Gang


Edward saw the first bikers from his modular home on the outskirts of town.  He was staring out his window, sipping coffee, in a pajama top and bottoms of two unmatching plaids.  The mud yard looked gray in the early morning light, and a streak of yellow glowed on the horizon.  Then the sky went bright in an instant, like house lights coming up after a movie, and he saw with astonishment, parked in his yard, pointed straight at him, a car.  Its grille faced him like bared teeth.  It was an old green Oldsmobile with a boxy chrome front, rusty and ugly and huge.

He jumped, and his foot pulled out of his slipper.  Coffee ran up his arm.  He shook out his hand, rained drops on the end table and his neat stack of Baseball Digests.

When he looked out again, he saw bikers in the road.  Two wild-haired women, two big-bearded men, sitting on two motorcycles.  They were talking and gesturing, waving at him.  They were laughing, he realized.  Laughing!

They kick-started their engines, throaty and loud, and roared off.  Away from the town and Edward's development.  Into the woods, onto wild state land.


**

Sitting in his kitchen, eating his cereal, Edward wondered if he should stay home from his office, the office of the mayor of the town.  He wondered if the bikers would knock on his door with black-gloved hands when they saw his white scooter parked beside the house.  He wondered if their knock would be loud and forceful, so loud as to seem to be inside the room.  Maybe it was my scooter that attracted their attention in the first place, he thought.  Maybe they think I'm one of them.  But if they see me walk out of my modular home, under my aluminum carport, and snap on my helmet to ride quietly in to work, they'll see me for what I am.  And they may not tolerate me.  Even the smallest reminder of what people like me are like.


**

The phone rang.  It was Marjorie, the telephone operator of the town.  She and Edward each asked how the other was doing, and each told the other that it was nice to talk to the other.

"Edward," she said, "everyone's calling.  Everyone's saying there's a motorcycle gang around town.  Don Brody says they went out to his place and cruised around his horseshoe driveway.  A hundred motorcycles in a line.  One of them went over his footbridge onto his man-made island and threw something in his wishing well.  He thinks it was a penny, but he's not sure.

"And Everett Cahill called—he's standing in his doorway, waving a seven-iron, waiting for the gang to ride by.

"And Rich Melska's setting the headline for The Crier:  'WILL GANG TAKE EVERYTHING OVER?'"

"Marjorie," Edward said, "there are some bikers out here, too.  Real bikers.  They're pointing at me with a car."

"What?  Edward, are you okay?"

He started to reply, but through the phone he heard motorcycles, hundreds, rip past in the background for twenty full seconds.  "Hey!" he yelled.  "I said, 'Hey!'!"  But he could not hear Marjorie until the roar subsided.

"Edward!" she was shouting.  "Do something!  Get down here, now!"

Each told the other that he or she would soon see the other, and each hung up his or her phone.


**

Edward looked at the telephone and thought:  I whisper too much in your presence, I know, you think I'm trying to make these moments seem more enchanted than they really are.  Maybe you're right, maybe I want more than we are able to make with each other, but I'd like to try to trick us both for a while.  What's wrong with a trick as long as it's working?  The time in the elevator at work, the unplanned time, when I stepped on and saw you standing near the back.  Your long brown hair, your silky white blouse, your long magenta skirt hugging your calves.  Your muscular calves and their tomato-red, I presumed, muscles.  The rest of the crowd stepped off at the next floor up just as, in my mind, I was ushering them to.  I whispered to you then, the numbers in Italian, the language of love, right into your ear, and I held the 'Door Close' button while we kissed for so long. Uno, due, tre . . .  Marjorie, Marjorie, I know I overburden such moments, but there is something between us—please don't deny me them!


**

He tossed his pajamas on the bed, the plaid against the plaid.  Then he pulled on his suit pants, dragging them up his legs one leg at a time.  If only I were one of those people, he thought, who don't put their pants on one leg at a time.  Those people who put on both legs at once.


**

He scootered toward his office, past the new bald yards and thick concrete curbs of his development, the outermost development of the town.  It was built by Don Brody, the developer of the town, who had named it Mapleoak Pinecrest Estates.  Edward, as mayor, had allowed him to build it and had also allowed him to name it.

