some South Hackensack food market. Somehow, Tom managed to catch a few winks on each job. That’s what kept him going. That and six quarts of beer a day. Tommy also managed to marry a woman with a ready-made family: six children by two former husbands—both dead, one a suicide, the other a hit-and-run victim. As it was, Tom’s job at the tire plant was like a third lease on life. Dad salaried him at seventy-ﬁve a week—which probably went right to his weekly booze bill. Linwood, the only other full-time worker, busied himself emptying the roasting molds. Six recapping molds lined the back cinderblock wall, each curing a diﬀerent size tire—600x16, 670- or 710x15, 800- and 820x15, and, of late, the 14-inch tires. The men named it the “hots” job. Linwood wore big black asbestos gloves, clumsy and grotesque, to remove
Holding onto Nothing
the steaming ‘caps’; but he scoﬀed it oﬀ lightly, as he scoﬀed oﬀ most everything. He was contented: his sixty-a-week paid the rent, bought the bare staples and even left enough to bolster the track’s earnings once a week. I crept low to the ﬂoor, suspecting Linwood noticed me when the hollow tire I leaned against popped from natural expansion. He yanked mold ﬁve and it snapped open, followed by an ear-shattering burst of steam. Linwood ﬂinched, cussing, “Bitchin’ machine burnt me a-gin.” He opened the rest of the molds more cautiously. Charlie sat in his swivel chair behind the desk in his makeshift oﬃce, which partitioned oﬀ almost half the plant and kept out drafts in winter. Charlie rested in his chair, undisturbed by business, casually scanning the funnies in THE DAILY NEWS. A thick-leafed cigar dangled from between his rust-colored lips, nicotine-stained by constantly chewing the wet end. Every once in a while he’d swat a ﬂy or bend over and scratch a varicose vein on his thin white shiny legs. His chalky-white hair stuck out all whichways from under his shabby brown depression hat, for it faced the barber’s shears only twice a year—Christmas and Father’s Day. Charlie, in recent years, became dad’s chief liability—even more so than the twenty thousand mortgage on the plant. After clearing the last mold, Linwood staggered over to the grimy water tub used for checking air leaks in tires and stuck his oily, sweaty head under up to his shoulders, the water spilling to the ﬂoor in wavelike splashes. “What’s de matter, Lin?” Tommy smirked, spitting on the ﬂoor. “Too hot fer ya?” Linwood didn’t answer; his head still remained immersed in the cold black water. Charlie stared at the water pooled around Linwood’s long feet. “What the hell’s wrong with ya, Linwood? Ya crazy or somethin’?” Charlie folded the newspaper and chucked it on the desk. “Lookit the goddamn water all over the ﬂoor. What da hell is this, a shit house?” Linwood’s fevered head hung suspended over the tub, and he shook it wildly like a dog after a bath. “Maaaann . . . ahh jus’ pulled six molds. I’m hot!” He ripped a rag from a nail over the tub and dried his face. Stammering over to his favorite resting spot, he whisked up a cigarette on Tommy’s bench and shoved it between his puﬀ y lips.
“Git yer paws oﬀa my butts,” Tommy threatened sharply. “All’s I want is one,” Linwood grunted promisingly. “Jus’ one.” Tommy ﬂipped the cement brush in the can, his eyes glistening like a lion’s before a kill. “That’s what ya say ev’ry time ya pull the molds—’ jus one’. Yer always stealin’ my butts. Ya smoke more a my weeds than me.” Tommy spit on the ﬂoor, missing Linwood’s big feet by a dust particle, and went back to cementing his tire. Linwood looked at the spit, adding more to it, and shuﬄed directly back to his spot. Stretching out on a few tires, he smoked Tommy’s cigarette with antagonizing delight. Charlie slammed the desk drawer closed with his heels and leisurely made his way back to the shop to check the pressure gauges on the boilers. “We’re usin’ too goddamn much pressure on the molds a-gin,” he growled, reading the meters carefully. “Ya wanna blow up the place?” He crouched down and turned the knob and the steam shot through the shop. Lighting another cigar, he viewed the shop with a bit more concern than was normally evident on his placid face. “Whataya say we git this place cleaned up? The kid’s comin’ in this afternoon and the shop looks like a piss house.” He threw a tire on the heap. “Where the hell’s the room around her anymore?” “Ahhhh . . . shut up!” Tommy yelled, still eyeing Linwood smoking his cigarette. “But the kid’ll be her shortly,” Charlie ﬁred back worriedly. “Yeah, wonder how the kid took Danny’s death?” Tommy asked, his sarcastic voice slightly constricted. “He was kinda’ quiet at the funeral parlor when I saw him,” Charlie said, squinting through the cobweb-lined window over the water tub. “Feel kinda’ sorry for the kid. My ole man is still livin’ and I’m old enough to have been dead for ten years without much worry from anybody.” Charlie pushed his ﬁngers through his silty hair. “Ya know somethin’, Tom, Ned wasn’t at the funeral. Johnny didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout it either.” Charlie lowered his voice, as if wanting no one to hear him but himself. “I feel kinda’ lost myself. Ya know that, Tom?” “What’d ya say, Charlie?” Tommy asked, trying to follow what Charlie was saying and catching the dripping cement oﬀ the casing at the same time. “Ahhh, nothin’,” Charlie said, dipping his ﬁnger in the water tub.
Holding onto Nothing
Linwood released a lung-ﬂexing yawn as he got up from his resting nook, and ambled over to Tommy, looking at the cigarettes lying alone temptingly on the bench. “Git yer eyes oﬀa dem butts,” Tommy snarled. Linwood backed away, pretending to be looking for something to do. “What’s da matter wid you, boy?” “Jus’ leave dem butts alone and there’ll be nothin’ de matter wid me—BOY,” Tommy mimicked in a strong southern drawl. Linwood hopped up on a tier of tires ready for cementing. “You know I’m gonna hafta’ cement those tires,” Tommy spat irritably. “What’d you jump up there for? When ya gonna be a NICE BOY and grow up like the rest of us?” Linwood fell to his feet. “Better watch dat stuﬀ, Tom. You go callin’ me and my kind stupid again and I’ll hafta’ hurt ya.” Linwood stood brazenly in front of Tommy, his face hardening instinctively. “Ahh don’ like remarks like that.” His ﬁsts doubled. “Ahhh . . . I didn’t mean nothin’ by it,” Tommy squirmed, a smile widening on his face. “Besides, yer always stealin’ my butts.” “I ain’t stealin’ when ya see me take ‘em in front of yer nose.” “All right. ALL RIGHT. So ya ain’t exactly stealin’ em. Now scram. I got work to do.” Linwood felt Charlie’s eyes kniﬁng his back and he loosened his ﬁsts and shrugged oﬀ the incident regrettably. “Ev’ry time niggers ﬁght, they end up in jail,” he muttered wiping his forehead with his arm. He trudged over to the desk, pulled up a tire, ﬂopped down and stared at Tommy. Tommy lit a cigarette nervously. “Whataya want, Linwood, more money?” Charlie ﬁnally asked, attempting to dismiss the incident without ill feelings. “Don’ wan’ no money, Churrly. Jus’ thinkin’ ‘bout Danny and Johnny.” Charlie leaned forward on the checkbook, “Yeah, it just don’t seem possible,” and stared sullenly at the faded green blotter. “Danny Thurston dead. Christ! I scares ya. I could die right now—here!—in this goddamn chair.” “Yeah, ya can say dat again, boss,” Linwood agreed blankly. “I’m every afraid to take my next breath sometimes, Churrly, knowin’ it may be my las’ one.”
Charlie’s face turned a sickly ashen. “Well, I’m goin’ fur coﬀee. Wan’ anythin’, boss?” Charlie didn’t answer. “Hey, boss! You okay?” Linwood’s watery brown eyes swelled. “I’m scared, Lin. Really scared.” Charlie picked up a pen. “I’ll be o’er in a jiﬀ. I wanna’ try an’ balance this checkbook before junior gets back. He’ll probably wanna see it.” Linwood scuﬀed to the side door and just as he was about to open it, I whispered, “Ps-s-t, Linwood.” He turned, cocking his head like a Spaniel pup. “Why its’ . . . Churrly, it’s junior. He’s right here between da ties.” He threw out his arms. “Whataya doin’ in dose tires? Oh, maaann, Johnny boy, I missed ya, I missed ya. It’s like home again. Bless ya, boy.” “Welcome back, junior,” Charlie greeted from his seat, still scribbling with the pen. “The kid’s back home. Pops up from nowhere. Welcome back, spook,” Tommy belted out from the cementing rail. I surveyed the shop in full stance, seeing dad’s eyes on every tire and piece of equipment. “Yep, back and ready to work.” I slapped Linwood on the back. “C’mon, let’s get to work. Standing around like this ain’t payin’ the bills.” “We’re gonna grab a cup of coﬀee ﬁrst,” Charlie said, checking the clock on the wall. Tommy dumped his brush in the cement can. “Yeah, man. The wife put me through the mill again last night. I could drink six cups today.” “Bastard’s always braggin’ about gettin’ laid,” Linwood remarked, trudging out the door. Tommy followed, provoking him with a few stiﬀ gooses. “Ahhh, quit it, man. Don’ yuh know when a man’s had a ‘nough?” Linwood balked, sprinting to keep away from Tommy. Charlie ﬂipped a cigar in his mouth. “Tommy’s gonna get bashed to smithereens if he don’t stop messin ‘with Linwood.” The incident faded as we paraded across the street and into the lunch wagon. We sat down in a booth near the back, and the owner’s daughter immediately came to the table with a wet towel in her hand. “Orders, gentlemen?” she asked promptly, sliding the towel across the table top. I caught the end of it with my ﬁngers.
Holding onto Nothing
“Johnny, Johnny Thurston. When did you get back in circulation? What are you going to have, doll?” she smiled, showily. “You,” I said. “Not in public, honey,” she whispered. “What’s he got I haven’t got?” Tommy injected, edging close to her. “I could never say it all in one breath,” she answered coldly, dropping the ammonia-soaked towel on his hands. “Well, how do you like that?” Tommy ﬂared. “She never even tried me out.” Charlie kicked Tommy’s foot under the table. “Order yer coﬀee— and—and shut up. You talk too much.” Linwood grinned to himself. “I’m lookin’ for another job,” Tommy whined. “You guys sicken me.” Dottie took the orders, glancing oﬀensively at Linwood out of the corner of her eye. She and her father, of rich Roman ancestry, disliked Negroes sitting in the booths and having white people wait on them. If Linwood had come in alone, they would ignore him completely. She stuck the pad under her white belt and scuttled back to the soda fountain. Brushing past her father, she picked up a tip on the counter, whispered casually in his ear, and pointed to us. The rigid Italian cook peered over at our booth. Linwood pulled out a napkin from a holder and ripped it into tiny pieces. “Ignore them, Lin,” I said. “They’re just plain working slobs like the rest of us; just trying to make a fast honest buck, that’s all.” “Yeah, but they’re clean. I feel dirty in here all the time,” he said, his ﬁngers trying to rub oﬀ the black tire abrasions on his arm. We all remained quiet. Customers scurried in and out and orders piled up on the cook’s counter. Hamburgers slid across the tables one after another. The bell on the register clanged desperately. After ten minutes of waiting patiently, I got up and went over to the fountain. “Something wrong, Johnny?” Dottie asked, mixing a soda. “Where’s our orders? It’s been ten minutes.” The customers turned curiously on their stools. “Everybody’s getting fed but us,” I observed loudly. “They serve Linwood’s kind at Club 21, but not at Tony’s Corner, huh?” “Wait a minute,” she interrupted. “I’ll check with the cook.” She
went down the other end of the counter by her father and inquired about our orders. The bitter old proprietor stuck his tongue in his cheek, deliberating the situation. I signaled Charlie the food was on its way and noticed Linwood wasn’t in his seat. Charlie nodded in the direction of the bathroom. “Here’s the ﬁrst order.” She bumped the plate on the counter. I pushed it back to her. “We sit over there. You get your big, fat tips—earn them.” I went back to the booth. Linwood emerged from the men’s room, cleaned and smiling. His hair was plastered down with water and his soiled shirt was tucked neatly inside his pants. With considerable poise and assurance, he walked to us and sat down. “What was de matter, Johnny?” he asked, watching Dottie place the orders on the table. “Short sightedness, Lin. You know how old cooks get afterwhile,” I said. We ate hurriedly and no one spoke. Every few minutes I summoned Dottie and she ﬁlled the glasses with water. After three rounds of emptying the pitcher, Dottie left it on the table begrudingly. “Here. Pour your own drinks,” she complained. “This isn’t a tavern.” “My . . . how unbecoming of a waitress,” Charlie ejected. “We’ll have to dine elsewhere. She doesn’t like our company anymore, she doesn’t like to wait on people, she doesn’t like to pour water. Tch, tch, tch. how do you get by in this world, Dorothy?” “We don’t need customers like you,” she retorted, taking back the pitcher. “I don’t mean you, Johnny. But these creeps are so . . . ugghh!” “I’m with them—they’re with me.” I raised my glass. “Here, ﬁll ‘er up, waitress.” “You, too, Johnny?” “Yes—me, too, Dottie.” She tore the bill from her pad and threw it on the table. “GGrrrrrr. Ain’t she cute and luscious when she’s mad,” Tommy broke in. “You can have me anytime ya want, Dottie babe.” “Go to hell. All of you,” she cried, and marched stiﬄy to the back room. I dumped three dirty dollar bills on the table and left. Walking back
Holding onto Nothing
to the shop, Charlie pursued the incident, enjoying it rather personally. “She was in a God-sin mood. I think ole Tony pushed her too hard. Kid her age needs to have fun.” “I’ll give ‘er all the fun she wants,” Tommy drooled. “And I got lots of spare and it’s just itchin’ for that girl.” “Figures, maann, ﬁgures,” Linwood reproved him, elbowing his way past Tommy and through the shop door. They returned to work as if nothing happened and Charlie and I went into the oﬃce, discussing the plans dad had outlined before his untimely death. “When’s the third shift starting?” I asked, reviewing the week’s transactions scattered carelessly across the desk. “I’m afraid to start the third shift,” Charlie replied, already leery of the projected ﬁnancial commitment. “With Danny gone, production has to be cut down. I sorta ﬁgured we could ease by on only two shirts.” “We can’t operate on two shifts in the winter,” I declared. “That’s the gravy season. If we don’t make it then we’ll never meet our yearly quota. Snow tires is the only reason we’re in business. We have to think of the slumps, Charlie.” “To be truthful, Johnny, without Danny here to push the excess into new outlets everyday, they’ll just rot here.” “I’ll ﬁnd new outlets. What the hell do you think he had a son for? You saw what I did last winter.” “Yeah, but Danny was there to tell you what to do.” He reached into the narrow top drawer and pulled out last year’s cash receipts and pointed to dad’s signature on the bottom of several slips. “See! Hundreds of slips. And every one’s got his name on it.” He pointed to other slips in a basket. “This was last year’s business—over forty grand worth. One here, one there, another and another—they all add up. Danny was a penny pincher. And there ain’t no more Dannys around. “Me!” I advanced, conﬁdently. “You’re too young. They’ll bury you out there, junior.” “Eighteen’s not too young,” I returned defensively. “I’d like ta see ya do it, junior, really. But, I sorta feel responsible, now that Danny’s not here to watch out fer ya.” “’Member what dad used to say?—’The world go gain; a business to lose.’”
He scratched the back of his ears and bent forward strenuously, reaching for a cigar on a cluttered shelf over the desk. Biting the end oﬀ, he whirled it around in his mouth a few times and spit it on the ﬂoor. “Those dealers are rough, Johnny boy. Danny could handle ‘em, but I’m afraid they’ll hurt ya badly, son. They’re bastards. You know what Danny said ‘bout sellin’ tires: ‘Slice ‘em down before they get a chance ta screw ya.’ It’s dog eat dog. Those guys are veterans of the depression days—they survived. Millions didn’t. They’ll con ya with fancy talk and wind up with the business—Danny’s business, your business now. I know what I’m doin’ on the inside. Pull me MY slips and see for yourself. But out there, it’s anybody’s game. I gotta protect ya, junior; could never let Danny down, not now.” “You’re lettin’ ‘im down by not lettin’ me start a third shift,” I charged, clearing the desk of the sales slips. “I know what I’m doin’. Why don’t ya check MY slips? Who the hell do ya think was responsible for last year’s bonuses? Me!” “You produced only because Danny knew how to handle ‘em. Those dealers knew you’d run home to daddy at the end of the day. That’s why you went home with fat checks every night. But it’s diﬀerent now.” His voice dragged on seriously, monotonously. “You would run the route by yourself and you’d be talkin’ to yerself and you’d have no one tellin’ ya that what yer doin’ is right or wrong. They’re yer decisions now. I can’t tell ya how to sell tires. I can’t ‘cause I don’t know how myself. I was always the inside man. Makin’ tires was my business—sellin’ ‘em was Danny’s. Your dad usta say: ‘Charlie, I don’t know what I’d do without you. You make the best tires in the world. The better you make ‘em, the faster I can sell ‘em.’ Danny believed in quality before proﬁt. He didn’t care how much he spent on rubber—jus’ so long as it gave the customers twenty thousand miles—double the average tire manufacturer’s guarantee.” He looked me squarely in the eyes, almost accusingly. “You are not like Danny. I’ve watched ya work closely. I’ve seen ya throw bad tires on that truck of yours and go out and sell ‘em like a thief peddlin hot jewelry, and you’d come back at night with smiles all over yer schemin’ face. You ain’t foolin’ nobody but yerself when you do stuﬀ like that. Those dealers weren’t born yesterday. But I kept my mouth shut ‘cause I didn’t want to hurt Danny. And I’m glad he died before he foudn out.”
Holding onto Nothing
“He found out the morning before he died,” I said. “And I’m squaring it away—for dad and dad only.” “You couldn’t even make it easy for him the day he died,” Charlie kept on. “You almost ruined your father and it’s not going to happen to me. Half of this business is still mine and I don’t want some ﬂippant kid with big ideas to come in and screw it up for me. It’s got to stay good honest—with or without you. I wanna see us sellin’ tires ﬁfty years from now. I wanna see it grow big enough so someday we won’t have to swear our balls oﬀ over those hot molds. We’ll pay somebody legitimate money to run the plant while we take it easy for awhile.” He stopped, relit his cigar, inhaled pensively and continued. “Do you know how old I am, Johnny?” “Old, I guess.” “I don’t want ya feelin’ for me, if that’s what ya mean. But I have a little more to worry about than you.” He wheezed, trying to refrain from disclosing his personal problems. “I’m sixty-two and I’ve been knockin’ ‘round for ﬁfty years doin’ justabout ev’rything a person can do to make an honest buck. I peddled junk: rags, coal, ice—justa feed my gut so’s I wouldn’t starve ta death. My folks were just over from the other side and had to work ﬁfteen hours a day and it went mostly for their own meals. I had to steal kerosene in the winter so’s we wouldn’t freeze to death in our ﬂat. Some picnic. I didn’t even try to go school. That was for kids who had three squares a day. I quit at twelve in the third grade and took oﬀ for New York City. I bummed around there till I was seventeen and ﬁnally got enough money to join the hacks. Before they gave me my own wagon, they made me sign a mess of papers and ﬁngerprinted and photographed me and even checked me for lice. I worked day and night and socked away my tips and after a year I owned my ﬁrst, new cab—and I was in business and nobody could take it away from me.” Charlie paused and shook his head. “Christ! Did I work my ass oﬀ that ﬁrst year. The only time I left my wagon was to go to the bathroom and sometimes I would even skip a day I’d be so busy. And you complain. Why you’re steppin’ in shit and I’m gonna let ya see how much you can shovel before you go under. If ya don’t, yer a man—you can consider yourself lucky. If you don’t make it, well . . .” As if favoring an old arthritic joint, he rose stiﬄy from the chair and ambled over to the water tub and drew a glass of water. Lifting it to his orange lips, he gulped thirstily. “Ahhh . . . nothin’ like good ole
” Linwood. croaking three octaves oﬀ.” I yelled back. and they rolled along uncaringly with the winds.” Linwood agreed. the bigger his belly got. a tire will blow!” We collapsed hysterically on a pile of cushiony casings. “Not bad. for Christ’s sake. ﬂipping his cigarette at Linwood’s large feet. “I’m normal!” “Yuh look it. stopping in front of the ﬁrst mold to check the temperature by spitting on it. searching hopefully for signs of snow. make some snow so we can make some dough. .” Tommy chided. Standing at the most productive and proﬁtable spot in the plant. Pudgy white clouds dotted the skies in carefree splendor. he gazed down at the line of six smoking molds. We danced around the shop. “They ain’t seen nothin’ yet?” I belted out from across the room. a tire’s sold. from old to mold. then stood at the head of the line of molds and loosened his belt.Gordon Bishop well water ta ﬂush ya out. provokingly. The brown juice sizzled and evaporated into a thin cloud of yellow smoke. “Come on. a tire’s sold . ya square. I believe that some place in the great somewhere. car after car. convulsing on the heap of tires. harmonizing: “I believe for every ﬂake of snow that falls. “Wait’ll we roast ‘em round the clock. stretched all the way to Route 46. spitting and grinning. He moved restlessly. more than a mile away—all wanting to buy Johnny Thurston’s tires. . Linwood suddenly stopped laughing. allowing his thick rubbery belly to ﬂop partially out of his pants. huh Johnny boy?” he beamed.” I looked out the windows and checked the clouds. old clouds. seeing an opportunity to participate in some merrymaking.” He exchanged a few words with Tommy and shuﬄed across the littered ﬂoor. I started singing and dancing: “I believe for every ﬂake of snow that falls. “Ahhh shaat up. “Oh. the more they ate. and proudly. siree. abandoned his work and joined the chant.” I began to sing. A black anger ﬁlled his face. oblivious to my needs. Girls will be girls. 72 . “Whataya mean by dat?” Tommy badgered him. aware only of the snow clouds overhead and the prospective customers all waiting in line. His babies cried for more tires and Papa Charlie had no trouble feeding ‘em—no. “Square?” Tommy thundered.
“Git up and ﬁght. man. his hands cramped under his stomach. the tire iron still ready in his right hand.” “Ya waitin’ fer me to get up?” Linwood goaded his challenger. Tommy stood over him. “Not unless ya want to apologize. “I gotcha. “You won’t get ﬁred if you tap him. and he went out like a light bulb crushed by a 73 . “He’ll kill ‘im wid da t’ing!” Before Linwood knew what had happened. yer white. the tire iron came down across his shoulder blades with a ﬁerce blow. He landed on Tommy’s feet. “Stay outa this. he looked at Charlie. I gotcha.Holding onto Nothing “Yer normal. “No!” Charlie screamed out. Linwood didn’t budge. Ya drink too much. I ducked and came up with both ﬁsts clamped together like an iron ball.” I waited for him to jab me.” “Then ya won’t mind apologizing—now!” Tommy prodded. I’d be afraid of killin’ ya.” I took the tire iron oﬀ Linwood’s chest and looked at Tommy. Yer no match for me. you should be lucky yer normal. He checked my reaction and. “This is goin’ to be settled right now. ya screw too much.” “Okay. Linwood rolled over and sat up.” I coaxed.” “Either ﬁght—or apologize. Charlie.” Tommy said. “Fight ‘im. Tommy kicked him over. ﬂattening him to the ﬂoor. quivering with revenge. when he saw I was waiting for the next move. sizing him up as he approached him. “Won’t ye leave me alone? I don’ wanna ﬁght an’ I don’t wanna apologize.” Tommy threatened. wise guy!” Tommy picked up a tire iron. An’ ev’rytime me an’ Johnny haf ’ sum’ fun yer bitchin’. he just stretched back cooly. always beain’ the shit outa white guys. black hero. Well git up and show this white guy. “You are a dirty bastard. ya smoke too much. Why doncha mind yer own goddamn business?” Tommy chucked the paint brush in the can and marched challengingly over to him. “fer wisecracklin’ like ya did!” “Maann.” He threw the tire iron on his body. I ain’t makin’ fun of ya. his ﬁsts locked cockily on his hips. “Lay there and rot ya black prick.” I warned. I’M WAITIN’!” Linwood lay stunned on the ﬂoor. It caught him under the chin and cracked his jaw like glass. All you niggers are supposed ta be big ﬁghters. “Fer what?” Linwood demanded to know. He did.
