By Kevin Decky
“Hey hon, do we have any milk for Kenny?” Geoffrey called over his shoulder with the screen door open so that half of Kenny could see into the Keenan’s house.
“Milk. Milk for Kenny. Kenny’s at the door!”
“For God’s sake, it’s third time this week.”
“Yeah, he was here when you were at work. I’m in the basement anyway. You deal with him.”
“Oh.” He turned to Kenny who was sweating in his tank top and grey trousers, his black Velcro sneakers with the thick souls, white of his socks peeking through his pant cuffs. He was leaning on a shovel as if he’d been digging holes all day. Sweat was running down his arms to his fingers and on to the handle of the shovel, staining the gray wood.
It was August in south Jersey and humid so that the heat laid on the rooftops and tops of trees and it stole movement from people, and it removed words from sparrows until evening.
“Kenny, hang on a sec, let me check,” Geoffrey said as he turned around letting the screen door close on its own. He stopped at the basement stairs whispered loudly.
“I don’t want to be rude.”
“I don’t either but everybody on the block is giving him milk. What the hell is going on over there? Is his dad sick?”
“I don’t know. I guess I could stop by and do a wellness check.”
“Or his lazy brother could. He only lives three blocks from here.”
“Yeah. I don’t know,” Geoffrey was looking into the kitchen wondering if he could just pour it into a container for Kenny.
“There are all kinds of services offered seniors his dad’s age, and for Kenny and his special needs. I don’t understand why they don’t just pick up the phone.”
The heat and humidity that washed upon Geoffrey possessed him so that he couldn’t process what his wife was saying. He listened more to the sounds of her scraping paint and dropping the tool and dipping the brush and scraping and dipping and the scraping was a pleasant sound.
Scraaaape, scrape scrape scrape, “I don’t care at this point. His dad should be in a home and he should be in his brother’s care. And they can sell the house and maybe the new neighbors will be cool.”
Blankly, Geoffrey stared down the stairs.
Scrape scrape, “just do something.”
Geoffrey rubbed his glasses on his Iron Man t-shirt and walked back toward the front door. He asked out load as he approached the door if Kenny’s father was ok. But when Geoffrey was near the door, he saw only his neighbors perfectly edged green lawn rolling up to his white painted house, and as he came closer the other houses across the street filled his eyes with bright green grass and white siding and red doors and bright and green and dashed with stark red in the law of the suburban way. It was so humid and so quiet that life seemed paused.
And Kenny was no longer on the doorstep.
It was Sunday. An hour before asking Geoffrey for milk, Kenny had turned the radio on to the Sounds of Sinatra hosted by Syd Mark.
Every Sunday Kenny sat by the radio from eleven to one while his dad read the Sunday paper and listened to Syd give new introductions to old songs he has played for forty years. This was a ritual Kenny’s father started after his wife died. And they talked about her while Frank Sinatra sang “It Was a Very Good Year” and when they spoke about Sundays they remembered that Kenny, his mother, and his father had always listened to Syd Mark.
After the show Kenny’s dad would tell him to make coffee so they could have an afternoon cup at the start of an Eagles or Phillies game and they would drink coffee and busy themselves with laundry or the dishes and talk about what they would eat for dinner while the Phillies radio announcers opened a mental pouch and pulled out players like game pieces and placed them on a laminated green diamond shaped board and moved them with their words and vocal inflections. These true songs of summer carried Kenny and his father through the hot torpor of August and into Autumn. In September the ageless play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia Eagles, carried hope into the early orange sunsets of winter. He painted with his vocal cords a rising excitement that cascaded through the speakers, “The Eagles win! The Eagles win!” His voice brought light in the dark.
Kenny was the second born of three sons. His older brother lived in Virginia, and his younger brother lived in the same town but he saw his older brother more often. It was obvious early on that Kenny was different and his mother and father, once understanding that he’d stay with them forever, never complained. His father built an upstairs apartment for Kenny and even gave him his own entrance. But he rarely used it.
