By: Maureen McGranaghan
Franklin ducks into the janitor’s closet and mutters into the iPod Greg bought him. The Goodness is here. It is definitely here. Last night, the blue tarp stopped flapping, and it got very quiet. Then the Goodness filled the whole house like heat from the radiators. Greg and Kate stopped fighting and went to sleep. Now it is everywhere: The Blue Goodness
Franklin hears his name on the intercom. He is being called to Mr. Volpe’s office, so he puts his iPod in his pocket and emerges from the closet.
Mr. Volpe greets him, fiddling with his watch chain and rubbing the bald spot on his head. His voice sounds like rocks grinding against each other. Franklin thinks about the rocks when he speaks. How many?
“Your brother—is he sick?” Mr. Volpe asks.
Four rocks. Small. “Yes. He is. He has walking pneumonia.”
“Tell him to get an excuse.”
“Have your mom write an excuse.”
Kate won’t do this because she says Roger deserves to have the book thrown at him, but Franklin says, “I’ll tell her.”
Roger also calls him man. He has this in common with Mr. Volpe—Mr. V. “Mr. V’s all right,” Roger says. “He isn’t knocking himself out.”
Franklin walks back to class speaking into his iPod:
I just said Roger has walking pneumonia. You can have that without even knowing it. It’s caused by atypical bacteria and spread by the droplets from people’s noses. Schools are a good place to get it. Symptoms develop ten to fifteen days after exposure.
When he enters the room, he sees that Ms. Clintock has covered the board in logarithms. He loves logarithms. What is the log base Blue of Goodness? he whispers and pictures it: LogBlue(Goodness) = x. Bluex = Goodness.
Kate climbs the ladder to the loft. When the rungs run out, she finds she has nothing to hold onto while her lower body completes theclimb. This makes her nervous, but she manages, leaning ever forward (never back), defying vertigo.
She smells wet plastic. Above her, the blue tarp sags with rainwater. She lights a cigarette and blows smoke at the bulge. The only view is out a paneless window. She has been telling herself for days she would come up here, and now here she is—and there’s a fucking tarp blocking out the sky. At least it amuses Franklin. Ever since this thing showed up on the half-finished house, Franklin has kept an eye onit. “Staring at that goddamn tarp like it’s some kind of wildlife!” Greg says. What does he want her to do about it?
The wood smells sharp and fresh. Kate loves the smell of timber and lies down to bring her nose closer to it. It’s clean without being chemical, the only such smell she knows. She loves pine needles too and wanted to live in the country, but Greg said a lot of things are a nuisance out there.
“Like what?” she asked.
“That’s a problem everywhere. In the country, there are less of ’em.” He didn’t have any more to say about that.
She takes a long drag on her cigarette. They’re Roger’s but bought with her money, so she doesn’t feel bad. The kid shouldn’t be smoking anyway. Greg took her pack from her purse last night and rammed it down the garbage disposal. She told him he would ruin the thing and have no one to blame but himself.
“Whose cigarettes are they?” he demanded.
“You should try one. Might improve your personality.”
“Won’t improve my lungs.”
“Yeah, guess you need those to bitch at everyone.”
He flung his beer bottle at her. Only later did she find out he’d been fired, escorted from the building where he did some shit with a computer she’s never cared to understand. IT he tells people. He’s good at it, but he hates it, says he didn’t need to go to college for it.Probably he was doing more than taking care of the computers. It’s happened before. He’s always got his own thing going on the sly, some scheme. Once, he would have been all hot to explain it to her.
