Tag Archives: essay

Folding Chairs

old folding chair

 

The pickup lurches a little when I put it in gear, and there’s a rattle I’m starting to fear is coming from the water pump. If it’ll hold for the next two paychecks I’ll be able to have it replaced.

It’s October and warm for the afternoon. I steer to avoid smashed road kill and a deputy notices that I cross the center line. I see him in my rearview mirror, debating whether or not to hassle me. He never pulls out, though. I’m at my pop’s house in twenty minutes.

He gives the dogs free reign inside, which gives the house the suffocating odor of musk and hidden dog shit. I make a mental note to set aside a weekend to help him clean.

He’s sitting at the kitchen table, a fat boxer sitting over both his feet. Two disassembled pistols are on the table, and he’s cleaning them with oil and cotton balls. The guns give off a sharp odor that I hate worse than the smell of the dogs.

“Hey, Pop.”

He’s let his hair grow since retirement. He keeps it tied back but he doesn’t brush it enough, and it looks stringy. I can see patches of his scalp between the vines of gray hair. He turns, slowly. “Hey, kid,” he tells me, looking almost stunned. He runs a hand over his unshaven face. “How’s work?”

“It’s work.” I grab a nylon folding chair from against the wall and bring it to the table to sit. The whole tabletop is overrun with mail and small tools. Mom always hated this. “I wash dishes. I fry eggs.”

He nods gravely, like I’ve said something worth pondering. “This is that .357 I got you that one Christmas. The one you left behind when you moved out.”

“Oh, yeah.” The gun is somewhat obscene in size, and I can’t imagine ever being in a situation where I would practically need it. I do carry a gun, though, sometimes. A little .38 I’ve always been fond of. Pop bought it for Mom but she never much cared for it. He’s something of a lone enthusiast under this roof. I doubt the dogs care about guns at all.

Roscoe, a rickety old brown pitbull, comes hobbling over. He’s got bad knees, and watching him sit down or stand up makes me wince. But he’s a sweet old thing and I scratch him behind the ears.

“I oughtta take that gun back with me one of these days.”

“Well, I can hold onto it for ya,” Pop tells me. “Keep it safe till ya need to come home.”

I moved out five years ago. I’ve been taking night classes the past two years. The nest is old and covered in cobwebs.

“You ready to head out?” I ask him.

He turns and checks the time on the microwave. “Yeah, I guess we should go.” He stands up, takes a moment to steady himself against any joints that might yell out. He grabs his cane, an oak branch with a handle shaped naturally like a duck’s head, and I stick close in case he loses his balance. He doesn’t. He shuffles his feet loose from the boxer and we head for the door.

 

***

 

“Sean’s here, too.” Pop waves at me, standing by the door.

“Oh,” Mom says, sounding unsure. “That’s nice.”

“Hey, Mom.”

“Come on in, kid,” Pop says, obliviously.

“I’m okay, Pop.” The only thing she remembers about me these days is the rage I used to inspire in her. Last summer she swung at me with a plastic fork. Pop sits alone across from Mom.

“Me and Sean are heading out today, the way we used to when we all had Sunday off.” When she shows no interest he asks her as casually as he can: “Would you wanna come with us sometime?”

“Oh. No.” She turns to watch hummingbirds out her window. Her roommate mutters in her sleep.

Pop reaches out and squeezes her hand. “I miss you, baby.”

Her arm doesn’t move. She doesn’t pull her hand away or hold his tighter. The knuckles sit there, unflinching.

When we start to leave Mom is still looking through the window. The nurse at the desk tells her she’s been more lucid than usual lately. This nurse always says that.

 

***

 

Pop and I dig a fire pit. Really I dig it, but Pop sets out the can and lays the charcoal inside. A grill is balanced, and sausages begin to sweat alongside hissing potatoes in foil.

We drink bottles of water pulled from a cooler. “I almost miss beer,” Pop says after a quiet moment.

“You ever miss it much?”

“I said I almost miss it,” he reminds me, then lights a cigarette. Putting the lighter down makes him wince.

“You alright, Pop?”

“Back,” he mutters. “My fuckin’ back.”

The aluminum armrests of the folding chairs scrape together when we move. Pop chews his food loudly, smacking and sucking at his teeth. I’ve learned to not let this bother me. Conditioning makes it hard to ignore, though. Nothing used to irritate my parents more than when my sister and I smacked our lips at meals.

