Storyglossia Issue 32, December 2008.

I Wish He Were You

by C. Robin Madigan


Cool evening hot tea, buttered bread from a Red Bird Breadbox spurs a call. Karen tells her mother the fear—not for her baby, but herself.

Her mother says, "Child, you need to do what we did for Anders. When she'd cry we'd get some of dad's Bay rum off his dresser and rub it into her balm. Worked for her. And for Christ's sake don't drown that child."

Her baby's brow imitates hers—they worry. She kisses him through his cries, a forced admiration.



Rob had been to Joe's funeral in Essex and pinned a small beer-bottle-cap-pin to a lapel but removed it when one of the officers shook his head with fierce eye contact. Joe's green beret cocked, stiff. Four bronze stars, a tan striped black-ribbon medal, and a purple heart slanted as if wind blew across his chest.



Her mother-in-law offered money for the flight to the funeral, but she couldn't take it.

"I ain't taking shit from her, Rob," a four martini before dinner, chain-smoking controlling gripe, she continues, "please God kill that woman."

"Now," Rob reprimands.

She cooks with Cy on her hip, the phone shoulder held. She knows time differently after having Cy. Naps, like thirst quenched by drops, make sleep a torment.



Their mailbox stands by eroding gravel driveway. No word from family when he returns. No interest in her newborn. He tries his wife; leaving dishes, wearing his dirty boots. She needs sleep; time alone. She grows envious of his solitude on the field. She mills through boxes filled with odd tools, fuses and jars of nails. Her tangled hair stands like a psychotic's.



He'll leave in a week to sell grain, a week after Joe's funeral. She pictures she herself grown thin, unable to eat in his continued absence, this environment, becoming dire from Cy's shrill crying. After having Cy Karen asked could she line the basement walls with her fruit jars. He told her they'd be better in kitchen cabinets.

"Jarred fruits belong in cellars," she'd said, and looked at his stack of wood for the second floor, his forgotten promises.

"Oh fuck," says Anders in that evening's phone call, "remember it's you wanted to move into that old shit hole. You can visit me anytime you want, but you don't, baby."



By the barn an apple tree shades a hollow marred yellow Chevy, a bike, and a beaten, stained butcher's block. Obsolete green tractor parts pile the barn's side. Long yellow grain augers pile in the hayloft, fallen one morning—a fragile jungle orange and black cats flit. Within, without. Among red and yellow rust pocked metal, apples fall softly, thump-thump, a tabby stalks a cricket and Cy cries.



Rob idles the tractor during a last coffee. The large compressor engine clatters plates on shelves, rattles loose banister rungs, picture frames, beans in a bin dance with her marbles in a jar above the fireplace. Piles of her books collapse again. Cy holds a rung of his crib—mouth-open smile, a silence of wonderment. Rob sets his coffee down on a countertop, folds his arms and leans while he and his house rattle softly with Cy's silence.



Saturday the town trades goods. Mr. John holds Rob's handshake. His thick, brown, dry, cracked fingers hold with comfortable pressure. Mr. John and other farmers know Rob and Karen.

"Rob, I know you guys are hurtin' because of last season's dryness," he softly speaks, "and I'm sorry about Joe. Take those snow tires back and call it even. All I got is the Mrs. and that damned lame mutt. We got plenty."

Rob studies the ground through their handshake. "I couldn't. I'll see you next trade."

"Right, but I ain't taking them tires, you're gonna have to let 'em rot, or git taken by the kemp's boys, bless 'em."

Mr. Johns looks at the top of Rob's auburn head as if it might respond. A trade din surrounds. Farmers spit softly to gravel covered cement. An old man rocks in a lawn chair at the entrance. He signs people in, as old men do. Coffee from Stanleys steams with hay piles on flat bed trucks occupied by thick-skinned smiles and boots on dashboards. Sparrows hop rafters and bathe in puddles under livestock. Rob looks through handshake to Mr. John's faded tan boots and his own worn sneakers.

"You leave 'em I'll take 'em, but you know how I feel."

"Sure do. You're a good man, Rob. Just let me know if you kids are in need come winter. And tell Karen drop us by some them apple pies like the last few months."

"Right, thank you."

"Right, see you next trade."

Rob looks to Mr. John's wind carve slits-for-eyes as the handshake parts.


"Right, uh-huh."



Rob drives his brittle blue pickup, grinning, lush inside, warmed. The windmill kit, big and cumbersome, creaks ropes on slow corners home. He pieces out the kit on the lawn below Cy's window.

A cat often jumps the tree to the porch's roof, gets through a boarded window, and camps in the flooring. Rob pulls it by the scruff from a hole. Under the house beneath Cy's crib he lay in a-foot-and-a-half-tall crawlspace that hid a rust-locked decrepit Finnish rifle and ancient skeletons of domesticated animals.

"Don't want you smellin' up the place. Sorry, pussy."

Skinny the fat dog sits some feet away, watching, panting after chasing the camped cat.

From Cy's window Karen sees Skinny stare. The pieced out windmill kit, she thinks it odd, the whole image. She opens the window to see Rob's arm and leg below.

