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Kiki DeLancey


With Putch it was
a guy with pointed sideburns.
A guy with letters scratched into his hands.

He was a guy that worked at the marina. He was a guy that put peopleís boats into the water and took them out again. He was a guy in a blue shirt with a white oval on the chest that said "Putch," and people didnít know what that was supposed to mean.

I used to borrow my brotherís boat and take it down there, and Putch would put it in the water. My brother was in his third year of law school, and didnít have time for the boat anymore. Putch would put it in the water for me, and Iíd chug around the lake. I didnít even fish. Iíd fished with my brother. Iíd held a line in the water. The fish were okay. My brother had to take them off the hook for me. Their eyes were a little scary. "Theyíre a little scary-looking, arenít they?" I said to him. I laughed. "Throw it back in the water," I always said.

Iíd chug around, then Iíd come back and Putchíd put gas in it for me. He had these pointed sideburns. He had these long, almost hard-to-see sideburns, shaved off at an angle, at a real sharp hard angle, into the barest point. I would look at those sideburns. I would look at those sideburns. I would look at the points. Heíd be looking down. Iíd be sitting on the rear seat of the boat, in shorts, with my legs sweaty on the hot seat, and heíd be staring down at the dock about a foot short of my leg. Heíd be drumming his boot on the side of the boat and holding down the trigger on the gas pump. He always wore these boots, in the heat and in the humidity of the summer, these big, leather, round-toed boots, like a lumberjack would wear. What Iíd picture a lumberjack wearing.

"Donít you get awful hot?" I asked him once. After about two months I asked him that.

He looked around, mystified.

"Donít your feet get hot in those boots?" I asked again, until he looked at me. He had clear eyes, not blue, but colorless. You looked right through them and the white showed from the other side.

"No, not really," he said. "I donít suppose."

In another month he disappeared from the marina. I borrowed the boat and went down, and there was a guy there whose shirt said "Mark." Mark was a wiry guy with streaky blond hair. Mark was a friendly guy with a pointed chin who talked a lot about boats and about the benefits of fish in the diet while he was filling your gas cans. I quit going down.

Then Putch was right there. He was right there, eating lunch downtown in a booth with two other guys, in the same coffee shop as me. In the same downtown diner as me. He just happened to be there. I was there every day. The diner was right next door to my office. Every day Iíd say to my secretary, "Iím going to go grab a sandwich," as I breezed by her desk. By breezing I mean I would go quickly. Iíd go casually, with my hands in the pockets of my skirt, like I didnít give a damn. And itís damned hard to put your hands casually in the pockets of a skirted suit. Suit skirts are too tight across the hips for that, and your hands donít fit in.

Iíd go outside, and then I could take my hands out, and the diner was right next door. So I sat down, on this day, and pulled the menu out from behind the napkin holder. When I looked up he was right there, sitting two booths down, with two guys. That was the thing about Putch. He had those sideburns, and these letters on his hands. He had a round chin, and a kind of look in his eyes. Heíd hold his mouth round, hold his lips pursed round all the time. He had an amazed look in his blank eyes. Always this amazed, mystified look.

Maybe heíll keep coming here, I was thinking. Maybe heíll keep coming here.

He saw me looking at him. He didnít say anything to me. He was looking right at me, I thought. Maybe he didnít actually see me. He and the two guys walked out and went across the street, right into the garage there. Right into the garage of the gas station there. Anybody could see them. Right through the big plate glass diner window. Right there in plain sight.

He didnít come in again. That day I thought, Heís working in that garage, and heíll keep coming in, so Iíd keep my eyes open every day. Iíd sit there and keep my eyes open, but he didnít come in. He never came in. It turned out he was working concrete. It was kind of a mistake. A welcome accident. A kind accident. I called these guys out to pave my driveway. I got their name from my brother, over the phone. He knew things like that. He always knew who to call. "Call Smith Brothers Concrete," he said into the phone. "I used to drink with Tim Smith in high school. Heís their kid. Maybe he can get you a deal." That was the reason he gave me this time. He always had a good reason.

When they showed up on Saturday morning, I went out to make sure they knew what they were doing, and there he was. There he was with a shovel in his hands, a great, big, square-toed shovel. He was digging gravel out of my driveway. He was digging the old gravel out of my driveway. He was covered in a gray hard crust. Theyíd already finished one job that day, one of the other guys told me then. They had two more jobs to do later on.

It was pretty confusing. I was listening to the guy standing in front of me, with white powder clogging his eyebrows, talking about concrete jobs, and I was watching the other one dig gravel with a big square-toed shovel. Putch, I mean, digging, was the thing. One guy was talking, this skinny younger guy with concrete dust in his eyebrows and his hair, and Putch was digging, in my driveway, in the gravel.

"Sounds pretty tiring," I said.

"Sure is," the younger guy said. He stood back on his heels and talked while his helpers dug out the gravel between the forms and squared up the corners. He was talkative. "My nameís Timmy Smith. You got you a nice neighborhood," he said. "You got you a beautiful home."

