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Mountain People

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The perils of stealing on Christmas day …

By Ralph Lombreglia

July 7, 2011


 

 

Someone was stealing from my father. It was little things at first, a two-by-four, a box of nails, a caulking gun, the stuff that walks off a construction site when kids are building a treehouse. But in the winter? my father wondered. Just before Christmas? With a foot of snow on the ground and the nearest housing development a half-mile away? Maybe. Nothing surprised him anymore, certainly nothing about kids. If you took a really good look at kids it was hard to believe humanity even existed. Then the stealing got bigger. Every time he swung by this particular job, more and better supplies had vanished. A whole sheet of plywood, a length of copper pipe, a roll of pink insulation the size of a tractor tire. It wasn’t kids. It was some guy with a truck. That meant another man in the trades, which was even weirder than the treehouse theory. You saw very little wrongdoing among tradespeople in New Jersey in the mid-1960s—not because of solidarity in the guilds but because of what would happen if they ever caught you.

And this guy was begging for it. His take yesterday alone: a 16-foot two-by-twelve and a whole bundle of roofing shingles. I called him the crow because he was plucking my father’s innards. My father got a kick out of that, and he started calling the thief the crow, too.

The site of the crow’s repast was a big ranch-style house on a wooded ridge above the old Erie-Lackawanna line. These were the go-go years when the wives of organization men were popping out babies like shotgun casings. All those children would need places to grow up, and it wouldn’t be in cities like the one where my father had duked it out. So he was building large these days, taking bigger chances with bigger spec houses in the woods of northern Jersey.

This ranch was his biggest yet—four bedrooms, huge eat-in kitchen, family room, finished basement, redwood deck. Or that’s what it would be come summer. At the moment it was a plywood box shut down for the winter, its windows and doors just frost-rimmed holes. Valuable stuff shouldn’t have been in there in the first place, but my father had ordered all his expensive supplies back in the fall, when the plan called for closing the site up by Thanksgiving. The electrician and the plumber should have been traipsing around in there by now with their woolen shirts and their Thermoses. But winter had overtaken my father.

Christmas Eve morning after breakfast I was heading up to my room when he stopped me on the carpeted stairs. I sensed an invitation coming. My father enjoyed my company in short bursts, when we could just cruise around and not discuss anything heavy. Lately, however, “Wanna take a ride?” had come to mean, “Wanna eat baked ziti in a restaurant kitchen and talk to the dishwasher while I play poker with a bunch of guys in an empty banquet room?”

He saw me groping for a way to say no before he had even asked. “Not now,” he whispered, shaking his head. “Tomorrow morning. You and me. We take the crow.”

“Take him? To the poker game?”

He thought I was kidding and started to laugh. Then he made a karate chop in the air. “Take him down.”

“Tomorrow’s Christmas,” I said.

“That’s right!” He winked and punched me in the shoulder. “Maybe we can take him shopping!” Then he finished descending the stairs, chuckling to himself.

I couldn’t remember what I’d been going upstairs for, so I returned to the kitchen for another cup of coffee. My mother brewed it in an actual urn, a restaurant 50-cupper my father had won in a hand of cards. I gushed a mug from its blistering tap. The truck engine turned over in the garage. He was going out to try his luck again. At the kitchen window my mother was watching a herd of deer devour her rhododendrons. My steaming mug made her want another one, too. We drank coffee all day and night in that house, all those years ago. She unleashed a black jet and joined me at the round white kitchen table. Our best conversations took place at this spot, mostly after midnight when she would put on a fresh urn.

“Your father informs me that Christmas breakfast and gift-giving will be delayed tomorrow morning.” Two plumes of cigarette smoke left her nostrils like engine exhaust.

“Yeah. We’re going to catch the crow.”

She smiled. “You’re clipping the crow’s wings.” My face must have looked painful. She stubbed out her Pall Mall. “Be careful next time you name something.”

This touched on two of her recurring themes, the importance of tiny things and the invisible connection of everything. Her own mother had somehow become a Transcendentalist who carried Emerson and Thoreau paperbacks in her pocketbook. She’d had a crystal ball and a Tarot deck, too, none of which stopped her from dying young. Only I, the eldest, really remembered her.

“He’s taking the law into his own hands.”

She laughed. “I wasn’t aware it ever had left his hands.” She flicked her Zippo to light another smoke. “Do I need to get you out of it?”

