From a Novel, The Keating Script
by Tom Sheehan
someone there?” asked Peirce from his ever bed by the seaside
she said. “ It’s that friend of Frank’s I told
you about. Said he’d be by this morning to check on that
limb. It’s gone straight through the deck, just the way
you pictured it would if it ever let go. I’m afraid the
deck’s gone, but it’s not such a heavy loss. At least
we’re dry.” She had wanted to say ‘intact’,
but had caught herself, just as she had done so often. Just as
she had trained herself.
you think he’s coming in?” Peirce’s voice had
a new edge to it, a bit of excitement.
she said. “He’ll come in. He said he’d come.”
There was a pronouncement she wondered if Peirce had sensed.
me about him,” Peirce said. “Quickly! What’s
he like? Is he tall or short? Does he have good eyes? “Only
his head moved in the bed, his lips.
had not been so animate in months. May looked over at him. He
was board-straight and grinning at her. That grin used to knock
her off her feet, sometimes it knocked her socks off. She felt
warmth rising in her cheeks. His eyes were actually alive and
blossoming, pushing at her.
she said, and he knowingly accepted her direct use of his name
as a signal of the intent she was about to utter, “He’s
one of the strongest ones yet, if not the strongest. He’s
tall, has wide shoulders, two children could ride on them. He
he notice you, May?” His voice had picked up again.
I think so.”
God!” he said, “maybe this is the one.”
if you say it one more time, I’ll...”
kill me! Christ, May, if I could get to the goddamn gun I’d
do it myself! And you know it! I would have done it a thousand
times, May, a thousand times. Pulled the trigger myself. Now tell
me more about him.”
not a vagrant, not the kind you think of as sliding around, sucking
up on things. But he does move, maybe not in fashion, but at his
own pace. He’s probably a true nomad in denim
really likable, May?” There was pure entreaty in his voice.
really likable, Peirce. And he’s coming up to the door now.”
Traegger Cable stepped through the door, Peirce Keating was barely
able to see him, but he knew a new man was in the room. He ached
to talk to him, to ask questions, to see what life had done to
another man, how he handled what had come his way. The energy
was not awesome, but it was real. It moved about in the room,
he was positive of that.
haven’t done so badly here,” said Cable. “The
deck is gone, a few shingles, but that’s about it. You’re
luckier than some.” He turned to Peirce. “My name
is Traegger Cable. I’m a friend of Frank Mitman’s
and I met your wife last evening when she got wrapped up in her
sheets out there on the porch. I like to think that I helped her
out of her difficulty, but you know, Mr. Keating, she looks good
Keating had the first honest laugh in months, a rollicking good
laugh that turned contagious and brought May and Cable right into
the fold of it.
spoke. “This is my husband, Peirce Keating. He was injured
in an accident a few years ago and spends all his time here.”
She motioned to the bed.
a lay-at-home, Trig. I could be standing, but then I’d be
was lit with excitement. “Tell me some of them, please,
but slow and easy so I can turn them over.” Another party
in the room would have sworn that Peirce Keating was rolling in
had promised her such a man.
too many nights to be ignored, he had promised her a special man
would come into her life and take his place. He had vowed this
every time his nostrils had been full of her, his eyes had been
full of her. She had come to believe it, the way myths are believed,
or cast in precious stone, like a half understood religion has
a grip on you; you dare not let go and you have no solid handle
on which to hold. It was the way some poems were with her, full
blown realities, feeling what the poet felt the moment he wrote
the words, then the actual downhill sense of losing their import
as she mouthed them over and over again, finding other meanings,
other tastes, in them.
male laughter slopped in the room like wood being cut and piled
up. It spilled over and over itself, heavy and full and so honest
and so in tune May felt in a dream. She waited to be roused from
this absolute moment of happiness, this moment of daring that
hung in the air. The laughter rolled and rolled and made a promise
If another eye were put on them, if another view were to be seen
of them, if somebody were to peer in the window, new judgments
would be made of the trio. May Keating absolutely bloomed in the
midst of them, a literary menage a trois. Her eyes lit up by an
inner flame, long, too long, subdued. Expressions leaping to her
face, crowding it into old issues, freeing from a secret vault
the unused traces of her innermost feelings, highlighting her
golden cheeks, the mouth whose parts were the elegance of lips
almost dripping with themselves. The very set of her jaw became
for the moment softer in its iron than it had been since the very
crucible which had set it.
she wore a yellow flowered dress, designs as large as her frame
could hold, butter-yellow, daisy-yellow, was not lost on either
of the men. Peirce, in a quiet reveling, gloried in her selection,
her not so subtle association with the color scheme of the porch
incident the evening before. Her breasts were somewhere undercover,
never being much ammunition, as she had often remarked, the nipples
partly driven nails, often paying slight attention, standing only
for the right company, the right touch, a proper sense in air.
