“A Fuck of a Night”

Art by Yoko Tanji

Art by Yoko Tanji

Sam was a small man even among regular folk. Out here, tonight, he felt like a bug. Still though, he was happy to step out of the darkness of the tree-lined avenue into the open square where the buzzing lights cast a monochrome silver tableau before him.

He was relieved for a moment to see what had to be a man in the far corner of the square, leaning one-legged against an old wooden telephone pole smoking. His other leg was crooked back behind him, foot on the pole, affecting the rakish, relaxed look of a model in an old cigarette ad.

Sam’s fingers weren’t sticking together anymore. The blood that was left had dried and would have to be washed off if there was water or scraped it there wasn’t. He shuffled toward the tall man, one shoe on, one missing, hesitating only when he realized how large the fellow really was. Up close, he looked less relaxed and more gaunt, like an anxious scarecrow.

For a moment Sam wondered if it really was it a man he was seeing before him or an apparition leaning against the pole. Standing before him he had to crane his neck back to see his face.

“Excuse me”, Sam said, looking up. “I’ve had a fuck of a night. Can I bum a cigarette?”

The head above him swiveled his way then pitched downward carefully, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. “I don’t smoke”, he said in a flat guttural voice that betrayed no accent. A streetlight glinted in his dark eyes-the light glancing off the dead one like a skipped stone-the other flaring hot for an instant, then fading.

Sam backed into a shadow away from his gaze but the head had swiveled away.

“I wanted to see if he’d give you one.”

He turned and noticed the girl against the wall. She was even smaller than he was-but not a child. Just a girl in bare feet and torn back dress.  Nothing special-plain. In fact, in the light, she looked like a pencil sketch of what a plain girl should look like.

“He said he doesn’t smoke.”

“I know him. He doesn’t.”

He looked back once more at the cloud circling around the pole. She took his hand to lead him down an alley out of the openness of the square. At her touch he felt himself thickening.

“I’ve had a fuck of a night”, he said letting himself be led.

“I know. Come on.”

The apparition didn’t turn to watch them go. They mattered not a whit to him. He smoked in peace, scanning the sleeping world above their heads.

Front Nine

“Then”, he said, after striking his ball cleanly and watching it disappear over the top of the crest before them, “She said I was an alcoholic…and mean.”

Peter gave no immediate indication that he had heard. He approached his ball with a seven iron, comfortable that he could get to the green. “But you are”, he said casually measuring with an easy practice swing.

“Yeah but it wasn’t a problem until…” Evan paused to allow Peter to hit.

“Fuck!” He topped the ball and it skated up to the top-almost got over-then rolled back a foot, then settled.

“It wasn’t a problem”, Evan went on, “Until….”

“She quit drinking.” Peter finished the sentence for him. “I know. You’ve said.”

That was the bitch about golfing with your internist. There were no secrets.  “Go ahead, hit again.”

Peter walked to the top and looked over scanning for Evan’s ball. “Where are you?”

“I’m betting ninety yards down-ten o’clock…”

Peter squinted down the fairway and, satisfied, stepped to his ball. He looked comfortable on the hill, one long leg bent on the uphill side-the other straight. One practice swing then a clean stroke and with the clear CLACK of a well hit shot the ball flew up and out of sight.

“One twenty”, Evan said turning abruptly toward the cart. “You got me by thirty but you’ll never make up that stroke.” Peter grinned as he got in and they whirred silently down the cart path.

Peter reached into his bag and pulled out two cigars handing one to Evan. He admired it in spite of himself-it was a favorite but he wouldn’t buy them. No matter how much money he had, spending thirty bucks on a cigar was stupid especially when his old man happily smoked himself to death on generic cigarettes. He took the offered cutter and sliced the end, then lit up. It was a Wednesday morning and they were not pressured. There was time to enjoy a smoke. Even a thirty dollar smoke.

“There was the time you told me you didn’t fear cancer because you were married to her”, Peter said picking up a thread of conversation that should have died.

“I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Many times”, He said exhaling a plume skyward.

Evan puffed deeply and considered the lighted end of the Cuban. He flicked the ashes from the red glow gently and blew on it, suddenly swallowed by the thought of jamming the fiery tip into someone’s eye. Reflexes would win out and undoubtedly the eyelid would close and there would only be a burned eyelid and the requisite screaming.

But what if he were quick enough to get the smoldering tip into the eye proper-would it sizzle like water hitting hot grease and fall into itself? Or would it pop like an egg, oozing down the face and dripping from the cigar like yolk from a burnt toast tip?

