Luke the Drifter, a comeuppance and Tom Robbins calls it quits…

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Art is subjective and the first subject is the soul of the artist.

I recently watched I Saw The Light, a Hank Williams biopic starring Loki and the Red Witch.  Old Hank was a lyrical genius with more than his share of inspiration and damnation.  He put it out there and out there and still it wasn’t enough to allow him the thing all artists crave.

Connection.

Connection with others.  Connection with the world at large.  Connection with an understanding of their own psyche.  When filled with the emptiness of lonesome, any connection will do; alcohol, drugs, sex, food, money, power, fame, failure.  Connection.

I spent time in Alabama this week.  Hank’s home state.  I had connection on the brain when I pulled in Sunday night and kept it there all week.

He wrote from the heart.  Quickly, without much editing and without much regret.  His alter ego, Luke The Drifter, carried the weight of his more soul-searching work, but Hank was the canvas of Luke’s art.  He was a tormented soul yearning to break out and be free.

Let’s regroup….

I pulled into Alabama thinking of Hank and my writing and the unspoken reality that connecting with others has never been easy for me.  Does it look easy?  Sure.  I learned to use humor years ago to impress, deflect, entertain, flirt and distract as I saw fit.  A manipulative skill but one that leaves them laughing and wanting more…

My own art is suffering from a plague of mediocrity that only I will openly admit.  Others won’t for fear of hurting my feelings or disrupting a friendship etc.  Craig S. stands out on this topic for his brutal honesty.  But, as a Man dealing in reality, he is as honest with Me about Me as he is about Himself.  This makes his criticisms constructive, reasonable and easy to swallow.

I started this years ago because I had this Tom Robbins inspired notion of writing 500 words per day, no matter what.  Broadcasting to the world seemed to satisfy two criteria:  Engage an audience, receive feedback.

Both failed.

So now is the time to rethink this entire pile and focus on turning mediocrity into something that is not mediocrity.

I hit Alabama by reaching out to writer friends about editors/publishers and the writing community at large.  I never really considered myself a writing group type of guy.  I don’t even know what genre is fitting for my writing.  I just write the words in my head and let them go.  Full disclosure:  I’ve never edited any story on this page.  100% of what is presented was written directly into the blog and only after the fact was it saved.  Including the Romeos stories.

You deserve better.

I deserve better.

My characters deserve better.

My soul deserves better.

To that end, no more stories will appear here.  I’m engaging an editor and moving in the direction of publication and becoming a serious, if underrated, underpaid and unknown, writer.

My last story, Purpose, was written in the San Antonio airport after reading three pages of Notes from the Underground.  What if the people we think of as having Special Needs were able to think clearly, perhaps more clearly than us, and were using our ignorance and compassion to fulfill their goals.  Be they good, evil or indifferent.

++++++++++++++++++++

Back to ranting then.

I could rant for hours about a limitless number of topics.  The desire to express one’s self, so necessary for artist, makes me a boorish snob at dinner parties, a know-it-all ass successful in self-aggrandizement others can only envy.  I’m fun to drink with, tough to get close to and unforgettable for reasons I forget.  I admire Bukowski because he shuns admiration and love Kerouac because he needs it.  Palaniuk is my favorite modern writer.  His writing, satire, wit and intelligence is unrivaled in this Stephanie Myers world.

I often think I should disappear to a remote island.  Indulge in my alcoholic dreams, consume Rum and write a memoir no one will read.  But the truth is I would end up sunburned, arrested and my memoir would consist of two paragraphs about railroads, midgets and the smell of Schlitz.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Trump and Hillary are symptoms of the same disease.  We’ve spent decades accepting the lesser of two evils.  Now we have nothing but evil to choose from and, ye gods, we double-down on this fact.

We have to take sides.  If you’re Liberal, you’re a Libtard.  If you’re Conservative, you’re a KKKonservative.  If you’re pro-Black, you’re anti-White.  If you’re pro-Cop, you’re anti-Black.  If you’re pro-White, you’re the KKK.  The Hispanics show up in here somewhere but seem to have the sense to recuse themselves for the most part.  You’re either pro-Gun or a Socialist.  You’re either a Socialist or bible thumping gay-hater stuck in an all-White past.  If you disagree with Me, you’re a Communist.  If I disagree with you, I’m a Fox News watching Zombie who should be mocked.  You’re either forever Rich or forever Poor.  Pick a side God-Damn you!  If you don’t repost that video about a Black kid getting killed, you’re a bigot and part of the problem.  If you don’t repost that video about a Cop being killed by a Black kid, then you’re not American.  You must fly Old Glory just above your Don’t Tread On Me Banner or you’re some sort of commie-fucker and probably love Obama.

We…that means YOU and I…encourage, support, promote, reblog, repost, share, LIKE, Retweet, Comment and otherwise ENDORSE the very DIVISION we lament…

We the people, have created a less perfect Union which divides us along superficial, political borders…

We ask our kids to pick sides and then wonder why our country is divided.  Being Conservative doesn’t make you anti-Gay anymore than being Liberal makes you anti-White.  Plug in any names/agendas/topics  you wish in that sentence and it makes just as little as sense as the original.

We’ve let our Politics decide our Principles instead of our Principles deciding our Politics.

I think most people view their own lives as a Conservative and the lives of their neighbors as a Liberal.  I know I do.  I don’t care what you do, at all.  Just don’t ask me to pay for it.  I’ll stay out of your bedroom and take my wallet when I leave.   The Ten Commandments at a courthouse don’t bother me because I don’t feel as if my government is forcing me into Christianity anymore than their Speed Limit sign tricks me into going 55…

I believe that most people are Libertarians.  They just don’t understand Libertarians-so they naturally are apprehensive-and the media/education system has convinced them it is some sort of no holds barred Anarchy.  The Sheep count themselves to sleep…

Think of it this way.  Fiscally conservative, socially liberal.  That sounds like most everyone I know…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I’ve been reading Seneca, Letters from a Stoic.

Try it.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As always,

John.

 

 

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Mirrors & Blankets.

