Shannon O’Day stood looking into a big foundry type window in St. Paul, Minnesota, it was 1966. Winter would soon be here. Could it be that what this poet guy once had said, “When winter leaves, spring is next in line?” would not this be the full truth this year. Poggi Ingway wondered. Near Poggi standing at the parallel window, both but a few feet apart, was Shannon O’Day, an obese man with a small rounded head, short. Both stood there and looking at the fully operational foundry in motion. A frost covered the ground, and there were full storage bins alongside the foundry, items to be shipped soon. Before the great snowstorms of Minnesota came. The foundry workers would have to break open those bins, haul down those piles of casings to the Great Northern Railroad Station, load them on the flat-cars to take them away, to the automobile factories. Poggi Ingway looked throw the window as a cold wind blew past his face and chin, and neck, and when he breathed outward, his breath looked like he was smoking, the weather was so chilled he could almost make smoke rings, and on the outside of the window he made little circles. Poggi thought of San Francisco. Perchance it was the business of the workers that brought back such recollections of the untiring city by the bay he often thought of it, where he had spent sometime years ago. That one year being the happiest in his life. That was all history now; that and most everything else.
Shannon O’Day had married four times, had four wives, three ex wives that is, and one present wife; as he looked into the window, standing in the wet grass, fat and short, trying to raise himself higher by standing on the toes of his viking polo shirts , and rigid with his own shaky softness, he thought of all four of them. One lived in Fargo, another in Fergus Falls, the third in Minneapolis, and the forth, the present one, in St. Paul. He had not seen three of them since the previous winter. He looked into the big foundry window, staring as if in a trance, and thought what summer would mean. And how he loved the cornfields outside of town, the yellow cornfields and getting drunk with his friends, wife. He was always very happy when he and his wife were intoxicated in those fields. They would listen to the trains go by, and walk among the stocks of corn; they’d lay down by one another drunk and would watch the stars appear. They would find their way back to the farm, a friend’s farm, and sit under the oak tree, in a little rut, overlooking the barn and drink, still listening to the trains in the far-off distance, on those iron tracks racing by. They’d drink all night. Often in the summer when all the yellow corn was high, they’d drink for three days straight, and just laugh as if they were crazy. They felt it did them good; made them both burly, happy, like to like, as the old saying goes.
Shannon O’Day had a daughter by his forth wife, whom he teasingly called, Cantina O’Day, her real name was Catherine O’Day.
One morning, when Shannon after they had both drank the night to oblivion, passing out under the oak tree, he looked about for his old lady, they had been drinking three nights, and days, this was the forth day. When he came to, he didn’t know where she had gone, disappeared to, everything was blurry eyed? He walked about in circles, heard the train in the distance; looked into the yellow cornfields. He tried walking through them, calling her name, ‘Gertrude!’ The cornstalks were stiff; he couldn’t find her, she up and disappeared, just like that. He knew she had taken the last bottle of homemade wine; it wasn’t there, unless he drank it and threw it into the cornfields when he was drunk before he passed out. He went back to walking around the barn, and the main farmhouse. Then he started walking into town, trying to hitch a ride, trying to figure out what happened to her, she must had gotten up and found a ride home. Finally he came to the city limits, passed old Washington High School. There was nothing elaborate about it, not like the schools and building he had heard Poggi talk about that were in San Francisco. No, he had never been to San Francisco himself. It was not like him, he preferred the small Midwestern town, and the yellow cornfields. That was his friend Poggi Ingway.
Poggi Ingway looked deeper into the window. Soon the horn would sound, and the second shift would start, and the first shift would take their showers, and head on home, they had three shifts. He pushed up the windowpane, just a morsel, and he could feel the warm air melting his chilled face. A cold breeze was blowing on the back of his neck; a numbing wind-chill. The cold wind came through the window, and a few workers looked towards Poggi from within the foundry. He saw the working men cleaning up their areas, as the new shift stepped in to take over. Most of them were Irish, German, or Scandinavian.
The supervisor was a tall, stringy like man. He had once lived in Wabasha Minnesota, a small town seventy-five miles south of St. Paul. A tragedy happened to him there.
The supervisor put his fist in his mouth to moisten it and held it up in the air. He looked at the window Poggi was looking through, felt the cool breeze on his fist. He shook his shoulders unrepentantly and frowned at the men, a little too harsh perhaps.
“Fine,” he said, grumpily, adding, “the first shift was lazy…boys; let’s show them how real men work!”
