Andrew Rhodes

Elevation Blues

Two of the tellers were out sick, and Clark was work­ing the dri­ve thru by him­self. It was the last day of the month, and busy—deposits, with­drawals, transfers—stuff any­one could do online and save a trip, yet all these peo­ple pre­ferred the over­worked teller to do it. The com­pressed air hum of thick plas­tic car­ri­ers being sucked through the tube drowned out the voic­es com­ing through the speak­er. So many num­bers, but­tons. Keyboard, cash machine, micro­phone. “What was that? Pardon me? Sure, I can write down your bal­ance and send it through the tube. I’ll just need some ID.”

Neil, the branch man­ag­er, came in fif­teen min­utes late and walked straight back to his office with­out mak­ing eye con­tact with any­one. The tellers and ser­vice reps all looked at each oth­er. No one was hap­py.

At about nine-fifty the line died down, and Clark final­ly got a moment to spare. He checked his phone and saw sev­en missed texts from Jessica, all relat­ed to the fight they’d had the night before. A big fight that had not end­ed in sex. Her final text said, “Maybe if you real­ized once in a while that Im try­ing to accom­plish some­thing too. And what Im try­ing to accom­plish might actu­al­ly HAPPEN.” This was a direct strike at the heart, plac­ing Clark’s ambi­tion to be a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian against her own ambi­tion to be a lawyer, as if the two were even remote­ly sim­i­lar. She knew bet­ter than that, attack­ing him on the one thing he cared about. That was it. It was over. As far as he was con­cerned, it was over. All the fights, all the bick­er­ing, back-and-forth, and this was how it end­ed, a stu­pid text mes­sage on a Thursday morn­ing. In the two years they had been togeth­er, she had nev­er once crit­i­cized his dream to be a musi­cian. That dream was sacred, and her stomp­ing on it offi­cial­ly end­ed it.

Fine,” he texted back. He would have to find a new place to live. The apart­ment was hers. He knew some cheap places in Harahan.

I did­nt mean it like that,” she imme­di­ate­ly respond­ed, clear­ly sens­ing the depth of his sin­gle word mes­sage.

Hey, Clark, come here a sec­ond,” Neil called, lean­ing out the door­way of his office.   Clark thought he might get a lec­ture on tex­ting. Even though he and Neil were kind of buddies—they’d get Happy Hour drinks after work a cou­ple times a month—Neil occa­sion­al­ly liked to show he was still boss.

Clark locked his com­put­er and walked over, adren­a­line rag­ing through his body. Everything was clear, every sec­ond seemed per­fect­ly spaced out. Jessica was toast.

Neil told Clark to close the door. Neil was a tall, slim guy who went to the gym most days. He had a strong jaw and was bald­ing so he kept his head shaved close at all times. He was 36, a decade old­er than Clark, but often would talk about things he did in col­lege, which made him seem younger. Though Clark liked him okay, every­one knew Neil was a bad manager—always com­ing in late, show­ing lit­tle inter­est in his employ­ees, let­ting his moods rule the branch—fortunately for him his father was Vice Chair on the Board of Directors for the Credit Union. If Neil tried to rep­ri­mand him for tex­ting today, Clark wasn’t sure he’d be able to hold back, not in this moment.

You alright?” Neil asked. “You look…mad.”

I’m fine.”

Okay. Hey, lis­ten. I need you to do me a favor. A huge favor,” Neil said.

What?”

Neil looked past Clark at the door­way of his office. “It’s too con­fus­ing to explain right now, but I need your help with some­thing. It’s…it’s fucked up. I’ll tell you lat­er.”