The long curve of a thigh pressed itself through a flower. God,
he thought, she can get magnificent! The blooming of her. The
need of her.
Cable, too, took in that loveliness, the sheathed agreement of
their first meeting, how yellow clung in curves, arches, turning
darker where it was darker, tossing daylight about her, splashing
it around, washing the lithe frame she carried with sunlight.
Her hair, once again, shook loose, a forgotten attendant that
sat lightly on the forehead, wind-worked as ever, playing a game,
being innocent in the very breath that created motion. Cable someplace,
somewhere, had seen this pose, this framed moment. He struggled
to find who or where, at what point of travel such a sight had
been captured that it now came back to him so richly.
one quick flash Cable found his vision. His mother’s sister,
the lovely and vibrant Aunt Flo, audacious Flo, irreverent Flo,
Flo of the sweet hands of gifts, Flo in an upstairs room mere
feet from his tree house shaking off her dress, her slip, her
bra and pants. She glided shoeless in the small visitor’s
bedroom, never out of sight, breasts small but high up on her
chest, hips subtly pronounced, thighs falling away so gracefully
from their appointment, the light of the lamp throwing severe
shadows on her body as she turned about the room. She bristled
with energy and moved as if she knew he was looking on, transfixed,
afraid to move, afraid of not looking. He would be found out.
But in the morning she but smiled at him as she always did, a
smile full of seasoning, a thoroughly wet kiss of a smile that
made him tingle all over, a smile ripe as raspberries stolen from
Kostopolous’ garden. He remembered old Ben Perkins talking
on the steps of the poolroom. “It ain’t the good legs,
boys, it’s the mystery of their ending that does it all.”
words hung in the room as cold as a new current of air off the
Atlantic. May’s face was stone-still, not a muscle tic moved.
Hands as sweet as Aunt Flo’s, full of promise, great gift
bringers, hung suspended and useless. Cable was positive that
Peirce would crack a joke, thrust a lever into the sudden coldness,
use himself again as proxy to rescue, be the immolated guinea
pig. When nothing came out of Peirce’s mouth, Cable dared
himself to rescue the moment. The moment he started to speak,
the moment he thought he was forming words soon to be said and
heard, indeed with their sounds still birthing in his head, he
was cut short by Peirce. What ran around in Cable’s head,
what he thought he had said and was being heard was just a moan
coursing over the rocks, lifting off his own sea wall, a long
keening moan beating outward from an inner pile of debris. It
was a startling revelation to the man. He had come indeed to the
place where life began, to that point of land Frank had essayed
so well. It had begun for him, a man on the idyllic run, footloose,
carefree and happily irresponsible, but not without a hunger nearly
buried to the eyes, in a room with a husband and wife who had
survived a storm, a horrible accident, a most testing lifestyle,
hardships on both sides so severe they could have easily done
in others not as strong.
experienced, in a few short moments, such a glare of intelligence
and knowledge bursting within himself, he feared it would show
on his face. I must be glowing, he thought, the blood rushing
pell mell upon him, splashing through veins, hauling such clarity
of oxygen along with it, such a shining he thought must be completely
transparent. Brooding depths of May’s eyes were revealed
to him, flowing from them such a demand for need and solace he
knew was crystal clear, was being broadcast as much as an SOS
from a distressed vessel.
that right there a most marvelous woman, mister? Doesn’t
she damn well explode in this room! I mean REALLY explode! She’s
a sight for eyes after the storm, I’d say. J’ever
see the likes of her! Standing like that, standing like a goddamn
goddess! J’ever? J’ever?”
quickly, his voice faded, as if shorn of all breath behind it,
as if he had run up the steepest incline on his way to the victorious
end of a long journey. Faint ripples at chest gave clue to inner
turmoil. His eyes shifted through the prisms of the mirrors arranged
above and about the bed, mirrors that provided him a view of just
about everything in the room. Eyes searched Cable’s eyes,
found May’s eyes, almost wed them as he moved between them,
moved the two of them as close together as they had been beside
the porch the evening before, spilled them into the crucible foaming
and bubbling at their feet, foaming and bubbling all about them,
all about Sunquit, there beside the primeval sea, beside the path
out of the depths and up through which all creatures and monsters
and people in all forms had come forth to be themselves: algae-like
and grasping and rich-mouthed, salt of the sea sucked down into
their bones and burning on their flesh, wash of the endless tides
moving over them like the hands of the final masseuse, the stroking
of a near-godhead figure.