When Edward was a child, his mother used to bring him out here in the autumns.  She would set up an easel beside the road and make watercolor paintings while he played in the woods.  She painted horseblood-red barns, and trees with blazing orange leaves, and birds roosting on boughs.  She painted old wagon wheels tipped against well covers.  She painted smiling raccoons.  Edward the boy would drop pinecones in the creek and watch them float down, slipping past rocks and catching in dams of sticks and pine needles.

Now, as he scootered, he could not tell where those old places had been, those barns and well covers, because the trees and tree-stumps, the hummocks and slopes, had all been bulldozed away.  They had all been here, at points in space that still existed, but the points looked so different now that he could not locate them.  The bird on the bough might have been right . . . here, he thought, as he rode over a seam in the concrete.  Or here, he thought as he rode over the next seam.  Or here, or here, or here, or here, or here.


**

Edward parked his scooter in the spot marked 'Mayor,' walked up the sidewalk, and pushed open the door of Town Hall.

"There he is!" shouted Don Brody.

"The mayor!" shouted Jason McGill, Edward's assistant.

"Finally!" shouted Rich Melska, the editor of The Crier.  A camera flashed.

Through the jostling crowd Edward glimpsed Marjorie in her glassed-in office at the end of the hall.  She was bathed in the light of the switchboard, working it furiously, her headset at an alluring tilt.

The crowd jammed into the elevator with Edward and went with him up to his office.  Upstairs, they packed around a long conference table.  Oil portraits of the town's previous mayors hung on the walls around them.  Don Brody sat with his red scowling face, and Rich Melska sat with his skeptical look, and Jason McGill sat, twitchy and eager to take notes.  The police chief and fire chief were there.  Other citizens were there, parents and druggists and discount retail clerks.  Marjorie had gotten Everett Cahill on the speakerphone that sat in the middle of the table.  He was home, still standing in his doorway, waving his seven-iron and waiting for the gang to ride by.

"They say 'stand in a doorway' when an earthquake is happening," said Everett Cahill's voice through the speakerphone.  "So I'm standing in a doorway.  Mrs. Cahill's in tornado position, on the lowest level of our home."  His speakerphone voice seemed to congeal out of the air, this air which was the air of the town.

"I'm afraid these 'gang members' will use bad language near our children," one parent said.

"Or take them away to their headquarters, or wherever," said another.

Jason McGill scribbled notes.

"They want our property!" shouted Don Brody, pounding the table.  "Our land, our vehicles!  The stuff in our houses!  And they want it now!"

"We can go get 'em," said the police chief.  "Just turn me loose, Eddie."

The police chief elbowed the fire chief, who looked uncomfortable.

"Yes, well, if they were to light a fire, we would put it out," he said.

The fire chief was elbowed again, and he looked uncomfortable again.

"Eddie," he added.

Finally, Rich Melska cleared his throat to speak, and everyone turned to listen.  His "PRESS" card stuck up from the band of his fedora.

"WILL GANG TAKE EVERYTHING OVER?" he asked.

Jason McGill scribbled notes.

Don Brody, the police chief, and Rich Melska leaned over the conference table at Edward, scowling and ready and skeptical.  The parents and druggists, the discount retail clerks, got up from their seats, crowded around him, and stared and breathed in his face.  As they breathed, he wondered how the gang might react if he sent the police chasing after them.  The gang, after all, knew where he, Edward, lived.  And the gang hadn't really done anything wrong.  They were just being a gang.  But the crowd leaned over him, and Edward leaned back, as far as the office chair would tilt, until his back was touching the wall.

"Okay, okay," he said.  "Okay, police chief.  Okay, Don Brody.  Okay, okay, okay.  Consider yourselves 'turned loose.'"

Over the speakerphone a clank could be heard—the sound of the seven-iron dropping.  Then a clap could be heard, and another.  Everett's clapping seemed to congeal out of the air, this air which was the air of the town.  Soon everyone in the room was clapping, faster and faster, until they all reached their top speeds of clapping.

