Ashland by Henry Alley

            Earl sat in the Angus Bowmer Theatre of the Ashland Shakespeare festival, and realized his son had written a hit.  He had known it, he supposed, having read the review in the New York Times.  His son had sent him the clipping from Brooklyn.  He had heard the play was a strong candidate for a Tony, an award his son had gotten on a previous venture.  Now on the stage, the bearded parody of a king was lit up in a silver spotlight, his gray hair all flying and his eyes heavily mascara-ed.  Cordelia was in a white-print dress, covered with glowing red hearts.  And he thought of his son’s success, his laurels, his money, and the way he would make magnificent paper air planes as a child—also gliders in the lightest balsa wood—and throw them at the family, all of a sudden when their backs were turned.  This play, If I Were King Lear, was something like that.
The King was getting zanier and zanier—there was a cardboard skyscraper arising in the distance—followed by "Lear” and “Cordelia,” who entered a rowboat and traveled down a river in the underworld.  The sides of the marsh they glided through were punctuated with white-sheeted spooks which hung, Halloween-like, from trees and by green, humanized bushes whose fingers tried to snatch them.  The guffaws were coming more loudly, all bought at a very low price, and Earl, rather aghast, sat there wondering why no one else in the country could see this play as a rather decidedly easy shot.  The lines, balsa-airplane-like, kept hitting you from the side and when you weren’t looking.
            When the play ended suddenly, and the whole audience got to its feet in an uproar of bemused adulation, Earl stood up too and flushed crimson.  The woman next to him said, “Oh I wish I could have the talent of these young people these days.”
            “Yes,” Earl answered but felt dishonest for not admitting that his son was one of these young people.  He openly boasted of Charles, his younger son, who was a carpenter, chef, and hardware clerk at the local Eugene True Value.  And also a dater of women,  as opposed to his brother, a dater of men.  A sense of his shameless preference for Charles and near fear of Donny followed him down the balcony stairs.  He lingered, took his steps slowly, afraid he might trip.
            Much of the audience had cleared out by the time he’d reached ground level.  Through the glass, the sun striking the box office outside looked merciless, and Earl thought with dread that he had one more night alone at the Capri Motel before going back to Eugene in the morning.  No doubt the heat would drop exponentially the moment he got over the brief, heavily greened-over mountains, and he would be back to mid-September autumn again and the early mists in the morning when he would get into his pick-up with his computer and posting signs and travel into the west and north sections of town, the streets giving way to the sun, the spent hawthorns dropping down, and he would be approaching the named addresses, with people at the windows expecting him to come and many of them refusing to answer his knock or the doorbell.  A few delayed him with their stories.
            But while he just stood there in the lobby, he realized he was not alone after all.  Wine bottles were being placed out at the concession bars and real glassware set out to honor—someone.  A few smart-looking people, dressed in black, were milling about.  One young woman with bare shoulders was outfitted with real diamonds as earrings and a necklace which glinted blue throughout the room.  She was shy, with heavily ribboned hair.  Soon there was a crush of people, as the cast came flooding into the lobby from below.
Another woman—her name tag said “Clara”—recognized him.  “You’re Earl, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I was married to Kingsley, your old roommate.”
            “Oh yes,” he answered, and suddenly he felt himself shrinking.  “We actually had a reunion down here.  Years ago.  All four of us.”
            “That’s right.  I hear your wife is doing all sorts of great things up in Eugene.  As commissioner, I mean, and then running for re-election.  My heart goes with her.  I've always been against big business.”
            “Yes, she is doing very well.”  But then he had to say it—and he stammered—“Corinne is no longer my wife.  We were divorced two years ago.”
            He could feel that she was attracted to his stammer.  It lit up a vulnerability in other people.  It was like the eleven weeks he had been on crutches after injuring himself on the job.  People—even punks—would come up and tell him their stories, how they’d been laid up, too.  She went to the punch bowl and got him a drink.
            “Thanks, but no thanks,” he said, holding up his hands when she returned.  “It could have alcohol in it.”
