Todd Weiskopf in middle age on a chilly November morning was staring up at the textured whiteness of the bedroom ceiling and trying to erase the cracks in the plaster by fuzzing his eyesight just so. The trick seemed to be working — spackling as optical illusion — when the bedside clock let loose a shrill alarm that felt like a pneumatic drill boring into his graying pony-tailed skull. Todd fought to disinter himself from beneath tangled layers of his wife Ellen’s quilts and the uselessly matted and flattened comforter inherited from an aunt (a half-sister of his mother’s) whose name Todd could never remember. Finally free of blankets and frightfully cold — he slept bare-assed — he reached for the alarm. Like its predecessors, it would have to be replaced. With instinctive fury, Todd hurled the clock against the nearest wall where it shattered like a fat mutant ice-cube. “Replaced,” he was thinking (as plastic hailstones rained down), “like me.”
A meeting was scheduled for nine a.m. with Arnie Harmon at Arnie’s rundown law office on Main Street.
It was 7:15 now.
Ellen was downstairs. (Todd was pretty sure he heard a “Dammit, Todd,” when the clock hit the wall.) Something was sizzling on the stove. Vegetarian hash, smelled like. A recipe heavy on squash, garlic and paprika that Ellen had gotten off the Internet last month. Their 15-year-old son, Pep, gobbled it down without complaint. Which was more than could be said for Ellen’s preoccupation with goat’s milk. Pep didn’t like it and said he could tell the difference from cow’s milk — Todd couldn’t — regardless of Ellen switching the containers. Certainly Todd was no vegetarian hash hound. He clung hard to sense memories of greasy bacon and pork sausage now forbidden by his cardiologist.
A cultured NPR voice droned obamaobamaobamaobama from the kitchen radio. Rock music rumbled from Pep’s room across the hall. Sounded like Spooky Tooth’s “Sunshine Help Me.” Soaring psychedelic blast of guitar and organ. Bluesy Gary Wright vocal. A favorite wake-up tune from Todd’s college days, and a strong indication that Pep had again raided his father’s off-limits vinyl LP collection. An iPod was one thing (his parents had taken to calling it an iPep), but they should never have allowed Pep to own a turntable.
His wife and son had to be out the door no later than 7:45, Ellen in her Prius dropping Pep off at Saukfield High on her way to the elementary school. She taught third-graders. With any luck, Todd would have time to smoke a bowl before heading downtown in his pickup truck to meet Arnie Harmon.
Retreating to the snug confines of blankets and quilts, he wondered if he’d ever fallen asleep last night. Anxiety and dread were no conditions in which to greet the day. He needed to hustle into the shower, where he’d be sure to fret, but he couldn’t dawdle. Couldn’t dwell on his wife’s affair with the jeweler. Or his son’s budding romance with a “sweet sixteen” religious fanatic named Julie Hennepin.
Couldn’t dwell on how much he hated Arnie’s office with its out-of-date (“retro,” according to Arnie) paneled walls and dirty tiled ceiling. Plastic plants caked with cobwebs. Sour old Helena the receptionist. Couldn’t dwell on how much he despised Arnie, who was on the board of directors of the Saukfield Country Club. Todd mowed the golf course. Arnie mowed down employees. All of the unpleasant human resources chores — staff reprimands and firings, as well as strong-armed intimidation of vendors and sales reps — fell to Arnie. Prematurely bald Arnie. Whose handlebar mustache and folksy Clarence Darrow suspenders failed to draw attention away from his blindingly reflective chrome dome. Reddened with rage, he resembled an inflamed cyst.
