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 Pexels.com

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.


The Shakes (Excerpt 1)

vehicle on road during sunset
Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

From Chapter One

Nobody really knows why my daddy did what he did. Some say it was a sickness of the heart. Others say it was a sickness of the mind. I think it was probably both. I was just a kid when it happened, so it probably didn’t matter what I thought, but it should have. Now he’s just a ghost.

I remember my momma screaming and crying like crazy when those men from the highway patrol came to the house and told us what happened. I thought her head was going to just up and explode the way she was carrying on. The patrolmen had to almost restrain her as they walked her to the couch to sit her down. Seemed my daddy had drove his truck a few miles down the road from where we lived to a wooded spot close to where the interstate runs through. As far as anyone of authority could tell, he just got out of the pickup, walked through the trees to the edge of the roadway, and just stepped out in front of a tractor-trailer going about 70 miles per hour. I think they said it was a chicken truck.

They said he probably didn’t suffer much because he most likely passed very quickly. Hell, I guess he would have, and I guess you could say he just disappeared from this world in the quickest blink of an eye there could ever be. The patrolmen tried to be decent and respectful about my daddy being killed. But how can you be decent and respectful about a man being run down by a chicken truck? The whole sad part for me was thinking about him all alone and in pieces out there on the road so I don’t believe them none when they said he didn’t suffer. I think that poor man suffered most of his life, and no one really stepped up to help him out or just listen to him, maybe not even once.

Just so you know, his name was John Shakes, but they called him Johnathon Shakes in his obituary in the local newspaper. I have it cut out and I stuck it in one of my reading books. They had a picture of him too, one where he was smiling and looking happy like he was saying to the world lastly this: “I had a good life.” I’m not too sure about that and I was around him all of mine, and even though I thought I knew him, he was still a mystery to me. I am his only son. My name is Dylan Shakes.

My momma liked the name so much she said I was going to be named Dylan no matter what, even if I came out a girl. Four years later they did have a girl, my little sister, Nola. Her birth name is Magnolia, but everyone calls her Nola. She was a good kid. She had that kind of messy blonde hair that always looked like she just got out of bed and her eyes were like big blue planets spinning in her head. She wasn’t a dirty or ugly kid or anything like that. People thought she was adorable, and some said she looked like a little Cinderella. Not the slaving away Cinderella, but the one all cleaned up and pretty looking. Most of the time she was quiet and acted sad, but she never did anyone wrong. She hardly ever made any trouble. After our daddy died, she curled up inside herself and kind of hid away there. I would have to go by her bedroom to get to mine and often the door would be open, and I would look inside without her knowing. Nola had a small round table in the middle with two little chairs and she would just be sitting there looking off into the sunlight streaming through the window like Heaven calling on her. I figured she was just thinking or praying or wishing for something. It weighed on my heart, but I just let her be. I think she had a lot of things going on in that little head that most people had no idea of. She wasn’t stupid, not one bit.

We lived in a small town west of the big river, about 50 miles from Memphis, but we weren’t in Tennessee, we were in a place called Arkansas. We had a decent old house that was green and white, two stories, trees in the yard, a covered front porch. My mom and daddy didn’t always get along too well and that’s why I was a bit confused when she carried on like she did when they brought the news of my daddy’s demise. I guess maybe people think they’ll never run out of time together and so they don’t talk much or appreciate each other like they maybe should. People spend too much time being angry and upset. Too much time spent on the fight and then people begin to drift apart. I think she loved him, maybe. But then, hell, sometimes it’s too late for love.

There was a funeral at a small white church on a hill overlooking a winding stream, and we had to dress up in fancy clothes my momma had to buy at the sad discount store that smelled like the past. They had to keep the casket closed because there was really nothing to look at. Everyone believed he was in there all sewed back together, but I knew better. I knew that they couldn’t do that, but a lot of people believe anything they’re told. They only have two eyes and they’re blind. I believe I may have three, and I know this because I’ve read about it, and I can feel it inside my head, opening and closing.

My momma put on a show with all her crying. It wasn’t crying like when she first got the news. It was more like crying to make people think she cared, but as time wore on, I got the feeling she really didn’t care that much, about a lot of things. Nola cried too, but it was real, and it hurt me inside. For some reason I didn’t cry. For some reason I held it in, I swallowed it. I nearly choked to death, but I kept it down. I figured my daddy wouldn’t have wanted me to cry because I was the man now.

