It’s Not as Bad as It Was [story] by David Newman

Her boyfriend called from a crack house in the Hill District and said, “Did you get my note about your grandfather dying?” He said, “I think I put it on the fridge. I don’t know. Did we talk about this? I’m not as high as I sound.”

Louise said, “Shane, slow down.”

Shane said, “I can’t.”

“Did you say my grandfather died?”

“No. I don’t know. You should call him.”

Louise said, “Shane, you know I can’t call my pap. He lives in a cabin without a phone. I have to drive out to Ligonier to see him.”

“That’s just fucking weird,” Shane said. “That’s some survivalist shit.”

Louise said, “Shane, please,” and stopped.

When Shane spoke, Louise couldn’t think. She needed to think.

Her pap’s cabin was three hours away. It’d be dark and she wasn’t sure she could recognize the turns. Her grandfather moved out of the city because he couldn’t afford his apartment. Louise promised to visit every week and believed she would but she worked weekends and during the week and she took college classes too. The drive was fifty miles up Route 30 and down the edge of the Ligonier Mountains.

Louise paced the kitchen. She’d lived with Shane for two years, some of it good. They still had a phone with a cord. They hated TV. They hated the internet and music that sounded like robots. Louise still liked vinyl and her record player was German, a turntable in a wooden box her grandfather had bought after the war and shipped home. She bought records for a dollar from Salvation Army. Shane bought paperback mystery novels for a quarter and read them in small motels when he couldn’t sleep. He worked in computers and traveled to small towns he couldn’t stand and collected salt and pepper shakers from the places he’d been stuck, places like Athens, Illinois and Comstock, Virginia where he’d installed computer scorecards for a bowling alley that still had an original Pac Man in the lobby. Together they were saving for a house. Louise desperately wanted a house, a place to never leave.

Louise calmed herself and said, “Shane, honey, did you just say my grandfather was dead?” She knew how to talk to him when he was like this even though she hated to talk to him when he was like this. She said, “I know you’re not that high. Just talk to me. Listen to what I say and answer me. Think first. Did my grandfather die? Or is he dying? Is he sick?” She paused. She said, “I’m giving you too much information.” She said, “First, is my pap dead? Just answer that.”

Shane said, “I think we talked about this. I didn’t go to Ohio. I meant to write you a note before I left. I took some of the emergency money you keep in your underwear drawer but I’ll put it back. Okay? Don’t be mad.”

Louise said, “I’m not mad.”

“It’s not stealing. I’m going to put it back.”

“Okay, that’s fine.”

“I think I left my money card in a machine. I got some money and I think I forgot to grab the card and it got sucked back in. So I was just borrowing some money from your emergency pile. It was a loan. I meant to write you an IOU. Maybe I did. Could you check the underwear drawer and see if I left the note?”

“It’s not a problem.”

“I’m in a crack house.”

“I know.”

She took the phone away from her ear and held it with both hands. She squatted down and leaned against the wall and stayed there, thinking. Louise didn’t understand Shane. Or she understood that Shane had smoked himself into a place where understanding was no longer available to anyone but Shane. She imagined the inside of his brain as smoke, as a glass bowl on fire. She knew the numbers of his bank account. All their savings were there, most of it his. He never bragged about it or complained when she handed over twenty-nine dollars in tips and his bonus checks pushed a grand.

Louise had been napping, trying to rest between work and school, and now she felt what she always felt when she woke up: ashamed. Ashamed for resting. Ashamed to want more sleep. Ashamed to lose track of Shane. Ashamed to have to keep track of Shane. Ashamed she’d lost her pap in the mountains. Ashamed for needing coffee, for standing up with the phone and walking to the cabinet and not asking Shane what needed to be asked because she couldn’t focus without coffee because she never slept anymore.

Louise put the phone back up to her ear and mouth and said, “No, I’m here still. I’m just trying to think this through.”

Shane said, “You’re gonna be mad at me.”

