Our misdeeds—let’s start with those. We made our old man piss his pants. He limped away, sopped the urine with a kitchen rag and kept his hand over his crotch. He swore at us, said we were no good since our mother left. We laughed. We didn’t care. We filched his bottom-shelf vodka and terrorized the neighborhood, rode our dirt bikes up and down the road, burning rubber doughnuts outside of Mrs. Macomber’s house. She watched us from her bedroom window. Her flash of silvery hair a clear sign we had her spooked. We stole her underwear from the drying line, strung it to the back of our bikes, see if it worked as a parachute. The panties flew away, ripped, busted, left in the street for everyone to see. She came out, threatened to tell our old man. Go ahead, we said. He cares less than we do. Mrs. Macomber raised her fist, her knotted fingers thin and brittle. She wanted to punch us, knock us out, teach us a lesson. We rode up her front lawn, stepped off our bikes, stood in front of her. We jutted out our chins. Take your best shot, we said. She fell to her knees. She cried about her flowerbed. We had destroyed her African daisies and her purple-blue phlox with our tires. She clutched the stems of her plants and tried to replant them; we hopped on our bikes, left her crying in the dirt. She died a few weeks later. Our old man said she tripped in her garden, broke her hip, developed septicemia. DNR.

We’re really here to talk about our virtues. Ten years ago, we slipped out of our old man’s house. We sped our dirt bikes out of town, down 84. Rumor had it our mother was shacked up with a man in Fishkill. We rolled along Main Street, eyeing any woman around forty. Any woman who seemed she’d had twin boys and abandoned them. A saggy belly, lopsided breasts, shellacked blonde hair—this is what we looked for. We propped our bikes against the picture window of a laundromat and searched inside, then moved on to the clothing stores, the churches, the solitary teahouse. We questioned women, asked if they knew who we were. The women feigned ignorance. We slapped our chests and pointed to the color of our eyes. We match, we said. You match too. The women screamed, crossed the street, dialed cellphones. We ignored their negativity and carried on with our quest. Inside a florist’s, we stole a bouquet of hydrangea and white roses from the wedding display. We lugged the flowers all through a clapboard neighborhood. At the end of one cul-de-sac, a man stood talking to a woman. She was our mother, she had to be, and he resembled Mrs. Macomber’s son. He had the same silver hair, the squashed nose. One of us tackled the man, sent him to the ground, and the other pressed the bouquet on our mother. She smiled at us. That was enough. We ran back to our bikes. We rode south then west a little, finally hitting the City. So perhaps we don’t have virtues. But surely we have something.

 

Christopher Linforth has recently published fiction in Grain, Fiction International, Notre Dame Review, Day One, and Descant, among other magazines. He has been awarded fellowships and scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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