A Splinter


On the front lawn of an old house similar to all the other houses on the street Sammy Boy is attending to countless children, leaving the preparations for the wedding in more capable hands.  Well-dressed guests file passed him carrying boxes of taffeta and lace, some carrying satin gowns on hangers dressed in clear plastic.  He smiles gently at the greeting of each without showing his teeth.
Inside, in the small green kitchen with the large cast iron stove, the Mother of the Groom somewhat nervously decorates the simple cake, writing, “Congratulations Cassius and Pamella.”  People travel back and forth through the doorless rooms. They walk  from the kitchen directly into the dining room, where women sit making lace doilies, through the gradual arch directly into the living room, where, if there is work going on it is made invisible by the crowd of newly arriving guests saying hello and wishing well to the Father of the Bride.  There is a fireplace on one side of this room and a staircase to the second floor on the other.
From the kitchen comes Cassius dapper in a suit and a thin tie.  Not tuxedoed as he would be for the wedding, but nicely dressed.  People slap him on the back as he passes.  He is stopped several times to shake hands before reaching the living room.
The living room gives onto the foyer and to the right, the front door.  That end of the crowd, nearest the door, begins to look out the windows which line the foyer and to push to the side the white transparent curtains.  There is apparently a ruckus on the front lawn.
In the gravel driveway of the next row house, Cassius’s father waves his arms broadly, swaying as he speaks.  Sammy Boy, seriousness in his eyes, holds the man where he is simply by standing between him and the house.  The children, very somber now, stand behind Sammy Boy on the lawn.  Cassius comes out on  the front step followed by as many of the guests as could fit behind him.  The Father of the Bride looks on, stern and protective.  Cassius’s father’s wildness vanishes when Sammy Boy steps aside.  No longer thwarted, he approaches Cassius  making gestures of congratulation, slapping him on the back.  He waves off invitations to come inside and turning away, once again obviously drunk, walks down the street.  The guests show signs of relief.
Sammy Boy, a look of concern on his face, has followed Cassius inside.  Visibly shaken, pale, perhaps ill, sweaty, Cassius moves weakly into the living room.  The crowd of friends hover round him.  The Father of the Bride kneads his arms with his huge hands, pats his back, and smiles closely into his face, saying consoling things.  Cassius brightens, also smiling, never one to disappoint offers of help.  Sammy Boy steps away from the close knot of people.  The children follow.  Crossing the living room, Sammy Boy approaches the staircase, touching the rabbit ears of the television set lightly as he pauses to look upstairs.  The case turns at the top: pale yellow light from a glazed window shines only on the last visible step, the bannister and the blank wall behind.  Giving on nothing, it seems purposeless.

Turning the corner of the last four steps, Sammy Boy and the children arrive on the second floor.  Sammy Boy steps across the hall, passing the bathroom, to the first bedroom.  The door is slightly ajar.  He sticks his head in on the final fitting.  Pamella is standing on an ottoman.  Women surround her, pulling out pins.  The Mother of the Bride turns quickly, feeling a presence at the door.  Her face is anxious, her teeth slightly bared.  She recognizes Sammy Boy and her fierce look softens to impatience — perhaps feigned impatience.    She ushers him out.
Flustered again by the sight of the children, the Mother of the Bride shoos them all to the top of the staircase.  Bustling, she disappears back behind the door, which is again left ajar.
Quietly Sammy Boy walks to the end of the second floor hallway.  The children follow in chastened silence.  At the front of the house a broad archway gives onto the attic.  A large oscillating fan on a tripod stands in the middle of the entryway.  In the dimness of the attic, stacks of wooden milk crates, most between five and six feet in height, recede into the infinite distance.  Sammy Boy tightens his mouth, his lips disappearing.  The children brush by his arms, moving forward.  He catches hold of sleeves and looks back at the door of the first bedroom.  He turns back, moving again toward the stairs, the children in tow.


