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F. X. James

doing something  


Lew received the call while he was busy doing something. It was his sister calling. He was in the kitchen at the time, finishing up the dishes and looking out at his son, Ben, playing on the rusty swing set in the backyard. The boy had turned ten yesterday, and his thick dark hair and dark eyes reminded Lew of when he was that age, though ten-year-old Ben was considerably heavier than Lew was at ten. When Lew was ten he was skinny as a rail. Even girls used to bully him back then, a few of the black ones pinning him down and spitting in his mouth, then kicking him as he tried to get back up. 
    Large clouds were moving in from the coast, or moving out toward the coast, Lew couldn't tell which. He liked to see them, liked the immensity of their bulk and their varying levels of grayness, but in truth, he was getting tired of all the rain they inevitably brought with them. Six years in Elma, Washington, and it was beginning to wear on them all. Helen was sitting in the living room, knitting another hat, sipping a cup of coffee, talking to him. But he wasn't really listening to her. He hadn't for a while now.
    He was washing their lunchtime plates and cups, and a few pieces of silverware. Sally had settled near his feet, and he knew he would have to take her out at some point. She was a big dog, too big even for Ben to handle, and she only seemed to listen to Lew, when she listened at all, so the task of walking her always fell to him. Helen would have nothing to do with her. But Lew didn't mind. He liked her. She was a good dog, and they had a long history together. 
    When the phone rang he was just putting on his coat. The dishes were done and he wanted another cigarette, and Helen hated when he smoked in the house. He also wanted to warn Ben about the rust on the swing set, and how some of the bars there were now pocked with small holes that had very rough edges. He knew he needed to dismantle the whole thing, Ben was already too big for it, but he just hadn't gotten around to it. Lew was always busy doing something around the place, and the swing set was just another less important chore that got bumped further and further down the list as time went by. Only Ben went anywhere near the thing, and Lew would often remind him to watch out for sharp edges and such. Maybe he just needed to tell the boy to stay the hell away from it altogether. 
    He was looking for his cigarettes when he heard Helen calling his name. He went into the living room and she was sitting there, half a wool cap hanging in one hand, the phone being waved in the other. "It's Karen," she said, with a sour look on her face. "Do you want me to leave?" Lew looked at her while he moved his shoulders and settled himself inside his coat. "What?" he said. Helen rolled her eyes. "Would you like some privacy, honey? That's what I'm asking you. So you two can talk." Lew shrugged and shook his head. "I don't care." he said. Helen sighed and handed the phone over. Lew took it and stood directly behind his wife, looking down at the top of her head, seeing a cluster of white flakes nestled around her parting, and several thick strands of gray hair. He was supposed to love this woman no matter what. To love her in sickness and in health, till death do them part. To love her above all other women. This was the only woman he had given his word to, the only woman he would ever sleep with. No others but her, for the rest of his life. Such thoughts depressed and confused him. 
    His sister's voice came in strong and clear, almost as if the words were being formed within his own skull. He pulled the handset a few inches from the side of his head and listened. "Lew," his sister said. "Lew, the tests have all come back, Lew. Everything's in, Lew. All of it." Helen shifted in her seat below him. She took a noisy sip of coffee. He looked down at the dark line of her cleavage, watched her broad chest lift and fall, saw the heavy folds of her stomach there beneath it. He saw two red pimples in the white flesh at the top of her right breast. He had flicked his tongue around the nipple of that breast just the other night. She had gripped his hair tightly as he licked, tilting her head back, and moaning. He could hear her stomach gurgling as he licked, and it made him think about her insides, about the dinner they had all enjoyed just an hour before, and how it was already breaking down within her, breaking down so that what was not required by her body could be expelled by it. It put him off to think about such things, but he diligently kept licking, and she kept gripping his hair, and moaning. 
    Lew really wanted a cigarette, and he knew Sally needed to go outside too. He could hear the rusty swing going back and forth in the back yard. He needed to take Ben fishing with him, and teach him how to hunt as well. But the boy had never expressed an interest in such things. He always wanted to stay close to the house, indoors mostly. He was a soft child, and Lew was concerned for the man he would eventually become. 
    Lew placed a hand to the left of Helen's head, resting it lightly on the back of her chair. He nodded and listened. "I'm scared, Lew," his sister said. "I'm really scared." Lew knew his sister was all alone, no husband, no children, barely any friends. She had always been a loner. On his wedding day she had gotten drunk and had pulled him aside just before the ceremony. "Look," she had said, swaying back and forth near an apple tree. "Look, Lew. Listen to me, brother. You don't have to do this, Lew," she had said, slurring some of her words, and smiling weirdly. "You don't have to go through with it. Do you really love her, Lew? I mean, do you really even love her?" 
    He heard the backdoor open and close, then his son's high voice, calling to them both. Without knowing why he did so, he slipped a finger inside Helen's mouth and pulled hard against her cheek, like his finger was a hook, and this woman that he had sworn to love forever, was nothing but a large hapless fish. She dropped her knitting and turned violently in the chair, slapping his hand out of her mouth. "What the fuck, Lew!" 
    He could hear his sister still talking to him, saying his name over and over. But he wasn't interested in that. He was waiting for her to say the one word she hadn't said yet, the one word that was the death knell for her. The one word that would seal it all forever. It was such an easy word to say. 
    He heard his son calling to them again, and he turned to see the pudgy boy standing in the kitchen doorway, holding up his pudgy hand, the blood there bright as the pimples on his wife's breast. What the hell is wrong with people, Lew thought, as he hung up the phone and called for his dog. 

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