Joe Taylor



Once upon a time, in a land with hills as green as her eyes, there lived two brothers,

Odds favoring a happy ending: 99:1        Payoff on a $2 wager: $ in the bank

alongside their mother, an iron-haired woman of innumerable years. The three kept to themselves in a two-storey, bare wood house, and there they remained throughout the week, the two brothers crafting fine furniture while the mother, whose name was Clo, sewed yards and yards of patchwork for quilting. Both their products were in the highest demand, so much so that people would travel hundreds of miles either for a table and chairs or for a measure of Clo’s patchwork, to which they might add batting and a back to create their very own signature quilt. The oddest thing about Clo’s work was that she herself never measured it out; rather, when one of her sons said they were ready to carry her material into town, she’d just leave off mid-stitch, saying, “How can time move so fast? How can life be so jealous? It must hate itself.” And the sons would roll their eyes and take her week’s work—two weeks in wintertime—wrapped about a long oak staff, along with whatever furniture they’d finished, in to the local general store. Whenever they returned, she’d have already started another pattern. For years, the brothers would carry back chocolate cake or dainty liqueurs to tempt their mother from sewing, but she’d only shake her head and repeat her strange homily about time and life and hate.

            The particular week we’re talking about—a blazing late-spring Friday that even in its early morning hours might trick one into thinking August or September was hard upon—this week the oldest son decided that he was going to walk the green hills to look for his bitch dog that had gotten herself lost. The youngest brother’s eyes lit at this, for here was a chance to travel into town alone.

Odds for a complication: 7:5                          Payoff on a $2 wager: $2.60

            Now the difference between the brothers’ ages was not all that great. In fact, it was only eleven minutes, for the two were twins, not identical, but fraternal. Still, the older brother lorded those eleven minutes over his sibling in a most ruthless manner, so Sol was looking forward to his freedom. And Jonah was looking forward to finding his pet dog, which was certainly lying in bushes giving birth to a handsome litter. This would be her first, and he’d seen two males running about a month or so before, one a huge black Labrador that bordered on wolfhound, the other a boxer.

Odds for a male pup eventually weighing over 100 lbs.: 6:5                         Payoff: $2.20

            So the brothers collected their furniture and their mother’s work and were quietly on their way, Sol stopping at the end of the road to let Jonah out. Both of them checked the rearview, for their mother absolutely forbade them to separate whenever they went to town. At one time they thought this was because their father the gambler was still alive and held a blood-grudge against them—you know just how confused the thinking of fatherless boys can become; look around the streets of any American city or town. Finally growing out of that fancy, each one secretly thought that he was the necessary accompaniment to keep the other brother in line, to be sure that the family wasn’t taken to the cleaners on the money it received for the furniture and the mother’s patchwork.

            “Did you get a peek at this one?” Jonah asked as he got out of the van.

            “You mean her patchwork?”

            “Yeah.” When Sol shook his head, Jonah said, “Gore-blood red. Pink hands and arms and heads floating through it like star-spit.”

            “You’re kiddin’.”

            “Nope. You’ll be lucky to get half what we usually do.” And with that, Jonah turned, whistling for his dog, smiling to himself, hoping that he’d get his brother in trouble for taking a low-ball price. But truth was that this particular piece of patchwork upset him and he was just as glad to get shed of it and get himself out in the open air where the hills moaned a friendly green and tossed welcoming, wispy fingers of leaves.

            Sol moved their van into gear and drove, watching his brother in the rear view mirror until he couldn’t see him any longer. Then he remembered what his brother’d said about the patchwork and glanced back. For a moment in the morning light, the floor of the van appeared puddled with blood, but then Sol saw that it was just his mother’s work, which had partly unrolled. He switched on the radio, tuning to a hard-driving rock station that neither his mother nor his brother could stand.

