The Colonel Comes Home – 3

(Continued from The Colonel Comes Home – 2)

“Fried Christ!” the Colonel grumbled as sweat leaked from his hat band into his eyes. He was glad they had started before sunup but now it didn’t matter. He coaxed his burro over a slight rise then into the darkening cool between two boulders. “Hot!” he called to Diego who was keeping the pace ahead of him.

“It’s good for us, this sun”, he called back over his shoulder. “Wait till you see the crop.”

The Colonel pulled up and lifted his hat to wipe his brow. The poppies weren’t going anywhere-they would wait for him. His foreman went not much farther before realizing he was alone. He turned his burro to find his father drinking from his gourd in the shade. “I’m sorry, Colonel”, he said. “I shouldn’t have…”

“Don’t apologize for doing what every man your age does. Rush forward, run here-run there. It’s your running about-being everywhere at the same time- that makes this estate, and us, rich. Don’t apologize for it. I did it too. Years ago. Now, I sit in the shade when God provides.” Diego took the offered gourd and drank deeply.

Diego had wanted him to see the crop since his return and this trip to the top of the mountain was for him. The boy was proud of his efforts as he should have been. The Colonel liked the flowers, he liked the colors, he liked the clearings hacked, in a single winter, out of the dark jungle-that showed power. But he wasn’t a farmer, this Colonel. None of his people were of the earth. He was a fighter, a soldier, a one-time mercenary, now unquestioned ruler of what once had been the largest regency in the country and owner of the largest estate in the territory. What he liked about this crop was what he liked about everything he touched: the gold that it would eventually yield. His growing fortune. The gold to buy more soldiers. That’s what he cared about. That’s what he had come to see. He sat in the shade until the sweat on his back felt cool then gestured Diego onward.

It was after two when they finally arrived back at the hacienda trudging slowly through the glowing orange trees. He had toured the poppy fields and spent the requisite time with the troops stationed up there. They were always happy to see him and worth the trip but almost nine hours on a burro was plenty for the Colonel and he left his with a groom and turned to Diego. “Join me for lunch? Some wine, perhaps?”

“I would love to Colonel”, he demurred. “But we are slaughtering from the southern herd in the morning. I’m down some caballeros and need to gather stragglers.”

The Colonel smiled and waved him off. “Go to it Diego! We need every cow-it will be a tough winter. I’ll drink enough for both of us.” With a quick, “Adio’” he was off to his cows. The older man walked slowly, straightening a little more each step. Surely, it was his imagination, but he swore he heard his spine groaning like a tree in the wind.

His coming had, of course, been foreseen and the wine, cheese, fruits and bread were at the table. He unbuckled his saber and took off his pistol, thinking about how his hardware grew heavier every year. He was looking directly upward and digging his knuckles into his kidneys when he heard a light tread on the veranda. It was one of the serving girls…Constance, Consuelo…he couldn’t remember. “Yes?” he asked.

“Excellency. The girl…she’s back.” She had nothing else to say.

The Colonel stared blinking then opened his hands to her. “Which girl, daughter? It’s been a busy week.”

“The one whose mother you…whipped.” Her voice dropped at the last word-not wanting to speak it in his presence lest…

“Ah, Laurencia”, he remembered derailing her train of thought. “She’s brought her burro back for a visit. I’ll pet him but not ride him. Enough with burros today. Please, fetch her. Send her to me.” He poured a cup of wine and took it onto his tongue. It was the Rose, served cool from the cellars. He kept it on his tongue before-eyes closed-swallowing slowly and luxuriantly. If the priests served this at Mass he never would have left the Church.

He felt, more than heard the girl cross the patio. He waved to her.  “Come here girl.” Laurencia hung back-only for a moment. Her transformation from almost-woman, back to child was stunning enough that the Colonel had to keep looking at her to ensure that this pretty waif was the same sent to him for carnal pleasure just days before. It wasn’t just the plain housedress either. The girl seemed chastened somehow. He saw something in the way she moved-there was a stiffness. His stomach hardened when he saw what might have been a thickness on her lower lip-as from a blow. He registered it, then ignored it.

