Excerpt: 'The Incomplete Dr. Hevernen' by Eli S. Evans
Photograph by Nathalie Merle
From These Bones:
Once more, the afternoon drifts. Hevernen tries to nap, this time without success, and instead ends up sitting on the back porch in the heat drinking a beer he found lying on its side on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. At half past six he takes the golf cart down past the swimming pool to the ballroom in Recreation Center One. The Stardust Strangers are already in full swing, well ahead of schedule, when he comes through the doors. Their singer looks nothing like Willie Nelson – he is portly and has short, thinning hair – but in the fashion of the country music icon wears a red bandana tied across his forehead and a black t-shirt underneath a denim vest. Against the wall opposite the band a potpourri of happy hour style snacks – mixed nuts in a punchbowl, stuffed olives, and a sweaty block of white cheddar cheese laid out like a luau pig on a bed of assorted crackers – has been spread atop a folding card table alongside two small plastic crocks packed with plastic knives and forks and, beside the cutlery crocks, a leaning stack of cocktail napkins. Men and women in golf and tennis clothes and various other leisure outfits of more questionable intent stand in clusters and sway, their eyes fixed on the band, while others dance slowly in pairs, measuring their steps to the loping rhythm of the music. Nobody seems to take particular notice of Hevernen, in his blue jeans and boots and plaid button-up – and approximately half the age of the rest of them – until he approaches the snack table, where a woman with a head of white hair sprayed into the shape of a helmet gazes at him long and hard before finally saying, “My God, what a good looking man you are.”
“That’s very nice of you,” Hevernen says. “Have you considered getting your eyes checked?”
“Bullshit,” the woman says. “I tell it like it is. That’s always been my thing.”
Hevernen hacks free a hunk of cheddar with a stubby cheese knife, presses it against a square of cracker, and fits the combination into his mouth. Some of the olives are stuffed with red peppers and the others, he discovers, with lint-sized bits of brined tuna.
The Stardust Strangers play continuously, pausing between songs only long enough to sip from their glasses of water or soda and dab their foreheads with cocktail napkins. When, having thus sipped and dabbed at the end of one song Hevernen does not recognize, the bass player begins to blow the opening bars of the next on a harmonica retrieved from his back pocket, Hevernen feels a hand on the back of his shoulder. He turns to find the woman with the helmet of white hair standing behind him.
“Blue skies,” she says, holding her hand out. “My favorite.”
Hevernen slips an arm around her waist and the woman reaches up to rest her opposite hand on his shoulder, and like that they begin to dance together. The song is a simple one, comprising two spare verses and a refrain promising “Nothin’ but blue skies from now on.”
Near the end of the second verse the woman, who in motion emits a faint odor of ointment or powder, gestures to Hevernen that she wants to speak to him. He bends forward, and when he is near enough that she can talk directly into his ear she says, in a hissing whisper, “They say every man secretly wants to make love to his mother, but they’re wrong. The first woman every man truly wants to make love to is his grandmother. And that desire never really leaves him. She ages as he does, and as he comes to know other bodies, the mystery of hers grows only more beguiling. At first, there was only the secret of her unearned affections, but now he begins to think of how there was a time when she cried out in ecstasy like the other women he’s known, as a man who could have been him entered her with an organ that could have been his own. To think that underneath the pad she wears inside her underwear to absorb the urine that leaks out of her day and night she still has the parts of that woman who cried out in ecstasy, and all of the appetites that go with them. A hunger that offers no excuses for itself. When he’s all grown up and his hands are thick and strong from a good life and hard work he goes to visit her in the hospital where she lays dying and while the rest of the family stands around the bed fighting back tears he’s fighting the urge to strip naked and climb under the sheets with her while there’s still time for him to pry open her dried out lady parts and awaken inside of her once more the woman she’s always been.”
They dance a few steps and then she beckons him anew.
