'I'm home, always home.'

Copper stands rock-solid, squints at the noise from across the street.

As usual, the cops didn't show until long after the action was over.

Copper squints and spits over the railing.

'If you need a statement, you know where to find me.'

'We won't be needing a statement, sir.'

Copper's eyes shift downward, to the young policeman's face. It's the first time he's made eye contact with the kid.

The policeman is a kid - hell, even I can tell he's barely out of the academy. I can see that from where I'm looking out, three houses away.

'No questions, nothin' at all?'

Copper spits again, looks from the man in uniform doing nothing, to the men in uniform across the street, also doing nothing.

'This is the sixth house they've gutted in this neighborhood. '

'Yes, sir, we appreciate your calling it in.'

'I seen it all and I called it in - twenty-six hours ago.'

Copper lets that one stand. He tilts his head, cocking his neck, staring the policeman down.

'I've called in every goddamned one of 'em.'

I can see the white of the cop's scalp when he looks away from the old man's glare.

The kid clears his throat and looks down, as if there were something of importance in his hand. He already closed his notebook. What can there be to look at? He doesn't even have calluses to gander at.

'City just doesn't care, does it?'

The kid's crew cut is too close, like a fresh military cut. His scalp gleams like a baby's knee. This kid is green, the type that needs a weekly trim and says so, as if that were part and parcel of being a cop, to make up for doing nothing.

'But come tax reassessment time, the city is right at my door.'

Of course they send him to talk to Copper.

'I've got one question, officer.'

'What's that, Mr Cyrus?'

'What're you going to do when they come after my house?'

If there is a reply, he doesn't stay long enough to hear it.

The screen door slaps closed without a whisper from the hinges. Copper keeps everything shipshape; no squeaking door on his watch.

It doesn't matter. The cop is on his heel and away, too. His polished shoes are too smart on the tarmac; the crease of his pantlegs are sharp as a paper cut.

He shakes his head and mutters something I can't make out, and his cop cronies make some wisecrack back at him, and they all have a hearty laugh at Copper's expense.

Anything to clear the air of the old man's comment, ignore the truth of it, pretend it wasn't said or heard or didn't matter.

I lay low and watch the old man's porch.

I dream of Mount McKinley.

I dream of fucking, and climbing, and cold, and pain and cold.

I dream of my dick splitting in half.

I wake up on the bare cement floor in the basement of the Baker house.

No pain.

No cold.

I hear Fetus moving around upstairs.

I stand up. Go to the window.

Still have to tell myself I'm home.


My hometown didn't used to look like this.

It's looking more like the east side of Baghdad every day. Damn near every house looted, gutted, no electricity, no running water.

I look past the row of shells.

Every house on this street is abandoned but one.

It's the same for blocks.

A neighborhood of shells.

Windows boarded up, sheets of plywood over doorways, broken panes, sagging clapboards, chipping paint, ragged shingles.

All but one.

I see Copper across the way and up the street, sitting on his porch.

Copper sits on his rocker on his porch.

I remember I have something to do.

'So what you want from me?'

Copper sits on his rocker on his porch, still as a stump. One spot- flecked hand over his other wrist.

It's an odd position, and he changes hands to cup the opposite wrist, if you are with him long enough to notice.

Copper later tells me that's how the cold hits him: it stabs his wrists.

His wrists get cold, a deep cold that starts slow before it bites to the marrow and lingers. 'Started when I was in my mid fifties,' he later says, 'and the damned thing is, it's same as when I was in Korea. Same cold, as if I'd never left it. Like it followed me here.'

But that is later.

Today, he sits with one hand over t'other, over the wrist, and gazes at me with those milky blue eyes of his.

'You're here all the time,' I say. 'I see you keeping watch.'

He turns his head and spits without taking his hand off that wrist. Over the rail it goes, a shimmering clam arcing into the perfectly trimmed grass.

'Yep, I'm home, always home. What of it?'

'So, we're looking to start a neighborhood watch.'

His eyes don't so much as quiver.

His lips are tight, white, top and bottom.

'Keep an eye on one another's houses, watch out for one another,' I offer.

'I'm home.'

Another lunger over the rail, into the perfect green grass, somehow without breaking gaze with me.

'Always home.'

'Yes, sir.'

We let that hang in the air.

We let it hang a while, let it slide to quiet and seep in, like his spit on the blade of grass below is hanging then seeping, though I can't say for sure it is or does, as I'm watching Copper.

Copper doesn't move a notch, and he won't.

Up to me, since I'm the one intruding, to break the silence.

'Since you keep an eye out, it seemed-'

Without breaking the gaze, another lunger, over the rail.

Though his milky blues don't so much as shift, I can tell he's sizing me up - seeing if I break the stare to track his lunger, to see if it's green as the green-green St Patty's Day grass.

Copper's lawn is perfect, always perfect, the only cut and green lawn on the block, and Copper's lungers won't change that a whit. His eyes stay icy, but I can tell he's a bit amused by all this.

What they say, clear as crystal, is what he won't say.

'-you know, we watch out for one another.'

He says it later, just to clear the air.

Later, when we get to know one another a bit, when we are in the basement waiting for T.

Later, when he tells me about how the cold sunk its choppers into his wrists, about Korea, about 'Nam before it was 'Nam, about his wife Becca before she was gone, about his calico cat Hank before T took Hank down into the cellar and did the deed, before all that shit hit all those fans.

