Post Road Magazine #28

Mine Dont Never

J S Khan

Mine dont never turn out right , Big J reckons while the Vanilla Gorilla, deputy sheriff in these parts, opens the backdoor of his black Ford pickup-truck to yank out his son, the boy (naturally known as Little J), his guilty eyes protrudin like those of a fish (no doubt some utterly blind, bottomfeedin flathead), n that faint mustache of hisn atwitchin to trigger off incongruent memories of Big J's own deceased father: the always-cleanshaven Marine who fought in two World Wars, who charged the No Man's Land in Belleau Wood under heavy fire n later besmirched a Jap officer's honor on Guadalcanal by tossin the lil yeller imperialist across his mighty thigh to give a by-God whuppin with his own ceremonial katana-blade—a colonel with so many clusters on his purple heart you couldnt tell the ribbon's color anymore—n this colossal forebear slain at last by a catfish caught off Cape Fear: the bewhiskered channel cat's poisonous barbels inducin a series of strokes so Big J found him—the former Big J (by then, admittedly, a demented, decrepit octogenarian)—writhin with the fish atop him floppin, n utterly beslimed.

Big J represses an urgent desire to rip that pathetic scruff off his son's face—but when the boy turns so the Gorilla can uncuff him, he sees half the stache missin already, along with its matchin brow n sideburn.

Standin outside Big J's Haulers Co., now jes past sundown—which happens earlier hereabouts thanks to the mountains—Little J looks paler than ever under the glow of florescent lights aclickin on overhead, n him jes standin there lookin like he's done given up the ghost caught betwixt the sharp shadows of the trucks with all their motors coolin audibly in the dusk.

Well, Big J says. Ah reckon one of yall is agoin tell me what happened. Any second now.

The deputy sheriff—known to his mother alone as Judson Wallace but so-called the Vanilla Gorilla by everbody else (includin his wife) fer his diagnosed gigantism n general lack of melanin-rich skin n hair (which some folks find downright creepy)—explains how he caught the boy with his cousins Hog Leg n Scooter Trash lightin one of Wallace Junot's birdhouses afire: a minor act of terrorism that has been occurrin fer the last four years in Coochland County as if by the stubborn call of an unspoken primal ritual.

Ah recollect it, Big J says. That eco-whackjob Wally has long envisioned a mecca fer all the nuthatches n loons up there, a downright avian utopia despite all God's trees or am Ah right?

That's right, the Gorilla says, noddin in an amiable way. But this year he paid me to stake out his latest in my off-duty hours. As ye might expect, Ah heard their bikes fore Ah saw em, their little scooters' engines whinin up the road. To tell the truth it was an inopportune moment fer me as Ah was just then ashakin my pizzle after waterin the moss to our mutual satisfaction. Anyhow, when Ah got back down to my truck who do Ah see but yer boy n his ridin buddies, though the other two remained on their bikes idlin while he cut hisn off n pranced up to that birdhouse jes agigglin like a schoolgirl on prom night. Well, that was when he fetched out his pocket what Ah reckoned was a Co-Cola bottle filled with gas n stuffed with a rag, but fore Ah could flip on my trucklights he reckoned to light it right there n stick it in that birdhole there n bab-oon! shot fire right in his face—why he lost that side-whisker n brow—n he bein lucky as all hell he werent burnt anywheres else. The other two vamoosed ahootin as Ah ran up n tackled him ere he could skedaddle too, n of course the whole time he screamed murder though in truth he was naught but victim of his own dang idjicy.

Well, Big J says, feelin an all-too-familiar hollowness in his gut, in the center of his navel, n what could he possibly call that squalid quiverin of the flesh but shame, or guilt?

Shot fire right in his no-thinkin dumbass face, he says. How about that.

Little J glowers, his weak blue eyes squirrelin away in the furrows of darkness. The scuttlin of junebugs against the garage in mindless swarms causes the boy to fidget anxiously.

Big J scowls, tryin hard not to reckon how it'd been only three weeks since the disgraceful lil turdlin lost his license gittin a DUI: a caper to top even his prior performance gittin fired from the microbrewery he helped start his own self fer bein too damn drunk n causin the beer to funk; n ever since he's done nuthin but waste time pissin away his (Big J's!) hard-earned money on booze n gas piddediddlin all over town on that liquorcycle of hisn while at the same time his sister—Big J's only daughter, the beautiful May Pearl—recently cracked up n was bein kept at the local quacksalver's on Airy Rock, n this alone costin him (who else?) a fortune.