“You’re doctor’s kids,” Pop would say, in that tone he used during lectures. “Behave like it.”

The old man in plaid and faded denim wipes his face with a dirty napkin.

It’s getting cold. We sit under blankets and sometimes talk about Mom. At some point I notice the wheezing breaths he takes when he’s fallen asleep. I put my arm around his shoulder. There are stars out tonight. Moonlight shines against the armrests of our folding chairs. I hold my father while he sleeps.

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Filed under Fiction

Fade

IMG_1268

 

There’s an alley in Macon where you can see the word “EVERYBODY” scrawled in faded paint along the side of an old, red brick building. I have no idea what it used to advertise, though I imagine it wouldn’t be very hard to find out.

There are old advertisements like that all over downtown. Macon’s not a big place, but it’s an old one, and it’s always had a substantial population. I think you can almost measure spikes in growth by the number of painted ads you find along the sides of buildings. Right now Macon is at the cusp of a minor boom, and murals praising it as a hub for history and music are slathered all over. In a few decades, the paint and prints will fade into sun-bleached ghosts. People will photograph those old hustles, and imagine the atmosphere the ads tried to promote. The product will be long out of date when it finally sells.

 

old advert

 

I’m reminded of the “EVERYBODY” ad when someone who is shockingly rude to me is inexplicably gracious just a few moments later, a look of anxiety telling me they fear being written off by anyone, even inconsequential twentysomethings they don’t know. I think of the ad when exes leave voice mails I’ll never return. I think of it when I text friends in Nashville, and we pretend there’s a possibility we’ll hang out again one day.

 

kessler

 

In nearby Rose Hill, there are graves so old the lettering has been nearly ground away by rain. There are whole tombs you can only reach if you climb down embankments and weave your way through brush. They are built of brick, and they are faded pink by time. In the stillness of those alcoves of kudzu and camellias, where whispers are nearly shouts, it is impossible to believe that moving hands ever laid the mortar that holds those vaults together. I think of the ad even then.

 

tomb in alcove

 

The ad pops up in my mind when I hug my parents after a visit. When my cat is asleep in my lap. When I see reports of terrorism on the news, and when I throw out homophobic pamphlets I find littering the post office.

 

get on out

 

The ad says more than the capitalist who commissioned it ever meant to say. It’s an accidental message, one that could only emerge when the old message washed away in the sun. Even that adds to the telling.

 

Dren's Museum

 

It’s neither melancholic nor optimistic. It simply is. The meaning transcends mood.

 

Everybody Fades Away

 

Everybody fades away.

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Filed under Non-Fiction

Midnight Until Morning

sodium light

 

The light in the Kroger parking lot buzzes, and I amuse myself by pretending the buzzing is coming from the moths circling overhead. It’s muggy tonight, and my cigarette somehow makes things feel warmer in the car. Eventually she comes outside, and when she climbs in she changes her clothes in the passenger seat.

We sneak into her house as quietly as possible. Her mother’s still at work and her kid sister is asleep. She calls her a kid sister even though the girl’s almost seventeen now.

We get to her room, which she’d tried to abandon for a few years for an apartment across town, but she is inextricably tied to this drywall box. Poverty is a lock built for heavy use.

I text my sister to tell her she doesn’t have to leave the hall light on for me, at the house we both share on our parents’ dime. Our folks moved out of state a couple years ago but kept the place as an investment, though not so much monetarily as familial. We try to pay them rent, but generosity won’t allow them to keep the money for long. It always comes back in Christmas cards or unusually generous amounts of “gas money” for errands. I would complain, but it’s something of a sin to do so when there really aren’t any complaints to have.

We drink warming beer I bought while waiting for her shift to end. The cashier in the next line seemed exasperated when I wouldn’t respond to her attempts to wave me over. I very nearly whispered “But it’s this cashier I want to fuck!” but crudeness is not a taste for every palette.

She opens her windows and we smoke cigarettes. We sit on the floor and watch headlights trace across the walls. We’re no longer teenagers but we don’t want to know it.

She has red hair that’s almost orange, and it curls so that every movement makes it leap from her shoulders. The ends of it brush my face when she stands and bends to kiss me, before shambling to the bathroom.

