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By Matt Cashion

At five a.m. they heard a crash like a house had fallen from the sky, so Marty told Maria, “We’re fine, everything’s fine.” He fought to untangle his feet and find the floor and get down the hall to their five year-old son, Martin, so he could tell him that everything was fine. Martin had only recently started sleeping in his own bed, with a flashlight, but kept returning to their bed because of little noises or not enough noises. Marty had trouble kicking off the sheets. He imagined a cartoon character running in place, no hero at all, useless to his family. He remembered the previous night’s tornado warning (in Wisconsin, in August?) and Maria’s worry that bad weather would disrupt the important day ahead of them that they’d written on the calendar two months ago after a local doctor referred them to a specialist in Rochester (an hour’s drive) who would take a better look at the peculiar spot inside Martin’s brain.

"Typewriter" by Ross Brimble via Flickr (CC)

“Typewriter” by Ross Brimble via Flickr (CC)

?Maria was already inside Martin’s room, of course, even before she knew the source of the sound. Marty, meanwhile, had gotten to the bedroom window. Their biggest tree, the one that had been leaning for three years, had fallen across the driveway, barely missing the house. A great relief, as Marty saw it. A lucky break. He took his first deep breath and went to share the good news.

Martin’s blanket was pulled over his nose, Maria’s hand on his head. He shined his flashlight into his father’s eyes, said, “Are we about to die?”

“No one’s dying,” Marty said. “It was just a tree. You can go back to sleep.”

“Come to our bed,” Maria said.

Normally, Marty would question the soundness of this idea, whether it reinforced the kid’s belief that he should keep being rescued, but that was a stupid thought today.

Martin climbed out of bed clinging to his stuffed fish, Marlin. He said, “I have a headache.”

“I know you do,” Maria said. “It’ll be better soon.”

Back in their bedroom, Marty pulled the curtain back. “See,” he said. “Just a tree.” It was still dark, but the corner street light flickered, wind-blown limbs fanning across it, treetops dancing in opposite directions. There was no rain, no tornado. Only wind. And one giant tree, lying vertically. Martin climbed into the middle of their bed, hugging his fish.

?Maria, still at the window, put her palms on her face, produced a little sob that pierced Marty’s heart. “It’s blocking the car,” she said. “We have to leave in six hours.”

“No problem,” Marty said.

“It is a problem,” she said. “This—” and she stopped herself.

He was glad she didn’t say what she was thinking, that for the past three years she’d been saying he should call an expert to ask if the tree was rotting (as she suspected) and if they couldn’t save it, then have it removed before it fell on the house. Marty had studied the angles with meticulous care. Even if it fell (which it wouldn’t do soon, he said), the longest limbs would miss the house by six feet. A small part of him wanted credit for being right about that, though the smarter part of him knew it would be stupid to ask for it.

“I knew it would miss the house,” he said.

She made a grunting noise, a sign of fatigue. She said, “Get the tree moved. Call someone. Handle it.” She returned to bed, said something soft to Martin that Marty couldn’t hear.

He went to the kitchen, turned on the coffee. Call someone? No. He’d take care of it. He wanted to prove to himself and to his family that he could be counted on at a time like this. He would restore order, establish calm on this stressful day. Their local doctor had said, “I don’t know. It’s a curious mass.” He kept telling Maria it would be fine — those Mayo docs are the best in the business at curious masses — but she couldn’t hear it. And now the tree. A big tree. Beyond lightbulb replacement, Marty was generally hopeless with home repair related things. He was a 9th grade music and history teacher, a part-time poet. But he wasn’t worried. He owned an easy-to-use electric chainsaw. Never used. And a long extension cord that was in the garage. Somewhere. How difficult could it be to use a chainsaw? And there was time. Plenty of time to clear enough space for the car.

The typist’s eight fingers blazed away, each key punching the cartridge with percussive clarity…

He sipped coffee, read the morning newsfeed from his phone. No mention of tornadoes, but a hurricane was brewing off the Florida coast, moving toward his mother’s house and his childhood bedroom. A mudslide in Sierra Leone had buried hundreds. California was burning. Trump bragged on Twitter that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was locked and loaded, ready to unleash with fire and fury should Kim Jong Un be man enough to challenge him to a nuclear-war duel. Over the weekend, white nationalists had gathered in Charlottesville, one of whom drove his car into a crowd of protesters, murdering Heather Heyer, 32, who was promoting peace. Sick times, Marty said aloud. A sick world his son was growing up in. He read the news until 7 a.m., hopeful Maria and Martin were sleeping, worried a chainsaw would disturb them, his neighbors. There was plenty of time.