Big J mumbles under his breath as he strides back through the garage to his office n unlocks the door. Once inside, he opens his closet to unlock his safe n extract several hundred-dollar bills. He hesitates as he spies an open envelope under a paperweight on his desk shaped like a Napoleonic bust, n carefully removes it n relocks his office. Returnin through the garage, he thrusts a sizable wad on the Gorilla.

Kindly reimburse ole Wally, will ya? he says. An thank ye kindly fer lettin me know fore anyone else, though Ah am damned embarrassed, considerin the boy been out of high-school five years n he's still prankin his old teachers like the feckless dumbshit he is n always will be.

The deputy nods with his frozen smile, placin the money in the backpocket of his khaki uniform. Big J clears his throat fore thrustin out the envelope.

Oh, n when you head back to the Sheriff's office, Gorilla ole buddy, can you do me a favor n tell those jackoffs on the Soil n Water Conservation Board across yer way to stop harassin me n learn ta coordinate their inspections with the local game warden's office? They might learn somethin fer once instead of revealin their own ignorant asses.

The Gorilla looks at the envelope's stamp n return address as he shakes out the letter. His eyes scan the type as his forehead furrows.

Sheriff's office dont handle this shit, J. What you build a dam fer anyway?

Ah aint built no goddamn dam, it's those goddamn beavers that have been ruinin my property n will soon affect my buildin structure in its entirety, n all on account of those goddamn Yankee sonsabitches moved down here Ah caint shoot anymore!

That's a pickle, the Gorilla says, givin a sympathetic whistle. Ah thought the water looked higher pullin in the driveway yonder.

Those beavers threaten the value of my property n my business.

But what's the warden's office have to do with it?

Ah had to apply fer a permit to shoot the critters, but while Ah've been waitin fer the warden to approve the license, the Soil n Water Conservation Board—as ye jes read—has come to the belief Ah have personally manufactured a structure to block the creek! An git this: Ah caint even capture the pests n take em off my land, fer if Ah do that Ah'll be relocatin em from their rightful habitat, thereby actin contrary to laws that protect their—git this—natural rights!

Shit, the Gorilla says, affectin a countenance of great sorrow n disbelief. That is a pickle to suck.

Damn right. These critters got more rights than a taxpayin business owner.

The Gorilla's teeth gleam purple under the fluorescents as his lips snap into a grin again.

Ah'll talk to their secretary Kimmy, but who knows if she kin help. Ah'll git back to ya.

If someone dont resolve the situation, best believe Ah am affixin to handle it myself.

Believe that, the Gorilla says as he walks around his truck n opens the driverside door.

But dont dwell on it overmuch, he calls back. They dont pay rent fer all that headspace, J.

Dont Ah know it, Gorilla.

The gargantuan officer of the law holds up a gleaming paw as he slides in the interior of his cabin, which appears too small fer his massive build so he must crouch n bends his knees to work the pedals. The ignition sparks n the truck spins back up the bend. Big J waves while the boy jes sulks beside him with his uncuffed wrists thrust deep in his blue-jean's pockets.

Where's the scooter? Big J asks him as the Ford's taillights slip away.

Up in the Gorge, the boy answers, darin a quick look upward.

Dad, he says, Ah'm—

A big fuckin disappointment dont Ah know it.

Unable to meet his father's aroused ferocity, Little J's eyes flinch away. Big J continues to glare into the boy's profile, where still he discerns in his son's features his own degenerate form. Is it even possible? True, Big J got in a fair amount of trouble as a youngster (how could he deny it?) sowing his wild oats as they say n sometimes stealing hubcaps off other kid's cars, but when it came time to put away childish things, well, didnt he? Whereas poor lil May always took after his wife—both in personality n physique—the two of em so busy enactin parables of self-pityin self-martyrdom they couldnt see the forest from the trees, n both—Big J reckons it—teched not jes a lil in their purty lil heads.

He flicks, no, hurls his arm toward his vehicle, a '66 Austin Healey he's owned fer at least three decades.