A lot of folks came around the house after the gloomy funeral and brought us food and blessings and they hugged us. Some cried. Some didn’t. I think some folks might have been talking business or even quietly laughing about something completely different. It wasn’t their lives that had just been horribly shattered, so what the hell did they care.

At first momma seemed kind of broken, but it wasn’t but six months later that there was a new man sitting at our supper table eating our food and acting like he owned the place. His name was Eddie and he worked at one of the banks in town loaning people money and coming after them when they didn’t pay it back. I guess that’s how he met my momma. I guess he figured out a way to get her to pay something back.

I didn’t like him. He tried to talk to me like he was my daddy, but he wasn’t. No one else ever would be even if my old man checked out of life in a “coward’s way.” That’s what that god damn Eddie would say, even in front of me and my sister, and momma would just pretend like he didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. She changed, too. She didn’t spend as much time with me or Nola anymore. Momma and Eddie would be all up tight on each other on the couch watching movies in the dark and holding hands and kissing. She used to kiss my daddy, but not as much. Maybe having Eddie to cling to was just her way of not having to deal with reality.

He was meaner to Magnolia than he was me. She was just a little girl, but I was big for my age. My daddy used to say I was “country strong” and I guess I was. I was one of the toughest-looking kids in my class, but I wasn’t mean to people very much unless they made me mad. Anyways, I think Eddie was a little intimidated and didn’t push me around too much. He talked a lot, but I don’t think he’d do much in a fight if it came down to it. Maybe that’s why he liked to pick on my sister.

Nola liked to play with her dolls on the round rug in the living room while she watched the TV. When Eddie came over after work, he’d grab a can of beer from the refrigerator and sit in my daddy’s old chair and he’d just watch her. He’d ask her why she was wasting time playing with dolls instead of helping around the house. He didn’t like her dolls being scattered around in the living room and one evening he was in a bad mood and picked them all up and just threw them all over the place. Magnolia didn’t say anything. She just went and picked them up and went up to her bedroom. My momma poked her head in from the kitchen and told him to stop fussing with her. He told her he could do and say what he wanted to because he worked all day and paid for things and that she should just shut her mouth. I didn’t how my momma could have been okay with that.

It got to be Nola would get scared in the middle of the night and come into my room clutching a pillow and quietly crying because she missed our daddy, and now, she missed our momma too and didn’t want to be around Eddie. I’d let her stay in my room with me because believe it or not, I was scared and missed the way things used to be too and kind of needed her there. I wonder what my daddy would have thought of that. About being scared. I think he’d be okay with it. I’d let her fall asleep in the bed first and then I would. I never made her go back to her own room if she didn’t want to. I tried to be her protector as best I could because nobody else was really doing it.

I didn’t want Nola to be a messed-up kid so I tried to do my best to take care of her like my daddy would have. I was only 12, she was 8. Momma was too busy looking off into nothing and drinking her beer most mornings. She was always in a bad mood and yelling if we made too much noise.

I made sure Nola got up and had some sort of breakfast and I’d help her get ready for school. Most days we would ride the bus together because our schools were right next to each other. She was in the elementary and I was at the junior high. Some days Eddie would drive us on his way to work. We didn’t like those days. His car was dirty, and he smoked cigarettes. He would always try to be friends with us and try to be cool and funny, but I could see right through him. He was a phony for sure. I figured he was a stone-cold liar and cheat, too. I have a way with reading people and having a strong intuition about things. It’s something that has always come easy to me. It has something to do with that third eye I was talking about.

I didn’t have time for friends at school because I was always worried about things in real life and trying to take care of Magnolia. The other kids didn’t like me anyway because I had the “Crazy daddy who jumped in front of a chicken truck.” Kids could be cruel, and you have to wonder what the hell is wrong with their damn parents letting them voice such hateful things. I really didn’t care too much for school. I was the kid who sat by the windows and stared outside at the sky and the horizon below while the teacher was talking about some bullshit or another. That’s not the stuff I wanted to learn. I wanted to know about how to not get so damn hurt in this crazy world. They never teach you about reality, but they should.


The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 6)

Sitting in the dry dirt above the desert floor, with legs crossed, the founder of the Church of Everlasting Super Freshness and self-proclaimed living patron saint of Albuquerque, was looking down upon Giza, New Mexico sprawled out there like a neon hothouse whore. It was a Buddha belly bowl of steaming and colorful madness, a space wizard-centric place in the broken heart of the arid Southwest unlike any ordinary civilization had ever known. And here high up and over it was like he was home in Hip Heaven, and he was some beat-up angel spreading his tattered wings and seeding the place with wishes and delicious desires for The Duke City, a ministry in fact.