            “I don’t think it does,” she told him.
            “I can’t take that chance.”
            Now he tried to consider how this petite “older” woman with graying hair herself and a high color to her cheeks would have looked thirty years ago.  He himself was still attractive and he knew it.  But he couldn’t determine if she was.  He wore a moustache, had irony gray hair, with pale blue eyes.  He was a man with some Russian and African American blood, which had shown up in his kinky hair.  He was considerate and conscientious, but his slight stammer, which came out particularly when he explained why he had done something a certain way, made him seem hesitating.
            “Kingsley and I have been split for over a decade,” she said.  “It’s unbelievable, isn’t it, how everything collapses, and then passes on.”  She sounded heavily discouraged, but also inviting, too, as if she were open to his making a move, in honor of this coincidence, actually these coincidences.
            But he was not going to make a move.  He was happy and touched to see her, but he had not felt anything light up inside of him—not like sex, anyway.
            “Yes, things collapse,” he answered.  “And how about this economy?”
            “Has it really hit you?” she asked.
            “Yes,” he answered.  “I got laid off as an electrician, and now I’m a posting agent.”
            “A posting agent?” She looked at him, suspect, as people frequently did.
            “For a foreclosure company.  I travel around giving people bad news.  Also—and I guess it’s a kind of poetic justice—I’m losing my shirt on a house Corinne and I are trying to upgrade and sell.  The one we lived in for so many years.  And then I’m also trying to unload the two-bedroomer I’m living in now.”
            There was a pause.  He stammered a little.  “I’m, I’m not sure what I’m doing just standing here.”  Several more attendants with bowties were bringing in glasses on trays.  “What’s going on?  What is this?”
            “A reception in behalf of AIDS,” she answered.  “Evidently the playwright requires at least one of every production.  He’s so popular he can ask for what he wants.”
            “Seems like a kind idea,” he said, still at a loss.
            “It is a kind idea,” a tall, eccentric-looking man said over Clara’s shoulder.  “Excuse me,” the man—who looked something like a magician—said to her, “this looks like someone I ought to meet.”  By then a critical mass of people had formed, seemingly out of nowhere.
            Clara smiled, as though she were his indulgent mother, knew him well.  “Earl, this is Michah, who owns the bookstore two doors down from where I work.  Friends for years.”
            Friends for years, yes, but Earl would have nearly called him a young man, perhaps just a little older than Donny, who was thirty-two.  He had loose-fitting black trousers and a buttoned black leather vest, with nothing underneath, and had a moustache and soft pork pie hat.  His bare arms were swarthy and his muscles very much in evidence.
            “Very glad to meet you,” Earl said—and he was.  He was finding something light up inside of him, and once more he felt off center.  “But I’m afraid I’m gate crashing.  I just happened in here, being too slow to leave the theatre.”
            Clara and Michah laughed together.  “See the snifter on the bar?”  Michah pointed to the huge crystalline piece, filled with bills.  “Just add to that, and you don’t crash.”
            Earl had his billfold out.  “Well, I don’t mind, don’t mind at all”—and put in a twenty, which was more, really, than he could afford.
            “What do you think of the play?” Michah asked when Earl returned.  Clara had gone off for a moment to talk with someone else.  In fact, he saw her start to cry, while a woman, very much her senior, listened closely.  Earl could feel the interest in Michah’s question.
            “My son is the playwright,” Earl said rather too loudly—a couple of people turned and smiled, looked curious.  He felt relieved saying it, as though he had made up for his earlier reticence.  But then he said, “So I guess I have to like it.”
            “The father, really!”  Michah’s face brightened.  His eyes were glistening.  His beard seemed accentuated.  “You must feel very proud.  You must brag all the time.  I would, if I had a son.”
            “But I think,” Earl said, “an appreciation of the play means you’ve read King Lear.”
            “You haven’t read King Lear?” Michah asked hopefully.  “We can go down to my shop in a few minutes, and I’d be happy to supply you with a copy.”
