The Keys – Part 2

Overseas Highway 2 The following short story, “The Keys” © John Enright, is from “The Disease of His Need for Women & other stories.” It has been serialized into three parts. This is part 2.

Polly’s brother’s address was off mile marker 94 on the Keys highway, which Norman had figured out meant 94 more miles before the end of the road, US 1, at Key West. Mile marker 94 was on Tavernier Key. He followed Polly’s directions as she read them, down a few lazy sandy streets until they found themselves in a gated trailer park—one of those home trailer parks where none of the trailers have wheels any more and all of them are up on cinder blocks, forever in off the road, with creeper vines and bougainvillea overcoming them. “Have you ever noticed that nobody ever goes to the trouble of repainting a trailer?” Polly observed.

The place reminded Norman too much of a slew of things he was always trying to forget. That double-wide back there, for instance, was twin to the one where he had last seen his kids back in Kentucky. That Pontiac surrendered to the weeds across the road was the same vintage as one he’d left behind somewhere once. He expected to hear a baby crying, but it was all still. No one was up and about. “Let’s not do this,” Norman said. “This isn’t anything like what you said it was going to be.”

“Hell, we’re here. It can’t hurt to try. You stay here. I’ll do it.” But Polly didn’t get out of the car. “You said I looked pale. Should I put on some makeup?”

“Do you think he’d notice at this time of day? Do you think he’d care?”

“It is sort of early still, and I did think his place would be a bit more palatial than this,” Polly said, still sitting there.

“Well, let’s not do it then.” Norman started the car back up.

“No. Fuck. I’ll go. I just forgot how much I dislike the bastard, that’s all.”

After Polly got herself out of the car, Norman—on pure unthought instinct—backed up and turned around and got the car pointed out of the trailer park and parked on the shoulder beneath some low trees near the gate. He had never met Polly’s older brother Benjamin before and he had no intention of doing so now, unless he had to.

It was only a couple of minutes before Polly came back. “He’s in there, but he ain’t answering. I’m not doing this alone, you shit. Come on.” All Norman knew from Polly about brother Benjamin was that he had been momma’s boy by becoming a priest, thus giving momma the trump card in her small Catholic Pennsylvania town. Then he became an ex-priest or a retired priest or an exiled priest or something. Polly never talked about her family much. Neither did Norman. There was a lot of painful shit in their pasts they didn’t talk about much. What was the point? It wasn’t like there were any lessons to be learned from past fuck-ups. The next one was always different.

Polly’s earlier knocking must have woken Benjamin up, because at her first knock this time he opened the trailer door. He was a big man, bigger even than Polly but along the same lines. He was bald and clean shaven and round. He had a sheet wrapped around his rotundity like an amateur’s toga. He was holding a gun, a large hand gun, as suited his size. As he swung the door open he said, “Come and get it, you assholes.” He stopped when he saw Polly standing there on the cement block stoop.

“Yes, Bengy, it’s your little sister Polly come to pay a family visit,” she said, never taking her eyes off the gun.

Father Benjamin lowered the gun, and with it the sheet slipped down on his chest, revealing a rather unmasculine nipple. He stared at his sister for a full minute, never seeming to see Norman behind her, then said, “I thought it was someone else,” and turned and walked back into the dark interior of the trailer, leaving the door open behind him. Polly didn’t follow him in. Norman slipped to the side, further out of sight. Polly and he had pawned their last gun a week or so before. Family. See what I mean? Norman thought. Just leave them alone. It’s like an impersonal curse. He didn’t even have a knife on him.

“If this is a bad time, we can come back later,” Polly said into the darkness.

“Who’s we?”

“Just me and Norman,” she said.

“Who’s Norman?”

“Look, Bengy, forget it. We were in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d stop by to say hello, that’s all.”

“No, you’re here. Come on in. I’d like to meet this Norman. But give me a minute to get some clothes on.”

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