Get in the car, he says, spittin in the gravel n shakin his head. Right now.

* * *

Mine dont never understand me, Little J mutters to no one in particular as he lies sprawled out abed with his sneakered feet hangin off the edge, jes reckonin to hisself how tired of hearin his parents fight he is, their shouts comin up through the floorboards beneath his bedroom, though he does not even make an effort to drown out their voices or the yappin of his mother's retarded lapdog with his headphones; fer what could be realer, he reckons anew, than his mother's protests all high n hysterical, or his father's bellicose bellows as if he's affixin to shit a fire? Little J lifts from the shot pocket at his waist a soccerball to launch overhead n watches as its pentagon-stitched pattern spirals lazily backward up to the ceilin fore fallin back in his hands. He wonders which of the two is more self-righteous: Dad, with his need to control people with money n the family business, plus his murderous hatred of the beavers (which all of his rants return to nowadays), or Mom with her crazed church causes n Biblical societies where people lay hands on you to heal you of demonic infirmities or somesuch bunkum while sayin Ah'll be prayin fer ya in tones so black you'd reckon their distaste fer each n everone else must be proportional to the love they professed to feel fer baby Jesus—

You've done spent too much money on this already, his mother cries out. All that electric tape n wire fencin, n whattayoucallem beaver deceivers? Ah dont want that man around here no more—

Ah swear the boy set to conspire against me with those beavers n those idjit bureaucrats downtown! What, you too now?

Who cares about the beavers? Cain't we talk about Little J? We should pray as a family!

The car-ride home had been no less entertainin, though Little J had not dared speak as his dad threw his lame-ass sportscar in gear as soon as they were off the gravel road—this abrupt acceleration knockin his small frame against his seatbelt while he fumbled with the belt's latch—n all the while his dad hollered to call down God's wrath somethin about Granddad, n jes how would he reckon ye you lil ungrateful shit, though in truth Little J does not give a rat's ass what that hackneyed ghost might reckon him or anythin else, his few dubious memories of the lopsided giant consistin only of the brown spots of skin around his faded eyes n how those eyes affixed on his one evening with a demented glare in his fifth year as the ole senile bastard rambled about how Someday They will come to take away yer Bibles n yer guns, so you must be ready, Littlest J, though he never specified who They were, n this terrified the boy equally as the old man's obsession with right angles, which—him bein a former Grandmaster of the Teutonic Lodge—he naturally also felt obligated to impart, so the twisted codger traced that legendary vertex across their porch or along doorsills, even in the grooves between the yellow linoleum tiles of their kitchenfloor—

It is the right-angled triangle that unites man with God! Granddad had wheezed, havin worked hisself up into an inexplicable sweat. He would prod Little J with a blunt finger to trace the lofty figure as he lifted a scuffled loafer n stomped it. The base measured by the number three, the Deity n Divine! The perpendicular measured by four, the Earth its square! The hypotenuse measured by five, the union between em! Git it? Simple as one, two, three!

Clearly Little J did not git it, havin gone on to flunk geometry in middle school n again in high school, n from there to receive anIncomplete in trigonometry at Ginny Tech thanks to his Episode (to borrow Mom's high-toned jargon), which saw his inglorious return home n brief self-employment at the brewery, where he'd attempted to start a legitimate business out from under his father's shadow, though all was to end in disaster.

Little J fires the soccerball like a basketball again. His sister—herself lost adrift her own Episode (to stick with the popular script)—reckons herself a Wiccan Princess or somesuch bunkum, n this horrifies Mom worse than her goin crazier than a shithouse mouse, but what was that compared to Mom's kooky church or dogwhisperin or Granddad's sacred math? Not that Dad was big on spirituality, him bein consumed with nuthin but what he calledthe hardline

You aint even in high school anymore, his dad fired at him in the car only minutes ago, throwin a dangerous look that cut through his thoughts, then as now.Hellfire, you aint even in college! An what the hell am Ah goin ta tell Em?

Stick to the hardline, he almost whined. Couldnt the old man leave him alone?

Boy, it is my godgiven right to make certain none of yall expose yer asses where they dont belong! If you can't abide by my rules, kick rocks, kiddo!