He says later what his eyes say now loud and clear, and I hear just fine. He says it later just to make sure there are no hard feelings.

What do I need you for? What do I need you to watch out for me or mine for? What could you possibly offer me that I don't already do or have done or was or am or will be?

I'm home, always home.

Later, he says all that.

Not now, not on the porch.

Not today.

He says, 'I remember you, kid.'

I look at him.

'You lived over on Spruce and James. Your mom raised you.'

Now, he just glares at me, giving up nothing.

'I remember you.'

Copper sits on his rocker.

We just stay like this for a long, long time.

From now to now, then to now.

That's when I know Copper's our man.

That's when I know we get along just fine.

It's Fetus who suggests I pay the visit, take in the old man's mettle.

It's Stout who says fuck that, who needs Copper.

Stout grew up around the block from Copper and his wife Becca.

Stout left for boot camp before the cancer took her. I left a week after.

Stout and I were in Baghdad together. Good times. Bad times. OIF 1, the invasion, no food, one MRE per day, nothing too heavy, got to shoot back.

Then Thunderdome.

Ate Alaskan king crab every night for months at FOB Shield. Weird. Mayberry in the shit.

Stout took fire; RPG in the pipeline between Kuwait and Iraq. HMMWV limped away with Stout in it.

Stout lost an arm, part of his chest, but all that's left works. Home he went.

Found him here, back home.

Stout says fuck Copper.

Stout has no use for the old man, never did, but that too changes that night in the basement.

Stout wouldn't brook any ill word about the old lady.

Becca babysat for him and his sister, back when they needed sitting.

He speaks of it, once, only once.

That I remember.

Stout's smile bares his black broken teeth.

It's an occasion whenever Stout smiles.

I remember.

Stout says the army promised him dental. That was before.

The army didn't take care of dental or much else. The U.S. Army took Stout and took him and his and all he ever was and never was, all he ever had and all he ever might have been but wasn't and will never be.

The U.S. Army took him and left Stout to Stout and left Stout to us.

Stout says fuck that, who needs the U.S. Army?

Stout says fuck Copper, who needs the old man?

Still, it's Fetus and me who reckon the old man is all right, that we need him.

There's T.

T drives by Copper's house.

I see T drive by Copper's house.

T doesn't turn to look at Copper.

Copper doesn't look at T.

T drives toward the Baker digs.

T looks at the Baker house.

T glares at the Baker house.

I watch T drive away.

I sit in the basement at the Baker house.

I like it here in the basement.

Safe. Like in Baghdad.

We used to sandbag all the windows.

It was dark, except for what light came in through the skylight.

The Baker basement is dark. I like it fine.

I miss the LED lights I used to strap to my head, but otherwise it's the same.

No electricity. Dark. Sleep all day.

Try to remember.

Back in the day.

I remember when Trapper and I signed up.

I remember Trapper - T - I remember T.

I remember T when they took his brother away.

I remember T after that. T said the cops took him and his and all he ever was and never was, all he ever had and all he ever might have been but wasn't and will never be. I remember T says that.

I remember.

I remember T when he grinned at me, after signing up, and I remember the look on the recruiter's face.

Word is T never went over to the shit.

Word is T was shipped right back here.

Word is T got into some shit, and was kept from the shit.

That's before they were taking anyone, anytime, with any record. Miller tells me that's how it is now. Two legs, two arms, two eyes, you in.

Word is T got into some shit, they booted him before he saw sand.

So T made like the Shia did over there - stripped and hauled anything worth anything away.

Makes the neighborhood look like Baghdad East.

Word is T has made a killing on the neighborhood.

Word is T gutted the neighborhood.

Shell by shell, T took all it was and sold it.

That's before I got back, before Fetus came back.

Fetus took three AK-47 rounds three hundred meters from the Alamo; he shouldn't have made it.

He made it.

Came back home.

I remember Fetus before the shit.

Fetus smoked those fucking French Gauloises, cheap tobacco the locals smoked over there.

I remember Fetus before the war took his and him and all he ever was and never was, all he ever had and all he ever might have been but wasn't and will never be.

I don't remember me before.

I don't remember.

I remember T.

I get up.

I look out the basement window, across the street, across the way.

Copper is sitting in his rocker on his porch.

Copper is looking my way.

I don't remember.

Before the shit.

I don't remember much.

I remember T.

One good thing is Copper has no sense of smell.

Miller says he lit fire to a bag of catshit on Copper's door one Halloween and it was the neighbor who called it in: the old lady was away and Copper didn't smell a thing.

The old man can't smell a damned thing, and that makes a difference.

Meant we can, if we are careful, pick and choose our approach pattern.

I went point, and took it a day at a time.

Copper is watching me now.

Copper's right hand is over his left wrist, and he watches me.

'Your first car was a beat-up Chevy Impala.'

I don't remember.

'You rolled it out on Route Four.'

I don't remember.

Copper moves his left hand over his right wrist, cupping it.

'Your mother cried all night.'

I don't remember.

'I remember you, kid.'

I don't remember.

Another good thing is Copper knows this burb like nobody else.

He knows it all, including the backstory of every empty house.

Copper remembers.

I don't remember.

Word is Copper knows the trials and tribs of every occupied house and when who was where and went where and lived it and snuffed it.

I don't remember. Once, I knew some of it, but no more.

Stout remembers.

Fetus remembers.

Word is that Copper and Becca settled here after Korea.