Conversely, odds against a sad ending: 94:1                         Payoff: $190.80

            When he came into town—a small enough town, with businesses lining two intersecting streets and not going much deeper—when he came into town he almost hit a dog that looked like Harlequin. This was their dog’s name, though his brother seemed to think the dog was his alone. Sol stopped the van and got out, but the dog growled fiercely, showing long canines, so he knew it couldn’t be Harlequin. Then, as he was about to turn the corner, he saw two albino children, a male and a female who looked more alike than he and Jonah did. They were pointing at him, open-mouthed. They’d been licking a strawberry ice-cream cone but let it dangle in a communal grasp as they stared. The really weird thing about these kids was their hair, the color of corn tassels in early summer, emitting a greenish-yellowish shimmer. He was glad to drive on past.

            He pulled into the general store’s lot and parked next to the front door. Great, he figured, I’ve beaten even the locals here today. When he walked in, he saw a strange woman at the counter. She had her back to him, but that didn’t mar his certainty, for he’d never seen a woman with that slender of an hourglass shape anywhere in this town, let alone in this store. Her glossy black hair swung below her waist in a wrist-thick braid with intermittent yellow, blue, green, purple, and red plastic butterflies pinned in it, reminding him of a promissory rainbow after a hard summer’s storm. She was dusting shelving, moving to her left, from behind the counter into an open space before the next counter, where she raised on her tiptoes until her calves flexed and a jet-black slip showed. The slip seemed to have a never-ending fringe of frills, and an unraveling thread tickled her ankle. When Sol coughed she turned. Immediately, Sol backed into the Coke machine, banging his ribs against its metal edge, and this brought on another cough. The woman’s emerald green eyes looked exactly like his mother’s—or rather, like pictures of his mother he’d seen while nosing around in the attic. Every time he climbed there, it was enough to make him believe in the Oedipus complex, though he had no earthly idea who either Sigmund Freud or Sophocles was. It was just enough to make him believe that something unnatural was gathering as he stared at his mother’s picture and swayed in the attic’s heat. Once, he’d felt an urge in his loins—Biblical, but perverted. And he’d envisioned a green-eyed snake coiling about a tree and biting its own tail until skin began to slough. That was why he hadn’t been to the attic for eight years, not since his seventeenth birthday. Now, here in the general store, a woman was batting those same emerald eyes. He tried to swallow, but was only able to when she smiled.

            “You’re one of the Harvest brothers. Sol, aren’t you?”

            “Yes . . . ma’am.” Funny, he hadn’t ever used that Southernism before. And for good reason, for he wasn’t from the South but the hills of Pennsylvania. “Yes ma’am, that’s me, all right.”

            “I’m the store’s new owner.” The way that she stepped forward and gave a flourish with her pale arm made Sol want to wilt into the store’s oak floorboards.

            “My name’s Lake.” The woman extended her hand and waited. Sol wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t bend his knees and kiss her fingertips, especially when he saw her nails painted a metallic green to match her eyes. But he wound up shaking her hand, which was oddly cold.

            “I’ve been moving bottled juice around in the cooler,” she said.

            Sol nodded, unsure.

            “Your hand felt so lovely warm. I’d just like to hold it until mine got to the same temperature.” She smiled again and Sol blushed at the clean evenness of her teeth.

Odds for a warming and a cooling: 7:6                          Payoff:    $2.20

            Sol and Jonah hadn’t been getting along for the last five or so months. They blamed it on the winter, but truthfully, this winter was no harsher than any previous, and the spring had pulsed early. So then again, maybe it was longer than five months that they hadn’t gotten along, maybe since Jonah became infatuated with the stray bitch that had appeared late last spring, the same time that Sol himself had become infatuated with walking outside their shop to stare into the green hills, no matter what the season. And now he couldn’t stop staring into this woman’s green eyes.

            “You’re here to place furniture and quilting material on consignment, aren’t you?”

            Sol had no idea why he was shocked at her knowledge, for obviously if she was the new owner Jack would have told her. But then, why hadn’t Jack mentioned that he was going to sell?