The boy wouldn't be such a loser if he wasnt always hangin out with yer sister's abortive brood! Dad's voice rattles through the floor. Hogwarsh n Peckerhead or whatever they call theyselves—

Poison is what they call Little J—never Little J (a name he naturally despises)—n this proud moniker he earned after swingin off a vine near Walelu Creek whereat, missin the water, he crashed into a bed of poison ivy. He'd done so on a dare launched by Scooter Trash (who earned his own alias wreckin his scooter into a dumpster-bin) while they's fishin in Hog Leg's skiff, jes chasin them damn channel fish, as Hog Leg always put it, n bein whiskied to a most exquisite degree Little J had attempted the feat only to suffer a violent rash, his fortuitous degree of drunkenness causin him to go limp when he hit the bramble n happily break no bones.

They're not bad boys, his mother protests. They're just misled, with no work since ya fired em! An you won't even hire yer own son

Ah caint have em workin with the cranes or rigs if they are drunk from sunup or sippin weed in the trucks! Say what you want about Wall Street Jews—they may wanna work us all nekkid in the rain, but at least they're hardworkin. At least they're fuckin ethical!

Now, honey, you cain't talk thataway, the Jews prepared the way fer Christ Our God—

As if he would ever stop hangin out with his own bloodkin! At least as long as he was trapped in this tiny town between blue ridges that seemed to hedge in the sky like a natural prison. It was true Mom's folks were all a smidgin teched, moonstruck ye might say, maybe a lil too in love with playin the hazard n losin hard, but they's all so down-to-earth, descended from bootleggers n moonshiners—somethin Dad should appreciate, or at the very least respect, such as his admiration fer his other deceased grandfather, who all (even Mom!) called Frank—

Frank once had me light his crackpipe with a blowtorch, Hog Leg's father, his Aunt Cissy's husband Roy, told em while he sat on his porch sippin a Coors,so Ah reckon it goes without sayin he liked ta party hard...

Or could he, at the age of twenty-four, simply turn off all his memories of the times they spent together since only knee-high, say, catchin lightnin-bugs like Zeke Jones taught em, stuffin the incandescent insects in the bores of their b.b. guns so when they cocked n fired the bugs burst from their flimsy muzzles in a spray of showerin phosphorescence? Or what about all the times they've spent since his return from Ginny Tech, jes the three of em fishin, floatin, n talkin, though Little J scratch that Poison would never let a channel fish do him in since he knew well enough to grab the slimy bitches bellyside up, his thumb n middle finger atop they pectorals so they cain't git at his knuckles—at least that knowledge he proffered from his predecessor's demise—unlike what he never learned from Frank's, Frank bein the first person in all Coochland County to pop positive fer HIV n die of AIDS years before his own birth. Yet even better, Little J reckons, is to wear heavy leather gloves when ye handle em like Scooter Trash does, fer thataway their finicky whiskers caint tech ye atall.

Please jes shut yer mouthole, Em! Ah'm ringin up Loomis n that is all there is to it!

But honey what about Little J? That's the real problem we need to discuss, n together!

It's done past quittin time with that dipshit!

Poison forget that Big Poison sets down the soccerball to stare at his walls covered with his old Star Wars toys, his gaze affixin on Boba Fett in his glossy, still-luminous package. Loomis Shank: the Varmint Vigilante—how ridiculous! At least he'd exhibited some ambition when he began his microbrewery, havin gotten Dad to invest in him n Zeke Jr.'s dreams, with their own beer in ever tap in ever bars downtown: a fine yeasty strain aged on bourbon oakchips he named Banshee Fever: a fine healthy concoction tastin just like everthin in life should taste, robust but chased by purest smoothness, takin you jes to the edge with a few glasses (ABV 6.66%) but never plumb over.

Ah jes wish fer one goddamn time someone in this family thought about me, how much work Ah gotta do take care of all this horseshit!

