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NAKED STEW by Michael Graves

Today is Saturday, another date with my kitchen floor. While Gram’s famous hot dog stew simmers, I admire the double-mopped laminate that has already been host to four veteran potlucks.     

Kurt’s pickup bleats, turning into the driveway. Spears of oak and birch fill the sagging bed. Kurt sees me at the screen door and side grins, his cauliflower ears pink from the chill.

“Floors are dry,” I holler.

He almost tumbles from the cab. “You sure? Want me to drive around the block a few times like last week?”

“Just don’t get shit all over. Please? You’re covered in sawdust.”

Kurt thumps the hood, smirking wildly. “Jesus, Henry! What do you want me to do?” He hops up on the porch.

I smell schnapps, gasoline. I smell Kurt’s smoke-drenched hair.

“Don’t fuck my house up,” I say, eye-smiling.

He stamps off his boots. Wood flecks ping about. He strips his sweatshirt and his under shirt. A pale yellow spotlight of dust quickly surrounds him.

“Ms. May will call the police again,” I say.

Scrap has even nested in Kurt’s crooked trail of navel hair. He unzips his jeans and wrestles them down.

“What are you…?”

“If I take everything off, I can’t make a mess.” He steps from the puddle of denim.

“Unbelievable. Punk.” I say and smirk.

With a rude boy grin, Kurt strips off his boxer shorts, faded tan lines agleam. He knocks on the prosthetic arm he calls Bixby. “What about this old bad boy? Want him off too?”

Ms. May’s drapes part. “Get inside,” I say, coughing from my laughter.

**

When preparing Gram’s hot dog stew, I become steeped in the fixings. Onion, celery, and basil stitch into my flesh for days.

I pass Kurt the thawed bread heels. After chugging a glass of milk, he arches over a large bowl. He slurps and gobbles the brew of discount links.

“I hope you don’t catch cold,” I say.

Kurt glances down at his bare cock. He snickers.

“How was the wood haul?” I say.

“Not bad. Jessie’s chainsaw shit the bed by eleven. That blew. Filled up all our trucks though. I’ll get one more load if it kills me.”

“Channel five said a nor’easter might be on the way.”

“They don’t know shit.” He crushes two heels and begins to smear them with crumb-speckled margarine. “I’m gonna pack our porch, Henry. Biggest wood pile you’ve ever seen. Keep us warm all winter.”

I stare at Kurt’s new eagle tattoo, scabbing on his chest.

“This tastes great,” he tells me. “Best batch, I’d say.”

My entire face crinkles. Immediately, I’m huffing. “I followed her recipe. It should be the same.”

Kurt mimics my sigh in jest. “Yours tastes different.”

“It shouldn’t.”

Shrugging, he says, “But it does. Better maybe. It’s so good, it’s giving me a chub.” Kurt begins to swill the stew loudly, defiantly. He grins, a potato chunk clinging to his lip.

I swat the air.

He says, “Hey…how ‘bout you take off your clothes too? Shouldn’t have to be naked all by my myself.”

**

Cars stream by, chugging toward Sunday services. Some tap their horns, and we wave with Irish coffee smiles.

Clad in cowhide gloves, I stack wood, row after row, tidy and flush. I hear a pop and then scuffing behind the pile. “What the fuck?”  

Kurt bends down and aims his cell phone flashlight into the rear gaps. He kicks the heap thrice. An opossum thrusts out its pointed white face. It lunges. It hisses.

“Jesus Christ!” I vault backwards and drop a wedge of oak.

Kurt cackles, his breath prancing in the frosty air. “I can see a family of ‘em.”

“Don’t get bit.”

“They don’t bite, Henry.”

“Yeah, they do,” I say. “They have teeth, right?”          

“She’s just protecting her babies. Anyway, when opossums get really, like really scared, they play dead.”     

I shed my gloves. “That fucker will attack me. Like when I’m taking out the trash.”

Kurt shakes his head. He points to the opposite side of the porch. “Let’s put the wood over there instead. Move the boot trays, the shovels. I’ll get a tarp or some shit.”

I grind my slipper into the cold slate. “Can’t we scare them away?”

“Naw.” His face softens. “We’ll leave ‘em. They’re just tryin’ to set up shop. Same boat as us.”

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