Theodore and Darlene Were Sweethearts
Lloyd Phillips

On the porch, Theodore, wearing only white khaki shorts and an admiral's hat, shelled roasted peanuts and drank from a highball glass full of supermarket merlot, awaiting the plod of Darlene's bare feet. A favorite ritual of theirs was watching the dusk settle over their empty horse pasture, leaving peanut shells on the plywood beneath their toes. It sounded like hundreds of little bones snapping when they walked inside to make love or play Scrabble.

Darlene was inside. She had demanded solitude while nursing an injured brown thrasher back to health. Having obtained her animal rescue license some weeks ago, she had anticipated the day when the call would come for her saintly hands to heal the wounds of avians, rodents, and marsupials. She aimed to bear their fleas and sharp beaks, Theodore conjectured, as penance for the sins of humanity. The actual sins—be they war, rape, incest—Theodore did not know. But it made him smile to guess as he sucked a large peanut, and he hoped their talks of adopting a child would cease.

Darlene told him that someone had saved the brown thrasher from the grip of a child. The boy had plucked off one of the bird's legs before anyone could stop him. He had claimed that he was going to sell the legs as good luck trinkets for, Darlene's words, two bucks a pop at school. Upon searching the boy's room, his mother found teeth, more bones, swaths of hide, withering eyeballs, a roll of twenty three one-dollar bills, and a love note signed "The Mosquito."

Perhaps this whole thing will make her horny, Theodore thought. I feel far too drunk for word games.

A breeze rocked soup cans, pocked from pellets, hanging from the rusting jungle gym. Taking his eyes off the bromegrass swaying beneath them, Theodore looked at the crossed tennis rackets stitched on his shorts. He was not a tennis man. He admired the courage of one-on-one competition from afar, and loved the sea.

His wife emerged from the front door, naked with the bird nestled against her left breast, and said, I'm done.

Theodore smiled and took a drink.

You have a heart like a football, he said. You move me to dreams. Come sit. He patted the chair next to him, a rocker painted with yellow polka dots.

Darlene walked over and Theodore winced at the injured bird and the sound of snapping shells.

Can you release him?

Never, she said.

Theodore thought of his childhood and a dog whose name he could not remember. With dirty sheets in the bedroom and another bottle of merlot in the kitchen, Theodore looked out over the horseless horse pasture and thought he saw a child running in the tall grass. The little figure poked his little head out and, eyes widened, disappeared. Theodore hoped that it was a he, anyway, and that he would be a boxer and sought after by newsmen.

I wonder if his head was shaved because of nits, he started to say to Darlene, but she was watching the bird. Or she had fallen asleep. He could not see her eyes.

Lloyd Phillips lives in Portland. He and his band, The Oil Skins, released an album called Old Violence in June of this year.

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Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Tizzie.

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