Authors: J David Osborne
A Broken River Books original
Broken River Books
10765 SW Murdock Lane
Tigard, OR 97224
Copyright © 2015 by J David Osborne
Cover art and design copyright © 2015 by Matthew Revert
Interior design by J David Osborne
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Where the names of actual celebrities or corporate entities appear, they are used for fictional purposes and do not constitute assertions of fact. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Printed in the USA.
J DAVID OSBORNE
BROKEN RIVER BOOKS
For Matthew Revert
“Move as a godless heathen
Black gums, tooth gone”
—Aesop Rock, “Gopher Guts”
We drove out to Blackgum just east of Muskogee. We parked at the lip of a ditch and got out under clouds too heavy for summer. There on the road she took a picture of me. I had my hands in my pockets and I looked like I was tired of where I stood or any other place I might stand.
My wife and I came out there to see our friend Susan. Her family put on the best fireworks display in Oklahoma. We also came out there because a few days ago my wife told me that I was an angry person and that she needed time alone and I knew the man she’d been texting would be there. We walked over the cattle guard and down the gravel road to the house where Susan’s brothers were sorting the fireworks. They had a layout: black cats and M80s and these big motherfuckers you drop down a tube and they shoot up. Her brothers were friendly enough but they didn’t really talk and so we sat and watched them set up the fireworks until Susan’s mother came out and gathered us and took us inside to eat.
More and more folks arrived and they all ate and drank beers and talked amongst each other and I had no idea where to go or what to do or why I’d been invited to this thing in the first place. The man showed up and pushed his long hair out of his eyes and gave us both a hug. I could have just hit him and the three of us would have known why, but I didn’t and so it was just the three of us that went on knowing what we knew.
He and I made small talk and I felt outside of myself, away from the tire swing hanging from the oak tree at the edge of the property. The man too was outside of himself and though we made words and smiled we were the whole time circling each other like dogs.
While Susan’s family got the display set up and her sisters got changed, my wife wandered off to pet a llama a hundred yards down the barb wire fence. I watched her lips move and the thing lost interest in her and walked out into the long grass.
Susan and her sisters had set up little platforms out in their front yard and when the clouds were ready to kiss the ground her brothers started up the fireworks. The rain came down and the copper lit the low clouds purple and blue. Susan and her sisters performed a dance. I sat on one side of my wife and the man sat on the other and we watched the spectacle.
When it was over we headed inside. I said I was tired and told Susan and so she showed me to my room. I got in there and she grabbed my wife by the arm and said, “Let me show you where you’re sleeping,” and I didn’t say anything. The door shut.
I lay down and looked at the dolls in the room and I couldn’t get comfortable. I’d had a few and my mind was wandering. I heard them in the living room, maybe twenty of them, singing “Jolene,” and I got up from the bed and went out there and my wife was sitting by the man, too close.
I told everyone that I was leaving and they said that it was late and that I’d had too much but I just repeated myself. Before I left I saw her and him and she looked at me then looked down at her phone and he looked off into the distance, his thin arms behind him and too close.
I’d always felt a certain inclination to hurt others. Always got a kick out of knocking someone straight. But I didn’t do a thing. I just left. The rain had let up and it smelled good outside.
I’d never seen myself as such a boy until that moment, when everything that seemed so big was in fact only a small part of several beginnings, and I drove all the way back to Comanche in tears and I didn’t stop til I got to Charlie’s and he took me in.
Charlie was a mechanic. At any given point there’d be two hollowed-out Mustangs in his driveway, tranny over here, drivetrain over there. The grass was too long and there were beer cans and cardboard beer boxes and cigarette butts scattered over it. Looked about the same as the rest of the yards in the neighborhood.
The night I showed up he went to his room and came back with niacin capsules filled with speed. I ate mine and chased it with beer.
His living room was a couch and a recliner and stains in the carpet.
We got real high. The icons on my phone screen jiggled. I clenched my teeth.
I felt great.
Charlie said, “Business was great for a little bit but then they stole my shit. Every time. They come by at night and they take from the cars and did you know that now I owe fucking a thousand bucks to this dude? A fucking grand. Fucking niggers just reach in and take shit out the car, I don’t even know if they know what it is that they’re taking, they just fucking take it. I’m in the hole, now. I was making money and it was okay and now I owe a fucking grand.”
I said, “Whoa.”
He said, “I just wanted to have my own business, that’s all. Worked Hibdon for years and I just wanted to start up my own thing. But now all this. This fucking neighborhood. But I guess that’s life in the hood,” and he started laughing like crazy.
I looked at my phone and thought,
I am having a great time.
Charlie leaned forward in the recliner. “You know Ryan’s in jail.”
