Excerpt from Cool Nation

This is the 2nd section from “The Invasion,” which is the 3rd chapter in the novel. The first section was posted last Friday. Yeah, I know I’m supposed to post excerpts every Friday, but I’ve been a little busy. All excerpts are eventually posted by my webmaster on the sidebar, toward the bottom.

The Invasion (part two)

Friday nights I sat on his bed and watched him comb Vitalis through his hair, combing it back and back before the bureau mirror, his legs spread, his head ducked down, Marlboros in his t-shirt sleeve. Then he�d throw on his windbreaker and look at me, his eyes seeing and not seeing with that look that was only his, that I would never see again until when, thirty years later, I went to Leavenworth to visit an old friend, and in the visitor�s room, divided in half by the glass partition, I saw a man with those same eyes in the next booth, doing life for the strangulation of three women. Those were my brother�s eyes. I didn�t know yet that that�s what they were, I only knew that he needed someone to accept him, and in my way I tried to.
�So,� I said. �Can I see it?�
He looked at me. �Why?�
�Because.�
�You�ll just hurt yourself.�
�I haven�t yet.�
He looked at me again, then reached into the pocket of his white jeans�jeans I�d seen bloodied before, covered with grass stains, asphalt stains, and the long black smear of a boot�and pulled it out. Smiling he slid it into my hand.
I pressed the lever and it jumped open, the blade long and thin, the handle black over chrome, the name Hubertus etched into the steel. I never asked him if he knew how to use it; one look at Jackie and you knew he did, would, and probably had.
He wasn�t like other boys from Indian Heights. He didn�t belong to any clubs at school, never acted in any plays, cared nothing for dances or football games or preparations for Rush Week when the fraternities came looking for recruits. That was all alien to him, and nothing my mother could say would alter his interests from the strip joints down on Twelfth Street, the Missouri-side greasers he hung with, and the hard girls that hung with them. He liked nothing from our side of State Line, and wanted nothing to do with it. All this already from a boy of seventeen.
We heard Dad coming heavily down the stairs. Jackie snapped his fingers and I gave the knife over as Dad opened the door.
With a big arm Dad motioned toward me: �You. Out.� He was very tall and his shoulders filled the door frame and his Cherokee nose was prominent on his weathered face�a face that was often red, as it was that moment.
I left and he closed the door.
�Like hell you will,� I heard him tell my brother. �You�re not going out with those bastards again.�
�They�re not bastards. They�re my friends.�
�They�re bums. They�ll make a bum out of you if you stay with them.�
�How do you know?�
I could feel Dad staring right through him. �I know.� And staring still. �You stay home tonight. I�ve had it with all these calls from the cops. I�ve had it with all that crap. And I�m done warning you. Do you hear me? Do you hear me now?�
No answer.
�Do you?�
�Yes sir.�
�Good. I�ll be getting you up at seven. I want you to work at The Place tomorrow. Understood?�
The Place. The Place had prospered since the days of that rented lot in the West Bottoms. Now Dad owned two acres in those same bottoms, with a warehouse and a two-story office and a sales staff and a fleet of trucks and a fleet of workers and new Pontiacs for him and Mom every other year. It was the largest insulation business in the region, and he had built it himself, and we all knew that nobody we knew worked like he did. Dad had come a long way from Picher.
Jackie told him that, yes, he would work at The Place tomorrow.
�All right then.� A slight softening of tone. �Come on upstairs if you want. We�ll be watching The Wizard of Oz later. Your mother�s gone out and bought some pop.�
My brother said nothing, my father said nothing further, and he came out of the bedroom to find me standing in the dim light of the basement. I looked up at his fierceness and breadth and height, and marveled as always at how the face went so quickly from sternness to warmth. He reached down for my hand.
�Come on, bud. Let�s go see about that movie.�
We settled later on the Naugahyde sofa with Vess Soda and Lays chips and watched as the house went up into the twister and came down in Oz and the munchkins came creeping out from among the flowers, laughing and all atwitter, Judy Garland still young and full of promise.
Mom turned to Dad. �You don�t think we should get color?�
�This one works.�
�But, Daddy, it�s not in color.� This from Stephanie and Jean.
They were on one side of him, Allen and I on the other, and he turned and put his lips on their hair, his mammoth arms around both of them, and around me and Allen too. �So you want color, do you?�
�Yes!� This in unison.
He looked back at the tube, at Dorothy and Toto going down the gray brick road, and said, �Well, we�ll see.�
We didn�t buy a color one until two years later, when the Chiefs lost to the Packers in the first Super Bowl, and then we only bought one because the black-and-white had finally given out. My father had never cared for television, any more than I had, any more than I as a father do now.
Jackie didn�t sneak out the basement door that night until the rest of us were in bed. I didn�t hear him go, but heard the unmuffled Impala pass by our drive and stop, idling, two doors down. I knew by heart the sound of that car, had seen it stop out front many times: red paint, chrome wheels, dual exhaust, the interior light illuminating pinch-faced greasers in leather and sometimes girls with teased hair and black eyeliner.
I watched from my window as his white jeans went knifing across our lawn, then across the D�agostino�s lawn, then the Schultz�s. The car door opened, he climbed in, the door closed, and slowly the Impala was swallowed by the black of the March night. I watched it fade away down the street.

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