Issue 53: May - June 2006 

| author bio

Night Guests
Josip Novakovich

A loud knocking. I stumbled out of bed and to the door. I lived in Wayne National Forest in Ohio, near a little-traveled road, with the nearest neighbor half a mile away, and I should have had the policy of not answering the door or of having a gun handy. But that was the risk I usually took, to answer the door, with no bad consequences except a lot of boring conversations with the Mormons, who, of course, visited only during the day, in the most beautiful, heavenly weather.
      But now it was terribly dark out there. The silhouettes in the door, I thought, looked familiar; it was probably Mimi with John, my former house sitters, who might have needed something. My dog didn't bark but sniffed their crotches; maybe they had been somewhere interesting. They were giggling. I opened the door, and a splash of cold air and the images of complete strangers, two women, one tall and long-haired and the other chubby and short-haired, woke me up enough to realize that I was not entirely decent.
      I was not entirely indecent either, so I didn't apologize or shut the door as I stood in my cotton underwear. At least it was American underwear, which was pretty big, certainly not meant to please the eye, but to cover the skin. I had just got back from Italy, from a research trip, where I could buy only tiny Italian underwear at a shopping mall, or thongs, suitable for carnivals and gigolos. I used to wear that kind of underwear as a child, growing up in Italy, but as a grad student in the States I first made do with what I could find at the shops, and then I got used to it, actually liked it. Now I was still aware of my underwear, as the tall woman spoke, in a beseeching tone.
      Could you help us? We just drove off the road into the ditch!
      She straightened with her hand her curly, fluffy, light brown hair. She had a thin straight nose, full lips, and a shine in her eyes. She looked happy even though she was clearly in trouble.
      I wish I had a truck to pull you out, I said.
      Could we come in and use your phone?
      No problem, I said, and led them into the living room, with a large red Persian carpet that felt good under my bare feet.
      I went to the bedroom and pulled on my jeans and came out.
      The tall woman dialed three times, while I put a log in the stove and stirred the embers, admiring how they still had plenty of body and glow. The flames licked the log almost instantly, and with satisfaction, I closed the door.
      I can't get through, the tall one said.
      Try again later. How would you like a cup of coffee?
      I'd love it. By the way, my name is Marietta.
      I ground some Italian espresso beans (Illy), and dripped a strong brew, which with a bit of Swiss chocolate wafted an intoxicating wakeful aroma of delight and pleasure, to which hardly any caffeine addict could remain indifferent.
      How did you get into the ditch? I asked.
      We was drivin' around, and out of nowhere, this fuckin' big deer jumps on the road. I swerved and ended up in your ditch.
      That seems a good choice, better ditch than deer—safer, too, I think. How's your car?
      Just a little banged. The right headlight's smashed is all.
      I didn't tell them that just the other day I had hit a big deer with majestic antlers. I was rubbing my eyes, after a long day at the library, and trying to defrost the window, when all of a sudden his majesty leaped into my hazy vision. I braked and swerved to the left since he was already moving to the right. There was a thump. What did I hit? His legs? His hoofs, which may have been in the air after a leap? Whatever it was, the car kept going, and I was sure the deer was alive. I was not going to try to hunt him. As it was deer-hunting season, someone would get him no matter what, and should I feel sorry for him now, now that I lost all the light in the car? I couldn't see the odometer, and I drove shedding such dim light onto the asphalt as though using lanterns. When I got home, I saw that the hood was busted. It didn't seem a big deal, but the man in the cheap body shop said it would be three hundred bucks. I realize, buck was an unintended pun, at the expense of the poor buck on the road. Since it was an old Sentra, I could get the job done more cheaply if I found the headlights with the assembly trinkets in a junkyard, but all the junkyards I visited along the way were out of the parts.
      Anyhow, Marietta's right headlight was out, by a different method, yet the same cause: trying to duck a deer.
      I asked, Were you driving back from a party? Were you drunk? Excuse me for asking.
