The Blue Moon Review
 



Sausage Man
Timothy Boudreau

Oliver Martin Saint Francis, five foot three, a hundred and eighty-three pounds, head bookkeeper at North of the Notch Insurance Agency, admirer of the science fiction of Ray Bradbury and the jazz ballads of Sarah Vaughan, was lying on the braided rug in his living room with a package of raspberry fingers, studying a page of Asimov's The Robots of Dawn, when he heard his mother's voice on the answering machine.

"Oliver, are you there?" she began.  "This is your mother.  Oliver?  Okay.  So this is just a reminder.  Maggie and I are leaving tomorrow morning for Manchester.  We're flying out at noon, and we sail out of Miami the next morning.  The cruise lasts two weeks.  I'm just calling to remind you to check the house.  Bring in the mail and all that jazz.  Also, those kids have been hanging around your father's woods again.  I wish you'd have a word with them.  You don't have to do anything fancy--just tell them I said they needed to get.  I'm leaving numbers here where you can reach me, but I don't expect you'll need to."

Oliver shook his head sadly, groaned and struggled to his feet, carrying the raspberry fingers and the Asimov across the room to the sofa and gingerly lowering himself into it.  When his mind finally cleared of visions of his mother, all sixty-nine years and ninety-four pounds of her, in her lime-green pant suit, stalking a swing-dance partner aboard the cruise ship Maria Rosa, he closed his book, took off his glasses and began to figure up the hours to the next afternoon, when the plane went into the air and he would be free of her for two whole weeks.

He was thirty-seven years old, but part of him still dreamt of rebellion, at least of finding a way to retrieve the time he had already given her: pealing apples for her tart, crunchy pies and cobblers, helping her with her crocheting on long winter nights after he got home from work.  A picture of the two of them hung on the wall over his television--identical fake smiles, two red oval faces with wet blue eyes behind tiny silver spectacles.  There had been something comforting about her then, right after his father died, so many things that, almost without realizing, he had come to love: her scent, like a dusting of nutmeg, left by the dozens of desserts she baked for him, crisps, cobblers, cakes and crumbles; the circle of yellow light her reading lamp made on the sofa at night, and the flicker of the television across the room; the vodka cranberries she mixed on Friday nights and special occasions, placing the heavy glasses on the coffee table in front of them as if she had just struck gold: even her wiry body's warmth as he sat beside her, and she put her arms around him.  He was the only one she had to lean on, after his father was gone, and he had even loved that.

"You're my little sausage man, Ollie.  That's what you'll always be to me."  It seemed he'd been listening to these words since he was old enough to understand them.  At first they'd made him feel special: he remembered squirming in his father's arms, at the age of four or five, delighted with this image of himself--cute, chubby and hopelessly lovable.  As he got older, though, he became aware of certain emotional hurdles he perhaps should have already cleared, typical teen trials and trouble spots--lost fist fights, drunken drives home from illicit, reckless parties--that he had no idea how to get himself into.  By the time he was in his twenties, there seemed an invisible barrier between the world he lived in, home, office, library, bank, grocery store, and the other world he felt he'd never be part of, the ski slopes, beaches, pool sides and house parties where a single invitation might tumble him at last into the arms of an understanding girl.

Oliver couldn't imagine his father--lawyer, community leader, outdoorsman--letting things go on the way they had.  But now that he was gone, there was no one to turn to except his mother.  Oliver hoped it would make her happy to see him now that he was finally on his own, a fat man lying on the sofa on Friday nights, after drinking a row of vodka cranberries and wolfing down an entire frozen banana cream pie, bloated and bewildered and utterly unable to begin his own life.

He sighed, reached for his glass and looked away from the picture.  That night he slept beautifully, and woke up the next morning, Saturday, with a song in his heart.  It was seven--she was on the road.  At twelve, when the plane was scheduled to take off, he had lunch, a thick bologna and cheese sandwich with six or seven pickles, and poured himself a drink to celebrate.  At two, a little flushed from the alcohol, he drove out to his mother's house to see what he could do about those kids. 

 

 

 

Her house was on the North Prescott Road, about three miles out of town.  It was white with green trim, with a screened-in porch that wrapped around one side, and a garage topped with an old CB antenna, bent and twisted by the wind that blew across the highway from Muncie's Reservoir a few hundred yards away.  As soon as he pulled into the driveway he saw them, three or four figures standing in the wooded area behind the house, and the courage the drink had given him vanished.

