Come afternoon Jeffrey’s mother will hold the screen door open, and her boy will step through. Out, onto the stoop, his eyes tired in their sockets, a stilted smile pulled across his face like a piece of wet string. He’ll take the steps in twos, letting his feet fall against the cement. His body will pitch like a car antennae in the wind. He’ll put his toes in the grass, hands held out like airplane wings. His mother will let the door slam. The neighbors will give attention. Watching as the young man moves awkward toward a length of cable stretched head-high between a pair of oaks. A leash. Custom fitted with a spring latch on each end, at the center of the cable, ten feet from either tree. Jeffrey will zigzag toward it. He will clip the free latch to his belt loop. He’ll step toward his father’s house and the leash will draw down the line.


Two men touch bottlenecks on the porch.
“This is living.”
“This is.”
“Jeffrey’s gone all summer?”
“All summer. Camp in the hills. Special training? Something.”
“I thought his kind was smart.”
“He’s good at the puzzles.”
There is a dull silence as both men drink.
“Well, least there’s that.”


Wet leaves rot in mounds on either side of Jeffrey’s path. Jeffrey in a navy slicker that glistens with sleet. The air big. Chimney smoke. Dead leaves. Hot hard cider which births steam from cups. Across the street a neighbor girl sits on a Trans Am hood smoking menthol cigarettes. Her boyfriend stands between her spread legs with his back toward her. The girl stroking his long hair. Jeffrey walks from tree to tree. Watching.

“What’s wrong with him?”
“Don’t know. Short bus picks him up. Wakes me up every fucking morning.” She flicks at the butt of her cigarette. Ashes drift in the wind.
“How old is he?”
“Younger than me, but I used to play with him.”
The boyfriend turns and takes the girl’s cigarette.
“Yeah,” he says and takes a drag. “What did you play?”
“Doctor,” she says, and waves at Jeffrey. “We played doctor.”
The boyfriend laughs. Smoke pours from his smile. Jeffrey hides his face in his hand and walks from tree to tree.


She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She.


“At first I figured she was drunk. Kept on pounding at the door with her fist. Must have woken up half the street. And if she didn’t the dogs did, ’cause they heard her racket and got to barking. Personally I don’t give a shit how bad a father he is. He’s a man with a job, got work next morning and she lives off the state. Anyhow, he flipped on the light and came out in his night clothes, and she started hollering about his son being sick. So he stepped down off the porch and the both of them went into her house. If you ask me it’s a shit situation for a man to find himself in.”


Two men touch bottlenecks on the porch. The street is quiet save the muffled groaning of a female.

“Trans Am boy must give it to her hard.”
“Shit. All that long hair. Didn’t figure he had it in him.”
Dull silence. Drinking.
“Hell. I wish I was young again.”
“Not me. Nothing but trouble.” He points to Jeffrey who drifts from tree to tree.

A door opens across the street. The groaning girl steps weary into the sunshine and lights a menthol cigarette.

One of the beer drinkers waves at her. She shows him her middle finger.


“On Wednesday evenings he’ll come down off his porch. He’ll walk the path to the sidewalk, turn right, then turn up her path, and go up to her door. He’ll knock. She’ll let him in. I suppose they have dinner ’cause he’s always dressed up a bit, and he stays in there for a stretch of time. First time I saw it I figured he was going to propose. It was the way he was dressed, and all. The way his face was quiet. How he held his hands. He didn’t. Or if he did she said no. I keep expecting one of them to put their house for sale and move away.”


A new neighbor. Walking with tight pants on. Coming quick. Stepping in rhythm. Pulling hands high as she moves. Face red. Deep breathing. Listening to music and humming along. She stops when she sees Jeffrey. She plants a foot and her body lunges forward. The motion messes her balance. She stumbles and almost trips, but catches herself with awkward footwork, steadies herself, then crosses her arms.

“Boy, why you leashed?” Her voice is louder than it needs to be. She takes her headphones off and waits for an answer. Jeffrey is quiet.
“What’s that ma’am?” A man on the porch of the neighboring house sets a beer beside him on the pavement.
“The boy,” says the woman. “He’s leashed.”
“Yes ma’am,” the man says. “Every afternoon,” he says and points to Jeffrey. “He ain’t normal.”
“So, you leash him,” the woman says. She moves closer to the boy, who walks undisturbed from tree to tree.
“Oh,” says the man. “No ma’am,” he laughs. “The boy leashes himself.”

The woman is on the lawn. She’s moving closer to Jeffrey. Jeffrey stops. He stares at her.

“I used to have a lab,” the man says. “The line was for it. But he got off one day and disappeared, and the boy started clipping himself to it, so I never cut it down.”
“It’s inhumane,” the woman says. “He shouldn’t be leashed like an animal.”

The woman moves slow toward Jeffrey. She drops her shoulders and extends her hands. “Shush,” she says. “It’s okay,” She tells him. “This isn’t right.”

The woman reaches for the spring clip which is hooked to one of Jeffrey’s belt loops. She snaps the clip and thrusts the leash down the line. It bobs and bounces in the air. The woman steps back. Jeffrey looks at her. He bites his lip. He touches his palms. He walks down to the leash and clips it back on his pants.


She came out of her house first. He followed close by. They carried their argument into the street. He put his hand on her shoulder, but she brushed it off, then he tried for her waist but she wriggled free.

