To Those We Haven’t Met, Run
A newcomer arrives.
A foreigner from an unknown place, unrecognizable to your own. An alien.
Immediately it is interpreted to be an invader of your world.
An enemy that must be destroyed.
No curiosities. No questions asked. No Consideration.
Let’s kill it! you think,
because you’re a person of action. You don’t dilly-dally.
You nod your head with reassurance, for yourself.
It’s better to act now, and ask later. Its intentions, unknown.
Even if you would be better off in the end by not killing it,
you scatter shots in its direction until the magazine is empty.
Its body collapses, muscles quivering, then motionless and still.
Its temperature equalizes with the cold tiles on the floor.
Only then, do you walk over to investigate it; To take in a good look.
Only then do you inquire to its beginning, its story, and its life history.
Only then do you care that it had a name,
but only then, is it too late to have that conversation,
and only then is its voice forever sealed behind its rigor-mortised lips.
The Jesters Sonata
Balls in the air. Juggler of emotions.
I am torn between ending it all, and starting over to try again,
because the end of a muzzle seems like a headache, but also, the pill.
I pace back and forth until noon, then I realize its midnight.
No sleep until the witching hour, for it is where I am most awake.
“Eat something you bastard,” they say, yet I am not hungry for whats on their menu.
Peanut butter on bread, spread unevenly. No milk.
A moonlit snack becomes a meal. A tear becomes a bath.
A thought becomes another episode that I must binge until its very end.
What a cliffhanger.
Finally, a feast that I can eat. Hungry, for more.
I am tortured and mocked by my internal struggle, but I don’t want to miss the commercials, because there could be something that I want to buy.
I offer a facelift in the mirror. Then wash away its filth.
The voices all speak the same language, yet they’re foreign to me, and I don’t understand them, but I listen anyways because the sound of silence is deafening.
The translated captions will have to do.
“Walk it off, you’ll be fine,” they say, yet when I do so, the thorn bushes outside scrape against my skin, tearing and pulling at my weak meaningless flesh.
My insides are now exposed, and I lock the door for protection.
Why would they encourage me knowing I would fail?
Am I merely a vessel for their amusement, until the carnival closes down?
A red nose they make me wear. Am I forced to be their clown?
I dance, I sing, I play. I must entertain them until they are bored with me.
Only then, bloody, broken, and tired can I wipe away the paint.
I fall asleep to realize that I was never really, awake…
The Landlord of Mona Lisa’s Smile
I wish that I found myself sooner, so I had time to fix what I left behind me, withered and destroyed in my rampageous wake. While the fallout begins to settle around me, and I lay here on my deathbed with particles of dust burning into my eyes, I realize I should’ve taken the time to love myself first, before all else, so I could’ve had the confidence to chase my dreams earlier in an attempt to ratify a peace within. Only then would I have achieved the capacity for loving someone with absolute surety, with a higher level of maturity, and with an undeniable honesty. Only then could I have offered you a rent-free key to an uncluttered room dedicated just for you, with your nameplate fixed on its entrance door, deep inside my interior walls.
I wish I had loved you more.
I wish I had loved you deeper.
I wish I had loved you the way that you loved me, and regret not offering you the opportunity in return to feel the wholeness, and warmth that I did with you in my life.
Not loving you the way that you deserved, will go down as the Mona Lisa of my failures.
The Imprint of a Ring Once Worn
Laundry day… Lipstick, stains his collar.
Working late again... Followed to motel.
Parked, outside window… Inside, marriage disintegrating.
The Dread of A Dozen Roses
I write you with much apprehension, yet I am compelled to out of my love for Thomas. It's been roughly a year since I began dating him, but somehow he remains in my life. Why? Why do you allow him to be with me now, when the two boyfriends before him, you decided to brutally remove from my life, and subsequently sent me four black roses each time you made one disappear? I want to be free of you, but I notice your reflection in every window we pass, and never miss your car outside my house most nights until Eleven. Is this a game to you? When will you finally learn I'm not interested? It's been four years since you and I met, and you've forced yourself into my life everyday since; I assume by design, but I can no longer fathom the thought of losing my sweet Thomas, and if you cared about me as much as you have ruthlessly demonstrated, then you would continue to let us to live on, in love. I beg you to leave us alone, and stop following me. Don't hurt him like you did the others. I wish I could say that I would do anything to protect us, but that's not true, because I will never choose to be with you. Please find a way to move on. I know that your love for me feels real, but it's not. So, this time please don't send me flowers.
Down On Beaver Pond
Part 1: Jack and Black Betty
I pat-down my jacket pockets sloppily feeling around for my only Bic lighter. A flash of florescent lights pass through the wrinkled folds of my eyes which might as well be closed considering every object I see is either blurry or floating through the room with grace. I however, feel fucking good; Great in fact. A cigarette hangs loosely from the edge of my lips eager to be lit, yet nothing is found in my initial search, prolonging the warm embrace of nicotine and smoke in my mouth. I swivel in my bar-stool to get a better reach. My probing hand reaches down, and gets hung up inside my left pocket. I begin contorting my wrist into freakish angles attempting to break free from its grasp, and stumble forward into the empty seat next to me. The stool falls over onto its side into the empty main walkway that has naturally formed between the dance floor and the bar crowd. I fall with it ending in a straddled pretzel over the stool. Zoey, the bartender, shoots me a death stare, as I fumble with my free hand to stand the chair and myself upright. Smiling nervously I attempt to break through her scowling tension, but have no success. She is not impressed, giving me that familiar final-warning look that I have seen before. In retrospect, I suppose I am feeling too good, and need to settle down. The doorman, Ronnie, who goes by the nickname, Grizzly, for his large mass and unnaturally harry body, has also sniffed me out. I know now that I am on thin ice for the rest of the night. I nod my head, raise my hand in surrender, and tuck my pride between my legs as I back myself onto my stool.
The seat I had just toppled over, I carefully place into position and finish my apology tour with a few pats along its vinyl top, as if to make it feel better too. I then offer one more awkward wave toward security for the extra assurance. A low profile I think will benefit me.
With a final heave of my arm I dislodge my hand from my pocket, and shift my focus onto my pants. I begin patting myself in the same fashion as before, solely dedicated to the liberation of my soggy menthol, which is pinched in the corner of my mouth. Besides locating my wallet, some dried particles of tobacco mixed with lint, and a crumpled illegible receipt, I again find nothing.
I irritably twist my body in confusion, while I start scanning my myself from head to toe, promptly begin patting myself all over again. Nothing. I check the bar. I find nothing.
"I juss. I jus-haa-dit here sumwhurrrr"
The floor shifts below me as if I am standing in a bowl of jello, and my body bounces at the knees a few times to offset it. I catch myself grasping the countertop for stability, while my knees get their legs back underneath them. I wait until the spinning room slows when I realize the Jack Daniels is in full swing.
Thump, thump, thump, thump.
A familiar beating sound steers my focus. The beating is soon followed by a guitar cutting through the room like butter melting on toast, and I am transported into full party mode.
"Whoa Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam), Whoa Black Betty (Bam-ba-Lam), Black Betty had a Child (Bam-ba-Lam)...."
I scan the dancing crowd as my favorite Ram Jam song begins pounding out of the speakers into my ears and pulsing through the floor boards into my feet. I get a wiggle in my step and am roused to reach for another swig of my drink. I pump my fist high in the air while I down another. I move like water to the beat, and begin tapping my hands on my leg, which is irrationally jerking in my seat. The collective cheer throughout the room was infectious. This was my song. Hell it was clear it was everyone's song. I force another swig down the hatch, then open my pack of cigs to celebrate with a smoke.
"The Damn Thing gone Blind (Bam-ba-lam), I said oh, Black Betty (Bam-ba-lam)..."
I pull a fresh cig and my lighter out of my pack of Newport's, attempting to place it into my mouth. I become immediately amused.
I must have forgotten that I already had one locked and ready. I snicker a little more to myself as I sway to the music in my seat, place the saliva-logged cigarette back into my pack, then light the new one. I snort out my nose becoming even more amused.
"Hmp, Hmp, I guess I found the lighter too, Hmp."
I hunch over my ashtray tapping the edge of the bar. My eyes are closed, as I am mindful of the heartbeat of the night club, and the rhythm of the crowd. I flick my ashes onto the floor without care, my cigarette hangs loosely between my fingers. The trance of the music calms me, and the breeze from the fans above send a refreshing flow of air over me. The breeze was calming and cool.
Part 2: Dylan's Big Catch
The summer breeze was especially calming that day on Beaver Pond. It flowed over my body like a cool, and weightless feather tickling the hairs on my arms, while it washed over me. I had only a few bites on my line all day and had decided to take in the shade underneath my favorite oak tree.
"Jimmy, help me reel it in. Its a big one!"
I snapped my head up, spooked from the break in the silence to see my six-year-old brother, Dylan's, fishing line pulled tighter than a fiddle's strings. The fish fought hard, and started dragging him toward the waters edge as it gained momentum. In its wake, a sigmoid trail bubbled across the waters surface. The line slacked a little, and we thought he lost it until it immediately pulled tighter than before. Before we could blink the large mouth bass leaped with all of its might into the air kicking its tail in a furious display. A splash of water shot across the pond. For a moment the fish flapped its fins seemingly taking flight, but predictably dove it back under the ponds surface almost as quickly. I threw my pole onto the bank next to me, and began racing along the ponds edge to get to him before he lost it. His shoulders were cocked horizontally to the ground, hips were thrusting forward, and his heels digging into the dirt. All of his 38 lbs were holding onto his ugly stick for dear life. He was frozen, and all he could do was yell to me.
My legs were burning underneath me like the lighting of our Tennessee summer storms, but I knew I couldn't give up on him now. In a full sprint I was a quarter way around that pond in no time.
"I'm coming Dee! Just hold onto it. I'm coming!"
"I'm losing it Jim!"
