I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse…
– Moses, Deuteronomy
Skeletal arms trembled, struggling to lift the old steel revolver. Blue and purple veins popped through celluloid skin. Shaking hands with frail fingers and rusted joints fought with the trigger to pull the heavy hammer back. Jack Hanlon smiled at the sight.
SATURDAY JUNE 5, 2010
The sun hung high in the cloudless afternoon sky, drying the sidewalks and baking away the evidence of the viscous storm of the night before. Small branches and twigs littered the lawns and gutters of the sleepy Chicago side street. The two opposing rows of brick bungalows, most redbrick, some yellow-brick, that lined either side of Mobile Street had weathered the storm as they had done for close to a century now. There was no major damage. A few basements had taken in water, but just enough to make a mess before receding back into the floor drains.
Saturday morning was uneventful at the Hanlon home. Amy had gotten up with the boys and made them blueberry pancakes for breakfast while Jack slept in. Around noon, dressed in the gym shorts he’d slept in, cheap slippers, and an old softball shirt that read “Mad Dogs” in script across the front from his Wednesday night 16” league (on the back was an ad for their sponsor Windy Ray’s Tavern), Jack lifted the lid to the black, iron mailbox hanging on the wall just outside his front door. It was empty. He stood on the front porch, and peered up and down the quiet street in hopes of seeing the mailman walking his cart down the block. No luck.
Across the street Mrs. Kelly watered her flowerbed despite the heavy rains that had doused them overnight. When she saw Jack, she waved. Jack waved back and tried to duck back into the house before the old lady could trap him into a conversation but it was too late. She’d already dropped her hose and was heading across her small patch of perfect lawn calling his name, “Jack, oh Jack. I want to talk to you.”
It’s not that Jack disliked Mrs. Kelly. In fact, he liked her very much. She reminded him of his grandmother, and he felt a sort of responsibility toward her since her husband passed. Jack would spend weekend days doing little jobs around Mrs. Kelly’s house, fixing this, patching that. Amy would take her shopping if the weather was bad and the buses were running slow. But lonely widows can talk an awfully long time, and make a big deal about things of no consequence, and frankly today Jack wasn’t up for one of those conversations. His mind was elsewhere.
“Jack,” she called hustling across the street. “Jack, I want to talk to you. Don’t go anywhere.” She hurried as quickly as a seventy-eight year old woman in Walgreen’s sneakers can. Jack stepped off his porch and met her on the sidewalk.
“Hi Mrs. Kelly, how are you?”
“Oh, I could complain, but who would listen,” she replied.
‘Apparently, this morning, it’s going to be me,’ Jack thought, but held his smile.
“Anyway, did you hear that storm last night? It woke me from a sound sleep. I thought lightening hit that big tree and that it was going to fall in on my head. Thank the Lord it was just a clap of thunder. Did it wake the children? You look like you missed a good night sleep.”
“Yeah, Timmy woke up a couple of times, but went back to bed pretty quick. Once I was up though, I had a hard time falling back to sleep. I wish I was more like Amy, she gets up with the kids, and as soon as her head hits the pillow again, she’s out cold.” Truth was, Jack was already up. He hadn’t been sleeping well lately.
“That’s because women work harder than men,” Mrs. Kelly gave a wink and a smile.
“In my house, that is certainly the case. I won the lottery when I married Amy. She’s one of a kind.”
“Don’t you forget that Jack Hanlon,” she said, her eyes narrowing, then flashed him a wink and a smile. Jack had often thought that Mrs. Kelly had probably been a very beautiful woman in her youth, and now and then a flash of that girl would appear in that wink and smile she often gave to let you know she was teasing. “Ah, she coulda done worse herself too ya know,” Mrs. Kelly continued, “Anyhow, the reason I stopped you is because I was wondering if you could do me a favor.”
“Sure Mrs. Kelly, what do you need?”
“Well, the storm last night did knock a huge branch off the neighbor’s tree into my backyard. I’ve been telling them for months now that the tree needs to be pruned, but that good for nothin’ bum sits on his backside all day doing nothing, and you know she’s not much of a housekeeper. I’ve never been inside, but from what I hear there is crusted food all over the kitchen and dust bunnies everywhere. How people could live like that is beyond me. Anyhow, I know he’d never move it from my yard, or at least I’d be waiting till my last breath for him to do it, so if you wouldn’t mind just stopping by – when you have time of course, no hurry – and just put it out in the alley for me?”
“Of course Mrs. Kelly. Give me a minute to put on a decent pair of shoes and grab a saw and I’ll be right over.”
“You’re a doll Jack, thank you. You know, since Harold died I’ve really come to realize how nice it was to have a man in the house. I am certainly for women’s equality and what not, but there’s no denying that there are some things men are better at taking care of. Maybe I’m just an old woman, I don’t know. And don’t you dare tell a soul I said that or so help me God I’ll shoot you right in the face,” she smiled and winked at him again with that twinkle in her warm blue eyes. That’s when Jack had the vision of those skinny little arms struggling to raise a pistol to eye level and fighting to pull the trigger. The thought had made him smile and he wondered if she noticed. Of course, if he knew what would eventually come of them all, he never would have found such a scene amusing.
“Okay, see you in a few minutes.” Jack turned to go inside, then stopped and turned back toward Mrs. Kelly who was about to cross the street back to her house. “Mrs. Kelly, did you happen to get your mail yet?”
“No, he hasn’t been by yet Jack. It’s that new fella. I don’t like him very much. He’s slow. When we had the black fella…” she said the word ‘black’ a little quieter than the rest, almost a whisper but not quite, “… we always got our mail by ten o’clock, even on Saturdays. This guy though, you never know when he’s gonna decide to show up. I’ve complained several times.”
“I’m sure you have. Thank you Mrs. Kelly.” Jack took another look up the street for the mailman, then dropped his head and went in the house to fetch his shoes and chainsaw.