How Our Axis Quakes (Last Part)

Author’s Note: The first part and second part of this story can be found here and here.

They filled their plates and began to eat. Ed looked around the room as he chewed on the roast she had prepared. He suddenly realized there were pictures of Sontag with other men hanging on the wall — wedding portraits it seemed, five different ones, and in each one the bride and her grooms wore somber expressions on their faces.

“You had five husbands?” Ed blurted out, pointing toward the pictures with his fork.

Lewis kicked at him from under the table. “I think that’s kind of personal, Ed. Just eat.”

“It’s okay,” Sontag said, slightly embarrassed. “I have nothing to hide. Yes, Ed, I’ve been married five times.”

Ed pushed some carrots into his mouth with his fork. He was confused. “What happened to them?”

Lewis was becoming annoyed. “Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it, Ed.”

“Maybe she does. Let her decide,” Ed growled.

She wiped at her mouth with a white cloth napkin. “Let’s just say I made some mistakes in judgment. I thought I was following God’s will and it turned out I was being tricked by the devil. He can do that, you know.”

“Five times?” Ed wondered aloud.

Lewis clutched her hand from his place at the table. “You really don’t have to talk about this now, dear.”  He glared at Ed. “I don’t think it’s appropriate Sunday dinner conversation.”

“I’d like to know why she keeps their pictures up on the wall,” Ed kept on. “Don’t you find that a bit curious, Lewis?”

“We talked about it. I’m fine with it,” Lewis said. “The past is the past, but memories are allowed to remain.”

“Bullshit! No sane man would be fine with that. And look there, another space on the wall ready for you.”

“You son of a bitch!” Lewis suddenly yelled out. “How dare you talk about her like that, and in her own house. You knew how important this day was to me and you just had to go ahead and ruin it anyway. You’re nothing but a bitter old man with a passion for hurting other people.”

Sontag started crying. Lewis angrily pushed himself away from the table and walked to the big front window and just stood there and looked out at the hot world painted in storm orange. There was some distant thunder, and a light, dusty rain began to fall and beaded on the glass. The gospel record was skipping on the player.

It was later, and Ed was in the kitchen helping Sontag clean up the dishes. Lewis had moved from the front window and stepped out onto the back patio. He was sitting in a chair, smoking a thin cigarette, and looking at the rain from beneath a canopy. He was very gloomy.

“I’ve never seen him so upset,” Ed said. “I’m really sorry I messed everything up today.”

She turned to look at him and just shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t think you really are, but I’ll live. I’ve been through much worse than what happened today.”

“Is that why you have so much toilet paper?”

“What?”

“In your bathroom. You have a lot of toilet paper.”

“Were you snooping through my personal things?”

“No. I just needed some more. What did you expect me to do? Use your curtains?”

“That’s disgusting, Ed.”

She dried her hands and forcefully threw the towel on the counter and walked to the other side of the room and crossed her arms. She kept her back to him.

“What’s the matter now?” Ed wanted to know.

“You’re really weird, and…”

“And what?”

“I’m going to lie down. I have a headache. Would you mind tucking me in?”

“What?”

Sontag turned around to face him. “I know it sounds silly, but I sleep much better when someone tucks me in.”

Ed followed her down the hallway and into her bedroom. It smelled of eucalyptus and environmentally friendly bug spray.

“Close the door please,” she said. “And lock it.”

Ed did what she said but kept his distance from her. Sontag began to undress in front of him until she was fully exposed.

“Just what the hell is going on here?” Ed asked.

“I always sleep naked. I have to. That’s just the way I am.”

She crawled into the sheets, propped herself up on a pillow with an elbow and looked over at him.

“You can’t tuck me in from way over there,” Sontag said in that sultry tone she could turn on so easily.

Ed fidgeted. “I don’t think this is right. Hell, what about Lewis? He’s going to wonder what is going on.”

“Forget about Lewis,” Sontag moaned. “He is so… So wishy-washy and lame. That’s not what I need.”

“That’s cruel of you to lead him on like that, though. He truly cares for you.”

“Ed, darling. Quit being such a fruitcake. Do you not realize you have a sexy, naked woman in a bed right in front of you?”