      Oh, no, said the other woman, we wasn't drunk. We had only four or five beers each.
      That would do it for me, I said. No party?
      No, we was looking for my aunt, said Marietta. I kinda remembered where she lived, but we got lost, and kept drivin' along these backroads, and we couldn't figure out how to get out of the maze.
      It took you till four in the morning to reach this point? When did you start? (If you get lost, how long can you stand to be lost? Suppose they were looking for the aunt at ten, sort of the last decent hour to start looking for aunts. Six hours of wandering? Doesn't sound right, but what the hell. Let me buy the story, I thought.)
      We stopped by to get some cigarettes. Shelly, what else did we do?
      By now I had the coffee ready, and I proudly presented it to Shelly and Marietta.
      Jesus, what fine coffee. That tastes great! Shelly said all that, but I didn't see her taste the coffee, and she laid the cup down next to the rocking chair on which she was sitting.
      Thank you, I said. Why don't you try that number again?
      All right, said Marietta, and Shelly said, Do you mind if I go to the car to get some cigs and beer?
      I minded but said, No, I don't mind.
      Who are you trying to call? I turned to Marietta.
      My ex?
      That's a good ex if you can call him at four in the morning for help.
      Yeah, he's good at some things. But he's a real jerk. I don't like him. I'm glad we're gettin' a divorce.
      You are still married? (I wondered at myself. Why should I need to know the details?)
      Just on paper. We're separated. I hope never to see him again.
      But now you want to see him.
      Now, yes. I wish I knew more people I could call, but that shows you the problem; he didn't want me to meet any people. Jerk!
      Shelly was back with her dangling six-pack, or rather, four-pack by now, Bud Lite. My stomach turned at imagining the pale insipid taste. Nothing bodied like Urquell or Trappist ale. But that was a snobbish attitude, and momentarily ashamed of being a snob, I didn't mind when I heard the beer pop. Actually, I enjoyed the whiff of the cool and breezy yeast-foam.
      Shelly responded, Yes, he's a real jerk. I mean, what can you expect, her husband's a damned cop.
      So it's a real husband?
      Real cop, said Shelly, real asshole.
      I can't get through, Marietta said.
      What area code is his number? I asked.
      We are in six-one-four.
      Shit, I thought it was a local. No wonder I couldn't get through. I'll call collect.
      Don't bother. Just dial direct.
      I'd hate to get you stuck with a bill. You're already doing so much for us.
      Soon she said, It's me. Me.
      A voice was shouting in the phone on the other end of the line, Who?
      Me. Gee, don't pretend you don't know my voice.
      At four a.m., I don't know nobody's. Where are you? The guy's voice carried even through the receiver so far.
      I don't know.
      What do you mean you don't know? You've been drinking.
      No, we slid off the road in a ditch and can't get out. Can you come over and get us out?
      Calm down, Marietta—where are you now?
      I don't know, I told you.
      I saw it was time to intercede, and I said, Give me the phone, and I'll give him directions. And so I did. I listed all the turns, about three or four, and answered a couple of questions. Yes, their car is in a ditch somewhere around. They aren't drinking.
      I'll be there in twenty minutes. Can I speak to Marietta again?
      As much as you like.
      He shouted something.
      I love you too, lilted Marietta and hung up.
      That sounded odd to me. She had just said what a jerk he was and how she hated him, and now into the phone, he said he loved her and she said she loved him. Was that like saying, See you later? Good night? Just a greeting? Habit? Or truth? I didn't ask her to explain. But something here was not truth. Maybe she did love him but liked complaining about him on the road. All that divorce and hate rap was valve talk.
      Shelly wanted to open another beer.
      No, I said. No way. I don't want to be bossy, but it seems you have had enough beer. Drink coffee instead, especially if you are bringing in a cop.
      You are right, said Shelly. That's okay with me. She took the beer and poured it in my sink.
      I love your coffee, said Marietta.
      Have more then. Now, that seemed a better use of the word love to my ears.
