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High Hunt

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Finally I went up and knocked.

“Dan,” he called, “is that you? Come on in.”

I opened the screen door and stepped inside.

“Hey there, little brother, you’re lookin’ pretty good,” he said, grinning broadly at me. He was wearing a T-shirt, and I could see the tattoos on his arms. They had always bothered me, and I always tried not to look at them.

“Hello, Jack,” I said, shaking his hand. I tried to come on real cool.

“God damn,” he said, still grinning and hanging onto my hand. “I haven’t seen you in three or four years now. Last time was when I came back from California that time, wasn’t it? I think you were still in college, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I said.

“You’ve put on some beef since then, huh?” He playfully punched me in the shoulder. “What are you now? About a hundred and ninety?”

“One-eighty,” I said. “A lot of it’s German beer.” I slapped my belly.

“You’re lookin’ better. You were pretty scrawny last time I seen you. Sit down, sit down, for Chrissake. Here gimme your jacket. It’s too fuckin’ hot for that thing anyway. Don’t you guys get summer uniforms?”

“Mine are all rolled up in the bottom of my duffle bag,” I told him, pulling off the jacket. I saw him briefly glance at the pint I had tucked in my belt. I wasn’t trying to hide it.

He hung my blouse over a kitchen chair. “How about a beer?”

“Sure.” I put the brown-sacked pint on the coffee table and sat down on the slighly battered couch. He was fumbling around in the refrigerator. I think he was a little nervous. I got a kick out of that for some reason.

I looked around. The trailer was like any other—factory-made, filled with the usual cheap furniture that was guaranteed to look real plush for about six weeks. It had the peculiar smell trailers always have and that odd sense of transience. Somehow it suited Jack. I think he’d been gravitating toward a trailer all his life. At least he fit in someplace. I wondered what I was gravitating toward.

“Here we go,” he said, coming back in with a couple caps of beer. “I just put the kids to bed, so we’ve got the place to ourselves.” He gave me one of the cans and sat in the armchair.

“How many kids have you got?” I asked him.

“Two—Marlene and Patsy. Marlene’s two and a half, and Patsy’s one.”

“Good deal,” I said. What the hell else can you say? I pushed the pint over to him. “Here, have a belt of bourbon.”

“Drinkin’ whiskey,” he said approvingly.

We both had a belt and sat looking at each other.

“Well,” I said inanely, “what are you up to?” I fished out a cigarette to give myself something to do.

“Oh, not a helluva lot really, Dan. I’ve been workin’ down the block at the trailer sales place and helping Sloane at his pawnshop now and then. You remember him, don’t you? It’s a real good deal for me because I can take what he owes me out in merchandise, and it don’t show up on my income tax. Margaret’s workin’ in a dime store, and the trailer’s paid for, so we’re in pretty good shape.”

“How’s the Old Lady? You heard from her lately?” It had to get around to her sooner or later. I figured I’d get it out of the way.

“Mom? She’s in Portland. I hear from her once in a while. She’s back on the sauce again, you know.”

“Oh, boy,” I said with disgust. That was really the last damned straw. My mother had written me this long, tearjerker letter while I was in Germany about how she had seen the light and was going to give up drinking. I hadn’t answered the damned thing because I really didn’t give a shit one way or the other, but I’d kind of hoped she could make it. I hadn’t seen her completely sober since I was about twelve, and I thought it might be kind of a switch.

“You and her had a beef, didn’t you?” Jack asked, lighting a cigarette.

“Not really a beef,” I said. “It just all kind of built up. You weren’t around after Dad died.”

“Naw. I saw things goin’ sour long before that. Man, I was in Navy boot camp three days after my seventeenth birthday. I barely made it back for the funeral.” He jittered the cigarette around in his hands.

“Yeah, I remember. After you left, she just got worse and worse. The Old Man hung on, but it finally just wore him down. His insurance kind of set us up for a while, but it only took her a year or so to piss that away. She was sure Mrs. High Society for a while though. And then, of course, all the boy-friends started to show up—like about a week after the funeral. Slimy bastards, every one of them. I tried to tell her they were just after the insurance money, but you never could talk to her. She knew it all.”

