“Pete Macaroni” by Justin Thurman does some astonishing things. It is a story about a spy named Pete Macaroni, so already you’re in love with it. It is also a story about grief, and fatherhood, and a boy’s perception of the adult world. It’s written with such humor and original voice, you’ll find yourself smiling (and laughing!) even though you’re filled with sympathy for these characters. If that isn’t the mark of a great story, I don’t know what is. Justin Thurman gives us some wonderful work here, and I know you’ll enjoy this as much as we did.
I am a man at home folding his wife’s delicates. Russell is my five-year-old son and he has a thick black mustache. Three weeks since my mother-in-law’s funeral. Five weeks since I was fired. Russell’s blighted the living room with the spy kit’s guts: a code-breaking book, a fake passport, a folding wallet-sized installation that pops into a set of binoculars. I assess the boy and the mess of the kit, fight the urge to pull Meg’s things to my nose and fill myself with the last time I knew her. We are going broke and I stand bewildered before my disguised son. I promise myself I’ll solve something by the end of the day.
Russell stares at me through massive dark sunglasses with mirrors on each inside outer edge so he can monitor the goings-on behind him. They teeter on the tip of his tiny nose. He slides them back into his eye sockets and leaves greasy gray fingerprints on each lens. “I am a spy,” he says. He twirls one end of the mustache like he’s fixing to tie me to a railroad. He removes the mustache from his lip instead.
I shape the wired cups of Meg’s warped bra, fold it in half. I remember a time she’d have ripped into me for not drying her good bras on the line. She’s stopped caring, though. “What’s your mission,” I ask.
“To find the rocks of all and everything.” He reapplies his mustache. It’s crooked. He looks like a miniature male stripper reassembling the tear-away elements of his phony cop costume.
I stack Meg’s bra atop another bra, next to a pile of her underwear, next to a pile of Russell’s underwear. I consider the heap of clothes to come and figure I can finish later. The laundry becomes another unfinished “in-the-funnel project” as I once called them in the private sector. Our Toyota’s rusted alternator is in the funnel. The running toilet’s in the funnel. I’m living in the funnel.
“You should work on that disguise,” I say. “The rocks of all and everything? Big deals.”
“Will you play with me?” he asks. “I want to know and play spies.”