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short stories
Handful of snapshots was what remained of a life, one black and white ­ young man, sturdy build with a buzzcut, square jaw, head cocked warily at the lens, no smile, dressed up for some occasion in an open collar white shirt and pleated light slacks, posed out front of a garage next to a slope-backed 1949 Plymouth two-door sedan, hands on his hips defiant.
A color Kodak, the names Burt with Jesse 1964 scrawled on the back. Must be the same cuss, same square chin, the buzzcut, but older, bulkier, hands on his hips, dark shirt, oil stained pants, out front of the same garage, only this time there's a truck, a sawed-off flatbed with a drum winch, Karjak's Towing and Salvage stenciled on the door panel ­ and there's this kid's standing knee high next to him, sturdy kid, square jaw and buzzcut, eyes squinting into the sun.
Another, a smudged 4x6 glossy ­ Corbin's first birthday, 1980 ­ young father arm over arm cradling a baby son, both uncomfortable.
"Will ya two least try a smile fa Chrissakes?"
"I got work ta do, no time fa this shit."
"I promised Grampa Bu't a photo fa Co'bin's bu'thday."
"Then take one a him, leave me the hell out'v it."
"Show how he's growin."
"Little po'ka'll eat us out'v the house fa he's lea'ned ta walk."
A fourth photo, the young father, only leaner, popped waist high out of the turret of an Abrams ­ Jesse, Fort Leonard Wood ­ sure was, the buzzcut, the jaw, torso smeared over with grease and a tattoo, but grinning ear-to-ear.
Next a shot of a kid sixteen, seventeen, raw bone grown, standing atop a junkyard heap, holding these handlebars high over his head like some hunting trophy.
Lastly a fading Polaroid, no date, no name, the broad jaw again, but bald, eyes pooled in dark sockets, deep furrows running from brow down along sunken cheeks to a scowl. Bruiser's grown old, sitting upright in a chair rammed against a cinder block wall with his arms folded across his chest, alone and bones and damn defiant.
"Time ta take ya med'cine, Mista Ka'jak."
Pthoot! Mista Ka'jak spits it out between what he's got left for teeth.
"Now that's no way ta be!" Nurse shouts it loud into an enlarged ear. "He'a, have anotha dose, an this time swallow!"
South Charworth's small town rural, cranberry bogs and on slightly higher ground vegetable fields flourishing in the rich black alluvial run-off from the Taunton River, which is wide and shallow at the bend, so no rapids, so never a mill town like New Bedford down stream and not picturesque enough to attract an urban sprawl. South Charworth's a pick-up community, the men folk and women alike. Main Street's less than a dozen blocks long with crackled clapboard houses either side, built near what was once the narrower post road, fenced in with fieldstone and spindly oaks, scrub pine and wild rose, a prickly thicket.
Further along there are two terraced Victorians, what the locals call mansions, one that's been Cordwood's Mortuary for as long as anyone can remember, and next door the South Charworth Free Library and Historical Society which was donated to the good citizens by Mildred Laybred, the spinster school librarian and last of a long line of successful truck farmers.
"Nice day, wouldn't ya say?"
"Could do with a little ma rain."
Neighbors passing on the sidewalk are civil.
The Mildred Laybred Middle and High School are combined in a single story red brick colonial, each with separate pillared entrance. Town Hall, the Fire, Police, District Court and First Church all face off across the town green, a Civil War memorial dead center ­ infantryman in uniform and cap with rifle at the ready stands guard next to a wife in a bonnet with infant son in hand, while an older daughter clings to her mother's long skirt, the four figures bronzed on a granite pedestal, tiny Union flags fluttering in the breeze at the base.
South Charworth's only police cruiser, Officer Tim Foxcroft, swings in behind anyone unfamiliar, checks out the vehicle registration. If they're driving too slow and gawking, he'll pull them over, offer directions to the quickest route back to the highway. And if they're doing a lick over 20 through the flashing yellow school zone, he'll nail them, send them scurrying out of town with a hun dred buck ticket.
"Quiet enough ta suit ya, Tim?"
"Ain't been a half bad summa, school out, kids wu'kin."
"Saw a bunch a them hangin out ova on the A&P lot Friday night way afta houas."
"What wa ya doin out so late yaself?"
Step Epton's dump truck's pulled alongside the police cruiser, windows rolled down, got traffic blocked both coming and going.
"Just gettin back with a load a manu'a from Taunton. Had a re'a ti'a blow just the otha side a the train trestle. Thought I'd neva get the damn thing off, lug nuts rusted on the'a tight as if they'd been welded."
"Should'v called AA."
"Yah right."
Stillmore's Grocery has been converted to a Sumo Mart, two bright new green and yellow self-serve gas pumps out front. Keno and a slush machine attract young mothers and pre-teens to the town's sole community center. Older kids hang out on their dirt bikes or in their muscle cars nights on the abandoned A&P's asphalt lot, that's unless there's a bonfire and some kegs stashed out somewhere in the woods.
"Betta they stay local than havin them killed off by the ca'load."
"That's a fact."
"Come drivin back drunk from Providence."
"Lost the Rutland an the Aco'n boys that way when they veea'd off the exit ramp an slammed inta that retainin wall."
"Afta the prom a few yea's back."
"Been one o'a two ma since then, right? A kid out on Riva Road, Po'tugees kid."
"Yep. Got thrown through the windshield, head hit that tree."
"Don't need ta lose any ma'v oua own ta ca'lessness."
"My policy, don't botha the kids so long as they ain't causin nobody no ha'm."
"They wa talkin loud an ho'asin round outside the packy last Friday, stopped an waved when I passed by."
"Good kids in this town, by an la'ge."
"Jus growin up."
"Been a few complaints 'bout that Ka'jak punk."
"Figu'a'd we wa rid a him."
"Nope, he's back an whip full a spit."
"Good ha'd lickin'ld keep him in line."
Vet Post is the only place in town where a guy can sit quietly and enjoy a few or sprawl back in a booth or fall face forward off a stool, that's until two every night of the week except Sunday. Otherwise there's the town packy tucked inconspicuously behind the Post inside a stockade fence ­ owned and operated by Ethan Foxcroft, Officer Tim Foxcroft's uncle ­ place may not stock fine wines, but it does a brisk trade in two ounce nips and Bud by the twelve pack.
Willard Elmsford's Feed and Grain thrives along with the John Deere dealership although Croaker's Hardware is barely hanging on since a Homeboy Workshop opened up over on the Plymouth line a couple of years ago. Copperwaite's bank, the red brick with the granite front, has been shuttered except for a drive through B-Bank machine. Stalton Drug handles the local business, as does E. B. Alecup & Son Insurance. E. B. parks a shiny new silver blue Oldsmobile out front. & Son's got last year's model next space over.
The U. S. local postal service has the edge on UPS in this vicinity ­ and up a steep staircase above the post office, the Rainbow Unisex Hair Salon that Connie Hodkins and her brother Carl run remains active.
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