Excerpt From a Novel, The Keating Script

by Tom Sheehan

“Is someone there?” asked Peirce from his ever bed by the seaside window.

“Yes,” 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.

“Do you think he’s coming in?” Peirce’s voice had a new edge to it, a bit of excitement.

“Yes,” she said. “He’ll come in. He said he’d come.” There was a pronouncement she wondered if Peirce had sensed.

“Tell 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.

He 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.

“Peirce,” 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 is alert.

“Did he notice you, May?” His voice had picked up again.

“Yes, I think so.”

“Oh, God!” he said, “maybe this is the one.”

“Peirce, if you say it one more time, I’ll...”

“You’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.”

“He’s 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

“He’s really likable, May?” There was pure entreaty in his voice.

“He’s really likable, Peirce. And he’s coming up to the door now.”

When 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.

“You 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 in sheets.”

Peirce 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.

May 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.

“I’m a lay-at-home, Trig. I could be standing, but then I’d be a stand-at-home.”

Peirce 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 his bedclothes.

Peirce had promised her such a man.

On 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.

Heavy 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 of tears.

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.

That 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.

Traegger 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.

In 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.”

The 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.

Cable 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.

“Isn’t 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?”

Then, 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.

In 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.


At 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.

Without 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.

They 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 the storm.

The 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.

His 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.

Peirce asked her again, “How is he doing? Tell me what he’s at. Does he move the same way at labor?”

She 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.”

“You 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.

“Do it for me, May. Do it now while you’re standing there, as if you’ll live forever.”

She 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.”

He 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.

His Canada forever. His Niagara rampage. His starving wife.

He 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.

She 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.

“Oh, May,” he said,” do it now, May. Do it now.”

She 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 window.

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.

Her 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 of lights.

Her 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.

Out 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.

She 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.


Tom Sheehan 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.

Excerpt From a Novel, The Keating Script
Copyright 2012 by Tom Sheehan





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