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When she comes over it is in a rattly old thing. Color yellow it got white-ring tires that rhyme the way round and the exhaust has slipped loose and is dragging sparks from it. There are stickers from the many funny places she been to on the bumper and two or three of her ideas are pasted on the fenders. A band-aid that look just like a band-aid only it is a monster has been momma'd onto the hood like the rattly old thing got some child sore in the motor.
      Now this official had mailed us a note that tell Wilma who is the woman who is my wife and me that this lady wants to visit. It seems she teach Cecil something useful at the prison.
      The door flings out and she squats up out of the car coming my way. I have posted myself in the yard and she come straight at me smiling. Over her shoulder is a strap that holds up a big purse made of the sort of pale weeds they have in native lands I never saw.
      She call me Mister McCoy right off like who I am is that clear-cut. Her name Frieda Buell she go on then flap out a hand for me to shake. I give her palm a little rub and tell her she is welcome.
      When I see that sits with her good I tell her to come into the house.
      That is something she would love to do she tells me.
      This is a remark I don't believe so I stand back and inventory her. She is young with shaggy blond hair but she knows something about painting her face as she has done it smashing well. Her shirt is red and puffy and her shoes have heels that tell me walking is not a thing she practices over much. Her britches are pale and slicked onto her booty like they started as steam puffs.
      The porch has sunk down so it hunkers a distance in front of the house. I ask her to be careful and she is. Inside I give her the good chair but I keep standing.
      Right away I tell her I want to know what this about.
      What it is about is a lulu. My son Cecil is a gifted man she says. He has a talent that puts a rareness to the world or something along those lines.
      Cecil? Cecil a thief I tell her. And not that sly a one neither.
      Once was she says. No more.
       Always was. My mind is made up on that. But what's got me puzzled is what is this rareness he puts to the world or whatever?
      Poetry is her answer. She reach her hand that has been overdone with various rings into the big purse and pulls out a booklet. She says Cecil has written it and the critics have claimed him as a natural in ability.
      I take the booklet in my hands. It is of thick dry paper and the cover says "Dark Among the Grays" by Cecil McCoy. That is him all right I say. Tell me do this somehow line him up early for parole?
      It could she says. She trying to face me bold enough but her eyes is playing hooky on her face and going places besides my own. She been teaching him for two years she says and what he has is a gift like she never seen before.  
      Gift I say. A gift is not like Cecil.
      May I have the book she asks. I hand it to her. She opens it to a middle page. Like this listen to this. She begin to read to me from what apparently Cecil my son has written out. The name of it is "Soaring" and it is a string of words that say a bird is floating above the junkyard and has spotted a hot glowing old wreck below only the breeze sucks him down and he can't help but land in it. When she done reading the thing she look up at me like I should maybe be ridiculous with pleasure. I can't tell but that is my sense.
      Is that the first chapter or what I want to know.
      She lets out one of them whistly breaths that means I might overmatch her patience. These are poems of his life on the street she tells me. But they are brimful of accurate thoughts for all. Yet grounded in the tough streets of this area.
      They have junkyards everywhere is my comeback to her.
      But the bird Mister McCoy. The bird is soaring over death which is an old car wreck. The poet is wanting to be that white bird winging it free above death. What it really signifies is that Cecil want to be let off from having to die. That is the point of it she says.
      Now to me this point is obvious but I feel sad for a second about Cecil. Two things he never going to be is a white bird.
      Read on I suggest.
      She slides out a smile for me that lets me know I'm catching on. Then she turn the book to another page. This was in some big-time poetry magazine she says. Then she read. The words of this one are about a situation I recognize. The poet has ripped off his momma's paycheck to pay back some bad dudes he ain't related to.
      Hold it there I tell her. That is a poem that actually happen several times lady. Cecil a goddamn thief.
      No no no. He wants to make amends for it. He wants to overcome the guilt of what he done.
      I tell her it would be in the hundreds of dollars to do that. Is these poems going to get him that kind of money? My question is beneath her. She won't answer it.
      This poem has meanings for all the people she says. They look into it and see their selves.
      That is nice and interesting I tell her but how come Wilma and me has to pay for this poem all alone? Everybody who looks in it and see their selves ought to pay some back to us.