            “Uh, so Jack’s moved on?”

            Lake’s face glossed into stillness, as if she were truly one of her namesakes, luxuriating in a pine-lined, placid, sunlit oval just below the peak of a high mountain. “Moved on? Yes, I suppose that’s correct. He died Tuesday. The funeral was yesterday.”

            “But he was only—”

            “Forty-six, I know.”

            The tassel-haired twins walked in, and the woman smiled at them. They looked at Sol and backed to a counter with bins of candy, quickly choosing some—at random, it seemed, stuffing the pieces in various pockets as they continued to stare at Sol, just as they had on the street.

            “Dears, haven’t I told you that staring is rude? When are you ever going to learn?” Lake turned to Sol: “My niece and nephew. Visiting for a week while my sister takes care of some business.”

            When Sol turned again toward the children, they were gone.

            “Poor souls,” Lake intoned, looking through a window, evidently watching the twins. “Poor lost souls.”

            “Uh, are they—”

            “Let’s go look at your wares. It’s a good thing you came early, since I don’t have much help today.”

            Sol thought, I’ll lay odds those two creepy brats are all the help you have, and you’re right, they’re not much. When he opened the van’s side door, Lake stepped in front of him, but not before he saw that the patchwork had unrolled even more on the drive over. Jonah was right: the background color and the pink, dismembered, free-floating body parts were unsettling. Lake quickly rolled the piece up, but not before Sol caught what looked like a familiar mouth, open in a scream on the edge of the material.

            “It’s lovely,” Lake said. “It’ll fetch a fine price. Twice what your mother and Jack usually asked, I’ll wager.” She turned stiffly toward him. “Are you a betting man?”

            Even though his father’d been a dissolute, incurable gambler who’d run off the night he and his brother had been born, Sol didn’t want to alienate himself from this emerald-eyed beauty. He shook his head cautiously.

            “But you wouldn’t mind trying?”

            He grinned, suddenly aware that he hadn’t brushed his teeth in over a week, not since the last time he’d come into town. Yet the woman named Lake seemed to lean into his grin, and he could almost swear that her nose was wrinkling, as if she were sniffing or even inhaling his breath. Testing for whiskey?

            “That’s good. Gambling’s good. You’ve got to give life something back, even if you bet on the wrong thing. Here, help me carry this in, and we’ll measure it.”

            Neither Sol nor Jonah had ever before measured off what their mother had spun. But here and today was a new owner, with green, green eyes and a braid of hair as long as a man’s belt, so . . .


Lake took one end of the staff, for she’d somehow rolled up the entirety of the patchwork in the few seconds they’d been talking, and Sol took the other end as she led the way into the store. Sol watched her hips tick-tock, tick-tock, just like her braid had when she’d been dusting the shelving. He wished that he’d placed a bet that the tessellated twins would help him move, for it was a bet he’d have been glad to have lost, just for this tick-tock view.

Odds that Sol should pay more attention to the ground,
Less to what’s swaying before him:      5:2                  Payoff: $4.80

             “Twenty-five feet. I can’t imagine how your mother does so much in a week’s time.”

            “This has been a slow week for her. You should see what she does sometimes.” Sol blinked at the tape measure Lake used. It was entirely chrome, actually brighter than chrome, glistening more like how he’d always imagined polished platinum would. Even as it reeled back in, he could see his reflection on its back. Instead of snapping shut, the tape gave a low purr, as if relaxing. “Uh, did you say twenty-five?”

            Lake slipped the measure into a pocket of her skirt, where it seemed to flatten against her thigh, leaving that body part every bit as shapely as before. She nodded, and for a moment her eyes brooded harsh gray, flecked with bloodshot and golden.

            “Twenty-five, that’s how old I am.”

            “I know. Jack told me. My sister said it’s a waste to have two handsome bachelors living way out in the hills with their mother.” Lake looked at the patchwork, which she’d rolled back up. “But here you are, in town and gambling, so to speak, on finding something new.”