Kate called in sick this morning. No vitals, sponge baths, or bedpans today. She’s an orderly, though that’s become a dirty word. If she uses it, she’s corrected. They are patient care technicians, PCTs, which sounds like one of the bubble tests they had to take in school. The word technician makes her laugh. Blood pressure cuffs are electronic now; she presses a button—that’s about as technical as it gets. It’s a relief not to be there, endlessly walking the halls, patients complaining she smells like smoke, wanting their meat cut up, their pillows rearranged, the perfectly good water in their pitchers changed. No one is more demanding than the sick, except when it comes to the toilet. They don’t ask; they tell her they’re fine. Then it’s her mess to clean up. The nurses are above all that. They come find her for such jobs. The idea of going back there tomorrow makes her want to crawl out that little window and pitch herself straight down into the muddy pit. Roger would take care ofFranklin. Or maybe the other way around. Franklin is more solid than people think. He’ll drive some asshole boss crazy someday. She has never seen anyone succeed in upsetting him, and bosses hate that. When they decide to rip you a new one, they want you to get upset. Only then are they satisfied. Kate’s a model employee in this respect, though lately she just gets sullen, which is fine too—then they can complain about her attitude. This is all part of the bullshit required for a paycheck, a much needed one since Greg still hasn’t managed to make them rich with his investments. Kate doesn’t know anything about all that. She’s too dumb to understand, according to Greg. She has no intellectual life. She’s like an animal. Woof. Arf. Oink? Kate takes out the whiskey.
Roger watches his mother cross the backyard and disappear into the new house covered by Franklin’s blue tarp, the Jack Daniel’s sticking out of her pocket. Took his smokes too. What if she falls and breaks her leg? Her neck? That’s all they need. Roger leans out the Vaughns’ treehouse window, daring her to see him. Bobby and Sally (his names for the Vaughn children) don’t use the treehouse anymore, and Roger comes here when he needs to lay low, even if it does make him think of Becca. Mom’ll come give him hell. Unless she outdid herself last night with the Bastard. At the height of the shouting, Roger went to check on Franklin. He expected to find his brother in the fetal position, but Franklin was lying flat on his back, perfectly calm.
“You all right, man?”
“Yes, but it’s too loud to sleep.”
“I know. Why don’t you listen to your iPod?”
Roger went to his desk. “It’s done.”
“I have to listen to the rain.”
Roger thought about offering to stay, but Franklin seemed fine. Later, Roger heard him talking to himself, or maybe in his sleep. Itdidn’t make a lot of sense. Franklin is a mystery.
Roger and Franklin have both been a disappointment to their father, aka, the Bastard. Roger doesn’t excel much at anything, too boredto apply himself, and Franklin is Franklin. The Bastard’s program, so far as Roger understands it, is one of constant competition. If the Bastard watches a game, the team he’s rooting for better win (not that he has much time for sports), and when he dies, he wants to have the most money of anyone he knows. Roger once found an old cartoon his father drew of people comparing their coffins on Judgment Day. It was strange evidence of an otherwise non-existent sense of humor.
Roger hates to lose too, but his solution is to withdraw from the race, while Franklin seems cheerfully oblivious to contests altogether. The Bastard won’t allow him to be evaluated just so he can be held to lower standards. Roger agrees, except he wants Franklin to have any benefits and tax dollars he might be entitled to. Franklin doesn’t get people, but then he doesn’t have much use for them. He had aproblem with bullies in middle school—they first buzzed his hair because several boys put gum in it—but then he sprouted up in ninthgrade and is going on six feet now, the Bastard’s height. He kept the buzz cut too and looks like someone you might not want to mess with, someone who might shoot up the school, which of course he would never do.
As far as Roger is concerned, anyone who fucks with Franklin fucks with him. He repaid those middle school boys in kind. People soon got the picture. He’s ready to defend his brother against the Bastard anytime too. Yesterday their father came home early, without a job. Franklin was at the window. “It’s coming,” he said. “Not long now.”
Roger waited for the Bastard to be a bastard, but he just stood there, pulling on his beer. Didn’t say anything.
Parked on the tracks with his forehead pressed against the steering wheel, Greg wishes he could be like Roger, getting high, no ambition.Or Kate. Kate can put up with a lot of shit. If a train ends up coming today, will she be sorry? Maybe she won’t care. She’ll go on working at the hospital, and Roger and Franklin will live with her forever. Greg can see Franklin working in a fast-food joint or a grocery store. Roger will be the pothead assistant in a tattoo parlor, the guy who makes a copy of your driver’s license. Fulfilling their potential.
