A Hero of Sorts

by Merle Drown

A hero to us other teachers, Joe ran the high school auto shop back in the 1970's. He taught Powder Puff Mechanics to women at night school, chopped his Victorian into rooms for rent to college students, and hired a midwife when his son was born. He swapped work for anything—an old bathtub, a sack of potatoes, a black and white TV. He put cheap agriculture plates on his pickup. With sure and steady purpose, he gathered the money to escape the institution's binds.

Stalking the freedom we stubbornly dreamed of, joked about, drunkenly swore at like some betraying mistress, Joe fixed, made do, went without. A bearded, unbarbered Thoreauvian in mended jeans, he taught four years, until, one June morning, he, his wife, and kid left. "We're off to The Maritimes," he said "Land's cheap, people amenable to self-sufficiency."

We often told his story, and envy didn't reach even the ankles of our longing.


Twenty Junes later Joe calls. He's visiting, could he come by? We're eager to learn of his adventures, his freedom, the old true Joe, the lucky one who got away. He pulls up in a BMW convertible. Tanned, his hair fashionably feathered, he steps out in shorts and scandals, and a monogrammed shirt. A golden bag of golf clubs lies across the back seat.

He never went to Canada that June morning. Instead he'd headed west to Indiana, where he'd grown up. He became a principal, divorced his wife, did well in stocks and real estate.

"As anybody would," he says.

Joe stays but fifteen minutes, long enough for us to wonder how much the fault was his.

Merle Drown is the author of stories, essays, plays, reviews, and two novels, Plowing Up A Snake (The Dial Press) and The Suburbs Of Heaven (Soho Press, 2000), trade paperback (Berkley Press, 2001). He edited Meteor in the Madhouse, the posthumous novellas of Leon Forrest, published by Northwestern University Press in 2001. Barnes and Noble chose The Suburbs of Heaven for its Discover Great New Writers series. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NH Arts Council. He teaches in Southern NH U's MFA program. He is currently finishing a collection-in-progress, "Shrunken Heads", miniature portraits of the famous among us or Balzac in a nutshell. Pieces have appeared in Amoskeag, Meetinghouse, Night Train, The Kenyon Review, Rumble, Sub-Lit, Word Riot, Bound Off, JMSS, Eclectica, Toasted Cheese, and 971 Menu.