He gave himself a pep talk: he was forty, old enough, and not too old for the job ahead of him. If necessary, he told himself, he would summon enough strength to lift the tree with his own bare hands and hurl it to the side if that’s what it took to save his son. He went to his closet. Pulled out his long-sleeve green flannel, imagined himself a lumberjack. He performed a stretching exercise designed to loosen the back he’d injured last winter shoveling snow. In the garage, he searched for the safety goggles he’d bought when he bought his chainsaw. Found them, still-unused, beside the chainsaw. He went inside for his lens-cleaner, wiped his regular classes, then his safety goggles, then slipped the goggles over his glasses. He found the Pro-Grade safety earmuffs (noise reduction rating 34 db) he’d bought three years ago to muffle neighbors’ mowers and leaf blowers. He found his like-new work-gloves, lay them flat on the concrete, re-laced his stiff hiking boots, then stepped on the gloves to kill nesting spiders (a trick he’d learned from Maria). When he opened the garage door, he saw only tree, no street. No problem. He plugged one end of his extension cord into the garage wall outlet, unrolled it to the driveway as far as it would go, plugged the other end into his chainsaw, which, he noticed now, was more of a limb trimmer. The sky was peppered with dark clouds. It was windy and cold (45 degrees by his phone), but he was ready.

He wondered where to start. Was it an ash, like those being removed all over the city because of an infestation? Why hadn’t he called someone like Maria had wanted him to? When had she not known best? Or was it a cedar? Maybe a maple. It was not a pine. He knew a pine when he saw a pine. If someone were to ask him whether this tree was a pine, he’d say no, it was certainly not a pine.

Five minutes later, Maria walked out with Martin, who was still clinging to his fish. They stared at the tree, awed by its size. The cold wind blew their hair, and Maria folded her arms across her chest. Marty went to hug them. “Everything’s fine,” he said.

“No,” Maria said. “Please don’t hug people while you’re holding a chainsaw.”

They faced the tree. The tallest part was a foot taller than Marty, who was 5′9?″, though he wasn’t above stretching this truth on official forms, even after Maria, a truth-stickler, corrected him, an act he perceived (defensively, she suggested) as part of a life-long pattern of people selling him short.She said something with the phrase don’t forget in it, but his ear protection muffled it, so he nodded, knowing full well the departure time she was likely repeating. To Martin, he said, “We’re lucky this tree fell when it did. Think of all the firewood.”

“It’s too green for this winter,” Maria said. She was right. She was smarter about everything, and Marty was grateful she stayed with him. He cursed himself for not having already stocked up on firewood. But there was time. Plenty of time.??

“Start at the top,” she said, and pointed so he’d know. “Make small pieces that won’t be too heavy. Stay focused. Don’t get distracted like you do.” He lifted the tip of his limb trimmer to show he had it under control. Had he forgotten breakfast? His stomach said so. Maria looked at him in a way that made him sympathize with her and women like her, who looked at men like him in a way that said why must you always insist on acting as if you know what you’re doing?

Martin lifted Marlin toward his mouth and picked this moment to practice his ventriloquism. He said, “Don’t get distracted like you do.”

“Close your lips,” Marty said.

Maria grabbed Martin’s hand and led him toward the street. Marty thought: where are they going, my reasons for living, and what if they don’t return, and how should I just this second say I love you to pieces?

“Hey!” he said. “Where do you two think you’re going?”

“Swimming lessons,” Maria shouted. “It’s Monday.”

“That’s right,” Marty said, as if he’d known. The Y was .07 miles away, an unpleasant hike this morning down sidewalks littered with downed limbs and dead leaves, wind in their faces, black sky pressing down. Ahead of them, Miller, their neighbor, was limping with his cane, rehabbing his leg, head covered in bandages. Three months ago, he’d been commuting on his bicycle, and the driver of a truck hit his back tire and sent him sprawling, then blew his horn and sped away. Miller described the truck to the cops: a black 4X4, NRA decal in the back windshield, Trump/Pence sticker on the bumper. The cops shrugged, said they couldn’t stop every truck fitting that description — it would be profiling. Maria and Martin would exchange pleasantries with Miller, and he’d offer condolences for the family tree, which had shaded his house too. Marty knew Miller was a Hillary-man, unlike the neighbor on his other side, Nick, who had planted a Trump sign the day after Marty had installed his Hillary sign. They hadn’t spoken since.?? Ahead of Miller, three dogs ran wild, one half-inside an overblown garbage can. A truck he couldn’t see beeped while backing up. Someone fed a wood chipper, a sound Marty imagined as skeletons being pulverized while mothers screamed. He saw Martin push his fingers into his ears, Marlin tucked in the crook of his arm. Maria moved into the wind, arms folded, chin pointed down. Marty wanted to run after them, hand over his ear protection, take them bigger coats.