I punched through the tall-grasses, slammed into the cattails, leaped over downed logs, and splashed through every mud puddle along the embankment until I eventually found myself tumbling through a large concentration of thickets, and onto the path that led me to Dylan. I winced in pain, but had not time to tend to the scrape on my shins or to scorn the oak roots that jutted onto the pathway causing me to spill my blood. I had a fish to help pull in and a brother that needed me.
Part 3: Jim's Rowdy Exit
"Jimmy, Its time to go."
The sound of my name echoing inside my skull grows louder and more real. My body begins shaking abruptly, and I jolt upwards becoming more alert, but annoyed. In response, I shrug off the rude and forceful hands holding onto me with a swing from my elbow, but instantly I am met with the resistance I can only conclude as a concrete wall. My arm somehow makes it behind my back, and I am twisted around before I can fully open my eyes. A heavy weight presses across my chest, and the center of my back is squished into the hardwood bar behind me.
"Your out of here, Jim. You've had too much tonight"
The lights in the bar are shooting daggers into my eyes, and I cannot make out the face in the brightness, but the mans growling voice sounds serious and deliberate. My fingers press into a bristle pillow and end when they reach solid stone. It assume it must be Grizzly.
"Lets go, Grab your stuff, your done. "
I try to re-familiarize myself with my surroundings, but I guess that is not fast enough for Grizzly, and I am instantly raised into the air left only to watch the floor pass under me. I have outstayed my welcome. Somehow in this lucky affair I am learning what its like to fly while being attacked by a bear at the same time. I can attest, it is not that great. It is an oddly uncomfortable feeling, being a grown man carried in the arms of another grown man. There is an adolescence to it that hurts the soul, but I guess I had it coming.
I am not a fighter normally, yet my pride is being carried out of here along with me, and I instantly find the urge to struggle. The bear hug I am entangled in gets tighter with every attempt I make to battle harder. The more I fight, the more I start to lose air in my lungs. I twist, turn, push and punch, but the enormity of the mismatch is realized when I make no impact on my trip floating out of this place. I can hear the disruption in the crowd, yet can only see random sets of feet as I zoom by. The gasps and cheers barely are heard over the DJ attempting to catch their attention and maintain their focus and order.
Before long my head is used as a battering ram to open the entrance doors. It is much easier than one would imagine, and I am rag-dolled into the back alley along with my keys and wallet. My pack of cigs hits me in the chest. I scramble my way up to a seated position. The pack rolls off my body, and into a puddle collecting just enough water to be ruined. I sit on the cobble stone, legs agape, with my pride left somewhere inside the bar. The light rain that sprinkles over me sets the tone for my mood, which contrasts the upbeat muffled sounds coming from behind the bar door that now shuns me out for the night.
I scramble up my things, and waver to my knees; Then I stand. For a moment, I have difficulty gathering my bearings, while I look around as the back door was not my original entry, but I sluggishly find my way to the parking lot in the course of a few minutes. Slumping along other people vehicles, I traverse the parking lot and find my vehicle. I get in. The familiarity of my seat combined with the quiet and dry air begin to comfort me. I exhale a sigh of relaxation fading deeper into my seat. The dull green numbers on the dashboard read 12:45am.
Part 4: Forgotten Chores
I barrelled through the front door of our home, and stopped myself in my tracks. Dylan, hot on my tail, bumped into me from behind. My mother, Grace, had peaked her head out from the kitchen, instantly halting our advancement further into the house.
"No, No, Not in here you aren't. Put your stuff outside. Then get to washin ya'lls hands. Take off dem shoes too"
"Yes Mom." we replied in unison.
We were so excited to share the news that we forgot we were still carrying all of our fishing gear. We kicked off our shoes, ran back onto the porch, and laid the tackle against the railing, as mom could be heard spouting a continued rant toward us about our filthiness. We rushed back in, raced each other down the hallway to the bathroom, and fought for control over the use of the water lever and wrestled for the soap dish. We were giggling in glee.
"Mom, you won't believe it!"
"Yeah. go on."
"Dylan caught the biggest fish ever!"
"It's true, It's true mom, my biggest yet. Bigger than Jimmy's!"
I bumped into him playfully, then wiped my hands on my overalls. Dylan did the same, and we ran into the kitchen to meet her. My mother was finishing plating supper in her favorite red and white polka-dot apron. She wiped off any debris from the front of her clothing and fanned out the fabric to present herself more appropriately, then turned to us.
"Here, Both of you take these to the table."
She handed us each a glass bowl, one filled with mashed potatoes, and the other heaping over the top with green beans. Both sides were from our garden. Dylan's face scrunched when he grabbed the beans, and he walked towards the table holding it away from his body as far as he could. Mom shook her head in displeasure.
"Your gonna eat some, I'm telling you now."
Facing away from her, Dylan began mouthing her words back to her in a mocking display. We both sat down the bowls in the center of the table, then turned to face her standing still and motionless. We starred at her anxiously waiting, but patient not to interrupt. She avoided making eye contact with us as I could tell that she was aware we were burning a hole in the back of her head. Without much control, Dylan excitedly broke the silence first.
"Where is Da...."
I grabbed his mouth, and covered it.
"Ssshh. Be patient, Dylan."
I looked back to my mom just in time to catch a glimpse of the corner of her mouth curled with a brief smile as she was placing a dish into the sink. It disappeared quickly. She seemed to enjoy making us wait. It seemed like it was a game to her, like Simon Says or Red-light, Green-light. Regardless, there was a long pause that filled the room followed by a deep sigh bellowing from her, as she turned her back to us bending over toward the oven.
"He's in the barn feedin da pigs an working on somethin...."
We instantly started high tailing it out the back screen door before she could even finish her sentence, but we could hear her yelling out as we made our way across the back lawn.
"Suppers in five minutes, Don't you both dare get dirty again! Be quick."
Naturally being older and faster, I made it to the barn door first and ripped it open.
"Dad, Dad, Guess what!"
We rushed through the doorway, and into the barn. Dylan almost fell sideways, sliding across the wooden floorboards, and on top of the slick hay into my back again.
"Daddy, I caught the biggest, Bass ever!"
Our dad, Wendell, was sitting on a wooden stool that he had built when Dylan was two. He hunched over his work table tinkering with something we couldn't make out. It appeared to be a small engine. We began approaching closer. A set of lights hovered over him highlighting just the workspace he stood in. Though the rest of the barn was lit up, it was dull, and creepy in comparison, offering many shadowy spaces to be scared of. Dad didn't respond as we got closer. This was a different kind of ignoring. Unlike moms way of creating suspense and fun this was a meaner kind of stubbornness, and I had seen it before often trying to avoid it. Dylan had yet to. I responded reluctant and cautious.
"Dad. Dylan caught a fish. He was excited to tell you about it."
There were a pile of blue, and silver Keystone Lights spilling out of the trash bin at his feet. Many had made it onto the floor, some folded, some crushed, but all were empty. The excitement of sharing the news with our father immediately shifted to solely protecting my brother. His disoriented gravelly voice cut through Dylan's innocence, and stopped me before I could say anything further.
"I thot I toad you to feed dem chickens 'fore you dew anyting else"
I could see the muscles in my fathers back pulsing with anger through his shirt, but his back remained still square to us. Dylan was confused, looking to me for what to do next. I stepped back a step.
"Dad, I think we. I mean I remember.....!"
"Youthannk! You, Thankahh, you remembah!"
He rose out of his seat, and straightened up taller than I have seen him stand ever before. He towered above us morphing into a monster.
"You deedint doo what I asked"
He began unlatching his belt, and ripped it through the loops in one pull, then slammed it down onto the table next to him. Dylan began trembling, and tearing up whimpering in fear. I stepped up and placed my hand across the back of his shoulders. He attempted to sputter a few coherent words.
"Daddy, we're sorry. We forgot."
Wendell bubbled with anger. In one smooth swipe of his forearm he, transported the entire contents of the table top onto the floor. Motor parts crashed into the wall, and oil splashed across the small window next to the table. Glass from an unknown source, shattered across the room, sending shards flying back through the air at us. It was too overwhelming for Dylan, and in shock, he remained standing there frozen with dread. Our dad turned and kicked the the bin of beer cans at us; Many landing against our feet.
"I'm guna make you rememba!"
He turned towards, us and whipped his belt at the barn post next to us. I began inching backwards. Dylan still shivering with fear; His eyes wide and tear-filled. I pulled at his shirt, and dragged him along with me toward the doorway.
"Dad, No! We didn't mean it."
A bell began dinging from outside the barn. A familiar sound that we usually prolonged to get a few more moments of playing outside, but this time, it was a bell of presumed safety. My moms voice soothed our tense bodies while we continued backing closer to the doorway.
I locked gazes with my dad. His face was moist with sweat, and when he spoke, a mist of booze and spit entered the air around him. I could feel it on my skin. I smelled the sweet fermentation mixed with musky body odor as it floated through the air onto us. He wiped his motor oil stained his hands on his pants and re-affirmed a strong grip on his belt as he continued hobbling toward us. He was fueled by liquid anger, and channeling what our pastor, Father Henry, could only describe as a demon deep within. Lucky for us my mom distracted him enough to give us room for an escape from the impending doom, at least for supper. The bell sounded again. We continued backing out the door, took our opportunity, then sprinted our way towards the house to safety. I looked back as we ran inside to see my father standing in the darkness, his belt gripped sturdily at his side, only his face was highlighted by the sunlight. He bawled a menacing warning to both of us just as we were rounding the side of the house.
"Uugh- K. I can wait. After dinna it is."
The bell sounded again.
Ding, Ding, Ding......
Part 5: The Racing Snakes
....Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding. I am startled awake by the constant ringing in my ears, and slide myself upright from my slumped position to better gather my surroundings. I grab the steering wheel realizing I am still in my car, then realize that my foot is loosely holding the brake pedal. I restore a proper placement. I wipe my eyes attempting to regain a clearer picture, yet the flashing red lights of the railroad sign blind my vision, and I raise my left hand to shade it. Train cars, one after another, are rushing across my view. The railroad gate is secured in a down position. The repetitive dinging agitates my growing headache, and I rub my temples for relief. I glance up at my rear view mirror, and notice that I am the only one on this side of the tracks. The road behind me is near perfect darkness except the immediate area around the car, which is illuminated by the lights from the brakes, and those flashing on the crossing sign. It is eerily absent of all living things, at least those that I could see. I attempt to decipher the digits lit up on the clock. It think it reads 1:13am, but it still is hard to clearly make things out. Waiting patiently, my fingers make their way to the volume dial on the radio. The speakers grow louder while I settle in to my seat.
