[Fiction] Sweet by Robert Tindall | Harper's Magazine

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From the twentieth issue of the literary annual NOON, which will be published this month. His story “A Dreary One” appeared in NOON in 2018.

Gregory Speen learns to not doubt himself and Mick Brenlan supports him wholeheartedly. A rhetoric of rapprochement does obtain. Maybe these two are taking stock, and that may be the story.

She seemed sere of affect she was slim and her hair was mousy only she looked cruel—Speen did know that to object was not a viable reaction to such a one—she seemed to have made a life of being cruel toward her fellows but Brenlan wasn’t having any of that today—the truth was, he was himself sick he was flawed maybe and that was the same thing.

Brenlan was silly inside only that made for a brilliance of perspective and he did sleep at night. He did take the others for granted that was the gist of it—Gregory Speen was alone in the world and Brenlan supported what he saw in the man—Speen was smart and happy and lucky.

Maybe there was a justice to it. What was right and what was wrong? That was the only question in his blood or in his eye. In the end it was all verboten.

Speen admired the unimpeachable quality that went with transportation workers in Chicago and the suburbs.

The idea of men and women who worked the trains was a good one and they knew the secrets of life.

A man sat on a plastic crate in the tunnel to the train. Speen figured that the man was a prince. Such men had baskets of clothes or other goods and maybe they slept outside or knew a shelter somewhere. If they asked for money Speen would give them a dollar or so. The others were successful.

Speen remembered working until it proved that maybe he was an average fool.

And Speen was learning to respect the vague sorts carrying their belongings in wire carts on the bus. The drivers looked strong and smart and they were well paid. You had your foreigners and your hometown sorts. Women brought their young in strollers on the bus. Speen felt awful about that.

He defied the idea itself that maybe as a pariah he was blamable for anything and the nature of the afternoon did wipe his slate.

Yesterday was also a tidy thing—Speen loved the women and loved the men. The women were conservative looking and some of them were beautiful. The men were fashionable. The men wore beards and the women wore eye makeup.

If it was up to him they would share the wealth and he gave profusely to the homeless on the corner and it was nice in the morning on the road. He did have a minor sum from the government rolls.

When the snow fell Speen went to the Goodwill to buy clothes, then to ride the bus next was a treat.

The steady running of the CTA did offer answers to any puzzle as to whether Speen’s life would end well. There were things Speen did not know but he was worth more than before.

Brenlan smoked with Speen at the drop-in center and it all made sense. Speen would go to the coffee shop in the majestic inertia that was his approaching age. Speen did not own a television set.

What was to be? Gregory Speen shaved and put on his suit. He rode the bus to the mall. The building where he entered was a happy place and that did justify an idle day.

If the others wanted it their way then Speen would concede—the next day he felt fine. He did not know any grief. He had used to carry a gun. And it was puzzling to be alone. The restaurant was full up. Speen sat at the bar with a bottle of beer.

Speen had fifty in his wallet and it was midnight. He left a tip and exited the place and he was paying his dues for later.

It was superb to be thumbing it on the highway until he could catch a ride south toward where he had gone to school in the years when he was plying his friends and he was coming up empty-handed only later he would know no real pain. In the end, who would remember?

Maybe Speen felt less than some others. Speen would respect others and that was genius—he entertained thoughts of a night when he exulted to ride in a friend’s car and they were young.

With the money in his wallet Speen stood on the corner in the town where he had gone to school so many years before. He had a coffee cup to panhandle and it had come full circle so that now he felt a real and a durable winning state of mind in that nothing was wrong and life was sweet.

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