The door opened and in wheeled Mayor Dunn, Edward's predecessor, who had been the town's mayor for decades.  The clapping grew denser, as if with historical perspective.  Marjorie was pushing Mayor Dunn's wheelchair.  Marjorie was Mayor Dunn's daughter.

Mayor Dunn bore a vacant, smiley look.  He wore a pressed suit, but had no hair, no teeth, and cloudy eyes.  Marjorie pushed him alongside the table, to a space near Edward at the end.  He seemed to be looking vaguely toward Edward, but Edward could not be sure.

Just at that moment, the oil portrait of Mayor Dunn, which had up to then not been completed, arrived.  Two men in coveralls stepped in through the clapping and hung the portrait in the blank space that had been prepared for it, right above the real Mayor Dunn's head.  The portrait and the real Mayor Dunn looked somewhat alike, but the portrait had hair in a thick shining white wave, and brilliant sharp teeth, and gleaming, non-cloudy eyes directed unmistakably at Edward.

Then, for an instant, the real Mayor Dunn, the vacant, smiley old man, seemed to fasten on Edward a look of stern penetration.  A scolding, 'I Want You' look.  For this instant, the real Mayor Dunn looked much like the man in the portrait.  They were alone for this moment in the midst of the clapping, Edward and Mayor Dunn, and Edward felt his very spine shiver.  Then Mayor Dunn's look became vague again, and his eyes became cloudy, and Marjorie wheeled him away.


**

Edward was sitting at his desk, sorting through his baseball cards and picking out the bespectacled infielders he loved, when Marjorie called.

"Betty called from the corn stand and said some bikers came by to buy corn.  She said they picked out some corn and paid for it, like regular people.  The police went out there, but the bikers were already gone.  And Steve Thacker said he was fishing down at the creek when some of the bikers came by to fish.  He said they were nice, and they gave him some bait—huge, fat nightcrawlers, the best he'd ever seen.  He said he caught a big trout with one, but threw it back.  He didn't know why, he just wanted to.  The police went down to look for them, but the bikers were already gone."

"What the—?" Edward said, toward the portrait of Mayor Dunn.


**

Edward remembered an afternoon:  Riding down a winding road on a bicycle-built-for-two, Edward and Marjorie.  He tries to steer toughly, aggressively—quick-left to avoid a pothole, quick-right to avoid a rock, pedaling, pedaling.  When he turns to glimpse Marjorie he sees an unforgettable look on her face.  Half-closed eyes, grim mouth.  Watching the scenery go by.  The look of the telephone operator on a slow day.  A look that says, "Goodbye."  When he invited her to come on this ride with him, he had said, "You'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle-built-for-two!" but now he regrets having said this.

They park the bicycle beside a pond and spread a cloth on the grass.  Edward pulls a jar of olives from his picnic pack.  He sticks a tiny fork into the jar, stabs an olive, and holds it out for her to take.

"You look very vulnerable with that olive," she says, and looks away.

He doesn't understand how he could look vulnerable.  Is it desirable or undesirable to look vulnerable?

"Say something," she says.  "Something with anger in it."

What does she want? he wonders.  Why won't she take this olive?  They are good olives.  He pretends to laugh.  "Ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha ha."  She looks absently around at the pond, the bike, the tall blades of grass.


**

It was night.  Edward awoke in his bed.  His room looked wrong; there was light in it and a great sad note, an aching moan like a whale song.  It's like a whale is calling to me in a dream, he thought, except that I'm awake.

He followed the sound to the living room, to the window.  It was the horn of the Oldsmobile.  Its high beams, four moons, shone on him.

The car door opened and a fat, bearded biker climbed out, laughing and motioning with big waves for Edward to come.  Edward was afraid, and his mind thought quickly, but he could not think of a way to say no.  These moons, this whale song, these laughing big waves.  Am I crazy? he wondered, stepping outside.  If a whale were calling to me in a dream, would I go?

Edward sat in the back seat, the fat biker in the passenger seat, and a tall, bleach-blonde woman biker in the driver's seat.  There was a sharp smell of leather and woodsmoke.  No one spoke.