"...yesterdays classics, today's hits, your tuning into 101.5 Knoxville's number one Rock Station. Coming to you next is a little AC. DC."
".....Livin' easy. Lovin' free. Season ticket for a one way ride. askin nothin...."
Two songs and a few sips from my flask later, the railroad barrier finally begins lifting, allowing me to continue homeward. I get into a ready position right away in anticipation. Considering my only back-up alcohol is now empty, getting there sooner becomes an more urgent matter. Just as the barrier should be clear of the roof, I throw my metal canteen into the passenger seat, grip the wheel, and release the brake. I am propelled backwards into my seat with brute force as my heavy foot accelerates me much faster than I anticipated. Knowing this area well, I let off a little after I spin down the road and climb to a regular speed, as the cops and I are on a first name basis. I would rather not rouse any more interest than I already have tonight.
My headlights are useless as the darkness surrounding them seems to swallow up their luster, something these back roads are notorious for, but I know that the main road leading home is just up ahead. I pass over the small bridge of Conasauga Creek, a place where I used to swim as a boy with my friends and brother, Dylan. The pair of yellow median lines centers on my car, then the white one does the same. They both merge before my eyes as if snakes are racing back and forth in front of me. I am hypnotized, yet as entertaining as it is, I rub my face attempting to see a clearer image. The result ends with no success. A red fuzzy blob rapidly approaches the car out of the darkness, and I know that I have arrived at my third-to-last turn home. I step on the brakes more aggressively which lunges me forward in my seat forcing me to have little time to brace myself. I smack my already throbbing forehead off the top of the wheel, then grind to a halt parallel to the stop sign. My body is loose and stiff at the same time.
I take a deep breath, flick the blinker switch down, and turn left onto the main road cautiously. It is smooth and easy. I feel confident that I am in control, until the cars horizon tilts downward, and somehow I am staring into at the grassy median in the center of the road. The car immediately begins to spin side to side, while I give it more gas. It struggles forward, digging in to the grass deeper with every foot, yet after only a couple bumps and thumps later I am able to force the car across the field, and back onto the asphalt. My stubbornness paid off. As I continue on toward home, I look back and notice that my tires had left a path of destruction that only Jackson Pollack would appreciate. I amuse myself in the thought.
a little rough, but a success.....
I keep driving for some time eventually finding the outskirts of town, which for locals is implicit to passing fire station 86, a small, but brilliantly lit building in the middle of nowhere. Up ahead, the outstretched limbs hanging over the road start gleaming with light. With expectancy, I attempt to wrangle in the twisting snakes ahead of me, and do my best to ensure that the yellow pair stays on my left. Its easier said than done. The limbs get brighter, then transform into a beam of blinding lights heading straight for me. I am transfixed. Everything turns white and fully encapsulates my vision. I squint to see but cannot. Its too bright. White is all I can see.
Part 6: The Punishment
White was all I could see. My vision had been knocked out of me, and both my ears were ringing. I closed my eyes wincing in agony. I begged for mercy, but in retrospect, I wish I hadn't. I had been punished enough times to know that normally my mother stood nearby when I got hit. I wondered when she would intervene. She was a kind of punishment meter for my father, and though he dished out the beating, she would determine the duration usually coming in shortly after to distract him and end it, yet on this day, I still laid on the ground helpless hoping for her relief. I struggled to reach for anything solid to hold onto, and eventually found the leg of my bed. Half under my bed and half exposed, I wrapped my arms around the metal leg, holding on for dear life. I wished and prayed it away.
I wanted it to stop, then suddenly it did. To my surprise, either by coincidence or my wishes actually being granted, the thrashing across my tattered backside ceased, but it was unfortunately at the expense of Dylan. His pained cries for help had begun penetrating my ringing ears. They were the kind of dreadful howls that only come from a horrified child who has lost all his trust in a loved one. Today, my brother had learned there was a dark-side to our father for the first time. His tiny six-year-old frame thumped against the wooden floorboards, and his tears puddled below him. My fathers hands and belt worked Dylan's backside with the same ferocity as he had mine.
"Daddy! No! Oww Daddy. Ow!"
Hearing Dylan in this way cut through my soul because I knew he was loosing his innocence. I knew that he would look at dad a different way and that he would change how he saw the world. I could remember the first time this happened to me except my first time was much less severe, and did not involve so much alcohol. I was also eight, a year older than him now. My father continued his angry barrage on us.
"Yur Gonna Rememba now aint ya?"
He screamed in pain as he answer him.
Blow after blow, hit after hit, he was relentless. I wished my dad had switched back to me instead. I remained still and unharmed now. He continued beating Dylan, until his screams turned silent. Something seemed wrong, yet my father kept on as if nothing changed. I could feel the loud slap of leather against Dylan's bare skin, and the dull thud of my fathers hands smacking across his body. Every hit pounded into my chest as if it was my brothers heartbeat leaving his body, and moving into mine. I peeked over my bruising shoulder to see him laying lifeless without expression starring back at me. His mouth was gaped, his eyes were wide, and his tears still moistened his cheeks. With every hit his body bumped forward then rolled back, but his face remained the same. Heavy breathing was all that filled the room. My father hovered in between us temporarily forced to catch his breath and stop the attack. His heated exhales dispersed across my legs. My eyes filled with tears, and I began crying in silence trying not to disturb my fathers moment of letup.
The pounding of my mothers feet rumbled up the stairs. Her muffled screams reverberated into the room.
"Wendell, Stop it!"
I glanced over to the doorway to watch her feet barge into our room. I pulled myself out from under the bed, and twisted into a ball in the corner of the room. Mom shuffled closer to us, and suddenly stopped, then took a step back when she saw Dylan. Her assuming eyes shivered with anxiety while she muffled her scream with her hands gasping in panic.
"Wendell, No, No, No!"
She rushed passed my palpitating father to Dylan's side, and pulled his body up to hers. She frantically checked his breath, then desperately tapped his face. Each slap got more frantic, and when she did not receive a positive response became harder. Tears flooded her eyes and she wailed a dreadful howl that deepened into a low angry growl of realization. Her body and voice trembled in pain, but anger towards my father began flooding through her veins.
"Oh, what did you do?"
She laid his body down, turned toward my father, and stood up. She dragged herself closer in his direction and her body doubled in size.
"You drunk son of a bitch!"
She raised her hand reaching toward the ceiling and lunged at him, clobbering his body with all of her might. He absorbed most of them without retaliation, but a couple grazing his face riled him up. He jumped up fighting off the blows, and grabbed my mothers arms tossing her into the wall. He stepped over my brothers body, and began kicking her while she was down. He booted her in the stomach, and stomped on her legs. I couldn't sit back, and watch any longer. Her body was curled against the bureau. She had nowhere else to go. I stood up and demanded it to end.
"Dad, Stop it now your killing her!"
He ignored me. Without thought, my body thrust into action, I ran across the bedroom and began pounding on my fathers back. His kicks alternated with slaps, then punches. My mother held out her arms attempting to soften each blow, but was quickly grew weaker.
I punched him hard and kicked him even harder. I tried grabbing onto his arms and legs, but kept getting thrown back with his force. Nothing seemed to dull his rage. He was too strong for me. I had to do something or my mother was going to die too. Impulsively, I jumped on his back like those I had seen at the rodeo do to the bulls. I then dug my teeth into his shoulder, and bit off a chunk of flesh into my mouth. This worked. I had gotten my fathers attention alright. It finally took his focus off my mother, and placed it onto me, but before I could adjust for my next move, he bucked me off his back. I hit the ground harder than I had ever hit anything before. My chest burned, and I couldn't take in anymore air. I gasped for more. My arms reached for anything to help force oxygen back into me, and I squirmed in anguish. I gasped for air.
Part 7: Upside Down
I gasp for air. The veins in my neck are throbbing fast while I strain to breath. My pulsating eyes flutter open only as far as the onset swelling will allow. Darkness engulfs me, except a dull glowing light emitting from somewhere outside, which highlights the edges of the various strewn objects around me. My mouth is gaping wide searching for more oxygen to suck in. I struggle to find a little as most of the air is mixed with smoke causing me to choke with every attempt. My head feels like it is spinning in circles about to lift off my body, and I am reminded of The Gravitron ride from the carnival I used to frequent as a kid, but this is actually painful. My face is covered in my blood, and every drip that leaves my body adds to a puddle below me. As my vision begins to re-focus, I realize I am still in my car, but its not right side up. Instead I am strapped in my seat belt dangling in a twisted metal casket. The roof is almost fully caved in, crumbled beneath me, and inches from my face. Just like a quilt, the windshield is stretched across my chest and lap, having been mangled into three large pieces, and barely bound together by a thin membrane. The rain from the storm is flooding in water through whats left of the front end. My deflated airbag drapes across my steering wheel torn into shreds and twisted up with the tree limbs that are poking through the front end of the car.
I attempt to look around to gain my bearings. To my left, the door is caved in, and is pressing against my ribs. The window is shattered, and the opening to climb out is barely large enough for even a baby to fit through. That won't work. To my right, it appears there is much more room to get out as the passenger side seems to have taken less damage, but its still narrow. Stretching to see out the hole in the door, I observe a large pool of liquid swirling about. From my angle I assume it is oil or gas coming from the car due to its oil-slick properties, but I cannot confirm it. My pupils constrict when my focus is drawn to an orange flickering light in the reflection of the liquid. It's a fire. My car is on fire! My panic increases, and my attempts to suck in air quicken, yet the smoke continues to overwhelm my gasps. I am getting weaker. I have been in a car accident. I attempt to yell out for assistance.