Louise said, “I’m not,” and pulled down some old instant coffee, a single serving packet someone had given her as a sample.

Shane kept talking.

Louise pulled down a mug and microwaved some water until it boiled. She mixed in the instant coffee and sugar and some milk to cool it down. She drank.

Shane said, “I get so stressed out. I do impulsive shit. I drink and I smoke crack. I fucking eat a whole bag of potato chips. I ate a cigarette once. I buy stupid stuff.”

Louise said, “We’ll work on all that.”

“I know you’re not going to love me anymore.”

“That’s not true.”

Shane said, “I think I bought a new watch, like an old watch. I think I bought a stolen watch from this dude who was selling stolen watches.”

Shane stopped talking. Louise knew he was staring at his wrist, wondering if he could sell the hot watch he’d bought and make some money to buy more crack.

Shane said, “It looks like a Gucci.”

Louise looked around the kitchen. The salt and pepper shakers were everywhere, on the counter, on the window ledge, on the toaster oven. One was shaped like a pineapple. Another one looked like a volcano. There were footballs. And Christmas trees. Two years with a man who collected things from places he couldn’t stand.

Shane said, “Do people still wear Gucci? I don’t even know.”

Louise closed her eyes and imagined her grandfather. He was old—gray and slightly stooped—but not sick. He ate bananas. He walked in the neighborhood. He walked in the woods. He drank one glass of red wine with the TV news at dinner. He took an aspirin at breakfast. “I’m moderate,” her grandfather liked to say. “I’m in-between. Nobody’s in-between anymore.” Louise thought this was true. The middle had disappeared. Everybody was out there at the edges, pushing limits. Maybe that was all you needed to be important.

She opened her eyes and said, “Shane, tell me you’re safe.”

Shane said, “I get so lost. And I like it. I like being lost.”

Louise said, “Tell me which house in the Hill. I’ll come and get you.”

He said, “My lungs are burning. Other than that I think I’m okay. My lips are a little fried but that’s to be expected.” The sound of his tongue wetting his lips. He said, “It’s the house by the houses that have been destroyed. It’s not as bad as it was, though.”

Louise tried to remember how long Shane had been gone. Today was Thursday. He usually left for a new job on Sunday night. If he didn’t make Ohio, where he was supposed to get the registers online for a new pizza chain, he could have been in and out of their apartment fifty different times while Louise worked and schooled. He could have taken the call about her grandfather whenever.

She said, “Did you talk to my pap or did someone call about my pap? Was it a doctor?” Her pap didn’t have a doctor. He hated hospitals. She paused to think who else would have called. No one else would have called but she kept thinking. She said, “Was it my sister? Did Helen try to get in touch?”

Louise wrapped the phone cord around her waist by slowly spinning across the kitchen. The tightness of the cord made her feel safe. Her grandfather made her feel safe. He was the only person she’d ever cared about who cared back. If her grandfather was dead, no one in the world would match her. She would forever be putting out to people who did not return.

Shane said, “I should be scared but I’m not.”

She said, “Don’t be scared. Tell me where you are again.”

“Crack makes you fearless.”

“Where in the Hill?”

“I’m worried about your grandfather.”

“Me too.”

“He’s a good old dude.”

“He is.”

“Your family is all fucked up, you know that.”

Louise said, “I don’t know that,” but she knew.

Her mom was somewhere, Portland, maybe. Or Washington state. She took off with men. She’d done it for years. She told the men that her girls—Louise and her sister—were grown and fine on their own, even when Louise was still a teenager, when she was twelve. Her mom sometimes raised these men’s families until these men grew sick of her and realized she was not good at raising families, she was good at watching TV and drinking wine and buying stuff. Five years ago Louise had snooped around and found her mom and thought her mom had birthed another kid, a half-brother to Louise, then Louise quit the search. It was better to be searched for, to be found. She didn’t have to search for her dad because he was in the cemetery in Braddock under a puny stone. He’d worked for Volkswagen until they laid him off then he owned a van and some tools and drove around pretending to work. He’d fallen asleep in a trailer that he’d been heating with kerosene and suffocated during the fire. Louise loved Helen, her sister, but Helen was twelve years older and sane and driven. Helen put herself through college and sometimes sent postcards before she took a job and moved away. Twelve years was a lot between sisters. It was more than the forty years between Louise and her pap.

