Jake – 2

(Continued from Jake – 1)

The air in the room was a coppery stew of blood, meat, burnt hair, gunpowder and shit. He had to hit the window frame hard with the heel of his hand a few times before it surrendered to his tugging and slid up a few inches.

“You fuckin’ idiot”, he said aloud.

No running his car into an abutment yanking to the left at the last second to deal only a glancing, but totaling, blow. No standing at the bridge rail with an audience waiting to be talked back. No taking a bottle of pills then calling 911. He’s just crying out, they said. Trying to make Mel crazy. This wasn’t that. He wondered what his last thought had been in the nanosecond between clicking the trigger and ending up on the wall. Better off not knowing.

Jake sat on the bloody ruin of the bed and felt it soaking through his jeans, his legs already sticky. He leaned forward and, with his finger, traced a line through the crimson spatter on the yellow wall feeling pieces that were bloody, but more than that. What was in this blood? Were there still traces of the first joint they shared in ninth grade? A taste of the cheap wine they’d shared at the prom a million years before? A whiff of every bottle they’d drained, beer they’d drunk, Quaalude they’d swallowed?

No, those were memories which would now become the reveries of ghosts. This was waste. Jake knew he’d live with one the rest of his life. This other, he needed to get rid of.

You couldn’t call me one more time? When have I not showed up when you called? Or the old man? He could get tiresome, sure, sitting through another story of walking point in the jungle and knowing he wouldn’t die but sure of who would.  Did he have this one?  Jesus, Bull. Again, he wondered about his last thought: was it a relieved “finally” or a regretful “fuck!”. Better off not…

He got up and headed through the house that he knew as well as his own. He’d been here alone many times, but it was never as empty as it was now. He gathered what he needed and decided this would be it for him. There would be no vigil, no sitting beside a closed casket with Melissa and the kids remembering better times. None of that. This was it. This was his closure, this was his vigil, this was his Song of Bull: Lysol, two buckets, sponges and a mop.

The task was simple. Numbing. On his popping knees, dipping the rag in the clean bucket and rinsing in the foul one. When they were both the same shade of red he’d dump and start again. The smell of the cleaner began to win out as the window fogged. He was half way though, still on his knees in that fouled room, when he heard the heavy, halting tread on the steps. Mel’s brother stepped up to the doorway but not into the room.

“What did you say to her?”

“Not now, Tom…”

“She got the three kids at my house now and she gonna half to…”

Jake pulled himself up in sections to his full height, stretching his back, before pivoting slowly, mechanically, his spine clicking like a rusty weather vane. His eyes were a sick animal’s, too exhausted and pained to attack but too unpredictable to offer any comfort. Tom shied from the baleful stare, but held his chin firm.

“Wasn’t right”, he said.

“Not. Now”, Jake answered and slowly turned back to the wall, almost clean now.

“Put the mattress in the garage. Git it out of here. I’ll burn it at work.” Jake didn’t respond. “It’s good you’re doin’ this”, Tom said sliding toward the stairs, “But you’re still a fuckin’ prick.”

Jake, content to hear but not listen, wiped at the wall-now shiny yellow with only a few wisps of pink.

The mattress, older than the man who’d slept on it, rolled easily. The blood was drying now-gummy-not running down his back but staining him just the same as he shouldered the burden and leaned his way down the stairs, across the yard and into the garage. The bulb on the wire cast a wavering yellow light as it swung above the oil-stained spot where the Caddy usually was. Melissa took it, he knew. Which Bull would have hated.

He dropped the mattress against the wall then stripped off his soiled jeans and underwear, tossing them and his shirt onto the same pile. Burn them all, he thought. He yanked off the light and lumbered haltingly back across the dark yard ignoring the stares that he knew were falling on him from those who would always stare at car wrecks, death houses and accidents, hoping for a sign, a vision, an echo or reverb from beyond.

Back in the room, he opened the dresser drawers and pulled out a pair of jeans. They would be big, but there were belts. A non-descript work shirt from the closet; stained but clean. Then, on a hunch, he pulled open the top drawer and reached under the sweat socks to find a thin plastic bag rolled tight and licked to seal. The weed was mostly thick oily buds and smelled amazing fresh. OK buddy, he thought. Paid in full.

The keys were still in the ignition, his wallet still on the seat. He had locked the house but left all the lights on, so it shined brighter than any other on the street where the living hid in darkness. He drove back to the Porter, watching the streets carefully for changes. He figured without Bull on this block or this earth that something should look somehow different.

The bar was quiet when he walked in, the juke muted, whispering some Jim Croce lost love song. Bad news burns through a small town like a fire in a rowhouse. Bull’s stool at the end was empty, as was the one on either side. There was a shot and a flattening beer on the bar in front of it. Jake sat on the stool he’d left earlier and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bottles. He dropped his eyes.

Dee set the same shot and beer in front of him.

“You ok?”

“Naw…”

She squeezed his hand.  He tossed the shot and remembered. “Shit!” he took the phone out of his pocket and dialed home. Dee refilled the shot. The old man answered on the first ring.