"Help, Please help me. Is anyone there?"
My words come out hoarse and lack oomph. No one is going to hear me if I cannot be heard. Every time I attempt to yell a sharp pain stabs me deep inside my body. I am throbbing everywhere. The nerve endings throughout my body places are sending stinging pains all over me like tiny fireworks of torment. How did I get here? I am baffled at how I even got here in the first place. The last thing I can remember was when I was walking through the alley towards my car after I left the bar. My head is getting light. My mind is fuzzy, but I try to call out again.
I see no other light around within my limited view; Only the growing fire through the thickening smoke. I take in deep breath, yet my throat instantly burns and forces me to retract my attempt. I begin moving my head around to find cleaner air.
"Hey. You down there. Can you hear me?"
I hear the faint voice of a man echoing around me. I respond.
My voice doesn't seem to travel beyond the car walls. I attempt another few breaths. My vision is fading.
"Are you okay? I gonna try to come down to you. If you can hear me hang tight"
I don't know if I have time to wait. The snaps and cracks of the building inferno cause immediate anxiety and force me to take action. I must leave even if he is on his way to help. I reach to grab at the seat belt that is holding up my entire weight, and pressing into my neck. It is locked, and doesn't loosen. I cannot lift myself back into my seat. I stick my hand out onto the steering wheel, gain a tight grip, and push myself up enough to reduce the tension. With the other arm, I reach behind me, pressing the seat belt button. It unlatches, but instantly causes me to fall onto my head. My breathing is even shallower now that I am folded over. I must move now. I elongate my body downward starting to twist myself toward the passenger door. I am weaker. I hear the man shouting again to another person.
"Julie, call for help. Keep the kids away, and wait for them to get here!"
As I get closer to the contorted metal exit, the smell of gas becomes prominent, and the heat from the flames becomes almost unbearable. I notice that the back end of the car is ignited, and reaching its flamed fingers toward the gas tank. I don't have much time. With every pull, I feel more sluggish. With every breath I am more faint. Tears fill my eyes not from my emotional state, but instead from the stinging smoke that is flooding into my eyes.
Whats the point in trying. My voice is too quiet and certainly won't be heard over the constant buzz from the rain. It's a waste of energy and of hope. My heartbeat is attempting to gallop its way out of my chest. I pull myself forward again assisting with a kick from my legs off the seat cushion. I am slowly scraping myself through an onslaught of broken glass, shards of metal, and unknown chemicals that are stinging my open wounds. The hole in the door is large enough to get through if I slip each shoulder out separately. I shift my body to laying on my backside instead. I slide again navigating one shoulder followed by my head out of the car. There is rustling in the woods nearby me. I make an effort to raise my neck to see. A man scaling down a thick forested hillside appears to be attempting to make his way towards me. He is holding onto trees, and roots on his way down.
"I'm almost there. Can you hear me? Are you awake?"
I lay here with my mouth yawned. My words are not able to escape me, yet I find myself quivering my lips in the shape of the words I want to say. My sight grows feeble and the sharpness fades more. I fold my remaining shoulder out of the door, then squeeze my body through by pushing myself off the side of the car. With no more energy to spare I land onto the edge of the puddled mixture of water and chemicals, while I lay there facing the sky. I am fading here in the mud, rocks, and debris half in and half out of the car door. The fire is fully gleaming, and its smoke leaves behind a thick film over everything it touches including my skin, face, and the interior lining of my throat. My skin retracts as the heat sucks all the moisture from my body that is not touching the puddle. I gasp as if I am a fish out of water.
"Sir. Sir! Are you okay?"
The man slides into the puddle with me and shoves his arms underneath my shoulders. He begins to pull me away from the car stopping to what seems ten feet away. A temporary relief of my burning body. I look up at his face to see his lips moving, but the words are coming in and out muffled only to change to hearing him clearly, until they eventually go back to muffled.
"SSssssir. Isss there anyone elssssee?"
He begins tapping my face, but I cannot feel it. My head absorbs his thumps, but I cannot feel it. Am I dying?
"You drove off the road, just missing us, My wife is calling for help. Your gonna be ok."
I slowly shift my focus from him to turn my head to my side, while I take my surroundings in. I follow the shallow ruts that my legs left behind when he dragged me away from the blazing car. They lead me back to the puddle. Plunging peacefully into the pool are dozens of perfectly round droplets. Each one separately exploding into the liquid at their terminal speed, and crashing to a halt instantly ending their short lives and merging with more fluid. How wonderful. How amazing to be born among the highest place on earth, and to see the entire world as you crash towards inevitability, but you remain fearless and waste no time with imperfections, insecurities, and experience no pain or suffering because you only have minutes to live. I envy the rain drops. I lay here mindfully aware of each one of their existences. I appreciate what they mean. The storm above is cleansing me or perhaps preparing me for the next journey.
"Yyyyour gonna make ittt. Just hold onnnnn!"
The mans voice is echoing into my head. It sounds like it is miles away, but I know he is holding my body cradling me. I somehow am feeling young again.
Colored strobe lights are bouncing off the trees and the water. The car is fully engulfed. The man starts dragging me a little further away to what I assume is a safer distance. I begin to smile at the simplicity and the beauty of nature existing without the hindrance from the chaos I have caused; From the hell that society causes. Nature moves on with or without our involvement. It continues without me in it, and doesn't waver from its perfect form. Just like the droplets, I have sped through my life, and now it seems I have reached its unavoidable end. Nature changes for no one remaining resilient in the face of everything, yet it is soft and subtle, harnessing perfect beauty and grace; Similar to my mother. I look around me. I notice more drops begin splashing off my forehead and face. I feel nothing as they are running down my cheeks. For once, it is not me who is sad and crying out of anger or fear, but instead mother earth is doing it for me. The beads of rain bounce of my face, and I smile. I smile because I know that my time has come to seek my revenge. My time has come to fulfill my promise. My time has come, and I smile once more. The rain splashes against my skin.
Part 8: The Confirmation
Rain Splashed against my skin, and streamed down my face as I stood there hovering the empty hole in the ground. There was a consistent hum in the air, which was only interrupted by the frequent snaps of the raindrops smacking against the well-manicured lawn and headstones around me. There air lacked motivation. A similar dullness filled my heart. My mother stood brazenly beside silent and motionless, holding her head high and unyielding. The only weakness she exhibited went unseen, yet I felt it when she leaned her shoulder into mine for support. Her arms squeezed around mine like a tourniquet, and while it was uncomfortable, I allowed the lack of blood flow as a pained reminder that it was a difficult day for the both of us. I too had remained still, while I maintained a deadpan stare, entertained by the freshly dug hole that had been slowly filling with water and muck. As the edges of the grave became more wet and unstable, chunks of crumbled earth had started to fall into the darkness, each with their own dejected plunk.
We were soaked from our head to our toes, and though were sharing a fairly large umbrella, our prolonged exposure to the storm ensured we were drowning in water come burial time. I guess our anticipation overcame us, and we should have arrived later. The rain had dampened everything, except our tears, because on this day we did not produce any. We were present at this funeral not for sadness, and certainly not for love, but instead for confirmation. Ironically, this muddy mayhem of a burial was exactly what was deserved, and if it wasn't for us having been there, the only attendee would have been the grave diggers. What a pleasantry to know that my father, the late husband of my mother, and the murderer of my brother and unborn sister four years prior, would have such a pathetically gloomy exit from this life into hell.
My mother clenched my arm even harder which gained my attention. I glanced down to find her fixated on something far in front of us and followed her gaze to see what she was staring at. Driving toward us on an old path lined with oak trees was a black hearse inching towards us trailed by a dust cloud close behind. I felt both of our muscles constrict with anxiety, as the car and its passengers maneuvered the path originally built for farmers and their horses in the early 1900's. Every tree that they passed was another drunken beating. Each hill they disappeared below was a day that I existed without my siblings. Every heart beaten second that I waited for their arrival was a memory of that day four summers earlier.
Flashbacks of Dylan's purplish pale skin flashed into my mind. I remembered watching his strained expression not waiver, as three policeman followed my father out of the room to their cars; A welcomed interference that was later revealed occurred only because our neighbor, Mr. Jefferies, who having overheard the horrors going on inside, called for help, and subsequently saved both our lives. When the ambulance arrived, they worked on him right away. Dylan's bloodshot eyes were staring open into the floor boards without a blink or twitch left in them. They pounded his chest cavity into the floor and blew lungfuls of air into his mouth, yet nothing produced my brothers life back into him. The entire time, I remained in the corner as my mother reached out for me. I was as cold and lifeless as my brother inside, yet I still had a heartbeat, and watched everything unfold in shock. I regret denying her an embrace that day, but I refused to move from my corner fearfully frozen in place. After, they exhausted all efforts to revive him, the lead paramedic declared him dead on the scene. He began to write down various scribbles on a too-regularly used spiral bound notepad. His words followed by my mothers primal outcries of pain and sorrow, pierced a hole in me again, while I waited for the hearse to pull up and park.
"Time of Death, Ten Thirteen P.M."
Even with the enormous physical suffering she had endured, my mom rolled off the floor pushing through everyone helping her to get to him. She gripped him again close to her body. Dylan's head rested against her chest, and she rocked him to sleep one last time. A dry bitter sorrow filled the air, while she combed through his hair with her fingers and whimpered under her breath.
My mother had never told anyone that she was pregnant before that night for she feared my father would have punished her for it, or worse, forced her to get an abortion. They had already been stretched thin on money for a while, and she was trying to find a way to justify having the baby or to solve the problem before she told him. She was probably right waiting to share the news, but ironically with how violently he beat her that night, my future sister became a miscarriage anyways, and to compound the horror, he internally damaged her enough ensuring her likelihood of having any more children would be considered a miracle. At least that what the doctor explained when we had gotten to the hospital, and was forced to deliver an underdeveloped four month old baby. Her name would have been Samantha, my mother told me.
