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issue 23: March - April 2001 

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THE COMPATIBILITY FACTOR
Ryland Greene

         

Albert is driving his new Ford van over Liberty Road on the way to visit the Parleys. Louise observes, it sure does bob up and down somewhat for a new vehicle. The last word is three distinct syllables.
        Damned road is like the looptiloop, Albert replies, mouth drawn to a thin, determined line. You wanted to come on out here to see these people, so I guess you shouldn't take on about the quality of the ride.
        You'll be happy to show off your van now Albert. We won't stay long. A little conversation will do us good.
        Ain't conversation, Albert allows, it's just talk. It's talk and more talk that don't come to any point. It don't mean nothing.
        Well it does too, Louise affirms. I just don't know where you come to this high-horse idea of everything meaning something so very important. Things mean a lot of things. There's no one way to it. Besides, I always find it interesting, one way or the other.
        Making meaning mean something to that tribe hardly amounts to much of an accomplishment. Talk and talk.
        Talk falls off between Albert and Louise. The road improves past the Shiner intersection while they do a few miles on route one-hunert. Even the turn-off towards
        the Parley home is newly black-topped until you get to the dirt drive back through the overgrown Christmas tree plot that Pa Parley calls the piney woods although it's barely thirty yards deep from the road. Then the horse field, now without horses, and the remnants of an apple orchard, then the house. Pa Parley built it bits at a time over the last thirty years and it documents shifts in building materials and styles all set together with a heavy hand and a preference for thick trim.
        Folks are gathered on the screened porch which Pa built just before treated lumber became commonplace. There are signs of decay heavily covered over with thick redwood paint. But it's not a bad place to sit, and it has some depth being almost square, and there is a double-wide screen door above double-wide stairs of new spruce, this new lumber properly treated. Albert and Louise climb the three steps to the porch, and Louise does the greetings to Pa and his son Clint and Clint's wife Talley. Albert takes a wicker chair and looks back out towards his van.
        New van? Clint asks.
        New van, Albert allows, letting the sheer fact register. Then he says, Pa, you got some screen out. Right over there. One screen out kind of defeats the purpose of all the other screens, don't you think?
        Now Albert, don't you go being critical from the outset, Louise admonishes as she enters the kitchen .
        Maybe it does. Maybe not, Pa replies. Cecelia cut that there screen out. Left a nice fringe of screening all around. Cecelia claims that the flies think that the whole screen is still there and so they don't come through. We're testing that.
        Well, Albert muses, slapping his leg, the flies may think and they may think that there is a screen where no screen is, but I don't think the mosquitoes think that cause I just killed me one. Stained my trousers, right enough. Probably been eatin' off of you folks all afternoon. Like while you was watching for flies.
        Come in through the door with you and Louise, Clint says defensively.
        Albert shrugs and watches a large gnat hover at the opening in the screen, darting suddenly this way and that, then returning to hover in the center, never entering the space of the porch. That there is a thinking gnat, he tells the others. It thinks there is a screen and it's not about to bump into it. Now, I've been meaning to ask why Cecelia thought to cut the screen out like that.
        Cecelia says the screens stop the air. She says we get no air up top of the porch and air is why we have a porch to sit on, so she cut her a square in the screen to see if her theorizing is correct. You know, that flies thinks there is a screen there because all the other windows and the double doors has got them.
        It is kind of dumb, Clint observes, but then we're partial to Mom and she always done crazy stuff. He gets up from his metal lounger and retrieves a fly swatter from a hook by the kitchen door, pausing to call in for some beers. I'll bring 'um, Talley says, heaving her body out of the rocker. She has a thin face and torso which suddenly balloons into broad hips and heavy thighs, buttocks like field clods. I'll get your beers,
        she repeats, but you have more than three, then I'm designated, Clint. You remember that.
        What are you designated, Albert asks, watching with undisguised awe as she sidles her breadth through the kitchen door.