“She hasn’t got too much upstairs,” Jack agreed, “even when she’s sober.”

“Anyway, about every month, one of her barroom Romeos would break it off in her for a couple of hundred and split out on her. She’d cry and blubber and threaten to turn on the gas or some damned thing. Then after a day or so she’d get all gussied up in one of those whorehouse dresses she’s partial to and go out and find true love again.”

“Sounds like a real bad scene.”

“A bummer. A two-year bummer. I cut out right after high school—knocked around for a year or so and then wound up in college. It’s a good place to hide out.”

“You seen her since you split?”

“Couple times,” I said. “Once I had to bail her out of jail, and once she came to where I was staying to mooch some money for booze. Gave me that ‘After all, I am your mother’ routine. I told her to stick it in her ear. I think that kind of withered things.”

“She hardly ever mentions you when I see her,” Jack said.

“Maybe if I’m lucky she’ll forget me altogether,” I said. “I need her about like I need leprosy.”

“You know something, little brother?” Jack said, grinning at me, “you can be an awful cold-blooded bastard when you want to be.”

“Comes from my gentle upbringing,” I told him. “Have another belt.” I waved at the whiskey bottle.

“I don’t want to drink up all your booze,” Jack said, taking the pint. “Remember, I know how much a GI makes.”

“Go ahead, man,” I said. “Take a goddamn drink. I hit it big in a stud-poker game on the troopship. I’m fat city.” I knew that would impress him.

“Won yourself a bundle, huh?”

“Shit. I was fifteen hundred ahead for a while, but there was this old master sergeant in the game—Riker his name was—and he gave me poker lessons till who laid the last chunk.”

“How much you come out with?”

“Couple hundred,” I said cautiously. I didn’t want to encourage the idea that I was rich.

“Walkin’ around money anyway,” he said, taking a drink from the pint. He passed it back to me, and I noticed that his hands weren’t really clean. Jack had always wanted a job where his hands wouldn’t get dirty, but I saw that he hadn’t made it yet. I suddenly felt sorry for him. He was smart and worked hard and tried his damnedest to make it, but things always turned to shit on him. I could see him twenty years from now, still hustling, still scurrying around trying to hit just the right deal.

“You got a girl?” he asked.

“Had one,” I said. “She sent me one of those letters about six months ago.”

“Rough.”

I shrugged. “It wouldn’t have worked out anyway.” I got a little twinge when I said it. I thought I’d pretty well drowned that particular cat, but it still managed to get a claw in my guts now and then. I’d catch myself remembering things or wondering what she was doing. I took a quick blast of bourbon.

“Lotsa women,” Jack said, emptying his beer. “Just like streetcars.”

“Sure,” I said. I looked around. The furniture was a bit kidscarred, and the TV set was small and fluttered a lot, but it was someplace. I hadn’t had any place for so long that I’d forgotten how it felt. From where I was sitting, I could see a mirror hanging at a slant on the wall of the little passage leading back to the bedrooms. The angle was just right, and I could see the rumpled, unmade bed where I assumed he and his wife slept. I thought of telling him that he might be making a public spectacle of his love life, but I decided that was his business.

“What’d you take in college anyway?” Jack demanded. “I never could get the straight of it out of the Old Lady.”

“English, mostly,” I said. “Literature.”

“English, for Chrissake! Nouns and verbs and all that shit?”

“Literature, Stud,” I corrected him. “Shakespeare and Hemingway, and all that shit. I figured this would be the issue that would blow the whole reunion bit. As soon as he gave me the “What the hell good is that shit?” routine, he and I would part company, fast. I’d about had a gutful of that reaction in the Army.

He surprised me. “Oh,” he said, “that’s different. You always did read a lot—even when you were a kid.”

“It gives me a substitute for my own slightly screwed-up life.”

“You gonna teach?”

“Not right away. I’m going back to school first.”
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