The Colonel sat to get down to her level and spread his spindly legs. “Come,” he said, reaching out his hands, beckoning. “I guess there are no eggs for me this trip”, he joked but she didn’t smile. “I’m sorry”, she mumbled. “Come, come”, she took his hand shyly and slipped into the protectorate of his horseman’s thighs. She noticed, of all things, how clean his white canvas trousers were. She whimpered lightly as he turned her but gave into his gentle push to bend slightly over his left leg steadying herself with one hand on the table. She made no sound as he drew up her rough cotton dress behind.

To preserve her modesty, he only pulled the dun colored cloth up her legs but far enough to reveal thick switch slashes that left angry welts and a few cuts on the back of her thighs. He could imagine, but didn’t want to see, what her bottom looked like. His heart raced, and he thought of his saber.

“Your mother did this?”

“Yes Colonel.”

“Why?”

“She was angry.”

“Tell me true girl. Did you misbehave in any way to deserve this?”

“No sir. I was asleep. She awoke me with a stick.”

She was young; inexperienced in the ways of men. She didn’t hear his tone of voice change from sweetly cajoling to hardened steel. He lowered her dress and helped her to straighten. “Buenila!” Being deeply experienced, the old woman recognized the Colonel’s tone and materialized at the edge of the veranda like steam from a fissure in the ground.

“Am I in trouble Colonel?” Laurencia asked timidly.

“No, my dear…Not at all.”

“Buenila, take Laurencia inside, bathe her, dress her wounds…”

“Wounds?”

“You will see them…and feed her. I’m betting she’s hungry, aren’t you daughter?” She answered with a tiny nod. “Go”, he said with a wave of his hand. “Let Buenila care for you. She’s had girls just like you…she’ll know what to do. Go.”

Buenila the crone, barren since birth, never a natural mother, took Laurencia Palacios gently by the hand and led her into the cool darkness of the house. Inside, they moved to the left away from the Colonel’s quarters toward the servants and guest rooms. They passed Buenila’s small cell without comment and came to a room glowing green from sunlight reflected off the leaves through the high window. The bathing room had a handsome teak bathtub, a dressing table, a rattan lounge and small fireplace in the corner.

The girl balked when Buenila tried to undress her, so she left her be and took to filling the tub. The cistern water was warm this time of year but not warm enough so Buenila added from the steaming kettle that was always near to boiling on the fire. The scent of the oils added to the water was as enticing as the old woman’s tuneless humming was calming.

This time, when the old woman pulled at the laces at her neck, Laurencia did not resist and allowed the dress to be pulled up over her head covering her small breasts with crossed arms. Had the Colonel availed himself of what had been so crudely offered he would have found a girl on the cusp of womanhood; her throat long and thin with matted brown hair cascading over almond colored shoulders. Firm as a spring peach, she glowed in the dappled, reflected sunshine.

She pulled back when the old woman tried to pull her arms down. Again, leaving her be, Buenila cupped her hands and reached into the bathtub scooping a deep handful of water into her mouth. Then, cheeks swollen, she looked at the girl, crossed her eyes and pulled her ears spitting a stream of water out of her mouth like a demented swan, splatting Laurencia in the middle of the forehead. The girl froze in amazement then burst into laughter raising her hands to cover her face. Seeing an opening, the crone moved quickly to tickle her under both arms. The girl screeched and, dissolving into giggles, pulled her arms to her sides, her nakedness, at least for the moment, forgotten.

This time, when offered a hand, Laurencia took it and turned stepping gingerly into the tub. The old woman quickly glanced at the crosshatching on the girl’s backside and again raged quietly behind her humming.

“What is that song?” Laurencia asked, wincing as she sat in the tub.

“I don’t know. Mamma sang it. It is the sound of my childhood.”

“That was a long time ago, I bet.”

In my head, thought the old woman, it is still happening. “A very long time”, she said.

The girl allowed her hair to be washed, then to be bathed top and bottom, inside and out.  Stepping out of the tub she stood comfortably, shifting from foot to foot as Buenila dried her with thick cotton towels. Then, led by the hand, she followed the old woman to the couch and lay naked across her lap. The unguent that Buenila applied to the girl’s wounds was an old native concoction made of jungle herbs and weeds.