The whole crowd of them dash for the awning of the train station, some with coats folded upwards from the back to protect new hair-dos.  They enter the soda shop, the bell at the top of the door rings repeatedly.  The patrons turn their heads, mostly indifferent, perhaps upset by such a large number entering.  Cassius pauses at the door and those behind him collide with his back.  He turns and smiles, apologizing and asking pardon.  The soda shop appears strangely long.  Many small tables with empty chairs enough for all of them, placed in a row, follow the entire length of the impossibly long soda bar.  Cassius mops his brow with a white handkerchief.  The people at his elbow, now concerned, close in on him.  Pamela is there, in her cloth jacket and with a plastic rain scarf over her hair.  They, Cassius and Pamella,  smile at each other, each a little uncertain.
Cassius sits at the head of the table, his back to a wall covered with framed pictures of fighters and movie stars.  Light flashes from the countless moving glasses and silverware.  Cassius is flanked by Sammy Boy and the Father of the Bride.  The Father of the Bride is hunched over his plate, leaning toward Cassius, the obvious discomfort of suit and tie making him look all the more huge.
Shrugging and shaking his head at their concern, Cassius kneads the back of his neck.  At the far end of the table, Pamella speaks over her shoulder to the patrons who are now showing interest in the meaning of the gathering.  The soda jerk too, leaning on the bar, smiles and asks questions.  Pamella steals looks at Cassius.
Snapping his hand away as if pricked, Cassius leans forward in his chair.  All three, Cassius, Sammy Boy and the Father of the Bride look at his hand.  On the index finger there is a drop of blood.  Now Cassius’s head rests on the table.  He is unconscious.
Jumping to their feet, Sammy Boy and the Father of the Bride topple their chairs.  All heads turn their way.  Some people stand but do not advance toward them.  The Father of the Bride works underneath Cassius’s neck  at his collar.  He cannot loosen it.  Sammy Boy tries.  As it is unbuttoned, the Father of the Bride fumbles to fold the collar down in back.
There is a small spot on the back of the unmoving neck.  The Father of the Bride’s finger moves toward it.  Touching it, showing surprise, he grasps the spot with two fingers and pulls.  A thick splinter, perhaps four inches in length, is drawn out.  It is momentarily brandished to the gawking crowd.  The hair of both men, leaning over the body, is suddenly afloat as if blasted by a puff of air.  They step back, their heads swiveling upward.
Their eyes, searching, track to the ceiling.  As from a hypodermic needle, a pressurized stream, so fine it is invisible, passes between the men and strikes the ceiling in a continuous flow.  On the ceiling and then dripping on the tile floor and on Sammy Boy’s shoes, the stream spreads and becomes apparent as blood.  Both men throw their hands to the wound to stop the flow.
There is a rush from all sides toward the end of the table, and a passing of napkin after napkin, even a table cloth and ice handed over the soda bar.  The effort is prolonged.  Sweat has diluted the blood that had thoroughly covered Sammy Boy, making him look simply sunned  or over-wrought.  Amid overturned glasses and melting ice, the table murky with blood, Pamella, pale and motionless, unresponsive, lies just as she had fallen.  Her father strokes her hair.  Someone has removed her cloth coat and folded it neatly on a stool by the bar.
Finally there is some brief conversation.  Sammy Boy lifts the body to his chest.  People make way for him.  Pamella seems to respond to the movement.  She tries to speak but appears delirious.  She is gravely pale.  Her head lolls and Sammy Boy holds it more tightly to his chest, rolling his shoulders to further shelter her.
As he makes his way down the long, long shop, one of the children enters, curious and happy, looking about.  Pamella sees the child, turning her head and pointing vaguely.  She wants to stop, to engage the child.  Sammy Boy, whispering through tight lips, quiets her, putting off the visit until later.  He turns his back on the child to close off Pamella from view.
As they reach the door, the shop bell rings.  The Mother of the Bride enters, hunched in her own cloth coat, busy removing the plastic scarf from her hair, not seeing the people that are too near her.  Sammy Boy ducks his chin, hunching his shoulders further and turns sideways toward the door.  Pamella reaches out her hand weakly and looks from her mother to Sammy Boy’s eyes.  there is a blind intensity in those eyes, meeting hers.  He is trying to communicate something to her.
“It’s my mother.” Pamella says, a slow confused urgency in her voice.
“I think you’ve been dreaming,” Sammy Boy says,  “You have a fever.”
The shop bell rings again as he steps out of the soda shop passed the awning, under the train trellis.  Gathering Pamella closer to him, he pauses, looking left and right, uncertain which way to go.

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