They rode away from the town.  The cloud of headlight in front caught fenceposts, mailboxes, and road signs that Edward recognized.  Then it caught low branches, thick foliage, and craggy tree trunks he did not recognize.  Then they turned right.

Into the trees! he thought at first, then no, into a lane, surrounded by woods.  They entered a clearing and stopped.  A bonfire blazed.  Crickets chirped, a creek gurgled, and Edward smelled mud.  He walked with the two bikers across the clearing, picking their way through a sea of sprawled bikers

In the center of the clearing, three recliners were arranged around a coffee table, with a lamp on it plugged into an extension cord, which trailed off into the dark.

"Please," said the fat biker, motioning toward a recliner.  "Can I get you something?  Water, iced tea?"

Edward shook his head.  He was shivering

"We should start with introductions, then, I suppose," said the woman biker.  "I am Yvonne.  Pleased."  She had a generic-sounding accent that Edward could not place.  It could have come from any country, any continent.  Anywhere but here.

"And my name," said the fat biker, "is Garden Hose."

Edward told them his name.

"Yes, yes," said Garden Hose.  "Fine.  Tell us something, Edward.  How should I put it."  He pulled at his beard, thinking, then looked up with a smile.  "Do you like yourself?"

"Yes," said Yvonne, nodding.  "Do you like yourself, Edward?"

Edward sat back.  He wanted to talk about them, the gang, and ask them what they were up to.  But the gang wanted to talk about him.

"Do I look like I don't like myself?" he finally said.

Garden Hose and Yvonne did not answer.

"Yes?" he offered.  "Of course I like myself?"

"Oh.  Come.  On!" shouted Yvonne.  "You sent the police force after us!  You did not even want to, but still you sent them!  Because some people wanted you to.  Why?  To arrest us?  For what?  For being ourselves?  Selves who are not welcome in this town?  That is not right, Edward.  That is not you.  How can you do this and then say you like yourself?"

Edward did not take a breath.  He felt a drop of everything trickle in his brain.

"You are walked upon," she went on.  "Over and over.  You do not like yourself.  But you used to, did you not?  Did you not?  When did this happen?  When did this change?"

Edward knew she was right, that he used to like himself.  He looked out into the darkness around them.  It was deep and huge and velvety, where an answer could go and never be found.  Cricket chirps came in waves.  Then he looked down at the coffee table and the homey light of the lamp.  There were no walls to remind him of the walls of his office, where the portraits of previous mayors hung, and noticing this made him think of the walls and the portraits.  He looked up at Garden Hose and Yvonne.  "Yesterday," he said.  "I think it changed yesterday.  When Mayor Dunn glared at me in the meeting.  I didn't stand up to people, and he knew it He would have stood up to them when he was mayor.  I stopped liking myself right then."

Garden Hose shook his head.  "Yesterday?" he asked, looking sideways at Yvonne.

"We do not think so," said Yvonne.  "Go back farther than yesterday."

Edward shrank back in the recliner.  There was no telephone on the coffee table to remind him of Marjorie, and thus he was reminded of her.  "The day of the picnic with Marjorie," he said.  "On the bicycle-built-for-two.  When she refused the olive.  It was a couple of weeks ago.  I think that's when it changed.  She seemed to stop liking me on that day, and I stopped liking myself."

"A couple of weeks ago?" said Garden Hose, looking over at Yvonne.  "Is that all?"

"Go back more," Yvonne said.  "Back, back, back."

Edward shrank back in his recliner again.  There were no magazines on the coffee table to remind him of his Baseball Digests, his baseball cards, and the infielders he loved.  "It has nothing to do with the baseball stuff, I know that," he said.

"You know that?" asked Garden Hose.  "For sure?"

"Well, yeah," Edward said.  "I mean I used to play baseball, but that was different.  Now I'm just a fan.  What could be wrong with being a fan?  I like myself being a fan."

Garden Hose and Yvonne stared at him, waiting.  "You like yourself being a fan?" asked Yvonne, in her accent

"Kind of.  I wouldn't have minded being a player, of course.  But who wouldn't?  That's what everybody thinks.  I was pretty good, though.  I had some potential.  Or so people said."

