Photo by Ed Deasy -

Everything is Broken

by Patrick Dacey

Archer looked for a woman who at least had the color of his wife's hair, but there was only a pair of top-heavy brunettes in the back room and a man in suit and tie with a nametag on his breast that read BUTCHY.

He turned to the news on television. A family had died in a fire and reporters were trying to figure out what had caused the fire. A dog in the background inched up the grass and then darted toward the camera until it was out of view.

"What time is it?" Archer asked the bartender.

"Six," he said.

Denise would be home. Probably fixing herself up nice for some stranger. He went to the bathroom and washed up, wet his hair, combed it, then left the bar.

Outside, there was a boy standing at a bus stop going west. The boy had a head of blonde hair covering his ears, pudgy face, and eyebrows the color of a dusty light bulb. He might end up being handsome if bad things didn't get to him too fast.

Archer looked the boy over as he opened his car door.

He called for the boy.

"How long until the bus gets here?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders.

"Come on," Archer said. "I'll take you wherever you're going."

"I can't get in the car with you," the boy said.

"Why not?"

"I don't know you."

"Well how do you get to know anyone then?"

"I don't know," the boy said.

"I'm offering you a ride. You can sit here all night, but I hate to tell you, that bus doesn't run by here anymore."

"Bull," the boy said.

"If you don't believe me," Archer said and threw up his arm as if driving out the invitation. He got into his car and looked at the boy in the rearview. He saw the boy kick a rock out onto the street and then pull his backpack up over his shoulders and stumble toward the car.

"You better not be a pervert," the boy said.

The boy sat in the passenger seat, biting his nails down to his skin.

"Don't bite your nails," Archer said.

He stopped and tapped the jagged edge of his nail against the windowpane.

"Or bite your nails. It doesn't matter."

Rain fell heavy and the back tires of cars in front splashed water up against the windshield where one of the wipers had broken off. Archer had to bend his head down to see the road blinking in and out through the flicker of the dying headlights.

"What's your name?" he said.

"Andrew," the boy said.

"I'm not sure I like that name," Archer said. "Listen, if I give you this ride then you let me call you Tim, how's that sound?"

"My name's Andrew."

"Work with me, will you? You look like a Tim. Tim's a good name."

"I guess," he said and shook his head as if a bug had fallen in his hair.

Archer spotted a glowing fast food sign peering over the treetops like a regenerated sun.

"How about something to eat, Tim? Anything you want."

The boy ate his cheeseburger in a hurry. Archer watched him eat. He's probably the butt of a few jokes. Probably has his trouble with boys who have already won a good deal before they've grown hair on their legs. Maybe he's got his eye on a couple of girls. Maybe he's felt the first sting of love.

"How is it?"

"It's good," Andrew said.

They were pulled over to the side of the road. Archer watched the rain fall heavy on the windshield. Then he put his head in his hands and cried.

"Why are you crying?"

"This reminds me," Archer said.

The boy wiped his stained fingers on the bag and crumpled it up.

"I'm not sure I even want to know, actually," he said.

Archer put the car in drive. The wheels thumped over the caution grooves in the side of the road.

"I have to see someone," Archer said, "and then I'll take you where you want."

"I'm not sure about this," Andrew said.

"Did you run away?" Archer said.

The boy shrugged his shoulders. An entire future spread across his face.

Archer pulled off an exit and down through the narrow city streets, shops closed and boarded up, a city that used to be; the canal ran underneath the concrete, through roots and bodies and came up again fifty miles away, where he had been a boy like Tim and wanted things he never got.

He pulled to the curb.

"Wait here," he said.

Archer rang the doorbell and then waited. He looked back at the car and saw the boy open the glove compartment. It was natural for him to worry, good instinct. But, there was nothing in there - no gun or knife - just some papers and a box of crayons and some cassette tapes of children's songs.

Archer pressed the button again and Denise called over the speaker: "What's that? Who's that?"

"It's me," Archer said.

"Who's you?"

"Archer. Come down. I have money."

He walked to the curb and looked up at the apartment. He saw a light go on and then off.

Denise walked out onto the front step in a robe, her feet bare, hair slick from the shower. Archer put his hands out to hug her, but she stepped back and flung her arms up to her face.

"You're dragging me away from supper, and I got a date, a good date," she said. "What do you want, now?"

Her face was pale and her eyes looked tired. Her beauty had washed away some from when he first met her a few years before.

"Don't put me on," Archer said, and stepped closer. He laid his hands on her sides. He could feel the blood working through her. "I got money. I got more money than someone else is going to give you."

"A regular old moneyman," she said. "Who's that in the car with you?"

"My boy."

"Goddamn," she said. "You need me to put something special on?"

"No, you look fine."

"It's cold. I don't have a coat or nothing."

"I'll buy you a new coat. I have money."

"How much you got?"

Archer took out his wallet and handed her a hundred dollar bill.

"Money, money, man," she said.

"Run upstairs and get your blond wig," he said.

