Authors: Hugh Sheehy
Published by the University of Georgia Press
Athens, Georgia 30602
Â© 2012 by Hugh Sheehy
All rights reserved
Designed by Walton Harris
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Printed in the United States of America
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sheehy, Hugh, 1979â
The invisibles : stories / by Hugh Sheehy.
p.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â cm.
ISBN 978-0-8203-4329-7 (cloth : alk. paper) â
ISBN 0-8203-4329-3 (cloth : alk. paper)
813'.6âdc23Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2011050391
British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data available
ISBN for this digital edition: 978-0-8203-4330-3
I gratefully acknowledge the publications in which the following stories appeared previously: “A Difficult Age,”
Saint Ann's Review
8, no. 1 (Summer/Fall 2008); “After the Flood,”
; “The Invisibles,”
The Best American Mystery Stories
2008; “Meat and Mouth,”
; “Smiling Down at Ellie Pardo,”
Cream City Review
; “Variations on a Theme,”
I wish to thank people, family, and friends, for what surroundings and love they have supplied through the years; Nancy Zafris, for her eye and faith in these stories; the kind folks at the University of Georgia Press for their imagination and diligence in making this book a better thing; the magazine editors who saw fit to publish some of these stories; my best teachers, especially Steven, Keith, and Jim for such timely care; my parents and sisters and brother for the beauty and grace of your ongoing growth; Mike, Morgan, Neil, Nick, and Tom for the days behind us and the ones ahead; Anna, who will be able to read this before long; Katie, for all the ways you give the world back, for our dreams, and for things for which there are no words.
Maddy left Luke Dixon sitting in the bully's chair and went to the Christmas-lighted window, willing the boy's loser dad to drive that blue Ford truck out of the woods. His lateness was eating into her weekend. Snow covered her solitary car in the lot, and she would have to dig and scrape before following the buried road from Grace Evangelical Church and School through the pale brown trees and bald fields to town. She thought of her apartment's stale heat, of marijuana buds in a medicine bottle in the freezer, of the cheap red wine on the counter. She was thinking of her records, of the jukebox at her favorite bar, of that bass player from Saturday night.
At a table by the board, beneath crookedly arranged alphabet magnets, Luke sopped dregs of Campbell's Tomato with a cheese sandwich. His excitement over a dollar's worth of food was as troubling as his choice to sit in the chair of Davey Schwartz, a larger boy who just this morning pinched and poked him during art until Luke clipped off his own paper Santa's head. Maddy had tried intervening, had tried doing good, telling Davey he would stay inside for recess. But Davey sniffed out her insecurity, like always. It was probably her imagination, but he had seemed to almost smile just before he went and told her coteacher, Hank Osmond. And Hank Osmond, predictably, had undermined her with the familiar head tilt that enlarged his jowl, saying, “Come on, Maddy, it's snowing,” as if she habitually tormented the boy. Yet Hank had been all too happy to leave her alone with Luke, so he could get back to his surround-sound home theater, despite having
recently told their director he had concerns about her temper. It had been a long week, and she was tired of male conspiracies. If Luke wanted to sit in Davey's seat, let him. You couldn't save them all.
Luke wiped his wet sleeve across his mouth and eyed his empty plate and bowl as if waiting for Maddy to notice and offer more, which would mean leaving the bright warmth of the classroom for the cold darkness of hall and kitchen, constantly bracing for the instant when the furnace clamored on downstairs.
“When do you think your dad will be here?” she said.
Andy Dixon was unemployed, and for some reason the kids all knew. Luke sighed, looking more sullen than usual.
Maddy put aside her exhaustion and stretched yet another smile. “It's okay, honey. I can stay here as long as I need to. Do you know if he had any errands to run?”
His lower lip began to tremble. She glanced at the window, pretended she had not noticed. “It's really coming down. You should eat some more before you go out there.” She waited for him to finish sniffling and said, “Does that sound good, Luke?”
He nodded, then narrowed his eyes. His brow worked as if he were performing difficult calculations as he said, “Ms. Maddy, could we play a game?”
“Sure. What do you want to play?”
“I want to play pretend.”
He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Can we pretend I'm Davey?”
“Oh.” She reached out, saw the greasy blue shirt had not been washed in several wears, then gave Luke's shoulder a light tap. Now was probably the time to give a speech, the one about the importance of being yourself or whatever. As if she never needed a break from Maddy, the twenty-four-hour mess who pilfered from her father's cabinets because the drunk tolerated
it. “I don't know,” she said. “Do you think Davey would like that?”