Yvonne and Garden Hose smiled and settled into their chairs.

"I mean I could hit okay.  I won a couple of games with my hitting.  Our town has a team that plays against other towns.  I remember one game where this guy had a wicked curve ball, and he had us baffled the whole game, but we managed to keep it close.  In the last inning I came up with a couple of guys on base.  We were down to our last out and he threw me his wickedest curve, but I stuck with it and crushed it into the left-field corner.  And two runs scored and we won.  Because of me!  My teammates lifted me up and carried me around.  That was a good feeling.  Really good."

"So what happened?" Garden Hose said.  "What changed?"

"Well," Edward said, "there was this other game, when I was up in the last inning again.  The winning run was on base again, and we were down to our last out again.  I had two strikes, but I wasn't afraid of striking out."  He paused and looked into their eyes, then went on more slowly.  "Then the other team's coach yelled to their pitcher, 'Just throw an easy one right down the middle.  He won't swing!'  But he yelled it more toward me than the pitcher.  The pitch came, and it was an easy one right down the middle I could have scorched it.  But I watched it go by.  Strike three.  I did exactly what he'd told me to do.  I went back to the bench and my teammates were totally silent."  Edward swallowed.  "I was never the same after that.  I had a few nice hits, here and there, but I basically stunk.  Stank?  Stunk.  I quit before the coach could kick me off the team."

Garden Hose and Yvonne slumped in their chairs and shook their heads.  It was like they had witnessed a tragedy.  It was like they were laden with woe.

In this clearing, under this sky, Edward leaned back in the recliner and let out a terrible dredge of a sigh.  Cricket chirps drenched the air, and the earth-smell soaked through him, into and out of his pores.  And he cried.

Creeks and creeks of tears ran down

He cried as they walked from the chairs to the car.  He wept as they rolled through the woods to the road.  He sobbed as they drove through the wild State Land, until fenceposts and mailboxes came into view.

"Idea!" Yvonne said, poking a finger into the air of the car.  "If you want to like yourself again, that is."  She cleared her throat dramatically.  "You must honor your instinct.  You must let us in.  You must let the town like us.  Call off the police, and stand up to them, and help all the citizens get to know us and like us."  She whispered something across the front seat to Garden Hose, who nodded.

"We should have a reception, or a social," announced Garden Hose.  "For the town to get to know us.  How about it, Edward?  Let us in!  Let us throw a social for the town!"

Edward sat up in the back seat.  He wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.  "Well, how?" he asked.  "I mean, how?"

"You are the mayor," said Yvonne.  "As mayor, some things are up to you, are they not?"  She raised her eyebrows at him.

"Well, yeah."

"And so?" asked Yvonne.  "Is that all?  Just 'yeah'?  Don't you mean 'Yeah!'?"  She pumped her fist.  She smiled, a non-icy smile, and reached a long arm over the back of her seat and poked him.

He giggled.  "Well, I guess so," he said.  "Okay.  Yeah!" he shouted, surprising himself.  He bounced in his seat, and his head hit the ceiling with a denting sound.

The three of them started to laugh—to laugh!—and together they barreled ahead.


**

In the morning Edward called a meeting.  Don Brody came, and Rich Melska came from The Crier, and the police chief came, and a discount retail clerk.  Everett Cahill was reached via speakerphone, and Jason McGill scribbled notes.  Mayor Dunn made his clapped-for entrance, and sat without moving below his portrait at the conference table.

"A what?!" shouted Don Brody.

"A who?!" shouted the police chief.

"A social, like an ice cream social?" asked Jason McGill.

"Well, yeah," said Edward.  "Kind of a social.  Like an ice cream social.  Or a barbecue I forget exactly.  They're the ones hosting it.  It's up to them."

"A SOCIAL, INSIDE A RECEPTION, WRAPPED IN A BARBECUE?" asked Rich Melska.

Jason McGill wrote this down.

Everett Cahill's voice congealed out of the air.  "That's crazy-talk," he said.  "You're a crazy mayor!"