“Pop”, he said.

“I heard” was all he answered. Jake had hoped he had, what with the scanner and Aunt Cil and her sisters all radars for distress and disasters. He didn’t want to break the news though the old man would say he saw it coming. He woulda been right too. They all did.

“Ok. You alright?”

“What else am I gonna be? How ‘bout you?” His answer was silence, Jake again caught staring at the wraith in the mirror. “…You should come home” the old man said.

“I will Pop. I will…I just gotta…”

“I’ll leave the door open. Just come home when you’re done…”

He closed the phone and put it back in his pocket pulling out the bag of weed and tossing it on the bar. “Pipe Up”, he said intoning their collective call to unconsciousness, born a decade earlier when an oldster, long gone now, had told their crew to “Pipe Down!” when they were laughing over his daytime programs.

Dee reached behind the Crown Royal bottle for the stone pipe. Gus, at the end of the bar, got up haltingly and locked the front door then deliberately switched off the sidewalk lights. They were closed for a while.

“I just sold him this last week,” Dee said shaking the bag.

“A wonder there’s any left” Jake said and smiled for the first time in hours.  She packed the pipe and handed it over, lighting it. He inhaled deeply, taking the sweet smoke deep into his lungs; closing his eyes from the prying gaze of the ghost in the mirror.

“What you say?” Dee asked as he exhaled.

He didn’t realize he had spoken out loud. “I said,” he repeated, “Fuck tomorrow.”

“That’s up to you”, she said taking a small toke before passing the pipe down the bar. “But whether you do or don’t, tomorrow’s gonna fuck you sure.”

(To be eventually continued…)

Jake – 1

“He did it!” was all he heard screeching from the phone as he held it hard against his ear.

“What Mel?! What he do?” He felt he had to yell to be heard over the noise on his end banging against the screaming on hers. Even with a finger in his off ear and turned away from the juke, it was damn near impossible. “DID WHAT MELISSA?” Filling in the blanks of her answer was tough, but it sounded along the lines of “He’s your fuckin’ friend, best git here!” Then it went dead. He flipped his phone closed.

There was a fresh shot and a beer on the bar in from of him. He threw back the one and gulped half of the other. “Gotta run”, he told the bartender. “Somethin’s up at Bull’s.”

“Don’t get between ‘em two, Jakey”, she yelled after him as he pushed out the door.

He jumped in his truck and headed the four blocks down the main drag, desolate even this early except for the bars, then a right up the hill, then the left at the old school and two more blocks. His heart sagged when he saw the black and whites and ambulance in the middle of the block. “What the fuck did you do…” he mumbled. He got as close as he could then just shut off the truck in the middle of the street and got out.

Bull’s house was glowing with a light in every room and a seeming houseful of people. Sean Mason, in his white police lieutenant’s outfit, was on the porch. “Sean”, Jake nodded taking the two steps up as one. He wasn’t close with the lieutenant but had known him forever. Even when they played ball together they weren’t particularly chummy but still they had been hip to hip for those four years. They were circling planets in the same small system, nothing more.

Sean wouldn’t meet his eyes. Just shook his head. Jake froze when he saw a thicket of legs up on the stairs struggling with a gurney.  “Where the kids?” he asked.

“Her mom’s. It was just Melissa and him here.”

“Where’s she?”

They paused and stepped aside for the guys-all known to Jake-carrying the gurney. The white sheet covering the bulk was riotously stained red at one end. Jake reached out for a corner of it.

“Don’t”, said Sean quietly. “You don’t want to see that.”

Naw, he guessed he didn’t. He stepped back and allowed them to pass. Melissa came after; for the moment dry, but wild-eyed. She fixed on him, hard and flinty as she would lately. Jake wanted to reach out to her; to somehow recapture for a moment the vibe the three had together before marriage, kids and Bull’s off-ness snuffed it. He really wanted to find something to say that would ease them both through what was shaping up to be a very shitty week, but instead he said, “What you say to him?”

“WHAT? What did I…you BASTARD!” Then, just like in the movies, she started pounding on his chest with both fists and slapping at his face. He made no move to protect himself but, unlike in the movies, neither did he grab her and hug her or comfort her. “I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING YOU FUCKER” He stood quietly until Sean took her by the arm and pulled her away. “Why don’t you kill yourself too you COCKSUCKER!”

Having handed her off to one of the EMS techs Sean turned to Jake and simply said, “Really?”

©TDR – 2017

(Continuing…. For those trying to find some coherence in my lunacy, this is the same Jake that we find at the bridge rail in “You Better Hurry“)

The Jumper

280

(Continued from Shadows)

Jimmy quickly directed her away from the parking lot where she was bolting for her car. “This way”, he called carrying the camera in one hand and jogging toward a bass boat that had tied up an hour before. What was his name, he tried to remember-Dan, Daniel…Donald! He thought it was Donald. He had talked to the fisherman about what he was catching that morning, the bait he was using, when they hit best…Jimmy wasn’t a fisherman but he was endlessly curious about things that he knew nothing about.

