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Reginald Blisterkunst, Ph.D.
Among the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Pluto Wars

Greg Chandler
"Bee's Tree"
"Local Folk"
"Roland's Feast"
"Pond Story "

Doug Childers
"The Baptism"

Gene Cox
The Sunset Lounge

Clarke Crutchfield
"The Break-In"
"The Canceled Party"
"The Imaginary Bullet"

Jason DeBoer
"The Execution of the Sun"

Deanna Francis Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Dennis Must

Charlie Onion
"Love Among the Jellyfish"
Pluto Wars
"Feast of the Manfestation"

Chris Orlet
"Romantic Comedy"

Daniel Rosenblum
"A Full Donkey"

Deanna Frances Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Andrew L. Wilson
"Fat Cake and Double Talk"


The Canceled Party
Clarke Crutchfield

"Are you sure she's gone?" Harry said.

Harry and Chuck sat in the truck and looked at the old Victorian house. It was dark and quiet.

"Positive," Chuck said. He nodded, too hard. Harry could tell he was drunk by the way he was lighting matches and tossing them out the window.

"Give me my matches back," Harry said.

They sat some more and looked the house over. Neither of them wanted to get out of the U-Haul; they were both forty and weren't looking forward to the heavy lifting.

"But is she really gone?"

Chuck smacked the steering wheel with his palm, too hard. "My wife," he said, nodding, "said she'd clear out while I got my stuff out."

"You're positive?"

"What are you afraid of?"

"Are you all right, Chuck? You don't look so good. Maybe you should get some coffee. You look like you've been up all night."

"I have been up all night." He smacked the wheel again. "I was saying goodbye to my house."

"It's her house."

"Sure, sure. She grew up in that house. But it was my house too for a while, after we got married. I stayed up all night because I was saying goodbye. It's a beautiful house."

"Where was Beryl all this time?"


"I'm sorry."

"Where do you suppose Beryl got all that anger from?" Chuck said.

His attention span was like the chamber of a revolver; it would spin and then he would fire at another topic.

"I don't know," Harry said. "It's not your fault. Your wife is an angry person."

"You can say that again." The chamber of his friend's attention spun again. "Say, I really appreciate you helping me, Harry. Thanks for putting me up too."

"Don't mention it," Harry said. But, he thought, Chuck really did look like hell. They had been friends from childhood and Chuck had always been the thinner of the two, but now the skin seemed tight on his face as if he had eaten something sour. His fair complexion looked as brittle as week-old newspaper, making the shadows under his eyes darker still.

"Say, isn't that someone at the upstairs window?" Harry said.

"It's the dog."

"I thought I saw a face. There, look."

"It's Boomer, damn it. I know my own dog."

Boomer, the border collie, was watching them from the upstairs bedroom window, cocking his head like a little person.

"Awfully quiet dog," Harry said uneasily.

"Boomer never barks. When he lunges, he lunges silently," Chuck said solemnly. "The postman hates him. Don't worry, he likes you."

"That's reassuring."

"What are you so jumpy about? I'm the one leaving his marriage. I'm the one whose life is shattered. I'm the one who left the pounded ring on the dining room table."

"The pounded ring?" Harry's eyes were closed. He did not want to hear this.

"I took off my wedding ring and took a hammer and pounded it into the dining room table. That wedding ring looks like a twist tie you'd use to close up a bread wrapper. Smushed." He spoke with deep, drunken satisfaction. "She'll never get the mark out of that table. You know, that's the one thing I ever did that left a mark on her life. I messed up her table that her grandmother gave her. That, and Murphy's Irish Stout."

"What?" Harry said. But he wasn't listening.

"Murphy's Irish Stout. I introduced her to stout"—he tossed his head at the word—"and now she drinks nothing else. She's got some in the icebox right now. That was my doing. The rest of what I did for her, pfft"—he flapped his hands and wobbled his head. "Gone. Like water. Like ripples on a still pond, there and gone." He illustrated with his hands.