Word is that young Copper had been in just about every one of these houses, those left standing.

Word is that Copper and Becca had been in and out of these doors, on and off these front and back porches, and grilled and drank and spat in these backyards for longer than I've been on this mudball, before or after the day.

Word is that middle-aged Copper had done some handiwork in just about every house within six blocks, at one time or another.

Word is that old man Copper has kept watch every day of his life, especially since Becca was planted.

Old man Copper watches me now.

I wave.

Old man Copper watches and doesn't move.

I sit.

Old man Copper sits.

What Copper built, T takes.

House by house, shell by shell.

What Copper knew, T sells.

T takes it all.

T and his crew work fast, under cover of night.

In through a cellar window, case the joint.

T goes in. Always T.

T cases his own shells.

T through the window, in and out, rally the boys and clean it out, fast.

Tally, score.

The amateurs start with the laundry room and boiler, maybe the radiators if they can get them out.

T has it down to a science.

Tools, not by hand.


Out with the plumbing and gas fixtures - hot-water cylinder, the copper pipes, the spouting, the pumps.

Cut the gas line when needed; whatever.

One house blew and burned on Orvis Street; not T's worry.

That is the amateurs.

T never blows a house.

Might be more to take.

Easy yield of three to five hundred or more per property on copper alone.

The rest is gravy.


House by house, street by street, block by block, up the ante.

Air-conditioner handlers and compressors.

House in good shape, T and company snag kitchen cabinets, toilets, French doors, windows.

Bathroom vanities, especially when they're choice.

T takes it all.

There's T.

T drives by Copper's house.

I see T drive by Copper's house.

T doesn't turn to look at Copper.

Copper doesn't look at T.

Copper is sitting.

I am sitting on Copper's porch step.

'Have you thought about it?'

Copper spits.

'I appreciate the offer, kid.'

Copper looks at me.

'I don't need anybody, kid.'

I look at Copper.

'I've got mine, and I don't need anybody.'

I look at Copper.

'Besides, I'm home, always home.'

I look at Copper.

'Nobody's going to be breaking into my place.'

Copper looks away.

'Appreciate the offer, though.'

I look away.

'You're OK, kid. I remember you.'

I don't remember.

'But I don't know your buddies, and I don't want them around here.'

I sit on Copper's porch steps.

I look over at the shell across the street.

There's T.

T drives by Copper's house.

I see T drive by Copper's house.

T doesn't turn to look at Copper.

Copper doesn't look at T.

T turns to look at me.

T waves at me.

I lift my hand and wave back.

I watch T drive away.

Copper spits.

'For that matter, I reckon I don't want you coming around for a while.'

I look away.

I get up.

I walk.

I walk.

Fetus and I walk.

Nobody notices.

Nobody cares.

Fetus and I walk two days, two nights.

Fetus and I find new shells.

Fetus and I hunker down.

Fetus and I feed in the shells.

Fetus and I meet Croak and Shimmy.

Croak was with the Tenth Mountain Division, ended up in Afghan istan with the Eighty-second Airborne. Shimmy was in Uruzgan Province. Talk talk talk.

We talk shit.

Croak and Shimmy show us new shells. They call one their FOB.

Croak and Shimmy invite us in.

Shimmy shows off two assault rifles he's stashed in the FOB, and his walking armory.

Wears an assault vest, jammed with four loaded AK-47 magazines, thirty rounds in each mag. I ask what he needs it for.

Shimmy laughs.

Croak and Shimmy and Fetus and me cherry-pick a strip gang in the FOB.

Croak and Shimmy and Fetus and me dig in.

Croak and Shimmy and Fetus and me have a fine time.

Croak and Fetus are shouting.

Fetus grabs Croak's left ear. Comes right off.

Shimmy breaks it up.

Fetus licks his fingers clean, right there in front of Croak.

Croak is shouting again.

Shimmy slams the door.

We are so out of the FOB.

Fetus and I are walking.

Fetus and me walk.

We walk.

We walk.

Fetus and me walk more.

Fetus and me hook up with Snake.

Snake tells me Stout is looking for me.

Snake tells me Stout has news.

Roger that.

Word is there are ambulances outside of Copper's house.

Word is Copper had a heart attack.

Word is Copper managed to dial 911.

Word is the medics showed up two days before the cops did.

Word is Copper is in the hospital for two days.

Word is Copper is released two days later.

Fetus and me walk.

Fetus and me walk for two days, two nights.

Nobody notices.

Nobody stops to pick us up.

Nobody honks their horns.

Nobody cares.

Fetus and me walk.

Word is Stout is still looking for me.

I see Stout up ahead.

Stout meets us.

Stout tells Fetus and me about Copper.

Word is Copper is released after two days in the hospital.

Word is Copper finds his house stripped.

Out with the plumbing and gas fixtures - hot-water cylinder, the copper pipes, the spouting, the pumps.

T doesn't cut gas lines.

T took the lines and the tanks.

T never blows a house.

Word is T left the upstairs wiring alone.

Word is T and his gang demolished the basement and main floor.

Word is Copper is up shit's creek without a paddle.

I walk.

I walk.

I walk.

Copper sits in his rocker on his porch.

I walk to Copper's porch.

'Mind if I join you?'

'Suit yourself, kid.'

Copper's right hand is wrapped around his left wrist.

Copper's right arm crosses over his buttoned-up shirt.

