“Is Ivey home?”
He stood on the concrete porch, a crack in the middle working its way through like a jagged river cutting through limestone, old beams of oak beginning to rot, curled paint giving up its fight with the oppressive sun. Standing in front of him was Ivey’s mother, Eileen, dressed in a blue bathrobe, a hole from a cigarette burn in the breast pocket. Hair pinned up, tufts jetting out of the top of her head, last night’s mascara running wild.
“Yeah, Calvin, c’mon.”
An old brown couch on the stained carpet of the living room. On it was Eileen’s boyfriend, three days’ growth of beard, arms outstretched in his slumber, mouth partly ajar. His face was an angry red, cutting off in the middle of his forehead where it transformed to a pasty white from wearing ball caps in the sun all day. The house, as always, smelled of stale beer and cigarettes.
“She’s in her room playing with her paintings,” Eileen said, lighting a fresh smoke and waving her hand nonchalantly. “Want something to drink? Got tea, water.”
“Yeah, sure. Tea, thanks.”
He walked to the open kitchen, a small pile of dirty dishes in the sink, the uneven floor straining under his feet.
“Hear you’re going to college next year.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m…”
“Ivey talks about it, you know. Just don’t think we can afford it. Better for her to get a job around here, maybe take a couple of night classes.”
She handed him the glass, her loose robe revealing the top of a rose, faded red and outlined in black, just a couple of petals on her left breast. Calvin wondered how far down the stem extended.
“She goes on about her art, doing that and all. Ain’t no money in it, though. All that fluffy shit. Maybe you can give her some direction, talk her into something else.”
Her door was open, and knowing that she always wore her headphones while she painted, Calvin tried to sneak up on her. He slowed his steps, wincing at the inevitable creaks of the aged wood floor. At the door, he peeked around the corner. Ivey had her back to him, and, sure enough, headphones on, blonde hair spilling down to her back. A canvas of pastel color in front of her, a field, or perhaps just a collage, of flowers: dandelions, daisies, jasmines, lilies, laurels. No roses, though. He smiled.
Entering the room, Calvin slowly stalked her, ran a finger down her arm. She let out a stifled yelp, jerked her head around, wide eyes. Fear. But an expected fear.
A little taken aback, he searched for words.
“Didn’t think you’d freak out that bad. What, your mom never comes in your room?”
“Yeah, but, I don’t know. Just surprised me, that’s all.”
The color came back to her face. Calvin nodded his head at the painting.
“What do you have there?”
“I call it ‘Memory’, like Minestrini’s, but not of childhood, like his. It’s a memory I’ll have when I’m old.”
“When you’re old? Why not a memory now?”
She dipped her brush into a glass of stained water, carefully mixed colors, leaned closer, added the brush stroke.
“Because I don’t have it yet,” she whispered.
“We’ve seen lots of flowers in the woods.”
“They’re not flowers, Calvin. They’re feelings.”
He nodded his head as though he understood, picturing her as a flower. A beautiful, exotic flower in a field she didn’t belong.
“You mom says you should do something that makes money.”
Walking to her bed, he lay down on his stomach, propped his head under a pillow, studied her. Ivey carefully applied a swath of texture to the contour of a petal, her mouth tight, her brow tense. Calvin’s gaze shifted about the room. An old second-hand dresser, bare, cracked mirror. And then Ivey’s paintings, landscapes mostly. He focused on one, a winding dirt road in the foreground, snaking into the background of a swaying field of grass interrupted by a lodgepole jackleg fence, the gate shut. Beyond, the road shrunk into hazy hills, disappearing through a distant valley. He cleared his throat.
“Hey, I noticed that the gate on…”
“Jesus Christ, I’m up!”
The voice was distinct through the walls. Ivey sighed, dipped her brush into the small jar of water, jiggled it clean.
“Bout time. You need to get your ass out of the house and look for a job,” Eileen said. “Haven’t done shit for a week.”
“Just shut up and give me an aspirin. Head’s pounding.”
“Good. Told you not to open that second bottle.”
Footsteps. Shuffling. Cabinet doors shutting.