“This is not so bad”, she whispered interrupting her chorale as she rubbed and ministered to every stripe and mark. “You will be fine…” When finished she moved to help the girl up but heard in her breathing, in her regular and rhythmic snotty, snuffling, that she had fallen fast asleep. Buenila smiled and sat back, her arms protectively draped across the girl.

“That’s all right. Sleep Choochie”, she thought using a name her gramma had called her. “The Colonel will do the right thing.”

(Continuing…)

Turbid

CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX

Stenciled letters emblazoned in yellow

On every black coal car that roared too fast

Past his window.

CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX-CSX

He got dizzy and stopped counting at forty-nine

And just stared. Mesmerized.

But they kept passing

Until there were no more.

His vantage point so narrow he never saw the end coming.

When the rumbling subsided, the warm salty silence

Coursed through him again.

He lifted his eyes to the river beyond the tracks where something:

Ducks, geese, gulls, buzzards, crows, tow boats, was always happening.

Except now-everything blanketed in a frigid winter fog

The color of rumpled old bedsheets

Revealing nothing but the darkly spectral fingers of denuded maples

And the big sycamore

Sliding in and out of focus

on the near mud bank.

Still he stared, willing something to happen.

It probably wouldn’t.

As would happen at times like this, he remembered.

He was in bed. That he knew.

But it seemed to be daylight-not night.

Was there light coming through the thick drapes,

Or was it a lamp?

He was young. Not little, little…but young.

You’re not going to like this, she said, sitting on the bed beside him;

Causing him to slide toward her.

Why was she in her underpants if it was day time?

He remembered “turbidity” from his years on the boats.

It referred to particulates-mud, sand, what have you,

Clouding the water.

Was there a similar measurement for air? Or for the fog that pulsed and pressed?

Or for memories? Or his own soul?

The more he stripped away, the cloudier everything became.

Upstairs a thump as the cat jumped off the bed

Probably smelling potato chips.

He sprinkled some small fragments on the floor.

He didn’t mind sharing.

One Ridge Over – Part 2

Logging Road

(Continued from One Ridge Over)

This time he opened the gate careful to rattle the chain and make as much noise as he could. Halfway across the yard he saw a curtain peek open then close again, so he knew somebody saw him. “C’min”, came Emily’s voice from inside before he knocked.

He stepped into the dim light of the living room. Even if he hadn’t been there earlier and seen what he’d seen, he’d a known something was off in there. There was a damp thickness to the air-a musty whorl of tears, sweat, cigarette smoke and something rotten-sweet that he couldn’t place.

Emily sat on the couch, the curtains behind leaking just enough light to see.

“Your mom here?” he asked.

“Still at church…doin’ whatever.”

“Susan?”

“Stairs”, she said with a slight nod to the narrow staircase at the end of the room.

She had taken off the sweater that had completed the skirt as her regular Sunday outfit. Her titties showed almost clear through the undershirt that had gone a size too small for her over the summer. She wore a lot of sweaters and overshirts even in summer as Missy didn’t think she was old enough for a bra yet.

He stood frozen, eyes averted, the homework he had brought to share, forgotten. Her eyes too were elsewhere, settled on the low table with the full ashtray, two crushed beer cans and empty whisky pint. As he adjusted to the dim light he glanced and saw that her eyes were swollen and red, but the tears well gone. Without actually planning to, or even meaning to, he said “I seen….”

“Seen what?”

“I’s…here earlier. Come through the yard. Seen you and Susan…and Jimmy.”

“Oh”, was all she said. He dropped his eyes further looking directly at the toes of his ripped sneakers, one held on by baling twine.

“Where were you at?”

“Behind the big bush.”

The words were coming as singles-not as whole sentences.

“What did you think?”

“I wanted to kill him…I was gonna jump him and make him stop.”

“Good thing you didn’t. Onliest one woulda gotten killed is you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“But you wanted to help”, she said. “Come to my rescue.” Her voice was scratchy and heavy.

“Yeah, it’s dumb. I’m sorry.”

