“In the Furnace” by Joe Kraus
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Joe Kraus waits for a buyer in an old furnace in Scranton.
In the Furnace
by Joe Kraus
When the furnace wakes… their witless offspring flock like piped rats to its siren crescendo, and agape on the crumbling ridge stand in a row and learn.
—W.S. Merwin, “The Drunk in the Furnace”
You have to go down a lot of steps to get to what’s left of the furnaces, so not many people come here. That’s why I use this place, but it got me thinking all the same. This was where it started, where—like the historical marker says—we made the steel that won the Civil War. Now it’s four ruined rock walls. This used to be the heart of the city, or maybe the lungs for the great bellows it had. Now it’s broken and useless. The city’s own black lung.
They turned some of the old culm banks into playgrounds. When I was coaching, we played plenty places that had been “restored,” jungle gyms or diamonds on top of where our grandfathers used to hack for coal. But they can’t fix something deeper around here. It’s like all the smart ones go, and they leave us—the dumb or the unlucky—to make our way. I don’t want to be doing this. I’ve got my name in at the electric wheelchair plant, at the hat factory, at all the warehouses from Hanover to Throop, but the best I’ve got is thirty hours a week at the grocery. So, since I know a guy in Jersey with a line on generic Adderalls, I sell what I can to the college kids.
I’m here waiting, breathing in the old air, when I see them walking down the stairs. It’s two girls wearing clothes I know for expensive, and they’ve got a guy with them, a big kid in front. They’re halfway down before I see it’s Ricky Yuncavage. Played catcher for me in Teeners. Before that, I knew him from around. From his cousin in my class, his grandmother at church, from when he used to ride his bicycle through the neighborhood.
I hear a voice like Father Filipczik’s telling me I gotta get out before he sees me. What do I want with selling this poison to kids I know from when they’re little? And I could go. There’s ways to cut out through the thicket, down to the expressway, and then double back. But now they do see me. And I got a car payment due.
“It’s all right,” Ricky says behind him to the girls. “I know this guy.” And I don’t know what bothers me more: that he’s talking to the girls before he talks to me or that he doesn’t sound surprised it’s me here selling him drugs.
“Hey, Stosh,” he says. I’m only about seven years older than he is, so it shouldn’t bug me that he doesn’t add “Mister” or at least “Coach.” But it does.
The procedure’s supposed to be straightforward. The buyer hands me the $120, and I hand him the baggie with 10 pills. No standing around. No bullshitting. But something grabs me, and, as I fish the baggie out of my pocket, I hear myself talking.
“So what you studying, Ricky?” It’s a stupid question. I don’t want the answer, and he probably knows I don’t care. But it’s a test, I guess. A test of whether he thinks I’m someone human enough to talk to.
“Nursing,” he says. “Listen, Stosh. I gotta go. I gotta get these girls back to the U.”
“Nursing,” I nod, drawing it out. “That’s a smart play. Is it working?”
“Stosh, I gotta go,” he hisses.
I let the baggie roll across my fingers, waiting.
“Yeah, sure,” he says. Then, under his breath, “I get all the pussy I can handle.”
I give a look over at the two girls huddling off to the side. Good looking, I guess, if you like them skinny and rich. “Thataway, kid.” I laugh and toss the baggie to him. He nods, says nothing, and leaves. It’s a performance. I know it, and I know he knows it. But at least I’ve gotten him to dance a little.
I watch them walk back up the steps, rushing to leave this place. They’re going somewhere. Me, I’m not in any hurry. I lean against a furnace wall, feel its cool through my jacket. Then I light a cigarette and exhale toward a phantom chimney.
JOE KRAUS teaches creative writing and American literature at the University of Scranton where he also directs the honors program. His short stories and creative nonfiction have appeared, among other places, in Riverteeth, Southern Humanities Review, American Scholar, and Moment.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Nov 14, 2016