"Honey, there’s a Mr. Shaman at the door."
My husband stuck his big head around the corner, a phone attached to his ear, and frowned.
"A Mr. Who? What’s he selling? No, not you. There’s a salesman at my door. Hold a sec. Honey? Get rid of him for me?"
"He isn’t selling anything."
Frank blew me a kiss and disappeared.
"He wants to talk to us about our son."
Frank reappeared around the corner, cupping the phone in his hands.
"What son? We don’t have a son. There’s a juvenile delinquent raiding our refrigerator, but no son."
I tore off my apron and threw it at my husband but he had disappeared again. I heard him making excuses and putting the phone back on the wall. Then he was standing in the hall, hands on his hips, just like I knew he would. The ham.
"What’s this, dear?"
That was better.
"He’s waiting out on the steps. I don’t like the look of him."
That was not entirely true. When I’d opened the door to find the funny looking little man standing there, I almost laughed. But there was something else about this Mr. Shaman, something a little frightening. So I told that part to Frank. Anyway, what was this man doing on our steps, asking after our son?
"Is he from the school?"
"I’m not entirely sure."
"Why are you laughing, hon? I’ll go speak to this man. My god, you are acting strange."
Frank passed close by me, so I stopped him with my hand, drew his face close to mine, and kissed him. He pulled back as if I were a snake and had just bit him.
"Now what was that for?"
I didn’t know. Frank didn’t look displeased so I steered him towards the living room.
"Go make us drinks. I’ll let this man in and we will talk to him like the civil people we are. He seems nice, really, just a bit overbearing."
Maybe it was the way he had assumed that I’d let him in. Of course, I had told him to wait.
A familiar look bloomed on Frank’s face. He had let go the urge to confront the man at the door. He was thinking about my kiss. He was horny.
"Ok. Let him in. But, why, on heaven’s earth, have you left him outside for so long? It’s not normal."
* * *
I had been cutting vegetables when the doorbell rang. It chimed three times and sounded like music. I could name that tune in three notes. I put down the knife and wiped my hands on my apron. The meat was out of the freezer. The soft centers of the broccoli stalks needed to be cut out. An old Oriental trick.
When I reached the door, I hesitated before opening it. I remember turning and looking at the little print hanging in the alcove—the one my son Gary gave me one Christmas. My eyes went straight to the back of the drawing and rested on a line of trees that stood against a blackening sky. There was a small scuff-mark bird flying in the sky. I shivered.
The bell again. Three times. A song.
"Hello, may I help you?"
"I am shaman. Have come . . . help your son."
"I am not interested in anything today but thank you . . ."
I tried shutting the door. But the funny little man bowed, hat to his chest, his beard flapping out in front of him like a Disney dwarf. He stared at me, scratching at his ear with a finger as gnarled as a tree root.
"I am shaman. Come to help."
"Well, in that case, I will have to talk to my husband. Please wait here. Please wait. My husband."
Then I shut the door in his face like a fool.
I went to call Frank, who was on the phone with a client.
* * *
I led this Mr. Shaman through the foyer into our living room. Frank joined us at the couch, drinks in his hands. He had a strange look on his face. As if a second ago he had downed his first in one swallow.
Mr. Shaman sat down on the couch like a knife closing, stroking his beard down against his shirt, which looked woolen.
Frank handed him a drink. I had to fight back a laugh, for I knew he wasn’t a man for a drink. Mr. Shaman dipped his finger into the Scotch cautiously, put it up to his mouth and grimaced. Then he set down the glass on the carpet and sat there looking at it as if it were a scorpion. I thought of the carpet.
Frank started in talking.
"Well, if you’re from the school, why hasn’t there been a call? For, you see, it angers me—and I’m not pointing a finger at you specifically, of course—but it angers me that your comp . . .ah, your . . . the school should fail to forewarn parents before sending someone out to talk with us about our son."
Why did we presume this man was from the school?
"Frank, does this man look like a counselor to you?"
He looked more like the man I occasionally buy jewelry from down on the pier. Jewelry to give as presents.
"And what is this about, really? Has Gary done something wrong? If he has . . ."
"No school. Stand alone. No school."
Mr. Shaman’s voice sounded like the inside of a man’s trousers. But Frank wasn’t listening. He was running on and on. And this Mr. Shaman kept looking at me. He had one of my little onyx figurines in his hand; he was examining it carefully with his fingers.
"He’s not from the school, Frank."