“Quit apologizin’. It’s sweet”, she said. “I’m glad you dint, but it’s sweet.”

He looked up to see a tiny smile cross her tear-swole face. He had seen her whipped bare ass over a bench, seen her hard nipples practically pushing through her undershirt. But only now, based on a single crooked smile and her white teeth, did his pecker tighten and push against his pants. It was the damndest thing!

His burgeoning firmness was interrupted by the sound of a door and soft tread on the stairs.

“Oh, it’s you”, Susan said her face heavy too, but more flushed than blotchy.

“Where are you going?” Emily asked.

“Out. For a walk.”

She gave nothing else as she headed for the door. He watched her, suddenly nervous at the electricity that come off of Susan that Emily had none of. He found he was holding his breath.

“He was here”, Emily said flat. “He saw.”

“Saw what?”

“He was behind the bush.”

She stopped and turned burning eyes on him. “What are you?”, she growled her face almost frantic with anger. “Some kinda perv?”

“No, it was an accident!”

“Did you git a good show?”

“Come on Suze, he didn’t know what was goin’ on…he was comin’ here for schoolwork.”

“Is that schoolwork?” She hissed pointing at his erection that hadn’t altogether subsided. “Is that for you? Here! You want a better show?” She commenced to yanking at her pants.

“Susan, you stop that! He saw our backsides, not our fronts. Don’t do that to him.”

But Susan was bound and determined even if trying her best to mind her sister a little bit. She turned and pushed her pants down. “There! You like that?” Susan was comely enough. Truth be told she was the prettier of the Brant sisters but no, seein’ her butt all purple and lashed and knowin’ that her face was flushed from crying didn’t please him at all. “You like that?” she croaked over her shoulder.

“No”, he said quietly. “I don’t.”

She pulled her pants up as quickly as she dropped them and faced him again. She nodded toward his crotch. “Is that for you then?” she asked her sister.

“He came here for homework”, Emily said evenly through gritted teeth.

“Why don’t you. Go ahead and do it. Put a baby in her you perv so in a few years you’ll have someone you can…”

“STOP IT RIGHT NOW SUSAN!”

The younger shut up and wiped the back of her hand across her eyes which had started to leak. To stop from saying anymore she spun and pushed her way out the door. He watched her cross the yard.

“Where’s she goin’?” he asked.

“Prolly up the walnut grove. That’s her happy place. Good place for her right now.”

“She’s pissed.”

“There’s more what goes on between her and Jimmy than jist takin’ a whippin’ now an’ then.”

“What you mean?” he asked.

She gifted him with another smile; this one sly, with her head puppy-tilted to the side. “You sweet little dummy. You don’t know, do you?” That smile again. This time she watched his pants push out toward her. “Come on…” She got up from the couch and led him by the hand, back through the kitchen and out the back door.

He felt strange being in the back yard again so soon after what had happened there. Even stranger to go and set on the bench. His Ma believed that everthing that happened in the world was still happenin’…or was still goin’ on in some kind of time wrinkles…he never could get it straight when she explained it, cause it was always late at night, but he was pretty sure she would say the whippin’ he saw was still happenin’ over and over if he jist had the gift of bein’ able to see it. He didn’t know about that, but he did feel weird settin’ there in the middle of it.

The river was shallow here and if not for the algae blooms he’d be able to count the rocks from one side to the other. He saw a couple of carp-big shadows cruising upstream-and watched the willows across the way standing straight in the weak current. Emily set close beside him. His nervous river-watchin’ was interrupted by her hand roughly rubbing over his lap. “You can’t keep it loaded and not shoot. You’ll get blood poisoning.”

“No I won’t!”

“It’s true”, she said, her hand work not helping at all.

He’d had boners before and knew how to deal with them. But he’d never had one with a girl. He sat rigid and straight-backed breathing in quick little bites as she rubbed her hand back and forth. She paused and flipped the tab of his zipper. “You know how to work this?” she asked.

He unzipped and made to reach in, but it jumped out of its own accord like a dog after a rabbit. “See now?” Emily said grabbing it like a corn stalk. “This is no good. I’ll take care a’ this.” She spit in her hand and rubbed down over the top of it. He saw it swell and felt a tickle deep below in his balls. She wrapped her fist around it and stroked clumsily.

