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Copyright 2005 Peder Hill, Dreaming Underwater. All rights reserved.


The Calloway Boys

Jack 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.

He 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 disgust.

“Are you playin or what?” came a thin shout from inside.

Johnny, 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.

“Hey, give me a drag,” he said, fingers reaching toward his brother’s hand.

“Get 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.”

“Fuck you,” replied Johnny, pausing from chalking his stick while looking at the storm, “it’s your turn,”

Stephen’s 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.

Johnny yelped in the downpour and staggered back to his feet, the stick still in his hand. He tried to rush back in.

But Stephen’s wide arms blocked him.

“Go get it.”

“Fuck 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.

“Asshole!” he cried dimly as he climbed to his feet, water running into squinting eyes as he spoke. “At least give me my jacket.”

Stephen 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 it.”

Johnny 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.

Hung 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.

Sizing 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.

They usually took does. They were usually a much easier kill. Too nosy. Too playful.

In 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 gravel.

Procrastinating the inevitable, he just stood there in the gray fog of the rain, blood edging his boots.

His 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.

Bracing 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.

The 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.

‘Well look who’s come to save the day,’ he said to himself, jumping back out of the truck.

When 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.

“I 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?”

The smugness continued, “Yup.” 

Stephen 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 entrance.

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?”

Stephen 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—“

But 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.

“A’right 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.

He 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.

“Okay, let’s make it quick,” he said, his brown eyes wincing in disenchantment as he looked at the outside storm.

Robert had his own flatbed parked out back. When the three of them turned the corner it was Ryan Calloway closing its tailgate.

Inside 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.

“You hardly got any on you? How did you do it? She’s covered,” Johnny said, elbow pointing to the doe.

“She’s a small one boys,” cut in Robert. “Can’ be more than seventy pound.”

“Bullshit 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.”

Unamused 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.

Both older brothers stared intently at the younger in hopeful expectation.

Ryan’s eyes darted from Robert to his brothers to the deer. “Seventy-five…not more,” he replied evenly, staring down at the doe.

That was answer enough for Robert.

“A’right then. Seventy-five. Come and get um,” he said as he hurried back to the bar leaving the brothers together in the rain.

“Idiot!” Johnny yelled as he swatted his younger brother’s head. “You just lost us a dozen!”

Ryan had his hands ready for more, but Stephen stopped it before it began.

“Leave 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.

“Come 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.

Inside, 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.

Three 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.

Between swigs Ryan glanced over to them in dark curiosity; they looked as if waiting in desolate acceptance for the arrival of some dreaded visitor.

He 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.

Ryan shook off the dark ebb and took another swig, got on with the reason he’d come.

“Dad 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?”

As the brothers spoke, Johnny’s head shifted intently from one to the other. 

“I already told you…the Africans are coming. Arriving next week.”

“And…who cares? What does it matter? They can’t need all the cabins?”

“No, they don’t. There’ll only be about a dozen of them.”

“Well then…” said Stephen, his face a waiting question.

Ryan avoided his brother’s stare. “Dad says Father McCabe thinks it’ll be better that way.”

“Well fuck that!” spoke up Johnny. “Why should we move our stuff just for a bunch of fucking niggers? Where would we put…”

But before he could finish, Stephen’s thick, cupped hand came with a red sting down on his left ear.

“You shut up!” he said as he lifted his finger to his brother’s face. “Don’t you ever disrespect the Father like that again.”

“I 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.

Stephen 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.”

“I think he means the rifles too, Stephen,” said Ryan, the unsettled silence waiting for his brother’s reply.

But Stephen didn’t say anything. The conversation was over. He lit another cigarette instead, and took a long last drink of his beer.