"Thanks," I said.

"Foundationís settling, though. You see them cracks? Not that little one. That big one? We could lift it up, offa the band, like that; set it up on supports, like that, you know, and replace that before it shifts on you."

"Oh, really? I donít know. I donít think thatís really necessary."

"Keep your Sheetrock from cracking. All that nice Sheetrock in thereís going to crack up, when those walls move on down."

"This is a new house," I said. "Itís not going to hurt anything, I donít believe."

"That roofís going to shift. Iím telling you so. Get you some leaks."

"I think itíll be all right," I said.

"You ask your husband, see what he says when he gets home."

"Iím not married."

"Youíre not?" His eyes bulged. That took a second. "You got you this great big house all to yourself? What you need so much room for?"

"I donít know," I said.

He scraped his foot in the gravel. His face was grimy. He was starting to sweat under the powder. "I could swear I know you," he said finally. "Didnít I used to know you from someplace?"

"I donít think," I said.

"Donít you think?" he said. "Donít you think?" he kept saying.

Finally I told him that he knew my brother. Then he was happy. "Heís in law school, isnít he, there," the guy said to me. "Heck of a guy. Hell of a guy. Law school. Youíre a lawyer too, huh?"

"Yes," I said.

"Thatís what I thought. Thatís where I know you from. I remember you. I used to always try to get your brother to fix you up with me. On a date. He ever tell you that? Iíd come by in my car to pick him up, and I used to see you sitting there reading on the porch. He used to twist my arm and tell me to stay away from you. He said you was too good for us local boys. Now you got your own name on a sign downtown, so I guess he was right."

There was Putch. There was the actual guy, standing ten feet away. I donít know if he heard. I donít know if I wanted him to hear. His pointed sideburns. His big leather boots. He was digging. The shovel was scraping in the gravel. In the cinders, in the cinders. They were cinders, not gravel. Scraping in the cinders. He was looking down. He was looking down at the edge of the shovel, at the square edge. I could see his eyes, for Godís sake. They were clear, and round; and he held his mouth. He held his mouth, his lips, in a round O.

I brought them lemonade, on a tray. I felt like such an idiot. He took lemonade off the tray. He wrapped his fingers around the wet glass. I could see the letters, the tattooed letters. They were right there. He turned the glass up, and he was standing as close to me as ever. As close as when heíd stand, drumming his booted foot against the hull of the little borrowed boat. As close as when heíd let go of the trigger, and the gas pump would jerk and stop, and heíd straighten up and stand, turning around, and his eyes following along, following after each of those movements like a trail, like a clear and liquid trail of light. I could see them. I was watching them. They always followed all his movements, as he swung back and hung the hose back on the side of the pump. They were clear and mystified. And his mouth was round. I mean his lips, his lips. It was the way he held them, like there was a question. Like there was some kind of question, always in his mind. Thatís not what it was, but itís how it looked. It was just how it looked.

They drank the lemonade and went right back to work. I stood there, like somebodyís grandmother. "Your men sure work hard," I said to Tim Smith.

"Yeah," he said. He grunted a little. He was down on his knees, working the bull float.

So I turned to go in the house. I felt strange. I bent down and put the tray on the edge of the grass, out of the way. "In case any of you want any more," I said over my shoulder. I looked at them. They didnít seem to hear me. They were all at work, the four or five of them. Their faces were grimy and sweaty.

"My heartís pounding," I said out loud. "My heart sure is pounding." Then I sat down. I sat down on my knees, right there in the gravel next to the corner of the form that was making my new driveway.

Then I was lying down. I held my breath and thought, Let it be, let it be, and I opened my eyes and there was Tim Smith leaning over me. There was Timmy Smith, leaning over me. I remembered him, too. I remembered him and his rotten car.

"Whereís Putch?" I asked.

"Putch," he said. His eyes bulged, after a second. "Putch? Heís over there. What do you want with him?"

"I donít know." Why would I want to talk to that guy? Because of the letters on his hands? He had these letters on his hands. These tattooed letters, carved with a penknife by himself, no doubt, and then rubbed with the blue ink of a broken ballpoint pen, to spell "true love" on his hands, one letter above each knuckle of his two hands. They were upside down. He probably did it himself, turned the two hands toward himself and spelled the letters out with the short dull pen blade, so that when they were done and he spread them flat, blood-smeared, to admire, they were upside down. But he could look at them in the mirror, couldnít he? He could sit before the mirror with his knuckles folded, his wrists raised up, and there it would be blazing back into his clear eyesótrue love. A person like me could see them, anyway. A person like me could see them, clearly; not sure at first what they said, seeing just enough of them to notice, and to want something. And he had the name, "Putch," in a white oval on his shirtfront. Maybe that was it. Maybe that was just it. He had those sideburns. He had those pointed sideburns.




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