      This comment of mine puts pressure on her cool and she begins to pace about the room. The room is clean enough but the furniture is ragged. I have a hip weakness and janitor work pains it. Wilma has the job now.
      The lady stops and looks out the window. Two cars is blocking traffic to say what's going on to each other. Horns are honking. People get hurt over things like that.
      Mister McCoy do you love Cecil?
      There was a time I answer. It was a love that any daddy would have. But that was way back. If I love Cecil now it is like the way I love the Korean conflict. Something terrible I have lived through.
      He has changed Mister McCoy. He has got in touch with his humanity. If he had a place to live he could be paroled to start fresh.
      I believe I will sit down. As I say it I drop to the three-legged chair by the door. I am thinking of my son Cecil. He was one of a whole set of kids Wilma and me filled out
because we had only each other. He ate from the same pot of chili as the rest but he turned out different. His eyes were shiny and his nose turned up instead of being flat. The better he knows you the more relaxed he is about stealing you blind. Same pot of chili but different.
      I don't believe we want to take him back I say.
      But you are his family. There is no one else for him.
     Family yes but main victims too lady. I reach up and pull the bridge from my mouth which leaves a bad fence of my teeth showing. See that? I ask. Cecil did that. He wasn't but fifteen when he did that.
      He has changed she says again. She says it like that settles it.
      I don't believe it. He may well write out poems that say he sorry and guilty but I am leery of him. You listen to this lady. This porch right here. I was standing on this porch right here when it was less sunk and Cecil was out there in the street with a mess of boys. They were little but practicing to be dangerous someday. One of them picks up a stone and tosses it at the high-up streetlight there. He misses it by a house or two. He ain't close. I stood there on the porch out of curiosity and watched. They all flung stones at the light but none was close to shattering it. Then Cecil pick up a slice of brick and hardly aims but he smash that light to bits. As soon as it left his hand I seen that his aim for being bad was awful accurate.
      Well she says. He seems sensitive to her.
      Oh he can do that lady. He could do that years ago.
      You are a hard nut she tells me. He is lost without you. His parole could be denied.
      Tell me why do you care? I ask her this but my suspicion is she would like to give Cecil lessons in gaiety.
      Because I admire his talent Mister McCoy. Cecil is a poet who is pissed off at the big things in this world and that give him a heat that happy poets got to stand back
      You want us to take him home because he pissed off? That ain't no change.
      Artistically she say wheezing that put-down breath again.
      Lady that ain't enough I tell her. Let me show you the door.
      When we are on the porch she wants to shake hands again but I don't chew my cabbage twice. I have been there so I lead her across the yard. Her cheeks get red. I look up and down the neighborhood and all the homes are like mine and Wilma's. The kind that if they were people they would cough a lot and spit up tangled stuff. Spit shit into the sink.
      At her car she hands me the booklet. It is yours she says. Cecil insisted.
      I take it in my hands. I say thank you.
      She slips into the rattly old thing and starts the motor. A puff of oil smoke come out the back and there is a knocking sound.
      I lean down to her window.
      Look lady I say. Wish Cecil well but it is like this. He ain't getting no more poems off of us.
      Her head nods and she flips her hand at me. The monster band-aid on the hood has caught my eye again. What kind of craziness is that about I wonder. I want to ask her but she shifts the car and pulls away. So I am left standing there alone to guess just what it is she believe that band-aid fix.

© 2011 Daniel Woodrell

This electronic version of “Two Things” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of Daniel Woodrell, the Ellen Levine Literary Agency, and publishers. It appears in the short-story collection The Outlaw Album, published by Little, Brown, & Co., 2011 and Hodder & Stoughton, U.K, 2012. 

Spanish Translation

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Author Bio

Daniel WoodrellDaniel Woodrell was born in the Missouri Ozarks, left school and enlisted in the marines the week he turned seventeen, received his bachelor’s degree at age twenty-seven, graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and spent a year on a Michener Fellowship.  Winter’s Bone, his eight novel, was made into a film that won the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Picture Prize in 2010.  Five of his novels were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the year, and Tomato Red won the PEN West Award for fiction in 1999.  The Death of Sweet Mister was selected by Dennis Lehane for the 2011 Clifton Fadiman Medal, awarded by the Center for Fiction.  His first collection of stories, The Outlaw Album, came out in 2011.  He lives in the Ozarks near the Arkansas line.

Author photo:  Bruce Carr