portion of the artwork for Steven D. Stark's fiction

With Malice Toward None
Steven D. Stark

Why are we here?” the boy asks.

“I thought it would be a good idea,” says the older man, whom everyone just calls “Coach.” “Do something different for a change.”

“But a movie? Lincoln?”

“It’s supposed to be good. You might learn something.”

“Can I at least get some popcorn?”

The older man hands him a five and pulls his scarf tighter.

“I need more,” the boy says. “I want a drink, too.”

The man hands him a ten. “If you see anyone you know,” he says, “just tell them you’re here on a school project.”

* * *

It’s nightfall by the time the movie ends so they don’t need to be quite as careful. Still, it’s never a bad idea to walk as quickly as possible. Almost a trot, really.

“I didn’t get it,” says the boy once they’re inside the man’s car and they can talk again.

“What was there to get?”

“It was all so dark. And the funny beards. And all they did was, you know, talk.”

“But it was important. The Thirteenth Amendment. What Lincoln had to do to end slavery.”

The boy yawns.

“I thought they were going to show a lot more of the assassination,” the boy says. “Now that would have been cool.”

* * *

It’s risky but they go to a restaurant. Not one in town, of course, but a rundown place way out on the highway where they won’t see anyone.

Anyone who’s Anglo, that is.

“I’d rather have pizza than Mexican food,” the boy says.

“You’ll like it,” Coach says. “It’s authentic.”

The boy shrugs and plays with his straw. “Taco Bell’s authentic.”

“I don’t think so,” says the older man. “Taco Bell is owned by Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

“No way.’

“Way. And they own Pizza Hut and Long John Silver, too.”

“I’d rather go to KFC.”

“I’m sure you would,” says Coach, who orders in Spanish. When the two pozoles arrive, the boy takes one bite and spits it out.

“We’re not going to KFC,” says Coach but, of course, that’s where they wind up next.

* * *

The first time they left the campus together, the older man signed the boy out for a “weekend field trip.” That’s allowed. For ninety minutes, though he had him back in eighty. They went for a walk into town, which is more of a village, really, since there’s only a drug store, a hardware store, and a couple of other storefronts. Along with a bakery that does next to no business. That’s where they wound up, sitting in a corner where anyone could see them but no one did.

Coach had coffee, black. The boy had two doughnuts. Given that it was their first time off campus together, they hit it off OK.

“Want to do this again?” Coach asked as they began to head back to the boy’s dorm.

“I guess,” said the boy. “They were pretty good doughnuts.”

* * *

After Pizza Hut, their four hours are almost up. Coach forgot: Lincoln is a very long movie.

“What do you say we do something different tonight?” he says as he starts the car.

“Like what?”

“Like stay out. Drive around. Maybe go to a motel.”

“A motel? Is that allowed?”

“I think I can arrange it.”

“I don’t know,” says the boy. “I think we should be getting back.”

“We could watch TV.”

“You mean after ten? No lights out?”

The boy mulls it over.

“That would be kinda cool,” he finally says. “If you say it’s OK.”

* * *

Coach lives on campus, too. Or did before tonight. In a place behind the gym in an apartment with two other coaches, except no one calls either of them Coach. They’re both Mr. Whatever.

One, just out of college, talks non-stop about how he can take this year’s soccer team to the finals. The other roommate, maybe five years older, coaches girls’ basketball and softball and has a thing for one of his players, a chipper blonde who led the team in rebounds the year before.

Sometimes the girl comes over and the other two have to clear out. The recent grad has a girlfriend so it’s not really a problem for him. It was probably a blessing in disguise for Coach, too, since he discovered this motel, which charges only $59 a night and gets HBO.

High-speed Internet, too. And soap which Coach can take back to the apartment to use in the plastic shower.

* * *

“What do you want to watch?” Coach says.

“Wow,” says the boy, changing channels. “This TV has everything.”

“MTV?”

“Nobody watches MTV,” says the boy. “Except Ridiculousness.”

“Hey, don’t go so fast. That was Everybody Loves Raymond. You’d like that.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It’s good.”

The boy stops clicking and looks up.

“You said Lincoln was going to be good, too,” he says. “You sure we’re not going to get into trouble for this?”

* * *

What the older man can’t get out of his head is how sick and tired Lincoln looked in the film. Like he’d almost given up, though of course he hadn’t.

The boy is now watching a show that appears to be made up only of commercials.

“Don’t you think we should get some sleep?” asks Coach.

“You said we could stay up late,” says the boy, kicking his feet so he spills a fair portion of the Doritos out of the bag and onto the bed.

“This is beyond late,” says Coach. “We have to get up early.”

“How come? Tomorrow’s Saturday.”

“We need to check out.”

“It says on the door check out time is noon.”

“Not for us,” says Coach.

The boy is channel surfing again but pauses at a place where the TV so illuminates the room that their surroundings appear almost lavish. “How come you only coach JV?” asks the boy.

Somehow that’s the question that always crops up. Even here.

There must be a good answer. Coach hasn’t thought of it yet.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 41 | Summer 2013