His mother had been complaining about the kids off and on now for months.  Though at least a couple of them were the grandchildren of the frank, friendly old couple who owned the small dairy farm down the road, they reminded Oliver's mother of the kids she'd read about in the papers, the ones whose idea of fun was to go into a cemetery at three in the morning with hammers and chisels and a half-dozen cans of spray paint.

"They're just customers, think of them as customers," he told himself as he went around the house.  "They're customers who're behind on their premiums, and they need to pay up."  He crossed the yard, past the wooden raccoons, elves in sunglasses and mischievous little boys in blue knickers that ornamented the lawn--figures his father had spent Saturday mornings in his workshop making, with a jigsaw, patterns, paints, finishing one a week and bringing it down to Oliver's mother with a shy smile--and continued around the garden, coming at last to the wooded half-acre where his father and uncle used to target shoot with their twenty-twos and twelve gauges.

The kids were in a clearing halfway out.  They hadn't seen him yet.  There were two boys with fluorescent hair, green and orange, and two girls with blue eye shadow and their long hair dyed jet black.  Everyone was dressed in baggy jeans, the boys in t-shirts, smoking cigarettes, the girls in tank-tops, drawing in the dirt with their sneakers.

He cleared his throat as he approached them, tried to catch his breath, checked quickly to see if his fly was up.  "Hello there!" he called out.  "I'm Mister Saint Francis.  My mother has asked that you all find somewhere else to play."

"Hey Turkey," replied the one with orange hair.  He was even shorter than Oliver, scarcely five feet tall, and his face was covered with acne that reminded Oliver of pimento loaf.

"This is my grandfather's property," the boy with the green crew cut said.  He was tall, confident and good-looking.  Both he and the one with the orange hair had dropped their cigarettes and stepped on them as soon as they heard Oliver's voice.  "You know Bert Clough?"

"Actually, their land ends at that stake over there.  The one with the red ribbon around it."

"We see it, we know all about it," the taller of the two girls said.  The lettering on her tank top simply said, "OZZY."  "Darrin's just like being an idiot."

"Shut up," Darrin said.

"Hey Turkey," said Orange Hair.

"Everybody pipe down," said the other girl.  She had strikingly beautiful eyes, like Elizabeth Taylor's in National Velvet.  Her tank top had three horizontal stripes--Navy, lime green, Navy--and the word "Juicy" where a breast pocket might've been.  "You're all idiots."

"That's my sister," explained Darrin.  "Madeline."

"Everything on this side of the stake belongs to my mother," Oliver interrupted, dabbing at his forehead with his sleeve and pushing his glasses back on his nose.  "And for insurance reasons, she'd like you to please stay away.  If any of you kids were to get hurt out here--"

"Okay, okay, that's cool," Darrin said.  "We just like it because our grandparents can't see us when we're out this far.  They don't like us smoking.  But we don't mean to piss off, like, your mom, or whoever.  We'll go somewhere else."

"Thank you," Oliver said.  "We would appreciate it."

"Goodbye, Mister Saint Francis," Madeline called back over her shoulder, with a sudden warm, sly smile that he might've called flirtatious, if he'd been sure he knew what flirtatious looked like.  "Hasta la vista, Senor."        

"Goodbye," said Oliver, smiling back, with half a wave, picking up the cigarette butts when the kids were out of sight, thinking to himself as he walked back to the house that his mother would have been proud.

 

 

 

That Monday, they broke into his car.

The sales staff was at a conference in Nashua for the day.  Oliver had just returned from lunch, a corned beef sandwich and a can of tomato juice in the upstairs lounge, and was settling down at his desk to get back to the May sales reports, when Robin Putnam, one of the part-time secretaries, called to him from the record room in back.

"Oliver!  There's someone in your car!  Are two girls supposed to be in your car?  You better get out there!"  He kicked back his chair, barreled down the hall and around a partition to the record room, where Robin stood, looking out the window.  Outside was his Escort, with its hatchback open, and two girls scrambling over the back seat.

Oliver burst out of the room and down the short hallway through the back door, trotted through the small executive spaces to the back parking lot, where his car was parked beside Robin's Mazda.  Standing there now were two completely different kids, a girl in a blue and red striped shirt, with her arms folded, a ponytail flipped over her shoulder, and a boy in a baseball cap, holding a yellow Frisbee.