Two things Greg has turned out not to be good at: sales and investing. Unfortunately, that’s all of business—that and managingpeople, which is basically a sales job too: getting everyone on board, a phrase that never fails to raise his blood pressure. Way back in his first job—selling coffins of all things—his supervisor, Randy, told him bluntly, “People don’t like you.” Randy went on to say,sympathetically, that people are idiots, but this is no excuse. “You have to make them like you. If they like you, they’ll like the product. You know how they say life’s not a popularity contest? Well, that’s bullshit.” Greg maintained the product was crap, which it was, and there are no second chances in the funeral business. A handle comes off on the way into church, and the funeral home owner puts a hex on you. It only has to happen once. “I’m trying to be invisible. Invisible,” one guy told him. “Then this happens, and suddenly it’s not about rest in peace; it’s about you asshole—what the hell!” How hard is it to make a product that lasts for a week, if that, after which no one is ever going to see the thing again? Greg hated everything about that job. He used to sit in his car sketching skeletons. They compared their coffins on Judgment Day. They skewered Randy.
After a year, he moved on to oil, which sells itself. Everyone needs fuel. As long as he made calls, he moved product: trucking companies, airlines. It was too easy, though, and he wasn’t getting rich. There were no commissions, only occasional bonuses, and little opportunity for advancement. All the other guys in the office were the good-time sort. They played softball and rented lake houses for the weekend. Greg sees no point in sports, unless he’s betting, and what would he do all weekend at a fucking lake house? Nor could he bring Kate, who’d end up smoking in some corner by herself, using her beer can as anashtray. Fuck you all. That’s Kate.
Turned out all that hobnobbing was important. Guys went into business together. Hired each other at better companies. No one took Greg along. That’s how he ended up in IT: information technology, the graveyard of ambition. There they don’t want you to have social skills; just fix the goddamn machine, as quickly as possible. So he was day-trading. Why not? Some days are slow— is he just supposedto sit there, twiddling his thumbs? If you’re going to win the lottery, you have to use your wits. Buying tickets is pointless—Kate’s method. He didn’t mean to crash the system and would have had everything up and running again in minutes. Not that he cares about the job. Fuck that. It’s the money. He didn’t sell in time; it’s gone.
Parenting turned out to be a sales job too. You gotta sell your kid on everything you want for him. He and Roger did their share of negotiating, until Roger effectively closed for business. Now it isn’t possible to sell him anything.
That leaves Franklin. Greg considers his younger son a misfortune, but it looks like a good life he’s leading. What problems does Franklin have? He’s oblivious to the world, to people, does his own thing. Everyone is befuddled by him. They want to label it a disease,which Greg just finds hilarious. The world is full of shit, but with Franklin, what you see is actually what you get.
In Health class, they are speed-dating. This is to practice talking to people and getting to know them. Franklin dutifully asks Rachel her name, though of course he knows, and how old she is and if she has any sexually transmitted diseases (their last unit). Rachel raises her hand, and Mr. Dukolsky comes over. She reports Franklin’s third question. Mr. D puts a hand on Franklin’s shoulder, which Franklin doesn’t like, and asks if they can have a quick word. Then he takes the hand away, which is good.
In the hall, he tells Franklin he can’t ask about STDs in speed-dating. It’s inappropriate for the first time you meet someone. “Later, yeah, you wanna talk about that stuff, but what you want to do now is just have a little conversation about things you like to do, your favorite movies, stuff like that. You don’t wanna get into serious stuff ’cause you only have two minutes and you may never see this girl again. Got it?”
He is going to see all these girls again tomorrow and the next day, until the weekend, but Mr. D is sending him back. The bell has already dinged and his new partner is Hannah. Half her head is buzzed, and some of what’s left is purple. Franklin asks her what her favorite movie is.
“You wouldn’t have heard of it,” Hannah says. “It’s not mainstream.”
“Mine is Kill Bill,” he tells her. “I saw it on DVD when I was seven. That was just the first time.”
“You’re kidding,” Hannah says.
“No. It’s not a joke.”
“I didn’t peg you as a Tarantino guy.”
