Webs

By Rob Kaniuk

Short Story

 

A hot woman followed me on Twitter, but it seemed suspect. I clicked her profile. She was a barista in LA who wrote screenplays. Attractive. Funny. Definitely not real. 

My friend Jenn texted me to ask why I didn’t follow her bot back. Said she made it with some Mad Libs style template that would shuffle all the words and phrases she uploaded and the bot would fire off a nonsense movie idea every hour.

 

Does it respond if someone comments?

 

Yeah, like, she calls me master when I reply, but she calls everyone else babe.

 

Oh shit––I should make one to resurrect Jeremy.

 

Oh god, that’s so sad and creepy––Yeah, and I’ll make one for my mother that tweets the lyrics to ‘Hallelujah’ in a never ending loop and says she’s proud of me when I post about my b-hole. 

 

For a few days I laughed at the concept, played it off, then found myself digging through the ammo box jammed full of letters Jeremy sent from prison. I called Bekah.

“Yo, if I gave you all those letters, would you do me a favor?”

“From him?”

“Yeah.”

“Whatcha thinkin?”

“I just want to make, like, a digital file.”

“All of em? Dude, there’s gotta be like two hundred letters.”

“Can you do it?”

“Why can’t you? No offense.”

“Can you help or not?”

I dropped off the ammo box full of letters from different addresses within the Florida State Corrections system. I told her how to fill the templates with all his -isms. Bekah was the only one capable. She knew the way he spoke and wouldn’t clean up any of the poor grammar or correct words like set to sit

Weeks went by and I wanted to call and see if she’d made any progress, but I didn’t. It was a lot to wade through. We spoke a few times––their daughter had been enrolled in preschool and started saying goodnight to her daddy’s picture before bed––but I didn’t bring up the ammo box.

The week of Father’s Day, she texted me:

 

You still got those recordings?

 

She was talking about the songs we used to sing together. I had piles of recordings from over the years––hundreds of hours of Jeremy and I and whoever was with us at the time.

 

Yeah. Haven’t figured out how to rip them from the MiniDiscs yet.

 

I just need one song.

 

I’ll see what I can do. What song?

 

Didn’t you and him do Wish You Were Here at Matthew’s?

 

Yeah, I’ll look for it this weekend.

 

Think you can get it to me by Sunday morning?

 

You got it. 

 

Bekah wanted him there for Father’s Day. It had been little more than a year since they kicked the door off the hinges and found his body. She wanted him there to sing a song to their daughter.

 

I looked at the handwritten notes on over thirty MiniDiscs. Studio 566. Jimmy Mac sessions. Sanford’s vacation. Brickette lounge...I eliminated a bunch because the dates didn’t line up. Which left me with eight. Eight MiniDiscs, three hours each.

I listened to the first few tracks, just to hear his voice. He never knew how to close a song. He just kept playing. It was annoying as hell. I’d look at him, try to cue him the song was over, but with all the bong rips and Busch pounders, his eyes were always shut. The song would only end if his makeshift matchbook pick finally disintegrated. Or if he was ready to steal another cigarette. Every track ends with him laughing at me for bickering at him for ruining an otherwise solid recording.
I popped in the disk marked Half Spent / Stemmer’s Run and advanced a few tracks. A calloused finger drags along the E string. He inhales sharply through clenched teeth. Shakes a cramp from his hand. A click from a lighter and I smell bong water, stale Marlboros and the rotten brown couch. A car goes up Westdale so I know the windows are open. It’s summer. Hot. He’s got on his tattered beige cargo shorts but probably not a shirt. 

We’d always bitch about never doing anything fun, but my fondest memories have nothing to do with Hershey Park or chartered fishing boats. I miss the moments where we’re bored and talking shit. Shit talking is where the love is. Ninety degrees with a box fan in the window, six-pack of pounders sweating on the coffee table. Working on a song. Telling my best friend he fucked up the end.