Edward stood, closed his eyes, and took a breath.  He faced the portrait of Mayor Dunn on the wall, and as he reopened his eyes he thought he saw the figure in the portrait also reopening its eyes.  He tried to make his face look very much like the face in the portrait.  "No, Everett," he said.  "I am not a crazy mayor.  I'm a mayor who has met with this gang.  And I don't think they are a bad gang.  And I think if you met them you would know what I mean.  So we're all going to meet them and get to know them a little.  At a reception, or a social."

Everyone looked at everyone else.  Don Brody looked horrified.  The police chief looked baffled.  Marjorie kissed her father on top of his head.  Edward reached up and tried to cover his smile


**

Edward, Marjorie, and Jason McGill went to the steel diner for lunch.  Edward opened his mouth to speak, to tell about going to the bikers' camp, when three motorcycles roared up and swung into the parking spaces outside their window.  Garden Hose, Yvonne, and a third, skinny biker with vivid forearm tattoos.

The crowd murmured as the bikers pushed open the door, and someone screamed, but Edward stood and held up a hand.  The bikers marched over.

Garden Hose reached out to Marjorie.  "Piacere," he said, as he shook her hand gently.  Marjorie's eyes locked into his eyes, and his eyes locked into hers.

"We want to thank you for what you have done," Yvonne said to Edward.

"So thank you," said Garden Hose, gazing at Marjorie.  "We promise to throw you a very nice social."

Then the three bikers started to hum, in harmony.  They modulated, up and down, until they hit the right pitch, and the sides of the steel building started to shake.  The width of the diner and the wavelength of the hum corresponded somehow, so the voices and the space became wedded, and everything—coffee cups, silverware, pie cooler, booths—everything vibrated together.

Then they were gone, stomping out the door and climbing on their bikes and kickstarting the engines with a thrilling roar.

Marjorie let out her breath, which she had been holding.  "Oh that was terrible and beautiful and incomprehensible," she said.

Jason McGill said, "They didn't seem like bad people, but in the future I will always shrivel from the memory of this day."

Edward felt his very spine shiver.


**

The hum came to an end in the diner but continued inside Edward's ears.  It became a ringing in his ears, a tense and perilous sound.  It rang in the background as he sat at his desk.  It rang in his helmet as he rode home from work.  It rang alongside the hiss of the ballgame on the radio that night in his kitchen.  It rang in his dream.  It scared him.

In his dream a black-clad Marjorie slithered in through the window of the Oldsmobile.  The ringing was a car alarm, set off by her.  It rang as she worked to hotwire the car.  It rang as she peeled out of Edward's mud yard.  It rang as she tore down the road with the car's back end wagging and mud sluicing up from under the wheels.  Away from the town and Edward's development.  Into the woods, onto wild State Land.  Edward ran after her in a pajama top and bottoms of two unmatching plaids, his bare feet slipping crazily on the mud.


**

It was the reception, on the baseball field out behind the high school.  Bikers were everywhere when Edward arrived, on the first-base side and the third-base side, on the team benches and around the backstop, in the bleachers and across the outfield.  They wore black leather jackets, and kerchiefs on their heads, and had tattoos of skulls, and earrings and noserings and eyebrow rings.  Yvonne stood among them, her bleach-blonde head visible, pointing and gesturing, barking instructions.  They were setting up tables, and a freezer, and a bar, and a barbecue grill, smoking, smoking, out in the visitors' bullpen.  They set up a stage right over home plate, and microphone stands, and speakers.

It was early, and none of the citizens had arrived.

Then came the Oldsmobile, rolling slowly through the parking lot past the rows of Harleys.  Garden Hose was driving, and Edward spotted a form beside him, what he instantly knew to be Marjorie's form

She stepped out of the car and stretched.  "Hi?" Edward said.

"Oh, hi," she said.  She reached in through the back door toward Mayor Dunn, who was in the back seat, so shriveled that Edward had not seen him through the window.

"So I guess you guys must, like, know each other?" Edward said.