Harry did not answer. He nursed his cigarette. He'd never noticed how crooked the house was at the roofline. The gingerbread molding along the eaves was mostly intact. An unscreened porch ran nearly all the way around the house, and turreted rooms perched at each upstairs corner like castle parapets. The roof was crowned with a widow's walk, with small banisters framing a short path that led nowhere. The shingles and chimney bricks scattered around the ragged yard proved that for more than a century the house had been battered from without by winter northeasters and summer hurricanes. All the same, it seemed to be crumbling from the inside out. It was as if it were sagging now that there was no marriage to hold it up.

"Well, let's get started," Harry said, flicking his cigarette onto the street.

They got out of the truck just as a man in 18th century clothes strolled past them. He was wearing black leather shoes with brass buckles, stockings rolled just below the knee, a black linen coat and a cocked felt halt. He walked up to the front door and optimistically twisted the doorbell.

"The bell doesn't work," Chuck called.

The man turned, adjusted his wire spectacles and studied the pair of them. He turned back to the house. "Is this the party?" he said as if he were speaking to the house.

"The costume party has been canceled," Chuck said. "I'm sorry. I thought my wife had told everybody."

"Canceled?" the man said to the door. "What happened?"

"My wife and I are getting a divorce."

"That's no reason to cancel a party," the man said, peering through a pane.

"Sorry," said Chuck.

"Who was that person upstairs I saw? I thought it must be Beryl."

"It's the dog."

Now the man turned and looked at Chuck. "The hell you say. It didn't look the least bit like a dog."

"That's what I told him," Harry said.

"You're being rude," the man said to Chuck. "Just because you and Beryl are getting a divorce, you don't have to be rude. Don't you call Beryl a dog. She's a friend of mine."

"I'm not calling her a dog," Chuck said, "even if she is your friend, dammit. I'm not calling anyone a dog. Beryl isn't here, do you understand? That up there, that creature in the window everybody is so goddamn scared of, really is the fucking dog."

"I was looking forward to seeing Beryl in her witch costume," the stranger said wistfully. Catching something in Chuck's expression, he added, "No cracks, now!"

"What the hell is it now?"

"No cracks about Beryl being a witch. She's not a witch, she just dresses like one. Every year."

"I know it. I'm not making any cracks, godammit. And she's not here. I don't know how she's dressed, but she's not here."

"You're drunk," the man said. "She said you were a drunk. She was right to throw you out."

The stranger tried to slam the gate behind him, but though he swung hard it closed gently, as though muffled by an invisible cushion. Halfway down the sidewalk, the stranger turned so abruptly his coattails spun.

"Who gets the dog?" he demanded.

Chuck blinked stupidly for a moment. "She does."

"Good for her. It's a small victory, considering how you treated her. Good day, sirs."

"Fuck you!" Chuck said. But the stranger was gone.

"How do you like that," Chuck said. "What the hell does he mean, how I treated her? And why didn't Beryl tell everybody that the annual costume party was canceled?"

"There's always somebody who doesn't get the word," Harry said. "Well, come on, let's do it."

They entered the hallway and Boomer bounded down the hallway steps to greet them. Chuck started to cry.

"What's the matter?" Harry said.

Chuck huddled over the dog, blubbering. "I can't stand it. I can't stand to leave Boomer."

The dog gravely licked Chuck 's face, intrigued by the taste of tears. It made him cry harder.

"Chuck, how many drinks did you have before you picked up the truck?"

"Just w-w-w-w-one."

"One at a time, maybe. Jesus, you're in no shape to do this." Harry patted his old friend's shoulder awkwardly, trying to comfort him, but he was irritated. He had to go to work in the morning. "Chuck, I'm sorry you have to go through this, but we can't spend all night doing this."


"Jesus, I've never seen you like this before. Women! What they can do to a man."

"I'll be all right."

"Here, blow your nose." Harry turned his back to the blubbering. "Okay, let's start with the big stuff."

It grew dark as they began to carry the washed-up flotsam of Chuck 's life into the truck. They picked up the hallway sofa, which had been Chuck's before the marriage, and eased it onto the porch. When they got it onto the walkway of the truck, Harry saw that Chuck was crying again.

"Don't start that now!" Harry said. "You'll drop it."

"I won't drop it."

Chuck dropped it.

