Alan Falkingham

Sixty Feet and Six Inches

“I bet you he’s a fucking pedo. Who else would do that shit with the statue every night. And do you think he ever takes a shower? Washes his fucking hair?” 

They watch him from beneath the tree, up against the chain link fence. The one that runs along the edge of the park, on the ridge line above the train tracks. By the light of their phones, they pass around a bottle of cheap liquor, drag on a vape. Bulky shapes in the shadows, hoodies, baggy sweatpants, a White Sox ballcap. 

“See? He’s pretending to walk that ugly fucking mutt of his, but he’s really looking into the window of that trailer. Check him out. Dirty motherfucker.“

An empty beer can gets crushed and tossed his way. Half-hearted thinks Emil. Poor throwing mechanics. 

“Get outta town, weirdo. We don’t want your type around here. You fucking pervert.” 

It is a daily routine, one which Emil just ignores. The words slide off him, although in his quiet moments he lets his imagination conjure up a different ending. Pulling out a Magnum and watching them scatter like crows. 

But that is the problem, isn’t it? Victims are molded. Selected, not born. Once you decide to stay silent once, it becomes hard to ever find your voice. Emil knows that well enough. 

They are half right too. He is trying to steal a look inside through the drape-less windows of The Kid’s trailer. But not for the reason the lowlifes think.

No sign of his mother. Passed out again probably. When she had first moved in with her son, Emil had talked with her when he passed by walking Hunter, if she was out on the front steps of her trailer smoking a cigarette. For a while Emil had sensed loneliness, but also hope. A ragged beauty that might just make it. Another place to live. Another new start. Another chance. Emil liked her. Saw how alike they were. Wondered if, perhaps, something more might develop between them. But they do not talk any more. Now, all Emil sees is the loneliness; the hope part long since gone. 

No sign of the boyfriend in his green Yukon either though. The one with the mean lips and weak chin who visits from time to time, whenever it suits him, So, tonight, it is just The Kid, laying on his bed. Walls plastered with posters of major league pitchers: Scherzer, deGrom, Kershaw, Cole. Hopefully he is on a mound somewhere, in his head, a long way away from here. Because in your head you can go any place you want. Emil knows that too. 

“How come they don’t do something? It ain’t right that he is living here, so close to kids. Just shows you how nobody gives a fuck about us here.” 

Above them the moon slides out from behind a cloud.

The cops. The courts. The government. People like us. People like him. They cycle through it all, sitting amongst the trash, each feeding off the other while Emil finishes his lap of the park, enveloped in his own silence. 

When he has completed his regular circuit, he pauses and gives a low whistle, waits to see where the dog will emerge from, with its leggy run, tongue hanging lopsided from one side of its mouth. 

“You ready?” He pulls a treat from his pocket and holds it up. 

The dog eyes him, waits for the command. And when Emil snaps his fingers sharpy twice, it cocks its leg and pisses up against the statue of Jesus that Emil has set up right outside the door of his trailer. 

“Good boy, Hunter. Good boy.”  


Five Pitches

The Kid rotates, lunges forward and releases and the ball thunks into the center of the trunk of the tree, passing straight through the center of a tire that is hung from a piece of rope looped around one of its branches. 

Strike One. 

He turns and picks up a second ball. Repeats his routine. Rotate, lunge, release. Same result. Strike two. 

“You know it’s not all about speed, don’t you?” 

Unnoticed, Emil has been sitting on the steps of his trailer watching, Hunter a little way away, sniffing out something in the undergrowth. 

The Kid is suspicious. He has heard what they say about him. The weirdo. 

“Know why Scherzer’s so good?” Emil walks over, picks up the third ball that is lying in the dirt and looks at it, flips it up and down idly in one hand, like he is in no hurry. 

“Five pitches. Four seam fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball, slider. Same release point on every single one of ‘em.”

Emil is impressed. That’s right. Smart kid. 

“You got anything except a fastball? Something you can start over the plate, but ends up clipping the edge?” 

“He tosses The Kid the ball. Show me. Hit the rubber, not the hole in the middle.” 

He tries. Same action, but this time the ball arrows into the ground, a yard in front of the tire, goes bouncing off into the grass and tries to escape through a hole in the chain link fence.

“I’ll work on that with you. If you like?” It’s an offer, nothing more than that. Emil isn’t the sort to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Just doesn’t care that much.  

The Kid shrugs. Not sure what to say. Hunter comes over, nose to the ground, sliding around their legs.

As they talk, a green Yukon pulls up outside The Kid’s trailer. They both see it, and it is suddenly like a needle puncturing skin. A man gets out and The Kid’s mother immediately opens the trailer door and stands there. Stick thin, with an expectancy somehow, a desperation. The man climbs the steps, and she slinks an arm around and up, pulls him towards her, molding herself against his body. Meanwhile he slips her something, places it into the palm of her hand. As he does so, he looks across at The Kid and smiles. It is a look that Emil has seen before. 