Marjorie seemed not to hear.  She lifted Mayor Dunn and cradled him as Garden Hose pulled the wheelchair from the trunk so she could wheel her father away.

Edward trotted after her.  "Marjorie?" he said.  "Would you like to have some ice cream with me?"

"Um, I'm busy with my father right now.  Pushing him around."

Edward peeked at Mayor Dunn, who was asleep, collapsed on the wheelchair like he'd fallen on it from the sky.


**

An ice sculpture was brought in—a wild, rutted column that Edward did not understand.  A mob of bikers heaved it and stood it upright in a tub, and then he saw it for what it was—a frozen waterfall.  Someone shone a spotlight on it, and it glittered.  There were bits of brown leaves captured in the ice, and acorns, and sticks, and spindly bugs, and a bottlecap from a brand of cola that did not exist anymore.  In the middle was a fish, caught swimming and possibly thinking.


**

Edward stood at the entrance and welcomed the first town guests.  Rich Melska came, holding a notepad.  A druggist came, and some discount retail clerks, shifting and fidgeting with their hands.  Parents came, looking wildly around at the bikers, and their teenagers came, looking bored.  Toughly, stridingly, the police chief came, his police force a phalanx behind him.  They fanned out across the field and strode around the perimeter.  Then skulking, scanning, Don Brody came.  He walked straight up to Edward.

"I'm keeping an eye out.  No funny business is going to take place," he said.

The police chief appeared behind Don Brody's shoulder.  "Don't worry, Eddie.  He's with us.  We're taking care of things around here, is all."


**

It got dark.  The lights of the baseball field shone down upon the social.

A band made up of bikers played old, old, swampy blues.

People ate ice cream and enjoyed barbecued meats.  People—townspeople and bikers alike—appeared to be starting to dance.

The ice sculpture began melting, and as it melted water, acorns, and leaves collected at its base.

Edward trailed Marjorie as she wheeled her father around.  Groups of bikers parted to let Mayor Dunn pass.  They parted with reverence, backing away with small steps.  From what Edward could see, Mayor Dunn was awake, waving at some of the bikers.  At one point some bikers were kneeling around him, and the old mayor seemed to be singing.


**

There were game booths: a dart throw, a dunk tank, an armwrestling table.

At the dart throw the idea was to throw a dart at a picture of a smiling biker.  When Edward went past, Don Brody was there, clenching a dart.  He threw it and hit the picture of the biker in the forehead.  "Yes!" he shouted, and raised his arms in the air in triumph.

At the dunk tank the idea was to throw a ball at a target and drop a biker into a tank of water.  When Edward went past, Don Brody was there, clenching a ball.  He hit the target, and the biker splashed into the tank.  "Yes!" he shouted again, and again raised his arms in the air.

At the armwrestling table the idea was to defeat Garden Hose at armwrestling.  When Edward went past, Don Brody was there, clenching his fist in front of his face, in armwrestling position, face-to-face with Garden Hose.

"Well," said Garden Hose.

The bikers and citizens formed a circle of spectators around them.  The police linked arms to hold the crowd back.  The speakerphone sat on the armwrestling table with the phone cord running into the dark.  Everett Cahill was there on the line.  Mayor Dunn was up out of his wheelchair now, moving through the crowd, signing autographs for some of the bikers.

Garden Hose and Don Brody gripped each other's hands, and Marjorie stepped in to referee.  She wrapped her hands around their two fists and began a countdown.  "Ten, nine, eight . . ." she said.

Her hands would be wrapped around Garden Hose's hand for the entire length of the countdown.  She would let go at zero, and the arm-wrestling match would begin.  Edward saw her give a flick of caress to the back of Garden Hose's hand.  Her hands were supposed to cover both men's hands, but she slid them completely onto Garden Hose's.  Then they began to creep down his arm, onto his hair-covered wrist.

What Edward felt then was all structure within him disintegrate.  His outside looked the same, but inside all order and sense collapsed into a heap of atoms.