      I poured her more, with a bit of milk, and she sipped, tossing her hair over her shoulders. Nothing could stop her from having a good time, not even car accidents. That was impressive. She stood up to go to the bathroom, and I saw she had a graceful figure; she moved lightly, sinuously. A strange creature, untouched by poverty, bad circumstances, bad marriage, car accident. She was clearly wonderful. When she had gone to the bathroom, I was facing Shelly, who burped, and clearly was not wonderful, and she said, Sorry.
      What do you do, asked Shelly, and burped again.
      I am a college professor, European history. Renaissance crime is my specialty.
      Sorry for what? Now and then I am sorry to teach European history.
      That we are bothering you.
      You aren't bothering me. You are in need and I am glad to help.
      We thought, when we saw that big tobacco barn, a farmer lived here, so we didn't feel shy about askin' for help. If we'd known—
      Come on.
      If we'd known—Here you are, a gentleman, European, and you have to deal with us hicks.
      Don't give me that. I opened the door in my underwear. That ought to have relaxed you.
      Well, no, a farmer would never open the door in his underwear, so we knew at once you was a gentleman.
      I laughed. She had a sense of humor. Or did she? She didn't laugh, but seemed doleful. Did she mean that? Were we communicating? Maybe she was wonderful too, with hidden treasures of the mind.
      How can you live here and teach at a university? Is there a university around?
      No. I drive to Columbus during the week and stay there, and weekends I am here.
      I regretted I had told her. Suppose she had friends who were thieves, they would know how to get to my place and rob it. So I added, During the week, I have a house sitter. He likes it here.
      Oh, she said. You have another house?
      Yes, nothing spectacular. Not even as nice as this cabin. I come here to get my reading and writing done, and to stay away from students, bars, restaurants, and infernal temptations.
      Two houses! Her eyes filled with the alarm of envy, I could tell. She hated me at that moment. Hell, I thought, I better say nothing about myself. Maybe they should say nothing about themselves. Knowledge is harm.
      Where do you work? I contradicted my conclusion and asked her, from inertia of the conversation. I couldn't say anything safely in the affirmative, so questions seemed the best way.
      Yes, I work, she said.
      Marietta and I build dog houses. We nail them all day long. You want to feel my muscle?
      No, thank you.
      We have fun at work, said Marietta. She's a hoot. Do you want to feel my muscle?
      She lifted her arm and tightened it, and her flannel shirt slid, and I could see gentle slopes of her small and shapely breasts. Did she wear a bra? Maybe not, couldn't see it, and the slopes went on, shedding light into a precipitous darkness in her shirt. The breasts looked larger now than they had let on.
      No, thank you. I believe you that you have good muscles.
      I would have enjoyed feeling the proffered muscle, even the biceps, but I had already committed to not feeling muscles by saying No to Shelly. It wouldn't be consistent now to say Yes to Marietta. It would hurt Shelly. Or maybe it wouldn't. I had my hang-ups of being considerate, or more accurately, of wanting to appear considerate.
      Marietta smiled with a shine on her lips and looked at the stove. Nice how you can see the flames inside, she said.
      For a second, I thought that maybe the two worked as hookers, and this was a strange trick. But no, ditching your car would be a hard way to earn a living. On the other hand, how did I know they had ditched a car? I hadn't gone out to see it. But then, why would they call a policeman? No, they can't be hookers. Plus, Marietta seems too airy, untouched, for that. No, how could I think that. That was dirty and insulting of me. Good thing they can't read thoughts. But then, why was I sure that they did call a policeman rather than a thief? Maybe they aren't hookers but thieves, with complex schemes, which work, of course. They could speak in code. I love you too could mean, He doesn't have a gun. Come here and clobber him. But she looks too nice for that, too innocent even.
      Would you like a dog house for your dog? asked Shelly. We'll get you a forty percent discount.
      So where does your husband live? I asked Marietta.
      She sat back in the armchair. On top of the hill, before you turn to 248, there's a white trailer, with many pots of flowers in the windows. You are welcome to stop by.
      To see him?
      Well, no, there's another trailer, a pink one, and that's mine, way back in the yard.
      You think I could just drive in and talk to you all? Your trailer doesn't have the flowers?