Clark went back to his sta­tion, dealt with cus­tomers, all the while think­ing about Jessica, won­der­ing why she had to be the way she was. They had been togeth­er two years, always promis­ing each oth­er they would work on the rela­tion­ship, but the same prob­lems kept com­ing up. She had lit­tle to no inter­est in his music. She was good at spread­sheets and orga­ni­za­tion, and she could prob­a­bly help with the logis­ti­cal side of start­ing a label, but she showed no inter­est. She let her­self be absorbed total­ly in law school. Last night she had run the blender even after Clark specif­i­cal­ly told her that he was going to be record­ing a song in their bed­room. The blender fucked up his record­ing.

Clark’s band had been called Strange Motion and had toured all over the Southeast. The rea­son he now lived in New Orleans and not Jackson, was because of music. Maybe the city was a false idol, but still it was far bet­ter than Jackson. Over the course of their five year exis­tence, the band had sold over four hun­dred CD’s. Clark’s old bass play­er, Bradley, had once said that they were only 999,600 short of going plat­inum.

*

It wasn’t until after lunch that Neil called him back into the office. He was stand­ing, rat­tling the keys in his pock­et. “Okay,” Neil said. “I need a big favor. I need you to come with me some­where. It’s seri­ous though.”

They walked through lob­by and the break room and out­side, step­ping on the grass of the building’s big back lawn. Once they got in the car, the AC blow­ing hot air, Neil said, “So what’s your sto­ry, man? You look pissed.”

It’s just Jessica. Giving me shit.”

Neil nod­ded and laughed. “Oh. Oh. I bet it’s noth­ing like what I got. I bet it’s not even close.”

Neil backed out of the park­ing space and quick­ly peeled out onto Veterans Boulevard. Clark looked at him, wait­ing. He hat­ed this, being the boss’s lack­ey.

So here it is,” Neil said, light­ing a cig­a­rette while steer­ing with his thigh and then crack­ing his win­dow.   “We’re going to bust Michelle. We’re going to bust her ass cold. I’m nine­ty-nine point nine per­cent sure she’s cheat­ing on me right this minute, as we speak.” He looked at his watch even though the dig­i­tal time was on the dash. “It’s one-fif­teen. She’s at her mom house.”

She’s cheat­ing on you at her mom’s house?”

Yeah, well, her mom lives in Lafayette with Michelle’s sis­ter, but she still owns the house. We’re sup­posed to fix it up to help her sell it, right? But Michelle’s going over there all the time, right? I’m sus­pi­cious. So I break into her email—all kinds of emails, going back months.   I know who the guy is. He’s there right now.”

Neil nod­ded and slapped Clark’s arm with the back of his hand. “So what we’re going to do is, I’ll knock on the front door, and you’re going to stand around back, right? And you’ll see if he comes out the back door. If he doesn’t come out that means he’s hid­ing in the house and I can get my hands on him. No accus­ing and deny­ing, just bust her ass cold.”

What are you going to do to the guy?”

I don’t know. Beat his ass. Look, one of the emails he wrote to her—I read all of them—one of them he wrote said, ‘Next time you can ele­vate your­self again.’ What the fuck does that mean? Elevate your­self? She’s got some new posi­tions for him or some­thing? They prob­a­bly got one of those sex swings hang­ing from the ceil­ing. You think they’re snort­ing Adderalls or some­thing?”

Could be,” Clark said and looked ahead at the road. They went down Airline and took a right onto Dickory. Neil punched the stereo pow­er and hit the scan on his radio. It stopped on a famil­iar song.

You like this stuff? John Mayer?” Neil said.

Not at all.”

I like it all right. It’s not bad.”

Neil was talk­ing about pop­u­lar music while his wife was ele­vat­ing her­self with some guy, but maybe his non­cha­lance was not so strange. Because Neil had his own stuff on the side. He was always talk­ing about hook­ing up, always siz­ing up the new girl tellers, and he had told Clark of one recent occa­sion where he banged a girl on a vaca­tion cruise dur­ing a friend’s bach­e­lor par­ty. He even gave Clark the logis­tics of posi­tion­ing on the cramped quar­ters of a ship.

