Just Before He Left, He Said
by Anne Enright
Declan said he had driven half way across America, ended up in a place called Dewey, Wisconsin. He got out of the car, looked at people on the sidewalk and wondered what the hell they were doing here: working in the launderette, working in the uranium plant at the edge of town. Maybe it was just love. They fell in love, they had kids. And they were amazed by it - by the fact that all this could happen in Dewey, Wisconsin.
So he picked up a job at the mine, working security. The three guys on his shift flicked through porno magazines all night, sitting in front of t.v. screens, that showed the plant in the weird green of infra red. One of the men was always on a round - you could see his torch leave one screen, then, a few minutes later, you would see it wander into the next. The wait between screens became unbearable. It got so it felt they were floating. Two old guys and Alfonse and him.
So he was a lunatic, Alfonse. He was the kind of guy who was in it for the uniform. He had this heavy voice that lectured you all the time, holding up the pictures in girlie mags saying, "You know the problem with pussy like this?" And this lunatic, who was always touching you, always swatting some bit of you with his hand, he turns around one day and invites Declan to a potluck barbecue that weekend.
Potluck! Declan was so astonished he actually made something - a sort of mix of Jell-O and pineapple chunks and whipped cream, from a recipe he found on the back of the packet. He drove around looking for the house, the mutant dessert shivering on the seat beside him; finally found the party by the number of people on the front lawn. It was a clear, beautiful day in Dewey, Wisconsin. There was a bunch of guys on the front porch talking golf, cracking open too many beers. The wives were there, the kids squealing and running, and there was a smell of ironed cotton off these people, even in the open air.
Alfonse belts him between the shoulder blades. "Hey Irish!" He is wearing a chef's hat and he brings him out back, taking the mutant dessert out of his hand. "Mnn, Mnn." This is Alfonse - who tells stories about his wife and himself, so delicate, they made your hair stand on end. "I told her, she wants a faggot to shave her corns, go right ahead."
He's introduced to someone he thinks is the wife but is actually the mother-in-law, a tight faced blonde in white high heeled sandals. They sit and talk for a while on patio chairs. Then the wife comes by, and she's got this healthy glamour that her mother lost. Her mother just has the glamour bit now.
After a while, he's tranced by the sun and the beer. Just looking at these people, the way they talk and laugh, and the little things with kids. It gets so he can't breathe. He wanders into the garage, where it is dark and cool. There's a couple of small boys pushing plastic soldiers through the front grille of the car and a pair of women's legs sticking out of a back door. One of her feet is dangling a sandal. When he looks in, he sees Fonzie's wife lying in the back seat, flat out, with her arms stretched up, playing with her hair. "Hi". "Good party", he says. "Glad you could make it."
The sandal hits the concrete floor. And he knows he could have sex with her. He knows he could just drive her out of there - one shoe on, the other left behind. He could just gun the motor and go, the kids running for cover, the car door swinging open, across the summer lawn, down over the curb and away. "Why didn't you?" I said."We did some afternoons." He walked around the room and touched my things and did not look at me. Declan's body was pale and freckled - all flat, with that funny, bendy dick of his curling out of the middle of it all. So.
No. He went back out into the garden and looked at the people, having their good time. The sun going down. The mother-in-law checking him as he comes out the garage door; her high heels sinking into the turf. Alfonse.
There was nowhere else to go. He didn't know how to explain it. This was everywhere. And this breathless feeling he got would never leave him. He might as well go home, he might as well go anywhere, because this garden, this potluck bloody barbecue, was all there was. And that's why people stayed in Dewey - because we all lived in Dewey. There was nowhere else to go. "You know?" "Sort of." "No wonder they shoot each other," he said. But he did not shoot me.