"Get away from that car!" he yelled when he got close, keenly aware of the thunderous sound of his shoes pounding on the pavement, the layers of flab swaying around his waist as his tie flapped foolishly around his neck.

"What?" the girl said.

"Get away from that car!"

"What are you talking about?"

"Did you see two girls going through this green car here?"

"No."

"My god.  My god!"  He trailed off, let the two kids continue on their way, then went around to close and lock the hatchback.  When he was done he got in the driver's side to see what they had taken.  Nothing seemed missing except some loose change he kept in the cup holders.  But they had left something behind.  On the passenger's seat was a folded piece of notebook paper with a message written in green ink.  "Hasta la vista, Senor."

            Oliver locked the doors, checked the hatch again, then trudged back up the hill to the Agency, crumpling the piece of paper and shoving it in his pocket.  Inside, Robin was still holding a file folder in her hand.  "They ran as soon as you went out.   Do you want me to call the cops?  I think we should call the cops."

            "No."  Oliver ran his hand through his hair.  "No, no.  I know who it is."

"You do?"  She spit her gum into her hand and threw it at the garbage.  Oliver watched it hit and cling, a c-shaped pink wad, to the inside of the can.

            "They didn't take anything anyway."

            "You're sure?"

            "Just some loose change, I think."  He decided not to mention the note; he didn't have the energy to explain it.  "I know who it is," he said again.  "I'll just have to deal with it myself."

 

 

 

When he got home that night he took out the note, flattening and smoothing it on the kitchen table, taking time to study the girlishly looping letters.  "Hasta la vista, Senor."  It had to've come from Madeline, the one with the Elizabeth Taylor eyes.  His mother's voice interrupted when he tried to picture her.  "It's bound to happen someday, Oliver, I know it.  Some girl will bat her eyelashes at you, and in no time at all you'll be head over heels."  Of course that was something she'd said twenty years ago, when Oliver was Madeline's age, and if anything, what Oliver should've been thinking about now was Madeline's mother, or at least someone her age, who in his imagination would be funny and course and bold enough to anticipate the moves he should've been making himself but didn't know how.

That night he dreamt of Madeline, only she was also partially a girl he'd known in school, Elise Miller, short, full-lipped and sweetly curvaceous, without Madeline's nerve or "Juicy" shirt, her breath coming in soft puffs of Lifesaver wintergreen.  In the dream he sat with her on his boyhood bed and read her Ray Bradbury--The October Country, A Medicine for Melancholy, The Machineries of Joy, the vivid fantastic stories about the dwarf, and M. Munigant, the bone specialist, and Tom Fortnum, who grew mushrooms in his cellar--and when he was finished he held her in his arms, until she became, just before the dream melted into music from the radio alarm, his childhood teddy Ta-ta, with two loosely flopping button eyes and a frayed ear.  When he was fully awake and struggling to find his slippers, he remembered something else his mother had told him not long ago.  "Someday you'll love someone else as much as I love you."  But he wondered why she didn't understand yet that no one would be able to get that close to him until she got out of the way.

The sales staff--the Tiltons, father and son co-owners, plus John Cook and Pepper Dodge--had a good laugh at his expense the next day, taking turns telling embroidered versions of the story, until by the end of the day they had him waylaying the bad guys by smacking them over the head with his Quicken manual.  The Tiltons got an especially vivid charge out of it.  Toward the end of the day, Tilton the elder came over to Oliver's desk with glistening lips, as if he'd just eaten a butter sandwich.  "Take a break for Christ's sake, Oliver, and talk to me."  He put his hand--it was more like a claw, hard and bony, like the rest of him--on Oliver's shoulder.  "How are you?  How's your life?  How's your mother's vacation?  Have you heard from her?"  He was close enough that Oliver could smell the liver and onions he always had for lunch.

            Oliver turned, flashed him a thin smile that meant, "I wish you were dead," and replied, "Just let me finish this section."  But by the time he had, it was six-thirty, and no one was left but Tilton's son Brad, smoking a cigarette with his shirt unbuttoned and his ankles crossed on his desk, whispering sweet nothings to his girlfriend on line four while his wife was on hold on line two.

 

 

 

The rest of the two weeks passed quickly once Oliver established his routine.  After work he drove out to his mother's house, checked the outside for signs of a break-in and brought in the mail.  On Thursday he stole his first drink from the liquor cabinet: Coke and Bacardi.  He drank it out of a coffee mug decorated with jellyfish and dolphins, and it was so delicious that he poured himself another when it was gone.

