Cooling by Julie Eill


Julie Eill is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice, who has also written short stories for many years. She lives with her family in Alexandria, VA

Editor's Choice - 2008 Raymond Carver Contest


We're in the cemetery. Kevin’s jumping headstones, I’m lying down. I’m on top of Eleanor. Eleanor Perkins, Beloved Wife and Mother—I’m smoking and pretending I’m dead.

“Michael,” Kevin says.

I don’t answer. I think I’m almost there, touching fingers with Eleanor.

“I’ve got an idea, Michael. Come on, we’re outta here.”

.  .  .

We are at the Wildlife Refuge, standing in front of the deer cage. My fingers are locked around rusted iron. Kevin says, “There are so many ways to destroy living things.” I nod, I don’t want to break his flow.

“The Indians, they understood about the world. The trees were living, the rocks, everything. Trees let out high-pitched screams when they’re thirsty. We’re just too involved with making colored toilet paper to hear.”

Kevin is magic. When he’s all charged up like this, he’s kind of scary, but he gets me going. “It’s not right—them all caged-up over here,” I say. “We’ve got to let them out.”

We get a baseball bat from Kevin’s car. I break the lock and two deer run, but this other, a baby, won’t move. I hit her with the bat, trying to get her to move. She stands there, frozen.

“Stupid deer,” I yell. “We’re trying to help you.”

Kevin kicks her ribs, and she stumbles then gets back up.

I hit her. So does Kevin. We take turns with the bat. In the face, on the head, about the legs. “Yah, Yah,” we say, like cowboys. I think, get out of here baby deer, get out, until I look down and see she can’t even move.

.  .  .

I dig my fingers into the earth. I eat some dirt and spit some out. Kevin puts some blood from her belly on his face. We say nothing. Now we are Indians.

.  .  .

Next day, Kevin comes over. We make macaroni and cheese and eat it out of the pot. “We’re famous, man,” he says. “I heard about us on the radio.”

“But they don’t know who did it,” I say.

“Not yet. But they will. I’m turning us in. We’ll serve time for the deer. We’re taking its place see, they have to get someone. Because we set it free.”

“We killed it,” I say.

“No man, it killed us.”

The cops come, while we are finishing our Jello. They ask us a bunch of questions. They bring us to the station, and that’s the last Kevin and I really see of one another.

.  .  .

They tell me I’m lucky. Since I’m a minor, I get probation. Kevin’s eighteen, so he gets the real thing.

I hang out alone a lot more. I go to the cemetery like we used to. I get stoned and try to be dead, but it doesn’t work. It takes a lot of inner energy to cross that boundary. I walk around the house until my mom comes home from her job. Then I make dinner.

.  .  .

My mom makes recipes out of magazines. When I was little, she would follow the feature, “Six Easy Suppers for a Single Teenage Mother.”

She can cook now, I guess. She switched her subscription from Young Mother over to Motherhood: Mother of a Hood. Every day now she cooks these huge meals. Hearty Beef Stew with Country Style Potatoes, Poached Chicken and Herbed Green Beans, Barbecued Pork Ribs and Curly-Cue French Fries. She makes them for me, she says. It’s almost as if she wants to fatten me up, make me bigger and tougher, so the next the cops come, I’ll even look like a real criminal.

Tonight the table is already set and she has her back to me, dressing the salad, when I come into the kitchen. She begins to cry when she hears the can opener. I dump cold Spagetios onto my plate, and she pulls at me. “Let me at least warm it for you,” she says. “Why are you doing this to me?”

“Lay off,” I tell her, “quit pulling.”

We eat together in silence. I can see her brown roots when she bends her head down to take bites. My hair is naturally blond. When the phone rings, she shoots me this look, and I know what she’s expecting to say. There he is. Right over there. I’m sure he did it, go on, take him away.

.  .  .

In my head I picture the police reports: Emma T. Pelican, 25, public intoxication, disorderly conduct; Sally James, 51, DWI; Charles Brooks, 78, arrested for outstanding parking and library fines. They call Kevin an “evil mastermind of ritualistic murder,” and say that he “bewitched his younger friend into some paganistic practice.” But none of that is true. Kevin is my friend, that’s all, and I hit her first.

.  .  .

My probation officer, Mr. DiCarlo, wants me to talk.

“So?” he says.

“So what?” I tell him back.

“What’s new, Michael, what have you been doing?”

“Reading,” I tell him. And when he asks what, I say, “the arrest column.”

That’s all I say for the rest of the hour. Let’s see how long this lasts.

