“I Have a Favor to Ask,” chapter excerpt from “Pushing the River”


“No, no, no, no no.   I cannot stand it one minute longer.”

“That is simply NOT what happened,” she added.

“Well, who lit a fire under you?”

“That would be your department.  I just think that you’re getting it all wrong.  It simply did NOT happen that way.”

“It’s a story!”

“You’re taking too many liberties!  You’re all the way down there, far away from so many of the very things that you’re telling about.”

“It’s MY story!  It’s my story, according to ME.  Course I’m making it up.  S-T-O-R-Y!”

“It seems to me that if you open the door on these, well, these very personal things, that you should have a responsibility to some degree of truth.”

“Oh, truth is it?  Now you’re flat-out playing with fire, talking about the truth!”

            “I suppose you think that’s hilarious.”

“My darling, I have been waiting one hundred years, one full century, listening, and learning, and waiting for my chance to say my piece.  It’s my turn!  Geez Louise, you’re trying to close the barn door after the horse has already left the stable.”

“Again.  Hilarious.”

“Lordy, lordy, what have I done.?  Why do I have to put up with this from the likes of you?”

“Accountability!  Responsibility!  Where is your sense of honor!?”

Honor!  Cripes almighty,  YOU’RE A DOOR!



I ain’t never used this word in all my born days…but…you’re a whore!  You’re a whore of a door!  A door whore!  You’ll let anybody in!!”

“Oh! Oh!  As if you are so very discriminating!  As if you are particular about whose air you warm up and whose you don’t!”

“I got no choice!”

“None of us has a choice.  Not any of us, my old friend.  We are all in the same boat, in the identical situation, in the like predicament, in the same fix, on a par, on even terms, on the same footing, alike, equal, together, cut from the same cloth, brothers and sisters.”

“Pretty speech.  Not sure if it means nothing.  But it was pretty.”

“In short, my equally ancient brother, we are dying.  We stand right at the threshold of death’s door.”

“It ain’t right to talk of such things.  No good can come of it.”

“Ah, easy for you to say, my friend.  But I have heard the whispers; and so, I am sure, have you.”

“What in tarnation are you nattering about now?

“You have the great good fortune to be too large, and too big of a – pardon my language – a pain in the rear end —  to remove.  Even when there is no longer a fire in your belly, you will remain.  The day will come when you will witness this family pack up their boxes, and you will watch the next one move in.  And the next after them. You will be eternal.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“I suppose I cannot blame you for that.”

“You have not seen me lately.”

“Of course I ain’t.  Me being a boiler, in the basement here, like you said.”

“I know that you hear everything though.  I know that even running along the pipes, and echoing through the floor, you have heard the difference in me.”


“After all this time.  All this time.  To think that I could warp so badly after one hundred years.  It’s not my fault, you know.  Everything has shifted.  The whole house, I mean.  My frame.  The very floor underneath me.”

“I am ugly.  I have bubbled, warped, bent, caved, buckled and bowed.  I have bulged out in some places, and folded in on myself in others.  There was a day when I could not budge.  Frozen in place, unable to open even a crack.  That’s when she started calling people in.  I will be replaced.”

“For one hundred springs I have felt the first hint of winter’s end floating on a waft of breeze.  I have been scorched and plumped by the sultry air of one hundred summers.  The gentlest rains and dazzling, torrential storms have knocked against me.  I have witnessed the outside world glow a glittering golden color through one hundred falls, and I have held my breath for the first sign of an early snowflake drifting down to melt on my outer face.  And all the while that my outer face greeted each completely unique day, every shift in light and air, my inner face remained a constant, warmed by you.  Warmed by a family.”


“ ‘Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?’  Do you remember that?”

“Course I do.  How could I forget the Little One practicing those lines over and over?

Our Town, was it?”

“That’s right – Our Town.”

“There is something I would like to ask of you.  A favor.”

”What might that be?”

“I would like to tell one part of the story.”

“That’s a awful lot to ask.  It’s MY STORY.”

“Just one part.  Before my time is up.  Before the day when I get carried away.  Replaced.  So I might believe that some part of me remains.”




“I will let you know when the time comes.  When we reach the part that I would like to tell.”

“Let me think on it.”

“Have you ever thought about what your name should be.  You know, if you had a real name, like the people do?”

“Can’t say as I have.  Why?  Have you?”

“Shirley.  I always thought my name should be Shirley.”

“Well, I’m guessing maybe I would be Merle.  Or Floyd.”

“I like Merle.  It suits you.”

“Do you know why I would pick Shirley?  Do you remember when the ones you call The Boy and the Little One were small and high-voiced and running around in footed pajamas?  And on very important occasions, their mama, the one you call My Lady, would make a special concoction for them to drink?  They called it a Shirley Temple.”

“I remember.”

“The children would take all the cushions off the sofas and chairs, and build forts and tunnels, and make up stories, and dress in costumes – their cheeks would flush with excitement…those were…wonderful days.”

“I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Shirley.”

“I must say that the pleasure is entirely mine, Merle.”


All photos of Evanston, IL from Flickr

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