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.

 

 

Happy Bloomsday!

IMG_8287

“Be interesting someday get a pass through Hancock to see the brewery. Regular world in itself, Vats of porter, wonderful. Rats get in too. Drink themselves bloated as big as a collie floating. Dead drunk on the porter. Drink till they puke again like christians. Imagine drinking that! Rats: vats. Well of course if we knew all the things…”

-James Joyce, Ulysses

Celebrate as you will. Myself, I’ll steer clear of the porter. Did run into a charmer at the pub yesterday though-where we all huddled out of the storm. Extolled the virtues of stouts. Almost had me with the eyes; but I’ll still with the IPA’s because, as we know, bitter is better.

The World’s Worst Flirts

IMG_7710

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.

Maybe…

img_2932

Maybe pouring vodka over ice wasn’t the best choice on the day he decided to quit drinking. Maybe the fumes would help, he didn’t know. And if she came home early she would see it and know nothing was amiss.

Maybe he should have tried yesterday. That was a quiet day-might have been easier. Or tomorrow-things would smooth by then. Today is just not the best for this.

Maybe it would help if he didn’t have a loaded gun in every room. Maybe if there was no moon it would be better.

Maybe he should turn on a light.

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

img_5537

Handsome James

The Other Side of the Lake

The other side of the lake…

(Continued from Lucky James-Mrs. Fortescue)

“Here we are” said Fat Red pulling up in front of Finnegan’s Wake, a place so far off the beaten track across the lake that it had no know reputation back in town. Red craned his neck out the passenger side window to give the place the once over. “So”, he nodded appreciatively, “What brings you all the way out here to Bumfuck?”

Getting out the back door James handed the fare over. “I heard they do some interesting things with gin”, he said. “The botanicals, y’know?”

“Bout the only interesting thing they can do with gin in my book is pour it in me glass”, Red laughed. James waved him a quick smile and Red yelled at his back driving away. “I’m off the rest of the night-so just ring me up when you’re ready.”

He pushed the open door and was instantly covered and drawn in by the comfortable, boozy, smoky blanket that he knew and loved so well. As his eyes adjusted to the dim he returned a couple of nods and winks. An older fellow sporting threadbare tweed discretely raised a glass to him.

There weren’t many places around the lake-in the county for that matter-that James could go into and not be recognized at least by some. A cynical man-and James was far from that-might say that these folks made a lot of money off of James in the day. Which would probably be a bit of an overstatement. Many made some, but those who made a lot were long gone. But to these blokes, a little was a lot. So what the hell.

It was not all bad being recognized over here at The Wake because the townies that saw him were hiding out just like him. Some from wives, some from girlfriends, mothers, fathers, bosses. It was easier to drink when you knew-at least the odds were long-that someone that might be looking for you, would walk through the door.

He moved to an empty seat at the bar next to a large man who pretty much gave him his back as he spat words at a woman to his right who couldn’t have looked more bored had she been in a contest. “JC”, said the barkeep pouring three fingers of clear into a short glass with a single small ice cube-the way James liked it. He squeezed a lime wedge into it-didn’t drop it in-then backed discretely away so as not to interfere with a man and his gin.

James closed his eyes and allowed the first sip to sit on his tongue exuding a welcome warmth before letting it slide down his throat. One thing that Caitlin’s partial personal Prohibition had done was to make every drink an artwork to be savored. Very seldom in his latest posting at the Manse had he slammed one drink as the quickest way to get to the next as was his typical drinking style.

Even so, when he finished the first, he needed do nothing more than slide the empty glass a scant inch away from himself and Blind Tommy was there to refill it. (And no, Tommy had perfect vision and two beautiful hazel eyes-so don’t ask. It’ll make you seem a tourist).

It wasn’t until he was halfway through his second drink that a few seldom used doors of perception opened and James noticed the formidable pile of cash in front of the hulk next to him. The money didn’t interest him-although it had to be what kept the woman on the other side absorbed in his braying prattle. No, what James noticed was the envelope at the bottom of the stack. It was a small yellow envelope seemingly identical to the ones that Caitlin used to transfer cash. Maybe identical-all Goosington stationary had a stylized goose head printed on the face. Problem was that the scattered bills covered most of the envelope and he couldn’t see to be sure.