“No, I’ll go. Just don’t let him bring a gun.”

She was aghast, or pretended to be.

“He has guns, you realize.”

“Of course he has them. But he would never bring one on an escapade like this.”

“Because if he brought it he would use it?”

She nodded, which nicely brought the tip of her cigarette into the flame.


To be a house-builder you needed the balls of King Tut or you needed to be nuts, and the punch line of that joke is that my father needed both. The signs on his empty lots always said “Will Build to Suit,” but that was just something you said, like the Pledge of Allegiance. Nobody was going to buy a lot and hire him to build their dream house on it. Every house he built he built on spec, him fronting the money or some friend of his fronting it, and either way he was in over his dick, as I had overheard him say. Risk is a killer, he would tell me during our rides in his truck. Don’t take risks, go with the sure thing. In the history of civilization, has a person’s rhetoric ever been more disconnected from reality? If I took no risk it was only because my father had taken it all already, leaving none for other people. Only uncertainty got him going, uncertainty and the possibility of disaster. He once dropped a grand on a single poker hand, according to my mother’s brother, the guy who introduced the two of them in the first place. And she was on the back of his motorcycle five minutes after meeting him.

“You know what’s missing from this joint, Junior?” she asked me, downing the last of her coffee.

“Dad?”

“No, music. It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re not playing holiday songs. Put on some Christmas music for me.”

I went to the sunken living room, where the stereo stood like the teak sarcophagus of a child king. These were the days when quality music reproduction required actual furniture, usually a big piece from Scandinavia. I hadn’t touched this console in a year, having received my own stereo the previous Christmas, a plastic number the size of a backpack with fold-out speakers and the all-important headphone jack. But I’d shivered her timbers plenty in the past.

I lifted the wooden lid. A Christmas record was on the turntable, the tone arm still on the platter, the needle actually resting in a groove. Twelve months before, in some transport of yearning or despair, someone, possibly me, had simply flipped the switch and walked away, ending the holidays in mid-song. I blew some dust off the black vinyl and started the machine. Life is but a dream, and here was the proof. The song woke up like Rip van Winkle, right where it had gone to sleep, slowly at first like The Righteous Brothers kicking off “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” then finally hitting 33 1/3 whereupon the lyrics of “White Christmas” emanated from Bing Crosby like fumes from a hot toddy.

“That’s better,” my said when I returned.

I was about to suggest that she talk my father out of his citizen’s arrest of the crow, stop him by invoking the spirit of Christmas or something, when the doorbell rang. It startled even Missy, our yellow dog who could hear a car at the base of the mountain. Had this visitor not arrived in a car? My mother and I looked at each other.

“Who the hell could this be?” we said together.

We didn’t get a lot of drop-in visitors, or visitors of any kind. We lived on a small mountain far from everything except a gigantic phone-company dish antenna and, down in the valley, the state mental hospital where Bob Dylan had once visited Woody Guthrie. My father had gotten a great deal on the lot. In fact, he had bought half the mountaintop. He was always telling us that someday it would be studded with beautiful homes. We thought he should check himself in down the hill. But of course he turned out to be right. It’s all shrinks and lawyers up there today, with any one of those houses worth what he paid for all of it.

“If it’s Santa, the kids are out sledding,” said my mother.

Every Christmas Eve, the fire department amazed us by sending their red engine all the way up to our place with Santa Claus waving from a ladder mounted on the side.

I opened the door. A priest was standing there. He smiled and put out his hand, not to shake mine but to stop me from closing the door. Missy muscled her way through my legs, and he scratched her head. He was a big guy with that disturbing white collar-tab in an otherwise cool black shirt. We didn’t know back then what we know today, and so his key feature wasn’t his possible status as a child rapist but his hair, which was the most astonishing shade of orange-red I had ever seen. Very few people had hair like the hair on this priest. It didn’t look like something that would grow from a human scalp. It looked like tangerine-colored Day-Glo corn silk or the plumage of a tropical bird.

“Sorry,” I said.

“About what?”

He had a heavy accent. “You’re not American.”

“I’m Irish. Sorry about what?”

“About not being the house you’re looking for.” I looked past him at the driveway. No car was there. “How did you get up here?”

He flapped his fingertips. “I’m an angel,” he said. “Come to see your mother.”

“We don’t have one. We’re orphans.”

“In that case I’m here to see you.”