“Give me a light.”
Rising from her chair, Ivey quietly walked to the bed, and lay next to Calvin. Her body was warm next to his, fragile. She rested her head on a pillow, peered at him through a veil of blonde hair, her blue eyes delicate. Calvin gestured with his head toward the wall.
“Where did this one come from?”
“The usual,” she said. “At Bleacher’s Bar. He’s been around a couple of weeks. Name’s Steve. Does drywall. Guess the boss ran out of work for him.”
A sharp, pungent odor wafted through the door’s crevices. Although not unpleasant, the marijuana reminded him of last weekend’s party after the ball game, and a hint of naseua began to well up in his stomach.
Inaudible conversation. A sharp banging of glass against wood.
“Look, get off my ass about it. I got bills, too, you know.”
Ivey touched his shoulder, ran her fingers up his neck.
“C’mon. Let’s get out of here,” she said.
In one motion, she jumped out of bed and scurried to the window, deftly unlocked the latch, with a swift motion lifted it up and hopped out. Her face peered at him from outside, cool air spilling in. She smiled.
“What are you waiting for, wienie?”
Calvin awkwardly got his feet over the side, strained to reach the window to close it.
“Steve, get out. Just get the fuck out!”
With a grunt, Calvin shut the window tight, jerked his head around and Ivey was running, wild hair bouncing in the wind, stealing a quick glance back at him. Calvin chased her, the cool breeze on his face, a blunt sting, the aged houses and cracked sidewalks blurring, gelling together and dissipating. She moved effortlessly, bouncing over curbs and weaving through parked cars. He stayed up as best he could with labored breaths, grunting.
The houses around them abruptly ended and the storefronts of downtown began: the hardware store, a women’s apparel chain, a Mexican restaurant. They came to the town center, a square block of a cemented pond, jets of water shooting up in the air through an underwater compressor, concrete steps leading down to the water’s edge. A flock of mallards erupted as they made their way down, Ivey jumped two steps at a time, stopped, sat down, glanced back.
Out of breath, Calvin walked the last few steps, plopped down next to her, stretched his legs, his feet dangling over the foamy water. Ivey sat Indian-style, her hands propping up her head, stared down at the many coins that glimmered off the porcelain of the pool’s surface. Her eyes watched at half-mast, small beads of sweat on her forehead, strands of hair adhered to her skin. She began to laugh, a muted giggle.
“What?” he asked.
A sad smile, slowly shook her head.
“Fuck my life,” she whispered.
Running his fingers through her hair, Calvin gently rubbed the nape of her neck.
“It’ll be okay,” he said, not thinking of anything better. A bead of sweat ran down his cheek, and he swiped it clean.
“Nothing I do is right with her,” she said. “Thing is, nothing she does is right, either. Like she’s blind to that, though. Because anything I say to her is ignored. It’s always gonna be like this, Calvin. Feel like my life is a pre-determined pile of shit.”
The image of his father came, a deep resounding ancient pain.
“She’s not you,” he said.
She folded her arms, gently rocked to and fro.
“She’s not you. She’s not you.”
A single tear dropped down her cheek, spilled onto her leg, snaked its way down, losing energy. She turned and they embraced, Ivey burying her face in his chest, her back quivering, bronze skin warm, smooth. She pulled away, stared up at him. Tracing the outline of her lip with his finger, he leaned in, kissed her softly. Her hand moved up his neck. The sweet warmth of her tongue. She pulled away, gazed up at him.
“I love you, Calvin.”
The words sounded comfortable. Like home.
“I love you, too.”
“How far is Lubbock?” Ivey asked.
At the combination pharmacy/ice cream parlor downtown, Ivey looked small sitting in the massive red booth, seemingly swallowing her, dressed in her favorite denim skirt, tan arms propped on the table. She sipped her root beer float, wiped the cream from her lips. Calvin’s usual banana split began to drip; he spooned a mouthful, thinking.
“Don’t know. Four hundred miles, maybe?”
Her forehead furrowed in concentration.
“That’s too far.”