"Damn it!" Harry said. They picked it up again and Chuck almost tripped over the gas can for the lawn mower, which was carelessly placed by the coat rack. But they managed to baby-step their way up the ramp.

"Can you see all right?" Harry said. Chuck 's face was ablur with tears. Chuck didn't answer, but they managed to get the sofa aboard and set it down.

"What set you off this time?" Harry said.

"The dog hair."

"What?" Harry looked. The sofa was covered with silky bits of Boomer's white and black fur. "What are you going to do now, collect samples for souvenirs?"

"No, I'm all right." Chuck sniffled. "Let's go." He led the way down the carrier ramp with wounded dignity. Harry followed, swearing.

As they were carrying Chuck 's paperback bookcase into the downstairs hall, they encountered a big strapping woman in the hall. She wore short leather pants and a leather vest, and she was carrying what Harry took to be a riding crop.

"Can I help you?" Chuck said.

"I'm here for the party."


"Shit!" She stalked out, smacking the riding crop against her fishnet stockings as if to speed her departure.

"Who the hell was that?" Harry said.

"That's Trisha. Runs a stationery shop downtown. Funny, she always seems so shy and quiet in the shop."

"Good thing she left when she did. Look at the marks those spiked heels left on the floor."

"Something funny about that woman. Something strange about all of Beryl's friends. I've heard stories."

"You don't want to know. It's not your problem anymore."

The chamber of Chuck's attention spun again. "Did you see how I pounded my wedding ring into the table?"

"I didn't look. I trust you. Just hope her lawyer doesn't send you a bill for the damage."

"Hah. Let him try."

"He just might do it." Harry was getting very tired. "Did you say there was some Murphy's Stout in the icebox?"

"Help yourself."

"Let's take a break."

"Go ahead and get something to drink. I'm going upstairs to collect the pictures."

Harry sat in the kitchen, lit a cigarette and started in on the Irish Stout. He was sore from moving the furniture and was enjoying the quiet. Then he smelled smoke.

"Chuck !" he called.

There was no answer.

Harry began checking the downstairs rooms to see where the fire was and found another woman in the parlor. She wore a black dress from head to toe and a black shawl with a veil that covered the lower part of her face.

"Is this the party?" she said.

"Yes. I mean no," Harry said. "The party's canceled. Listen, do you smell smoke?"

"I thought it must be Beryl. She's a terrible cook."

"Who are you?"

"Dot," she said. "I'm Dot. But I'm playing the role of Mrs. Junius Hale Throckmorton for the party." She followed Harry from room to room as he hunted for the fire. "Mrs. Throckmorton lived in this house in the 19th century and watched her husband drown from the widow's walk."

"Watched him drown?" Harry said, frowning at electrical sockets.

"He was a ship's captain," she said, as he opened and closed pantry doors. "There she was one day in 1872, waiting for his ship to come in. It was already in Pequot Harbor when the helmsman, who was mad, steered the ship into Gnarly's Rock over by the lighthouse."

"Jeez," Harry said, checking the bathroom. Mrs. Throckmorton followed him back out into the hall just as he nearly bumped into a short man in tweeds.

"Is Beryl in?" the man said in what sound to Harry like a fake East European accent. He was about sixty, bearded, and he squinted through circular-frame glasses that looked like they'd come from a costume shop. He was smoking a stinking cigar.

"Dr. Freud!" Harry said. "I'm sorry, but the party's been canceled."

"I'm not here for the party," the man said. "I'm a doctor."

"I can see that, and it's a damn fine impersonation."

"Hello, Dr. Fischer," said the woman.

"Hello, Dot," the doctor said. He gave Harry a look of sharp appraisal, as if his thick spectacles were magnifying glasses and Harry were a rock under a geologist's scrutiny. "I got an urgent page from Beryl," the doctor said patiently. "It's important that I see her. Something terrible could happen."

"She's not here. Her husband is here. He's leaving."

"I know," the doctor said. "Can I see her husband, then?"

"Now might not be a good time." Harry made a drinking motion with his arm.

"I see." The doctor puffed, regarding Harry. Then he said, "Goodbye, Dot."

"Goodbye, doctor. See you Tuesday."