I see white gauze between the buttons, where Copper's shirt is open a wee bit.

Copper is pale, his eyes filmy and pained.

'Word is you've been away.'

'Two days.'

Copper sits.

I sit on the porch steps.

Copper sits.

I sit.

'Word is you-'

'I should have listened to you, kid.'

We sit on Copper's porch.

'I've got to replace everything. Plumbing, wiring, hot-water heater - all of it.'

Copper looks away.

'I haven't seen you in a while, kid.'

'Went away.'

'Been gone a while.'

'Went with Fetus.'

'You guys, you served together?'

'Roger that.'

Copper sits.

'I could use another pair of eyes, kid.'

Copper looks at me.

'Yes, sir.'

Copper slowly releases his left wrist. I can see the white impressions of his fingers.

Copper holds out his right hand.

I reach up and take Copper's hand.

He shakes my hand.

Copper places his right hand back on his left wrist.

Copper looks at me.

'You OK, kid?'

Copper looks at me, odd-like.

'And I thought my hands were cold.'

I look at Copper.

I hear a car coming.

There's T.

T drives by Copper's house.

I see T drive by Copper's house.

T doesn't turn to look at Copper.

Copper doesn't look at T.

Copper sits.

'You stay here on the porch, kid, while I go get some groceries?'

'Yes, sir.'

Copper groans.

Copper gets up.

It takes a few minutes.

'Wait for me here, will you?'

'Yes, sir.'

Copper goes into his house.

I hear him walk, old man steps, into the house.

I sit.

I sit.

I hear Copper's garage door open.

I hear Copper's car start up.

I see Copper's car pulling out of the driveway.

I see Copper looking at me.

Copper waves.

I wave at Copper.

I stand behind Copper's car.

Copper pops the trunk.

Copper is talking about somebody I don't remember.


I don't remember any 'Hank'.

Something upsets Copper.

It is Hank.

No, it's T.

It's what T and his crew do to Hank that breaks Copper.

'A cat.' He shook his head. 'Who would do that to a cat?'

I lift the bags of groceries out of Copper's car trunk.

Copper walks ahead of me, old man steps, slow and deliberate.

Copper opens the back door and lets me in.

I've been here before.

I can't remember.

Kitchen, all neat.

Copper sets down his bag of groceries.

Shelves, pantry, cupboards.

All neat, nice.

Copper keeps it nice.

In the kitchen window, a ceramic sign:


I set the groceries on Copper's oak table.

I see Copper flinch as he passes the cellar door by the pantry.

What the hell?

Copper doesn't flinch; here he is, flinching.

I offer to put away the groceries.

Copper nods and motions for me to bring a bag to the pantry.

I offer to pass them to him, it'll go quicker, just to see what he'll say.

Copper shakes his head and motions for me to carry the bag to the pantry.

I press the point.

'Something wrong with that cellar door, Copper?'

Copper shoots me a pained look.

His milky blues go flat, watery.

I press the point.

'They took Hank downstairs,' he whispers, and his voice splinters.

I'm sorry.

'I'm sorry.'

'I found him down there . . .'

Copper sags and sighs, his voice almost inaudible.

'I don't go there no more.'

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

I look down the hallway, toward the living room.

Copper points to the hallway wall.

'That quilt, she made it.'

The quilt is hung on the wall, like a tapestry.

'My Becca made that.'

The quilt is made of a street made of cloth.

The quilt is made of houses made of cloth.

The quilt is the neighborhood.

'She was quite the quilter,' Copper sighs.

The quilt is the neighborhood, as it was.

Cloth people are in front of their cloth houses.

Cloth Copper is on his cloth rocker on his cloth front porch.

I touch cloth Copper.

I leave a wet stain on cloth Copper.

'I better go.'

I look back at the cloth houses and the cloth Copper and the cloth neighborhood.

I look at Copper.

He doesn't see the stain.

He doesn't smell me.

I'm sorry.

'I'm sorry.'

I go.

I have the dream of Mount McKinley.

I screw twenty virgins on my way to the top, crest the ridge with a raging boner.

I find my uniform across the lobby, and my dick is completely exposed.

Damn, it's fucking cold.

I pop my helmet over my cock, the way I did when there was incoming, but I'm too late. It's cold on McKinley.

The subzero temps kiss my dick; the wet bead of blood and jizz on the tip deep- freezes into an instant Santa's cap.

My joint blues and splits with a sudden snap, like a log in a splitter.

I'm pushing my helmet between my legs to cover my nuts, keep them warm, careful not to hit my bleeding rod, but my nuts are in full retreat, my sac hard and taut and wrinkled like a walnut and my cojones seeking warmth up in my fucking lungs, a height from which they will never drop ever again.

I wake up.

It's how I wake up every time I sleep the sleep of the dead, which isn't sleep at all, it's reruns.

I grope around down there to see if anything's wet.

Hand to crotch.

Dry as a bone.

Dry reruns.

I am standing by T's car.

You'd think he could smell me.

Maybe he can; T won't let me in his car.

I must be getting rank; I can't tell.

I am outside T's car.

T is quiet.

It's the first time I've been near T's car since I came back.

I can't remember coming back.

T's just chilling, waiting.

T's watching Copper, a block away.

I'm not watching Copper.

I am looking down at the sidewalk.

Among the tags on what's left of the sidewalk, six faded spray-painted letters, now soft as chalk:


Two yellow-orange letters intrude, the colors still vibrant:


That's the best Trapper could muster ten years ago.