It was a modest country club. Unaffiliated townies and active club members alike agreed that Saukfield deserved no better. This was rural Wisconsin, for chrissake. The nine-hole golf course — awkwardly landscaped around a zigzagging maze of protected Indian burial mounds and endangered species habitats — was closed six months of the year. As goes the golf course, so goes the clubhouse, which had neither furnace nor air conditioning. During midsummer swelter every available window was flung open. Rickety ceiling fans click-clacked. Cold beer flowed like Buckeye Creek bursting its banks. On brisk spring and fall evenings oak logs burned bright in the dining room fireplace and in the Franklin stove behind the bar. Old-timers believed that the cases of Korbel stacked near the cast iron grate absorbed a burnished mellowness that they christened “stove-belly brandy.” Todd, a recovering binge drinker who pilfered a bottle on occasion — who didn’t? — concurred wholeheartedly that there was a tantalizing smokiness to the brandy’s bouquet, like an autumn bonfire.
Opening Day was the first of May. The club was shuttered six months later on Halloween night. You’d be dead wrong, however, if you thought 53-year-old Todd Weiskopf was free and clear the rest of the year. Todd would plant himself on a barstool, any barstool, and say, “Listen, there’s just as much work in the off season.”
“Breakfast, boys,” said Ellen. “Three minutes.”
No way Pep could hear her over the music. And Todd couldn’t look at breakfast before a shower and coffee.
His health was bad. Heart disease put Todd in a Fort Atkinson hospital for five days last month, followed by three weeks of bed rest at home. Couldn’t have been worse timing. His crucial end-of-season club closing chores ended up being shouldered — poorly, he thought — by an off-book part-time worker named Miguel Alfaro. It was Arnie’s idea to scoop up a jobless illegal from Sudsy’s Tavern on Route 18, where, not coincidentally, Todd regularly purchased pot from one of the waitresses, Diane Corcoran, a former girlfriend of Arnie’s. Most humiliating of all, Arnie hired Todd’s son to keep an eye on the woefully underpaid Miguel and delegate his duties.
Pep knew the routine, for sure. He’d worked summers at the club since he turned thirteen, caddying some, and helping his father with the mowing and general fix-up and repair. But this was something else altogether. While Todd convalesced at home throughout a particularly cold and wet October — acorns littering Saukfield streets and lawns like an invasion of beer nuts — Pep biked to the country club after school and on weekends. The sad truth, Todd knew, was that Pep was making good money abetting Arnie’s exploitation of a homeless man from El Salvador.
Cardiomyopathy, the doctor called it.
Not a heart attack, Todd was told, and damn lucky it wasn’t. Still might have killed him. He hadn’t been able to walk across the parking lot or climb the flight of concrete steps from the locker room to the pro shop without needing to sit down and catch his breath. What was scary was that he couldn’t catch it, couldn’t get a lungful. The warning printed on the box of Marlboro Lights had grown personal: “Dear Todd: the surgeon general has determined that this is the pack that’s finally going to get you. We’d like to take this opportunity to call you an ambulance. P.S., not that it matters at this point, but there’s no such thing as a ‘light’ cigarette. P.P.S., your wife really is having an affair with the jeweler.”
The goddamn jeweler. Miserable and sedated in his hospital bed Todd found himself obsessing on what he was convinced was an ongoing affair between Ellen and the town’s seemingly unprepossessing jeweler, 60-year-old Eugene Fosner. Of course she denied everything when Todd confronted her. She scoffed, laughed. “There’s nothing going on, you dope. Nothing. Nothing.” God, he remembered finding out. It was mid-September, two weeks before he was rushed to Fort Atkinson with chest pains. There was a series of e-mails between Fosner and Ellen that Ellen cc’d to their home computer from an office at the elementary school. She was having a locket or maybe it was a bracelet repaired that had belonged to her great-grandmother. Except the e-mails were only tangentially concerned with jewelry. They were long and chatty. Flirtatious.
His suspicions festered until yesterday when he became convinced more than ever that Ellen was cheating on him.