As they drove, the wind picked up, finding spaces through the car doors and windowpanes. It pounded the metal and echoed like whips against an alley wall.

"It's damn cold in here," Denise said.

"Sorry `bout the heat," Archer said. "Everything in this rusty old thing is broke."

"Everything's the same," Denise said.

"Give her your coat, Tim," Archer said.

"Who's Tim?" Denise said. "Are you Tim?"

Andrew took off his coat and handed it to her.

"That's what he wants me to be," he said.

"You named him?" Denise said.

"The boy needed a name," Archer said.

She took the coat and put it around her shoulders.

"Are you hungry?" Archer said. "What's left in the bag, Tim?"

The boy opened the bag and searched through it. "A couple fries, some ketchup packets, nothing really."

"You ate all that?" Archer said, looking in the bag. "Boy can eat."

"What's your real name, kid?" Denise said.

"Andrew," he said.

"I like that name," Denise said.

"It's Tim," Archer said, and smacked the wheel.

He looked at Tim.

"I'm sorry," Archer said.

"You driving around, moneyman," Denise said, "or you driving somewhere?"

Not far from where his family had been taken from him, Archer slowed the car down. He wouldn't call it murder because it was an accident, but sometimes he wished he could.

"We're almost there," Archer said.

"What's the memory you like?" Denise said. "The one where you all got lost out in the country and found that run down farm and camped out the night? Is that the one? Is that the one you like?"

"That's the one," Archer said.

"I like that, too, moneyman," she said.

He rubbed his hands together and then clasped them, blowing hot air between his cupped fingers. He looked back.

"It's been eight years," he said.

"For you," Denise said. "Eight years ago, I was in high school. Didn't do too well, obviously."

"Our boy," Archer said, looking at Tim, "would've been a good man."

"He's gonna be," Denise said. "Just look at him. Yours, who knows? He could've been a criminal."

"Don't say that. Don't say something like that."

Andrew huddled against the front seat with his knees tucked up against his chest.

"We need some music," Denise said.

"The radio's broke," Andrew said.

"Can you sing?"

"I don't know," Andrew said. "Not really."

Archer tried humming an old country tune his father used to hum.

"You got no range," Denise said.

"That's true," Archer said. He felt good.

Denise sang. Archer remembered the song. A Cowboy Needs a Horse. He remembered them all singing it. Her voice leapt from her throat, he's gotta have a rope, have a rope, have a rope, and Archer could hear her then, like she used to be.

He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. The boy began to shrink. His teeth fell out and grew back in, and then pushed up through his gums. His hair bushed around his ears and receded into his skull. His eyes grew wide and needing. His soft head wavered back and forth across the moonlight pouring in through the window.

"Let me hold him," Sarah said, reaching out her arms.

"Be careful," Archer said.

She lifted the baby up and held him against her chest. Archer watched her pull up her clothing and push the baby underneath. Her stomach bulged out until she was full again. Her face brightened and her hair streamed down from her head and curled at the ends. She circled her stomach with her palm.

"You're beautiful," Archer said.

"I can feel it," Sarah said.

"A fighter."

They drove through suburban neighborhoods looking at houses for sale, talking about the future; back to their first apartment on Vincent Ave., in a three-story house, where they sat on the roof, smoked a joint and listened to the night sing; back to when they were teenagers, down on the beach where they drank beer and had bad sex on a blanket on the sand; back to when they were boy and girl and conjured love through the touch of each others' arms and legs and chests; back to when holding a jagged stone in their hands felt monumental.

The car shook and Archer felt its weight shift to the side. He heard the front tire flapping against the road. Sparks splayed out over the corner of the dented car hood and ricocheted off the windshield. He pulled over.

"What a date," Denise said.

"Just be a minute," Archer said. "You want to help with this tire, Tim?"

Archer popped the trunk and took out the jack and found the spare underneath some old sales portfolios and scrap aluminum and bibles and flyers for car dealerships.

He set the rusted jack down underneath the car and let Andrew wind it up. They changed the tire and lowered the car. When they were finished, Archer looked up and saw that Denise was gone from the back seat. He could just make out the blonde hair of her wig shaking in her hand.

"She's got my coat," Andrew said.

"I got one that'll fit you," Archer said.

Andrew rubbed his arms and shoulders. Archer stared down the road. The night was retreating as if being sucked through the horizon. They sat back inside the car.

"What are you going to do with me?" Andrew said.

"Don't you want to go home?"

"I guess so."

"I'll get you that coat and then I'll take you back home."

"I don't know where we are," Andrew said.

"I'm not a bad man," Archer said.

He put the key in the ignition and turned it. The engine stuttered click, click, click, click, then it started.

2007 by Patrick Dacey.

Patrick Dacey has published nonfiction in The Smithsonian Magazine and fiction in Faultline: A Journal of Art and Literature. He has work forthcoming in The Avery Anthology and Bateau. He lives and works in Hermosillo, Mexico.