T sees me looking at the sidewalk.

T clears his throat.

'Shit, man, leaving a bigger mark now.'

T won't look at me.

T glares at the Baker house.

'You gut something, you leave a mark.'

'Where's everyone?' I ask.

T looks away.

'I only see you around here.'

T smiles.

'Me and that old fucker,' T says.


'That his name?'

'What about Jeph?'

'J? Shit. Don't ask.'

'I'm asking.'

T puts his long fingers to his face, pinches his eyes.

There's a ring on every finger.

'J and C. Shit.'


'Connie, man. You remember.'

I don't remember.

T remembers.

'They got each other through high school and through all kinds of neighborhood shit.'

'That's a lot of shit, T.'

'That shit killed a lot of folks, y'know?'

'Killed me.'

I remember dying, in the Baker House basement.

I remember the needle, the cold, the slow draining, the cold.

T laughs.

T thinks I'm joking.

T keeps his eyes closed.

'Jeph just about got to graduation, and Connie was honor roll her freshman and sophomore year. But she was two years younger than Jeph, and her father hated his bones; like, sicko shit, man. Made no sense.'

T's a talker. Always was.

I let him.

I keep mum.

T leans in close. He stinks of anger.

'No sooner J turned eighteen to the second than her pop had the state on his ass for statutory rape.'

T pointed to the Baker digs.

'Right fucking there, man. The cops crashed his birthday party and took him out in handcuffs.'

He shuts up, still working his bile.

'I remember.'

I do remember.

T, just a kid, crying.

J in the cop car.

Connie crying.

I remember.

'Turns out her pop had been prepping for this for over a year; had witnesses lined up and everything.'

'Set up.'

'The sick fuck joke of it all is Jeph and Connie had never done the deed.'

T glares at the Baker house.

'She was still a virgin, saving herself for when she turned eighteen and they could marry. That meant they'd done everything but the mission - you name it, anything to bring her pleasure but keep her pure, crazy-ass abstinence-only shit, all short of the deed.'


'She was still cherry, but Connie's dad got the medical examination barred from testimony. And J got four years in the pen.'

I remember.

'Connie gave up. She banged every swinging dick in the se nior class and ditched home base before her seventeenth. She was gone baby gone; stopped writing J after he told her what was happening to him after lights out.'

T's eyes are slits, cold blades.

'He fought, but Jeph wasn't packing muscle; he was a skinny kid. Lost it all on his eighteenth birthday, all for loving that bitch and being a stand-up beau.'


'I'm hard long before Iraq.'

I think, T, you were never there.

I say, 'Yep.'

'I'm hard from the second I saw them cram his head down into the backseat of the cruiser. I see that move - man's hand on his head, pushing him down - every time I thought of what J had to do to survive in the pen.'

T bites something back, spits.

'That lovey-dovey true- love shit hit the wind forever. Fuck that, fuck family, fuck this whole fucking shit-hole. Jeph believed all that, lived all that, and it got him sucking sap with his ass spread, shooting shit to shut it all out.'

'You and Uncle Sam?'

'I fucked every girl I could before the end of my seventeenth year and signed up and off to boot the day of my eighteenth birthday. Nine-eleven was my ticket out.'

T grinned at the Baker digs.

'Just wish I coulda torched Connie's home into the fucking cellar before I was on the bus.'


'Shit, ain't you been listening?'

T leans in close and hisses at me.

'I'm gonna strip and torch every shell in this shit-hole - every stick - and I'm gonna fuck and fuck up every cat, every dog, every four legged or two-legged or one-legged motherfucker I find here.'

T taps my ring.

'And I'm going to get fucking rich doin' it.'

I've got nothing to say.

T wants, T waits, but I've got nothing.

'Man, get your stinky shit offa my car. You gotta fucking shower,' T snarls.

I grunt.

'You got no pride? Man can't carry his shit in his drawers.'

T turns on me.

'Get away from my car, you fuck! You ain't gonna stain my honeybucket!'

I step away from T's car.

'I leave you alone, you leave me alone - deal? For old time's sake,' T snarls.

I'm standing on the T and the R in TRAPpIST.

'Clean yourself up, man! Got no more pride?'

I look down.

T drives away.

I stand on the sidewalk and look up.

Copper sits on his porch.

Copper watches.

Copper sits on his porch.

I sit on Copper's step.

'I see you and your buddies.'

Good thing he can't smell.

'T is no buddy of mine,' I stammer.

Copper spits.

'Not him. The others.'

Copper looks at me.

'I see you in that basement where you don't belong.'

T drives by.

Copper watches T drive by but acts like he doesn't.

T doesn't look at Copper.

T drives out of sight.

'I see you with that boy too.'

'Trapper. T.'

'I remember his family.'

I can't remember.

'Good family.'

Now I remember.

'You remember his brother?' I ask.

Copper looks over at the Baker house.

'Yes,' he whispers. 'I remember.'

'T hates this place.'

Copper spits.

'T. He hates this place.'

'You can't blame a whole town for what one damned fool does.'

I don't remember this place, before.

I remember T, before.

I remember T smiling at me, after he signed up.

'This was a good place, once.'

Copper looks at me.

'I don't remember.'

We sit on Copper's porch.

'We live in the basements.'

Copper spits.



'I see uniforms.'

I rattle off our names, ranks, branches, service records.

Don't even have to think about it.