            Sol watched her left hip, still wondering where the measure had disappeared. He realized that he hadn’t caught the least glimpse of his mother’s work, since he’d been so busy watching that rule and Lake’s defined hands and green eyes.

            “Huh. My dad said that just getting up and sneezing in the morning’s a gamble.”

Odds that his father said this: 9:7                          Payoff: $2.30

            “But the snot’s so pretty pus-green in morning sunrise that it’s hard to resist!”

Odds that his father said this: 9:2                          Payoff: $17.60

            Sol turned to see the twins standing in the doorway. They giggled, holding a rocking chair from Sol’s van between them. He almost held his hand out to the sky, for payoff to the bet he never made, thinking he should at least be compensated for putting up with these two wraiths if they were going to tote furniture and make vulgar comments.

            He knew for sure that he was doomed to have them help unload the van when a customer walked in and began fingering his mother’s quilting. While they were carrying in the second load, he overheard Lake ask 540 dollars for just a cut of the blood-red patchwork she and he had just measured. The woman said she’d have to think about it, and Lake responded she shouldn’t think too long, that the item would be gone within the week. When the woman gave a skeptical guffaw, Sol swore that he heard Lake bet her twenty bucks at two-to-one. He didn’t hear whether the woman took the bet up because the girl twin yanked him through the door to help move a cabinet, nearly popping his arm out of socket.

            Sol and the two wraiths finished unloading and he settled for last week’s sales, a low 320 dollars, since the store had been closed three days for Jack’s funeral and death. He tried to hand the twins a five-dollar bill, but they just glared at the money.

            “Buy them some candy,” Lake suggested.

            So he bought them a pound of chocolate, hoping they’d get sick.

            “I’m closing up at six. Do you want to go out for a drink?”

            And this was how Sol got drunk enough to scrape the van’s rear fender against a fire hydrant. It was also how he acquired a hickey on his neck, though how the hickey took its triangular shape, he had no idea. He only remembered Lake pressing against him a very long time, as if a kitten seeking warmth on a cold night.

Odds against a sad ending: 13 to 1                              payoff:  $26.20

All bets must be placed by post time.

             Back at their house, Clo looked askance at the bitch dog that Jonah was rolling in a fire-engine red wagon, acting as if he were an eight-year old child and the dog a pup, not a big-titted, mangy bitch about to drop litter. “Where’s your brother?”

            “Outside feeding the chickens. She’s gonna have some big ones, ain’t she, Mom?”

            “I’d lay odds on it. And how are you going to feed them? Or are you planning on giving them away to the neighbors we don’t have?”

            “I’ll just take ’em to town, give ’em away when time comes. Keep one and name him Solo after my brother.”

            “Just like that? And how many people did you and your brother talk with in town today? Other than Jack, that is.”

            “Uh, no one besides—”

            “You two’ll never guess what happened in town!” As soon as he blurted this upon charging through the front door, Sol knew he’d made a mistake.

            “You didn’t go with him, did you?”


            Their mother screamed so shrilly that Harlequin jumped from the red wagon and tore a hole through the back screen door. And Clo kept screaming, her voice crescendoing in a high wail that had both Sol and Jonah wincing.

Odds that Clo knows something her boys don’t: 6:1                          Payoff: $13

All bets must be placed by post time.

            It was hard to say when, or even if, Clo stopped her keening. Sol hadn’t dared tell her about the new woman, much less that Jack had died. And when he’d told her how much her newest patchwork was going for, thinking to give her some good news, Clo’s wailing trebled. They finally led her into her bedroom, placed a cup of hot whiskey, honey, and fennel seed on her bedstand, pulled off her shoes, and forced her onto the bed before leaving.

The brothers sat in the kitchen drinking coffee until their mother finally turned her light out. Jonah carried Harlequin, still skittish, up the steps. Upstairs, the sons opened the door between their adjoining bedrooms and stared at Harlequin, who was worrying old scraps of cloth in a corner of Jonah’s room.