“Hey Donald!” he yelled, coming down the hill to dock. The large guy looked up from tying a leader onto his line. Good, it was Donald. “Can you help us?” he asked as Maggie caught up to him. Donald saw the camera and Maggie and realized that he was being pulled into the middle of something that could hit the TV News this afternoon. “Maggie Brown!” was all he could say.

“I saw someone jump off the bridge”, Maggie said by way of explanation. “Can you take us down there?”

“That bridge?” said Donald looking at the span downstream. Everything froze as Jimmy and Maggie stared at him. Please don’t be a complete idiot, Maggie thought. “Sure-Christ-that bridge”, he answered himself. “Get in…”

Maggie stepped in taking one of his thick hands to usher her to the middle seat beside his at the boat’s console. She noticed he had a 16 ounce beer can in a camo koozie next to the steering wheel. Jimmy untied the front and back without being told and jumped in the back managing the camera as if it were nothing heavier than a ladies purse.

Donald turned the key in the console and the 120 HP outboard rumbled to life. He moved it deftly out into the current and spun it toward the bridge. “Hold on”, he said turning his ballcap backward. Maggie was aghast at the speed and wind rush that the boat achieved so quickly. They were no sooner up on plane and flying down toward the bridge than the pilot was cutting the throttle to drop the boat back into the water. She had ducked her hear behind the windshield but could see, as the boat settled, Jimmy’s feet scampering past and knew that he was shouldering the camera.

“Get me in there Donald”, he barked, nodding at a small knot of boats that had converged at a spot on the water. The big man softly nosed the boat into the group while Jimmy stood up in the bow filming. Maggie looked up and saw a man in the water. Tough to tell but he was probably her age…and it looked like he had just deposited a small sack onto the back of a pontoon boat to which he clung. Wait a minute-that wasn’t a sack…

“Jimmy”, she yelled, “That’s a child!”

“Got it Mags”, he said never taking his eye away from the camera lens. The child was all pink one-piece and long black hair as she splayed out on the deck. “We go live in 4 minutes”, he called back to her.

Christ, she had forgotten. How could that happen?

—————————————————————————————————————————————

Jake flopped on the floor of Donald’s bass boat, too spent to mount the seat. He sucked greedily at the beer the big man had given him and gazed up at the bridge. Maggie, her story posted, her live shot done, sat in a pedestal seat and, sucking on one of the fisherman’s cigarettes followed his eyes.

“What?” she asked. “What do you see there?”

“I always thought that jump would kill me.”

“You sound disappointed.”

He grinned and shook the empty can at Donald who tossed him another.

“Not today,” he said.

They sat in silence for a moment before he asked, “Did you see somebody up on the bridge?”

“When?”

“When I jumped….”

The three who weren’t Jake shrugged. Donald hadn’t even seen him, Jimmy had been working with the camera facing the other way. Maggie had been the only one looking downstream, toward the bridge.

“Can’t say that I did”, she answered. “Of course, I didn’t see you…at the beginning. Why? Was there someone with you?”

Jake just looked up into the sunlight gleaming through the railing.

© TDR – 2017

(To be eventually continued…)

Shadows

280

(Continued from “Maggie Brown!”)

Once he cleared the railing, the bridge disappeared above him but loomed larger as a shadow on the river below. As the massive concrete abutment hurtled past he tried to ignore the immensity of the structures around him and focus on the pink smudge below the waves.

Level with the tree tops on the shore he tucked his chin and pointed his toes. The pink shadow was gone but he knew where. The bright sun glittered off of the water and he saw his shadow flying toward him for an instant before he, arms held tightly at his sides, sliced the surface with a jolt.

Only in the silence of the river did he realize how loud his flight had been. The whistling wind and rumble of cars on the bridge were gone now as he continued his flight downward. Eyes wide and burning, the shadows from above diffused in the green tint of his new surroundings and he passed the small body in the pink suit floating weightlessly, seemingly waving at him slowly with both hands. Her hair fanned out above her as a tail marking her descent.

He flapped his arms frantically to stop himself and kicked once, close enough to the bottom to raise mud. Two more kicks and he was up to her. He grabbed her arm roughly and felt her pull against him slightly. That was good, he guessed. He was never much of a swimmer, but this wasn’t swimming. He was kicking, clawing and clambering up an invisible ladder toward the sunshine dazzling above.

(Continued…)

“Maggie Brown!”

 

280(Continued from “You better hurry…”)

Maggie Brown was showered, dried and had fought her hair to a standstill. It was easier to deal with a decade ago when it had been thick enough to hold a comb right out of the shower. Now she had to tease, blow, and layer to pull off what she thought of as cute and young but was only set that way to cover the fact that it was thinning pretty quickly. The way some woman put off getting glasses until they were almost walking into things, Maggie had avoided wigs and weaves. Can’t do it anymore she thought, looking into the mirror from where she stood ironing her blouse in the nude.

