Read In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs Online
Authors: Tobias Wolff
“No no no,” Kenny said.
Tub was weeping from the eyes and nostrils. His whole face was wet. Frank closed his eyes, then looked down at Kenny again. “Where does it hurt?”
“Everywhere,” Kenny said, “just everywhere.”
“Oh God,” Tub said.
“I mean where did it go in?” Frank said.
“Here.” Kenny pointed at the wound in his stomach. It was welling slowly with blood.
“You're lucky,” Frank said. “It's on the left side. It missed your appendix. If it had hit your appendix you'd really be in the soup.” He turned and threw up onto the snow, holding his sides as if to keep warm.
“Are you all right?” Tub said.
“There's some aspirin in the truck,” Kenny said.
“I'm all right,” Frank said.
“We'd better call an ambulance,” Tub said.
“Jesus,” Frank said. “What are we going to say?”
“Exactly what happened,” Tub said. “He was going to shoot me but I shot him first.”
“No sir!” Kenny said. “I wasn't either!”
Frank patted Kenny on the arm. “Easy does it, partner.” He stood. “Let's go.”
Tub picked up Kenny's rifle as they walked down toward the farmhouse. “No sense leaving this around,” he said. “Kenny might get ideas.”
“I can tell you one thing,” Frank said. “You've really done it this time. This definitely takes the cake.”
They had to knock on the door twice before it was opened by a thin man with lank hair. The room behind him was filled with smoke. He squinted at them. “You get anything?” he asked.
“No,” Frank said.
“I knew you wouldn't. That's what I told the other fellow.”
“We've had an accident.”
The man looked past Frank and Tub into the gloom. “Shoot your friend, did you?”
“I did,” Tub said.
“I suppose you want to use the phone.”
“If it's okay.”
The man in the door looked behind him, then stepped back. Frank and Tub followed him into the house. There was a woman sitting by the stove in the middle of the room. The stove was smoking badly. She looked up and then down again at the child asleep in her lap. Her face was white and damp; strands of hair were pasted across her forehead. Tub warmed his hands over the stove while Frank went into the kitchen to call. The man who had let them in stood at the window, his hands in his pockets.
“My friend shot your dog,” Tub said.
The man nodded without turning around. “I should have done it myself. I just couldn't.”
“He loved that dog so much,” the woman said. The child squirmed and she rocked it.
“You asked him to?” Tub said. “You asked him to shoot your dog?”
“He was old and sick. Couldn't chew his food any more. I would have done it myself but I don't have a gun.”
“You couldn't have anyway,” the woman said. “Never in a million years.”
The man shrugged.
Frank came out of the kitchen. “We'll have to take him ourselves. The nearest hospital is fifty miles from here and all their ambulances are out anyway.”
The woman knew a shortcut but the directions were complicated and Tub had to write them down. The man told them where they could find some boards to carry Kenny on. He didn't have a flashlight but he said he would leave the porch light on.
It was dark outside. The clouds were low and heavy-looking and the wind blew in shrill gusts. There was a screen loose on the house and it banged slowly and then quickly as the wind rose again. They could hear it all the way to the barn. Frank went for the boards while Tub looked for Kenny, who was not where they had left him. Tub found him farther up the drive, lying on his stomach. “You okay?” Tub said.
“Frank says it missed your appendix.”
“I already had my appendix out.”
“All right,” Frank said, coming up to them. “We'll have you in a nice warm bed before you can say Jack Robinson.” He put the two boards on Kenny's right side.
“Just as long as I don't have one of those male nurses,” Kenny said.
“Ha ha,” Frank said. “That's the spirit. Get ready, set,
over you go
,” and he rolled Kenny onto the boards. Kenny screamed and kicked his legs in the air. When he quieted down Frank and Tub lifted the boards and carried him down the drive. Tub had the back end, and with the snow blowing into his face he had trouble with his footing. Also he was tired and the man inside had forgotten to turn the porch light on. Just past the house Tub slipped and threw out his hands to catch himself. The boards fell and Kenny tumbled out and rolled to the bottom of the drive, yelling all the way. He came to rest against the right front wheel of the truck.
