Written by Matthew Neill Null
“First and Second Children” opens at a police auction where a drug dealer’s possessions are being sold to the highest bidder. With the first exchanges of dialogue between Glover and an old coworker, it’s immediately evident that Matthew Neill Null is a master of understanding how people are shaped and made by the places they come from, how it affects their voice, their outlook, and their relationships. Some of the people at this auction know each other. Some of them know the incarcerated man whose belongings are being sold. At the very least their lives are intertwined by the sheer fact of this rural county. Glover has lived through the decades here. His daughter and her daughter are living at home, with him and his wife. It’s not clear who the father is, and after a bit of gossip, Glover is worried that Monica is pregnant again.
For Glover, driving through the county, a history plays before his eyes. The coal bust, a flood of Oxy, a mineral rights boom. Opportunities and tragedies that just missed him, or didn’t. “Glover had been born too early—or too late,” Null writes. “He was amazed when commerce began again, as if God had flipped the switch.”
Amidst all this chaos, Glover struggles to control the one thing he feels is really his, his family. His wife and children, now his granddaughter too. “His girls.” Glover loves them, is loyal to them, but his fear and frustration functions like an iron mask. He is incapable of saying what needs to be said. Here, Null achieves one of the most difficult and necessary feats a writer can try; he not only shows us who Glover is, but also who he wants to be. He enables the reader to peer around the flat face of Glover’s limitations and glimpse what might have been. An opportunity squandered yet recorded, regret frozen in a truck’s dome light.
– Halimah Marcus
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In the Eyes of a Father of Daughters
“First and Second Children” by Matthew Neill Null
At the police auction, Glover ran into Jeff Daugherty, an old friend of his from the plant. “There ain’t no deals here,” Daugherty was saying. Word had gotten out—too many people. Three papers had featured the drug bust prominently. Daugherty had hoped for welding equipment; Glover heard seven vehicles were up for auction, and maybe one would do for Monica, who, at twenty years old, still lived in Glover’s home with a young child. Glover didn’t know who the father of his granddaughter was. His wife said, “Don’t you dare say a thing.” Some wouldn’t be brave enough even to come home, she continued; Monica might have ended up in one of them clinics. Glover held his tongue; as much as he adored his new granddaughter, he had a different opinion on said clinics. Today, he wanted to buy Monica a little car on the cheap so she could drive herself to work. Two sedans were on the block, but the one was bid out of reach before Glover could lift a hand. The other, plain rattletrap, went unbought. “I was under the impression that drug dealers was a little better off,” Daugherty said. “Watched too much Miami Vice. Not that I expected a cigarette boat nor nothing. And here I go, burning up another Saturday.”
Glover glanced around. The confiscated property filled an entire stock barn at the fairgrounds. “Had a lot of stuff.”
“Yeah, but it’s all junk. Look at them cars. Sell five and buy yourself one good one, you know what I mean?”
Even the auctioneer’s nonsensical droning could not entertain them. Glover bought a turkey leg off a vendor, and Daugherty treated himself to a roasted ear of corn. Men of their trade, both wore polka-dotted, short-brimmed welders’ hats, as if they had coordinated outfits. They sat on square bales of hay near the edge of an open barn, watching rain fall. Come October, the fairground would host the Black Walnut Festival—a meager, oily, acrid food that, once a year, everyone had to pretend to like. In terms of agriculture, it was the best that the county’s rocky, impacted clay could offer up. Glover doubted he’d bother coming back till then.
Laughing, two women carried a forty-two inch flatscreen through the drizzle, a coat flung over and protecting about a third of it. The wet screen shimmered like verdigris. Daugherty whistled. “Look at all this humanity, like you kicked over a damned ant hill.”