Had Dad really expected him to graduate with a degree in Business, or had he only been settin him up fer expected failure? Fer when the prodigal son suffered his Episode durin his sophomore year, flunkin out n simultaneously losin his position as goalie on the soccer team, he certainly conceded there had been some lil drinkin involved, sure, some lil sippin on the brew he secretly was concoctin in his dorm's closet till caught out—bein mid-Episode n overdrunk n hollerin about the bug in his ear n all—but had this not been a natural part of the process, that of becomin a brewmaster? Had his parents never heard that, in bygone eras, alchemists in their attempts to forge purest gold often went insane waftin their own chemicals? Little J knows all about this historical fact because he is well-versed in conspiracy theories—which he knows all about from countless hours on the World-Wide-Web jes studyin websites n Youtube videos that expose the Illuminati's secret plots (well, between surfin fishin blogs or bukake pornsites). Plus, his father always put too much emphasis on the bottle as the cause of his breakdown anyhow, overlookin altogether the very real invasive insect that wiggled its way deep in his left ear to cause an awful wormin sensation in the lower chamber of his whattayoucallit tympanum that had his folks (even sweet lil May!) rollin their eyes with disbelief after the Dean called home, though the doctorsdid later prove the insect no figment of his alcohol-addled imagination, since a tiny but very real junebug had squirmed in there only days ago—possibly while he slept—so he really had felt somethin makin its way into that waxy hole toward the honeycomb of his brain—

Even later, when he was released from Airy Rock—n still bein fearful larvae deep in his ear hatchin a horde of quiverin pupae—had Dad really been supportive of his efforts to found Cragstown Brewery? Fer the money his dad loves to throw around to solve problems so he can bemoan em—like a real man who creates solutions instead of fallin victim to his ever situation—had that particular act of faith n goodwill not been more about pity n shame fer his mockery of his son fore he saw the doctor remove the beetle from his ear n hold it forth with mechanical tweezers? To dumbfound all, n his mother nearly faintin—though May thought it was pretty cool. Naturally, the beetle had been crushed by his irresistible fingermooshin, as well as the tweezers snaggin n extractin it—though most of its head still hung to its twisted thorax alongside a few spasmin limbs.

But reckonin on the pupae possibly splittin their creamy eggshells in his left ear—the newborn bugs breathin his brain's air (though the doctors assured him no such eggs could exist after removin the original offender)—he tries consciously to think of somethin else, fearful They might be listenin (who exactly, despite his online research, he still caint reckon rightly—sorry, Granddad). Possibly since he was thinkin of his sister earlier, he thinks of her n him as children instead, consciously conjurin scenes of her n him aged five n nine pluckin blackberries in a thorny wicker patch behind their home, or catchin salamanders in the springs, but allowin his thoughts to trend overlong in that direction only makes him more upset so his throat constricts, gittin all hot n salty, n he reckons he should go visit May in the ward fer suicide watch, though he figures he'll have to avoid talkin about what he's been up to since he saw her last, such as hangin with Hog Leg n fishin, since the thought of that pastime n sport only makes her cry like a dang child whenever she saw the ugly buggers danglin wide-eyed n hooked or floppin in the belly of the boat, though he'd tried numerous times to explain that fish dont feel no pain atall—she of all people should git this since she conceives herself such a science whiz—cause fish dont got enough whattayoucallem special nerve receptors n hence not enough brainpower to experience death's pangs (which is luckier than most of us, he reckons grimly), though when he told her this recently it only made her cry harder, her n Mom bein so dang soft beyond all reason whenever it came to animals.

But thinkin on his younger sister up in Airy Rock where he suffered the worst of his delirium tremens only makes him more finicky still, fer beneath these thoughts lurks what he alone among the family knows (besides May): that something between her n Hog Leg happened at Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago when they were stayin at the Knotty Pine Motel, n jes after he passed out after drinkin too many growlers of his own beer, only jes what exactly he still caint reckon, though his sister's acted fearful of ole Hog ever since n begged him not to hang out with their cousin anymore, to the point finally—after she started to cut herself n got all bulimic again—he finally girded up his loins enough to approach Hog Leg on the subject—

Jes what did you do to May in Myrtle? he asked when Scooter Trash was away pissin, his head floatin above old furniture dumped in the cove near the falls at Fizzlebottom's Folly. Did you try n tech her? You know that haint right.

Why not? Hog Leg replied with a wink. You aint her keeper, are ye? But if ya dont know it already, yer dad used to jump my mom's bones back in the day.

Horseshit.

Horseshit yerself. Jes ask yer Mom, you lil cocksucker.

The steps that lead to his room outside creak softly, followed by a knock on the door.

Speak of the Devil.

