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Loose Ends

A Novel

Loose Ends by Neal Bowers
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A distraught Davis Banks arrives home for his mother’s funeral. Davis teaches poetry at a small college. He loves words — but not himself. His father had died some years before, and now Davis discovers a lot of little things in his mother’s house that don’t seem right.
Where are the keys to her car? In fact, he realizes he doesn’t even know how or where she died. That night he visits his mother’s gravesite, dug next to his father’s. Near the bottom he discovers a man’s arm sticking out of the dirt where his father’s coffin is supposed to be. And when he finds out that his mother apparently died in a motel room with another man, he’s confronted with a myriad of loose ends thrashing about in a quicksand of details.
With a poet’s feel for language, Neal Bower tells a story whose twists intrigue the reader as much as they do Davis.
Random House Publishing Group; June 2001
ISBN 9780375506918
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Title: Loose Ends
Author: Neal Bowers
THE SHORTEST DISTANCE between two people is almost always a lie. Compared to the truth, it has the advantages of a cut flower over a potted plant. You may think you would prefer the plant, but consider the commitment-the watering, the worrying. You can't help expecting it to live; and if it doesn't, you bear most of the blame. A single rose, however, lasts as long as it lasts in its slender vase. Snip the stem on the bias and cloud the water with an aspirin, but still you know this momentary effusion will not become part of your permanent decor.

Davis Banks lived by this philosophy and always traveled with his arms full of flowers-a daisy for the ticket agent, a jonquil for the steward, and for the person seated next to him, an exotic bouquet.

" Yes, I'm the inventor of the mobile bowling alley. You don't see them much in this country, but they're the rage in Latin America. All you need is a pickup truck, a few sections of my patented collapsible trestles for an extension, my simulated polyurethane lane, and you're in business. just drive from town to town and rake in the dough."

Such stories illuminated the daily trench, flashed in dull eyes. And Davis especially liked it when one of his original lies came back to him, like the one about the Barber-in-a-Helmet: simply strap it on, set it for the length of hair you want, and flip the switch. But it distressed him when some of his inventionsthe Bug Zapper, for instance-became real. It wasn't that he regretted not getting the patent and making a gazillion dollars; rather, he felt disoriented, like waking in a hotel room and thinking for a moment he was in his own home. The truth, too, can be a mimic. Sometimes it dims and blinks, a bulb about to blow.

Studying and teaching literature for fifteen years had conditioned Davis to regard everything as subject to multiple interpretations. Struggling to get his students to understand a poem or a story in a certain way had failed, so he gave himself over to their assorted misreadings, accepting them all as valid.

His own life reinforced this approach. Moving from one teaching job to another, he had settled in finally as an academic oddity at a junior college in Des Moines. His actual title was Part-time, Temporary, Adjunct, Visiting Assistant Professor, his professional identity so qualified that he felt edited almost to invisibility. Of course, he pretended he was full-time and tenured. What did the words mean, after all? Even the world is a text, infinitely interpretable. Self-image is yet another possible version among many, the lie a person tells himself, the fiction of identity.

On this trip, Davis Banks introduced himself as Ben Blau to the man strapped into the seat beside him. He liked names that teased, just for the extra risk. Calculating that his chance companion knew no German, Davis said, "Hi, I'm Ben Blau," which in English/German hybrid announced that he was drunk. No recognition, just an extended hand and a name, "Jim Timmerman," which caused Davis to study hard for a moment. Something in the rhyme sounded concocted. Could be a fellow changeling. Surely there were others like himself, probably thousands; but Davis couldn't say for certain he had ever encountered one. As a test, he allowed Timmerman the first move: "at do you do, Jim?

"As little as possible. " A snorting laugh punctuated the man s answer.

Davis waited. "Good work if you can get it," he said with a guarded smile.

"Actually, I'm a motivational speaker." From his inside coat pocket, he dealt Davis a business card embossed with a blue eagle and the words in red: JIM TIMMERMAN, WINNER OF THE CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR.

Davis was momentarily speechless. This man might be one he could learn from, a big-leaguer going for the long ball on every swing.

"I talk to business groups, civic organizations. You know, pump 'em up and get 'em. excited about life. It's a pretty damned good life, after all."

Was the ambiguity intended? Life with a capital "L," or lowercase, as in life as a scam? Davis felt himself wobble with the lift and sway of the plane as he sat transfixed by the card. Why tell a lie that defied belief? Weren't most Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers killed in action, their bravery transcending life?