Ed slowly moved toward the bed until he was towering over her. Sontag laid out flat, uncovered, completely vulnerable to the animal. She closed her eyes and licked her lips. “Touch me however you please,” she whispered.

Ed slowly reached out two hands and moved them down toward her intelligent breasts. She gasped slightly when his skin made contact with hers. He clumsily kneaded her like he would two mounds of soft bread dough.

“How’s that?” Ed asked her.

Sontag opened one eye and smiled. “Pretty decent. But now I want you to kiss me.”

Ed moved closer to her face and recklessly placed his mouth on hers, and then it was ignited, and they tangled in strange love, quickly and awkwardly.


Ed went out to the truck parked in front of Sontag’s house, climbed in, and just sat there. It was a long time before Lewis finally emerged. He got into the truck, slammed the door hard, and started the engine. Ed hesitated, then looked over at him as they began to pull away.

“Is everything okay with you two?”

“No, Ed, everything is not okay,” Lewis angrily answered. “She broke up with me. She actually told me I’m wishy-washy. Can you believe that?”

Ed rubbed at his beard with his hand and looked out the window. “I know it may not seem like it at the moment, Lewis, but I think it’s probably best that way.”

“How the hell do you know? Why do you always assume you know what’s best for everybody?”

“I just don’t think she’s the right woman for you, that’s all.”

“It’s not really for you to decide, Ed. But just what happened in there tonight? I don’t get it. I thought things were going just fine between me and her. But you carried a weird vibe with you. It was almost as if she liked you more.”

Ed painfully sighed. He didn’t know how to break it to him.

“She grabbed my wiener, Lewis.”

Lewis slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road.

“She did what!?”

“In the kitchen. She fondled me down there. Like some sort of lady pervert. She really got into it, too.”

Lewis jerked the truck to the curb. “Get out!” he screamed.

“What?”

“Get out of my truck!”

“Lewis, please. It was her, not me.”

“You slobbery old fool! I never want to see you again! Our so-called friendship is over!”

Ed reached for the handle, opened the door, and climbed out. Lewis sped away in a fury.

Ed Blackrose slowly walked to a gas station and bought himself a gross hot dog and a bottle of Coke. He found a young couple there willing to give him a ride back to his house. He gave them one of the twenties he stole from Sontag’s bathroom cabinet for gas. Ed climbed into the back seat, and they tore off. The radio was loud, and it irritated him, but he didn’t say anything.

“You really live way out here by yourself?” the guy driving asked him.

Ed leaned forward so they could hear him. “Yes. I do.”

The woman turned around to look at him. She was pretty. She smiled at him. “Don’t you get lonely?”

“Yes. I do,” he answered, and then he leaned back in the seat and didn’t say anything else until they dropped him off.

“Thanks a lot,” Ed said, and he waved, turned, and went into his house.

Ed went to his messy bedroom and dug a box out of the closet. He sat on the edge of the bed, clicked on a lamp, and removed the lid. He reached his hand in and pulled out a piece of newspaper. He unfolded it and scanned the page for the small headline, nearly lost in all the other bad news that day.

Mother, Teen Killed in Accident

A Gem City mother and teen died Sunday morning after their car slid off an icy road and flipped into a ditch. Audrey Blackrose, 41, and Jenna Jean Blackrose, 19, were both pronounced dead at the scene after emergency responders arrived. According to an official police report, Audrey Blackrose was driving westbound on State Route 9 when she lost control of her vehicle, went off the road, and crashed into a ditch. Speed and alcohol are believed to be contributing factors in the accident, the report says. A family member says the mother and daughter were on their way to a service at a local church when the accident occurred.

Tuesday arrived but Lewis did not. Ed waited the entire day and there was nothing. He kept looking out the window for that familiar trail of dust behind Lewis’ truck, but it never appeared. A few times he considered picking up the phone and calling to tell him the whole story about himself and Sontag, and all that had happened between them, but he could never go through with it. He decided to just try and live with it.

When the sun began to fade, he went out to the front porch and rocked in his chair with a glass of iced tea in his hand. He sat out there for a long time. The cubes slowly melted in the wet glass. He missed his wife and daughter, just like he did every single day. He tried to swallow the ache of his whole life as the moon crawled up the wall of the universe and took its place to look down upon him.

