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One Story


ISSUE:  Autumn 1997
It begins in Philadelphia, where the maternity nurse loves
the Philadelphia Athletics, who rarely win and will soon move
to Kansas City, taking their shortstop who gives C his nickname.
Or it begins on a Maryland dairy farm, where mornings smell
like flapjacks and manure, sausage and hay, where, of six
children, one dies of scarlet fever, one of whooping cough,
while three brothers and C’s mother survive. Or it begins
in New Zealand: A boy, 14, ships out as a deckhand on a steamer
bound for London, where in three years, he’ll meet his wife.

Agamemnon, a box turtle, is in the story—and one named
Inspector because he cranes his head to stare at C, and one
 named
Goof-Off because he bites, and one named Churchy after the
 turtle
in the comic strip C’s mother reads to him. One day the thunder
sounds like God is pounding on the hull of a huge battleship.
One day the wind sounds like an anaconda sliding through the
  trees.

A rock-and-roll band is involved, a smart kid—scorned by the Cool
Dudes—crowned overnight as the curtain rises on him, gripping
a red Gibson guitar, hamfisting through Freddie King’s “San José.”

Sometimes birdsongs outside C’s room sound like creek-songs
winding through pasture, then scarlet maple trees. Look closely
and you’ll see pillbugs bustling beside a wood-frame house,
a bristly wolf spider squeezing under the door, about to toggle
C’s mother to scream, pressing the lever marked “Arachniphobia”
in her son’s brain. The story has the swirl and turmoil
of Van Gogh, the thrust and drive of Beethoven, the palette
of Matisse—cherry, coral, plum, indigo, saffron, amber,
lime, jade—though C will call them red, blue, yellow, green.

Highlights include a week fishing outside Kamloops, three-for-four
with a home run in winning the Oaks Dads Club pennant,
a divorce urged by a bitter therapist, a wedding interrupted
when a helicopter crashes in orange flames on the church lawn.
There are many love scenes—some better than others—
several loves, some of them “true.” The story ends in a hospital:
C’s son, daughter, and wife sobbing, an explosion of blood.
The story ends in a Nursing Home when C’s 90-year-old heart
mercifully stops. The story ends in Moorea, tenth anniversary

of C’s second wedding: rip-tide, panic, unconscious
drifting, sea-mouths wearing him away. The story ends—
its best parts still unconceived—with an engine roaring up a hill,
the author putting down his pen, rushing to trundle out his big
green garbage can to meet the fuming, beetle-browed black truck
twenty years before Agamemnon, who scaled C’s chickenwire
turtle pen during a summer thunderstorm, and lived sixty years
in a vacant lot, is found by a red-headed boy, dropped
into White Oak Bayou, and floats all the way to Galveston.

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