He focused on Marjorie's voice, on the numbers counting down.  But he understood that the countdown would last forever.  The numbers would go down, from ten to nine and nine to eight, and they would always get halfway closer to zero.  From eight down to four, from four down to two.  From two down to one.  And halfway from one down to zero.  And halfway again to zero from there.  And again and again, slower and slower, never reaching zero, never ending.  She would caress the hand of Garden Hose forever, and Edward would stay here, watching.

And watching, he staggered backward, as if reeling from a punch.  He backed onto Mayor Dunn's wheelchair, which was parked right behind him, and sat.


**

Though the countdown would last forever, the armwrestling match ended quickly.  Garden Hose grimaced and groaned and pushed, but his arm went steadily down to the table.  Don Brody won.  Garden Hose stood and shook Don Brody's hand.  "Wow," he said, smiling.  "You destroyed me.  I guess you're the strongest one around here after all.  Well done."

Don Brody stared at his own hand in disbelief.

"Don, you kicked his butt," said Marjorie.  "Aren't you going to shout 'Yes!'?  Aren't you going to raise your arms, like you've been doing?"

He shook his head slowly and let out a long breath.

"Don?  Hello?" said Marjorie.

"If I lost a tough battle," he finally said, "I was going to say how threatened we should feel by the strength of the gang.  And if I got cheated, I was going to say how threatened we should feel by the cunning of the gang.  And if I won a tough battle, I was going to say how strong and prepared we have to be to defeat this gang.  But this was different.  This was easy."  He shook his head again and wandered into the crowd

A rushing sound, a sigh of relief, came from the circle of spectators.  Except from Edward in the wheelchair, who did not want to spend his strength on a sigh.  The best he could do was lick his gums and search the clouded edges of his vision.

The sigh even came through the speakerphone, from Everett.  "That's it," he said.  "I'm done worrying about all this.  I'm headed for my easy chair.  My legs are aching from standing in the doorway all this time.  Or should I say my eggs are laching?  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"  In the background came the tinkling of ice cubes in a glass.  The speakerphone tinkling seemed to congeal out of the air, this air which was the air of the town.

"Ciao!" Everett said, and hung up.


**

The ice sculpture was wet, coated with waterfall water.  Its jags became lumps and its ruts became soft, like folds in a curtain.  Pockets grew in the ice, ladles.  They held scoops of water, the bottle cap, dirt.  A hole grew where the fish was, a small hole with a thin-crust edge, and the tailfin tipped out through it.  Soon the whole glossy fishtail hung through the hole, and the melting crept down the length of the fish, leaving some of it magnified under the ice but most of it out in the air, true-sized.  Then it sprang from its pocket, sending flakes of ice flying, a silver and snow-colored flash.  It dove to the water that filled the tub and darted back and forth like a hungry thing.


**

Edward felt himself moving.  He twisted to see Mayor Dunn, younger and stronger than he looked in his portrait, pushing the wheelchair, taking huge strides, following Marjorie, who was riding on Garden Hose's shoulders.  In an instant they were up on the stage, and a spotlight hit Marjorie, who waved and blew kisses to the crowd.  The cheering for her grew thick with respect, the respect they all had for the office of mayor.

The band thumped and pounded.  The crowd throbbed and spawned.  Edward stared out over the heads and waving arms.

Jason McGill was there, in a black leather jacket, thrashing and dancing around, and Yvonne thrashed beside him in a plaid shirt and khakis like Jason McGill often wore.

The skinny biker was there with his forearm tattoos and a policeman's cap on his head.  And a phalanx of policemen's forearms was there, held out next to his to compare their forearm tattoos.

Rich Melska was there, ripping pages from his notepad and throwing them up in the air.  "MUSIC CONTAINS THE ONLY NOTES THAT MATTER," he shouted.

A biker and the fire chief played rock-paper-scissors.

A biker and a parent were toasting each other.

A biker and a non-biker were standing together, pointing up at the stars.

Mayor Dunn wheeled Edward to the middle of the stage, to the spotlight Garden Hose and Marjorie made way for him.  Yes citizens, gang, I'd be glad to address you, he thought, but the light rays alone were enough to knock him over.  He lay on the stage like he'd been shoveled there, and a great laugh went up from the crowd.    

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