“I like how it grows”, she said from a distance, as if talking about a flower. It wasn’t quite determination that showed on her face as much as wanting to get it right. He didn’t know whether to watch her or the carp so he looked out at the river and stole peeks down at his lap as if he was ashamed of his own pecker. It wasn’t a concern he had for long though. He slammed his eyes shut when he felt the rustling bubbles deep inside and grunted, hearing his juice spatter on the leaves between his feet.

“There”, she said. “Don’t that feel better?”

“It does.”

“You’ve done this before, right?”

“Sure. Never with a girl, though.”

“Here then. Let me show you something…” Before he could imagine what, she pushed her hair behind her ear and bobbed into his lap. She took him into her mouth and whirled her tongue about the top of him sucking gently at the same time. He rose off the bench slightly crying…”Whoa, whoa…” then settled as she slid her mouth down over the full of it. Then she pulled her lips back over it and sat back up leaving him hard and shiny. “Whoo…” he whispered.

“How’s that?”

“That was somethin’…” he said, then froze as the world tilted a bit. He caught the seat of the bench with his hands as it felt to be collapsing under him.  Where had she learnt that?

There’s more what goes on between her and Jimmy than jist takin’ a whippin’ now an then.

“Put that thing away”, she said. “You only get one shot today.”

He stuffed his rigid self back into his pants with difficulty and sat still while everything gathered back under him. She took his hand in hers without looking. “I don’t want to do no homework today”, he said feeling a little sick in his belly.

“Naw”, she said. “Me neither. I need to go up into the woods and gather Susan. Make sure she’s fine…”

As he followed her through the dim house to pick up his book bag he kept his eyes over everything but her walking right in front.

“We won’t be in school tomorrow”, she told him at the gate.

OK, was all he said. He didn’t want to get into the detail of it or know why. His mind spun with the possibilities that they neither could sit on the hard seats all day, they were too upset, whatever. He thought nothing of it, just suddenly wanted to head up the road.

“You have to give me a kiss now”, she said, her thick little fingers gripping his handlebar tightly. “We’re lovers now. You have to kiss me when you leave”. He kissed her, chastely on the lips–mouth closed and dry. “Bye”, was all he said.

The ride home was even more painful than he thought it would be as the thick heat settled, filling the hollow. It was fine though. He took his time.

—–

He didn’t mind Mondays. He was an early riser anyways and liked goin’ to school probably more than school liked him being there. Ma was at the sink pushing herself up taller to better see though the window. “It’s your uncle” was all she said.

He heard the boots clop on the porch. Uncle Mike, big enough that it seemed he should duck through the door wore the same checked shirt he’d had on since his wife died. The kitchen filled with the sweet, sour smell of the twenty head of straggly Angus he ran on the rented knob over opposite the church.

“You hear about the Brant’s last night?”

“How would I?”

“There were a fire.”

“A fire.“

‘We won’t be in school tomorrow’ echoed so clearly in his head he was afraid the adults would hear.

“Everbody OK?”

“Girls and Missy fine. Damn fool Jimmy Logan burned himself up. Musta been smokin’ on the couch and fell asleep.”

“Naw!”

“Good riddance to a waste of skin and bone is all I say.”

“Hush Mike. Stop that. He’s in school with the girls…”

He stared down at the cold, rubbery dollar-store waffles. He wished there was syrup instead of jist brown sugar.

‘We won’t be in school tomorrow.’

 

©TDR – 2017

One Ridge Over

 

Fuckyeahabandonedplaces

He pushed his way in through the door that was held shut more by wild grapes and morning glory vines than any lock. Halfway open the top hinge silently pulled out of the punky frame and the door hung all cattywampus, never to be closed again. The inside was dim, the windows, broke or not, obscured by the thick honeysuckle vines that had already reclaimed the outhouse in back.

The forgotten rose pattern wallpaper hung in sheets dripping to the floor exposing the rotten watermarked drywall. Every shuffling step he took was answered by skittering in the walls that was either mice or chippies. In the middle of the floor, right where that rickety coffee table woulda been, was a hole down to the dirt-easy access for whatever groundhogs or racoons lived here.

