The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Flash Fiction
Spades and Sofas
I never meant to understand that trashy train-wreck watcher with the dirty red hair…that fellow algae-drinking Appalachian good-for-nothing pea farmer named Alphonse. Why his bow-legged father decided to name him Alphonse, I will never understand, if I live to be ninety-four.
Did you bury things in those piles?
Perhaps it was that restaurant…that one restaurant he had ever eaten in. I do believe that it may have been named “Alphonse’s”, or perhaps the owner was named Alphonse, or perhaps there was a waiter by that name who worked there. Perhaps there was no connection whatsoever. Perhaps it had only to do with the boy’s dirty red hair.
Alphonse, you trashy pea-picker, there were so many piles of soil outside your home. You would pile them up, one after the other…pile after pile after pile. All the way around your home they stretched – that ramshackle frame home of yours. Two stories of scratchy, flaky clapboard that hung in there like scales on a diseased fish…a diseased fish that would stare into the west wind that swept over that dirty, dirty pea-farm. Did you bury things in those piles? Did you pile them there as art – the only art you knew how to create with your calloused, filthy hands with bruised knuckles and twisted, arthritic joints? Hands that would shake the soft, smooth hands of that pastor from that Lutheran church down the road from your filthy, filthy pea-farm, and wave after him when he left. Hands that you wrapped around his neck and with which you throttled that same Lutheran pastor when he spoke to you of sin and the dangers of drink. The judge put you in for 90 days and that pea-farm grew filthier than ever – filthier it grew even after you were let out. The people never understood. Never understood. I could never understand, either.
They said it was a woman who took you away. A woman or the bottle, I guess. I would have put my money on the bottle, although no one ever really saw you again, the way you would see men like yourself when that happened – face down in the ditch (as the stereotype would have it), or with your back against a cold, stone building and your chin on your chest. No one saw you like that, so as my brother Audie said, you probably done ended up far, far across the state with some woman who never minded your drinking and your carrying on and your hoopin’ and hollerin’ at the top of your lungs when the bottle was empty.
Alphonse, why did you look at me like that the last time we saw each other in town, now some twenty years ago? That toothy grin and that dirty red hair – your eyes all wild. I thought you were drunk. I thought you were half out of your mind with whisky, the way you were when you throttled the pastor. I thought you might reach out and put those calloused, calloused hands around my neck and throttle me to the end of my breath. You did not. You only blinked twice and coughed out a single word.
Kulinski Coal Company
Skinny, chapped-lipped little Michael Pekart used to stare at me with those scary, beady, crust-cornered eyes of his. He would drink his white milk with great gusto when everyone else wanted chocolate, and he would stare, except I could tell that his gaze was aimed about six inches above and to the right of my head. I remember the time he flipped out while we were all playing in those fields behind the coal company. Michael started throwing clods of earth at everyone and that raspy, raspy breathing came out like grunts - grunts that mixed with a mournful cry, a cry that probably began when his old man came home from the factory by way of the tap room, drunk and stinking of beer and far too many cigarettes. Michael would get the back side of his old man's right hand any time he tried to talk when that dirty, filthy presser of seamless rolled rings was looking at the damned idiot box and waiting for Mrs. Pekart to shovel out another hot, fatty dinner framed with instant mashed potatoes. Mr. Pekart was such a dried-up little turd of a man, sunburned and drunk and stinking and with a grubby, scowling, unshaven face that always seemed to cry out "I'm a pointless bastard of a human."
"Don't bother your father, Michael," his mother would say, "he's had a long day."
Michael would slink off to his room and tear the wings off of flies that he trapped against the window pane. He kept a metal band-aid box full of wings that he had torn off of flies, and when the summer nights were hot and he had trouble falling asleep, he would take that little metal box out of his night stand and give it a little shake, just to remind himself. He would feel better, and sleep would come more easily.
So he would stare at me with those scary, beady, crust-cornered eyes of his and when he spoke of how his dad would kick the ass of anyone else's dad, little bits of white saliva froth would collect at the corners of his mouth - the mouth that had those lips that looked like they were twice as thick as they really were, owing to the chapping. When he got all crazy and wild like that, everyone would back down and go away, even the biggest kids in class - they all thought he was crazy, I think - which he probably was - and they were scared of getting little flecks of spit blown at them. So we would all scatter, leaving Michael Pekart to shout at the school building until one of the teachers would come out to try to calm him down. That usually took only a few minutes and the teacher would lead Michael back inside. A box of white milk and the skinny, chapped-lipped little devil was ready to go again.
The day Michael Pekart put his arm through a glass window on a door near the school gymnasium was another story. He had rushed up to the door and missed the little brass hand-plate. His hand went right through a glass pane about eight inches square, and his arm followed - right up to the elbow. Michael made the mistake of instantly wrenching it right back out again, shredding the inside of his forearm on the glass shards and exposing veins and tendons for all the world to see, including me, as I stood about five feet away and received a little drop of the sacrificial blood on my gym shirt.
I should have known what he would say, what he would start crying out the moment the pain registered in his brain - maybe even before it registered. That skinny, chapped-lipped little Michael Pekart started crying out and thrashing around, in no way that a teacher and a box of milk would ever settle down. And he shouted at the top of his lungs, crying bloody murder and screaming himself hoarse until the paramedics arrived.
"I want my momma!! I want my momma!! Momma!!"
© Tom Andrews May 2011
A Martini and a Pen
Flash Fiction and Other Things