I crack open two more beers, and she comes out in green cotton boxers and a white men’s tank top she likes to sleep in. We drink beer and talk about anything other than the fact that we won’t be doing this – any of it –very long from now. That’s a topic we’ll visit later, when we add “not thinking about it” to the list of luxuries she can’t afford.

The ends of her hair tickle my face again. They puff with every breath I take. She hugs me tight around my neck, and her breath makes my left ear feel wet. The boxers have tied her right ankle to my left one, somehow.

In movies and novels, only the boring parts about sex are covered. The parts of each other’s bodies that everyone likes. The generic mentioning that someone eventually experiences an orgasm. The interesting bits are always overlooked. Like how your stomach always makes a paunch, no matter how skinny you are, when you’re hunched over towards the other person. Or how small flecks of stubble ignite the nerves in your skin when her leg brushes yours. Sometimes I see dark bristles under her arms. They’re short, regularly waxed away, but they’re there, just barely.

I want no one else as much as I want her in this moment.

My teeth brush her ear and I feel her arms tighten. I keep forgetting that’s something she likes. She scratches at my shoulders, and I feel undutiful because she clearly remembers that’s what I like.

We fall asleep for awhile. She wakes me an hour before her sister usually gets up. Her mother has already come home and gone to bed. We dress and kiss and she goes to shower while I lock the door behind me. I start the car and drive home. The sun isn’t up yet. Last night will stay on my mind all day. It will be years before I realize we were saying an early goodbye.

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Comfort

bed of nails

I have a weird habit of sitting on the floor. I enjoy overstuffed recliners as much as the next American, but I’ve noticed that even if I’m the only person in the house, I’ll usually opt for sprawling across the carpet when I feel like getting comfortable. Walk into my place unannounced, and you’ll catch me stretched out across the living room, all three of my cats resting comfortably on the couch above my head. They’ll probably look at you and shrug. Hell, don’t look at us. We don’t know what his problem is either.

I once drunkenly missed a come-on because of this habit. Given the choice between a friend’s loveseat and the carpet after a night of drinking, I opted to pass out on the floor.

“You sure you’ll be comfortable down there?” the girl I was sharing the living room with asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

She propped herself up on the couch she’d taken and leaned over me, her face close to mine. Her breath still smelled of the moscato we’d passed between ourselves for an hour, after everyone else had gone to sleep. Moscato, and a few of the cigarettes she’d bummed from me. “This thing folds out into a bed, you know…”

Naaaah,” I said, like the drunken idiot I am. “I’m fiiiiiine.”

Annnd…sex didn’t happen. Suh-prize.

***

This habit of mine is so regular my longtime friends don’t bat an eye when I abandon my Laz-E-Boy to sit cross-legged for hours on the linoleum. Given the option between park benches and the ground, I’ll usually opt to saturate the ass of my jeans in grass stains.

At parties, if there’s a dog or cat in the room, I’ll drop to knee-level and sit until the little critter curls up beside me. Despite the risk, I’ve managed to avoid what would seem like the inevitable, punishing rain of beer slosh and cigarette ash this course of action would lead to. At a shindig in the woods once, I petted a fox after chilling in the dirt for half an hour. A toad the size of a thumbnail hopped on my knee and bellowed surprisingly deeply. A mantis crawled over one shoe, walked across some leaves, and crawled atop the other shoe. For a moment it looked at me, then seemed to turn its head to the circle of chairs by the fire. It looked at me, looked at the chairs.

Seats are over there, fella.

And then it was gone, its wings chopping the air like helicopter blades.

***

My cat’s a rescue, or at least seems like he should qualify as one. He was born feral, but at six months old he was hit by a car and suffered a broken hip. We saw him dragging his hind legs and brought him inside. The vet set the bone, gave him a shot or two, and told us all we could do was wait for him to heal.

He was wary of us, so we kept him in a little cat bed beside some food and water, and put a litter box in a close corner. Even with the injury he immediately took to the routine, and so he spent his convalescence hidden in a calm and quiet back room.

Sometimes when I’d pour food or water, or scoop his box, I’d reach out and let him sniff my fingers. Sometimes he’d lick me, or rub his nose against my knuckles. I started petting him on his head when I came and went, and it took a while for me to notice that he’d started to purr when I came into the room. I’d sit for longer periods of time, stroking his back, until he’d doze off or start cleaning himself. Then I’d leave for the day.

