By Chris Sheehan
The house was a sprawling ranch cut into mustard grass and adobe. Oak scrub and manzanita kept a vague property line, stunted and twisted valley oaks pushing against a gazebo, the gravel drive paved and shoaled across the level ground–George could see the distanced marine layer begin to take on the near horizon, moving into the valley; he caught his breath, stepped out of the trench. The house was quiet. He climbed into his truck, heart pounding in his chest, and turned on sports talk radio. It was a slow news cycle, sure, the Bay Area teams traveling. Where do you draw the line? they were asking of the Hall of Fame voters. Greenies? Spitballs?
What he’d found in the ground while probing for the sewer line lay slumped across the passenger seat, spilling out of the garbage bag and onto the floor. It hadn’t had the distinct sound of cast iron or clay, but it resolutely stopped the probe, and he’d assumed the line had been taken over by roots, and what he was hitting was a thick ball of roots packed in the off-set line. Once, he had found a pit bull buried in wax paper while looking for a storm drain in Richmond, though the smell was different––everything was different now.
He thumbed through a stack. He peeled the faded currency wrap and slid a few hundreds into his wallet to see what they would look like; he wedged a couple of the bundles between the seat cushions. John in Concord had turned the discussion to the guys who didn’t juice. If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying––John in Concord wasn’t having any of it. George considered his apartment, his wife, his truck. Sam, the owner of the house, was a stockbroker in the city, due home any minute. The ridge had taken on a film as though color had been pulled out of the air and pressed to the ground.
He felt his hands on the wheel, palms sweat. There was an anecdote about human nature, a musician on a subway platform––John in Concord, like George, had hoped to kick around in the minor leagues a while, and the host was now asking him to stumble onto the platform, the flutter of a twenty-dollar bill on the ground—no, a hundred. John, are you there? We’ve lost John in Concord. George could see the trench where he’d been chasing pipe down the slope by the stunted oaks. He could see where the ground leveled and collected in a mess of paper and then leveled and collected in a swampy mess by the road. He turned off the radio. Fog had piled over the ridge and into the cab.
Chris Sheehan’s fiction has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Redivider, [PANK], Blue Earth Review, and elsewhere. He’s an MFA graduate of St. Mary’s College of California and lives in the northern Sierra.
Art by Russ Rubin