By Dan Waidelich
The McDonnell brothers gamboled up the steep hill home. Behind them Carbondale spread south through the valley. Past that, the rest of Lackawanna County, Scranton and the entire world.
Bob walked ahead of Fran and Pat, thinking hard about hunting. Not whitetail, not anything that easy. But maybe a buffalo like they had in Africa. In his dreams.
“Hey, Bobby!” Fran yelled, rapping him sharply on the back of the head with his knuckles. “Coal cart.”
Fran was pointing down the hill toward the scrapyard on Enterprise Drive. Pat was already scrambling down it towards the untended wagon.
“Listen, Chef, we get some of that and Ma is gonna let you cook whatever you like,” Fran said. “Keep watch, boyo.” He rushed to join Pat, practically falling down the green slope. At the bottom, the two brothers stuffed as much coal in their pockets as they could.
Bob watched them laughing then turned his eyes toward the horizon. He tried to find east, where Africa was supposed to be. As if he’d ever get there. His future was coal, farming or the army.
Not great choices, but at least Fran and Pat would have to make them too. They could do anything together.
Fran and Claire turned onto Holly Lane and drove halfway down. Fran pulled into the driveway of No. 18 and killed the engine. The realtor was waiting on the porch. He opened the door and stepped out. Claire did the same and immediately began lobbing questions at their guide.
“If you’d like, we can just begin the tour,” the realtor said. “I think all of your questions will be answered when you see the inside.” She opened the door and Claire followed her.
“You go ahead,” Fran said. “I’d like to walk around the yard first.”
The narrow concrete walkway that led around the house opened into a newly grown green yard that sloped down just enough to remind Fran of home. He let out a peaceful sigh and imagined whiling his weekends away back here, nursing a beer and a cigar while Timmy cut the lawn and Kathleen played nearby.
He glanced at the neighbor’s yard and let out a jayses mary and joseph when he saw the old Goldwater sign. A sign like that would get you a right ass kicking back in Carbondale; he still remembered huddling with his brothers for warmth when the coal company got greedy. He still remembered how some of the southern cunts in his unit treated the black guys in Korea.
Republicans. Bastards don’t know anything about freezing their asses off. Just burning crosses for warmth.
His thoughts were interrupted when the realtor brought Claire out back, chattering like squirrels.
“How do you like the yard, Mr. McDonnell?”
“Yard’s fine,” he said. He jerked a thumb at the sign. “Lot of these characters around?”
“Barry Goldwater supporters? Oh no, we were a Johnson neighborhood in the election.”
Kathy checked her face in the mirror one more time before leaving the house. She hoped her friends wouldn’t see she’d been crying all night.
Another night, another fight. Dad caught Kevin with another joint. Mom started yelling at Patrick about showing up drunk at Mass. Tim started yelling at everyone because that’s what he did. Poor little Maureen bawled through it all.
And now, like every day, she just had to get on the 7:30 a.m. train to take her to Red Bank Catholic as if it was all okay.
“Anything wrong,” Eileen asked when they met up on the platform. “Remember Southside Johnny is at the Stone Pony tonight and Bruce is gonna be there too.”
“No, I’m fine,” Kathy said. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
Later in chapel, Father talked that Karen Ann Quinlan girl people were arguing about.
“God places difficult times in our path, and often difficult people,” Father said. “But he places the people there for a reason. They challenge us and mold us and help us grow. What we must remember, however, is compassion. Even when people force us to make terrible, fraught and sinful decisions, as our judges might in this case, we must remember we are on God’s earth together. We are family and we will take care of one another, sinners and angels alike.”
Kathy cried when he read Romans 12:16.
“I can’t believe it’s happening,” Dan said to his mother, rocking back and forth on the couch with the cellphone pressed to his ear. “I can’t believe people are going to elect this fuck.”
“I know,” Kate replied. “It’s really scary. But we’re going to keep our doors open to anyone who needs help. Hey, do you remember when you and your brothers asked your grandpa what a Democrat was?”
“Yeah, we were just kids,” Dan said. “But he asked us a question. He asked if we cared about just ourselves or if we cared about other people.”
“And you all spoke right up and said ‘other people’ and he smiled so big and said, ‘Well, I guess you’re all Democrats like me.’”
Dan told his mother he loved her and hung up the phone. He went into the bedroom where Sarah lay in the dark, crying as she looked at the electoral map on her phone. Dan got in bed and put his arms around her.
“We’re not having kids for four years,” she said, a nervous edge behind the joke. “At least you’re a guy. But I get catcalled everyday on the way to the train as it is. It’s not like women have a lot left to lose. What the hell do we do?”
Dan looked over her shoulder at the phone. Pennsylvania switched from blue to red.
“We’re gonna be really sad tonight,” he said. “Then tomorrow, we’re gonna wake up and scream and fight and care. We’re gonna care so much.”