The Man Who Loved Cribbage

Fiction by Sharon L. Dean

 

An aged man is but a paltry thing, 

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing 

For every tatter in its mortal dress . . . 

                                              William Butler Yeats

 

The old man lived off the grid in a shack he had built himself. It lay hidden from the road along a curve in the river, nearly invisible to anyone driving by. He dug his own well, put rain collectors under his gutter, and cut wood for his fireplace and his cookstove. Long before the alternative energy movement, he used the current of the river to rig up a system that provided him the little electricity he required. He rose with the light and, except for Fridays when he played cribbage with Moses Flannery, he never turned on a lamp. Moses was one of the few left in town who had known Old Man Hanrahan before he went off to college and came back, forty-five years later, an eccentric. For a time, people called him the mad man in the shack and circulated rumors that he had been locked up in the state hospital in Concord. After a few months when he hadn’t come into the village talking to an invisible companion or wandering under a full moon in a nightshirt, they speculated that he had been a spy or a mercenary, or he had invented some top-secret government weapon and retreated from the world in shame. He had a car, he bought gas and groceries, he had money even if he didn’t spend much.

Hazel Foster knew more about Old Man Hanrahan and those cribbage games than anyone except Moses, but she didn’t know much. She was never invited into the shack during the year she drove Moses to the games and Moses and Old Man Hanrahan to the grocery store. She was a healthy eighty-four, still able to drive, when the men hit ninety and failed the New Hampshire driving test. Moses walked across the street from his house to hers and asked if she’d accept twenty dollars a week to be their chauffeur. She would have driven for nothing. 

Hazel had been watching Old Man Hanrahan since she was in elementary school and he was Jimmy Hanrahan, a teenager in the one school building that housed the town’s hundred or so children, first grade through twelfth. He stood out then, a little curved in the spine, with thick dark hair that he wore too long on the sides for the high and tight style of post-World War II America. He lived a half-mile beyond her house and walked the same route to school. Most days, he jostled with Moses as they passed her. If he walked alone, she’d make up stories about why he was kicking stones or hitting trees with a stick he’d picked up along the road. She liked best the days he was late. She’d hear him coming up behind her and stand still for a moment, waiting. He’d stop and pat her on the head. If it was warm, he’d say, “Hey, Shirley Temple, curls look mighty fine today.” If she wore a hat against the cold of winter, he’d pull it off as he ran past her, then stop, and put it back on her head, being careful to cover her ears. He’d run his finger along her nose and, without saying anything, continue on his way.

Hazel liked walking to school alone. She liked to walk slowly, pretending to be Nancy Drew looking along the road for clues to who had been visiting Mrs. Drake while her husband was away, who had poisoned Mr. Fletcher’s horse, who had committed whatever theft or murder her eleven-year-old mind could imagine. Often, she’d imagine stories about Jimmy Hanrahan. Someone put a snake in his locker and she saw the remnants of a snakeskin on Moses’ jacket. Someone had stolen Jimmy’s English paper and she stayed after school, snuck up the stairs to the high school rooms, and found it in Moses’ desk. Jimmy wasn’t always the victim. Often he was her partner in the H & J Detective Agency. 

When Jimmy graduated and left her, a bereft seventh-grader, she imagined him at the state university studying a science he could use to help her solve crimes. The first Christmas Jimmy returned to Lakeview, he told her he was majoring in electrical engineering. It sounded important, something that would be useful for their detective agency. He still joked about her Shirley Temple hair, still ran his finger along her nose, still wore his hair a little too long, but he had changed in a way she didn’t understand. By the next year when he hadn’t come home from college for the summer, she heard rumors that he’d dropped out of school, gone to Europe, or enlisted in the navy. From then on, she tried to forget about Jimmy Hanrahan.

She graduated from high school, the valedictorian, which didn’t mean much in a class of eight, but she was smart enough to get into the university and do well. In college, she stayed in the background, observing how the young women in spring would exchange pleated skirts and knee socks for petticoated dresses, and the men with their crew-cuts would take off their letter sweaters and sit in the sun on the library steps. If she walked by and one of the men called out that he liked her curly hair, she’d rub her finger along her nose and think of Jimmy Hanrahan.