Martin took swimming lessons from someone named Chris that Maria was always talking about. That Chris, she’d say, is so good at giving him confidence, making him brave. Which made Marty jealous. Shouldn’t he be giving Martin confidence and making him brave? Was Maria sleeping with Chris? Was Marty so non-confident and scared that his paranoid thoughts bloomed into full-blown movies that featured Chris and Maria having sex in chlorinated pools? Yes. What he wanted, just now, was to be the kind of man who would solve the tree crisis and restore order and drive his son and wife to the Mayo in Rochester, modeling courage all the way.?

He started at the bottom. Deep into his first incision, his limb trimmer got stuck. He went for his axe. He’d it bought in April, back when he’d planned on devoting the summer to stocking up on firewood, felling dead trees that filled the woodsy back yard. Maria liked the sounds and smells and light of the fires, and Marty liked making them, maintaining them, feeling responsible for keeping his family warm during the soul-freezing nights.

After his ninth swing, he stopped, curious about a strange new noise that sounded like an electric typewriter. When he removed his earmuffs, the typewriter got louder, even with the wood chipper in the distance. It seemed like it was above him, as if coming from a cloud. The typist’s eight fingers blazed away, each key punching the cartridge with percussive clarity, steady bass-hum beneath it all, which was the motor. Marty knew the sound. It was like the electric IBM he’d inherited from his grandmother, a machine he’d first heard while lying in her bed, sick with fever, she at her corner desk, typing deep into the night while he dreamed of manic drummers. That sound was this sound, amplified. Marty wanted to confirm that everyone else heard it.

Nick, the Trump man, was in his yard holding a beer and a poop-scooper, looking at the sky, headlamp still strapped around his head. He was nearly seventy, a Vietnam war vet, retired long-haul trucker who now drove a newspaper route. Back when they were speaking, nine months ago, he told Marty he never slept.

Marty stepped toward Nick’s fence, yelled, “Hey!”

“Hola, se?or,” Nick said. “You coming to murder me?”

Marty’s axe was propped over his left shoulder. He liked the feel of it there. He pointed to the sky, said, “You hear that?”

Nick said, “That chopper’s been circling for a half-hour, man.”

There was a circling helicopter, Marty noticed then, which drowned out the wood chipper when it got right overhead, but the typewriter pierced through them both. Every few weeks, a helicopter circled the surrounding bluffs searching for lost, dead, or wounded hikers. The wounded hikers often fell/rolled a few hundred feet after taking selfies, then used their phones — still clutched in their hands — to call 911.

“No,” Marty said. “It’s like a big typewriter. It’s—”

“Sorry about your tree,” Nick said. “You need a beer?”

The beer was tempting, even this early. But not the company. The stakes were too high, and it was time to hold people accountable for their destructive votes. Marty had told Martin to ignore Nick, then told Maria they should move. Last November, the day after the election, Marty saw too many Trump-loving students shoving and punching their way down halls, reaching beneath girls’ skirts. Maria, a substitute teacher, got a call for work (so many teachers had called in sick), and she entered a fourth-grade classroom full of kids chanting “build the wall, build the wall.” In their neighborhood, bricks had been hurled through windows, the n-word spray-painted across one door, a swastika across another. A yoga instructor had dumped a box of nails in Nick’s driveway. Marty learned this from the newspaper, which listed the block number and claimed the homeowner captured it from his home-security cameras. Marty knew about Nick’s cameras. Nick had pointed to them and bragged about them three years ago, just after Marty moved in. In their first week as neighbors, Nick had tossed a paper in their yard until Marty asked him to stop because he read it online if he read it at all, small-town rag that it was. Nick had repeated the word “online,” looked away with disgust. They’d never met Nick’s wife. He said they had medical bills they’d never recover from, but he hadn’t said from what, that he had a son he didn’t speak to, though he didn’t say why. He shared these things the first time they talked, which was the last time Marty accepted a beer from him.

