Monthly Archives: June 2016

Steady, Pup

I am officially a free woman.  The judge signed the papers yesterday morning – papers that my attorney had prepared specifically awarding me everything I wanted, including sole ownership of the house, car, and primary custody of the girls.  He didn’t show up, and I won.  My attorney “cross-examined” me, and there was nobody there to protest.  The protesting was done a long time ago, and now it’s over.

And I feel low.

I walked out of Killer Bob’s office, having shaken his hand and thanked him for slaying the dragon on my behalf, and I started down the sidewalk, heading east.  As soon as I was sitting in my van with the door closed, I burst into tears.  I never cry for more than a minute or two because it always seems weak and pointless to me, and even though I’m sure there are bags of horrible emotions buried somewhere beneath the mounds of dirt and bullshit that make up a lot of my experiences over the last two to three years.  But I can’t summon them for longer than five minutes.  That catharsis, that moment of intense release, maybe the opposite of an orgasm but no less overwhelming, never comes.  I always stop myself, wipe my eyes, take a breath, and put my hands back on the wheel.

But God, sometimes I wish I could.  Sometimes I wish I could go down to the county line, where the little house used to be that was my grandfather’s hunting shack.  The machine shed and the silo are still there, but they’re on Richard’s side of the road, and we don’t go there anymore.  We are no longer welcome.  So maybe instead I’d turn back north and go down Possum Trot Road into the holler where the road is nearly always muddy and the Missouri crossing is just ahead, where the old bridge used to be.   There is a deep ditch by the creek on one side.

Maybe I could turn into one of the fields like I used to do when Grandpa was teaching me how to drive.  “Hold’er steady, pup!  Stay outta that damn ditch!” he’d yell in my ear as he yanked the four-wheel drive shaft on the Suburban, the back end fishtailing out of my control.  I always kept my hands on the wheel, and I always held it steady.  No matter how close I got to that ditch or how much he yelled and scared me, I held on.  I never went over the edge.  There wouldn’t have been any getting the Suburban out of that 8-10 foot gulley.

I’m in that ditch now, but it’s not because I took my hands off the wheel; it’s because I got out of the car.  I got out of the car, and the wild dogs that used to roam in packs down there sometimes found me, and they fucking dragged me, and I let them.  I didn’t grab the damn gun and shoot to kill.  I heard them coming, heard them snarling and snapping their teeth, and I let them.  I let them come for me, and I let them grab onto me, and I let them drag me into the fucking ditch like the deer that my uncle shot there once, the one that he should have missed but mortally wounded.  Their fangs are stuck in my leg, and it’s all I can do to grab the tree roots and handfuls of leaves and muck and struggle blindly for the top, all the time knowing that if I let myself fall down again, they’re going to rip out my throat, and then that scream, that catharsis, will really never come.  I’m going to die at the bottom of a fucking ditch, the ditch that my grandfather had warned that I must, at all costs, avoid.

But I know I won’t go down there.  Not in the van.  The van couldn’t handle Possum Trot Road.  I haven’t been down there since returning to the U.S.  I dreamt of it several times, and each time my grandpa was there, trying to show me something that was on the other side of the Missouri crossing, around the hill where the deer stand used to be.  He always disappeared around the other side of the hill, and then I couldn’t find him.

I stopped to put chains on the truck tires.  Oh, the snow was deep.  The winter of ’44 was one of the worst on record in that part of Europe.  Now a lot of the guys didn’t want to stop to put their chains on, and a lot of them didn’t make it.  We lost a lot of men that night.  You know, I never had much desire to go back to Europe, but I always thought I’d like to see Weissenburg one more time.  There’s a cemetery there where they buried our guys.  I have some friends there, and I’d like to pay my respects.  I don’t suppose that’s going to happen now, though.

Where the hell are you, Dad?  Why did you leave me standing out here in the middle of nowhere?  Where is it?  Where the fuck is the rest of it?  Where are the bodies?  Are they out there in the woods?  Bring them up, bring them out.  Maybe it’s time to stare them in their rotten faces and see what monsters there really are out there in the woods past the fields, in that ditch, up the creek from the crossing.  What’s going to come staggering out from the shade of the trees and into plain sight?  Do you see those outlines coming out of the trees, clothes tattered and hanging in rents and flesh separating from bone?  Can you smell it?  Can you smell that rot and filth coming to get you?  To rip off your face and eat out your heart and drag you down into that ditch?

Hands on the wheel.  Hold’er steady, pup.

Fuck.  They’re here.  They’re real and they’re here, and they’re stepping out of the trees and coming towards me through the fields.  Steady.  Unrelenting.  They’re going to rip off my face and eat out my heart and drag me down into that ditch.

No.  That’s not how this is going down.  Thinkthinkthink.  There it is.  Two guns: one in the glove, one under the seat.  The magnum is in the glove.  The six-shooter is under the seat.  Reload is in the armrest.  Ray-Bans are under the radio: the shooters.  Keep the gore out of your eyes because when that magnum pops off, the shit is going to fly.

Here come the hounds, up out of that ditch.  No hounds of hell now.  Just starving, mean farm dogs, desperate for a meal.  Steady, pup. Hammer on.  In the eye.  That’s one.  Hammer on.  Through the ribcage.  That’s two.  Straight to the heart.  That’s three.  Through the temple.  That’s four.  Open jaw, down the gullet, eat up, pup.  That’s five.

Six-shooter behind the belt.  Pick up that magnum because the real nightmares are here, and they’re more than bloodthirsty.  They want your fucking soul, and they’re going to drag you down and eat you alive.