If ya come back tomorrow—I haven’t decided yet if I still want ya aroun’ here—jus’ keep yer ugly mouth shut.” By the time I locked up the plant and arrived home. Dogs don’t bite the hand that feeds them. “How do ya feel. yet everything I 74 . Charlie threw him a wet rag.Gordon Bishop sledgehammer. junior. jus’ help me to my feet. touching the tip of his swollen jaw. It’ll be a solid reminder to both of ‘em from now on. “Some do. Linwood’s back actually had a dent in it. “You had it.” Linwood looked at Tommy all knottedup on the tires. “Ma back is burnin’. “Wat happ-ened? Wh-e-r-e’s Linw-o-o-d?” he asked incoherently.” Charlie grabbed an arm and. lowering the steam pressure on the molds. “Want me to take you to the hospital?” “No. it was dark. for good. still twisted on the ﬂoor. I took the tire iron out of his hand and went back to help Linwood.” Tommy discarded the rag on the ﬂoor and staggered brokenly out of the shop.” Charlie said.” Charlie reﬂected. It was a lifeless place. without dad there to greet me. “Yeah. Charl. . Lin?” I brushed the dirt from his eyes. ever. shutting out my thoughts of home: I never wanted to see the apartment again . we brought him over to the desk and rested him in the swivel chair.” he gagged. The apartment shades were drawn and.” I said. thas’ all.” Charlie resumed what he was doing while I tallied the day’s receipts. His body coiled up on a mound of tires. “Maybe that animal learned a lesson.” I said. “He got dizzy and fell and knocked himself out. One more episode like this and yer out. “Some do. I didn’t want to sleep in there alone. he’ll be sleeping for awhile.” “Everything’ll be okay now. I sank into the car seat. Linwood was in no condition to work so Charlie sent him home for the rest of the day and gave him his doctor’s phone number in case of an emergency. “I’m jus’ a little winded. “Wat happened to him?” “Oh. . I didn’t want to go inside. that’s what that smilin’ hyena needed—his brains ﬂattened. Two hours later Tommy opened his eyes and felt his jaw. together. Go home.
clothes draped over tops of furniture. . He belonged to the past. 75 . .49 throw rugs and even they became worn and faded and replaced—but never the big green ﬂower-printed carpet. . imitating the trampoline artists on Super Circus and taking the announcer’s advice and drinking Bosco until it oozed out of our eyes and ears and ultimately wound up on the mended sofa. up and down. bouncing up and down. Tomorrow you go on because yesterday you knew you were loved. the nine-inch TV set squeezed safety between dad’s converted desk and his red leather “Thinking Chair. . I switched on the car radio full volume. mom and dad’s picture on the dusty night table. Only a week ago the apartment provided warmth and peace: the bedroom with books tossed on the unkempt ﬂoor. The music covered up the past—and me . and the many holes in the rug that grew wider and wider as Ned and I grew taller and taller and which were eventually covered by $1. spilling all over from the concussions of our amateurish ﬂips which knocked our brains loose and gave mother a healthy head of beautiful gray hair . . our eyes always glued to the tiny blurry TV set. And love makes it all possible. the white glossy enameled ice box snuggled contentedly in a dwarfed corner of the kitchen. . the sagging twin bed always waiting for my beaten body after a disappointing day’s work. I was still living: I belong to whatever IS.” the rugged green wool carpet that fought wearing down during the terrifying years of our maddening youth. what paralyzed memories of yesterday’s dreams! And you grow up whether you like it or not. playing with sharp and sometimes lethal toys. nothing. . and the dizzy number of times we jumped on the red sofa. . but they could stay there forever. looking for each other during weekend-long games of hide ‘n seek . now thick and lush only where the furniture protected it and somehow still in one piece yet today: the many soft years we spent romping on the rug.Holding onto Nothing owned was in my cramped bedroom . But where do you go in a tomorrow void of love? Dad was dead. attached to no one.
as if it had gotten drenched in a rainstorm. “Ned? Am I dreaming?” I rolled over again and closed my eyes tightly.” I stuttered excitably. I still can’t believe it—my brother home from out there. “If I’m not dreaming. Come in. then what are you doing here?” I asked. grimy. That was no nightmare. It’s your brother. Wake up. “Johnny. almost discomforting. I ﬂipped over again and saw a thin silhouette. When he left home two years ago.” Out there was empty. clad in a wrinkled uniform. “Hey. black. showing the strain and despair of a forgotten soul. “Aren’t you going to invite your only brother in out of the cold black night?” He cocked his cap back oﬀ his forehead. he slid past the steering wheel and collapsed on the seat. “Yeah.” My eyes focused. His head moved with the precision of a cat’s. evenly. 77 .CHAPTER IV A distant voice cried through a back nightmare. As he sat slumped in the seat staring across at me. . daring myself to pinch this illusion . or whatever. This is great. The intruding ﬁgure leaned its elbow on the steering wheel. he looked lost. Tossing his cap on the back seat. now bent halfway into the car. Johnny. his features ﬂowed smoothly. and his normally short-cropped hair was lying ﬂat on his head. . Johnny. yeah. Wake up!” I turned over and my eyes opened narrowly. A slap on the backside sent a scalding shock up my spine. yeah. The dream disappeared. A familiar hand held the car door ajar and a man stood against a full moon. Ned. A stubby reddish-blond beard hid the bottom half of his face. bewildered. but now he looked gaunt.
I had a right to know.” I said. he lit it. “It’s been kind of hard with dad sick and more bills coming in every month. “She still working in that dump?” He plodded up the stairs weakly. but she insisted on it. standing in front of the door. Johnny. appraising me with half-closed eyes. both of us afraid of asking each other the obvious. no matter how you try to look at it.” “You should have said something.” I yawned. “Turn them oﬀ. as if sensing the eerie atmosphere awaiting him. I handed him the key ring. She’s gonna stay up there until Aunt Floss thinks she’s ready to go back to work at the dress shop. written to me—anything.” I switched the interior lights on and he squinted.” “Yeah.” “Great to be home with you. “Got a key?” he said. “Where’s mom?” “Up at Aunt Floss’.” “What’d ya hitchhike?” “What else do you do when you’re broke. “You’re crazy!” “No. I’m over the hill. “Looks like we both need an overhaul. “It was about four when the man dropped me oﬀ at the highway. Dad really didn’t want mom goin’ to work. huh?” he said. looking out the car window at the sky. Ned. Tell us—now that it’s too late. seriously. tiredly. “I don’t know.” I followed him up the front walk to the apartment.” “Must be near ﬁve-thirty.” He squashed his cigarette in an ashtray and pulled another from his pack. “What time is it?” he asked. feeling at east for the ﬁrst time all evening. reorienting himself in the disheveled room. “Who are you kidding? To come like this—and to what? It’s no good. “Couldn’t you do something to keep all this from happening so fast?” “What could we have done?” Tell us. You know how ma is.” 78 .” he guessed. reaching the top of the stairs.Gordon Bishop “What are you doing sleeping out here in the car?” he said. and let’s go upstairs so I can clean up and eat. “I guess you’re afraid to sleep up there. Impassively.
“Honest ta God. Then the same quiet warmth loosened the laces of the other shoe and tugged it oﬀ my foot. aching for sleep and comfort. I cried until there was nothing left with to cry anymore. The swelling in my throat subsided and I knew that.” Ned lifted himself from the couch and made it into the kitchen.” I pointed under the sink.” He scooped a handful from the container and dumped it in the percolator. Ned. I cried in every state from here to Mississippi. It sparkled through the window and landed innocently on the ﬂuﬀ y quilt 79 . but he wouldn’t stop working and take a rest.” He rummaged through several kitchen cabinets before asking. “How long is this stuﬀ supposed to boil?” “I never made coﬀee. there was something to live for—Ned. I felt secure and breathed much more easily. Won’t you believe me?” “Why didn’t you write and tell me how bad it really was? I could’ve ﬁgured out something. “Still brothers. once more. I don’t know. You saw dad die. Johnny.” *** I AWOKE TO A ROOM shimmering with cleansing sunlight. “We did everything we could. You saw him buried. You were here. “Why don’t you turn in? I’m okay. and a blanket unrolled over me and tiny ﬁngertips ran up and down my sides. we tried everything we could to make him happy.” I went into the bedroom and sprawled out on the mattress. If only you would have let me know. “Where does mom keep the coﬀee nowadays?” “Down there. You were with him to the last—all of you. You were the lucky ones. I felt a warm hand gently taking oﬀ my shoe and placing it on the ﬂoor. brother?” “Still brothers. his eyes contracted. But it seemed the more we made. God bless you.” He put his arm around me. I haven’t seen him in two years. Suddenly. the more we needed. Johnny. I love you brother. but nothing came out. He said we needed the money and that money was more important.Holding onto Nothing “I don’t know. Ned. tucking the soft quilt snugly around me. I missed you. and now—never!” He fought the anguish. The evening expired with a whisper fading over me: “Good-night.
No wonder Charlie remained the inside man.” I reminded him. and burped.” Charlie explained. I thought. I grabbed a half-empty container of milk and pressed it to my lips.” “There’s no way of provin’ that now. “That’s when the shop is SUPPOSED to be in order. looking like a blur of wrinkles. undisturbed over the dirt. He gazed around at the mounds of dirt piled neatly in the corners and shifted his eyes up and down the cleanly swept aisles.” he announced. Ya here a little early. The boys’ll be gettin’ big bonuses for Christmas. “We’re not in business to advertise ﬁlth. Don’t you guys ever bother cleaning it once in a while? I don’t see how you can walk in here. junior. his mouth tilted slightly open and his head tucked babyishly under his chin. “The shop looked like hell. He pulled his belt up a notch. bearing his frayed name across the pocket. stepping over a pile of dirt and avoiding an argument. “We’re gonna make some dough aroun’ here. A door slammed and Charlie joggled into the plant. He lay on his cheek. I had to get to work. a car jounced into the driveway. then threw it in the garbage-empty. when all the rushin’ retail business is over. only to ﬁnd a few stale leftovers clinging forgottenly on the bare shelves. his clothes still on.Gordon Bishop Ned was sacked out in the other twin bed. shaking the broom free from the dirt. he’d fall apart right before the dealer’s eyes. junior. I tiptoed into the kitchen and raided the refrigerator. Somehow. The plant was locked up tight all night and when I opened the door the smell of dense rank rubber hit me with a nauseating blow. costumed in his faded brown worksuit.” I said. On the outside. “I’m making up the bonuses this year. “Good mornin’. That liquid breakfast would have to suﬃce. He always looked as if he would never make it through the day. In less than a half-hour. That they can get anywhere—FREE!” “Retail business is gonna be good this season. 80 . “Dad was going to let me do it anyway.” Charlie sighed.” I said. The clock over the molds clicked to seven-thirty—enough time to sweep the shop. he would always remain my big backyard protector.” “We clean up on Saturdays. ain’t ya?” “Why not.
If you knew how to handle a business. a drunken 81 . I’m a helluva lot older than you and I expect a helluva lot more respect than you’ve been givin’ me.” he bristled.” “All right.” I conceded. leave it at that—okay?” Charlie spit on the ﬂoor. I’m sorry.” The side door blew open and Linwood staggered in. When all the dirt heaps were kicked back on to the ﬂoor. know-it-all?— Sand! Sand that weighed like lead. Ahhh. “It’s gonna be you and me working together from now on. when you start talkin’ like that you don’t know what yer sayin’. It’s just that you don’t know how to run a business—never did. Maybe I’m just too keyed up now that Ned is home.” “I’m not bossing anybody around. you wouldn’t let it get like this. The old man tightened his lips and waited for me to stop raging. It looked and smelled worse than a shit house. junior. kicking a neat mound of dirt against the wall. I suddenly realized what I was doing and deliberately advanced my hand toward his. what the hell’s the use. Just like you and Danny. When Danny was here to check you. and I don’t like it. I’ve been bakin’ these babies before you were born and when Danny—God Bless ‘im—was still in knee pants.Holding onto Nothing I stuck the broom back in its rack. “Suits me. Tell him to stop down and see us before he goes back.” “I came in this plant this morning and could’ve puked.” I surrendered. junior. “He’s just home. All rubber smells punky. spitefully. And you can stand there with the gall to tell me I don’t know hot to run a business.” “Ned is home? When” How did he get here?” the old man rejoiced. youngin’. Charlie.” “Junior. but we recapped tires anyway—tires that had holes in ‘em the size of footballs. “But look at the dirt—over everything. You give what you want. I’ll give what I want. forget the smells.” “Now wait a minute. Let’s BOTH give bonuses.” “You can’t help the way it smells. “You don’t own this plant—only half of it. I recapped tires before Henry Ford had tubes to put in ‘em. Know what we used. the customers remarked how such a busy shop could be kept so clean. “Good! That’s settled.” “Then it’s comin’ outa your own proﬁt—not mine!” “There’s somethin’ goin’ ‘round in your schemin’ head. Jus’ cause Danny’s dead gives you no right to boss people around.
he’ll kill both of us. Linwood?” I asked. “Drink this. it fell oﬀ. soberly. Look. “Good mornin’. pressing the container to his lips. Lin. No pupils. visibly disgusted over Linwood’s drunken state.” he groaned. “Yeah. “’Bout time you gave Rachael a rest. sheeee did. “Straighten up.” Charlie raised his eyelids. If yer so damn drunk. yeeeaaaahhhhhh. guiding him over to the water tub. maaaannnnn. maaaa Rachel woulda had dat bed niiiicccce an’ warm fur me laaaasssttt night. juuuunioooor . “We gotta get some work outa you today. He jumped four feet oﬀ the ground.” he raged. Finally. “With a belly full of liquor?” Charlie blurted out. I can work till I die— forever!” He staggered over to Charlie and threw his sinewy arms around the old man’s neck. Charl. “Chriiiiisssst! Dat t’ing was like an iiiiccce cold woomaaan on the foooouuurrrth of Juuuuulyyyyy. She locked the dooooorrrr on me . Linwood already was propped up in front of a tire.Gordon Bishop grin spread uncontrollably over his black oily face. why didn’t you stay home in bed and sleep it oﬀ?” Charlie squawked. running to Charlie’s side. “Maaa wife wouldn’t let me in laaaaassstt night. “Maaa Rachael is honky-tonky. . Charlie slapping his face vigorously. loosening Linwood’s grip from around his neck. “Now whataya do with him?” I ﬂipped oﬀ the lid from the container and the caﬀeine vapors drifted under his nostrils. A quart of black coﬀee’ll ﬁx ‘im up. “Stop it!” I shouted. struggling ﬂimsily with the wet rag. “Leave ‘im there. “Are you ﬁt enough to work. screaming wildly.” I went across the street for coﬀee and by the time I returned. ready for a hard day’s work?” I greeted him. “Git this t’ing oﬀa maaa neck. .” The shock. Git this sonavabitchen’ t’ing oﬀa maaaa head. .” I yelled into his ear. sent him keeling to the ﬂoor.” 82 .” “He’s out. Chaaaaarrrrllless.” Charlie said. “If he ever comes to. junior. Linwood. “Good morning. If aaahh wasn’t so drunk.” I dipped a rag into the water tub and threw it on Linwood’s face. . maaaaaannnnnn.” he drawled thickly.
the liquor still dictating his actions. when yer done. Tommy picked his ear with his pinky. help Charlie ﬁll the molds for today’s run.” “Who’s stoppin’ ya?” Linwood shouted from the truck. Charlie shook his shoulders lightly and went on ﬁxing the leaky air hose. maaannn.” Tommy greeted pretentiously. even to his most contemptible enemy. “Good morning. At noon. “Hell. and. “If Danny wasn’t so sweet on you I’d a ﬁred you when you walked in that door four years ago. working?” he goaded him.” He drank the container dry. I made a note to call the bank the ﬁrst thing in the morning and then went about examining the equipment for excessive wear. Yesterday’s knockout seemed to make no impression on him at all.” he exhaled boastfully. poking Linwood in the rump.” he hissed. Two checks were missing. Tooooo hot. “Is junior still pissed oﬀ ‘bout the ﬁght?” he asked the old man out of the corner of his mouth. I sat at Charlie’s disheveled desk.” I ordered. Tommy skidded into the driveway right on time. “See all those tires with the yellow crayon marks on them? Load ‘em in my truck according to size. too groggy to respond. Linwood dryly continued to carry one tire at a time to the truck.” He obliged indiﬀerently. meandering into the shop. The ﬁgures didn’t jibe. “What are we gonna do today?” he asked.Holding onto Nothing Linwood’s hands quivered as he clutched the hot container between his ﬁngers. that ain’t nothin’. I glanced in the direction of the molds. spraying the smelly air with coﬀee. then grabbed a tire and threw it on the spreader for checking. “Only cure for that is WORK. Tommy peeled oﬀ his milkman’s one-piece uniform and jumped into his overalls. As he loaded the truck. slapping him on the back. “Drink and shut up. watching Linwood strenuously piling the tires on the truck.” he moaned. He jumped out of his station wagon and ran up to Linwood.” I helped him to his feet. tasted the brownish wax. “Whata they have ya doin’. trying to balance the checkbook. “Hot. The machine 83 . “Maaa whole body’s burnin’ up. bosses. “I can knock that oﬀ in a couple minutes.
reached into my pocket and pulled out a few singles. “Here. “Good work. “DID YA SEE THAT! DID YA SEE THAT.” Wheezing and sweating like a spent racehorse. “That ole hat had it comin’.” Charlie tapped his hat to make sure it was there and opened the pressure valve. trying to remove the scratchy particles trapped under his lids. “Git to work. huh?” “You’re a good man. you stupid clown. junior. That should do it. Johnny?—First day back on the route is gonna be rough on ya.” Linwood accepted the loan. “There. “Did ahh ever let youuuu or Danny down. thas all. After last night’s spree. One gust caught Charlie’s hat and whirled it to the other side of the shop. you ignorant ass. Can’t you see I’m ﬁxin’ the air hose?” Charlie dabbed his eyes delicately. Tommy fetched his hat and spun it into the air. 84 . “Yer truck’s loaded. still probing for one last elusive particle in his left eye. “Now git my hat!” he demanded.” Linwood explained slowly. The battered chapeau sailed smoothly across the room and landed squarely on Charlie’s head.” Tommy roared. It’s been stinkin’ up yer head for thirty years.Gordon Bishop operated on air pressure and when Tommy’s foot hit the pedal the air blasted out of the hose that Charlie was repairing and shot into his face. laughing to himself. his eyes reddening from a rotten hangover.” I called him aside. ‘Bout time ya bought another one anyway.” “You sure you gonna be okay. Just take it easy on the bottle.” Charlie crackled. Jus’ the ones you put the marks on.” He stooped over a huge truck casing.” “Git my hat and stop fartin’ aroun’.” he drawled. you’re probably broke and Rachael and the kids still have to eat today. “Don’t get excited. jumping up and down in front of the spreader. I can take oﬀ now. Lin. dumbfounded over the surprise gesture. “Ahhh got all the sizes with the yellow marks on ‘em. “Turn the goddamn spreader oﬀ. Lin. Linwood wavered into the shop. JUNIOR?” Tommy carried on. Nobody’s gonna give you a medal for that. tiredly. “Everything on?” I asked.” “You sober up Linwood and let me handle the rest.
. hoping for some clue to his whereabouts.Holding onto Nothing He squeezed the bills into the palm of his hand and tucked them safely in his watch pocket.” “Don’t we pay you enough here. Today’s run eventually wound itself up to Sussex County.” I warned him. If I pressed on without the usual sales crap. As soon as he spotted my truck rolling into his driveway. before the truck even halted next to a disabled vehicle 85 . you’ll ﬁnd yourself with enough money to buy one of them new Buicks you’ve been wanting to get. no notes. He left for Aunt Floss’ to see mom . . I wanted him to go on the route with me. was the ﬁrst stop along Route 46 in Dover. . . Linwood?” “Yeah. It was shut oﬀ ‘cause we been forgettin’ ta pay the bill the last couple months. unscrambling my thoughts. But without ﬁrst seeing mom? . . “And don’t spend it on booze. only a few minutes drive to Aunt Floss’ house from the last stop. our best account on whom I had dumped all the rejects. he darted out of his tiny oﬃce and. I promise—no more moonshine. “Yeah. Ned had no place to go and no particular reason to leave. maannn. without ﬁrst having breakfast. no used coﬀee cup—nothing. Johnny. but why without me. “I’m calling up Rachael tonight to see if you brought home any food. We got no phone. .” “Just lay oﬀ the bottle. . . .” I hopped into the truck and headed for the apartment to have lunch with Ned. Reliable Steve Papson.” Linwood felt the dollars crumpled in his pocket and he thought about that shiny black Buick in the showroom at Peter’s Cadillac Mart. Seems I jus’ can’t hold on ta money. That was it: Aunt Floss . and why alone without money. I could cover all the accounts and still be in time to reach mom and Ned for a late dinner. *** I ARRIVED AT THE APARTMENT only to ﬁnd it empty: no Ned. without transportation? I skipped lunch and started right on the route. More ‘n I’d ever make any place else. Not to the plant—or would he? . I ran back to the truck. . Where could he go from here? .” “Youuu can’t do that. something he hadn’t done in more than two years.
I still don’t believe it.” Papson yelled. .” he grunted. “Johnny. . His helper. a twitching pimple-faced teen-ager who towered sixfoot three-inches without his spurred cowboy boots on. “N . these damn things are heavy. How do you feel. suggesting a raise in prices. “Just lookit them tires. He had more drive than a piston in a Mack truck. . “When you stop puttin’ it on. Thursh. stop comin’ around. smeared with grease and sticky hair that dripped over his forehead.” I said. boomin’. Pap. rolling him more. glaring at the youth as he scampered back under the dirty car. Not Danny Thurston. Papson eyed the tires as they picked up particles of dirt on the ground. “Don’t be so goddamn business-like. A rubber mallet lay on his chest and you could barely discern his face.” “Thanks for the ﬂowers.” He grabbed an armful of tires and grunted all the way to the display rack. “You’ll have an orgasm and croak over those tires. he boarded the cab and had me pinned in the seat with an emotional.” Papson countered. h .” “So what a lovely way to die. need any h . . We had frost last weekend and everybody and their brother’s got snow-tire fever. slid out from underneath a car on a wobbly dolly.” I hinted gingerly. P . plopping four tires on the bottom rack. “We’re givin’ ya too much rubber these days. 86 . The guy’s comin’ back in an hour. help. hand-holding reception. “Git back under that crate and ﬁx it. Pap?” he stuttered.” I took the last two snow tires oﬀ the truck and rolled them over to the rack. Pappy. .” I called to his attention. son? I’m sorry to hear ‘bout Danny. then returned for more. evading an avalanche of sympathetic inquiries. “Jesus. Don’t they just make you drip with envy? I’d bet you’d like to buy every tire in our plant?” “Whataya kiddin/” Don’t you know I buy every tire you make? I don’t see how you have time to sell tires to somebody else. getting out of the truck and going around to the rear to start unloading. “Boomin’. eﬀeminately.Gordon Bishop awaiting repairs. Pap.” “Wait’ll you see what I got for you. How’s business in this neck of the woods?” I asked.” he clowned. n . “Take it easy.
Holding onto Nothing “Git those tires oﬀa the ground. boy.” Papson complained. and placed them tenderly in the rack. matter-of-factly.” I announced triumphantly. double checking. “Go on. kid. kid?” “Anything’ll do. Papson cracked the bills from the piles. Stacked neatly in separate drawers were ﬁves.” He quickly checked his ﬁgures and went to the register. “Don’t let ‘em blow away. I grabbed the yellow order book from the cab. The ﬁrst stop on my own and it grossed over three hundred—and in cash.” He whisked the tires up into his arms. Like a professional Las Vegas gambler. “Ya just ﬁnish breakin’ me and ya want more? Yer gonna be okay. He pulled out the ﬁfties and licked his thumbs. That’ll give me a chance to recuperate. My ﬁrst transaction—and the juiciest so far. Danny did a good job breakin’ you in. “A big fat one this trip. Anything for next week?” I asked. ﬁfties and a heap of singles that would embarrass a bank teller’s cache. “Ain’t it two percent for cash?” “That’s already ﬁgured in. “You known I never let my tires touch the ground till they’re sold. kid.” he shouted furiously. tens. backing away with the money in my hands. “Ya want bit or small. as though he were fondling a new-born baby.” I gaped at them disbelievingly. A portion of one’s proﬁt should always be appropriated to replenishing one’s energies. “Yeah. Take it. so long as you didn’t make ‘em. running to the rack. closing the door after me.” “Yer on the ball. “Three hundred and eighteen dollars and seventy cents?” I asked. dad would always 87 . I’m in a hurry today. twenties.” He lay six ﬁfties on the grease-stained counter. Thurston.” I said.” he moaned. Danny’d be real proud to see this kinda headwork. “Thanks Pap. It’s only money—and deﬂated at that—or would the experts say inﬂated?” He handed me the change. The customers like ‘em better when they’re nice and shiny and black.” “See you next week. stamping into his oﬃce to tally the bill. “I’m in the poor house—a rubber poorhouse. My stomach growled for attention: it wanted a slice of the spoils.