When he started to get restless, Ed went back into the house, fetched his pistol, and went for a walk to the ridge. The moon was now high, full, and blue. It followed him as he hiked to his favorite spot, stood tall, and let the expanse just swallow him. For some strange reason, it finally felt good to him to be alive. He unholstered the pistol, studied it in the light of night, and out of habit, put it to his head. He looked up at Jupiter. This is the last time I’m doing this, he thought to himself. He hesitated. Then his arm dropped to his side. He looked at his wristwatch. It was getting late. Ed was feeling too tired to mess around outside anymore. He holstered the gun, climbed down off the ridge, and slowly walked back to the house.

Ed went inside, locked the door, and set his gun belt on a messy table. He went for a glass of water and his pills. He went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, and stripped off his clothes and changed into grandpa pajamas. He clumsily climbed into his bed and stared at the ceiling. The house was quiet except for the soft whir of the box fan. His mind was oddly calm, yet terribly alone and wandering in an endless forest of thoughts.

“I must be too tired to talk to myself tonight,” he mumbled aloud. “I’ll just go back to dreaming.” His eyes weighed down quickly and he went to sleep.

THE END


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How Our Axis Quakes (First Part)

It was torture of the magnetic kind. It was as if something was straining to rip his heart right out of his body. He could feel the bloody vibrations when he put his weathered hand to his chest. He rose out of the bed like a vampire from a coffin and sat on the edge. He moaned a sleepy moan. The man had tried to nap but he was much too restless. An old box fan whirred, stirring the warm air. He finally stood and he was a large and disheveled man. He was pale-skinned and white and wooly, somewhat resembling a Tibetan yeti.

He yawned and stretched his arms out high over his head and he could nearly touch the ceiling. He shuffled through the house and toward the front door. He yanked it open and stepped outside wearing only a white t-shirt and his underwear. It didn’t matter. He was miles away. It was too hot, though — hotter than normal — and he shielded his sensitive golden eyes from the light with a big, veiny, and speckled hand.

Ed Blackrose longed for the sun to drop out of the sky so the swarm of stars could return like they did most nights. That’s when he would sit out on the old wooden porch beneath the dim light and just rock back and forth. He found it harder and harder to think straight now. The old man had lost any peace of mind he ever had — years ago — because of all that went wrong; a past defiled, a future derailed. Then he retreated to the desert, despite the desolate heat, and he’s been there ever since.

The house he called home was small, but the land around him was big — a flat, dry land with a chain of dirty brown mountains wrapping its arms around. There was one lone road that ran straight and long. He could barely see it, but he knew it was there. There was never very much traffic. Sometimes people would get lost, or their cars would break down and they would hike up along his long, dirt drive and knock on the old door. What guts they had, he thought. What nerve. There was once a couple of hoodlums from the city who had arrived and asked him for something to eat. He made them thin ham sandwiches with cheese and iced tea to drink but kept his old eyes on them the whole time in case they tried to steal anything.

“How can you live like this?” one of them asked as he ate.

“What do you mean?” the old man wondered.

“I mean… So far away from everything. Why do you do it? How do you do it? Don’t you like life?”

“I don’t care for people much. I like my privacy,” the old man said. “And I like life just fine, mostly. I just don’t want to be disturbed as I live out my last days.”

“You should put out a no trespassing sign then,” the other suggested.

“I did,” Ed grunted. “Someone trespassed and stole it.”

One of them laughed and the old man glared at him.

“You find that funny?”

He nervously fidgeted with his glass. “I thought you meant it to be funny.”

“I didn’t,” Ed answered.

The old man didn’t drive anymore. He didn’t like to drive anymore. His sole reliance for getting things from the outside world was his one and only friend — Lewis Waters. It was usually on Tuesdays that Lewis would come rumbling up the dusty drive in his beat-up red pickup truck to deliver to Ed his food, prescriptions, a newspaper or two, his mail from the PO box, and whatever else he had requested.

It was the second Tuesday in a deep hot July and Lewis was sitting at the table in Ed’s house wiping his brow and chugging down a big glass of iced tea. Lewis was a small man compared to the other, opposite in disposition as well. He was deeply tanned, almost to the point of looking burnt. His mostly bald head was nearly always covered with a cap, and below that was a face that looked like an old, yet happy apple.

