The Fifth Station by Kevin McIlvoy

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In The Fifth Station, Matthew, the youngest of three brothers, has died at nineteen, inside a foundry smokestack in Illinois. The surviving brothers take their grief and misfortune to the desert landscape of New Mexico. There, one brother indulges the family failing…alcoholism. The other settles for life on the bum. The two compelling narratives--one by each of the surviving brothers--describe the process of making new lives from the ashes of the old ones.


In the hut, Luke and Sovel laid Marvin down and covered him with the greatcoat Sovel had worn on the day a week earlier when he and Marvin arrived. Marvin’s teeth rattled. His chin bore further into his chest. Luke rearranged the coat to protect more of the giant-shouldered man against the cold.

“Is this a dishwasher coat?” he asked Marvin, who remained quiet.

Sovel said, “It’s stole. I took it out a fancy car in a parking lot few months ago in Albuquerque.”

“Christ,” said Luke.

“Don’t Christ or Jesus me, Luke. I coulda took the car—had keys in it and groceries in the back seat.”

“What got into you?” Luke asked.

“Marvin. Marvin said no. Probably had a full tank a gas. Probably—”

“You listened to Marvin. Since when?”

“That’s plain unkind of you, Luke. He said between us we’d buy one with dishwashing money. It’d be fun, he said.” Sovel looked down at Marvin. “I knew it then he was sick for good. Knew it and worked the job for another two months anyway.

“Car was a ’57 Chrysler Imperial, had a heater size of a small oven. So. We left it be. Froze our asses off in an alley lean-to, fried our hands off shoving plates in racks—for ‘fun.’” He scowled at Marvin. He ran his hands over the greatcoat. “Good cloth,” he said, his broken upper teeth appearing behind an admiring grin.

“You tired as me?” Sovel asked.

“I don’t have a car you can take,” Luke said.

Sovel lay down close to Marvin. “Plain unkind, Luke.”

It was very still in the hut then. Luke was thankful there was no wind; the chill was enough. He positioned himself on his side in the darkest corner.

“Luke, you still go with Katy outa the Gospel Rescue?”

“That’s none of your business, you know.”

“I know.” Sovel chuckled. “Heh?”

“No. I see her now and then, though.”

“Hope spurts eternal,” Sovel said.


“You gone to the Fortham Parlor lately?”

“The funeral home?”

Sovel made a slurping noise. “With the big banquets for the wakes.”

“You’re a ghoul,” Luke said.

“I get hungry enough I’m a lot a things.”

“You’re right on that count.”

“Everybody is.”

Luke heard Sovel say something more but—he was thankful—could not distinguish the words.

Turning on his other side, Luke looked out the hut window-hole at the bottlebrush and other scrub animated by the moonlight on the gleaming mesa, a black wave frozen at its crest.

He fell asleep hearing Sovel’s mumbled fast-talk. Sovel seemed to be giving himself some kind of instructions. But Luke was swept by the image of the black wave out to the jumbled ocean of his dreams.

All the black viscera of the steel mill—the blast furnaces, the coke ovens, the hot strip rolling mill and the smokestacks rising over it, the overhead cranes and slag-laden trains—bellowed and expanded and bellowed again, crowding each other, joining, melting into a smoking blue-white sea and then a single great pure wave of red molten ore. “Michael!” he said. “Matthew!” He backed away from it in steps that carried him a tremendous distance. Before him, his brothers held their places, their hands locked together like small children. They danced before the horrible wave; when the shadow of its crest fell over them they laughed and danced more wildly. He backed away, further west. The heat made them blue-white, it changed them into dancing, transparent-glass objects. When they turned a final time to wave at Luke, he saw a very tiny reflection of himself in their hardening glass faces. He was very far away from them.

They spun around and dove into the center of the wave as it fell.

  • Published by: Untreed Reads

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