A few weeks into this routine, I was leaving the room when I heard a sudden thump behind me. I turned and there he was, following me, dragging his hind legs like luggage. I crouched down and stroked him behind the ears, and he lied down and started to purr.
He fell asleep, and eventually, sitting beside him in the hallway, leaning against the wall, so did I.

***

I spend many a weekend night at a married couple’s house, which sounds unsavory except that I’m friends with both of them. A few other friends are usually there too. There’s drinking and laughing, and somehow I always end up with food stains on my clothes, even if I never actually eat anything.

By two or three in the morning we begin to drop off. I usually volunteer to take the couch. It’s leather and cool to the touch, and shifting position on it is like adjusting a pair of silk boxers. By that I don’t mean to say it’s easy to masturbate with; I’m saying it’s comfortable.

Their dogs seem fond of me, too, so when I begin to sleep, they’ll hone in on me until their owner shoos them into her bedroom for the night. The little one will hop on top of me, but the big one, a German shepherd that a horse could ride like a horse, is somewhat hindered by his size. He’ll lick my face a couple times, then drop to the carpet. The Chihuahua, not willing to abandon him, will hop back and forth, torn in his loyalty, until exhaustion forces him to join his comrade on the floor.

They’ll sit like that until they’re called away, occasionally whining for company. And hindered as I am by social norms, all I can do is drop my hand down to scratch their chins, an arrangement that satisfies no one involved.

***

When I go to bed, my cat and my sister’s cats will all hop in with me. There is little in life that delights me more than to have three plush boat motors rumbling around me as I nod off. Unfortunately, I sleep like a ninja with an inner ear problem, and the cats have learned to abandon ship as soon as I lose consciousness.

But sometimes my cat’s hip will fail him, and while Boots and Charlie snuggle in beside me, Magpie is relegated to sitting by my bed, looking up at me with the look that says he wants either attention or canned meat byproducts. Boots would yowl for attention, but Magpie sits quietly, gathering himself into a cat loaf as he settles in on the carpet.

While my sister’s cats doze like adorable alcoholics, I’ll carefully lower my pillow to the floor. Taking a loose blanket with me, I’ll slide off the bed, leaving it to the other felines, and stretch out beside Maggie. Thus situated, I’ll close my eyes and drift to sleep. I will feel my cat work his way beneath my arm and lay his head upon my chest. His purrs will then fill the dark, reciting the definition of comfort.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Spring Flowers, Summer Stones

Dylan Loves Sarah

 

Spring in the southeast lasts for all of about two weeks. Seasons in Middle Georgia typically divide into summer, less-hot summer, a month of winter weather the rest of the world would call fall, and spring. You know spring has come because you see flowers everywhere, then two weeks later they all die, and you’re stuck in the steaming taint of summer for another six months.

 

Since spring is little more than a cruel tease in this part of the country, you see people walking everywhere. We’re all hungry to experience this bizarre twilight time when the sun is shining but isn’t simultaneously flash frying us. Cold drinks don’t sweat until you’ve had a few good swallows. You sweat but only after earning it by walking a few blocks.

 

I make sure to meet my springtime quota by going for frequent walks in the local cemetery. That might sound morbid, but this deep into Baptist country cemeteries are basically public parks with occasional tombstones. The air is rich with the smell of azaleas and honeysuckle, and birds sing like they’ve broken into your speed stash. Artsy college women in sundresses take photos, and married couples walk their dogs while holding hands. The atmosphere is slightly less foreboding than an episode of Arthur.

 

If you go deep enough into the place you quickly run across graffiti written by teenagers in love. On a huge tomb by the railroad tracks a boy named Dylan once scrawled his affection for a girl named Sarah. In an enclosed area by a local crypt, it’s not unusual to find condom wrappers. Sometimes you even find underwear, tossed into the brush in the heat of passion and lost forever to the dark of the sweaty, grunting night. There’s a tree by a creek, deep into the graveyard, that is covered from roots to branches in carved initials encased in hearts.

 

I find all this absolutely beautiful. Sometimes people like to pretend it’s strange that anyone would get romantic in the cemetery, because we’re a species of idiots. If you honestly don’t get why a dark space hidden from authoritative eyes would appeal to horny teenagers, then I have an exciting time share opportunity for you to invest in.