My noisy belly won out. police said. Thurston saw the police car approaching him and made a dash to Route 46. The bold black print focused on the incredible. The fugitive ran through the backyards of surrounding homes. But I couldn’t read it. “Garson’s companion. “Patrolman Fred Garson. police reported. especially when the revenues unexpectedly exceed the expenditures. exhausted and frightened. . making sure I wasn’t seeing things. I ﬁxed my eyes on the picture again. jumped out of the police car and chased Thurston on foot. the driver. planning to trap the runaway. he said.” A headline story followed the lead. . signaling Bradford he had the youth cornered. and relaxed in the truck. Thurston sprinted 88 . He said he sighted Thurston sneaking behind a small wooden garage and blew his whistle. whose face looked familiar. My eyes blurred and wouldn’t believe or accept the words or picture. “Nathaniel Thurston. scanning the headlines. Garson said. “A police car patrolling the area spotted young Thurston. The Airman. Garson circled the block in the patrol car. Garson ﬁred again. “Garson said he pulled his gun and ﬁred it from the window of the patrol car. “In the meantime. Thurston ignored the warnings and attempted to lose his pursuers by clambering up a garage roof and disappearing down the other side. ducked behind a tree. I sensed his presence— and that was enough. so I drove to a nearby diner and devoured a three-course meal. The caption read: “Escaped Airman Caught Fleeing From Police.Gordon Bishop say. ﬁring warning shots over his head. In the middle of the front page stared a picture of two policemen holding onto an escaped military man. After spending three dollars on the costliest steak dinner on the trucker’s menu. AWOL Airman. Mom and Ned were still hours away. said he immediately suspected the Airman was AWOL and shouted for him to halt. who was in disheveled Air Force khakis. I picked up a local newspaper. just out on the stands. It read the same—and forced me to read on. Tra-la-la . Patrolman William Bradford. if only dad could have seen this deal. “the Airman leaped over hedges and fences and with Bradford following closely behind. I read the headline again. was arrested at eight o’clock this morning on the Hasbrouck Heights-Hackensack borderline after disregarding a policeman’s warning to halt. nicking the tree.
each reliving roles that you had read about in newspapers every day.. I backed out.Holding onto Nothing straight as an arrow to a parked car. Ned was brought into the police station. the horn was still blaring. like a forgotten tale retold with a new set of characters. smacking the side of a house owned by George J. Homcy. when I did. only this time the plot made sense. was insured. and. pushed the shift into ﬁrst. too. to drive the car out of the driveway and headed in the direction of Route 46.” I threw the paper on the ﬂoor. . A horn shrieked through my body and I snapped out of my trance and looked out the truck’s window. “The wrecked car. He was taken to the Hackensack Police Station and booked on three counts. Dad. the twisted puzzles of the past. Blood stains streaked his soiled khaki pants and he limped painfully behind the patrolmen. according to police. according to police. of 128 Dayton Age. “Eight-year-old Cheryl Homcy. “Bradford and Garson said they pulled the dazed Airman from the wreckage. “Thurston managed. however. and sped toward the police station to save Ned. . life. . Ned’s picture. ﬁtting perfectly into the picture. Passaic. gunning his accelerator. 172 Williams Avenue. Ned. police said. and released. was taken to Hackensack Hospital. The story seemed preposterous. “Will ya move that heap? Somebody else would like ta get in ta eat. for you could easily place the missing pieces together. But another shot from Bradford’s revolver sent the vehicle into a screeching spin and it thudded to a halt. a miscreation of chance. It took me several seconds to reorient myself. sketched by fate without care or consideration. His face was vacant of any emotion and his wrists bled from the handcuﬀs that were forced on carelessly. me—all fucked up! . I WASN’T THERE WHEN . where she was treated for bruises and shock. 89 . . who was in her bedroom. owned by Charles Munoz. Hackensack. Ya think yer the only hungry guy in the world?” a driver shouted irritably. but was slowed down as a bullet from Garson’s gun ripped a hole in his right leg.
“Thank you. I’m just a cop. All the big city papers will pick it up for the morning’s late edition and. “Where’s Lou?” “He’ll be here in a minute. THE DAILY RECORD called and I gave the desk editor the info you called in over the radio. They had tabs on you twenty minutes before you jumped over the fence.” “Why don’t you help me ﬁx the kid’s leg and forget the publicity and politics.” “Yeah. “Looks like we got ourselves a ringer today.” “Why don’t you leave the kid alone?” Bradford broke in. Ned followed him with his eyes.” Ned lowered his head and jammed his ﬁsts in his eyes.Gordon Bishop Garson entered ﬁrst. I went to see my father. this punk probably’s got a record since kindergarten. every military patrol car will be buzzin’ the streets lookin for AWOLs. we’ll know everything about you—even when you brushed your teeth last.” Garson moved behind the desk and pulled oﬀ his hat. before tomorrow. guiding him over to a bench along the wall. glaring disdainfully at Garson. Ned sat down. standing in the center of the squadroom.” the desk sergeant replied. The veteran oﬃcer bit his lower lip and left the room.” Bradford fathered him instinctively.” he smirked authoritatively. kid.” Garson reminded the young recruit. But it was too late. cupping his hand over his mouth. now. “Now what do you mean too late? And don’t be afraid to tell me the truth. “Why not? It’s a bit story. Don.” He pushed Ned into the room. He won’t even say who he is or where he lives. “Want anything to eat. “Yep. “Now. In an hour we’ll know everything about you anyway. You’re up the creek already. leading Ned inside the station. Catch ONE—and ya catch ‘em all. “He gave us quite a chase.” Bradford said. “My name is Ned thurston. I want to help you. As soon as that phone rings.” Ned whispered. not like Fred—he’s out to make a name for himself on the 90 .” Ned said softly. “Ya might as well make it easy for yourself. Ned. “Can’t you see he’s had enough?” The young patrolman pulled a key chain from his hip pocket.” Garson strode over to Ned. kid? Bradford said. “And I didn’t go AWOL because I was in trouble. sir. we got a ringer this time—and a silent one at that. “This stuﬀ makes good news. unlocked the handcuﬀs and wiped the blood from Ned’s wrists.
only Bradford’s voice pounding in his ears and confusing him only more. Ned pushed his thumbs into the sockets of his eyes. but dad was his friend—the one person by whom he could measure and determine his oftentimes impractical ideals. at last a man—an Air Force graduate. And dad had died and said nothing. a rambling picturesque one. He go berserk?” 91 . bidding each other a brief good-bye. not hearing. a father.” Bradford’s voice reassured him that he was no longer alone. “I came home to see my father.” “I know you’re not the type to go AWOL. He tired to forget by squeezing his head between his forearms. at the time. “Why didn’t you stop when we pulled up to question you?” he asked. Ned stared blankly at the ﬂoor.” His head fell forward again. kid. I just don’t know. after a long silence. to return to a grand celebration with dad and the family. a family. and he was going to give it all to dad. he placed his hand in dad’s. but I really do want to help you. I don’t know. “STOP! STOP! I can’t stand anymore. swallowed up in a dense forest with birds and squirrels animating it. The sluggish sergeant jumped to his feet and sprang out from behind the desk. Nothing else remained. Ned imagined himself coming back in two years. Bradford held on to him helplessly. “I don’t know. And. wanting to be admired and approved by the one love he cherished above everyone—dad. his wings on his shoulders. I’m probably going to stay a patrolman the rest of my life.” Ned screamed. “What’s the matter with him. without a home. “What’s the matter. pushing his hands against his ears.Holding onto Nothing force. He had saved over a thousand dollars in those two years. two years of studying and working. perhaps to buy a home in the country. Two years ago they said good-bye. But dad was not home—no big surprise party. His thoughts stirred up memories of dad and the years of loyalty and respect they shared: the incomparable love of a father-son. Ned. I have a kid brother who’s just like you and he’s as honest as the Pope. You all right?” Garson darted out of the adjoining room and ran to the bench. and they shook long and ﬁrm. no one to accept his secret money. not answering. When he left home two years ago. He mom and Johnny and Lorry. It doesn’t matter one way or another. but they had already buried him. I was too late.
one carrying a square black ﬂash camera strapped over his shoulder. Lou. awaiting a similar response from his partner. the station door swung open and two men. playing up to Garson. “I retire next year.” Bradford threatened the newspaper team.” Bradford pleaded. “Shut up and get outa here before I bust that camera over your head.Gordon Bishop “LEAVE US ALONE! Please get out of here. when you’re campaigning for promotions—then this worthless old box will be faced in another direction. he shoved a bulb into the camera’s small socket.” The reporter stepped over to the desk and jotted down the time and date on his pad. Without warning. . They walked across the room toward the water fountain.” “I don’t know. 92 . When no one acknowledged his ruinous humor. at election time. “What’s the kid’s name?” he asked slyly.” the photographer chuckled. automatically assuming a new position.” The sergeant yawned in the photographer’s face. “Next time you guys come snooping around for favors—you know. well you know where to get your tips. The photographer slapped the side of his camera impatiently. holding on to Ned’s arm. pardon me. “Well. “We need it for the caption. singing merrily.” The desk sergeant shook his head negatively before the cameraman had an opportunity to ask him. skipped into the room. oﬃcer.” Garson admitted readily. So you better play ball with us now. the photographer clicked the camera and the ﬂash of light washed out the room’s features. always at election time too. apparently settling down to more serious business. “The kid hasn’t said a word to me since we apprehended him. Bradford ignored the men and helped Ned to his feet. “Cant you see someone’s sick?” “Whoops . . And as for Bradford and Garson. Just then. The photographer pulled out the plate and slid another in its place. The Fourth Estate’s been good to you guys. Just stopped in to cool oﬀ in the cooler. Roger. where is it?” the photographer belched cheerfully.
“You’re drunk.” The weary writer rubbed his distended girth. Bradford gulped. You’ll have to stay here until the report comes in. unable to suppress the sentiment reaching out for the young man whom he felt he had known a lifetime. And even if he did.” “When a cop thinks he can write better than a reporter. ﬁlled to an uncomfortable capacity. shadowy corridor. while you can still make it.” the sergeant suggested. “We’ve been in here ﬁfteen minutes. He despised himself for having to pull a gun on the kid. as would the police psychiatrist. Bradford groped for suitable words of sympathy. through a deep dark passageway and into the jail. Go home or . Just leave me alone.Holding onto Nothing “Wacha kid done?” he queried. Can’t you tell us more than just your name? I do want to help you. “Are you sure you don’t want any help? Want to make a phone call?” “Nothing. his arms propped on his knees. The room returned to normal again as Ned. He wanted to quit and go back with the telephone company. . Ned sat impassively in a straight chair.” Ned said.” “My leg’s all right. He seldom had the answers. but I can’t if you won’t let me reach you. everything. places. 93 . shifting glances with each other in an attempt to open the interrogation. Bradford snatched the cell keys from a hook and shoved one into the lock. resting his head in his hands. thin. Bradford watched silently as the prisoner leaned against the bars and peered out painfully. he couldn’t ﬁnd it in himself to place anyone in jail who needed help desperately.” Ned stated. Bradford slid oﬀ the desk. Raising poles never caused him to loathe himself. “I’ll call it into the city desk myself. Bradford braced his hand under Ned’s arm and they exited into a long. Bradford and Garson straggled the top of a desk. I’ll trade my typewriter in for a bow and arrow and help to preserve law and order. . Being a cop demanded everything of him. Bradford and Garson disappeared into the seclusion of the brieﬁng chambers. Ned entered the cell. unless you want to go to the hospital to have that leg checked. his eyes piercing the oﬃcer as if he were damp tissue paper. almost inaudibly. The photographer shadowed him outside. resting against the desk. This is one story I would like to see printed correctly—names. and headed for the door. Ned.
It read: “REPORT ON NATHANIEL C. If the kid wants me. that kid won’t have to open his mouth now.” He jerked the paper from under my arm and went over to the desk. All the way home he was thinking about his kid brother. A young oﬃcer. “Him. I’m going home. meeting me in the middle of the room. “Yes. bumped into me as they made their way to the locker rooms in the rear of the precinct. Maybe someday Teddy would be able to correct these injustices. checking in late. Bradford looked up at the clock. 94 .Gordon Bishop but there were always repercussions when a cop failed to act. “Are you looking for somebody?” he asked. is this you?” I folded the paper and stuck it back under my arm. “Hey. “Eight-thirty. sir. The desk sergeant handed him a slip of paper and the young oﬃcer scuttled back across the room. He knew that Ned needed friendship now—not criminal isolation.” “He’ll need a good lawyer—not you. “Would you like to see the report on him?” He handed me a typewritten sheet. give me a ring. Where is he?” “One minute. driving home in the smoggy sunlight. was studying a bulletin on the county board. “Well. I’ll check with the sarge. Two patrolmen. “No. The young oﬃcer sensed my conspicuous presence and he turned around. Bradford reentered the main precinct and Garson already was ﬁlling out the report. *** POLICEMEN WERE CHECKING in and out of the station when I arrived during one of the shift breaks. ADDRESS: 101 Norwood Avenue. his brother. The oﬃcers appraised me at considerable length from across the room.” Garson shot out. he thought. THURSTON: UNITED STATES AIR FORCE. His pedigree just came in over the teletype. He knew it—yet he continued to live with it.” I opened the paper that was tucked under my arm and pointed to the picture on the front page. Ted. standing in a far corner of the room.” He gave it a routine glance and then looked at me closely. Bradford left the station hating himself.” Garson cracked. who had just entered law school.
civil suits. the rotunda. May I need Ned Thurston?” I passed’ oﬀ the paper to her. New Jersey. I scooted up the four ﬂights of stairs leading to the main iron-gated entrance.. I handed the paper back to the oﬃcer. “Is he here?” The cop looked in the direction of the desk sergeant and the sarge pointed to the door I had just entered.000 bail. Hackensack. HAIR. TIME: 7:30 a. “They took him to the Bergen County Jail in lieu of $10. divorce suits. illuminated by the sun’s rays which penetrated the glass-domed roof. it was really nothing. AGE: 20. and exhilarating exchanges of “thank you” and “Oh. Wednesday. parked in a loading zone reserved exclusively for the Bergen County Road Department trucks and county oﬃcers. and pushed the heavy mosaic-inlaid doors open. twisted their heads cautiously from side to side. October 15. handcuﬀed and edgy. Its on Main and Essex Streets. still half-loaded with tires. CHARGES: driving a stolen vehicle. IDENTIFICATION MARKS: scar on left side of chin. New Jersey. dodging out of the way of frenzied attorneys. The captives. were marching prisoners in and out from behind a heavy-barred door.” Detectives with their bulging shoulder holsters leaned against a center railing. 95 . 1965. blonde. their clients and families. Inside. I brushed past several plainclothesmen and weaved through a barrage of humanity before ﬁnally reaching the information desk. ENLISTED: June 2. “I’m Johnny Thurston. EYES: blue. breathing cigarette smoke around his head. as though she were the only one in the room. HEIGHT: 6’1”. pointing to the picture on page one. Guards. where a woman sat perched on a stool. But there as no sign of Ned. 1956. 1956”.m. small hairline mark on right breast. WEIGHT: 165 LBS. Mississippi.m. eluding a police oﬃcer. I jumped into the truck and in ﬁve minutes pulled up in front of the Court House.” I thanked him hurriedly and ran out of the station. like suspicious snakes searching for their prey. October 15. and bored to her bones. smiling pretentiously. SIGNED: Ned Thurston.. “That’s him. STATIONED: Biloxi. throbbed with talk of libel suits. leaving the truck. divulging classiﬁed information to eager pens. LOCATION: Route 46.” “I know.Holding onto Nothing Lodi. 9:05 a.” The woman peered over my shoulder at a luxuriously-dressed man emerging from the throng. dressed in drab gray uniforms.
Are you his twin?” “No.” the guard grabbed one in my place. It’s all a mistake. “Oh. I didn’t really expect a deﬁnitive autobiography.Gordon Bishop I turned and looked up.” the guard said.” Stepping oﬀ the elevator. rang and serial number. Thurston. We’ll take the elevator. He examined the headlines carefully. Bloch. Bloch extended his hand graciously. causing a thunderous concussion to roll all the way down the dimly lit tunnel. Ignoring the guard’s hand. at the same time lifting the paper from my hand.” the lawyer said. The thick heavy door squeaked open and Mr.” Mr. “I was here when they brought Ned in. Somebody’s made an awful mistake. Bloch and opened it.” “Hold on to yourself. He gave me his name. Melvin Bloch. “Maybe you can help me?” I opened the paper again. He pushed a button and the elevator door quietly slid apart. Thurston. sir.” “Was that all?” “Yes. age. He knocked and a small peek-hole popped open.” 96 . Preoccupied with another thought. Czar. “Ned spoke to me. I asked. As I gazed past him. I’ll take you to see him.” he added. Just a trite cliché I picked up in the courtrooms. instead of comforting him. “Come. Mr. “He’s not supposed to be in jail. Bloch entered ﬁrst. Thurston. Mr. Bloch explained. But he shouldn’t be in jail. “Climb aboard. he banged the door shut. “He’s downstairs. “No thanks. I followed him to a second solid iron door. “Oh. Mr.” a voice spilled out from the tiny hole. Perhaps you’re the antidote he needs. I spotted you the minute you entered the room. nothing. Mr. “Did Ned ever conﬁde in you or ask you why you were representing him?” He removed a gold engraved cigarette case from his jacket and displayed it before my eyes. He didn’t want to talk to me—to anybody for that matter. I’m Ned’s counsel. Mr. “A what?” I asked puzzedly. it’s you again. I think I frightened the poor boy.” We wound our way through the dense gauze of legal aides until we can to the immense barred door.” His upper lip stuck out and he slid his ﬁnger over this thin shiny moustache. son. The guard recognized Mr. “He’s with me.
” Mr. .” He ﬂopped back on the cot. “I knew I did wrong.” Ned mumbled to himself. “How do you feel now. trying to discern the interior. too. Ned sat up. “Call for him. Bloch’s resonant voice. was a disordered cot. “Is. an outline of its occupant sprawled out upon it. both of you—OUT! Leave me alone. . I’m sorry. his eyes ﬁxed on my hands. “I’m sorry. crammed against a gray musty wall. I’ve lost everything I’ve worked for . “Is that his real name?” I asked. Ned.” I said.” He got up from the cot and stood silently in the center of the cell. We continued down the hall. “The next thing I knew I 97 . Bloch crushed his cigarette against the bar. Awakened by Mr.” He choked. waiting for the next visitor. is that you?” I called into the cell. . as if he were trying to push away the walls crowding in on him. Johnny. Bloch and shied away. Bloch’s here. Bloch stopped in front of the last cell. But I guess that’s what they want—drag the whole Army of relatives down to inspect the wounded wonder of the Air Force. Bloch said. “Ned. Ned. Johnny?” “Mr. let his legs ﬂop over the side of the cot and then limped over to a small sink in a darkened corner. Mr. Bloch said. Mr. Ned stared through the hanging darkness. is that really you. then caught his breath.Holding onto Nothing Czar slammed the door and fell back against it. I didn’t know what happened. He looked at Mr. our heels clicking in unison. Under a barred window. Bloch moved to the bars. . I squinted between the bars.” “He’s here to help you. and stood by ill-atease. then black and when I woke up I was in a hospital bed.” He buried his grief in the pillow. is this the penalty for wanting to see your own father? I’m really sorry you came down to this hole. “I can’t. Everything went red. “Is . my voice magnifying in the tomblike corridor. “That’s the only name by which I ever knew him.” Mr. holding onto the bars. marring his face with his ﬁngers. “Get out. Mr. I just can’t. Please let him talk to you?” I tried to reason with him. dad. son?” Ned spread out his arms. He’s probably sleeping. “But I couldn’t help myself.
There was just a body and a pillow—no head. We’re all here to help you. Bloch asked. Bloch stroked his moustache with his ringer ﬁnger. Johnny?” Mr. Bloch?” “Uhhh . but I couldn’t see his face or eyes. Johnny. Johnny. I love you. I can’t think anymore. Just relax and try not to think. are you all right?” I braced my hands on the bars. Haven’t you. We’ll be in to see you in the morning.” “Shut up. Bloch help you. my eyes trying to penetrate the darkness.” I forced myself away from the cell and up the hall to the iron door to freedom. distressed over Ned’s unwillingness to cooperate.” I looked into the cell to see if he was listening. I wanted to be with him.” He collapsed on the cot. and rolled on his side so his back was facing us.” he conﬁrmed. 98 . If I hadn’t seen Johnny’s car sitting on the street that morning. Ned remained inside. I probably would have done something terrible. “What can I do?” I asked Mr. yes. Bloch desperately.Gordon Bishop was hitching rides to get home to see dad. That’s what brothers are for. “Mr. Mr. Mr. “Why? Why? Why? Why?” he pounded hysterically. Please let Mr. Ned. Most of them. “No!” Ned said. prematurely. All you gotta do is give him a chance. alone. calling. “Ned. He’ll understand. You’ll feel better in the morning gif you don’t. Mom wants to see you.” I tried to explain. All you gotta do is just listen to what he says. The barred barrier closed with a thud. Ned? It’s a cinch.” Ned yelled into the pillow.” “Is there anything else you want to say. “Ned. so we could talk and work it out together. . sealing the prisoners safely from the indiﬀerent world outside. “Good-bye. . Mr. Bloch says he’s handled hundreds of cases like this—and won ‘em all. shouting frantically. about the outcome. Nel. Ned. I had to be with him and I ran back to the iron door. “Open it! Open it! I must see my brother!” The door swerved open and I shot past the guard and down the call. Suddenly. hesitantly. “It’s practically nothing. “Please. Bloch peered through the bar. When I saw him sleeping in the car I knew I was safe—from everything. “Hear that.
Mr. Ned. “Don’t worry. Bloch to see.” I apologized absently. brother. Bloch smiled understandingly. He laughed and threw up his hand for me to bring it to him. “I’ll take it. “Ned. He ﬂexed a wide dental smile for me: “It helps to know the right people. Melvin. A green ticket decorated the windshield.” “Good-night. .Holding onto Nothing Ned raised his head from the cot. Good-night. .” I turned the ticket over to him. mister . That’s what the state pays me to do. That’s all. mister . the detectives. Now you’d better stop thinking so hard and leave the headwork to me.” I ran down the Court House steps and stopped the truck still parked brazenly in the sunlight. “Johnny. “It’s Melvin Bloch. please don’t do anything till I can get you outa here? Please?” “I won’t do anything. and so did the cops. The lawyers looked like what you’d expect lawyers to look like. if you insist. and relaxed. wiggled his feet. John. .” “Okay. My stomach is sore from crying. Mr. he didn’t need it. .” “Well. clerks.” I stuck my head between the bars. John. “No use making you go through anymore red tape. Well.” That’s the way he wanted it: isolation and blackness. and the rest—bewildered faces.” He brought himself into a bent position. . Mr. Bloch escorted me to the main entrance. I just want to be left alone. I unsnagged it from the wiper blade and waved it in the air for Mr. ahh . like myself. thank you.” 99 . Thanks and good-bye. It seemed as if the same people and confusion were trapped permanently in the giant glassdomed hall. . I ran back up the steps. He didn’t want my help. There’s no more guts left to worry with. I’ve seemed to have forgotten your name. brother. What’s the matter? You look pale.” he said.
“Maybe she does. “Skippy. I coulda died when you told him on the way out that the ﬂoor shows at midnight were lousy.” “I feel sorry for dogs.” I said.” he suddenly remembered. “Yeah. but don’t get excited. then picked up a piece of toast and dipped it into the coﬀee.” “I will too. Good day for a drive in the country. Today’s news is tomorrow’s trash.” who the neighbors said ran out in front of a car during a thunderstorm one day. remembering our dog.” “I felt like an animal every time they fed me.” he said. “Mom doesn’t even know I’m home.000 bail. ﬁddling with the handle of the cup.” I said.” he recalled distastefully. he thought you wanted to stay with the fraternity a little longer.” His teeth sank into the soggy toast. “Did you notice the expression on that guard’s face when you picked me up last night. skip it.” Ned reﬂected sadly. Me. “Every time I see a dog catcher now I’m going to swear at him. “Hey. too. “Remember the city dog pound we used to visit when we were kids? That’s just the way I felt in that ﬁlthy jail—like a stray mutt.CHAPTER V “H ow does it feel to be out?” I asked Ned swallowed a mouthful of coﬀee.” 101 . “Read.” Ned gulped the rest of his coﬀee and threw the last piece of limp toast in his mouth. “What do you mean?” I went into the living-room and picked up THE DAILY RECORD. let’s go.” “Oh. We never saw her again. why don’t we go up and see mom today?” “Yeah. Johnny? He never thought you’d get up the $10. catching the drippings with his ﬁngers.
