Morning of Monday, December 2nd, 1986
"So," Big Moustache boy claps them meathooks against his belt. Grips, adjusts. Star flashing next to his heart. Eyes squeezed together, as if this took great effort.
"So?" He looks expectant.
Afternoon of Saturday, June 1st, 1986
So, well. It wasn’t clouds or a twister funnel, exactly, but something black was coming out of the sky that day – metaphysical’s what those boys up at the University’d call it, I guess. Mental and physical in the same place. But anyway it was really tearing through the blue afternoon, dropping its shadow bigger and bigger over the dirty lake, so I jumped off the hot hood of my car, tripped on the busted fender, tumbled into the driver’s seat, tried shifting the stick into drive. Heard a weird sound… just paid the auto body shop for the last accident… but the engine gave a weird sound like a kid swallowing a thumbtack on a dare, then I heard that something start to roar outside, so I jiggled the ignition again – no sound now. Faith was still snoring in the passenger seat, so I shook her shoulder, but she didn’t do nothing but moan, and roll over on her side. “Listen to me, Faith!” I shook her harder; that noise was howling something fierce now, raising each second, so when I look up again all I could see was that black thing’d swallowed the little piece of sky I could see; but only for one second, ‘cause in the next that thing hit the side of my old car, and I felt an impact like I used to feel during football games, like my tailbones were being shaken out of me, and that’s all I remember, I swear, until I got here.
Morning of Sunday, December 1st, 1986
Here, the color red don’t exist. Don’t know what Tulpuk High’s doing without red for their jerseys, but I guess Tulpuk High ‘aint really here no more, though they ‘aint told me that yet. Well, maybe all those commies and chinks and ragheads across the water (that I almost saw for free, if I’d got that spot in boy’s choir when I was little) are still clinking wine glasses in candlelight, and listening to opera music, and all that jazz. But Tulpuk – hell, the whole State now – pretty much gone to shit. I mean, I come to my senses and I wasn’t in my car no more, I must’ve been in some kind of fancy hospital bed, ‘cause everything around was shiny enough for me to see my reflection, but all I wanted to see was this little round pan that’d been shoved under my ass, ‘cause I could smell that there was something swishing in the pan, but I couldn’t get at it, ‘cause my arms was strapped down. Something wasn’t right with my guts, and my head felt like it was gonna float away, but before I got a chance to puke I saw this wiry doctor and two nurses hustling towards me. Tried saying something, but they grabbed my arms and pressed them back flat against the bed. Used to bench 300 back in school, enough to break everything in this room in half, probably, but then I realized that I was straining at the straps again, and I was trying to tell them something, but it was coming out at the top of my lungs; and the nurses were jamming this needle into my arm, and then it was lights out again.
Morning of Monday, December 2nd, 1986
"You," Big Moustache Boy says, "you're dreaming."
"You," he said, "don't listen too good, do you?"
Evening of Thursday, May 30th, 1986
Maybe. See, I already know needles give okay dreams, but the ones you get on your own are better. When I was little people was always traveling down to Tulpuk, drove tents in the dirt outside town, set up a roomful of mirrors or drag birds out of hats or balance fat girls on knives – I’m sort of thinking about all that magic, dreaming of this one time when they shot a stuntman out of a cannon. Clipped the chinstrap of my helmet, got lifted up and stuffed into this iron hole by strong men. Was looking up the black sides, a little halo of sky leaking down past my facemask, arms get cold; and then there was this booming sound behind, and I could feel myself rushing out of the cannon, into that sky. Things on the ground was getting smaller; people getting to be the size of GI Joes, then little pinheads, then the State borders sprawling all big and wide but getting closer together, my hands out in front of me and it felt like my hands was leaving my arms, but then there was something wrong, because I wasn’t going into the sky, I was hitting it – and it was shattering, cutting my face, and it was honking and yelling something, and then it got all hot like a guy shaving five o’clock shadow with an old razor and I was looking at the pavement with blood in my mouth. I rolled over, felt loose glass cut into my back, and saw Ernest, the butcher with the brand-new truck, and the truck was all smashed up now, I could see, even upside-down, ‘cause then I remembered: trying to pay off my last accident. Gone on thirty-two hours of Overtime, without break. Got out of the hospital at last. Mr. Nil, my super, let me out. Start out of town. Come up to the old traffic light: eyes heavy, then shut, seeing red. Some new-fangled song still drumming through my speakers. Everyone likely jumping up, to write me a new insurance bill, again.