 

I always get sappy when I see all the color and clues of affection out there. Out in the gentle quiet, my thoughts set in time to the rumble of a nearby passing train, I’m hit with the poignant thought that we all need each other, and we’re given only so many years to grope in the dark for each other’s hands. That might sound sad but it doesn’t strike me that way. I get a feeling of challenge at the thought. My heart pounds and my arms tingle. With the challenge comes the prospect for adventure.

 

I’ll stay until the light begins to fade, and cars turn away onto the main road. Here, paradoxically, there is so much life. Tall flowers shimmer in the breeze. Trees rustle as squirrels build their homes. A teenage couple holds hands. They walk between old tombstones, their footfalls cushioned by young and vibrant grass.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Trust

My cat is just getting over a rash on his belly. To treat it the vet gave me an antiseptic spray to squirt him with three times a day, and by squirt I mean really soak him with each dose. He despises this with the heat of a thousand suns, hating only the vacuum cleaner more than being sprayed with this mentholated gunk. But he puts up with it because he trusts me. He hates the vet, and all the stabbing and blood-letting and anal violation it entails, but I feel like he’s noticed that he only goes when something’s wrong, and always ends up feeling better pretty quickly after coming home. He still shows his displeasure, but mildly. Some cats would bite or scratch, but he just gives a pitiful little groan and squirms a bit. A minute later, he’s eating cat treats and curling around my ankle. He loves me and knows I love him.

Whenever my cat suffers a health issue, I want to sit down with the universe and ask why it finds the suffering of a small fluffy animal so amusing. This is hyperbolic, of course, and I’m sure my cat has gone full Mengele on a few unsuspecting chipmunks in his day, so it could be hypocritical as well. We love to despair over the unfairness of life and the apathy of the universe, but I’ve come to suspect the universe actually does care. Generally speaking, anyway.

I mean, yeah, politicians sell out the lives of their constituents for the gain of corporations they own stock in. Assholes will cut you off in traffic and pass stopped school buses. The neighbor will subtly encourage his dog to shit in your yard when he thinks you aren’t looking. Meteors may or may not play shuffleboard with human existence.

But the universe keeps growing and evolving. Star systems keep forming. New flowers and fluffy, adorable woodland critters pop up all the time. People kiss. People fall in love. People masturbate. There’s hurt, sure, but the universe also trusts us to find happiness.

***

 

Mo and I dated for about a year and a half before becoming serious. It was mostly necessitated by distance, but additionally it seemed like a good idea. Latching onto a relationship with little knowledge of the other person rarely seems to go well.

On the day we became official, we’d spent most of the day tramping around an abandoned asylum a few towns over. We picnicked in a cemetery that had been converted into a park, and took photos of graffiti warning us not to trust voices in white coats. We were dirty, sweaty, and breathing heavy when we finally got back to my place.

We were in my bedroom, but not on my bed. I forget why but we sat on the carpet, and after a while I pulled down a couple pillows and a blanket. We cuddled and talked about nothing. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too.

“Then we should be an item,” I said. “Just us.”

She smiled, and traced an X with her finger on my lips before kissing me. “There,” she said, trusting me to understand. “Sealed with a kiss.”

 

***

 

A month or so before moving out of Nashville, a neighbor cat took to wandering into my apartment whenever I’d come home. We’d feed him and play with him, and soon he’d stay whole weeks without leaving the place. I’d come home and he’d be begging to be let in. I would find myself anxious to be away from home, afraid he’d be left outside if it started to rain. It would take me a few moments before I remembered he was somebody else’s cat.

I got attached to him and started calling him Eddie. He’d sleep under my arm while I read in bed, or curl up on my gut when I went to sleep. He’d tackle my arms and play-bite me when I’d exercise. He followed me to the mailboxes and was patient enough to let me take photos of him with tiny hats on. He was a quality cat.

I say was but I should say is. He was clearly young when he started hanging around, and well cared for. I pulled a tick off him once but he was in good health otherwise. Someone was obviously feeding and sheltering him. But still I got attached to him. And when we had to leave town one weekend, I found myself hanging back till late. He didn’t want to go outside, and I didn’t want to leave him alone. I did eventually, of course, and a day after we came back, he strolled up to our porch while I was reading, mewling to be let inside.