I remember.

'We stay in the basements. Feels safe down there.'

Copper looks at me.

'All of you?'

'All but McFay - McFadyen. We all signed up after nine-eleven.'

Copper looks hard at me.

I rattle off where we were out of, where we were stationed, where we came back to.

When we were back.

I stop there.

'You did your country proud, kid.'


'No need for language, kid.'

I remember dying in the Baker-house basement.

'Nobody cares, nobody.'

Copper shifts in his rocker.

'Didn't I just say I do?'

'Nobody knows we're here.'

Copper looks over at the Baker house.

'You got the short end of the stick, kid.'

I remember draining into the floor of the Baker basement.

I remember the cold.

I remember.

Copper spits.

'They didn't treat us like that back in the day.'

Copper's voice is hard, cutting.

'I stayed on. Joined the Guard afterward. The service treated me and mine good. Still do.'

I remember dying in the basement, over there.

I look down.

'You've got no pride.'

'We don't bother anybody.'


I tipped my chin toward what was left of the neighborhood.

'These houses, they're empty.'

'You're empty.'

'Old man, you don't know the half of it.'

Copper spits.

'So tell me.'

Copper sits on his rocker.

I hunker down on the top stair, drop my voice.

I tell him about dying in the Baker basement.

I remember, and I tell him.

I don't tell him how much it hurt to die.

I do tell him it doesn't hurt any more.

Copper looks at me, close, real close.

'You're not lying,' he whispers.

I look at Copper.

Copper looks at me.

Sizing me up.

Copper looks at me.

I look at Copper.

A long time.

'Why doesn't anyone-'

'We're everywhere. Nobody sees us.'

Copper looks away.

'There's empty houses everywhere. Every town.'

Copper coughs.

'We move from town to town, city to city. There's empty houses everywhere.'

'Like here.'

'Like here.'

I tip my head back to look at Copper.

'I had to come back here. Don't know why.'

'It's home.'


The old man looks at me.

'Shells. They're everywhere. We move in. We move out. We move around.'

'What about your vet benefits? How do you-'

A dry rasp. My laugh.

'There was nothing to count on when I was still ticking.'

I laugh.

'Sure ain't shit now. They don't even know I'm dead.'

Copper sits on his porch.

'Waited nine months to see a shrink. Never saw him.'

'What happened to you over there, kid?'

I remember.

I tap my forehead.

'TBI. Took a hit from below - IED. Blew me right out of the HMMWV.'

I remember.

'Shipped me back. Took care of me till I was stateside.'

I remember.

'Then all I could do was self-medicate. Not a good idea. Released me - honorable discharge - for drunk and disorderly.'

I remember.

'Couldn't get treatment. Couldn't get help. Couldn't get the time of day.'

I remember.

'Couldn't get out of my own way.'

I remember dying.

'Waited nine months.'

I remember the smell of the basement floor.

'Nobody ever saw me.'

I remember dying in the Baker house basement.

'Found my own way to deal with the headaches.'

I remember the basement floor, draining out onto it, into it.

'Nobody sees us.'

I remember.

'Nobody cares. We bother nobody.'

Copper spits.

'You're bothering me, kid.'

'We gravitate to our hometowns, if they're big enough.'

Copper spits again and turns to me.

'How do you live?'


I let that hang.

I let that hang a long time.

'What do you live on, kid?'

'There's plenty to live on.'

Copper spits.


I spit.

'They just come to us.'


'Kids. Gangs. Shell strippers.'

Copper sits on his porch.

'They come to us in the shells.'

Copper sits on his porch.

'We take them.'

Copper sits on his rocker.

I sit on his porch step.

The sun is behind the trees.

The crickets sing, quiet at first, then louder.

Copper sits on his porch.

I sit on his porch step.

'So, what's this got to do with me?'

'There's nothing left here but you and us and strippers like T.'

'I'm not in your army, kid.'

'It isn't an army.'

Copper spits.

'Never was.'

His lunger shimmers a light green on the brown lawn.

'You're the same as that kid I see you with. T.'

'We haven't taken anything.'

'Suit yourself.'

'It's been left for us.'

'You take them.'

'They come to us. They take, we take.'

Copper spits.

'I didn't sign up for this.'

'Shit, none of us did.'

'No need for language, kid.'

'We'll clear out for now.'

Copper turns away.

'For the best.'

I look up the street.


'What about T?'

'We watch out for you, old man.'

'I've got nothing left to take.'

I remember T saying what he said.

'He'll leave me be.'

I remember Copper flinching by the basement door.

I remember dying in the Baker basement.

I don't remember what I had before I lost it.

'Your call, old man.'

Copper sighs, won't look at me.

'Dead meat, no use to anyone.'

Copper looks over his porch railing to the boarded-up windows of 272 Gilmore.

'You're no use to me at all.'

Copper moves his left hand over his right wrist.

'Getting colder.'

'Don't matter.'

Copper looks at me with those baby blues, clouded with age and loss and pain and the coming cold and the sure knowledge of how cold it's going to get.

'We don't feel it, old man.'

Copper looks at me for a long, long time.

'We don't feel nothing.'

I look up at Copper.

'No cold.'

Copper gets up and goes inside.

Maybe he does know.

I walk down Gilmore to Spruce and turn right.

Stout winks at me from the basement window of Ratboy's old digs.

Fetus and Shiner meet me in front of the old Baker home, and we go inside.