Morning coffee made her sweat so rather than give it up,  this ritual was born years ago; shower, dry, hair and then spend as much time as possible naked in a hotel room chilly enough to hang meat. As usually happened her eyes slid down from her hair to her breasts which neither stood as straight nor pointed in exactly the same direction as they once had. But they were fine. They remained fine-the bonus for the small-breasted woman of the world.

Her stomach was still flat and would stay that way.  Being naked, she couldn’t see the tiny rolls that would gather at her beltline but it didn’t matter, she knew they were there even if nobody else did. She turned to look at her backside first over her left shoulder, then over her right. Reaching back she lifted her right cheek and watched it fall back into place. Passable. Of course there wasn’t any excess flab back there but she had to be constantly vigilant. Also, of course, there were times she wondered why she bothered.

As she went back to ironing, a 40 year old episode of the original Hawaii-Five-O played in the background to avoid any morning news casts-even her own station. Years ago she had diligently watched all the morning news shows, sizing up the competition, as it were. Watching the anchors, the reporters, trying to steal what she could but mostly trying to divine what they knew that she didn’t. She had been mired in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania for what amounted to a career waiting for the break-for that thing-that would bounce her out of here and to the network. She had seemed to be on the cusp a few times but nothing. Weekend anchor if everyone was on vacation and “features” reporter. Which is how she came to be up the river in East Bumfuck, PA covering an overgrown fireman’s fair. The perfect start for an intrepid newcomer but a signal to her that her star wasn’t fading as much as burned out.

Her hotel was about ten minutes to the carnival grounds so she waited till the last possible moment to leave the cool darkness of her room and venture over. She wanted to leave enough time to let Jimmy set up the camera on the rise he had found yesterday where the river and the amazingly chintzy Ferris Wheel could be in the same shot. She parked up in the front of what was still a pretty empty parking lot and headed for the spot where she knew her cameraman would be a full half-hour before her stand-up report at eleven.

“Hey Jimmy”, she greeted the young man who was setting his camera on the tripod. He was a youngster, fully a decade younger than she (14 years if she wanted to be honest and she didn’t). His work uniform of cargo shorts, hiking boots and a Pittsburgh Pirates jersey made him seem even younger.

“Hi Maggie! It’s a beautiful morning on the river…”

“It is actually”, she conceded as she scanned the water already counting a couple dozen boats of all descriptions cutting wakes in the green water that perfected reflected the hills all around. “Is that breakfast?” she nodded at the half-eaten funnel cake on a grease stained paper plate at his feet.

“More of a public service…they had to make sure the oil in the fryer was hot enough…”

“Always there to pitch in.”

“It’s good. You want me to get you one?” It was a joke. Maggie Brown was more likely to get on her hands and knees and eat sand than a funnel cake.

“Thanks-I’ll pass…”

“Your water is right there…” he nodded to a small cooler that she knew would be full of ice and bottled water.

“Thanks-what’s our time like?”

He looked at his watch. “We have twenty two minutes…”

“OK, great…I’m going to grab a….”

“In the bag next to the cooler.”

“Thanks Jimmy.”

She went over and picked the fresh pack of cigarettes out of the bag. Jimmy had opened it and there was a single filter tip sticking above the rest. She pulled it out and took it, along with the red throwaway lighter, off of the rise to the relative seclusion of the Port-a-John line. The little blue shit houses cut the view from the carnival grounds and the trees hid her from the river. She wasn’t a big smoker but why advertise? She liked one in the morning to tamp her appetite and give her a little nicotine edge.

She held the menthol smoke in her lungs and slowly exhaled through her nose, the way she had watched her dad do it years before. She wasn’t thinking about him, or remembering him particularly, it was just one of his many tics and that she had over time absorbed into her being. Her eyes scanned the water without really seeing the boats and water skiers. It was so early and this busy already. What would the afternoon be like?

Her eyes settled on the bridge downstream and were about to move on when a sudden movement froze her. She blinked hard-quickly-and gasped. Someone had just jumped off the bridge! She watched the body fall, not flailing, but seemingly directed-straight down. Not even waiting for it to hit the water she tossed the cigarette aside and scrambled up the rise.

“Jimmy!” she cried, “Grab the camera….”

TDR-2017

Continuing…

“You better hurry…”

280

(This is a repost from an old blog; indulgences if you’ve read it. It is still a work in process-as, my wife hopes, am I.)

The old truss-style bridge had been built around the turn of the last century with great fanfare as a permanent link to connect Millport and Riverton on opposite sides of the river. “Permanent” was emphasized at the time of construction because the first bridge that had been built a little ways downstream to connect what were not yet the two towns went up the year after the Civil War ended and, regrettably, down again into the river less than twenty years later.

The sidewalk on the bridge ramp glittered in the late morning sun. Most sidewalks in town glittered and dazzled in the sun-a feature of the glass flecks that were added to the concrete back in those days. “They paved our streets with diamonds!” he remembered his grandmother telling him once when they left Mass at old St. Francis one sunny Sunday eons ago.