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Frank threw the pizza dough into the air. As it swirled around his knuckle, he looked across the restaurant crowd. No one noticed. Once a while back, before Mahalia Pizza Palace started delivering, children would stare at his dough throwing with wonder. Now the seats were filled nightly with half-buzzed soldiers laughing at one another’s memories as Frank quietly filled the delivery line requests. He pulled another dough, mashed it round, slapped it on the make table, one or two runs through the roller and then, whoosh, back into the air. Flour drifted on to Frank’s shirt. A cup of sauce twirled, cheese, toppings, and the oven door slams behind another pie. Less than forty-five seconds from dough pan to oven…No one noticed.

“Mosby?” a soldier said. Frank looked up. A tall man, about 40, with his shirt tucked tight was standing at the counter. His short hair was turning gray. Though his voice sounded jovial, his eyes were dark and tired.
“Mosby? Frank Mosby? Right? We went to school together.”
“Oh yeah. Alan Shaw, right? The one in the paper last week.”
Alan Shaw looked away when Mosby mentioned the paper.
“Yeah. That’s me.”
“The man, the myth, the big hero.” Frank wiped his hand on his pants. When he extended for a friendly shake, Shaw looked away again.
“Yeah. A hero. So, what’s been going on? You own this place by now?”
Mosby dropped his hand.
“Naw. Still just a pizza maker. I hit twenty-one years last month.”
“Wow. Must be nice.”
“It’s a job. Can I get you something? We’ve got new Subs…the Roast Beef is my favorite.”
Alan Shaw picked up a menu. He looked over it but Mosby could tell the Hero’s mind was elsewhere.
“Not much has changed in Mahalia has it. But then, sometimes it seems completely different, ya’ know?” Shaw said.
“Just Mahalia. That’s all. Nothing happens. Nothing really changes. Is that your car out there. I read in the paper you got an Orange Corvette from the VFW in Davenport.”
“Yeah. That’s mine alright.”
“And they gave it to you free?”
“Free. Sure. No money at all. Just do the mission and presto, you get a car.”
Mosby looked at the car, not paying attention to Shaw.
“I’d love to have something like that.”
“You got everything you need Mosby.”
“What?”
“I’m not going to order. I’m just mostly riding around looking at Mahalia. Seeing what’s changed, what’s the same. I’m glad you’re still working here.”
“Ok.” Mosby’s face reddened.
“Naw, really. It’s nice to know some people figured it out early.”
Mosby pulled another dough from the pan.
Without being able to stop, he said,
“I can make a pizza in less than 45 seconds.”
“I murdered twelve people in less than thirty.”
“What? Oh, you mean over there? You didn’t murder anyone man. The paper said you saved six guys and kept a bomb from exploding at some school.”
Shaw’s face was tight. His blue eyes, that remained dark and tired, now seemed meaner.
Shaw suddenly spoke, a fake smile painted on his tanned face.
“I gotta go Mosby. It was great seeing you.”
“You don’t want the Roast Beef?”
Shaw laughed softly.
“Naw. I don’t want the Roast Beef. Take care Frank. Take care.”

Frank pulled another dough as soldiers slurred flirtations at the waitresses. The waitresses played along; laughing, smiling but knowing that it was a zero sum game. Nothing would change. In Mahalia, there were no Officers or Gentlemen, just soldiers doing their two weeks a year and trying to live as if there were no wives & kids at home. Laughter competed with the juke box which was losing to even louder talk. Frank began the closing list. He turned off one of the back lights in an empty part of the restaurant. The last table of soldiers paid their bill, left a bigger than needed tip for the waitress and moved out. Frank locked the door behind them, doing his best to smile.

He thought about Alan Shaw as he scrubbed the cooling pizza oven. They graduated school together. Frank remembered the day clearly. It was the highlight of his life. For reasons he couldn’t understand, or refused to face, Frank had never moved from his house. Friends had gone to college, joined the military, or simply disappeared down 460, never to return. Frank kept making pizzas. Neither of his parents pushed him to move on. His teachers encouraged him to be happy. Pizza making made him happy. But still, on certain nights when the restaurant filled with soldiers, or worse, laughing happy families; Frank would watch and wonder. When he turned 40, the what ifs began to boil up more often, leaving him embarrassed and regretful.

Frank poured himself a to go cup of soda before leaving. The owner called to make sure Frank was making the deposit and to find out the amount. A few of the waitresses told Frank he should push for more money since he made deposits. Frank refused.
“What do I do if he fires me? If he just says, ‘Well, I don’t need you here at all!'”
The waitresses would tell him to not worry. It won’t happen, and if it did, he’d find another job, easy.
“Naw.” Frank would counter. “This is Mahalia. Not much changes.”

He drove through town. The town lights faded into black trees along the familiar road. Frank drove past the Country Club and passed the farmhouses whose distant lights seemed as stars twinkling in the forests. Frank often wondered what happened in those farmhouses with their private roads and signs. Why does someone name a piece of land? He thought. Frank turned on to Stingy Lane, a country road leading to his house. It was late, almost 11 pm on a Tuesday night. His headlights caught a flash of orange down a logging road.

Frank thought the orange car contained kids sneaking a beer or making out. In the time it took him to hit the high beams, he realized it was Alan Shaw’s vehicle. Why would a 40-year-old Hero park down a logging road? Surely, he had money for a motel or his date would have her own place? Frank slowed down as he deliberated the scenario. He pulled to the side of the road and began to work his car around in the middle of the deserted road. As he approached the logging road’s entrance, his mind raced with sudden fears.
The man just wants time alone.
Besides, it’s not like you two are really, good friends.
Who do you think you are Frank? You’re just a pizza maker.

Something Frank never knew came upon him as he pulled into the logging road. His heart stilled, his breathing relaxed. Alan’s car was about twenty-five feet down the road and around a slight corner. Frank saw no exhaust fumes. No lights were on. The car was silent and dark. He noticed the side view mirrors seemed smashed. When looking more intently at them, Frank decided they had exploded.
He cut his engine but left the lights on.