” Outside the window. like a sea gull that just found his own secluded island.” “Yes.” “Don’t tell me you have one?” I questioned. ignorant. respecting attention. just driving along and looking at all these sacred mountains and rivers.” Ned sighed. Just the way it was when we were kids. this. leaving a broken edge of snow-caps sneaking in and out of the crystal mist ﬂoating above us. trying to check every tree the car passed at speeds up to sixty miles an hour. immobilized below their swaying arms.” he explained. “I remember these drunken fools. His eyes blinked rapidly. stiﬀening the paper before his eyes.” The narrow road plateaued at the top of the cloud-scraping mountains and the air became crisp and light as the city’s smog disappeared below the frost-covered peaks.” *** NED GAZED OUT THE WINDOW as the car rolled smoothly over the highway. “I’m the King: alone.Gordon Bishop “Oh. It makes me feel like the proud lion ﬁnally caged by a few feeble cannibals. do you feel all right?” “Yes. When I die I’d like to go on a day like this. nosed for Sussez County. Nothing’s changed. “It’s been over two years. “At this? Hell no. At this altitude.” he sighed. craving attention. “Even in winter its beautiful. skimming over nature’s ﬂawless face like a painter’s brush sliding over a rainbow-colored canvas. Only the sane people don’t need one. The car climbed up the hills. “My philosophy seems to be a little distorted at this point. peculiarly. let’s forget it. “It’s like a trip to heaven. the rivers tinkled over the razor-sharp rocks and the trees stretched their limbs majestically across the horizon and the wet blades of grass stood stiﬄy 102 . They were almost thrown out of the police station that morning. Johnny. They’re the servants: parasitic. brother John. But put on a happy face now.” he shrugged. he saw half-bare trees poking fun at the earth. “A what?” “A philosophy. The scenery swallowed us up as we approached the mountains. doubtfully. independent. We’re leaving for the country to see mom and Aunt Floss and all the glory of a golden nature—the colorful cinerama of autumn!” “Ned.” “Not mad?” I asked. Well.
too. getting out of the car. “Wheww. “Don’t leave me stranded here. It’s mean up here.Holding onto Nothing at attention like an endless ﬁeld of cadets with their bayonets glittering cooly in the sunshine.” I observed. As the car coasted down the steep grade.” My breaths rolled out in small.” Ned bleated. our faces were beaming like bright tomatoes from the biting wind that whipped through the windows that Ned insisted on leaving open so we could inhale the invigorating country air. aiming the car up the driveway. “It’s Sunday morning. like an incandescent heavenly body. These hicks sleep late on their only day oﬀ.” “You don’t think about things like that until they happen. His knee bumped into a water faucet and he jumped.” The car halted in the middle of a densely wooded area. “Wow.” He slipped on his Air Force liner. Get down. “Stop the car!” “What for?” “I have to take a leak. “If these farmers didn’t have to work during the week. “Look.” “You should have thought of that when you were home. and a minute later. It’s a wonder they don’t have busted pipes in this weather. we’re in business.” He rubbed his knee and hobbled over to a partially-opened window. Ned blinked stardust from his eyes and mused. The white-shingled house glared boldly in the sun. Ned suddenly said.” 103 .” The car pushed on farther and we circled halfway around the peak before descending the other side. Maybe we’ll catch them sleeping or something. “C’mon.” Ned said. they’d sleep around the clock. it’s dripping.” Ned rubbed his arms briskly. “I don’t think anybody’s up yet. squinting painfully at the spigot. “What are you thinking about. let’s sneak around the back. frosty puﬀs. Johnny?” “Heaven.” “Me. “Hey. When the road leveled oﬀ on the dew-covered crown. He ducked behind a huge boulder. appeared with a relieved expression on his face. feeling his way along the side of the house. When we arrived at Aunt Floss’. the light bouncing oﬀ this place actually burns my eyes. Our noses and ears throbbed from the numbing breezes that chilled our senses.
slowly. It stopped midway. but it melted too quickly. A faded. I stepped away from the house and he tumbled to the ground. wiping the seam from the inside. “Your big feet are killing me. “I think I see mom’s feet sticking out from under the covers. I’m freezing my balls oﬀ now. is that you?” mother blinked. a small hand holding the string.” he grumbled.” I leaned against the house for support. Let’s try another window. leaning halfway out the window.” His voice bounced sharply oﬀ the back of the house. “You can’t brush oﬀ frost like dirt. cracked shade moved upward.” He wavered. yes. “I can’t see anything but the back of a bed. mom. “Will you shut up? You’ve done enough already. “Mom. catching his balance.” “How do you know they’re mom’s feet?” “She’s got funny-looking toes—you know—like yours. “If she ever woke up and saw your puss looking at her through the window she’d—” “Funny. you little thing. “Ned. mom. 104 .” I pleaded. “Yes. Ned. funny. getting to his feet and brushing himself of.” I snickered.” Ned called out. his damp leather shoes denting my shoulder blades. “We hit a jackpot!” he exclaimed faintly. “What’d you do that for?” he bawled. the vapors from his breath clouding his vision. “Should I tap a little?” he asked. shifting his weight from one foot to another. and a body clad in wrinkled white pajamas appeared behind the fogged window. half-choked. A face peeked through the small circle. I’ve missed you. landing on his backside.” he whispered. mom. running to the window. with tiny blue eyes widening and the jaw dropping at the sight of Ned. as he tried to scrape it oﬀ with his ﬁngernails. my little mom.” He reached up and grasped her hands as she bent forward. “Hurry up.” Ned answered. almost like a deft burglar.” He pressed his nose against the window. muﬄing my words. rubbing her eyes bewilderedly.Gordon Bishop He climbed on my shoulders and peeked through the small crack. A hand moved around and around. sprawled out on the frosty lawn. “Mom. It just melts into your pants.
They paid no attention to me. 105 . There’s lots more to talk about. I shrugged my shoulders and followed them up the stairs into the kitchen. All she’s gotta do is touch Ned on the nose. it’s my heart. “Stop it. Floss. “Mom.” I jumped to his side in time to help him catch her as she toppled out of the window. “Who is it?” And heavy feet treaded down the stairs. mom.” I rubbed them vigorously and they felt like an ice tray with beads of condensation running oﬀ them. boys.” She pulled his chin as if he were still a boy. “She’s gonna fall. He keeps me young with his horrible sense of humor. mom.” She squeezed Ned around the neck again.” I yelled. She’ll never believe what’s happening. look at your feet.” “Johnny is still the same. mom. Let’s all go in and surprise Floss. I think Johnny’s right. I see.” He carried her to the side door. “It’s a long and complicated story. what are you doing home? You’re supposed to be in training at Biloxi. Ned carried mom inside. He’s real. “Hilda! Johnny! N A T H A N I E L T H U R S T O N !” Her face awakened as if a splash of ice water hit it. “Ned. You’re being rude. I pulled her foot.” “Can’t you two talk inside? Look at mom’s feet.” Aunt Floss growled. I’m just thankful to be home with you and Johnny. “I see.” “It’s not my feet that’s warm. Her head lifted and her eyes peeled open. I knocked on the side door. The family’s back together again. “But. son.Holding onto Nothing “Watch out. “What in God’s name are you doing out there? What is this all about?” She opened the door wide. as Ned huddled her in his arms. Your feet are dripping wet. The ﬂoor inside creaked and a slurred voice moaned tiredly. “Ned is home. unlocking the door. Let’s forget it. I unloaded my half of her into his arms. Ned. “Can’t even sleep on God’s day of rest. but how? When?” Aunt Floss grilled us.” “Yes she will. “Of course. closing the door and looking at me for an answer.” mom laughed.” she said.” mom scolded.
” I interrupted. “Ned. what’s up?” “What about mom?” I asked. “And after workin’ all night he’ll be hungrier than a fool pig. “Worth what?” Aunt Floss ﬁshed inquisitively. I approached the bathroom door.” I whispered urgently into the crack. . switching the light on for him. He opened the door. I clapped my hands.Gordon Bishop “Hilda. “Where’s Uncle Horace?” “He’ll be home any minute now. mom. Ned ﬁnally released mother from his grip and took a full view of her. We’re all probably starving from all the excitement. crying. “It was worth it. . I’ll make breakfast while you boys clean up. how did Ned get home?” Mom didn’t answer.” he exhaled. “Well.” We went into the living-room and spread out on the furniture. hurry up.” Aunt Floss frowned suspiciously. reciprocating with a generous kiss. “You mean that no good general actually led Ned ﬂy home? Well I’ll be a—” She stopped and scratched her head. throwing his arms around Aunt Floss for the ﬁrst time in two years. how did YOU get home?” Ned smiled and buzzed mom in the ear. “Looks like you still wear the pants in this house.” She chased mom into the bedroom and showed Ned to the new bathroom oﬀ the kitchen. “And I thought—” “Ned ﬁnished his exams. laughing. “PLEEEASE . “What about her?” “Who’s gonna tell her about you?” 106 . “Well. somebody tell me how Ned got home?” “He ﬂew!” I announced. I gotta tell you something. time to get dressed. holding each other’s hand. now.” “Now?” “Yes. and closed the door. Mom and Ned rehashed long buried memories as they sat on the edge of the couch. When she went into the kitchen. Now out of my way so I can make breakfast.” She pushed him into the bathroom. And he’s home now—with us. “He ﬁnished them just before—just before dad died.” she replied. “Alright. gulping a bit. “Ned. kissing. appraising her at arm’s length.” Ned jested.
” he prayed softly. “I couldn’t. I’ll be okay but please help them make it. the peaceful exit of autumn appeared forlorn. God. Bloch’s for. He’ll tell her everything! He’ll know how to do it—real diplomatically. The brown dying ﬁelds. yet its death was necessary for the birth of the fourth and ﬁnal season in nature’s perfect. Thank you. God.” I stood in the doorway of the dining-room and looked up at the ceiling. “No. “Help mother—and Johnny.” He went into the dining-room and stood in front of the wide bay windows. help us. I can’t see making her cry for nothing. I don’t have the guts to. Help him—not us. the shedding scenery.” “But don’t you think you could explain it better?” He pushed his tongue into his cheek and shook his head. Ned stared at the sky. “Please.” 107 .” he decided ﬂatly. God. I can’t. “Don’t listen to him. Let somebody else tell her. endless cycle.Holding onto Nothing “That’s what Mr. looking out over the vast mountainous region.
with two guards on each side. now out of contact with the world. May I please get through. Please!” Mr. “Excuse me. favoring his left leg. Ned pushed his hair back from his forehead and leaned against the witness stand. breaking through the barrier. Ned slumped back against the witness stand. Two rushed forward and grabbed Ned under the arms.” Mr. The guards glared at him spitefully.” the judge said blandly. The judge then left the bench. Bloch edged his way through the reckless reporters and the few spectators who had mobbed around Ned and who were sponging up the ﬁnal moments of excitement.CHAPTER VI “N athaniel Thurston will be transferred to Biloxi for a military hearing—due to the circumstances involved. The judge lifted the wooden mallet and banged it on the block. Ned looked up in a daze. The people in the courtroom sprang to their feet as the judge rose from his chair. I’m his attorney. clicking their starved cameras. You know the rules. The judge nodded at the guards. his face remaining with the same expression that carried him through two weeks of preliminary investigations: a display of confused indiﬀerence. Ned stood erect. his head began to warp downward. As the bulbs popped frenzily. Pardon me. 109 . “Guards! Take him out of the courtroom. Bloch shouted. standing him at attention. The guard stationed at their respective posts swung open the doors and reporters streamed up to the defendant. for they wanted their pictures taken ﬁrst.
somehow. . Bloch conferred with Ned. The guards ripped loose from Ned’s side and paved their way to the large oak doors that led to the corridor of the jail. And dad was dead. I walked out of the courtroom. His hearing sold papers. Even Patrolman Bradford believed Ned’s plight. 110 . Never had a Thurston experienced failure in any discernible degree. “Nobody else did. slicing his way between them. or run from the law. arbitrary rules. Bloch led him through the labyrinth of reporters who were shouting questions at him. seeing nothing but Ned’s right hand raised to God. . Ned. As a policeman he didn’t have to retain Mr. Mom was caught in the current of confusion. On the local scene.” Ned uttered vacantly. He ran away.” Mr. He was news. staring at the empty chair in the witness stand. a possibility. This is the ﬁrst case I’ve ever seen that’s been tagged with so much press. always getting something done. but as a civilian he did because he felt Ned would be vindicated when the facts were brought into their proper perspective. swearing to tell the truth. There was always hope. They were too sharp—lethal. Some people recognized me as Ned’s brother and oﬀered me their verbal regrets. damaged a house—and his life. But now tomorrow seemed like yesterday—too late to change the past. I didn’t feel I could replace all those broken pieces of glass. the whole truth and nothing but the truth . Ned’s life made good Page 1 copy. the throng dispersed like ants ﬂeeing in a rainstorm. this time. Bloch to defend Ned. Just when our ediﬁce was erected. all together and ready for occupancy. stole a car.” he threatened. But the only fact evident for Ned was his life—now a game composed of meaningless. some stupid little kid came along and broke all the windows. I sat awhile in the courtroom. and then through the large oak doorway to the jail. He told the truth: he had no right to steal a car. When the eye of the hurricane had gone.Gordon Bishop “Didn’t you hear? I’ll have you all dismissed for this. “I’m sorry.” “You don’t have to make excuses. Mr. insecure and insigniﬁcant for the ﬁrst time in my life. Only. The Thurston’s always managed to move on. I scuﬀed down the steps in front of the Court House and walked to the parking lot.
“Son. Read it yourselves.” she waved. Johnny. “Yes.” she said. put out her arms for me to stop as I approached my car.” “Please. I understand. My. “I went to the hearing because after I saw your brother’s picture on the front page of the RECORD. Johnny?” Linwood peeped. but now—” I gripped her ﬂabby arm and tried bending it upward. lady. “I’m not one of those busybodies who’s all gossip. “Perhaps you know my son. too. exposing a perfect set of store teeth.” “Yes. “Guilty!” I said.” She relaxed her arm.” “Ahh can’t read. stop in and say hello. maam.” 111 .” Linwood pined. but I’m in a hurry. “I’ll make a Novena especially for him. but her arm held fast. He’s Ronald Zanni. smiling broadly. It wouldn’t budge. three heads poked out from inside the plant. “How’d he make out.” “Thanks.” I pushed forward to pass. He’s in service. Charlie and Tommy ﬂanked his sides.” Her face enlivened as her persistence grew desperate. stiﬀ as a steel gate. smoking their cheap cigars. And have him bless my brother. I think I went to high school with him.” I ran to my car. something like I was when I was younger. I can tell a good mother when I see one. “The papers will be out in the morning. really. “Was that lovely little woman with the brown fur coat your mother?” “I don’t know. And may God bless you.” She resisted my advance to get to the car. son. may I go? I have business to attend to. “She was nice and sweet. You’d never believe that you boys are her sons. visibly withered from the ordeal of the hearing. aren’t you that Airman’s brother?” she asked. We live right here in town.Holding onto Nothing One old lady. “If you ever get up near 100 Prospect Avenue. it reminded me of my own son. she looks so young and delicate. too—Marines.” Her bony arm irritated me. “Well. I drove to the plant and maneuvered the car in the area provided for the customers. maam. maam. As it stopped near the door. I guess you really are in a hurry.” “Yeah. unlocking the door of her car which was parked behind mine. “Ahh can only look at de pictures.
Tommy stood in the doorway. Charlie nudged him with his elbow and pointed to the stack of tires ready to be delivered. smacking his dry lips and rolling his tongue inside his mouth. “Sonavabitchin’ kid.” “How is Ned?” Charlie followed up. At least not for me.” Tommy coughed.” Linwood scowled.” Tommy said. under his breath. wouldn’t ya.” He tipped his hat over his eyes and ﬁddled with a casing. “Turn oﬀ dat truck. “Guilty. he cussed. “We didn’t know. Pages of ‘em. “Yer jus’ jealous ‘cause yer afraid of ‘im and yer afraid to admit it. wiping his face with his forearm.” “Yeah. Linwood helped him throw on the last few tires. “C’mon.” he bawled. spitting on the ﬂoor spitefully.” he muttered to himself. “Think he’ll blow his fuse?” Charlie brooded. “Hope they screw ‘im good out there. gropingly. His brother got what was comin’ to ‘im. I wanna get my truck loaded and feel the strength of green paper again.” Linwood overheard him. “No. making out a check for cash at the desk. They closed the doors and I jumped into the driver’s seat. get the lead out and load the truck. Tommy kicked a truck carcass and then loaded the truck. I wanna get outa here today. Tommy.” He picked up a tire iron and hit a tire so ﬁercely the tire 112 . grinning when the truck’s exhause blew oily smoke in Tommy’s face.” Charlie apologized meekly. He’s rarin’ to go and I hope he gets what ever he’s ﬁghtin’ for. rubbing his sore jaw. it’s what he needs. guilty. you’d like dat.” Tommy reﬂected. he feels guilty. I jumped out of the truck and opened the backdoors. and by now he probably doesn’t care if the world knows he’s guilty. Tommy stepped back when the truck started and.” Charlie added. wait a minute. Johnny! Yer fumin’ up the whole goddamn plant. “Goddamn kid. disbelievingly. He looks guilty. junior. “Kid’s in a bad way. junior’s grown up mighty fast the last couple a weeks. “How ‘bout lunch. “No lunch today. too.” I went out and backed the truck up to the door.Gordon Bishop “They’ll have pictures. which was like an inferno from forcing all the spits. “We’re sorry.” “Hey. junior?” Tommy suggested. “Yeah.” “That I’d like to see.” “Did they really ﬁnd him guilty?” Tommy asked.
and burped. “Yes. When Charlie and Linwood thought he was about drowned. but his mouth remained clamped to the faucet like a nozzle on a garden hose.Holding onto Nothing bent and then he went over to the water tub and stuck his parched mouth under the faucet. Tommy pulled his mouth from the faucet. And he’s gonna die out there without Danny. sir. I just drank to junior’s death out there. The gushing water choked him.” 113 . You just wait and see.
” Willy grunted. pretending to be too busy to notice my entrance. was my ﬁrst stop. He ﬁnally caught my eye. squirming away from the loaded gun. owned and operated by Willy Giant.” the man insisted. ya missed that cup under the right kingpin. Willy was inside. red-clay road in the thickly timbered section of Alpine. “Hey.” the customer reminded him casually. “I gave it a quick shot when ya wasn’t lookin.” Willy pushed the gun into the ﬁtting and left it there until the transparent lubricant smothered the whole front axle. I moseyed into the slight. “Hey. “Wow! She’ll never squeak again.” and waited by the cigarette machine. a man whose mantle beﬁt his character. I pulled my panel truck beside his lone gas pump. situated right oﬀ a muddy. today’s run topped all others in the number of tires on back order. still slightly pale from Willy’s nauseating emissions. pointing the dripping grease gun at the man’s smart blue suit. annoyed at his clumsy presence.” 115 . somebody’s waiting for you in your oﬃce. failing structure he called his “Fort Knox. A backwoods garage in Alpine. “Let ‘im wait.CHAPTER VII A lthough the newspaper scandal had retarded sales in the past two weeks. hiding under a shaky grease lift. Willy sold thousands of tires from his solo-pump station. “Give it one more injection for the road. stepping back from his odoriferous insults. Then after that. Just a pesty salesman. New Jersey. nothing. Willy. “I think that’s where the squeak’s comin’ from. farted aloud. A wary customer watched Willy grease every ﬁtting on his rehabilitated antique auto.” the man boomed. Will. Will.
“Gotcha.” Willy twisted oﬀ the gas cap and rang up the meter. The old-car enthusiast signed a piece of paper and then got behind the wheel of his relic. “That’ll be eighty cents. and backed it oﬀ the lift carefully.” I predicted. I bought a mess of snocaps from Apex Tire. Real cheap.” “Forget the order.” Willy called out.Gordon Bishop “Looks like a kid to me. Can’t you unnerstan’ English?” 116 . as I added up his order on the back of my route book.” “No!” he erupted.” “Didn’t I order those tires last week?” he inquired learily. and puttered oﬀ down the dirt road.” His hand gestured to a pile of tires stacked in front of the air pump. “Hello. too. Willy clunked the coins into his change carrier and marched toward the garage.” the farmer ordered. they can sell. going back under the lift. shaking the order book at him.” I returned just as forcefully. “How’s business?” he asked. Willy glanced in my direction and shook his head. Air from a compressor’s exhaust cracked deafeningly and the lift fell silently to the ﬂoor. “That’s what the date says. indicating his stock of tires didn’t need replenishing this trip. As Willy wiped his greasy hands on his overalls. scratching under his arm. suddenly.” “Overlooked ‘em when I came in. “Customers couldn’t wait. Willy.” I said. Luke.” Willy grunted. a forced smile already retreating on his porous face. John. I stood in front of the window with a tire around my neck. “I don’t want ‘em. “Fill’er up. ripping the order out of the book. tugging the grease hose. “But you’ll be needing these anyway. Everybody’ll be snowed under.” the man informed him. polished to a mirror ﬁnish. The farmer handed him the exact change and drove on lazily. Will. “Afternoon. Ten minutes passed. I went outside to meet him. you know. a tractor chugged toward the rusty pump.” he greeted. “Lost of snow this year. “If they can walk and talk nowadays. “Fine. Only seventy four bucks this trip. ﬁne.
“You’ll regret it. Willy. You’ll be needing it. But on the way I decided to make one last cold-turkey call at a swank station next to the largest diner in the state. embellished with thousands of sparkling colored lights.” I stuck the route book in my pocket. “Lots of luck.” he blurted out.” he roared. You’ll be dead before that. this would even be the break I needed to give Willy the squeeze. cast its illumination on to the white gas islands which were neatly arranged in a circle like a three-ring circus. “You read too many newspapers.” I pulled the truck directly in front of him. Willy screamed.Holding onto Nothing I tore the order into tiny bits and threw it on his greasy ﬂoor. I couldn’t lose anything—no more than I did at Willy’s—and. Assiduous attendants paraded to and from the cars like college 117 . but . The truck approached the long macadam driveway like a Broadway star promenading across a gaily-lit stage. Your father was a stupid asshole. “You sell your goddamn tires for that price and I’ll tell every dealer at the convention you’re a crook and your brother’s in jail!” “That doesn’t make the tires crooked. I sped up the highway for several miles before realizing what I was doing or where I was going. “I hope you’re still in business next week. The garage.” “What do you mean I’ll need it? YOU’LL NEED IT!” “I’m selling your friend up the road these tires—and he’s going to sell ‘em for two bucks less than you can BUY ‘em –FROM ANYBODY!” I slammed the door in his face and headed for the truck. A BIG FUCKIN’ CROOK!” I pressed the gas pedal to the ﬂoor and the truck vaulted forward. punk. I checked my watch and saw it was getting late.” “You rotten bastard. perhaps. “How’d you know about my brother then?” “I didn’t—really. running back into the oﬃce. so I turned the truck around in the middle of the highway and headed back for the warehouse. Willy. I had always wanted to land this account.” “Bye.” “It’s got nothin’ to do with your brother. too. Its independent reputation stood as a challenge in this virgin territory which was being exploited by every peddler in the state. Even the dusty depression-day cars ﬁlling up on the economy brand under the ﬂickering ﬂuorescent bulbs glowed like new models in a showroom window. cursing incoherently. . running after me. .
holding their hands over their mouths. cherry-red lips. or scram. The blonde tightened the muscles of her thighs and her skirt wiggled like a balloonful of jello.” I smiled. The girls tittered again. sweated hands. too.” “But it appears I have some customers before me. Immense glassstained windows encased the main oﬃce.” he replied pointedly. They fussed over the wide stunted man. I twisted my ankle on a rubber hose lying across the driveway like a black slithery snake. which glowed from the pure white light of a crystal chandelier hanging directly over a marble-top desk. Draped over his desk and lap were three slender women. looked up and then waved playfully. and placed them before his 118 . I raised mine. “Either speak up. “I’m the proprietor. lubricant? Set of spark plugs? What? What? What?” he ticked oﬀ rapidly. I ran back to the truck and fetched a pair of whitewall recaps and carried them back. acknowledging the symposium of legs staring me nakedly in the face. bowing chivalrously. one under each arm. spreading himself even wider by cocking his chunky arms on his hips. The moon’s brows suddenly became dangerously heavy. pulling the holder out of his mouth and keeping it from his reach. the moon rose to his feet. pink-faced Irishman. “What is it you want. “Is the manager here?” I inquired politely. The girls giggled. I cussed the thing under my breath and kicked it. Incensed. swivel seat and raised his left brow. protruded elegantly from his thick. Under this shower of radiance sat a burly. his eyes shaded by a green velvet hat with a red feather curling upwards along the brim.” he leveled sonorously. Rushing to the door so I could deliver my sales pitch in his posh quarters. all wearing pastel-colored knit outﬁts that clung to their symmetrical bodies like a muscleman clutching a chin bar with his swelled. The moon-shaped man spun around in his padded. studded by what looked like perfect pearls. one of the girls. surveying the girls modestly. Symphonic music followed inspiringly from speakers scattered amid the spotless equipment. kid? A can of oil. As my truck came to a smooth stop in front of the glittering oﬃce. “You can feed me your line. startled by the headlights.Gordon Bishop freshmen under strict initiation. A black cigarette holder.
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stubby feet. The bright lights from the chandelier made the tires shine like new. My heart jumped when I saw a glint of promise in his watery eyes. “It probably cost you more to make these tires than for what I can buy ‘em, kid,” he said. “I get them wholesale from the big boys in New York.” “Impressed. What do you pay for 670x15 whites?” I asked, leading him on, as dad had once taught me to do with a captive audience. His rubbery face wrinkled in thought. “Ten bucks.” “I’ll do better. Nine seventy-ﬁve.” “Hell, for a quarter, it isn’t worth changing. Skoot along, boy, before you bankrupt your father.” “It’s MY business.” “I know your father, kid. He’s been in here for a brake job on the other truck, trying to loosen me up for a hit one day, no doubt. Where’s he been lately?” The girls edged slowly to the door, listening attentively. “He’s away. I’m the boss now. If you order my tires in lots of ﬁfty, I’ll give them away for . . . for . . . nine and a half.” “That’s a twenty dollar saving,” he reﬂected, reﬁlling his cigarette holder. “Kid, I don’t want you to sacriﬁce your proﬁt just to get me as an account. You’re too young to be buried.” “You’re breakin’ my hump. C’mon, buy my tires, I really need the business.” “You’re giving me THE BUSINESS,” he punned. The girls snickered. “If you know my father, then what are you waiting for?” I asked, curtly. He laughed, his massive frame reacting like a mountain land-sliding, slowly curling over, his stomach pumping in and out uncontrollably. “I’m Rod Benedict, son. Unload every 670 and 710 you have out there on your truck. One of the boys’ll help you.” He clapped his powerful hands and an attendant in a nearby bay jumped to attention. “Art, help the tire man unload his truck,” he ordered, still chuckling to himself. “Yes, sir,” the attendant responded, courteously tipping his hat to Benedict’s harem. Benedict stretched his arms apart, gathering the girls in them like
Santa Claus cuddling three little dolls. He jerked his head back and blew a thick cloud of smoke at the chandelier, almost obscuring it. Like youngsters at play, they watched the white haze drift helplessly to a vent in the middle of the ceiling. When it was sucked away, they resumed their frolicking, Benedict sitting on the only seat in the oﬃce. The attendant reentered the oﬃce. “Sir, would you please back your truck up to the third bay—the one marked accessories. Mr. Benedict likes things done systematically.” I followed him out the door and backed the truck to the third bay, almost grazing the ﬁns of a new Cadillac. “Slam on yer brakes!” Art hollered. The truck jittered to a halt as a tinkle of glass could be heard hitting the pavement. Art hurriedly swept up the glass, “I do hope Mr. Benedict will overlook this incident,” he sighed, his face ﬁlled with worry. “He isn’t one for irregularities.” Somehow Art managed to escape from getting himself dirty as we unloaded the tires. When we ﬁnished stacking them in the racks, he went back outside, tucking in his shirt neatly, adjusting his hat and wiping oﬀ both shoes on the back of his pants leg. I counted the tires and ran into the oﬃce with the bill. “Here you are, Mr. Benedict.” He pushed himself out of the chair, took the bill and crushed it in his hands. “You’ll get a check the ﬁrst of the month. Mail me a statement.” He threw the ball of paper in the wastebasket. “I have a system here. Do you want to upset my accountant?” The girls tittered again, bumping their dainty elbows against each other in jest. “But I need the money, or else I never would have given you a deal like that.” “Just tell your father that you have ﬁnally dumped THE Rod Benedict. He’ll forgive you.” “He’s dead,” I said. the girls remained silent, staring uncomfortably at Benedict, awaiting his next move. “Well, hurrmpphh, well, ahhh, let’s eat,” Benedict ﬁnally proposed uneasily. “Did you have dinner yet, son?” “If you pay me I can,” I reminded him.
