The father of children

The move to Wishing was the best thing. Frank Cobin wasn’t a big shot in town anymore, engorged with bravado and insolence. He was the stranger in town, and had no favor with the thin-faced men: the corner-men, the hustlers, the scammers, the casually dangerous.

The move to Wishing was the worst thing. Marooned from his pals, Frank took his temper out on his wife and kid, bullied them with his knuckles and insults. His ambitions were volatile, written in chalk, scribbled and wiped clean every day.

Eldridge caught him with his pants down, with that woman from downtown, that woman who worked at Bibby’s Department Store, and his old man didn’t have much to say about that. He had a weakness for the Negro women, he told his boy, and

runnels of sweat ran down her round belly, clean like rain water. Her breasts rose with every inhalation, nipples hard like rock candy, hips churning to a hallowed beat. Eldridge could smell the woman’s sweat, and it was not fear-sweat, but a submissive heat-sweat, her face straining for pleasure, her eyes greedy, flooded with inside light, and

don’t tell your mother, don’t let her know.

And his father cried and groveled, but not for forgiveness. He needed to preserve that secret, that deep echo of himself, and he begged his boy not to draw out that darkness.

Eldridge never did tell, but the secret exhausted him. It was a guilty-belly, hungry-belly secret, like a tongue against a throbbing tooth. His father stopped using his fists, and Eldridge learned to use his. He discovered his own appetite that night, and the shades pulled down on his childhood. The shadows, he understood, never went away. They clove to everything, and soon the headaches began, and his temper grew more sour.

Eldridge stared down at his father, his old and ruptured flesh, and heard Frank’s impious excuses for the last time. He ended that part of his life for good. No one ever knew.

“The father of children”, he said, “has a duty to protect them, not bury them.” That was what Frank Cobin did. He buried his son in a lie.

“The father of children needs to be accountable,” he said, and kneeled on his father’s shoulders. The old man had turned scrawny in his old age, dry as jerky, so it wasn’t hard. It was like resting on a piece of shredded hickory.

“You punished us for the smallest mistakes,” he said. His voice was calm, almost soothing. He lowered the heel of his hand on his father’s throat, and he felt its pulse, irregular but strong. “You betrayed your wife and your child for the sake of a whore.”

“No whore,” the old man wheezed.

“You couldn’t be trusted. Who do I trust now? You made us feel like dirt, like we were useless. And you were whoring around like a man of the town, laughing at us behind our back. And the only thing you’ve ever been ashamed of is that you were caught. How do you think that makes us feel? At least Mom was spared. I protected her.” He sunk his hand deeper into Frank’s throat. He felt bone and gristle, paper thin.

Then things got fuzzy around the edge of his temper.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age — a work in progress**

Sirens

He still listens for sirens. He doesn’t hear them, not exactly, but he waits for them, waits for the whole damned thing to come down.

A police siren, a plain blue warble, and you don’t know if they’re coming for you or heading somewhere else.

That town, swear to God, moved and breathed, and the only thing you could smell was its filthy haunches. Sometimes it smelled like the detritus of the dieback wheat, and sometimes it smelled like his father, cotton work pants and Wildroot cream. But mostly he remembers the dark reek of potato vodka slopping on the old man’s undershirt.

The summer Eldridge turned ten, those sirens cut apart his sleep. When your world was a flat plate of broom corn and empty wind, sirens busted everything open. When you’re feverish from the day heat, still slick at ten o’clock at night, you remember. Most times, the silence was so thick you could feel it crawl around your ears. But when those sirens cut through the night like a squall, it scratched scars on your memory.

The sound terrified Eldridge, and made him giddy. Maybe his old man had been knifed in the downtown beer parlor, or maybe he was the knifer. Didn’t matter. When his father slammed the porch screen at 2:30 the next morning, Eldridge was still awake.

“Boy got runned over on Little Route,” his old man said. “Thought it might be you, but I was pitching nickels with Thimble Wyatt and one of them Ostrander fellas, and didn’t have time to check. Now fetch me a beer and get on back to bed.”

And on and on through a hollow span of days and nights, until they moved away from that awful Oklahoma town for good. But the sirens kept chasing him down. One day they’d be for him, and for good reason.

**From The Stone Age — a work-in-progress**

Twilight zone

the_twilight_zone_by_smbaird-d80n6wk

This is an older shot from a couple of years ago, but I like its deep colors and somber mood. I think it’s a perfect fit for K’lee and Dale’s Cosmic Photo Challenge, which this week happens to be ‘Shadows and Silhouettes’. Check it out here or here if you want to accept the challenge.

Thanks for looking!