Peter stepped out of the cart and picked through his five thousand dollars-worth of clubs. Ridiculous clubs-he wasn’t a good enough golfer to be outfitted this way. Evan came out with eight clubs in an old bag he’d had since college. That’s probably one of the things she liked about him-he was flashy. She’d come to like flashy it seemed.

“I imagine you’re going with your wedge for this one, right?” Peter asked from behind him.

Just don’t pick today to tell me you’re fucking her, Evan thought darkly. Not today.

Peter chose his club and walked brightly to his ball eyeing the flag on the green. He didn’t really notice that Evan hadn’t answered as he was distracted by a sumac leaf. It was a beige sumac leaf shaped birth mark that Evan’s wife, Janie, had right along the inside of her ass cheeks. It was hardly visible until she opened to him-her favorite sex position was face and knees. He ran his thumb over it as he rode her, imagining the skin felt rougher there. It didn’t though; the inside of her crevasse was as soft and luscious as the rest of her.

“How about double or nothing on the next hole?” he called back over his shoulder without really looking.

“Sure. Why not?” Evan answered. He was up fourteen hundred over the first seven and wasn’t giving anything back. He watched Peter take that lazy practice swing of his and smoked.

The Longest Day

CAUTION: Intimations of buggery ahead….

 

“You been in there, right? Top floor?”

“Ah…it’s been years-and honestly-those days? Not much in the way of memories…”

“Well, it’s a long hallway and I’m at this end…” to make his point he did a chopping motion in the air and held his hand on edge. “Y’see? And Colleen’s room is halfway down-more than that actually-just a door up from the loo. Right there.” He pointed through the window and up the hill to the rambling ramshackle of a boarding house overlooking the few standing structures that still defined Wichymeade as a town on some old maps. “The one with the purple curtains”, he continued to point.

Glennon’s shrug was equal parts “I see”, “I don’t get it” and “get on with it.”

“Anyways” he shrugs getting on with it, “I’m creeping down the hall to do my night’s business and I hear this…hum. More like a moan.”

“A moan?”

“Like, ‘Mmmmmmmm’.”

“That could be a moan”, then shrugging. “Or a hum. And it’s coming from….”

“You got it. Right! Colleen’s room. And it’s getting louder as I get closer-which of course makes sense-and I get there, again, on my way to the loo…just passing by, and I see Dennehy-of course I think it was Dennehy. Never seen him from that particular angle.”

“What angle was that?”

“He was laying over Colleen’s lap-like a naughty baby-stark naked from what I could see…”

“Naked!?”

“Completely!”

“Facing which way?”

“Away from me.”

“Oh dear.”

“Right. And that’s not the worst of it. Colleen was pushing a cucumber into his bottom.”

“What? A cucumber?”

“Had to be”, he answered struggling to remember the details.

Glennon sipped his coffee. “Why don’t people shut their doors when they’re on about something like that?” Then, after a pause as he tried to envision the calamity, “You’re sure it was a cucumber?”

“And not a….”

“Zucchini, let’s say.”

“Would have had to be a small zucchini…”

“And the sound you heard, the ‘mmmmmmmmm…”

“That was coming out of him.”

“I don’t doubt it. Was there lights on in the room?”

“See, that’s the thing what gets me wondering if it were a dream or not. It seemed to be sunlight leaking in around the curtains…”

“But it was night.”

“Exactly!”

“Were you soused?”

“No more, no less.”

“Sampling any of Dixon’s latest”, he asked pantomiming puffing on a joint.

“My credit’s no good with him no more.”

“Did you speak with either of them?”

“No, not speak. But when Colleen noticed me at the door, she gave me a look.”

“What kinda look?”

“You know.”

“I’m sure I don’t.”

“Like I had come upon them playing bridge or something. Chess maybe. Like ‘nothing to see here, best be off.’ As if she wasn’t jamming a zucchini up me mate’s behind.”

“I thought you said it was a cucumber!”

“It was, what did I say?”

“Zucchini.”

“No. Had to be a cucumber. Of produce, I guess I could see a carrot…a banana, of course…”

“Candlestick.”

“Oh, yes. Forgot you were an altar boy.”

“Shush!” hissed Glennon clapping him on the shoulder. “What you do then? After she spied you?”

“What ya think? Bypassed the loo completely. Down the stairs and out into the yard. Did my business behind a tree and went over to Sadies.”

“Ah Sadie. She’s always good for a piece of day old pie and a cuppa that hideous coffee of hers.”

“Ghastly stuff!”

“You really have to work to make coffee that bad.”

“Then I come over here soon’s June Bug opened. Did you see Dennehy this morning at the dock?”

