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Authors: Peter Abrahams

Nerve Damage

BOOK: Nerve Damage
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Peter Abrahams
NERVE damage

or Molly Friedrich

hat comes out in the end is the result of discarded finds.


Many thanks
to Jeff Abrahams, David Chapman, Niki Cohen, Nick Fotiu
and Jeff MacKilligan



Sometimes the dead live on in your dreams. Delia was…


“Wow,” said Krishna Madapan, Roy's dealer, walking around Delia. Friday…


It wasn't that Roy was a particularly acute reader of…


Chest sewn back up—only four stitches needed—and still a little…


Roy awoke with a new shape in his mind. He…


“Lookin' good, Roy,” said Freddy Boudreau, Ethan Valley police sergeant…


Roy and Skippy met Skippy's mom in the parking lot…


“I'm Netty,” said the nurse. “No sense asking which arm…


Roy backed away from the Consulate of Greece, just stood…


Rain fell harder. Roy set his armful of wood on…


Were there systematic ways of going about this? Probably, but…


Roy stood behind a very fat man at a fast-food…


“What happened to your arm?” said Sergeant Bettis.




“I want the best defense money can buy,” Roy said.


They lay in the warming hut. Delia and Roy had…


Krishna's limo backed smoothly out of the long curving lane…


“Thing is, Roy,” said Freddy Boudreau, rocking back on the…


“Excellent coffee, Roy,” said Cal Truesdale.


You get on back to your work.


For some reason, Roy had always thought boy. But it…


Roy couldn't hear the storm, but he knew it was…


Roy drove north, back across the Cape Cod Canal, three…


Her head whipped around.




Dr. Chu stuck his head in Roy's room.


There were lots of farms in Roy's part of Vermont,…


A stranger coming with dangerous questions.


At first everything went well. Momentum was shifting, and taking…


Roy's chart lay on the gurney. Tom Parish picked it…


“Mom?” Roy said. “Sorry to call so late.”


“This is a disgrace.”


“Aren't you a bit young to drive?” Roy said.

Sometimes the dead live on in your dreams. Delia
was very much alive now, sitting on a terrace wall high above a tropical bay, bare legs dangling. She'd never looked better—her tanned skin firm and glowing; her eyes, light brown with flecks of gold, narrowing in the way they did when she was about to say something funny. Her mouth opened—sunlight glinting on her lip gloss—and Delia did speak, but too soft to hear. That was maddening. Then came the realization from a nondreaming brain region that this glittering bay lay somewhere on the Venezuelan coast, and all that tropical sunshine went dim. Venezuela: the word alone was still destabilizing.

A vein throbbed just under the skin of Delia's temple, a prominent blue vein shaped like a bolt of lightning. The weather changed at once, a cold breeze springing up and ruffling her hair. Things were going bad. Roy reached over to smooth out the ruffles, but the hair he felt was not Delia's; finer, and straight instead of curly.

He opened his eyes. Wintry light, frost on the window, posters of ski racers on the walls: Jen's room.

“I always hated when men did that,” Jen said, her voice still husky with sleep.

Roy turned his head. The eyes that watched him—pale blue, not brown—were very pretty in their own way. “Did what?” he said.

“Touched my hair.”

He withdrew his hand. Blond hair, not brown; that special brown, also flecked with gold.

“But with you it's okay.” Jen waited, maybe for him to say or do something. Roy couldn't think of anything. Their faces were a foot apart. Jen was very good-looking, her skin a little roughened from the weather, but that only made Roy like it more. What was left of the dream broke into tiny pieces and vanished.

“You feeling all right?” Jen said.


Under the covers she moved her leg against his. “I had some news yesterday. Out of the blue.”

“Good news?” said Roy.

“I think so—it's a job offer.”

“What job?”

“Like what I'm doing now,” Jen said. She ran the ski school at Mount Ethan, twenty minutes from her condo. “But on a much bigger scale, and it pays twice the money.”

“Where?” Roy said, thinking Stowe, close by, or maybe Killington, a little farther.

Jen looked away. “Keystone,” she said.

“That's in Colorado?”

She nodded. Then her eyes were meeting his again, maybe trying to see inside, to read him.

“Well,” Roy said. And came very close to following that with
Why don't we get married?
Why not? They'd been like this for two years, somewhere between dating and living together. Was there a reason not to take the next step? No lack of comfort between them, no lack of affection, sexual heat. An age difference, yes—he was almost forty-seven, Jen was thirty-four—plus she wanted kids and he no longer did, but so what? Roy found himself smiling at her.

“Well what?” she said.