Todd, no longer bedridden by any means, was dosed on beta-blockers and drowsily reading in the living room. He’d been working his way through Some Came Running, a massive 1957 James Jones novel about a young writer returning to his hometown in Illinois after the war. The same novel he’d been working his way through for ten years. Certainly he’d read other books in the intervening years, tons of them, but the Jones novel wouldn’t go away and he couldn’t seem to finish it. The book had belonged to his father, a World War II vet — PFC, Army Signal Corps, New Georgia Island, SW Pacific — for whom Jones’s From Here to Eternity was a postwar bible. However, Some Came Running, all 1,266 pages of it, had defeated Todd’s old man, whose tattered bookmark stalled out at page 890, only a hundred or so pages farther on than Todd. The spine was shot. Since returning from the hospital, Todd felt an instinctual need to tie up loose ends, finish overdue house projects — except yard work; he hated yard work — and get to all the quarter- and half-read books on the den shelves. He wondered if he was as good as dead. He wondered if God was bringing Eugene Fosner into Ellen’s life as a replacement. That’s what Todd was thinking yesterday. At four p.m.
The jeweler rang the doorbell at four p.m.
He was hand delivering to their house the repaired item of Ellen’s (maybe an earring). Only took a moment before Ellen — who’d kept up her weekly yoga and jazzercise and tanning booth treatments while Todd was gasping for breath in the hospital — had the cologne-drenched jeweler sitting with her at the kitchen table. Coffee brewing. Todd nearly tumbled off the couch as he craned to listen. Fosner was crying. Blubbering like a child. He was telling Ellen that his dog, Buddy — a three-year-old greyhound that Fosner adopted from a Dubuque dog track — had been impounded by the Saukfield sheriff and was likely going to be put down.
Glancing out the breakfast nook window Ellen strayed from thoughts of the jeweler to mounting anxiety about leaves and acorns (this was one of those crazy acorn years) accumulating in the backyard. A 200-year-old oak tree can cough up a lot of acorns, she knew. Squirrels, at first thrilled, are soon overwhelmed and then become hostile. “Enough with the acorns,” they complain, claws click-clacking disapproval round and round the bark of the tree trunk. Even before the cardiomyopathy — for which Ellen mustered little sympathy because, well, it wasn’t really a heart attack — Todd wouldn’t lift a finger around the house.
“I do yard work all day long at the club,” he’d say, sounding squirrelly. “Do you think I want to come home to yard work?”
Pep used to help some, but not this year. Not with Todd absent from work and Arnie Harmon putting Pep in charge of a poorly paid illegal. Pep’s job ended a week ago, the country club closed for the year, but now he had homework and basketball practice to catch up on.
And let’s not forget Julie Hennepin.
Clearly something was going on. Cell phone calls, endless texting, cryptic Facebook posts (Julie was overly fond of the words “sphere” and “key”), and, quaintly old-fashioned, packages at the door. (The package, singular, was a New Age spiritual tome that Julie swore by titled The Mind/Body Codex. Pep asked his mother in the car one morning if she was familiar with it. Ellen misheard the title as Thine Bloody Kotex. Whereupon she feared having to revisit their cringe-inducing “Pep talk” on sexuality from four years ago.)
A lone acorn pinged on the rooftop and bounced past the window like an errant hailstone. This was followed by a splintering crash from upstairs. Ellen knew immediately that her husband had destroyed another alarm clock.
Ellen Bergstrøm Weiskopf could honestly say that she fell in love first with the jewelry store itself. Before Eugene Fosner moved to Saukfield nine months ago and renovated the space — situated on the corner of Main and Mill — it had been a nondescript realtor’s office. Fosner redesigned the exterior to resemble an enchanted Swiss chalet. He installed a lattice-trimmed gable above the front entrance. Added blue clapboard shutters to the second floor storeroom window. A tiny faux balcony with an Alpine garden gnome dressed in lederhosen perched on the ledge. Some Saukfieldians found the façade garish and silly. The gnome was defaced with a Hitler mustache and a crimson rash of pimples or chicken pox. And then, more recently, yesterday in fact — since the awful thing that happened with Fosner’s dog, Buddy — the gnome’s head was knocked clean off and stolen.
