Fiction — From the November 2008 issue

The Botch

The idea is to tap into the old traditions, guns waving, eyes behind balaclavas—just one more bank heist breaking the tedium of an Ohio afternoon, leaving nothing but bewilderment, the kind you’d expect from corn-fed farm folks, one or two Mennonites, along with the requisite towheaded kid in overalls, his shoulders slumped from hauling seed bags; maybe a mother, one of those dry-mouth screamers, unleashing a dog whistle cry (from a face begging to be pistol-whipped, Carson cut in), with that lonely look that comes from long, empty hours mashing up vegetables and boiling bottles on the stove, spoon-feeding the baby in a house amid the dead fields. She’ll go from that dog-whistle scream to cold fear to a kind of longing in a matter of a minute, gathering hope from the barrel of a gun, that dark rictus behind which the bore grooves lie ready to spin a bullet to a perfect stability, until it arrives to release her from the obligations of her life, so to speak. The idea being that her life, seeing that gun, hearing the shouts, for a startling moment will become strangely meaningful. Idea is to stand coolly, legs apart for balance, moving the gun from the farm-boy kid to the farm wife to the Old Order Mennonite, slowly enough to offer each one of them a chance to have the aforementioned sensation, Donnie explained, pausing for a moment to suck on his cigar, glancing around our hideout, an old blacksmith shed about twenty miles outside Gallipolis, nothing inside but an old forge, stone cold, with taut, dried-out bellows, a few rickety chairs, an old table nicked and scarred from years of horseshoe pounding, and a dusty window giving a view of the road and a field of dead corn. Idea is to know ahead of time—because it’s pretty much preordained—that the security codger will be sitting on a stool near the front door, ready to put up some kind of fight, Donnie said, slapping the forge with the side of his palm, leaning down to gaze out the window while we stood around and waited for him to continue.

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is the author, most recently, of the story collection The Secret Goldfish (HarperCollins).

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October 2019