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“Yeah, yeah, oh that. Well, let the thieving accountant earn his fee this month. I’ll rob the register, but don’t forget to remind me to tell the manager, girls,” he added stealthily. “All I want is my money,” I persisted. “Yeah, I can see why now, boy. You just talk up and tell me, son. I’ve been around and see a little of life—just enough to make me sick of living at times.” He paid me and then patted his stomach hungrily. “Why don’t you join us at the Marsian Hide-a-way next door?” The girl with ﬂuﬀ y brown hair winked, as if coaxing me to accept the invitation. “Yeah, well, thank you. But I’m not dressed for it,” I begged oﬀ unconvincingly. The girl stepped forward, taking my arm. “That’s okay. I’ll sit with you.” “Well, Benedict declared, somewhat surprised by the girl’s frank intrusion. “The cutest and quietest has come alive.” The girl held my arm securely, shielding herself from Benedict’s scowling face. “He’s kind of young, Val, but then again it’s diﬃcult entertaining the three of you ALL the time,” Benedict conceded, plucking one of the girls by the arm. “Take your pick, boy—any one of ‘em. How ‘bout Nanc’?” “No thanks, Mr. Benedict. Val spoke up ﬁrst—Val it will be.” Val smiled and squeezed our arms together. “Thanks,” she whispered. “Hungry?” I asked. “Ahh-huh, you?” “Alright, alright, we’re all hungry. Now let’s eat.” Benedict bellowed, taking hold of the other two girls. We left the station together, but when we reached the diner, Val pulled me aside and asked if we could sit in a separate booth by ourselves, away from the three of them. Benedict overheard Val’s scheme and he eyed her suspiciously. “You’ll eat with us, young lady,” he reprimanded her. “Or suﬀer the consequences.” Val stiﬀened, unlocking our arms. Her girlfriends glared at her incriminatingly. Val’s attitude suddenly mellowed, as if she felt ashamed of having violated her friends’ trust. We went into the diner and sat together at a larger-than-average-size
table, apparently reserved for Benedict’s party. As we sat waiting for the menus, Val stared out the window at a dark wooded area. “Don’t you wish that things were always like this?” she said. “I mean nothing to think about, nothing to do.” Benedict looked across at me. “They’re all alike, these dames. Stick a pin in their dreams and they have nothing.” “You’re too hard and embittered,” Val retaliated, her soft brown eyes now tense and ﬁlled with malice. “And rich and fat,” Benedict added in an inﬂated tone. “I’d rather be a dreamer than like you,” she revolted. “Just look at you. Without your big car and that fancy-wancy garage, you’d think just like the rest of us—and you would have feelings, too.” “I can touch my dreams, baby,” he asserted smugly. “And YOU like what you can touch of mine. Isn’t that right, Johnny?” “I guess,” I agreed reluctantly, shifting closer to Val as the blonde pushed against me. “Want me to get you a chair?” I asked, getting up from the table. “Crowded, Johnny?” Benedict grinned. “I need a whole seat to eat a meal. Don’t worry, you’ll never die from being squeezed to death by a couple of broads like that.” “ROD!” Val and the blonde sat up indignantly. “Don’t call us broads. We have a name.” “They have a name. Hear that, Johnny? They can call men suckers, sons’-a-bitches, but we can’t call ‘em broads.” “We came to eat—not swear,” the blonde snapped, slamming the menu on the table. “Priscilla, baby, we came to do both. It’s okay if ‘I’ swear, but not you. You’re a woman, a nice, clean, ﬁne respectable female. Now order your food and shut up.” “You’re vulgar. I despise you at times,” Priscilla shuttered. “Then despise me, baby, when you’re up in my bedroom parading across that soft white rug with nothing on but that four carat rock I bought you for your eighteenth birthday.” Priscilla buried her face in the menu, ticking her ﬁngernails as if preparing for the battle of the sexes. Benedict eyed the long sharp nails, shunning their oﬀensive sight almost immediately. “Let’s . . . ahh . . . eat, huh?”
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Val noted his sudden weakening and cupped her hand over his. “Johnny and I are kind of squeezed in here. Do you mind if we sit at a booth by ourselves? And you can have Priscilla and Nanc’ all to yourself.” “What if I wanted you, honey?” Rod winked, pinching her cheek. “Do you?” Val asked openly. Benedict dismissed her deceptive response, scanning the menu restlessly. Val bumped me with her hip and Priscilla got up to let us pass. As Priscilla bent sideways to sit down, she turned to me and whispered, “Be careful with Val. She’s Benedict’s daughter.” “What?” My stomach turned sour. “Ask her about it. She’ll tell you,” Priscilla advised, cooly. “Hey, what are you two talking about?” Benedict roared. A waitress, standing nearby, turned her head and then walked to the booth. “Did you call, sir?” “I’d like to know what that ﬁckle blonde is telling that boy,” he spouted. The waitress stepped back from the booth. “Excuse me, sir. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” “Don’t go away. I’m hungry.” He tapped me on the back.” “Go on, Johnny, eat with Val. She’s good company. And waitress, put their order on my check.” “Yes, sir,” the waitress replied extra politely. “I can pay for it myself,” I checked him, patting my right pants pocket where the roll of bills was. “You bought my tires, I buy my own meals.” Val and I walked to the other side of the diner and sat down in a twoseater booth. While waiting for the waitress to deliver the menus, we just sat, stared and ﬁdgeted with the salt and pepper shakers. “You’re nice, Johnny,” she advanced shyly, relaxing her elbows on the table. “Is this part of papa’s public relations propaganda?” “MY public relations,” she replied ﬂatly. “Are you always so nice to truck drivers?” “You’re not a truck driver. Rod knows you own the business. You told him so yourself.” “Well, that’s that. Let’s eat.”
The waitress appeared with two glasses of water and I ordered two steak dinners with all the trimmings. “Drink up. The water’s spiked here,” Val kidded, holding the glass steadily in her hands. “You have nice teeth,” I said, watching her sip the water. “You don’t smoke, huh?” “Makes my mouth feel funny.” “Good. I don’t either.” “Well, we have one thing in common.” She brushed a curl of hair away from her left eye. “You have nice soft hair, too,” I remarked, toughing it to conﬁrm my visual beliefs. She grinned. “Do you have an older brother?” “How do you know?” I asked cautiously. “Reading the papers lately?” “You learn well. You deﬁnitely know what a woman likes to hear.” “Oh.” I leaned back against the deep padded seat again. “Yeah, you’d like him. He’s serious, yet knows when to have a good time.” “No doubt.” Her eyes became serious. “Johnny, would I be too forward if I asked you something personal?” I sat up again. “What is it?” “Why did you tell Rod your father was somewhere else when you knew he was dead?” I dipped my ﬁnger in the ice cold water and watched the drops drip back into the glass. “Because.” “Because you didn’t want his sympathy. But Rod would have liked you anyway.” “That guy likes everybody.” “He liked your father something special though.” “That’s why he never gave him a break. Big joke.” She let the dig go by, and explained: “One day your father drove into the station and asked for a grease job on his truck. Rod had remembered seeing his truck on the road several times and they started talking and joking and before Rod could tell him he would like some tires your father told him he couldn’t sell him any because he gave his dealers some kind of an exclusive deal. You know that Gulf dealer up the road? Your father said he sold him tires and he wouldn’t set up competition by selling his
Holding onto Nothing
tires to some guy next door. I remember him telling Rod, ‘As long as that guy goes on buttering my bread, I’ll go on buttering his.’” “Yeah, that’s Willy Giant,” I said. “And I always thought that dad could never land the Benedict account.” “Rod was so surprised that when he came home that night, that’s all he talked about—’the only businessman he had ever met with ethics.’” “Well, you know something about me and I know something about you,” I concluded for the both of us, covering her hands with mine. “What?” she asked lightly, feeling more at ease. “Rod’s your father?” “Not quite. Step-father. A big diﬀerence,” she corrected, opening a napkin on her lap. “Who told you, Priscilla?” “Yes.” “Big mouth. She’s always arguing with Rod. He forces me to be friends with his lovers. I can’t stand most of them.” “She told me to be nice to you. She must like you.” “Ha! And if she didn’t, Rod wouldn’t bathe her in luxury.” “You’re nicer when you’re sweet.” She calmed herself and looked at me quietly. “I like blue eyes.” “I like brown.” “That’s two things we like—opposites.” She smiled. The waitress hummed a tune, signaling her arrival, and placed the hot plates in front of us. “Sir, I’m sorry, but did you order something to drink?” she asked, unfolding the cocktail menus. “No, I normally drink milk, miss.” “Screwdriver for me,” Val ordered without even looking at the menu. “Let your hair down and have one, too, Johnny.” “What’s weak and doesn’t taste like liquor?” I asked. “Gin and tomato juice,” the waitress recommended. “Alright, I guess.” I handed her the menus. “Do you have to work late tonight?” Val blew on the potatoes steaming in butter. “Have to take the truck back to the warehouse and check tomorrow’s stock.” “Can I go with you?” She pried the meat apart with her fork. “What?”
I stopped after two mouthfuls.” I put my fork down and shook my head discouragingly. I see.” “But dressed like that?” “I can change at the station.” “How would I look doing that?” “You must be kidding. he likes you and won’t say anything. “Desserts?” the waitress interrupted. “Yes maam.” Val pulled her hand out from under mine. sir?” the waitress queried. and even if he does. the hole in the middle—it acted like a hammock and I sank down into the tires and went to sleep. How did this happen anyway?” I poked at the meat. She’s nice and warm.” “Can I still go home with you? He’ll never know. the after-eﬀects ﬂushing her petite face. he probably doesn’t want me home tonight anyway.” “I really don’t want you to do anything.” “Oh. “Excuse me. remember?” She paused. “I knew I shouldn’t have stopped at this garage today.” I already felt the fumes of the diluted gin swirling up my nose. Besides. nothing. I just thought you were much too much of a gentleman to come right out and invite me. this stuﬀ ’s wild.” “By yourself?” “No. wondering what to say.Gordon Bishop “I like to ride in trucks. He usually gives me twenty-ﬁve dollars and I go to a motel. thank you.” Val said. still staring at her empty glass. But I’ll sleep in the motel with Cuddles. “Whewww. “I told you he likes you.” “You mean nothing.” We lifted the frail glasses to our lips and stared at each other as the glasses slowly emptied. I’ll get into dungarees if you want me to.” She held out her hand and I placed mine over it. I feel dizzy. Now what?” “A toast to being caught. Do you have a place for me to sit in the front with you?” “Not exactly. pushing her plate aside. I sat on a mound of tires—you know.” “I’m sorry. Cuddles. “None for me. “I’ll take the same. “What would your father say?” “Step-father.” 126 . “Caught. with my dog. When I used to ride with dad before I got my license. The waitress came with the drinks.
” “I like to break in babies. What am I going to do if you drink ALL that?” “Take me with you and Cuddles.” she warned. See?” “No. I feel comfortable around you. “Two swallows.” 127 .” “I’m older than you.” “Oh.” “And how do you know I would have gone with you?” “You just said you wished you had met me years ago. I’m beginning to understand you. tinkling her glass against mine.Holding onto Nothing “On only one swallow?” Val teased.” “Funny.” She placed the drink in front of me temptingly.” “Well. I can’t keep up with you anymore. I shoved it aside. and deliberated her last statement.” I sipped more. then we’ll piggy back to the nearest shelter and—” The glass slipped out of my hands. Mr. you wouldn’t speak to me?” “No. I give up. “Didn’t you ever drink before?” “I get soooo looooose when I drink. Miss Prim. Thurston. but landed safely on the table. “I can only drive those pushbutton cars.” “Then why are you speaking to me now?” “I know you.” “Stop. “Maybe I better not.” I gulped a mouthful of water to stop my throat from burning. Drink more. “Why didn’t I meet you long ago?” she asked softly. just young ones. a distinction I’ll always have—at least with you.” “Would you take out just any old girl?” “Nope.” “But I don’t talk to strangers. taking the glass in her hands. “You mean if I stopped on the highway and said hello.” “What about the truck?” “You drive. “You’d better not ﬁnish that. boy. Do I look like an alcoholic?” “An alcoholic who gets tipsy on half a drink?” Her soft brown eyes began to aﬀect me strangely and she continued to outstare me with the glass resting on the edge of her moist lips. Miss Prim. “Why didn’t you stand out on the highway with your knee exposed? I would have stopped and taken you to that motel you’re talking about.
“Oh.” Val vollied back. this is be-good-to-daddy-night.” he quipped. will I Johnny?” The ﬂurry of words sent me into another dither. it’s a neat true.” “You’re a jerk. “Rod says I can drive the truck back to the warehouse with you. I won’t. “Have a good time tonight.” “Then I won’t be able to drive. I never got drunk. In a minute. Val come into complete focus. giving Val a fatherly pat on her rump. so I answered thoughtlessly.” Val bubbled over. There’s nothing to it. 128 . but he thinks I’ll crack it up. Rod. eyeing her enviously. “That wasn’t nice.” “But to do it. girls. The ﬂoor felt as if it were moving faster than I was. “No.” “You won’t get drunk—just tired and dizzy. Mr. spinning all over the tops of everybody’s heads. I will. Finally. she waves for me to come over.” “And what’s drunk then?” “When you feel tired and dizzy drink two more and you’ll be drunk. Good-night.” Val promised her.” “I’m not a creep!” “No.” She summoned the waitress and signed the slip.” Nanc’ sighed. “Don’t do anything rash like forgetting to come home. I sat down and threw my head in my hands. looked around at the blurry faces in the diner and felt as if I were in it somewhere. thanks. Benedict. calling me a jerk. don’t move. locking her arm under mine.” “But I like jerks. “Remember. It’s creeps I can’t stand. Anyone can drive it.” Priscilla reminded her.” I got up. “Gee. “I’ll be right back. but I managed to walk correctly and in one direction.” “What’d you call me?” “A jerk.Gordon Bishop “Afraid?” “What if something happened?” “What?” “I don’t know. girls. sliding the edge of the cocktail glass over her lips. She went across to Rod’s table and sat next to him. honey. You’re just a swell jerk who’s a little dizzy in the head. mussing my hair playfully.” she said.” “Have fun.
” She kicked oﬀ one shoe. I started the truck. “Hey. “Not so fast. “Don’t call me broad. Fat.” she said.” The truck jerked into second gear and rolled onto the highway. yet I can’t stand to be around them when they talk like that. placing her legs sexily across the engine cover. I’ll be okay. It must be awful living like that. “You stupid broad.” “You never saw me in a bathing suit.” “Wait’ll the truck starts picking up speed. “I know how you feel. Val.” I answered weakly.” “I need it.” I heard Nancy inject candidly. “What about your good dress?” “I have dozens more in my closet. under those conditions.Holding onto Nothing leading me to the doorway. I wish I could run away with you and never have to come back to this ﬁlthy place. shut up. Outside there were cars weaving. and warmth. 129 .” she yelled. I have a name. As I pushed the door open. Miss Prim. loneliness. regaining her balance and kicking oﬀ the other shoe. she’s a mustang cat.” “Please. “I’ll teach you something.” “It’s all new to me.” Riding along the highway with Val sitting next to me was almost like drifting across an ocean together on a raft.” “Yes. I think. hitchhikers. the door closing in their verbal crossﬁre. They’ve been so good to me.” She got into the truck by herself and rested back on a mound of tires. threw her arms against the side panel and cried to herself.” Nanc’ wailed. “You’re perfect. I pulled her away from the truck and put my arms around her. inside there was Val. boy. I just have to get it out of my system. feeling her hips. I heard Benedict holler. Johnny. Val ran to the truck.” Benedict roared. Wow!” “Nice?” “No. You’ll feel like you’re on one of those weight reducing machines. “Careful. “The vibrations tickle my feet. angel. lights bobbing over the road. Val and I slipped out of the diner.
“No. I think. too?” I asked as we were about halfway home. I have a funny last name.” “Change your mind about trucks?” I slid the door open and helped her out.” I grabbed her toe and pinched it. “It looks too spooky in there. tell me.” “A seed. “Don’t you want to see the warehouse?” I picked up a bent tire iron which must have fallen oﬀ the dump truck when it came for its daily pickups. Something that gives live. “This must be your car. I won’t tell anybody. something that you can actually see. “C’mon. “No.” The traﬃc thinned out as we neared the warehouse and Val had dozed oﬀ with a faint smile on her face. but only if you’ll always be my chauﬀeur. May I sit in it?” she asked. 130 . “No. When the truck labored up the hilly unpaved road leading to the warehouse. and sometimes beauty. I promise. Do I have to?” I chucked the tire iron in the junk barrel and then drove the truck into the warehouse. still curled up on the top of the tires.” she answered sleepily. But now I use it as a sort of maiden name.” “Those little things you plant?” “Ahh-huh. covering her mouth like a little girl would. “We here already?” She looked out the window. Johnny. she followed. Curiously. like you. “Oh. she awakened.” She closed her eyes again and rested her head on the inside panel of the truck. “I feel like I’m still moving.Gordon Bishop “Is your last name Benedict. “I think it’s a cute name.” “What’s about the smallest thing in the world?” “An atom?” I guess. I opened the windows of my car to get out the stagnant air trapped inside all day. adjusting her high heel shoes on her feet.” she yawned.” “I give up. let’s just keep driving like this—forever.
are you coming?” Val popped out of the darkness.” “Where would you like to go?” “Don’t you have a home? Or do you sleep here?” “Yeah. Or have you found a masculine race of odorless men?” “I guess I’m too self-conscious. . too . “What?” I looked at her soft proﬁle against the glaring backdrop of street lights.” “Does that supposed to mean I should say no?” I went over to the door and clicked oﬀ the lights. you’d do the same. let’s get out of here. All the way to the house I felt miserable. inspecting the racks of tires along the walls. but the rubber tire odor coming from my clothes forced me to step back. “Didn’t you notice something?” She got into the car. “If you were dirty.” “You’re too . everything!” I backed out of the lot and headed for the apartment.” she encouraged me eagerly. Johnny?” she asked. . “Well.” She leaned over and rubbed her cheek against my arm. I feel there’s someone hiding in the shadows.” she described it eerily. “Nice night. “But no one’s home.” “You’re impossible!” She slid across the seat and rested despondently against the door. huh?” “Did I do something wrong?” she pursued the question. “C’mon. She smelled like a fresh ocean spray with her 131 . . “I don’t want you to think I’m like this all the time. “Boo!” I wanted to put my arms around her and hold her close. trailing me to the car.” I tried to explain.” “It’s normal to perspire when you work. “I smell. . but—” “Let’s go. “Something the matter.Holding onto Nothing “Looks like a dungeon in a castle. “You’re a jerk. Can I kiss you?” “I didn’t shave today. moving into the moonlight. I locked the doors and gazed up at the autumn sky.
The rest of the way home I remained silent.Gordon Bishop ﬂuﬀ y brown hair blowing freely in the wind entering the side window.” she moaned. refusing to look at anything but the empty road ahead. “I think I’ll stay here until you apologize for being so rude. and I smelled like a junkyard of dried out casings.” She pressed the radio button and turned the dial full volume. “Easy. huddling in the seat like a defenseless kitten.” She got out of the car and snuggled up to me. I’ll be right down.” I turned the dial back to normal. Johnny. Val sighed and turned oﬀ the radio.” “I’m afraid. where all the windows are dark. dialing the stations until the right music satisﬁed her mood. “Do you always treat girls so hostile?” she asked. “I live up there.” “Because you knew my father and you feel comfortable around me. then come on.” “What if somebody should kidnap me?” “Lock the doors. pointing to the court of apartments. soon’s I shower. “Are you this way with all girls?” “Are you this way with all boys?” 132 .” I reminded her. “Well. As the car pulled up in front of the apartment. “Okay.” she said.” “Oooohhh. cussing my smelly clothes as she sang along with the interpretive jazz vocalists. shave and get dressed. “If you get cold.” “Why did I ever come with you tonight? I could have done a million other things more interesting and exciting. “It gets warmer quicker that way.” she purred. you’ll crack the speaker doing that. This was all your crazy idea—not mine.” I said. “Takes the same amount of time whether you put it on full blast or not. “Would you like me better if I mauled all over you with these ﬁlthy clothes?” “Will you stop using words like ‘ﬁlthy’? We don’t even know each other and we’re arguing already. I won’t be more than an hour. turn the heater on.” She crossed her arms and sat in a rigid pose.
” I jumped.” I cried out.” She leaned against 133 . “I’ll be out in a jiﬀ—all fresh and clean. “This place is a wreck. I reached for the towel on the toilet lid and saw Val standing in the doorway. pain and pleasure.” I yelped.” she oﬀered generously. holding my hand against the nozzle. like you. won’t you please hurry up?” a voice slithered through the steamy bathroom. “The water’s prickin’ me. lover?” she yelled from the bedroom. admiring my naked body. I rubbed once over with the soap and drained oﬀ. close the door. “Did you ever just want to touch somebody?” she asked. “Oh. Val followed. Suddenly. “It doesn’t hurt that much. wrapping the towel around my waist and stepping out of the tub. kitty. The stream of water from the nozzle spit against the shower curtain and then onto me. in the bedroom.” I directed. really. “Shoo. kicking oﬀ her shoes and moving her feet like a ballet dancer preparing for a rehearsal. I took oﬀ her coat and draped it over the banister. Pulling the shower curtain aside. “Having troubles. Do you think anybody else has ever done this? I mean so suddenly—the ﬁrst time they met?” “Can you close the door? There’s a draft.” I yelled back. I felt a draft. “Damn. not knowing you or acting like a young lady should.” “I’ll do them. “Hey.” “Can’t I watch? Nothing will happen. this water stings. peeking through the crack in the partially-opened door. pushing the door closed.” “Can I scrub your back?” “I look undernourished.Holding onto Nothing We hurried up the walk and I unlocked the door and snapped on the hall light.” The beating shower deadened my words but soothed my anxieties. “Bet you think I’m awful. not knowing how high the dishes were stacked. I haven’t done dishes since dad died. as if the window or bathroom door were open. “I told you I would scrub your back. You’ll only laugh.” “Pain and pleasure—that’s life. “Undernourished?” she asked unabashedly.” I grabbed a towel from the linen closet and went into the bathroom.
just admiring you. Girls are supposed to be the prudish set—not men. I don’t think it’s wrong for someone who feels something about someone else to—I mean—what are we supposed to do to say what we mean and feel? We can’t even talk to boys. She placed her open palms on my chest and I felt the blood pushing through my legs and head. dared me to try. and a familiar voice in my head.” I gulped. and stretched out on my stomach on the bed. I took the towel from her hands and began wiping oﬀ what hadn’t already evaporated. I found myself doing rhythm with the bed. Your skin looked like wet gold. to my bedroom. “I know you think I’m not a decent girl now. like a lonely infant yearning to be comforted by anyone in the room. When all the moisture was ﬁnally absorbed.Gordon Bishop the bathroom door and slid her ﬁngers through her hair. “I pictured you just like this when we were eating at the Marsian Hide-a-way. and her silky ﬁngertips. I felt I would never be with a girl like this again in my whole life. uncork my anxieties—’nothing to lose.” “No thanks—watching only. moved down my back and spine. unless something is said that always involves you know what. “I’ll dry you. Unconsciously. coward. one that smelled like peppermint and looked like soft jello and smiled like she was glad to be with you—and young and sensitive and honest with her feelings.’ the sinister voice jeered. like a heckler in a crowd. “I get a funny feeling looking at you.” “If you think I’m going to take oﬀ this towel—” “I already saw you in the nude. The towel dropped from around my waist and I walked. Isn’t that funny? I just knew you’d be like this under all those smelly clothes of yours. no participation. but I am.” she continued in a shameless yet mature manner. Can’t you just like someone for what they are. the water slowly drying in cool driblets on my skin. even though you don’t know everything about them?” I stood on the green bath mat.” She took a towel from behind the door and approached me with it in her hands.” “Can I dry oﬀ now?” “I’m not stopping you. or men. knowing the consequences of such intimacy. almost paralyzed with this new sensation. I felt warm and loose again and something started rushing ﬂuidly through my body. and she stopped the motion of her hands and slipped 134 .