To Ellen’s eyes the jewelry store was magical and inviting. As a young girl growing up in New Glarus, Wisconsin — “America’s Little Switzerland” — she read and reread Heidi’s Years of Wandering and Learning by Johanna Spyri. Ellen still owned her childhood copy of the book. It was her bible in times of stress or doubt. Along with a comforting mug of stove-warmed goat’s milk. “Over 70% of the milk consumed around the world is from goats,” she liked to tell her third-graders. Every year she gave the children a taste test, and every year the results were the same: goat’s milk and cow’s milk were indistinguishable. Fact.
The sizzle of veggie hash was serenity in a skillet.
Like the calming cadence of NPR in the morning. Soothing sound bites. Perspective is everything. If a radio announcer could bring coherence to world chaos, Ellen reasoned, shouldn’t she herself be able to bring manageability to the clutter inside her head?
Celexa didn’t appear to be the answer.
“Finding the right antidepressant and the proper dose is tricky,” said her doctor at the Saukfield Clinic. Linda Carsteen. Doctor Carsteen. Unthinkable that Ellen taught her in grade school twenty years ago.
“I remember the goat’s milk test,” said Doctor Carsteen. “I actually thought there was a difference. But I couldn’t tell which was cow and which was goat.”
“What about now?” Ellen felt compelled to ask. Because she was convinced the doctor was lying.
“Lactose intolerant,” said Dr. Carsteen. “I wouldn’t want to risk the stomach upset.”
Sunday evenings Ellen halved and baked squash. Diced heaping piles of potatoes, onion, red bell pepper, tomato. A week’s worth of ingredients. All she needed to add each morning were vegetable broth and paprika. Fresh garlic. Can of corn. Eight minutes of steady, covered heat, then shove the hash to one side of the skillet, making room for three sunny side up eggs.
Ellen was poised to crack eggshells. She needed to clear her head, if only for a moment. Intact yolks were a challenge in the best of times. Scrambled self-confidence led to scrambled eggs.
She remembered being drawn into the jewelry store by the irresistible aroma of apple pie and hot chocolate. Treats for customers to sample while they browsed the watches and gemstones, engagement rings and bridal necklaces. Fosner’s parents had been bakers in Shipshewana, a northern Indiana enclave of Swiss and Mennonite heritage. He’d always known pies, nut cakes, gingerbread cookies and almond biscuits, he explained to Ellen. An internal clock woke him daily at five a.m., he said, like his parents had done when he was a small boy, propelling him into the kitchen where he mixed and rolled out sweet buttery pie dough. (“Oh my god,” Ellen wanted to cry out. “I have an internal clock, too. I wake up every morning long before the alarm.”)
Pie making was a habit, he said, like brushing his teeth or combing his hair. Ellen had never seen such hair: a towering pompadour, white as cake frosting, glowing like a nimbus. A light dusting of flour and powdered sugar always seemed to glisten from his eyebrows and forearms.
Her fixation on the jeweler soon begat the inevitable fault-finding and nitpicking directed toward her husband, Todd. Could he lose some weight? Lose the aging hippie ponytail? And, Jesus, the cigarettes. Ellen suspected that Todd was smoking pot and drinking again, too, habits they’d both foresworn when Pep turned twelve. It became too much of a struggle hiding their vices not only from their son but also from local school board members. When pot was available, Ellen overindulged. Todd, by contrast, couldn’t control his drinking. It was a match made in Madison, where they’d both gone to college. Pot helped her study. Booze led Todd to dropping out of the English department.
One, two and three. Best to crack quickly and not think about it. Uh. Two out of three. She could live with that.
“Breakfast, boys,” she announced. “Three minutes.”
No way Pep could hear her over the music. And Todd couldn’t look at breakfast before a shower and coffee.