“No,” Marty said to the current offer. “I just wondered if you heard that—”

“I’ve got a chainsaw you can borrow if you don’t want to use that fingernail file.”

The helicopter circled like a vulture, the wood chipper ate a dinosaur, and the typewriter typed paradiddles. “No,” Marty said. “I’ve got it.” He looked at the dark sky, turned to leave.Nick said, “How’s your poetry coming along”

Marty tightened his grip on his axe handle. He heard the air-quotes in “poetry.” Nick once asked him what he did all summer when he wasn’t “working” (air-quotes were there too). Marty told him the truth, that he liked to write poetry. Nick’s response, a step backwards with raised eyebrows, reminded Marty of elementary school, when he rode the bus to his piano teacher’s house while three kids called him faggot-fingers.

Marty said, “There’s a lot to write about these days.” He gave Nick a cold stare. If he wanted to get into it, Marty was ready to get into it. Nick’s headlamp shined into Marty’s eyes, so it was hard to look through his yellow-tinted glasses to see if anyone was home in there.

“That’s for sure,” Nick said. “Everything’s been upside down since Barbara died.”

Barbara? His wife? Had Marty known? Had Maria?

Nick said, “I guess I’ll be joining her as soon as I can kill my liver.” He laughed at himself, lifted his beer in a mock-toast, and finished it.

Marty thought: you poor fucker; you’ve been sleepless so long on a beer-only diet, your brain is soup. And grief, that indefatigable bastard, is finishing you off. The enormous typewriter click-clacked away. Marty looked down the street, saw the lone African-American in the neighborhood (as far as he knew), the woman whose front door had been spray-painted, dragging a limb to the street. He decided he’d ask her if she heard the typewriter, introduce himself, finally, after three years of being neighbors. There was time, if he stayed focused, to move the tree. Plenty of time.

To his back, Nick said, “Good luck, amigo.”?

“Sorry about your soup-brain,” Marty said.

A red party balloon flapped on the corner lot, the property next to Nick’s where a house had been vacant for a year without so much as a for-sale sign. The balloon was tied to something solid between the sidewalk and the street. When he got closer, he saw the balloon said, “Get Well Soon!” In four more steps he saw it was tied around the neck of a dead squirrel. When Marty pictured Martin and Maria passing by it, he felt like vomiting. He wanted to hunt down the sick fucker who had done this so he could swing his axe at them. He picked the squirrel up by its tail so they wouldn’t see it on their way home, and he carried it down the street, axe propped on one shoulder, balloon bouncing in the wind. The woman had dropped her limb in the street, looked at him while she brushed her hands together, then shook her head and walked away. The typewriter was in the sky, keys still blazing.

Miller rounded the corner again, moving quickly with his cane. Before his bike accident, he had bragged to Marty that he’d finished first for his 65+ age group in a 50-mile run, clocking a personal best of 11.5 hours. Marty admired the discipline required to build that kind of stamina, and when he asked Miller for his secret, he’d said this: “Stamina.” Then walked away. Now, when Miller saw Marty coming, he veered sharply toward the opposite sidewalk, kept moving. Marty called after him, jogged to catch up. Miller stopped, looked at his watch, pressed a button, turned to face Marty. The wind blew the Get Well balloon between them, hitting Miller’s nose, then Marty’s.

Miller’s wife had died six years ago, breast cancer. He seemed like the kind of guy who had tapped into some heroic strength to carry on with dignity, which, oddly, made Marty jealous. Did Marty have such strength? He doubted it. Miller lifted a bloody handkerchief toward his blood-coated mustache. The blood had dripped from his nose, painting his white hair dark red. He looked like he’d just eaten a gazelle. He dabbed it again, looked at Marty’s squirrel, then his axe.

He said, “Marty, what have you done?”

“Do you hear that typewriter?”

“All I hear are my allergies. And a sinus headache. Or a brain tumor.”

He was trying to be funny. He didn’t know. He said, “I have to keep walking for thirty-three more minutes.” He pressed his watch, pushed his cane ahead and followed it, waving his bloody handkerchief over his shoulder.Marty stood there with his squirrel and his balloon, axe over one shoulder. The typewriter sounded like it was hooked to a stereo coming through a window. He circled the block to see. Down the center of the next street, a young girl walked a goat who wore a pink sweater. “Good morning,” Marty said. She led her goat to the opposite sidewalk, quickened her pace, told her goat not to worry.