Evening of Friday, May 31st, 1986
I took Ernest out for beers soon as I got out of the hospital. Guess we looked pretty weird next to each other, his face and neck real tan and chubby, mine all cut up and wound in white bandages. But hey, what else can you do when you rear end a guy’s new truck? Hereabouts, trucks’re a sight for sore eyes; Everyone scrapping for what he got, and damn if someone rear end what he got – or what his buddy got – without a scrap, or a few bottles of bud light. Not like I’m one to care where Everyone else think I’m at, but all the same I’d rather Everyone’s head didn’t turn to look at me, when I walk in the bar. So Ernest and I get seats at a table as far from Everyone as we can get; he lights a smoke.
“Wondered where you gone, these last few years,” I say. “Feels like ages since the champ game. That god damn Coach. Those dawn push-ups, in the dust. Remember?"
“Yes,” he says, staring away. “Ages. I got my degree six months ago: Luther State Institute of Butchery, down in Fort Worth. It is nice to be back in town. There are lots of old faces.”
“Make you get a degree for everything these days.”
“It is not the paying, it is the learning that matters to them. They give you all sorts of loans for the paying. It takes time to get from the red to the black. It makes you stay put for a while. Fort Worth was nice. But to be honest, I do not think I will leave Tulpuk again.”
Well. How’d he get a truck so nice, with all them loans of his?
“They gave me some more loans,” he says. “Now that I have put my roots down, they have placed faith with me.”
“They placed Faith with you? Sure it ‘aint the other way around?”
“No. Faith with me is the way it works. Faith is given. Faith must be earned, but then it is given freely, and it is given often. It is only fair.”
Maybe. I take a slug of my beer, and look around the bar. Everyone’s looking at me, a newspaper close to his nose. Eyes are slit. He seen the accident last night from inside the barbershop. Looks like he figured the whole thing out, right then and there, with that big white bib over him and those clippers buzzing close to his ear: I’m buying the beers; I’m too chicken shit to try anything unusual; I’m just doing my god damned part.
Maybe. “What you do with your degree?”
The Butcher turns back to me, sucking the dregs of his bud. I’ll need to buy him more in a minute. “I hung it on the wall above the cleavers. I look at it every morning for a second, when I get to work. Then I turn around to face my customers, and I do not look at it again that day.”
Noon of Saturday, June 1st, 1986
Me and Faith was idling at the center of town: the old traffic light. When they started building the hospital, that’s when they put in the second light; they’ve got four of ‘em now. One street, four damn lights. Couldn’t get more than zero to thirty between, even if you got 300 horses under the hood.
Used to be after football practice, me and Ernest and a few others pile into some cars and go nose-on-nose at the light, engines revved, look for red, then yellow. Five mile course; straight line, out of town, head towards Fort Worth (but that’s a long ways off, and I never been all the ways), south. Finish at the fork. Queen pumping through the stereos, bud light through our guts, and then it’s green, and we’re off.
Someone’s girl already hauled out, standing in the division of the fork, shift from one high heel to another in the grass. Cold dew on her toes. Watch the headlights scream toward her, tear by, one car down each fork, a second, then gone, like electric current down a vacuum cleaner cord when you plug. Look back, shivering, see which car got there first: point. Some races too close to call; sometimes car in the rear’ll flash his high beams, blind her for a second, then she couldn’t tell. Think that’s kinda bad mannered, personally; Pragmatism, that’s what those University boys call it. ‘Cause it don’t make no right, and it don’t make no wrong neither.
Morning of Monday, December 2nd, 1986
"Don't make no right," the wiry one says. Turns to look at big moustache boy. Breast-stars flashing at each other.
"Don't make no wrong, neither."
"But it don't make no right, yes?"
Dusk of Saturday, June 1st, 1986
…after Faith left, I start thinking about Faith with her hair unwound in the early morning, on our mattress, in the back of the trailer, when we used to wake up together. Faith ‘aint worked in years and years and sometimes, fine, when money was tight or I ‘aint slept enough I take her by the hair and throw her around the bed a little bit, fine, I did that thing, and she'd get up and look at her face in the mirror, and I'd look at her, just look at her, and keep looking and looking and looking.