Louise said, “Try to think, Shane, focus. Was it my sister? Was it Helen? Did she leave a number? Just take a breath and think.” She knew this sounded condescending. She didn’t mean it to. She wanted it to sound loving. Loving was a tactic, a strategy. She said, “Big breath through your nose. Then out your mouth.” She did it herself, blowing into the phone for effect. She said, “Was it my sister? Was it Helen?”

Shane said, “I didn’t know you had a sister.”

She said, “You do know I have a sister. Please try.”

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be trying at.”

“Just try.”

“At what?” he said. “What are you trying at?”

She walked to the refrigerator and looked for a note. The yellow door was covered in pictures and grocery lists and junk. She moved magnets. She dropped things in the trash. Here she was with Shane on a picnic. Here they were at a bar, Shane smiling, Louise kissing him on the cheek. They looked normal. They looked happy. Louise remembered the outfit because she’d bought new panties to match and Shane had taken them off with his teeth, being sexy, being funny. She couldn’t find any note. She threw away a coupon. She’d made Dean’s List last semester. The newspaper clipping listing the names was stuck to the freezer door. She added another magnet to the clipping. She tossed out the electric bill.

Louise thought about Helen. They hadn’t talked in years but there’d been missed phone calls and messages. She knew Helen was in Hawaii and that Helen had a good job managing a resort but she couldn’t remember the resort’s name and she didn’t have Helen’s address. Years ago Helen had said, “I’m running and I’m not coming back,” and she’d invited Louise to come but Louise was not a runner. Louise was a stayer, an anchor. She would not leave her pap who had not left her and now she had.

Louise said, “Shane, tell me who called.” She said, “Was it my pap?”

Shane said, “Why the hell would I talk to your pap?” and coughed so hard he disconnected the call.

*

Louise was about to walk into a crack house in the Hill District. Her pap’s death moved underneath her feet and held up the crack house like bricks and wood. She knew this. It was early evening. The sun was up but setting. Her car was parked, locked, and running. She’d hid her purse under a blanket in the trunk. The door remote was in her right front pocket. She was angry and sad and nervous but happy to be useful, even if it was only to be used by a user. Was Shane a user? He paid rent. He cooked Chinese on weekends. He fixed Louise’s car and bought her new tires before her last inspection. Louise paid rent but she did not cook. She did not fix cars. She sometimes took Shane’s dick in her mouth because she wanted to do something for him. When Shane did things to Louise, even things with his tongue, she thought of it as Shane doing something for himself. Maybe Louise was the user. Maybe it was everyone.

She climbed the steps. The porch awning had partially collapsed. The front bricks had been tagged then covered with white paint. It was a big house, probably three or four or five bedrooms, from when families stayed together in one place. Some of the windows had been boarded. Other windows had been shattered, jagged edges and cardboard falling out. The house on the right had been bulldozed down to the foundation. On the other side: a burnt-out frame. Next house over: no roof.

Louise knocked on the front door. Paint pieces fell from the wood. She started to knock again but she felt like an idiot. She turned the knob. The door stuck. She tried her shoulder then her hip. She stepped inside to the smell of burnt crack, mold, rotting lumber. The sunlight followed over her shoulder to make a shadow.

Shane was a twitchy mess. He sat in the corner on a tire that somebody had tried to convert to a chair with old pillows and a Steelers throw. His left hand was buried down the front of his jeans, adjusting his nuts. This was his habit, especially when he was nervous or high. With his other hand he scratched his neck.