            “No doubt about it,” Jonah said, watching Harlequin muss bedding about and lie down with a fat plop. “No doubt about it. She’s prego and soon enough gonna drop.”

            A whimper crept up the steps, threatening to mount to another wail, and Harlequin’s coat rippled. Much the same could be said for the brothers’ arm hairs.

            “What’s with her anyway?” Jonah asked. “Hell, all you did was go into town. And you’d think that news about her patchwork would cheer her up, not send her into DTs. Why in God’s name did Jack pop such a price on just a piece of the damned thing, anyway?”

            “Jack’s dead.”

Sol explained about Jack, about the new woman named Lake, about the twins, and about Lake’s sister, Atty.

“What kind of name’s that?”

Sol tried to remember what Lake had told him, but the two pitchers of beer eased his memory onto a side street where Lake snuggled against him, sucking on his neck with her cool lips. He shivered and coughed. “Uh, Lake says that her sister looks like her, bro’.” Sol made a motion with his two hands and rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, but those two kids you told me about . . .”

Another keening from downstairs, and Harlequin whimpered.

“Hell, it might be worth it, though, just to get out of this madhouse.”

The odds against the Devil we don’t know being better
 than the one we do know: Infamously low                Payoff: Ditto

Next week, the brothers went into town together, even though Jonah was worried about leaving Harlequin with their mother, for the dog had dropped five puppies and already three had died, probably from the wailing still permeating the house. Other than wail, their mother hadn’t spoken a word—truthfully not a word. She had only grunted monosyllables that offered vague resemblance to yes or no. Sometimes when one of the boys pressed her to speak, her throat would congest until they were afraid she was going to choke, so they finally stopped expecting any response.

“It’s another weird one,” Jonah said when they turned at the end of the road. Both of them had been afraid to speak until that point, afraid they’d instigate another wailing session from their mother with her over-sensitive ears, her over-sensitive everything.

“I saw it,” Sol said.

“The face in it, the face looks like you.”

“Yeah,” Sol answered, reaching for the radio, but changing his mind. He didn’t mention that the face in the other one had looked like Jonah, or at least the mouth.

Jonah reached for the radio and stopped too, just as his brother had. Sol saw the silver outline of Jonah’s .38.

“You packing? Why?”

“All that damned wailing. It’s got me creeped.”

“Yeah, me too.” Sol didn’t admit that he was carrying his revolver also. All he did was wonder how things could change so quickly. Jack’s death, the creepy twins, their mother going nuts, Harlequin dropping her litter and losing three right away, and this woman Lake, how she’d taken over his whole mind until he fantasized her cool body every night and a good part of every day. They’d probably made love—in his mind—two or three hundred times. And this damned cough, where the hell did it come from? His brother was getting it too.

Odds against a sad ending: 2:1                payoff:                $4.20

All bets must be placed by post time.

 “You ever wonder about our Dad?”

“A sonofabitching gambler.”

“The only one’s told us that is Mom, remember.”

“Yeah, but why would she lie?”

“Who says she’s lying? But then again, who says she didn’t go through one of these damned nutso spells like she is now and drive the poor sad soul off.”

“Poor sad soul . . .”


“Lake said that about those two creepy kids. Poor sad souls.”

A white-tailed buck bounded across the road, hitting pavement three times, once center and once before either grass shoulder, then disappearing into the trees. Sol slowed to a stop, and it was good thing, for the huge black Labrador they’d seen around ran across after the buck.


The brothers stared into the woods on their left, each thinking he’d spotted a flash of movement, each leaning and seeing nothing.

“Damn. What you think the odds are that lab will have venison tonight?”

“Don’t know.”

“I’m betting on the damned hound. He looked ready.”

“Yeah, I guess I am too. Betting on the hound.”

“Not much of a payoff if both of us bet the same way.”

“Not much,” Sol agreed, putting the van in gear and driving on.