Hazel made friends among the women who went to college in the 1950s to learn, not to look for a husband. She dated a few men who took her to the movies or a football game or dances hosted by the university. Once she ended up at a fraternity party where people drank from a bowl of punch concocted of fruit juice, ginger ale, and alcohol distilled by the chemistry majors in their lab. They called it rocket fuel. After she had drunk her third glass, she collapsed into her date’s arms while the band played “Ebb Tide.” He half-carried her back to her dorm where she woke the next morning with a hangover that turned her off alcohol forever.

She graduated magna cum laude, returned home to Lakeview still a virgin. There she remained a virgin, committed to imagining rather than living life. She inherited her parents’ house, across the street from the house where Moses grew up and which he had never left. Although he hadn’t gone to university, he made a good life for himself as a local carpenter. It was Moses who helped Jimmy Hanrahan build what the town nicknamed Jimmy’s Folly.

While they were building, Jimmy lived with Moses. At first, Hazel would stop over in the evening, offering a pie or a fresh loaf of bread. She’d say, “How’s the building going?” and Moses would say, “Coming along.” Each visit, she’d try out a new angle to solve the mystery of Jimmy Hanrahan. “Do you find Lakeview changed? Different from where you were living?” “Where’d you learn to build houses?” “How’d you make the money to buy all those materials?” Jimmy would look up from whatever book he was reading, shake his head, then bend it to the book again. Moses would say, “Jimmy’s earned his privacy.” Finally, Hazel had to accept that, like everyone else in town, she could only wonder.

For the next twenty-seven years, Jimmy welcomed no one into his shack except Moses for their Friday cribbage games. If Moses knew what had happened to him, he kept it as secret as Jimmy did. People who had gone to school with Jimmy died or moved away and along with them their knowing glances. Jimmy became Old Man Hanrahan, a recluse best left alone. 

Jimmy hadn’t spoken to Hazel even once during those twenty-seven years. Her Shirley Temple curls had thinned to a dry gray and her eyebrows had disappeared along with most of her body hair. Until she hit eighty, she walked every day, even when the New Hampshire weather turned to a cold as biting as her curious eyes. Passing what had been the town’s only school and that now housed administrative offices, she’d start up the dirt road beyond it and walk toward the river where Jimmy had built his shack. The road ended at a boat ramp where she’d turn around and retrace her steps. At eighty, she gave in to age, parked at the boat ramp, and walked two miles instead of five, reducing her days to Wednesdays and Saturdays. Occasionally when she passed Jimmy’s Folly, she’d see him at his mailbox, his back becoming more stooped with every year. He’d look at her, smile, and run his finger along his nose. 

One morning when she had just turned seventy, the sun sparkled on a layer of fresh snow, reminding her of all the winter mornings she walked to school imagining stories about Jimmy Hanrahan. She passed Jimmy in front of his mailbox. Perhaps it was an impulse carved as deep as the snow into his memory that moved him to the gesture. He snatched off her hat, tossed it in the air, and, laughing, handed it back to her. 

The pressure of his hand, the familiar flick of his wrist, reawakened the creativity that produced a novel she wrote after college. Its success shocked her. Hard Soil had done for rural New Hampshire in the 1950s what To Kill a Mockingbird had done for 1930s Mississippi. Her characters were taciturn, some would say hard like the soil. She captured the smoldering resentments between families, but also the way they banded together when a wolf came to someone’s door. She looked behind closed doors and showed her readers that however dreadful their lives, New Englanders never aired their dirty secrets in public. She had gone on the book tour, consented to radio interviews that terrified her, then retreated to privacy in a town that protected her from the occasional reporter who wanted to know if she had more novels waiting to be published. Hard Soil continued to sell, mostly to college classes on New England literature, enough copies that she could live the simple life she enjoyed. She had some handwritten manuscripts filed away, but the story that still nagged her was the one she couldn’t imagine. Why had Jimmy Hanrahan disappeared and why had he returned to live off the grid, his only company Moses Flannery? 

It was nearly a decade and a half after Jimmy had snatched away her hat before Moses knocked on her door and offered her the twenty dollars. She, like the rest of the town, had begun to think of Jimmy as Old Man Hanrahan. She rarely saw him now and with each sighting, he had become a little more stooped. When Moses approached her to become a driver for two old men, she bought a package of twelve legal pads, a half-dozen of the pens she still used to compose the first draft, and replenished her supply of ink cartridges and paper for the book she would at last write.