Another guy, a drunk or a doper, appeared to be passed out on a pile of laundry. Louise looked but didn’t see anyone else. Forty-ounce bottles stuffed with unlit candles stood randomly around the room. Louise was scared but not really. She’d been here before. It’d been worse. If you have to be in a crack house, be early.

When Shane saw Louise, he opened his arms and said, “Thank god you came,” but in a happy voice, a voice like this was a party and the drinks were free but no one else was any fun.

She said, “Please say something right for once.”

He removed his hand from his nuts and popped up. He walked across the room, still scratching his neck, still smiling. He was handsome with short brown hair and muscular arms from doing push-ups in motel rooms. He was twenty-seven, eight years younger than Louise. He wore an earring and cologne when he was sober. It was May. He hadn’t, to her knowledge, been high since Christmas day when he’d hammered thirty-five Budweiser cans in less than twenty-four hours and threw the TV remote at her head. Budweiser, she thought. Anyone who dated an addict knew: alcohol was the worst. The sloppy emotions and promises slurring out between drinks. At least she could understand the words when he was on crack. The meaning was often lost but the words were there, sharp and enunciated.

He said, “God, I’m so sorry I had to call you like that.”

He reached out and pulled her into his arms. He smelled like sweat and wet ashes. There was also burnt flesh and something like toast. Without looking she knew his fingers were charred and his nails chewed off.

He said, “I knew you’d come,” and wrapped her up.

She said, “Shane, you’re hugging me in a crack house. Please let go.”

He said, “I’m not going to not hug you because of location.”

She backed away but politely, like she needed space, like she’d come to him with a problem and now she needed to contemplate the advice he’d given. He stepped with her. He was good at sensing distance and getting her back.

He said, “I called work as soon as I knew I was going to get high. I’m not stupid. I told them I’d make up the time this weekend. It’s a pizza place. Did I tell you that? I’m doing something, I can’t remember what.”

She said, “I know,” and waited for an in, her chance to talk.

Her grandfather had raised her. Her father had been a ghost, midnight shifts and daylight sleeping, until he moved into the trailer when she was eight. Then her mother started dating. Then her mother started marrying.

Shane said, “I could get some more crack and we could go somewhere. I don’t have to be at work for thirty-six hours.”

Louise said, “The first man my mom married after my dad was a pharmacist.”

Shane said, “I thought she married a biker.”

Louise said, “Sort of.”

The pharmacist was a drug addict who sold pills to the Pagans, a local motorcycle gang. The Pagan’s broke the pharmacist’s face. The pharmacist divorced Louise’s mom for eating his supply. Then Louise’ mom married a doctor. Or a male nurse. Or some medical professional. Then she dated another man while Louise stayed with her pap and ate the food he cooked in a frying pan and did the homework he thought was important and watched the movies he wanted to watch in black-and-white.

She put her palms to her eyes and pressed. The crack house — the smell or maybe the fear — kept her from crying. There was also anger. She hated anger, how it always backed into her instead of out.

Shane said, “You look great, really.”

Louise had thrown on a hoodie to wear here because a hoodie felt like something she could wear to a crack house, like she was in a rap video, like she was the star, only her hoodie was from the seconds rack at Gabriel Brothers and the zipper wouldn’t zip.

Shane took her hands like he was about to propose.

He said, “I don’t think you know how beautiful you are.”

Louise looked down herself to see what Shane was seeing. It was not good. Her belly pressed against the elastic of her sweatpants. Her lungs hurt from cigarettes. She drank whole milk in her coffee and sometimes could feel it growing her chin. Her hair was in a ponytail. Her roots were pathetic. “To be loved one must love oneself,” her mom used to say before hustling off to a champagne brunch with one of her drug-addicted men but Louise wanted to be loved without loving herself, to be loved for loving others.

Shane said, “I feel like you’re mad at me. You feel completely distant.”

Louise said, “Stop saying stupid shit, please.”