Exiting his car, Frank smelled something odd. Something he didn’t recognize. He watched his breath as it slipped into the cold air. He came upon Alan’s car and saw the side view mirror was dangling by a few wires. He looked into car window and saw the rear view mirror was also dangling. The front windshield was shattered like those Frank saw on cop shows. A bullet had come in through the window and shattered the glass. But Frank saw little glass on the bucket seats. Most of the glass was on the hood. As if the bullet came from within.

“What are you doing?” Alan asked from the dark tree line.
“Shit. You scared me… I saw your car and thought maybe I broke down, I mean, you broke down or something…”
“A brand new fucking car. Break down? What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.” Frank said.
“You need to leave.” Frank could see Alan as he walked towards the cars. His clothes were disheveled and his eyes were red.
“What happened to your mirrors?
“Leave.”
“What happened to your mirrors?
“I shot ’em out.”
“What?”
“Just leave Mosby. Take your goddamn pizza making self back home and just leave.”
Mosby turned towards his car. Then stopped.
“Why?” Frank said without turning around.
Alan screamed.
“I said leave goddamnit!”
The stillness Mosby felt when pulling in came upon him again. It was unnamed but the pizza maker sensed that it was how courage felt. Maybe.
“Because you don’t wanna look at yourself anymore?”
Alan Shaw sat down.
“Just leave the Hero and his stupid fuckin’ car.”

Mosby turned and walked towards Alan. In the light of his car, Frank saw Alan’s driver’s license and Marine I.D. on the ground.
The face cut out of both.
“You wanna kill yourself.” Frank said. The calmness of his voice made Frank feel as if he were listening to someone speak, instead of speaking.
“Just leave Frank.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why can’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
Alan looked up at him.
“But I just can’t.” Frank said. He sat down next to Alan.
Alan jumped up. He pointed his pistol at Frank.
“I said to leave!”
Frank sat still. He looked at the gun’s barrel.
“Go ahead.” He said.
“What?”
“Go ahead. Pull the trigger. You call yourself a murderer, right? That’s why you can’t stand to see you…because you call yourself a murderer. Go ahead then. Murder.”
“Get your crazy shit out of here Frank! Swear to God, get out of here.”
“Murder me.” Frank said. The words as foreign to him as sex.
Alan jerked the pistol and shot the Corvette’s front tire.
Frank shuttered but remained seated.
“So you can shoot. Good. Now, if you’re such a murderer, just murder me and everything will be back to normal. I got nothing to live for, and neither do you. Kill me, then blow you’re own sorry fuckin’ head off and everything will be normal.”
“You’re crazy Frank.”
“I’m not waving a gun around shooting a free Corvette.”
Alan flashed a smile despite himself.
“Leave Frank. I know what you’re trying to do. Just leave. I killed those people. Reasons don’t matter. I can’t face the things I did anymore.”
“And I can’t face the things I never did. In a way, we’re even. Murder me so there are no more questions.”
Alan pointed the pistol at Frank.
“I’m telling you Mosby…get the hell out of here.”
“How could you murder me if I left?”
Frank looked down at the moist cold ground. He picked up a leaf and twirled it with two fingers.
“You don’t understand, Frank. No one does.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand. No one does. No one understands any of us. Why don’t we all just become killers and shot up everyone we see? They don’t understand us anyway.”
“See. You just don’t fuckin’ understand shit Frank. You don’t understand what’s it like to kill another person. Another living, breathing person.”
“You’re right. And you no longer understand what it’s like to have not killed another person. Somebody could probably help you remember though.”
“All they see is a Hero. A jar head who did his job.”
“All you see is a Murderer. So go ahead. Murder.”
Alan dropped down under a weight he couldn’t see.
Frank continued to twirl the leaf. Part of him didn’t believe any of this was happening. It seemed a bad dream. Perhaps he’d wrecked on the way home and all this was an illusion?

Alan put the pistol on the ground, facing Frank.
The two men looked at one another in the light of Frank’s car.
Alan’s face was streaked red. His lips quivered in the frigid breeze.
“You got a blanket in your free car?” Frank asked.
Alan smiled.
“No. I don’t think they come with blankets.”
Frank stood.
“I think I got two. Mother uses them at the football games.”
“I don’t need a blanket.” Alan said.
“I’ll get them both. In case it’s a long night.”
“Leave pizza maker.” Alan said as Frank walked by.
“I can’t do that.” said Frank.

Frank popped the trunk as the gunshot echoed through the woods.
He slammed it closed and saw Alan standing next to the corvette, a hole in the driver’s door.
“You only got one bullet left now.” Frank said as he handed Alan a blanket.
“I know.”
Frank shivered and pulled the blanket around his shoulder.
He knew it was going to be a long night.

Blood Brothers.

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He walked into the funeral home wearing a trucker’s hat and smelling of Bourbon. An old lady sat on a bench nearby. She stood.
“Hello sir. Would you like to sign the registry?”
“I don’t reckon they gonna won’t a record that I was here do you?”
“It’s for the family. For Mildred.” The lady scowled from behind a heavy, powdered face.
“Sure then.” He wrote his name–Meanus Hale.
She looked over the registry as he moved away. His eyes ran over the crowd from a distance; black suits, gray hair, a few kids in khaki pants milling around, looking bored. Someone smiled at him. He didn’t know them. Didn’t want to.
“Are you Betty Hale’s son?” the lady asked.
“I was. She died years ago. I ain’t exactly her son anymore.”
The lady pursed her lips.
“Well, I reckon you still are…least to her.”
“Ok” he said. Balancing on his cane, Meanus walked into the large service room of the funeral home. He saw the casket against the back wall. It was half-opened with an American flag draped across the lower part. Meanus wished he’d taken a few more shots.

He saw Richard’s Mom, Mildred, from across the room.
What’s it been? he thought. Fifteen years?
He avoided her glance. Last time he’d seen her was the night before Richard went off to Basic. He and Richard had been friends since they knew the word. They went to bible school back when their parents considered Church important. They played baseball, spent hours talking about the ‘what-ifs?’ of life, and learned how to get in trouble as a pair. When Richard’s Dad left the boys grew closer. They were inseparable. When they both turned 14 they went down to the creek behind Boswell Stadium to try weed for the first time. Meanus pulled out his knife half-way through the first joint.
“Blood brothers.”
Richard smiled.
“Sure.”
Meanus sliced his hand open then handed the knife to Richard. He did the same. They shook hands while they looked each other in the eye. Neither spoke.

