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Penitentiary Tales: A Love Story


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A fascinating glimpse into prison life and a great reminder of the diversity as well as the social issues that still run rampant in life.


Penitentiary Tales: a Love Story tells the story of Dean Davis, a young, privileged straight white male from the affluent community of Sausalito, California, who is sent to a prison filled with fearsome, ethnically diverse inmates from the streets of Chicago. Addressing issues of race and gender in America, it is at once a serious inquiry into the minds and hearts of the oppressed and a bit of a romp.
Like Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which celebrates the lives of the disenfranchised without railing explicitly against social injustice, Luetkemeyer’s audacious new novel illumines the lives of its characters and their humanity no matter how obscured by circumstance.
Sympathizing for an inmate doing life without parole, Davis reflects: “From my point of view we were all victims, even the lowest of the low, the most foul, forlorn and forsaken fuckers on the planet: victimized by the lack of a key, by a missing piece, by the absence of a blueprint, an instruction manual, a map of the soul; by too much of one chemical, too little of another.”
Penitentiary Tales: a Love Story will appeal to adventurous and intelligent readers of all persuasions who appreciate a literary walk on the wild side.

Penitentiary Tales: A Love Story starts off with choppy, uncertain dialogue and a strangely off-putting absence of quotation marks. However, the dialogue gets better and more fluid, and this is pulled off to great effect. In the beginning of the book, Dean Davis is faced with having to explain his imprisonment to his father-in-law, having to say farewell to his family, and is about to be thrown into a completely new environment. The choppy dialogue gives off a sense of detachment and displacement that works wonderfully with the story.

This book is an eye-opener. We so often forget that people who are different from us are human too. In this book, we get a glimpse of some of the people that occupy the space behind bars. We are introduced to a wide cast of characters throughout the book, a few who slip from the mind until reminded. Even so, most of them are vivid characters that possess unique personalities such as Mother Goose, Botha and so on. All of these characters have their own motives, their goals and their truths which show us that contrary to what we are led to believe, they are very human too. We are shown that they are not all beefy thugs that beat up each other or resent each other all the time (as what many movies depict). There is some resentment, and they do fight, but there are also inmates that are confused as to why they're doing time behind bars, those who are waiting patiently to be let out, those who don't want to pick a fight... and even the ones who do want to fight, many of them are less fortunate than us, having to tough it out on the streets with no permanent place to call home.

Life in prison can be wildly surprising too. Drawing from personal experience, E.A. Luetkemeyer includes transposed versions of events that happened while he was doing 4 years behind bars. There are welding lessons, play rehearsals, interviews among inmates and a wide variety of other pastimes and hobbies. Of course, there is also the constant lurking sense of danger that can come when you don't control your tongue or monitor your behaviour in the presence of other inmates.

After initial disorientation, this book flows well and reads wonderfully. What makes this book so colourful and gripping is still, I maintain, its fascinating set of characters and Dean Davis' unbiased, natural narration. The narration is honest and straightforward enough without being a bore, embellished now and then by some description that further enhances the storytelling. The characters vary and are diverse, and that Dean Davis' voice is clearly expressed throughout ensures that he isn't swamped by the other characters, becoming a clear central point throughout the book. The social issues mentioned in this book are also food for thought, all of which still happen and are most troubling.

For anyone looking for a read that gives you a different perspective of prison life and has multiple viewpoints on topics of race, sexuality and so on (although beware of explicit scenes), then you should give this book a chance.

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I enjoy discovering new writers, genres and stories as well as sharing my thoughts on the things I’ve read.


Penitentiary Tales: a Love Story tells the story of Dean Davis, a young, privileged straight white male from the affluent community of Sausalito, California, who is sent to a prison filled with fearsome, ethnically diverse inmates from the streets of Chicago. Addressing issues of race and gender in America, it is at once a serious inquiry into the minds and hearts of the oppressed and a bit of a romp.
Like Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which celebrates the lives of the disenfranchised without railing explicitly against social injustice, Luetkemeyer’s audacious new novel illumines the lives of its characters and their humanity no matter how obscured by circumstance.
Sympathizing for an inmate doing life without parole, Davis reflects: “From my point of view we were all victims, even the lowest of the low, the most foul, forlorn and forsaken fuckers on the planet: victimized by the lack of a key, by a missing piece, by the absence of a blueprint, an instruction manual, a map of the soul; by too much of one chemical, too little of another.”
Penitentiary Tales: a Love Story will appeal to adventurous and intelligent readers of all persuasions who appreciate a literary walk on the wild side.



