Excerpt from HOW TO KEEP TIME by Kevin M. Kearney

Lake Moore was in the driveway, melting into his Kelly green Eagles chair. He stared at the house, a modest two-bedroom rancher, and tried to imagine what it could look like if he dedicated time—real time—to fixing it up. It would take at least a summer, permits with the township, and about twenty grand. The summer he had; the other details would work themselves out.

Here was a sight to behold, he thought: a 72-year-old, greying man treating a chair like a hammock. There was a chance a nosy neighbor might take him for dead. There was a chance they might do something stupid like call an ambulance. So, he tried to straighten up, hoping it might throw off any overly-concerned onlookers. He’d only had a single edible, but he felt like he was wearing the chair, like it’d travel with him if he decided to walk to the backyard and survey the ground for a deck. Not that he was actually going to do that. He wasn’t sure he could stand, for one thing.

It’d been just one of the gummies, one of the 5mg guys that looked like peaches but for some reason tasted like grapes. He’d convinced himself that he’d developed a bit of a tolerance, but this particular peach had caught him off guard. One minute he was staring at the door to the house, imagining it with a slightly lighter shade of brown, picturing it on some shining stainless hinges, and then: woah.

How was it possible that this batch was stronger than the last if they all came from the same lab in Vineland? Wasn’t the benefit of medical weed that they’d ironed out all of the unpredictable aspects from back in the day? What if he took one more?

He’d stopped smoking after they had Evan. And, for a long time, he hadn’t missed it. It wasn’t until an old friend, someone from his previous life, recommended he get a medical card after Brigid passed.

“You don’t even need to actually see a doctor. You just call this guy, tell him you can’t sleep, and he’ll mail you a card.”

“Sounds like bullshit,” Lake had said.

“It is bullshit. But you’ll finally get some sleep.”

He could sometimes go a full day without thinking about her, but he always remembered when he put his head down on the pillow and didn’t find her there. It was dumb, he thought, reducing her to just a physical presence, but it’s what had happened.

And his friend was right: the medical card made things better. Or, at least, it made things easier. A glass of bourbon and one of the peach gummies usually knocked him out cold. So maybe it wasn’t bullshit. Maybe it was medicinal. It was just an added bonus that, in addition to its medicinal purposes, he could take one with his coffee and fully appreciate a Saturday morning.

He’d purchased the house six months earlier. The boys laughed when he had told them. No one bought vacation homes in the Pine Barrens. Growing up he’d heard that it was the home of the Jersey Devil, of meth heads and in-breds, of the NJ Chapter of the KKK. It’d always been a  place he’d avoided—something to drive through, not towards.

But he’d received a call from an old client, a guy he hadn’t heard from in fifteen years, someone who hadn’t even heard the news about Brigid. “I’m selling my place and thought of you,” he’d said. Lake didn’t ask why. A lifetime ago he would’ve considered it cosmic, a concrete example of kismet, but now he just considered it dumb luck. A good opportunity.

It wasn’t much. It was in Communion, a town up by Ong’s Hat Road with a population so small that it didn’t even have its own zip code. The bedrooms of the cabin were small and the kitchen hadn’t been updated since the early 60s, but it had a wood-burning stove that filled the entire place with a warmth that calmed him in a way he’d never known. And the plot—four wooded acres overrun with towering pines—was a welcome contrast to the suburban squares of National Park.

And, yeah, sometimes when he was really high it was all a bit too much, all the nothing, but during the day it was a miracle; the silence slowed time, presenting the day as an opportunity void of everyone else’s interjections.

When the old client was pitching the place to Lake over the phone, he’d said, “If you wanted, you could spend a lifetime up here without seeing a soul.”

Lake didn’t say it out loud, but that was the selling point.

 

Green book cover for Kevin M Kearney's "How to Keep Time" with inset circle with a photograph of trees and a blurb from musician Alex G.
How to Keep Time (out November 4th from Thirty West Publishing House)

Kevin M. Kearney grew up in New Jersey. HOW TO KEEP TIME is his first novel. More at kevinmkearney.com

Art by Crow Jonah Norlander.

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