The walk up the ramp on the Millport side was not a long one. It seemed that on this side-the low side-there was barely enough room for train cars to pass underneath. There was plenty of room actually, but it seemed so much lower on this side as every step across the span was uphill. The climb was gradual enough, and the span long enough, that it went almost unnoticed unless one was walking across the bridge as Jake was now. As the sweat began to bead at his temples and between his shoulder blades he knew that the walk across was also a walk up. Happily he wouldn’t be going the whole way over.

Jake knew-not “knew of” but knew personally-three who had jumped off of the Riverton Bridge. Their intentions in making their respective leaps could be judged by the end of the Bridge that they used as a launching point.

A leap from the Millport side was clearly less a suicide attempt than a cry for help or attention. Usually one hit the water on this side of the river, bobbed to the surface and swam to shore more often than not having to run away from the cops who were called. Eddie Figges had taken that leap in a moment of panic or weakness twenty years ago. He was now an insurance man over in the Riverton Hills section of town having done quite well for himself.

Jake couldn’t recall the name of the kid-was at his table in shop class-who had gone over the rail on the Riverton side. He didn’t bob to the surface. He didn’t see the light of day again until a grappling hook snagged his belt and pulled him up two days later a mile downstream.

Then there was “poor Sally” which is how his mother referred to her when it happened. Either she couldn’t swim and feared drowning (which is odd when you think of it) or she didn’t like the whole uncertainty of the river. So she shattered herself on State Route 437 which ran under the bridge on the Riverton side. He remembered people complaining that they had to shut down the road for a period of time making them late for work, ultimately costing them an hour’s wages in some cases and why was her problem theirs?

The burning sun, last night’s whiskey and beer, and the walk had the sweat pouring off Jake as he reached the middle of the river. There was a quick bleat of a horn from a passing truck and he turned to see if he recognized someone, or someone had seen him, but was blinded by the sun at his back. The beep-greeting probably wasn’t for him anyway. Most of the people he knew in town were either gone for the weekend or still in bed.

He leaned against the railing and looked down just as a speedboat popped out from under the bridge and continued to cut its way upstream. There-less than half a mile away-he could see the carnival rides of RiverFest beginning to crank slowly to life, awakening as the day’s first revelers made their way into the make-shift park. Every year the festival got bigger. What had once been a fireman’s fair in the ball field with barrel battles and softball games was now a full-blown water carnival complete with rides trucked in from somewhere in Ohio, speedboat races and what, from where he was, looked like a couple of Viking ships.

He looked down at the zig-zagging boats, jet skis, pontoons, two or three coal barges in sight up and down and wondered if he would reach the river in his final leap or come crashing down through the roof of some unsuspecting pensioner’s cuddy cabin.

Speedboats always reminded him of his mother and that summer years before when she had returned from wherever it was that she went periodically. Of course he knew now that she had another life out East, that she and the old man had effectively broken up before Jake started grade school but nobody talked about it then.

He did remember this one summer though-when she had come back and suddenly had a new circle of friends outside of the whole Riverton/Millport crowd.  He remembered being out in what he thought was a speedboat with these people pulling a skier. The guy was small and wiry and fast back there on the skis-slicing from side to side, jumping wakes,  exhilarating in each and every moment behind the boat-giving the impression that he had mastered something that nobody else had-that was beyond the scope of anyone else’s talents.

And Jake’s mother on the side bench opposite him, looking back and-in turn-exhilarating in every movement the little guy made. Her cigarette, with the blur of red lipstick around the filter, was in her left hand and a look of steely, determined contentment was fixed below her button nose and the huge cat’s eye sunglasses which were the rage back then. Her head ticked side-to-side as she watched the skier slice the water.

Her one-piece red suit was cut low and high; her impossibly tanned legs glistened in the sunshine and spray. She caught his eyes riveted on her thigh and smiled too-widely. “You having fun baby? You like this?” She slurred slightly and he never remembered if he’d answered her or not.  “Well, enjoy it while you can because you’ll never get anything like this around here. With him.”

He leaned against the rail and watched the first pair of eight coal barges slip below his feet. They were pushed by the “Mary Sullivan” a coal company tow boat that worked the up and down daily and was impossible to miss if you spent as much time around or on the river as Jake did.

He reached into his back pocket for some reason thinking there would be cigarettes there even if he hadn’t bought any for two days. He remembered bumming a few last night…Jesus-he couldn’t even think of bringing a cigarette with him? The closest store was the Speedy-Mart on the Riverton side. He’d keep walking, buy a pack and have a smoke before. Just like every guy in front of every firing squad in every old war movie he grew up on.

He knew from the moment that he started across the bridge that he wouldn’t be jumping. At least not today. Probably not. He used the bridge and the walk up and over as a release for himself-something of a coping mechanism though he’d never call it that. But when things got to be a bit much-when the ringing in his head became too loud to drink away and the voices from the past too shrill-he would stand at the railing of the Riverton Bridge and watch the river flow by, imagining the feeling of the wind fluttering his cheeks on the way down. It wasn’t a self-dare as much as a reminder that if he thought that he really, really didn’t want to deal with it all anymore-he could opt out right here. He found a perverse peace in that.