            “I don’t know,” Earl said, now glad to be on a completely truthful tack.  “The original might tear me up too much, to be honest.  I remember reading the thing in Miss Komoronie’s class in high school and she’d read these sections aloud to us and begin weeping.”
            “Really?” Michah asked, touched.  “Cool.  But why would the play tear you up?”
            Standing there in his pork pie hat, Michah seemed again more like a magician than anything else.  As though he might start producing beautiful paper flowers from his leather vest.  His questions also seemed as though they were pulled from a hat.
            “My father—“ Earl began carefully.  “My father is in a position not all that different, as I remember it, from Lear’s.  He’s in a rest home, and there have been some snafus about inheritance.  I just came up from seeing him.  And then yesterday I witnessed my uncle’s—his brother’s –funeral.  That’s what brings me to this neck of the woods.”
            “That’s a little heavy,” Michah said, patting him.  “Heavy, Man, really.  Good you came to this.  Really good.”
            Clara returned, her face still showing some streaking of tears.
            “Are you all right?” Earl asked.
            Michah was struck that Earl knew her well enough to ask something like that.
            “Oh, I’m all right.”  But Earl’s questions seemed a prompt for her to bring out a violet-patterned handkerchief.  Earl saw Michah’s face register extreme compassion, hurt almost.  “You probably haven’t heard,” she went on, “that we had a son, Leighton and I.  Billy.  Billy died of AIDS—unusually.  It was after the special medications came out.”
            “I'm sorry,” Earl said. 
            “I was just talking to another mother,” she added, “of a much older son, who’s also gone.”
            “It doesn’t matter who it is,” Michah added.  “It’s just one great loss.”
            The presence of death—in several different manifestations—silenced them for a moment.  Appropriately another man—short, dressed in black and very punctilious—joined  them.  He said, “It’s gotten around like wildfire around here that you’re Don’s father.  You should have notified us ahead of time.  We would have made a special announcement before the performance.”
            Earl shook his hand, feeling even worse for having disliked this play so very much.
            “You’re Don Talbot’s father!” Clara said.  “I never even considered the name.”
            “The play has been this season’s sellout,” the Director said.  “It’s been a Godsend, but Clara, you must tell me how you came to know the father of the playwright.”
            “We knew one another in college,” Clara said, smiling through the traces of her tears, which were clearly lost on the Director.  “We in fact had a reunion in the Seventies—his wife and my husband and the two of us to see a performance of Twelfth Night.  Ray Walston was visiting as a guest star and played Malvolio.”
            “Ah, that’s who it was,” Earl said.  “What a production.”  He could see the actor (who was also My Favorite Martian on television) dressed in a yellow tunic during the trick letter scene, a giant “M” on his chest.  “Oh, it’s a wonderful memory,” he went on.  “I would give anything for something to remind me of it—a memento, a program, anything.”
            “I’m afraid I’ve saved nothing,” she answered.
            And then Earl was aware that a light had come on—perhaps with the sight of her tears—and he had been following it unconsciously.  He suddenly felt very physically alive beneath his clothes, touched by the memory of his skin, as he had emerged, tingling, from the cold motel swimming pool in this insufferable heat a few hours ago. 
            “But I think I might have a program—just give me the year,” Michah said, “down at my bookstore.”

            Michah’s bookstore—Retold Tales—was a little labyrinth of volumes such as you might find in an eccentric’s mansion.  In fact, Earl had served notice on someone owning a library like this one not too long ago.  He felt a little strange following a perfect, slightly tipsy stranger all the way over here.  He had thought Clara would be coming to look at the program, too, but she begged off at the crosswalk.  Nevertheless, Michah clearly had been interested in him from the very start—wanted his company, and Earl felt he couldn’t afford to turn that down, when he had only an empty motel room waiting.
            The temperature had dropped to about 90 degrees—the bookstore had fans rather than air-conditioning—and people were lingering in the place, even though Michah’s second-in-command, a woman in her forties with a cane—was going about as best she could, picking up books left on the floor and getting ready, slowly, to close.  It was nearly 7:30.
            Michah went to a filing cabinet and asked for the year Earl had seen Twelfth Night.
