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March '05  

news: Hobart #4 available now!

Family Values
by Erik Olsen

by Hilarie Shanley

by Nicholas Grider

You Don't Listen Anymore
by David Henry Fears

by Todd Robert Petersen

by Nathan Leslie

While the sun sinks behind a squat black strip mall across the street, Jane and her husband are playing a game with their complimentary packets of syrup at the local IHOP. Jane's husband had grown up near the IHOP and the game is his. The object: to come up with the most toxic mix of fruit-based syrups possible. The winner is the person who can stomach a concoction that his or her adversaries can’t and Jane's husband is an old pro. It’s his game so she’s letting him win, mock-protesting that the peach/chocolate/maple combination is out of her league and making a face she knows will convince him because he's seen it before.

The waitress is eyeing them as she serves the other customers (Jane and her husband have been here a long time—Jane's husband likes to mull over his strategy) but Jane doesn’t care; her husband seems happy and she likes seeing him happy, even if it means spending an evening at his childhood IHOP in a neighborhood that isn't quite what it used to be. And it seems lucky to Jane that she’s sitting facing the window while her husband sits facing only her because she knows he wouldn't be pleased by what she could see beyond him in the syrupy dusk light: leaves blowing, a wet-looking dog running from left to right and then back to the left again, and a man in a baggy suit near the dirty glass of the IHOP window but not quite touching it. Even from a distance the stranger seems tense (to Jane, at least), or else poised, ready for some sudden burst. She has grown used to seeing a similar tension in her husband after the attack and she’s glad that he’s content to pass the time with her there drinking black coffee, picking at his pancakes and playing the game, not needing to think about anything in particular, past or future. She’s especially glad that because of everything he's been through he doesn’t have the sense to notice her looking over his shoulder at the nervous outdoor stranger, keeping an eye on him as she sticks her finger in the maple/strawberry and makes a little show of being disgusted. Jane’s husband’s request to come here (he’s been asking about it since waking up in the hospital) had been odd since he hadn’t been here in years and the neighborhood has obviously changed, almost beyond recognition. He doesn’t know anyone here anymore and doesn’t even seem to notice the neighborhood at all. Even on the drive over, as they sang along to the parts of the “oldies” stations’ songs they could remember, he’d kept his eyes closed because, he’d said, the sunset was painful. Not that this is a bad neighborhood but since her husband was attacked, Jane has had a hard time believing in the goodness of any neighborhood. Even if that neighborhood isn’t here on the far north side but downtown where a man, evidently having not taken his medication (or so the police said) attacked her husband with a knife as he left work.

Jane looks past her husband, one of whose scars is visible—a red thread reaching up beyond the lip of the thin green turtleneck sweater she bought him last Christmas and that he wears a lot now, he says, out of embarrassment—and notes that the stranger is still out there, looking in. By now the light has shifted enough for the man outside to be little more than a silhouette. He is still there though and as her husband picks at a pancake, Jane considers the question of whether the stranger will leave or not and what to do if he sticks around and how to get her husband back into the car and head homeward in the rapidly-approaching dark without her husband having to realize any perceived threats, even if they are all in his or Jane’s heads. The attack in the street had been random, a news hour tragedy, nothing that could be replicated, and the man who attacked Jane’s husband is still in custody, but as Jane watches her scar-covered husband lean over to stick his tongue in a small cup of strawberry/peach/maple, she wonders what it means to make those kinds of plans, now, after something so random has happened. What it means to be here now, how to get home, and how to prevent (or at least minimize) the role of chance in their future life, from tonight onward.

After a while, happy to spend the time here with her husband, who’s winning, Jane thinks that the man outside, who didn't seem as if he were planning to go anywhere anytime soon, seems as if he were looking at her and not the other way around. And then, as her husband smiles sedately through his string of victories, it starts to seem to Jane as if it isn't the man outside that seems tense but the sunset itself, which is luridly red and has reduced her husband to shades of gray, a kind of hunched and rounded outline in the booth. It looks like tapes she has seen on nature shows of fast-forward time-lapse nightfalls, a blur of lost time, and she’s happy that her husband isn't aware that time is passing outside so wildly, that things out there in the world are still happening. Her pleasure in his ignorance makes her lean across the booth table toward him, put her hand on his arm (cold under the sweater) and, even though she is supposed to be disgusted, force a calm smile and tell him again how happy she is that they are here.

Nicholas Grider lives in Milwaukee and has studied in the interschool MFA program at the California Institute of the Arts.