* * *

Mine dont never realize how blessed they are, Emma Gwen thinks sadly as she knocks on her son's door n hears his grunt beyond the threshold so she turns the knob n pushes her way in, seein him jes asettin there on his bed halfdrunk n glowerin at a soccerball restin at his feet, n when he finally looks up at her with eyes clouded over with too-much hurtin she sees too his halfburnt mustache with its lost symmetry as if—like a small caterpillar—the whole dang thing done inched too far to the left of his mouth, n all at once she sees too superimposed over her son's feature Frank's spittin image (God bless his soul!), fer one time long ago while showin off her daddy lit his crackpipe with a blowtorch n accidentally scorched away one of his whiskers—which unlike her son's were gloriously thick n most Burt Reynolds-like—n as she ruminates about this n May Pearl's Episode she is simply whelmed so her soul commences to shudder deep inside her chest, her fondest wish even now to wail like Moses a prayer of deepest profundity n thereby achieve at least a fractional forgiveness fer this stiffnecked tribe her people, fer as any of her churchfriends could witness (a hundred times over too!), Emma has tried mighty hard to be merciful n gracious n longsufferin with her kin, but she also knows the Bible teaches the LORD our God visits the iniquity of our fathers on our children even unto the third (or was it fourth?) generation—n it is precisely this unhappy knowledge that draws uncontrollable tears to her eyes as she looks at her firstborn n she wonders if there is no way atall to break the shackles of all this useless generational suffering. Fer is sin alone our birthright, O God, or what about the anointin of yer own Son Jesus? Could that lil Lamb have learned kindness n forgiveness from You, really, or could one as all-knowin as Yerself still learn somethin from yer offspring, peculiar as that may seem?

You alright? she asks. You didnt get burnt?

No, he says in a hoarse voice. Ah dont want to talk about it.

It was Laz, wasnt it? Him's the one put ye up to it.

Ah said Ah dont want to talk about it.

Em hesitates before speakin again, wonderin how many times she's been stuck in a similar quandary (or was it quagmire she meant?), wantin desperately to absorb her children's pain into her own bones but unable to n sometimes jes feelin downright awful, like the two of em nuthin but open wounds she carried about in ever cell in ever organ of her body: the mysterious stigmata all mothers must feel rippin open anew ever time their babies fall in harm's way n they are helpless to assist em. LORD have mercy, but Emma has lived long fer her relatively short years on this earth (forty-eight, though she'd never tell) n known many strange tragedies n sordid travesties—not only the divorce of her parents when her n Cissy were just lil things, or Frank's drug abuse n relatively early death, sure all that—but also bein lanced by a cottonmouth once at the age of nine in Hal Burke's pool n once too in her teens bein literally struck by lightnin while swimmin in a pond with a goose n her gostlings—ever one of the lil birds so precious—n after she realized what happened she woke up shocked n fearful but okay without pain but glimpsin all the gostlings jes disappeared outright, though the mother goose floated dead atop the water. Gone up to our LORD, if animals are so lucky, but on this the Good Book speaks not. Did the lil uns explode like her cousin Ivan when he blew hisself up after drinkin a whole draught of ether bought off some Pollack drunkard, fer after he swigged the bottle down he lit a cigarette n boom! the fiery liquor blew out his guts in bloody smithereens, which certainly outdid her son's escapades with fire (or her daddy's fer that matter), but still Little J's n May's troubles hurt her worse than anythin else, save maybe the stillbirth of her third child, whom she'd named Natalie since her due-date was set so close to Christmas n Natalie in one of her name-books was said to meanChristmas-child.

LORD knows a body ought not complain, but what sort of world do we live in if the people we love most hurt us more than anythin else can, n again n again too, n even seem to resent us fer wantin to protect em—n even more seem to relish the evidence of our guiltiest remorse? Like when she visited May jest yesterdee on Airy Rock, bringin her some strawberries she knew the willful girl would vomit noways, n when the girl told her she was a Darwinist after she tried to get her to pray with her, she said: What, May, you wanna live like ole dang Jane Goodall with a bunch of smelly apes? n the lil witch fired back: Be bettern livin with our family.

Why, that just about clove Emma's heart in two.