Kenny stared at the empty chair where his father once sat. He removed the body last evening after the sun went down. It was there several days. It was there when the tornado cut through and Kenny wasn’t scared at all because his father was there. After a few days he could not ignore the smell and had to move the body. His father became something foreign to him.
On this Sunday when the show came on Syd Mark started off with the “Wee Hours of the Morning” and the easiness of the music made the room quieter and he missed the rustling of the newspaper as his father flipped to another section, his dad’s eyes all-knowing planets behind thick bifocals. There was something not quite missing but more like having been taken away every second of the day and Kenny was anxious. He paced. He made the afternoon coffee an our early. Kenny opened the fridge and the plastic walls, the rigor of the cold curved plastic, the last breath of the colorless frosted glass trays, the air compressor composed a primordial psalm about the heart of man and the wrath of god. It was not the first time the refrigerator spoke.
As he walked out of the house his neighbor across the street was getting into his Toyota Tundra. He was on his way to the True Value Hardware store. And another neighbor, Kelly, was walking her poodle, “Bunny,” along the sidewalk, a roll of pink plastic bags attached to the leash handle was swinging like a pendulum. Teenagers on bicycles were rolling down the intersecting street with towels in their arms on their way to the swim club.
“Everything ok, Kenny,” his neighbor asked in slow motion and his voice was not his own.
Kenny answered back in his mind and because they’re eyes met Kenny knew it was ok.
The screen door shut slowly, responding to the actuator coming to a pause, then resuming only to pause again. On this second pause, as Geoffrey was whispering from the top of the basement stairs to his wife, Kenny’s fat soled black Velcro sneaker kept the door from making its last movement, and with silent agility Kenny softly entered the house and stood with his back against the dining room wall adjacent to the front door.
Being conscientious of the central air, Geoffrey closed the front door and mumbled, “fucking nutter butter.”
The heavy door’s latch clicked into place and this sound that signified the snug safety of suburbia satisfied Geoffrey. He turned around saw Kenny in his dining room, sweating profusely, dripping sweat from his fingers that gripped the shovel like a baseball bat, droplets of brown sweat falling to the shiny Pergo wood floors, tapping in three short beats, tap tap tap, tap tap tap. Geoffrey liked that noise too, like the sound of rain, but he was stunned by the sight of Kenny in his house, Kenny plastered against his dining room wall.
Nimbly again, like a younger spirit breathed life into him, Kenny and with his hips swung the shovel as his father taught him to swing a baseball bat, planting his lead foot in the dirt and turning his wrists at the point of contact. There was a double hit, the spade of the shovel across Geoffrey’ face immediately exploding his nose, and Geoffrey’ head propelled into the fake wood floor. The first impact already knocked him out so as his head hit the floor his body was already limp, like a puppet whose cords are suddenly cut.
“Geoff,” Kelly called out.
As she stepped to the landing in the kitchen from the basement her head was met by the side angle of the spade. Kenny swung it overhead like an axe, bending at the knees and rising, just as his father had taught him to chop wood and driving his weight through the shovel into her head. She started to fall back but the shovel was stuck and for a moment she stared wildly at Kenny before her body fell and unstuck the shovel and she rolled halfway down the stairs, her blood rushing down the remainder of the stairs.
Kenny arranged the bodies on the living room floor. He moved their legs and arms to positions that signified an ancient language, in lost idioms whose cord with the contemporary mind were severed.
He left their house with a carton of milk and went into his house and it was the end of the radio show. The show ended the same way every week for forty years. Syd Mark signed off by saying, “I love you, Frank,” and he’d play a cut of Frank Sinatra replying, “I love you too, Sydney.”
And Kenny’s dad would look at Kenny next with the newspaper on his lap and say, “I love you, Kenny.”
Police cars appeared outside Kenny’s living room window throwing red and blue lights that the heat and humidity would not let reach the glass. Kenny did not see police cars. He could not see past the ottoman covered with the newspaper from last week, or the outline of his father presence.
“I love you too, Dad.”
Bio: Kevin Decky works and lives in the southern New Jersey area. He’s been writing in the basements of South Jersey homes for thirty years.