Refrigerated Dreams (Act 6)

Adam Longo was still and quiet atop his perch at the abandoned Grainer Falls shoe factory. He was looking down upon the people surrounding the body. Some were squatted and taking photos. Others were scribbling notes and shaking their heads. Others still were talking on cell phones and with each other — dark whispers of a tragedy unfolding like layers of Christmas wrapping paper.

One of the investigators suddenly looked up when a pigeon fluttered, and Adam Longo closed his eyes to hide. “Maybe he fell, and then the animals got to him,” the man said to his peers without looking at them, his eyes still fixed upon the rusted rafters. “You know how these stupid kids are always screwing around in here. Damn fools think they’re going to live forever and do crazy things… Like climbing around where they shouldn’t.”

A woman kneeling beside the body of Andy Bliss turned her head to look up at him. She wanted to call him an idiot, but she didn’t. “There’s no sign of fall trauma. Not at all,” she said. “You should rethink that theory… Detective.”

He shrugged off her comment for the moment. “I merely suggested a possibility, Ms. Lassiter. That’s what we like to call investigation where I come from.”

The woman laughed to herself. “I’ll be sure to never go there then.”

He quickly turned his attention from what was above him to the woman examining the dead boy. “Are you criticizing my work?”

She looked up at him confidently. “Yes.”

“Well stop,” the detective said. “We got a dead kid here. This isn’t the time to be stepping on people’s toes. Got it?”

“Whatever you say… Detective.”

Veronica Genesis clutched her schoolbooks as she walked down the sidewalk on a warm afternoon. She stopped in front of Rude Rudy’s run-down house and looked at it. His bike was toppled in the front yard, so she knew he was home. She steadied herself, walked up to the door, and knocked.

A few moments later, Rude Rudy appeared in the open doorway. He glared at her. “What the hell do you want?” His orange hair was a bushy mess. His shirt was stained with food.

She was angry at herself for ever becoming involved with such a loser who didn’t realize he was a loser at all. They’re the worst kind of loser, she thought to herself. “I don’t want to go steady anymore,” Veronica bluntly told him.

He scoffed at her, but inside he was hurt. “Good,” he stammered. “I don’t want to go steady with you either. You’re not any fun at all. You’re just way to into yourself… Besides, there are tons of babes I could replace you with.” He slammed the door in her face.

She knocked again and he yanked the door open. “What!?” In some small way Rudy hoped she had reconsidered.

“I thought you might want to know that Adam Longo is alive… Sort of.”

“What do you mean sort of?” Rudy wondered.

“He showed up at school, but he was different. He was acting weird.”

Rudy laughed. “There’s nothing different about that. That kid is weird.”

“I’m serious,” Veronica stressed. “If I were you, I’d be concerned.”

Rudy shook his head at her. “He’s the one who should be concerned if he comes around here.” He poked his head out and looked up and down the street to steady his sudden creeping doubts. “Now get lost,” he said, and he slammed the door in her face again. Veronica flipped him off from the other side.

Adam Longo waited until they removed the body of Andy Bliss and secured the scene. When they were finally all gone, he leapt from the beam and floated down to the floor of the factory. It was dark. But somehow, he could see through it. He walked to and pushed on the heavy metal door that led to outside. The sudden rush of the fresher air felt good to him, even though he wasn’t sure if he was breathing air like he used to. He looked up at the sparkling stars and the 100-watt lightbulb moon that hung there like a bleached Chinese buffet plate. He turned back once to look at the brooding factory crawling upon the lightweight veil of darkness like untamed vines before he started walking toward the scattered glow of Grainer Falls.

When he emerged from the suburban brush, he knew just where to go, even though he wasn’t sure how he knew. So many things were different now and becoming more different every day and night. He roamed the streets like it was Halloween. He touched his cold face and thought it must be a mask.

He kept to the shadows, softly crawling through the dark spaces between the streetlamps and their fizzing pink light, like a raspberry in champagne. He caught a smell in the air and suddenly turned his head toward a white house with a high window that glowed golden yellow. He moved closer, undid the gate, and moved up the walk. At first, he stood on the porch at the front door. He could hear a man and woman talking inside. He lifted his fist, but just before he was about to strike the door with his white knuckles, he quickly withdrew it. He came off the porch, stepped back out into the yard, and looked up at the high window again. He saw a shadow move against a wall.

