Following is an excerpt from a story by Peter Ferry, “Ike, Sharon and Me.” The story was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery Stories 2017 (21st edition), the prestigious series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Series editor Otto Penzler (proprietor of New York City’s beloved The Mysterious Bookshop) selects the 50 best stories of the year from the approximately 3,000 examined. The guest editor, #1 New York Times best-seller John Sandford for this edition, then chose the final 20 for inclusion. Also in this distinguished volume are Joyce Carol Oates, C.J. Box, Jeffery Deaver, Peter Straub, and Craig Johnson.
Peter Ferry was among our first authors profiled here at Bloom, in 2012.
I taught in a little school out on the prairie among the lakes for four years until I turned twenty-six and was free of the draft. I lived in a garage apartment and sometimes drank beer in the Blue Moon Tap on my old paper route where Ike’s father used to spend his Friday nights. According to Greg, he quit drinking when Ike died. I hung out with Greg and his wife Alice until they divorced, and then I hung out with Greg who was now a full-fledged reporter on The Courier. I thought often about Ike. I sometimes thought about the summer I’d spent in Europe and Morocco, but as if it were a movie I’d seen or a book I’d read. I’d found my way across one continent, an ocean, another continent and into a third and all the way back. I was capable. I could do things. I could handle things. Sometimes I was even tempted to think that I could handle anything, but that seemed a bit too much like hubris, so I settled for “things.” Besides, I did not want to tempt fate. I could take care of myself and that I slowly, sadly began to conclude was more than Ike could do. He’d been twenty-one when he’d stopped getting older and I hadn’t, and more and more he seemed to me like a boy, a lost boy, and I, well, I seemed to me a little less lost.
During my third year of teaching, Sharon Novak was hired at my school although I didn’t recognize her at first because her name had changed. Greg told me the story. After the fire that burned her house to the ground and in which Ike had perished and she and her children had nearly perished, there had been some unspecified problems with the insurance and also some questions about smoke detectors: had they been operational? Had they failed? Why hadn’t they awakened the family? Or had they perhaps awakened the children? They didn’t remember. Before any of this was settled, the Novaks left town. People did not know it at the time, but they did not leave together. Sharon and the kids went to Champaign-Urbana where she began work on a masters degree. Charles, who was a chemical engineer with DuPont left town with his lab technician to work for Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan. It turned out that they had been having an affair. In the divorce that ensued, Sharon appeared to have gotten everything. Charles got the lab technician, but not for long. Within two years she was back in town. At about the same time, Sharon, now using her maiden name Postlewaite, came back too. She bought a big house and took the teaching job that probably couldn’t pay her mortgage if she had one. And she looked different. Her hair was short, stylish and streaked. Her wardrobe that had once consisted of cotton dresses and gym shoes, was now made up of turtlenecks, tailored slacks and clogs, and perhaps it was just these cosmetic changes, but she now seemed a little less resigned and world weary. Still, I knew it was she the day I saw her walking away from me down the school hallway with that loose limbed, swaying gate that Ike had so admired. “Damn,” I thought, “what’s she doing here?”
Peter Ferry’s stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Fiction, OR, Chicago Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, and The Fifth Wednesday Journal; he is the winner of an Illinois Arts Council Award for Short Fiction. He is a contributor to the travel pages of The Chicago Tribune and to WorldHum. He has written two novels, Travel Writing, which was published in 2008, and Old Heart, which was published in June, 2015 and won the Chicago Writers Association Novel of the Year award. He lives in Evanston, Illinois and Van Buren County, Michigan with his wife Carolyn.