“You’re not locked down here, you know,” he said. “The college has a great arts program, and you could get all kinds of student loans and grants.”
“Where would I live?”
“They have dorms there, too, you dork.”
Ivey twirled the straw around her drink, gingerly sipped. Eyes cast away.
“Listen,” he said. “I know you were talking about junior college here in town. But it would mean another two years of living with your mother.”
Still won’t look at him.
“Don’t you want to get out of here?”
“It’s not that simple, Calvin,” she said suddenly. “I don’t know if she’d do well without me. I’m like her mom. Get her out of bed. Make sure the laundry is done. Weird?”
“Yeah. But I know that’s how it is. When does it end?”
She shifted in her booth.
“I don’t know. When she gets her shit together. If.”
“Ivey,” he said. “You can’t…”
The bell hung by the front door of the parlor jingled. In walked Derek, Matt, Michael. The guys Calvin got drunk with at the party.
“Oh great,” Ivey said under her breath.
Matt was the first to see him, a sly smile appearing. He walked toward them, the rest following. He was still dressed in his pizza delivery uniform, which he did part-time in the evenings.
“Seven o’clock,” Calvin said. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“What’s up, Cal? They let us go early. Who’s this?”
Ivey peered at him.
“I go to school with you, moron,” she said.
They all chuckled.
“So,” Matt said. “Your name is?”
Ivey looked exasperated.
She shot Calvin an angry look.
“You didn’t tell them about me, Calvin?”
He didn’t. But not for the reasons he knew she was going to assume. Just didn’t want to share her with anybody. She always seemed…above them. Calvin looked around at the guys for help, but they just gave him a collective bewildered expression, shrugged their shoulders.
“You didn’t,” she said. “You really didn’t.”
“Why?” she asked.
Calvin quickly calculated how much grief he would get from the guys if he told her the truth in front of them. Forget them. Just tell her the truth. No. Too embarrassing.
“Don’t know,” Calvin said. “Just never came up.”
She let out a little cry, like a puppy trapped in a hole it can’t crawl out of. Calvin quietly cursed himself. Suddenly, she shoved her half-full root beer float at him, the chilled cream spilling down his shirt, pooling up in his lap. The cold seeped in through his jeans and shirt. The guys were cackling with laughter, curious stares from the people at the counter.
Ivey sat with her head lowered, lips quivering, arms folded.
“On that note, fellas,” Matt said, as the laughs died off.
And they walked out the door.
“Ivey,” Calvin said. “I didn’t mean…”
She picked up a wadded up napkin, hurled it at him, got up from her seat, glaring, turned and quickly left. Calvin watched her through the parlor’s windows, the wind lifting her hair, she looking around, pale, running away.
The television was blaring in Mama’s room as Calvin quietly closed the front door, subtle smells of an hours-old supper of pork chops and cabbage in the kitchen, the faint hiss of the gas heater. Walking through the small duplex, he entered his room, shut the door. Gently lifting the window curtain, he gazed at the outline of the side of Ivey’s house a block away, looking unusually peaceful for a Friday night. Usually three or four cars parked in the front, the music audible even at this distance, the voices of Eileen’s friends from the bar rumbling in the undercurrent of the rhythm.
Feeling eyes on him, he shut the curtain and turned to see the door partially ajar, Mama peering in.
“You okay?” she asked.
“It’s just you usually tell me when you’re home.”
She paused, glanced around the room, Calvin thought she was looking for something to chastise, generally involving cleanliness.
“Everything good with you and Ivey?” she asked.
“Just a little misunderstanding, that’s all.”
Calvin tried to think of something to add to that so she’ll change the subject.
“I’ll talk to her about it tomorrow. It’ll be okay.”
Satisfied, she nodded her head.
“Well, all right. You’re in for the night, right?”
“Yeah. I’m tired.”
“Okay. See you in the morning, sugar.”
Mama’s voice came at him from far off, through the rhythm of the electric fan in the darkness making its rotation. Not completely dark, though. Through the curtains in his front window, a vague redness flashed, amber, then red.