“Veronica,” he mumbled to himself in a strange voice that was not the voice he remembered having. He mumbled again. “Veronica.” He floated up and brought himself down on a lower pitch of shingled roof just below the window. He carefully peered in through the glass. She was standing in front of a full-length mirror and looking herself over. She placed her hands on her chest and shook her head in disappointment with her body. Veronica moved away from the mirror and sat down at a desk and opened a laptop computer. Her face was quickly bathed in the light of burning technological fuel. A moment later, her young heart jumped, and her head quickly snapped around when there came a light knocking on her bedroom window.


You can read the previous part of this story HERE.

The Revenant Tender

The hiss of summer lawns is gone.

Heartbeats stumble among the missing.

The Tulsa streets dry as bone and marbles.

And Mother Mary the Vicious is drinking alone.

On a stool of torn red vinyl in a yellow brick bar with one glass and silver door smudged with human residue.

She’s tipping back buckets of wine and regretting the stings of a new world religion. She turns her partially veiled head toward a cacophony of dart playing and loud, boastful inebriation. Mother Mary the Vicious looks up to the Tender and nods her head and asks in a whisper, “Do they always make so much damn noise?”

The Tender is mopping the guts of a glass with a white towel. “What’s it to you, God chick?”

“I’m trying to commune with the heavens and they’re disturbing me.” Mother Mary the Vicious turns back to look at the rowdy rebels. “I would think they would have better things to do on a Sunday afternoon.”

The Tender, that being the tender of the bar, looked at her and snorted a scoff. “Who the hell are you to talk. You’re in here drinking buckets of wine. Big buckets, too. So big you gotta use two holy hands. Just let ’em be. They’re just having a little fun on their one day of rest.”

“They should be at the church… Volunteering and such. The lawn could use a good mowing. Christ on the cross needs his nailed feet polished as well.”

“Piss off!” the Tender snapped. “You’re nothing but a hypocritical revenant come haunting my bar again.”

Mother Mary the Vicious took offense. “I’m very much alive.”

“Are ya now?”

“Absolutely… Bring me another bucket to celebrate my own breathing days.”

The Tender turned in a huff and went off to find another gallon of wine down in the hidden back and out and around of a stuffy stone cellar.

Mother Mary the Vicious got off her stool and went to where the hooligans were. They quieted down when they saw her coming their way. Their eyes followed her.

“I’m surprised you could walk all that way in a straight line,” the big one with the dark green shirt said as he clutched a handful of darts. He had a large head, shaved by stone, and a once broken nose on his street-tough looking face. “Ya didn’t fall down a bit, sister.” They all laughed out loud at her.

She made a motion with her hands. “Give me them darts. I want to play.”

They all laughed at her again.

“Jesus, sister,” the same one said. “I don’t think you could hit the side of a house in your condition.” They roared with laughter again.

Mother Mary the Vicious grew impatient. “Stop mouthing off and just give me the darts.”

The rough one shrugged, stepped forward and handed her the darts. “Here ya go, sister. Don’t poke your eyes out.”

She smiled and grimaced at the same time. “Just clear me a path to the dart board.”

The hooligans stepped aside as she stepped up to the line. She squinted at the board. She raised one dart and moved it back and forth in the air as she set up her shot. She threw it and it stuck in the hole-strewn wall inches away from the board. They clapped, whistled and laughed. “Good one, sister!” a short skinny one who looked far too young to be in a bar shouted. Then he pointed. “The board’s over there!” More rowdy laughter.

“I’m just warming up,” Mother Mary the Vicious sneered in the smoky, dense beer-scented air. Then she lined up another dart, threw it, and once again, it pierced the plaster inches to the side of the board.

“I don’t think you’re warm enough yet!” the young one said, and as he hoisted a mug of ale to his mouth, another dart whizzed through the air and hit him directly in the eye. The mug fell to the floor in a splash and a crash. The young one wailed, clutched his aching, bloodied socket, and fell to his knees.