It was late in July on her summer break when Ellen realized with a rush of excitement and shame that she was sinking fast into a full-fledged stalker’s obsession. Weekday mornings, after Todd and Pep left for work at the country club, she walked downtown to the coffee shop directly across from Fosner’s jewelry store. She carried a magazine or book, although she couldn’t focus on the words. Not after three double-shot lattes. (Her request once for steamed goat’s milk was met with suspicion and she didn’t ask a second time.)
Ellen’s sacred spot was a butcher’s block table wedged between the Pepsi vending machine and the front corner bay window. Her back to everyone lest a student or parent recognize her and interrupt her reverie, Ellen could watch from the window and observe the jewelry store undisturbed. Like she was plotting a heist. Sometime around ten o’clock or so, Fosner would emerge and hang out the “Back in Ten Minutes” sign. Buddy the greyhound padding faithfully beside him, he walked to the bank and the post office, both destinations clearly visible from Ellen’s vantage point. Fosner was dressed unfailingly in chinos and colorful polo shirts. So graceful and assured his gait. Regal, almost.
Occasionally a voice of reason — a calm, rational NPR voice — entered her head. “You know nothing about this man,” the voice counseled. Which was true. Was he single or married or divorced? Straight or gay? He wore no ring. No wristwatch. No bling of any kind. How strange is that for a jeweler? Curiosity eating at her, Ellen asked about the small framed photograph resting on the workbench behind the cash register, amidst elfin-sized jeweler’s tools. A portrait of a darkly beautiful Middle Eastern woman in a stylish hajib. Her striking eyes appeared ice blue even in the black and white photo.
“Your wife?” asked Ellen.
It was her third visit to the store. She was lingering over a sliver of peach pie sweetened with maple syrup.
“No, no,” said Fosner.
“Oh,” she said, feeling light-headed and reckless. “Your daughter, then?”
Ellen arched an eyebrow and playfully sucked at her lower lip.
“You flatter me,” he said.
In September Ellen came up with the idea of loosening the diamond setting of her great-grandmother’s tarnished wedding ring and arranging an appointment — via a string of discursive e-mails — to have Fosner tighten and polish the piece.
To think that only yesterday the jeweler sat here in her kitchen. The repaired wedding ring sparkling like sunshine. Like the tears rolling down the jeweler’s pallid cheeks. Ellen reached across the Formica tabletop and enfolded his hands within hers. Todd’s paranoia to the contrary, it was the first time her flesh had touched Fosner’s. His cardigan was frayed and missing buttons. Something about the sweater’s musty odor was hitting Ellen’s sinuses wrong. Something not even overripe cologne could disguise. Like a damp basement after a relentless rain. Buckeye Creek bursting its banks. She couldn’t help but wonder if her infatuation with the jeweler was beginning to dim. Eugene Fosner was having a nervous breakdown. Moreover, the affable and loyal Buddy was some kind of lunatic hellhound.
Listening to “Sunshine Help Me,” Pepper Weiskopf remembered two summers ago mowing the ninth-hole fairway. Skies suddenly black as dirt. Out of nowhere came hailstones the size of golf balls. Could’ve had “Titleist” stamped on them. Pep drove the tractor mower as fast as it would go — not very — and headed for a copse of trees flanking an Indian burial mound shaped like a turtle. The mower’s engine-cover took dozens of dents from hail slamming against the metal. Sounded like steel drum music.
Because his parents attended college in Madison during the 1970s, Pep knew there was a fair chance a song like “Sunshine Help Me” was about drugs. Sunshine was, like, LSD or something, right? Like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Last summer while Pep and his dad were raking sand traps at the country club, his dad started talking about “wake-up songs,” dorm room music that jumpstarted his mornings in college. Beatles stuff like “Good Morning” and “Good Day Sunshine.” Pep asked if a tune on his iPod, “Morning of the Magicians” by The Flaming Lips, might qualify. He played the song for his dad, who struggled with the ear buds, doing goofy slapstick to make Pep laugh, like the cords were Silly String or spaghetti noodles.