For now, he was the holy man on a mission to spread the gospel of Albuquerque and all the sacred intricacies woven throughout. He had devolved himself to the man and byline simply known as Chuck Placitas and took employment at the Giza Revealer as a government reporter. For it was as he desired — to work among ordinary men in order to create an extraordinary place in paradise, to spread the word of New Albuquerque, to attain the pinnacle of hipness. For as Reverend Chuck says: “To be without hipness, is to be without a soul.”

Reverend Chuck Placitas lived in a baby blue Astro love van down by the Pinto River that ran through the salty desert flats on the edges of Giza. He bathed in the silty, brown waters there. When not wandering about town, he kept the van parked on a flat plot of hard soil as near to the shore of the gentle waters as he could without it sinking. His camp was deep out of sight, mostly shrouded by salt cedar brush and low bluffs of red earth. The area was desolate and solitary except for the occasional hiker or two wandering through on a trail several hundred yards away. The camp was comfortable enough for him and he did not want for much. He had a place to sleep, utensils to cook with and eat with. He had things to read and paper to write on. It was overall a peaceful place for him, a place to meditate in front of a night fire as coyotes prowled nearby. The sky there was expansive and bustling with bright stars smeared across the pitch of space at night as the aliens rode on their ships. During the day, the sun was a hot eye from hell weighing down on him. But mostly he was at work during these times, or inside the van with a portable fan blowing on him as he read colorful brochures, travel guides, and historical anecdotes about Albuquerque and its surrounding environs. He was beginning to take a great liking to places like Rio Rancho and Bosque Farms.

He enjoyed bathing in the river. He enjoyed being naked in the wild. He would wash his thinning and wispy hair and his large, unfit, pear-shaped body with cheap shampoo and soap from the Buddha-Mart in town, some 10 miles away by highway. He would also wash the few clothes he had in the river. There he would stand in the middle of the Pinto, at a shallow part, nude, pale and bulbous, scrubbing at his laundry with environmentally considerate detergent, then dunking it down in the waters to rinse. The clothes dried quickly in the desert heat on a wash line he suspended between the van and a thick branch amongst the brush.

On his weekends, he would often use the time to drive the baby blue Astro love van north to Albuquerque, a three-hour trip, to recharge and “refresh” at the small apartment above a garage he rented in the Nob Hill neighborhood.

He was a part-time musician as well as a hip prophet and played bass guitar in a poppy rock band called Albuquerque Motion. The band was mostly unpopular, and the gigs were becoming fewer and far between. Other members were often flighty and unreliable, and Reverend Chuck questioned their allegiances to Albuquerque. He often thought about striking out on his own and being a solo artist.

He enjoyed going down to his favorite pub around the corner, The Regal Raven, and having a few brews with his bros and sometimes performing a song or two for the crowd before returning to the apartment to strum on his bass some more and to write lyrics to songs that he was eager to try out the next time he was at the pub — songs like “Smells Like South Valley” or “Bernalillo Babes.”

His weekends faded fast and before dawn on Mondays, he would get back into his van and once again drive 200 miles back to Giza for his job at the paper and the work of his ministry.

People often questioned Chuck Placitas on why he didn’t just reside in Albuquerque all the time. “If you love it so much, why don’t you just live there?” they would ask.

Reverend Chuck would gently smile, his eyes sort of hypnotically spinning in his weird head, and he had a way of speaking where he would often begin a sentence with “Well, uh,” before he got into the true matter of what he wanted to say. So, his answer to those questioning his choice of where he lived was always “Well, uh, does one preach of the glory of Heaven solely from within the confines of Heaven?”


The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 5)

Gary Glasscack boasted that he had the largest collection of pornography in all of Giza, New Mexico. He bragged about it any chance he could. He especially liked to bring it up in conversation with young female interns at the Giza Revealer newspaper where he worked. He always found a way to slip it into casual conversation in the breakroom while unwrapping the sandwich his wife had put together for him every morning.

Gary feigned a hopeless sigh as Lyla VanFly from Bend, Oregon sat at one of the plastic tables sipping a soda and nibbling on slices of cheese like a mouse as she stared into her phone.

“Ham and Swiss on rye, again,” he said, looking down at it, shaking his head. He snuck a glance at her. “That woman loves to fill me with rye bread. Does anyone even eat rye bread anymore?”

Gary waited for a reaction.

She eventually looked up at him, adjusted her glasses, crinkled her nose, and brushed her straight brown hair away from her eyes.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Rye bread. My wife keeps feeding me rye bread. Do you like rye bread?”