      No, I have cats. They're always sunbathing in the windows. Why wouldn't you stop by?
      If you usually don't even talk to each other?
      Oh, we do, I just hope we won't. We have a kid to take care of, so that keeps us pretty close, better than dropping kids off fifty miles away, as some people I know do. I'll need a better car before I get a divorce.
      Who's taking care of the kid now?
      The aunt. Not the one we was lookin' for, another one, just two hundred feet past our place.
      Blessed are the aunts, I said.
      The phone rang. The cop wanted the directions to be repeated to him. I found the chains, he said. I'll be there in twenty minutes. Is she all right, sir? Not passing out?
      Far from passing out, Marietta was buzzed on coffee, and since she kept repeating how much she liked it, I made her a cappuccino. You better watch out, she said. I may get addicted to this stuff and I don't know anybody else who makes it.
      Soon lights showed up in the yard, it seemed less than ten minutes. Why did he say twenty, I wondered. I walked out and welcomed the bony man with a crew cut and a mustache who jumped out of a red pickup.
      Where are they? he asked, out of breath.
      Are they all right? Are they hurt?
      Yes, they are all right, just silly.
      He walked in, with a big flashlight in one hand. Are you all right? he shouted.
      Yeah, we are fine, said Marietta.
      You didn't bang the dashboard, or anything like that?
      No, we just knocked our heads together. Doesn't hurt.
      He walked to Marietta, and said, Look at me.
      She did, and he shone the light straight into her eyes and peered.
      Man, you'll make me go blind. Cut it out!
      I got to look again, he said.
      Do her first, I'll take a break, she said.
      No, we got to finish this. This is serious.
      What did I tell you, said Shelly to me. I understood, she meant, What a pain in the ass this jerk is.
      As though he understood that too, he pounced and poured light into Shelly's eyes. He held the flashlight in his clenched fist above his ear in a trained manner, which would allow the flashlight to become a billy club in a second if need be.
      I guess you are conscious, he said.
      That shouldn't take that much guessing, said Shelly.
      You've been drinking. How much have you had?
      Oh, nothing, just two, three beers.
      That's too much, Marietta. You should've let Shelly drive.
      But I don't have a driver's license, said Shelly.
      Don't matter. If you drink, you shouldn't drive, let Shelly do it.
      But I drank more, said Shelly. I think Marietta had only one beer.
      Oh, did you? For a second the cop lost his staccato pursuit stance. Never mind, Marietta, you still shouldn't have drove. You're an awful driver.
      I am not that bad.
      So tell me, what happened?
      We was laughin' so hard tears came into my eyes, Marietta said. Jokes, we know some good new ones. Wanna hear them?
      No. Keep going with your story.
      Tears made it hard to see—this big deer jerk just leaped out of nowhere, and I swerved.
      That was stupid. Don't you know, you must brake and keep your direction.
      But then I would have hit him.
      Probably not, if you'd started soon enough.
      I didn't start soon enough. Plus, he just jumped out of the total darkness.
      You shouldn't have drove for the ditch.
      It wasn't a highway, I could change my direction, what's so bad about a ditch?
      You wrecked the car.
      She did fine, I said. Hitting a buck head-on would cause more damage.
      Don't defend her, sir. She should learn once and for all. You see a deer, you brake, and keep going straight.
      That struck me as insane. She indeed did fine, better than I did or than he would. He probably would have ended up in a hospital if he stuck to his idiotic rules. Where did he pick them up? Do cop manuals print nonsense like that?
      If you wasn't my wife, I'd revoke your license. Still might, he said.
      Have they been drinking here, sir? he asked.
      Hardly. I gave them coffee. You'd like some?
      He walked to the sink and grabbed two cans of Lite. You drink this, sir?
      I didn't think so.
      They brought in the cans already empty, I said.
      I didn't know why I lied. He frowned and cringed as though he understood I was lying.
      Would you like a cup of coffee? (A cup for a cop.)
      No, thank you. I'm going to pull out the car. I'll be back. Please, sir, don't let them drink.
      He walked out.
      I see what you mean, I said to Marietta. But he is helping you.
      I know, it just don't feel like it.
