Two stories by
Glen Pourciau


THIS


Our neighbors, the McKissicks, were arguing on the side patio between our houses. He’d built the side patio himself and used it in the evenings as a place to smoke cigars. It was behind the fence by our often-raised bedroom window, and we could tell by the smell when he was out there. The window was up the night of the argument. We figured they’d come outside so their two kids wouldn’t hear them.

They tried to keep their voices down, but the subject was money and who had the right to spend it and they got louder as they fought. We could hear them clearly from our seats on the floor and we exchanged looks as their anger mounted. He didn’t want her contradicting him in front of the kids or taking them to the mall to shop. They wanted too many things, and according to him, she couldn’t say no to them. She told him they needed clothes for school and that she had a job too, and he told her that she didn’t make enough money to pay for everything she was buying. Was all his money supposed to go to him alone? she demanded to know. He told her to settle down and she told him he wanted an unreasonable amount of control. He replied that he was the one in control and that was exactly what he was telling her. He couldn’t understand why she couldn’t understand the point, and she couldn’t understand, she said, why he couldn’t understand that his domination was unacceptable to her or why he was blind to the needs of their family.

Could people walking down the sidewalk hear them as well as we could? I imagined their kids on the other side of the wall listening to them, huddled together, upset, just as my sister and I had huddled together when our parents argued behind their closed bedroom door, same subject, money and who controlled it. I always took my mother’s point of view. My father wouldn’t give her any money, which left her helpless in certain ways and he didn’t care about that enough to make a difference. Both of my parents were dead but now here they were arguing outside my window, and the anguish from fifty years before came back to me, the sounds of their voices, the tears of my sister, her head grinding against my chest, my need to relieve the pressure.

It’s her money too, I shouted.

They stopped talking and my wife looked at me in amazement.

Is that you Woodruff? he asked.

Who the hell do you think it is, you miser? Do you think your kids can’t hear what you’re saying? Imagine what they must be thinking of you.

Meet me out front, he shouted. We heard his wife saying his name, as if the sound of it would stop him.

Are you going? my wife asked.

If I don’t he’ll just bang on the door.

Should I call the police?

It’s none of their business.

It’s none of your business either, she said.

I hurried out, pandemonium inside me, not knowing what I was charging into, my wife on my heels, telling me how embarrassed she was, why was I picking a fight, was that what I wanted?

He was outside before I was, followed by his wife, son, and daughter.

You were listening to us? he asked.

Our window was open. We didn’t have to try.

Why didn’t you close the window?

We’re tired of closing our window for you. We always have to close it when you smoke your cigars. It’s open because we want it open.

You want to tell me how to spend my money?

Why do you think your wife works? She wants to help her family.

What do you know about why she works?

I work to help us with money, she said.

At the sound of her answer he grabbed me by the shirt and pulled me straight into his face.

You’re a brute, my wife yelled. I hoped she was yelling at him. His wife came toward us, I thought to take my side.

Stay out of this, she told me, her head over his shoulder.

Their kids closed in on us. To help him or me? He threw me back as if I were making him dirty.

This is out of hand, he said. I’m tired of being provoked and tired of taking people’s crap. Just leave me alone.

Are you tired of provoking other people? I asked. Are you tired of pushing people around?

What about me? his wife said. Are you tired of taking my crap?

He didn’t answer and he didn’t look at anybody. I thought he might scream, but he held it in. He walked past her and the kids and went inside and closed the door. None of them watched him pass or followed.

In my mind I’d defeated him, but she stared at me and I knew she would speak.

I don’t need you to save me, she said. This has got nothing to do with you.

Her kids came to her and walked her away.

We returned to our houses, and my wife started in on me as soon as we were alone. What would he do next? Would their fight get worse? I had no answer. I shut the bedroom window.



LISTEN


My oldest friend called and said he needed to come over and talk. He’d never done that before.

Disturbance in his voice on the phone, disturbance in his face when I opened the front door. As soon as we sat at the table with our beers he took two long pulls.

Listen, he began and paused. He said his wife’s name, no other words around it. She’s there, he said, but she’s somewhere else. Something’s on her mind that puts distance between us.

Have you talked to her about it? I asked.

I’m afraid, he answered.

I didn’t speak, didn’t want to lead him. I didn’t want to know what he’d say next.

The closer I get to her, the more uncomfortable she seems.

That must be hard to deal with.

I want it to stop, but I don’t know what to do to make it stop. I need to know the cause.

I sipped my beer and didn’t look at him.

I could ask her, he said, but I wish she’d tell me.

Maybe she won’t, I said. She hasn’t, has she?

Why do you ask that? You think I’m lying to you? What’s behind the question?

I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to seem to be denying anything, and I didn’t want to imagine what he could be thinking.

You seem like she does, some invisible arm holding me away.

I didn’t reply.

You think I should talk with her about it?

That’s up to you.

Obviously, but why not say what you think? Do you know what’s bothering her?

What are you implying?

Why don’t you answer my question?

His questions hung in the air.

Am I implying something? he asked.

How would I know?

Maybe you do know, and if you do, how would you?

I didn’t say anything, didn’t want to be dragged into the pit with him.

I’ll go home, he told me, and see if I can get any answers there.

Have you really not talked to her?

Why would it make a difference to you?

He waited. I wished I hadn’t asked the question.

Does it make a difference? he asked.

I let my silence endure.

He poured down what was left of his beer and slammed the bottle on the tabletop.



Glen Pourciau’s collection of stories Invite won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His stories have been published by the Antioch Review, Epoch, failbetter, New England Review, Paris Review, and other magazines. His work appeared in Issue Four of Corium Magazine.



Artwork by Matty Byloos