Story — From the May 2015 issue

For Something to Do

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They spoke little during supper. Julie thought of Ray Perris. She had gone with him during her senior year in high school and off and on during her first two years at Michigan State, whenever she came home to Detroit and Ray bothered to call her. Then, in her third year, shortly after Ray was called into the army, she met Evan. There was no formal breakup with Ray, no ring to return, no goodbye. Ray never wrote; only once called her when he was home on furlough; and as far as Julie knew, Ray was still unaware that she was married. Until now.

Not long ago she’d heard that Ray was out of the army and had become a professional fighter. This didn’t surprise her. He had entered the Golden Gloves in high school; but, it seemed to Julie, more for the sake of wanting to be known as a fighter than for the actual boxing. Since meeting Evan, the only time she thought of Ray was to wonder how she could have ever gone with him. Perhaps only because she had been seventeen.

Then the phone call this morning from Cal, her cousin. Ray was in Detroit and he was bringing him out. And from that moment, suddenly realizing she was going to see Ray again and not wanting to see him, she was afraid.

Evan thought about Cal. How he would pull up into the drive unexpectedly, uninvited, and sit in the living room with them until all the beer was gone. Cal was twenty-three, Julie’s age, four years younger than Evan; but aside from that they had almost nothing in common.

The first few times he came, Evan tried hard to like him. He offered to show him around the farm, but Cal wasn’t interested. For conversation he brought up the Detroit Tigers, Lions, and Red Wings, in that order, going from baseball to football to hockey. But Cal was a fight fan and Evan was familiar with few names, none of them current, in the boxing world.

Cal did talk. After a few cans of beer he carried the conversation and invariably his remarks were directed to Julie.

Why would anybody who knew better want to live in the sticks? I mean, what do you do for kicks, sit and look at each other? Nothing to do, you work your francis off and all you got to show for it is a one-story house and a four-year-old car. If Ev wants to be a vet — I mean it takes all kinds of people, believe me — why don’t he get one of those dog-and-cat deals? Plenty of them in Detroit and those guys are making dough.

Evan argued with him mildly the first few times, but when he realized his anger was rising he would stop. It wasn’t worth it. Cal had more success with Julie. She was easily drawn into an argument, as if she were obligated to talk some sense into Cal, to make him see that living on a farm and not making much money didn’t necessarily mean you weren’t happy. And when she became angry, Evan would see Cal smile. A number of times he had to restrain himself from throwing Cal out bodily.

Evan would tell himself, The next time he opens his mouth, out he goes. Even if he is her cousin. But he sat quietly and put up with Cal, because he couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him.

But it’s not the same now, Evan thought. It’s nice to be nice, but you can carry it too far.

He thought then, You’re feeling sorry for yourself.

But that wasn’t it, for he was almost always completely honest with himself. He was thinking that he and Julie had been married for almost a year and everything was going smoothly, but for one moment this afternoon his wife had sounded like Cal and she had not even been aware of it. You did not let a man ruin your marriage, or even try to or begin to or even have it remotely in mind.

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(1925–2013) was the author of more than forty novels, including Get Shorty and Out of Sight. This previously unpublished story, which was written in 1955, will appear next month in Charlie Martz and Other Stories (William Morrow).

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October 2019


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