Sitting in a wobbly wicker chair on the back porch, Gilliam slowly peeled the bright red skin from a juicy apple as the 4:10 train passed. With the blade of the small Swiss Army knife he had created one long curled strand of apple skin that dangled from the apple before he bit into it, separating it from the flesh of the apple. The apple skin fell to the floor and retracted into the shape of a smaller apple, empty of the inner flesh. As the coal cars clanked along the train tracks he bit into the flesh and chewed exactly fifteen times after each bite before swallowing. With the back of his forearm he wiped away the juice that dribbled down his chin. By the time he reached the core of the apple, the last car of the train passed by. It left behind a small cloud of coal dust and dirt that hovered over the tracks. He stood and threw the apple core onto the tracks, closed the knife and put it in his pocket, then opened the screen door and entered the kitchen.
Ma was standing at the stove flipping through the yellowed pages of an old magazine while blue flames licked at the bottom of the tea kettle. Her black hair streaked with gray was rolled into small curls that were pinned against her skull with bobby pins. A toothpick held between her clenched teeth danced up and down on her lip with every movement of her jaw muscle. Her handmade chocolate brown cotton shift hung loosely on her thin frame.
Gilliam pulled a chair out from the table and turned it around and straddled the seat. He ran his fingers back and forth across the wood rods in the chair's back as if he was strumming a harp. “Tell me about the time you spent in Paris, Ma,” he said.
Without looking up from the magazine, she said, “It was so long ago and I've told you a hundred times about it already. Don't you have somethin’ to do beside botherin’ me for stories?” Gripping the back of the chair, he leaned back and gazed at the thin cracks in the yellow paint on the ceiling. They spread out from the bulb in the middle of the ceiling like a disjointed spider's web. Abruptly, he sat bolt upright. “Lordy. I forgot I was goin’ to take Malcolm to the cemetery.”