Everything went silent for the moment. The foundry men put on their helmets, and some had masks, and gloves. The men next walked to their positions, as if they were trained seals, talking to one another, muttering this and that, a few came out of the washrooms and jumped up by the molds to where molten metal would be poured into.
Outside the window, came sounds of men laughing.
Shannon O’Day, stood on the sidewalk, by Washington High school looking towards the kids rushing through the doors, not to be late for classes. A mist had been in the air, hard to see anything completely. It had been falling all morning. A car rode by slowly, observed Shannon just staring towards the school and kids. Shannon saw the man stare but didn’t pay much attention to him, he was really nobody to him. Then he walked on down Rice Street.
Shannon kept turning his head to his right as he walked, noticing the activity in the big windows of the school, lights being turned on; inside kids would soon be getting instructions from their teachers, writing down things, learning things; here he understood, was the place the kids would get their knowledge to go onto better things later on in life. It was a time when Minnesota, if not the whole country was concerned about higher education. His daughter, Cantina, who he paid out a hefty $175, 00-dollars for a new dress, viking polo shirts , and new york yankees t shirt was on the second floor, her homeroom, about to go to her algebra class. Shannon was proud of her. He was too old to go back and learn, but day in and day out, and during the nights, Cantina would study. She was a learner, that girl, she lived with his brother for the most part, Shannon was known to drink too much, and everyone, it mattered to, thought it better to leave it that way.
Shannon went down to Albemarle Street, where he lived, it was a big two story house, with five bedrooms, it never really mattered to Shannon’s old lady, his wife, but it did to him.
“Shannon,” his old lady would say to him when they first met, and started drinking, “any place will do. All I really want is a warm fireplace to keep the cold out, and tight windows to keep the heat in, with heavy window weights.”
Shannon never did take that statement seriously. Now as he walked down the street in the wee hours of the morning, through the mist and fog, and saw car lights reaching only several feet in front of him, he got a glimpse of the chimney of his home, he felt glad that he had not taken her seriously. It was better he was coming home to a big house, nice and warm, than a little one, he had lots of room to pace back and forth in. He, Shannon was not the sort of fellow who liked a garage for a house.
He opened the screened in door, walked onto the porch, and then the wooden door, and on into the hallway, and to the third door, that led into his living room. He tried to remember that that fellow he met in West Fargo had written, that poet guy, he used to recite it: “There are many paths that lead to Rome, somewhat and somewhat and something more-there’s no place like home.” He could not remember the exact words, but he taught Cantina to sing, “Home sweet home,” that was when she was six-years old. He told his little daughter back then, he could be a song writer, and then laughed, saying “If they can sell that Elvis stuff, why not mine!” If he had had a chance to do such a thing, he might have. Anyhow, he would tickle Cantina until she’d sing it with him, and he figured, this evening maybe he could talk her into singing it with him again, if she didn’t go right home to his brother’s house, she often stopped to visit him before she did.
He was thinking about perhaps stopping his drinking; it was robbing him of his energy, ambition, but he loved it so. Getting drunk in the cornfields among those tall yellow stocks and singing and the train whizzing by, and the crows flying overhead, was better than anything he could think of, no one had ever offered him anything better anyhow, that is, nothing better that could replace his drinking, not even Elvis or the Beatles could have offered him a better life than those cornfields did. So he didn’t like seeing summer leave, and winter come, and when it came he hopped it would dissipate quickly.
When he got really drunk, it all smelled, and felt, so lovely, the wet grass and weeds, dray cornstalks, the mud, the dirt, everything, anything, he drank in those cornfields until the last day of fall per near. Drinking had done all that. It was perhaps not right, but he didn’t have San Francisco, like Poggi to remember, or a guitar like Elvis, or a dog to keep him company.
Shannon walked through the doorway, into the living room, “Gertrude!” he yelled, “it’s me, your husband, I’m home.”
She didn’t answer. Maybe, she really wanted a small house after all, he thought; this place was pretty big, pretty hard to clean. You never can tell with women, plus he could feel a draft coming through the window on the side of the house in the living room. His amigo, Manuel Garcia, had just such a place for sale; he was retiring from the foundry. He had told him once, a year or two ago, if he knew of anyone looking for a small house, the size of a large garage. Poggi had told him all the houses in San Francisco were expensive, if he would move out there he’d have to buy a small house. Only the rich could afford a house like he had in Minnesota, out in Frisco, as he often called the city by the bay. After the Korean War, things changed, houses doubled in price.