It is our last night in the Baker digs.

Stout stays behind while Fetus, Shiner, and me hook up with the two amputees and McFay to squat in a new basement on the other end of town.

We pull down four of the strip gangs over the next two months.

McFay is skank enough to keep tabs on the latest discards, and we move from shell to shell, lingering on the upper floors until Shiner brings some action our way.

Shiner is fresh enough to mingle and spread the word among the lifers that there's cherry-pickings in the new shells.

We sit tight for a time until the action arrives.

Let them go to work on the plumbing and wiring downstairs, letting the noise cover our formation.

Take them out, one by one, then dig in.

We tie on the feed bag and sit tight for more.

Usually can get one, two strip teams before it's time to move on.

More come.

It's a big town.

It's a big state.

There's a lot of shells.

There's a lot of strip gangs.

It's a long winter.

Word is Copper lost his nest egg on the repairs after T stripped Copper's house.

Word is the repairs sucked up over twenty grand.

Word is no sooner did Copper replace the gutted plumbing and wiring than the insurance inspectors showed up and demanded further repairs on the roof and clapboards, on threat of cancellation of policy.

Word is Copper had to refinance to make those repairs, and on his lonesome signed away the farm without even knowing it.

Word is a zombie bank ate Copper's bankroll.

A zombie fucking bank.

Zombie bank?

What a world.

Word is even with his veteran benefits, Copper thought he was broke.

Wouldn't have happened with Becca.

She would have kept the paperwork straight.

Copper was never any good with all that.

Word is he thought he was so high and dry by St Patty's Day that he stopped paying some bills.

Word is the power company shut him off, the last house on Gil more with juice dark at last.

Word is the juice was off when the cold snap hit, nights of ten below.

Word is Copper is still there.

I enter through the kitchen door.

I've been here before.

I remember.

Kitchen all neat.

Shelves, pantry, cupboards.

All neat, nice.

Copper keeps it nice.

In the kitchen window, a ceramic sign.

It's dark, I can't read it.

I remember, though:


I rest my fingers on Copper's oak table.

I pass the cellar door by the pantry.

I walk down the hallway.

The quilt is not on the wall.

I touch the wall.

I leave a little stain on the wall.

I walk down the hallway.

I find Copper in the living room.

I find Copper in the front room, on his chair.

There are six blankets over him, all askew.

There are six blankets and a quilt over Copper.

Becca's quilt is bundled close to his neck.

Cloth houses on the cloth street, bundled around Copper's neck.

Cloth Copper on his cloth rocker on his cloth porch.

Cloth Copper with a stain on his cloth clothes.

I put that stain there.

There's a fresh stain over mine.

A stain from Copper's mouth.

A reddish, ruddy stain.

Copper sits in his chair.

Copper, wrapped in the cloth houses and cloth street and cloth neighbors and cloth Copper in his cloth rocker on his cloth porch.

Six blankets and the cloth neighborhood didn't keep him warm.

Six blankets and a quilt, but how to cover oneself when you can't feel your fingers?

Six blankets and a quilt, but it's not enough, and it doesn't quite do the trick.

Six blankets and a quilt, but one leg is bare between the top of the sock and edge of the pant leg, its crease gone.

The bare skin is blue-white.

Copper is blue-white, his skin the color of his eyes.

Under the blankets, his right hand is wrapped over his left wrist, his left hand clutching his right wrist, his fingers locked over wrists like dead crow feet.

The cold bit deep this time, deeper than deep.

Copper's face is waxed, his jaw fixed cocked to the side, his lower gums bared, mouth slightly open.

A light frost bristles on his lips, spiking from his unshaven chin, whiter than the paraffin-white of his skin.

The frost continues down onto the cloth Copper on his cloth rocker on his cloth porch.

Copper's spider-leg eyebrows crook upward over his nose, frozen in surprise.

I remember dying in the Baker basement.

It was cold.

Copper hates the cold.

Copper hates the cold, but it still took him by surprise, a slow, steely revelation of how bad it really had become, could be, was, is.

It took Copper hard.

It hurt.

It took a long fucking time, and it fucking hurt; it hurt bad.

The cold took him and his and all he still had and all he'd been.

Took it hard.

I sit and watch.

I sit and watch Copper.

I watch him until he's watching me.

I watch his eyes trade one glaze for another, just like when I watched Fetus when his eyes did the same thing.

When was that?

I can't remember.

I watch Copper's brow furrow, his milky blues go from watching nothing to watching something to eventually taking me in.

'It hurt, didn't it?'

Copper straightens his jaw.

His jaw pops, and he works it back and forth.

'The cold, I mean.'

He closes his mouth and purses his lips, testing them, like an infant.

'It really fucking hurt, didn't it, old man?'

Copper glares at me.

'No need for language, kid.'

Turns out Fetus and I were right.

Turns out Copper is just what we need:

A commanding officer.

Copper takes command.

Copper knows the neighborhood.

Turns out Copper knows more than this neighborhood.

Copper knows more than this burb.

Turns out Copper knows most of the city.

Turns out Copper has maps and charts and floor plans.

'How do you remember all this?' I ask.

'Worked in just about every nook and cranny at some point, kid.'

Copper winks at me when he says it.

'What I didn't work, my brother-in law did.'

Copper reprimands us for thinking small.

Copper has plans.

Copper has plans and makes plans.

Copper is in command.

Copper sets up his command outpost in his own basement.