The car slowed as they turned onto Farrier Avenue, and Neil point­ed at the light blue house. Neil rolled the car slow­ly and nod­ded toward a red Malibu that was parked on the oth­er side of the street. “That’s prob­a­bly his car.”

Neil braked on the street in front of the next-door neighbor’s house. “Don’t slam the door.”

Neil led the way through the over­grown yard to the back of the house, past the white Camry in the car­port. Neil took a step into the back­yard to get a look at the door. He then hand­ed Clark his cell phone and whis­pered, “Get a pic­ture if he comes out.” He pat­ted Clark once on the shoul­der and jogged back around front.

It was an old house, raised off the ground with case­ment win­dows, the blinds closed on each of them. Up against the house was a met­al rack where a few pieces of fire­wood sat. Fires could be use­ful about ten days out of the year in New Orleans.

It was most­ly qui­et out oth­er than the high buzz of crick­ets, and some­where in the dis­tance a ham­mer was pound­ing. Sweat had col­lect­ed on Clark’s hair­line, and he wiped his fore­head with his sleeve.

Clark heard Neil knock loud­ly, then the muf­fled ring of the door­bell through the wall. Neil’s voice called out, “Michelle, it’s your hus­band.” Neil knocked again, the knocks get­ting loud­er. Clark thought about Jessica, and how did he know what she was doing in her spare time? A bead of sweat dripped down his cheek, tick­ling his face, and he wiped it hard.

A moment lat­er the blinds inside the win­dow silent­ly rose up, one quick tug, and the case­ment win­dow opened slow­ly, swing­ing out­ward. A bare foot appeared on the ledge. Neil was right; there was a guy. Clark walked toward the win­dow, he couldn’t help it. One leg came out, then anoth­er, bare feet and kha­ki pants, the guy sit­ting on the win­dow ledge but lean­ing back.

Clark could reach out and slap the guy’s knee if he want­ed. And then it occurred to him—they were bust­ing this guy out of the blue. Clark just stand­ing there with his only weapon a cell phone. What if the guy lashed out, chose fight instead of flight? Clark dropped the phone and leaned down, grabbed a sol­id block of oak fire­wood. And the guy, not real­iz­ing he was being watched, jumped down to the flower bed sound­less­ly, like this get­away was no incon­ve­nience at all. He was mus­cu­lar, about Clark’s height. He had on a white polo shirt, untucked, and was hold­ing his socks and shoes in one hand. He even had a smile on his face, as if he was remem­ber­ing a joke. This was all just a joke. Everything is a joke. The sky’s blue, that’s a joke. It’s hot as hell out­side, that’s a joke.

Then the guy turned, faced Clark head-on. He froze, still smirk­ing. They locked eyes and Clark swung the fire­wood like a base­ball bat. The wood hit with a hard thud, clean on the left tem­ple. The guy’s head snapped side­ways, and the rest of the body went limp and col­lapsed to the ground in one sim­ple motion. He lay there, half in the flower bed, half out, look­ing like a dead leaf on the ground. Clark held on to the fire­wood with both hands, star­ing at the motion­less body. The knock­ing had ceased. All was qui­et now.

Seconds passed, maybe a minute, and when Clark looked up she was there in the win­dow, the wife. For all he knew she saw the whole thing. She looked at the body and looked at Clark and looked at the body again. She was kind of pret­ty, espe­cial­ly with the shocked look on her face. She had dark brown hair in a pony­tail and red lip­stick, and there were spots of mas­cara smeared on the cor­ners of her eyes. She opened her mouth but no sound came out. No sound any­where, not until Neil’s voice rang out behind her. He said loud­ly, “What’re you doing, hon­ey? Why’s the win­dow open, hon­ey?”

Shit. No.”

Who’s this?” Neil said. Clark final­ly dropped the fire­wood on the ground.

What’re you…what hap­pened?” she said.