Mr. Shaman set down the figurine in the exact spot he had picked it up from and selected another one. It didn’t seem real, this strange man in our house picking up my onyx figurines and examining them as if he were some kind of rock specialist.
There was an extended silence. Frank had talked himself out and now seemed nervous that the man hadn’t been listening to him. He was looking over at me for some kind of affirmation. What could I say? He hadn’t been.
"Your boy need help. I come. Speak. I speak with him. Now."
Come to think of it, nobody had ever picked the figurines off the table, not once, not even at a dinner party. Some of my lady friends had remarked on them but never bent down to examine them closely or touch them. I wouldn’t have wanted them to.
At that moment, Mr. Shaman kicked over his drink. He looked at me and winked. At least, I think he winked. The whole thing upset me so I stood up. Frank was looking at his nails, his hand limp from his arm hanging over his chair, acting as if nothing had happened.
* * *
I came back with a snack tray for our guest. Vegetable sticks and a cheese ball. Frank had cleaned up the mess and was returning with two more drinks. The dog was asleep at Mr. Shaman’s feet. When had he slunk in?
I set the tray down. The cheese ball looked like a tennis ball covered in dirt. The kind the dog chewed like a maniac. For some reason, I thought about having a fire in the fireplace some night soon.
"I don’t understand. I may have to make some calls."
That was Frank. He had been puzzling over something Mr. Shaman told him. Mr. Shaman reached out, took hold of the cheese ball and bit into it as if it were an apple. Frank kept talking, not noticing that cheese was crumbling onto the carpet. What a strange man!
Gary walked in. He saw Mr. Shaman eating the cheese ball and started to laugh. Good for him. Frank shot him a look but Gary leaned down and, passing over the celery sticks, reached for a cracker. He smiled at the old man. Old?
Mr. Shaman smiled back at Gary. Instead of wandering off as he usually did, Gary lingered outside our triangle of conversation. I could tell he was curious.
There seemed little else to say. Mr. Shaman kept smiling at Gary. Finally, Gary walked over to the closet and came back out with a basketball.
"Mom, Dad, I’m going to shoot some baskets."
He never announced before what he was going to do.
"You wanna play?"
He said this to Mr. Shaman. Like it was perfectly natural to do so. And Mr. Shaman got up and followed Gary out the sliding-glass door into the backyard. I turned to Frank in astonishment.
Frank had this funny little smile on his faceas if he had seen a dead man floating in the pool and was trying to hide the fact. I saw fear in his eyes. He stood up and moved to make himself another drink. He’d be drunk fast at this pace.
With his back turned to me, Frank started in talking. It didn’t seem to matter if I were in the room or not.
"Well, maybe it will be good for Gary to have some professional help. I mean, it can’t hurt. It’s either this or send him away to some rehab center. The boy just doesn’t hold his weight in this household. He is taking up the rear in every aspect . . . The boy has no self-respect. Maybe this will shake it out of him. I don’t know."
Where was coming from with professional help? That man was no more professional than me. We had crossed over some sort of line. What were we going to do?
Frank had drifted over to the window, looking out at Gary and Mr. Shaman.
"Hey, honey, he’s pretty good. He just made a basket!"
I went over to Frank. My husband was asleep. Why wasn’t he reacting to any of this? Couldn’t he see?
"Well, we’ll get his references on the phone, find out who we’re dealing with, see if he’s credible, and then go from there. See how Gary feels. I would like him to go willingly, whether he likes it or not."
After a while, Gary came back in with Mr. Shaman. They patted each other on the back, both of them panting slightly. Gary ran to get them Cokes. He came back and joined the group of adults in the sunlight that streamed through the door. In his brown sweater, Frank blended in with the trees behind him, with the bright light bouncing off of the glass.
Gary popped open the sodas and handed one to Mr. Shaman. Together they gulped down their drinks. Mr. Shaman burped loudly. Gary laughed again, the basketball caught under one of his sneakered feet. He was so handsome, so tall. What a good son. For a moment, I couldn’t see what all the trouble was.
"Hey, Mom, Dad. I’m going to spend some time with Koti. Afterschool, ok?"
Frank looked over at me.
"It will help, Dad. It will, and Mom, you said you wanted me to take up something extracurricular. We’ll meet at the library. Come on. Is it okay?"
Gary hadn’t seemed as eager about anything for a long, long time.
Mr. Shaman seemed transfixed by the Coke can, turning it around and around to follow the white stripe. A little of the soda tipped out, coagulating into small tidal pools of fizz.
