2005 Peder Hill, Dreaming Underwater. All rights
The Calloway Boys
Calloway’s oldest, Stephen, his father’s red hair
running wild with his mother’s curls, stood gazing out
the door of McKibbin's, an Irish pub that with its
steady drift of men and lack of light resembled the dark
hallways of the mines themselves. For two of the
Calloway brothers, it was more first home than second.
Outside the storm continued and, holding his head balanced on his pool
cue, Stephen was wondering if the damned rain was ever going to
break. After a last drag of his
cigarette he flicked the butt onto the cracked pavement
of the alley that bordered the single door that was the
bar’s only entrance. A few cold rain drops stung his
face as he leaned against the door jam, the tin siding
above the door’s pocket wasn’t much protection from
the rainy blow that gusted down the little street.
pulled another cigarette from his fleece shirt pocket
and lit it as he watched the clear rush of water
flooding over the broken road with a mixture of awe and
you playin or what?” came a thin shout from inside.
his brother two years younger, left the pool table that
was wedged in the bar’s dim center and came to see
what was taking so long.
give me a drag,” he said, fingers reaching toward his
your own,” said Stephen, “it’s almost my last.”
cigarette bobbing as he spoke. He nodded toward the
street. “Go get it. Bring it around back and I’ll
help you dump her in.”
you,” replied Johnny, pausing from chalking his stick
while looking at the storm, “it’s your turn,”
eyes narrowed a bit as he pulled the cigarette from his
mouth and tilted his head as he looked thoughtfully at
Johnny. He casually walked behind his brother, who
continued to work on his cue, then turned and, grabbing
him by the shoulders, unceremoniously shoved him out
into the street, sending him in an off balance tumble
onto the watery ground with his pool stick.
yelped in the downpour and staggered back to his feet,
the stick still in his hand. He tried to rush back in.
Stephen’s wide arms blocked him.
you,” yelled Johnny—to the ground this time as he
tried to ram his way through, sliding his second attempt
on the wet, well-worn wood of the bordering walkway.
he cried dimly as he climbed to his feet, water running
into squinting eyes as he spoke. “At least give me my
took another long drag from under the corrugated tin’s
loud cover, slowly pulled the cigarette from his mouth,
and smiled, “Hurry up. You’re getting wet. On with
scowled a last time before turning and weaving between
puddles as he ran down the road toward the old abandoned
Community Hall, slowing to a stop beside the rust blue
Chevy truck parked in the gravel past the bar’s end.
over the bed between the bald spare and the cab was a
white tail deer, its dead eyes staring wide, long black
eyelashes, red tongue twisting to the side below the
black bolt of its snout. Two dark welts marked the
bullets’ entry points.
up its bent body as he wrapped his arms around himself
in the rain, Stephen figured he probably could carry it
himself. It was young, a couple years at the most. Young
bucks had relatively flat heads out of the pedicles
sprouted and horns eventually grew. The head of this one
was rounded between the ears, its nose short, the body
squarish. She was a doe.
usually took does. They were usually a much easier kill.
Too nosy. Too playful.
the face of what he was about to have to do and the
rain, his head shifting back and forth between the doe
and the bar, he cursed his brother. He’d no doubt get
covered in it—the blood ran from the slit around her
white neck, streaming with rainwater across the
spare’s dirty white wall. Its flow tinged the chrome
side step scarlet and left a coagulating pool amid the
the inevitable, he just stood there in the gray fog of
the rain, blood edging his boots.
brother’s ‘get on with it’ floating on the wind,
whether real or imagined, was what finally spurred him
to jump into the truck bed; he’d decided to push
instead of pull her off, hoping for less of a mess.
with one hand against the cab’s round edge, he bent
down to get his boot in low behind her hind quarters,
and happened to look up toward the bar as he did.
alley McKibbin's sat in ran into Main Street—the
town’s once bustling centerpiece, pocketed now with
the newspaper-covered faces of long vacant storefronts.
Johnny watched as help was quickly splashed its way down
the road from that direction.
look who’s come to save the day,’ he said to
himself, jumping back out of the truck.