Neil stuck his head out the win­dow too, his tie hang­ing down over the ledge. “Who’s this? Who’s this guy on the ground?” They were both look­ing out the win­dow, side by side, their heads togeth­er like a lov­ing cou­ple.

Call the police. Hurry,” she yelled, point­ing at Clark, but she wasn’t mak­ing a move to do it her­self. For some rea­son she want­ed Neil to call.

That’s my employ­ee. His name’s Clark. What hap­pened, Clark?”

I don’t know, man.” Clark ran his hands through his hair and then put them on his waist. He squint­ed in the bright sun.

Neil slapped his hand on the win­dow ledge. “All right, lis­ten. Who’s this on the ground?”

Michelle looked at Neil, her head inch­es away from his, and didn’t answer.

So this guy dropped by for tea? That what you’re telling me?”

You’re so inno­cent,” Michelle said, match­ing his vol­ume.

The guy moved. First it was just a leg. He took in a heavy breath and turned his head slight­ly, faced upward, and opened one eye, a slit in the sun­shine.

I’m tak­ing him to the hos­pi­tal,” she said. She left the win­dow and Neil looked at Clark, shak­ing his head. “What hap­pened?” he said. The guy groaned through his teeth and touched his head. Michelle came run­ning around the cor­ner of the house, knelt down by the body, and she held up fin­gers in front of the guy’s face. “How many?”

He bent his oth­er leg and put a hand over his eyes to block the sun.

Is he bleed­ing?” Clark said.

Oh my God, you’re in an ant bed,” she said. She tried to get him to sit up, but the guy just groaned.

Just roll over so I can get the god­damn ants.” She turned and looked up at Clark, who still hadn’t moved. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re gonna burn.”

Bullshit,” Neil said from the win­dow, but she wasn’t pay­ing any atten­tion.

She final­ly got the guy to sit up, his eyes half open, and she slapped ants away from his shirt and his neck and his head. She reached up under his arm and Clark stepped over to get the oth­er arm.

Get away from him!” she yelled. But Clark did it any­way, helped the guy up, unsteady.

I’m tak­ing you to the hos­pi­tal,” she said. Then to Clark she said, “And you’ll pay. That’s attempt­ed mur­der, you sick fuck.”

She had an arm around the guy’s waist and walked him toward the white Camry. She opened the pas­sen­ger door and guid­ed him in. Clark picked up the guy’s shoes and socks and put them on the hood of her car.

*

On the dri­ve back to work there was no music. Neil kept tak­ing deep breaths. “She thinks I don’t know how her mind works. She nev­er gave me cred­it for that.”

Clark didn’t reply.

Goddamn, man. Is she seri­ous? And what the hell were you doing, any­way? Did he get in your face or some­thing? I didn’t ask you to crack anybody’s skull.”

I know, man. Oh, Jesus.”

You saw her face? All that fuck­ing make­up caked on. I swear to God. Does she know how a man gets pay­back for this? This is when a man finds his woman sleep­ing and she doesn’t wake up. It hap­pens. You can’t go a week with­out see­ing some­thing like that on the news. That’s what all the old Blues songs are about, right? ‘Hey Joe.’”

Yeah,” Clark said, with­out con­sid­er­ing the ques­tion. He Finds You Sleeping and You Don’t Wake Up Blues.

They pulled up to a red light. “So what the fuck hap­pened? He said some­thing and you clocked him with a block of wood?”

No, he didn’t say any­thing.”

So you just hit him?”

They passed a new restau­rant Clark had want­ed to try with Jessica, but now restau­rants didn’t mat­ter. He was feel­ing for the lever to lean the seat back but couldn’t find it with his hand. “What?” Clark asked.

Was it like in slow motion?”

No, it was in fast motion.”

Neil looked at the road with both hands on the wheel. Clark gave up on the seat lever and looked in the side rearview mir­ror. He couldn’t look at any­thing for more than half a sec­ond. Everything was far­ther away than it appeared.

