He stayed in the hospital longer than he wanted, but he knew he had to heal. The headaches, which were bearable at first, were overwhelming. Darkness wasn’t enough, he could only think in absolute blackness. The doctors gave him pills, and they helped a little. But most nights, he hugged the mattress tightly until his arms ached. He clutched it like it was an old pine tree.
After almost a week, he walked outside for the first time. It was rainy and cold, but it felt wonderful. He had nowhere to go, but that was all right. He had his crutch (a real one, which wasn’t much better than the wooden one he was used to), and almost seventy dollars in his pocket.
He took a cab downtown (the town was Delores, population fifty-seven hundred and thirteen), and went into the first restaurant he could find, a little diner called Wendles, and ordered the best ham and eggs he’d ever tasted.
He struck up a conversation with the owner and found himself employed for the first time in his life, as a dishwasher.
His new life had begun.
He didn’t go back to Handsome for another fifty-seven years, and that was only because he had a promise that needed to be kept.


Debt free

This magic moment

The drive to his house was haunting, like something out of a fever dream. Though it was late afternoon, it was almost identical to the drive three weeks before. The feeling of dread and hopelessness sank into my heart. What we did that early morning could never be undone, even if we got away with it… especially if we got away with it. Without recriminations, the sole juror would be myself, and I would be a brutal judge.
Kincaid met me outside. There were a few more leaves on the ground and the grass wasn’t as neatly clipped. There was a hard autumn chill in the air and the sunlight pooled bluntly on his sidewalk.
He walked up to me and inquired about Euart. He sympathized over my limp and asked me if it was feeling any better.
He looked a few years older than how I remembered. His hair was more gray than salt-and-pepper, but he was wearing a suit-and-tie and had a full glass of something in his hand. He offered me a drink when we stepped inside, and I accepted.
We went over the papers at his kitchen table. They were spread out like a fan. The kitchen was spotless, and the sunlight cast autumn shadows that made the room look bleak. He explained things to me in legal terms, which washed over me like wash water. I had to sign a couple of papers, make my initials, and then I would be debt free. I had to wonder if he noticed how ugly those words sounded: debt free. Nothing was ever debt free.

A Whiskey Drinking Man

slipping away

Push a narrow slice of sidepork around the skillet with a fork, then drown it with an egg. Cup of Jim Beam coffee, heavy on the Beam. The sizzle and the pop, the grease jumps up, the Beam jumps down and it’s the all-American, how-do-you-do breakfast, every morning, pal. Wake up and slap your face with water and cologne, and let the day open up. Radio in the background, something low, something slow, something from a time when jazz houses were busting open and the gin stayed cold in the glass.
Every morning the same; same dull antidote for the night before. Shaky hands wash away the sleep, the tiredness, but not the grime hiding behind the eyes and underneath the skin. Arms calcified, shoulders hard as planks. A hard night in the Round Table, shuffling goons and serving the dollies, some of them lonely, most of them bored, wanting to break up , break in, or just break clean. The same nickel movies and the same greasy dives, no night life, no flash, just the same over-and-over. The night blurs like a shaggy curtain, and the bed, a dirty cluster of unwashed socks and unclaimed brassieres, leftovers from another damaged night.