IN THE EVENING OF THE LAST DAY my name was Danté Allegro, I watched my wife Lucy pace the floor of the cozy cottage we rented in the upscale community of Sausalito, California. She stepped over a stack of framed pictures yet to be wrapped in newspaper, around boxes yet to be filled, and kicked a wide roll of packing tape across the polished hardwood floor of the living room, where it careened off a box, bounced off the stone fireplace and bumped against the carved dark teakwood bar where I sat with a snifter of brandy in my hand.

I hate this, she said. I don’t know what I’m doing. Why am I doing this?

Yes, why are you? I said. The movers will finish the job.

It’s my stuff, she said. Our stuff. I won’t see it for five years. I want to see it one last time.

She looked around the room.

I like this house, she said wistfully. I wish it was ours.

It’s been a good house, I agreed.

I dreamt last night that we had another baby, a boy named Bertrand.

Bertrand! Where did that come from?

It was a dream. We called him Bertie. We lived here, you and I and Lola and Bertie. Lola said to me, Mommy, why do you call my baby brother a birdie? I said, Because, honey, one day he’ll have wings and be able to fly. And Lola said, Mommy, will I have wings, too?

That’s a nice dream, Lucy, I said. We’ll make it come true. There’ll be another house one day. And another baby, too. Together they’ll soar to the sky.

With my free hand, I fluttered my fingers like a pair of birds aloft.

Lucy shouted, I’ll be too old for another baby!

Thirty five is not too old, I said.

It’s old! she exclaimed. Her lower lip quivered.

Relax, Lucy, I said. Roll yourself a joint.

Relax? How can I relax? Are you relaxed?

Getting there, I said, refilling my snifter from the bottle on the bar. I sensed the anger and frustration in her voice, that she wanted to blame me for the turn her life was taking, but could only blame herself. I hadn’t misled her. I had told her what to expect.

Please don’t get wasted tonight, Dean, she said. I’m going to need you.

I’ll go slow, I said. I’ll be fine.

He’s having a mid-life crisis.

He’s sixty. He’s having a three-quarter life crisis.

Jesus! Sports cars! Weekends in Vegas! Betting on horses! He shouldn’t have retired. He has too much time on his hands. He’s going to go broke.

He’ll be alright, I said.

I didn’t share Lucy’s misgivings about her father’s radical makeover. When you reach a point in life where you realize you can no longer be who you are, you find another someone to be. I was flattered Wally admired what he thought of as my freewheeling entrepreneurial style. He’d come out of the now defunct Sacramento College of Pharmacology thirty five years ago and opened Fuller Pharmacy here in Sausalito and had done well for himself until it went belly up a few years back, unable to compete with the big chains moving in. He retired and not a day too soon. He’d become a parody of himself: predictable and unimaginative. Now he was free to grow out of his old inflexible shell and spread his wings. No more Wally the Wallflower for me! he’d confided once. Now I can be like Danté!

He would soon learn that being like Danté came with a price.

I popped a cassette into the player on the mantel above the fireplace. Soon my head bobbed to the beat of Sinatra’s My Kind of Town. Lucy sat on the black leather couch opposite the bar, opened the silver box on the coffee table and pulled out a bag of pot and a pack of rolling papers.

And don’t let him get too drunk, either, she said. He won’t remember what we’ve told him.

I thought it ironic that Lucy would not want Wally to get too drunk, considering we were presenting him with a bottle of fifty year old scotch this night as a farewell present. But I chose not to contradict her because she loved her father and he loved his scotch and they would be apart for a long, long time.

It’s not something he’s liable to forget, I said.

He won’t believe it, she said, rolling the joint neat and tight between thumbs and fingertips. He loves saying, Yo, Danté! He’ll never get used to saying, Yo, Dean!

He can still call me Danté if he wants.

He’s going to be crushed. We’re all he has since mom died. She was a pain-in-the-ass drunk but he loved her.

You sure you don’t want me to be the one to tell him?

I’m his daughter.

And I’m the asshole who’s taking you away.

