This is RED ... from the beginning

Chapter 1

A preview of the novel Rubrum

Guys used to come around Evan’s garage, where he lived alone and rebuilt transmissions alone, to try to draw him into things: softball, cards, fishing, drinks. He wouldn’t even grunt at the details.

Those guys finally gave up on him. Evan’s dead were more alive to him than they were.

Evan thought about everything that his dead did and did not do. They did not lie in their graves and look and listen. He would think this while lying flat on his bed staring up, hands by his sides in coffin-straight lines.

Evan had no reason to live other than that it was what you did. He certainly didn’t live to restore transmissions. It was just something that he could do, and do well. He didn’t need the money. He spent next to nothing, so his savings just kept mounting in his bank account. Then his nephew the lawyer offered to invest some of it for him, and it grew yet more. The monthly statements started to become obscene.

“Don’t you want to spend any of it, Evan?” the boy said. No, he didn’t. He’d spent what he wanted to.

Evan still thought of his nephew as the boy, even though he was not only a lawyer but married. He had trained the boy (when he actually was a boy) not to call him “Uncle Evan” by not responding when “Uncle” was included.

The boy’s name was Richard, and he went by Rick, but Evan still thought of him as Ricky. Not that he actually used the boy’s name, but the name that he didn’t use was Ricky, not Rick.

Sometimes Evan lost track of how he had begun to rebuild transmissions in the first place. How had it happened? His father had worked on cars. That had been his living. Their living. If you could use the word living for their existence. Their continuing from one day to the next, working trapped together until sleeping again.

This garage that Evan owned had been his father’s. Outside on framed boards above the upward-sliding sectioned door, in big blocky faded letters that had only ever been painted once, was their last name: EASTER. The apartment upstairs was where he had grown up with his father. Just the two of them. His mother, well …

His mother. After all these years, Evan still didn’t know how to think about her. He remembered her. Not how she looked. He remembered leaning against her. She was sitting in a chair. He would have been a toddler, only as tall as her knee, or not even. The whole length of him was against her leg, tipping into her. His strongest impression of her leg was that it wasn’t his father’s leg. His father’s leg would have been higher, bigger, thicker, like a pillar, and he wouldn’t have touched it, not ever. But his mother’s leg …

He might compare it to a young tree, strong but yielding, accepting his lean. And her light touch on his back, wanting him there. Jake, his father, had wanted him on hand only the way that he wanted his hydraulic lift, because it was a need for the work. The difference was that Jake hadn’t despised the lift. He hadn’t taken out his rage on the lift. He had reason not to: The lift had value, and it couldn’t heal from injury. Unlike Evan.

Grown hulk that he was, Evan felt how wrong it was to lean against his mother’s leg in his mind. He didn’t take himself there, he actively tried not to. But he found himself there again and again.

Evan didn’t even spend money to heat the garage. That just attracted laggards. He finally realized that the thermostat was his salvation one winter day when he got so lost in thought and work that he simply forgot to turn up the gas furnace. He didn’t notice how cold it was until That Idiot Ross stopped in and commented on it with extremes of contradiction: “Blazes, man, it’s freezin’ in here!”

Ross went on blathering clouds of breath while Evan was warmed by this light bulb moment. No heat, no visitors. Hallelujah.

Evan came to rely more and more on his senses of touch and hearing while working on the transmissions. He was genuinely convinced that one day he’d be able to complete a rebuild blindfolded. He even had the blindfold ready—an old handkerchief that had bound its share of his wounds at the hands of his father. There were blood stains amid the black-and-paisley pattern.

The colder it was in the garage, the sharper the air and the better Evan heard the clacks that helped distinguish the metal parts. And the less he heard the other sounds in his mind.

