Steve at Home
Heather Wells Peterson

The girls come in the night, when the porch lights glow up and down the quiet street. They knock on the front door, tap at the windows, scratching, pouting.

"Steve," they call, and Steve stays quiet. "Steve, we know what you did."

When Steve was younger, he would have welcomed girls' voices, however ghostly, singing his name. But Steve is different now, and he knows the girls are here for revenge.

In the mornings, it feels like a dream. Steve makes oatmeal, he eats it. He rinses his one bowl, his one spoon, and sets them to dry next to the sink. He tries to forget the girls, their shining faces, their small hands.

They say they know what he did, but Steve is sure he doesn't.

Days bleed from Steve's life as though from an unstaunched wound. He keeps the curtains closed, hoping to ignore the light as it leaks away from the sky, as the darkness returns, and, with it, the girls.

What could Steve have done to deserve this, this gentle rapping of slender fingers surrounding him like rain?

Seventy years old, never married, no possibility of kids. What could young girls in the prime of their lives, taut of flesh and smooth of skin, have to say to Steve?

There was a long stretch when Steve was whole. He had friends, and they roamed together like wolves. He remembers that feeling with longing. They had fun back then. They never worried. Dances and dark movie theaters and narrow hallways and coatrooms and bathrooms, even the open streets. It was all theirs, all of it. They enjoyed themselves. They were strong. They had each other. They always won. 

He misses most the sight of underwear peeking from the darkness up a skirt, beckoning, guiding his way like a beacon.

But now, Steve has no friends. He speaks to only two women—the cashier at the Stop & Shop, all black make-up and frown, and his bossy doctor, stethoscope swinging from her slender, wrinkled neck. She lectures him about his prostate.

Steve is no longer a man. He knows it, and the girls know it. He can see it in their eyes' sharp glint, the tensed, small muscles of their shoulders. He can feel them swarming near, their beating hearts pumping with disdain for him.

The night, the streets, the yard, are no longer Steve's. One day the girls will find a way in. They'll seep through the cracks, fill the air with their charm and flicking hair. They'll take the house, and Steve will have nothing.

"Go ahead," he'll say to them. He just wants to be left alone.

Heather Wells Peterson's work has been published by American Short Fiction, The Collagist, Subtropics and others. She lives in Vermont.

Read her postcard.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Tom Wachtel.

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