On the first Monday, she parked her car in Moses’ driveway, got out, and looked at the placard over the front porch that announced the date of the house. 1848. It felt as old as Old Man Hanrahan, but it had weathered the years better. Every summer, Moses would replace clapboards or fix a porch railing. He weeded the flower garden that his mother had nursed into a spectacular display and that his wife had tended until childbirth killed her. The perennials still bloomed in a sequence guaranteed to have color from early spring into the late fall when the chrysanthemums gave in to the hard frost that came after the last bloomings of Indian summer.

Now in late October on a morning as bright as a day in June, Hazel imagined a new beginning, the years to come unfolding the story of Jimmy Hanrahan. Moses opened the door before she had a chance to ring the bell. He wore a short-sleeved shirt and jeans that sat high on his waist, belted just a little too tight. His arms that once rippled with muscles toned from carpentry had gone slack and his once thick hair had vanished, revealing a bald scalp freckled by the sun.

“Come inside, Hazel,” he said through thin lips on a face that bore the deep lines of a life spent outdoors. “Just finishing my coffee. Offer you a cup?”

“Already had mine,” said Hazel.

“I’ll just get my coat then.”

She stepped into a living room that hadn’t changed since the days she and Moses were kids. Except for the heat that explained his short-sleeved shirt. The temperature was cranked as high as a smoldering day in summer.

The walls held the same paintings Hazel remembered from her childhood when she thought Mrs. Flannery must be one of the best artists in the world. They were oils, scenes of the town’s school, the ballpark, the lake the town had been named for, the curve in the river where Jimmy had built his shack, all recognizable, all stiff and a little off-kilter. The one window that opened onto the porch was still framed with the curtains Hazel had helped sew after Moses’ mother died and his wife felt free to put her own touches into the house. When his wife tried to take down the paintings, Moses had threatened her with divorce, so on the walls they remained. The curtains were as faded now as the sofa that faced the fireplace and the mantel that held photos of Moses’ father, one in his wedding suit in front of the house where he brought his bride and one in the uniform of the war that turned him into a paraplegic, dead before Moses reached puberty. Another photo showed Moses’ mother posed in her wedding gown, a sleek, cream-colored satin with a high beaded neck, cap sleeves, and belted waist. The skirt fell only to mid-calf, revealing stockings in shoes that buttoned at the ankle. The only photo of Moses’ wife showed her in a chair, visibly pregnant and knitting a blanket for the child who died with her minutes after his birth. Hazel remembered that week, the way the town had gathered around Moses, the way he fought off sorrow by building his wife’s coffin, the way he built a life by becoming known as the best carpenter in a hundred-mile radius. 

Only when Jimmy Hanrahan returned decades later did Moses recover the joy that showed in the last photograph on the mantel. It was of him and Jimmy, posed as bare-chested teenagers, their arms around each other at the boat ramp. When Moses came back into the living room, the sight of him zipping a slightly soiled ski parka shocked Hazel into remembering that he was an old man and that Jimmy had long ago become Old Man Hanrahan. 

Moses held out a ten-dollar bill that Hazel tucked into her pocket. He reached for a wool cap resting on top of a coat rack next to the front door, opened the door for her, and, only when he stepped outside, put it onto his bald head. He brushed away her arm when she offered it, standing tall as he descended the steps that led off the porch to the walkway.

“Can’t see enough to drive,” he said, “but I’m still steady on my feet.”

“Hope I’m as fit as you when I reach ninety,” said Hazel.

“You’re not so far behind.”

“Just six years.”

Moses opened the car door for Hazel, gave a little bow, and seemed to pull himself up taller as he walked to the passenger side. He slid in, found the lever, and moved the seat back to accommodate his long legs.

“Sorry,” said Hazel. “I’ll be sure to have the seat pushed back next time.”

“No matter.”

Hazel started the car. After she safely backed out of the driveway, she said, “How’s Jimmy? I worry about him. He looks more stooped every time I see him at his mailbox.”

“Got the arthritis pretty bad. Okay ‘cept for that.”

“Does he have help around the house? Someone to do his laundry?” Hazel wondered if she could add housecleaner to taxi driver.

“Don’t need help. He’s stronger than he looks.”

Hazel ventured further. “Who cuts his wood?”

“Does it himself.” Moses turned his face to the window. “Pretty day out.”

They passed the building where they had gone to school so long ago. “Seems like we were just walking to school together,” Hazel said.