Lewis watched Ed as he methodically went through the grocery sacks and put everything away in the exact same spots he always did.

Lewis cleared his throat.

“Hey Ed?”

He didn’t turn around. “Yeah.”

“What are you going to do if one day I’m not able to do for you what I do now?”

Ed turned sharply. “What do you mean? Are you bailing on me?”

Lewis took a long, hard drink. Then he wiped at his mouth with his arm.

“No. Nothing like that.”

“Well, what the hell do you mean then?”

“I mean… What if something happens to me?”

“Like what?”

“What if I died?”

Ed laughed and sat down at the table with him.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be long gone before you will be. That I am sure of.”

“But how can you be so sure? We’re nearly the same age.”

“I just know. I had a dream about it. A premonition, I suppose,” Ed answered.

Lewis looked concerned. “I could die in a wreck on the way back home today.”

Ed slapped at the air with his big hand. “No, you won’t. It isn’t supposed to work out like that. Come with me.”

They got up and Lewis followed the old man to the bedroom in the back corner of the house.

“See that?”

“It’s your messy bed.”

“Right it is. And that’s where you’ll find me one day — dead as a yanked daisy.”

“Come on, Ed. I don’t want to hear this.”

“It’s true. I felt it. I have a special sense for things like that.”

Lewis sighed. “I still think it wouldn’t hurt for you to have someone else to help you with things around here. Maybe you should look at dating someone. I think it would be good for you if you had a wife.”

Ed frowned. “I’ve already had a wife,” he said, and pushed past Lewis and went to sit in front of the television.

Lewis followed him. “Ed?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Things are fine just the way they are. If circumstances change, they change. So be it. I’m too old to be making any sort of plans for a future that might not even ever exist. That would just be another god damn letdown.” 

Lewis went to sit down on the other end of the couch.

“Hey Ed?”

“What is it now?”

“I was wondering if you might want to come to church this Sunday. I can pick you up and we’ll just go sit and listen. And I was thinking maybe after we could go get something to eat. It will be on me.”

Ed chuckled and turned his attention from the television to Lewis.

“Sounds like you’re asking me out on a date. You haven’t turned queer on me, have you?”

“Oh, come on, Ed. I just thought it would do you some good to get out of the house and be around other people.”

Ed looked straight ahead and grew serious. “You know how I feel about that. I don’t like people, and as far as church is concerned, well, I’ve prayed in vain one too many times. God’s no friend of mine.”

Lewis rubbed his hands together, nodded his head in defeat, and stood up.

“All right. I can tell it will do no good to convince you otherwise. It never has. I’ll just see myself out then. But Ed, if you change your mind send word, will you?”

“I won’t change my mind. Goodbye, Lewis.”


It was on nights when the moon was full, and the stars were heavily dilated that Ed Blackrose would walk the property with a pistol by his side. He didn’t fully understand why it was that on nights of a full moon his mind and body grew so much more restless than usual. He walked and walked and walked — all the way to the high point of the property far behind the house. It was a scraggly ridge of loose rock and dirt and when he struggled up to the top he would just stand and look out and he felt like he was the only man on Earth — and he really wished he was. He would howl sometimes too, and the coyotes would answer back in communal yelps from a distance. He would look up at the other planets, the other hells perhaps, and he tried to reach out for them but of course the distance was far too great.

At times he felt something just shy of peace up there on the ridge. Other times there was a great, dark weight on him, and it was in these times that he would press the barrel of the pistol to his head and make a gun blast noise with his mouth. Then Ed would feel sick, and he would bring the pistol down and then carefully maneuver his big old frame into a sitting position in the dirt. And then he would just stay like that, and he would cry, and he would curse, and he would talk to himself, for hours, sometimes until the sun began to birth itself from a canal in space, and that’s when he would struggle to get to his feet and crawl back down the ridge, and disappear into the house to make coffee. Then he would lie down on the couch, watch television, and then drift off to sleep for two or three hours.   

The phone rarely rang and so when it did, it startled him nearly into a heart attack.

“Damn it! Hello!”

“Ed, it’s Lewis.”

“I know it’s you. You scared the hell out of me. I nearly pissed myself. What do you want, Lewis?”