“My own grandson is dead,” she says, this time. “He was stalking deer in Northern Minnesota, where I come from originally. It was bow-hunting season and a Hmong man shot an arrow through his chest. He might have lived if it were a simple arrow the way you and I think about arrows, but a bow-hunting arrow is equipped with a special spring-loaded tip that opens on impact – it blooms like a flower, is how I always like to think of it, but a flower with razor blades in place of petals. When that happens it just about ravages everything in its vicinity. They call them bone-penetrating arrows because they can bore their way right through bone, as powerful as they are when triggered, so you can only imagine the damage they inflict on any organs that might get in their way. Everyone agrees it was a tragic accident except for me, not because I don’t think it was a tragedy but because I’m not convinced it was an accident. There’s a lot that goes on that people don’t know about where I come from. It’s a different kind of life. You think you’d be safe from the dangers of the city, the drugs and the gangs, but combining the Indian casinos, which of course I don’t begrudge them, with the unemployment problems and the boredom of the winters, you end up with a lot of addiction and a lot of the violence that goes with it. Not just addiction to gambling but people who turn to drugs when the thrill of a full house can’t make up any longer for the sadness of a life gone wrong. But I think it’s something else that did my grandson in. In the Eighties and Nineties the Hmong started to show up, a lot of them coming over from Wisconsin, and with the Hmong there was a tension from the start. Of course the people who have always been there have a hard time accepting that towns that have looked a certain way since their grandparents’ grandparents’ time all of a sudden have these Hmong people walking around opening their own Hmong restaurants and Hmong grocery stores where all the signs are in Hmong and everybody’s talking to each other in Hmong. But I’m of the rare opinion the bigger problem is with the Hmong. Did you know that in the Hmong language the word Hmong means human being? Think of it. If the word Hmong means human being, then that can only mean that for the Hmong, if you’re not a Hmong you’re something other than a human being. Now imagine a Hmong man who has a beautiful young Hmong daughter who starts carrying on with a young white man from town – a good young man, even, who makes a respectable living climbing hundreds of feet in the air to repair radio and television tower transmitters, risking his life many times over every week as my own grandson did to do the work we all rely on for our information and entertainment. He’s a good man doing courageous and worthwhile work, but he’s not a Hmong, which to a traditional Hmong means he’s not a human being, so for this traditional Hmong father his beautiful daughter, the pride of the family, might as well be carrying on with a dog or a monkey. And what if despite their precautions she ends up not just carrying on with him but carrying his child? For a traditional Hmong, this would be no different than for her to have been impregnated by a dog or a monkey. Imagine discovering that your daughter, the family’s pride, is carrying the spawn of a dog or a monkey, but still worse a dog or a monkey recognized as a man by the law. What choice would you have but to deal with it yourself in order to protect the honor of your daughter and family? You’ll have to get rid of the baby, of course, which should be easy enough to do quietly, but to ensure the damning secret is kept, and to avoid other potential complications, you’ll also have to get rid of the monkey-dog who planted the seed inside of her of this monstrosity. Hunting season is a good time to do a dirty job like that and make it look clean. Most people follow the rules in terms of wearing visible colors, but mistakes are frequently made all the same. A sudden movement spied out of the corner of your eye. You react and the arrow flies and by the time you realize it’s not a deer but a hardworking young man it’s too late to stop it. The next thing you know he’s facedown, staining the white snow crimson. A lamentable error like so many others. Or is it?” She moves in closer. “I’m Jan,” she says with hot breath into his ear. “Jan Zale.”
“I’m sorry about your grandson,” Hevernen says.
“Not half as sorry as I was, I’ll bet.”
“You’re Margaret Hevernen’s son,” Jan Zale says. “No need to look at me that way. I don’t have any secret powers, at least not when it comes to knowing who people are. I work the desk at the Remax office and we’ve got a security feed from the front entrance streaming all day long. I used to watch television but now I just watch that. No commercials and you wouldn’t believe the crap they put on television, anyway. Talking, talking, talking, and never really saying anything. I saw you coming in the other day with that girl they’ve got working for them.”
“What’s the Remax office?”
“We’re the on-site realtor here at Leisure World. You can find us right around the other side of this building, across from the playground if you know where that is. Nobody here is required to buy or sell through us but pretty much everyone does, for the convenience of it among other reasons. You’re staying in a Remax property right now, as a matter of fact.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Where are they, anyhow?”
“Bonnie and Clyde. Who the hell do you think?”
“Oh,” Hevernen says. “Right.”
“They’re out of town.”
“Out of town where?”
“Gila Pass,” he says, the name coming to him in a flash. “They went to Gila Pass for the night.”
Jan Zale furrows her brow. “Why the hell would they go there?”
“Because it’s a shithole, for one thing, and it’s also a sham. I went there last spring to see the Neville Brothers and I ended up getting Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers instead. I asked for a refund and nothing doing. Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, take it or leave it. I went ahead and filed a complaint with the Homeowners’ Association but was informed by you know who that it fell out of the purview of the Association as the outing hadn’t been arranged through Leisure World. Either way, you wouldn’t catch me dead going back to Gila Pass.”
“I think they just wanted to get away for the night,” Hevernen says.
“Yeah, well maybe they shouldn’t be spending our hard-earned money on these little get-togethers if they’re not interesting enough for them to attend themselves. It’s just an opinion.”
The leader of the Stardust Strangers croons the refrain of “Blue Skies” for a third and final time and closes with a brief, finger picked flourish on his guitar.
“Thank you very much,” he says into the microphone. “It’s seven o’ clock so that’s going to have to be our last number.”
Hevernen unwraps his arm from around Jan Zale’s waist.
“Don’t worry,” she says to him over the titter of applause. “I’m not going to ask you to come back to my place and rattle these old bones of mine.”
He laughs. “It wouldn’t be the strangest thing I’d done in the past twenty-four hours.”
“In that case,” she says, “how would you like to come back to my place and rattle these bones?”
Excerpted from The Incomplete Dr. Hevernen by Eli S. Evans, a novel-in-progress.