            He had something to drink every night after that.  Vodka cranberries Friday and Saturday, to satisfy tradition; a shot of straight whiskey on Sunday, back to Bacardi to begin the workweek.  Wednesday night, the Clough bunch was back at his mother's place.  He saw their cigarettes burning in the woods from the kitchen window.  He couldn't hear voices, but imagined he could: joking, taunting, sharp and sarcastic, rising to a shrillness they hoped he would hear.  "Come on out, Saint Francis," he imagined them saying.  "We see your car, we see the light in the window.  We dare you to show your face.  Chicken!"

His face burned as he watched the window, hunched over a serving of the enormous peach cobbler his mother had left him.  He didn't dare confront them in the dark, but this was what the situation called for.  His mother would be home in a couple of days; something needed to be done.

Turning off the kitchen light, he sneaked out onto the porch and ducked behind the porch swing to listen.  He had the notion that if he stayed out there long enough, his resolve would harden, and he could stride decisively into their midst, like a hero into a villain's lair, and send them all back home with nothing more than an authoritative air and a few brisk commands.  Perhaps he'd even take Madeline and the other girl aside and explain a few things to them about maturity and responsibility, with one hand on each of their shoulders as he spoke, his words gentle, considered and calm.

He gripped the arm of the porch swing with one hand and pushed his glasses back on his nose with the other.  There wasn't much to hear: cedar branches brushing against the porch screen, the murmuring of voices, an occasional exclamation or loud snort of laughter that made him start.  With a shudder he realized he had locked the door behind him, then remembered the keys were still in his pocket.

Something exploded across the road, like a gunshot, and footsteps echoed along the highway.  "Who is it?" Oliver heard himself cry.  He jumped up to investigate just as someone disappeared into the Clough's pasture across the road.

"Stinking kids!"  He swung open the screen door and stepped heavily off the porch, his anger giving him courage, and crossed the road to pick up his mother's mailbox, split down the seams, in pieces beside the highway.

He knelt on the edge of the pavement, breathing heavily, muttering to himself, careful not to cut his fingers on the mailbox's sharp metal edges.  "I can't believe this, Jesus I can't believe it, my god, she'll want to kill them."  He barely heard the words that tumbled out of his mouth.  "God damn it.  Why can't they leave us alone?  Why can't they leave us alone?"

He carried the mailbox pieces to the house and set them on the porch, switching on the outside light as he walked back down the steps into the yard, where he could now see that the raccoons and rabbits and mischievous wooden elves were all missing heads or arms or torsos, cut or broken off somehow and scattered across the lawn.  He shuffled over and picked up a raccoon tail from the dewy grass; he was blinking back tears, picking up more splintered pieces, when he heard a voice near the road.

 "Mister St. Francis?"  It was a girl's voice.  Madeline and Darrin were standing by the road, watching him.  They stepped onto the lawn.  "Is anything wrong?"

            Madeline was first to approach him.  She had her hair pulled back, and looked at him with a sad smile and moist inquisitive eyes.  Bits of his dream still clung to her, like a perfume; he could almost feel her hand, or maybe sweet Elise Miller's, reaching for his.  "Mister Saint Francis?  I heard the noise, I hope you're all right?" 

            He swung at her before he knew he was going to, but she ducked back in plenty of time, and her brother stepped forward and shoved him down, all so quickly it was like one movement.  Oliver hit the ground tumbling, and bumped his head against a cedar tree.  For a moment he was dazed, and couldn't seem to move or think straight.  At last he rolled over and righted himself with a groan, just in time to see four of them walking calmly away up the road.

            "Fucking psycho."

            "Forget about it, he won't say anything."

            "Tried to hit her!"

            "He was drunk, you could smell it.  He didn't know what he was doing."

            "We ought to call the cops on him."

            "Just forget about it."

            When he'd fallen he'd dropped the pieces he'd collected.  Now, after rising unsteadily, he began to gather them up again--an elf's hat, a rabbit tail, an armless Yosemite Sam with a lopsided smile--and he held the broken pieces and chipped partial faces to his chest when he went back inside, crying softly, to look for the numbers his mother had left him.


 

 

Timothy Boudreau lives, works and writes in northern New Hampshire.  He is currently working on a collection on short stories.

 

 

 

 


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