The Rewards

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Steve Weddle is the author of Country Hardball, which the New York Times called “downright dazzling.” His short story “South of Bradley” is scheduled to appear in Playboy magazine in 2015.***Facing chest-caving debt and the growing pressure of a failing marriage, Robert dines at a four-star steak house with his in-laws.***This 2,500-word short story was first published in the FEEDING KATE anthology.




Steve Weddle

The Rewards

First published in

Clare Toohey & Laura Benedict, editors
Gallowstree Press (2012)

The Rewards
by Steve Weddle

“Be sure to pack something nice, in case my mom wants to go out
to dinner,” she said, loading deodorants, shampoos, nail clippers,
toothbrushes into a bag.
He stood at the end of the bed, looking into the opened duffle bag,
trying to decide what “something nice” meant. “I have some brown
pants and a white shirt. That all right?”
“Are they the tan pants or the khaki ones?”
“The light brown ones,” he said, pulling them out of the suitcase to
show her when she stuck her head out of the bathroom door.
Robert closed the duffle bag, dragged it to the other side of the
house, to the front door. He took the stack of envelopes from the side
table. The bills he’d worked on last night. He shuffled them into order,
looking at the dates he’d written on the backs of the envelopes.
This one gets mailed the third. These two before the tenth. A
clump that would wait. He turned around to the hallway. “We need to
stop for stamps,” he said.
“What?” from the bedroom.
“Stamps. We need stamps.”
“We have stamps,” she said, coming down the hall to the bills. “In
the basket.” She reached into the basket, pulled out three paper clips
and a rubber band, a memory card for a camera they had sold. “What
happened to the stamps?”
“We need stamps.”
“I thought we had some.”
“We don’t. That’s why we need some.”

178 - by Steve Weddle

“Jesus, does everything have to be a fight with you?”
“What fight? I’m just saying we need stamps.”
Julia laid her hand across her eyebrows, took a breath. “I know.
You said that the first time.”
“And you said I was wrong.”
“I didn’t say you were wrong. Jesus Christ. I just thought we had
some goddamn stamps. What is it with you?”
“With me? All I said was we need stamps and you have to come
out and prove me wrong.”
“I was looking for the mother fucking stamps, Robert. Jesus.”
“We don’t have any.”

“Glad you could make it,” her brother said. “Mom and Dad are
already seated.”
Robert looked around the hotel lobby, watched valets run back
and forth from the counter to the doors, watched as men in blue jackets
and pastel polo shirts handshaked cash into the valets’ hands. Women
standing off to the side while the men walked around. Men with cuffed
dress pants, shoes you had other people shine. They followed her
brother through the restaurant, between tables of people Robert felt
were watching him, the way you’d watch a kid in a trench coat walk the
aisles of a convenience store.
Her brother said, “Hunter and Hailey can’t wait to see their
favorite aunt.”
“But, Jim, we have presents for them in the room,” Julia said.
“They’re at the pool. You can see them in the morning.” He turned
back, noticed Robert again. “And uncle. Favorite aunt and uncle, I
Along his left side, Robert saw windowed doors, people sitting
inside, in what looked like private dining rooms. They stopped in front
of a pair of doors, the last room on the left, single-filed in, where thin
music played through speakers he couldn’t see. One of Beethoven’s
late string quartets. Once, at a party his wife had taken him to, the
hostess had been talking about “The Met” and Robert had nodded
along. Yes, The Met.
“Have you been this season?” she had asked.