            It must have been 1974?  Donny was born in January, 1976, and if Corinne had been pregnant with him at that time, she would have complained the whole way.  On the other hand, it would have to have been after 1972, the year all four of them had graduated from college.
            A sense of a splendid afternoon in probably 1974 came over him.  Leighton had brought a tomato-red frisbee, and Clara had gotten a long loaf of French bread (everything was still white flour in those days) and sliced it, and spread various whipped European cheeses in between.  Someone hauled in a gallon of red Gallo.  They played and ate on the lawns of Lithia Park.  Earl remembered his whole body covered with sweat—he was sitting on the backseat of Leighton’s and Clara’s ’54 Ford station wagon singing afterwards, “All we are saying/Is give peace a chance,” with all of them laughing about the way they, the four of them, were dripping all over the upholstery, which had been recovered in a red-plaid that felt like wool.  He had never again been in love with Corinne the way he had then.  Seated later in the Elizabethan theatre with the temperature dropping and a blanket over them, he had held her fragile-boned hand and watched the grand reunion at the end of Twelfth Night, with the hero entering from one side of the stage and the heroine from the opposite, both dressed in dark-green velvet vests, leather boots, feathered hats, swords apparent, and at least eighteen people attending in full costume, from above and below.  Music was playing, and all was in a hush.
            “1974, I think,” Earl said at last to Michah, who then drew out the program—with Earl opening it and turning to a black-and-white photo taking up two pages and showing exactly that scene.  The caption below read:  “One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,/A natural perspective, that is and is not!”
            Michah came alongside, his smooth skin exposed from beneath the vest brushing Earl’s hand.  “That is beautiful, Man.  Almost picture perfect.”  He had taken off his hat.  He was getting bald at the back.
            “What a good time we had,” Earl said.  He turned the program over.  It was marked a collectable--$20.  “I would like to buy this.”
            “Oh, hey, Man, I want you to have it—with my compliments.”  Michah sat down, his muscular ribs also exposed.  By this time his second-in-command and all the customers had left.
            “I couldn’t possibly take it,” Earl stammered, although he knew, even so, he couldn’t afford another indulgence, not just now.  Even this trip, where he was serving as a kind of proxy for his father at this uncle’s funeral, was an indulgence of sorts.
            “Listen,” Michah said, from behind his cash register, which gave him a certain authority— he was locking the machine up—“you’ve got to give gifts while you can.  You know the song ‘No Day But Today’?  Well, it’s like that.  Man, in the work I did before this, I saw hundreds go.”
            “What sort of work did you do?” Earl asked.
            “HIV counseling back in Missouri—until I bought somebody’s bookstore out in Springfield and had everything shipped here.”
            “You’re too kind,” Earl replied, and all of a sudden found himself misting up.  It could have been his father, it could have been Clara, or the memories of Corrine, but he was definitely forgetting himself at this moment.
            Suddenly Michah came up and hugged him, and Earl felt the bare skin, very smooth and vulnerable, beneath his fingers.  The whole embrace of Michah’s body had a fine hardness to it, reminding him of when he would hug his workout buddy.  But it was in this embrace that it dawned on him that Donny might have AIDS or at least be positive—why else this requirement added to the production of his play?—and that’s what the tears were telling him.
            Earl stepped back.  “Thank you, my friend.”  He wiped his eyes.  “All right.  I’ll take it, and thank you.”  And he went back to his empty motel room.

            By the time he got there, it was too late to call Donny back in New York.  But he couldn’t rest.  He undressed and lay on the bed naked.  He was all done over in sweat.  Outside it was still 85, if it was a degree.  He had the curtains parted just enough so that he could see the motel pool, filled with loud families still who were using it well past the curfew.  And he noticed, above, in the spectacularly clear southern Oregon sky, all the celestial motions of an early September night, with Mars rolling around, as though following the line of a hoop, with Venus coming after.  He was lying so he could see all of this, while remaining unseen.  He remembered falling asleep and dreaming of the stars, from the perspective of watching Twelfth Night and holding Corinne's hand again.  Along about midnight, he awoke and found all the noisy families gone from the pool—just a sole red-speckled children’s inner tube lay floating.  He up and called his younger son Charles, who always stayed up and was especially glad to hear from him this time, because he was stranded up in Salem with a defective U-haul.  He was bringing down the furniture of his latest girlfriend.  They would be back in Eugene by tomorrow and Earl could meet her.