“It’s the crack. It’s having a normalizing effect on me and it shouldn’t.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means I love you. It means I’m fucked up.”

Louise said, “I’m supposed to be at class.”

Shane said, “I know and I’m sorry. You’re a great student. You’re the best student. I want to do better at work so I can pay your tuition, so you can finish. I never studied when I was in college. I’m embarrassed by how much you study. You embarrass me with all the work you do. I’m so proud of you.”

*

Earlier that morning Louise had been offered a promotion from third assistant manager to second assistant manager at Bath and Body. It’d been a surprise, a pleasant one. She’d been pulled off the sales floor by another manager like she’d been busted for stealing and led to the stock room by her elbow but, instead of being fired, she was offered the promotion by her district manager, a woman who smelled like strawberry candles and could climb a ladder in high heels. Louise, almost speechless, said, “Wow.” The district manager said, “Wow indeed.” They talked some details. Hours. New responsibilities. Louise waited to talk money. She already had a second job as a waitress. She had school. The district manager never mentioned money. Louise wondered if she was about to be promoted without being given a raise. Louise asked about the raise. The district manager looked appalled. Louise looked appalled even though she tried not to look appalled. But how could you not discuss money when you talked about work? Louise said she’d have to think about the promotion. The district manager said, “I guess we all should.”

Right now Louise was missing her night class in psychology. She wanted to be a teacher. She loved kids. She wanted to be the kind of teacher she’d missed out on, the one who paid attention to the girls whose parents never showed up for conferences, who never brought in birthday treats. She’d been in school for nine years. She drove out to the suburbs to a branch campus because she thought the classes would be easier. Maybe they were. Louise made great grades. But she had at least two more years to go, plus a semester of student teaching. She didn’t know if she would finish, if she could finish.

Tomorrow night she had to work a double shift, waiting tables at Fat Heads. The money would be great. She would laugh with the other waitresses and the bartenders, the floor manager and the cooks, and she would wonder why she couldn’t do this forever, making people happy with food and drinks. Then her left foot would hurt because she’d had an operation as a child that didn’t take and the pain would be excruciating and she’d remember why she wanted to be a teacher: health insurance. A desk, a chair. Summers off. Louise hated herself for needing benefits, for her stupid foot, for the pains between her ribs, for smoking and coughing and wondering if she had cancer when she knew she did not have cancer, for thinking she mattered more than anyone else.

*

She said, “Shane, what happened with my pap and how did you find out?”

Shane said, “You don’t have to talk so slow. I’m not that high.”

She could feel the switch in Shane, the meanness coming.

She said, “I know you’re not that high. I’m just upset. Work with me, please. I’m talking slow because I’m exhausted.”

He said, “I’m not fucking retarded. You don’t have to speak to me like I’m a sped. I’m not one of those kids you’re gonna teach someday.”

He made a retard face with his tongue flopped out.

She said, “Shane, I don’t want to work with special-needs children. I want to teach elementary school. First grade. Normal kids. Maybe in a poor school district.”

He said, “I thought you wanted to teach the speds.”

No, Louise thought, I do not want to teach speds, I date speds.

Shane walked back to his chair made of tires and sat down.

He said, “This is so difficult,” and sprawled out.

Louise said, “Get up.”

Shane said, “No.”

He laced his arms across his chest. He extended his legs. Then he shifted. He uncrossed his arms and folded his legs back into his body. He pulled out his crack pipe, a piece of black glass, and put it to his lips. He went in his other pocket for a lighter.

Louise said, “Don’t.”

Shane said, “I wasn’t going to,” and set the crack pipe and his lighter on the floor like it was a can of soda, like it was a bowl of popcorn he’d pick at later.

Louise said, “Or do. Smoke crack. I don’t care.”

Other addicts walked around all the time, not using and not being assholes. Her dad paced his trailer until it burned him to death. Even her mom stayed in motion.