And I guess I had Faith by the hair that last time, and had this big sharp piece of glass going in and out between her chubby white legs, her veins bleeding all over, and she was trying to pull away, her eyes rolling around in the sockets, bulging out, but I didn’t let go, and I used to bench 300, so my hands was clenched tight around that shard and that hair, so she couldn’t get away. Her clothes all over the seat of the car like old times, and as I felt myself rising out of there like a round human cannonball I think that I might have ripped her green skirt accidentally but I wasn’t sure, so I’d buy her a new one next time I went to Tulpuk, but then it hit me: Tulpuk ‘aint there no more, it just become a pinhead in the air, and from below Faith’s calling out to me that I can’t lose Faith but Faith’s motives seem a little self-centered, and I figure there’s a point to each man’s life, when he sees that he’s working Overtime for Everyone, and his Ernest Faith still ‘aint got him past Nil. When he can see all the crooks being Coached, lined up in formation like plastic soldiers, colliding in stadiums, everyone in uniform, so small he can’t tell the faces, then the colors, apart anymore. When the State of his mind gone to shit, shit with some animal pacing around or maybe sniffing, and maybe he just keep on watching them clenched hands orbit around all them uniformed plastic soldiers and all the rest, or maybe he just drop ‘em back down like a comet drop out of the sky – and maybe there just ‘aint too much god damned difference.
So anyway I guess Everyone was pretty broke up and cloudy-eyed after that little comet hit Tulsa, ‘cause they found my car at the State line, but it was a while later before I got put in their books – I don’t remember that part too well, ‘cause Oklahoma dust look just like Texas dust, and everything stay the same until the weather give out and the snow settle things down, and it get too cold to sleep under the sky and eat grass so I get into this old building and got to mumble my name to them, and late that night I wake up under the blanket and the big moustache boy standing in the doorway with the little one behind him, both in uniform, reading rights off a piece of paper; and after they done that, the little boy put a hand on my shoulder and the big boy put a gun on my forehead, and they both say: well, son, guess the game’s up.
Morning of Wednesday, December 25th, 1986
Justice insists that the State not simply dismiss this case as one of plain butchery; but that it strive to incorporate the defendant’s lack of sociological perspective, his hypersensitive psychological underpinnings, and the nuances of his particular domestic lifestyle around which the seeds of our current evaluation were doubtlessly planted; and when doing so, decides not – and therefore, cannot – justify any prominent…
They tried to give me a justified copy but I waved ‘em away, ‘cause I guess I ‘aint the cleanest mirror in the circus, but now I know to look at the field and sky and rest of the shebang, no matter what come out of it, than down at some little paper with big typed words. Maybe that’s why, when that paper got written, no one couldn’t decide where one sentence end, and another begin. Grandiloquent, them University boys call it. Fancy way to say they say everything fancy. Just listening to it made my head float a little, but I yanked my head back, ‘cause I ‘aint letting it go again so soon, even if it got a helmet on. Hell, if the State gone to shit, and Everyone know it, why not look to them big words on a little piece of paper, call it a day?
Already said I ‘aint seen the sky in a while, but I realized that when I’m in these windowless hospitals, I can see my face everywhere – someone doing a first-rate job on these floors. That’s what they expect I’ll do, when I get out. Work more Overtime. But when I get outta these hospital clothes next Saturday I ‘aint going back to work Overtime no more. I’m gonna start lifting again; I’m gonna wait for the next accident to fall into town. And when it does, I’ll be strong enough to rip off them straps on my arms and sail up through the window to meet it before it hits, slam right into it, watch it shatter into a million pieces. And this time when it shatters I won't wake up on the pavement with people staring down and raining their justifications down on me, I'll be above, looking at these pieces of myself suspended over where I used to be, waiting for the right moment to hail down frozen on them. A long time ago I came back early from work and caught Faith looking at herself in our trailer house mirror, naked. I said hello Faith and instead of making conversation Faith screamed and put her fist through the mirror and ran into the bedroom, big ass jiggling. I didn't know how to respond except to squeeze my bottle of bud and take a long slug and feel hurt and confused, because all I'd done was to come in, and say hello, and look at her, the way I thought a good husband was supposed to. My gut told me to leave, but instead I kept looking and looking. First the bud light passed through and then Faith passed through but the hurt and confusion kept looking out from that broke mirror into the pit of my gut, no matter how many pieces I pried out and squeezed and made red flower from the cracks between my fingers. Looking back, at the empty frame, I still feel hurt but not so confused. I'm starting to think maybe there's danger in looking.
a little comet