Salina, Kansas

by Pete Hansen


It was Sunday morning. Seven a.m. He liked to get up before anyone else to get some thinking done. The dog woke with him and scratched the door. He wondered why she bothered, she'd already pissed on the carpet. He'd rent a steam-cleaner today, he thought, letting her out. He knew she'd probably go on the grouchy German neighbor's lawn, who'd come over with his rifle and threaten violence again, but he didn't care.

He made the coffee and turned on the TV. A young evangelist in a big church preached about the importance of the family. He thought about his wife and kids in the other rooms. They were important, but not in the way the evangelist meant. So he turned the channel.

He left the next program droning on while he walked outside to get the newspaper. He casually looked around for the dog. It was raining. It was barely light out. It was November. He went back in with wet socks. He'd neglected to put his slippers on.

His feet were cold now, his socks soggy. He took them off and tossed them in the dryer. He put some dry ones on, then sat on the sofa in front of the TV. A Canadian football game repeat was in its first quarter. Former college stars from the U.S. played on a snowy field to half-empty bleachers. He opened the newspaper and colorful coupons dropped onto the floor. He read the headlines. Similar to yesterday's, same as the day before that, he thought.

The coffee finished dripping. He got up and poured some. He sipped it. It was very strong. He liked it that way. He thought he might hit a garage sale. Maybe buy a few tools. He never used them, they just filled his garage. Showed the neighbors he was a regular guy. He had two lawnmowers, weed-eaters, trimmers, wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, hedge-clippers, hoes, hoses, and toolboxes full of smaller items. But all of that sat in the garage. Two Mexican guys did the lawn once a week, and his oldest son followed up with the watering. Except during winter.

The dog scratched the door. He let her in. She shook hair and rain everywhere. He didn't care. His wife would vacuum today before he rented the steam-cleaner. On TV a new Acura raced across the screen. Beautiful young people occupied the front seats. He remembered when he was a handsome young man in a convertible in California. Twenty years earlier. He'd surfed, had a rippled stomach, and was tanned golden brown. His long sunbleached hair had attracted more than his share of teenage girls, sunning themselves on spotless expanses of dreamy Pacific beaches.

He glanced out the window. The grain elevator rose behind the house next door. Two skinny cats meandered across the yellow lawn. Near-bare trees surrendered their remaining leaves in last gasps of brown. He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. Next year I'll be completely bald, he thought.

The wind picked up outside and gusted toward the house. The window buckled a little. He went to adjust the heat. Reaching for the thermostat he noticed his stomach seemed larger and rounder. He realized he turned the heat higher a lot lately. He was colder more often. It seemed gray out this year. He thought maybe it was global warming. He'd lived in Kansas five years now and had never noticed the gray.

He stepped into the kitchen, opened a loaf of wheat bread, and put two slices into the toaster. He pulled the cream cheese and tomato juice out of the refrigerator. He poured the juice and took a vitamin with it. He used to hate tomato juice. The toast popped up and he spread the cream cheese. He sat back down and stared deeply into the TV screen. He let the rest of the newspaper fall to the floor.

It was half-time. There was another ad on. It was something about the internet. He didn't know what the internet was, though he'd heard and read about it occasionally. He knew it had something to do with computers. He didn't have a computer. He thought he would probably never have one. He didn't need one. He was a mechanic. He fixed Fords. He worked on brakes and the things you didn't need a computer for.

He finished his toast and thought maybe he'd have another couple slices. He thought about his new bigger stomach. It didn't matter, his wife loved him anyway. And besides, she was a little bigger this year too. They tried a few months earlier to get back in shape. They joined The Family Fitness Center. They paid five hundred dollars for memberships. They went a few times. He liked the pool. He hated the treadmill. His wife liked the sauna. She hated everything else. Then they stopped going.

He heard the toilet flush through the wall. One of the kids must be up. His time alone was coming to an end. He put his dish in the sink. He would skip the toast for the moment. Passing by the hall mirror he caught sight of himself. His hair was thinning . His face was puffier too, and deep circles outlined his eyes. He looked closer. The sun from his youth had wrinkled him, and spider veins zigzagged across his Irish cheeks. His teeth were more yellow than white and he could taste his bad breath. He stepped back, feeling slightly depressed.

But he was not a man who would let this feeling last. He would go on with his day. With his family and dog and his football games. And his garage full of tools. He'd read in the newspaper about a yard sale nearby. They had some old wagon wheels for sale. He thought maybe they'd look good as lawn ornaments. On the dying winter grass.