Holding onto Nothing quietly out of her clothes. our lips touching thinly like tissue paper on a wet glass. thanking our contented hearts. we lay in each other’s arms. She cried and fell back on to the surface of the mattress.” “That’s all I want. awaiting her release. Johnny—you. She never woke up that night. Our bodies shifted and we found ourselves swallowed in each other’s passion. “Is it wrong doing this?” “I don’t know. Her smooth body. as if wanting to tear them from her body. You’re so careful and gentle. as if in pain.” “I once loved a boy in high school like this. she drew my whole being inside her. All I know is that it feels good and we aren’t hurting each other. “I love you. is this love?” “Shhh. lay softly on me. Val. Only once. I need you. the warmth of physical contact as we pressed with full force to satisfy a surging throb in our yielding bodies. don’t talk. I rested lightly on her until her breathing seemed to die to almost nothing and then I curled up next to her and pulled a blanket over us and placed my head between her arms and went to sleep. And you remind me of him.” She pushed herself against me and we buried our words in our quick breaths. Johnny. “Johnny. and she grabbed my hands and pressed them against her swelled breasts and squeezed them viciously. she closed her thighs around my shoulders and her stomach pumped violently. “You make me feel I belong somewhere. 135 . her body limp in my arms. and I rested my head on her soft stomach. With the delicateness of a surgeon. our desires slowly seeking satisfaction with each exact movement. our lips sealed tightly. silently. her hips racing rapidly with my actions.” Her reluctant hair rolled gently down her cheek. Johnny. our breaths caught together as one.” “Johnny would you be mad if I told you something?” “Not now. pulsating with the beat of my heart. and.” She kissed my forehead and moved her lips over my face.” She began to cry and her body pulsated again and I felt myself coming alive inside all over again. Val. I thought all life had stopped. for a moment. Then. Helplessly.
” “Is THIS your idea of love?” “But I feel funny in the light—cheap and dirty.” I scrambled through my drawer. You have me so mixed up inside.” I got up.” she cried. “We came from the unknown: why do we think we’ll be going some place when we die? I never can enjoy anything—ever. what time is it?” Jumping from a dead sleep. searching for a clean shirt. as if seeking the security of the dark.” she answered faintly under the blanket.” “Thanks.” I grabbed her around the hips and slid next to her. with Val still next to me.Gordon Bishop *** “JOHNNY. “Tired. Johnny. her head protruding over the sateen ﬁnished end. “I don’t know what to do. closed the bedroom door and went into the bathroom. please?” She stiﬀened and wrapped the blanket tightly around her. but I think we’re overdoing it. Finally. “Come here. silly. I slipped on a turtle-neck and stepped into a pair of loafers on the ﬂoor. “You always feel like what?” I asked.” I eased on to the edge of the bed and she rolled to the other side.” “What do you think you’ve done to me? But I like that feeling. covering her breasts. “You told me just last night you wanted me and no one else. nude and radiant. “I always feel like this. “No. I don’t even feel like a woman now. Johnny?” she asked. please. “Like this. I got out of bed and jumped into my dungarees.” Her eyes blinked guiltily and she raised the blanket. “All that stuﬀ about loving me last night was just a big act. Johnny. Sticking my 136 . completely relaxed. “Oh. I’m numb. Why are you afraid of me now?” I yanked the covers hiding her face. no more. “I never slept so hard in my life. breathing nervously. I rubbed my eyes and sat up to a room being feted with virgin sunlight.” She hid in the shadows of the blanket. huh?” “No. “Why do mornings have to come? Why can’t it always be night?” She closed her eyes.
demanding more and more of herself. I just wish something nice would happen to us.” she said. in fact. will you stop it now?” I dumped the towel in the hamper. I’m sorry. honest. you’re wonderful. this Thorton fellow was the only one.Holding onto Nothing head under the gushing cold water brought a quick penalty—a pain shot through my neck and spurred a headache.” “Well I can see why I remind you of Thornton. yet she didn’t know where she was going and why she should. But Val sought a change.” Her fact softened. I guess. or fragile and lonely. “I’m getting you all wet. “Val. “Would you ever believe me again?” “Why not? My feelings don’t change THAT fast. tight. Somehow she knew she had to do something and until she did it she would never feel complete. scram!” “Johnny.” she murmured. and clean. They were slick. “I feel warm now.” “You mean this guy always left you with a miserable hangover all those mornings?” “Just that once. quick way of life. not like Benedict or his girls. I’m sorry. “Please just hold me.” She lowered her head. I felt Val’s soft body clinging onto mine and her arms cuddling around my waist. then on her ear. conﬁdent.” “Oh.” “What/” she whispered in my ear. her nose.” I grabbed a towel and wiped oﬀ my head. Johnny. and rested them in her hair. I brushed her ﬂuﬀ y brown hair back oﬀ her forehead. adjusted to their coarse. “Johnny. dropping her arms from around my waist. “I don’t know—just something certain. She needed someone. “Say what you feel.” I touched my lips to hers.” “What would you want me to say?” She wiggled her ﬁngers through my wet hair. Suddenly. I pulled my head out of the water. “Now what’s come over you? I can’t keep up with your moods.” I looked into her confused brown eyes and felt confused myself—and sad. “I love you. You’re so sincere. want to go anywhere. “It’s just me. they weren’t sensitive and deep like Val. so we know where we stand 137 . I didn’t do much better. worthwhile.
” “And go to church with me?” I thought of the priest who gave dad last rites and how he tried to comfort mom with his prayers.” I said. “I wish I could stand here all day and just admire you. “Hey. “Oh.” I pulled away from her. a white slip ﬁtted snugly around her.” “Okay. now what?” She stood at perfect attention.” She scurried into the bedroom. watching her getting dressed in her bare feet.” I stood in the bedroom. She wiggled into her knit suit as gracefully as a toe dancer and brushed her hair back with her ﬁngers and then touched her mouth lightly with some lipstick. Johnny. what’s behind those silent lips now?” she probed like a puzzled pixie.Gordon Bishop and where we’re going. realizing the morning was leaving us behind. awaiting my pleasure. and then knew it was time to leave our blissful paradise. holding her hand thankfully. just takes me a second.” “I’m lucky to know an up-and-coming tire manufacturer. as if someone at last cares for Valerie Seed—and not just for Valerie Benedict. just round and wholesome. I want to pay back someone a favor.” She threw her arms around me. a girl to be made by any big bellied businessman. starry-eyes. captain. “Hey. “Who?” “Just a decent guy.” “So are you. you’re something special. As we drove back to the country. you’d better get dressed.” She looked at me as though she wanted to know all about this man.” Spontaneously. The instrumental music from the radio settled our jumbled feelings and every now and 138 . “Yes. “I’m ready. comely and simple.” The gay sparkle left her face. we hardly spoke. but I have to get home to Rod. “Does that mean we won’t see each other again?” “It only means I have to work if I want to stay in business. “Will you see me Sunday?” “And every Sunday after that. I could do nothing but stare at her perfect features. Val. “I feel alive. no harsh makeup or facial gimmicks. we kissed. Johnny.
realizing what had happened. the not-so-goods and not-so bads. for mom. planning the future of the business. as I thought of the closeness of our bodies and the impatience of our curiosity for each other. which meant sacriﬁcing twenty-two customers. . he even saved receipts for a twenty-cents can of tire patches. and heaped them all together to make a day’s route. Four hours of sifting the goods. more trucks. and. and she felt the same way too. After assorting all the dealers’ slips according to geographical location. Dad was a thorough salesman: he threw nothing away. and that would still include Saturdays. The apartment was dreary and still.O. What was more important—the business and the memory or dad . I gathered the ﬁllers. and I wound up with a ten-day route week. And then there was always the future to worry about: the plant. Val was the only woman I ever came in total contact with and now. Four routes had to be eliminated. And.Holding onto Nothing then we would glance at each other. I hoped only that what we did wouldn’t hurt us in any way. and the phone never rang before—the neighbors were afraid to call. I had pulled dad’s sleeper ﬁle out and combined them with some of his regular weekly stops. the route.W. today. or oddly situated accounts. It was all right there to touch—love. *** DRIVING BACK TO THE WAREHOUSE. The bill was four years old and had been paid oﬀ in six months—a reliable liability. more customers—for dad. I guess that was the reason we didn’t have to discuss our feelings any more. . the bads. we seemed to exist for each other. that dad had extended one of his biggest accounts—Harold Hansen. The lucrative accounts were those that were part of dad’s exclusive Radius Plan—one dealer per ﬁve-squaremile area. I kept thinking about Val and wondering what would become of us. when I ﬁnished compiling them. At last I had met someone I could share part of my life with. I heaped all of dad’s customer books on the ﬂoor and began picking through the paid order slips. which he bought about once a year. for Ned. I discovered a personal I. It was for one thousand dollars worth of tires—on consignment. I started classifying them according to volume. Yesterday we didn’t know each other existed. or Val? I decided to spend the day over dad’s desk. there were more customers spread out over the 139 . Five such receipts were tucked away in his personal scrap ﬁle.
thousands of them. as if coaxing me to join them. going nowhere. a pencil lying next to me and the room now darkened by the night. If only I could help him. I’d be out ﬁve hundred dollars.Gordon Bishop north Jersey area than the time I had to meet the assigned obligations—if they were all steady buying customers.m. Dad’s eyes were everywhere. I backed out the truck and drove to the plant. The older and dirtier the carcasses were. just reducing herself to the size of a seed. And inside the hollow of each tire was a picture of Val. and they skipped slowly toward me. I lay out on the ﬂoor. and dealers waited in line—halfway around the globe—for just one measly tire. But when I sat down again. they disappeared. I started cleaning the plant by tiering the casings along the outside wall. I gave them two. his hand on every tire. the better the kids liked them. Maybe I could chance another truck on the road. only afraid to stay in the apartment. his life. but the eyes vanished every time I spoke to them. before I had all the old shoes discarded along the wall. I woke up and found myself back on the living-room rug. If someone should steal them. I wasn’t tired. that’s how dad had acquired his ﬁrst truck—at a junky’s for one bill—and perhaps I could pick a winner that didn’t have a burned out motor or clutch. Then in the horizon above this distant seed appeared black ﬁgures. One looked like Ned and the other dad. It was after two a. If they smiled. searching for life. and when I got near them. making them dance spookily about the room. controlled by nothing. and somehow I came to monopolize every tire on earth. What a dream! I was in complete control—at last. I weaved them together so they wouldn’t fall down when the kids played on them after school. Dad put out his hand and I reached for it and. they came into view. imagining to be the richest tire manufacturer in the world. too. scrap rubber was still worth more than twenty-ﬁve 140 . still going on through me. The enameled yellow pencil twinkled as the passing cars outside beamed their lights oﬀ the apartment walls. stacked to the clouds. just as I was about to clutch it. This time I waited until they were close enough to grab. smiling dizzily as she rolled along the ground. Dad was there. I made a note to stop at the junkyard to look over some scrap trucks. With everything in order and a feeling of authority already overcoming me. I shut oﬀ the lights and went to the warehouse. Tires ﬁled past my vision like a beachhead of Marines marching to victory: I counted them oﬀ.
and I felt guilty for being able to work and love Val. ﬂecked with specks of rubber buﬃngs. I locked the door and went across the street for breakfast. the sun already had awakened the world. Busy day today. When I ﬁnished. Ang placed a cup of coﬀee in front of me. All those people who were responsible for Ned’s conviction should be where he is—nothing but dust and time. just counting the minutes. They had picked up the same cliches—day after day. By the time I switched on each mold and turned on the boiler and compressor. but could be ever make up for the missing years. picking up the morning news on the counter. The place was already reeking with truck drivers. not sleeping. helping to build the Thurston ﬁre empire. “People’s gotta read that this mornin’. only the backside of another building that closed oﬀ his view from life. “Kinda’ early. An animal had more liberty than he did. nothing to say.Holding onto Nothing dollars a truckload. I cleaned the coﬀee spots oﬀ the counter with part of the paper. “Give me a setup. to take over where dad had left oﬀ. “AWOL AIRMAN TRIAL CONTINUES.” I ordered. no matter how hard he worked? The dawn sent over the horizon its bright orange herald and I got to my feet and stretched. “Hey. John?” Ang asked. I had to get up and spray the molds in order to forget. I collapsed on some fresh recapped tires that were still warm from the previous day’s run. cracking a pair of eggs over the grill. don’t do dat!’ Ang snapped. time and dust.” 141 . Ang. only adding a line or two of the latest testimony. and trucks broke the early morning lull with backﬁres and screeching brakes. Lazily. ain’t ya. Centered vividly on top of the third page was a picture of Ned with a caption that read. Why should he be wasting away with nothing to do. I thought of Ned sitting in that cold jail. just waiting and hoping that someday he could be working in the business.” Everything else remained unchanged. “Two more. I gulped it in one swallow. Soon I was exhausted again so I plopped on a huge truck tire and gazed out the window. and Ned wasn’t even able to enjoy the autumn air.” I opened the print-smudged paper. They soothed my aching muscles and the heat of the tires reminded me of the heat from Val’s body.
“I’ll do it with my foot. “Yeah. grabbing a newspaper on the way out: they only drive trucks. rubbing my hand over my bearded face. “Keep the change.” “Gotta have my wake-up coﬀee. See ya later.” His yellow teeth reﬂected sloth and senility and he added to their misfortunes by spitting continually. “What race?” “What men are made for kid—lovin’!” “Oh. still scrutinizing the equipment. “Bright and early. “You musta got here at ﬁve o’clock to do all this. I ﬂipped Ang a crumpled bill. throwing the broom back to me. As I was about to open the paper to the editorial page. His arthritis was on the rampage again and he hobbled across the driveway to greet me. Frig ‘em all. you know that. 142 . Charlie’s old maroon Chrysler pulled up in front of the plant. Ang gestured with his middle ﬁnger and the truck drivers humped over the counter laughed tumultuously. yer gettin’ fussy. junior.” Ang noticed. I OWNED mine. “Be right back.Gordon Bishop “You look kinda peculiar this morning’. Johnny.” “Don’t count on it.” Charlie shirked.” I dumped a cube of sugar in the cup. “Do you always have to spit?” I threw him the broom. Johnny.” “You’ve joined the race. galavantin’?” “I’ve got my days and nights mixed up. Charlie loosened himself from the driver’s seat. huh boy?” He shoved the coﬀee between my hands. “Clean.” “Why the hell don’t you retire and let me run the place?” I yelled at him as he shuﬄed down the driveway. huh Charlie?” I threw the paper on the desk. “Now sweep it up. limping out of the door.” I said. “Let’s load up. taking oﬀ his heavy Navy jacket and scanning the plant’s uncommon propriety. Even the molds are waitin’ to be fed. I thought. junior.” he said.” “Christ. With much diﬃculty.” “Thanks. Roll me some tires. junior. “What’ve you been doin’.” “Pigs! Why try to raise our standards when all we have around here are pigs?” I opened the doors of the truck. ﬁlling the second cup.” he growled.” he approved hesitantly. After a tasteless breakfast.
Lin.” “A little work’ll never kill you. It’s too early to work like a jackass.” Charlie hopped feebly across the street. “Thas done. No use wastin’ any more of this PRECIOUS DAY . junior?” “Yeah. Lin. I can’t stand that guy anymore. “Don’ you want no coﬀee. “Good mornin’. mad . the sweat glistening on his oily black chest and a rank odor of dried leather escaping his clothing.” “Not accordin’ ta junior. then wiped one over his mouth. I gotta hav’ sum sugar cause my bones feel weak. Charlie broke the end of a cigar in his mouth and then spit it on the ﬂoor. like a snappy Monday morning quarterback. “Yuh look tired. junior. . “Sure.” Linwood obliged. Nobody is. Linwood. YOU!” 143 . “Yeah. . I was jus’ askin’. I don’t nuttin’ to you. Just remember that and you won’t be so hogwild about life.” I jumped onto the back of the truck. Sumpin’s . Johnny. Johnny.” In ﬁve minutes the truck was loaded and Linwood had his shirt halfpeeled oﬀ. in him. “Somethin’ the matter. striking his chest with his ﬁsts. ‘nough.Holding onto Nothing He stopped. I wanna get outa here. and.” I tossed a tire on the truck. Charlie spotted Linwood driving in and hastened his pace down the driveway. “Go load the molds. I’ll be right back. sure.” Linwood exhaled. Charlie. Looks like you’ve already put in a day’s work. junior. he bounced into the plant. or else you is gonna get sick workin’ like this.” He picked up four tires. rubbed his hands together.” Linwood faltered.” “It will me. parking his broken-down Buick next to my truck. rolling his silty eyes in my direction. “Sure. “You ain’t goin’ no place. huh.” Charlie strutted back into the shop with the ﬁrst notch of his belt already loosened. Linwood.” I slammed the back doors of the truck. Chuurly. . Johnny?” “Hand me those tires.” “Let’s just load the truck. You don’t hafta get mad at me. Charlie. and grunted. “Morning. . . go help junior. . “Now you better take it easy. junior?” Charlie struck a wooden match along the side of his coarse pants and it blazed aﬁre. Lin.
I’ll be making a small fortune. Danny’s kept you alive for the last ten years. but Danny killed himself making this a paying proposition—for all of us! And I’m not going to let his life’s work end up in bankruptcy because of a miserable. But you think it’s somethin’—an operation you know nothin’ about. then I’ll build my own plant right next door and give you a Thurston’s taste of competition. It’s about the business . wise guy. . I’ve made mine. Irv. I knew it’d have to come to this . you’re only diggin’ yourself in deeper. without muttering a word. but my brains are still active. “Hello.” 144 .” I sat down in dad’s old chair. “If I don’t get cooperation. old man. . thanks.” “Lissen. “Now we’ll see who’s right.” “My pleasure.” Linwood slowly slipped out of sight. junior. It’s taken me a lifetime to get where I am today and—” “I’ve heard it a thousand times: you’re not going to let some know-itall like me louse it up for you.” “Do you expect these tires to cook themselves? Either we run the business right—or quit. and if that doesn’t work. But while you’re wasting your money on lawyers and litigation. threatening me?” “If you wanna push me out. back in the horse ‘n buggy days. “Junior. “What the hell do you think you’re doing.” he prodded. Instead. you’re going to have to do it in court. you’re just hanging on.” “I sorta ﬁgured when your father died you’d smarten up and stop steppin’ all over everybody. walked over to the phone on the wall and dialed. I may be an old man. .” Charlie placed the phone back on the hook and grinned contentedly. that’s okay by me. Charlie.” Charlie lowered his head pensively. . heading across the street for coﬀee. You don’t scare me. junior—you or me.Gordon Bishop “Tell me. “Sell out. stubborn old man who won’t give somebody else a break. and. Irv? Charlie . If you wanna go out and kill yourself. the tire man. junior.” “It’s your move. Alright. I’m selling out.” I declared ﬂatly. rotating the matchstick in front of his nose. enough to buy you out. Yeah. . You may have started this ‘nothing business’ by yourself. . barely hanging on to nothing. But don’t destroy me with you. I’d like to see you a minute sometime today.
Slug. I left on the route.” Leo spouted. whether the dealer bought a tire or not. and with enough money to enjoy your retirement?” He laughed at the suggestion and shuﬄed over to the desk. don’t hear nuttin’. listening for an internal knock in a frustrated owner’s engine. the tires were of the same quality as before. “I’ll rev ‘er up. She’s purrin’ like a kitten. so I coasted over on to the sleeve of the highway and turned oﬀ the ignition.” “I think you’ll hafta ﬁx yer muﬄer ‘fore I can ﬁnd the knock. it was dusk.Holding onto Nothing I walked out of the shop and climbed aboard the truck. Six hours on the road and not one tire sold yet. so what could be the excuse? The motor cracked as it cooled and I dug into my pocket and took out two dollar bills. The truck coughed laboriously as it pulled up a steep mountain. changing oil.” Slug slammed his foot on the accelerator and curdles of smoke shot out the exhaust.” Slug said. Charlie. wondering if the old man would really go through with his threat. Jus’ yer imagination.” Leo slapped down the hood. or putting his ear against a fender or hood. I used the last drop of gas in the tank to make it up the mountain and. Trade ‘er in. “How much ya want?” “Round ten bucks. Leo. *** TWO HUNDRED MILES had clicked oﬀ the speedometer and the gas needle registered empty. “See ya Saturday mornin’. “Why don’t you step out of the picture peacefully. I looked at my hazy reﬂection in the dusty window: hair combed. Leo. “Goddamn muﬄer makes more noise ‘n engine. his ear bent on catching the slightest ping. The next stop I would have to get gas. once over the crest. adjusting carburetors. bags under the eyes—but everybody had those nowadays. sat down and read THE DAILY NEWS. scarred with grease.” 145 . Slug. By the time the truck arrived at Leo’s rustic retreat. “Nope. face cleanly shaven with the electric shaver in the glove compartment. half the dealers weren’t in their stations and the other half had all but thrown me bodily out of their garages. I coasted along on the fumes. She’s had it. moved about the station gassing up homeward-bound autos. Leo.
Leo?” “I’m not stickin’ my neck out—for nobody.” he bellowed.” He bent his arms around his neck. I followed with the order book in my hand. The rubbery little weasel had ordered thirty snow tires. Thurston.” “Danny’s dead. Ned’s in jail and all you can say is your crotchety ole Tess is shocked.” He stretched. “What are ya tryin’ ta say. formally. There’s too many swindlers in the business already.Gordon Bishop Slug dropped the gear into ﬁrst and the rear wheels squealed shiveringly. “You can go right back where ya come from. Wata heap!” As he tucked the bill in his pocket. “Yer friend up the road—he’s gonna be sellin’ lots of tires. “No more tires. “Nice day. tires you should be sellin’. Leo. showing Leo the motor still was worth ﬁxing. he spotted me sitting on an oil drum.” “What’s wrong with my tires? You’ve sold thousands.” I jumped oﬀ the barrel. “You’ll never get tires like these—anywhere!” “OUT! OUT! OUT!” The thick veins in his neck swelled and his lips moved like a torque running wildly. huh Leo?” I observed. wanting to chuck it at him. fumbling with my two rolled dollar bills. He rolled a cigar over his red cracked lips and scratched under his arms. and farted wetly. “Whataya want. You can sell anybody’s crap you want.” I looked down at dad’s recaps. little wop. “Nothin’s wrong widyer tires. “Get outa my oﬃce—NOW! Get oﬀa these premises before I call a cop. passing me and heading into his oﬃce. “Drop oﬀ some times—the best in the state!” He yanked the tire out from underneath my foot. It’s jus’ I don’ wanna do business wid guys like you anymore. All my customers gotta know is I’m tradin’ wid you an’ I’m ﬁnished. Leo scuﬀed the skid marks with his heel and swore to himself. Even Tess was shocked when she read the papers. Thurston.” “It’s your station. I opened his dangling door. “Need some gas. kid?” I rested my foot on one of dad’s recaps. “Stupid bastard.” He threw up his arms. and he’s gonna be sellin’ ‘em 146 .
” I bridge dour lapsed acquaintanceship immodestly.” Rudy coughed. was working under his outdoor grease lift as I approached his pumps for gas.” I shouted back. signaling a moment’s wait. Thurston. I’m no longer selling to the nut. “But what makes you think I can sell tires when Leo’s got the trade comin’ to him?” “Easy. and with two dollar bills balled up like wet leaves in my heads. When the truck rolled over the snaky black cable. “Hello.Holding onto Nothing for two dollars less than you can BUY ‘EM—from ANYBODY! You won’t be able to give away whatyou’ve got right here. evaluating the advertisement emblazoned across the outside panel. ALL TALK. the bell sounded and Rudy waved his hand. 147 . “Damn station’s almost on the highway. and it’ll rip you apart. hopped into the truck and drove up the road to Leo’s nearest competitor—Rudy’s Outlet. When he recognized the truck. Now if you don’t move I’ll get my gun in the register. Shaking inside. I primed the carburetor with gas from a can. “You snivelin’ idiot. he called out.” He stepped back. He wiped the dots of grease from his face on to his sleeve and came over to the truck. He glanced at the lettering on the truck and slanted his eyes in my direction. “Can I do something for you?” “Yeah. They’ll rot in this dump—like you!” His head bolted. exclusively a gas peddler. “Talk. “I’m building up a new clientele—for those that like good tires and an easy. “What makes you ﬁnally stop around after all these years?” “Business policy—dad used to give Leo the exclusive franchise around here. Rudy.” “That’s impossible nowadays.” I left.” He moved to the side of the truck. his hand feeling for the button on the register. HONEST dollar.” I pulled up the emergency brake. remember Danny Thurston? I’m his son and I want to make you a rich man.” A trailer-truck zoomed past the station. charging up a small dust storm. but things are diﬀerent now. almost slamming the door oﬀ its hinges. fanning his face with his hands. a couple of bucks worth of gas. Rudy.