“Quentin Tarantino was born on March 27th, 1963, and he won the Academy Award for best screenplay twice—in 1994 for Pulp Fiction and in 2012 for Django Unchained. I didn’t like the dirty house in Pulp Fiction or when they had to put the needle in Uma Thurman’s chest. But the snow in Kill Bill is beautiful.”
“Why do you shave your head?” she asks.
“It’s buzzed, not shaved.”
“You look like a Nazi.”
“They killed the Jews and invaded Poland,” he says. “But they lost the war. I don’t like them.”
“Well, you look like one.”
Next is Jess.
“Hi Jess—I mean, what’s your name?”
Jess leans forward. She has very long thick curly hair. “What did Hannah say to you?”
“She called me a Nazi. Because of my hair.”
Hannah looks over. Jess looks back. Then Jess turns to Franklin and says, loudly, “Takes a fascist to know one.”
Franklin doesn’t know what to say to this. “What is your favorite movie?”
“Why do you buzz your hair?”
“So my head will be soft.” He feels it.
Jess laughs, but she hasn’t answered his question.
“What is your favorite—”
“Did you ask Rachel if she has any STDs?”
“Yes, but it was inappropriate.”
“She probably does.”
“I have to ask you questions,” he says.
“Go ahead. I don’t have any STDs because I’m not a slut.”
“I wasn’t going to ask that.”
“Just telling you, free of charge.”
She smiles. Jess has very pretty eyes. For a moment Franklin cannot say anything. Then he says, in a soft voice, “Do you feel The Goodness today?”
“The Goodness. It’s strong today. It’s everywhere. It’s blue.”
She doesn’t say anything.
Franklin closes his eyes. “It feels so good.” When he opens them, Jess is still staring at him. “Do you feel it?”
She shakes her head. “Sorry. Feels like the same old shit.”
There is one extra boy in the class, so his next station is empty. Franklin sits there murmuring Jess’s phrase: same old shit. He knows itmeans things are bad, but he likes the sound. Same old shit, same old shit—sorry, same old shit. He swells again with The Goodness.
Roger’s high is already wearing off by the time Bobby and Sally arrive home in Bobby’s Corolla. Then Sally brings some garbage out tothe compost barrel and stops under the treehouse. She drops her yogurt container and runs back inside. Bobby emerges next, barking Roger’s name. “I’m going to call the police!”
“Go ahead,” Roger says.
Bobby’s head appears through the treehouse floor—his hair is kind of gray, like he’s skipping straight to middle age. “You can’t smoke marijuana on our property.”
“Want some?” Roger asks.
“No. Get out of here.”
He goes back into the house. That’s Bobby, laying down the law.
Roger’s phone beeps: Cose yuor eys abd fel TGe GOODNESD!!!
It makes him smile. Franklin can spell; he just can’t text, especially when he’s excited. You’d think he got a blowjob or something. That would be really nice right about now. Roger brought Becca up here and they fooled around. Scratched their initials in the corner with Roger’s pocketknife. Next thing he knows she’s dating Luke Blascoe, a year ahead of them and about five grades behind mentally. A fucking weightlifter with long black curly hair, like a girl! Oversized pecs and those princess curls. A fucking freak! Definitely onsteroids. At those weightlifting things, the guys wear bikinis, and Roger, in a moment of insanity, went up to Luke one morning at school and wished him luck with the stripping, then shoved a dollar bill into the waistband of his jeans. Luke was scarfing his mid-morning tuna fish and smelled like it. He gave Roger a swift bloody nose, but he seemed more baffled than mad.
Becca didn’t stay with him either. Luke has graduated, theoretically, but he hangs around, mowing lawns and working out at the gym. Still got his curls, and Roger’s still got his shaggy brown head of hair. Becca has a tongue stud now—how would that feel on his dick?
His phone beeps again: Ip thblue tarp stil there?
Ol’ Franklin. Roger texts back: yeah man.
Then he gets up on his knees and looks out the treehouse window at the thick gray sky and Franklin’s tarp. He feels like saluting the goddamn thing.