Neil veered into the turn lane at the inter­sec­tion by the Credit Union. “All right, go home,” Neil said.

What if he died on the way to the hos­pi­tal? What if some­thing popped in his head and he died? That can hap­pen. It hap­pens.”

He didn’t die. People like that don’t die. He had a con­cus­sion.”

What’s the guy’s name?” Clark said, wip­ing his face with both hands.

His name’s Anthony some­thing. She won’t even come home tonight. I wouldn’t if I was her. That’s it,” Neil said.

What’s his last name?”

She threat­ens divorce five days a week so now I’ll give it to her. She can lis­ten to her Catholic mom cry about it. Hey, you got my cell phone?”

Clark felt his pock­ets and shook his head. “It’s in the back­yard.”

Neil breathed out heav­i­ly and pushed the but­ton to unlock the doors. “Okay, don’t wor­ry about it. I’ll take care of your draw­er.”

In his emp­ty apart­ment Clark sat on the couch. He turned the TV on and then turned it back off. He lay down on the couch with­out tak­ing off his shoes.

Would a hos­pi­tal be able to tell him how many Anthony’s were there so he could nar­row it down? No, there were pri­va­cy issues, right? Maybe he could just walk the halls until he found the guy, to see if he was alive.

*

It was Jessica’s late day—her night class didn’t end until eight—so she was not home at six-fif­teen when Clark left for his gig at JJ Lagers. It was a restau­rant and bar in Metairie, and the stage was basi­cal­ly a black wood­en box with a stool on it. He could hard­ly play tonight, hard­ly move his fin­gers. He didn’t feel like singing so he played instru­men­tal stuff, just slow­ly strum­ming major-sev­en chords up and down the neck, like he was prac­tic­ing. Tonight he felt so lim­it­ed, felt like the gui­tar was a dumb instru­ment. An insuf­fi­cient instru­ment.

He drank two free beers which didn’t loosen him at all. A lady sit­ting at a table near the stage turned around and request­ed “any­thing by Van Morrison.” Clark said he didn’t know any Van Morrison, and the lady said, “You played some last week.” He could only shake his head, pre­tend he was some­one else.

 

He left JJ Lagers with the inten­tion of going to the hos­pi­tal, find­ing Anthony who­ev­er, but then he didn’t know which hos­pi­tal to try first, and his moti­va­tion quick­ly died. Instead he drove down Clearview, skipped the turn for his apart­ment, and kept dri­ving. He drove to the Credit Union, just because it was famil­iar, and parked in the big lot around back. The build­ing was dark oth­er than a few dim safe­ty lights in the lob­by win­dows. His was the only car on the long row of emp­ty park­ing spaces. He sat there watch­ing the slow, mean­ing­less night. Occasionally a car would pass through the dri­ve through ATM. At 9:57 his cell phone rang—it was Jessica and he didn’t answer.

If Anthony died it was manslaugh­ter, if he lived it was assault—that was Clark’s best guess. He turned the key one click to pow­er the bat­tery and hit the stereo but­ton. He scanned to the clas­sic rock sta­tion. “More Than a Feeling” was play­ing.

Clark thought about music. All his gui­tar play­ing, gui­tar mag­a­zines, try­ing to write songs, ever since he was what, thir­teen? He nev­er cared about school or sports, music was the only thing. But now—with this dusty dash­board and this cup hold­er and this car radio play­ing three decade-old songs on this cloud­ed night when you couldn’t see a sin­gle star—it was all so ridicu­lous. It’s not going to hap­pen. It was nev­er going to hap­pen. The false images of his future sped at him one after anoth­er and died like gods. It was all too fast. He tried to slow him­self down, all his thoughts, but he couldn’t.