I turned to the kitchen and cried, “Mom, it’s a priest!”

She came out smoothing her skirt. “Father!” she exclaimed. “How good to see you. Merry Christmas.” She took his hand. That wasn’t adequate so they followed it up with a hug.

“You two know each other?”

“Of course we do,” my mother said. She led the priest to the arched entrance of our sunken living room. Then she came back and patted my head. “I’ve been going to Mass,” she whispered.

“For what?”

“That’s not a question with an answer.”

“Is ‘when’ a question with an answer?”

“In the afternoons when you’re at school.”

“You go to church when it’s not even Sunday?”

“Never on Sunday,” she said, winking at me.

A movie by that title was out around this time, with a cloying hit song named after it. The song flew into my head and clashed horribly with Bing Crosby. I sidestepped down the hall for a peek at the priest. He was sitting cross-legged in an armchair, bathed in Christmas-tree light. He was actually jiggling his foot to the beat of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” despite being dressed in the garb of a seer whose head was on fire.

I stepped back. “He won’t rest ‘til we’re all down there.”

“In Hell?”

“No, Mom, his church in the village.”

“He knows you boys excommunicated yourselves.”

“He’ll get the girls then. Plus, you can kiss your Pall Malls goodbye. And your highballs, too.”

“He’s a Catholic, not a Mormon. Catholics smoke and drink.”

“Tell me about it.”

She smiled and swiped her hand beneath her chin. Giving me the finger would have been a sin on Christmas, but the Italian way was exempt from those restrictions. Then she went to hang out with the holy man.

He wasn’t the first of his kind to come around. An even spookier and more haunted individual had been up the mountain to see us a year before. That visit led to my brother and me attending Sunday School for four or five weeks until the young communicants put an end to that episode by waking up one Lord’s Day and splitting a whole bottle of aspirins.


Christmas morning arrived, and sure enough Santa Claus had come again—the real Santa, not the one with the fire department, although fire department Santa had also shown up the previous evening, having quaffed a shot in every other house in our district to judge by the magnitude of his jolliness. The girls believed him to be the real Santa and told him everything they wanted. My father gave him a bottle for the truck and a fifty for the firehouse. Their red lights flashed in the snowy woods as they careened away. Now, in the pre-dawn darkness of our living room I could see the blocky shapes of the presents heaped beneath the triangular silhouette of tree. I would have liked to investigate further, but my father was hustling me out into the cold garage. He had packed something to hold us on the road, English muffin sandwiches with one slice of American cheese inside and no butter or jelly, and coffee in styrofoam cups that he brought home from coffee-breaks on the job and washed out to use again. We devoured these things while motoring through blue-white fantasy tunnels of snow-clotted pines. It was getting light out.

“I know how a person like this thinks,” my father said. “I’ve been there.”

“You have? You’ve stolen stuff?”

“No, but I’ve been broke. Broke and desperate. You haven’t, so you don’t know. Christmas means nothing to a guy like this. But he thinks it matters to me. He thinks everything stops because Christmas is a sacred day. That’s why he’ll be there.”

“Well, if the poor guy is that bad off, maybe we should just leave him alone.”

“Is that supposed to be a joke?”

“I mean just today. Let him have his Christmas, then tomorrow sic the cops on him.”

“What are the cops gonna do? Either I personally stop this bastard or he robs me every day of the week.”

The scene of the crime was a nice siting for a house, a knoll in rolling woodlands with a panoramic view in front and privacy in back. The drop-off behind the house was too steep for anybody to build back there, plus the train tracks were down in the gully. A little choo-choo noise a few times a day was the only downside to this magnificent property, and yet, touring the finished product, some young couple would become convinced that their beautiful boys would someday be killed by that train. Or they would rocket down the steep driveway on their Flexible Flyers and sail under the wheels of a truck. The buyers always found something to panic about. My father was a macho entrepreneur, yet his fate lay in the hands of grown children with hyperactive imaginations.

“You missed it,” I said as he drove right past the place.

“If we wait for him on the job, what are we going to catch him doing? Trespassing? He’ll laugh in our faces.”

He took the next curve without slowing down and used his exit-velocity to hit the steep, unpaved drive of a competitor’s job across the road. Then he whipped his truck up the steep, unplowed driveway like a rodeo horse. At the top, he backed it up a slope below a stand of evergreens and turned the engine off.

