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Authors: Larry Brown

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BOOK: Big Bad Love
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All
very
warmest wishes,

Betti DeLoreo

Well, well well well well well. Shit.

74

The sun went down late that evening like it always does. I was sitting out on the front porch marveling at the way it lit up the sky. It was pretty beautiful, and I didn't know what I'd done to deserve it. Just sitting at the right time in the right place, I guess.

I saw Monroe coming down the highway, and I saw him turn into the driveway. I knew he probably had a trunk full of cold beer. That was all right with me. He pulled up and stopped beside the house and hung his head out the window, and he was drunk as a by God.

“Mone get in,” he said. “Ride you aroun a while.”

“You got anything to drink? You look like you done drank it all up.”

He nodded his head and almost went to sleep hanging out the window. I knew better than to get in with him.

“Get ya drank, bro. Mone. Ride you roun a while. Get you drank a while.”

He was waving a beer can around the whole time he was saying that, sloshing beer out.

I got in with him. We just sat there in the car for five minutes. Finally he spoke.

“Wanna tell you summin. Made me mad, them mufuggers put my bro in jail. Ain't right. Din have nobody ride aroun with. Rode aroun by myself. Talk myself.”

“You feeling all right, man?” I said.

“What? Kme? Lin. Em mufuggers put you in jail, again, you caw me. I'll come up and get in jail too. Keep you compny. Play cards. Yona beer?”

“I got one,” I said.

“Good.” He pulled the shift lever down into reverse. “We gone ride aroun some.”

“Can you drive, man?”

“Drive fine. Lin. Mufuggers give you shit, you caw me. I got a ungle, Ungle Dick! Ungle Dick has been messin with them sumbitches years. Stick at money in back pocket, see. Rest you, ain't shit.”

He'd backed over a couple of discarded bicycles by then, but I didn't say anything. I reached over and put my foot on the brake, stopped the car, and pulled it down into drive.

“Thain you. We gone ride aroun while. Got date later. Cain't stay long, gotta picker up at six. Ain't stay long. What time it?”

It looked at my watch. It was six-thirty and the gloam hadn't even started yet. I had about half of a hot beer.

“You got any cold beer?”

We'd started rolling down the driveway, but he slammed on the brakes and we slid in the gravel. He ratcheted the shift lever back and forth for a while until he got it into
reverse. He started backing up the driveway. I reached over and stepped on the brake.

“You got any beer?”

“What?”

“You got any cold beer?”

He opened the door and fell out. I stepped on the brake a little harder and put it up in park. He was crawling in the gravel, heading for the trunk, muttering something.

I got out and asked him why didn't he just let me drive, but he didn't answer me. I had to help him back into the car. It wasn't even dark yet. I got him onto the back seat and stretched him out. About the cold beer I'd been right. The trunk was full of it.

I got one and got into the driver's seat.

“Who's your date with, man?”

“Wha?”

“Who's your date with?”

“Vemma. You know Vemma?”

“Velma? Velma White?”

“Yeah. Less go pick up Vemma.”

He had his eyes closed talking to me. I didn't know why he'd chosen to get so fucked up right before a date. I was hoping he wasn't supposed to meet her parents.

“Tell you what, man. Why don't you give me her number? I'll call her and tell her you can't make it.”

“Naw. Naw. Naw. Just dry me on over to Vemma's house. Vemma's gossum good pussy. Vemma's in love a me. Vemma thinks you a goodlookin summitch. We'll double date. Co on over Vemma's.”

I started driving. I didn't figure it mattered where I drove to. I was sober anyway. I had a joint that I'd rolled up earlier, and I pulled it out of my pocket and lit it. I had all that cold beer to drink, and I figured I could handle it for a few hours. That would be about enough time for him to sleep it off. I didn't want to interfere with his love life, but I remembered where Velma lived. I decided to go in a roundabout way over there.

Monroe had some good tapes, and as quick as the buzz hit me, I started playing them. I felt good about taking care of him in the back seat.

Night closed in. It came slowly, and we rode down by the river and I looked at the hawks perched on the high limbs in the trees and saw a huge owl come out of the woods and find a single light wire with his talons and sit there swiveling his head after me as we drove by. Life seemed pretty fine. I didn't have a woman like he did, but I could at least enjoy riding around. Marilyn had always questioned it. We never had been able to get along. It always seemed that she thought what I was doing was nothing, that it would never amount to anything, and so far it hadn't. I hadn't sold anything, hadn't published one word. Maybe I never would, but Betti DeLoreo didn't seem to think so. I got to thinking about her again. I knew I didn't need to, because I knew that if I really knew what she really looked like, I'd probably be disappointed. She'd probably have tartar on her teeth or something. I decided we'd better ride by Velma's house at least and see if the light was on. I'd entertained the idea of stopping and explaining things to her, let her see him in the back seat so she'd know I wasn't lying.

We rode by there four times. The light was on each time. I knew she was probably pissed.

“Hey, man,” I said. “You awake?”

Silence from the back seat.

“Hey, man! You awake?”