“You fat moron,” Frank said. “You aren't good for diddly.”
Tub grabbed Frank by the collar and backed him hard up against the fence. Frank tried to pull his hands away but Tub shook him and snapped his head back and forth and finally Frank gave up.
“What do you know about fat,” Tub said. “What do you know about glands.” As he spoke he kept shaking Frank. “What do you know about me.”
“All right,” Frank said.
“No more,” Tub said.
“No more talking to me like that. No more watching. No more laughing.”
“Okay, Tub. I promise.”
Tub let go of Frank and leaned his forehead against the fence. His arms hung straight at his sides.
“I'm sorry, Tub.” Frank touched him on the shoulder. “I'll be down at the truck.”
Tub stood by the fence for a while and then got the rifles off the porch. Frank had rolled Kenny back onto the boards and they lifted him into the bed of the truck. Frank spread the seat blankets over him. “Warm enough?” he asked.
“Okay. Now how does reverse work on this thing?”
“All the way to the left and up.” Kenny sat up as Frank started forward to the cab. “Frank!”
“If it sticks don't force it.”
The truck started right away. “One thing,” Frank said, “you've got to hand it to the Japanese. A very ancient, very spiritual culture and they can still make a hell of a truck.” He glanced over at Tub. “Look, I'm sorry. I didn't know you felt that way, honest to God I didn't. You should have said something.”
“When? Name one time.”
“A couple of hours ago.”
“I guess I wasn't paying attention.”
“That's true, Frank,” Tub said. “You don't pay attention very much.”
“Tub,” Frank said, “what happened back there, I should have been more sympathetic. I realize that. You were going through a lot. I just want you to know it wasn't your fault. He was asking for it.”
“You think so?”
“Absolutely. It was him or you. I would have done the same thing in your shoes, no question.”
The wind was blowing into their faces. The snow was a moving white wall in front of their lights; it swirled into the cab through the hole in the windshield and settled on them. Tub clapped his hands and shifted around to stay warm, but it didn't work.
“I'm going to have to stop,” Frank said. “I can't feel my fingers.”
Up ahead they saw some lights off the road. It was a tavern. Outside in the parking lot there were several jeeps and trucks. A couple of them had deer strapped across their hoods. Frank parked and they went back to Kenny. “How you doing, partner,” Frank said.
“Well, don't feel like the Lone Ranger. It's worse inside, take my word for it. You should get that windshield fixed.”
“Look,” Tub said, “he threw the blankets off.” They were lying in a heap against the tailgate.
“Now look, Kenny,” Frank said, “it's no use whining about being cold if you're not going to try and keep warm. You've got to do your share.” He spread the blankets over Kenny and tucked them in at the corners.
“They blew off.”
“Hold on to them then.”
“Why are we stopping, Frank?”
“Because if me and Tub don't get warmed up we're going to freeze solid and then where will you be?” He punched Kenny lightly in the arm. “So just hold your horses.”
The bar was full of men in colored jackets, mostly orange. The waitress brought coffee. “Just what the doctor ordered,” Frank said, cradling the steaming cup in his hand. His skin was bone white. “Tub, I've been thinking. What you said about me not paying attention, that's true.”
“No. I really had that coming. I guess I've just been a little too interested in old number one. I've had a lot on my mind. Not that that's any excuse.”
“Forget it, Frank. I sort of lost my temper back there. I guess we're all a little on edge.”
Frank shook his head. “It isn't just that.”
“You want to talk about it?”
“Just between us, Tub?”
“Sure, Frank. Just between us.”
“Tub, I think I'm going to be leaving Nancy.”
“Oh, Frank. Oh, Frank.” Tub sat back and shook his head.
Frank reached out and laid his hand on Tub's arm. “Tub, have you ever been really in love?”
in love.” He squeezed Tub's wrist. “With your whole being.”
“I don't know. When you put it like that, I don't know.”
“You haven't then. Nothing against you, but you'd know it if you had.” Frank let go of Tub's arm. “This isn't just some bit of fluff I'm talking about.”