“If you left it on we could have heat.”

“We don’t need heat. Toughen up.”

His competitor had cleared the lot, then stopped. He hadn’t started digging his foundation, never mind pouring it and framing a house on it. There was nothing to steal but chunks of felled trees.

“The turtle wins the race,” said my father.

He surprised me, knowing that fable. He was a high school dropout, but it was hard to imagine him sitting in a school at all, ever. Who could teach him anything? Even kindergarten was a stretch. Especially kindergarten. But you had to keep your eye on him. He was smart and noticed things without letting on.

“Life’s not fair,” I added.

“That’s right. Get over it.”

“I am over it. I’m the one who said it.”

“How old are you?”

“You don’t know?”

“Of course I know. I just want you to tell me.”

“Fifteen.”

“Fifteen,” he repeated as if stunned by the size of the hole his family had blown in his life. “You’re not over anything.”

We looked down through naked trees at his job across the road. When the branches leafed out, this house and that house wouldn’t be able to see each other, but winter exposed them. My father’s structure was in a primitive state, a big long box with holes cut in it and two slopes on top for a roof. The garage mouth suggested an astonished head sitting in the snow, the snowdrift on its concrete floor like a curl of white tongue. The garage door hadn’t been delivered yet, but the other doors and windows were lying inside on the living room floor. The costly windows were wrapped in heavy plastic sheets, three to a bunch and bound with metal straps you had to cut with a pair of tin snips. The crow had not yet had the audacity to open those packages.

Nothing in the world was moving, not even a little bit. Everything was frozen. The universe was sending us a message: No one is coming here today. The stakeout was a fool’s errand.

“Doesn’t feel like Christmas,” I said.

“I’ll bet it feels like Christmas to the crow,” said my father. “Every day’s Christmas for him. Every day the crow has something under his tree.”

“He probably went out of town to see his family.”

My father thought this was hilarious. “His family? This guy’s got no family. He’s on his own in life. This guy’s a loner.”

The passenger-seat window glass was tongue-snatching cold. I put my forearm against it and rested my head on the cool nylon of my parka. I closed my eyes and summoned the Christmas spirit, whatever it was. Nobody knew, but it existed. I tried to will it toward me like a caveman luring a deer with magical drawings. But I couldn’t summon it. Back home my siblings were under the spell—the girls certainly, maybe even my brother to some slight extent. I remembered it as a neat feeling.


I woke up with my father shaking my shoulder. A truck was struggling up the drive of his job across the way—an old Dodge with its blue paint bleached to chalk. When it got to the top the driver’s door swung open and out popped a big pink man with hair the color of a tangerine. I couldn’t believe it. What were the chances of it? Two of them in two consecutive days. He could have been the priest’s brother. It was almost as good as feeling the magic of Christmas.

“The circus has come to town,” said my father.

“You know this guy?”

“No, what makes you say that?”

“You always say you know guys in the circus. You’re supposed to get us tickets.”

“I do know some guys in the circus. But not this circus.”

The crow was walking around the house as if looking for a way in besides the man-sized hole where the front door should have been. He scanned the lot with a proprietary air but he didn’t look up the hill across the road. He wouldn’t have spotted us anyway, not that high and far away in a green truck beneath evergreens. He was searching for signs that something had changed, that his sweet thing was turning sour.

The crow thinks he’s alone, I thought, trying to hurl my mind across the county road into his mind, feel the gears and pulleys that made a person rob and steal. But I couldn’t connect to the crow because I had named him incorrectly. You don’t call somebody “the crow” when he has a head like a fluorescent pumpkin. “The fox” you might call such a character, and though it would be pitifully lame at least it wouldn’t make people wonder if you were an idiot. Now I would never be able to tell this story without having to stop and explain how a guy named for a jet-black bird turns out to have a pink complexion and fiery hair. And there was no fixing it because you can’t take back a name.

The orange crow was now standing on the stairless plywood porch, though I hadn’t seen him climb or jump up there. He pointed at his truck like someone telling a dog to stay, but the passenger door swung open and a kid got out, my age or a little younger. His face was hidden by the raised hood of his dark parka. It had made him melt into the interior of the truck.

“Look at this,” my father said. “The fucker brings his son to steal with him on Christmas Day.”