“There’s something going on at Ivey’s house.”
“So what? It’s Friday. Always something going on over there.”
“Think it’s worse this time.”
Fear in her voice.
“Okay. Let’s go outside and see.”
Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, the wind bit his skin. At the end of the block, a paramedic ran around an ambulance, jumped in the driver’s seat, raced past them, lights, siren blaring.
Mama and Calvin walked slowly up the sidewalk, closer to the small crowd of police officers, neighbors. Amidst the shouting and frightened faces, Calvin saw Eileen gesturing wildly to an officer, he scribbling notes as she talked. Sitting on a curb next to a patrol car was Steve, handcuffed, his body unsteady, staring nervously across the lawn at Eileen.
Eileen and Steve. Who the hell was in the ambulance? Where was Ivey? Calvin inhaled the night air, a shiver running down his back. Glanced at his watch. 4:21 a.m. He walked across the street, Mama following, tentative. A handful of neighbors stood in silence, in bathrobes and t-shirts, unkempt hair, lined faces, arms folded, tense. Calvin stood behind them, listened.
Eileen had stopped shouting, her face pale, her mouth moving with quiet words. An officer walked over to Steve and lifted him up. He spoke to Steve, his body swayed, eyes unfocused. Calvin heard the words “under arrest” and Steve was in the back of the patrol car, speeding away. Eileen was escorted to another squad car, got in, left.
He glanced back, his mother behind him, her eyes red from the wind. She turned to Eileen’s next door neighbor, an elderly Hispanic man in a flannel shirt, his black hair disheveled, head down, shaking.
“Jorge, what happened?”
Jorge gave her a timid glance.
“Eileen told the officer she woke in the middle of the night to crying. She found Ivey badly beaten, barely alive.”
Jorge cleared his throat, an apprehensive look at his wife.
“Says that man raped her, and when she fought back…that’s when it happened. The beating. Tal un Ángel, Ivey. Sería matarlo.”
Calvin’s words coming from somewhere else. Like he was talking underwater.
“Hospital. Mama, we have to go to the hospital.”
Mama’s face was rigid as she gazed intently at the road ahead. Theirs was the lone car on the street, a light fog settled comfortably above, a gentle mist peppered the windshield, mama reached up every few seconds, flipped the washer on, wiped it clean. Calvin shivered. The heater in the old Cutlass always took its time to blow hot. Hard to breathe. Feel hollow.
She turned onto the road leading up to visitor parking, another turn. Quietly eased the Cutlass into an empty parking lot, killed the engine. She exhaled deeply, turned to him.
“You ready for this?” she asked.
None of it. Ready for none of it.
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
The automatic doorway into the emergency room opened with a swoosh, the crisp, sterile air hitting his face. A few people in the waiting room, grimly thumbing through magazines, sagging faces. He recognized a couple of his neighbors, nodding as they turned their heads. A little girl lay asleep next to her mother, oblivious.
Walking back to the rows of cushioned chairs, they sat in a corner. Lying on an end table were perhaps a dozen magazines, the walls adorned with paintings of idyllic fields. Calvin spotted one, a mosaic of flowers. And he couldn’t hold back. Hiding the tears with his hands, he was doubled over, nauseous. Mama’s hand rested gently on his back.
“Hey, she’s a tough girl. She’ll be okay.”
They sat for a few minutes, Calvin still bent down, hands covering his face. Doesn’t want to think, so he focused on getting rid of the knot welled up in his chest. Focused on breathing. In and out. And then, finally, he did want to say something.
“She thinks I’m ashamed of her.”
He didn’t uncover his face. There was no answer for a few seconds. Then Mama cleared her throat.
“Why would you ever think that?”
So he told her what happened at the ice cream parlor. And then why he said what he said.
“I imagine she’s had to deal with that her whole life,” Mama said. “She just expects it, that’s all.”
“But it’s not her fault.”
“Doesn’t matter. Ivey, I expect, found that out early. Older you get, the more the baggage accumulates. But she was born with it.”