“I don’t think I ever had it. I’m not much of a bread eater. Carbs are the devil, you know.”

Gary sat down at the table with her and dropped his sandwich in disgust.

“Am I really supposed to eat that?” he asked, palms out and pointing with the tips of his fingers.

She looked over, annoyed that he was invading her personal space. His hands looked weird. They were thin, and bony, and old, too old for the rest of him. “Why don’t you just tell her you don’t like rye bread?”

“I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” He chuckled. “But then again, I do.”

“I guess you could just throw it out and go get something else, right?”

“I suppose I could, but that would be wasteful. I couldn’t live with that kind of guilt.”

He stared deeply into her freckled and somewhat damaged-by-life-at-a young-age face.

“I’m Gary Glasscack by the way, advertising copy writer and business promotion guru. Welcome to our little newspaper. How do you like it so far?”

His name. She was weirded out but smiled politely. “Nice to meet you. I’m Lyla. Lyla VanFly. It’s good so far. Just trying to find my way around.”

“Well, if there is anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been around for quite some time now. Just ask Gary, and I’ll be able to help you out. With anything.” He winked at her. “And it’s German.”

“Excuse me?”

“You gave me a look when I told you my name. It’s a German name.”

“Thanks for the clarification.”

Gary sighed again. “Well, I guess I should go ahead and eat this. You don’t mind if I sit here with you, do you?”

She did mind, but she didn’t want to come across as rude or spoiled or uptight. Thunder clambered outside.

Gary’s head oddly swirled around like a cat’s following a bird with its eyes. “Sounds like a storm is brewing.”

“I didn’t think it rained much in the desert,” she said.

Gary took a bite of his ham and Swiss on rye and nodded his head.

“That’s a popular misconception, but you would be surprised at what goes on around here,” he said with food mashing in his mouth.

Gary took another bite and as he loudly chomped on the sandwich like an animal he stared at Lyla VanFly longingly.

“Just between you and me,” he leaned in, looking around and almost whispering. “I have one of the biggest collections of pornography in all of Giza.”

He took another bite of his sandwich and winked at her again.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” Lyla stammered, suddenly becoming extremely uncomfortable, yet strangely intrigued, for Lyla VanFly was a girl of the world and was totally on board with new, absurd, and experimental experiences.

“Do you have something against pornography?” Gary asked. “I assure you it is very tasteful.”

“Why are you telling me this? Or rather, do you really think it’s okay to be telling me this? I barely know you.”

Gary picked up a potato chip and pushed it into his mouth. He took a sip of diet soda, being that he was a pervert who cared about not getting too overly loaded with sugar.

“Giza can be a lonely place. I’m just saying that a young woman such as yourself may need a sexual outlet at some point.”

Lyla leaned back in her chair, somewhat shocked. “I really don’t think that is any of your business — or at all appropriate for the workplace.” But deep down inside, she kind of liked the inappropriateness.

Gary smiled, oblivious to his behavior.

“You’re not in Oregon anymore, dear. What was it? Bend Over? This is the middle of nowhere. It’s a forgotten place. Heck, you could even say it’s a place that doesn’t even really exist.”

“It’s real as any other place in the world. And it’s Bend, not Bend Over.”

Gary exhaled and wrapped up the remaining ham and Swiss on rye in its wax paper.

“Look, all I am saying is, if you would like to come over one night, maybe have dinner with the wife and I and I could show you a few things. I’m not going to hurt you if that’s what you think.”

“What kind of things?”

“Just some pictures. Maybe we could watch a movie together.”

“And what would your wife think of that?”

Gary scoffed at that remark.

“My wife and I have an understanding.” He leaned in closer to her again. “In fact, we haven’t had any sexual relations in several years. She finds it off putting.”

Disgusted, Lyla started to get up, but Gary reached out and took a hold of her wrist.

Lyla jerked away. “What are you doing? This is not okay. None of what you are saying to me is okay.”

But then again, somehow it was. For Lyla was a deviant and mysterious free spirit hiding in the shadows, a curious young woman who rebelled against normalcy. She ached to be cool, different, and even weird. And she presently found herself in a very weird situation.

Gary sensed her low tolerance for male piggishness and got nervous.

“I’m sorry. Forgive me. I just wanted to be friends. I was just trying to be friendly. Welcoming, you know? Like I said, Giza can be a lonely, debilitating place.”

“I would appreciate it if you would just keep your distance,” Lyla said with authority. “I wouldn’t want any of this to affect either one of our jobs.”