The hearse's doors slammed shut, snapping that horrific moment out my mind. Three men then stepped to the back of the car in an almost choreographed fashion. One man was Father Henry from our local church. He carefully snapped open his umbrella and placed it in his left hand while gripped his bible tightly in his right. For almost twenty years he had been considered an honorable and trusted man among everyone in the town, and even though he knew the history of my family, and certainly didn't agree with the reputation my father had held in our household, the pastors pact with god superseded his own judgment against the now deceased, Wendell Harper. He was here to bless this funeral irregardless of where the soul's final destination would end up because that was what a pastor did. For me, I was certain it would be hell, therefore I prayed it that way each night until I fell asleep leading up to the day of this funeral. The other two men attending were the gravediggers, Larry and Steve Sullivan, who were both brothers, each retired firemen, and had been the dedicated groundskeepers of the Rural Vale Baptist Church for longer than my father had been alive. They drew the casket from the back of the car onto a large wheeled metal cart, shut the folding doors closed, and shuffled Wendell's remains towards the hole traversing around the muddy patches of exposed earth. It only took three careful minutes before they had the casket aligned and placed over the grave, which cued Father Henry to step before the small assembly of people to begin the short and speedy memorial service.
"A moment of silence please."
At first, my mother, and I remained silent, but my mother could not stop fidgeting with pent up anger until she eventually lifted her head up in excitement and burst out loud with fury.
"No. No we will not give him silence! He doesn't deserve it. Just bury the bastard!"
Caught of guard, Father Henry looked around nervously, and fearing confrontation, continued the service by granting her lack of peace for the burial, no questions asked. He spoke a little louder as the rain intensified. The words he said that day were a meaningless formality of his faith under the guise of god, which held no importance or reason for me to regard them to be true, especially when I could see that even Father Henry didn't believe what he was saying. There would be no forgiveness. There would be no repentance, and Wendell Harper was going straight to hell. When it was my time to approach the casket, I did without hesitation unlike my mother who decided to keep a distance. I did so not because I wanted to wish him a safe and peaceful journey, but instead to vow a promise that I would meet him in the inferno one unforeseen day to seek my revenge, and to invoke my wraith upon him for eternity. I whispered my words to him softly so that only he would hear my vows of revenge. As the casket was lowered into the ground I stood over it to ensure it was fully buried. I remained there until the dirt heaped over the top. The gravediggers each placed their final scoops of muddy earth onto the heaping pile which caused a small avalanche of soil to cascade over the top of my shoes. Dirt crumbles covered my shoes.
Part 9: The Awakening
The Awakening of Heather Lewis
I wake. I wasn't supposed to wake, yet I did. My hospital gown is freshly tucked under my legs, and a blanket is wrapped neatly around me while I lay here. I am confused as I am not struggling to breath anymore, and I am alive. At least I think I am. I'm in pain which is to be expected after many hours of surgery, but I was so sure that I would not live to see my twenty third birthday that I made peace with my death. Of course my family and boyfriend supported me through this entire lengthy process which is expected. It's what a family is supposed to do when they find out their daughter has a rare form of terminal lung cancer, but here I lay alive and drowsy, and breathing normal. I take in the room around me. An empty cup of coffee sits next to me, and I instantly know it is my fathers or was I suppose. He's the only one that drinks coffee that I know. My mothers favorite ten year old grey knit sweater lays over the arm of the chair next to my bed. Flowers fill the window sill adding a splash of color to what is rather a dreary day outside. Beads of rain race each other down the panes of industrial grade glass overlooking a series of roofs, which stretch towards a tree-lined forest off in the distance. On a clipboard to my left are what appear to be patient notes that the nurse must have left when I was sleeping. My mystery loving crime-novel-self picks it up, and begin reading them. Patient is stable after a successfully surgery. Will require post-op checkups for six months. Donor's family has permitted notification upon request of which patients family wants to send flowers, and a thank you card. Lung donor: James Harper, 47, Male from Marysville, TN.
The Awakening of Jacob Peters
I can barely open my eyes for I am too weak. The sounds from the heartbeat monitor is the weakest I have heard all night. My wife's hand is resting on mine, and though I don't have the energy to see her, I feel the weight of her love in each finger. My time left on this earth seems inevitably ending sooner than later, but I am still hopeful. Being told you have just had a major heart attack is more than an eye opener its a life changer. I never thought at fifty eight years old that I would be so young in this situation, yet here I am dying with my wife at my side. I regret every bad decision I have made with my health. It was not worth the tiniest moments of joy a slice of cake brings when all that really matters now is another second with the love of my life. This year would have been Sarah and I's thirtieth Anniversary. It is hard for someone used ot having all the answers and being in total control of his life, to now sit here at the mercy of everyone else. I squeeze her hand, and my wife returns it. My nurse walks in abruptly, ultimately shaking up the wonderful and mindful moment I am having. I find the energy to turn my head toward her direction in the room and keep my eyes open just enough to remain undetected.
My wife alerts straight up, and into a standing position.
"Because you are Jacobs power of attorney you can speak on his behalf."
She began getting a concerned look on her face as she always expects the worse of things first, even though I always tell her to stop assuming.
"What. Whats wron...?"
The nurse, seeing her getting animated fear decides to interrupt her before she could get any further into her series of questions.
"No, ma'am. It not what you think. I came to tell you good news. I just need your approval for Jacob"
"We have a donor heart that just came in. We would need to prep Jacob right now to get him ready for surgery. We have a heart, Mrs. Peters."
My wife was beside herself. She began gasping in excitement while covering her mouth with one hand and leaned to stabilize herself on the edge of the chair with the other. Tears flooded out, and her shoulders noticeably dropped with relief.
"Yes, please, yes. Do it. Please save him."
I don't know how I had the energy, but I had to know how they found a donor that quick for me. I tried to formulate a sentence in my mind, but only came up with one word to say to her.
Both of them looked at me, and after I did not get an answer right away I asked again with a little more grit.
The nurse was hesitant at first, but started to review the paperwork while responding as she flipped through the clipboard.
"It says here, that the family is OK with it. His name was James Harper.
The Awakening of Michael Johnson
My phone rings. It is a ringtone I barely recognize, but the sound that I have been waiting for, for nearly two years. I haven't heard its cheery uplifting beat since I assigned it to the phone number. I look down at my screen. I skip a breath and almost loose my balance. Transplant Biomedical Services is displayed back to me. I set the phone on the counter in front of me in disbelief, and back away. I step back to pick it back up afraid to lose the call and afraid to miss the opportunity, quickly sliding the green button to answer. A woman's voice echos from the tiny speaker into my ear.
I wait to speak, and cannot respond besides muttering a few incoherent sounds.
"Am I speaking to Mr. Michael Johnson?"
I clear my throat to speak.
"Yes, This is him."
"Sir We have good news. We have found a match, and you are next on our donation list. Mr. Johnson we have found your kidneys"
My eyes gloss over, and I am filled with joy, fear, and every other emotion a person can feel in this moment. I am overwhelmed and thrilled.
"Are you available Wednesday at 1:15pm for surgery?"
I brace myself against the countertop while I stand there barely able to hold myself up in the kitchen. My wife overhears my conversation and walks into the kitchen intently staring at me.
"Um, yes that is soon, OK. Well, I have something that day, but but yes I will make it happen. Of course. Yes, Ma'am. Yes. I will be there"
"The donors mother, would like to give you the option to know who the donor is. Would you like to know?"
"Yes. I suppose anyone would want know the person who is about to save their life"
"Your donor is James Harper he was forty seven, and his mother would like you to know that he was the most loving, and caring man and son. He was just was misunderstood by many. We will send you the details via email with your preparations and restrictions for Wednesday. Please review them and send back the appropriate files signed."
"Thank you so much"
The phone call ended and I placed it on the counter again, looked up to my wife, and nodded to her emotionally.
"They found a donor. His name was James Harper"
Part 10: On Beaver Pond
Crumbles of dirt began spreading across the tops of my shoes as I cautiously approach Dylan's backside. He is digging a rather large hole viciously into the ground near the ponds edge for more worms; His empty baked beans can is laying next to him. I approach closer, enough to hover over him completely, and accidentally block out the sun, casting a shadow over his work area. He stops, then turned towards me. It takes a moment for him to recognize me as I obviously have aged, but within seconds, he knows who I am and can feel my love. Without a beat, without confusion or questions, and without any judgment, he shouts out my name in excitement.
He jumps up to embrace me, and I squeeze him tightly back. I instantly smile. He looks up to me, his grin matching mine, and I know in this instant that the revenge I so angrily envisioned, the suffering I planned on inflicting for eternity on a mans soul, that was not worth my thoughts or my time, and the miserable life I tortured myself through, will never compare to the days of joy I instead will be sharing with my brother fishing at our favorite spot, on Beaver Pond.
"Grab a pole, I'm just getting a few more worms for us."
He turns away beginning to dig deeper.
"Today we are catching a big one!"
The Only Way Home
Chris reluctantly left behind his last regarded safe space as his foot propelled him off the school late bus and into an anxiety-filled evening. Taking this specific bus was the only available option for him to catch a ride home each night due to his recent choice to join the school’s football team. A decision for him, that was quickly becoming a regrettable one. The accordion door closed swiftly behind him forcing an air tight seal between the security of the bus’s interior, and the cruel fall night where he vulnerably stood.
It was as usual this night as it always was. He was very much exhausted from a full day of schoolwork followed by barely surviving another evening practice, which he recently determined was designed to kill him. Chris Sighed. He heaved his backpack over his shoulders, and turned to face the mile long hill he was soon to embark on for the last time this week. The wind was ripping through from the west, attempting to pull the dancing trees from their roots, and creating ominous shadows that stretched across the winding road. The spider-like branches creepily scurried out of sight and disappeared into a vortex of darkness that even the moonlight could not seem to penetrate. Chris remained frozen still.
