There was this woman’s voice.
It came on the radio at about 11 p.m. every night.
The jazz station.
Think her name was Dee Alexander.
She told her listeners to breathe in fresh air and exhale negativity.
She told us to love our children and to take care of ourselves.
She told us the world needed us.
I’d always hear her in the car on my way home from the gym.
She made things better for a little while.
I didn’t have any children to love but I needed help taking care of myself.
I was going to the gym a lot those days.
I thought my legs were fat, and my ass too, and I was trying to tighten everything up.
For a short period of time I developed a routine.
I ran on the treadmill for twenty minutes, then I pedaled on the stationary bike for ten minutes, and then I drove home caked in my own salt.
But I’d always hear this woman’s voice before I made it home.
She was part of the routine.
And she was soothing.
One night she played a song by Mal Waldron.
I remember the song because it was the first time I’d heard it and because I liked the song.
It was called “The Inch Work” and it was from an album called Update.
Mal Waldron overdosed on heroin in 1963 and when he woke up alive he’d completely forgotten how to read and play music.
He couldn’t even remember his own name.
He needed shock treatments and a spinal tap.
He had to reteach himself how to live his life the way he enjoyed living it.
I am 24 years old and I live with my parents.
One night I got home from the gym and my parents were in the living room.
They were never up this late.
Once they entered their fifties they were in bed by eight.
But here they were waiting up for me.
The television was on, but it was muted, and they were sitting on the couch in silence.
Watching the images flicker, political pundits.
I set down my keys and they looked up at me.
“Did you see the lights?” my mom asked me.
She turned off the television.
“The police,” my dad said.
I hadn’t seen anything.
“No,” I said. “What’re you talking about? Is everything okay?”
“Larry Conlon died,” my dad said.
“They think he was murdered,” my mom said.
“I don’t know who that is. I don’t know who Larry Conlon is.”
My dad ate a toasted nut.
He had a plate of them on the coffee table in front of him.
“Who is Larry Conlon?” I said.
“He lives a few doors down, at the end of the cul-de-sac,” my dad said.
He was still chewing.
And then he was flossing out the nut remnants from in between his molars.
“He was murdered?” I asked. “Tonight?”
“That’s what they’re saying,” my mom said.
She shook her head.
She seemed in a daze.
Like she’d had a long day at work.
She sells propane.
But it was a Sunday.
Sure, she’d been training the new hire that week—think her name was Aimee—and that is draining work.
But it was a Sunday.
“Who’s saying that? Who’s saying he was murdered?” I asked. “Where did you hear that?”
My dad rolled the string of floss into a little ball and set it next to the plate of toasted nuts.
“We went down the street and stood around with everyone in front of the Conlons’ house. His wife was out there on the lawn, she was crying. And after a while the policemen asked us all to go back inside our houses,” my dad said.
“For our own safety, they said. As if the guy who did it is still out there, roaming around the neighborhood,” my mom said.
She wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.
“It was a guy who did it?” I asked.
I sat down on the floor in front of the coffee table.
“They don’t know who did it, or if anyone did it, or what. Your mother’s just speculating because she’s a little detective.”
“You heard what Terry said. Said he’d heard screaming from the house. And banging. Not like a gun bang but like a chair being knocked over kind of bang.”
I reached for a few toasted nuts, rolled them around in my fist as if they were dice.
“Who is Terry?” I asked.
“Jesus, Joey. He’s our next door neighbor. You know Terry,” my mom said.
“Terry,” my dad said.
I ate what looked to be a walnut.
It was charred black, tasted like ash or bad coffee.
“Oh yeah. The bigger guy. He said he heard a chair being knocked over? How could he hear a chair being knocked over? From all the way down the street?”
“He passed by the Conlons’ house. I guess he was doing a loop. Said he was taking Aunt Cindy out for a walk,” my dad said.
He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
I was cold but we only had two blankets in the living room, so I stayed cold.
“He takes his aunt out for walks?” I said.
I ate another nut.
An almond this time.
“Aunt Cindy is his dog, Joey. You know that. The little dachshund,” my mom said.
“Patti, it’s not a dachshund, it’s a terrier. A little terrier,” my dad said.
My mom’s name is Patti.
My dad’s name is Joseph.
We have the same name.
I don’t know how it happened that way.
I should have told you earlier.
If it’s any help, my mom usually calls my dad “Joe,” and I am always “Joey”.
“Joe, it’s a dachshund. I’m telling you. I’m the one who goes and pets it every time it’s out on a walk,” my mom said.
“Patti, no one would name a dachshund Aunt Cindy. No one. It’s a little terrier. One of those Scottish ones,” my dad said. “Your mother must be thinking of Tania’s dog.”
He looked at the plate on the coffee table and then at me.
There was only one nut left and it looked like a beetle.
“Who’s Tania?” I asked.
“Tania has a dachshund.”