Winter Issue Preview: Steven Barthelme

Steven Barthelme……………………………………… Down the Garden Path

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At the airport Danny was wearing a suit and tie, and I almost didn’t recognize him.  He had cut the hair and the hostile little beard he had worn ever since I had known him, since I met and married his mother.

“Hey, Thomas,” he said, when he turned and found me looking uncertainly at him, frowning, standing just outside the screening area.  He stuck out his hand and I shook it and threw my arm around his shoulder, stiffly.  Danny looked like his father, square-jawed, clean shaven, with that noncommittal smile which was all in his eyes.  His father had been a hero, of a sort of obvious sort.

Without all the extra hair he seemed somehow less formidable, wide-eyed, a little childish, innocent, even though he was twenty-six, even though eight years earlier he had killed another boy with his hands in a fight and whenever I was around him that was what I thought of, no matter what he looked like.  It was impossible not to see it when I looked at him.  They had both been deep into drugs, but the other kid had attacked him and it happened out of state and the circumstances were muddy in other ways.  After thirty thousand dollars in lawyers, finally he was no-billed.  I remember the lawyers charged us four thousand dollars for Xeroxing.  None of it seemed to chasten or change him much, but Laura never really recovered.

He had been in college when she and I married, and my acquaintance with him which was always strained was also always only a passing one, so it didn’t much matter.  After college he played music, went to live in Hawaii, then California, and later in Tucson, and periodically we would send him money.  Now, Laura was dead, and he had come home to bury her.

We were standing out on the main concourse and Danny was talking but I was disoriented, having trouble paying attention.  On the drive to the airport, alone, and later trying to walk away the time until the plane got in, I had been talking to myself, not quite making sense.  The place felt odd, other worldly.  I hadn’t been to the airport in years.  I was not in good shape, but it would be better now with someone to talk to, even if it was Danny.

I had been, for several years, involved with a woman, a friend of ours named Marianne, and she had been helping me take care of Laura, as much as we could care for her at the hospital.  In the last month or so I had become completely dependent on Marianne for my psychological balance.  Left alone, in an hour or so I would start to come unraveled.  But having now another person to deal with forced me to regain some composure, a sort of cure by etiquette…

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