“I don’t get you.”
“Nothing to get.”
She got some distance, then turned to face him.
“You’re pestering me.”
“Is that what you’d call it?”
“I would,” she said. He reached for her hand, but she pulled back. “It’s like strangulation.”
“There someone else?”
“Sure,” she said. She looked over her shoulder. “Jeffrey.” She pointed at the boy pacing between the trees.
“Shit,” he said. He laughed. “Prove it.”
She smiled at him. She began to unbutton her blouse.
“What the hell you doing,” he asked. He moved forward. She moved back.

She undid the buttons quickly, and spread her flannel shirt open, so that her breasts were bared. She turned and walked toward Jeffrey who stood still and watched.

When she reached him she put her arm around his waist. Jeffrey put his hands to his face. The boy got in his Trans Am and sped down the road.


She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She. She.


The tickets were $50 a piece. Jeffrey’s mother talked him into it.

“It’ll do him good to get out in public.”
“He gets plenty of public at the school.”

Eventually persuaded, he figured he’d do it right. Got good seats behind the home-team dugout. Got Jeffrey a Nolan Ryan jersey, a giant soda and some popcorn. Showed the boy a score sheet and how to make the marks. But he didn’t get it. Didn’t care much for the game. Made it through the first two batters then turned around in his chair. Sat watching the woman behind him the whole time they were there. Eyes latched on her breasts. Made his father nervous.

“Don’t mind the boy,” he told the woman. “His mother had pale milk.”
Nobody laughed.


“Used to they’d pay the girl to watch him, or at least that’s what the girl’s mother told me. Said they’d give her $3 an hour, and she’d go over there and they’d play, or whatever. I don’t know exactly why it stopped. I don’t think there was anything unusual. Maybe she got older and developed interests. I don’t know. I do know she’s a bit loose, and I seen her do some questionable things. Maybe the boy’s mother was afraid she’d be a bad influence. Maybe money got tight and she realized it didn’t do no good no how. I’m not friends with his mother. I say hi from time to time, but she keeps to herself and I do the same.”


The two men have gone through an awful lot of beer. There are empty bottles on the porch and in the grass. One of them has a harmonica. From time to time he mouths a few notes. Their speech is messy, and they are loud. Their voices can be heard down the street. One of the men has just come back from a baseball game. The Astros lost. He keeps repeating the score.

“It was a mess, and I dumped a pile of money.”
“Sounds it.”
The man with the harmonica breathes a quick riff.
“You know, I didn’t cum in his momma.”
“Not proper. It was the first time she had me over. She’d only lived next door a few weeks. We were drinking wine, and things lead to things. But I think I drank too much, ’cause I thrashed around, and we tried for a long while, but nothing of it.”
Dull. Drunk.
“Then you ain’t the daddy?”
“No, I is.”
“How you figure.”
“He’s all dribble and no dynamite. The doctor explained it to me, said it happens sometimes.”
“Huh. You think that’s why?”
“Might be. Doctor says he doubts it. But I don’t think they know much. I wish she would have pulled the plug on the thing like I asked.”
“At least moved.”

A Trans Am rolls slow down the road. One of the men tips a bottle back and chugs his beer. He pulls the bottle from his lips. Beer sprays into the air, and he breathes heavy as though he’s emerged from a swimming pool for air. A few notes are played on the harmonica.

“This boy here don’t know what he’s getting into.”
“Oh, I get the feeling he knows.” The men chuckle.
“No. In the long run.”
“Well, he’ll make some mistakes. It’ll come clear to him.”

The Trans Am parks on the street. One of the men rises from the porch. He steps down into the yard and lets an empty bottle fall from his hand. It hits the grass. There is a dull tone as it rolls to a rest.

The door to the Trans Am opens. The driver gets out. His feet scrape the asphalt. He closes the door behind him and circles the car and heads toward the girl’s house.

“Hey, Trans Am,” the man says. “Where you going?”

Trans Am boy turns. He looks surprised. He points at the house behind him.

“No you ain’t,” the man says. “Nothing but trouble in there.”

The harmonica fills the street with slow notes. The boy shakes his head. He squints his eyes. He whispers, “You drunk?”

“Might be,” says the man.

Trans Am boy laughs. He heads up the cement walk to the door of the house.

It’s too late when he hears the footsteps. The man’s shoulder hits the small of his back, and the two go down into the grass.

The slow notes cease. There are grunts and groans coming from the grass. Dogs begin to bark. House lights come on.

They continue tussling. The boy breaks free. He stands and heads for the house. The man grabs his ankle. He pulls him back to the grass.

More grunts. More groans. More dogs barking. More lights.

Again the boy breaks free. He stands. The man is between him and the house. They are both breathing heavy. The boy shakes his hands. He spits on the ground and walks to his car.

“You’re crazy,” he says. He gets in the Trans Am and drives away slow.


“The girl was outside smoking cigarettes. She was sitting on the curb like an Indian, and she kept looking both ways like she was expecting something, but nothing came. It was afternoon. Jeffrey’s mother let him out the screen door and he come down and latched himself. Everything was normal. Him going back from tree to tree. Then he looked over at the girl what was smoking and stood still. It took a bit, but she noticed him. She smiled. Seemed embarrassed. She set her cigarette down, stood up and waved at him. Then Jeffrey waved back. He waved. At the girl, he did. He waved on back.”