Benjamin Harnett

I. “Tell me the story again,” I pleaded.



My family sat around the kitchen table, my brother pushing applesauce around the plate with his spoon. It smeared his cheeks and spotted his bib. From the quilted blue pattern on it, an otter peered, a splotch of applesauce over one eye, like a pirate's patch. I had my back to the windows, which suited me. I disliked peering into the blackness our reflections hovered over that this season offered up, at dinnertime. I scraped at the wax-finish on the lip of our small, round, walnut table. It darkened my thumbnail.

Dad liked to tell the story, how before I was born, the old man Becker rented the little house from my grandmother, the one we had lived in when I was a baby, down the road, between us and the farmhouse, the one with the dormers and the leaning-down barn, where a dozen maple trees formed two towering rows, each too close, and a hundred years old. Clint Becker had no family, and Grandma would drive him, sometimes, into town, for groceries, which consisted of a bottle of Imperial whiskey and a carton of Pall Malls, or a doctor's appointment. Becker called my grandmother one morning and said he had an appointment, and to come get him at ten. He hadn't mentioned the appointment before, which was unlike him to do.

Becker wore work pants and brown boots. His shirts would come unbuttoned to show the red union suit underneath. He would forget to shave, and wore a scruffy beard that grew in patches. He had worked as the farm-hand. He still chopped wood for the furnace. When my father's mother arrived to pick