Specimen Days

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham Read Free Book Online

Book: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham Read Free Book Online
Authors: Michael Cunningham
Tags: prose_contemporary
sound of Simon's voice, but the room remained silent. He wondered, Would his mother choke on the bit of potato? Gathering his nerve (it seemed so wrong, but what else could he do?), he slipped his fingers into her mouth. It was warm and wet. He found the bit of potato, the mush of it, on her tongue. He took it out. He put it in his own mouth. He ate the rest of her supper, ravenously, then went back into the parlor and ate his own. His father had not moved from the window. Lucas ate his father's portion as well, and went to bed.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,

It may be if I had known them I would have loved

them,

It may be you are from old people, or from offspring

taken soon out of their mother's laps,

And here you are the mother's laps.
    There was nothing for breakfast, though his father sat at table, waiting. Lucas said, "Father, will you get food for Mother and yourself while I'm at work?"
    His father nodded. Lucas took the last ten pennies from the tin in the cupboard. He saved three for himself, for his lunch, and put the other seven on the table for his father. He thought his father could go out and buy something to eat. He thought his father could do that.
    He would find out today when he was to be paid. He was sure Jack had meant to tell him but had been too taken up with managing the works. He resolved as well to ask Jack about the nature of what the machines were making, what the housings housed. He wondered if he would find the courage to ask so many questions all at once.
    The workday passed. Align, clamp, pull, pull again, inspect. In the afternoon Lucas began to discern a faint sound as the teeth of the machine bit down, a lesser noise within the machine's greater one. He wondered if it was a new sound or simply an aspect of the machine's usual noise, inaudible to him until he'd grown accustomed to the machine's complexities of being. He listened more carefully. Yes, there it was amid the crunching of the metal teeth into the softer metal of the plate, all but lost in the slalom of the rollers, the swish of the belt there was another sound, barely more than a whisper. Lucas leaned in close. The whisper seemed to emanate from deep within, from the dark place under the turning wheel, just past the point at which teeth embedded themselves in iron.
    He leaned in closer still. He could hear it but not quite hear it. From behind him, Tom said, "Somethin' wrong with yer machine, there?"
    Lucas righted himself. He hadn't thought Tom noticed him at all. It was surprising to know he was so visible.
    "No, sir," he said. Quickly, with a show of diligence, he loaded another plate.
    He didn't see Jack until day's end, when Jack came to him, said, "All right, then," spoke to Dan, and went into the chamber of the vaults. Lucas passed through a moment of dreamlike confusion he thought he had reentered the previous day, had only imagined it was Thursday and not Wednesday. In his bafflement he forgot to ask Jack when he would be paid. He resolved to ask tomorrow.
    He left the works and made his way home. On Rivington he passed a madman who screamed about a rain (or was it a reign?) of fire. He passed a bone that lay in the gutter, knobbed at either end, ivory-colored, offering itself like something precious.
    He wanted to go to Catherine again but forced himself home instead. When he let himself into the apartment, he found his mother standing in the middle of the parlor, on the carpet she had paid too much for. It seemed for a moment only a moment that she was herself again, that she had made supper and put the kettle on.
    She stood transfixed in her nightgown. Her hair flowed to her shoulders; wisps of it stood around her head in wiry confusion. He had never seen her so, in the parlor with her hair undone. He remained dumbly at the entrance, uncertain of what to do or say. He saw that his father stood

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