The Rewards - 179

Robert said they hadn’t.
“Classical music isn’t really my husband’s kind of music,” Julia
As they walked into the dining room, Robert unbuttoned his
jacket, the grey one with the too-long sleeves he’d inherited when his
father died. He shifted out of the jacket, walked around the table to
her father who was standing at the other end of the room, talking to
a woman in a white dress shirt, black pants, and one of those short
aprons that probably had its own name.
“There they are,” her father said, startling and laughing a little
as he turned to face them. “Jesus, Robert, I thought you were a
goddamned waiter.”
They all looked at Robert, white dress shirt, black pants. He could
hear his wife thinking: “khaki.”
Her father started the full handshake Robert had never liked.
Hand-in-hand, the other on the elbow, then a single slap to the shoulder
blade and an “attaboy” waiting in the ether. Her father stepped back,
hair fading a little more this time, purple tie loosened whatever the
right amount was, shirtsleeves tipped with silver cufflinks the size of
a child’s eyeballs.
Since the wedding reception, when everyone had gravitated to his
new bride’s father, Robert had wondered if the man had always had
money, where he’d learned what to do, if he watched other people,
learned how to treat people. At the reception, her father had shaken
every hand, refilled drinks. He’d shown one of the bartenders how
make a Pisco Sour he’d learned about in Peru. It wasn’t confidence,
exactly. Not arrogance, but something about knowing everyone’s
place. Knowing how everyone should be treated. Knowing what people
A few minutes later, one of the waiters was sliding plates from a
rolling cart, explaining cuts of steak to everyone. He had cuts of meat
on plates, set them on the table, talked about the portions and the
marbling. Robert listened as the man explained the menu. How you
ordered the kind of steak you wanted, then the side dishes separately.
Nothing came with anything.
Another waiter came in and explained the wines . Regions. Grapes.
Bourdeaux. Tanins. Robert’s father-in-law ordered three bottles for

180 - by Steve Weddle

the table.
The waiter said, “Very good, sir. Very good,” and closed the doors
behind him.
The family started talking about Jim, who sat across the table,
and his heavy workload clerking for a federal judge. Robert thought
about making a joke about having been a clerk at Piggly Wiggly in high
school, but did not. Instead, he took a stuffed mushroom, gone in a few
bites, and swallowed two-hours’ pay while her family kept talking. Jim
saying how he was researching precedents when he came across some
testimony from a point guard for the New York Knicks. And someone
said, “Robert, didn’t you play basketball in high school?” And he said
he did. And Julia said it was a long time ago. And Jim got back to his
story about the real basketball player.
This is the way Robert remembers it. The gray cement gym, shiny
with paint, around the hardwood floor, the basketball, fuzzed with
worn leather. The blue bleachers, pine and plywood, edged by wobbles
of pipes.
The point guard, all hair and elbows, a frayed tank top with ironon numbers, crossing mid-court, head on a swivel, holding up three
fingers, making a motion that was supposed to mean something.
Robert remembers the movement of players, a tide coming in,
remembers looking for an empty place on the court as the ball moves
along the other side, remembers sliding under that basket, waiting for
someone else to do something.
His mother-in-law asked about his new job. Was it nice?
Robert told her it was basically the same job he had, just at a
different store.
“Why ever did you leave?” she asked him.
Robert put his hands on the table, sat up. “They offered me more
money. Better incentives.”
“Smart man,” Julia’s father said. “Very well done.”
“Right,” Julia said. “Tell them the rest. Tell them about the hours.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, they had to move some jobs across the border.
Ended up cutting my hours back.”
“Fucking Mexicans,” Jim said, passing one of the bottles to Julia.