“Ya blinded him, ya fucking bitch!” the rough one yelled out, and he came at her as the others surrounded their wounded companion. He grabbed her by the throat and walked her back with force until she was pinned against a far wall. Framed photos of olden days rattled. His hands clamped down on her neck. Mother Mary the Vicious was about to drop down into blackness when a gun shot went off.

The Tender stood in the room holding a smoking Spanish pistola aimed at the ceiling. “The next one’s going straight in your thick head Bruno boy if you don’t let the sister go right now.”

Bruno looked at him, his face wet with sweat and anger. Then he turned back to Mother Mary the Vicious. “You’re lucky this time, sister,” he sneered. He released his hands and stepped away from her.

The Tender nodded at Bruno with his head. “Now gather your injured boy and get him out of here. You tell them doctors it was all an accident. There was no vicious intent here by the sister, or anyone. You got that?”

Bruno looked at his companions as they got the whimpering young one to his feet. “Let’s go,” he said. And they all made their way to the door and out to the street and disappeared into the Sunday golden mist.

The Tender went to Mother Mary the Vicious. He studied her. “Are ya all right?” he asked with a strange degree of concern.

“Yes. I think so. Thank you for helping me. I thought you found me distasteful.”

“Not really.” The Tender leaned back and watched her swirling eyes watch him. “But this has nothing to do with love, sister. I was merely protecting my property. Don’t get any funny ideas now.”

She laughed softly and with a sense of slight disappointment. “I didn’t say a word about love.”

“You didn’t have to. I saw it in your eyes. I can taste it in the room.”

Mother Mary the Vicious snickered with embarrassment. “You don’t have to worry about me loving you like that… I prefer the company of women.”

The Tender raised his eyebrows in blown away wonder. “You enjoy going down under with the ladies, do ya?”

She nodded her head in an absolute. “That’s why I like wine so much. It pairs well with the taste.”

“Don’t the gods in the heavens have a problem with that?” the Tender asked, looking up through the ceiling of the bar.

“Not my gods,” she answered, and then a shadowy figure appeared in the doorway, and the woman was partially backlit by the Sunday sun. “I have to go now,” Mother Mary the Vicious announced. “It’s time for our Sunday drive to the edge of town. To the edge of good and bad and everything else in between.” She looked around at the memories she forever scarred the bar with. “I trust you will clean up the blood I spilled and put any charges on my tab. The church’s tab?”

The Tender traced everything she had just looked at with his own eyes. “No charge today, sister. And I’ve got plenty of towels for the blood. You just go and love like thunder and then some. It’s all this world’s got left.”

Wow. That’s exciting.

If you read my previous post What the Hell Are You Thinking? you will know that I was trying to get rid of an old TV. Well, I’m happy to report – I did it! Wow. That’s exciting.

I decided to go to our local Goodwill to see if they would take it. The store has a donation center attached to it. I was worried the attendant might come over and start yelling at me about dropping off a television. But when I pulled up, there really was no attendant. Well, there was, but he was hiding inside the closed doors like a little forest gnome. He took one quick glance at me and turned away.

I quickly got out of the car and opened the trunk. Outside the donation center they have bins lined up against a wall that people can put their stuff in. I noticed a couple of computer monitors sitting among the rubble and thought, “A TV is sort of like a computer monitor,” and so I lifted the TV out of the trunk and set it down in one of the bins. Then I took off as if I had just robbed a bank.

I looked back to see if anyone was chasing me, but there was no one. Of course, there was no one, but I still breathed a sigh of relief. It used to be back in the days that a clerk would come out, look over your prospective donations and even help you get them out of the car. I guess that service has fallen to the wayside. They used to also give you a receipt for your donations for tax purposes. Now, they have a silver pole standing up outside with a little basket or something attached to it with blank receipts you fill out yourself. Oh well. In this particular case, no service was good service.

When I pulled back out onto the main street, I suddenly struggled in my mind with what else had I planned to do. I tried to remember, and then did remember that I was going to visit a couple of scrap metal and recycling places to see if they would take the TV. But now I didn’t have to! My mind had been so preoccupied with failure and the need for a backup plan that I had forgotten that I needed to go to Walgreens. Wow. That’s exciting.

