He pulled the leash from a peg on the wall near the door and grabbed a plastic bag from a coffee can. The dog sighed like an old man and rose stiffly, stopping to scratch himself. Ray watched Theresa leaning toward the TV, her eyes flicking back and forth from the screen to the tickets, the lenses in her glasses blue with the reflection. For a minute she seemed otherworldly, alien. Her tongue curled around her upper lip, flicking. Finally she threw down the pencil. “Not one goddamned number.”

“Anytime today, Sherm. This fucking dog. You should put it to sleep.”

“Who’s going to keep me company, you?” He zipped up his jacket and led the dog outside. He heard her through the door. “Don’t forget to pick up the shit! I’ll put you to sleep.”

He stood in the rain with an unlit cigarette while the dog sat in the shelter of a scrawny dogwood in the backyard. In the corner was a half- built brick barbecue; really just a hole in the ground covered with a piece of rotting plywood and a pile of bricks, a few stuck together with cement.

He remembered his father standing in the yard, a cigarette working in the corner of his face, a beer bottle in his fist. Picking up a brick and fingering it, putting it back in the pile. The next day he went off to court to answer a robbery beef and never came back. Ray was eleven, already unmoored from childhood by the disappearance of his mother the year before. That night, when he woke up (a nightmare about a dog coming for him), Theresa was sitting in the dark, smoking a cigarette. She sat on the edge of the bed, her breath sweet with his father’s whiskey. She kissed him on the forehead and sat silently with him until he fell asleep.

Now the dog looked at him, and Ray said, “What?” and led him out to the front yard through a teetering gate. The place was falling down, and Ray felt guilty again about the long list of things Theresa needed done. Shit that Ray promised he’d do but never got around to. He had lived in the house for a while after getting out of prison for his first fall as an adult. Driving a stolen car and getting into an accident.

Manny rolled up the street in his vintage Mustang, the old 390 making a drumming sound he could feel in his chest. Ray hooked the leash onto a low branch of an apple tree that overlooked a statue of the Virgin Mary and walked over to lean into the car, smelling Armor All and cigarettes. He shook Rick’s hand and waved at Manny, who pointed at Rick, a muscular guy with long hair and a tattoo of a clock on his bicep.

“This is Rick Staley. He did a bit with Harlan Maximuck at Graterford.” Rick was built up in his arms and shoulders the way some guys get inside. He had lank brown hair and licked his lips ner vously. Manny was lean, tall, and stoop- shouldered, even behind the wheel of a car. His mouth was framed by a black goatee, and he wore sunglasses with blue lenses despite the sunless day.

Ray leaned in the window. “Harlan the Hillbilly. I haven’t thought about him in, Christ.” He felt a pang, thinking of big Harlan keeping him pure inside. Keeping the skells away from Ray, when he was in for the first time and just a kid. And Ray getting out and away and never looking back. He could have done something, looked in on Harlan’s family, sent him some money.

“What’s up with Harlan? Is he out?”

Manny frowned, shook his head. “He tried to burn some guy in segregation.”


Rick Staley’s voice was low, and he looked up and down the street while he talked. “Yeah, he got shorted on some kind of deal, Christ only knows what. He got some cellie to smuggle gas in from where they keep it locked up for the lawn mower. Gets into Segregation, where they’re keeping the guy, sprays gas through the bean chute, and was trying to light him up when the CO came up. So Harlan, being Harlan, tries to light up the CO, too. He got Buck Rogers time for that shit.”

Rick laughed. “I told him, bro, you got to look on the bright side. By the time you get out there’ll be flying cars and robot whores and shit.” Rick scratched a dope bruise on the inside of his elbow.

Manny caught Ray’s eyes and shrugged. “Fucking Harlan.”