“I wanna have five pitches. Like Max Scherzer.” 

The Kid says it with sudden determination and Emil recognizes the signs. Everyone wants to find a way to escape. Sometimes the odds don’t matter much. 

“You know, eventually you need to make your own chances. You know that don’t you?”

The Kid eyes him. Knows they are not talking about baseball anymore. That much is obvious. 

“We need to start with your mechanics though.” Back to ground they are both more comfortable on. Your leg kick isn’t making it past ninety degrees, and you need to work on your shoulder hip separation. It’s different off a mound too. Downhill pitching. 

“If you say so.” 

“Yes, I say so.  Hunter, stop that. Drop it.” The dog has retrieved the baseball and is gnawing down on the seam. 

“Why do you make your dog piss on the statue?”

A question out of nowhere, but The Kid sees it every night, just like everyone else. 

Emil pauses, because it is the first time he has been asked the question, although not the first time he has thought about the answer. 

“It makes me feel better, I suppose.”  


One Corinthians

“You apply the brass cleaner then rub it in tiny circles. Until the cup gleams. So that you can see your own face staring back.” 

A marble statue of a sad eyed Jesus reading from a scroll looks down on them as they work. The communion chalice is heavy, and the cloth is soft, like the fur of a dead animal. A pelt is what a dead animal skin is called. He learned that from Miss Sawyer. His favorite teacher. More than just his favorite. Sexy as all hell in that green dress she sometimes wears. Emil often wondered what it would be like. If, maybe, he went to see her after school in her classroom. After everyone else had left. 

“It is just one of the acts of service that we perform in humble adoration of our Lord.” 

A smile. One that reveals tiny mouse teeth. Close up he smells of bread, sweet but stale, as if soaked in vinegar. After mass he always finishes up the leftover communion wine, drinking it like he is quenching his thirst. 

“Have you been troubled by lustful thoughts recently, Emil?”

Something not quite right about this, thinks Emil 

He knows about Miss Sawyer in that green dress. Sitting alone in her classroom after hours marking papers, rows of empty desks, the smell of the disinfectant the cleaners use on the floorboards and chalk from the blackboard. Silence except for the rumble of the furnace somewhere far away and the scratching of her pen as she makes corrections, assigns a grade. The way she crosses and uncrosses her legs. The way the hem of her dress rides up.  

“Let me help you. Show you how it is done. Not too much, not too little on the cloth. Like this. In little circles. You see?” 

He reaches around, lays his hands over the top, his palms pressing down. Something not right about this. 

The chalice begins to lose its greasy hue. Smeared fingerprints disappear and the metal starts to shine. 

“It is very normal at your age, Emil. One Corinthians is instructive, however. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”

The temptation of Miss Sawyer looking up when he opens the door? Asking her for help with that evening’s homework assignment. Her bending in, their faces so close. 

“I think that looks good, don’t you? You can go and put it away now, alongside the paten and the ciborium. Then go rinse out the cloth in that sink over there.” 

There is an odd quality to his tone of voice. A little raspy, almost a whisper from somewhere deep inside his chest. The way he is standing so close. Definitely something not right about all this. 

“But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability. But with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Water splutters from the faucet, the old church plumbing coughing out air locks. At first it is cold, ice cold, but eventually it becomes lukewarm. Emil washes the cloth, squeezing it out beneath the running water, while Father O’Riordan watches with beady, lustful eyes.  


The Killing

In the end Emil is not surprised when The Kid comes knocking on the door of his trailer.  At least not that surprised. Hollow raps: one, two, three. 

“I need you to help me.” He is not talking about pitching advice. 

They had walked over together. The Kid had offered no explanation and Emil had not asked for one. But, somehow, he already knew what he would find. Hunter had tagged along, sniffing at the night air, and somewhere beyond the fence line a slow train is running, its whistle calling out mournfully in the darkness. 

“Where’s your mom? She able to help us?”

The Kid doesn’t answer, so Emil searches the trailer. He finds her on the bed, wearing just her underwear. The lines of her rib cage stand out beneath her skin like roots of a tree, with nipples that seem to be almost bigger than the breasts themselves, round and dark shaded. A bed sheet is twisted around her as if she is climbing a rope and the side of her face is badly bruised, deep purple and black. At the side of the bed where it has fallen from her grasp is a hypodermic needle, the puncture wound still a red pinprick in the crook of her elbow.

When he comes back into the galley, he sees the dog licking at the blood pooled on the linoleum floor. 

“Hunter. Fucking stop that.” 

“The further your thumb is from the other two fingers, the more the ball will drop. Right?”

