Boys

Our pale naked chests caught the moonlight. We were primitive mammals, drinking from her pool. Unsentimental, there were no aftermaths to consider, no consequences to chasten our arousals. Freely belligerent, we scraped the raw off mountains and ran roughshod over untidy hearts. We did not care. We were boys.

We cured ourselves with thought and shame, and retreated from Pan’s doom. But not all; some joined his legion and drink still from the pool, naked boys in aged skin.

Speaking of Drunk Larry…

Ricky laughed. “Speaking of opening the door. Guess who was waiting on me to open the joint this morning?”

Drunk Larry.”

Hell, yeah.” He combed through his hair with his fingers. A quick task since all that was left were gray bristles. The boy he had been rode a Harley Softail and had hair down to the middle of his back. Now he looked like a retired drill sergeant. It was like looking at a double exposure. An old habit from a fractured past. How many of us want to look at age straight in the face? “I mean, how many times have we tossed him? Eight? Twenty? So he’s standing there – shaking there – and he starts bitching how I was five minutes late opening up. Did you know he’s still parking his van behind the bar? Sleeps there, I guess. He can’t afford another DUI, so he forces himself to walk those twenty extra steps.”

I wonder if we can do something about that,” I said. “Convince him to take his business elsewhere.”

It’s not like we’re getting rich off the guy. We’re the idiots for serving him. He’s stiffed us more times than I can count.”

I told you not to serve him. Show him the door. Head first, if needed.”

Ricky nodded. “Aww, I feel sorry for him, Bart. He’s harmless. But you’re right. There’s other places he can go to weasel a few drinks. Gilly’s would fit him better. It’s a dive. And he ain’t exactly supporting our pension fund.”

This isn’t Cheers,” I said. “And he isn’t Norm. He’s probably draining off customers. Nobody likes a drunk, even in a bar. A tire iron to his windshield would do it.”

Yeah, probably would.” He grinned, but I didn’t grin back. “You serious?”

Serious as suicide,” I said and regretted it. It hurt in all the wrong places. “We can do it tonight, after closing. I’m done with Drunk Larry.”

Uh huh. Christ, Bart, one shot of Chivas and you’re ready to go full-on, ain’tcha? Oh, and by the way, he was rambling on about something he saw at Wolf Creek last week. Something about moving shapes. It was all mixed up. He was a fucking moving shape.”

I studied Ricky’s face, and it was calm. “What do you think? You worried?”

Me? Nah. He was stewed. It’s been too many years to mean anything. Something would have come out by now. He’s just a nervous drunk, afraid of being caught sober. I figure he spends a lot of time out there, hunting for beer bottles to cash in at the Depot. The Creek’s where all the kids go to drink. His brain is as pickled as Einstein’s.”

You think so?”

Sure. It’s been years and years since–”

All right,” I said, and considered. “Two beers a night, Ricky. Whatever’s on tap. And then show him the door.”

You worried about him? Seriously? I’m sorry I mentioned it.”

Don’t be. It’s probably nothing. But it bears watching, right?”

Everything bears watching, Bart. You taught me that.”

Did I?” I asked. It was a real question.

Rehearsal

We grew to become cruel men. We gathered our wounds and we coddled our scars and lionized them under the tract lighting of The Saluda Bar. When called upon, we mourned our dead, and then moved on. But sometimes we couldn’t.

This past July I lost my son, Daniel Benton Sawyer. He was twenty-three years old. I could tell you the number of months and days, but I won’t. My life was a rehearsal for this loss and I am unprepared to measure his life against mine.

Two days after my boy’s passing, my friend Wayne Scobee was busted for illicit behavior. He offered to blow a Georgia Tech student in a Ruby Tuesday bathroom stall. The boy was nineteen and he broke Wayne’s nose. I thought about breaking it again if he showed up at the funeral, but I was too goddamn tired. Nineteen? My head orbited that number like a comet. Nineteen. That was younger than Danny. I needed time to sort through the rubble, and time was no longer a luxury, if it ever was. My heart was too cruel a place for any illusion of forgiveness.

(A work in progress)

Waiting on accidents

Me and Son Gundy are sitting in our lawn chairs, right here at the intersection of Yellow Road and St. Maggie’s. It is cold and it is snowing, and it’s only ten degrees. We lifted these chairs from Goodwill because no one was foolish enough to buy them. The manager – that would be Joe Bodine, him from over on Hiatt Street next to the old Courthouse – he helped us load them in the back seat, folded them proper so they wouldn’t get snarled. They’re decent enough chairs for when you’re sitting in the cold, waiting on accidents.

We pass a Thermos back and forth, and it’s filled with black coffee and Gram’s Special: two parts brandy and one part never-mind. We watch the cars slide through the intersection, brake lights flashing, but no pavement to grab hold because of the ice. The cars sometimes slide sideways, slide up against a No Parking sign or a power pole, sometimes up on St. Maggie’s Church lawn, but usually into each other.

Me and Son don’t mind. In a small town, it’s the only day-time entertainment we have. There may be a world of excitement somewhere, but it ain’t in Horse so you can cross that off your list.

We wait on accidents. That’s what we do. We watch them scuttle towards us and we sit still, waiting for fate to fall into place. We hope for the best, but maybe deep down we believe they are ordained. Son would laugh if I ever said such a thing out loud. The words that come from our mouths and the words we have in our heads aren’t always the same. They get tangled and sound foolish, even to our own ears. But with Son and me, we know what we really mean. So I don’t mind it when he laughs. It means he’s listening and figuring it out for himself.

The letter

The letter was written in old-man’s scrawl: small letters, densely packed, in blue ink. The writing was legible, but it made the boy squint. There was little space between the words. They were like boxcars mashing down a hard grade.

You will always miss the mountain. It will aggrieve and chaff you, and your bones will crack under its weight. You will mourn hard when you leave. The stillness is in you, and it will live in you and it will follow you into the darkness. You will leave this mountain in spite because you are young and have an appetite for sidewalks and sit-down restaurants and jazz drifting out of doorways. These are good things, and a boy should know them. He should write them down in his history book. He should feel the trumpet against his lips. He should provoke folks to dance and hoot like their legs are afire. You will do those things, and your sweat will be honest and your ledgers will be true. Those appetites will fill you fast, and your need for hush will outrun you. Boy, you will come back. One day you will come back.

The letter was written on old foolscap, undated, unsigned. It was addressed to him. He was ten years old and he had never left.