She considers mentionin to Little J the legend of Frank's incinerated whiskers so as to lighten the mood a lil, but then decides to let sleepin dogs lie (or die?), seein as how her daddy only suffered addiction problems more dark (that accursed generational sin!), n she recollects the only thing her husband ever said kind about her daddy, n this in regard to May's askin one night over supper how Frank had contacted HIV after she took a sex-ed class Emma had not approved, though the fresh lil brat was already quite the forge-artist—

Well, you know Frank, J answered (though May didnt, obviously), so Emma set down her cutlery n cleared her throat, castin a nervous eye on her daughter n son whose shiny cheeks were stuffed with okra. It's not like he was queer or nuthin, he jes couldnt stop havin sex.

Not that Little J's addiction problems were parallel in that regard, though Emma figures (LORD how she wishes she didn't!) he has his own struggles with that abusive demon n not jes booze, her havin spied on accident the undeleted history on the internet browser which shows how many hours he's spent in their study since acomin home from Ginny Tech with a screen awash with sordid filth so when he's asleep he must dream of nuthin but buckets of dead fish n naked women frothed in slime—simply awful to think! But how were their children to respect anythin when her husband's wicked tongue was always twistin everthin up?

Well, tomorrow is Sunday, she says, so Ah'm agoin ta church. You are more than welcome to join me. Brother Jimmy, the new preacher, he's real smart—he went to Tech like you n is purty young. Yall would git along fine. He plays soccer n the fiddle too. Folks say New Day Baptist is ablossomin under his fresh guidance.

Ah dont think so.

Ah'm visitin yer sister afterward too. She'd like to see you.

Well, he says with a sigh as he flops back on his bed. Maybe Ah'll come.

Alright. Emma holds the doorknob in her hand, pausin.

Ah'm here if you need me, son, she says, her eyes misty again. If you'd like, we can pray.

Ah dont think so.

Alright.

She steps out to leave him to his solitude but hears suddenly in an urgent whisper: Mom?

Yes? she opens the door again n smiles at him bright as she knows how.

Did Dad date Aunt Cissy fore he married you?

Her smile freezes.

Well, yes, she says. Why? Did Cecilia tell you that?

No. Hog did.

Well, she says. She nods n presses her lips together thoughtfully.

That was back in high school, she says after a moment. Aunt Cissy n yer daddy were in the same grade. How we met, actually. Anyhow, that's ancient history. Jest one of those funny facts of life—it bein such a long n windin road n all.

Yeah. Real long n windin like.

Emma closes the door to walk back down the stairs toward the kitchen, her mind like a hive of waspers abuzzin up a warpath. Why was she so mad?—that wasn't like her! To distract herself, she commences to wash several dishes in the sink fore she sees her hands are tremblin so she inserts the last dish in the rack n closes her eyes, reckoninAh'm agittin more heted about this than Ah should, why Dear God should such things even matter, bein over thirty years gone? but sometimes she feels she must protect her children from everthang, knowledge itself always vergin on sin, it seemed, n of course she also reckons Cecilia has always been jealous she ended up with J while she got stuck with dumb ole Roy, fer at least her husband runs his daddy's ole business even though sometimes he's meaner than Mr. Mustard n hires hitmen to kill endangered critters, 'cause at least he supports his wife and kids unlike Roy who is nuthin but a dang drunk.

But why should that make me upset? she wonders.

Could it be, dear Jesus, Ah myself am jealous of Cissy bein with him? Still?

Well, nary tis the main point, fer likely Laz jes saw some old photos of J n Cissy at the racetrack all young with long hair both holdin each other in front of one of those lil Sprites J used to race up that track on the mountain where they shot that movie about the Cherokee nation. But if Little J is not paranoid already, this sure won't help—that is the main point, she tells herself, her children's mental wellbein—fer she recollects how when Little J got back from Airy Rock he appeared to be gittin better at first till she found him in the attic one evenin bent over Big J's daddy's ole books, one of em bearin the silliest puttin-on-airs title, something likeCommentary on Morals and Dogma of the Ancient Accepted Rites of Scottish Freemasonry or somesuch bunkum about as sensible as those Catholic rituals she knows are nuthin but the devisin of fiends to create confusion n lead people astray from a true-to-life relationship with Christ Our LORD, fer truly when she bent to look at the pages in that book her son stared at in the attic she saw a drawing of an Egyptian beetle jes alookin like the one freakishly wormed its way in his ear while he was stark mad on booze (which May identified as a scarabaidae), n her boy tapped that pagan symbol with his finger n said: Mom, Ah've seen stuff like this on the World-Wide-Web. Ah think they are remote neurally moniterin me.