And was just about to speak the words—
why don't we get married?
—when the thought came that blurting it out right now might not be the
way to go. He could do better than that. And wouldn't a more formal presentation—at Pescatore, say, Friday night—be better? So, for now, he just said, “Congratulations.”


“On this job offer.”

“Oh,” Jen said. “Thanks. I'll have to think about it, of course. Colorado's far away.”

“I understand,” Roy said, realizing from that last remark about the distance that on Friday she was going to say yes. Two days away. He felt pretty crafty.

Jen got up and went into the bathroom. The moment he heard the shower, Roy picked up the phone and reserved Pescatore's best table for seven-thirty Friday night. As he hung up, a memory dropped into place: his only other proposal of marriage. Nighttime, in the tiny bedroom of the Foggy Bottom apartment, the first place that had ever been his own, a blue light from a passing squad car down on H Street flashing on Delia's face. That time he'd just blurted it out.


Roy lived
in a converted barn halfway up the east side of the Ethan Valley, originally a vacation place he and Delia bought cheap. No money back then—Delia was still new at the Hobbes Institute, a think tank specializing in third-world economic problems, and Roy's work hadn't started to sell. A falling-down barn, complete with bat colony and a hippie squatter: Delia's face lit up at first sight. They fixed it up themselves, meaning Roy did the fixing while Delia made impossible suggestions, kind of like a princess in a fairy tale. That side of her—this was not long after Delia got her PhD in economics from Georgetown—was something she showed only to him. As for the actual renovation, Roy didn't need any help. He'd always been good with his hands. Other sculptors he knew had learned welding for their art; he was the only one who'd gone the other way, working every summer through high school and college at King's Machining and Metal Work up in the little Maine town he came from.

Right now—a few hours after leaving Jen's—he was stuck in the middle of a kind of broken arch made mostly of old car radiators welded at the corners, each one turned at a slightly different angle in a way that was reminding him of stop-motion photography, an effect he hadn't intended and wasn't sure he liked. Also, he was eighteen feet off the ground—near the top of the ladder, getting close to the roof of the barn, oxygen and acetylene tanks strapped to his back in a converted scuba pack contraption—and the arching part had barely begun. Roy stood there, one hand on the ladder, one on the torch, waiting for an idea. He could feel shapes forming here and there in his mind, but they refused to come out of the shadows, be visible, let him get his hands on them. Way down below, the phone began to ring.

The answering machine picked up. “Hey,” said Murph, owner of Murph's Salvage and Wrecking, and Roy's biggest supplier, “Murph here. Maybe got something for you.”

Roy climbed down the ladder. A very strange thing happened on the last step: he lost his breath. Roy was in such good shape, had been in such good shape for so long, that he almost couldn't put a name to it: just a common everyday thing, losing your breath. Had he been easing up on his routine? The day before he'd run from the barn to the cross-country ski parking lot and back, seven miles, and on Sunday he'd snowshoed all morning on the lower ridge loop, passing a whole group of college-age snowshoers in some race he hadn't known about. So—was he nervous about Friday night? Had to be it. A man was never too old to get nervous: annoying in a counterintuitive way, but true, at least in his case.

Late in the afternoon, Roy drove down the valley to Murph's. That meant passing the green in Ethan Center.
Neanderthal Number Nineteen,
last in the series that had made his name, stood at one end. He'd given it to the town not long after Delia's death. Roy liked seeing it in winter, when snow rounded the flat surfaces, somehow bringing out all the Neanderthal characteristics. Characteristics he hadn't intended, not consciously: the series title—and the very notion of seeing something Neanderthaly in those huge forms—had been Delia's; the main reason, Roy had always thought, that the series, and his whole career, took off.

“Little snort?” said Murph. They sat in his office, overlooking the yard. Without waiting for an answer, Murph splashed Jack Daniel's into two mismatched mugs, slid the one with the Valvoline logo across the desk to Roy. “You, Skippy?” Murph called over his shoulder.

“Me what?” said Skippy, hunched over a computer in the corner. Skippy was Murph's nephew, a pimply-faced kid who'd dropped out of Valley High School a few weeks before.

“Little snort,” said Murph.

“Uh, take a pass,” said Skippy, tapping at the oil-stained keys.

Murph raised his mug. “Here's to salvage.”

“Salvage,” said Roy.

“Just wait'll you see,” Murph said.

“What is it?” said Roy. He peered through the grimy windows. A light snow was falling on the acres of junk and wrecks in Murph's yard, everything tinged orange by the sun just going down behind the mountains on the west side.

“You're not gonna believe it,” Murph said.

“Try me,” said Roy.