All-in-all his river dreaming was a far healthier option for contemplating his own end than his pistol had been. There was the one night with a bottle of bourbon inside of him that Jake had taken the idea of playing Russian Roulette with himself to heart and had managed-he still couldn’t figure how-to blast his dresser mirror to pieces with his .308. The shattering report brought the old man wheeling out of his room into the hallway with his AK fully locked and loaded thinking they were finally under attack.

He thought of the impact too-what it might feel like to hit the water from that height. If his aim was truly to put an end to himself he would lay flat and allow the whole of his body absorb the blow. It would break him as surely as flopping onto the asphalt of Route 437. Having jumped from enough barges, piers and abutments in his day he knew that entering the river standing with his toes pointed offered his best chance for survival-providing the water was deep enough and he didn’t stick himself into the muddy bottom like a tent peg.

The “Mary Sullivan” passed below and Jake was pushing off the rail when what looked to be a twenty foot open bow flashed below. It was bright yellow carrying too many people as the pilot turned it into the Sullivan’s wake. He, of course, was looking for the slam-slam-slam of his bow crossing the towboat’s waves but Jake knew that the boat’s speed-even as loaded as it was-would make for a rough landing. “Too fast…” Jake thought.

The boat hit the crest of the first wave and slammed hard into the trough behind. Everyone in the boat popped up in the air to come crashing down into their seats. Except for the little girl in the back. The impact threw her higher and being in the back, the boat slid slickly out from under her. She hit the river in the wake as everyone in the boat, eyes forward, flew toward the next wave.

“Hey!” Jake yelled to nobody really because he knew that anyone on the boat would have trouble hearing him if he was sitting beside them. But he yelled again-“HEY!-THE GIRL!” and waved his arms. Behind him a car beeped in reply. The child wore a florescent pink swimming suit and no life jacket. As the waves began to flatten she turned over onto her back and with one tiny arm either reaching up or waving goodbye slipped easily under the surface trailing a cape of jet-black hair as Jake watched.

“You better hurry”, a voice behind him said. Jake turned quickly and was again blinded by the sun. He thought he saw someone standing there-a wild corona of hair seemingly surrounding the sun’s searing light-but couldn’t be sure. He looked away blinking and back down into the water. The child was still visible-a tiny pink smudge-getting smaller under the surface. “You better hurry.”

“Fuck me”, said Jake putting both hands on the top of the railing. In one smooth and surprisingly athletic vault he was airborne, carefully pointing his toes toward the river and keeping his eyes on the pink spot.

 

(Continued…)

 

© TDR – 2017

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.

 

 

The Weight

bar2

It was everybody’s bad luck that Danny had started drinking at noon that day. His regular shift was 11 a.m. to 6:00. He would open for the oldsters who needed a shot and a beer between Mass and Sunday dinner then manage his regulars through two football games, turning it over to Nick for the evening and late night. Nick was away this weekend, though, so the day was his. Clean through till 2:00.

They called Benny Pace, Hats, even though he had only one-a tortured fedora that was as sweat-stained as his rolled up trousers were piss-stained. A yellowed white shirt completed his motley ensemble; a shabby connection in his mind to when he was a snappy dresser.

His sons, Elmer and Frank inherited his gambling territory but it wasn’t much anymore. They ran poker machines and illegal pinball always scrambling one step ahead of the law. They carried the air of two “connected guys” but weren’t really. Big fish in a very small pond-but it was their pond.

Two guys at the bar that night had caught sight of the roll of cash Benny was holding. The regulars were used to it-always picked up bills that he’d let flutter to the floor and put them back in front of him. “Did you see that old guy’s wad?” one of them had asked him. Danny didn’t know him-short and wiry. Dark-with a pinched face. “He was lucky at the track yesterday. When Benny hits, everyone hits.” Danny chuckled and tapped his knuckles on the bar in front of the two signaling that their next drink was on the house.

Had he been a little less drunk he might have caught the gist of the conversation. He might have caught their eyes as they were casing the old man and felt what was happening. But he didn’t. The next morning, when he heard about old Benny being beaten and robbed he knew who did it and also knew that nobody could ever know how he knew. This place that he’d inherited from his uncle was a safe place. People came in here to be protected from “out there”. Danny had let the outside in.

But today, in the light of day, drinking coffee instead of Canadian Club he was not thinking about making something right. Some things can’t be made right. Some things just have to be worn.

If old Benny ever got out of the hospital-was ever back in here drinking wine from the jug that nobody else touched-whistling at the girls and babbling in his ridiculous way he would always have to look at him and know that the shit that he got plunged into was on him.

When sunlight slashed through the bar he knew even before squinting at their silhouettes that it was Elmer and Frank. Elmer was Danny’s age, short and round. Frank, older and smaller, did all the talking.

“Sorry about your Dad. How’s he doing?”

“Looks like he’ll make it. Fucked him up pretty good though.”

“Damn shame…” said Danny.

“They were in here? They guys did this?”

“There was more than one?” Danny asked.