The Rewards - 181

The waiters brought the meat and the side dishes – potatoes and
asparagus and more mushrooms and little things on little plates
covered with sauce.
“Robert,” his mother-in law-said. “We’ve hardly heard from you.
Jump in. Anything else going on with you?”
“Tell about the woman,” Julia said to Robert.
“What woman?”
“The woman jogger. The one every morning.” She took another
drink. “Jesus, it’s all you’ve talked about for God knows how long. That
“Oh, alright. There’s this woman I’ve seen jogging every morning
in the neighborhood. Five years. Every morning.”
“So?” they all asked.
“Tell about the thing on her arm.”
“It’s just a music player. She’s always adjusting it. I don’t think it
means anything.”
“You never can tell,” her mother said.
The week after Robert and Julia had first met at a New Year’s
Eve party, Robert decided to start jogging. His parents had died three
months earlier, and he’d begun to think about growing old, about life
and death in vague, broad strokes, the way you do when the whiskey
glass sweats into your hand as you sit along the edge of the sunset
woods trying to remember the names of trees. He could get up in
the mornings, he thought, run through the trails near the apartment
where he lived. He could get a running magazine and running shoes,
could map out a path to follow.
“Tell them the weird part,” Julia said.
“It’s not weird. It’s just,” he let his voice trail off.
“What?” her father asked. “For God’s sake Robert, get to the
interesting part.”
“I don’t know if it’s interesting,” he said. “It’s just that she hasn’t
gotten any smaller.”
“Hasn’t what?”
“Smaller. I mean, she’s not fat or anything. She’s stocky, I guess
you’d call her.”
“Robert thinks she’s military.”
“That right?”

182 - by Steve Weddle

“I don’t know what she is,” he said, looking somewhere else.
“Every morning she’s out there. Goes past the house, down to the end.
She’s coming back by about fifteen minutes later.”
Her father nodded and, because someone had to say something,
“Fifteen minutes. Well, how about that?”
“Yeah. I don’t know,” Robert went on. “She’s just, just doing this
every day, you know? Day after day. And she’s just the same every time
she goes by. Nothing changes.”
“Maybe it’s Sisyphus,” her mother said. “You know, rolling the
stone up and down the hill all day.”
Robert thought, yeah, maybe it was. Maybe she was like a fortune
cookie he should pay attention to, a phrase you fold up and put in your
wallet as if it matters. He was trying to make it mean something when
her brother said, “She’s got syphilis? Jesus, Bobby, how you know

“We’re planning a little fishing trip, Robert,” her father said. “You
do much fishing?”
“Some,” he said. He’d been fishing that summer with Eddie
Carlyle and Mike Flannigan. They’d pulled in enough catfish to fill
every freezer bag their wives could find.
“What’s your biggest haul?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Guess a couple pounds.”
“Couple pounds?” her dad grinned. “What are you catching?
“Whatever’s in the lake, I guess.”
“No. Jesus. Not in a lake. Marlins. Guy I know has a boat he keeps
down in the Gulf. Jim and I are going down in a few weeks. You think
the store can spare you, come on down.”
“They can spare him,” Julia said, opening the last bottle.
Then Jim said the thing Jim always said. The thing they always
told him not to bring up. The thing he always apologized for.
“You guys really ought to get out more, you know. Since you’re not
stuck with any kids.”
Everyone said, “Jesus, Jimmy,” and looked at Robert and Julia
and said “Jesus” again until Julia said it was fine. Said they were going

The Rewards - 183

to a specialist in the city next Thursday. And if that didn’t work there
were always options. You always had options, they all agreed.
Julia’s mother-in-law tapped her hands on the table. “You know,
Annabeth Guidry, you remember her, she and her husband, the Jewish
fellow, they adopted. Two little boys. From China. Very happy.”
“Taiwan,” Jim said. “The boys are from Taiwan.”
“Well, Asia. Whatever. The point is that they’re very happy. I think
it was six months. Something like that. I remember it was shorter than
a real baby. Well, not a real baby. You know what I mean.”
Julia’s father nodded along. “If we can help, you know, grease the
wheels. These things can get expensive, you know. And they’ll be our
grandkids, too.” He started to say something else, but remembered in
time about Robert’s parents.
Robert said they’d wait and see what the doctor said on Thursday.
They all said “Of course. Of course.” But it’s good to have options.
To have the whole world opened up to you, they said.