What his grandmother had been writing that night she typed all night while he lay sick in her bed was her last will and testament. He missed that bed. He had yet to find a bed more comfortable. She told him she was about to die and she wanted a clear record of her last wishes. When he asked if he could see what he was writing, she said yes, but only when she finished. Then she pushed her chair back, said she was going for another Tab Cola and more cigarettes, made Marty promise he wouldn’t look when she left the room. He looked. He couldn’t make sense of it. She caught him looking, said, “You break your promise, I keep mine.” She typed into the night and Marty fell asleep to the noise. The next morning there was no sign of her last wishes. Neither of them mentioned it. Six months later, after her funeral, Marty’s mother set the heavy typewriter on his bedroom desk. The last line of his grandmother’s will said, “Give Marty my typewriter. See that he uses it.”

What lucky bastard on God’s green earth has sufficient time for a proper spiritual crisis?

He heard the train, which reminded him of the mayor, Karl Stein, who lived across the tracks. The bells and lights went off and the arms came down, so he walked between them toward Stein’s house, squirrel and axe in hand. Maybe the typewriter noise was coming from the mayor’s house. It sounded now like a team of roofers with nailguns. Maybe the mayor’s roof. If the mayor was home, Marty planned to give him a piece of his mind about the city his son was growing up in. Too often, the mayor praised the snake-eyed governor, a college-dropout, education-hating, McCarthy descendant. He hoped the mayor had read his letter to the editor that expressed opposition to the second line of tracks which now ran parallel to the first so oil owners and RR magnates could increase production from sacred Native American land in North Dakota and maximize distribution to New York, doubling the chances of derailments that would kill water supplies and ruin wildlife, the story repeated since the 1880’s (Marty wrote in his letter) when millionaires monopolized supply laws that increased their inherited wealth while keeping poor laborers poor, which Trump voters (many of them poor laborers themselves) deemed the Christian thing to do. Marty used each of the 250 words he was allotted for his letter. He doubted the mayor read it, but his school system bosses did, because they told him to knock it off. They told him to watch what he said in the classroom too; his job was to remain objective. When he heard this, he laughed out loud as reflexively as if a doctor had hammered his knee. Then he bit his tongue, apologized, fearing for his job and the healthcare his son needed.

The train blew past. Marty counted fifty-eight oil tankers. Standing close to the train muted the typewriter, but when the train faded, the typewriter emerged again. He smelled a strong cigar, traced it to the nearest driveway where an old man in overalls sat in a wheelchair, hooking one end of an air compressor to the groin area of the inflatable Packer player who’d had the wind knocked out of him. His house was painted a dull shade of green and gold manufactured in 1966, matching mailbox. On the stoop of the next house sat an unattended suitcase. On the roof of its neighbor: a baby stroller. He looked again. Yes, baby stroller on the roof. He continued with his dead squirrel and his axe toward the corner tavern, entertained the idea of slipping in for a quick one as he did on some of his late-evening insomnia-inspired strolls. Then he saw the yellow tape circling the building and remembered what he’d read last week: two men in their seventies had been talking politics through happy hour, then a poke led to a punch, which led to floor wrestling, which led to a fatal gunshot still under investigation. The shooter concealed a pistol in one pocket, carried his conceal-carry permit in the other. When conceal-carry passed, Marty wrote another letter he called Give Guns to Drunk People Only, which prompted 103 violent comments and some direct threats. Then he wrote another letter he called The Age of No Reason, which prompted 223 hateful comments. Then he stopped writing letters. He was making too many enemies and worried someone would do something crazy, that his family could be targeted. He seethed instead, went sleepless longer, feared the ways his son would have to contend with ignorance.

Across the street, the Catholic church’s front door was open. Marty had attended one mass there (a curious mass) three years ago, a particular December Sunday when he’d felt some desperate longing/nostalgia for the old Florida church (built in 1835) his grandmother took him to and where he’d served briefly as an altar boy before being fired for daydreaming. This church felt like a fast-food restaurant. The priest had promised to finish up before kickoff, then he lifted his robe to reveal his Packers jersey. Afterwards, Marty went to the tavern across the street, got in line for a beer, saw the priest ahead of him, then ordered two beers for himself.

