The handle is sticky, toggling back and forth as the ice melts and the wrappers crinkle. Street fighter. You could do this for days. Take Mountain Dew and Twix breaks. Watch the shoplifters move slow then fast, then out. Watch the seventeen year old at the counter not giving a shit. Watch the owner coming back furious, but what the hell can he do?
Don’t eat the hotdogs. Seriously, just don’t. Leave a quarter on the game to save your place. You’re poor, but if you keep winning you won’t have to pay. You suck. Take quarters off the counter and from the corner of the mud room. That’s not stealing, it’s appropriating. Something fancier. You know it, baby.
The high school kids smoke cigarettes out front and talk smack to everybody – little kids included. They don’t care about anyone or anything except cigarettes and 90210. That kid with the fishing rod? He’s going to commit suicide. No one will see it coming. Same with Jenny who becomes a mommy young. Rachel will be a lawyer. Dante will see both sides of a gun.
Wipe your hands on your pants and spit in the gutter and look up at the sun like, man, that sun is so bright. That’s everything right there.
That thin ketchup with the water in it. Always forget to shake it and you get mostly water, wet fart of ketchup. Tomato soup. Old people in scratchy sweaters. Peppermint fuzzy with lint. A dark bait box and the smell of industry. You don’t know what that smells like? In Pennsylvania it smells like upbeat poverty. That clothesline in the backyard, an octagon – all you gotta do is spin it, state of the art. Rust poking through the rubber paint.
An eerie silence, then dogs barking. You’ll never know. The house settles and makes sounds. Tiny sword, blackjack, bubble gum. Just take one. Cool water and cigar smoke. The smell of fresh cut grass. Hungry. Eating fast enough to skip being sick. Just tired. The back of a farm truck on a hot day. Sweat speckling hay.
Fish fries. FryDaddy. Cole slaw. Fisticuffs at the boat slips. Long, slow days. Warm beer. Neighbors fighting. Kids are kids. They are barefoot and full of wonder. Mullets and Mustangs.
Night. Silence. Collective breath.
Florida feels like humid desperation. Boy, where's your smile? Turnstile. Way too close to Alabama. Hushpuppies and Catfish, son. You'll be home soon.
Let the night settle the dust of the day. Ashes to ashes. Rust to rust.
I like how you tied all three pieces together with the color of rust... you are a master of small fiction.ReplyDelete
This is beautiful stuff, Mr. Mader. Impressionism, poetry and fucking War and Peace in terms of scope. Amazing.Delete
Rust never sleeps! Loving these linked vignettes.Delete
The ground is silver from moonlight. Only the brightest of stars shine in the sky. The wind blows sand from the dunes and chaps my face.ReplyDelete
The shadow of the cottonwood is only inches away from me now.
Spring nights in the desert chill the blood, and I shiver. It feels odd in my hand. Rough. My fingers worry the knot I’ve made at one end of the coil of rope.
It took me seven tries to get it right. My father, a sailor, would be ashamed. I shamed him often enough. A failure at pitching and catching balls made of animal skins. I had no sense of direction. When we hunted, I froze when I looked in the buck’s eyes. Too much book learning.
He died not knowing that I’d never bring him grandsons. The family tree will die in a branch without leaves.
Trees. This cottonwood tree. The gallows tree. Everyone calls it that. When I close my eyes I imagine the bonfires around it as it bore the strange fruit of cattle rustlers, bank robbers, and worse. I can hear the laughter at the lynchings of those whose greatest crime was difference in pigmentation.
But I will be the first man to hang myself from its branches.
The tree’s shadow reaches my feet. I creep toward its trunk. Close enough. I look up and see Jupiter between two branches.
I throw the rope over the stronger of the two branches. I miss. I try again. Twice more until I hold one end and the other dangles free.
I have practiced this a thousand times in my head, I have grown accustomed to the imagined feel of the rope against my neck. Placed the knot just so. Stood on the rock that I will jump from, a rock helpfully placed by the first executioner.
And now it is time.
The real rope itches more. The real stone is still radiating heat from the sun, now long set.
I stand still. Say one last prayer. Open my eyes to stare at the moon, now between two clouds. It looks like an eye, with one of the clouds as a cocked eyebrow.
And I jump.
I imagine I hear a scream as I feel the rope tighten.
And the branch breaks, with twigs crying down upon me.
I weep there, under the moonlight, in the shadow of the gallows tree, with the rope around my neck, until the sun rises.
Pardoned. By a tree whose branches were weakened by all the deaths, by all the fear, by all the tears.
Wow. Powerful. I love that it's the gallows tree that effectively pardons the protagonist and wonder now if he'll pardon himself.Delete
He stepped into the chemical light of the bus station. Yellow enough he couldn’t even guess what color the floor really was. Or maybe that was piss all over the floor. It smelled like it.ReplyDelete
A bus station. There were years he’d spent in airports. Everyone pretended to be clean in airports. It was only their souls that smelled like piss in airports.
That was all before they began the ritual humiliation to fly the friendly skies. Take off your shoes. Leave grandpa’s pocketknife behind. Remove your belt. Stick your head up your ass. Please step through the scanner again, sir, you seem to have some undeclared dignity.
He could take the train, he supposed, but they were even more unreliable than the buses. All the food was served in cardboard and styrofoam on trains. Hard to tell where the alleged food stopped and the containers began. The cardboard had more flavor. More fiber, too. Fiber was important as he got older.
