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there was no light in the small room. only the heat rising between the boards with dust and glare, the dull heat which took life from the body and sank it, exhausted, in a stupor of endurance. his breath was still in his flat lungs, his sockets welled with sweat and squinting in the darkness of the shack. a scent of moss balled earthily in his nostrils, blocking out the else of the house, and making jarringly dischordant the rattle of conversation that shook the outdoors.

a knock came against the flat boards of the door. He could see light over a knuckle, an old one. polished clean by years. "martin? martin, uh your father would like you to come out, we're uh about to go." he sighed and stood up to a hunch, opening the door. there was bright sunlight. "ah," he said.

"thank you martin, for coming out," his grandmother said, gesturing with a whisky-gloved hand, limp and bald against the bright overcast. her face was wide with concern, dark pupils almost spherical. "we are about to go in the big car, and we will all get there a bit early," she said, making course for the back door. "let me take your arm, grandmother," martin said. he set the plastic cup and paper napkin on a fencepost near the patio, and lead her inside.

"oh, look who's here," his mother said almost cheerfully. her eyes were lit up too, martin thought. she was watching his face, and then turned away to the kitchen, where she put something in the freezer and spent minutes on cleaning up. martin didn't smell any alcohol. "we can all get in the cars now," she called from the kitchen.

like cavalry martin and his grandmother set out again, going through the glass door martin's 12-year-old half-brother jeff was holding. jeff was staring at them, his legs wobbling under his strident stance. "hang in there guy," martin said, and went ahead. jeff was sort of a wimpy little kid and this was beating him up, and briefly martin's teeth set on edge gleefully at this thought. he went ahead with his grandmother, and turned her to climb into her car. he was going alone, in his car.

"thank you martin. you're a good kid. your father would be proud." she said all this as the door swung to a close, latch flicking like metal bending under heat. his face was wet, but he felt cold, abstracted. like bombers the heavy-gutted limousines pulled into the road and began the trip. martin waved to his mother, and headed to his car before the last black car had left the front of the house. his father had a lot of friends.

as he walked he stopped dead, and for a moment couldn't remember what his father looked like. scared he froze caught in the tensed muscles of his body. then he saw the hangers-on watching near the parked rows of buicks and oldsmobiles, and waved. he reached into the grass with his keys in his fist, then pulled them out. the blades were thick, dark green, leafy; late in season. his father had a lot of friends.

in his car he smelled the dampness of a closed space, the air trapped from dew collected late at night, the sweat of dates and close calls, the pungent hanging stench of breath from a latently disintegrative conversation. he put the key in the ignition, shrugging. quickly he pulled into gear and out of the driveway, then down the road. too fast. he turned his lights on and drove past the stopsign next to where the cops always sat, loving the money from anyone lost in the suburbs in a hurry to get out to the only main road. they looked up and waved, turned to look at whatever they had in their laps. martin turned on the radio and headed south on the broad grey asphalt, bleached and smoothed by the passing rigs of two generations of maniacal truckers.

he pulled into a dull parking lot, next to a flat and claylike real estate office, with a single-story split roof house bearing large flat windows under the sign. he took out a cigarette, and lit it. he never smoked in his car. he opened the door.

he sucked in smoke and opened his lungs to the wind, drawing the cold air in after it. the contrast overwhelmed, like the dark bright sky he was under. he felt the waterless grey of ash in his mouth, and threw down the cigarette. the taste of smoke. it rolled crazily in the wind, spinning to smolder in a gutter. martin turned to his coat, and then patted his pants. he looked up.

just over the rim of the door he could see the closed lock, and beyond it, his keys draped on his car seat, a metallic slug in the rising glint of sunlight under the brows of twilight.