Our town has one Walgreens, one CVS, one standard grocery store (which sucks). We have no Starbucks, but for some reason we have a plethora of automatic car washes, two O’Reilly Auto Parts stores, and about 57 Dollar Generals, all of which look as if a tornado had just torn through it because they somehow have only one clerk employed per store, and they are always on the cash register dealing with dipshits.

Anyways, I went to Walgreens to pick up a new prescription. I had printed out one of those online coupons that the drug companies offer to people because the cost of most new drugs is astronomical. I got to my turn in line and the woman there took the coupon and was looking stuff up and then told me to sit down and wait because they had to look into how to bill my order correctly. I just love how so many of our health care procedures, choices and decisions are controlled by insurance companies in America. It’s sad, really, but then again – Profit over People. That’s the name of the game.

I waited around for about 10 minutes. I had a scratchy throat and was coughing somewhat uncontrollably and went to go buy a drink when they called out my name. I turned around and went back and got my prescription. I went and grabbed a shopping trolley and picked up some things we needed back at the house – bathroom tissue, paper towels, a jug of purified drinking water and a pack of Jujyfruits candy. They stick in your teeth, but they are good.

After I paid utilizing my Walgreens rewards discount, I left the store. Luckily, the coughing had subsided some and I tore into the box of Jujyfruits and ate some. When I got to my car, I checked my prescription package. I was shocked, but then I wasn’t, to see that the original price of the prescription was $1,167.99… That’s for a one-month supply. I just shook my head and said a bad word. If that ain’t crooked, I don’t know what is. Because of the manufacturer’s coupon, aka discount card, I got my 30-day supply for $25.

After all that, I drove home.

Wow. That’s exciting.

What the hell are you thinking!?

I need to get rid of an old TV.

While scouring the internet to try and find a place to recycle an old TV, I’m discovering there are not a lot of options – at least where I live. What do you do when something once shiny and brand new is nothing but something old and used? But that’s how it is with everything in this world. Cars, clothes, houses, appliances, toys, carpet, buildings … people. Used up and tossed out to make room for the new breed.

The computer I am using to type this on is an HP all-in-one desktop that’s about 10 years old. I have been mulling over in my head the purchase of a new one. But why? This one still works. But the lure of something shiny and new is there. The world makes it so, I guess. We are trained well.

And then there’s the world itself, now cycling through to another season. My favorite of them all – autumn. We’ve been sleeping with the windows open the last few nights – haven’t been able to do that in months. Our summer in the mid-state wasn’t as brutal as past summers have been, but it was brutal enough. July was the worst. On many days we topped out with a heat index of well over 100. I hate summer. It’s too hot. I don’t like the choking and sweltering blaze of the day suffocating my soul.

But now that it’s autumn, I can breathe again. The air has that crispness, like chilled apple cider in a blustery orchard. When I was a kid, they called it Indian Summer. I don’t know if that’s a politically correct term anymore because I don’t ever hear anyone say that. But it makes sense. And the Native Americans’ take on summer is better than regular summer.

I’ve never been a beach person. I’ve never enjoyed running around in the sand like David Hasselhoff. I like to look at the ocean, but I don’t want to hang out at the beach all day. I’m not a swimmer. I’m more of a close to drowning type person. Summer just isn’t me. My wife feels the same way about the seasons. Maybe that’s why we gel so well.

The days have been beautiful here. The nights have been cool, and the sky has been full of stars. I often step out onto our front porch just to look at them. Even though I can hear the distant hum of the interstate that runs near us unseen, there’s not a lot of light pollution where we are and so the stars and planets and other spinning objects are very bright and clear. I like to search for UFOs. On some days I wish one would come down and just take me away from this messed up world.

Speaking of UFOs – I used to live in New Mexico in the desert. Talk about clear skies and astronomic visuals. There were times sitting out there that I could count meteorite after meteorite streaking by overhead. One night I saw 11. I miss it there, but then I don’t. It was a different time and a different place, and I was a different me. I’m better now, I hope. I’m definitely more settled. Where the desert night used to give me a peace, now it’s my wife and our beautiful simple life together that does that. Ten years ago, I never thought I’d be where I am now. Our personal seasons change. They stretch, twirl, bend, settle.

It’s October tomorrow. That’s a good month. Hopefully, I’ll be rid of this television set and life can go on.