Moving day came, and Eddie weaved between us and our stuff as we broke it down and loaded it up. He’d leave for an hour, then come back and play with someone taking a break. The activity got him excited, and he’d disappear again chasing children and bumblebees. We worked till two in the morning emptying the place, and by the time we were done, Eddie was off somewhere for the night. Probably back home.

Mo had gotten a place an hour away, on the opposite side of the city. I was leaving the state altogether, but I crashed at her place for a few nights, sorting through things of mine that had been mixed with hers and building up the courage to finally, permanently go. I went back to the apartment once more, to clean a little before we dropped off our keys. We’re the kind of people who are paranoid about deposits, and we wanted to make sure we got ours back. It was dark when I pulled up, and as soon as I got out, there was Eddie, on the rail, mewling at me.

I spent a couple hours there, scrubbing, vacuuming, trying to usher the cat out every now and then so he’d go home. But he just batted at my pant legs and purred when I’d pet him. When I was done, I cooed at him to follow me out, and locked up.

I loaded up the vacuum and Eddie hopped onto the roof of my car. I petted and kissed him, and a neighbor commented that he obviously didn’t want us gone. I waited until he got distracted by something in the grass, and climbed inside. He looked back once when I started the engine and began backing out, then went back to playing in the weeds. I trusted him to be okay.

I try not to think about it, but sometimes I’ll get the image in my head of Eddie mewling on a darkened porch. In my mind he paws at the door, trusting it to open, until the empty echo from inside convinces him to go home.

 

***

 

The annual family reunion is always a mixed bag. There are relatives I can actually, like, relate to, and relatives who seem as though their parents were likely related too.

Somehow, I always end up watching everybody’s kids when I’m there. I don’t quite understand how this happens. Kids seem to like me, parents seem to trust me, and somehow I’m put in charge of a small line of young’uns who insist on following me around.

Not that I’m complaining. I never want to have children, but I do enjoy their company. They’re simple and earnest and when things get irritating, I can always hand them back to their parents and go on my merry way.

I also remember what it was like to be little and opinionated, and how desperate I was to be regarded by adults with anything approaching respect. I try to keep this in mind whenever I find myself locked in a conversation a few grades below the general age of my peer group.

One reunion I found myself on the porch swing, watching over some cousin’s eight year old. He was as average a kid as you could get. He liked bugs and Pokémon and was just discovering the wonderland that is the Transformers franchise.

Every few sentences, a wrinkled old woman in the bench beside us would lean forward and say: “Have you ever heard a child who talks so much?”

The boy didn’t seem to hear her, and I’m not one for dignifying cruel statements with a response, so we kept talking. If anything, the kid was a little on the quiet side. He liked the talk but I was definitely the chattier one between us.

“Hush,” the strange old woman eventually scolded when the boy was answering a question I’d asked him. “He doesn’t want to have to listen to you.”

The boy looked at her then looked away. I don’t think he knew she was talking to him; he was just vaguely aware she was speaking nearby.

We kept talking.

“Shhh.” I looked over, and the hunched old woman was leaning forward, scowling. She was staring directly at the (thankfully) oblivious little boy. Context was irrelevant. She did not consider my presence, our talk, anything. It dawned on me that all she could see was something small she wanted to crush, something she was furious with for being out of her reach. We trust family to be there for us. Maybe that’s why so many predators choose to hide in the brush of blood relations.

“Blood is thicker than water.” The phrase is exploited frequently by relatives desperate for an excuse to be accepted despite their bad behavior. It’s paraphrased out of context. The original line is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

Bonds are forged. DNA is coincidental. No one ever intends to be related to monsters.

 

***

 

A year or two after the breakup, Mo and I sat on her mother’s porch during a rain storm. She visits every so often, and we usually find at least one night to sit around and catch up.

That night was the first time we’d seen each other since I’d left Tennessee. It’d be a lie to say I was over her already.

We drank coffee and ordered pizza, and sitting on the porch, we listened to the rain. Midnight crept up on us, and we dozed off despite the caffeine.

We woke up to a crack of lightning and intense thunder. The wind as screaming and rain blew hard enough we could feel the mist. We watched the storm and I put my arm around her. She trusted me to move on, but at that time it was beyond my abilities.