his mind Cable knew Peirce was moving in the still bed. No man
could inflect more into his voice without putting his whole body
behind his words, without straining and using every muscle the
mind normally had control of. And he fully measured Peirce’s
use of the word “mister”, not as a chain of command
usage, but one which exalted Cable to another level, the one he
himself could not attain. Peirce was, just as Cable felt, crystal
clear, and he placed him years earlier in the classroom with the
brothers of a small, disciplined order, not yet Jesuit, not yet
Dominican, at argument, at attention, trying their best not to
be at odds with the world about them. He saw Peirce in jacket
and tie, briefcase in hand, surrounded by granite as gray and
as somber as death itself. In one crucial moment, one which was
accompanied by the purest of light, the purest of clarity, Cable
not only felt Peirce’s horrendous inability and hopelessness
of getting done a task he had promised himself to finish, but
the expression of that knowledge in a literal broadcast.
sea the swells were minor, light gray, white-edged, long and furrowed
the way an Iowa wheat field he once passed by had been plowed
in the spring. The swells flipped down the beach, so many streamers
in the breeze, pushing against the shore, rustling a bit, frothing
for a quick short moment, moving finally onto the absolute silence
of the lonely beach, then disappeared forever on the sands. The
theme of them came at Cable dramatically, swelling the air in
his lungs, leaving his mouth open in awe. They seemed to speak
of time, the passing of time. The seconds built in them, ticked
away, and passed on. As each swell encountered the shore, as it
rolled up on the beach into a final nothing, the seconds ticked
away. Cable felt the short moments licking away his existence.
Time wasn’t on his side. He’d done so much, and yet
so little. Yardsticks were difficult to come by. Self analysis
was a deadly trick oftentimes, more trouble than the root cause
being explored, throwing sand into gears, obstacles in the track
of good reasoning. And here he was smack in the middle of a strange
triangle. He thought of Peirce board-straight in the bed, his
final bed, unfelt pain coursing through him, through muscle tissue
now gone into the span of the soul, pain that if felt would cause
the most horrifying screams one could imagine, pain that if felt
a normal man would be unable to survive but for merest seconds,
if then at all, truth be the matter. Departure was ever a threat.
a voluntary effort, he thought of May’s thighs in the flowered
dress, prominent at stress, the push of them against the near
silken material, how they could speak through the weave of the
cloth, the heard voice, the unpronounced but spoken message lifted
towards him, the cry, the anguish, the want, coming straight at
him. There was more than arc, more than the essence of curve rising
to her buttocks as pronounced as a gasp, more than a coiled energy
and want packed deeply in them. Her pain gathered in him. His
eyes closed. She was still there behind the eyelids. The old warnings
and hungers rode boldly into the arena once more. It was as if
they had never gone away, not for a moment, not even in the midst
of storm or the peaceful aftermath falling on him now, with the
imponderable and immensities falling with it, coming from the
far side of everything known and unknown, coming out of all he
had experienced in his life.
had been waging their small war of survival before he had come
along and, chances were good, they would wage it long after he
had gone. He did not believe he had come this far in the lee of
wood cut and stacked, an honest sign of labor tingling in his
hands and wrists that had been too long ignored in his wanderings,
now momentarily dwelled on too much, as if true labor is all that
makes a man or his day, or is the ultimate cause of satisfaction.
Cable turned his back on the window where she, standing back from,
looked out from, and acknowledged his sudden erection. He was
positive she was aware of it, so much energy nearly visible in
the air, so much between him and the window that it hit at his
back, rode feverishly on the skin of his neck, sank in and warmed
further the sudden coursing in his veins.
eyes closed, shutting out the piled logs and piled brush and puzzle
of leaves lying about like scattered gloves, he thought of her
parting herself, touching herself, behind the window, fingers
wet, her mouth dry, puckered, salty, calf muscles and thigh muscles
in minor rebellion. In a burst of light and energy, he willed
the scene to happen behind him.
asked her again, “How is he doing? Tell me what he’s
at. Does he move the same way at labor?”
whipped around to face him, her face full of the message filling
up inside. “He’s a stranger, Peirce. A complete stranger.
I swear, if you throw me at him you’ll be as sorry as any
day of your life you can pick on.”
do like him though, don’t you?” he said, more than
a question, but leaving the hint of a question in his words, as
if room for argument, room as much as deference as for anything.
I bet he doesn’t strain when he works, just a piece of music,
smooth I’ll bet. Am I right?” His eyes fell on her
buttocks as she stared out the window, saw them hard against the
dress. An old dryness walked in his mouth.
it for me, May. Do it now while you’re standing there, as
if you’ll live forever.”
turned slowly to face him. Her voice lacked conviction. “Peirce,
it’s just noontime. He might walk back in here any minute.