This is fucked! If only we could …

Her voice trailed away. There was nothing else to be done. We had considered all options. Taking her and Lola to Mexico would have made a bad thing worse. I’d have been there already, drinking tequila and planning my next move, but they deserved a better life. Lucy’s walk on the wild side, and the romance of being the outlaw’s wife, had run its course. And now there was Lola. Surrendering was the only way, and it would be hard. Harder on her than on me. I was less anxious about the next five years of my life than the years after them, when I risked becoming what I had successfully avoided being all my life: a tax-paying Citizen of the Empire; a pigeon, a patsy, a fool. The five years ahead loomed as a perilous adventure, an extension of my outlaw days. When I pondered the years to follow, I saw a grey mist.

I watched the tip of her tongue trace a line of wetness down the rolling paper’s gummed edge. She pinched the ends of the joint and put it between her lips and struck a match. I loved those lips, the fine line of them, pink and soft as the petals of a rose. I watched her inhale. She wore an embroidered cotton peasant blouse with puffed sleeves and a plunging neckline. It was winter and she had carried Lola through the summer and gotten no sun and her flesh showed white against the deep magenta of her blouse. She took another hit. I watched her bosom heave. I put down my snifter and left my stool and walked behind her. The back of the couch pressed against my thighs. I leaned over and slid my hands down the front of her blouse. I cupped her breasts, felt the warmth and the weight of them.

Let me tell him, I said. It’s my story to tell.

All right, she said. You’re the storyteller in the family.

She directed the joint up and over her shoulder to my lips. I inhaled and held the smoke and while she took another toke I squeezed gently.

She closed her eyes and her breath quickened. I exhaled. The smoke curled between strands of her hair. I touched my lips to her ear and whispered: We’ll be alright.

Her shoulders quaked.

Lucy, I said, are you crying?

She pushed my hands away. She dabbed at her eyes and examined the trace of mascara on her fingertips.

I have to clean up, she said. I can’t let him see me like this.

She stood abruptly, crossed the living room and bounded up the stairs.

I returned to the bar and my brandy. Sinatra declared: That’s life and I can’t deny it. I was thinking there was nothing left to do but let events run their course when I heard the crash and the racket out back. I got up to investigate. I passed through the kitchen to the back door, grabbing a knife off the counter on the way to the deck outside. I turned on the porch light and opened the door slowly and took a peek. On the far side of the deck the trash container had been upended. Snuffling through its strewn contents was a family of raccoons, oblivious to the light and my presence. I stomped on the deck.

Yo! Rocky! I shouted. Hit the road and take your wife and kid with you!

The larger of the raccoons turned its head and regarded me with a baleful stare. It uttered a grunt which seemed to be a command because the other two turned and in unison all three rose up on their hindquarters and stood shoulder to shoulder, a small dark mountain of teeth and claws and fur, and hissed deep in their throats.

Never mind, guys, I said. Just kidding. Enjoy. Can I get you something to drink?

I stepped backwards into the kitchen. The raccoons resumed their picnic on the porch, and I resumed my perch at the bar.

WALLY SAT AT THE BAR NEXT TO ME with a drink in his hand. Lucy returned with a fresh new face.

Don’t get up, Dad, she said as she crossed the room, but he did get up and put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. They were of the same height, she a little taller than average, he a little shorter. She stepped back and looked him over.

Wow, Dad, what is this?

What is what? he asked.

Your outfit, she said, indicating his attire with a sweep of her hand.

He looked down at his ensemble: a three-piece camel-colored suit with padded shoulders; a pale blue cotton shirt with white collar; a yellow silk, brown-dotted tie and a scarlet handkerchief protruding from his breast pocket.

I mean, Dad, you look … you look—

Like what? he said.

I know, I said, snapping my fingers, Like Gay Talese on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey.

The name sounds familiar, Wally said.

Honor Thy Father. Thy Neighbor’s Wife. I was on the boardwalk in Ocean City one day and I saw this dapper little man, salt and pepper hair parted on the side like yours, combed across his head, a tight-lipped smile. He’s wearing the very outfit you’re wearing now, Wally, down to the handkerchief in the pocket, and he’s having his picture taken with a big camera on a tripod and a reflective umbrella to the side. I remember thinking, This guy is somebody. Then one day I’m leafing through Esquire and I’ll be damned, there’s the picture I saw being taken, and an interview with Gay Talese.

Well, Wally said, I could do worse than look like a famous writer.

Have you been getting ideas from Esquire, Wally?

No, but he obviously has a good taste in clothes.

It’s not you, Dad, Lucy said. Your style is more, you know—

What? Dreary? Uninspired?