Meanus stole a bottle of liquor from his Mom. By the time he got to Richard’s, Mildred was three sheets gone and talking about her son dying in some goddamned war. Richard was sitting in a corner of the kitchen, looking at the floor.
“Mom, just be quiet with all that stuff. I ain’t gonna die. Tell her Meanus.”
“He ain’t gonna die Mildred. Might catch the clap from some girl, but it won’t kill him.”
Mildred laughed. Richard told Meanus to shut up. Meanus took another sip.
“He won’t do something like that Meanus. He’s his Momma’s boy, he won’t do no bad shit like that.”
Richard walked out of the room. Meanus pulled out his bottle and set it down.
“Wanna few pulls?” he asked Mildred.
“You know it!” Mildred poured some in her glass and downed it. Meanus sat down next to her. He was young then, full of strength and gumption. Mildred always had a soft spot for Meanus. Quietly she sometimes had wondered what he would be like as a Man. His shoulders were broad and his tan stomach was rippled. Since he had turned eighteen, Mildred had wondered more often…and less quietly.
“So what are we gonna do once Richard’s gone?” Mildred asked. Her smile offered an answer.
Meanus took a shot of liquor.
“Well, I guess most anything we want Mildred.”

Richard called from the other room.
“Meanus come here for a second.”
Meanus looked at Mildred’s blue eyes and let his gaze wander to her ample chest.
“Most anything.” he said. She smiled and patted his arm.

Richard was sitting on the couch in the living room, his lap holding a box full of pictures. He had one in his hands. It was a Polaroid of he and Meanus on two bicycles. They both wore Redskins coats and straddled their bikes in a front yard filled with snow.
“You remember this?” Richard said.
“Yep” Meanus smiled.
“I want you to have it. In case something goes wrong somewhere down the line.”
“I ain’t taken no picture if it means you might die.”
“That ain’t what it means dumbass. It just means that you and I will always be blood brothers. No matter what.”
“No matter what.” Meanus repeated, wishing he’d made it sound like a question. He continued.
“I ain’t taken no pictures of us Richard. You ain’t signed up for…but what? Four years? Nothing gonna happen in four years.”
Richard put the picture in Meanus’s hand.
“Take the picture. Just for when. For me.”
Meanus stared at him. He knew when Richard’s brown eyes went all black and serious it won’t no use arguing.
“Ok Richard.”
“Ok Brother.” Richard said.
“Ok Brother.”

Sheriff Burke lost his somber, respectful air when he saw Meanus standing alone. He walked over.
“Nobody wants no trouble here today Meanus. Why did you even come by? Wait. You been drinking? It’s a Tuesday son.”
“My condolences to you to Sheriff.”
“Shut up Meanus.” the Sheriff hushed his voice.
“Everybody knows what you tried to do back then. You think you deserve to be here now?”
Meanus looked ahead at the casket.
“I got more rights than you think Sheriff.”
“I’ll be watching you. You upset one hair on Mildred’s head and I’ll throw you out of here. You hear me Meanus.”
“You know Sheriff, they say the Richard got killed trying to pull some Arab kid out of a building before an airstrike hit it.”
“Yeah. He was a hero. No doubt.”
“Well, the way I see it, I got a little of his blood in me so I ought to be just as brave.”
“Meanus Hale I never thought I’d hear you talk sense in your life!” Sheriff Burke patted Meanus on the back.
“Yep, I ought to be brave enough to say what I need to say.”
“Well, I guess so–”
“Fuck off Sheriff. Just fuck off.”

Richard went upstairs to finish packing. Meanus sat down next to Mildred. She slammed an empty shot glass down.
“Where we were?” she said.
They both laughed.
“I think you’ve had about enough.” Meanus said.
Mildred leaned over to Meanus’s ear.
“I’ll scream your name when I’ve had enough.”
“Mildred, look, joking is one thing but that’s…”
Midred rubbed Meanus’s leg.
“I’m not joking anymore Meanus. You’re a grown up. I’m a grown up. He’s a grown up. I got things I want in life too.”
Meanus stood up and went back to the living room.
Mildred hoisted herself up and followed him.
He sat down on the couch and reached for the remote control. Mildred jumped on top of him, straddling his lap and burying her face in his neck.
“Just a little dry run until he’s gone.”
Meanus lifted her, but the woman pushed back down.
Richard walked in.

A middle-aged woman dressed in dark blue came over to Meanus. She looked like she’d cried for days and days.
“Mildred wants to see you. She wants to walk with you over to see Richard.”
“I’m here to see Richard, not Mildred.”
The woman smiled.
“She said you’d say that. She said to ask you nicely. For a Mother whose lost both of her sons. I thought she only had one though.”
“She had two. Sort of. Ok I’ll come over.”

Meanus called to get Richard’s address two weeks later. Mildred gave it to him and asked why he didn’t come over anymore.
“Richard said he never wanted to see me for trying to screw you. Don’t you remember that you damn drunk?”
“I told him we had feelings for one another and it was none of his business…”
“Feelings?” Meanus said. “The only feeling you have is for booze and young boys.” He hung up.
Meanus wrote, as best he could, as often as he could. Richard never replied. Meanus would call wondering when Richard was coming home, how he was doing, or if there was a number to reach him. Mildred would go through her spiel about feelings, and love, and lust, and needing one another during this “time of crisis.” It was always a crisis for Mildred to be alone. And sober.
Meanus stopped calling long after Richard decided to keep his word.
They would never see each other again.

Meanus walked over to Mildred.
“Hello Mildred.”
She smiled.
“I can’t stand it. He’s gone Meanus.”
“I know. He was a hero for doing what he done.” Meanus looked over at the casket.
“Have you been over to see him yet?” Mildred asked.
“No. I was waiting for some reason. I don’t know.”
“That man over there in the uniform, he was part of Richard’s unit. He was the one to find Richard…” Mildred wiped her nose. “He gave me this when he came over to the house yesterday. He said it was in Richard’s pocket when the shrapnel killed him. The little boy lived though. Ain’t that something? I thought you might want it.”