        I'm designated undrunk, Albert. As in not asking for a DUI citation. Louise know how to drive that new van of yours?
        Albert don't get DUIs, Clint says, cause he don't ever look drunk, he just looks Baptist. White-shirt Baptist. Republican Baptist.
        Albert don't even know who God is, Talley says as she completes her migration. But God knows who Albert is, you can believe on that.
        Come a long way from flies to God Almighty, Albert says. Is that someone else coming down your road, Pa? That little blue car hain't got wheels big enough to navigate your ruts. But I seen that car somewhere.
        Oh boy, Clint says, that'll be Thelma. Hey Talley? Talley. Thelma 's driving in.
        That is enough to bring the girls out, Talley maneuvering through the kitchen door and holding it back with her broad bottom while Louise steps past her and Cecelia leans out of the doorframe. Poor Thelma, Cecelia says. That poor girl has had herself so much sorrow. It's not right so much sorrow comes to one person.
        What sorrow? Louise asks.
        She broke off with Alec Kliner, the banker.
        Kliner 's no banker, is he? Louise wonders.
        He does something with money, Cecelia says.
        He's a broker, Albert corrects disgustedly. Broke 'er heart did he?
        Albert, that 's plain cruel.
        Thelma pulls up behind the other vehicles and parks at an angle that blocks them all from backing out. Thelma, park that damned car right, Pa yells. Damn. Thelma never did know where she was at.
        Thelma pauses, turns around, decides against re-parking, and comes to the porch steps with red eyes and cheeks stained but colorless. Talley hurries over to give her hugs and the other two women follow suit while the men watch.
        Say hello to Pa and Clint and Albert, Cecelia directs, and get you a seat over there on the porch divan. Louise, come help me with the drinks. Talley, you talk with Thelma. You two was always close.
        The talk turns to ruts in Pa's dirt driveway, and from there to the weather, Lyme disease, and the recent hold-up at Shiners Mobil station. Clint swats an occasional insect and Pa wonders out loud can he sew the cut-out section of screen back into place, that is, if they decide they ought to do that at the cost of air movement and dissatisfying Cecelia. But everyone is waiting to hear from Thelma, and based on past traumatic experience such as Thelma is given to having, there will be something to tell and something told. Talley has turned her rocker so as to be looking towards Thelma. Louise is beside Thelma on the porch divan, hand on top of Thelma's hand on top of Thelma's leg, and Cecelia is kind of fussing with things and saying something of little importance from time to time.
        Clint waves for another beer and Albert nods that he'll have one too, and Talley holds out her glass for more ice tea with a new piece of lemon if you don't mind too much.
        I just didn't know, Thelma sobs, I just had no idea of it at all.
        What's that, dear?
        That Alec was so…was so…so preverted.
        Per-verted, Albert corrects her audio spelling.
        How 'd you know, Albert? Louise asks. How'd you know that about Alec Kliner?
        They're all perverted one time or another, Talley interjects. Maybe you just got him at the wrong time.
        Well, thank you so much, Mrs. Expert-on-perversions, Clint says. Perhaps you'd like to tell us about your extended experience with pervert men. God save me, Talley. You don't know nothing about nothing when it comes to them things.
        Do to, Talley says. It 's in the magazines and on the TV and the movies. Well, I mean just forget about it in the movies. I have to take my dictionary to the movies any more. I never heard all that called them things.
        What things called what things? Albert wants to know.
        Just never you mind, Cecelia says.
        Well, everything was fine, Thelma says, some peeved that the topic of talk might be changing, and we went over to Four Flags and had a good time, and we saw each other near every day, and I was trying best I could to be a good woman for him. I know he had a fancy wife but she died. So I was trying to be fancy but not to copy too close on how she might have been, you know, like to be me but to really work at what Alec called the compatibility factor. I was working hard on the compatibility factor. I think I gave a lot towards that factor of compatibilityness.
        Jesus, Albert says, don't tell me you gave him money to invest?
        Louise says, shush, Albert. Thelma 's no money to give him. It's something else.
        You tell us Thelma. You're trying to understand this thing he did. We can understand for you. We're all your friends.
        I don't know how I can say it. I mean what he wants me to do. Not here. I mean these men.