“Looks like two. Cops got one. The other…” he shrugged.

“There was a lot of people in here last night Frank. Don’t know…I probably saw them. Hell, I probably served them. I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t do nothin’.”

“Still….”

“No, that’s the motherfucker gonna be sorry. They won’t hold him till the old man can ID him, and he can’t see now so….”

“Shit…”

“He’s getting out this afternoon. We know where he lives. He’ll wished he stayed in jail.”

Danny rubbed at the faux woodgrain on the bar. And rubbed. His eyes were somewhere in the middle distance. And rubbed. Just as Elmer gave his brother his “what-the-fuck?” face, Danny spoke.

“Don’t do nothing. It will be too obvious.”

“What?”

“It will be obvious.”

The Pace brothers looked at one another, then back to Danny. Elmer stuck out his hand. “You know we’re not going to forget this.” Which is why he was doing it. He wouldn’t forget it either.

“I just wish there was something I coulda done.”

“These animals. There’s nothing you could do.”

“Go someplace tonight. Be seen and don’t worry about it.”

Danny had taken out the street light next to the apartments where the guy was staying. Just a few blocks up-not far. Hell, if he was standing up on the roof right now, Danny could see the house he grew up in. This was his alley, his bar and the street above, his street. Deep truth be known, he didn’t even like Benny or his sons-two entitled fucks who never worked a day. But this wasn’t about them at all. Not at this point.

He skulked behind the dumpster and pulled the bandana up to his eyes when the scuffling tread came up the asphalt. He recognized him even in the shadows. Stupid bastard didn’t know enough to stay away.

He gripped the bat tightly and strode up behind. The guy never knew what hit him. Danny tried to be surgical-no need to go overboard. Kidneys to bend him backward-stomach so he’d fold. The most obvious joints and bones next-bust the knee cap, ankle, stomp the hand and teeth for good measure. Left him writhing and moaning. Slipped between two buildings and out to the main street. The bat down the sewer. Done and done.

The next morning he was reading the paper when Kevin Bannon, his most regular of regulars came in for his first beer to wash down his first aspirins.

“You hear about that guy? The one robbed old Benny?”

“No. What?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?”

Somebody put a beatin’ on him. Ruptured his spleen or his kidney…something. Bled out. Right up the alley there.”

“Benny’s sons maybe? Elmer and Frank?”

“Naw, they were at the casino all night playing blackjack and winning like fucks. Everybody saw them.”

A single droplet of sweat trailed from Danny’s collar, down his spine and spread at his belt line. “Well. Fuck him”, he said. “They should give whoever did it a medal.”

“Absolutely!” Kevin agreed.

Danny popped his knuckles on the bar. Beer was on him.

The Swing

the-swing

“Why’d they have to kill the swing?”

“It wasn’t ‘they’. He did it.”

“You don’t know that”, Candy told him though she was pretty sure it was true.

“Ruined it for all of us. Fucker! Like it’s our fault his daughter’s a spaz. “

“Come on Driscoll”, Candy said. “Don’t talk about her like that…not now.”

He kicked the gravel on the path-chastened-but still pissed. “It’s not like she’s dead.”

Shannon Twist had started coming around early in the summer. Coming into her sophomore year, this was her time to find her high-school group; the clique that would ease her move into the big building up on the hill. She knew-they all knew without being told-how the layers in the township were stratified. She didn’t have sports-that would have run her with one of a couple of groups. She didn’t play an instrument nor was she particularly cute-she knew she wasn’t. And she didn’t have a big house with a pool that would she could bring kids over to. There was not even a picnic table outside the trailer she shared with her father.

She had spent a month or two on the sidelines of this scuzzy coterie of juniors and seniors-flitting about just outside the orbits of Driscoll and Larry and the rest of the motley planets. She tried to fit in the same way that many girls in the valley did: by holding out the promise of-if not actually granting-sexual favors of one kind or another.

That day was like every other that long summer. Meet at the field, throw some Frisbee, maybe play a little hoops, then head to the river and get high. Not to the town’s park-which had its own beach-but a mile downstream literally across the tracks where the red dog and ballast from the railroad bed made for a sharp and slippery climb down to Stoner Cove-which is what they called the place. It was the perfect hard-to-get-to shitty kind of place where they could do what they wanted. Their crowning achievement for the summer had been the rope swing.

It was too high and swung over too much rocky shoreline to have been permitted anywhere near the town’s beach. Even a town council as brain dead as the one they had would have deemed it too dangerous. For the townies, anyway. But here-in Stoner Cove-nobody really paid attention. In fact, nobody would say it out loud, but the whole crew of them could break their necks for all anyone cared.

Driscoll, like most days, had been the first one off the swing. Slight and limber, he scampered up the tree wearing nothing but cut-offs and sneakers and pulled in the guide rope that tethered the thick, knotted barge line. Then, standing on the main limb, just before jumping into space a full fifteen feet above the rocks, he unfastened his belt.