Mildred handed Meanus the picture of two boys trying to ride their bikes in the snow. They were smiling wide.
Blood stained the bottom of the Polaroid.
Meanus began to weep for the first time since he’d heard the news.
He rubbed his hand across the photo.
He walked over to the casket and looked at his blood brother’s body.
Meanus cried softly and laid the photo on Richard’s chest.

The Legend of Red Hammer, 5

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He went in without knocking. Muffled crying filled the stale air. Skinner felt the death. A part of Skinner began to weep but knew the moment couldn’t last long. The fat lady was dead, period. Pumpkin Boy had no one left, period. He walked through the kitchen and looking around the corner saw Eugene in the fetal position sobbing. The string was drawn tight enough to bring oozing blood. Skinner’s voice was soft.
“Where’s your Momma, boy?”
Eugene whimpered.
“No time for all this moaning boy. She ain’t moanin’, why you moanin? Is she in the room there?”
Eugene pointed towards the bedroom door.
“Ok. I done called the ambulance up now. They’ll be here in a bit. You want that they see you like this?” Skinner glanced in to Fiona’s room. He saw flies gathering on the sandwich and a green sheen on her cheek.
“Or see her like this?”
Eugene motioned a no with his head.
“Ok then boy. I’ll tend to her. Try and get her arranged so as them gossiping bitches don’t talk ‘bout how she was eating. You get up now boy. Get up. Come on. That’s it. Look here, you go in there and work on that kitchen a bit. Last thing your Momma would want is stranger’s bustin’ up in here and seeing this place. Damn wreck of the Hesperus.”
Skinner wiped Eugene’s eyes.
“Boy, about now you need to get something in your head quick.”
“I’ll try sir. But my momma–”
“I know boy. Ain’t no cause to talk ‘bout it. Pain lasts long enough without talking ’bout it. Talkin’ seems to make everything last longer. Talkin’ don’t take away pain none. Time takes pain and talking stops time. But you gotta learn now it ain’t no time no more for being a boy. You ain’t gotta choice boy. No more time.”
“I know.”
“Ok. Get on them dishes. You got water now?”
“No sir.”
“Ok then, well shit. Get a bag. Take a pilla case if you need to, and get them dishes up and run ‘em over to my house. Put ‘em in the yard outback, near that well. I’ll get her ready for them ambulance folks.”
. . . . . . .

Sixteen people showed up for the funeral. Seven to mourn. Nine to lower her special order coffin into the wide grave. Preacher Paul and the Damn Spic showed up as well as Skinner and Eugene. A thin tall man arrived with a bolt in his nose’s bridge accompanied by a midget with an eye patch and a limp. From behind two rows of graves stood a dark black woman who chanted and wailed. She wore a bright blue dress that matched her veiled hat. Preacher Paul spoke over the grunts of the pallbearers. Eugene looked at the coffin during the service. Skinner stood nearby, but not close enough to offer physical comfort. No time for being a boy, he reminded himself. The service closed as Fiona’s coffin reached the grave’s floor. Pallbearer ropes curled atop the coffin as Eugene threw in the one white rose Skinner had told him was only right. No one spoke to one another except the tall thin man and the midget. The midget gave a shotgun burst of laughter as the tall man whispered in his ear.
“Yes, Yes. I remember. She was brilliant that night.”
As Preacher Paul watched, the Damn Spic and the circus freaks left. Preacher Paul left after patting Eugene on the shoulder.
“She was my favorite neighbor.” he said.
Eugene watched the empty grave await its dirt. Skinner told him it was time to leave. Time to let her sleep. It was only right to do so.
Eugene turned to walk away, fighting the tears he felt belonged to another life.
They returned to Skinner’s house for dinner. Skinner watched Eugene eat. And eat. And eat.
“You know boy. That ain’t all genetic.”
Eugene ignored him shoving another piece of bread in his mouth.
“You like baseball then do you boy?” Skinner said.
“Yes.” Eugene replied before gulping milk.
“You any good?”
Eugene laughed.
“I don’t even have a bat.”

Skinner watched the boy for a moment. He knew he had little to offer Eugene. Skinner believed in no God, loved no family, and possessed no friends. Despite the momentary lapses when the house was quiet and he was a bit drunk, Skinner had no want to ever change.
“Well I can tell you this boy. The bat don’t matter much.”
Eugene stopped eating. The rise and fall of Skinner’s voice commanded his attention.
“You gotta have a bat to play ball ‘round here. The flyer said so. I ain’t got no bat. And my glove is second-hand from some old circus freaks. The midgets used to use my glove to catch the poop the monkey’s would throw. ‘Cept they weren’t monkeys. Just more midgets dressed like monkeys throwing chocolate bars ‘round at each other. Don’t make sense really. Wastin’ that chocolate.”
“It ain’t the bat that hit’s the ball boy; it’s the batter.”
“Everybody knows that.”
“No they don’t boy. They go out and buy fancy gloves, whiz-bang balls, and big silver bats thinking they gonna hit the biggest home runs ever. But in the end, the batter makes the ball go over the fence. Not the bat.”
Skinner left the table and headed up the creaking stairs of his home.
Eugene gulped milk. He spied a crumb, wet his finger, then lifted the crumb off the table with the wet finger.
Skinner returned carrying a soiled baseball bat.
The wood was smooth but almost black with age.
“Good lord that thing’s long.” Eugene said.
“Yep. It is. I used it when playing the circuit years ago. Back in 1961 my boy used it to hit a grand slam home run in the World Series. That’s how they won that game. That’s why we got that one sign painted with the World Series on it over at the park. My boy hit a Grand Slam homer with this here old bat. See, it won’t the bat. It was the batter.”
“Did he play in the pros?”
Skinner ran his hand along the bat. He patted the wood into his palm.
“No boy. He didn’t. There was a crash on the way back from Florida that year. I was driving with my wife and son.”
Skinner’s emotions rose and fell across his face.
“Things happen boy. Kids hit home runs. Dads drive cars. Drunks drive cars. Kids die. Things happen boy.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Skinner.”
“Nah. Talkin’ don’t make pain go away boy. Only Time does that. Talkin’ takes up time.”
Skinner stood.
“Here. I want you to have it.”
“Your bat? Your boy’s bat?”
“Nope. I want you to have your bat, boy. It’s been holding a wall up in my room for thirty years. I got no use for it. But you gotta remember boy. No matter what some fool coach tells you. It ain’t the bat that hit’s the ball–”
“I know. It’s the batter.”
“Alright boy. ‘bout time for your shower.”