The Shakes (Excerpt 4)

From Chapter Three

Momma and Eddie said goodbye to Magnolia and me in the driveway at the home of the Beasleys. I’m going to call them the Beasleys, like my daddy did, because they didn’t really seem like regular grandparents to me. I thought mom and Eddie would maybe at least stay for lunch, but they didn’t. He kept whining about having to get back to Chicago and I don’t think he liked the way old man Beasley was looking him over and being judgmental. I think deep down Eddie was a bit of a coward himself, but he just acted like he knew everything. I was glad to see him go but wished my mom would have just decided to stay and forget about him. But she didn’t. I wondered as they drove off if I’d ever see her again. I just got that feeling, that feeling of a forever goodbye, but unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Living at the home of the Beasleys was kind of like living at military camp. At least that’s how it felt to me even though I’d never been to military camp. Old man Beasley was especially picky about his library, that’s what he called it. The room kind of formed a corner of the house on the front and doors with little squares of glass opened into it from the den. It had a big wooden desk in there covered with papers and books and there were lots of shelves with more books and plants and framed pictures.

Up on one of the walls he displayed the front page of the newspaper when it was announced that he would be the new editor of the Blue Shore Gazette. I looked at it under the protective glass of a boastful frame and the article included a picture of old man Beasley smiling like I had never seen him smile and he was shaking another man’s hand. In the background of the photo, they had gathered the staff to be in the picture as well and they all looked sad and scared. I guess I could understand that.

He also had some pretty nice maps up on the wall all about the Great Lakes that I liked looking at. I could only look at them when he was around though, otherwise I wasn’t allowed to go in there. That kind of made me sad because it was a nice room with big windows that looked out onto the front yard and then the street. It was a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood almost in the country on the edge of town and I kind of liked that. There weren’t ever many cars that came by. People walked their dogs occasionally. I saw kids once in a while, too, but I don’t know where they came from. The houses were kind of far apart, but not like miles apart.

I would have liked to sit in that room by myself, behind the big desk, and just think about things because that’s one of my favorite things to do. But old man Beasley wouldn’t let me sit at the desk and think about things. He was always good at stifling a wandering imagination. There was a smaller chair against one of the walls and that’s where we had to sit, mostly when he was giving me or my sister a talking to about something we did wrong. It was like a boss towering over a shoddy employee.

 He did let me spin the big globe of the Earth he had in there, but never too fast. I’d set it in motion and then I’d stop it with my finger and wherever it landed that’s where I was going to live someday. A lot of times it turned out I was destined to end up in the middle of the ocean. “Well, what did you expect?” he would say. “Don’t you know that 70 percent of the Earth is covered by oceans?” Then he’d wag a big finger at me and say, “You’re wasting your time with such foolish dreams.”

When we first moved in, old man Beasley gave me and Nola a tour of the house which was kind of stupid because we’d been there before. It was more of instructions on what we could do and what we couldn’t do and what we could touch and what we couldn’t touch. As you can probably guess, there was a lot more couldn’t than could.

When we got to his library, he bragged about how it was a momentous collection of his life’s work and all his accomplishments and that he did a lot of important thinking in that room that impacted a lot of people’s lives. It’s also where he kept his books and magazines about gardening because now that he was retired, he was really into studying about growing his own vegetables and flowers in the back yard. He said a man should never become idle and lazy even when he retires, and he looked straight at me and made a gesture with his bushy white eyebrows as if he was saying: “Don’t be like your daddy was.”

I guess I had it better than Magnolia as far as rooms went because I got put in the basement all by myself. It wasn’t a horrible basement like some could be. With the way the Beasleys were, everything was neat and tidy, and it was mostly like a regular part of the house, maybe just a little darker since there weren’t a lot of windows down there and they were small. Mine was a room that they had set up for guests that rarely ever came. It had a decent bed and some furniture and a desk with a lamp where I could sit and write things down in my notebooks like I do. I did a lot of reading too.

There was a bathroom right across the hall and a room to do the laundry right next to that. There was another room lady Beasley used as sort of a pantry for extra canned goods and food and storing things. The main part of the downstairs was one big room lady Beasley used as her art studio and for sewing and crafts she sometimes did. There were a lot of paintings lying around, mostly of people and flowers and bowls of fruit, and countless tubes of paint and brushes and rags and sketches on paper tacked to the walls. One time I asked her if I could try painting because I thought it might be something I’d be interested in doing because I’m creative. She looked at me like I was stupid and just said, “I’ll think about it,” but I don’t think she ever did because she never let me paint anything.