Luke's mouth dropped open. “It'll be a secret, Ms. Maddy. Don't tell!”
“Okay, Davey,” she said, winking as she stacked his bowl on his paper plate, straining to grin. “If you don't tell, I won't tell. Come on down to the kitchen with me while I warm you up some more soup.”
Luke shot to his feet and announced, “Davey wants chicken noodle.”
“Well, then that's what Davey will get.” She remembered something Hank Osmond said, that being a good teacher usually felt like it could get you fired. Watching Luke Dixon skip down the dark hallway to the kitchen, she hoped and doubted this qualified.
The building was shadowy and old, and the kitchen's steel surfaces and heavy-duty cooking instruments gave the room a torture chamber feel. While the microwave hummed and Luke cranked the steel lever of an industrial can opener, Maddy leaned in the window's light, pouring vodka into her coffee, planning to wash the mug at home. After a few sips she took out her phone and called Andy Dixon. When she reached his voicemail, she left a second polite message, letting the flatness of her voice speak for her anger.
“I bet he's in jail.” Luke laughed like he'd broken a rule and gotten away with it.
“Why's that?” Maddy said, feeling thoughtful from her first few sips. “What would Andy Dixon do to get himself put in jail?”
“I don't know what he'd do!” Luke said, slamming the lever down. “Andy Dixon's a idiot!” With a burst of inspiration he added, “Andy Dixon's a fuckhead!”
“Luke!” she said.
The boy shook his head, his eyes bulging with excitement. “I'm Davey,” he proclaimed with a shrug, and he began to cackle in a dry-sounding, high-pitched voice.
It was then, watching the child convulse and wondering if she had muttered
when thinking of his father, that she saw the man peering in the window at her. He was young with an unshaven, crazed look and pale blue eyes that made her joints stiffen. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then darted from the window frame. She hurried to the glass but saw no one, only the snow blanketing the playground and the slides and the woods beyond. Two sets of footprints crossed the field of white, one veering off toward the parking lot while the other proceeded to the window.
Luke was silent now. He looked at her, gaping as if he'd done something wrong.
The words to explain were out of reach. “Hold on,” she said. Putting down the mug, she spilled coffee and vodka on the stainless counter. Cleaning it up appeared on her vague mental to-do list, just after calling 911, though before chewing some gum to cover the smell for the cops. At any rate, first thing was locking the school doors.
A second young man was standing in the corridor, his hat and face steaming. Maddy put out her hands and stopped, and Luke collided with her right butt cheek and hugged her leg. She hobbled upright and raised her arms defensively.
The strange man made no move to approach. Melted snow dripped from his long curly hair and wool coat. He was short and thin, with pale bluish skin and a pinched and hungry face. “Hey, we're lost,” he said, enunciating with unusual slowness. “My friend and I, we're needing someplace out of the weather. Do you mind?”
The other one, the one from the window, was coming up the
corridor behind him, large and lanky in a black motorcycle jacket with clinking chains, one hand pocketed and the other a loose fist swinging back and forth. He was grinning in the same strange way, like he was on some drug. Meth, it's just some meth heads, Maddy thought with halting relief. They were meth heads on meth or something, probably harmless. She would make them all soup. She straightened her Luke-weighted leg and folded her arms, trying to not cry, to look like someone in charge of things.
“Did you tell her, Mouth?” The big guy elbowed the small one's arm. “Did you tell her we need out of the cold?”
“Sure did, Meat.” He stared at Maddy in a semi-insulted way, as if they knew each other. “She understands our needs completely.”
“Excuse me,” Maddy said, the conviction dropping out of each word. “Do you know this is a school?”
“Fuck yeah,” Mouth said. “I like totally did preschool here back in the day. Where's Mr. Osmond?”
“He went home,” she said. “He's gone home for the weekend, and I'm afraid I have to leave soon, too.”
“It's cool,” Mouth said. “We can, like, lock up.”
Meat pulled out his pocketed hand, and the cuff and hand holding a black object were smeared with red. The object was a knife handle with no blade. Maddy thought with cold clarity that this was a switchblade knife. The intruder was holding a switchblade knife. “This is dirty,” the intruder named Meat was saying. “Where's a sink?”