Out of the Cold.

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An older story. It’s my blog, I’ll repeat if I want to, repeat if I want to…you’d repeat to if nothing happened to you.

Standing as instructed, I said, “Two of them came and got me, it wasn’t too hard so they ought not think they did something great, tough…whatever…I was just sitting there watching the TV and they showed up saying I was under arrest. Vera went screaming to them that morning, I don’t know why…she can’t make it without me, but she’s always been a spoiled bitch anyway…” The inmates surrounding me in a semi-circle of group therapy chuckled.
“We don’t talk that way Ernest.” The therapist lady said.
“I do, and it’s my story. Ain’t you always saying to be honest? Well, honestly, she’s a spoiled bitch. I didn’t hit her though, she just lied on me to keep me in line…to make sure I didn’t go out and do what I want to do to make sure I don’t end up doing something that’ll embarrass her family. They just white trash like her, the lot of them. None of them worth a shit…constantly drinking and bitching and smoking and getting knocked up and acting like assholes.”
“Ernest!” the therapist lady said.
“You need to make up your mind. You want us to be honest or be nice and all in front of one another, like none of us ever cussed…like you don’t cuss. Probably about us, or people like us. How come folks like you can’t make up your minds? Be honest, you say, but then get pissed if someone is honest…”

She started in on how bad language reflects more about the one cussing than the one being cussed about. How when we use hurtful words it is us, we, whatever, that is hurting. She called it transference or something like that. I was blocking her out while she talked the blah, blah, blah the government told her to say to people like me. It was a game. I was wondering if she liked being tied up or not when she said my name loud enough to pull me out. Bet she’d take a spankin’ no problem. Bend over quick for old Ernest.
“Ernest! I said do you understand why you have anger issues?”
“I don’t have an issue with anger. Not mine. I don’t like other people’s anger, but mine and I get along fine.”
More chuckles from the inmates. They were locked up for serious long times, but they didn’t know it yet. We all were awaiting trial and I guess some goodie-goodie thought a little therapy might help us adjust to the standards of what they called decent society. It was a bitch session for violent, crazy bastards. One guy was up in there awaiting trial for rape. Not regular rape. He used a knife to rape this girl. We were a whining group of abused children all growed up and beating the hell out of their own family. I got roped in because of Vera’s spoiled bitching. I told the cops she fell, at work, got a worker’s comp claim to prove it as they shackled my hands.
They said “She said she doesn’t even have a job Ernest.” Lying bitch. She’s got them all fooled. Always taking the woman’s side. How equal is that? The chuckles died from my group as the therapist lady moved on to someone more cooperative at this time. I’ll cooperate with her soon as she comes one Friday night with a 12 pack and a hankering for trailer park playtime.

Some guy was talking low, then loud. He begins to cry like a sad sack bastard who’s Daddy hurt him. I’m here for a short time, awaiting trial. Cry baby over there is heading up river for a long time. They say he hit his wife so hard she can’t speak anymore. Catatonic or something like that. Or was it catacomb? Whatever. He’s balling his eyes talking about Jesus and God and church and the Holy word and some preacher and the fiery temptation of Satan’s rage. Satan’s rage? I got it suddenly while looking out the window wanting to jump through it crash down and run with a broken leg to the nearest liquor store. I got it suddenly. He’s blaming the devil for his crimes. Good sad sack, I got to admit. Lots of folks blame God or society or Mom, but nobody blames Satan anymore. That’s a classic.

Therapist lady turned in a report that said I needed some individual treatment.
“She likes me…I’m cute, like a bear.” I told the guard when he told me about it.
“Piss off, Ernest. A lady like that and a dog humping bastard like you? ”
I got my looks from my Daddy. I got his eyes, his crooked smile, even got this scar from him. He laughed. I laughed. Everyone likes to laugh at good old Ernest.

Later, she and I are alone, with a mirrored wall on the left when I heard her ask me.
“Why do you think you have problems controlling your anger?” she asked.
“I don’t.” I said.
“Then why are you here?” she raised her eyebrow when she said that.
“Because I’m cute like a bear, Vera’s a spoiled bitch and most everybody in this county wants to do me in…” I smiled wide.
“So you feel that everyone is after you.” she kept up a serious sound to her voice.
“Sure, can I go home now teacher?” I stood up as if to leave.
“I’m here to help you Ernest.” she lied. I lied.
Everyone likes to lie to good old Ernest.
“You’re here because you couldn’t get a real fucking job and the state had to hire a woman to make their quota. Lie to me all you want lady, but be honest with yourself.”
I wondered how far to the ground if I jumped out the window.
“You aren’t honest with yourself. Vera had two black eyes and a sprain wrist.”
The therapist lady is reading out of a file when I tuned her out. I heard her say something about Vera’s statement–He came at me like he was on fire. Spoiled bitch. Yeah, I admit it, now, that sometimes I got mad, angry, whatever you want to call it. But never did I feel like I was on fire. The kind of anger I got, it feels cold, like I’m down in black, murky water and the only way out is to start swinging. I’m thrashing against the water as my bones freeze up. It’s not fiery; it’s not hot or anything remotely warm. My anger is deep down, where it’s cold.
“Are you even listening to me Ernest?”
“Yes, yeah, sure…I heard every word…continue…”
“What did I just say?”
“Are you even listening to me Ernest?” I chuckle, wishing for moment I was back in group.
“I was saying that I want to teach you some stress relieving techniques, some positive constructive ways of dealing with your anger. It’s normal to get angry at times. But you have been taught to deal with anger in an abnormal or negative manner. I’m interested in helping you learn a better way…” she looked me in the eye as she spoke.

