After the Assassination
I switched off the television and, for good measure, unplugged it. The breaking news had been so visceral that I experienced the footage in first person: shots fired, crowds stampeding, mindless as to where they’d end up. I myself ended up in the kitchen. My son, seated at the table on a stack of Goya monographs (my wife taught art history), was mouthing numbers in a mathematic trance.
He didn’t look up as he recorded a result. “Rec room. Learning to levitate.”
“She’s doing yoga.”
His flossy hair wavered with static. I felt a shock when I kissed his warm head. He carried on unfazed.
Our neighbors managed to keep off of each other’s private property by gathering in the middle of the tranquil street. The evening air was soothing, and their mood and skin tone blended into the ashen light. “Did you see what happened?” one of the men solemnized as I came towards them down the drive. The women were tearful, the men pigeon-chested and stoic, as if the national upheaval had reinforced their gender compliance.
“I’ve been at home,” I said.
“He was assass…”
“I saw the news. Heard it, too.”
There was a moment of incomprehension, a buckling down on silence.
They consider my family odd. I prefer to think we’re tumbled about by questions they would most likely never entertain. My wife: Are we living the transition back to visual culture? Me: Which of you fuckers destroyed the vegetable garden? Our son: Does water sink in water? Does my nightlight give me scientific protection? What’s more, we speak words like alacrity and insouciant as a matter of course, words that tend to leave behind silent whorls in their wishy-washy pools of conversation.
Though a batch of end-of-term essays awaited grading, I couldn’t bear to squander this breach in the everyday, this depth-charge of alertness, especially since my students usually made such dull attempts at understanding. A notable percentage of the essays would misinterpret the poem in uninteresting ways, around half would lack a thesis statement, and then there were the bullshitters and the plagiarists, and I wasn’t coming up on a sabbatical anytime soon.
My stomping grounds were the nearby woods with their snorting deer and seasonal pond. I headed out in the opposite direction, along the meandering tire-scuffed curbs of the neighborhood. Nothing seemed to have changed along my route. Framed in one dark bay window, a family was squinting at their 72-inch flatscreen. Further on, framed in an identical window, Mrs. Clarke was poised in her armchair embroidering another religious picture; we bought her work at the annual fair and donated it to a charity shop a few towns over. What if real estate prices were impacted by the quality of the lives their residents had lived there? How many of us would increase the value of our property?
I passed the lot where my family and I had started the vegetable garden. The hand-painted sign was bent over, the wooden posts cracked, the chicken-wire torqued. A lone tomato plant still grew beneath the hybrid disorder. I felt a twinge of the old anger and disbelief. Over the course of five seasons, we’d won out over rabbits, gophers, aphids, and snails, and established a new rapport within our community. One Fall morning the usual crew showed up to harvest the vegetables and deliver crates to each doorstep only to discover that someone had driven back and forth over the fence and garden. Dark soil, fecund compost—I could still smell them.
Leaving our neighborhood, I jaywalked the desolate main road and latched my fingers in the fence of the baseball field. In a flood of hard light, a lone player stood at bat.
He cracked ball after ball in a hypnotizing rhythm: swingcrack…swingcrack…swingcrack… swingcrack.
When the pitching machine ceased, he let the bat slacken in one hand while pushing his chest out and pulling his shoulders back. Then he bent over and dangled his arms. Out of the feeder shot a baseball that, before I could shout warning, smacked him on the rump. He let out an effeminate bleat that he just as quickly trampled under low, manly curses. He picked up the ball, lobbed it in the air, and cracked it out of the park.
Back at home the television was still unplugged. My wife was preparing dinner. She held up the mortar for me to take a whiff: coriander, maybe, and cumin. Maybe she really was learning to levitate?
“Where is he?”
“Waiting on the spin cycle,” she said.
He was staring at the washing machine, seated on a plastic stool. Once in a while he would write blocky words in his notebook: suds, gargull. I decided not to distract him with the baseball. I touched his slumped back; he straightened up.
“Math homework finished?”
He nodded soberly.
“Six times nine?”
“Fifty-four. Every time.”
“Extra credit. Write a story. Include an illustration. Double extra if I use three words from the new list.” He tensed. “Hang on. I can’t miss this part.”
I did as bidden, realizing after some seconds that I was holding my breath. We both exhaled noisily. “You’re good at building suspense. What’s it about?”
“A washing machine who battles the Evils.”
“Once upon a time?”
“One evening, just before bedtime, it began walking.”
“Like ours. First time it really I mean really scared the BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP out of me.”
“That’s a long beep.”
As the spin cycle started, the washing machine remained stationary; but as the speed picked up, it began shuddering off-kilter and shimmying forward, one corner then the other until it had traveled away from the wall. With a click and a slowing whirr the washer reached the end of the cycle and spun until its force was spent and the wet clothes flopped into the base of the drum, coins or buttons clicking.
“Except mine goes far,” he said, scrunched hand writing.
“Good kid,” I said.
About the Author: Originally from the USA, Michael Aliprandini is an educator who lives and works in a mountain village in Italy. His interests include reading, writing, traveling, gardening, eating, and very long walks. One of his short stories has been featured in Milk Magazine and one of his essays in The Bacon Review.