Emily and ‘em had tried to remodel after the fire but money bein’ what it was back then-mostly lacking- left soon after. If she were dead, she would haunt this place, he was sure. But she wasn’t dead as far as he knew. Jist gone. Never to return in life and he wondered if he’d still be around to come and check after.

It had been a four-mile bike ride that Sunday morning, up over his ridge then down the rocks of dry Rooker crick, across the old logging trail then finally the red-dog flat of the river road. The dump-rescued Schwinn with the mismatched tires made the time quick, even with the book bag strapped across his back. Goin’ back would be tougher, but he’d worry about that later. Pretty much that way with everthing; later would take care a’ itself.

The Brant girls, living as they did just one ridge over, were as close to neighbors as any he had in school. They were the first ones for the school bus, huddled in the shelter at the head of the paved road, and the last ones off. Emily was his age-or in his grade at least-Susan a year younger though she didn’t seem it. Them, him and Emily, settin’ together on the bus now and again, wasn’t much a’ anything. He wasn’t much of a talker and neither was she. They’d set.

The river road turned to rutted dirt about a mile from the Brant’s house. He, and everbody else, still thought of it as the Brant’s cause that was the girl’s names. And their mother Missy-who Emily favored with her round cheeks and crinkly brown hair. Jimmy Logan, the girl’s stepdad, or more likely Missy’s live-in, had no part in any of their names.

Off the bike he felt the heaviness in the air-still as the inside of a bottle. Rather than open the whole gate for just him and his bike, he leaned it against a post and ducked between the two lower strands of bob wire. Had he opened the gate they might have heard him. It might’ve changed things. But he doubted it. As it was, he stopped halfway to the house, to this day not sure if he heard something in back. But he must have.

He snuck around the upstream side, because the closer he got and the more he heard, sneakin’ seemed the best course. At the corner of the place, he stuck his face through the branches of the big rhododendron, there it all was.

It was Susan closest to him. Emily herself out the further end of the bench. Course he was assuming because as they were-bent over the bench, their bottoms to him-he couldn’t see their faces. Both were bare-assed, Susan’s pants bunched at her feet and Emily’s skirt thrown up over her back. Both backsides showed hard use of Jimmy Logan’s strap. That moment, his attention was focused on Susan, whipping her hard-each slash met with a grunt as if she didn’t want to cry out. And her not crying pissed him off.

He couldn’t tell what Emily said to her sister, but it was something. And maybe Jimmy didn’t like it or maybe it was just her turn, cause he slid down a step or two and whipped the strap hard across Emily’s round backside. Her butt bounced at the force of it and her legs shivered when she tried to stay still. She wasn’t as good at being quiet as her sister and cried out over the river at every wicked stroke. He set himself, crouching by the bush as he was, and leaned on his back leg ready to launch himself forward. But the harsh crack of the belt-the violence of it-and Emily’s pained cries stopped him.

Fuckin’ stopped him dead, he thought looking through a sumac that grew through the back porch toward where the bench had been. He kicked at what looked like a balled-up rag on the ruined floor with the toe of his hunting boot. Turned out to be a dead squirrel-weightless and mummified by the heat of summer. He spit. What if he had…aw, fuck it. What good did it do now…

What he did do then was spin around and head back out the yard careful to stay on the low side of the road looking back over his shoulder to make sure nobody could see. The thick air of the hollow swallowed all sound and he peddled like a thief until he was a good bit down the road. Then he stopped. And listened.

Quickly he dropped his bike and flopped in the ditch with every manner of tick, chigger and spider as Jimmy Logan banged past in his puttied-up old work van going every bit twice as fast as he should have on that sorry road. Gnats whined, diving into his eyes and ears but he waited, unmoving, the grass tickling his nose, the thick air itself ticking, until the dust settled in Jimmy’s wake. Then, he stood up carefully and dusted himself off, chasing a cricket off his pants and a grasshopper off his shoulder. With one more look up the road for good measure he headed back to Emily’s house.

(Continued…)