My old man used to hit us, sure. Everybody’s old man hit them. It was the sixties. Everybody I knew got whipped for disrespect, bad grades, or breaking things. Everybody got spanked for not finishing the grass. Everybody got beat up by their old man for leaving the door open when the heat was on. Everybody I knew got punched in the face for asking their old man to quit wailing on Mom. Everybody.

“Do you understand Ernest? What are you going to do next time you get angry?” she raised a sexy eyebrow at me.
“I’m going to stop, count to ten or a hundred. I’m going to ask myself why I’m letting this situation, this person, this incident to create anger in me. I’m going to stop, reflect and deflect my violent tendencies.” I lied…well.
“You were listening.” the therapist lady seemed awful pleased with herself.
“Yes. I was. I understand now.” I lied…again.

I figured the best way out of that shit hole of stupidity was to act as stupid as the top shit heads. If I took their bait, swallowed the hook and let them reel me in maybe I’d get a fine and get home before winter hit too hard. It gets cold during November and I still had fire wood to cut. Damn kerosene is too expensive this go ’round.
I put the wood off all summer, too busy drinking and working. Vera’s spoiled bitch self wouldn’t even get up to clean the house. She’d sleep or something all day.
Crying, maybe, I don’t know.

The trial comes and I’m standing there listening to the lawyer, the judge and the therapist discuss me. I’m forty-three years old, own my car and all twelve acres free and clear and I’m standing here listening to these uppity types talk about me like I’m not in the damn room. Bastards. Vera is somewhere in the back, crying. That’s all that woman does is cry. And bitch. Jesus. In her craziness a month or so ago, Vera never actually said I hit her or anything like that. The state attorney had nothing to go on as evidence. No witnesses, no real statements, nothing. I repeated my story about Vera falling at work. She backed it up smiling through her tear stained face. I’m hearing the gavel echo as I’m walking out of the courthouse. I need to get home and cut some wood. Vera hugs me tight. I heard me whisper, ‘spoiled bitch’…she nodded in agreement.

The next morning I went out with a chainsaw in my hand. The biggest part would be to find the right trees first, I guess. This is the first winter I’m cutting wood. It’s gonna be colder than everyone thinks for Vera this winter. No one else is going to help the spoiled bitch and I guess I owe it to her. I hear her say from behind a cup of weak coffee, standing on the porch.
“Why are you going to cut wood?”
“We need to save money. Besides its part of my therapy. Every time I get angry I’m supposed to do something constructive.”
“Cutting down a tree seems destructive to me.”
Shit Jesus, I thought. With one swing-whack-wail-boom her dumbass would end up in the kitchen, covered in coffee, crying. Spoiled bitch.
“You’re right dear, but I’m only cutting down the dead ones. I love you Vera.”
“What? You never say that…always ignore me when I say it…what happened to you in there…?”
Then she’d stand up crying at me about what a dick I was, how I hated her, how her mother was right in saying I was a no good, redneck loser that would die drunk in a gutter. She’d throw something at me: a toaster, an ashtray, a dish towel. Whatever was handy and between she and I. I’d stand at the door, breathing like a bull.
“Useless fucker!” She’d yell.
“Spoiled bitch!” I’d yell.

“I’m trying to be better. Trying to be kinder than before. I don’t want to hurt you again, Vera.” I lied.
“You called me a spoiled bitch when I hugged you at the courthouse.”
I heard myself say, “Force of habit.”, as I left the house, heading for the woods.

She never asked why I was angry and had to cut wood. I wondered why that was as I ducked under branches. The sound of traffic near our house retreated into the distance as I talked to myself.
“Fucking trees…dammit…do something constructive…fuck this…”
A limb hit me in the face. Mother Nature’s right cross is quick and stings in the cold October air. Vera always wanted kids. A boy and a girl, preferably a red headed like her. She had names for them. Ernest Elijah Reynolds, Junior and Nicole Simpson Reynolds. Vera cried for days during that OJ murder trial. She said she understood why Nicole left and was glad she found the peace that comes with death.
Vera’s nuts, I’m telling you that now.

A cold wind whipped across me as I remembered those OJ rent-a-car commercials. Coming to a clearing I saw a tall tree. It was gray, leafless and must’ve been a hundred years old. I put my arms around it and couldn’t even come close to the middle. Huge. It’s deep in the woods, down where the earthmovers and cranes can’t reach. It’s waiting on death in its own way. I’m here now buddy. Don’t worry. I jerk the chainsaw awake and listen to the rumbling, metallic sound.
Frightening, I suppose, would be one way of saying it.
I’m hearing Vera’s voice over the chainsaw. She’s yelling. Screaming at me.
“Useless fucker! Damn your soul.” I moved the chainsaw to the tree base. Starting on the west side so the beast would fall in the direction of its lean. I yanked the chainsaw back. I heard Vera’s voice. I turned off the machine. The echo died in the woods. Nothing. The cold wind turns my face. I put the chainsaw down and leaned against the tree.

This was Dad’s land but it doesn’t matter much to me. I wondered why I never found this huge tree when I was kid. Why didn’t I see this clearing, this tree, this spot? The woods breathed in the winter air; the crisp smell of distant hickory chimneys tickled my nose. This is a good spot. The ground was cold to the point my butt feels wet, and then numbs. Touching the chainsaw blade I wonder how much damage the machine could do to a tree, to an arm, to a head, to a neck.