      I had to agree with her, and we sat in silence like three convicts.
      Pretty soon, the cop was back, with the red car in tow. He shone his light over the damaged area. We all came out.
      That's at least two hundred fifty bucks' worth of damage right there, he said. Maybe three hundred.
      I was impressed, he was right with his estimate.
      Where are you gonna get that? he asked her.
Insurance? Marietta said cheerfully.
      No, not with drunken driving. Plus, the rate would jump up. You got to come up with the money.
      You figure it out. That's your problem.
      Maybe this is the pimp moment, I thought. Now she'll be forced to moonlight, and they'll offer the services to me. Maybe he's the one who designed the whole thing. I chuckled at the thought.
      The cop looked at me strangely. Not the right moment to chuckle.
      Where's the assembly part? he asked. It fell out somewheres.
      Oh, that black thing? I saw it fall out. I'll find it, said Shelly. They looked in the ditch, shining to and fro, and found nothing, and they came back and sat in the car.
      Marietta sat with her hands together, clasped between her knees, as though she was chilled.
      Shelly, you drive my pickup, he commanded.
      You sure? she said, but climbed in it anyhow.
      The cop sat with Marietta, and said before closing the door, Thank you, sir, for your help.
      Oh, nothing to thank.
      Marietta lifted one of her hands and waved to me briefly and looked away, at the barn. That seemed an indifferent greeting after our conversation. She had seemed much friendlier before, but now, she just waved me off like a fly. She doesn't need me. I am just a middle-aged guy with a tobacco barn, in which there's no tobacco, but only firewood and mountain bikes.
      It was five in the morning now. Should I go to bed? No, it wouldn't work, after all that coffee. I made more, and thought, They were sweet, except the cop, of course, but he must be a good guy despite being such a bore. Will I ever see Marietta again? They told me where they worked. Should I stop by and see them at work? No, I thought, that would be silly. Should I stop by at their trailers? No, even if they are separated, somehow that wouldn't be decent, to come by to visit her, and to visit him, that would not make any sense at all. Maybe I'll run into her at the Kroger's and if she's divorced—oh, forget it, I told myself in my thoughts and gave myself sound advice: Don't be an ass.
      I was glad I had helped them, despite the policy not to open doors to strangers at night deep in the forest.
      The following morning, I saw a cop's car, and the same cop walk up and down the road, looking into the ditch.
      I drove past, rolled down the window, and said, Missing something?
      Yes, the assembly part.
      Good luck, I said.
      Thank you, he said, politely, and continued walking back and forth by my barn.
      It would have been more pleasant if Marietta had come by to do it, or at least, if she had come with him. Now I had a cop snooping around.
      Well, that's all right. It could be worse, I thought. And of course, it could be.
      Now and then I remembered Marietta and thought how wonderful it would be if I could kayak with her, or hike in the woods, or simply drink wine and talk. I was sure she was much smarter than she let on; it would be great to hear her jokes. Each time I began to daydream about her, I reminded myself that it was all pointless, and that was that.
      A month later, however, the cop stopped by just as I was doing my email—though "stopped by" may not be the right expression.
      I thought I had heard a car, perhaps the mailman, but the days in which I had expected something good in the mail had been long gone, so I kept going through my Hotmail, when suddenly the door bangs open, and the cop, with a gun in his hand, shouts, Freeze!
      It looked so ridiculous, a poor cop-show imitation, that I didn't get scared.
      Where is she? he shouted.
      Don't play dumb. My wife!
      How would I know?
      You know very well. Don't play games now.
      I never saw her after that night.
      Sir, you have been calling my wife. Why?
      Don't lie. Are you having an affair with my wife?
      No, far be it from me. I am glad I helped you all, but what did I do to deserve this?
      His hand was shaking. That made me nervous, and soon terrified. This guy could pull the trigger. I looked up the barrel, then to his eyes. There was rage, tears: a total madman driven by jealousy.
      Hey, please, calm down, I said. I have nothing to do with your wife. Haven't seen her again.