Well … conservative.

That was the old Wally. This is the new—move over Gay Talese!

My dad! Lucy said. What’s next? A love shack where he takes young girls?

Who told you about my love shack, Lucy?

Dirty old man, she said.

She kissed her father quickly on the cheek. She was being gay, effusive, but I noticed the anxiety in her voice, and had Wally’s perception not been muted by a double Scotch, he might have noticed, too.

I’m starving, Lucy said. Let’s get this show on the road.

Aren’t we taking Lola?

We have a sitter.

I want to see her before we go. I want to see her face.

She’s sleeping, Dad. You can see her tonight.

LA PETITE MAISON SAT ON A QUIET STREET in Tiburon, a few miles from Sausalito, where the commercial district met the residential. A house in the colonial style, painted white with black trim, only the side lawn converted into parking spaces and the slim sign hanging beneath the gas-light on the walk suggested it was anything more than a residence.

The dining area was three small rooms of exposed brick and beam. Old china lined the rafters. The carpeting was a delicate floral pattern in warm hues of lilac, peach and magenta. White linen draped the tables. In the center of each, a single rose in a slender crystal vase. The lighting was soft. An Edith Piaf melody wafted from hidden speakers.

We were shown to the smallest of the rooms. Old books, spines peeling, lined rough-hewn dark wooden shelves. A fireplace crackled and popped.

It’s so cozy, Lucy said

French Provincial, Wally said. He looked at me.

It’s nice, I said. It has an Old Country feel.

The owner, André, was the maître d’ at Allouette’s in Sonoma, Wally said. His father knew my father. If I didn’t know André from way back we wouldn’t have gotten a table on such short notice.

And why have you never brought me here, Dad?

I have, we have, your mother and I, when you were young. The waiter brought you crayons and paper and you drew barnyard animals: cows and chickens and pigs.

Our waiter came round and introduced himself. A slim, smiling mustachioed man in short waistcoat, Michael’s speech was pleasant and vaguely accented. He gave the wine list to Wally, passed out menus, and informed us that the plat du jour was ragout of sweetbreads with baby vegetables, and the spécialité de la maison was poached chicken breast Alouette with tarragon and dill. Or he could recommend the braised rabbit with honey and mustard, thyme and bacon. But no, no, there was nothing he could not recommend; all would delight; nothing would disappoint! But do take your time, he said. At La Petite Maison we live in the moment. We savor and enjoy!

I felt for Lucy. Her time had run out. She would freeze it if she could, to savor and enjoy the moment forever. As though reading my mind, she looked at me and said, You look nice tonight.

I had put myself together this evening a little more carefully than usual. I wore my favorite faded levis and my Tony Lama boots, and a beige sport coat over a pale blue cotton shirt with pink mother of pearl buttons. I had even switched out my gold hoop ear ring for the filigreed silver one I’d found at a Tibetan curio shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. It matched the turquoise and silver Zuni belt buckle I’d salvaged from my failed Native American Jewelry shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My moustache was trimmed and my hair was shiny. I wanted her to remember me at my best.

Thanks, Lucy, I said.

She looked from me to Wally.

My two boys, she said.

Her smile was brave.

Michael took our drink orders: Scotch on the rocks for Wally, a dry white Dubonnet for me.

I’ll wait for wine, Lucy said.

Wally handed me the wine list. I put it down.

We should know what we’re eating first, I said.

I picked up my menu. Lucy glanced at hers.

The specialty sounds good to me, she said with feigned enthusiasm.

I think that will pair nicely with a white burgundy, I said. And I’ll have the turbot. Wally, what looks good to you?

I think I’ll have French Onion soup and Dover Sole, he said.

He put his menu down. Lucy shook her head in dismay.

Dad, you order Dover Sole everywhere you go. How boring. I thought you were stepping out. Try something adventurous.

Such as?

The Ragout Of Sweetbreads.

Sweetbreads! Aren’t those like pig nuts or something?

You’re thinking of Rocky Mountain Oysters, I said. Sweetbreads are the meat of the thymus gland or the pancreas.

Oh, that’s appetizing. What are you having, Danté? Turbot? I’ll have turbot, too. I’ll save adventure for my love shack.

Funny, Dad, Lucy said.

I read from the wine list: Cru vineyard Montrachet. The Stradivarius of white burgundy, selected personally by owner Andre Arseneau, cousin to fabled vigneron Pierre Ramonet. Full-bodied and scented, dry yet succulent, its opulent bouquet suggestive of peaches, apple blossoms, cinnamon, greengages, nuts, and yellow roses.