Johnny walked back into the bar it was, in spite of his
wetness, with an air of smugness and Stephen squinted at
him in suspicion.
figured you’d be a mess,” he said, looking for
bloody signs as Johnny put on his jacket to fight his
chill. “She back there?”
smugness continued, “Yup.”
stared at the back of his brother’s head as he walked
back to the pool table, then himself moved to the far
end of the bar, which stretched along the wall from the
bartender was in the back room shuffling around for
something or other and Stephen leaned over the counter
and yelled through the door, “Hey, Robert! We’re
ready. Wanna come see her?”
turned back to Johnny, who was lining up a shot, taking
a moment to give him another look over, “Why are you
looking so pleased—“
before he could finish, the bartender, a short pear
shaped man with a hairy mole in the crease of his
dimple, waddled from the back, wiping his hands on a
dirty bar towel as he came.
now boys. Let’s see the road kill ya dragged over,”
he said in a thick Irish accent, tossing the towel on
the counter then ducking below the bar.
had brought his umbrella with him but, nearing the door
and hearing the wind rattle the tin up and down, he
dropped it in the corner.
let’s make it quick,” he said, his brown eyes
wincing in disenchantment as he looked at the outside
had his own flatbed parked out back. When the three of
them turned the corner it was Ryan Calloway closing its
on its side lie the doe. As Robert examined it, the
brothers held fought with their jackets against the wind
and incredulously looked over Ryan.
hardly got any on you? How did you do it? She’s
covered,” Johnny said, elbow pointing to the doe.
a small one boys,” cut in Robert. “Can’ be more
than seventy pound.”
Rob,” shot Johnny, “she’s at least eighty-five,
tipping ninety more like it.” He looked down at the
doe, motioned to the bar man, “Why don’t you pick
her up and find out for yourself.”
by the suggestion the barkeep’s rough face locked on
Johnny, who looked away, thinking better of it. Robert
then turned to Ryan. “Dat true boy?” he asked.
older brothers stared intently at the younger in hopeful
eyes darted from Robert to his brothers to the deer.
“Seventy-five…not more,” he replied evenly,
staring down at the doe.
was answer enough for Robert.
then. Seventy-five. Come and get um,” he said as he
hurried back to the bar leaving the brothers together in
Johnny yelled as he swatted his younger brother’s
head. “You just lost us a dozen!”
had his hands ready for more, but Stephen stopped it
before it began.
him alone, Jon. He was just telling the truth. Good
boy,” he said as he approached his brother, boxing him
hard across the ears before pulling him with an arm as
big as his father’s in the direction of the bar.
on. Seventy-five are waiting. Let’s get a drink.”
The water splashed their boots as they made their way
through the blow of the storm.
the boys leaned on the bar from faded leather stools,
savoring the dark stout. Though it was only around five
in the evening, and in spite of the storm, the pub was
nearly half full. Men with red forgetful eyes played
darts and smoked skinny cigars in the box of a room that
bordered the bar’s only toilet.
weathered regulars nursed glasses at the bar end near
the door. They seemed to meld into the thick fog of
smoke, forms semitransparent. The men stared forward
mostly, rarely spoke. When they did it would be with a
slight turn of the head and a downward mumble, their
eyes still staring weakly forward, the rumble of words
as hazy as the men themselves.
swigs Ryan glanced over to them in dark curiosity; they
looked as if waiting in desolate acceptance for the
arrival of some dreaded visitor.
turned rather to face his brothers, noticing with dulled
emotion their eyes, which had also started their way
pink. The two hadn’t had regular work in over two
years, nearly three. Not since the last entrance was
sealed, the day the mining company went under. A bunch
of these guys were their old buddies.
shook off the dark ebb and took another swig, got on
with the reason he’d come.
wants you to clear your stuff out of the camp,” he
said, lip topped with thin foam.
Stephen spilled a little beer as he jerked to reply, “What! Why?”
the brothers spoke, Johnny’s head shifted intently
from one to the other.
already told you…the Africans are coming. Arriving
cares? What does it matter? They can’t need all
they don’t. There’ll only be about a dozen of
then…” said Stephen, his face a waiting question.
avoided his brother’s stare. “Dad says Father McCabe
thinks it’ll be better that way.”
fuck that!” spoke up Johnny. “Why should we move our
stuff just for a bunch of fucking niggers? Where would
before he could finish, Stephen’s thick, cupped hand
came with a red sting down on his left ear.
shut up!” he said as he lifted his finger to his
brother’s face. “Don’t you ever disrespect
the Father like that again.”
wasn’t…” said Johnny, holding his ear, out of
which a thin stripe of blood began to flow. “Jesus,”
he said, examining its crimson warmth on his palm.
returned his attention to Ryan. “Okay…if the Father
says so. We’ll clear our gear out. I’ll store the
guns in the main cabin; Domhnall won’t mind.”
think he means the rifles too, Stephen,” said Ryan,
the unsettled silence waiting for his brother’s reply.
Stephen didn’t say anything. The conversation
was over. He lit another cigarette instead, and took a
long last drink of his beer.