“Gertrude!” he called out again, “Gertrude!” No one responded. There was no one in the house, he stood stone-still, in his round obesity, in his own abandoned house, then come the sharpness of the Shannon ears, and he could always hear the most quiet of whispers, but he heard naught.
Inside the House
Perhaps it is the dark side of me that I have chosen to introduce vices (or faults) for the characters, into this work. But I wanted normal human reactions, but believe me they all come under the heading of human weaknesses or bad habits, but I have kept them clear of what might produce, extended evil.
Shannon looked across the table where his wife had been working on a puzzle, the Cathedral in Jackson Square in New Orleans, it was half completed, evidently she had been smoking a cigarette which had been half put out in a nearby ashtray on the table, and there were ashes on the army veteran hoodie he noticed, she must had flicked them, purposely. “I say, she couldn’t use an ashtray?” He looked around to see if anything else was out of place, or disturbed. “No,” he said. He took out a heavy looking steak from the refrigerator, cut off the fat along the sides with a butcher’s knife, sat at the kitchen table as the steak fried, looking across the table into the dinning room where the puzzle was, saw the framed picture of his wife.
“What a pity,” he murmured… “Thanks for leaving me a steak, awfully decent of you!”
He didn’t know if he was joking or angry, Shannon looked at his hands, wrinkled up around the knuckles, fingers, the thumb. He grabbed a bottle of wine out of the refrigerator, gave the top of the bottle a twist, a twirl. “Isn’t she a fool?” He remarked, bringing the bottle next to his mouth drinking it half empty. Found a towel, and wiped the bottle dry, the wine had spilt all over it. Then he held the bottle up with one hand “I like to drink!” He shouted. He sat there staring at the bottle, “This is good wine,” he muttered, “Here’s to you…!”
Then he finished off the bottle, in toast-drinking, “Don’t mix emotions up with wine, you lose the taste,” he told himself.
“I could write a book on wine,” he told the bottle, “all I want out of life is to enjoy it. Let’s finish you off!” he said, but it was already empty, and he turned to look at that steak, “let’s enjoy you then,” he told the steak.
Shannon could be charming sober, a little nutty drunk, he pulled off his shirt, and pulled up his undershirt, he was hot from the wine, the stove, the heat from the kitchen window, the sun seeping through, and the space heater running full blast, his chest was white as a ghost, a big stomach, muscles bulged under the light from the kitchen window, and around his fat. Under the line where his ribs ended was a deep white welt, with ridges, a bullet wound. He touched it, along side that, was a bayoneted scar. He looked at it, goggle-eyed, “I say, you fellows are still there.”
The bayonet had gone clear through. He then tucked in his shirt.
Shannon left Minnesota. He was through with that city. What could St. Paul do for him that another city couldn’t do, and perhaps do better? He figured, no big deal, simple as baking a pie. You work hard; drink hard all your life and this is where you end up, his wife disappearing, leaving him. His bank account was emptied out, she took it all. Nothing left, not a dime. He hitchhiked to Erie, Pennsylvania, checked the city out, right to the edge, or from the edge, of Lake Erie. Erie might do big things for him. Any dupe could see that. He would buy a building in the heart of the city, near the college district. He’d buy the building at a low price, and then rent out the rooms to the students. Let them pay the mortgage for him. He had learned a thing or two now.
He walked around the city, it was cold, he picked up a half dead rat, put it in his pocket, to keep his hands warm, he had no gloves. The wind coming off the lake made the city even colder than usual. The rat was half frozen, but now was moving about, returning to life, but it nestled close to his warm body, and peeked his head out now and then, his head being the size of Shannon’s fist, it seemed as if it was grateful.
“Poor little fellow,” Shannon said.
A flood of tears dribbled down his cheek.
“That there wind, it’s goin’ to kill us,” he said aloud, as if the rat was his new amigo.