Kate struggles with the lighter, the last of the cigarettes in her mouth. Her fingers are crabbed with cold. She should have worn gloves and her sledding coat—Franklin’s name for all winter coats when he was younger. But Franklin was more of a snowman kid. Roger was her sledder. Lucky he didn’t break his neck, some of the stunts he pulled. Why is she thinkingabout this? Oh right, the sledding coat. Today isn’t frigid, but it is dank, and the cold has made its way through her rain slicker and long-sleeved T-shirt. Her legs are fine—more meat there—and she has some trusty fat about the middle too. Her chest is warm from thewhiskey. Greg is always cold because he’s skin and bones. Can’t put on a pound even in middle age. If she were as thin as he is, they’d make a clacking sound having sex. Kate giggles.
They met working at a movie theater. Greg knew what all the movies cost to make and how much they brought in opening weekend. He’s always been a money man but hopeless with his hands, especially in a rush. Popcorn everywhere, couldn’t separate the lids for drinks. Donny always had him sweeping the theater. Kate could serve three customers at once without spilling a kernel. Trying to impress Donny, who was fucking that bitch—what was her name? Big tits of course, never wore a bra. She always got to work the register. No theater duty or concession stand for her. Kate was queen of the concession stand, Donny said. What a fucking asshole. Then one day Greg tells her it’s sexy—not she’s sexy, it’s sexy.
“What?” she asked.
“The way you . . . do your job.”
She laughed, blowing cigarette smoke in his red face.
She has to feel bad for him, falling in love with someone for the way she serves up popcorn. Greg was a thin, pinched, moody boy. Smart but difficult, and not as well-off as she thought. But he was ambitious—that’s what she liked. He thought she was ambitious too. Yeah, she worked hard at that job. Because of that asshole Donny. Little did she know she was netting Greg.
Franklin sees Greg outside the school, wearing jeans and his old black coat. The buses are honking because he is parked in their lane. “Hello, Greg,” Franklin says.
A bus driver yells down. “You gotta move! Pick your kid up down there!”
Greg mutters something.
“What was that?” the bus driver shouts.
“Go fuck yourself,” Greg says. “Get in, Franklin.”
Franklin gets in the car. So does Greg. “Where’s your brother?”
Franklin says nothing. Greg knows Roger doesn’t have walking pneumonia. Unless he got it during the day.
“Why doesn’t this douchebag get out of my way? He’s so concerned about me parking here.” Greg leans out the window. “Hey, you gotta move the fucking bus if you want me to go!”
Greg’s car is new, and Franklin likes riding in it for the smell. They are not allowed to eat or drink in here and Kate is not allowed to smoke. But Greg has broken the rules himself today. There are McDonald’s cheeseburger wrappers on the floor, and Franklin smells ketchup and onions.
“Got one for you,” Greg says, handing him a greasy bag. “Fries too.”
“No thanks,” Franklin says. He’s not hungry, and he doesn’t like fries. They’re too soft and wet.
“What’s wrong? You sick?” Greg’s breath is terrible. Franklin rolls down his window and sticks his head out. The bus driver comes and bangs on the car.
“I’m gonna report you,” he says. “I got your license plate.”
Greg rolls down his side. “Just do your job—drive the kiddies home. Then you can go jerk off.”
“They’re gonna get you for being drunk on school property and about to drive.”
Greg shoves open the door with the man standing right there. It hits him with a bad sound. Then there are many people all around the car. Franklin wants to put his head down on the dashboard and his hands over his ears. But he knows he can’t do this now. It’s important to get Greg back in the car, where he will be safe. Out there, many people are shouting. Franklin does not want to open the door, but TheGoodness will help him. It does help him. He stands up in the crowd and goes around the front of the car to the other side. Greg’s back is to him, his coat moving as his arms flail. Franklin stands there watching his arms. The bus driver’s face is very red. He may have a heart attack. Kids are pressed to the windows of the bus—younger kids from the middle school.
“Franklin!” one of them yells, but he cannot wave right now. Greg’s flailing arms need to be stilled, and he moves forward to catch one. Greg turns on him fast. The impact is sudden, his face slammed full of pain. When Franklin opens his eyes, he is looking up at Mr. V.“Don’t move, man, paramedics are coming.” Franklin feels sick. He tastes coins, but there don’t seem to be any in his mouth. Did he swallow them? He once swallowed a dime because a kid told him to.