The best part of being in the basement was that I could go up the steps and then there was a door right there at the top that went out into the back yard. I started slipping out at night after the Beasleys went to bed which was usually before 10. I just had to be quiet. I found a little can of household oil in the garage and oiled up all the hinges on the doors I used because they would whine horribly. More often than not, I’d steal one or two of lady Beasley’s cigarettes and some matches from where she kept them by her sitting chair in the den or from the cabinet by the dining room table. I don’t think she ever noticed because she smoked a lot and probably didn’t really keep close track. She bought them by the carton. I’d walk down into the back yard to the edge of the woods and smoke them while I looked up at the stars and try to communicate with the universe. I worried about what the Beasleys would have done to me if they ever caught me. I was always looking back over my shoulder imagining Grandpa Roman trudging toward me with a flashlight in his hand and yelling. That took some of the enjoyment out of it.

I was also worried lady Beasley might smell it on my clothes when she did the laundry but then I figured she was probably so soaked in it herself she wouldn’t even notice. If she ever did say something about it to me, I planned to just answer back, “No grandma, not me. Can’t you tell the whole house smells that way?” And it did which was kind of funny to me since she was so fussy about everything. She kept windows open a lot when it wasn’t too cold. Old man Beasley didn’t care nothing about it because he puffed a tobacco pipe, and it made him look like Popeye covered in snow because of his white hair.

Magnolia was confined on the main floor of the house where the bedrooms were clustered together in a hallway on one end. Her room was in the corner, next to the old man’s and right across from lady Beasley. The Beasleys didn’t sleep together in the same room anymore because lady Beasley had the shaky legs. I heard once through the family grapevine that old man Beasley threatened to crack her legs in two if she didn’t quit all that jittering around. I believe it. I can see him cracking somebody’s legs in two, clear as day. Honestly, I think it was more than just lady Beasley’s shaky legs. I think they just didn’t like each other anymore. I never once saw them act like they were in love. Never. They snapped at each other a lot though. I also noticed they spent a lot of time just off by themselves. Seems the only time they were together was at the supper table or when they were sitting in the den watching the TV or reading, and even then, they didn’t really talk much.

So, poor Magnolia was stuck between them two and she said she was scared half-to-death about breathing too loud or if she had to get up and go to the bathroom. One time she couldn’t hold it anymore and she did get up and she snuck down the hall to where the bathroom was and went inside and closed the door real slow because it made a noise. Well, after she was done and flushed and washed her hands, she opened the door and there was old man Beasley standing there with his big arms crossed in front of his big chest, and he beamed down at her and wanted to know why she was disturbing the whole house in the middle of the night.

She told him she had to go to the bathroom, and he told her that she was supposed to make sure she used the bathroom right before bed so she wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and wake everyone else up. Magnolia told me she said she was sorry to him, but he grabbed her by the arm and kind of dragged her down the hall to her room and flung her inside. He told her to stay in bed and go to sleep, then he went away. It scared her bad she told me. A kid shouldn’t be scared about having to go to the bathroom.

The Shakes (Excerpt 3)

blue and red freight truck on road
Photo by Markus Spiske on

From Chapter Two

My name is Magnolia Shakes, and I was born on July 28, 1970. Exactly eight years later my daddy died in an act of self-killing out on the interstate near where we lived. I don’t know why he picked my birthday to do what he did. People tried to tell me he wasn’t feeling right and didn’t pick that day on purpose. I knew better because he left me a present that I found after. It was a doll inside a box that you could see through. She had blonde hair and wore a pink dress with yellow dots on it. I never did open it and just sat her on a shelf in my room and I would look at her once in a while. I wanted to play with her, but I just couldn’t. He had a little note with it too that just said: Happy Birthday always, my Magnolia. Love, Daddy. On all my birthdays after that, I made myself believe he picked it so I would never forget and always remember him, but not in a bad way. Thinking otherwise would have crushed me to dust.