It wasn’t long before Blind Tommy refilled his glass a third time and after the first draught, James reached over as if the pile were his and pulled the envelope out from under. Sure enough, there was the line drawing of the goose seemingly winking at him. And it was still heavy-stuffed with bills that weren’t scattered on the bar. James had known from the first that this was no doubt one of the men contracted-and paid up front-to do the work on the dock that had never been done. Why the idjit was still walking around with the money in a Goosington envelope was anyone’s guess.

He wondered if Mrs. Fortescue met with this hulk? But the thought of Jane brought him straight to the memory of her kicking over Caitlin’s lap absorbing swats from her paddle. The reddening cheeks appeared in his mind’s eye, then the whiff of sweet vanilla….he slid happily to another place. He wasn’t gone long though-and experienced no more than a tickle down below-when the large man turned in his stool to face him.

“Excuse me little man. D’ye mind?” Said the large one, reaching to pluck the envelope from his fingers. The general hub-bub of the room settled to a hub. Or bub. Pretty James Cook had just been called “little man”. James heard whispers in the deadened din; “Little!” “He called him little man!”

He wasn’t little actually. He was average size, maybe even a tad tall for his weight which made him look slender. He had fought as a middleweight but even being little over his fighting weight he was still giving away close to a hundred pounds to the looming shadow beside him. If he had looked closely, the ape might have noticed that the only imperfection on Pretty James’ face was a slight bump and almost imperceptible offset to the bridge of his nose.

That was the lone remaining souvenir of his victory over Short Gene Poach for the county middleweight championship years before. He was a decided underdog in that fight and bets on Pretty James-or Handsome James (the name he fought under) paid handsomely.

The man, sitting still taller than James, blinked his watery eyes, surprised that the envelope wasn’t in his hand by now. Still held by this little peckerhead with a….was that a smile on his face? Is this little pud laughing at me? He raised off his stool and loomed over James casting a wide shadow.

As typical in these situations, everything slowed for James. A gentle hum closed over him and his breath settled to an almost imperceptible in and out. Heartbeat wasn’t a thump-just a little bubble. If he knew what blood pressure was he would be pleased to know his settled in to a child’s level. A child sitting in a field of daisies. Playing with a puppy. Then it came.

“Then”, as Brown Duffy, the oldster in the tweed would tell the story later, “This big Ginger-the size of a house-lays his hand on Handsome James Cooke-and that rung the bell.” James felt the ham sized hand grab hard at his shoulder trying to pull him to face his fate. The big man’s intention was to petrify the little man with the strength of his grip, then turn him to face him. Then smash him-which he was sure would impress the swish at the bar. She was a hard one but he’d have her, he was sure. Everyone nearby snatched up their drinks and leaned away when the hulking stranger laid is paw on the former county middleweight champ.

The punch James threw would have been a straight right cross had he been standing but since he was still on his stool only on the way to rising, it came as sort of an uppercut. No matter though. He hit him square in the mouth and the big donkey went down as if gravity was a new discovery that he couldn’t wait to try out.

It was quiet enough in The Wake to hear the chit-chit clatter of bone across the hardwood like a tiny roll of dice. “Em’s my teef!” the big guy sputtered, stunned into childhood, sitting on his arse on the floor. James heard the scattered laughter muffled around the bar. Choked chortles and gleeful whispered repeats of “Em’s my teef!” James stood and waited but his once and never-again assailant sat seemingly confused at the proceedings. A blood pink spit bubble covered his mouth for an instant before popping.

James gathered the stack of cash off the bar leaving enough to cover a round of drinks and a good tip. He even slipped a bill to the woman who now saw her perceived payday disappearing. What the hell-she had earned it. “This” he said holding up the cash and the envelope “belongs to Caitlin Milan, of Goosington Manor”. Off is the dark recesses of the bar a choked laugh “Goosington!” set off a round of honking. “Anyway, I’m returning it to her”, he declared slipping it into his back pocket.

“Whatever you say, JC”, Blind Tommy nodded.

As he was walking out the door Brown Duffy called his name. James turned. “’Em’s my teef!” Duffy imitated while all around him stifled giggles. James smiled tightly but winced as he stepped out the door. He hoped this wouldn’t be a new nickname for him. Truth is, he was partial to Pretty James Cooke, but didn’t think he would cotton much to Pretty Teef Cooke.

(To be continued….)