Moses stayed silent. He’d said enough. Hazel turned onto the river road. After the first half-mile, the pavement changed to dirt and dirt it remained until it dead-ended at the boat ramp. Except in summer when fishermen launched their rowboats and couples went out in canoes, it was the road less traveled. Every summer someone would come back with a story about Old Man Hanrahan. He’d shouted at them not to fish in front of his house, he’d been chopping wood and raised a threatening ax, he’d fallen asleep on a boulder, his chin resting on his fist so he looked like The Thinker. Some swore he lived with a woman and claimed they saw her throwing stones into the river. If young boys caught him peeing in the bushes, they’d make jokes about shriveled penises that had never been used. 

Hazel put on her blinker at Jimmy’s mailbox though there were no cars in sight. She pulled into the driveway and turned off the ignition. “No need to get out of the car,” she said.

“You either,” said Moses. “Jimmy’ll see us.”

Hazel opened the car door anyway. “I’ll just see if he needs help.” She heard Moses mumble something that sounded like “nosy as ever” when she stepped onto the packed dirt that passed for Jimmy’s driveway. She had never been this close to the house. The townspeople who called it a shack were right. It was no bigger than an oversized storage shed, its clapboards unpainted and so weathered it was nearly hidden among trees that would keep it cool in summer and turn it into an animal’s den in winter. If she didn’t know about the cribbage games, she would have believed that Jimmy hibernated with the bears that still roamed the woods in Lakeview. Anemic smoke rose from a metal chimney. Enough logs to keep Jimmy all winter were stacked neatly between posts on the side of the house. Hazel counted three cleared or recovering areas that marked each decade Jimmy cut wood so he could live off the grid. The morning sun shone on a vegetable garden close to the river, fenced off from the deer, the woodchucks, and the raccoons that anyone who tried to grow a garden in Lakeview wanted to annihilate. Only a sad-looking row of kale hadn’t been harvested.

Jimmy was standing in front of a door as weathered as the clapboards. It was closed and the window curtains were drawn. Hazel hadn’t been this close to Jimmy since the day he pulled off her hat. He’d never been tall, but now his stoop had shortened him to her five and a half feet. He looked shrunken beneath a parka designed in the 1980s, short and puffy, its gray now faded to a silver sheen. Beneath it, she could see a belt holding up pants that were as old as the jacket and worn at the knees. Deep furrows lined his face, and his eyes looked at her under eyebrows as thick as his hair, gray now and still long on the sides. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and handed it to her. She wished she had taken off her gloves so she could feel the skin of his blue-veined hands.

“Much obliged,” he said, walking in front of her to the car. He got into the back seat beside Moses, who had moved from the front and left the back door open for him.

“Morning,” Moses said. Jimmy nodded his response.

Hazel started the car, watching the two men in her rearview mirror. In their tattered coats, they looked like the aged men of the Yeats’ poem she had studied in college. Paltry things, but familiar to each other, even companionable. 

“Gotten over your beating Friday?” said Moses. “Ready for a rematch?”

“Blind luck drawing the right Jack for three cribs.”

“Strategy,” said Moses. 

“Luck and probability,” said Jimmy. 

“And knowing when to dump the lone Jack.”

“Or use Old Faithful.” Jimmy leaned toward Hazel in the driver’s seat. “Just talkin’ about cribbage. Mostly all we talk about.”

Hazel hadn’t heard Jimmy speak in the years he had lived in his shack. The high tone of his voice had turned raspy with age, but it still carried the hint of something withheld that she used to imagine she’d learn when they were grown. By the time she pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store, she began to think that Jimmy was simply Old Man Hanrahan, a recluse with only one friend, with only one interest in life, with nothing to fill the pages of her twelve legal pads. 

Inside the store, the two men walked, Moses behind Jimmy, up and down each of the aisles. Hazel was more interested in watching what Jimmy bought than what she put into her own cart. After they had gone through every aisle, she found a check-out counter where she could see Jimmy at the register next to hers. He leaned on his cart, so hunched that a toddler riding the cart behind him asked her mother if he was a gnome. The mother shushed her, saying that gnomes were just pretend. Jimmy turned and when he saw the little girl’s hair, said, “You look like Shirley Temple.” He looked at Hazel and ran his finger along his nose. Behind her, Moses said, “He never forgets the old days.”