“No. But his boat leaves early so I wouldn’t, typically.”

The sharp double toot of a steam whistle cut the heavy air.

“That’s me”, said Glennon, drinking off the rest of his cup. “I’m off. Salmon to be caught.”

“You need a hand?”

“No, we’re full today. Why? Don’t you have a train?”

“No I do not! Fools threw a wheel down the bottom of the lake.”

“So you have nothing today.”

“Nope.”

Standing Glennon patted him on the shoulder and headed for the door. “You should set a bit. Stay down here and get your thoughts in order. And oh”, he paused hand on the push bar “on the off chance, pass on the salad if she tosses one for dinner.”

The door closed and he was alone at the counter.

“Junie? Would you give me a wee,” he held his fingers up a scant smidge apart for emphasis “tiny bit a’ schnapps please?”

“I will not, Kevin Duffy!”

“You won’t?”

“It’s not an hour past sunup and you yourownself told me to never serve you before noon.”

“I did, didn’t I?”

“Yes you did. So unless you want a good, sound spank you’ll have another coffee and be happy about it!”

“What?”

She stood in front of him with the pot. “D’ye want another cup?”

“What…else? The other thing…? What did you say? Besides coffee?”

“Are ye daft as well as deaf? No alkyhol till noon. Now, ‘nother coffee?”

“Uh…no. No thank you.”

He pushed away, leaving more coin on the counter than was necessary.

“See ye at noon then”, she called at his back.

Outside the sun burning from over the lake warmed his back and threw his shadow well up the hill. He set out, trudging after it as if underwater, up toward the boarding house.

 

 

“Home again home again, jiggety-jig”

 

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Once the train rolled past the mill across the river the ground flattened and the hill backed off step by step until there was room for the town to wedge itself between its natural boundaries. He peeked through the slitted door of boxcar and saw Rohall’s body shop which was still the first building in town but he couldn’t swear it was still a body shop.

Then a few houses that looked abandoned then the fire house with someone, too far away to make out who, lounging in a chair by the open door. The track bent then, bellying toward the river and away from the football field, robbing him of the close-up view but opening the vista of the grimy little houses sprawling between two bridges and up to the hillside.

He watched the ties clicking quickly past and ventured to stick his head out. There was no one working on the tracks that he could see-no trucks, no equipment-but he’d have to wait for the switching yard to be sure. He had played there as a boy-and later-but now it had fallen into disuse-storing ties and timbers instead of old boxcars to play in.

Nearing the yard and its crossing the train slowed enough to make exiting, if not easy, at least possible. He squatted and stretched watching and waiting for the flattest spot with the least ballast which made the footing uncertain. He was entering the yard now, overrun with tangles of thistle, sedge, sumac trees and at least one very dead deer.

Quickly, while somewhat hidden by the brush, he slid the door enough to sit with his legs hanging then pushed off. With barely a stumble, he was walking beside the train instead of riding in it as he had for 300 miles. His boxcar outpaced him and slipped away. He carried no bundle, no bag, nothing that could mark him as homeless, a vagrant or hobo. Everything he owned he wore or left behind.

The creosote smell of the new ties gave him the same odd feeling it always did. Took him back to his first time; jaws clenched, bent grimacing over a stack of ties, the spring drizzle dripping from his hair. That was just down the tracks from here. If there was another man in the world who was aroused by the smell of creosote he didn’t want to meet him.

Every fucked-up path had a fucked-up beginning and once you hit the crooked way, there was no getting off it. Like riding your bike into a street car track-you were stuck where it would take you. It was always that way no matter what anyone said. Once your wires were crossed, they were crossed and singed into a new direction.

The ten foot fence was new-running beside the track for as far as he could see. He might have to walk all the way to the crossing which would be chancy but where there was a fence there would be holes, loose spots and passages for townies to cut across to the river. There was too much beer to be drunk, weed to be smoked and girls to be fucked on the riverbank to be deterred by a mere cyclone fence.

He ran his fingers along it as he walked remembering what it had felt like, as a kid, to be able to scale something like this. Up like a spider, leg over, drop down. That was a while ago. He stopped. There it was. The bottom two wires connecting the fence to a pole had been cut; the loose grid unnoticeable unless you knew it was there. He squatted, pushed at the bottom and the wire lattice lifted like a curtain.

Just like that he was back in town. And no one was going to be happy to see him.