.  .  .

I go visit Kevin. We talk, but it’s not the same. I think he wishes, like me, that we were still together.

“School sucks,” I tell him. “I don’t go.”

“Have you seen anyone?”

But I haven’t. When a couple of them come to the cemetery, I slip away, just like a ghost.

.  .  .

I ask DiCarlo: “Why don’t you let me put up my feet and smoke?”

“That’s important to you?”

This guy, I don’t know.

“What have you been reading?” DiCarlo’s prying.

I recite: “Brian L. Thorpe, 47, reportedly killed his neighbor’s dog while firing a shotgun out his kitchen window last Monday. Thorpe maintains, ‘I was just testing the gun, which was new, to see if it worked.’ The dog, which was in its own backyard at the time, died instantaneously.”

“Anything else?” he asks.

I hesitate. I want to tell him his breath stinks. That he has the nastiest coffee breath I have ever smelled, that I don’t give a fuck about him or the deer or anything. To keep from losing it, I start blabbing about rocks.

Rocks began as semi-liquid because the earth was so hot. The way a rock formed depended not just on the elements that made it up, but on other stuff too. “Cooling rate,” I tell DiCarlo, “is very important.”

.  .  .

I get the books at Janet’s Granites, where I buy the rocks for Kevin. The people there call them stones, but to me they’re rocks. I spend long afternoons just looking at the rocks, reading the names over and over, before I decide which to pick. I bring him a new one every time. Agate, Fool’s Gold, Apache Tears.

.  .  .

 “Please,” she says. “Please eat.” I have pork and beans from a can on my plate, but I know she means the platter she’s holding. “I try,” she tells me, her hands shaking a little. I watch her, this tiny lady in stockinged feet. I wonder if she will throw the Butterball on the floor, or if it will happen by accident.

“You make me feel like a bad kid,” I tell her.

“You make me feel like a bad mother,” she says.

I get up from the table. I can’t listen to this shit tonight.

.  .  .


It’s been three months now that I’ve been with DiCarlo. “The punks wrote rage all over the city,” I say. “They spray-painted it in red on the gorges, the railroad trestles, the buildings. I know, because I read it in the paper. But you can see it all over town.”

He talks less now. “I’m not a punk,” I tell him, “but I understand why they would do that.” He nods.

.  .  .

A week later, I am sitting in my chair, the bean bag chair. He says, “Tell me something that’s important to you right now.”

“DiCarlo, man, you’ve got to work on your lines.”

He says, “Michael, come on, the lines don’t matter. Get past the corniness.”

I look at the soccer pictures on his walls. Big, sweaty yahoos all smiling for their team photographs. A younger DiCarlo minus the scraggly beard and mustache holds his arms up in victory. I think of just the right turn of leg it takes to kick a goal from the corner of the box, by the sidelines.

“I’m sick of dying, of things dying. I want to be an Indian.” I tell him, “I want things to live.”

.  .  .

I get a job. I bake bread at the Sodmohorrah bakery. DiCarlo tipped me off they were hiring. Today the manager showed me how. First you flour the table, then you begin to knead. I find out my hands are kind of strong.

.  .  .

This time I bring Kevin a bloodstone. He holds it tight while we talk. “In the third grade,” Kevin says, “I would pretend to be a bald eagle. At recess, I sat crouched over behind the backstop and flapped my wings. Everyone thought it was weird.”

I don’t know what to say. I tell him how rocks grow, how they age over time. I tell him bread is made of yeast, little live organisms. They’re what make the dough rise.

Kevin says, “You’ve changed, man.”

.  .  .

DiCarlo hands me a geode. He says what interests him are the plain, gnarled rocks that when cracked open are so beautiful. Part of what he says is repulsive, but I let it go. He says, “You’re like that baby deer, on wobbly legs. You’re figuring out which way to go.”

“I’m not a hood,” I say.

“No,” he says.

“And I’m not a pussy either.”

“No, you’re not, so you can put the bat down,” he says.

.  .  .

I read: an unknown person or persons has been stealing public telephone receivers; Alan Meade, 22, was bodily removed from The Flytrap following an altercation with the bouncers; Mark Kronus, 47, was arrested for trespass, damage of private property, and public exposure, after being caught on a local farm attempting to fornicate with a duck. In the past several weeks, the farmer, who would like to remain anonymous, has discovered the bodies of several dead, bloodied ducks. I think I’m going to be okay.

.  .  .

I wait for my mother to come home. I hang out in the kitchen. It’s getting late, so I set the table for two.