The first stirrings of lust went unheralded.
Lucy Hobart, age ten, was holding a dead mouse up to the light when the first blast went off. Lucy—short for Lucian—held the small corpse warily, by the tail. You never knew; they were hard to kill. The mouse’s eyes were still bright and beady and only beginning to glaze over. Lucy raised the corpse slowly at arm’s length until they were eye-to-eye. The mouse swung, a tiny dead pendulum.
The mouse’s eyes held a look of determined surprise. If the summons of death had not interrupted it, it would have got away with the peanut butter bait. As it was it left a brownish-red smear of blood and bait on a joist of the hayloft. It had struggled briefly, dragging the trap behind it as best it could with a broken neck. Death happens for a reason, he had heard of that in one of Pastor leVoid’s homilies. He, Lucy Hobart, was the reason today. That he was a murderer did not mean that he and his victim could not at least exercise some civility after the fact. “Hiya, little fella,” said Lucy. There was an explosion from down by the road. The barn shook.
A hayloft in high August, its air made immediately unbreathable with hay dust; blinded by the dust squall, Lucy lost his balance. He clung and swayed with his arms wrapped around a crossbeam thirty feet above the floor. Lucy dangled, feet flailing. The mouse was gone. What remained of his catch was a line of string wrapped around his wrist. At the end of the string hung an empty mousetrap. He struggled for breath in the oppressive air.
Lucy would recall the explosion, the lost mouse. Boom. That was how explosions were supposed to be written down, Boom! Young Lucy was an avid reader and knew this. But this was more of a thump, felt through the soles of his feet rather than heard, and impossible to write down. Lucy Hobart regained his perch on the hayloft beam and shinnied to the ground. He ran to where the horse-drawn road graders were lined up and waited for further explosions. There were many. The next day he set out more traps.
Explosives would hold the horizon of Lucy’s fantasy life for the next two years, before testicular murmurings signaled the awareness of a second softer sex in the box of his being. His attention drifted from the wizardry that made unwanted structures disappear to learning to balance and ride his new bike, the better to overtake the feminine eternal, which often fled. The balloon tire Schwinn, with Lucy’s feet steering the handlebars, would cannonade down the approaches to the Hobart’s hill as far as the dogleg where it joined the state road. There Mrs. Moira Schultz was maintained by her two surviving sons until the world-wide financial ruin that heralded the end of the Jazz Age. Then she took in boarders. Lucy and the Schwinn negotiated the gravel approaches to the Schultz homestead again and again, back pedaling his New Departure bicycle brake to a slamming halt against Mrs. Schultz’s overhead garage doors. The doors splintered. This went on for eighteen months. The garage collapsed the next summer. The garage door was never repaired and the structure so lovingly framed and shingled by her late husband for their new Packard, the first in town, became home to a household of raccoons.
Lucy was called before his parents. “He’s such a little boy,” said Mrs. Schultz. “Such a tiny child could not have caused so much damage.” The telltale odor of dynamite was not remarked on. Older boys were pursued and brought to justice for the compromising of the garage’s verticality. Lucy regularly brought fruit baskets of Northern Spies and cider apples in season by way of an apology. Moira Schultz, widow, like the Old Testament God of Hosts, was silent as to the appropriateness of Lucy’s offerings.
Lucy Hobart first felt freedom on his bicycle—an elevated pulse and a throbbing in his loins that would never be equaled by sex. Twelve years later he had same feelings when airborne, hunkered over a bombsight or his knees locked around a .50 caliber machine gun, staring back at plumes of destruction hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars had rained upon the Enemy. Edward, a Schultz son from far New Hampshire, came and shot the raccoons on the Thanksgiving before he mounted the troop train at Bangor for service in the South Pacific. The raccoons returned, Edward did not.
The first stirrings of lust went unheralded. Rev. Phil leVoid at the Willipaq (3rd) Baptist had hinted that love, lust, sex might find the same physical outlet, but did not mention bicycles or the raining of murder from the sky. A wetness in the drawers; this was a mystery to be explored. Grasping himself tighter, Lucian Hobart cried out once, “This is for you, God! Remember thy children, Israel.” This was not at age twelve. Those same twelve years had to pass yet again. He was alone at barracks with the set of blurry pornography that circulated through the flight group. Jehovah, ineffable, unnameable, accepted his load without comment. What then was this freedom? Try as he might, Lucy could not arrive at a better word.
* * *
It is 80 years later. “Jesse Ventura,” says Lucian Hobart, known as Lucy. A cat that walked at his feet looked up questioningly. “A wrestler,” says Lucy. “He was governor of some state once. Minnesota—Wisconsin, I think. I do recall a picture of him in his wrestling getup. With a nice blond with her boobs out. Could be South Dakota.” Lucy paused his walker at the edge of the state road—just enough off the asphalt, on the pea-sized gravel of the shoulder—so that if he was hit by a passing car, he could sue and win.
“Wha’d they say about South Dakota? You know that, Molly?” The cat rubbed affectionately against one large, red wheel. “Hell with the fires gone out. That’s what they say—some general in the Indian wars.”
He stumbled and caught himself. One of his wheels was stuck in a gully wash. “Nice. Shit.”
Lucy Hobart is 92 years old and expected to be feeble. His walker is an appalling construction but he has come to love it. It has four ball-bearing bright red eight-inch wheels that swung on universal pivots; big enough to get him out of anything but this one particular sinkhole it would seem. The student engineers at Willipaq Valley Vocational Technical Institute had designed it. They had a CAD-CAM program installed on their office computer with an add-on for devices to assist the halt and lame. This particular program was made available by the Department of Agriculture in the hope future county extension officers would encourage farmers to get more creative while planning construction.
“You and my wife. They call you the same thing. Cat, that’s her name. Short for Catherine.” There was no response. Cat is a presence in the Hobart house. Not a presence to be spoken of in everyday goings-on, she festers just under the surface, behind the pale faded cabbage roses of the front hall wallpaper.
“The old-time outbuildings rotted from the ground up. Like me. God damn it, Molly—that’s the way things are supposed to rot,” said Lucy to the cat. “From the ground up. When the banks foreclose, they like the steel-frame buildings.” These could be disassembled and carted off on flat-bed semis to a fresh location after the inevitable auction. Molly, a Burmese shorthair, studiously ignored him. more about the Midwife »