What do you think, Wally? I said.

You decide, Danté. You’re the connoisseur.

I closed the wine list.

No, Wally, I fake it, I said with a faint sigh. I’m a phony connoisseur and a phony entrepreneur, too.

Lucy gave me a look that said: Not now, Dean. Let’s enjoy our supper. Let’s tell him after. At home. Please.

Why do you say that, Danté? Wally said. You seem to have done all right for yourself.

I smiled thinly.

I suppose I have, Wally. Sure I have.

Wally frowned.

You seemed troubled, you two, he said. Is there something I should know about other than this bonehead move to Chicago?

Lucy and I gave each other a glance.

Just the usual stress over a move, Wally, I said. Everything’s fine.

Well, it’s not fine by me—

Michael came and took our order. He complimented our choices and went away.

Danté, maybe it’s none of my business, Wally said, but a blues club in Chicago? Why not open a blues club in San Francisco?

Does San Francisco need another blues club? I said.

Does Chicago?

It’s not just another blues club, Wally. It’s a landmark and I love it. BB King has played there. And Bobby Blue Bland. And Muddy Waters. But there’s a cash flow problem. I think my partner is cooking the books. I have to watch him and I can’t do that part-time and long-distance.

Sounds dangerous, Wally started, then trailed off, catching one’s partner cooking the books at a blues club in Chicago being outside his realm of experience. As it was outside of mine. I shook my head and laughed as though at a private joke.

Why are you laughing, Danté?

It’s complicated, Wally.

Make it simple. Sell the club. I’m sure Bobby and BB and Muddy Blue Waters can manage without you. Settle here. It’s sunny. Do you really want to raise your baby in Chicago?

It was good enough for me.

Sausalito is a great place to raise a kid.

I like the bright lights of the big City.

We have San Francisco across the Bay.

It’s not the same.

Buy the cottage, Danté. Lucy loves it.

Too late for that, Wally, I said. The cottage has been sold. We move out. They move in.

Buy another one, then, dammit! I want to watch Lola grow into a beautiful young lady. Why can’t I have that?

I was moved by Wally’s appeal. Lucy looked at me as though it was possible to comply.

Don’t think I haven’t considered it, Wally, I said, but as I say, there are complications.

Complications! Tell me about it. I’ve dealt with my share of complications.

I looked at Lucy. Her eyes said, Please wait.

I can appreciate that, Wally, I said. You’ve got a few decades on me. I’ll tell you what—let’s enjoy our dinner and make small talk and save the serious conversation for later. Back at the house we’ll have another drink and I’ll share some information with you that will make it all make sense.

Wally looked at me for a long moment.

Fair enough, Danté, he said. I await your revelation.

Michael brought the wine and filled our glasses. We held them aloft.

To complications! Wally said.

To revelations! I said.

There followed a pleasant meal laced with light-hearted banter facilitated by a second bottle of Burgundy, and tales of my youth on the mean streets of Chicago, where I had never been. Even Lucy seemed to enjoy them, though she knew better. Sometimes all you can do is be here now.


BACK AT THE COTTAGE I BUILT A FIRE. The sitter had taken her leave, followed out the door by the appraising gaze of Wally, to whom Lucy had presented his gift bottle of fifty year old Scotch in a purple velvet drawstring pouch with a gold label reading Chivas Regal. He drank from a tumbler of it now as he slouched on the couch nearing three sheets to the wind, awaiting the information that would make it all make sense. Lucy sat at the other end of the couch, Lola on her lap, babbling and cooing. I sat at the bar sipping brandy, wondering where to begin. I took a deep breath.

Wally, I said brightly, I want you to meet my wife: Mrs. Dean Davis.

I looked to Lucy for approval. She shrugged as if to say, You have to begin somewhere. She looked at Wally, who frowned and looked at me.

But you’re married to my daughter, he said. To Lucy.

Yes, I said. Lucy Davis. My wife.

Wally shook his head.

I don’t understand, Danté.

The name’s not Danté, Wally. It’s Dean. Dean Davis. Danté is dead. He died shortly after he was born. I took his name.

Wally looked confused. I realized the unfairness of being obtuse. I had to play it straight. I came down off my stool and sat in the arm chair near the couch, which put me on the same level as Wally. I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees and looked him in the eyes.

