I took my turn with that pair of carpenter jeans, and held them close and closer still, studying the things as hard as I could with everybody watching me. They stood there waiting for my guess, and the nervous laugh they hissed out when the pants flopped heavily in my hands sounded like air escaping from a tire or a balloon.
I admitted my confusion. I said the stain could’ve been some cherry pie or strawberry jam, or maybe it was that Cran-Grape stuff Len was always drinking. They nodded, and I wanted to hold us all there in that moment, even though it was a moment of not knowing: We hadn’t heard anything terrible yet, and we were all home. I wanted us there like that, a family in the kitchen.
But nobody knew what the dumb stain was for sure. All we did know was that Len’s wife, Lizzy, found it in her laundry basket when she came over to do some wash with my mom about a week after he’d shipped out for the Gulf that November.
“I don’t know, you guys,” I said, feeling my arms go slack when I handed the pants back to Lizzy. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
Everyone breathed again, moved again.
“I don’t even remember him wearin’ these old pants,” she held up the jeans, and she and my mom giggled.
It seemed nice to have them joking around as they worked together. They were never that close before. Lizzy was three years younger than Len, and she was from Saltsburg same as we were, and well, I guess with Len being so famous locally, you know, to end up playing football at the Naval Academy and everything, hell, with him being smart enough to be the first kid from Saltsburg High even to get into Annapolis, I guess Mom expected something, I don’t know, more fancy or classy, especially seeing as how much she adored that one woman Len brought home after his first year at the Academy, that Michelle — she was the daughter of an American ambassador and had actually been with the President the previous weekend.
I don’t know. I wasn’t really into girls back then. It almost seemed like another me, some kid in a Pirate cap hiding his Playboy under the bed, grabbing a Sports Illustrated, and running to sit across the dinner table from a woman who spoke four different languages and had spent most every summer of her life in Europe. I mean, she looked like she had just stepped out of one of my mother’s Red Book or McCall’s magazines. Yeah, it seemed like it must’ve been some other squeaky-voiced kid able to look her in the eye, wave his arms, gulp milk, and say really stupid things like, “Where is Romania, anyway?” and “I’ll bet Saltsburg high could take theirs any day in football, huh, Lenny?” — say foolish and stupid shit like that and be told to shut up by Len, who was all prim and proper, red-faced, and shaking his buzz-cut head as he spooned more and more sour cream onto his baked potato.
But it was good to hear Mom and Lizzy downstairs laughing in the laundry room and then talking, really talking the way people do when they like each other. I couldn’t hear the exact words; all that mattered were their voices, the way they gave and took. It was nice, almost musical.
And Dad even went down cellar to fix himself a Scotch at the bar we never used. “Do you girls want a drink?” I heard him ask.
“Sure, but one with dinner, Dan,” I heard Mom answer.
“Sure, me, too,” Lizzy said in a voice so sweet that I wished it could go on forever.
When he came back upstairs, he was laughing, too, clicking his ice, and smacking his lips: “That big lug of a brother of yours must’ve been usin’ his pants for a plate. My guess is grape jelly. That stuff’s famous for the stains it leaves. What was your guess again?”
I told him I really didn’t have a clue.
Caketrain is a literary journal and press based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Our interest is in bringing you, reader, the very best in contemporary creative writing, full stop. Our goals are for each issue of our journal to submerge you in a birthing tank for gelatinous language monsters, young masses of tentacular foci undulating as directed (in all, at once) by our eclectic stable of contributors; for each new book we publish to seduce and ensnare you, sometimes intangibly, always undeniably; and for you, reader, to be able to draw at least one passage from our banks that prods your mind with such precision and power that it feels as if it was written for your eyes alone. To wit and to whet, here is a snippet, a slight nip of our delicious lit mix:
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