So I sat quietly with the woman I still loved and watched the storm. The breakup had come up in conversation, and I told her I was fine. What I meant was that I would be. I at least owed her that minimal honesty. Holding her, I was determined not to break the trust she put in me to move on.

The rain fell, and we trusted it not to wash us away.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Hello, October

Willow in Alabama

The choir of crickets and tree frogs is so loud I would have to raise my voice if I wanted to say anything. There’s no one here to speak to though, except the coyotes resting in the field. I turn a lever, and the work light by the barn dims and goes out. Stars twinkle around the black mass of the clouds.

I smoke a cigarette and enjoy the cooling air. Summers in South Alabama have a nasty habit of overstaying their welcome. Out here we’re close enough to the Gulf so that we get all of the humidity, but far enough away so that we get none of the breeze. It’s great country for gardens and mosquitoes. You can’t pick between one or the other, however.

But tonight the air is cooling fast, despite the obstinate, burning sun before. The only light I see comes from a pumpkin I carved an hour ago. I cut it and a dozen others from the patch out back, and couldn’t help myself from carving at least one. Tomorrow I’ll load up my cousin’s truck and drive them to the stand his dad sets up shop in. It’s never been anything more than a way to pass the time, but rituals must be kept.

Peanuts boil over in one of the old smoke shacks. No one’s left to tend the garden, but enough still grow on their own that we can supply my uncle with a good month’s supply. Those are always big sellers, those and the pie pumpkins he grows himself. Most people in this part of the country do their shopping in their yards.

I don’t really belong out here. I don’t fit in, though I don’t feel ostracized. My family is all over the county, and they love me, but it’s obvious to everyone that I was never going to live here one day. It’s enough that my family has roots here, where generations of dirt poor people labored so their kids would have just a little more than they did. Half the churches in town are headed by uncles and cousins of mine. Two miles behind the house is an old whiskey still my uncle, the Good Reverend Johnny, operated to supplement his services’ meager collection plates.

The light from the pumpkin shines a skull’s face upon the blueberry patch out front. The coyotes stir and begin to howl. Somewhere past the trees, other coyotes answer.

A tin bucket of green apples sits by my feet. There are about five more inside. I hate green apples but I pick them anyway. I’ll give them away to various aunts, who’ll make tons of pie and cobbler, and make sure I get a head start on packing on my winter weight.

I hear squealing grunts, and wild pigs make their way into the field where the coyotes are. The coyotes, to their credit, know better than to truck with wild pigs, and they hop to their feet and trot away. The pigs snuffle around the apple tree, gnawing the ones I tossed away from worms or spots. I think they have piglets with them, but I can’t be sure.

In the corner of the living room there are two tin washtubs overflowing with pecans. The tree is still shedding them, actually, and they crack against the roof like small hammers when they fall. Occasionally one will hit the house’s propane tank, and the empty steel will ring like a bell. Owls hoot whenever this happens.

The pecans will disappear faster than the apples. There will be the occasional pie, but mostly they will be eaten on chilly porches, while old folks with dirt under their nails watch the fading afternoon.

The fire from the smoke shack wafts through the night. In a few weeks some hogs from a farm in the next county will be brought over, butchered, and roasted. I’ll dig a pit for the bones, but there will be very little that will have to be thrown out. The feet will be pickled, and the horror that is chitluns will be prepared by somebody, for sure. The carcasses will be pried open and smoked for the better part of a day and night. The meat will be served freely at various church gatherings, and come November the process will start again for Thanksgiving. At that time, though, my cousins will charge by the pound. We always sell the heads to old people across the county, who I guess use them for headcheese. I’ve never really bothered to ask. We’re too far north for any of the Voodoo that leaks out of Mobile.

My cigarette burns out, and I decide I don’t want another. I drop the butt in the Mason jar I use for an ashtray. I sip tea from a glass that my great-grandmother bought, though back when she bought it, it contained baking soda. No one bought anything in those days thinking they would only use it once. The house is a little over a century old. The jars holding peppers in the cupboard are even older than the shelves they sit upon.

The tree frogs sing in harmony with the crickets. The pigs are long gone. My hands smell of the oil I used to clean the outside of the peanut kettle. The empty gas tank rings as a pecan strikes it. An owl hoots in the cool darkness of the trees.

Hello, October.

Hello.

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