Odds that the brothers are right: 9:8                payoff: as stated

Sol looked for the weird twins as they entered the town, but didn’t see them. Probably strangling some ninety-year old woman, he figured. Once again, when he pulled into the parking lot of the general store, there were no cars.

“Jack’s death must have spooked people,” he said to Jonah.

“People don’t stay spooked more’n a day. No attention span. It’s in the genes.”

“What genes?”

“Human genes. Levi-Strauss’s.” Just like Jonah lorded his eleven minutes over Sol, he also lorded his year-and-a-half of college at Penn State.

The two sisters were sitting on the porch, each in her own rocking chair.

“Looks like they’re waiting for us,” Sol said.

“Damn. Well, you’re right about one thing: they’re lookers.” Jonah quietly reflected how much the sisters resembled his mother. And he blushed, for he too had quit going to the attic some years back, after discovering the photographs of his mother when she was young.

“About the same age as those photos of Mom in the attic.”

“I wasn’t going to say that.”

“Neither was I, I guess.”

After introductions, which hardly seemed necessary, the sisters helped the brothers unload. Once more, Lake insisted on measuring the patchwork, and once more she tagged a high price on it, and once more it came to twenty-five feet exactly. Both brothers turned away as the cloth was stretched out, though both were surprised at the length, for they hadn’t thought their mother’d done much sewing that week, considering all her wailing antics.

“Mine—the one I brought in last week—is still here, I see.”

“It hasn’t truthfully been on sale a week yet,” Lake commented.

“That’s right,” Atty said. “You’re here thirty minutes earlier than last week.” She was standing by what looked like a butcher’s block, cutting another of their mother’s pieces. Her shears were as shiny as Lake’s tape measure, and they were immense, a yard long. They sang as Atty cut, sounding like a child’s toy slide whistle. Ssstwiiiiiiiinng-cht. There was a moment of silence after she finished; it dissipated only when the Coke machine’s cooling unit started.

“Where’re your twins?” Sol asked, more out of self-protection than concern.

Atty seemed not to hear; she was concentrating on rolling up the quilting. Actually both sisters were concentrating on rolling it, taking the same stiff care that two Marines might take in folding the American flag at a funeral.

Odds for a happy ending: 5:4                          payoff: $2.20

The bell over the front door tinkled, and an older woman walked in, one that neither brother had seen around town before, but that didn’t mean much, as rarely as they came in. Even as the door closed, Sol could smell a lavender perfume that irritated his cough. He bent over double, then managed to straighten.

“Atty, could you take Sol and Jonah on back? Sol might need a drink of something strong.”

“You should have that cough tended to, young man,” the old woman with the perfume said.

Sol tried to hold his breath as she closed in on him with her bug-eyes, her wrinkles and her face powder, but that only made matters worse. Jonah and Atty had to lead him to the back room. Right before its door clicked shut, Sol saw the hefty woman who’d made the bet with Lake last week. She was getting out of a long maroon Lincoln towncar that had parked before the front glass door. You’re in luck, he thought. Now you can buy two of the damned things.

When he turned, Atty and Jonah were embracing and kissing deeply. Sol started to make a lewd comment about not wasting time with introductions when he heard a rattle. There, in a corner, sat an immensely thin man whose purple satin shirt draped him like a woman’s gown. He was tossing dice and chuckling at each result before tallying it on one or another of the many small abacuses surrounding him, giving loud slaps to the markers. Then he’d be at it again, tossing the dice as if obsessed in watching a strip-tease show, or, say, a multi-car wreck.

Behind, Sol could hear Jonah wheezing from the soul kissing. Then a boot dropped. Sol half-smiled and walked toward the thin man in purple. He was surrounded by abacuses, hundreds of them, each not more than six inches square, placed in rows six- or seven-deep, and as he tossed dice and stretched to slap the result in the row closest to Sol, Sol noticed that his fingers were amazingly thin and long, almost like ivory tines to a fork. They’d have to be that thin, to sort out such small abacuses. Sol coughed, remembering the one good remark his mother’d ever made about their father: “His fingers stretched to forever, like sunlight. And he used them to play violin—not polka fiddle like these yokels around here—violin to make you weep.”