You can’t ask me to do it right now. It’s not fair.”
saw the tightness sitting at the edge of her eyes, the faintest
twitch to her lip, how her right hand hung beside her as limp
as it could ever be. The secret aromas of her body crossed the
room to him, for full seconds assailed him in the bed as if a
gas had been released from a canister, catching up in his nostrils,
riding in the back regions of his throat with a fullness difficult
to understand. In that other time she had stood above him, only
the vaguest neon of the motel falling across her whiteness, the
blackest beauty of her crotch, her legs parted, her hands moving.
A million times he saw the picture of her, generated and generated
again and again, the sweeping and engulfing heat shooting through
him, her mouth opening, the neon flicking on and off on her thighs,
throwing the white of her buttocks sideways against the darkness
as she turned for him, stood tall, white and lovely. His column
of white loveliness.
Canada forever. His Niagara rampage. His starving wife.
called her name, the soft sound of her name, a whisper that trailed
faintly across the room. “May, do you have panties on?”
His diminutive use of the word touched them both, as if it were
an entryway or a signal.
smiled. “You know I never wear them around you, Peirce.”
An honest light shone from her eyes. She shrugged imperceptibly,
but a shrug that Peirce read and understood, a shrug that told
him what road he was on and how much of it he could travel.
May,” he said,” do it now, May. Do it now.”
nodded at her prone husband, her mouth now too dry to talk, not
a weariness but a small reservation touching her lightly, then
immediately smiled and turned, perhaps cautiously, back to the
sill was chest high. The stranger Cable was still at his task
in the yard, his shoulders wide, his hands sure at grasping. In
her left hand she gathered the front of her dress, bunched it
and slowly pulled it up over long, white thighs elegant in their
curving, over the full span of her buttocks, pulling the bunch
of it tightly against her abdomen. The mound of her rear, like
a half moon of golden light, shone at him, a creature freed from
an erotic prison, almost a being in itself, muscled in a clearly
provocative way. His ears buzzed as he looked at the cleft parting
it, saw the long sweep of her thighs rising to junctures. The
painting of it was set into his mind forever, such a great expanse
on her tall frame, such energy thrown into the long-arcing thighs,
such a thickness to them that one would never guess of it looking
at her fully dressed. Her right hand slipped slowly out of sight,
her legs parted, an almost indeterminable motion presented itself
to her body.
left hand gripped the clump of dress tightly. The hidden hand
began to move. Cibola. Victoria. Mound from some starlit night.
Ambiguity. Adolescence. Smashing fucking soft beauty to pieces
and grabbing it back again. Building it. Making it come back again
and again. Oh, again and again. Oh, relentless. Oh, savior of
all my nights. Oh, savior of all my nights. Oh, lights on top
husband stared at her backside, the v’eed legs almost at
a pulse, and the muscles of her entire frame in concentration.
Her taste was in the air. He knew the sea again. All the sea.
the window the stranger, suddenly stopping at his task, turned,
looked up and stared at her. For the briefest seconds, a trembling
finding growth and reception in her legs, in a dozen parts of
her body at once, the new sun cascading down on them, their eyes
locked together. She thought of universal gravitation without
saying the words. She shook. There was a silence in the world.
Water coming against the shore was less than a whisper.
mouthed his name, and then, her face flushed, feeling the brilliance
on it, the redness sitting there, she rode over that motioned
pronouncement with her husband’s name; Peirce! Peirce! saying
it the way he loved to hear it, urgently, softly, letting it fall
to the floor of his room as an early leaf might fall to grass,
gracefully, as good as promise can ever be.
She tasted the unity of the moment, fraught departure, the complexities,
and then the ironies, every last one of them, building slowly
in the air.
served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951-52 and graduated
from Boston College after military service in 1956. His short
story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans,
from Press 53, NC; and From the Quickening, and A Collection of
Friends from Pocol Press, VA. He has 18 Pushcart nominations,
appeared in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, and has 290 stories on
Rope and Wire Magazine. He has appeared in 5 issues of Rosebud
Magazine and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes
East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL
mystery), and a manuscript, Murder from the Forum (an NHL mystery),
seeks publication. On the cover of the June 2012 issue of Nazar
Look from Ukraine’s Crimea, he is in his 85th year and keeps
busy writing, with two eBooks in the last year, Korean Echoes
and The Westering from Milspeak Publishers, the latter nominated
for a National Book Award.
From a Novel, The Keating Script
Copyright 2012 by Tom Sheehan