The accident was awful, and they had to shut down the highway and reroute people through town. There was a story about it in the newspaper the next day, but momma wouldn’t let me look at it. She folded it up and hid it away somewhere. I found it later and my brother clipped it to keep. They had to take the driver of the truck to the hospital and sedate him because he was so traumatized. There were about half a dozen cars that wrecked, too. No one else was killed but I think some people had some bad gashes and broken bones. The highway patrolmen that came to the house warned us not to go down there. Later, if we had to go on the highway, I would close my eyes at that particular stretch and try not to think about it, to push it away. It wore me out, in almost anything I did, having to do all that pushing of bad memories away. They just kept coming back, like I was constantly building a dam and it just kept breaking.

My mother’s name was Helen Shakes and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She had long, bouncy blonde hair that she loved tossing around with her hands. Her eyes were a smooth green with a dot of sparkle that looked like the Emerald City from that Wizard of Oz movie. I thought she looked like a real-life princess, but other people said she was a little rough around the edges in both looks and actions. I don’t think she was, not until what happened to daddy. She kind of just let herself go after that. She started to drink more than usual, too. She was never mean to me, just a bit neglectful at times, especially when that Eddie Dallas started coming around more and more. My older brother Dylan and I didn’t like him at all. I thought he was arrogant and rude and disrespectful to our mother. I don’t know what she saw in him. He was a small, red-headed man with a smooth and youthful face dotted with freckles. If you didn’t know the real Eddie Dallas you would have thought he was a sweet, nice guy just by looking at him. But he wasn’t. He had a mean streak running through him all the way. I don’t know how my momma could feel any comfort looking into those demon eyes or being held in those scrawny arms. She acted like she did. But I knew better. It was sort of like I could see her insides, past her skin and into her soul, and what was on the inside was different than what was on the outside. I’ve always been able to do that, with most anybody. The only one I really couldn’t do it with was Dylan, and I think that was because he could do it too.

The Shakes (Excerpt 2)

From Chapter One

One day Eddie and my mom sat me and my sister down in the living room after supper to tell us something important. Eddie said he had gotten a promotion and that he was being sent to work in Chicago. I didn’t know why the hell anyone would want to promote Eddie, but they did. At first, I was fine with it because I thought it meant he wouldn’t be around much anymore. But then my mom said she was going to go with him and help him settle in and things like that, but that it was just going to be a small apartment so my sister and I would have to go live with our grandparents, “them damn Beasleys” as my daddy called them, up in the Badger Sate, that’s Wisconsin, for a while.

Eddie went on and on about how it would be best for everyone while he makes his way at the new job and makes a good impression. He didn’t need too many distractions. Then he talked about how the big city was no place for us kids and that we would come later when they were officially married and had a house set up in the suburbs and then my mom stuck out her hand and wiggled her fingers in the air and there was a new ring on it. It wasn’t the ring my daddy gave her. She probably threw that one away. They said we were going to be a new, happy family. They acted like they were excited, and they wanted my sister and I to be excited, but I wasn’t very excited, but then why would I be?

In the summer of 1979, Eddie helped momma sell the house and he got it packed up. He sent most off to a storage place in Illinois. A lot of it was stuff that belonged to my sister and me. A lot of it belonged to my daddy, too, and that made me mad as hell. Magnolia and I were only allowed to take a few things with promises that everything would be back to normal once we were all reunited in Chicago. I didn’t believe Eddie and part of me was hoping he was making it all up anyway.

My Grandma Mavis and my Grandpa Roman were my mom’s parents. I think she kept them disappointed much of her life. They never really liked my daddy too much either. They thought he wasn’t motivated enough and wasn’t giving us a good enough life. I don’t think it affected them too much when he died even though they acted like it did.

They lived in a nice house near Lake Michigan in a small town called Blue Shore and it was full of blue people and cold people but there were streaks of sunlight, too. And it was the sort of light that made your guts jump a bit with lonely happiness if that makes any sense. It was the sort of light that made its way through the trees and filtered through the autumn leaves set to fall and it cast color like loaded dice. It was September light, October light, and it would come in on an angle through the trees like I said, and it would hit against a neighborhood of neat little houses of white and yellow and pink and sweet ocean blue all lined up in Americana serenity and the echoes of life there called down to the fallen bodies of yesteryear in triplicate. I had been to Blue Shore a few times or so, Nola some too, and I liked it. I would have liked it more if the adults around me had just left me alone.