“Leo’s sitting on a big gold mountain down there. and you’re gonna own it. he cranked the gas handle on the pump. Wistfully. the numbers returned automatically to zero and he stuck the nozzle into the gas funnel. “I’m selling good will—a franchise dealership. authoritatively. except a lotta money in your own pocket. “That’s about two hundred dollars a day.” he reminded me. YOU have to be pulling down two ﬁfty a week PROFIT!” He weighed the proposition carefully. looking in urgent concern at his small green and white structure sitting next to his grease lift—his life’s accomplishment. “Look. The bell rang.” he pondered. “I own this outﬁt—lock. straightening out the moistened bills in my hand. “Woaa . I own my plant—outright.” I expounded. “Yeah. Before I make one red cent.” he disclosed. as if it were a dirty word. “How would you like to make a thousand dollars a week?” “What?” His eyes widened in disbelief. removing the gas cap on the side of the truck. .” “You’re STILL a salesman.Gordon Bishop I jumped out of the truck. “How ‘bout two bucks worth?” I handed him the cap.” he remarked caustically. See all these cars up on jacks? That’s retail—gravy! I do enough volume here so I can sit on my can seven days a week and just count the ﬁves and ﬁfties. knowing that the odds of landing this account were all or nothing. Rudy.” I broke in suddenly. I banged the truck with the side of my ﬁst. stock and barrel. his lips beginning to curl in satisfaction. leaning on one hand against the truck. “It sounds enticing.” I gave him the 148 .” I added. you went over the two dollar limit. “I don’t make that much from the whole business.” I answered ﬂatly. “Divide by two and that’s yer proﬁt. drained the remaining drops oﬀ the end and clanked it back onto the holder.” I went in the truck and grabbed the eight-by-ten glossy pictures of the plant. He slipped the trigger on the nozzle. . but you salesmen all talk alike—and produce nothing. “Sounds good. “Net or gross?” he asked doubtfully.
Therefore.” “Why not? I have nothing to lose. have everything to gain.” “Thurston. Tiers and tiers of tires waited invitingly on one another. squinting at the skies and distorting his face in thought.” Rudy answered. “What do I have to do?” I took him around to the back of the van and opened the doors. “Yeah. examining the sidewall of the tire for cracks. gleaming black beauties of proﬁt. even though they were blemished with four years’ ﬁngerprints. but you. “Then why bother to knock yourself out wholesalin’?” he questioned shrewdly. pushing a tire in with my ﬁst. the AWOL Airman who was found guilty of stealing a car and a lot of other things. Nathaniel Thurston. smooth. he sells them to the public for what the recapper sells them to the dealer.” 149 . rubbing his coarse hand across the top of the recap. Rudy.” “Why are you doing all this for me?” “Cause Leo’s afraid of his own ass.” Rudy soughed.Holding onto Nothing pictures to examine.” He pondered the pros and cons again.” “I think I remember something about it a few weeks ago. nine ninety-nine.” “Go on.” “Leo sells tires for two bucks less than the next recapper could sell them for—retail. Name ring a bell?” He pushed his ﬁnger into his ear. “Do you know what Leo advertises these for?” I asked. “We’re in business. “Would you stop at a million if you knew you could make two million?” “Lease you’re honest about it. But so what?” I extended my hand. Leo’s tires. “Is it supposed to?” “Ned Thurston’s my brother. “Mmmmm.” “Whatdaya mean?” “Have you been following what’s in the papers lately?” “Once in a while. “I want you to sell these tires—the exact same tires Leo is sellin’—for four dollars less than he is.
I own all this worthless land. unload the truck. dropping an armful of tires on the ground. Rudy.” the driver stated. facing southbound traﬃc. “And that old tire’s worth two bucks to me—if it’s good. he just stared and shook his head. Most caps are dried out. “that’s for renting. good oily touch. “We’re crazy . “Okay.” the driver said. a giant red truck jounced into Rudy’s driveway with a huge sign strapped across the top of it.” I ripped out several guarantee slips from a book and handed them to him. Rudy. I’ll stand behind it. “Ziggy.” I assured him. taking a tire oﬀ the truck.” “I still can’t believe it. And that’s where you make your proﬁt—two bucks for the casing and a buck for mounting.” the driver said. but didn’t bother to read it.” “That your property up there?” I pointed to a vacant hill overlooking a bend in the highway. Rudy. handing him an order book.” “Does a guarantee to with these tires?” “Same as a new tire guarantee—one full year or twelve thousand miles. “It goes up there. I want you to buy the sign outright. “Yeah. taking back his order book. I mean you’re crazy!” “Plus your old tire. Five ninety-nine.” “It’ll cost him a mint. 150 .” Rudy directed them. on the hill. I’ll call the Dover Sign Company. get the blue book.” He stared at the guarantee. “Put a sign up there—bold and white—and in giant black and red letters these words: ‘Any Six Seventy Snow Tire—Five Ninety-Nine—Plus your old tire. “Wait.’” “FIVE NINETY-NINE?” Rudy roared. . . Ziggy ran to the truck and brought back the book and ﬂipped it to Rudy. “That’s okay. what’s the deal?” he asked.” “Priceless now. “Here’s your ﬁrst batch of guarantees. again patting him on the shoulder.” I reassured him.” I intervened.Gordon Bishop “Okay.” Before we had the truck emptied.” I pointed out. “Mmmm. mac. telling him where to sign. You’ll get a few dozen pads next trip. Impossible.” “Sign this ﬁrst. “I want those workers in Hercules Powder Company to see it from their parking lot—ﬁfteen miles away.
” Rudy threw up his hands helplessly. As I left his station. I looked in the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of Rudy’s sign way up on the hill.” “Thanks. ahhh—what was your ﬁrst name again?” “Johnny. and when I whisked by Leo’s garage I saw him arguing with a customer. the vast billboard went up quickly.Holding onto Nothing “It’ll cost ya twelve hundred. the traﬃc already had cleared out. “Can you arrange to get somebody to paint this on in black and red?” The foreman shook his head disapprovingly. ‘fore we start puttin’ in overtime. I’ll see if I can get ‘em up here the ﬁrst thing in the morning. With cables and levers. “Just have to take out a note. Rudy shrugged his shoulders. Johnny. I’d better sign the bill so you can go.” the driver said. “You guys are desperate. “When you sell ‘em. Ziggy installed the wiring—from the top of the sign to the top of Rudy’s utility pole in the rear of his garage. In two hours—with everybody pitching in—the job was complete.” I made out the order and Rudy signed it. C’mon Ziggy.” I answered for Rudy. it’s getting late. and frowned. “That’s okay. Rudy looked up at the sign. you pay me. “I’m broke. Fair enough?” “I don’t know how to thank you. “Least I’ll always have a sign up there with my name on it—if nothin’ else. and the truck acting as a crane and bulldozer.” They jumped into the truck and drove oﬀ into the twilight. “Can the artists get up here today?” The foreman laughed. then glanced at the tires.” I suggested. Yeah.” I said. walking him back to the garage. I sketched a rough outline of what to go on the sign and gave it to the annoyed driver.” The men went to work immediately. smiled proudly. “How do I pay you now?” “You don’t. Maybe that’s what Leo was 151 . “This’ll cost you—at least three hundred. using power tools to dig into part of the hill for the steel triangled girders.” Ziggy laughed squirmingly.
He sucked in a startled breath. *** THAT NIGHT I went down to the County Jail to visit Ned for the last time before his conveyance to Mississippi for the ﬁnal disposition of his case.” The precarious old cop summoned me through the door and then. Bloch. Gorged inside were helpless muted prisoners. . I took out a piece of paper and forged a note in Mr. . sonny. he returned the note to me and then proceeded to open a barred door. but. “Just walk to the end of this here corridor and make a right. too. I fumbled my way to the rear entrance of the jail. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the note and placed it under the light for him to read. I always felt guilty coming to the jail. bedraggled and half-asleep. After parking the car in the county lot. 152 . “Hmmmmm. my hands raised innocently in the air. and the pile of tires in front of Rudy’s station. you know Mr. I remembered that no visitors were permitted to see the prisoners after nine p.” Cocking his head dubiously. Maybe he saw the big white sign. knowing I was free to live and Ned wasn’t. propped up against a door in the other side of the room. . boy. what do you want?” His hand automatically fell to the gun holstered at his side. casting a cold light on the black bars that caged the silent prisoners.” I stood in the shadow of a coat rack. “It’s real enough. He’s in the ﬁrst cell. Hush up. “No visitors. I saw a decrepit guard. “What . sonny? He used to be the ﬁrst assistant prosecutor. which I had never seen.Gordon Bishop arguing about. who’s there. Peering in through the glass pane. hoped to fool the guard with. The black night cloaked the jail like a sorcerer’s eerie castle. nevertheless. Bloch’s handwriting. and follow me. I entered routinely and tapped him on the shoulder. Every few seconds the moon eyed through the thick heavy clouds.m.” He said groggily. where one dim light hung loosely over the door. he was buried in one of those black boxes. what . .” He licked the end of his ﬁnger and rubbed it over part of the writing. “I’m looking for Ned Thurston. It was ten o’clock.
Johnny?” he asked. but my shoes breathed air through their sides. “Yeah. A blanket muﬄed and a weak groan seeped out of the black silence. It’s almost an impossibility. Ned. Ned. now beat it. weak?” I asked. “NOW!” He pushed my head straight and quick and it jolted freely from the cold bars.Holding onto Nothing with the snap of a key. Somehow I managed to make it to the end of the hall and turned the corner and peeked into the ﬁrst cell. “Somebody there?” “It’s me.” I wiggled my neck between the bars and attempted to back out slowly.” He pressed my ears stiﬄy against my skull. Neddy. I touched them to see if they were still attached to my head. Johnny. “Ned. “I still got ears.” He turned on what sounded like a water faucet. I don’t know how you did this. “Hold it. Johnny. real brotherly. locked it. I tried to tiptoe. 153 . wiping the sticky soap oﬀ tem and my neck. “There. you’re straightened out. He came toward me with a piece of soap as big as a cube of sugar and said. “Wait a minute—don’t move.” I tried to stick my head through the bars. so I pulled a coin from my pocket and tapped it lightly on the bars. Nobody seemed to be inside.” I jerked and my ears lobbed backwards. “When I say ‘NOW’ back out. Johnny. He chucked the lathered white cube behind him and held onto the bars loosely. “Now try it. tired. making me sound like a racehorse wheezing over the ﬁnish line. Are you in there?” The coin pinged and its echo brought a million imaginary eyes upon me. “That you. I could hear him shuﬄing back to his post.” I rejoiced. hungry.” “How do you feel. Some of the cells appeared empty and the dead silence slipped through me like a cold wet worm. pushing my ears tightly against my head.” He rubbed the wet soap on the bars. “Huh?” A voice crawled through the darkness. “Why’d I do this? Now I’m stuck.” I raised my head until I felt the slipperiness of the soap and slid my ears from side to side.
yeah. “Quit yer belly achin.” the voices heaved through the darkness.” “I was just thinking about—” “Forget it. “or else you’ll get us all in trouble. Ned raised his arms and closed them around his head. it’s more. We wanna sleep. “What can I say? What can I tell you that you probably already know? I’m ﬁnished.” he paused. There’s nothing I can do. barely audibly. Johnny? Are they through blowing?” I nodded yes.” The cold bars pressed against my chest. even that I’m your brother. or anybody can do. “Well.” Ned barked back provokingly. “Is there anything you want me to get you?” I asked. She’s the only thing we’ve got to love that’s still ours.” he interrupted coldly. “Take care of mom. hear me?” Noises stirred in the other cells and the drowsy prisoners cracked the restrained silence. you heard me. “Shaatt up.” I didn’t know what to say so I tried keeping my mouth shut. brother.” the others chimed in.” His warped voice veered oﬀensively from behind a withering wall of sleeplessness. “That’s all you can do in this dump anyway. but we haven’t found it. “Ned. my emotions trying to touch this indeﬁnable need. “Are they ﬁnished. I heard him ﬂop on the cot. or go home. disturbing. it’s not that we’re grown up. and he brought his arms down slowly. Now go. please? I want to think. the desire to reach and hold onto one secure moment.” “Yeah. he rolled over on the cot and emerged from the shadows. Finally. We both know it and neither of us can do anything about it—only accept it.Gordon Bishop “Forget that NEDDY STUFF. or I’ll wake up the whole damn jail.” he persisted more calmly. will ya? We’re not playing cops and robbers anymore.” “Didn’t you ever feel just something about somebody and you knew that this something was all that was left?” I put my hands through the bars. “Now leave me alone. What do we do?” 154 . holding back the anxiety. Now grow up. Forget everything. “You’re vague. It’s not that. “What’s done is done. you can do. “Yes.” a singular voice cried out.
Why was that car there. and we shook as we used to as kids after a walloping ﬁght. Johnny. “Why did you have to take it? Why couldn’t you have just kept running?” “A psychiatrist tried. “Then accept it. the slippery. . “I do. nothing bothers me. That’s exactly what it is—professional poop!” The bars chilled my hands and I stuﬀed them in my pockets and stood away from the cell. for a week he hammered me with questions I had no answers to. they may even think they’re doing it. Remember when we used to play hide ‘n seek and I was afraid to go down into the wine cellar?” “All those snakes. the circumstances . nobody. “Promise me you won’t do anything stupid. bury me. their hearts not even beating. I’m dead. Nobody can see me. “I feel safe now. “I like it in the dark.” He started to laugh.” “You don’t really mean that.” He came to the cell’s door. The dark spooked me. “I wasn’t afraid of the snakes. secure. “We’re still pals. they looked dead. waiting. I always distrusted certain kinds of people—you know. Dead. right now.Holding onto Nothing He packed back and forth. Ned? We still have a whole life to live yet. But now. in and out of the darkness. I thought somebody was in that black stuﬀ. you know—all that double-meaning poop. weasely type—always sneaking up on your. and returned to his cot. Nothing’s in the dark but me and. vacantly. They’re slicing some other victim of conditions. huh?” I stuck my arm through the bars. beat me up. and it can’t always be like this. and I hated death. circumstances. to win at everything we go? Nobody ever wins.” I remembered. Johnny. . . wanting to strangle me. His hands were icy wet and he slipped away. pounding one ﬁst against the other. but they aren’t . He said I was normal.” He shuﬄed across the chipped concrete ﬂoor and I heard the sound of 155 . Under the conditions. They may think they do. still frightened by the sight of those slinky creatures coiled in the corners by the empty bottles. What do we expect of ourselves. Johnny? Tell me? Tell me?” He fought with himself. no eyes cutting me like an executioner’s knife anymore. If only that car wasn’t there. conscious of the fear evident in him. It reminded me of the dark. . waiting.” I said. or touch me.
get a few INS somewhere. staring at the piece of paper tensely. “It’s clowns like you who really make a mockery of society—and actually get away with it. than laughed aloud.” “Vague. especially slobs like Garson. “You can be where I am for doing that.Gordon Bishop whirling water and hollow gulpings. good. you’re the product of somebody else’s 156 .” “It could’ve helped during the trial. “But it works. not through a twenty-one inch TV tube. . “Ahhhh . patting his wet hands on his shirt. You don’t know.” “They should have a law to keep the prosecutor from leading the witness. “Turn oﬀ the television set.” he disagreed bitterly. “Wanna see it?” He studied it closely. feeling the forged note crumpled in my pocket.” “What new game have you concocted to amuse yourself now?” “Do you have any idea how I got in to see you tonight?” I displayed the note craftily. He approached the bars again.” I said. But the prosecutor. too—Bradford. “And they were good to me. We’re living in reality. you can’t help that. “I did something you wouldn’t because you live in reality. how did you?” he stammered.” “You’re right. You’re too wrapped up in business—money. “Never. .” “How?” “Pay oﬀ a couple of politicians. Johnny. . Bloch.” I put the note within his reach.” he exhaled deeply.” he blustered angrily. that political prostitute. Ned.” I backed away quietly. The big successes—they bluﬀ until they get what they want. “Not new laws. too vague. that obnoxious oaf—the judge believed him over Bradford’s testimony. but better men to protect those already in the books.” I said.” “But I’m not. “Simple: forgery!” “You’re mad. And guys like you aren’t stupid—you’re clever. .” He began pacing again. “I hate life. incompetency—not the inherent freedoms of life. “Yeah . Johnny. I eased the note slowly out of my pocket. You hate injustice. brother. That doesn’t provide you with enough insight into the problem.
“By the way. Ned. I just play life by ear.” he muttered. boy. man. I won’t learn anything from you tonight. Ned. “Ya got a chip on her shoulder. stepping up his pace.” “Expecting visitors?” He straightened up.” His face reddened for the ﬁrst time that night. together.” I reiterated. boy?” he puﬀed.” “No tricks. And it’ s only for one year. “Good night. Johnny.” “In the meantime.” I looked at the pistol pushing oﬀ his right hip. and left. not smarter than you. I marched down the hall to the door and rapped three times.” I mimicked. we’ll make an indestructible team when I’m released. mail me some polish.” he warned. by-passing him and heading directly for the door. Thanks. you are brilliant.” He rested against the wall which partitioned the cells. brother. It feels good to know you have someone close to you who can outfox the foxes.Holding onto Nothing stupidity. I hear if you look in tiptop shape.” “No. “I just remembered you were in there.” He bent over to touch his shoes and stayed in that position for the count of ten.” “Well. absolutely mad—smarter than I could ever hope to be. already you’re planning to do something constructive. holding the door open. still in a sleepy stupor. they assign you to an easy job.” Ned didn’t say anything else. so back to my favorite sport—sleep.” “You’d better cool oﬀ. for I knew when it closed I would feel free and guilty again. “Everything peaceful in there?” “Everything’s peaceful in there. 157 . “Tell me about other things you do. that felt good. His cell appeared lifeless and meaningless again. “I apologize. “Yes. It’s that easy. you continue to develop your trickery and. Keys jingled on the other side of the iron barricade and it opened too quickly. like dusting library books or working on some magazine or paper they put out down there. “Ahhh. Reilly. I’m in a hurry to go somewhere. I have to get in shape for the big brass in Biloxi.” “See. boy. Only smarter than that old guard out there. “In a hurry to go somewhere. I reached the door three strides ahead of him. The stout guard faced me tiredly.
” She draped her pink pocketbook over the seat. Val stood in the oﬃce. blinding you momentarily if you looked at it too long. “Waiting long?” I asked. contemplation.” She opened the door and wiggled to the middle of the seat. fall. as if she were a starlet under a spotlight. He’s so entertaining. Rod turned his head fretfully and swaggered back to the desk. They responded to the four seasons of Order: spring. “We have about six minutes to get to the church. in winter you rest. Parked in front of an equally impressive glass-paned oﬃce was his ivory-colored Cadillac. As the traﬃc thickened. It was nearing eleven o’clock and I raced the minutes to keep my church date with Val. in summer you love. The trees. I was already rounding the bend leading to Rod Benedict’s Auto Palace. solitude. in fall you meditate. summer. Johnny—perfect for us. Val pointed to a side road and I cut oﬀ into it. The blazing sun bounced oﬀ the white ediﬁce. “It’s so nice today. alive once more to show oﬀ their matchless resplendent colors as they whistled nature’s love song through their ﬂeshy ﬁngers. at times. As I drove to the country. It would have to be twelve o’clock mass—or nothing. “Where’s the church?” I asked. waited helplessly in the hills to be renourished by the winter’s protective snows. too tired to sway in the rushing breezes after a blistering summer that had sapped their vitality. Before my thoughts released their prisoner.” Her brown eyes sparkled. in spring you learn. She hurried to the car and kissed me through the open window. She waved and ran to the door. winter—adolescence. “Oﬀ the highway. watching me as I drove in slowly. I could smell the dying aroma of the last days of autumn. Nature’s nakedness as winter approached was like the emptiness one feels the morning after a night of ultimate fulﬁllment with one you love. Rod’s eyes following her closely. “Time ﬂies when you’re with Rod.” I said. No one prickly hair could be felt jutting from my sleepless face. and now striped of all desire.Gordon Bishop *** THAT SUNDAY I dressed to my impeccable best. her hands on hips. pulling out of the driveway and ﬁling into the line of cars bounded in the same direction. about two miles. maturity. admiring her immaculate white dress. 158 . preparing them to bloom again in the spring.
I nudged the man next 159 . and Val and I wound up halfway down in the middle.” “We can’t back out now. In a criss-cross double ﬁle. “This leads to the back of the church. “PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD”—the sign read as the country folks dipped their ﬁngers into the bowls ﬁlled with holy water. at the same time primping themselves with tarnished compacts in hands.Holding onto Nothing “Now where?” I asked. When this eﬀort became too obvious. I’ll never be able to sit through mass. facing the pulpit directly. it just couldn’t last and. despite the infant’s screaming protest. the boy closest to the pew nudged Val and she nudged me. just never. accompanied by their three chattering children.” I whispered. As eﬀective as this may have been. after about a half-minute. in her white outﬁt and pink feathery hat. We sneaked up behind the church. as the car jounce don the tar-patched road. the man nudged his wife. We parked under a weeping willow. Before long. assembled with the rest of the ﬂock and entered a charming rustic chapel. along with a few other acclimated drivers. she became panicky. Johnny. holding his heavily-wrapped baby in arms. we found out that a young couple. she nudged one of the youngsters and they nudged each other. which we were forced to sit it out of necessity. The brush had been trampled by the cars’ many visits. and each parishioner had his own nook in which he jockeyed his vehicle. and Val pushed her coat up as far as possible. for they knew that we weren’t registered members and didn’t rightfully belong in this particular pew. The crisp air became rank with the smell of damp nicotine. immersed the child’s blanketed arm into the cloudy holy water. Val. rapidly blessing themselves. and parked in a wooded lot. pushing along with the line. the parishioners marched to their regular pews. The regular church members glanced at us snobbishly. trying to breathe into the perfumed lining. With a nasty look that would melt Lucifer. until ﬁnally. was a heavenly contrast to the frenzied mothers swatting their kids. Val inadvertently passed the bowl and I was swept by as a young father. she exhaled. we’re in a hundred deep. “Oh. When her eyes lifted and she saw the endless number of worshippers parading down the narrow isle. she tried holding her breath. to the left. had sole rights to where we were sitting.” she said.
which cut into the priest’s message like an irreparable incision. A priest. as everyone’s eyes scanned each other’s faces. each making the sign of the cross. “You okay?” I whispered in her ear. or shame. either in prayer. bit enough for me to shift into. their heads lowered. A lecture about birth control followed the gospel. moved ceremoniously to the candlelit altar. Val’s face grew peaked and she held herself up by holding on to the back of the seat in front of her.” “Want to leave?” She kept her head buried between her hands. She covered her face with her hands. The assemblage rose to its feet in delayed reaction. us—all of us!—from an eternity of hell.” the priest concluded. draped in elaborate Irish green and silk white robes. The priest spread his arms widely before the life-sized cruciﬁx. each indignant and visibly annoyed. the parishioners also rested on their knees.” he declared vehemently.” Not a head stirred in the chapel. Somehow the family of ﬁve elbowed their way into the pew.Gordon Bishop to me and it went down the line until I felt a relaxed opening. and the small clan of farmers moved restlessly in their pews. “Do you realize what sin you have committed?” he leveled with them heartlessly. kissed their markers and read along with the priest. “I can’t breathe. As the three devout ﬁgures kneeled on the altar steps. as if praying desperately. The worshippers dug out their missals. facing the altar with his hands clasped in strict prayer. except for a sudden outburst of a small child. ﬂanked by two altar boys clothed in bright red and white robes. “For man’s sins. “To save him. “Have you already forgotten why Christ died on the cross?” Missals were squeezed tightly in remorse. kneeled again. After three 160 . turned and headed for the pulpit as the worshippers sat back in their seats in a ﬂurry of noise. as the articulate Father berated those who sued the techniques of modern science against God’s Will. “Let us pray for the sick of the parish. The tinkle of coins dropping into baskets broke the monotony of guilt that had left its weekly mark on the repentant sinners.
now. Being a veteran Catholic.” she smiled slightly. wedged between a muddy truck and dilapidated station wagon topped with piles of canvas. We managed to open the car doors and maneuvered inside and made ourselves comfortable. the herd pushed Val along. Within ﬁve minutes.” Val suggested. her face returning to its natural pink hue. the books were transposed on the altar and the priest blessed the assemblage and cleansed our blemished souls again in the glorious Roman tradition. “Yes. refreshingly. 161 . we remained behind to watch the dust settle on the car. either because the mass had terminated or because they promised their puriﬁed minds and bodies they would chance being the obedient servant once again. We ﬁnally spotted the car under the weeping willow. some clawing their way to the holy water. The participants.” “If you’ll drive. “Whewww. I had anticipated that this procedure would not take but a few minutes because seldom did many ever receive at the twelve o’clock mass. removing her hat. the building fund and the Archdiocese’s district assessment—the chimes rang out and communion ceremonies commenced. Rattling rigs crammed into the one-lane dirt road and. “I’ll take you to my secret paradise. you okay?” I wiped her forehead with my handkerchief. We held on to one another as we zig-zagged to the parking lot. for the ﬁrst time.Holding onto Nothing rounds of collection—the regular weekly oﬀering. opened a side window and Val lifted her head. communion was passed to those who had devoutly sacriﬁced themselves to the confessional. rather than risking a buckled fender. After the dozen or so body-and-blood recipients returned to their seats. “Let’s stop oﬀ at the Denville Shack and buy a picnic lunch. One considerate observer.” I compromised. Once outside the church. I grabbed her. somewhat at ease at this point. trampling out onto the front steps. tripping over some exuberant tots playing tag behind their mothers’ backs. rose to their feet and poured out gleefully. The late mass normally was reserved as a preaching exercise for the rhetorical clergy. others neglecting to kneel or bless themselves before departing hurriedly from their pews. disgusted from fanning himself with a collection envelope.