Not today.  One shot for each of you.  Can’t miss.  Won’t miss.  No fear, no intimidation.  Not here.  Intimidation never held sway over the Howe family, and that’s not about to change now.  Steady, pup.

Good thing for those shooter shades because the pulp is the stuff of horror: fetid guts, blood, brains erupting like a grenade went off.  They thought I could cook nitro out of TNT.  But I’se just a poor, dumb country boy.  I shook my head and laughed…

No shots left.  Maybe twelve feet between you and the last one, and there’s no time for a reload.  You see the face – that horrible, nightmarish face – and you realize that it’s your own.  It’s your face, and you’re dead already.  Cold, dead, fishy white eyes, washed out like you’ve been underwater for weeks.  Hair matted with the black dirt, not red anymore, no gray to be seen, but clumped with mud.  Black and gray flesh, and that terrible smile – your smile.  Lopsided.  Smirking.  You pull out the six-shooter and put the last bullet between her flat, soulless eyes.  Head goes back, but that smirk never goes, and you know…  You know.

Where are you?  Why did I do this to myself?  Why did you leave me here?  You were supposed to be waiting on the other side of the hill.  You weren’t supposed to leave me!  I can’t do this alone!  God, save me!

I drilled a hole in the log and put the powder in, and then I plugged it up, like this.  Stuck it back on the pile.  Few days later, I heard a boom and then a few minutes after that, firetrucks going out back behind us.  Never had a problem after that.  Phone rang later on, and he said, “You tried to blow up my house, you sonofabitch!” and I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and hung up.

Steady, pup.

I reach up.  Up into the rafters, where the cobwebs and the dust of decades and even half a century lay, and I feel it.  No, not the rafters.  It’s here.  It’s here.  And the pin is still in.

One for the money…

There she is.  There’s that smile.  Lopsided.  Not smiling really.  Showing her teeth.

Two for the show…

That dark shroud staggers towards me, arms outstretched, almost as if in an aborted embrace.  Me.  Some malefic, cancerous thing – some thing that contains the darkest, most hellish parts of my soul.  And she is smiling.  Not smiling, really.  Showing her teeth.

He knew all about it, about how long the fuse had to be.  Oh, for a couple of mischief makers like us, it was great, growing up with a dad who knew how to blow stuff to kingdom come…

Three to get ready…

Showing her teeth.  Yeah.  Don’t know a predator in the jungle when you see one.  Arms outstretched.  Shall we dance?  She lunges and I pivot, and then my arm is around her neck, and I’m dragging her back – back towards the ditch.  I’m not showing my teeth now.  I’m biting down.  I’m pulling the pin.

And four to go…

Bitch.  You will not.  I am not going in that fucking ditch.  You are.

Steady, pup.

Superhuman, really.  Not her.  Me.  And I am not going in that ditch.  I shove the grenade in her mouth.  Eat it.  Gag on it.

He knew how long the fuse had to be.

One last turn.  My foot in the small of her back.  Falling.  She hits the ground with a sickening thud.  And I stand back.  I see other forms starting to come out of the shade.  Doesn’t matter.  She’s in the ditch, and I am standing on top.

And there it is.  The boom.  The spray of mud and blood and horrible things.  She is dead.  Dead in the ditch, a mass of steaming, stinking corpse, never to move again.

I look up, and the horrors from the forest step into the sunlight of the cornfields.  The best disinfectant.  They hold their bony arms up to shield their grisly faces but to no avail.  They burn off and away, turned to dust, as though they had never been.

Gone.  They are gone.

I step back from the ditch, and without thinking, I climb back into the driver’s seat of the Suburban.  I open the armrest and pull out the ammo boxes.  I know I need to clean them, but we aren’t home yet.  I reload and replace them.  Magnum in the glove.  Six-shooter under the seat.  I put the key in the ignition, and the engine turns over.  I back into the old haying field and turn back to go up the hill and out of the holler.  Back into the sunlight.

No hill for a climber.

And there he is.  He’s leaning on his tall, wooden walking stick, the leather strap around his left wrist.  He has his shooters and his Ducks Unlimited hat on, and he’s waiting.  His hands have brown age spots, his face is grizzled from skipping a day shaving, and although he looks like a harmless old man whose knees hurt, I know that the handkerchief is in his back pocket, the magnum is in the glove, and the six-shooter is under the seat.

I stop the truck at the top of the hill.  He climbs in – slowly, as he always does.  He sits down with a heavy thump.  Door closes with a loud bang.  No seat belt.  Fingers wrap around the overhead handle, arm dangling from it.  He looks over at me.

“What do you think, Margaret?”

“I think Debbie’s got trespassers down here again.  And she needs to get that tile in the north field checked out.  It’s not draining right.”

He makes that odd little clicking sound around his toothpick and against his teeth, and he nods.

“I think you’re right.”  He looks over at me again.  “Reckon we ought to head home to Grandma?”

“I reckon.”

I pull the gearshift into drive again, and the doors lock.  The sun is shining hot.  A red farm truck is coming down the county line road, kicking up dust and rocks behind it.  Grandpa sticks his hand up in the sort of friendly yet oddly perfunctory wave favored by men over a certain age the Midwest over.  A bright day.  A beautiful day.

As we turn onto the county line road, I look over at Grandpa, who is watching with indiscernible interest out the window.  Looking for game or maybe poachers or possibly to see if there are any blackberries along the road in the wooded area.

“Grandpa?”

“Yes?”

“We probably ought to stay out of the holler next time it’s been raining so much.  Might get stuck down there.”

He sticks his lower lip out slightly, his toothpick protruding, and he shakes his head a little.  “Nah.  You did fine.  Just gotta put it in low, keep your hands on the wheel, and hold’er steady, pup.”