The orange crow and his offspring entered the house and came out with a full sheet of plywood, the heavy-grade kind, half-inch thick. I could tell because it didn’t flex like quarter-inch, and because they were struggling with it. A sheet of half-inch is a backbreaking thing. I knew from summers on my father’s jobs.

They laid the heavy plywood in the truck, and soon they had three sheets of wallboard stacked on top of that. Then they hauled out two-by-eights, long ones, 12-footers that stuck way past the edge of the crow’s lowered tailgate.

“They’re taking a ton of stuff,” I said.

“It’s Christmas,” my father replied.

Like lumberjacks at an all-you-can-eat pancake place, they went back in for more. They were in there for a while before emerging with a nice double-hung window. My father snorted like a horse. He took his pickup out of gear but kept his foot on the brake. The crow locked the window in place with the heavy two-by-eights. He knew how to load a truck.

“Go get another one,” my father said. As if at his command, they went back inside. He took his foot off the brake, and we rolled across the empty lot in perfect silence and then down the steep drive, picking up speed. At the bottom he popped the clutch to start the engine and roared up his own driveway, swerving and sliding and snarling until he slid to a stop, blocking the crow like a cop.


Our buddies heard us and came running out the door-hole like fumigated mice. They stood on the plywood porch looking between our truck and theirs, trying to decide what to do. The crow was thick and red-faced and deranged-looking. The kid’s head was out of his parka hood, and his hair was so black, his mother must have been Sicilian. He was big, too. And chromosomally damaged in some way. Not Down’s syndrome, I didn’t think, but some version of the bad luck that can happen to people even in the womb.

My father flung open his door and jumped out of the truck. The orange crow leapt off the porch and slogged through crusty snow to meet him.

“What seems to be the problem, sir?” he declaimed.

I knew he would have an Irish accent, but it was still weird to watch your thoughts be acted out by another being. The orange crow extended his hand as he walked toward my father. My father extended his hand, too. He had a gun in it.

“I’m gonna show you what the problem is.”

Amazingly, the crow kept moving toward the gun. “I don’t think I follow you, sir.” He was blocking his son’s view while mouthing large silent words at my father and rotating his open palms at the wrist like a man imitating a railroad signal. My father put his gun-hand back in his pocket. The crow motioned toward the edge of the property. My father crunched after him like a Roman senator following a gesticulating elf.

That left me with the kid. He jumped off the porch to greet me. “Merry Christmas!” he said.

I shook his hand. “I completely forgot it was Christmas.”

“Why? Are you Jewish?” He had a speech impediment and it took me a second to figure out what he was saying.

“No, just distracted.”

He thought that was funny. He turned to look at the icy plywood structure with holes cut in it. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

“I think the most beautiful part is yet to come.”

The crow had walked my father 30 or so yards away, where he was gesturing expansively and explaining something. My father had failed to perceive the kid’s condition.

“So what are you guys doing out here?” I asked. “On Christmas Day and everything.”

“My father is building this house.”

“Ah. For you? You gonna live here?”

He nodded. I felt the distant rumble out in the woods, and then the Erie-Lackawana blew its whistle at the crossing down the line. Even the men stopped talking for a minute and we all listened as the train shuttled through the valley behind the house.

“Is there a priest in your family?” I asked the kid. “With hair like your dad’s?”

“Uncle Jack!”

“I thought so. My mother goes to his church. Is it weird having a priest for an uncle?”

“No, I like Uncle Jack.”

The kid’s name was Billy. His mother was indeed Italian, and he was very pleased to hear that we were Italian, too. He told me about some of the other houses his father was building. Then the men started walking back.

“Hey, Dad, guess what?” I said. “Billy here? He’s the nephew of the priest at Mom’s church. Father Jack—do you know him? He was up at the house just yesterday, when you were out.” I gestured to the crow, who had closed his eyes as if sleeping while standing up. “And Billy’s father is the guy who’s building this house.”

“Yeah, I heard about that,” said my father, starting for the truck. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“So long, Billy,” I said, and swung myself into the passenger seat. My father started the truck, spun it backwards and gunned out of the lot. The various parts of his face were pulling in different directions like a test pilot at mach five. We plunged down the steep driveway as if going over a cliff.


His truck had a three-speed gear shift mounted on the steering column that he now wrung like the neck of a chicken, gruesomely grinding the gears. He was speed-shifting without the clutch, and in his agitated state he was missing.