Here’s the story, Wally. I wasn’t born in Chicago. I was born in Oakland. We moved to Marin County when I was six years old. I’ve been here ever since. I went to San Francisco State. I dealt marijuana up and down the coast. I made a lot of money. I opened a market in the Midwest and made even more, but I was busted. I fought my case for as long as I could, but I lost, and was given ten years in an Illinois State Prison. While out on appeal I created an alias, Danté Allegro. I married Lucy. I created an alias for her, too, Mrs. Danté Allegro. The plan was, if I lost my appeal we’d go to Mexico, but we had Lola and changed our minds. I lost the appeal and was given two weeks to get my affairs in order. In thirty six hours, Wally, in the company of my attorney, I surrender to a County Sheriff in Southern Illinois and my new landlord will be the Department of Corrections.

I leaned back in my chair and looked at Lucy. She pursed her lips. The truth was on the table. She looked at her father, who blinked like a flash of light had gone off in his face.

You … you’re going to prison?


For ten years?

Five with good time.

For marijuana?

It was a lot of marijuana. The Judge thought so, anyway.

Wally frowned.

How could I have not suspected something? he said.

I’m pretty good at being someone other than who I really am, I said.

He looked at Lucy.

Did you know?

He told me shortly after we met.

And you stayed with him?

I love him.

Why didn’t you tell me? Wally said, a trace of pique but no accusation in his voice.

How could I, Dad?

He leaned forward and filled his glass from the bottle on the table and drank half of it down.

Well, he said, that’s … one hell of a complication.

He stared at his drink. I steeled myself against the expected recriminations and accusations of betrayal, but Wally only said, So … you’re not Italian?

No, I said. English, Irish, German and whatever else. Some Gypsy maybe.

And you’re not from Chicago?

Never been there.

And there is no blues club? No partner cooking the books?


And you didn’t have a gallery in Greenwich Village and a turquoise business in Santa Fe?

I did, but I only ever made any money dealing dope.

What about your family? Are they here?

My father died a few years ago. I have a brother, Brodie. He teaches poetry at San Francisco State. He and Lucy are friends. My mother is … is in a facility for the chronically confused.

I don’t know what that is, Wally said.

A private hospital in Napa, I said, touching my fingertip to my temple.

I see, Wally said. Well, I don’t.

She thinks she’s a Gypsy, I said.

Wally became quiet. He seemed to be searching inward for the best next question.

Where will Lucy stay? he said.

We have a furnished rental near the County Jail, I said. When I’m permanently assigned, I’ll call and tell her where I am. She’ll move to the nearest town. She’ll visit once a week and I’ll watch Lola grow up in one hour increments.

Wally sighed.

This is horrible, he said.

There are worse fates, I said.

You seem resigned, he said.

Resigned and resolute, I said, but I knew I was only speaking for myself, that Lucy remained apprehensive—about my safety, my state of mind, our future together.

I suppose it’s the only way to be, Wally said. What will you do when you get out—assuming you make it out?

Don’t be bleak, Dad! Lucy said. Of course he’ll make it out.

I don’t know, I said. I’ll have plenty of time to think about it.

This is all too much to bear, Wally said.

He looked away. His lips moved silently. He looked at me and raised his glass and smiled a wry smile.

To a fellow drug dealer! he said.

How’s that, Wally?

Fuller Pharmacy!

Right, I said.

I clicked his glass with mine, pleased at his brave attempt at levity.

Do you have any here now? he said.

Any what, Wally?


I hesitated. I looked at Lucy.

I want to smoke some, Wally said with a petulant air. I want to get high!

Jesus, Dad, Lucy said. You’re three sheets to the wind already.

Well, I wanna be four sheets. Wanna be Wasted Wally! No more Fuddy Duddy Fuller for me!

She rolled her eyes. She carried Lola upstairs and put her in her crib and returned and rolled a joint. Soon, Wally’s head listed to one side. His eyes were at half mast.

You kids are doing the right thing, he said with a voice thick with sentiment and booze. Getting your life right. I should do the shame. Shtop drinking. She drank her shelf to deaf …

He looked from Lucy to me.

I’ll try to shtay alive until you kids come home, he said.

Dad, you’ll be alive in five years! Lucy said. Don’t say things like that!

Wally patted me on the shoulder. His chin puckered.

You’re a good boy, Danté! And a good father and hushband.