As he worked toward working blind, Evan also stopped using lights. That choice seemed obvious after the fact, but as with forgetting to use the furnace, he had to stumble into it. When his flickering fluorescent tube finally gave up the ghost, he just left it dead in the fixture, so the garage would start to dim in late afternoon. That had been the most likely time for visitors: idlers like That Idiot Ross, Mormons spreading the Word, kids on fundraising rounds. When he started letting the garage go dark on top of providing no heat in the winter nor cooling in the summer, the flow of unwanted traffic trickled dry, and he was left alone to work.

Evan was as alone as could be. He would lie on his bed and think that and then realize that it wasn’t true. He wasn’t a castaway on an island, not an inmate in solitary, not a guru atop a mountain. Just imagine never seeing anyone. Never being able to. Never having to.

And if no one had to see him … so much the better. The world didn’t need him. The transmissions could go elsewhere. They wouldn’t be fixed as well nor as quickly, if he did say. He did one rebuild a day, every day, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays included. So the shop owners who jobbed out to him might miss him, briefly. But soon enough, they’d forget him. Everyone would. As it should be. No loss.

Evan did need to venture outside the garage at times, for food and the occasional pair of new underwear. There were no elves to bring him supplies.

And some appointments he could not escape. Ricky, his lawyer nephew Rick, had come to keep a calendar for him. Ricky was the only person that Evan ever saw anymore, aside from shop owners and UPS drivers who dropped off parts, and the tool truck guy who came around once a month to see what he might need. Ricky was a take-charge guy—that’s what had gotten him through law school—and he had more or less appointed himself Evan’s caretaker.

“You ever see a dentist, Evan?” Ricky asked one day. Evan held still, knowing what had prompted the question. His breath smelled.

He had just released a sigh, letting it puff out his mouth and flutter his lips, and there had been good reason for it. Ricky had asked, “Your buddy Ross ever come around anymore?”

Pfft, his buddy Ross. The proper title was That Idiot Ross. Surely everyone thought so. The guy had no job, he just flitted between gathering spots—the convenience store, the library, the doughnut shop, anyplace with captives behind counters or in line in front of them. He never shut up spouting conspiracy theories.

His buddy Ross? The only possible response was a breathy sigh of objection. Which made Ricky flinch and ask his question. “You ever see a dentist?”

Mmg. Evan gave the slightest shake of his head.

“No, you never see a dentist. Or no, you don’t want to? Or both?”

Mmg.

“You’re gonna see a dentist, Evan.”

Evan was about to open his mouth and object, but … his breath. And what was the use? Ricky would not be denied.

So Ricky started making appointments for Evan: Dentist, doctor, haircuts …

Well, not haircuts. Evan saw a way out of those. During one session reviewing his calendar (His calendar. The thought made Evan roll his eyes. But there it was in the flesh—er, paper—on his wall, where Ricky made notes in handwriting wholly unworthy of a Juris Doctor)… during one review of his calendar, Ricky said that he was overdue for a haircut, and Evan was prepared.

He produced a pair of scissors and handed them over with a gesture that said, “Let’s go right now. Cut my hair.”

“Oh no,” Ricky protested.

Evan waited.

“I know you don’t care how you look, but I have to look at you. Think of me.”

Evan waited.

Mugh.” The sound meant Ricky refused to barber him.

Evan placed a chair under a drop light and sat with his back to Ricky. A clean drop cloth and a small spring clamp just happened to be in reach.

“Mugh.”

But Ricky swirled the drop cloth around Evan and clamped it in place.

“Fine,” Ricky said.

Uncounted awkward snips later, Ricky paused to inspect his work. “Mugh. Worst. Haircut. Ever.”

On the contrary, this snipping had saved Evan a trip outside. BEST. Haircut. Ever.

There was something Ricky didn’t know. Something he would have been shocked to learn. Something completely at odds with the rest of Evan’s life.

It was this: Evan never, ever left his apartment and the garage voluntarily. Except … he did. About once a month. For no good reason. Unless you called a midnight snack a good reason. A midnight snack that would actually be consumed between 1 and 3 a.m. A snack that involved walking four miles round trip.

Up the road to the Sheetz convenience store and back

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