The Kid doesn’t seem too bothered about things. He sits on his bed holding a baseball in his hand, rotates it like it is a new cut diamond that he needs to hold up to the light to see its full beauty. 

“That’s right. You gotta hold the outer third of the ball. You need to grip it real tight.” 

Emil dispenses coaching, even though it seems out of place given the circumstances. Green Yukon man has almost completely bled out, his body folded over on itself, the knife in his gut buried right to the hilt, like a gutted fish. 

“Is it time to walk Hunter?” The Kid wants to talk about anything other than the dead body lying in the middle of the floor. 


“You walk him. Right about this time, don’t you? Around the edge of the park. I’ve seen you, every night. Can I walk with you?”

Emil wants to say no. Wants to say that there are more important things in life than walking a dog. But for some reason the words get caught up in his throat. 

So, that is what they do. The two of them, looping around the perimeter just inside the chain link fence, while Hunter lopes along, one moment beside them, next away out of sight, then beside them again. 

“You could have just bought a Greyhound ticket. Just got the fuck out of here. You didn’t have to do…” Emil pauses, searches for the right word. “That.” 

“I know.” The Kid studies the ground in front of him as he walks. “But I couldn’t leave her, could I? Not in the end.”

There is no answer to that, so Emil does not even try, and they both seem happy to continue walking in silence.  

Eventually they work their way back to Emil’s trailer and when they get there The Kid pauses, wants to see the nightly spectacle. 

Emil hesitates, as if there is something just too awkward about it all. But eventually he clicks his fingers twice and Hunter cocks a leg, and a long stream of dark piss runs down the side of Jesus’ face, along his arms and onto the scroll. From there it drips onto the ground. 

Strangely satisfied, the Kid smiles, broad and toothy. 

“Make you feel better?”

Emil shrugs. “I think we have work to do. Don’t you?”


Knowing What to Leave Behind

By the time they finish digging they are both exhausted and covered in dirt, and the sun is just beginning its journey, casting a pale hue over the roofs of the other trailers. 

The Kid’s mother finally emerges, shivering in the chill morning air. She looks bemused, touches the bruise on her face, as if she is trying to piece it all together. 

“You need to clean that place, as best you can. The floor, all the surfaces. Take anything of his that you have and toss it in the dumpster. Do you know if anyone knew where he was headed last night?”

She shakes her head. Doesn’t know anything about him. It was an arrangement they had. One where they both got what they needed. Nothing more than that. 

“I’m sorry.”  

It is too late for that thinks Emil, but he does not say so. Because what is the point. 

She wraps her arms around herself, rubs her palms up and down to try and get warm. Meanwhile The Kid wanders off to sit by himself, over by the tree with the swinging tire, paces out the distance from the patch of newly dug earth. Sixty and a half feet. They measured it just right. Hunter goes and sits beside him, and The Kid scratches behind the dog’s ears, lets it lick his face. 

“He OK?” She looks over at her son. Despite all the neglect, there is still some tiny part of her that still cares, even if it has been all but overwhelmed by her physical cravings.  

Emil does not answer her question. “Make him shower. Scrub hard. Then let him sleep.” 

She nods, pleased to be told what to do. But they both know that it is not just about the dirt under his fingernails.

“I’m going to take the car down to the levee. The river will be running fast, after all the rain. Bring me his phone if you can find it. They can trace the cell tower signals so the river needs to take that too.” 

She goes back inside and emerges a few minutes later, hands Emil a cell phone.

“Sorry,” she says again. 

Her red-rimmed eyes try and hold Emil’s. Try to tell him that she means it. But if she is looking for forgiveness, Emil is not about to give that away too easily. A hundred choices led here, all of them bad ones, one after the other. 

But then he reminds himself that sometimes victims are chosen not born. 

“Don’t worry, It’ll be OK.” He doesn’t exactly believe it himself, but he knows it will make her feel better. 

She gives a faint smile. They are an unlikely threesome, thrown together this way. But she is grateful he is here to help. 

He opens the car door and throws the phone onto the passenger seat, climbs in and guns the engine. The truth is he doesn’t like the odds very much now that the sun is up. Too many traffic cameras. Probably fishermen too, already casting down by the river. But what choice does he have? 

He rolls down the window and leans out, calls over to The Kid. 

“You watch Hunter for me? I’ll be back soon. Then we can work on that slider of yours OK? One good thing, I suppose, is that at least now you got a mound to pitch from.” He looks over at the freshly dug earth. Dark humor. 

 The Kid looks up. “Wait”

Suddenly he springs up, jogs over to Emil’s trailer and picks up the Jesus statue. It is heavier than it looks, and he has to hold it in a kind of bear hug in order to bring it over to the car.

“Pop the trunk.”

He heaves it in. “This should go in the river too, don’t you think?”

He is a perceptive kid, thinks Emil. Knows that the secret to moving forward is knowing what to leave behind.