“Oh boy-here it comes…”

It was his signature move. Beltless, his ratty blonde hair trailing behind, his oversized shorts would slide down his legs just at the highest point of the swing revealing his skinny ass to the approving whoops and hollers of everyone gathered. This time they slid all the way off to flutter into the water as he turned to take another pass this time his cock-not quite erect but not soft either-flapping in the breeze.

Larry turned away and lit a joint that he had taken out of a crumpled cigarette box that was secreted in the crook of an old sycamore. He mumbled something about seeing more of Driscoll’s balls that he did his own and the kids around him tittered waiting for the doobie to come their way.

Larry’s brother was the sergeant of arms or something with a local motorcycle club. What they used to call a gang. What his rank meant in the hierarchy of the club no one knew but in this world it meant he was a bad motherfucker not to be trifled with but who dealt in truly hellacious weed which Larry seemed to have unlimited access to. This access made Larry-even with his many and severe social inadequacies-a much sought after friend. He ignored all entreaties and chose to live at the bottom with his mates, perhaps knowing that if he didn’t have a brother or the drugs, this would have been the only group he could have hung with.

Shannon was beside him and got the joint first after him. Her constant presence at Larry’s side was a recent occurrence and one that he didn’t seem to be discouraging-or really noticing. Maybe she saw something beyond the menacing size and glowering countenance but probably not. Maybe she just judged his formidable shadow to be a safe haven. And if it took a hand job or something else even to keep her place there, she was probably up for it.

They were all surprised when she giggled and, handing off the joint, ran on tip toes over to the tree. She hadn’t been on the swing all summer and really had only been in the river once or twice. But there she was, cutoffs, halter top and bare feet, climbing the tree tentatively and carefully. Driscoll was out of the water by now yelling encouragement and taking too freaking long to put his shorts back on.

She was in trouble from the moment she grasped the rope out on the main branch. She laughed loudly playing at bravado but Larry could see in the way she hunched and wouldn’t stand up straight and how she was gripping that rope like she would never let it go-that she was frightened. Too frightened. “Hey”, he yelled up to her stepping toward the tree. “Don’t jump…Come on back down.”

She didn’t even look his way as she stepped off, squeezing the rope to her in a death grip. Below, his shorts at his knees now, Driscoll hooted following her flight. “Let go!” he yelled when she paused in the air-at the height of the swing. But he knew immediately that was too high for her and she swung back in. Then back out, then back again-the swing shortening each time. Larry moved toward the tree where he could grab the guide rope and pull her back in, when she let go. Or slipped off.

Whichever, she fell flat onto her back into a foot of water in the rocky shallows. Driscoll, letting his shorts fall again, was the first to reach her. She was unconscious, her face lying just below the surface bubbling from her nose. He reached under her arms and dragged her up onto the shore.

“Careful moving her”, Larry yelled seeing the trail of blood on the muddy rocks from where she came out of the water. Her top had come undone in the fall and her young breasts, tiny and white as oyster shells, rose and fell with her breathing-seemingly mesmerizing the naked boy hovering above her.

Larry-not given to physicality as his size and demeanor usually sufficed-grabbed Driscoll by the arm and yanked him away from the girl. “Would you get your fucking pants on”, he growled then yelled for a towel. He covered Shannon as Driscoll quickly retrieved his shorts.

It wasn’t easy for the EMS team to get down over the hill with the litter and the backboard but they managed after rigging a pulley to a signal pole next to the tracks. Most of the kids had scattered before the ambulance and the police made their ways down the rail bed. Larry, used to cops hassling his family, stood calmly staring at the water smoking a Newport that he had cadged from the ambulance driver.

They had almost pulled the litter to the top of the path when a rusty green pickup slid to a stop along the tracks. Larry, Driscoll and the few others left there looked up to see Shannon’s dad half running-half sliding down the hill to meet the litter coming up. His movements were frantic until he saw his daughter and came up short-digging his feet into the sliding stones to take her hand and follow back up.

As the EMT’s loaded his daughter into the ambulance he stood at the top of the hill and glared down at the kids left there. Having come straight from the tipple, his eyes burned inside two white scallops etched in the coal dust by his safety goggles. He settled his stare on the biggest and most adult looking of the crew.

Larry met his raging glare with his own baleful dead eyes, neither pushing nor backing away. He didn’t feel any fear but would remember a tingle of anticipation across his chest and shoulders. Shannon’s father recoiled slightly from what he saw in the boy’s face and broke the stare to jump into the ambulance, a deep chill settling in his chest.

“Maybe the cops did it”, Candy said nodding at the crime scene tape at the top of the hill. The main over-hanging branch of the tree had been sawed off and felled into the river. “She coulda died.”

“She didn’t”, Driscoll said flatly.

Larry reached into his pocket and pulled out one of a half dozen thick joints that were stuffed into the cigarette pack. He fired up as they gathered around.

“Is anyone going to the hospital?” Candy asked anyone. No one answered.

The thin mist that had been falling since they arrived increased to a drizzle. They closed ranks as if to protect themselves from the rain and smoked in silence.

© Tommy Ranalli- 2016

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