The doctor left and the woman impersonating Mrs. Throckmorton resumed her narrative.

"Mrs. Throckmorton watched the ship go down," she said. "Everybody swam for it except for Captain Throckmorton, who couldn't swim because he'd lost an arm in the war."

"Look, Dot, I've got to get going," Harry said as he started up the stairs. "Say, what happened to that mad helmsman?"

"No one could prove it was murder. But no ship would take him after that. He became a carpenter and built the chapel of St. John's Methodist. Then Mrs. Throckmorton hunted him down in the street one day and blasted him between the eyes with her husband's Civil War carbine."

She was still talking in the downstairs hall when Harry, who had tuned her out, reached the upstairs bedroom. He found Chuck poring over an album of wedding photographs.

"Chuck, do you smell smoke?"

"Yes, now that you mention it," Chuck said.

"Where's it coming from?"

"I don't know. I thought maybe Dot was smoking."

"Dot was up here?"

"You know," said Chuck, "I really like this picture of Beryl and her little niece Dorothy at the wedding, you know? Cute little blond thing. Just like her aunt."

Harry cursed and went into the bathroom, where the clothes hamper was afire. He looked for an extinguisher and saw none, so he kicked the hamper into the shower and turned the water full blast. The fire hissed and died. Harry stormed into the bedroom.

"What the hell happened?" he demanded.

"I don't really know," Chuck said. "It's like our relationship was a branch of a great tree, and the branch spread out into the future with lots of smaller branches depending from it, children and retirement and a happy old age. And then suddenly someone lopped off the branch and you're falling. That's me, I'm falling."

"You're drunk. Was someone up here?"

"A couple of people have been through."

"Damn it." Harry stood in the bathroom doorway and looked at the smoking hamper. "Were not finished moving yet, Chuck, and you're useless."

"Funny, that's what Beryl used to say."

Harry gave up. He had done all the heavy lifting he was going to do for one night. He left Chuck to shed tears over his life's pictures and began moving the smaller boxes out to the truck. If any of Chuck's furniture was left in the house, Beryl was welcome to it, he told himself. It grew cooler as he worked, and along toward midnight he paused. The truck was almost full. A cold crescent moon hung low in the sky like a discarded fingernail paring, its edges sharp enough to puncture a balloon. Boomer, who had grown tired of listening to his master whine upstairs, joined Harry on the porch.

"Crazy people," Harry said. He patted the dog. "Some crazy people in this world, Boomer." After spending the past couple of days in the company of an irrational person, Harry realized, it was a comfort to have a dog to talk to.

He snapped his fingers. "The coat rack. We forgot the coat rack, Boomer."

The coat rack was just inside the door of the downstairs hallway. But, he noticed, the gas can was gone. He went through the rooms again. He went upstairs and found the bedroom door closed.

"Chuck ?" he called. No answer.

Harry opened the door. Fire hit him in the face.


It was a three-alarm fire, two more alarms than the town even had, and two engines had to come from Ridgeport to fight it. The crews saved the house if you didn't count the bedroom, which was gutted. They found Chuck's body on what was left of the bed; the coroner would have the final word, but the rescue folks figured smoke inhalation got him before the flames did. The gasoline can was turned over beside the bed.

"Did he drink?" the police officer said.

"Well," Harry said. "More than was good for him."

They stood outside the house in the morning sunlight. There was no more smoke and the house, which the hoses had sprayed for hours, seemed to have been in a heavy rain. The pressurized water had scoured everything and the place looked fresh and clean except for the one window.

"Was he distraught about something?"

"His marriage ended."

The officer looked at the house. "Id say he overreacted a bit, but that's just my opinion."

Harry untied Boomer from the porch rail and put him in the cab of the truck. As he drove away, Harry looked in the rearview mirror and saw the bedroom window encircled in soot, like an eye that has been bruised in terrible anger.



About the Author

Clarke Crutchfield is a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to which he also contributes occasional articles. A graduate of the College of William and Mary and a lifelong Virginian, he has written short stories for WAG under his own name, and travel articles, book reviews and commentaries for the magazine under the pen name of Arthur Alexander Parker.


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