“Hands”

The weather’s changing, getting hotter, so we’ve got two men at the house to give our AC system its annual checkup. Dennis is in the attic, but Wes, his assistant, is more interested in the contents of our den bookcase, which covers most of one wall. Reed and I are watching him, and I suspect Reed is asking himself why we’re paying Wes to gaze at my father’s World War II binoculars and framed photos of us in front of panoramic views.

“Where was this one taken?” Wes asks. Wes is young and unshaven, tall and a little overweight. He’s been here once before and we’ve noticed he tends to stare a lot. He stares at me, enough to make me uncomfortable, and today he’s been staring at our furniture and out the windows at our landscaping, then looking back at us and raising his eyebrows. He holds up the photo and looks at it from different angles. “You guys look like movie stars.”

Reed won’t answer him, and he’s getting that tight-lipped look and taking deep breaths. I get nervous when he starts the deep breathing.

“We’re in San Miguel de Allende,” I say. “It’s a town in central Mexico.”

“I’ve never been there,” Wes says. He returns the frame to the shelf and wipes his hands on his cargo pants. Another photo arouses his curiosity and he picks it up.

“Wes,” Reed says, “please don’t handle our things.”

Wes glares at Reed, as if trying to see inside him. He’s breathing through his mouth, his chest expanding. He doesn’t move.

“Step away from the bookcase,” Reed tells him, moving his hand to demonstrate.

“Whoa,” Wes says. “Something to hide? I wonder what it is. Sorry I put my grubby fingers on your things. Don’t worry, won’t happen again.”

He replaces the photo and walks past us toward the hallway. He tramples up the pull-down ladder into the attic, and we hear his footsteps on the deck and his voice saying something to Dennis.

Now I’m the one staring at Reed. I don’t like what Wes was doing, but I also don’t like it that Reed made things worse. He knows I’m not at ease with people working in our house. We once had a man we’d hired to hang drapes tell us he’d bought his daughter a talking doll for her birthday. The doll kept answering her back, and he and his brother decided the devil was inside it. They took it out back, he said, and killed it with their rifles. We couldn’t wait for him to leave.

Reed is focused on their voices above us and he goes to the hallway to listen. He may imagine Wes is complaining about what he said, and to make sure he doesn’t get in an argument I join him. We hear Wes telling Dennis a story about going out drinking the night before. He and his buddy saw a friend of theirs sitting at a table with some other people, and when they went over their friend introduced them. Wes reached across the table to shake hands with a guy and knocked three drinks over on his khaki pants, one of them a glass of red wine. Wes laughs describing how he’d apologized and acted sorry. He thinks it’s funny that the guy tried not to go ballistic. If Dennis has a reaction we can’t hear it, but we soon hear him say everything looks good. We walk away from the ladder.

Dennis descends and writes out a bill for us. We hear Wes moving overhead as Reed pays Dennis.

“Wes!” Dennis calls out.

Wes hurries down, and we hear him push up the access door. He goes out the front door without a word or a look.

“I don’t want Wes coming here again,” Reed says after Dennis leaves.

“I’d feel better if he didn’t.”

“Why would he stay in the attic? I thought if I asked Dennis I’d seem suspicious.”

“You are suspicious.”

“Are you?”

“I am.”

“Because of the doll killer?”

“Could be.”

“Maybe Wes wanted to get even.”

I follow him toward the hallway. He lowers the ladder, climbs the steps and looks around.

“See anything?” I ask.

“Nothing looks weird,” he calls down, though he doesn’t sound relieved. “I don’t smell gas, but I’ll keep sniffing.”

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About Glen Pourciau

Glen Pourciau's second collection of stories, View, was published in March by Four Way Books. His first story collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His stories have been published by AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, Little Star, New England Review, Paris Review, and others.