Yes, he’s good, Dad, Lucy said. but he’s Dean now. There is no more Danté.

Wally cupped a hand to the side of his mouth. He yelled across the room.

Yo! Dean!

He shook his head.

It’s not the same, he said.

I stood suddenly.

Let’s have a ceremony! I said.

I bounded up the stairs and returned with a manila envelope. I sat on the hearth and put another log on the fire.

Sit here, I said. We’ll have an execution. Danté will die again. We’ll burn him alive.

Lucy removed the afghan from the back of the couch and put it on the floor in front of the fire. She and Wally sat. I opened the manila envelope and pulled out three passports and handed them to Wally. He opened them one by one and looked at the photos of Mr. and Mrs. Danté Allegro and daughter, Lola.

Throw them on the fire, Wally, I said.

Wally hesitated. He tossed the documents into the fire. We watched the faces of Danté and Lucy and Lola bubble and crack and burst into blue flame. I felt an unexpected sadness at this fiery annihilation of my alter ego. I’d grown fond of Danté. We’d had some fine times together. Perhaps I’d find an occasion to resurrect him one day. I didn’t imagine that Lucy felt the same; the demise of Danté meant the resurrection of Dean. Wally hunched over and sobbed. Lucy rubbed his back.

They’re not real people, she said.

You’re all I have, he said. Wum I shuppose a do now? I’m jush a shad shack of a oh man. Jush a oh fuddy duddy.

He slumped forward and became still.

Help me get him to the couch, Lucy said.

We each took an arm and hoisted him up. He remained bent over like a child hugging a beach ball. We walked him to the couch, where he collapsed and folded up like a fetus. Lucy covered him with the afghan. I propped his head on a couch pillow. We stood over him and listened to his gentle snore. With his tuft of wispy hair, and his thin lips open slightly and extended like a beak, he looked like a baby bird just fallen from a tree. I put my arm around Lucy. She put her arm around my waist.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? she said.

I’m thinking he needs you more than I do, I said.

Yes, Lucy said.

Come to Illinois till I’m permanently assigned, I said. Visit once, then go home.

Home? The cottage is sold.

Stay with Brodie till you find a place. Take care of your poppa. Take care of Lola. Fly out twice a year. I’ll be fine.

I’ll come out more often.

Save your money, I said. You’ll need it.

She wiped away a tear.

Alright, she said.

Dance with me, Lucy, I said.

I put a tape in the player. Johnny Mathis promised that someday there’d be a time for us. When chains were torn by courage, born of a love that’s free. I took her in my arms. She put her head on my shoulder. We moved slowly in the glow of the fire.

Thanks for not getting too wasted tonight, she said.

I wanted to, I said.

Don’t let prison change you, she said. Be the same Dean when you come home that you are right now. The man I know and love.

I’ll be a ship in the night, I said. Just passing through. When I walk out those gates in five years it will be as though I had never been there.

I spoke these words with all the assuredness I could muster, but I doubted they were true. I kissed her on the lips.

Take me to bed, she said.

I led her upstairs. We stood over Lola’s crib.

Take good care of our little girl, I said.

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

You don’t want to spoil her.

Yes, I do, she said.

All right, I said.

We made love tenderly. She fell asleep. I went downstairs and filled my snifter and rolled a joint and went out to the deck. Overhead, dark clouds scurried past a full yellow moon. I took another toke off the joint. A space opened in my head. The clouds shaped themselves into a perfect eye, the moon its mystic iris. The eye of God, I thought. The universe watches and waits.

I know you’re up there, Miranda, I said. I’ll see you when I see you.

She would make her appearance when it pleased her. She was that kind of muse: arbitrary and capricious.

I stepped to the edge of the deck and relieved myself into the bushes. I liked to piss outside, the old penis pent up in the pants all day. It felt like freedom. I didn’t imagine I’d have the opportunity to piss outside for a while.

I went inside and turned off the lights. The dying embers in the fireplace cast a soft orange glow about the room. It’s been a good house, I thought. A very good house. I finished my drink, savoring the last drop, and went to bed.

About the author

EA Luetkemeyer's short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals spanning four decades. He is the author of the novel Inside the mind of Martin Mueller and the memoir The Book of Chuck. He was awarded an MFA in Creative writing from Lesley University, Cambridge, MA, in 2015. view profile

Published on November 12, 2019

Published by

120000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Literary Fiction

Reviewed by

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