Almost the sexiest man in my car

An updated autobiothingy

A thing that will never happen:

I’m standing at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter says: “I know you’re a good man, George, with your charity work and that to-die-for profile, but I’m going to give you a pass. ‘Batman and Robin’? What were you thinking? And bat nipples? Dude!”

And I say, “Sorry, St. Peter, but I’m not Clooney. But don’t worry about it, I hear it all the time. Easy mistake.”

and the gates swing open.

***

Okay. A daydream. No one’s really going to mistake me for George Clooney. I’m a short bald guy with black-framed bifocals, and waist-deep in middle age.

People Magazine will never proclaim me “Sexiest Man Alive” or even “Sexiest Man on My Road”. Maybe “Sexiest Man in My Car, if Rod Stewart Isn’t Playing on the Radio.” Or “Sexiest Man in a 16-year-old Subaru on My Road, at 7:30 in the Morning. On a Tuesday”.

Clooney drives, what, an ’06 Econoline? Pfft… close enough.

But do I care?

No, not really. Sort of. But no.

I’m a writer. (George has screenwriting credits, but please give me this, okay?) I write novels, mostly, but other stuff, too. Poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and more!*

*maybe not be more*

So what? you say. Everyone’s a writer these days. Even Woody Harrelson! You can’t swing a dead Pokemon without hitting a writer.

Yeah, but, umm….

When I’m writing, I can be anyone I want to be: a swaggering pirate, the King of Nebraska, a shirtless painter with paint spatters artistically spattering his painted chest with paint. Indiana Jones (no, wait, that’s another story). I can be anyone. So why not Sexiest etc.?

Because I’m humble. Truly.

I can’t market myself as a sexy, come-hither writer because eventually I’d have to produce the evidence. Not that appearance has anything to do with success. Look at Stephen King. I love the guy, but come on. Still wearing those T-shirts from your Rock Bottom Remainders days, Steve?

But I digress, because that’s a fancy word I can use when I forget the point I was trying to make. (It’s in the dictionary, I checked.) Image isn’t everything. I have nice blue eyes and I can wear a Wal-Mart hoodie like nobody’s business (see above photo, the one without the bat ears. No, the OTHER one).

So sexy? Why not? And furthermore–

Honey, can you PLEASE scrape the chicken crap off your shoes before you come in?”

Yes, dear.”

Sexy!

(Batman photo copyright by Warner Brothers Studios. Steve photo copyright by wife Angela)

The old cross, lost against the wall

There was a weather-stained carving of an old-fashioned cross above the kitchen sink. It looked as hard as iron, but the wood was soft, held together by strands of brown rope. It came from their home in Georgia. She said it was a sure-enough heirloom, passed down from the old plantation days. When the family moved, it was wrapped in tissue paper and set in a small pecan-wood box, then packed in hard cardboard. It wasn’t very big, the size of a boy’s hand, and it was colorless against the yellow kitchen wall. Some nights, he would see his mother staring at the cross, her hands wrist-deep in soap bubbles. She was listening or praying, idly scrubbing an iron skillet, or fumbling with cutlery. He envied her faith and wondered what she saw, what she heard. He knew she would pass the cross on to him when the time came, and he hoped that when it did, he would understand what she was waiting on.

Academia

The funeral was simple but elegant. There were few in attendance, other than his father’s former colleagues whom David barely remembered. He recalled dim dinners with them, and the unappetizing fare such as oysters and fowls that were not chicken. There was wine and cognac, and peach-based desserts. Sometimes there was a sweltering ham, sliced thick, and rich, lumpy potato salad, and that felt more honest. The men would talk about academia, and the women would discuss complex novels and romantic poetry. It was a rarefied environment, full of big ponderings and show-offy intellect, and David understood none of it. He reckoned they were trying to impress one another when they debated the arcane, pausing only to parse each other’s words until they had no meaning. Dull and dull. The nights usually ended with Donald at the piano, playing something “bawdy by Bach”, played barrel-house style. That was the best part of those nights, and David loved his father most when he riffed on the keys and then gave David a broad, unselfconscious grin.

He recognized only one of the pallbearers, Stanley Olay, a fat man not much younger than his father. He used to pull nickels out of David’s ear, and bring the latest copies of The New Yorker, where they were displayed on the coffee table and gathered dust until his next visit. Occasionally, he would pull out a packet of photographs, usually of his children, or his favorite restaurant architecture, and he and Donald would sit on the porch and discuss college politics, who was up for tenure, who was retiring. David remembered those visits only because because Stanley Olay was friendly and unimpressive. He didn’t try to be the smartest person in the room.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age, a work-in-progress**