“Franklin! Franklin!” That is Greg. He is wild and red-eyed with one of the security guards beside him. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”Greg cries. There is a distressing whine to his voice, like a dog tied up that wants to get free. “I’m sorry—I didn’t know it was you!”
Franklin just blinks at him. He does not understand this.
“Why didn’t you stay in the car?” The whine is about to give way to sobs. Greg’s face comes closer, hot sour breath filling the air. Butwhen Franklin turns his head, wild pain lights up his skull. His throat burns with something awful, and he is sick, only he can’t turn over and get it out so it runs down his cheek. Mr. V wipes his face with a cloth, and then another man crouches beside him, black-haired with friendly eyes. A bright light comes on, and Franklin tries to turn his head to escape it. Someone is moaning. He lifts his hand to shield his eyes, but it never gets there.
“Can you tell me your name?” the black-haired man asks.
“Good. We’re going to the hospital now, okay Franklin? Gonna get some tests. Make sure the old skull’s all right.”
Mr. V pats his shoulder. They put something around his neck. This hurts, and then he can’t move. He has to stare straight up. They lift him onto the stretcher and put straps around him. His head feels wet in back, and he licks his penny-tasting lips. He’s hurt. That usuallyhappens to Roger because Roger is a daredevil and a hothead. I’m a hothead, he thinks. Like Roger. I have walking pneumonia. He should record this, but he can’t reach his iPod because of the straps. The doors of the ambulance snap shut with a loud clang.
Kate is crying. She wants to go home, but she has kicked away the ladder. Kicked it away in frustration. She doesn’t even have her phone. Climbing up was easy enough, but climbing down proved impossible. She couldn’t bear that moment of hovering in empty space as she reached for the ladder. She feared she would dislodge it, or worse, she’d get on it and the whole thing would topple, that fresh, sweet wood rushing up to meet her.
But who will come for her now? The sight of the ladder below seems the most desolate one of her life.
“Mom! Mom! Where the fuck are you!”
He is downstairs, but he appears soon enough on the second floor and makes his way to the loft. “What the fuck?”
“Roger, can you help me?” she whimpers.
He is already picking up the ladder. “Dad hit Franklin and he fell and cracked his head open. They’re going to the hospital.” Roger bangs the ladder against the loft.
“Greg hit . . . Franklin?” Now she will have to climb down. But no, Roger is coming up.
“I need the keys,” he says.
“Can you hold—”
“Give me the fucking keys.”
Roger stands on the ladder and holds out his hand. He reeks of pot. “Gimme the keys! I gotta get there!”
“Me too!” she cries.
Roger takes a breath. “You can do whatever the fuck you want. I’m going to the hospital. Give me the keys.”
She checks her pocket. The keys are there, and she hands them over. Roger climbs down.
“Roger, wait—I need you to help me.”
He goes to the steps. “Roger!” she shrieks. “I can’t get down!”
“You got the ladder now.”
She shakes her head. “I can’t do it. You have to hold it.”
He stares at her a moment. Then he comes over and holds the ladder. “Come on!” he snaps.
Her chest is hot. She turns over on her hands and knees, close to the edge. But she can’t figure out how to get on it. The very notion ofthe edge makes her dizzy.
“Mom, what are you doing? I don’t want to stare at your ass.”
“I can’t do it,” she whimpers.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, I’ll see you later.”
“No, no, Roger, don’t go—please!” She cries right there on her hands and knees. “Hey, stop it,” Roger says. His voice is close. “Stop it. Stop crying.”
She sniffs. Greg gets angry, too, when she cries. “Come over here,” he says.
Still on her hands and knees, she moves closer to the ladder.
“One hand—Mom, look—one hand here, one foot here.”
“I can’t do it.”
“You can do it—I’ve seen you do stuff like this before. Come on.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“You’re drunk. I have to get to Franklin, so climb down or I’m leaving!”