Thunder banged outside, lights flickered, and Lyla VanFly left the break room and went to her desk in the cackling and bustling newsroom to work on an article about killer bees for the next day’s edition.


The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 4)

Giza, New Mexico, population 53,219, sat in a narrow stretch of hot land running from the prosperous north to the downtrodden south. To the west, desolate hills rose up and up through picturesque valleys eventually leading to a mountainous region and beyond, then diving into expansive bombing ranges of evil and hot desert land and to places called Alamo City and Las Corsica and eventually the state of Ari-zoned-out. To the east, red crumbling cliffs lurched above bottomless pools and formed a desolate plateau that carried on past the nearly indecipherable Texas border toward places like Yellow Plateau with its wretched Dairy Dew drive-in full of bugs and human piss; Amberfield, home of the ugliest woman ever seen; and onto hot, brown and alphabetical Lupland — an open-face hot beef sandwich thrown into the dirt.

Giza’s cliché Main Street, a mostly straight line, dissected the city directly down the middle, from north to south, like cranial sutures deeply sewn into a burrito-shaped skull of desert-bleached bone. Paramount Avenue ran from the west to east — or east to west depending on what end of town you were coming in at or leaving from — and dissected the city perpendicular to Main, crossing through it in downtown. Beyond the confines of the city proper, on the outskirts, there was the farmland, arroyos, stinking dairies, ranchland and rancheros, shacks, wide meadows, fields, haystacks, heart bending farmhouses, pockets of sunsets, thunder, gulley washes, creepy natural gas factories, chuckling newsies doing cocoa-puffs under moonlight, star maps of glittering silver made the world there, hot Mexican food cooking, a sun dropping big and golden, hot, like red sauce on a La Torrential Bravo burrito.

And there was something in the air or the water or the blood flowing through that place that had a visible effect on the people. It was almost as if giant scientists in lab coats were looking down from above and poking and prodding with gloved tentacles inside a sterile box. That talk of Giza, New Mexico being one big psychological experiment may have been true. There was a madness that brewed there. There was a loneliness, too. Was it the isolation? Was it the relentless dry heat of summer? Was it merely the gathering of lost souls in Hades on Earth to party and ache for a few years?

There was lawlessness, gang pride and shooting in the streets and it was all tangled together with rich white peace and sun-pulsing preaching. Old-school Jesus duked it out with Evangelical aluminum storm shelter prayer warriors. There were deep cultural contrasts indeed, yet they flowed through a heat-wavering pall of consistencies. Giza was the city that should have never been, yet there it was, like some sheltered bruise on a pee-colored map of New Mexico.

There was Old Mexico-like ghetto, there was prosperous land. There were dirt roads, there were carefully constructed oversized landing strips of polished concrete. There was an abandoned Army air base still rung with barbed wire fence — but it really wasn’t all that abandoned. It still glowed at night and men with guns marched there. There was a brand-new Buddha-Mart, an attempt at non-confrontational big box retail, dubbed “the biggest in the world.” Probably not true, but then again, what was, what is? There was a big community college and a small airport. There were mid-century strip malls painted pink and brown. There was a small zoo inside a park with a kiddie train and a carousel and there was an urban legend that they kept a man inside a cage there and used him for human mating experiments. Crack whores and Christians strolled the same mall together. Murderers waltzed down the streets and laughed on the hot sidewalks while biting into delicious burritos. Musicians strummed guitars on the back porches of haunted houses beneath golden beer light. Pyros torched schools and jilted lovers blew up houses and gunned down firemen. The jail was always full. Overflowing even.

The tallest building downtown was 13 stories high. There were two high schools — homes to the Galactics in the north and the Fire Ants in the south. There was a military school for bad kids. The big fair came every August and the whole banging place smelled of cotton-candy sweat and new sex. The excited screams and laughter from the torturous rides floated up to space and bumped into the orange moon. Someone always got shot. There were a lot of funeral homes. Old people liked going to Buff’s, the cafeteria restaurant behind one of them. It was convenient in case they choked to death.

Summer seemed to last forever, and the oppressive heat boiled brains and other internal organs. It seemed the sun rarely shut itself off. There were not enough dark clouds and cool rains, not enough ice cream to calm the madness, not enough popsicles for the girls to deep throat, not enough electricity to whir fans, not enough clean, dark holes in the ground to escape to. At times it was like a dome of Los Angeles exhaust clamped down tight over the whole nutty joint of Giza. There was no room to breathe. There were not enough men of the cloth to excise all those flames of hell coming up to chase them through the wild desert.