Story — From the July 2014 issue

To the Corner

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Back when he was a reporter Leonard covered a house fire in this neighborhood, in what, ’70, ’71? Woman fell asleep with a lit cigarette and Foom!, up went her house. Leonard was finishing a night cop shift and caught it on the scanner, roused a lazy shooter and they met at the scene, fire crew pushed back by the heat, Leonard’s photog snapping away, flames framing the back of this stone-faced woman with a blanket wrapped around her. That’s when, from this raging house fire, a little kid walked out, four years old, just strolled right out of the inferno and up the sidewalk in scorched pajamas and smoking hair, easy as if he was coming to catch the school bus, and a firefighter scooped the kid and only then did the mother begin to howl and weep, two other kids dead as coal, but her four-year-old walking out calm as Jesus, and nobody had seen anything like it, a miracle for sure, but at mass that Sunday, Leonard had to fight to keep his praying mind from asking, If You could do that, why not have all three kids walk out? — wrong wrong wrong, he scolded himself, but too late, like a first crack in a foundation. Every night for a month after that he stood over his kids’ beds and prayed for their safety, and vowed to love them so much it would hurt, and he did, and it did, and he’s proud of them, and quietly proud of himself for putting four through college into good, decent lives (two teachers, a radiology tech, and Michael in sales), and he’d have put the fifth through college too, if not for that druggie boyfriend, and yes, he loves his kids and he loves his kids’ kids and if he’s around that long he will love his kids’ kids’ kids — but really, his son’s solution to some shirtless, saggy-pants teenage boys hanging across the street is to bring him a gun?

No, he loves his children as much as on those nights he stood praying above their beds, but sometimes he suspects they might be the ripest assholes in the whole wide world.

Leonard slides into the bedroom, where he’s finished boxing up Marjorie’s clothes. A year, that’s what everyone advised. So he waited. A year next week. Michael and his wife want to have everyone over for dinner, to what, commemorate. What he’d give to miss that dinner. Leonard has written marjorie on the boxes of clothes, as if they could belong to someone else. The girls picked over most of her things during the past year, magpies. The rest of her stuff takes up just four boxes, one less than he bought. Perhaps he should fill the extra box with his own clothes, which hang in the closet, work shirts and Sansabelt slacks, twill pants and Sunday jackets, hats, belts, ties.

On the stand next to Marjorie’s side of the bed are pictures of the grandkids and a frame with a small stained-glass Jesus: divine mercy, it says on the bottom. Sunlight used to glow in little Jesus’ robes in the mornings. Marjorie seemed to sense something in Leonard after the miracle of the house fire — of course she did — quitting the Knights of Columbus, quoting Graham Greene (the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God). You need to trust your faith, Marjorie used to say. But what if you were my faith? Where does that irrational anger come from: that she left him, that it was indecent, even cruel of her to go first? He can’t imagine driving those boxes to Goodwill. marjorie, the boxes say, and he will leave his Marjorie among the used clothes and couches and he will drive to dinner at Michael’s, all those children and grandchildren, strangers really, watching him. And then he’ll begin a second year without her. Christ God.

On a shelf in the half-empty closet, above his clothes, sits Michael’s shiny black gun box; the latches gleam at him like unblinking eyes. He feels like his kids are trying to tell him something he isn’t hearing, something drastic: Those gangbangers . . . looking for trouble . . . maybe it’s time. The latches of the gun box glitter in agreement. He covered such things as a reporter, of course; he has seen the spatter. In the mouth is the best way to do it.

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’s story “Thief” appeared in the March 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. He lives with his family in Spokane.

More from Jess Walter:

Story From the July 2018 issue

Plante’s Ferry

Fiction From the March 2012 issue

Thief

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