Calvin wiped the dampness away from his cheeks, sat up. The neighbors, Jorge, his wife, and an older couple, were seated across the room from them. Jorge’s wife nervously thumbed through an old issue of Redbook, her house shoes tapping the white tile. Jorge, with his leather jacket on and faded jeans, black boots, had fallen asleep, his mouth partially ajar.
“Wish she could let that go. Not have anything to be embarrassed about.”
“Maybe one day she can,” Mama said. “People have many lives, in a way. This Ivey, maybe, can one day just be somebody she used to be.”
Not really understanding, Calvin just nodded his head. A wave of fatigue swept through him, and he leaned back, closed his eyes. He felt his mother covering him with a jacket.
Voices. Calvin stirred, momentarily confused as to where he was. The neighbors, Mama at the admitting counter, their backs to him. Jorge and his wife slowly turned around, left. Mama walked back to him, her head lowered. He wiped his eyes to clear his vision. She got down on her knee in front of him.
“How bad is she?”
The color drained from her face.
“Calvin. She’s gone.”
No thought. He rose.
“Where are you going? It’s the middle of the night. C’mon, let me…”
“No. I just have to go.”
Spinning around, he dashed briskly out the door, Mama’s voice trailing after. The night air hit him hard, a thousand tiny needles pricking his face. Calvin picked up his pace, breaking into a jog, then into a run, the wind whipped against his jacket, the fog wet against his hair.
The damp sidewalk a blur beneath his feet, he hopped over curbs, blindly scurried past the streets, the occasional headlights of cars whizzed by. Like everything’s normal. Like nothing has happened. The world, exactly the same as it was before. A grain of anger in him, growing, rising.
Clothes clinging against his wet body, he reached his street, unthinkingly turned and raced toward the bend in the road. Jumping into the grasses, he sprinted toward the creek’s edge, dropped down the embankment, the damp sand engulfed his feet.
The moon’s yellow light glimmered off the sand encasing his ankles, tiny dull sparkles, air motionless, thick. Nothing but the black water’s bumpy, constant flow. Tears welled up, ran jagged down the creases of his mouth. Her hair, moist and clinging to her bronze skin. Calvin reached for her and there was nothing.
Methodically, he scanned the creek floor for rocks, picked out the smoothest, flattest of the stones, chalky white. Six of them then, slippery in his hand. Walking to the water’s edge, his feet sank smoothly in the shallow current, the cold wetness penetrating his shoes. Leaning close to the riffles, he tossed one, spinned it with his index finger, the smooth disc skimmed over the surface, disappeared in a dark vortex at the base of an embedded boulder. And then another, still not far enough. Another. Abandoning this, he let the last three sail higher over the water, lodging in the thick mud on the opposing bank.
He cried out. Let all the sound, all the air, from his body, his voice echoed through the winding bottom. Dropping to his knees, the icy water penetrated his clothes, stung his thighs. His hands ran through the current; he dipped his head in it, rose up, gazed through the timber on the other side. Flowers, he thought. Maybe at first light, I’ll hike to the meadow behind the old lean-to and pick some flowers for Ivey. All colors, all kinds. The world for her.
They’re not flowers, Calvin. They’re feelings.
Mike Hancock is a former hunting guide and commercial fisherman. He spent seven years guiding elk, deer, and bear hunters in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico. Prior to that he was a deckhand for two seasons aboard a factory trawler in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Now living in Wewoka, Oklahoma, he is an Adjunct Professor of English and a
freelance writer. He holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
“Flowers” is an excerpt from his forthcoming novel, “Fallen.” This is a story of fathers and sons and of emotional bonds that transcend culture and time. Set in the looming mountains of Northwest Montana in 1870 and 1997, the novel chronicles the lives of Grey Bear, a distraught Piegan warrior in the aftermath of the Marias Massacre, and Calvin, a tortured young hunting guide, as they endure hardships and abuse, both seeking redemption in an untamed wilderness.
Louie Crew is an emeritus professor at Rutgers. Editors have published 2,226 of his manuscripts. His photography has appeared in recent issues of Rose Red Review, Meadowland Review, and The Living Church.