Pullman bakes cookies for strangers. This night he shows up at a woman's
trailer with a torn earlobe, freshly stitched and iodine yellow, causing
her a terrible moment of pause. But then she sees the oatmeal raisins
in his hand and the faintly familiar smile on his face and opens the screen
man," she says, "from the clubhouse."
Missus Svoboda." He learned long ago that widows prefer Missus no
matter how many years had passed.
what do you do?" she says, stepping aside.
deputy," he says. "Laid off a year now."
..... She purses her lips and nods in understanding.
Every family's been touched by the downturn in one way or another. Pullman
sets the plate on the kitchen table and looks over at her son, kicked
back in a battered recliner with a can of beer in hand. Meaty kid, minus
a leg, watching television as if in a trance.
happened here?" She taps an earlobe.
of the new job," says Pullman. "Imagine a cop working construction."
But it's not true. Even if he could work a nailgun, nothing is being built
in this state.
..... They take seats at the table. The widow
makes a sour face and shakes her head.
they sent you for money," she says, "you're gonna be disappointed."
not like that," says Pullman, though he really has no idea. "A
simple welcome is all."
just came the once. My husband, you know, he loved that place. Love those
little tassel hats. I just wanted to go back
understand completely," Pullman says, with appropriate conviction.
"He was a good man."
..... She relaxes with this, leaning back
in her chair and eyeing the oatmeal raisins, plump and golden brown. Pullman
take pride in his cookies, does the job right, from the fresh ingredients
to the lavender ribbon adorning the plate.
tell me you baked these yourself. No help from a wife? A daughter, maybe?"
kids," he says. "My wife left me for a hand surgeon."
very direct," says Missus Svoboda. "Dirty laundry and all."
is what it is," Pullman says. But it isn't, actually. Nothing he
says or does has made sense in quite some time.
..... On the television a man with a British
accent is extolling the savage nature of the polar bear, the only animal
to hunt a human for food. Pullman has always appreciated this fact, and
the kid does too, judging from his curled lip.
know," the widow says, leaning forward, "a good looking young
man like you should have no problem finding a nice gal. There are plenty
of shrimp in the sea."
..... Pullman smiles and winks, his chest
filling with warmth. She puts her hand on his and pats, the way he imagines
a grandmother would do, and Pullman closes his eyes and breathes in the
scene. Although he'd never admit it, this is why he comes. Why he does
what he does.
she says. "How about a cookie? Milo?"
..... The kid responds with a snort and a
chug of beer. The widow's hand stops halfway to the plate. She sighs and
looks an apology at Pullman.
just hasn't been himself," she says quietly, "since he came
back from that place."
..... Pullman lifts the cellophane and pulls
out two cookies.
..... Missus Svoboda clasps her hands together.
"Oh, that would be wonderful. He just needs a friend." She rises,
sweeping crumbs into a palm. "I'll just finish up in the kitchen."
..... When her back is turned, Pullman drops
a cookie in the kid's lap and grabs his last beer off the coffee table.
Plops down in the loveseat. Milo brings the cookie to his nose, sniffs,
takes a big bite. Cocks a brow at Pullman, then returns his attention
to the TV.
I was a fuckin' polar bear," he says, and Pullman raises his beer.
Pullman used to a have a family. Many families, in fact. He would barely
get to know one set of foster parents before he was shipped off to the
next. The longest he spent in one household was six months, in his eighth
grade year, until one day the police came for the foster dad. Something
to do with a female intern at the accounting firm where he worked.
..... When the cops came, the foster dad
was working in his den and Pullman was watching a John Hughes movie and
eating Doritos with his foster mother. They were laughing at the comic
angst of Molly Ringwald, pointing at the screen with bright orange fingers,
and young Pullman knew that despite the tension everything would work
out in the end, another happy ending for a celluloid family.
..... She had been a good egg, his foster
mom, sweet and auburn-haired and deserving of far better than a numbers-crunching
perv, Pullman thinks now, standing at Milo's bedside at two-fifteen in
fingers," Pullman says aloud, grinning at the memory, and the kid
jerks awake and instinctively goes for the intruder. Pullman grabs his
throat and drives him back onto the bed. Milo works at the intruder's
wrist until he realizes who it is standing above him, then goes slack.
do those hand grips," Pullman says, flexing his fingers. "Could
you tell? Five hundred a day."
..... The kid rubs at his neck and stares
up, perplexed. He sleeps in grungy boxers on top of the covers. A red
and black cannon spews fire on his shoulder; the pale nub of his leg twitches
as if it has a mind of its own. Pullman guesses the kid at twenty-five,
" Milo coughs and then tries it again. "You say orange
the Dorito dust." Pullman sits on the edge of the mattress and picks
a prosthetic leg off the floor. "Long story, chief."
..... He draws a finger over the hard pink
you think I'm gonna blow you-"
be crass," says Pullman. "Your old lady said you needed a friend.
And here I am."
that right? And what are we gonna do now, bake cookies?"
..... Pullman hands him the leg. "I'm
going to show you," he says, "how the other half lives."
Pullman went to the state university, studied criminal justice. Got a
free ride, in fact, courtesy of the government. The problem: foster kids
have nowhere to go when the dorms shut down, and so Pullman had to find
his own place to stay during spring break and holidays. He hit the shoddy
student apartments at first, eventually moving on to more upscale accommodations,
the condos of snowbirds. But no matter where he stayed, he was always
tidy, always disciplined.
..... Then came Carmen, a fellow foster alum.
They met at the co-op, spent their first night together at the house of
a distinguished psychology professor, Carmen's adviser, who she knew to
be in Sarasota. After Pullman picked the back locks, she raided the fridge,
drank two bottles of his vintage wine and fucked Pullman on the old man's
..... After, she told him about the years
of abuse at the hands of her foster parents, how she couldn't come without
it rough, and could Pullman tie her up? He did what he was told. Did it
again. But he came to understand something. It takes a different kind
of man to hurt a woman, and Pullman wasn't one of them.
..... Within six weeks Carmen was out of
his life, and Pullman would only occasionally wonder what had become of
her. Truth was, he was relieved to be on his own again, sleeping in the
homes of strangers but being respectful along the way. Wiping out the
microwave. Using a coaster. Picking his pubes out of the soap bar.