He wasn't doing anything but sleeping, and I knew it wouldn't go over well with her. I decided to stop anyway. I whipped it around in the middle of the road and went back to her house. I pulled up in front like I belonged there—after all, I did—and sat down on the horn. Nothing happened for about two minutes. Then somebody came to the front door and peeked out. Then another person came and peeked out. I figured the second one was probably her daddy with a gun. I let off the horn.

I already had it in reverse when she came out the door. She had on white pants and a black blouse, and she had a purse with her. I hated I'd even stopped.

“Hey, Velma,” I said. “I'm Leon. Remember me?”

She poked her head in the car. I turned on the interior light so she could see him.

“What's the matter with him?” she said. She looked at her watch. “He's two hours late.”

“I believe he's having a little sinking spell. I'm surprised you waited this long.”

“What'd you do? Take him off and get him drunk?”

I thought about it. I remembered how nasty she'd been when her brothers got killed, but that had been understandable. On the other hand, I didn't know why Monroe was messing around with her, even though he'd said that her nooky
was excellent. That was probably true, based on the fact that the worst I've ever had was wonderful.

“Yeah,” I said. “I tied him down and taped a funnel on his mouth and then poured ten Old Milwaukees down him. Then I poured four shots of peppermint schnapps down him. Then I poured two shots of whiskey down him. Then I poured a snifter of brandy down him. Then I poured two martinis down him. Then he puked. But I kept pouring it down him. Then I opened a bottle of tequila.”

“Oh bullshit,” she said. She went around to the passenger side and got in. “Just drive me uptown,” she said. “I'll get him sobered up after awhile. You got a beer in here?”

“Trunk's full of it.”

“Well, how about getting me one out?”

“That your daddy looking out the window?”

“Yeah. He watches me like a hawk now Where's that beer?”

The ice broke after she got one down her. I had a little of the joint left and we shared that. By the time we got to town we were laughing and talking and singing along with Monroe's tapes. I felt a little guilty, but he was still sleeping on the back seat. When we got to the bar he was still asleep, and she had wormed her way over next to me in the seat. When we pulled up and stopped, she said she didn't really want to go in, and could we ride around a little longer? I said sure.

I can't remember anything that happened after that. I know a lot of things happened, but I can't remember what they were.

48

We were in a ditch when we woke up. It was muddy, and we had mud all over us. Mud was all over the seats. It had caked on the dash, on our clothes, on the headliner. We were way up in the woods somewhere, as usual. The sun was shining. It was nine o'clock in the morning. My mouth felt like a wad of cotton, and mosquitoes had feasted on us all night long. He was still asleep on the back seat. I woke him up and we flipped a coin to see who'd walk out to the road and flag somebody down to come pull us out. He won. Or lost.

49

I slept for about two days and then I went back to work on my work. I thought about painting a few houses just to keep my hand in and help tide me over when winter came but I could hardly bring myself to do it. It was hard to turn loose some of that freedom. That old freedom was nice.

Raoul came by to see me one day but I wouldn't let him in. He could see me, and I could see him, but I just kept sitting at my typewriter, pecking words out, and he started knocking and it went on for a long time. He shouted something, several things, but I didn't listen. I'd about decided not to listen to anybody for the rest of my life. He kept knocking, and I got up and went over to the stereo and put Johnny Winter on and ignored him. He kept knocking. I started writing a story about a woman and a man with a little child going down a sidewalk late at night, the little girl in a long white dress and having to
run to keep up with her mother and father, who were running from something beyond bad. I saw that it was on a dark street somewhere in New Jersey with the rain falling and I wondered what was going through the little girl's head. She was running to keep up, her mother barely holding her hand, her bare feet flying over the wet sidewalks, up and down over the curbs as they crossed the alleys. Her hair was long, brown, and her arm was stretched out in front of her as she held onto her mother's hand, and her feet were flying. I kept that image with me, desperation, flight, fear, until the knocking stopped and Raoul went away, I knew sadly. I went to the refrigerator and got a beer. I sat back down at my machine. I had to find out what they were running from. I had to find out if the little girl was going to be safe. I didn't know if she would be or not. But whatever it was she was running from, I knew I had to save her from it, and that I was the only one who could do it. They were running, running, the cars going by, and I could see the slippery sidewalks, and the lights in the stores, and I could see my mother and my father looking back over their shoulders at whatever was chasing us, and I ran as fast as I could, terrified, not knowing how it would end, knowing I had to know.

Published by
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225
a division of
Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
708 Broadway
New York, New York 10003

Copyright © 1990 by Larry Brown.
All rights reserved.

Two of the stories in this book have appeared previously in slightly different form: “Sleep” in
The Carolina Quarterly
and “Big Bad Love” in
The Chattahoochee Review.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available for a previous edition of this work.

E-book ISBN 978-1-61620-205-7

ALSO BY
LARRY BROWN

FICTION
Facing the Music
Dirty Work
Joe
Father and Son
Fay
The Rabbit Factory
A Miracle of Catfish

NONFICTION
Billy Ray's Farm
On Fire

BOOK: Big Bad Love
5.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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