        They're all married and if they get out of line we'll tame the sons of bitches, Cecelia says, suddenly in her confrontational mode. Any you guys make smart with Thelma's story'll answer to us, and you won't like the answering. Now you tell us, honey.
        Well, Alec says he wants to pee on me. Can you imagine? We're like taking this shower when we was up to the fairground at the motel, Fairgrounds Motel it is, the place we were, and he's scrubbing my back and he says right out, I want to pee on you, Thelma. Well, I just got all confused. I didn't know what to say.
        Should have said, pee on me buddy boy? Pee on you! Albert says, rolling his eyes at Clint who is looking hard at Talley.
        Well, he actually did say something like that, Thelma adds between sobs, rivulets of tears now visible on her cheeks. He said I could pee on him. He said I could do like women do on the airplanes in the bathrooms on those airplanes, where they just bend over and put their backsides out. He said he'd like for me to do that, and by this time I
        was crying and looking to reach my towel, and I told him, I ain't never went on no airplane let alone ever peed on one.
        Albert guffaws over a mouthful of beer.
        Albert, Cecelia says, whacking him with the swatter she has taken from Clint.
        That is disgusting, Louise says. That is disgusting. Who would ever dream up doing that? He want other strange things of you, Thelma?
        Like what?
        Well, I don't know exactly. You know, strange and like that.
        I don't know, Thelma says.
        So I don't know what to do, she continues after a long quiet, marked by a fly droning at the kitchen door, Clint swiping at a mosquito humming at his ear, with Albert watching the hovering gnat, still there, still hovering and darting and hovering. I can't stand all this here silence from you people. And I don't know what to say to him. He still calls me, you know. He does. I tell him, Alec, I don't know what to say to you after what you said to me.
        You should just say, Alec, lookie here Alec, just you piss off, Alec, Albert suggests. He gets another whack from Cecelia who says, that's enough. That is just enough from all of us. We don't help poor Thelma, one little bit. We're just sitting here gawking at her and amazed at Alec Kliner like we was at a dirty movie. And her sorrow grows, Thelma's does. People what ought to commiserate is making fun instead. So, t' subject's closed. You girls come on in and we womenfolk will talk in the bedroom. Turn
        on the air conditioner. She waves at an insect and shakes her head. I do believe it 's got buggy out here after all. I think it's awfully buggy Pa, don't you think?
        Albert turns to Louise and says, not too quietly, maybe we should drive away 'fore they carry us away?
        Shut your dumb face, Clint says to Albert.
        He meant the bugs gonna carry us off, Louise says.
        He don't mean nothing, Clint, Talley adds. Albert's just words.
        Well, something means something, Pa concludes. I 'magine these bugs means I get to fix Mom's experimental screen. First, I'm going to the piney forest and take an out-of-doors leak. An honest piss.
        Don't nobody get too close to Pa in the pines, Albert chokes through a laugh. And Pa, you can water on one of Thelma's tires if you can manage to see one of them little things, but I don't want to find nary a droplet about my new van. Not so much as a tear, mind you.
       

2001 Ryland Green

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author bio

Ryland Greene began writing fiction in the mid-eighties while working in the visual arts, primarily in sculpture, and as a professor of art. In 1991 he closed his studio and went to Japan where he lived for two years and taught English in the Kansai area. Following his return from Japan and subsequent retirement from Cedar Crest College, he has devoted himself to short fiction. When not traveling abroad, his native haunts are the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania and his wife's family farm in northeast Missouri. "The Compatibility Factor" is his second publication; the first story, "Weathered," appears in the most recent edition of In Posse. "The Compatibility Factor" is from a developing collection of stories tentatively titled Talking It Over.
e-mail: rylandjane@msn.com

navigation:    barcelona review 23           March - April 2001
-Fiction

Alasdair Gray: Big Pockets with Buttoned Flaps
Thomas Glave: Whose Song?
Mark Anthony Jarman: Cougar
Ryland Greene: The Compatibility Factor
Jai Clare: Ramblista

picks from back issues:
Matt Marinovich: Slide Show *new Flash version
Robert Antoni: How Iguana Got Her Wrinkles

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