He was irritable. Small wonder his bowel shared the sentiment.
He bought his ticket at the counter from someone whose first or second language was not English. He was surprised when the ticket showed his desired destination. He mumbled his thanks.
He despised getting old. He despised seeing his angry face in the restroom mirror under the ugly light. He realized how odd it was that the bathroom was the only place in the depot that didn’t smell like piss.
Through the static, he heard his bus called. The litany of cities before he heard his destination. He shuffled to the door they announced.
By this time tomorrow, he’d be there. He let his mind wander to the green trees there. The red and pink crabapple blossoms. The lime green of Japanese maples.
Twenty-two hours till he arrived, if there were no delays. But there were always delays.
How soon would he join her, his wife of sixty years? He knew she would wait for him.
He stepped on the bus, presented his ticket, and sat down four rows back. A window seat.
What a wise investment he made all those years ago.
A double plot in Fairview Cemetery.
Aw. My breath hitched at the end there. I also love "Please step through the scanner again, sir, you seem to have some undeclared dignity."Delete
Oh god, Leland. Vivid and heartbreaking.ReplyDelete
Harlan sat on his porch, worn uneven planks that, like our world, had seen better days. We faced west, the direction that once meant hope. The last glint of sun had slid below the rim of the land and only a narrow yellowish strip gleamed through the dead and silhouetted trees, the darkened plain and the starless sky crushing it like a seam of gold in the ground.ReplyDelete
We sat in silence awhile. Until we both seemed to realize something at once.
Harlan was the first to say it. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Cicadas. The Collapse had brought such miseries it seemed almost impudent to include among them the silencing of the insect world, but even on a subliminal level we’d felt their loss keenly. Ghosts come in many forms. Yet here they were. Tentative and hushed, but back in some facsimile of numbers.
“Thought surprise was a thing of the past,” said Harlan, and I smiled.
The scattering of bug sounds stabbed at the silence under gathering clouds we could sense more than see.
A breeze was testing the air, thinking about becoming a gust or two.
“Mr. Cutler… Harlan, I mean?” Dammit. How many times over the years had the old man corrected me?
“I want you to know you’ve kept me sane all these years since the Collapse.”
“I know that, son.”
“I know you know it. I just wanted to say it.”
“Alright. Good to know. Let’s drink to that—”
“Sir, I’ll get it—”
“The hell you will. And the name’s Harlan. How many times…?”
I lost his words on the gathering breeze as he made his slow hunched way into the cabin to fetch a jar or two of the crude cider he fermented from some unknown organic thing. Roots. Fungus. Squash, maybe. It always tasted about the same as it sounds.
I knew what he was gonna say before he said it.
“Bourbon, young fella?”
I laughed. We sat and drank, pretending it was Wild Turkey 101. Imagination ain’t exactly perfect, but it can get you halfway there sometimes.
“They quieted down again,” I said.
“Huh. Maybe the orchestra’s done tuning and the symphony’s comin’.”
We wouldn’t get to find out. Those gusts had turned to squalls and soon great hollerings, and the sky dropped its pent-up grief on everything. I scrambled to join him on the porch, and we waited it out, hearing the mayhem of trees whip and hiss and jettison pieces of themselves in the dark.
Felt like wicked black wolves now governed the night.
When it was done, a sadness came over me and I no longer felt like pretending Harlan’s concoction was even drinkable and I told him I didn’t feel too good and took myself home, a mile south of his place.
Next afternoon, a tad rueful, I hiked back over to the old man’s cabin.
Harlan was gone. Debris covered his porch, but so much of it; dirt and bits of tree and even what looked like old coyote shit. From the storm, I figured. Some of it, at least. But after calling his name awhile and knocking on his door like a fool, I went inside. A layer of dust covered everything. The only places clear of dirt my bootprints behind me. What in the hell? I grabbed a jar of his moonjuice, a sandy film on the outside, a dark layer of silt inside, and sat in his old chair on the porch sipping bad liquor. Things in my head didn’t feel right. The silence in everything was too loud.
I listened for the bugs again, but nothing. Thought that maybe it hadn’t been a chorus but a coda after all.
Wow. Desolation masterfully told with a magnificently flourish of a twist at the end.Delete
Wonderful stuff. Love the question, was that ghost real or am I going mad?Delete
Gonna build me a wall of BeautyReplyDelete
Build me a wall made of love
Set me up a Go Fund me and gather the money
To get me some help from above.
You’ll be able to see right through it from the other side
All you have to do is want to
And you can come inside.
Gonna build me a wall made of mercy where they don’t keep kids in cages
Where compassion never ages and even the women are free.
It’ll keep out all the bitter men and keep out all the thieves
Inscribed with prayers and good intentions, etched in love that no one mentions
It will extend from coast to coast
In the land they stole from me.
You can cross right through it with a wish that brushes hate aside
And dream your dreams, here on the other side.
Gonna build me a wall to send a message that here, you can be free.
Just touch it to pass through it; open up your heart.
Bring your kids and your relations, bring your beauty and your art.
Cause I’m building me a wall of beauty
I’m building a wall made of truth
It rises above the mountains and down below the sea.
And I’m gonna make those bastards pay
For the country they stole from me.
Call it a scam if you want to, call it a folly, whatever you choose.
But I know that those who choose truth and beauty
Aren’t always the suckers who lose
Beautiful and angry. I want to hear this set to music.Delete
I agree with Leland. I hear Neil Young singing it.Delete