Say what?

Mom Ah think that bug was an Illuminati plant. Ah think they are readin my thoughts.

Suddenly her Lhasa Apsa Mr. Bojangles (Bo-Bo fer short) begins to bark in the front hall, jes yappin it up like a lil beast n sayin in dogspeak (which Emma understands perfectly) Strangers, Mommy! Here come strangers! n at the same time trucklights wash into the window above the kitchensink so she winces n blinks, lookin up to see a beatup old pickup-truck pullin in their driveway, n she sees too her husband's been settin out on the porch with his lil internet device, likely lookin at truck routes fer his truckers or checkin tomorrow's orders fer his riggers, puttin his stubborn mulishness back into his work.

Loomis Shank, a tall lanky blonde boy n shady-tree pestman, steps out the truck to shake J's hand. They converse in muted tones, conjurin up conspiracies to assassinate the beavers, fer likely this time Loomis'll jes shoot n bury em somewheres since none of his more so-called peaceful methods have worked thus far. At least May Pearl aint here to see this sad scene, Emma reckons. She watches as Loomis pulls out a packet of Skoal n packs it fore pullin out a wad of tobacco to shove in his front lip. Her face wrinkles with disgust as he commence to squirt juice out his mouth onto her flower garden, jes spitting freely like some foul fountain atop her yeller rhododendrons n pink bloomin bleedin hearts which bear her most cherished blossoms this time of year.

Let me git em, Mommy! Bo-Bo keeps barkin, so she goes n hushes him. She bends to straighten his pink bowtie atop his furry face n then lead him into their bedroom. Seein how she is already in her nightgown, she glances at herself in the mirror, wonderin jes what happened to her looks, then slips in bed n allows Bo-Bo to hop up n rest atop the blanket betwixt her legs. She considers flippin on the television but decides against it, figurin as she does that J will come in fore much longer—his stern orders of execution handed down—n git in bed beside her to watch his Hitler documentaries on the History Channel, a ritual he has observed so long she finds it hard to believe he has not seen em all by now. LORD knows those fascists loved their spectacles, but how much new footage n propaganda film could they possibly unearth? As if watchin bombers in black n white drop payloads on unexpectin citizens or studyin the faces of concentration camp victims lookin holloweyed n ghostly from behind barbed wire was the best way to relax the mind fore slippin into dreams!

She glances at her bedside table, where she sees settin there in its usual place her Ryrie Study Bible (which contains, tucked in at Corinthians 13 unknown to anyone but she, a photograph of her ultrasound of Natalie at eighteen weeks) n atop that another slimmer, glossier volume about Josephine, Napoleon's first wife, n all the roses n violets she helped to cultivate n spread across Europe. Fer while Emma is familiar with her husband's appreciation fer the Corsican upstart (which is why she bought him that paperweight he keeps in his office), she herself tends to sympathize with Josephine more in their toxic (but royal!) romance, n while Emma would never cheat on her own husband—bein a right godfearin woman an no Catholic whore neither—nevertheless Napoleon always struck her as nuthin more than a cold n administrative lil toad.

She hears the front door close down the hallway. All at once Bo-Bo raises up his cute lil nose to bark suspiciously,

Who's that, Mommy?

She holds the book on Josephine's garden open to study a picture of gorgeous hybrid roses, the whole while reckonin what will happen next. J will enter, likely share a few vulgar witticisms about their son—now that he's in a cheerful mood after orderin his beaver hit—n then he'll go in the bathroom n urinate louder than a horse while brushin his teeth at the same time. Certainly he will kick Bo-Bo out of the bed (who will growl n rustle out to the living room to sleep on the couch) n then most certainly he will watch a good forty minutes of his mindless war documentaries. If she is lucky, he'll be tired n shove off right afterward, but if not he'll prod her with his lil pickle n git her to roll over fer a quick bump or two, though she'll certainly comply, n with a strange n sad tenderness, too, tryin hard not to think on these lofty visions of heaven that haunt her so, n them her folks here down below still so very far beneath.



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