I’d forgotten Bekah was on this disc for two songs. “All in This Together” and “How Can I Try.” The three of us harmonizing caught me off guard. They’d known each other less than a week.

 

****

 

I met Bekah at an NA meeting and told her about my best friend who was locked up. I told her I was the only one who wrote him and as a kindness to me, she asked for the address. Pretty soon she was asking a lot of questions about him. I told her all the stories about us growing up and getting in trouble. The arrowheads we forged on the riverbank as children to fool his dad. Quitting our jobs because we figured out the bass at Longwood were hitting a white spinner bait. Coming to blows in the hotel room on Fisherman’s Wharf over a handful of missing oxys and a woman whose name neither of us could remember.

She asked if he was reckless. She had fallen in love with reckless before and it landed her in rehab. I laughed because he was in prison. But I saw what was happening––he was courting her and she was falling. I told her the only true thing I knew about my friend. 

Jeremy’s like an old dog. He’s been kicked around and left in the backyard too long by his former owner, but he’s yours now. He’s gonna do dumb shit and cause you grief, but he’s fiercely loyal. Doesn’t matter how far you throw the ball, he’s gonna bring it back. Yeah, he’s reckless. And that’s why I love him.

 

Florida Corrections gave him fifty bucks on a Visa card and an open bus ticket to anywhere in the lower 48. Bekah came with me to pick him up at 13th and Filbert when the Greyhound came in. They had never met, never touched, but they were in love. I peeked in the rearview. They smiled and glanced at each other but this wasn’t a love letter. He’d always been so confident, but I could see he was afraid of a five foot three curly haired girl wearing a Last Waltz shirt. It was at a stoplight when I turned around in my seat. I asked him what he wanted to eat and I saw it. Did she reach for his hand, or was it he who reached for hers? Their fingers were sewn together and they were smiling. After three years in prison he told me to decide what we’d have for dinner.

 

****

 

 On her mother’s porch Jeremy noodled on the Simon and Patrick guitar Bekah and I bought him. I’d mailed handwritten lyrics and tabs of new songs, and on the rare phone call we had together, I’d play a few bars so he could hear the melody. He practiced in the chapel every week before Sunday church service. Bekah wrote to him about the ones she liked, so he focused on those. I listened to the songs we sang on her mom’s porch and there’s a part at the end where the laughter dies down and it’s quiet for a few seconds. He was looking at a spiderweb between the yew bush and the brick of the house. 

Ain’t it funny how that web is home for one thing and certain death for another?” 

 

“Wish You Were Here” was a few tracks after our songs from the porch. I had found the song she wanted and two more. I couldn’t figure out how to digitize the tracks in a way that would preserve the sound quality. So I hooked up an auxiliary cord from the MiniDisc player to a Bose speaker, then I set up the voice recorder on my phone and recorded in real-time. I labeled each one and sent them to her in a text message late Saturday night.

Along with my morning coffee, a text from Bekah:  

Thanks

 

***

 

I’d forgotten about the ammo box letters until Bekah emailed me. I copy/pasted the file into the Twitter bot generator.

>@IrishHillblybot: What say me and you find a quiet spot and get as high as a giraffe’s asshole?

>@kaniuk22: @IrishHillblybot haha hell yeah

>@IrishHillblybot: @kaniuk22 what’s up, brother?

>@kaniuk22: @IrishHillblybot i really miss you

>@IrishHillblybot: @kaniuk22 what’s up, brother?

>@kaniuk22: IrishHilblybot i wish you would’ve called 

>@IrishHillblybot: @kaniuk22 what’s up, brother?

 

 

 

 


artwork by Macauley Norman

 

 

Rob Kaniuk is a union carpenter and the CNF editor of Schuylkill Valley Journal.

2 responses to “Webs”

  1. lavender mcgee says:

    i loved this.

  2. Danny says:

    I enjoyed this. How a short story should be.

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