            Earl slept again and by five was in his jeans standing at the window with the curtains parted, watching the sun come up as the moon descended.
            He dialed Donny at last—an unlisted number very few people had, and found that he was still getting him up.
            “I’m here in Ashland,” Earl said, “and I just wanted you to know that I saw your play at last.  Just yesterday afternoon.”
            He would have given anything not to open this way, but he knew of no other method.  He tried to imagine himself in a comfortable spot, as a counselor had once suggested for times of stress—in this instance in his mother’s wing-backed chair, now fully re-upholstered and recovered with the scarlet cloth in his small house.
            “Oh,” Donny said in a sleepy voice.  “Thanks for going to the trouble.”  He gave his father an out by starting out generally.  “How did the audience go for it?”
            “It was extremely well received,” Earl said, relieved and grateful.  “A standing ovation, in fact.  Son, you have another hit on your hands.”
            The silence that followed was like a ping in the universe, in the night sky a few hours ago, filled with celestial lights, which he had just dreamed about.
            “I went to the AIDS fundraiser afterwards,” Earl said.  “Something else that went over well.”
            “Good.”  Another ping.
            “Listen, Donny”—and for some reason, maybe Michah’s hug, he said, “Donny, my Dear, I have a worry.  That’s why I’m calling.”
            “Well, I don’t know if I can help you,” Donny answered in a tone that belonged to an interview, “but what is it?”
            “Well, I was worried that you might have AIDS or might be HIV positive, seeing the you’re requiring a fundraiser and all.”
            “I’m touched that you should ask,” Donny said very formally.  And then his voice was muffled for a moment—Earl could make out that he was asking someone to leave the room.  “But that’s very na├»ve.  You don’t have to have a disease in order to do something for a global calamity.”
            “Well, I’m relieved—“
            But then there came one of the surprise paper airplanes.  “But I am,” he went on. “I am positive.  One of those incredible mishaps.”
            “Are you all right?”
            “Yes.  I am getting monitored.”
            “Can I help in any way?” Earl asked.
            “No”—and Earl knew this was coming.  “You can’t help in any way.  Except maybe you could tell Mom.  When the time is right.  With her running for re-election, I have no idea when might be a good moment.  You being there could be a better judge.”
            “All right.  I’ll do that,” he said.  And wished now he could hold him.
            “And what about you?” Donny asked—again suddenly.  “Could you use some help?  Some money?  I know things aren’t going too well for you out there.  With those two houses you can’t sell and you being out of work.”
            Earl felt crushed with tenderness and some shame, too.  “No, no, Son, but thank you.  I’ve got a job—not a great one—but I’ve got a job.”
            “But serving notices on people—I always thought you had to work with your hands.  I could fix it so you could.”
            “Thanks, Donny”—and the sound of his actual name was even more intimate than “Son” or “my Dear” this time.  “Not right now.  Let me fend for myself.”
            “Well, then,” Donny said, “take care, then, Dad.”
            “And you, too.  Let me know when you’ll be on TV again for your Tony.”
            They laughed by way of exit.

            He had to be back at work serving notices on people by Tuesday morning.  The day he had entered was Monday.  How lucky to be packed up and ready and in and out of a morning AA meeting by 9 AM, ready to avoid “the scorcher” which the owner of the Capri Motel had said was on the way—104 this time.  Usually on trips to visit his father and sometimes his uncle, he packed a lunch in the cooler and stopped off at the rest area near the Rogue River on the way back, but he was ambitious to get over the brief mountains, which set him in periods of shade, and when he stepped out to stretch his legs near Roseburg, he was somewhat dazzled confronting the normal September temperature of eighty.