Neither of us spoke for a mile or more. Finally I said, “They hit other builders besides you. Billy says his father is building lots of houses.”

My father didn’t care about the larger crime. He couldn’t get over the thing with the kid. “The weasel takes his retarded son with him when he steals, and if he gets caught, he uses the boy as a shield. What kind of a weasel does a thing like that?”

“Billy thinks they’re moving into this one.”

“I’d like to horsewhip the bastard. And I would have if it wasn’t Christmas and the kid wasn’t standing there.”

“Are weasels reddish-orange in color?”

“This one was.”

“But out in the wild.”

“How the hell would I know?”

“You hunt and stuff.”

“For weasels?”

“No, but you know the colors of the different species.”

“I have no fucking idea what color a weasel is.”

“I think they’re reddish-orange.”

“You’re probably right.”

So what happened was, the weasel took my father to the edge of the property and pleaded not to be exposed in the presence of his son, a damaged kid who believed his dad to be a successful man and not the lying piece of crap he actually was. Life was hard with a kid like that, not like life with a beautiful child such as the builder’s handsome dark-eyed son standing over there, blah, blah. If my father would just let him drive away with his damaged son’s respect, the weasel would bring back all the things he had stolen, not just the things in the truck right now but all of it—he still had it all, having saved it to build a house for his family someday like The Three Little Pigs—and he would put it all right back in the house this very night, Christmas night, just like Santa Claus. Down the chimney? my father asked. Please, mister, said the weasel.

My father thought about it as the train went by, and then he told the weasel the deal. The weasel would wait for us to leave. He would spare his kid’s feelings by staying right there at the house just like he was the one who owned it. But then the minute we were gone, the weasel would come up with some believable explanation for why he and the kid were now unloading the truck and carrying all the stuff back into the house just the way they’d carried it out. It would have to be a good explanation, because Billy wasn’t stupid. He got plenty of what was going on. He probably got more than the weasel gave him credit for. So the weasel had a nice little challenge for himself there. And as to what the weasel had stolen on his previous excursions into places he didn’t belong, my father didn’t care. The weasel could keep it. The weasel could shove it up his ass. Instead, my father wanted the weasel to stay as far from his property as it was possible to get—like, out of the United States, for example—and if my father ever saw the weasel again in his entire life, anywhere, at any time, in any place—on the street, in a bar, in places the weasel was perfectly within his legal rights to be—my father was going to clamp the weasel’s face in his hands like a vise and unscrew the weasel’s head like a light bulb.

There was a deep turnout up ahead in the winding road. My father pulled into it. He got out and walked around to the passenger side. “Do weasels climb trees?” he asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

He took the gun from his coat pocket. “See that big weasel up there?” He blasted a limb off a big dead tree, one shot at 20 yards. It sailed to the ground like a silver needle dropped by Jack in the beanstalk.

“Nice shooting, Dad.”

He motioned me out of the truck. I walked to where he was standing.

“Why does your mother feel the need to go to this church?”

“I have no idea. I think she likes the music.”

“They play music there?”

“I guess you could call it music.”

A year before, when my brother and I went to catechism classes, he would drop us off and read the paper in the diner across the street until we were done. As far as I knew, he’d never been inside. I remembered yearning to be with him as the nuns clacked on about the creepy saints.

“You ever shoot a gun?” he asked me.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean, why not? Who the hell else was ever gonna let me shoot one except you?”

He put it in my hand. “Pick something high so you don’t kill us with a ricochet.”

He stood behind me in case the pistol knocked me on my ass. I chose a dead limb and fired. Branches clattered down on the crusted snow, but not my branch.

“Hit that weasel,” my father said.

I shot again, and then again, and then a fourth time without success. He had to go get a box of bullets from behind the seat of his truck, but in the end I nailed it.

“Are we allowed to do this?”

“What do you think?”

We continued to shoot up the woods until the bullets were gone and then we went home. To my mother’s whispered question, “What happened with the crow?” I replied, “The crow is dead, long live the weasel.” My father called for a breakfast worthy of hunters and lawmen. It was served, and then we did Christmas. The girls received girly gifts that fell outside my visible light spectrum, and my brother got the drum set that changed his life. And as for me … I can’t remember. I have no idea what I got that year. But I’m sure it was something good


Ralph Lombreglia is the author of two short-story collections, Men Under Water and Make Me Work. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and the Scholar, among other magazines.


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