Jimmy unloaded the meager contents of his cart. Nothing that required a freezer. Pasta and sauce, milk and eggs, enough bananas to make Hazel wonder if he had a potassium deficiency. He bought no meat and only a single head of lettuce. She imagined he was a vegetarian living off vegetables he stored in a root cellar. He paid with a credit card. On the way out, he stopped to withdraw money from an ATM. She strained to read the screen. He was being charged $3.00 for using a bank different from his own. Available funds, $140,076, and some amount of change she couldn’t read. She thought of her own checking account and its balance of a few thousand dollars. Did Jimmy keep all his money in a checking account? She remembered the long-ago rumors about him working on a secret military project or being a government spy. Wherever he got however much money he had, he had learned how to access it without going to a local bank. 

He counted the bills that shot out of the ATM and looked at his receipt. “Seen what you wanted?” he said, as he put the card into the pocket of his jacket and pushed his cart to Hazel’s car. She opened the trunk and loaded in five bags of groceries, one for herself and two each for Moses and Jimmy.

The conversation on the drive back returned to cribbage and who won Crusty’s One Day in Portsmouth. Moses explained to Hazel, “I follow all the local tournaments. Fill Jimmy in. He refuses to get a computer.”

“Or a phone,” said Jimmy. “Like my privacy.” 

“Or multiple bank accounts?” Hazel said. She wanted to know if Jimmy kept his privacy by avoiding more than one account.

“Leave him be,” said Moses.

Hazel said nothing else until they reached Jimmy’s shack. She got out of the car, opened her trunk, and picked up both of Jimmy’s bags. Before he managed to get out of the car, she reached the door to his house, set down the bags, and turned the knob to go inside. Jimmy came up beside her. “Locked. Sometimes I remember. Go now. I can still carry my own groceries.” He took a key out of the pocket of his jacket. The ATM card fell out. Hazel picked it up and handed it back. It was a Wells Fargo card, a bank that had no branches in northern New England. Only when she got back into her car did she see him put the key into the lock, pick up his groceries, and go inside. 

Moses had returned to the front seat. “Don’t push Jimmy,” he said. “He don’t confide in anyone.”

“Not even you?” said Hazel.

“Not to be told, not to be told.”

Hazel drove Moses and Jimmy every Monday for a year. She rarely thought of Jimmy now as anyone other than Old Man Hanrahan. Although his back became so stooped it was bent nearly into an L, he still carried his own grocery bags. Every Monday she heard the same conversations about cribbage strategy. She read up on the rules and the strategies so she understood the basics of what the crib was, what it meant to peg out, even knew terms like “two for his heels” and “his nob.” Once, she offered to join Jimmy and Moses in their games. They met her offer with silence. 

Every Friday, she dropped Moses at Jimmy’s and picked him up after their games. He revealed nothing more than their statistics for game wins in a technical jargon she never quite understood. As much as she strained to see inside the shack, the curtains remained drawn, the door opening only for the seconds it took Moses to step inside. 

Eventually, a Monday came when Moses called her to say he was ill. Jimmy would expect him so she should drive to his place. He doubted that Jimmy would go to the grocery store without him. She opened her back door to check the weather. Cool and clear, promising to warm into the kind of June day that reminded people of why they lived in New Hampshire. She fixed a bowl of oatmeal laced with a combination of seeds and a banana, the kind of breakfast that had kept her healthy for eighty-five years. Her biggest concession to modernity besides a computer and a cell phone was the Keurig coffee maker that saved her from throwing out the dregs of coffee she used to keep too long after making a pot. Some changes were good, she told herself.

She finished her breakfast, washed her dishes by hand, and laid out a pair of light-weight pants and a cotton blouse with sleeves long enough to hide her wrinkled skin. When she went into the bathroom to wash herself and comb her hair, the mirror told her that Jimmy wouldn’t remember her as the young girl with the Shirley Temple curls. She found her purse and her car keys. Before she left, she unwrapped the package of legal pads, setting one on her desk, a pen beside it. She imagined a title for what she’d write. The Lady and the Old Man: A History of Love.

On the drive to Jimmy’s, she thought of ways to talk herself inside. Someone had left a package at his mailbox, he dropped his hat in his garden, Moses had sent a new deck of cards. None gave her a solution for what to do when she went inside and had no package, no hat, no cards. The only excuse she could think of was to say she needed to use his bathroom.