"All right, son. Fine."
Was that me or Frank? I don’t remember. And then Mr. Shaman was gone. I wanted to go to the window to see if he had come by car. Gary went back to his room and turned on his music loud. For once, Frank didn’t go ask him to turn it down. He went, instead, to the garage to clean his toolbox. I could hear him tinkering in there for the next few hours.
Later, sometime after dinner, when I went to check in on Gary, the door was locked, and he wouldn’t answer the door.
* * *
Frank had forgotten to get Mr. Shaman’s number, of course. But everyday after school for a week or two, he’d make it a point to ask Gary how it was going with the counselor. He’d pull Gary aside, his arm around his son’s thin shoulders and, glancing over at me, try to make small talk. Gary would squirm free.
He’d make some excuse to leave the house. I’d let him go. Whenever Frank got on Gary’s case for being lazy, I’d make him go mow the lawn or rake the leaves.
One day, as we were cleaning up after dinner—me washing and Gary rinsing and dryingGary showed me a necklace he had hidden under his shirt. What was he doing wearing a necklace?
"It’s a power object, Mom."
"Power what? What in the world is that? A fancy name for a necklace, if you ask me."
He explained it to me the best he could. Something to do with storing his power in a place outside his body to remind him of the strength inside. He didn’t really know what it was, either.
Frank had set himself in front of the television. He looked over but then turned back, uninterested.
"So it’s kind of like something you own that brings you luck? Like a rabbit’s foot?"
I knew I was grasping for straws.
"It’s just something you keep that gives you something, Mom."
Vague. Very vague.
"Like your onyx figurines, Mom, just like those."
I could see that it was important to Gary that I understood him. My figurines, huh? Maybe he had a point.
I gave him a hug and agreed. Maybe my figurines were objects of power.
Frank began joining Gary out in the backyard for games of HORSE and around-the-world. They even played a few games of one-on-one without either of them bursting into a fit of yelling. Still, when Frank went for one of his “patented hook-shots,” Gary would block it into the rose bushes. The first time he did it, Frank seemed ready to start a fight. But, when Gary did it again, blocking his shot all the way under the trees, Frank burst out laughing.
"Damn, boy, you’re getting tall."
They would come in after dark moaning for food, rubbing their arms.
* * *
Winter came and went like a stretch of road you can drive in your sleep. Gary spent more and more time in the house. He did his homework. He studied in the kitchen. I passed the days in my own way. When the chores were all done and I had a few hours free, I’d get in the car and drive to the museum or a gallery in town or to fabric store. Often I’d stop by this café on the way home for a quick coffee and pastry. I’m not sure when I began doing this, but it felt good how the women men and women behind the counter learned my name, knew how I liked my coffee.
My excursions out into the day lengthened. I’d sometimes just drive out past the suburbs far enough that they gave way to fields and barn. Once or twice I told Frank about these drives, how they made me feel more myself than I had in a long time. He smiled and said something like “That’s good, hon.” But I could tell he didn’t care to hear the details.
One day, Gary came home with tears in his eyes. It was just turning spring. Frank wasn’t home from work yet. I took my son into my arms and held him as he cried. Mr. Shaman had gone away.
"He said I was a man now, Mom. That I didn’t need him around anymore."
I didn’t know what to say so asked if Mr. Shaman might be coming back sometime to visit. I tried to remember what he looked like, standing at my door, hat in hand like a cartoon, but couldn’t.
"No, mom. He’s gone."
We stood there like that for a while as the light in room shifted about.
"He said something about you, Mom. He said . . ."
I told Gary to be quiet, that I didn’t want to hear what Mr. Shaman had to say about me. Gary gave me a pitying look and patted my head.
When Frank came home, I told him about Mr. Shaman. He didn’t say anything. Gary brought it up over the dinner table. Frank looked up from his paper and frowned.
"That Mr. Shaman, you’re still seeing him. I thought that was over a long time ago, son."
* * *
I spend a lot of my time in the car nowadaysdriving out into the country, rolling the windows down in warm weather, listening to the radio. There are specific roads I return to, the ones with the rolling turns and the best views. I’ll sing along to the songs if I know them. I don’t care what people think if they look over and see me belting out some pop song. I may have used to but I don’t now. I pay more attention to the animals in the fields, and to the way the old barns keep slowly kneeling back into the ground. That seems more real to me, closer to the truth. The dilapidated barns are a nice metaphor for what has become of our lives.