      Ah, but you may have seen her before, right? I mean, what would she be doing at four in the morning on this road? I don't buy the story she was visiting her aunt. She don't have no aunt anywheres near.
      I didn't buy that story either, but who knows where she was driving to or from.
      She was visiting you.
      Come on. Her car hit the ditch before my place, she was driving in this direction.
      True, he said. True. But maybe she was just—
      Don't speculate. That was the only time I saw her.
      Honestly. Why would I lie?
      Because of the gun.
      You got a point, I must admit that.
      Admit what? You saw my wife?
      No, the point that the gun would scare one into saying all sorts of things. Please remove it, if you want to talk normally. Would you like some coffee?
      Oh, I have heard about your coffee. I hate city slicker coffee. No, thank you.
      I have some Folgers somewhere, if that would make you feel better.
      No. He put the gun into the leather at his belt.
      Have a seat, I said.
      Okay, he said, angrily.
      I was already seated. Sure you don't want tea? No, thank you.
      He remained standing, which gave him an unfair advantage, but it would be awkward to stand up now, with his large black rubber shoes close to my feet. Once I stood up from my rocking chair, I'd bump into him, and that didn't seem comfortable. The last thing I wanted now was to imitate the postures of two tomcats, one standing and the other cowering, but that was our geography now. I would have to stand up, or this guy should learn to relax, but how can he relax when he is filled with Marietta jealousy?
      You've been calling my wife, admit it.
      Sir, I have the evidence. There's a collect call made from this phone to mine, and when I am at work at night, that's her phone.
      I never call collect. I have a good calling plan with AT&T. What would be the point? I am not that poor.
      You sure? he looked around, and his gaze fixed on the computer. I guess you are right, but that still don't explain it all. And then there's a call from my number to yours, also at night, and I work night shifts, as I said.
      I don't remember her calling me at night.
      Aha, but you do remember her calling you! he stood on tiptoe, gaining in size.
      No, I didn't put that right. She never called here, night or day.
      How can you say that, Sir!? I have the evidence, the phone bill.
      What's the date? (For a second, it occurred to me that my house sitter may have called
      her. Who knows, maybe he knows her.)
      He said, November 28, 2000.
      That's pretty far back. Wait, that was the night of the accident! Of course, she called you from here, don't you remember? She called collect. And then, since you weren't sure of the directions, you called back.
      He slackened his shoulders. Boy, yes, yes, that makes sense. Why didn't I think of that?
      I don't know, I said. Have a seat?
      Now he cowered, lost his posture, sat down.
      All right, sir.
      He looked totally defeated.
      Why are you so depressed? Your wife is not having an affair with me, so you should be relieved.
      I just don't know. She must be having an affair, I am sure. She disappears at night. This was the best clue I had.
      He really was sorry the clue was failing him. Not that I wanted to comfort him, but certainly to placate him.
      Maybe she goes on a drinking spree with her buddy Shelly.
      How would you know?
      She said so. I regretted that I had said that much. It's best not to know anything about him and his wife, clearly.
      I have no idea what your wife does. Sorry not to be able to help. Or rather, glad I can't help you.
      I'll get to the bottom of it all yet, he said, more to himself than to me.
      Hey, mister, listen, I help you and your family, and I get this in return? Next time strangers in trouble knock on my door at four a.m., maybe I shouldn't answer the door.
      Correct, he said. I meant to tell you that. Someone knocks at the door, even if they don't look armed and dangerous, like two women, don't open the door. Instruct them to go back to their vehicle, and you make the nine-one-one call for them. That's better for you, safer. You never know about people.
      I couldn't agree more at that point, at least about the last statement.
      He abruptly stood up. Thank you for the information.
      But the coffee is not done yet.
      It's the idea that counts, he said. I appreciate it. He looked me coldly in the eye. I'll be seeing you, he said.