“Ryan’s in jail. He shot a dude over some bullshit. He’s in jail, and Anuky’s fighting in the MMA. He does stuff here. Seen him hit a dude so hard the motherfucker went down. He’s fighting.”
“Ryan shot someone?”
“There was this time my uncle shot a dude and he went to jail for a long time. That shit is crazy. Ryan looked like Eminem. Don’t you think Ryan looked like Eminem?”
“He did the bleach.”
“Yeah, the fucking bleach. Ryan looked like Eminem. Man I am rolling my fucking tit off.”
“Me too.” I chewed at my lip.
Later on, when it was nearly dawn, I was awake and texting every woman in my phone.
I heard Charlie’s door open and saw him walk out and look at me. Nothing registered. He had wild hair. He felt around in his pants and whipped his dick out and started pissing into his kitchen.
I watched, and I laughed.
The next morning I had gotten maybe an hour of sleep when Charlie woke me up.
“I ain’t gonna be mad,” he said. “But did you fucking piss in my kitchen?”
We went and got food and I read all the text messages in my phone. Charlie ate a grilled cheese.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I feel like the internet runs my life. I just click stuff. Doesn’t matter what it is. I clicked a link the other day, it made me feel bad. It wasn’t even weird though, it was just a guy deep-frying a pineapple. It was one of those ‘you won’t believe what happens’ things. But I felt bad about it. After I watched it though, I realized that if a guy came out of an alley holding a pineapple and said ‘Wanna see me deep-fry this bitch?’ I’d probably say ‘hell yeah.’”
After our meal we walked out into the sun and watched the cars pass. A group of older folks in automated wheelchairs camped out at the end of the street.
“You have to eat,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, me neither. But you have to. Otherwise you’ll get strung out.”
“What are we doing?”
Charlie checked his watch. “Shane’s coming over. You’ve met my cousin, yeah?”
Shane fashioned knives out of railroad spikes. He gifted one to Charlie wrapped in a paper towel to make it a surprise. He pointed out the duct tape wrapped around the hilt and Charlie stabbed the air with it.
Charlie gifted him a tattoo back. Shane’s face and his arms were covered in them, tiny knives and cats and lightning bolts and numbers and names. Tonight he wanted something different. He wanted Charlie to tattoo his gums.
Shane’s torso and legs were completely bare. When I asked him why only his arms and face were tattooed, he told me that in the underworld, the ink was all anyone could see. That they glow neon down there. I asked, “But won’t you be naked when you die?” and he said, “It’s cold in hell. I’m going to be wearing clothes.”
I said, “So why tattoo your gums?”
He said, “When I meet the devil, I want him to know that I’m a friendly guy.”
I ate two capsules and cringed and watched my friend power up his gun. His foot tapping the pedal. That sound. When the needle hit the softness above Shane’s teeth he howled and when his mouth was full of blood he gurgled.
When it was done we played beer pong with Kentucky Deluxe. I looked down at my phone every time Shane took a drink, his scream caterpillaring up atop the mushroom clouds of Archie Lee bass rattling the small speakers alone on the floor by the stack of magazines.
After Charlie sunk his third shot and Shane hollered again, my friend came around the fold-out picnic table and tilted his cousin’s head back, the blurry green tattoos of his hands on Shane’s inked face like two warring clouds of gnats. Charlie peeled back Shane’s lips and shook his head at the magma flow of ink and blood. “We’re gonna have to redo this soon.”
Shane slapped his hands away and said, “My shot.” He metronomed his forearm looking down the length of the table with one open eye. Tongue between his teeth split down the middle like a snake, the left end curling up into the wiry hairs growing over his lip.
Cups stacked/table folded/us on the couch. Shane held up a finger and spit blood into an empty beer bottle and smiled. Charlie peered at his cousin’s gums and clapped his hands. “Evil, man. Ugly shit.”
The next morning Shane was gone. Charlie walked into the living room looking like hell and poured us each a glass of cranberry juice and vodka. We drank it and sat out on his porch. The weather was turning and I didn’t have a jacket. Charlie went inside and came out with a hoodie and gave it to me. We watched the folks riding by on bicycles and walking past swinging their arms up to the sky. Men and women without teeth talking to themselves or singing loudly.
A deep low cloud came in and soon it was snowing a bit.
Charlie cursed and got a blue tarp out of his garage and covered the car parts and the frame and weighed it down with cinderblocks.
I set the empty cup down and got a beer from inside and sat back down.
We each tensed against a sudden wind.
I said, “So what’s going on with your cousin?”
Charlie arranged the cigarette butts on his porch with his toe. “He’s a little off.”
“He does his own thing, I guess.”
“And what’s that?”
“I’m not sure.”
“He grew up here?”
“He moved around.”
“Seems like a character.”
“Yeah, well,” Charlie stood up to get a beer. “He’s family.”