Music. Do peo­ple even care about music? No, they nev­er did. They nev­er cared about music or any­thing else. They’re just like me, Clark thought, they use music to ele­vate them­selves. Just like they use every­thing else to ele­vate them­selves. People, once they secure food and shel­ter, focus on ele­vat­ing them­selves. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? People want mon­ey and pow­er to ele­vate them­selves, but if they can’t use that, they use some­thing like music. Or sex. Why stop there? People use their reli­gion or their athe­ism to ele­vate them­selves, and phi­los­o­phy and pol­i­tics can ele­vate you too. People use any­thing and every­thing to ele­vate them­selves, what­ev­er advan­tage they can gain. Their edu­ca­tion, their strug­gles. The ele­vat­ed peo­ple wave their fin­gers at every­one else. It is your right to wave your fin­ger once you are ele­vat­ed. Even when peo­ple help oth­ers they are sim­ply ele­vat­ing them­selves. Yes, there are true moments when you for­get your­self, but where do those moments go once they’ve passed? The good moments suf­fo­cate and die. People only care about one thing—elevating them­selves. Isn’t this true?

And then what? And then one day Death comes. He comes into the flim­sy struc­ture you call a life and he points his crooked fin­ger at you. He finds you sleep­ing and you don’t wake up.

Clark felt like he had grasped some­thing true about life and, for a moment, it seemed a good idea to turn him­self in, to admit pub­licly the vio­lence he had per­formed. To de-ele­vate him­self by show­ing how low he real­ly was. That’s where the truth lies, in de-ele­va­tion. But the moment passed and Clark drove to his apart­ment.

*

Gig went a lit­tle late?” Jessica said when Clark walked in. She was at the kitchen table with her lap­top open and books and papers and note cards strewn about. Her hair was in a pony tail.

Yeah.”

Encore, encore,” she said with­out look­ing away from her lap­top screen.

Yep, you got it.”

She stopped typ­ing and looked him over. “Where’s your gui­tar?”

In the car.” Clark walked past her to the fridge and opened it. Skim milk, block of cheese. He closed the door.

What’s wrong?” she said, turn­ing around in her seat to look at him. “Are we still fight­ing? No? Come on, Clark-after-dark. What’s the sto­ry?”

Clark stood in the mid­dle of the kitchen. “Why’re you in such a good mood?”

I got an A in Torts. Seriously, what’s going on? You look like death.”

Clark didn’t answer. He walked into the bed­room and sat on the cor­ner of the bed and looked at the framed pic­tures on the dress­er. One pic­ture was of Strange Motion play­ing a gig in Athens, Georgia. In the pic­ture he was look­ing down at his gui­tar, in the mid­dle of some­thing that had mat­tered. Jessica walked in. She was wear­ing blue paja­ma pants and a big white t-shirt that adver­tised Sea World.

Tell me.”

Clark told her. She sat down on the bed as he was talk­ing, as he was try­ing to get the sto­ry out. She stared stone-faced, lis­ten­ing. He went over the moment of impact again and again—the way the head snapped, the body going limp like a corpse.

He was right there and I swung.”

She said, very calm­ly, “Why would you do that?”

I don’t know. I just got sick of it. That guy, climb­ing through the fuck­ing win­dow. He had this look on his face. It just…what if he’s dead?”

He’s not dead if he got up and walked off.”

He wasn’t walk­ing under his own pow­er. I don’t know why I did it.”

It was a momen­tary lapse. You took it per­son­al­ly, you were defend­ing your friend,” she said. She put one leg up on the bed and turned more fac­ing him.

If they filed charges would the cops be here by now?”

Not if they didn’t know your name. Well, maybe. But there’s no way he filed charges. I bet you he didn’t.” Jessica con­tin­ued to reas­sure him.

He took a long show­er and when he got out he saw that Jessica had gone down the three flights to get the gui­tar from his car. “I don’t want it to get stolen,” she said.

Clark did not sleep well.

*

At 7:48 am, Clark sat at his teller sta­tion look­ing out the win­dow at the emp­ty grass lot next to the Credit Union. No cops were wait­ing in the park­ing lot this morn­ing. Soon his cowork­ers showed up, slouch­ing in one at a time.