"Honey, what're we gonna do with a windmill? We have nothing for a well, the purveyors told us." Skinny barks adamantly at her in the window.

"I know. The surveyors, I know. The Johns gave us a good deal on it." He moves his head out from under the house. "I imagine we can put it to some use. I just gotta get it up and running. Skinny! Shaddap." Cy screams.

"When? And what is under the house?"

"Never you mind." He scoots under.

"Weren't we gonna clean that cellar out and put electricity down there? You said we'd have space for the fruit."

"No, I didn't. Karen!" he yells through the floor, "I'm god damn doing something."

"Yeah? The fuck." She leans out Cy's window.

Skinny barks and barks. "Goddamn motherfuck," Rob says, "Skinny! Shaddap!"

Karen slams the window down, looks a moment at the crying mouth and clenched fists. She wishes she could leave, but walking from Cy to the window felt like abandonment.

Rob comes inside and removes his boots, his socks. He mopes the hall. "Karen, okay, so, okay when I turned on the tractor he stopped crying. He needs distraction, something low and rumbling, something that vibrates his crib." Rob stands at the doorway, arms crossed as she rubs Cy's chest.

"You don't know if it was the tractor. Maybe he burped or something—you don't know." She slumps into her fussy posture, readies for a fight and drops Cy's bottle.

"Karen, I saw him immediately stop crying. I saw it. It was like—some magical—"

"See, the weird thing isn't he stopped crying, but you park your tractor so close to his window you vibrate his crib. You ever think he cries because of you being so loud?" She walks quickly from the room. She holds the empty bottle by its nipple.

He knows he can't win. Rob hovers over Cy. Cy wails. "He was feeling the vibration. Weren't you? I know it for fact. Some babies respond to rumbling, not rocking," he postures himself straight and says to Cy, "that's true—I read that somewhere."

"So, you're going to rip up the damn house, and? What's that going to accomplish? You're going to build the windmill to do it, aren't you? You are. That's so stupid, Robert! I can't believe you—without me, without consulting me about buying this thing you, you won't even put together the—it's just going to sit there like the damn second floor! I could . . . " She warms Cy's bottle. On the kitchen counter a rusted speculum from the barn. She holds it and grips the handle. The hinge grits rust on rust, and she forces it open.

"I'm fucking doing it! I am fucking doing it. Not you."

"Don't you cuss in front of Cy! Jesus." She slams down the speculum, submits to her sobs, hands on knees.

"Karen. Goddam it." Cy screeches then breathless, voiceless, screams.

"I Said," her voice breaks, "Don't Cuss!" She stands taller, she cries and saliva bubbles silently, open-mouthed.

She stiff-arms the backdoor and storms to the yard.

Rob Bay Rums his hands down the hall and returns to rub Cy's back, head and legs. He watches Cy's small hands grasp with little breaths between cries.

At the window Karen looks in and sees Rob, head cocked, mesmerized by Cy and sound. His head falls little by little and bounces alert when Cy stops here and there. She'd seen it when they were in college, Rob's proximity to sleep, his embrace of noise. Her breath fogs the window. She stares.

He sits up awake. She sprints to the barn doors, acts as if she's stood there the whole while. Hands clasp on her head. From the window he motions her. She dawdles inside and down the hall.

"Your breath was on the window. You know, when Mr. John drove up with this thing I just knew." Rob's head drops between his hands. "Out of dumb luck he seemed to be on to it. I mean, I offered him snow tires to the Buick, and he made me take them back along with the windmill. I felt so close to him. I felt human. You remember after having Cy, when the nurse rubbed your back until you fell asleep, and you told me she was an angel?"

"Well, she was. Kinda different, though."

"That's how I felt when Mr. John spoke to me and shook my hand." Karen looks down to Rob's hands, grasps them.

"Honey," she says, "I don't know how the hell you're going to make this windmill calm our infant," nose to nose she continues, "but if it does—why-the-fuck-not."

"Don't cuss around the boy," he says.

"Shaddap, prick." She smiles. "Are we gonna keep that thing by the back door, you loon?"

"Just leave it for now. I gotta bore it and clean it. It's useless as it is."

"Where the hell'd it come from?"

"Just. Baby. Come on." They go to the couch by the fireplace and quietly strip. She thinks of Joe. Cy snoozes and once in a while coos, making Karen want to leave to him.



The design looks simple enough. The wind turbine spins a pole to a universal joint at the base, connecting to a shaft underneath Cy's room. A wooden cog from some old rattling corn cracker bolts to the end and turns against carpeted plywood: a soundboard, "sure," Rob says in his brother's voice. He has a bath and falls asleep in the warm then cool water.

Cy cries Karen's soft humming voice. She bounces him. He cries.

Rob dreams of some Finnish man killing his family, killing them and hiding them with skeletons.



Karen talks about Joe in the evenings and their mother's alcoholism, how it destroyed their wedding. She makes Rob cry for Joe. Grief overwhelms them. She buys another shimmering mobile for Cy's crib. She bakes pies. She hates the second floor.