The thin man, who was sitting yoga-fashion like Sol’d seen on TV, kept tossing the dice and chuckling, slapping markers on one abacus or another in what surely was a random fashion, though he reached with certainty for each abacus, never hesitating. Another boot dropped, and Sol could hear luxurious moans. He kept staring at those long fingers, clicking more and more markers. The clicking made a type of music, if you listened right, a symphony, even. Finally, Sol couldn’t help himself.

“Dad?” That one word cost Sol several hacking convulsions. There was blood in his palm, he noticed, wide-eyed.

The old man looked up and grinned, still slapping markers. “You’ve come home.” He leaned to look behind Sol. “Both of you. That’s good.” He looked down to his dice and laughed with a sharpness. Sol leaned, but the man’s fingers, despite their thinness, covered the result before Sol could read the numbers. It had looked like both dice had been balanced impossibly on their edges. The old man’s slim fingers smacked all the markers of an abacus directly in front of Sol. Sol raised an eyebrow.

“You didn’t bet on a happy ending, did you, Son?”

Sol shook his head. He heard heavy breathing behind, coming from his brother. Something was wrong with the breaths, though; they weren’t the sweet inhalations of lovemaking, but the decayed wheeze of a dying buck. He turned to see his brother on the floor, blood trickling from his mouth, his silver revolver lying to one side. Had he shot himself? Had Atty shot him? Where was the sound, then? Could I have mistaken a gunshot for clunking boots? Sol’s mouth dropped open as he heard Jonah’s death rattle, gargling as surely as if he’d been digested in the stomach of a whale. Atty lay next to him, undulating over his thighs and torso. Sol started toward his brother, but the old man spoke:

“No such thing as a happy ending, Son. That’s why I left the two of you when you were born. No such thing. Never bet on them. It’s a sucker bet. I’m damn proud that you didn’t.”

No, it wasn’t Atty, it was Lake, and she was rummaging through Jonah’s pockets. She lifted a wad of bills, then threw them on the floor, then undulated again, pressing against Jonah’s body until his head tilted awkwardly. His eyes were open in a death-stare that seemed focused on one of the boots. Lake attached her lips to Jonah’s neck, just as she had done last week to Sol’s.

Sol felt the revolver pressing against his thigh. The door to the store was open. He could hear the singing of the long, long platinum scissors, and over that he could hear Atty’s voice: “Lake told you that one’d be sold within the week. She’s never wrong. Sold it not five minutes ago. Lucky for you there’s one left nearly like it.”

The scissors stopped their singing. Coughing heavily and gasping for breath, Sol tugged at the pistol and whirled about, thinking . . . he wasn’t sure what he was thinking. It didn’t matter. The gun went off in his pants, severing an artery near his hip. He dropped to the floor, listening to the old man tossing dice and clacking one abacus, then another, hearing the woman outside oohing over the remaining quilting, hearing the twins scooting furniture, hearing the silence of his brother’s gone breath. Then one of the sisters was lying beside him, contorting and twisting. He felt warmth leaving his feet and hands as she rubbed. Vaguely, he saw the twins staring, masticating chocolate that caked their white, white cheeks.

“I’m glad, Son, that you didn’t bet on a happy ending, no matter what fool’s gold sure odds were tossed your way. I’d hate to think I’d raised any son of mine to make fool bets. Clo and her two sisters’d hate it too. They all three love you so much . . . beyond the pale is where their love goes, into infinity, and they’d just hate it too.”

“So much,” Sol heard next to his ears as his body was nudged. He couldn’t nod, but willed his warmth outward and heard the scissors in the other room sing again. Then they stopped.


Copyright © 2002 Joe Taylor.  All Rights Reserved.

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