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Authors: David Jauss

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Black Maps

Black Maps

David Jauss

 

Dzanc Books

BLACK MAPS

S
HORT
S
TORIES
BY
D
AVID
J
AUSS

Dzanc Books
1334 Woodbourne Street
Westland, MI 48186
www.dzancbooks.org

Copyright © 1996 David Jauss

All rights reserved, except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher.

Published 2013 by Dzanc Books
A Dzanc Books r
E
print Series Selection

eBooks ISBN-13: 978-1-938604-89-8
eBook Cover Designed by Awarding Book Covers

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author
.

F
OR MY MOTHER AND FATHER

It takes so little, so infinitely little, for a person to cross the border beyond which everything loses meaning: love, convictions, faith, history. Human life—and herein lies its secret—takes place in the immediate proximity of that border, even in direct contact with it; it is not miles away, but a fraction of a inch
.

M
ILAN
K
UNDERA

Three things about the border are known:
It's real, it doesn't exist, it's on all the black maps
.

J
AMES
G
ALVIN

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Earlier versions of these stories, sometimes under other titles, appeared in the following magazines:

Descant
: “The Late Man”

Great Stream Review
: “Brutality”

The Iowa Review
: “The Bigs”

New England Review
: “Freeze”

Northwest Review
: “Torque”

Prairie Schooner
: “Beautiful Ohio” (reprinted by permission of the University of Nebraska Press; copyright 1989 University of Nebraska Press)

Shenandoah
: “Glossolalia”

Short Story
: “Firelight”

StoryQuarterly
: “Rainier”

“Freeze” also appeared in
The Pushcart Prize XIV: Best of the Small Presses, 1989-1990
. “The Bigs” was reprinted in
Bottom of the Ninth: Great Contemporary Baseball Stories
. “Glossolalia” was included in
Best American Short Stories 1991
;
The Pushcart Prize XVI: Best of the Small Presses, 1991-1992
; and
The Pushcart Book of Stories: The Best of the First 25 Years of the Pushcart Prize
.

Black Maps
was originally published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1996.

I am grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts, the James A. Michener and Copernicus Society of America, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Arkansas Arts Council for fellowships that enabled me to write many of these stories. My thanks also to Frederick Busch, Philip Dacey, John Roder, David Wojahn, Deb Wylder, Edith Wylder, and, especially, James Hannah and Dennis Vannatta.

C
ONTENTS

T
ORQUE

F
REEZE

B
EAUTIFUL
O
HIO

T
HE
B
IGS

B
RUTALITY

F
IRELIGHT

T
HE
L
ATE
M
AN

R
AINIER

G
LOSSOLALIA

T
ORQUE

The day after his wife left him, taking their three-year-old son with her, Larry Watkins took out his circular saw, attached the metal-cutting blade, and carefully sawed his 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood in half. It was not an impulsive or crazy act, as his neighbors might have supposed. He had spent almost four hours the day before making the proper measurements, drawing the cutting line with a magic marker, and chaining one bumper to the garage wall and the other to the Chevy so the two halves wouldn't spring together when he cut the frame. And in a way, he had been planning this moment ever since 1985, when he came back to the U.S. after two years of guard duty and beer drinking for Uncle Sam in Germany. To celebrate their release from the service, he and his buddy Spence had rented a limousine for an hour and cruised around Virginia Beach, drinking Scotch from the limo's bar and looking at girls through the tinted glass. Spence was talking away about his plans: he was going to catch the next bus to Albany, marry his girl, and go to work in her father's office supply store. Larry hadn't given much thought to his future, so when Spence asked him what he was going to do when he got back to Minnesota, he said the first thing that came to his mind: “I'm gonna get me one of these limousines.”

They had both laughed when he said that, but the more Larry thought about it, the more he liked the idea of owning a limousine. He remembered Arlen Behrens, an acne-faced kid he'd known in high school. Arlen hadn't had a date in his life, but after he got a red Trans Am for his birthday, he started going steady with Karla Thein, one of the homecoming princesses. Larry could only imagine what the girls in Monticello would think of a limousine. He pictured himself sipping champagne in the back seat with a pretty redhead while his chauffeur drove them down Main Street. Everybody would gawk at them, even the rich kids passing in their Corvettes and Austin-Healeys, but he'd wave or smile only at those he considered his friends. If he had a limo, everyone would see that he wasn't who they'd always thought he was; they would see that he was someone else entirely, someone mysterious and admirable.

Larry knew he could never afford a limousine, of course, but he thought he might be able to build one. So after he returned to Monticello, he started collecting articles about limos and writing to
Limousine and Chauffeur
magazine for information about how they were made. He had six manila envelopes full of blueprints and suggestions by the time he met Karen at ShopKo, where she worked in ladies' apparel and he worked in electronics. She was a tall, slim blonde with green eyes and a crooked smile, and he was amazed that such a beautiful woman would go out with him. He told her about his plans to build a limousine, but she only laughed and called him a dreamer. When he picked her up for a date in his Impala, she'd say, “Oh good, we're going in the limo again tonight.” And on his twenty-third birthday, she gave him a blue chauffeur's cap, climbed into the back seat, and said, “Once around the park, then home, James!” She teased him, but Larry knew she was looking forward to the day when he'd build his limousine and drive her around town like a queen.

Then, a few months after he and Karen were married, he bought the Caddy from Hawker's Salvage and had it towed to his garage. He thought Karen would be pleased, but when she came home from work and saw the rusty, battered car, she demanded he take it back.