"Philadelphia's great, why'd you wanna move back to that shit town," Joe had said. Rob shook yelling at Joe that the service was an easy escape from responsibilities and to fuck himself. Karen delights next morning. Rob didn't hear her whisper Joe's name.



Rob takes her tense shoulders lightly in his hands as he thinks of how it'd be without her, without Cy. She cracks her jaw, bringing him from the thought. Her shoulders drop.

"It'll be better once Cy's got something to calm him."

She kicks Rob's muddy boot. "But he never stops. He screams when I feed him. It's just me." She kicks his boot once more.

"You're not sick," he stresses, "if that's what you mean. I'm taking them off. We just don't do things like everyone else. I mean—I'm as miserable as you are, but I sleep. So. It's not all bad. At least we have syrup for some nights."

"I wish we could go out and drink. Drink," she says. He sheds her blue dress, picks her up and takes her to the couch. She mounts him and hides in her hair. He grabs her hips and feels fake or watched.

Karen dreams cats in the ceiling and dreams she squeezes Cy to stop crying, his large breathless smile. Joe's wavery helicopter falls into Cy's room.

Just off the tractor the sixth day, Rob places the universal joint under the house. The windmill's structure stands the height of the house. The long, thin rod from blades to universal joint wobbles even as Rob puts it to the system.



Once, he and Joe had reassembled an old airplane engine left to rust in a field. Joe knew every piece, every turn of wire, every valve the engine didn't have. They scavenged old tractors, ordered parts to make it come alive. Mr. Kemp loaned an arc welder to attach the engine to a push-car from the woods. Joe told Rob not to look because light from the welder was like the sun. Joe was eighteen. He flipped shut the helmet. Rob was thirteen. He looked.

"Then what's gonna happen, Joe?" Rob said, rubbing his eyes.

"I dunno, guess we'll see. It's not like we can't put that piece of shit back together, right? Hah, you looked? Boy, you're in for it when you close those eyes tonight."

The engine started. Joe opened the throttle. Rob released the push-car brake and it made its way down twenty yards of railroad. Picking up speed drastically toward the end, it jumped the track and took off downhill, Joe and Rob in pursuit. At the crest of a big hill before the woods they caught up only to see it disappear like a swallow into golden field beyond. It careened so forcefully to dark woods when it did finally hit the beeches, the propeller lodged in wood and ripped engine from push-car, and exploded a fireball white like the arc, so hot even up the tall hill the boys fell flat and gasped for breath. Joe laughed, his eyes wide under sky. Rob looked at him laugh.

"Is that what you wanted to happen?"

"Well, what else?"

Rob looked away. Joe turned on his side and faced Rob. "What'd you think we were gonna fly it?"

"No, I—"

"That was great!"

"I guess."

"Oh, come on Rob, the thing was a piece of shit."

"But we made it work."

"Jesus. Such a pain in the ass, boy." Joe got up and put his hands on his hips. He looked at the fire. "Hah. Great, just great." He walked back to the house.

Rob stared at the sky until smoke drifted over.



The seventh day Rob connects the universal joint successfully to the windmill shaft.

Karen sits in the kitchen, Cy in a tabletop-rocker. Just dusk. For a moment the block underneath the house makes a quiet rumble and Karen jumps. With a gust of wind it spins fast. Strong wind spins the wood cog through the quarter inch plywood below Cy's crib. Dust floods the crawlspace. "What in the fuck have you done," Rob says. Skinny cautiously comes to his side. The block chomps through the first layer of flooring under the crib.

Rob runs to the barn to look through piles of junk. He knocks down augers. A cat flits out of sight with a screech. Should he have stopped the blades first? He kicks through the backdoor. The empty yellow Chevy, rusty bike and butcher's block sit crepuscular under the apple tree. Rob rolls the block from tree to house, thud-ud, thud-ud. He stops the windmill blade.

By starry night he bolts the block under Cy's crib beneath the house and reattaches the wooden cog, wood on wood, cog on butcher's block.

A calm, low hum vibrates.

He watches, jumps a little and trots for the back door. "I did it! It works!"

Karen no longer sits at the kitchen table.

"We should put him in the crib now. It works!" He turns and sees Karen with her bag walking briskly away. "No, it works, it works!"

"No," she says at the barn, "you're not getting him anywhere near that thing."

"What? What the Christ have I been doing this last week? Karen, put him in the God Damn crib!" He runs to her.

"NO! He's fucking quiet now."

"He's quiet because it put him to sleep." He grabs her arm. "God damn it Karen." He begins to take Cy. Cy screams. Rob grabs Cy's arm.

"Don't-you-touch-him. Get away." Skinny barks, furious.


"NO! And don't follow me." She tears away and glances by him. "Don't follow me, Joe."

Copyright©2008 C. Robin Madigan

C. Robin Madigan currently studies essaying and Henry Green's novel Loving. He works part-time repairing instruments at a very fine shop while paying off student loans, and hopes his novel LIAM will soon enjoy a home. You may read other writing in Lamination Colony, New York Tyrant, Lit Up Magazine, Corduroy MTN, and No Posit.