“Skippy,” said Murph. “G'wan out to the yard, bring back that thing.”

“Thing?” said Skippy.

“For Mr. Valois. What we were talking about before, for Christ sake.”

Skippy rolled back his chair and clomped out the door, boots untied, greasy hair in his eyes.

“My sister's kid,” Murph said.

“I know.”

“Dropped out.”

“I heard.”

“What am I gonna do with him?”

The door opened and Skippy came back, snowflakes in his hair and a twisted hunk of steel in his hands. He laid it on the desk: a crown-shaped hunk of steel, almost a perfect circle, but much too big to fit a human head, formed from two braided and blackened…what?

“Recognize 'em?” said Murph.


“Coupla rotor blades,” said Murph. “Off that chopper that went down over Mount Washington last month.”

Roy picked it up: heavier than he'd imagined, and cold from lying in the yard. A strange combination of beauty and ugliness—
crown of thorns
was what he thought first, and then
wedding ring

“Just imagine the forces must of done this,” said Murph. “Like here where it's all stretched.” Murph made a cartoon noise like metal stretching.

Roy knew something about the forces unleashed in helicopter crashes. He put the thing down, hands not quite steady. “What's the price?” he said.

“Hey, Skippy,” said Murph. “Didn't I tell you?”

Skippy, back at the computer, muttered, “Tell me what?”

“That he'd want it.” Murph poured more Jack Daniel's. “I'm gettin' to be one of them art…what's the word?”

“Connoisseurs,” said Skippy, not looking up.

Murph glanced at him, his bushy eyebrows rising. “Yeah, connoisseurs.” He tapped the thing with the edge of a dirty fingernail. “How does twenty bucks sound?”

“Ten,” said Roy.

They settled on fifteen.

Roy put the thing in the bed of his pickup, started to drive out of Murph's yard. But he hadn't even reached the gate before he found himself braking, as though his foot were doing the thinking. Roy got out and brought the thing inside the cab, laying it on the passenger seat. Not a thing, but a piece—the most important piece, he knew that already—in the broken-arch form that was rising in his barn. This crown, this ring, had a presence of its own. He could feel it, on the seat beside him.


A wild storm
blew through the valley that night. Snow, sleet, back to snow, and enough wind to rattle the windows of the barn; but Roy, up on
the ladder, was unaware. A broken arch of old radiators, a mangled ring of helicopter wreckage, even that stop-motion effect—everything worked, although the meaning came to him only gradually during the night. The challenge was to fight the tempting idea that those twisted rotor blades were the keystone to the arch, the missing piece that the broken arch was waiting for to make it whole. The arch was broken, would always be broken. The ring was nothing more than failed potential, just a dream. Therefore it couldn't fill the empty space in any symmetrical way, couldn't fit there comfortably. It had to not fit, to look fragile, like the whole structure could fall apart at any moment. How to make that happen was the problem.

Dawn, unnoticed by Roy, behind the dark visor, was glazing the windows in a milky light by the time he thought he'd solved it. The welds—he ended up using only three—were as crude, sloppy and obvious as he could make them, and the neatest he went at with a blowtorch, half severing the connection, going a little crazy with the heat, rescarring what was already so defaced. Then he did some more random blow-torching, just for the hell of it. A violent urge rose inside him, like he wanted to punch somebody in the face.

Sweat was dripping off Roy's face when he climbed down the ladder. He raised the visor, circled the base of this new work, studying it from all angles, especially the worst ones. He thought:
And then:
Roy was still going back and forth when he finally glanced outside, saw the high drifts, trees down, big branches stuck in the snow like spears flung down by giants. That was when the title hit him:
Delia Number One:
this was beginning, middle and end. He began to understand what the piece was about: culmination. And therefore, at the same time he began to look forward to Friday night at Pescatore's, very much.

Roy shrugged off his backpack. He took a deep breath, one of those little physical expressions of satisfaction, completion, knowledge of earned rest in the offing. Letting out that breath, Roy felt a tiny tickle at the back of his throat. He coughed—just a little cough at first—and it made the tickle go away, but for some reason Roy couldn't stop cough
ing. He moved toward the kitchen, coughing and coughing, opened the tap and gulped down cold water.

That stopped the cough, but for only a second or two. Then came a deep, rending sound that tore through his throat, too powerful and urgent to be called a cough, and the water spewed back out. It thickened in the sink and turned red—pink at first, then crimson—running slowly down the drain.

The next breath Roy drew was normal; and the next, and the one after that. He tried to remember the last time he'd stayed up all night and couldn't.
Never again, old-timer
. A chain saw started up somewhere outside.

BOOK: Nerve Damage
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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