      As he walked toward the door, his eye caught the sight of my underwear lying loose. My Italian underwear, light purple, was on the floor near the bathroom entrance. I had always been a slob, I must admit that, and although I hated this kind of underwear, I had run out of clean Fruit of the Loom, and from my last trip I had the clean foreign underwear, to which I resorted rather than to doing laundry, anything but laundry.
      There! That's hers! Sir, how do you explain that?
      No, it's mine.
      I know she wears that kind. It's not men's. Who do you take me for?
      It's men's. Italian. We wear it.
      Sir, I've had it with you. I don't care if I shoot you, just don't lie to me anymore.
      You don't believe me?
      Fortunately I remembered that under my jeans I had on a pair of Italian underwear. I let my pants drop, and there it was, a blue pair, smaller than a swimmer's Speedo. My pubic hair wasn't covered, but I didn't care. This could save my life.
      Yuck! he said. You a pervert or something?
      Yes, sir, a certified masochist, with a Ph.D.
      His eyes popped and he backed toward the door.
      Good-bye, I said.
      He rushed out, laughing. He jumped in the car and honked.
      My dog, who usually chases cars, didn't chase his, but only stood there, staring with his jaws open. Maybe he could smell the gun and he knew what it meant, from the hunting season. Why didn't he warn me about the cop's arrival? Same thing, probably; he smelled the metal. Usually he barks. Come to think of it, he hadn't barked when the strange women came. Did they have guns? Actually, he likes women, so he was just glad there were women to sniff. Such is his loneliness; no female dogs in a mile radius.
      Later, I retold this story to my former house sitter, John, as an anecdote, and he said, Boy, cops are dumb. You know that in Massachusetts, they aren't allowed to be above average in intelligence?
      I remember that, I said, and maybe he is dumb in some ways.
      In some ways! guffawed John. Dumb as a doornail.
      I didn't say anything. It's the idea that counts, he had said about coffee, and maybe he didn't say it about coffee, but had figured it out. He could see the idea in my head about Marietta. He got the details wrong, but he got the essential idea right. Maybe that's brilliant. Maybe that's the universal brilliancy of jealousy, to see stuff like that. No he wasn't far off. I had committed the Jimmy Carter kind of adultery, in my heart, not the Billy Clinton kind, but, essentially and biblically, what's the difference?
      Luckily, I hadn't done anything. Well, of course, I wouldn't have done anything. Maybe she had that idea too, and he could see that? Now, that was even flattering, that a young animal would consider an old animal like me. But forget that kind of flattery. I didn't like looking into the darkness of the gun barrel in a shaking hand of a jealous cop. No, that is not a good situation. I was surprised I hadn't got terrified more then, because the sight of it in my mind even now gives me shivers.
      And what does he expect? Of course, with him hounding her around like that, with guns, she must like to fly off, to get a taste of freedom, and maybe she is having an affair somewhere, or maybe only the idea of it, while she drives around and knocks her head with her friend. I don't know, and I don't want to find out.

© Josip Novakovich

This electronic version of "Night Guests" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author. It appears in the author´s collection Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust, HarperCollins, 2005. Book ordering available through  amazon.com.

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

josip.jpg (3756 bytes)
Jeanette Novakovich

Josip Novakovich is the author of April Fool's Day (2004) as well as three short-fiction collections, most recently Infidelities: Stories of War and Lust (2005). He is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. A resident of central Pennsylvania, he teaches at Penn State University.

Contact the author.


Issue 53: May - June 2006  

f i c t i o n

Helen Simpson: Every Third Thought
Josip Novakovich: Night Guests
Rattawut Lapcharoensap: At the Café Lovely
Craig Dixon: Box Count
David Ramos Fernandes: Blossom

picks from back issues

Barry Gifford: Holiday from Women and Dancing With Fidel
Des Dillon: The Blue Hen

q u i z

Animals in Literature
answers to last issue’s quiz:
American Lit and Culture of the1960s

b o o k   r e v i e w s

The Stars Above Veracruz by Barry Gifford
The Priest of Evil by Matti-Yrjänä Joensuu

r e g u l ar  f e a t u r e s

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)
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