Louise wanted to ask Shane why he stayed this way, not dying and not leaving, only she didn’t know how to speak it out loud in a way that would get an answer so she reached for Shane and found her hands tight around his throat. He was skinny but his neck was thick. It was muscular and wiry, like an oversized arm growing up from his chest. But she was strong and he was surprised.

Shane said, “Louise, what the hell,” and stumbled but Louise held tight.

Her father had disappeared before filling out a memory for Louise to dream on and her mother had dumped Louise to be stoned with strange men but her grandfather, her beautiful grandfather, her loving pap, mill-worker and World War II veteran, a man with callused hands and a beer gut, a man with a bald head and an unkempt beard, not educated past the sixth grade but smart as hell, her grandfather had taken her in like she was his own and he had loved her and raised her when no one else would, when Louise was one social worker away from being shipped to a foster home in the boonies or to an orphanage or to the streets to takes busses and beg for her life.

And now her pap was dead and Louise was stuck in a crack house.

She might have said some of this to Shane or shouted it with her lungs flexed. She might have put her mouth to his ear and demanded answers to the things that mattered.

Or not.

She might have just screamed in her head like she’d been doing her whole life.

Then, a few seconds later, Shane gained traction and reversed everything. He was choking Louise now and demanding she explain what the fuck she was doing.

“Let go,” she tried to say, the words barely making it through her constricted throat and out her mouth.

“You let go!” Shane said. “Huh? How do you like it, you crazy bitch?”

She pushed at his arms then pulled and got free. He backed away and stepped on a tire. He fell to one knee and bounced back up. She bent over and massaged her throat. On her clothes she could smell lotion, strawberries, candles, her promotion back at work.

She said, “Just tell me when the funeral is.”

He was out of breath, his lungs heaving for crack.

He said, “How the fuck would I know when the funeral is?” He took a huge raspy breath and said, “Yesterday, I guess.”

Then she was choking him again and he, even with his desperate breathing, immediately had her and this time, she thought, he would not let go.

Shane said, “You don’t fucking hit me! You don’t hit me!”

Louise closed her eyes. She relaxed. Shane lessened the choke but he still held her by her throat. He still made it work for her to breathe.

Louise wanted to speak but could not make the effort.

Shane said, “You don’t hit me.”

He said, “I never hit you.”

He said, “Are you crazy?”

He said, “You need to apologize.”

He said something else in another voice, one from across the room, and Louise opened her eyes and saw the man who had been passed out from booze or heroin or something else rise from a pile of laundry and start to shout and dance. Shane kept choking Louise but the choke was like a hug, like he was keeping her close to protect her. The man shouted again. His arms flew over his head and he was coming towards Louise and Shane and he was dirty, Louise could see the dirt even in the dark, and he had long filthy dreads and he wore a beige overcoat covered with coffee stains. His voice was that of a preacher, of a Baptist, of someone Southern and righteous. He kept on, marching, raising his legs. Clumps of his beard were missing and his teeth were crooked and brown. He was loud but not angry. His shouts were of love, of brothers and sisters, and Louise thought, for a second, it might be okay to die.

Shane said, “What the fuck is going on?”

The man said, “You can not choke a woman! You can not choke a woman! You must love your woman! You must love your woman!” until Shane relaxed his grip so that Louise could breathe freely and not like she was swallowing air.

The man said, “Now remove your hands from her throat and everything will be alright. You can make this love work again if you remove your hands from her throat,” and he put his hands on Shane’s arms but gently.

Louise added her hands and everyone slowly separated like this had all been choreographed, like this was a routine.

The man in the dirty clothes stepped back and said, “I thought you were cops at first ‘cause you’re white but you’re not cops.”

“We’re not cops,” Shane said. “Her pap died and she’s angry with me.”

The man said, “I see that.”

Shane said, “She hit me,” like he was pleading his case.

The man in the dirty clothes said, “I see that.”

Louise looked at Shane and knew this all made sense, somehow, in the world they lived in, the one with crack houses and Bud Light cans and dying grandparents. You build your own places. Louise believed that. This was hers.