When the waiter brought the check, Julia’s mother said that the women
would explore the hotel’s gift shop while the men fought over the check.
“I can get this, fellows,” Robert’s father-in-law said. “Consider it a
late Christmas present.”
Robert was putting his wallet back when Jim said, “No, no. We
can split this. We’re all grown-ups here, Dad.”
Robert looked at the check, again. The mortgage. What’s today’s
date? The fifth? Sixth? How many months of minimum payments on
the cards? Years? Was there a card left he could skip this month? He
looked again. Divided by three. Remembered the tip.
Last year he had gone with Eddie Carlyle to look at a used truck a
guy was selling. The guy was asking less than this dinner.
And the truck only had 88,000 miles on it.
And Eddie had talked him down.
The men slid their cards to the waiter. “Wait,” Jim said, handing
the waiter a different card. “Airline miles,” he explained. His father
Robert handed the waiter one of his blue credit cards and watched
the man walk away, noticed the waiter’s black pants and white shirt

184 - by Steve Weddle

had a shine, a sharpness his own lacked. When the three of them were
alone, Robert pressed his index finger and thumb together, dragging
along the top of his pant leg, trying to bring back the crease.
Robert’s father-in-law leaned back in his chair, said he wanted
to discuss a proposition with Jim. Robert excused himself for the
restroom, closed the door behind him. He walked along the bar
towards the kitchen, found their waiter.
“May I help you, sir?”
Robert handed him three other cards. Another blue one, one red,
one grey. “Can you split my third on these cards. I’m a little,” Robert
said. “I mean….”
“You need to spread out the rewards, sir?” the waiter asked.
“Airline miles? Vacation points? Like the other gentleman?”
“Right,” Robert said. “My rewards.”
The waiter ran all the cards as he pressed buttons on the monitor.
He handed Robert back the three extra cards. “I’ll bring the first card
back with the rest of your party’s,” the waiter said. “So as not to, shall
we say, confuse the issue?”
“Thank you,” Robert said.
He was walking back to Julia’s family when a man in a light blue
jacket called to him, “Waiter. Waiter.” Robert stopped, looked around.
He could hear the low mumble of conversations, could hear the ting of
thick metal forks against thin glass, of plates rattling along trays being
carried to the kitchen. He looked across the room, saw Julia’s father
and her brother buying cigars from a counter he hadn’t noticed.
Robert wiped something small from his shirt, turned back.


'The Rewards' by Steve Weddle
is excerpted from
Feeding Kate copyright 2012 Gallowstree Press
Individual story copyrights are held by the individual authors.
Cover art copyright 2012 Ben Furnish
All Rights Reserved
ISBN 13: 978-0-9850678-4-7
The stories included in this book are works of fiction. Names,
characters places and incidents are products of the authors’
imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part
of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means
(electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise),
without the prior written permission of the individual authors.

Gallowstree Press, LLC
P.O. Box 961
Carbondale, IL 62903 
“Steve Weddle’s writing is downright dazzling.”
– New York Times

“Ex-con Roy Alison would like to go straight, but he can’t
seem to make up for past mistakes…. Weddle’s debut novel is
a suspenseful series of interrelated stories…of people facing
nothing but bad options, though Roy eventually manages to
make something good come from his situation.” – Publisher’s

“If there’s one book you read this winter, it’s this book, this
author, this instant.” – Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

“These skillfully wrought interconnected stories form a debut
novel that is relentless in describing the lives of people who
are captives not only of their environment but also of their
own histories.” – Booklist

“Calling itself a ‘novel-in-stories,’ this debut collection of 20
tales takes a close, respectful look at poor folks in
contemporary rural Arkansas. … Fine descriptions, all of
people, enliven the plain writing. …Except for one Roy
Alison, we don’t hear much of the characters’ inner lives, as if
deprivation has atrophied their capacity to reflect. The final
three stories examine whether or not Roy will change his
ways. Dark, noirish and worth a look.” – Kirkus
Publisher: Tyrus Books
ISBN-10: 1440570809
ISBN-13: 978-1440570803

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