At eight twen­ty-five Neil came in, wear­ing a tie but no sport coat, and walked direct­ly into his office. He sat at his desk and start­ed eat­ing a cere­al bar, watch­ing his com­put­er screen. Clark tried not to look at him, tried to believe every­thing was over and for­got­ten. Customers drove through mak­ing their requests and wait­ing while Clark and Paula per­formed the trans­ac­tions. When Clark wasn’t with a cus­tomer the min­utes passed slow­ly on his com­put­er clock.

A sud­den noise shocked Clark out of him­self, and for a split sec­ond it seemed like they were here now, here for his soul, and things were nev­er going to be the same. But it was only the fire alarm. Clark locked his draw­er and fol­lowed the line of peo­ple out of the teller sta­tion. It was a drill.

Outside every­one was gath­er­ing, peo­ple from all depart­ments. The whole build­ing housed over one hun­dred employ­ees, and they were mov­ing slow­ly, hud­dling in clus­ters on the large back lawn and in the park­ing lot. Clark walked up to Neil who was stand­ing by him­self on the grass, typ­ing into his cell phone.

Thanks for let­ting me go home yes­ter­day.”

Yeah, no prob­lem.”

Clark nod­ded and Neil put his phone in his pock­et. “Hey look,” Clark said, look­ing behind him to see if any­one was near­by. And there was a big bird cir­cling over­head, a hawk or some­thing, and some peo­ple were point­ing at it. “So what’s the deal with every­thing? With Michelle?”
Neil rolled his head around like his neck was stiff. He didn’t look like he slept too well either. “Michelle? Shit, I don’t know. She actu­al­ly came home last night, if you can believe that.” Neil spoke calm­ly, like the whole inci­dent hard­ly con­cerned him.

Really? What about the guy? Anthony or what­ev­er?”

Anthony? Oh, he’s dead. Poor fuck­er.” Neil shook his head slow­ly and looked at the ground as if pay­ing his respects.

Clark tried to think. “Dead?”

Oh yeah, his head blew up in his sleep. Burial’s at three. Jesus, man, I’m kid­ding. He’s prob­a­bly at home. Guy’s mar­ried with four kids or some­thing.” Neil took his phone out of his pock­et and glanced at it.

Really?”

Something like that. He wouldn’t let Michelle take him to the hos­pi­tal. I’d love to hear the excuse he told his wife about the hump on his head.”

He was okay? He went home?”

Yeah, yeah. She took him home.”

You’re pos­i­tive?”

That guy won’t be jump­ing out a win­dow any­time soon. You clocked him good. He was out like a light.” Neil said this last state­ment with­out look­ing at Clark—he was look­ing at the build­ing, at the warn­ing light that was still flash­ing.

Clark looked up at the hawk, which came to a halt on a pine branch high above. “So she came home? Y’all are going to work it out?”

I don’t know what we’re going to do.” He was about to say some­thing else when the warn­ing light stopped flash­ing.

Neil walked quick­ly toward the building—Clark fol­low­ing behind—and looked back at the crowd of employ­ees, most still chat­ting, not yet real­iz­ing the drill was over. From here Clark could see the line at the dri­ve-through back­ing up. The cus­tomers would not be hap­py.

Hey every­body. Hey.” Neil put two fin­gers in his mouth and whis­tled. “Back to work, please.”

Clark watched them. The employ­ees start­ed mak­ing their way toward the doors. Some walked on the side­walk and some on the lawn. They walked slow­ly, the hot sun glar­ing down. Drills were that way—just when you got used to being out­side, just when you found some­thing worth your attention—it was time to go back in.

~

Andrew Rhodes is a fic­tion writer in Mississippi.  His sto­ries have appeared, or are forth­com­ing, in pub­li­ca­tions such as The Laurel Review, Gravel, upstreet, Crime Factory, and Star 82 Review.