streaked with threads of silver and blue. Now you can’t leave. as if instinctively. “Who wants to?” I laughed. “I feel like we’re Hansel and Gretel. gazing up at the white sky. I took a short cut—over there. He chased me when I bothered the mechanics. then closed my eyes and felt the heat seep deeply into my face. She rolled next to me.” She sat on a fallen tree and stared out across the calm. “That’s good. and her hair toppled down the side of her face.” I squinted up at the sun. “How’d you ever ﬁnd a place like this?” I asked. each appearing taller and wider as they came nearer to our mountain. It was a heavenly moment: I looked around and saw nothing but one barren mountain after another. liking the idea of being lost with Val and having complete mastery over me. Val took my hand and led me to a ﬂat-rock area. she announced. Getting out of the car. my hand resting on her breasts. “The water is surprisingly warm.” She pointed to a ﬂat. “You know.” she smiled. Johnny. Nestled in the heart of this needle-bed forest lay a lake with a white peaked boulder jutting from its smooth surface. After traveling up and down numerous mountains. I rubbed the back of her neck gently. wide mountain with a twisted ravine cut into its side.” she sighed dreamily. a hint of sadness concealed in her soft.Gordon Bishop We shifted places and she drove to the Shack to pick up an outdoor lunch and then we continued up the highway to her secret retreat. Val shed her coat and lay back on it. The sun warmed our bodies and the sound of chipmunks scurrying about brought us together. 162 . aﬀectionately. inviting wilderness. “We can go swimming there if you want. kicking oﬀ her shoes and resting her head on my chest. brown eyes. She looked at me like a little girl would look at an understanding adult. which stood like a pyramid protruding through the thin low-hanging clouds.” I said. “This is it. and I always ended up here. “I used to play here when Rod ﬁrst opened the station. it feels like spring. from where you could see a cozy little valley sheltered by stately pines.” she teased.” “I forgot how we even got here.
still lying intact on a boulder. remaining there until the hills swallowed up the sun. curling her legs under her.” I bit into a sour pickle.” From over her shoulder I could see the picnic basket. until the sun’s intensive heat lifted for the day. or friend. what you plan to do?” She kissed me lightly on the chin. I shook her lightly and she awoke. . Inside the car.” I moved over her. really serious.” Her voice was weak and the darkness seemed to frighten her. awesome. her lips partly opened. “Love me. Do you think you’re the right person. “I mean really talk. but never felt I could because the person. When I thought she had drifted oﬀ to sleep. “Oh . and snuggled into the crook of my arm. “Johnny. She had locked all the doors. and I pulled her coat over her limp body and she rested contentedly. and then I lay my head between her breasts. It must have been fermenting for twenty years. her eyes closed. . her breasts pressing into me. just never seemed to care about me enough to want to listen.” she fretted. “Hold me.Holding onto Nothing “Johnny. . about things I’ve always wanted to. I must have dozed oﬀ. “I’m too tired to eat. Johnny.” she yawned. “Hungry?” I asked. petrifying. She slid oﬀ her shoes. I brushed her hair back and stared at her delicate features until the night crept up and covered her beauty and summoned the strange. straightening her legs and getting to her feet. I threw it back into the basket. It’s getting chilly. “Let’s go back to the car. tell me about you—how your father died. haunting cries of the woods. can we get serious. She snuggled up under my coat. Johnny?” “Have a sandwich. . I brought her face up to meet my lips and relaxed back with her in my arms. kissing her neck and breasts and her whole body . Johnny. “You’re already making fun of me. it’s dark. I feel so good and safe next to you. and safer. we felt warmer. The woods became black. Her hips slid against mine and I pushed against her thighs and her body stiﬀened.” I picked up the basket and followed her. placing the sandwich 163 . I mean?” “Why not?” I opened the basket with my free arm.
and let’s sleep. “How am I supposed to know something like that?” “I just had to come out and say it. too?” “Yes.” “What?” “Am I oversexed?” I gulped a piece of ham.” I stopped chewing and put down the sandwich. honey.” She started to cry. honey. I’m so confused—about us. “I’m sorry. pecking her on the cheek.” “Why are men so unromantic?” She tilted her head back and I caught her by surprise.” I brushed a tear from her nose. I mean after what we just expressed between each other?” She smiled. I can’t. “Oh. “I promise I won’t hurt you. “I think it’s my fault. “Johnny.” She leaned against my arm again. This place did something to us. Johnny. It’s just the darkness. are you?” I pecked her on the cheek again. You aren’t mad at me. Johnny. Didn’t you feel it. “No. “Did I say something wrong?” “Please. “What are you doing. what’s the matter? All I want is to hold you—to be near you. Johnny. I love you—I do. I can’t ﬁght you. You can talk. no. “Can’t we talk like a mature couple would talk if they were married?” “We’re mature. But please don’t ask now. but she refused. “Val. I mean. I can’t do anything more. I do.” She threw herself on me and wept. Johnny?” “Just relax. you’re sweeter than the frosting on this cake. do you think I’m hurting myself? Inside I mean?” “When did you hurt the most?” “This time.” “No.” “Can I tell you how I feel then?” I took a swig of milk from a container. “Hmmmm.” 164 . throwing it out the vent window.Gordon Bishop on her lap. that’s all. why are we here now if we can’t speak to each other. I just can’t.” I oﬀered her a bite. I pushed the picnic basket aside and removed the sandwich from her lap.” “Val. I do.
” I started the car and turned on the heater. Just then. but as my wife.Holding onto Nothing “I understand. allowing the warm air to dry her tears and the music to wash away her fears. As she lay safely on my lap. I backed the car out of the cove and followed the dirt road back to the main highway. I drove by Rod’s station and wondered what he would do when he learned that I wanted Val to live with me. it happened: all of life’s restrictions unrestricted. not as one of his cheap girlfriends. 165 . The only thing that made any sense was us—that we were one.
Although I had gone out on the route faithfully everyday. and no matter what I did or how hard I tried to do it. Christmas was only three weeks away and on Monday—in less than forty-eight-hours—the bank. the gross sales continued to sink to proﬁtless ﬁgures. and Linwood and Tommy would argue constantly. physically and mentally. Charlie banked on my wholesale revenue and I relied upon his retail income to tide us over as we delayed our creditors day after day. for when the wheel stopped spinning. sick and disgusted. he would quit before he was buried. Yet we all waited eagerly for Saturdays—the accountant. now deﬂated more helplessly than a ﬂat tire. which had 167 . Perhaps too quickly. The conﬂict with Charlie grew more serious and after awhile. we were trying to keep Linwood and Tommy from killing each other. But this Saturday was diﬀerent. the business demands soon soared beyond my reach. it was like an insane asylum with no psychiatrists. the bank. the rubber manufacturer—just so Charlie and I could divvy among the pack of domesticated wolves the meager four hundred dollars we had grossed: we would split it umpteen ways to meet the emergency debts. I felt no better: I was dizzy.CHAPTER VIII T he weeks passed by as quickly as a boy’s free ride on a merry-goround. Saturdays. Even an insane businessman would not pursue such a disastrous course. But I continued to hang on to what was left of dad’s dream. I would yell over the slightest disturbance. when we all had to work together in the plant—and which was also the busiest and biggest gross day of the week—Charlie would gripe. They felt the pressure of their own personal problems because of the two weeks back salary we owed them. When we weren’t bickering about the bills.
at least you could try. what good would it do? What about next month’s mortgage.” “Johnny.” “Like hell. she asked. and salaries. Last week’s net—two hundred dollars—was our ﬁnal eﬀort.” “Johnny. why didn’t you tell me?” she asked rejectedly. “We’re three months behind on the mortgage. I ran after her.” I said. I couldn’t face the boys anymore so I decided not to show up for work that Saturday. She tuned halfway around on the seat. and rubber bill?” “Well. “Will you get back in her a minute?” She slammed the door on me and headed for the front door. please. instead. they’re going to padlock our doors. and. Before the car rolled to a complete stop in front of the cottage. It would be the same thing if you took out a note from the bank. everything. facing me directly. “But you can pay him back. Val moved to the other side of the seat.Gordon Bishop been extensively generous and cooperative with our delinquent account. If I don’t have nine-hundred dollars in the bank Monday when it opens.” I raised my voice. “Why are we going away for the weekend. Johnny? Did you have another ﬁght with Charlie?” “It’s all over. “I could’ve asked Rod for the money.” “Except with Benedict the interest is in the form of obligation for life. “I want nothing from that man—not one damn thing. and as we drove up to Benedict’s hunting lodge that morning. “Look. what happened? Did they throw you out of the plant?” I slowed the car down to sixty miles an hour. “Johnny. She immediately sensed that something was wrong. Annoyed at my reluctance to accept Benedict’s charity. Val—with us. the business. Val already had the door open and was halfway out when I shouted. for me?” “No!” Nothing else was said on the way to the lodge. went away for the weekend with Val.” 168 .” She ﬁshed for a handkerchief in her pocketbook. was going to foreclose the business—dad’s empire. leaving a frigid gap between us for the ﬁrst time. if I accepted that money from Benedict.
and if I played it cooly. and how he let the retail business slide out from under him without much concern. the business would fall into my lap—with the help of Benedict’s backing. “Let’s wait until Monday. and no matter what happens try treating your customers—and Charlie—like you treat me. and I want you to promise me you’ll start all over again Monday. I want to see if the bank will extend me just one more month. make another futile attempt to sell tires and end up one thousand and eight hundred dollars in the red. “Now I’ve got you.” “Those vultures?” I laughed. And anything that prevents them from making it—including me—they destroy. “I do want to succeed. and Ned. Before Charlie came in. for you. “With that kind of attitude. “Please? For me?” I hesitated a moment.” I followed her inside the cabin and threw some logs in the ﬁreplace. 169 . and—” “Go on Johnny. I’ll try.” Her eyes brightened and she whisked a scarf oﬀ the table and encircled it around her heads.Holding onto Nothing “Alright. And they’ve done a damn good job at that. nothing will work out for us. holding the end tightly. She unpacked the suitcases on the table and when she was ﬁnished. thinking of Charlie’s arrogance and lethargy. *** MONDAY MORNING I ARRIVED at the plant at seven o’clock and examined the books.” She released the scarf around our necks. He has to have SOMETHING to come home to. but on one condition: that I accept Benedict’s loan— without interest—in the event the bank rejects any further extension. and for who else?” “You.” Val agreed. I knew Charlie didn’t have the capital to reclaim the mortgage within thirty days. I’ll steal his money. “All they respect is money. I went over and put my arms around her. Mr.” She turned around disgustedly and unlocked the door. I decided to let the bank foreclose. Big. regardless of another extension. I already had discovered that he was making out checks for cash and the total amount now exceeded seven hundred dollars.
“What’s da matter wid him?” “Yyiiiihhhh . embarrassed by the situation. hastening their pace. “C’mon. knowing the end was near.” Linwood dropped his tire iron. “Not like that. . .Gordon Bishop It was after ten thirty and the bank representative had not showed up yet. rasping sound as I exhaled. The customers watched attentively.” Charlie apologized to the stunned customers. After all. what’s everybody starin’ at? Didn’t you ever feel like stretching?” I asked carelessly. “Yyiiiiihhhh . “Yyiiiiihhhh . You know. Where was Martin and his fateful surprise? It was almost eleven-thirty. “Well. I picked up a tire iron and pitched in. speed it up. “Ahhh deceit!” Charlie countered. When each of 170 . “He looks quite normal to me. the year’s almost over—and so are we. . bracing themselves for another screeching blast. Linwood?” “Yeah. no troubles—just nuts. “A showoﬀ. that my lungs were as hardy as all that. When he saw no reaction in their eyes. man!” Linwood groaned. “Shaaattt up! We got customers inside!” I closed my mouth and opened my eyes. Let’s get ‘em outa here by noon. lungs do need a workout once in a while.” one spoke up seriously. I threw the pencil on the checkbook and stretched.” Tommy gripped the rubber mallet and banged the bead of the tire on to the rim. “Those tires ready to go. throwing up his hands in wonderment.” Charlie stopped checking casings and yanked oﬀ his hat. their backs rounded. whipping the brush out of Tommy’s hand.” Tommy and Linwood grunted.” The ﬁve men and one woman eyed Charlie dubiously.” Tommy dumped his tacky paint brush in the cement can and scurried to Linwood’s side. . dear customers. “Give ‘im a hand. A half-dozen customers stood gaping. I looked at the clock. “I’ll ﬁnish cementin’ these tires. I didn’t realize. he stepped back into his frequent role of boss and benefactor. releasing a weird.” “He’s drunk.” Charlie ordered. .” Charlie cringed. “Excuse me. . you know.
dropping the vehicles to the ground. I wish to exculpate myself. smearing it lightly. A sweeping red line circled the date—December 5. “Punctilious. Martin exchanged greetings in his customary aﬀected manner. then crinkled it and threw it in the tottering cardboard box next to the desk. You. You seem to have arrived at the right time. I have stalled the powersto-be long enough. the banker drove up in his black Oldsmobile. “I have nothing to conceal. thanked them and escorted them to their respective automobiles. Insidious. Mr.” Mr.” We rolled the tires to the cars and jerked them on. stepping aside to allow the last customer room to open her door and gain entrance into her car. Martin.” I opened the account book.” He unzipped his briefcase and pulled out dad’s account book. The amount due struck the eye immediately: nine hundred dollars. “All ready for Santa Claus?” I asked. piﬀ.” “We’re all prostitutes to some degree. Thurston. Thurston. As I handed the customers their bills. “We got two minutes to slap these on the cars. “Welcome. Mr.” I walked him into the oﬃce and oﬀered him a chair. am a good collector. “At this point I do not know what to advise. Thurston. Mr. Thurston. punctilious. I checked the clock again. 1956. Look through it yourself. Julius Martin gracefully alighted from his vehicle and approached the plant.” 171 . but my children are. “What if I don’t have all this?” I asked. I only work for the Trust Company. Mr. piﬀ went all three cars as the hydraulic jacks collapsed. unnoticed by Charlie or the boys. but I. “Such a morbid way to address old friends. “I am not. in fact. and ﬂipped open a folded white paper he held securely in his right hand.” He rolled the white paper around in his hands.Holding onto Nothing us had our two tires ready for mounting. I grabbed their money quickly. tightening the nuts and slamming on the hubcaps with our ﬁsts. His face remained rigid. Piﬀ. Sometimes I abhor this job. He tipped his slim Madison Avenue hat to the lady and tucked in his Adam’s apple. He gazed around at the unusually noiseless plant. I do not OWN it. Three months IS the limit. Thurston. are a good account. Abominable. nervously ﬁngering the red circle. feeling assured that customers meant money and money meant payment on the mortgage.
not now. “We wish it WERE. in a year.” Charlie stammered. crack and the camelback would curl. “Oh . you know the answer. “I regret having to submit a negative report. John.” I shouted desperately. coming around in front of him.” Martin reiterated unhappily. Marty. but the delicately smooth banker sensed his presence. with Ned and mom and Val all depending on me to continue where dad had left oﬀ only two months ago. staring at the beautifully-painted tires stacked to the ceiling—tiers and tiers of perfectly molded recaps that nobody wanted. “You want it in tires?” A disappointed frown settled over his brow. he zipped up his square slim briefcase. John. I was jus’ waitin’ for you to get us in a mess—the GIVE UP! 172 . “You father was an honorable man. Sell what we have and split down the middle. “Charlie. as they say.” With painstaking care. “Sit down. I couldn’t allow this to happen. . Fair enough?” Charlie threw his unlighted cigar on the ﬂoor and scuﬀed it.” Martin ejected curtly.” Charlie answered gravely. . do you have AT LEAST ﬁve hundred dollars?” I pointed to the recaps behind him. “I hope business still isn’t. without turning around or breaking his stance. I sat morosely. “What’s up now. but it is a problematic situation that must be expedited with alacrity. “I knew it. .” He buttoned his coat. standing erect. John. . hello . sit down. “I must terminate this agony swiftly. “Greetings. “It cost me and junior a hundred bucks a day to open that door. . . The snow-tire season was over and. liquidate the business. The old man dropped his brush and almost had to drag himself over to the desk. the tires would dry-rot. Charles. Now relax while I tell you how we’re going to make a fortune—overnight!” He pushed a cigar in his mouth. That’s it. ‘on the rocks’. And we ain’t made that much in a week.” Martin queried. com’mere. junior? They gonna close us up?” I got up out of the chair and pushed it under his legs. “Well .” “This job of mine is despicable. “You gonna rob a bank?” “No. I knew it.Gordon Bishop Charlie had edged his way behind Martin.” He turned and left.
At dusk.” “You couldn’t run a shop by yourself.m. He didn’t answer. Danny would really be proud of you now.Holding onto Nothing Yer quittin’. “Do you want to stay here tonight and help me ﬁgure up what’s here?” “I suppose. Forcibly. He went over to the desk and rested his head on his arms like a tired schoolboy.” I said. His tired hand scribbled down everything he saw before him.” he muttered. Something to do—just something. watching him marking his pad diligently. looking out across the heavily-traﬃcked thoroughfare. picturing the old man toiling away all alone with no one to help him with breaking the heavy truck tires. “This is all I’ve ever done since I was your age. machinery and anything in sight that had any resale value. tremoring as he puﬀed to keep his cigar smoking.” he answered weakly.” I told the old man. There’s a lot of ﬁguring to be done. his face ﬂushed a bluish-red color. “Well. Nobody would hire me. “Why don’t you sell your half and leave me what’s left. I turned on the lights—every one of them.” His body bent in earnest forgiveness. let’s get started. “I did for twenty years.” I stamped over to the door. “We haven’t even started yet and already I’ve used up a scratch pad. Nobody wants an old fool like me. I’m dried up—no more answers. no more guts—nothing.” It was two-thirty when we began counting all the stock. By two a. “I’ve hadda ‘nough of your crap and EVERYBODY ELSE’S CRAP! Now YOU tell me what to do. If you sell out now I wouldn’t know what to do. Four soiled pads lay crinkled on his lap. I’m too old. I worked on my ﬁnal tally and when I completed 173 . “I’m too old to start all over again. Least I’ll have something that’s mine. Charlie lit another cigar. do ya hear me?” “Afraid to ﬁght it alone?” Charlie pounded furiously. Charlie was exhausted. sitting on the edge of the desk. his legs pumping nervously on a casing. you’ve lost your spunk. where to go.” “DANNY’S DEAD! Leave him outa this.” he reﬂected proudly. yer runnin’ out. Linwood and Tommy went home with their last paycheck.
I leaned against the fender of the car. “I . we were working .” one of them said. and . Over and out. . . . I went over and shook Charlie. “Everything’ll be ﬁne. “What’s your name?” “Thurston.Gordon Bishop adding the ﬁve books of numbers. Two men in white uniforms were staring down at me. a squad car screeched to a halt in front of the plant. I lowered myself to the ground and the hard sharp pebbles suddenly felt soft and melted under my weight and everything became black. “It’s John Thurston. . I’m ﬁnished. there were specks of white surrounding me. . When I awoke.” The cop walked back to his squad car and called for an ambulance. oﬃcer. my heart raging inside my chest. and I couldn’t breathe. “Sit 174 . Did you know he was sick?” He laced a newspaper over Charlie’s head. I got a total of twenty-two thousand and four-hundred dollars. “You just went out for awhile. “This man was crying. . . . . the old man apparently died within an hour. . his ﬁngers blue. The chair was empty. hurry. “I’m afraid he’s dead. “No. . wake up. . Charlie. There are tears on the blotter and under his eyes.” His hat fell oﬀ his head. “He’s in here.” Lifting his head. “Hey.” I said. . minutes . put his head down. the cop said. Chief. and . . Okay. A few . “Charlie. He summoned me to the car. “Where is Charlie? Where did he go?” The man clutched my wrist and guided me to the squad car. He felt Charlie’s pulse and shook his head. . Within a few minutes. What amount do you have?” I poked him.” I looked in the plant. . Yeah. A white ambulance was parked in front of the door. maybe. and . no. He didn’t stir.” I ran to the phone and called the police. “Oh . His face was white. no . son. send it up. Exhaustion. helping me to my feet.” I hustled the cop into the plant. Charlie . he just went over and . How long has he been here?” I stared at Charlie’s body and saw dad stretched out—cold gray clay. I .” I felt faint and my legs became watery and oozed out from under me. its siren wailing and waking up the dead night. don’t know. John Thurston.
with nothing left to salvage but a haggered. Do you feel strong enough to go home?” “No. his hand remaining raised until I acknowledged it. I. tearful image of Charlie jotting down his life’s work on a piece of worthless paper.” “If you need any help. We have to leave now. thank you. too felt myself shrinking into the night.” “You may come with us. And when he ﬁnished adding up what he was worth to himself. just call the station. We’re taking him to the funeral parlor.” He placed his cap back on his head and waved. “Do you want me to take you home. Your friend died. “No. and quietly left to join his partner: his way of telling dad that he. The red light on top of his black patrol car ﬂashed impatiently. won’t you?” he asked comfortingly. We’re on emergency call. You will be all right. The corpsmen slid into the front seat of the ambulance and drove away silently. and as he drove away and the tiny red dot grew smaller and smaller. son. I’ll stay here. 175 . too. He’s in the ambulance. I don’t know what to do. John?” I stared at the pebbles in the driveway. listless. “I suppose so.” I stood alongside the ambulance. spent.Holding onto Nothing down. The police oﬃcer was still standing in the driveway with his hat in hand. had fought in vain. I don’t want to go home. he cried. but to himself. no.
177 . And dad never quit. But. December 25. Ned. He had read it ten times already. whatever it turns out to be. A lot can happen to change a person in a year. It’s diﬃcult bringing the past up to the present and then trying to unravel the future. He is holding a letter in his hand. Dear Ned. It’s been over a year now since dad died. I want to say more but don’t know how to say it.HOLDING ONTO NOTHING EPILOGUE . He fought for what he wanted until the end. He opened it again. and. 1957 N ed is sitting in his cell. I hope when reading this letter you will read it with leniency. what dad used to say? A quitter never wins and a winner never quits. His last challenge now becomes our ﬁrst. . A lot has already happened to you. that we have each other to work WITH and FOR something. The ragged envelope fell to the ﬂoor. It was all that was left of his memories back home. . it will be successful because we did it together. what’s really important is that we have something to look forward to. Whatever you are doing now I hope you are in good health and spirits. All I know is that someday we’ll be together again. the balance of his one-year sentence almost ﬁnished. Remember.
mom. in a few weeks. and don’t be surprised if you read about your brother in the newspapers soon.Gordon Bishop And we will attack it together when you come home. cut. for good. The rest I want you to see for yourself when you get home. Dad would have. Forgive me for not writing to you sooner about Charlie’s death and my subsequent marriage to Valerie Seed. You will like Valerie when you come to know her. I changed the name of the business to “Danny’s tire Outlet” and relocated the plant in South Jersey. Johnny 178 . Isn’t that what we all want?’ The will to live is the desire to work and share love. Val and I. for life. a man you’ll undoubtedly despise when you meet him.” The “for” is self-explanatory. What follows work but pleasure: you. His widow was given his share of the business and a percentage of the company’s net. We ﬁnally have something to work “with. The later I added. and right now all I can say is it’s looking promising. the situation here was so serious that I couldn’t see worsening your condition with only bad news. I salvaged the business with the help of my wife’s step-father. He suﬀered a heart attack when I pushed him to work with me right through the night. too. I’m stopping here because I feel that’s enough to show you that the Thurstons have made a comeback. I’m to blame for his death. for it would be what Charlie and dad would have wanted. just working together sharing everything we have. at the time. Your brother. I’m working on a coast-to-coast mailorder business. That’s what dad would have wanted. Charlie died soon after dad.
Bishop. Mr. Mr.ABOUT THE AUTHOR HOLDING ONTO NOTHING is Gordon Bishop’s ﬁrst book. and a biography. Passaic. Soon after. he was writing his own generalinterest column and winning awards: The New Jersey Press Association’s Award for “Best Column” in 1965 and the NJPA’s Award for “Best Reporting Against Deadlilne” in 1966. became a good friend of his teacher. In 1959. Mr. dealing with corruption in public school systems and which was presented at the oﬀ-Broadway Midway Theater in Manhattan in 1963. Bishop walked into THE HERALD-NEWS. begun when he was 19 at the Iroquois Hotel in Manhattan and completed when he was 20 and working as a copywriter for a catalog house in Passaic. Paterson Poet Louis Ginsberg. father of the famous avant-garde poet Allen Ginsberg. both of which are scheduled for publication later this year. Mr. as a student. Bishop wrote two books on the Ginsbergs. Bishop also co-authored a three-act play. New Jersey. and got a job as a reporter. As a result of their decade-long friendship. the ﬁrst a collection of essays (with pictures) entitled THE FIVE WORLDS OF ALLEN GINSBERG. THE GINSBERGS: A FAMILY OF POETS. . A graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. THE PURPLE CANARY.
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