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Not Working: excerpt

Has it been said that killing a man can start up new life?

An early evening, July, 1975. The wind washes through the streets of Dobie, leaving it clean. Sometimes the wind is silent. Often it whistles and whines. In the new treeless suburb where Joe Levy and his family now live, tumbleweed can roll down the street, onto sidewalks and into the open garages. Scraps of paper and a few leaves blow about, starting nowhere, ending scattered. The wind changes Dobie only very slowly, drying the paint off houses and wearing dust off the stones. The wind comes from behind the mountains to the west.

The mountains are called the White Hills. They rise nearly four thousand feet above the Dobie Plain. Dobie lies at the middle of the Plain, in a depression which Dobie Creek, pronounced Crick, flows through. Downtown a bridge crosses Dobie Creek and unites Dobie’s two unequal halves. At both the eastern and western sides signs say,


6297 FEET

The White Hills are therefore mountains of ten thousand feet. But Grand Teton at the Idaho end of the state reaches 13,766 feet. So the mountains across the Dobie Plain are called hills.

In a house with paint peeling off it Joe Levy turns on the hot water faucet. Outside the kitchen window a sudden breeze makes sheets on the clothesline flutter. Hot water rushes out. Unless the wind is strong, Joe Levy, pronounced Lee-vee, no longer notices. He has bee running cold before and now is able for the first few seconds to stand the increasing heat. The water washes the soapsuds off the white dinner plate.

The dinner plates are the last of it. First the glasses and the glassware in the clearest water so the glass won’t show streaks when it dries. Then the cutlery because it is harder to tell if the forks and spoons are fully clean, is the squash off, the pot gravy out from between the prongs? Finally the plates and bowls. Sometimes it is necessary to start new water for the plates themselves. For the four of them one dishpan of water is usually enough.


Joe goes to the front door. He steps out on the veranda. The veranda stretches alongn the front of the house and halfway down its south side. He leans against the rail and looks out.

The burn at the tip of his penis has returned. It is unlikely Maggie had the clap. And his last contact with her was months back. Helly has not complained of symptoms. Still, the burning doesn’t stop. Had he not come to Dobie, he would not have met Maggie. He would not have had to choose between infidelity and self-restraint. He should not have quit his job. It is the responsibility of husbands, of fathers, work.

He sits in the living room and reads the Dobie Dispatch. It itches him that there are more dishes in the sink. Why is it when the dishes are done sometimes they are still not done.