He rang the mayor’s doorbell. And forgot why. What had he wanted to say? “Is this your squirrel?” He turned from the stoop, looked at the grey/black sky. The typewriter was no farther away, and it had not slowed. The mayor wasn’t home. Marty dropped the dead squirrel on the mayor’s stoop, Get Well Soon! balloon doorknob-high. He walked home, veered between downed limbs, stepped over sticks. The clicking and clacking of the enormous typewriter followed him. It sounded like teams of horses pulling tourists down Savannah’s cobblestone streets, microphones hooked to hooves.

He cut through Miller’s yard, walked around back, opened his sliding glass door, stepped through, closed it tight, then went to the basement to see if the typewriter followed him. He smelled gas, which was normal, and heard the typewriter still, which was abnormal. In the washer/dryer room, water dripped from the ceiling to the washer (a new development), directly on top of the graphic novel he and Martin had been working on for six months, Martin with the colored-pencil drawings, both of them on the story about a family being chased by suit-wearing zombies through a burning city. He picked up the soaked pages, held them like a dead pet. Why had he moved it to the washer? Maria would be upset too, though she’d say the leak (and the money required to fix it) would be a bigger worry than the novel. Had he carried it to the basement in one hand while he carried dirty clothes in the other, then left the novel on the washer? He looked up to trace the drip, which Maria might call a steady stream. She had taught him how water could damage a home, which is why, three years ago, they paid $3,000 for new gutters.?????

He put a can beneath the leak, replaced the can with a bucket, then placed the can inside the bucket. Overhead: the kitchen floor. Water came through the same hole a line of copper tubing ran through, and it was streaming alongside the tubing, outside the tubing, then falling to the washer. Was last night’s windstorm responsible? Should he turn off the water supply? Where was it? He had to pee. He went upstairs to the bathroom that faced the street, and looked through the window that faced the driveway, where the tree said Remember me? The typist blazed away. While peeing, he worked a math problem: how many minutes does it take to fill a 5-gallon bucket at a rate of one drip per second? He couldn’t pee long enough to conclude, though he did decide that in the minutes it took the bucket to fill, he could clear enough of the tree to remove the car. Where had he left his axe?

When he depressed the toilet handle, the city’s Emergency Management siren went off — the painfully loud horn hooked atop the tower planted atop the bluff behind their house. It rotated in a full circle and blared loudly enough to alert every deaf citizen within forty miles. They tested it every first Monday of the month at 10 a.m. to let people know what it would sound like when (for example) a train derailed. But it wasn’t Monday. And it couldn’t yet be 10 a.m., surely, a fact he could’ve easily verified if he hadn’t left his watch in the garage next to where he’d picked up his limb trimmer. He thought: how did the Emergency Management managers learn about the leak that ruined our graphic novel? Then he imagined drowning in oil spilled from a tanker. Burning oil. Oil moving like mud in the mudslide that had killed so many in Sierra Leone. Then he thought: Trump, that third grader, has hit the button, making his classmate Kim Jong Un retaliate. Then he thought this: these thoughts are fear-based; more information is needed. And what God arranged the timing for all of these things to unravel on this day, when he needed to get his son to Rochester? Then this: what lucky bastard on God’s green earth has sufficient time for a proper spiritual crisis? And how, right this very second, should he go about rescuing his wife and child?

He left the bathroom and stepped out to the front stoop to see if they were coming. When the siren swiveled around to face him, the typewriter disappeared, and when the siren moved the other way, the typewriter rose again. They were coming. They were just now approaching the bottom of the driveway in no particular hurry, while the siren swirled around again and blasted them like a nuclear wave and poor Martin dropped his stuffed fish Marlin and pushed his fingers into his ears.

“We have to go,” Marty yelled. They couldn’t hear him. Already, he was planning the route they’d take on foot, away from the train, uphill, toward higher ground, from where he’d summon Lyft to take them to Rochester, use the Visa. Maria stopped in the street, stared at the tree, hands on hips. She pulled her phone from her pocket and texted someone. “Everything’s fine,” Marty said. He squatted in front of Martin. The typewriter shrank, and the siren grew, then the siren shrank, and the typewriter grew. “Martin?” Marty said. He grabbed his son’s wrists and pulled them out of his ears. “We’ll start a new novel. A better one.” Martin tried to break free and run inside, but Marty held him, hugged him tight, then Martin’s fingers found his ears again. Marty said, “We have to be brave now, dammit.” The siren muted the typewriter, then the typewriter appeared again, Roach to the front, Gillespie to the rear.

