An excerpt from “The Front”

With hair still dripping from his morning shower, Alvin pulls on his flared jeans and a Grand Funk T-shirt.  After a quick zit-check in the hallway mirror, he finds his mom in the kitchen washing holiday dishes.  She’s overweight, but not grossly so, and wears brown pants of some synthetic weave with a floral blouse.  The flesh on her biceps wiggles as she wrestles with the roasting pan.

“Morning, Mom.”

She doesn’t turn.  “Morning, Alvin.”  Then, after a beat, “There’s some ham left in the fridge from yesterday if you’re hungry.”  Her voice sounds scratchy, but he wants to ignore it.  She cries sometimes.

“Everything okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she says, but he sees her shoulders tighten as the Caterpillar revs its engine down by the highway.  “It’s just—the TV’s so sad this morning.”

“What’s on?” he asks, moving toward the family room to find Walter Cronkite narrating over a montage of film clips on the Zenith.

…assumed the presidency after the death of Franklin Roosevelt and guided our nation to the final cessation of hostilities with Germany and the Empire of Japan.  He’d been ill and in the hospital for most of the month, and doctors revealed yesterday that he’d slipped into a coma.  Again, this morning brings news that Harry Truman, thirty-third president of the United States, has died.  And now, for further—”

The war photographs shown over Cronkite’s narration are similar to the black and white picture nestled among the clot of family photos on top of the television set.  One of them shows Alvin’s dad beside the rubble of a bombed-out house during World War II.

Alvin steps back into the kitchen.  “What did he die of?”

“They’re not sure yet, sweetie.  At his age, who really knows?”  She smiles now, and if she has been crying, he can’t tell.  If only she wouldn’t call him sweetie.

“Is dad already working down at the old house?”

She scrubs at the pan.  “He said to come down as soon as you’re dressed.  And to make sure you put on your rubber boots.  It’s muddy.”

Outside, a warm breeze surprises him, and the thermometer hanging beside the wind chime shows seventy-two degrees.  Alvin can’t remember ever going without long sleeves so late in the year.  The Christmas tree is already lying naked on the brush pile, the victim of his dad’s work ethic. He can see Dad across the pond, pacing around the Cat, occasionally gesturing to its driver, Lovell Potter, who has lived just down the road since before Alvin was born.  Alvin likes Lovell, who is a volunteer fireman with Dad, but has lived in constant fear of Lovell’s son for most of his life.  Shane Potter has harassed Alvin since the third grade, but the last year and a half has been blissfully Shane-free, thanks to President Nixon.  Alvin wonders if Shane enjoys tormenting the North Vietnamese as much as he did his neighbor.  Not that his absence had led to any sort of social renaissance for Alvin.  Antagonist or no, Alvin feels radically incompatible with most public situations, preferring the solitude of his albums and books, along with Mission: Impossible on Saturdays and Mannix on Sundays.

© Chris Drew 2012

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