Fiction - Summer 2019


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Two boys pay a visit to their father

By Dennis McFarland | June 3, 2019

From the back seat of the car, Benjamin read the gold-lettered sign at the edge of the rolling green lawn and said, “Why do they call it a correctional facility?” He’d meant only to think the question, rather than speak it, but lately, more and more, he experienced this kind of hotwiring between his thoughts and speech, a trend he recognized as risky business. His older brother, Randall, had recently emphasized the importance of taking control of your own destiny, and Benjamin could see that saying aloud what you would prefer to keep to yourself was the opposite. He also recalled an earlier period of bed-wetting, which, gratefully, hadn’t happened in many years, though the memory of it, zombielike, lived on to horrify.

“So they don’t have to call it a hoosegow,” said Randall, from the front, and their mother, as she steered the car into the parking lot, too fast, tipping Benjamin toward the middle, said, “Please don’t talk like that.”

“Don’t talk like what?” said Randall.

“Like how you’re talking.”

“You don’t even know what hoosegow means, do you?”

“I know I don’t want to know,” she said. “It’s just another one of your horrible words.”

Randall, who was four years older than Benjamin, and much wiser, and who took a lot of pleasure in provoking their mother, turned all the way around and grinned at Benjamin, who asked, softly, “What’s a hoosegow?”

“The slammer,” said Russell. “You know, the joint. The cooler. The clink.”

The front of the place resembled a motel—plate-glass windows, automatic doors, and a circular drive with a shed over it for drop-offs and pickups—and inside, at the reception desk, their mother showed her driver’s license and signed a ledger, exactly as if they were checking into a motel. The woman behind the desk, gray-headed and plump, looked just like somebody’s grandmother, only dressed in a cop uniform. The enormous sunlit lobby had a white polished floor, motel-like couches and tables, and fake palms in giant pots. Along the back wall were 10 blond wood doors labeled A through J, and at the far end was an alcove with drinking fountains, vending machines, and restrooms. As Benjamin wandered past one of the emerald-green couches near the windows, he suppressed an impulse to yell, though he was sure the lobby would have yielded a satisfying echo. They’d visited once before, but only now did he notice that the floor was flecked here and there with some kind of silver glitter, in random patterns like little accidental spills. Out the windows, beyond the near-empty parking lot and lawn, stood a line of trees he identified as ginkgoes with their fan-shaped leaves. It was barely fall, still too early for them to have started turning yellow, and high above these, a red-tailed hawk glided into and out of view, never flapping its wings. Much higher still, a tiny white jetliner crossed the sky at a snail’s pace, leaving the faintest vapor trail. Benjamin imagined the plane bursting silently into flames and falling from the sky, with him the only living witness, and while he stood imagining this, the woman behind the reception desk spoke the words “nine zero nine seven three one zero” into a walkie-talkie. She repeated it twice, and suddenly his mother was there, turning him around by the shoulder and telling him to please stop daydreaming and hurry up.

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