The air brakes on the bus released all of their pressure dispersing a cloud of pebbles and dust into his face. In a flash of a familiar faces mixed with a yellow blur flickering across his view, the bus exited down the road rapidly out of sight. Chris’ hands waved a clearing through the dirt cloud that surrounded him, paused, then dropped them to his side with a dispirited thud. There was no one waiting at the foot of the hill, and though he had gotten used to maintaining the lowest of expectations that he would be warmly greeted and lovingly embraced, he still had held onto a bit of hope.
Unfortunately, the reality that this weekend was starting the same way the last ten before it had, begun fully sinking in, and he had to walk this hill once more this week.
Perhaps he was a burden, or his parents’ decision to make him walk alone was a life lesson he would later learn, whatever their excuse was, the refusal to offer a ride, even once in a while, was rude and unsupported. He hated this hill. He also hated the dark, and this country back-road offered both. It was the worst part about his decision to join the team second only to the physical death that he endured during every practice. Although, despite the setbacks, Chris regularly reminded himself that this was a calculated attempt in expanding his physical and social experiences while also allowing him to escape the alcohol-fueled arguments plaguing his home.
Chris usually diverted speaking of home when asked, and mostly avoided the subject all together. Similar to the others they lived in prior, this dwelling could not be claimed as their own, and for the past five months they had been squatting on someone else’s land, only to recently move inside just before winter. The Property belonged to a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Hixon, who was a kind nurturing lady, and was known to be most loyal to her flowers and garden throughout the year. She remained a dedicated state employee for over 20 years, which was a direct contrast to the personalities and lifestyle of his freeloading parents. The news they had gathered from local neighbors eluded them to believe that she had moved out after a lengthy divorce only a few years prior, and no one had seen either of them since. However long they would live at this house remained to be seen, but Chris concluded that it was far better than the tents that sheltered them over the spring. Its not like he could do anything about it anyways, so he never complained, but morally and ethically it never really settled well in his thoughts.
“Let’s do this,” he said to himself with an encouraging whimper.
Despite getting bulked up for the football season, tonight Chris’ fear of the dark woods and the creatures that lurked within them was not dissuaded, and he stood there as if he was the worlds tiniest mouse. Though, he was full of paralyzing thoughts, he eventually managed to muster a bit of courage; A combination rooted out of necessity, a growing pain in his stomach, and him channeling his favorite film hero played by Sylvester Stallone. Chris took a deep breath, then exited the edge of the street lights into the darkness that had become his familiar way home.
Like most back roads, the ones in Vermont are reliably unforgiving, usually littered with pot holes, loose gravel, and the occasional slippery dirt, thus guaranteeing a bumpy ride and an even more sketchy hike. Thankfully for Chris, on this night, the moon dimly guided his climb to the top whenever it had a chance to peek through the patches of clouds rolling overhead. The wind busted through the bushes and quickly howled across his feet. As if a pack of wolves were nipping at his heels, his pace hurried onward, careful to glance over his shoulder every few steps. Shadows danced over him from the branches above as leaves and twigs snapped off in a winding flurry of chaos. They fell fast and hard into the deep ravine below, but not before beating themselves across Chris’s face. Somehow, he was in their way to their final destination. The branches reached out their monstrous arms seemingly trying to grab at him which surely was as an attempt to pull him into the darkness where he feared he would be lost to the endless depths of the forest, forever. He wasn’t curious enough to learn that fate and instead ducked and dodged around every reaching limb as if his thick lineman legs were that of an agile running back avoiding every tackle to score a game-winning touchdown.
“Almost there,” he whispered to himself.
He stumbled forward, kicking the rocks along the road that he could not see, and attempting to stay upright while muttering pale attempts to build his bravery enough to make it home. His steps grew faster while he began using the energy that his coach demanded he was to leave on the field a few hours earlier. Tonight, he was glad that he had not. Chris’ mind was a mad alchemist fabricating the darkest woodland of evil around him, and causing his jutting eyes to search every direction for the next potential thing that could observably kill him. He twitched with anxiety. A crack of a twig frantically snapped his head to the right. He was in a whirlwind of fear. His footsteps mirrored his heavy breathing, and he tightened his shoulder straps to lessen his body from over-swaying.
“Just get home,” he urged.
The pointless conversation he was having with himself calmed his nerves at best for a few moments, but did little to nothing to scare off the increasing hallucinations of the flickering pairs of eyes that starred back at him from behind the trees. They tortured him by keeping their distance. He wondered why they wouldn’t come out from the shadows and just take him alive. It would be easy to end it quickly, yet the monsters that followed him remained there still and motionless as if they were mocking him. A rustle in the bushes flipped him around, forcing him into a backwards jog. Being on high alert meant that every shadow was a demon and every sound was a coming attack. Chris began sprinting, and covered a quarter-mile in what seemed under a minute. He was singularly focused on getting home safely, and as quick as his energy would allow, until a flickering light began dancing through the trees just ahead of him. His pace slowed as the familiar porch light illuminated through an opening in the woods.
His fear induced thoughts of the eerie forest, the dreadful trees extending their claws to snatch him, and the howling wind that chased him up the hill, began to recede, yet he realized in actuality that all the perils from the woods, he had just arguably and perceptibly survived, were likely minimal, in comparison to the real darkness that remained hidden from him behind his own front door.
Chris stood at the foot of the driveway, and decided to stay a little longer, in the dark…
Yesterday, She Remembered
Blank Stare, Her Lifetime Memories Lost.
There’s no need to go any further
I am not what you label me to be,
though you feel you are employed to tell me what you think, what you feel, or how I can be a better use to society.
What you fail to realize is that I’ve already heard those words, from myself, from the all too regular passersby on the street.
But that’s not what defines me.
There’s no need to go any further, because at the end of the day,
I determine what definition I want my name to read.
It’s all too easy to say just leave,
but have you felt the iron fist of love hit you on the cheek?
Have you put in the time to heal your wounds, yet remain loyal to your commitment to the one you vowed you’d never leave?
It’s harder than you think,
especially when you stand by hoping for it to change.
It’s harder than you think.
There’s no need to go any further, as I contain more strength and fortitude in my swollen eye, than you produce in fifty-two weeks.
My shortened hair is like a beacon to you.
It’s been ten years since we last shared words, yet here you are with your keystrokes of sorrow as if you’ve been here indefinitely.
There’s no hand to hold or a warm embracing squeeze,
just the coldness of kind words shared digitally.
I am more than the diagnosis I received.
There’s no need to go any further, as every remaining hair on my head contains an accomplishment, I set out to achieve, or a memory I had once created,
or a life I helped inspire to believe.
My thickened armor is not here by choice, contrary to belief.
It’s not a product of laziness or lack of responsibility,
yet you don't hear my explanation and continue to chisel away my exterior with your daggers and blades, attempting to form what you deem a perfect human being.
My armor exists, in part, as a symbiotic response to your misguided needs;
A habitual overdose to fill the void, to cover the pain, and to ignore the hate.
My Armor Protects me.
There’s no need to go any further, as I am more than just on the surface or skin deep.
My whole body is molded with perseverance and shaped with the idea that one day
I will be happy. I am happy.
I am not a freak.
Look at you, looking at me.
It seems you are vicariously living in my shoes trying to man the helm,
when it's you who's lost at sea.
I am not a label, a bruise, an illness, or what I eat.
Despite what society deems to be proper, at the end of the day, I am Unique.
There is no difference between you and I. We just view things through a different set of eyes.
There's no need to go any further.
Gravel in your Gut
Part 1: Old Saloon in a Street of Mud
Drops of rain bounced fiercely off the brim of my knackered old hat, dampening out any chances I had of hearing the crisp steady sounds of Johnny Stud, a young traveling fiddler from Arkansas who happened to be skipping to his own upbeat tune inside the saloon I had now stood in front of. After two days of travel, my mouth was dryer than the Texas summers I had experienced as a boy, and tonight I fully intended on drowning myself into the warm clutches of the cheapest Tennessee Hooch they offered, either until I lost consciousness or when the bar keep, Mr. Silverstein, closed the bar doors locking me out for good.
The Gatlinburg mud stained the lower third of my elongated coat splashing against me in a fanfare of thickening muck, and I preferred it that way. I finished hitching my horse and was sure to double wrap the lead, then turned toward the yellow hue illuminating from the windows of the Black Forest Cantina. The end of my night hastefully invited me in, however with much control, and no reason to rush, I realigned my lower back. I made sure to adjust my six-shooter while I snapped my waist-band back into place and tightened down the straps.
Navigating up the stairs to the saloon I dipped my head underneath the sheet of water converging off the edge of the roof. Each droplet drilled a shallow ditch further into the ground forming along the perimeter of the porch. A wife and her leather-faced husband exited the bar tripping over one another. The man barely kept his legs under himself as most of his weight laid over her shoulders. She struggled to drag him toward his horse, yet somehow remained composed and lady like in their oddly choreographed shuffle. I nodded to her.
The responding scowl on her face carried the weight of years of embarrassment he must had burdened upon her. I got the feeling this was a regular occurrence, and would be willing to bet he will be sleeping in the barn tonight with the cows, provided she managed to get him home. I sparked up a match, then flicked the remaining ashes off my previously half-smoked cigar, and forced the embers into an orange glow. A strong draw eventually illuminated my tangled beard, and a thick musky smoke filled my mouth. I held it in for a moment dropping a shoulder into the porch post. My gaze followed the disorderly couple on their way home, and arguably well on their way to a divorce. I exhaled a cloud of relaxation into the air above me, watching it dissipate similarly to the way their silhouettes faded into the darkness, as they dipped into the shadows behind the general store.
Occasional hoots and yips from the patrons jarred my attention as the drunkards danced and sang to the ditties’ that Stud played inside. His fiddle-stick kissed the strings quick and witty, but not too complicated to follow, and carried a somewhat repetitive locomotive sound that chugged along, and was accompanied by the clashing of the emptied glasses filling the room. It was a lively welcomed contrast to the isolating July monsoon I had just endured, having trampled through the mountains from Hot Springs, sixty-miles north-east of here. A good stretch, a warm drink, and maybe a little attention from a widower looking for a few coins, would be all I need to set me up for another few days on my trip to Chattanooga.
