Set during the Great Depression, this is a story of many contrasts — the inexperience and (therefore) impetuousness of youth, for example, seen alongside the experienced self-restraint of an older colleague. The G-Men against the bank robbers. Bucolic countryside vs. the violent city. Farmland poverty highlighting the ill-gotten gains of a “pattern of heists that began down the Texas Panhandle and proceeded north all the way up to Wisconsin, then back down to Kansas”.
A single tragic event, captured in memory, and gently rued, over and again, throughout an otherwise peaceful retirement:
When you retired, you turned back into yourself and tried to settle into not thinking about the way others thought. You rested your feet and sat around tweezing apart past scenarios that had ended up with you alive and others dead, taking advantage of the fact that you were still alive while those others weren’t, and in doing so relishing—with a religious sort of glory—the fact that you retained the ability to look out at a lake on a clean, quiet summer day while the wind riffled the far side and a single boat oared gently, dragging a fishing line.
It’s a cautionary tale of maintaining focus in the face of a tedium that erodes the self-esteem of the impatient and the insecure. What elements combine to preserve a battle-scarred elder for another day? Training and intuition, yes, but also simply the chance of good fortune to be found in the right place at an opportune time, whether that be the protection of a tree line during a shootout or the porch sanctuary of a lakeside retirement cottage.
David Means is the author of four collections: A Quick Kiss of Redemption and Other Stories, Assorted Fire Events, The Secret Goldfish, and The Spot. He is a visiting associate professor of English at Vassar College.