It takes several more minutes, but then she steels herself. The terror she anticipated—the moment of being suspended in space—is sobrief she almost doesn’t register it. Once she is on the ladder, she is down quick. Her legs feel weak when she gets off. She wipes her eyes.Then she clings to Roger, inhaling his pot-smell like it’s the best fragrance in the world. He pats her back.
It is quiet now and calm, but Franklin feels nauseous again and has a terrible taste in his mouth. His throat is raw. The needle in his hand itches and burns. His head throbs. Greg and Mr. V are seated on either side of him.
“Stay with me, buddy,” Mr. V says. “Your brother’s coming.”
“Yep. I’ll get to see this walking pneumonia.”
Franklin makes a sound.
“It’s all right. I’m not gonna say anything,” Mr. V says.
“The Goodness,” Franklin whispers. He still has his iPod in his pocket, but talking and moving are too hard. He just wants to lie still and be silent.
“It’s summer school, though—if he wants a diploma. You with me, buddy? You gotta stay with me.”
“Franklin, open your eyes,” Greg says. Greg has stubble on his chin, and his mouth is red and wet. It keeps moving. “Everyone else isjust hustling. Everyone in the whole goddamn country. Hustling. All the time. I do it too. But you’re different.”
Franklin has to close his eyes again.
“Take it easy,” Mr. V says.
“I bought a goddamn kite because the kid spends half the night looking at some tarp on the house next door. I was going to take him to fly it.”
Greg makes an awful sound, and Franklin moans. Then the sound goes away. When he opens his eyes, there is no Mr. V or Greg. Franklin scratches at the foam neck brace. He wants to rub his head, but he doesn’t think he can get his hand all the way up there. It would be all right to go to sleep but better to stay awake and see what happens. The Goodness may be moving on, and instinctively he curls his hands into fists, trying to hold onto it, though he knows this cannot be done. The Goodness comes and goes when it wants. It will come back—a different color.
“Franklin, holy fucking shit, man!”
Franklin drags his eyes open. He smells a sweetish odor. “Hello, Roger . . . ”
“The Bastard really did it this time. I’m gonna kill him.”
Franklin sighs. Roger takes his hand and tries to pull it open.
“Why you all fisted up? Relax. I’m not gonna kill him. He’s out there blubbering like a baby. Mom’s hysterical too. I’m serious,they’ve lost it. It’s you and me, pal.” Roger smiles.
Franklin smiles back. “Same old shit,” he murmurs.
“What?” Roger gives a laugh. “Did you just say same old shit? I love you, man. Don’t have a cracked skull, okay? Okay? Promise me?”
“Yeah . . . ” Franklin breathes and closes his eyes. This is like holding his breath but not holding it at the same time. Holding his breathis scary—he only does it when he doesn’t want to smell something—but this is not scary. It’s like when he’s just about to go to sleep and he knows it. That’s his favorite feeling in the world.
“I work in a hospital for godsakes!” someone shouts. Kate.
“Hey, we’re chillin’ in here,” Roger says. “You can only be in here if you’re gonna chill.”
“Is he awake?”
“Yeah, he’s awake.”
Now she is close, smelling like smoke. Franklin is going to have to hold his breath. “Looks asleep to me.”
“He’s not. Franklin, open your eyes, man. We’re trying to have a family moment. Maybe even get the Bastard in here.”
“Stop calling him that,” Kate says.
“Franklin, come on, pal. Everyone’s waiting for you.”
Franklin opens his eyes, but he does not see Roger or Kate. He sees blue, and it’s moving. It has been released: The Goodness. He doesn’t like it to leave, but he knows it will be back soon. He must say goodbye . . . Goodbye, goodbye. The Goodness is flying away. Everything is blue.
Maureen McGranaghan’s fiction appears in The Cincinnati Review, The Normal School, Alaska Quarterly Review, Image, COG, and others. She won The Cincinnati Review’s Robert and Adele Schiff Award in Prose and was listed in Best American Short Stories 2018. Her plays have been performed in New York and elsewhere, and her chapbook of poetry Attached to Earth was published by Finishing Line Press.