With my cigar clenched in my teeth I shook off my coat, kicked any loose mud onto the floorboards, and folded my jacket over my arm. I then pushed my way through the folding doors to enter the Cantina, a regular stop for me when I came through. Somewhere in the corner of the bar I spotted a stool that was close enough to the alcohol yet offered a view of the room that did not infringe too much on my security. Trust me, when you are in as many bars as, I am you appreciate having your back to a corner. I sat down, jamming myself between a balding loud-mouthed fat man, and an unwashed tattered mess of a woman who was passed out in her own vomit on the bar. Perhaps surprising, it was not the worst place I stopped to have myself a brew.
The inside of the place was well lit, centering around two large Chandeliers equally spaced above a somewhat-impressive main room, and stretching to the top of a lofted ceiling. The remaining light was accented by enough wall sconces you could lose count of. There were five dedicated gambling tables, three filled of poker players, and two occupied by dedicated black jack players. Each were scattered among a dozen regular patron tables filled with mainly fur trappers, lumberjacks, and soot-laden miners. Everyone was attempting to strike it big, or at least enough to have a free night of partying. The place was dingy at its cleanest. A haze from the burning tobacco mixed with the gas lanterns on the walls, filled the room. A hard-working musk punched through the air and lined the inside of my nose. It was the smell of a strong respectful work ethic combined with a lack of regular bathing. It was my kind of place, and my type of town.
Johnny Stud romped his feet in the corner of the main room in unison with his infectious tune. The crowd followed suit. Some tapped their toes, a few nodded their heads, and the rest were slapping their hands to their thighs. They all seemed unknowingly hypnotized by his music as they shared conversations form across their tables. Stud was elevated above the crowd on a single-step stage tightly tucked away in front of a small piano. Reaching tall behind the stage was a staircase leading to an open-lounge loft that towered over the establishment, and accessed a series of rooms along the back perimeter of the upstairs. There was roughly a half dozen saloon girls working hard to get free drinks, attempting to acquire any extra cash however they could. They all pretended to be drunk, flirted robustly, and sat across the laps of what appeared to be wealthy business men. An experienced stout woman walked into my view leading a man up to her personal room, the fifth door from the top of the stairs to the left. They disappeared for a short while, then re-emerged. Their clothing was more frazzled and out of order than when they entered. One had become a little richer, and the other, of clearer mind, but both were satisfied when they parted ways.
My scanning of the room was interrupted by Mr. Silverstein.
“What’ll you have?”
I pulled my gaze away from the room.
“The cheapest dark you got”
He reached under the shelf and fumbled around for a bit, but finally came up with a full bottle, mainly untouched, of an unknown whiskey. His eyes widened with unsurety followed by a shrug of his shoulders.
“Just imported from Kentucky, cheapest I got. Double for a nickel?”
I was reluctant, but when I patted my pockets, I was quickly reminded of the lack of funding I had brought with me, and ultimately caved to the inferior alcohol.
“No Choice I reckon. Keep ’em coming.”
Part 2: Dirty, Mangy Dog
A couple drinks in, and the warm welcome of the Kentucky mountains flooded through me. Though not hugely impressive, they made a stronger drink than I had initially assumed. Feeling more relaxed, entirely bold, and a little lucky, I slammed down another nickel.
“Filler ’er up Thomas.”
Mr. Silverstein shot me a stern glance over the top of his glasses while he filled my cup. The edges of his fluffed mustache provoked into a curl and met the bottom of his nose as his lips pruned together into a scowl. He never liked his first name being used outside of his very tight-knit circle. Hell, I guess I never did either, and knowing that I flourished a rise out of him, I put my hands up, waving them in submission, accompanied by a light-hearted chuckle. I leaned back into my chair choking on my own smoke.
The corner of his mouth curled with a grin slightly while he waved his pointer finger toward the tables.
“Go lose your money on one of those tables or find something to do, you grungy bastard. Just get out of my hair”
He snickered a little, while sauntering to the other end of the bar, and began wiping a disorderly mess left behind from the last rowdy customer. I turned toward the room unsure of which table I would decidedly join.
The room fell quieter than before as the Alabama man stopped playing, yet the patrons maintained a vibration throughout the room engaged in their hearty conversations. The echo of a fiddle being rested against a chair only caught the attention of a few. Then Mr. Stud made a short announcement to the room.
“I’ll be back after a long piss, and a much-needed refill.”
A couple cries in support of his chosen lack of sobriety sounded, while he stepped of the stage nodding to the house piano player who walked past him to take his seat at the keys. He started to fill the musical void playing a local favorite, Maple Leaf Rag.
“You gon do sumtin, or just sit der lookin like a foo?” interrupted the loud-mouthed fat man adjacent to me.
He was barely awake, struggling to stay upright, and swaying within the ocean of his alcohol filled gut. He misted the air around him as he talked as his lazy gut spilled over his unbuttoned pants, and jutted out below his stained shirt. I leaned back to avoid the cloud of spit shooting in every direction. With his current state, I refrained from responding, but I pondered as it had never occurred to me in all my observations that others could be watching me too. Perplexed with this thought, and unsure of how long I had been sitting there starring at the room, I rose out of my seat pushing past the sloppy drunk toward the room.
With a drink in my hand and some money to lose, I sat down at the first available seat that would deal me seven cards, and was lucky enough to have a good view of the stage. Completing the circle at the table among four other men, I threw down a few coins to buy into the next round. I scanned my competition while I got comfortable adjusting my seat. To my left donning a grey vest with matching slacks was a slick and orderly man who rose properly in his chair, and carried himself differently than most others in the room. Even well into his glass of Gin, he spoke with an educated vocabulary, and a sharp tone grabbing the attention of everyone at the table with each word, indicating to me he was either a traveling salesman, a lawyer, or perhaps worse, a politician. To my right sat two other men, both similar in build and age, and as filthy as the ground I walked in on. It was apparent they made attempts to wash their faces and hands, but the soot and crud stained their skin regardless, with a dull and dead appearance. It was also evident that they had just come straight from work to be here and I assumed they were spending their entire days wages at this table. They could have been railroad workers, but I was certain they were miners, especially from the consistent coughing and occasional black tar that accompanied their spit. Just like many young bucks before them, these two seemed to be friends. They had most likely come from the same small town, working hard to make a little extra coin for their families, before the long treacherous winter came. Sharing a few jokes and joining in some laughs they kept their presence to a minimum.
The fifth man at the table was a bigger man who sat uncomfortably bent with age. He began dealing the cards out for a new round to each of us. His crooked fingers grasped the deck revealing his onset arthritis. Though, he moved more fluidly than one would expect with thickened and twisted knuckles. He managed to keep his head hidden under his tilted hat conveniently casting a shadow over his face. I figured it was his personal way to disguise his poker tells and create a sense of mystery to those he played. It worked. Breaking me from my table read, he stopped dealing, and with a sudden poke of his brim he flicked his hat to the top of his forehead to speak to a saloon server girl passing by. He leaned into the light turning toward the girl which illuminated a long and prominent scar on his cheek. It seemed quite familiar to me. He pointed at his empty glass and groaned out a few gritty words.
“Another one, ma’am.”
He flipped a coin unnecessarily high into the air above her. She followed it as if she was a cat tracking a bird, and snatched it carefully with both hands out of the sky in a similar feline fashion. Though most girls were happy to receive any money they could, her jutting chin followed by an obvious eye-roll suggested a mild irritation, as she walked away. The large gray-haired man turned back to the table passing out the remaining cards to the rest of us, but a shimmer light passed over an unmistakable evil eye. I could not help but glance more than once. I was transfixed; Hypnotized. His distinctive squint was maintained by a raised boney cheek. His scar reached far up his face to meet the bottom of his curled and arched brow. I slowly shifted my weight in suspicion and began opening my jacket. I fumbled through my pocket for a worn-out picture my mother had given to me many years earlier. My arm extended in front of me pumping with anticipation as I squinted for my final confirmation. The men’s eyes around me shifted from their cards in my direction. In these parts it was just as unusual to have a photograph in your possession as it was to be interrupting a poker game bizarrely holding one up in front of you. Therefore, I scored two, for oddly capturing the sole focus of the table, on me. In an almost a perfect coordination with the building pressure, a well refreshed Johnny Stud entered the stage for his second set of the night. He picked up his fiddle and started in right away, stomping the hardened wooden stage, sending shock-waves through the floor boards throughout the room. My heartbeat had already been slowly increasing, but quickly increased to match his new intensity.
Before my eyes, I had the picture on one side; the old snake of a man in front of me on the other. I held it for some time, but my hand eventually lowered to the table allowing a raw and unblocked view. He starred back at me confused, yet lacked any intimidation or worry.
“You got somethin to say boy?”
The tension had broadened to the rest of the room, and the men at my table all moved away from the anticipated ring of fire about ready to take place. I abruptly stood up tumbling my chair behind me, leaned over the table, and flicked the picture into his chest. I knew without a doubt, that I had just found my father.
Part 3: Growing up Quick and Mean
Perhaps my father was not of right mind, or a fair amount of alcohol abetted him the night I was born, but without explanation, on November 15th 1855, I was named after my great-grandmother. Though, this is the origin of my pain, my bastard father managed to compound a series of bad decisions when he abandoned my mother and I, only three years later. I was cursed for the rest of my life. He left nothing for us; no money, no food, and certainly no fatherly guidance for a growing young boy. The only thing that my daddy ever did leave us was an old guitar, and an empty bottle of booze.
Growing up was quick for me. I became a man without knowing how to be one, and much earlier than most. I fought almost every day learning better how to brawl well before I could ride a horse. It was safe to say if my mother wasn’t dragging me out of the schoolhouse three times in one week, we were having a good week. In the heart of Texas, there was not a place for a boy like me. I challenged everything, especially their all-loving religion often asking myself and others, how a Just God could do this to a boy and still be considered “Just”. A fair answer was never offered nor concluded. We moved a lot, and each town we lived in seemed to mirror the last, a bane for both of us. We were judged everywhere we went, with fury of the good book knocking us further and further out of the Lone Star state, and causing my mother an enormous amount of torture and pain. It is not good for a woman to be without a man who occupies her house, and she was regularly scolded for not being married. Her anxiety and probably my wild ways, eventually led to her failed heart. Without faith, parents, or any friends, I soon became more suppressed from the public eye dipping further into the shadows for many years.