Them damn Beasleys would come and visit us in Arkansas once in a while, but they didn’t like the heat or the food or our living conditions. Not that they were terrible, just not up to their standards. Grandma Mavis would spend most of the time trying to clean and organize our house and Grandpa Roman would get to lecturing my daddy at the kitchen table on how to be a better man. My daddy would just nod his head up and down and say real seriously “I know, sir. I know.” I say daddy did the best he could. He worked odd jobs. Mostly construction and electrical and fixing things and we always had something to eat and had the lights on. I never understood what was so bad about that. There were a lot of other men in the world who did a whole lot worse.

My Grandpa Roman was an overly stern man, and he was pushy, too. He worked at the newspaper in Blue Shore for more than half his life. Worked himself up all the way to editor. He was opinionated and he was always pressing people to be better than what he thought they were, but not in a good way. He was arrogant and critical. He didn’t like laziness or mistakes. He didn’t like unruly kids either, and so he’d get on my momma for that if Magnolia and I made too much noise or ran around too much. He’d tell her that we weren’t disciplined enough because we were acting like animals and that we’d end up just like my daddy if she didn’t lay down the law. I thought he was a mean and heartless man, and I don’t see why he seemed to be so proud of that fact.

Grandma Mavis kind of followed in his ways. She was a fussy lady. Their house was clean and neat, and it looked like no one even lived there, like it was always up for sale or something. Grandma Mavis always kept herself polished, too. Seemed like she even dressed up to clean the house. The only time I ever saw her in something else was when she was riding the mower around in the yard cutting the lawn. She steered that thing with authority and in straight lines. I wanted to ride on it one time, but she wouldn’t let me.

She had worked for Lake County for a long time. She oversaw the running of the museum and historical places like that. She had something to do with the art center, too. I guess she was kind of important because she had to go to town meetings sometimes and talk. She could be a very pointed and serious woman at times, and I always thought she would have made a good guard at a jail.

I don’t think either one of them were ever very fun. Maybe at Christmas. That’s one time we would usually visit if the weather wasn’t too bad. There’d be other people there too, like uncles and aunts and cousins from different places. Some we hardly knew. We got a lot of presents, though. Nola and I would play outside with the cousins while the grownups stayed in the house drinking cocktails and gossiping loudly about family members that weren’t even there. Believe me, my daddy wasn’t much for cocktails and talking and so he’d usually end up coming outside to watch us run around. Grandpa Roman took it as an insult and thought daddy couldn’t stand on his own with the adults.

Grandma and Grandpa Beasley had about seven acres of land and where the yard ended in the back there was a wooded area with some walking paths worn into the earth and a trickle of a creek. The trees were thick in places. Magnolia liked to call it the “100-acre wood” like in Winnie-The-Pooh, but I don’t think it was a hundred acres, but maybe to her it felt like it. I guess it could have been.

One time after a Christmas lunch I was out there with my cousin Angela from Oshkosh, and we were just walking around hitting sticks against trees and not really talking much. Maybe some stuff about school. It was winter but the sun was shining, and it was even kind of warm and I had to unzip my coat.

She was a year older than me and just out of the blue she asked me if I had ever kissed anyone. I said no, which was true. She said she hadn’t either and wanted to know if we should try it with each other. She was pretty decent for a cousin, so I said yes. Then she kind of backed me up to a tree. She was a bit bigger than me, and I remember her face was really close to mine and she smelled like the bubblegum she just spit out. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure what to do. I just closed my eyes, held my breath, and waited. Then I felt what must have been her lips on me and it lasted for about 10 seconds and then she was done. Her mouth was soft and felt warm and cold at the same time. I think she lied about never doing it before because she seemed pretty well versed in it. I was suddenly worried I had to deal with a cousin for a girlfriend, and that I’d have to write letters or call her up on the phone every day. But it was stupid for me to worry because I never had to do any of that because she just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me like it was nothing special. We went back to walking around and she never said anything more about it or wanted to try kissing ever again. I was relieved and grateful.