He was so surprised he couldn't say anything for a moment. Then he said, “You can't take it back. It's not like a pair of pants that don't fit or something.”

“Well, you've got to sell it to somebody else then. We can't afford a second car, especially one that won't run. What did you pay for it anyway?”

“Just five hundred dollars,” he said.

“Five hundred dollars! How could you do such a thing?”

“But I told you I was going to build a limo.”

She fixed him with a look he had never seen before. “Well, I didn't believe it. I thought that was just you talking.”

He stared at her a moment, then went over and stood beside the crumpled hood. “I know it doesn't look like much now,” he said, his voice trembling a little, “but wait till I fix it up. You'll have the nicest car in town. And we'll go places. We'll go all over. It'll be as comfortable as sitting in your living room, only you'll be going somewhere.”

“Fix it up?” she said. “You think you can fix
that
up?”

In the weeks that followed they continued to fight about the car, but Larry would never agree to sell it. Once Karen went behind his back and put an ad in the paper, but Larry found out about it and told everyone who called that the car had already been sold. After that, Karen didn't say anything to him about the Caddy, at least not in words. If he mentioned it, she'd just shake her head and look away. Even then, he didn't give in. He wanted to prove to her that he was the kind of man who made his dreams come true, the kind of man who
deserved
a limo. But he didn't have enough money to start working on the car yet, so he just kept on collecting articles and blueprints. At least once a week he'd take out his envelopes, spread them across the kitchen table, and spend a couple of hours going through all the information.

The summer their son turned two, Larry talked Karen into taking a trip to Disney World. “Randy would love it,” he said, and though Karen worried he was too young to appreciate Disney World, she finally agreed. They packed up the Chevy and left Monticello just after dawn that Saturday. It took them two long days to drive to Florida, but they managed to make the trip fun, playing License Plate Poker and I Spy and singing songs from Disney movies. But when they finally reached Orlando and Larry mentioned there was a limousine factory nearby that he wouldn't mind touring, the fun stopped. No matter how hard he tried to convince Karen that he hadn't planned the trip just to see the factory, she wouldn't believe him. While they were eating dinner at McDonald's, he asked her to listen to reason, and that made her so angry she went into the restroom and stayed there for almost half an hour. When she finally came out, her eyes were red and puffy, but there were no tears in her voice: “Take us to the airport,” she said. “Now.” Two hours later, she and Randy were on a flight to Minneapolis, where her parents lived. She was planning to get a lawyer and file for divorce as soon as she got there.

Larry checked into a Motel 6 near the airport and stayed up late drinking Jim Beam from a pint bottle. The more he drank, the crazier it all seemed to him: he'd actually let a car, a
junk heap
, come between him and his family. What was wrong with him? There was only one thing to do: sell the damned car and toss out his box full of blueprints and articles. And that's exactly what he'd do, the minute he got home. As soon as he made that decision, he felt as if a terrible burden had been lifted from him, and he lay back on the bed and closed his eyes.

The next morning, Larry started back to Minnesota. He hadn't intended to stop at the limousine factory, but his route took him near it and since he'd already decided to sell the Caddy, he figured it wouldn't hurt anything to take a look. Once he was there, he had such a good time watching the workmen convert ordinary Cadillacs into customized stretch limos that he decided to go through the tour again, this time taking notes. He hadn't changed his mind about selling the car; he just wanted to compare the factory's methods with those recommended by
Limousine and Chauffeur
magazine. After he did that, he'd throw the notes out along with everything else. So he took the tour again, and when he came back out to the parking lot, he stood there for a long moment, looking at the Chevy's rusted fenders and torn vinyl seats, before he unlocked the door and got in.

Two nights later, back in Monticello, he sat down at his kitchen table and dialed the number of Karen's parents. By then, he had decided not to say anything about the Caddy unless he had to. He'd just ask Karen to come home, and if she said yes, he wouldn't even bring the car up. But if she said no, he'd promise to sell it and never mention a limo again. It was all up to her. He listened to the phone ring, then she answered, her hello cool, preoccupied. But when she heard his voice, she started to cry, and he knew he wouldn't have to sell the car. “I'll drive up to get you and Randy in the morning,” he said, after she finally stopped crying.

That was over a year ago. They'd had many fights after that, and every one ended with her crying and forgiving him. But after a while—he didn't know exactly when or why—they stopped fighting. They spoke politely to each other and never even mentioned the limo, yet somehow Larry felt worse, as if they were arguing in a deeper, more dangerous way than before. And then, yesterday morning, Karen looked at him across the breakfast table and said she was leaving, and he knew this time she would not come back.

Now Larry stood in his garage, sweating in the intense July heat, the saw whining in his hand, and looked at the two halves of his Cadillac. He had been preparing for this moment for six years, and for the life of him he couldn't remember what he was supposed to do next.

The next day, when Larry didn't report for work, his boss called him and asked if he was sick. Larry told him about Karen, and he said Larry should feel free to take the day off. Mondays were always slow, and they could get by short-handed for a day. But they'd need him back tomorrow. Larry said no problem, he'd be there. But he didn't report to work the rest of the week, and though the phone rang every morning shortly after the store opened, he did not answer it. The next Monday, he received a registered letter notifying him that he'd been terminated. He sat at the kitchen table strewn with breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes and looked at that word:
terminated
. It had a finality that he liked. He said it aloud and listened to it in the quiet house.

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