“A little anisette, please…”

Moon Fall

He awoke slowly; grudgingly. The new pills not only kept him asleep through the night-or at least more of the night than he was used to-but made waking a slow, weighted swim up from of the bottom of a deep pool. It was a chore that he deferred most mornings. He allowed himself a few minutes gazing at the ridge line until he could just make out the bare limbs and branches etched against the graying sky.

He rose and stretched-hands high-counting the pops in his spine as he bent this way, then that.  Then listened to the cracks in his ankles as he walked, squinting to unlock the bedroom door in the darkness. An unnecessary precaution as it turned out but one he felt he had to take.

He padded across the hall and paused at the slightly open door to the front room-just as he’d left it. Her deep regular breathing was the only sound on the floor. He slipped the door open wide enough to enter. This side of the house fronted the lake and the light of the dawn moon falling over the far hills pointed a silver sword their way across the water. He watched the flickering light crawling directly at him and fell under the spell of her breathing.

He allowed himself to be borne away by her rhythm, inhaling deeply with her and exhaling as she did. Not being asleep, the exercise left him feeling winded-in need of quick swallows of air. The room carried the sweet aroma of his grandmother’s bread dough rising in her tiny kitchen-a heady mix of sleep, damp heat and last night’s lovemaking.

He approached the bed where she was on her side sunken deeply into the old mattress the sheet around her shoulders. He checked the knots around her ankles and gently slipped a finger between the bonds and her skin. Secure and not too tight. He then pulled back the sheet to check her wrists, bound before her as if in prayer. Her breath feathered the back of his hands. The rope securing her wrists to her ankles was likewise fast.

And lastly, the knife. His own deer knife, a nine inch blade sharp enough to shave, cut and gut. Happily, it was safely sheathed within her easy reach. His suggestion was to bind her lightly so she could easily release herself if necessary during the night. She instead wanted to be bound tightly, with the knife as her out card.

He knew she was mad from the first. But the first was so long ago that the knowledge did him no good now.

The World’s Worst Flirts

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He could see her behind the counter when he pulled up. Did he know she would be here? He had thought of her that morning for no particular reason, now here she was. Maybe he somehow knew that she worked weekends.

“Hi”, he said, pushing his way through the glass door which would have opened automatically had he waited for it. There was no one in the store but her. “I haven’t seen you in awhile.” She cocked her head slightly to one side expectantly so he pushed on. “I must not come in when you’re here.”

“You just don’t come in when I’m here”, she said.

She took his lottery card and ran it through the machine. Her face, round and scrubbed pink, opened in a smile when she handed him his ticket. Her teeth were tiny, baby-teeth but perfectly aligned. None of the others here had all of their teeth. At least he had that impression.

He opened his wallet when she said “Two dollars” and rifled through the receipts and paper scraps finally finding two triple-folded ones that he handed over. He failed trying to think of something clever and said, “I think I have enough.”

“Yep, you do” she said taking the bills with a smile. “Won’t have to make you mop the floors now.”

Taking the ticket and again, failing to think of anything clever, he looked at the floor and said, “I don’t think I could get down that low.”

“I think you could get down pretty low.”

What? Wait. On his way to the door he veered left, cutting off a quick exit to stare into the cooler. He’d buy an ice tea if he had another buck. He saw the reflection of his paint-spattered jeans, torn sweatshirt, his shapeless raincoat and ball cap. “Christ”, he thought and moved to the door again.

“Have a good one”, he said this time waiting for the hydraulic whoosh to open it.

“You too”, her smile was noncommittal to the point that it almost not a smile at all.

She works Saturdays he told himself trying to carve it in his memory. I’ll have something better to say next week.

Inside, she wondered idly where she had seen him before.

Left Behind

ghost

It doesn’t matter, he said sounding a tad strained. I just wish I could straighten up a little, that’s all. He tried for the millionth time to pick up one of the scattered cards or a stack of loose papers. They passed right through his hand.

See? Said the other. Why bother?

If I had some new file folders I’m sure I could make some sense of this. He continued to try to keep the desperation out of his voice.

It just doesn’t matter.

Listen, he said hearing footsteps on the gravel outside. Here they come again.

He turned to face the broken window and smiled a wide gap-toothed grimace.

What the hell are you doing?

Smiling for their picture.

You know they can’t see you, right? You won’t show up. Look at the floor. You don’t even leave tracks.

I wish Miss Baxter was here-she could put this mess to right.

She’s long gone. Forget it-

Why are we still here again?

The other sniffed and slowly diffused into a limp, spreading cloud of glimmering tendrils that rose toward the rafters.

What? But…

Sighing but afraid to be alone, he allowed himself slip likewise apart and followed, trying to remember why he wouldn’t show up on film. He’d make him tell next time.