His dad said: “It’s got a nice hippie vibe, Pepper, but it’s too soothing, like Cat Stevens singing ‘Morning Has Broken.’ A song for potheads who don’t want to get out of bed.”
At home that evening his father hunted through the hundreds of LPs boxed in the basement and took out Tobacco Road, the Spooky Tooth album with “Sunshine Help Me” on it. Once again instructing Pep in the art of using the clunky Discwasher brush and antistatic D4-Plus cleaning fluid to gently remove dust from a spinning LP. Pep found the ritual ridiculous. Or, rather, he found ridiculous his father’s need to endlessly reenact the ritual for Pep’s edification.
“For God’s sake, don’t grind the brush into the vinyl,” his father cautioned. “Imagine your arm as a tone arm slowly, slowly lowering itself toward the LP surface.”
“Sunshine Help Me” was a great song, there was no denying. A real energizer. Like drinking a bottle of Mountain Dew for breakfast, which his mother claimed was no different than drinking coffee.
Now carefully lifting the stereo needle from the record album — as per his father’s proprioceptive guidance and training — Pep was poised to place it once again at the beginning of the cut when he heard a splintering crash from across the hall. What was the deal with his dad and alarm clocks?
“Dammit, Todd,” came his mother’s voice from downstairs.
His father drank coffee all morning but never fully came alive until after lunch. Noontimes at the country club they used to drive out to Sudsy’s for a hamburger or pizza. Pep ate, his father drank beer (“Let’s not tell your mother,” was the watchword). This was before his dad landed in the hospital, of course. Same more or less with Miguel Alfaro, who didn’t land in the hospital, and didn’t seem as old as Pep’s dad, but drank beer and shared a similar flabby gut and ponytail. Lunch for Miguel was three warm beers from the trunk of his rusted out Corolla. “I don’t want to see that piece of shit in the parking lot,” Arnie Harmon said to Miguel on his first day at work. Skinhead Arnie. Whenever he got pissed-off he glowed like an enormous red zit. Miguel had to park behind the quonset hut where the golf carts and the lawn mowers were stored.
His English wasn’t great, but he became downright chatty after the beers.
“Look at me,” said Miguel. “I have familia. Tengo una familia.”
Miguel said it proudly, but it sounded a little sadder each time he repeated it. Turned out he had a wife and three daughters in Verapaz, El Salvador. Said there would be rainstorms soon. Flooding. Mudslides. Miguel looked stricken when he spoke. He’d been in Wisconsin since late summer. Cutting and hanging tobacco, he said. Pep worried about Miguel drunk at the top of the aluminum ladder cleaning out gutters. Maybe the fall wouldn’t kill him. The clubhouse was a single story. Pep was nerve-wracked holding the ladder steady while Miguel teetered precariously above. There were acorns everywhere. They were supposed to go into a plastic bucket hanging from the side of the ladder. Mostly they were landing on Pep’s head.
“Enough with the acorns,” he said to Miguel.
Had Pep done the right thing making a duplicate key for the pro shop entrance to the country club? Offering it to Miguel so that he had a place to stay this winter? The guy was living out of his car, for chrissake. Backseat was a dumpster. The key was Julie Hennepin’s idea. Her father owned a gas station with a key cutting machine. Julie worked the cash register after school. She loved grinding key blanks. Loved squeezing out sparks. Wore customized safety goggles with Day-Glo lightning bolts painted on the lenses.
Pep told her how cheap Arnie was, paying Miguel fifty bucks a week when Pep was making three times as much.
“It’s in The Mind/Body Codex,” said Julie. “ ‘Share the key.’ ”
“Keep it secret,” Pep instructed Miguel.