“Who is she, Frank?”
Frank paused. He looked into his empty cup. “Roxanne Brewer.”
“Cliff Brewer's kid? The babysitter?”
“You can't just put people into categories like that, Tub. That's why the whole system is wrong. And that's why this country is going to hell in a rowboat.”
“But she can't be more thanâ” Tub shook his head.
“Fifteen. She'll be sixteen in May.” Frank smiled. “May fourth, three twenty-seven p.m. Hell, Tub, a hundred years ago she'd have been an old maid by that age. Juliet was only thirteen.”
“Juliet? Juliet Miller? Jesus, Frank, she doesn't even have
breasts. She doesn't even wear a top to her bathing suit. She's still collecting frogs.”
“Not Juliet Miller. The real Juliet. Tub, don't you see how you're dividing people up into categories? He's an executive, she's a secretary, he's a truck driver, she's fifteen years old. Tub, this so-called babysitter, this so-called fifteen-year-old has more in her little finger than most of us have in our entire bodies. I can tell you this little lady is something special.”
Tub nodded. “I know the kids like her.”
“She's opened up whole worlds to me that I never knew were there.”
“What does Nancy think about all of this?”
“She doesn't know.”
“You haven't told her?”
“Not yet. It's not so easy. She's been damned good to me all these years. Then there's the kids to consider.” The brightness in Frank's eyes trembled and he wiped quickly at them with the back of his hand. “I guess you think I'm a complete bastard.”
“No, Frank. I don't think that.”
“Frank, when you've got a friend it means you've always got someone on your side, no matter what. That's the way I feel about it, anyway.”
“You mean that, Tub?”
“Sure I do.”
Frank smiled. “You don't know how good it feels to hear you say that.”
Kenny had tried to get out of the truck but he hadn't made it. He was jackknifed over the tailgate, his head hanging above the bumper. They lifted him back into the bed and covered him again. He was sweating and his teeth chattered. “It hurts, Frank.”
“It wouldn't hurt so much if you just stayed put. Now we're
going to the hospital. Got that? Say itâI'm going to the hospital.”
“I'm going to the hospital.”
“I'm going to the hospital.”
“Now just keep saying that to yourself and before you know it we'll be there.”
After they had gone a few miles Tub turned to Frank. “I just pulled a real boner,” he said.
“I left the directions on the table back there.”
“That's okay. I remember them pretty well.”
The snowfall lightened and the clouds began to roll back off the fields, but it was no warmer and after a time both Frank and Tub were bitten through and shaking. Frank almost didn't make it around a curve, and they decided to stop at the next road-house.
There was an automatic hand-dryer in the bathroom and they took turns standing in front of it, opening their jackets and shirts and letting the jet of hot air breathe across their faces and chests.
“You know,” Tub said, “what you told me back there, I appreciate it. Trusting me.”
Frank opened and closed his fingers in front of the nozzle. “The way I look at it, Tub, no man is an island. You've got to trust someone.”
“When I said that about my glands, that wasn't true. The truth is I just shovel it in.”
“Day and night, Frank. In the shower. On the freeway.” He turned and let the air play over his back. “I've even got stuff in the paper towel machine at work.”
“There's nothing wrong with your glands at all?” Frank had
taken his boots and socks off. He held first his right, then his left foot up to the nozzle.
“No. There never was.”
“Does Alice know?” The machine went off and Frank started lacing up his boots.
“Nobody knows. That's the worst of it, Frank. Not the being fat, I never got any big kick out of being thin, but the lying. Having to lead a double life like a spy or a hit man. This sounds strange but I feel sorry for those guys, I really do. I know what they go through. Always having to think about what you say and do. Always feeling like people are watching you, trying to catch you at something. Never able to just be yourself. Like when I make a big deal about only having an orange for breakfast and then scarf all the way to work. Oreos, Mars Bars, Twinkies. Sugar Babies. Snickers.” Tub glanced at Frank and looked quickly away. “Pretty disgusting, isn't it?”