Ray had known some guys inside who had been killed or maimed that way. The bean chute was what the cellies called the slot in the door where the dinner trays were slipped through in places like Segregation, where the guys were in protection or were too crazy to be let out to eat with everyone else. The correc tions officers, the COs, were a mixed bunch. Some were okay; some were humps who never missed a chance to smack you down. There were all kinds, holy rollers, drunks. He remembered one time when he was inside at Bucks County, awaiting trial on a car theft (dismissed). A skinny crackhead ran away from a work assignment and climbed up into the raf ters of the ware house and dangled his legs over into space, threatening to jump if he didn’t get a he li copter. The CO that time, a morose diabetic named Happ, stood there for a minute banging his clipboard against his leg, looked up at the kid, and said, “Jump, pussy. I got problems of my own.” Then he sent everyone back to work, and eventually the kid climbed down and they sent him to Segregation for a while.

Manny pointed to the door, where Ray’s mother was standing at the door with a scowl on her face, lifted his hand, and smiled.

“How you doing, Mrs. D?”

“Just peachy, shitbird.” She pointed with her cigarette. “Bring Shermie in before he gets away.”

“Okay, Ma.”

“Did you pick up the shit, Raymond?” She walked away from the door.

Ray shook his head. Manny laughed until he started coughing. “Yeah, Raymond, did you pick up the shit?”

He took the dog back in and took one last look around. Theresa opened her purse, releasing a smell of cheap perfume and tobacco that took Ray back to summers waiting for her to pick through her change for quarters for him to take out to the ice cream man while he hopped from foot to foot, whining for her to hurry up and come across.

She came out with an envelope and handed it to him. “Did you think I forgot?”

He smiled and took it, shaking his head. “You didn’t have to do that, Ma.”

“Who’s going to do it if I don’t?”

It was a good question. “Well, thanks.”

“You seeing anyone?”

He shrugged. “Not really.” Not unless you counted the girls at the Osaka Spa, a Korean massage parlor behind a pool hall off Old Easton Road. The woman in the picture jumped into his head again, and he almost said something, made up a story about a woman with a hopeful smile and fierce brown eyes. Something dropped in his stomach, a lead ball moving down through him and pulling everything with it. He felt every minute of the life that had gone by. He felt like he could begin crying, and that if he did start he wouldn’t be able to stop. The old house creaked like a ship going down.

Theresa tapped her cheek and he kissed her.

“Happy birthday, Raymond.”

He nodded, couldn’t get anything out. He could smell her, stale Arpege and Marlboros; and the house, something fried from last night, wet dog and dust and Lysol. The smell of home. He thought about staying there, sitting with Theresa while she watched her stories, playing poker for the pennies she kept in a glass piggy bank on the counter. Drinking the peppermint schnapps she liked, a beer from the fridge.

He wanted to ask, did she remember Marletta? Ray had brought her to the house, but maybe only when Theresa was gone, so they could be alone. If he brought it up, he knew, it would be a bad memory for Theresa, bound up with him going to jail and all these lost years since. He felt something slipping away, couldn’t give it a name. He turned away, waved from the door, and was gone.

THEY DROVE OVER to Horsham and dropped Rick off at his car at the Best Buy in Willow Grove. Rick, it turned out, had done some dealing, some B and E, passed some checks. He’d never done strong- arm but was willing to learn and didn’t come across as an asshole with something to prove. On the way over they talked about people they knew in common, some locked up, some dead, some still hanging around getting high, and some just gone. More signs for Ray that he was getting older and had nothing to show for it.

Ray got lost in his head the way he did sometimes, thinking about prison and Harlan and feeling guilty he’d never visited him or really done anything for him since he’d been out and wondering what Harlan would think about that. Especially as Ray got older and knew better what it meant for a young kid to be inside with no one to look out for him the way Harlan had stepped up for him. Staring down the old lags who came for him, and half the time Ray too young and dumb to know what was going on until it was over.

Later Manny and Ray sat at a booth at a diner in Willow Grove across from the air base. A-10s dropped out of the sky, touched the runway, and took off again, the roar making things clatter slightly on the table. Out at the curb Ray watched two kids walking up 611 with their thumbs out. One kid was short and one tall and black- haired, and

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