My name and my story traveled from town to town to hide my shame. I worked relentlessly after my mother passed wherever I could wrangle cattle, help in the stables, or brawl in a bar for money. I worked my way all over the south, but eventually ending up in Tennessee, today, in Gatlinburg at this old saloon in a street of mud. The years of pain, the death of a withered and broken mother taken too young, and the hatred for my abandoned youth filled my veins.
Part 4: The Mud, the Blood, and the Beer
My father glanced at the picture briefly, but discarded it onto the floor, effortlessly. He then looked up to me producing a scowl.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
The fury of my entire upbringing blazed inside my body, and I began losing my abilities to control myself. My muscles tightened, my fiery blood flushed my neck and face, and my fist hardened into stone as I ground my knuckles into a knot. We were meeting for the first time as grown men, but I knew, he knew, who I was.
“My name is Sue! How do you do?”
I clenched the end of the table promptly tossing it over my left hip into the adjacent crowd, and aggressively strode toward him. The glasses of undrunk alcohol smashed onto the ground shattering across the feet of at least eight men, and the undrunk brandy splashed across the breasts of the women who accompanied their laps. The fiddle kept chugging along louder and faster. Most bands would have already bailed at the hint someone was going to fight, but Johnny kept playing hard and rough attempting to distract the crowd, yet he fueled my anger deeper. With a dead-eye on my target and driven by only one motivation, a vow that I had made my myself many years prior, I ragefully inched my way towards him belting out.
“Now you gonna die!”
He started rising out of his chair toward me as I wound up my iron ball of a fist and thrusted the entire pain of my Texas childhood right between his eyes, knocking him back into his chair. The legs instantly buckled under the force of the impact causing him to launch further onto the laps of two men attempting to flee behind him. I surprised myself a little, and even took a second glance at my hand, impressed by the power I had just unleashed. I was confident any man would not have come back from that one, but just as he hit the ground to my surprise, he bounced up toward me faster than I had put him there. The crowd had fully encircled us clapping and yelping, and the honky-tonk was in full swing. The piano player joined Johnny and played along in a tension-building ditty. A women shrieked in the crowd distracting me for a shortest of moments.
“He’s got a knife!”
A shimmer of light from my father’s blade, whizzed past my face and easily carved out a piece of my ear. The tip of the blade punched a hole through my hat, launching it off my head. I stumbled backwards holding the area where the part of my ear used to be. The warm thickening liquid flowed everywhere; down the side of my face, over my fingers, and began filling my ear canal. We both were bleeding. His blood ran from the middle of his nose and onto the floor. He held his knife out in front of him as he hunkered toward me one slow step at a time. I hopped out of the way as he swung and extended arm toward me. We began to circle the room like caged animals. Another lunge and a miss, but it was much closer than the last. The crowd move along with us, but began constricting us in like a snake. Within seconds, I found myself backed up against the chair I had thrown earlier. He squared up to me inching forward with a smile on his face, Blood filling the gaps of his teeth. I squared to him eager for another go at that hideous smirk, and in an attempt to dissuade him, stared through his soul as I licked my blood of my hands. Without hesitation, he took two stutter-steps to the side, and lunged again toward me, forcing me to duck under his arm. I grabbed the legs of the chair and came up swinging with all my might, meeting across the front of his teeth. The wood exploded into more than a hundred splinters showering the crowd with wood dust, blood, and fine bits of teeth debris. We tumbled together off balance. The crowd gasped as the knife became air-born, flipping out of his hand and slamming tip-side down into the floor boards. Patrons began scattering out of the way opening a space for us as we crashed through the entrance doors, and onto the outside porch. We fought and bounced down the dampened stairs, swearing and yelling along the way. The thick muddy street cushioned our landing as we finally came to a stop having gouged a muddy slick in our wake. I was lucky enough to have landed mounted over the top of him.
The rain had not let up since I had first arrived. It showered us with water, washing away some, but not all of our blood. I slammed the side of his head with an open palm, then grabbed him by the throat attempting to squeeze the life out of him. He gulped for air, but instead of fear showing in his eyes, he seemed to invite the death in as he fought back. His arms had great strength but even greater reach. He inched them up my arms to my shoulders, and converged up to my forehead. He began squeezing my temples until my skull felt like it was going to cave in on itself, and then began forcing his calloused thumbs harder and deeper into my eyes. I hollered in discomfort. We both bellowed our warrior grunts back and forth while continuing to inflict a relentless onslaught of pain on each other. The crowd that had followed us out, gathered at the porch. They cheered, clapped, and stomped in glee, as if this was the best show they had seen in a decade.
We managed to roll into the steepening street a little further. I started gaining my feet and he punched me in the ribs, knocking me back to the ground. He then attempted the same. I kneed him in the gut, forcing the wind out of his body. We were almost a stalemate, yet kept fighting to gain control or die. I tried to crawl away from him to gain my balance but he grabbed my legs and pulled his slimy body on top of mine biting a series of holes into the back of my leg. I overcame the agony instantly filling with rage, and twisted around like an alligator’s death roll. I sat up, grabbed his shoulders at the sides, and headbutted him square in the forehead.
I fell backwards into the mud, sliding a few feet away, as he rolled a few times in the opposite direction. We were both in a daze, exhausted from combat, and certainly gassed from an enormous intake of alcohol. We slowly paced to our feet, slipping, crawling, and reaching for anything that could help us up. I eventually found my way to the porch steps, and he snaked himself to the watering trough. Before I could fully gain my stance, he got his feet under himself first. He rushed at me, landing a crushing blow to the middle of my back. I fell to my knees. His boot delivered another blow, launching me to my hands, bent over and almost defeated. A final blow to the side of my ribs laid me fully out. I was face down in mud, covered in blood, and reeking of piss warm beer. I thought I had learned from past fights, but I certainly underestimated the power and resilience of my enemy tonight. My father leaned against the porch post catching his breath. He spit up a large wad of blood into a puddle at the base of my feet. A piece of his tooth emerged from the quickly dissipating red mess. I would tell you I had fought tougher men, but I really couldn’t remember the last time I did. He kicked like a mule and had bit through me like a god-damned crocodile.
We stood there looking at each other with the same stalemated stare, wincing in pain, and both sharing a competitive urgency to win. My breath was heavy, and my chest rose rapidly matching my need for oxygen, yet instead of self-care, I began to rise over my feet. His hand flipped his jacket over the back of his hip revealing his six-shooter, and his palm began grazing the cylinder. I felt then it was one of our last moments, either him or I, and so I went for mine. With more speed, more anger, and sheer will to survive, I pulled mine first. He stood there defeated, finally as I rose my aim at him. He released his grip causing the gun to fall, splashing into the mud below. I held him at gun point while I leaned against the railing of the stairs matching his stance. Both of us were steadfast and quiet. I had one arm wrapped across my chest bracing my ribs. In a baffling display of arrogance, or with a cynical sense of humor, my father began to smile down the barrel of my loaded gun.
Part 5: Different Point of View
I was taken back from his display of happiness in the face of death. I took in the moment while I regained my stance, and shifted my aim. He grunted up another wad of blood, spit to his side, and cleared his throat while he chuckled to himself in defeat.
“Son, when I left your mother and you, I was in a bad place, and knew I would do more harm than good for you both. I knew this world was going to be one hell of a ride, and if a young boy was going to make it, he had to grow up tougher than leather, and sharper than nails, especially in Texas. So, I named you after my sweet grandmother, your great grandmother, Sue.
A few women on the porch awed a tone of forgiveness as they resonated in anticipation for the rest of his speech. They waved their hands rapidly onto their flushed faces and tearing eyes. Some were fortunate enough to hold a fan.
“Now I know you never met her, it was before your time, but she was the strongest mule of a person I knew; Kinda like you is now. I walked out that door before you could ever come to hate me for a thousand other reasons I would rather not re-hash, and I knew that you would be forced to thicken your skin quicker than a flash flood in a Texas drought, or you be killed and eaten alive by the ravenous world around you. It seems to me like that name helped you become one hell of a man.”
A couple men in the crowd nodded and tipped their hats as they grunted in support, but others shifted around uncomfortably from the sappy tone this father-son fight had turned into.
“I know there is a fire in your belly and your hatred of me has been burning for some time. It shows in how well you fought. You fight with passion; asking questions later, and I respect that. Hell, I would not blame you to kill me now. I certainly gave you a damn good reason to do so, but before you do, I ask you to think about how you came to receive that gravel in your gut, and the spit in your eyes. No matter how horrible I have been to you, and all of the mistakes I have made throughout my useless life, I am still the son of a bitch that named you, Sue.”
The rain was the only thing that broke the silence throughout the crowd. It continued crashing against the beaten and tattered roof. One harsh droplet after another my head and ran down my face. I was speechless. My mind racing to calculate my next move. I stood there still, gripping my gun; sure to keep a bead on my father. The crowd was filled with individual statues, some gaping at the jaw, all motionless. Everyone waited, including me. On one side, I had an unbearable past, solely created by the man in front of me, and my revenge was just on the other side of a bullet. I was angry and seeking a relief. On the other side, I had my old man that I had never come to know, who stood in front of me alive, mercifully explaining his heart out, and showing me a different side to what I thought I knew all my life. What could I do?
I moved my mouth to speak, but could not formulate words. I got all choked up. He was right, I was a passionate fighter, but that passion could go both ways. I lifted my thumb to the cocked hammer, pulled back, and eased it forward. I lowered my gun, and holstered it. My father stood still, but you could tell a sense of relief moved through his body. Tonight, I chose compassion.
“Pa, I reckon were gonna need a drink after this one.”
He took a moment, nodding his head in agreeance.
“We sure as hell are, son”