Until Today

by Merle Drown

My old man taught me when you give something up, give it up. I always thought that about myself. Until today. Me and Richie are outside on break talking, like we do, How are the Sox going to do this year. Why ain't there nothing on TV no more. If you had to pick your last meal—well, that was an ironic one. He's smoking, smoking for both of us, really, because I give it up over a year ago. You'd think it'd bother me to sit with Richie puffing away, blowing smoke out the side of his mouth, and him smoking the same brand I used to, but once I gave it up, I gave it up. I'm like that. Until today.

When me and Lisa split, I walked in the house after my shift, and she goes, "I'm thinking we need to talk about where this marriage is going." And I go, "No, we don't. We need to talk about who gets the house—you or me." And that was the end of it. I got the house because it turned out she didn't want nothing reminded her of me. That's the way she put it. Course she could have just been covering up her feelings. That's what Richie said.

Lisa moved over to Northfield and hooked up with a guy there has a little flooring business. She does books for him. "More suited," she says to me when I run into her at the grocery yesterday. I hadn't seen her in a year. No, two years ago, because I was still driving that Chevy half-ton. I didn't know if she meant the guy or the job suited her better.

I told her I sold my truck because it didn't suit me anymore. Just like that, she walked away. I guess she thought I was putting her down.

"No," Richie goes. "She was still covering up her feelings."

Richie, he's always saying that, and sometimes I argue with him, but it won't be today, because right after he says she was still covering up, the supervisor comes out and tells me about Lisa's accident, and that she didn't make it. Richie goes, "Jesus." Me, I don't say nothing, just reach over and suck a big drag off Richie's cigarette. But I think maybe my old man was full of shit, and definitely I've got to get out of here.

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. The father of three sons, Merle lives with his wife Pat in Concord, NH, where he earns his living by hook, crook, pen and ink. "Until Today" is from his collection-in-progress, Shrunken Heads, miniature portraits of the famous among us, or Balzac in a nutshell. Pieces have appeared or are coming out in Amoskeag, Meetinghouse, and 971 Menu.