"Shit, Louie's a dumb wop, but I owe him," he'd say. "You don't know fuck-all, kid. I killed a guy down in Florida. I bought his old lady some fancy drink with a fucking umbrella in it and he pulled a knife. On me? You got to be kidding. You pull a knife on Gus and you are fucked, pal; you got that? I threw him right through a plate-glass window and the glass went right through his neck and he bled out like a fucking pig. Ha! And you? Are you kidding? I'll kill you right here, right now, no fuck. I'll drown you in this bucket of paint. You look at me funny and I'll throw you right off this roof, and then I'll laugh. And then you know what? I'll take a big drink of paint and go back to work and whistle a little tune called 'I Just Killed That Little College Prick Louie Stuck Me With All Fucking Summer.' I will because what do I have to lose? What? I'll tell you what I have to losefuck-all, that's what. And I love paint. It's in my blood, you little shit. My blood. If you cut me open right now, paint would come out. Do it; cut me. I'd like to see you try. That would be funny, you college fuck. You do not know fucking shit about paint, kid. I love the way it smells; I love the way it feels; I love the way it tastes. I used to paint fourteen hours a day, seven days a week, and then I'd go home and me and my old lady would hop into the sack and smoke a joint and watch dirty movies until dawn, because I do not fucking care. Shit, it's hot up here. I'm not going to bust my balls and have a heart attack for Loo-eegee, that dago dick squeezer. Fuck it; I'm taking five."
Gus would work himself up into f ts about Louis, that "skinny guinea who knows fuck-all," and we'd climb down off the plank we'd run between two ladders across the front of the house we were painting, and Gus would cover his head with a wet towel and complain and threaten me. (Later, we painted with a guy named Frankie Shuey, who got paint all over people's roofs and driveways, and Gus took to threatening to murder him instead of me.) I'd smoke a cigarette and think about the envelope of cash I'd get at the end of the week, and about Kate being on the way, and how strange it was to think of her, a little newborn girl, and Gus over there, all greasy and sweaty and decrepit, and to try to picture him as having been someone's baby, once, to try to think of him as a newborn infant. I imagined Kate at about ten years old, wondering about me at work and what I actually spent my time doing and with whom I worked. I used to do that with my grandfather, when I was in school. Instead of paying attention to geometry, I'd wonder about what he was doing at that exact same momentwhether he was in the basement, in his workshop coat, dipping clockworks into an ammonia bath by a wire hanger, or in his black windbreaker and black Greek fi sherman's cap, driving one of his station wagons (he and my grandmother always had two matching station wagons, for which he always paid with cash that he took from one of the deposit boxes he had around the North Shore) to different banks, so he could cash the checks his customers paid him with where they had their accounts, so he didn't have to report the income, a practice one of his neighbors, an accountant for the IRS, had taught him.
I used to think about Susan, at the room we rented then, in Matt Gray's house. Matt Gray was the chief of the Enon police. My grandfather and grandmother knew him well because they had been friends for many years with his father, Matt Senior, who had been the police chief before Matt. I used to sit on the lawns of the houses I painted, smoking cigarettes, drinking cans of soda, Gus spewing his dreadful jive talk, and try to think about what Susan was doing at that very moment. I imagined her, in the cool, damp summer morning light, maybe doing the couple of dishes we hadn't got to the night before, maybe folding some clothes and putting them away in the bureau we shared, maybe deciding to take a walk to the library to see if there were any books that interested her. She liked to read mysteries while she was pregnant with Kate. I'd get worried sometimes, thinking about what she was doing, because here she was, living with me, in a single room, in the police chief's house, in her boyfriend's hometown, with no job then and no money and me painting houses and her six months pregnant and summer getting hotter and hotter, and it made me half panicked to think of her being unhappy, maybe, and me being the cause of her feeling disappointed that her life wasn't going as well as she'd always hoped and that I was a big part of the reason that the plans we'd talked about at the kitchen table all those nights weren't working out, instead of being the reason they all came true.
Excerpted from Enon by Paul Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Harding. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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