“Secreto, my friend,” said Miguel.
Julie Hennepin explained The Mind/Body Codex this way: “Our minds are spheres. Our bodies are wheat fields. Spheres are clouds. Wheat fields are nourished by rain. The mind/body is an ecosystem.”
Pep wasn’t entirely convinced. Somehow it didn’t take away from his feelings for Julie. Not that he knew exactly what his feelings for her were. He knew that he thought about her a lot. (Her flushed cheeks in the cool afternoon air when he walked her to her job at the gas station after school. The random spray of freckles across her nose.)
“Yeah, well, all I know for sure is this,” replied Pep. “My mom gave me a heck of a weird look when I asked her about The Mind/Body Codex.”
“Weird like it was a dirty book or something,” he said.
It reminded him of the embarrassing “little talk” his mother had with him when he was eleven. Eleven! About “using protection.”
“Because, listen to me, Pep,” his mom said. “I would be furious with you if you were thoughtless or careless and got a girl pregnant.” But then she apologized and said: “Not furious, okay? I’d be deeply disappointed.”
“Would you ground me?”
His mother laughed. “Well, we’ll see. You want to know why parents ground their kids?”
“It’s not to punish you,” she said. “It’s to pull you in close because we’re afraid of losing you to the world.”
Pep hadn’t showered. It was 7:20. No way he’d hear his mother over the music. He liked vegetarian hash, but he couldn’t always trust her not to put goat’s milk on his cereal. Even when his mother claimed otherwise, he was convinced she’d switched the milk containers, like the tiresome trick she played on her third-grade students every year. His father, on the other hand, was no vegetarian hash hound. That’s what he said one morning at breakfast: “I’m no vegetarian hash hound.” In the summer it was donuts and cigarettes in the pickup truck on the way to the country club. The hospital hadn’t changed his dad much. Now it was donuts and cigarettes on the back porch at home or in the garage.
“I’m looking at next year,” said Arnie Harmon when Pep stopped at Arnie’s ratty downtown office to pick up his final paycheck for the season. Ushered into the cluttered office by Arnie’s aunt Helena. Stained teeth and crooked hair. She seemed really bored working as her nephew’s receptionist. “It’s like watching paint cry,” she said to Pep. He sort of knew what she meant. The walls of Arnie’s office were a sickly yellow color, like pus or pee.
“I might move your dad indoors,” said Arnie. “Maybe have him work the bar. The bartender’s been stealing booze. Big surprise. Haven’t made up my mind yet, so don’t say anything to your old man.”
The music ended and his cell phone chimed. Had to be Julie. It was 7:29. He needed to shower, but he couldn’t ignore a text message. Julie wrote: crzy dog tail u herd??? Too early in the day for Julie’s bad puns. Dogs run in packs, not herds, so where’s the joke? Again his cell chimed.
dggone nutz ppperoni
Friends, and worse, had been calling him Pepperoni since forever. He was actually named for jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. His dad owned a bunch of Art Pepper LPs. Ten or so. Pep kept three of them hidden beneath his bed. Squirreled acorns for the dead of winter. He speed dialed Julie. She told him the story: Off-leash downtown yesterday morning, the jeweler’s greyhound waltzes into Nardicky’s Funeral Home. Open-casket visitation for a man named Schweighardt. Dog barks in the dead guy’s face. Obviously the dead guy doesn’t wake up. Bark bark bark. Doesn’t wake up. Bark bark bark. Doesn’t wake up. Dog goes for Schweighardt’s throat.
“Like he’s an alarm clock with teeth,” said Julie. “What he is is a greyhound on steroids and whatever else they doped him with at the racetrack. He grew up schizo, Pepperoni, and then he cracked.”
Buckeye Creek bursting its banks.
“Weiskopfs Rising” was a runner-up in the 2011 Wisconsin People and Ideas short story contest. It subsequently appeared in Lit Noir #4 (2012).