She pulled onto the hard dirt of the driveway and turned off the ignition. She looked at her face in the rearview mirror, pushing a gray strand away from her forehead. When she got out of the car, she stood as tall as her eighty-five years would allow and adjusted her blouse. In her head, she was a schoolgirl again.

When no Jimmy stood at the door, her anticipation turned to worry. Was he, like Moses, ill? She knocked, waited, knocked again. When he still didn’t answer, she touched the doorknob. It turned and the door opened.

Enough light shone through the drawn curtains that, stepping inside, she could see the spartan interior. A kitchen area opened to the right with a sink, a small refrigerator, an apartment-sized stove. A pan and a couple of dishes lay in a drainer next to the sink. A table with two chairs stood in the middle of the single room. She assumed that the two closed doors led to a bedroom and a bathroom.

“Jimmy, are you home?” she called.

No one answered. She pulled aside a curtain. Light shone through a cloud of dust motes onto the table. Four pegs were lined up in the start position on a cribbage board, handcrafted from a curved oak branch. A deck of cards lay in the center of the table, cut to show the Queen of Hearts. A worn brown leather notebook lay beside it. She picked it up and paged through lists of dates, scores, significant plays. Two columns at the top of each page spelled out the names: Moses and Shirley. 

Puzzled, she called again, “Jimmy?” When he still didn’t answer, she moved to the closest door and opened it. A windowless bathroom. She closed that door and opened the one next to it, stepping into Jimmy’s bedroom, which was bathed in light from an open window where the curtains had been pulled back.

A woman with light brown curls half-sat, half-lay, slumped against a mound of pillows on the bed. She moved closer. Jimmy’s eyes stared unblinking beneath shaggy eyebrows and a wig that had twisted to show strands of gray hair beneath it. His mouth had gone slack and his head drooped to one side. 

She found her way into the bathroom, picked up a face cloth hung over the edge of the sink, soaked it in cold water, and held it against her eyes, trying to convince herself that Jimmy wore a wig when he slept to keep himself warm. When her heart rate slowed, she removed the face cloth and saw an old woman, pale and red-eyed, staring back at her. 

She went into the kitchen and found a paper bag stored between the refrigerator and the counter. She looked in the refrigerator, empty except for some early lettuce Jimmy must have harvested from his garden. He had only two cupboards, one with a lone box of cereal and an overripe banana, the other with a few plates and cups. She could see nothing that explained where Jimmy had been for forty-five years, that explained his money, that helped her make sense of the wig. She moved to the table, fingered the cribbage board, then picked up the notebook and put it in the paper bag.

She went back into the bedroom. Jimmy seemed to stare at her, to tell her what she should do. The room had no closet, only a dressing table for Jimmy’s clothes. She opened each drawer, finding trousers and shirts, sweaters, the scant evidence of Jimmy’s frugal lifestyle. Kneeling to the bottom drawer, she rummaged through socks and underwear. A pair of cotton underpants in little girl pink rested among men’s underwear and socks. She put it into the paper bag. She stood up and looked at a double-sided picture frame on the dresser. One side held a picture of the child Shirley Temple wearing a green and white polka dot dress with a Peter Pan collar and baby doll sleeves. It was cut from some long-ago magazine. 

Hazel closed the frame quickly when she saw herself, a curly-headed six-year-old sitting on Moses’ porch. The day Jimmy had taken the photo with a Brownie camera he had gotten for his birthday was the first day she remembered him calling her “Shirley Temple.” She put the photo frame into the bag and looked at the pile of clothes next to the dresser. A pair of Mary Jane shoes and white knee socks lay on top of a green and white polka dot dress. She shoved them into the paper bag and turned to the bed where she imagined Jimmy saying, “Thank you.”

She pulled down the blanket that covered him. He was naked, his back resting against an indentation worn into the mattress from the L shape of his hunch. His body was as thin now as a little girl’s, his penis so small Hazel thought of the boys she overheard talking about shriveled penises that had never been used. She pulled the blanket over Jimmy and knelt beside the bed. 

“You could have dressed up for me,” she said. “We could have played cribbage together.”

She stood up, removed the wig from Jimmy’s head, and put it into the paper bag. She ran her finger along his stone-cold nose, bent to kiss his forehead, then walked with the paper bag away from Jimmy’s Folly toward the legal pad waiting for her, empty now, empty, she knew, forever.