“You sound sour.”

“I am sour.”

“I know I shouldn’t ask, but I was wondering if you maybe changed your mind about Sunday?”

“No.”

“Look, Ed. There’s a woman at my church, a very nice lady. Her name is Sontag.”

“Sontag?” Ed wondered aloud. That sounds made up. I think you should investigate that, Lewis.”

“It’s not made up, Ed. She’s a real sweet gal.”

“Lewis. I’m not going on a date. You know how I feel about that. Don’t even think about fixing something up.”

“No, no. It’s nothing like that. It’s more like, well, I’m courting her, Ed.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Lewis.”

“Look, she’s offered to cook a nice Sunday dinner for after church and I just happened to mention that you and I might have plans and she insisted that I invite you along.”

Ed paused for a long time.

“Ed? Hello? Are you there?”

“You know how I feel about Sunday dinners with strangers, Lewis. Count me out.”

“Oh, come on. Just this once and I’ll never ask again.”

“You can be quite irritating at times, you know that Lewis? And that reminds me, don’t forget to pick up my nervous pills before you come over Tuesday.”

Ed slammed the phone down and rolled over on the couch.

Sunday morning came and Ed got up early. He pulled his best clothes from the closet and laid them out on the bed. He had grudgingly decided to accept Lewis’ invitation to church and dinner with his lady friend after all, but his guts rumbled with a nervous ache.

He showered for a long time. The cool water felt good to him as it ran down his tired body. He scrubbed at his thick beard with soap; lathered up the white hair on his chest, arms, and legs, and then rinsed it all off. He turned off the water, grabbed for a towel and dried himself off. He looked at himself in the mirror — deeply. That was something he rarely did for he was afraid of his own reflection. He was shocked at how haggard he had become over the years.

Ed combed his hair neatly in place and creamed it back a bit. He brushed his teeth, rinsed, and spit. He looked at himself again.

“That’s the best you’re going to get,” he said to himself.

He shook out his dark dress pants and slipped them on. He took the white dress shirt and worked himself into it, buttoned it, and tucked it into his pants. He worked a black belt through the loops of the pants and synched it tight. He forced his big feet into a pair of shiny, black cowboy boots and brushed the dust off with his fingers. He stood tall and tried to reposition himself. Everything felt snug on him, and he was uncomfortable. He was already beginning to sweat again and so he went to the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of iced tea. He drank it down, grabbed his suit coat, and sat out on the front porch to wait for Lewis.

The old truck rumbled along the highway. Johnny Cash was playing on the radio. It was a 19-mile drive from Ed’s house to the town of Wallston — a dusty, strange desert burg of about 9,000 people. Ed stared out the window as the world rushed by. He hadn’t said much most of the way. Lewis sensed his uneasiness.

“I’m glad you decided to come. It will be great, you’ll see,” Lewis said, smiling and gripping the wheel.

“I’m sure it will be the highlight of my life,” Ed said, and then he reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat and pulled out a tall can of beer and cracked it open.

Lewis shot him a quick glance. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Ed snapped back. “I’m having a beer.”

“Ed, you can’t drink in a moving vehicle. Would you just please throw it out the window?”

“Not until I finish it.”

Ed tipped the can back and drained it completely with deep gulps. He rolled down the window and threw the can out. “There. I’m done.”

Lewis scolded him. “I can’t believe you’re drinking a beer right before church.”

“I’m sure He won’t mind,” Ed answered with a slight chuckle. “I do believe He or whoever or whatever enjoyed his wine.”

“Please, Ed. This day is very important to me. I want to make a good impression with my Sontag. Could you just at least try to act decently.”

Ed grew defensive. “Decently? There’s nothing decent about the world anymore, Lewis. I think all this churchy preachy talk and your gal pal are screwing with your head. Don’t talk to me about decency. I mind my own business, I never bother anyone, I don’t rob banks. I don’t hurt anyone. Maybe you should just take me back home.”

“No. We’re not going back now. I just don’t think you should be drinking beer before church and meeting my friend for the first time. I think I have a valid point, Ed.”

Ed mocked him. “A valid point. Geez, you sure have changed.”

“But unfortunately, Ed, you have not,” Lewis snapped back.

TO BE CONTINUED


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