As twilight turned into night, the wind off Lake Erie picked up. Shannon sitting on a bench, noticed two large yellow eyes coming at him as it started to snow, he looked closer, it was fog lights from a snow truck, getting ready for a storm. Shannon leaned back against the wooden bench rested his back as the truck rode by. What is it that that writer said? “All for one and one for all,” but what if it is just one, and no one else, no others? Shannon thought on that quotation, as the truck rode by a second time, as the light snow drifted down, in the arc-light darkness. He could hear the engine of the truck purr, as it hit slush, and it splashed on him. He saw the driver raise the front of his pickup, with its shovel at its end, lowering the shovel thereafter, somewhat. He even had goggles on, as if he was waiting for a Minnesota snow storm any minute, and here he was in Erie. He noticed he had his hand on the throttle trying to get his vehicle to have the engine purr more rapidly, smoothly. Shannon thought of what some Minnesota writer once said, “Here today, something, and something, and somewhat-then gone tomorrow.” That was when he buried his mother in Oakland Cemetery. As a kid he used to jump that same high spiked iron fence and with his girlfriends, and guy friends, sit on a few graves and get nasty drunk. Those moments were mostly dim and blank for him now, as if a dark angel was covering his memory banks. That is when he was fifteen-years old. On Sundays he’d go down to St. Louis Church and go through all the motions most of the adults did, to satisfy his soul, and those looking at him, and the priest, and in case God was watching, and his mother, then that night go get drunk again. He never was satisfied with all the hypocrites at church. They are strange people, those pretending Christians he’d tell himself.
Shannon sat back again against the wooden bench (he had moved forward some), saw that truck again go by for the third time, and now a few more cars, they didn’t sound like the trains he was used to, while drinking in the cornfields of Minnesota. All the cars were hitting the slush purposely so it would reach him on the bench. The windshield wipers were on most of the cars that passed. They seemed to be going as much in one direction as the other, driving slower as first light was breaking.
As morning broke, the cars now looked like a long train, and the snow storm had started, he thought of how he was an expert at hitching a ride all the way to Erie, a first time experience really, but he felt like Jack Kerouac.
The long string of cars passed Shannon as if on parade, or a funeral: who were in those cars: old ladies going to take their children to school, middle-aged men going to work, young ladies on their way to college classrooms, fathers, mothers and grandparents. Who exactly were they. Were they pure American stock, Europeans, the old warn out stock like him. Shannon wondered.
The last car he saw was a police car with a red light on-flashing, he watched it racing down the street, and disappearing into heavier traffic. The snowflakes were getting bigger, wider, fatter, thicker, and the wind was picking up. The rat quivered inside his coat pocket. Perhaps if he found a job he might even be able to go to work this afternoon or evening. The rat quivered again, it was no longer as feeble as it was previously. Shannon put his hand into his pocket onto it, to settle it down a little, the rat was calmed. Shannon walked further down the sidewalk.
After all he did not need to stay in Erie; there were other places he could go. He remembered a critic once said, “The world is my city,” if he could not find a job here, he could head on to New York, or even Washington D.C., or down South, perhaps to New Orleans. He remembered when he was a boy running around the backyard barefoot, his feet would get numb, just like they were getting now, but as a boy it was from running on the rocks and rough terrain, now they were getting frozen from the ice-slush, and winter chill. His mother loved to have a bright lit up Christmas tree each year, once he’d plug in the electric end of the cord, into the socket, her eyes would light up with the tree.
“This snow storm is like Minnesota.” He told his mother as he walked silently down the street, as if she was by his side; she had died some years back. “Look at those beautiful lights, Shannon,” his mother would say, “someday you’ll be rich and famous, you mark my words,” and her voice was like a symphony orchestra.
Shannon had cared for his mother the last several years of her life, she lived with him and his wife. She’d be wrapped in a deer hunting shirt in a chair in the dinning room, bobbing back and forth on those thin like, tin wobbly legs, fall to sleep: he often wondered how she ever kept her balance, didn’t fall off that lean legged chair, and break her hip or neck or leg, God-forbid: for sure her guardian angel was nearby; he finally bought her a sofa chair, and that was it, she almost lived in it. She had made a great impression on him.
Shannon came to a stop light, it flashed green, he waited, it flashed red, he waited, it flashed yellow, he moved across the street, yellow reminded him of the cornfields of Minnesota, and he started laughing.
“Walk on the green not the yellow!” yelled a police man at Shannon.
For sure, there was money to be made in Erie, if you looked in the right places. He, Shannon, now understood the ways of the world a little more, in his own mind he was certain he could live in this city and do well.
He looked in an animal store window, saw a large cage, one for a rabbit, or small dog, he stopped and stared at it, “Ah, what a beautiful home for you Mr. Rat, I’m sure you’d like it,” Shannon said victoriously looking down at the rat as it peeked its head out of his pocket, talking to the rat as if it understood. The rat quivered, happily now. The snow storm was starting to pick up, drifting across the streets, the wind picking it up and throwing the light flakes of snow into his face. Shannon’s ears were getting numb, his feet had been numb for a while now, far-off he could hear the thumping of a train on its tracks.
write by Mohammed Hamid