Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #1
From “The Way I See It”
I look her square in the face. “I am definitely not a cop,”
I say, and for a second I think she almost recognizes me, then
inside the black holes of her eyes I see the thread of whatever
memory she’s grasping for snap, and the idea of anyone I could
be beyond the next forty bucks sinks back into the fucked up
mess inside her head.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #2
from “Three Ways of the Saw”
Satisfied, J. W. pumps the fuel bulb, pops the choke then sets the saw down, putting his foot through the trigger guard as he pulls at the starter cord. The saw sputters until the motor kicks in and blue smoke rises all around him. He stands and revs it, the pitch winding higher and higher into a jagged whine before he finally eases off the trigger and lets the thing fall into an idle.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #3
From “Dead Falls”
I thought back to our trampling the carefully landscaped bushes and lawns as we screamed imaginary bullets at each other (“BRATTA-TATTA-TATT!”) then took turns twisting ourselves into these spastic, exaggerated tumbles that ended with
us falling to the ground and flopping like landed fish into a final stillness from which we would jump up laughing.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #4
From “Blood Sacrifice”
Later, he’ll wonder if God saw him, like a hockey player, fling his gloves to the ice. Later, he’ll wonder if God heard the lip split, colored the blood blooming across bright teeth, felt the furious anger of the two boys tangling toward the frozen sidewalk. Later, he’ll recall that it felt like Jesus was inside his fists, guiding them to land the shame of each wallop to eye, nose, and the other cheek turned because right now nothing seems to touch him except the hands that finally pull him off, drag him back, hold him down so bloody anger can finally stand, wipe its bleeding mouth on the back of its jacket sleeve and spit, “Motherfucker, it’s your turn now.”
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #5
From “No Prints. No Negatives”
We rolled past Chicago, bridged the Mississippi and shot across the Great Plains, driving through Davenport, Des Moines, and Sioux City before climbing into the Black Hills and the Badlands to find the presidents blasted onto the face of Mount Rushmore. Along the way, it all seemed true: majestic purple mountains anchored the horizon beyond endless, amber seas of grain waving in the wind beneath spacious skies. But there were also sun-blasted reservation trailers orbited by chained dogs carving dry moats into baked dirt yards, and the remnants of dead towns where the skeletons of stripped cars and abandoned buildings clung to the dry stem of the road like shriveled fruit.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #6
From “Black Sheep Missive”
Wherever whatever comes from, the party always ends up in a tape loop of The Rolling Judas Zeppelin cranked to TEN as I take run of my parent’s large, lakefront home. I paw the current girlfriend on the living room couch while my wasted buddies argue at poker, grope their own girls, suck down beer bongs at
the kitchen sink, try not to puke in the odd corner on their stumble to the bathroom.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #7
The meaning of these things is bigger than his family in particular, he knows, and as the city rises before him and the traffic presses in he decides that if one thing unites all our shades of loneliness it’s the many ways to settle for the absences we choose.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #8
From “How to Time an Engine”
Never say much about the World War in your past. Keep it all below decks. Tell no one about seeing flak blossom into those questions luck asks of aim. Leave it to others to speak of the torpedo bomber, a type the Japanese called “Heavenly
Mountain,” and your shipmates called a “Jill,” peeling off from her sisters “Kate” and “Betty” and keening down through the explosive sky.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #9
From “Moon with Princess”
It was all true: my old man had lived a life straight out of a Film Noir. I suddenly wished I’d known him then, saw both of us sitting with a couple neat whiskies in the swirling smoke and worn mahogany of the Detroit Press Club talking about the bulldozed juke joints on Hastings Street or the long shadow of the Purple Gang. I wanted to sidekick it with him. I wanted to see what his face looked like by match light in an alley as we fired up a couple Lucky Strikes. I felt gnawed, like I’d blown a chance I’d never even had.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #10
From “The Bachelor’s Last Will and Testament”
Later, you’ll turn off all the lights, pull up the shades and strip out of your clothes. Crank the Alice Cooper then slip on that tux again just to make sure. You’ll wear it onto the balcony and drink beer among the potted plants, noting the pointed mother-in-law’s tongue. You’ll sit on the folding chair, your feet up on the railing as you watch the junk cars come and go from the crack house on the corner.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #11
He swallows the difficult truth, the fact that at three years old she has already begun to understand impact and leaving, longing’s proof that love and distance mean someone can be there and not be there at the same time. Like steam. Then his selfish reflection breaks open and grows into something bittersweet. She’s realized the first step toward a life and future of her own; she’s reminded him that to love her means he will have to pay out line and let her go.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #12
Some time later he woke up confused to the sound of sirens. All his friends were gone. Empty cans and bottles covered every flat surface in the room. Someone had taken off his shoes and socks and written Love and Hate across the tops of his bare feet in black magic marker.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #13
Fantastic, sinister thoughts began to flash through Stork’s mind. What if the exterminator was a cop? Or on probation even? Stork knew a dude doing three to five upstate because he left the cable guy in his house during an installation while he went to the grocery store. The cable guy, who also happened to be up on possession charges, discovered the dude’s grow room and rolled over on him in exchange for leniency. Then the cops spun the story like the dude was some kind of kingpin, claiming they got him for fifty pounds. Stork knew the truth: five measly plants.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #14