The man in the dirty clothes nodded at Louise and bowed a little and said, “I’m sorry about your grandfather.” He said, “I’m going to leave now. I’m sorry about your grandfather. I wish I knew a house that had electric.”

He turned and backed away.

Louise imagined a house, what she’d been saving for.

The man said, “It’s not safe here for white people,” and walked through the open door and took the steps with a limp until he was gone.

Louise touched her neck. She knew there were marks she’d have to cover. The front of her hoodie was torn. Her head was a bass line, pounding. She hurt everywhere, even in her eyes and ears. Outside it was night. There were streetlights and she heard cars and distant sirens. Inside the crack house, across the room, there was a light she’d hadn’t noticed, a small lamp running off a car battery. It was such a simple thing, such a practical way to stay out of the dark. She cleared her throat with effort and some pain and spit on the floor. She did it again.

She’d never been beat up in a crack house before and now she had.

Shane said, “I’m sorry, Louise. I’m so sorry,” and he started to weep.

He stepped towards her but she backed away, not because he would hurt her but because she would hurt him.

He said, “Louise.”

She said, “Don’t say my name.”

He said, “Oh Louise, I can’t help it. I say your name. It’s what I do. I wake up every morning and I see you in bed and I know I’m going to get high. I can’t stop it.” He said, “Even when I’m not high, I know I’m high. In my mind,” and he pointed two fingers to his temple to show her where.

He stepped towards her and when she backed away again, he crumbled to the floor. How small he looked down there.

“Oh Louise,” he said.

His voice was mournful and overrun with tears and anguish and desperation but, more than that, it was still his voice, the voice of Shane. Right now, at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the church on the South Side, grown men with thirty years sobriety stood over folding chairs and said, “Hi, I’m an alcoholic,” and if Shane somehow kicked all this and managed to survive that would be his voice too. In one year or five years or thirty years he would be able to stand up and say, “Hi, I’m Shane,” which is what he meant when he said, “Oh Louise,” which is what he meant when he said, “I love you,” but there were so many other voices in the world saying so many other things, women singing in churches because they liked to sing, because they loved song, pastors preaching funerals no matter whose body, men talking over shovels and heavy machinery because graves needed to be dug, and her dead pap, voiceless but still with her, her dead pap who stretched out in a box six feet deep in a soldiers’ cemetery, the funeral paid for by the US government and attended by no one he knew.

 

 

Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: Dave Newman writes: “Most of my work is influenced by geography, specifically Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, a stretch of Appalachia seldom referred to as Appalachia because it doesn’t look or sound like Kentucky. My story refers to some of the problems working-class people endure—multiple jobs, stress, dealing with stress through drugs and drink, the uselessness of a college education. One of the characters in the story keeps referring back to her grandfather, her pap, which is what I do when I write: I refer back to the people I’ve known and the place I’ve lived my whole life and I try to portray them as they are, not as they should be, so I can better understand where I live and what I need to do.]

Image by Avia Venefica via Flickr Creative Commons

Dave Newman is the author of the novelsTwo Small Birds, Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children, and Please Don’t Shoot Anyone Tonight, and the collection The Slaughterhouse Poems, named one of the Best Books of 2013 by L Magazine. He’s worked as a truck driver, a book store manager, an air filter salesman, a house painter, and a college teacher. More than 100 of his poems and stories have appeared in magazines throughout the world, including Gulf Stream, Word Riot, Smokelong Quarterly, Rattle, Wormwood Review, Tears in the Fence (UK), and The New Yinzer. He has been the featured writer and on the cover of both 5AM and Chiron Review. Anthologies include Beside the City of Angels and The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. Newman has won three chapbooks prizes. In 2004, he received the Andre Dubus Novella Award. He lives in Trafford, Pennsylvania, with his wife, the writer Lori Jakiela, and their two children. Read more at www.davenewmanwritesbooks.net.

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