A camouflaged jeep pulled up, plastic top zipped tight, Green Bay Packer G? stuck to the door. A stranger got out and casually approached, a young woman in a tank top and ball cap, pony-tail through the cap’s rear-opening. She stopped in the driveway, pushed her fingers into her ears, then winked at Martin, who was in the same position. The horn came around again, unrolling like a tidal wave of an aerial assault — life during wartime, as the Talking Heads talked about. Marty ran to Maria. He yelled, “We have to go!”

“I know,” she yelled. The horn moved to the opposite side. She said, “Chris is driving us. I asked her if she could in case you hadn’t cleared the tree, and she said she needed to go to Trader Joe’s anyway.” She pointed to Chris, who was smiling. Chris? He was relieved. Martin moved next to her, reached his hand up to hold her hand, holding Marlin in the other. The horn faced them again, and everyone grimaced from the torture, then the siren stopped but the typewriter didn’t. The typewriter was taking dictation from the God whose cardinal rule was to honor chaos from every corner. Marty said, “Do you all hear that typewriter?”

“Zip your pants,” Maria said.

“All aboard,” Chris said.

Marty zipped his pants. “That typewriter,” he said. “You hear that, right?”

Chris had the jeep doors open — Marty climbed in back with Martin, Maria up front. They were evacuating now, promptly. Chris patted Maria’s thigh, then squeezed it, as if to say, don’t worry, your hero is here. Then she sped toward the railroad tracks, leaned forward to look left, then right, left again, then crossed and accelerated.

Marty took Marlin away from Martin, raised the fish to his mouth, demonstrated the proper ventriloquism he’d taught himself in college, made the fish say, “Everything’s fine.”

“Give him back,” Martin said. Marty pulled his vibrating phone from his pocket: his mother calling from Florida, maybe from inside a hurricane. Chris turned up a soft guitar with Tracy Chapman singing an old song he’d once liked. The typewriter was coming through the speakers. Marty’s mother left a message. It started raining, which reminded Marty of the basement leak. How many inches of water would the drip produce before they returned? Would the bankers laugh when he said he was underwater? He’d wait to mention this to Maria. No need for another worry on top of the biggest worry of all that they were now speeding toward on this busy road crowded with so many other worried drivers.

“Mom,” Martin said. “Dad won’t give me Marlin.”

Marlin said, “We have a leak in the basement. A drip.”

Maria released a sigh that seemed to say this was old news.

“I’ll take a look,” Chris said. “My mother was a plumber. I learned some things.”

Martin said, “Mom?”

“Marty,” Maria said. “Play nice, please.”

Chris was an excellent driver, Marty noticed now — calm, but assertive enough, kept a steady pace, flowed with traffic, two car lengths between vehicles, two hands on the wheel, wipers going, headlights on. He cried softly now, tears on both cheeks, grateful that Chris had rescued them. The typewriter came through the speakers between songs and blended into the next, part of the percussion section, playing nice. He gave Marlin back to Marty, put his arm around his son’s shoulder, squeezed him tightly, did not wipe his cheeks. ??

Martin lifted Marlin beside his mouth. He said, “We’re not afraid.”

“Try again,” Marty said. “Your lips were moving.”

Martin tried again.

“Again,” Marty said.

“We’re not afraid,” said the fish.

“Better,” Marty said. “Again, please. We have time.”

Chris touched Maria’s leg again, and Maria said something soft back to her that Marty made no effort to understand. He was busy listening to his son and to his son’s stuffed fish. All other sounds, even the enormous typewriter, had vanished.

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About Matt Cashion

Matt Cashion's novel, Our Thirteenth Divorce won the 2017 Edna Ferber Fiction Book Prize, judged by Robert Boswell. His short story collection, Last Words of the Holy Ghost won the 2015 Katherine Anne Porter Prize for short fiction, judged by Lee K. Abbott. He is a three-time winner of short story awards from the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and is a past recipient of a Wisconsin Literary Fellowship. Raised in Brunswick, Georgia, he earned an MFA at the University of Oregon, and now teaches Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. www.mattcashion.com

One Comment

  1. oldironnow
    Posted January 2019 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Wow. This is very good.
    I hear Pirsig struggling with Phaedrus.
    Props.

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