From “Highway Coda”
Closer, they realize it’s no possum, but a small, white pint container of take-out Chinese sitting upright in the center of the road, lid neatly closed. Even the thin metal handle is raised. Singer lines up to mow it down, thinking to spray the asphalt with pork or chicken. The others lean in, anticipate the beat of
the tire against the box, when what they see next sounds like this:
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #15
I suppose the appropriate way to handle it would be to lean up against the fence and simply introduce myself, make some pleasant conversation, and hope she invites me over. But, as I mentioned, I’ve come to believe talk is a waste of time, so I’m considering doing something a bit more dramatic, like leaping over the fence into her yard with a bouquet of flowers or a raw porterhouse clenched between my teeth.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #16
From “Arion Resigns”
Unsure how I was fished out and tanked. I fill an ironic window on the 22nd floor. The Fisher Building scrapes dun sky above Detroit ghettos. Peregrine falcons give shape to gnarled winds. Snatch pigeons from the currents. Only
to set gutted featherbones within reach. Upon my sill. I eat years.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #17
From “Death of a Henchman”
The alarm tries to ring itself off the wall. Hands peel rifles from the rack. Boots flash through the barracks doorway.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #18
From “I Am and Always Will Be”
But this day was different, by which I mean I was feeling different on this
day—a sunny, fall afternoon of chirping birds and turned leaves rustling in the wind-stirred trees. The smell of grilled meat hanging in the air. It was a day so perfect it seemed fake. A good day to have off from the Jiffy Lube. A day that somehow allowed even a shitty street like ours to shine with the lie that all could eventually be right with the world.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #19
Rolling over onto my stomach, I pushed myself to my feet in the warm night and stared up at the billboard, across which was smeared a gigantic, weeping child with her hands clasped in prayer. Her lips were moving.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #20
From “Getting Beaten”
Eventually, someone a few rows below would grab a co-ed and hoist her up over everyone’s heads, the guys copping a feel as she was carried past screaming in delight or anger—no one cared which—hand over hand, above the crowd
and tossed, for all you ever knew, over the lip of the stadium like a virgin thrown off a cliff as a sacrifice to the gods of Score.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #21
From “Accepting Inner Change at the Grocery Store”
You try to parse it out in your scattered, shot-through brain. Who sent this nut to whip your ego with a vision of the future escaped from the black hole in your head?
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #22
From “Bad Juju, 1989
They take a sweeping curve and the brilliant sun, low on the horizon, pounds her eyes. Up ahead, a little murder of crows peck at a heap of mangled flesh on the highway’s shoulder. The birds rise on the displaced air as their car breezes by. It’s a doe carcass, legs splayed wide, the head bent impossibly backwards toward the tail.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #23
From “The Braid”
Sondra is the one who suggests they take the ATVs for a spin. She’s driven them plenty of times before on her parents’ spread. The daughter of a wealthy, hands-on horse breeder, she grew up shoveling manure, learning how to make herself useful, and living the cliche´ of riding magnificent horses through idyllic
pastures with sunlight glancing off the waving, silken curtain of her golden hair.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #24
From “No Retreat”
I’m ten right between them kneeling on the dark red kneelers of incense-smoky St. Ambrose where the priest holds the host up above his head, out to me, away from the giant statue of crucified Jesus pinned to the wall by floodlight nails.
Seems like such a long time ago. Haven’t thought of Jesus much since. At least not until lately. Jesus. Always looks so tired, head leaning to one side, crown of thorns, made fun of and whipped, eyes rolling back, slack mouth right on the verge of shouting, “Enough already!” and his hands rip off the nails to grab the hammer out of that soldier’s hands and bash him in the face with it.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt #25
From “Rest Stop”
Now Wicklow sat in the handicapped stall, pants down and straining, fed up to here with a world in which he couldn’t even take a decent crap. He knew this withholding of relief was personal, some kind of payback for everything and then some.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt # 26
From “The Way I See It”
“I know what this is, Les,” he said. “Feel-good mission. Make the gimp forget his bummer. Well, fuck you. I don’t want it.” He pushed his way up from the couch and stood, unsteady, staggering a little as he tore loose the straps that held on the arm, which he then grabbed by the wrist and yanked off. I was still waiting on the one-liner, the funny face, any of the things he used to do to cut up a bad vibe—something to show me he was still my prankster little brother Zane. But he just stared at me, looking ready to pitch over like that machine had taken his balance along with his arm. “This is me now,” he finally said.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt # 27
From ” Three Ways of the Saw” (title story)
What he doesn’t know is that I’m already roaring down a dirt road toward the life he’s talking about. I’ve got Carol Anne smashed up against me on the bench seat, her hand clamped on my thigh in a mix of terror and joy. I’ve got a smoke between the fingers of my one hand on the wheel, and the arm thrown across her shoulders ends with a beer in my fist. The radio is loud, I mean fucking LOUD, and we’re laughing, screaming every time I top a hill because it seems like, fast as
we’re moving, we just might launch ourselves right out of here.
Three Ways of the Saw: Excerpt # 28
From “Dead Falls”
Ted had accepted, without hesitation, every single dare I’d ever put to him in all the years we’d been friends. On top of that, he’d thought up stunts I couldn’t even begin to imagine: chewing up living bumblebees, spray painting PORK on the side of a parked cop car, sticking an M-80 into someone’s mailbox on a day when we knew a paycheck was inside.