            He had decided he could tinker for weeks with timing the disclosure to Corinne.  But by then he could very well lose his nerve.  So he cellphoned her house while sitting in the car, got her surgeon boyfriend, who told him she was out but would be speaking at a small fundraiser this evening.  As a matter of fact, the doctor invited him to come.  It was the Peaceforce people, who were actually honoring her too for her help these past four years.
            “Will there be an opportunity to speak with her in private afterwards?” Earl asked.
            “I should certainly think so”—a cautious surgical voice.  “It’s being held at someone’s plush condo.  Not very much like Peaceforce at all.  You can always retire to their no-doubt beautiful balcony.”
            A certain grip of the heart followed Earl after he got back into his Toyota and headed up the last fifty miles.  Times with Corinne were always friendly and remarkably civilized—look at how well they had done on trying to sell this updated house (now updated disaster)—but there was also some pain involved in thinking through these episodes.  Like the massage therapist who could find hitherto unknown pockets of anguish in his back and along his ribs, Michah’s touch had made him alert to what he still carried with him.  The feel of Michah’s skin had set this off, and Earl considered ruefully the irony that while he sometimes had kept himself distant from his son because he was gay, feelings like this in his own body were not unusual.
            Much of this he considered in the shower once he was home and while he opened up his house again—this small paltry house which he had to abide by until he could get it off his hands.
            He watered the yard and arrived at the reception only a little late.  He had tried reaching his younger son to see if he could help him bring in his girl friend’s furniture, but there was no answer.
            Corinne was quite eloquent standing in front of the informally arranged group.  Her silver hair was perfectly styled—abundant and parted down the middle.  Yet nervous, she rolled her notes up and down like a shivering child clutching sheet music at her first recital.
            The glory of the Twelfth Night experience came back as he saw that hesitancy.
            She was a blue-silver figurine standing there, smiling sometimes, speaking out against the ideas of her opponent, who was challenging her incumbency.  Earl had heard him once; he was a big blustery man favored by Earl’s fellow subcontractors but someone he instinctively disliked.
            When she was done and the hat was passed, Earl put in a check for $25.00.  Dr. Forster, who stood by guarding his fiancee’s purse, had warned him in advance.
            Corinne came up.  “Earl, don’t do that.  You don’t have to—“  She was too delicate to refer to his hard times.
            “I want to.”  He wasn’t sure what else to say; he was still back in Ashland, with the performance of Twelfth Night.
            “And how is your father?” she asked, mistress of any conversation now.
            Earl stammered.  “He’s all right, but he wanted to give me all his money, because my luck has gone south.  Right then and there.  You can just imagine how that would have gone over with his brother’s relatives.”
            “And the funeral—it was all right?”
            It was like her to be capable of immediately thinking of someone besides herself, even at a benefit in her honor.
            “Yes, yes.  Listen, Corinne”—he took her wrist lightly—drawing a glance from Dr. Forster.  “Could we talk?”  They went out on a balcony, which was decked with bent orchids, yellow- and pink-streaked.  “I have something to tell you about Donny.”
            “You saw the play,” she said.
            “Horrible, right?” she asked, looking slightly shame-faced.
            “Yes”—and with that he almost lost his nerve.  “But that isn’t it.  I called him this morning.”
            “Oh, no—and you told him you didn’t like it”  She smiled with tolerance.  “Well, don’t worry.  I nearly made the same slip myself.”
            “No,” he stammered.  “No, he told me that he’s HIV Positive.”
            Her eyes filled, and he was struck by the total obtuseness of telling her this under these conditions.  In a moment, she would have to go back out into the living room again and answer more political questions.
            “Oh, Earl,” she said.  “I was afraid of that.”
            “He wanted to tell you,” he said, stammering again, “but I can see I’ve been a total bull in a china shop again breaking this to you now.”
            “No,” she said, wiping her eyes—she’d always made excuses for him, one of the problems in their marriage, besides his drinking.  “You let me know as soon as you could.  Earl, our son might be dying.”