The woods were neglected. My family owned this land for 80 years and I never found this spot until I was forty-three. How much longer before another person would find it? How much damage to a neck could this beat up chainsaw do down in these woods. My mind is circling around those thoughts when I heard Vera huffing through the woods.
“I was calling your name, why didn’t you answer?” She said loudly, her hair stuck all over her fat head.
For a moment, she looked beautiful in the silent, deep woods. It faded when she talked.
“I was cutting wood, couldn’t really hear you…think about you, you look…” I started.
“What? I look like a spoiled bitch? Ha, Ha. Useless fucker. I don’t see any wood cut yet…” she gave me a half smile.
“I thought I heard you so I stopped, then didn’t hear anything…fuck it…what do you want?” I could feel the cold moving inside. Glaciers rising.
“What are you angry about?” she asked, looking at the chainsaw.
“What? You come down here…I’m cutting wood…what the hell?”
The angry cold rushed over me.
“No, back at the house, you said you had to cut wood as part of therapy for when you are angry…What are you angry about?” she asked, not moving.
“Having to cut wood. Just leave me alone. I was just sitting here…getting ready to cut wood…” The cold made my voice louder.
“FINE! Fuck you…useless fucker!” She turned and stomped off.
She walked back through the woods, yelling, huffing, and leaving a trail a deaf man could follow. I picked up the chainsaw and touched the blade‘s teeth.
To an arm; to a head; to a neck.
“Useless fucker!” Vera’s voice echoes through the trees. .
The cold, black anger ran through me. Waves crashing, my mind is blank, responding only to emotion. I counted to ten slowly, then quickly…then a hundred. Her voice fades, the stillness returns…slamming my hand into the tree I scream. The words make no sense. Anger–cold, empty anger burned me from the inside out.
I yelled so God and Satan and the therapist and Vera and the Tree could hear. My hand slammed into the ground. I was throwing the chainsaw against the tree when I saw blood fly. My arm was cut. The giant, gray tree covered with bloody bark. I yelled again, sensing Vera standing at the edge of the woods, shaking her head, calling her Mom, saying, “You’re right Momma. He’s useless.”
The cold boils. I thought the ground jumped up when I hit the ground, crying, bleeding. The tears came, freezing on my face. I kicked the giant tree in the clearing I never saw as a kid. I broke my toe, then my foot on the next pass. Pain warms the cold, black anger, covers it in a wool blanket. It helps the violent moment relinquish. Between my bleeding arm and maimed ankle the moment is lost.

I sat on the cold floor of the clearing, leaning against the tree. The chainsaw was ten feet away. The blood on its blade looked natural. The chainsaw was made for blood.

I limped from the woods, without wood cut for winter. Vera bitched about the doctor’s bill and how we can’t afford it and how we don’t have insurance and how her mom called and how her brother works at the plant and makes plenty of money and how we don’t have the insurance and how much the doctor’s gonna cost and I’m sitting there wondering where the damn chainsaw is and how quick I could turn the machine on with a broken foot. You know, to an arm; to a head; to a neck.

Two weeks later I was sitting there on my couch watching TV.
Nothing is on worth mentioning here. I did see one funny commercial with a dog selling cars. It made me laugh. Vera yelled from the kitchen.
“What’s so funny, Honey?” She had been calling me honey. .
“Nothing dear, just a commercial.”
I wondered how hard it would be to get her in the road so a car could run her over like an animal.
“Mom called last night whiles you sleeping…” I tuned her out watching this gorgeous guy on TV kiss the gorgeous girl next to him. I suddenly remembered the chainsaw is still deep in the woods, but with the rain we’ve had, it’s probably rusted by now.
The first good idea I’ve had in forty-three years and I let it rust in the rain.
I’m so useless.
They called it a walking cast but I don’t see any need to push it. Vera’s tighten up a bit lately, getting groceries on her own, leaving the house without a chaperone. I’m thinking she’s shagging someone on the side while the gorgeous guy fights with another gorgeous guy over the gorgeous girl. No dog humping bastards on TV.
Everyone is happy, gorgeous, rich, famous and well adjusted. Just like old Ernest.
I was sleeping on the couch that last day in the trailer. The TV is off. Vera is gone. Hank, my brother, comes by unannounced carrying a box.
He stood in the door way of the living room. He never asked what happened to my leg. Never asked me how I was, or where’s Vera?
I heard him tell me in his best somber voice,

“Dad died. I thought you might want some of his stuff.”
“We had enough of his shit didn’t we?” I said.
“Ernest, don’t be like that, he’s dead and Momma’s upset.” his pursed lips and made it look like he was fighting the need to laugh.
“She should be happy.” I said.
Hank looked at me sad and confused. Hank’s never been the smart one. Of the four of us, he was the dumbest by far. Mom would say he had the biggest heart.
One time I said, “That means it’s easier to stab.” Dad heard. Whack-Blam.
Hank stayed in the doorway as he said, “Momma said since you live out here and Vera is alone a lot, you should have the guns.”
Limping over, I looked in the box and saw the blue blackness of Dad’s pistol. Hank told me its caliber. He begins to lecture me on getting it registered.
“Come on Hank…you think anybody give a damn what we do out here in run down trailer?” I looked at him hard.
I heard me ask Hank to put the box on the coffee table. He left after putting it down. There was no conversation left. He’s got to get home to Mom and make sure she knows he delivered it. He’ll tell her I said Hi and that I’m fine.
Everybody lied about good old Ernest.

I ran my hands along the barrel, feeling the cold of the weapon. Vera would be back in about two hours; plenty of time for me, plenty. The chainsaw would’ve been messy, too hard to explain anyway. This would be easy. Easy to do, easy to explain, easy to understand-I guess. I limped to the kitchen, looking for paper and pen. I found an envelope and one purple magic marker. An intruder maybe? No way to do that-not enough time. Why not just tell the truth? Why not? Who would care in the end?
“It was her or me!” I heard myself say to the living room as I returned.
I wanted to know when she got home. I limped over to the other chair so I could look out the window. She had to be here. Hopping to the desk I looked for more paper…and something more grown up to write with. I found a notebook of Vera’s. It had some diary entries. Finding a lottery pencil I began to write. Nothing sounded right. I pictured someone reading it, trying to understand. It sounded weird. No real reason given. Just words. Something about a tree, a chainsaw. I took my crutch and reached across the living room to trip the Kerosene heater off. I wanted to feel the cold.

I spent the next two hours writing as the room grew colder.
Then I heard Vera pull in. She was whistling. I looked down at the paper and read the first words aloud…

Standing as instructed, I said, “Two of them came and got me… Maybe it won‘t make sense. But I was never much for writing.
The barrel tastes cold. My breath is floating in the cold air.
The gun will click the moment Vera puts her key in the door.
I’ll be out of the cold.