Lori OstlundLori Ostlund

Excerpt from After the Parade

The following excerpt is from the opening chapter of After the Parade:

Aaron had gotten a late start—some mix-up at the U-Haul office that nobody seemed qualified to fix—so it was early afternoon when he finally began loading the truck, nearly eight when he finished. He wanted to drive away right then but could not imagine setting out so late. It was enough that the truck sat in the driveway packed, declaring his intention. Instead, he took a walk around the neighborhood, as was his nightly habit, had been his nightly habit since he and Walter moved here nine years earlier. He always followed the same route, designed with the neighborhood cats in mind. He knew where they all lived, had made up names for each of them—Falstaff and Serial Mom, Puffin and Owen Meany—and when he called to them using these names, they stood up from wherever they were hiding and ran down to the sidewalk to greet him.

He passed the house of the old woman who, on many nights, though not this one, watched for him from her kitchen window and then hurried out with a jar that she could not open. She called him by his first name and he called her Mrs. Trujillo, since she was surely twice his age, and as he twisted the lid off a jar of honey or instant coffee, they engaged in pleasantries, establishing that they were both fine, that they had enjoyed peaceful, ordinary days, saying the sorts of things that Aaron had grown up in his mother’s café hearing people say to one another. As a boy, he had dreaded such talk, for he had been shy and no good at it, but as he grew older, he had come to appreciate these small nods at civility.

Of course, Mrs. Trujillo was not always fine. Sometimes, her back was acting up or her hands were numb. She would hold them out toward him, as though the numbness were something that could be seen, and when he put the jar back into them, he said, “Be careful now, Mrs. Trujillo. Think what a mess you’d have with broken glass and honey.” Maybe he made a joke that wasn’t really funny, something about all those ants with bleeding tongues, and she would laugh the way that people who are very lonely laugh, paying you the only way they know how. She always seemed sheepish about mentioning her ailments, sheepish again when he inquired the next time whether she was feeling better, yet for years they had engaged in this ritual, and as he passed her house that last night, he felt relief at her absence. Still, when he let his mind stray to the future, to the next night and the one after, the thought of Mrs. Trujillo looking out the window with a stubborn jar of spaghetti sauce in her hands made his heart ache.

A modified version of Chapter 2 of the novel was published in The Common under the title "Leaving Walter."