            He took her hand, but just as he did, a whole retinue came out on the balcony to reclaim her.  Among the people was Nick, the upholsterer, who tried to interest him again into going into business with him.

            Next morning, he was pulling up to a house built in the Eighties, one separated off from the rest of the block because of its huge lot.  Already the neglected development looked like an ash pit.  The house’s estimated value was $400,000—nearly $200,000 lower than what it sold for three years ago.  He had his Notice of Default ready, but as he moved to get out and approach the porch of the gabled place, he suddenly had a sense of the folly he and the whole country were in just now.
            Earlier, out on the freeway to get himself this far north from his own little rental, he had passed by a polished black Four by Four with a bumper sticker, “They Still Make Em Like They Used to,” with a muscular marine in profile above the letters.  But then, as a light drizzle began to fall, he saw that the man driving was at least 300 pounds, bushily bearded and wearing glowering dark glasses.
            Even earlier than that, Nick, his exercise partner on Tuesday/Thursday at 5 AM at the Y, had stood above him as he lay on the bench press.  Nick told him again—and this time as though from a heavenly perch--he must be nuts for going on with this foreclosure stuff when Earl could be joining him in doing something he wanted.  Nick had more calls for furniture fix-it work than he could handle.  He knew how good Earl was with his hands and at things which needed repair. 
            Earl stood in front of the house and as he did, the heavy breeze set in motion the loudest wind chime he had ever heard—from an old rusty bell hanging from a spent apple tree.  Then a furious German shepherd—black with silver highlights—went straight for him, and Earl rushed back into truck, shutting the door just in time. 
            He just sat there, imprisoned.  This was not the first time.  Turning on the ignition, he pulled into the swooping driveway, the dog close at the tires, and then backed himself into an arc so that the bed of the truck was within reach of one of the fake gables.  The dog, puzzled, stopped barking and sat down.  Within an instant, Earl was out the door, jumping into the bed, and tacking up the notice from on high.  The sound of the hammer crazed the dog once more, and an old woman in a surprising blue gingham dress appeared on the porch and began yelling, “What am I supposed to do?  What am I supposed to do?  My husband is sick and they made me put him in the hospital so that we have no money now.  And they told me he might die!  What am I supposed to do?”
            Earl stood there, ridiculous in the back of the truck.  “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but your dog looked like he might bite me.”
            “No, no, no, no, no.” she said.  “He won’t bite anybody.”  Then she began to cry.  “But where will we go?”  She went up and pulled at the notice.  “Where will we come up with $29,382.68 cash?  Where?  Where?”
            “I’m sorry, I don’t know,” he said.  He inched his way out, wondering if the frail woman could really keep the shepherd in place—she was holding him by the collar by now, with the notice on the ground.
            As he got back into the cab, suddenly her look was one that did not take him in at all—she was beyond blaming anyone now.
            “Again, Ma’am, I’m sorry,” he said, with the window down.
            Pulling gratefully away, he phoned Nick and told him he was done with this stuff, at last, and what would the new job look like?

Henry Alley is a Professor Emeritus of Literature in the Honors College at the University of Oregon.  He has four novels, Through Glass (Iris Press, 1979), The Lattice (Ariadne Press, 1986),  Umbrella of Glass (Breitenbush Books, 1988), and Precincts of Light (Inkwater Press, 2010).  His Leonardo and I was winner of the Gertrude Press 2006 Fiction Chapbook Award.  His stories have been published over the past forty years in such journals as Seattle Review, Outerbridge, Virginia Quarterly Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Gertrude, and Harrington Gay Men’s Quarterly Fiction. Christopher Bram, author of Gods and Monsters, writes, “Henry Alley is an excellent writer. His fiction is artfully artless, clear, concise, and real. Best of all, he regularly tells stories that nobody else is telling.”  Alley’s most recent novel, Precincts of Light, explores the Measure Nine crisis in Oregon, when gay and lesbian people were threatened with being made silent. 

Bay Laurel  /  Volume 1, Issue 2  /  Winter 2012