Copper doesn't flinch at the basement door.

Copper leads us all downstairs.

Basement is clean, neat, tidy. Like the whole house.

Copper spreads out the floor plans and the street plans, and Copper looks and makes marks and asks questions and looks some more.

Copper calls Fetus and Stout and Shiner and McFay and those two amputees and me in for a powwow.

He lays it all out and we drink it all in and we sit real quiet for a long time and think about it, and we sit real quiet.

Copper calls Shiner and Fetus in with state maps.

Copper has big plans.

I stop dreaming about Mount McKinley.

I can't remember Mount McKinley any more.

I wake up on the cot Copper provides and I make my bed.

I fold the corners the way I was taught in -

I can't remember.

Copper reminds me.

I remember dying in the Baker house basement.

Now I'm in Copper's basement.

It's nice.

Copper brings us LED lights.

Copper brings in stuff to read.

It's nice.

I don't remember the cold.

I remember how to make my bed.

I don't remember Mount McKinley.

Copper stays put on his porch, day after day, and watches.

Copper watches the cops drive by when they bother to drive by at all, and they don't wave, and Copper doesn't wave.

Copper doesn't cup his wrists in his hands any more, because Copper doesn't feel the cold any more.

Nobody knows Copper doesn't feel the cold, no more than anyone knows how badly he felt it over his long, slow passing back in March, except for me.

Copper watches, and nobody knows any better.

Nobody is watching.

Nobody cares.

Copper is watching.

Copper cares.

Copper sees T drive by.

Copper watches T drive by.

T doesn't turn his head.

Copper doesn't wave.

Copper and Shiner go away for -

I don't remember.

I remember how to make my bed.

I sit on Copper's porch but never in his rocker.

I look out the Baker-house basement window.

I remember Copper.

Copper and Shiner come back in a pickup truck with two other men.

Copper and Shiner meet with the men for I don't know how long.

Copper and Shiner put away the state maps and the map of the United States and call me and Stout and McFay in.

'Pack your gear, we're moving out next week, kid.'

'I'll miss you.'

'No, no, you're coming too.'

Copper winks.

'New detail. New plans.'

Copper talks about the big plan.

Lots of towns, lots of houses.

Lots of states.

'Will we come back?' I ask.



'Wherever we are, kid, it'll be home.'


'This country is our home.'


'We'll make it our home.'


'This country owes you that much, kid.'





A whole big country, full of grunts like us.

Nobody sees us.

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares about our plans.

Lots of plans.

'We move out next week.'

Copper winks at me.

'We've got a job to finish.'

Copper lays out the floor plans and points to the street plan and hands his pickup keys to McFay.

McFay and Shiner drive off and come back.

Stout and me stack the copper piping just as we were told to - half in and half out of Copper's basement window.

Stout leaves two coils of wire in Copper's driveway, one leaning against the basement-window casing.

Shiner is boarding up the other windows.

Shiner leaves only one window open - the one with the pipes half in, half out.

Copper sits on his porch, watching.

Copper and I sit on this porch.

Copper sits on his porch.

Copper sees T drive by.

Copper watches T drive by.

T doesn't turn his head.

Copper waves.

Copper sits in his basement.

Copper looks at an old stain on the wall.

Fetus and Shiner and McFay sit on the bench by the furnace, which hasn't fired up in months.

I sit by the two amputees in the far corner.

Copper sits in his basement with us.

We hear the crunch of gravel outside, footsteps on the driveway.

Copper sits in his basement.

The piping in the window moves.

Copper sits in his basement.

The piping shifts and then slowly slides out of the window frame, into the night.

Copper sits in the basement.

Fetus and Shiner and I sit tight.

McFay sits still.

A flashlight beam cuts in from the open window.

Copper sits in the basement, satisfied with his plan.

We're positioned just so.

The flashlight beam can't reach us.

The beam alights on lengths of copper pipes and coils of wiring.

T's head appears at the window.

Copper cocks his head slightly, listening.

There's only the sound of T, moving with all the stealth he can muster.

It isn't much.

T is alone.

Copper sits in the basement.

T leans his head in farther, craning for a better look-see.

Copper gives the order.

Copper's hands are on T, his fingers locked around the kid's head, one thumb deep in his left eye socket.

T shrieks like a girl and tries to lash out, but I've got his right arm and Fetus is on the other and he's our wishbone.

We pull as one and something gives and something splashes black from the windowsill and something deeper than shadow pools across the floor, and T's screams grow louder as we pull him in.

Fetus bends to drink from the floor in a rectangle of moonlight.

I see Stout's smile.

His teeth are black and violet in the dim light, his chin is wet, dimples deep.

Before he is out of eyeshot, he gulps like a newborn, stopping only once to tip his head back and gurgle with joy.

Window becomes mouth, cellar becomes throat; broken glass teeth slip through T.

T spills inside, and we take him and his and all he ever was and never was, all he ever had and all he ever might have been but wasn't and will never be.

I help Copper pull T's wiring and strip his plumbing.

T's song is sweet, shrill, short. Copper is humming to himself.

Dark, tough laces of T cat-cradle between us, ropes of him spill, stretch, and break. The cement is baptized with beads of him and puddles of him and steaming streams and rivers and oceans of him.

We spread him; he is bread, water, wine.

We dig in.

Blood becomes rust, bone becomes sliver; flesh becomes fire, death becomes home.


Always home.