Charles S. Stover: The Slop Detail (micro-fiction) Nov. 2018

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in West Virginia and grew up in West Virginia and Kentucky. I remember when I was a child in West Virginia, running through the fields in the summer, stirring up grasshoppers and bumble bees, and catching lightening bugs at night, putting them in a jar so I could read in bed after my mother made me turn off my light. It did not work very well.

The Slop Detail

“Floyd, go in the back room and get the mop and a bucket of water. Mary, fetch the broom and dustpan. First sweep, then mop. Floyd, that’s not the floor mop. Go get the right one. Schizo, dust the crumbs off the tables and wipe them clean.”

“Chucky, my name is Sammy. Never call me Schizo. Just because you’re in a wheelchair don’t give you the right to call us names.”

“You’re not only Schizo, you’re paranoid as well. Find an old rag and get that peanut butter and jelly off the floor before someone steps in it. Marsha, fold the tablecloths and put them in that box on the other side of the room. Schizo help Marsha clear the tables. Put all the teacups in a pail of water. Get another pail and pitch the silverware in it…”

Chucky had not always been so bossy. When he first came to the nursing home, he was docile, almost pleasant, but as time passed, he grew morose and irritable.

It was just a foolish accident. He tried to run up the stairs of his apartment building, tripped and injured his knee. It began to bleed profusely and he was afraid to move. A neighbor saw him lying on the steps and called an ambulance. They took him to the nearest hospital. The hospital kept him overnight. That overnight visit turned into three weeks, during which time, his legs weakened.

“I want to go home,” he demanded. “My knee stopped bleeding long ago.”

The nurse who was changing his bandages told him he had to stay in bed. When he asked about his clothing, she informed him they were in storage. He tried to get up, but each time he put his feet on the floor, a buzzer sounded and two attendants rushed into his room and made him get back in bed. They told him he could not go home, that his apartment had been closed and his case was tied up in the courts. They said it was because he could not manage his own affairs.

“You can’t do this to me,” Chucky cried angrily.

One day, they moved Chucky off his cot and strapped him to a stretcher. They put him in a van and drove him to a nursing home. The nursing home staff was waiting for him. Two aides rushed out, lifted him off the stretcher and seated him in a wheelchair.

“If this chair is too uncomfortable,” said one of the aides, “we can get you another.”

Chucky was too upset to answer. They pushed him inside the building and the automatic doors closed behind them. They wheeled him down the aisle to his new room.

“You’ve got to let me out of here,” Chucky retorted harshly. “I don’t belong here. I want to go back to my apartment.”

“This is your home now,” they told him.

It took Chucky a long time to adjust to his new surroundings. With nothing to do, the days were long and boring. Finally, rehab gave him a khaki uniform and settled him with a job as assistant supervisor of cleaning in the kitchen and dining room.

The days went faster with the new job. He started work at seven in the morning and usually finished at six in the evening. Still, he was confused as to why he had to stay there. More than anything, he wanted to go home. He considered breaking a window and just walking away, but he knew he was not physically capable.

One night after he finished work, he felt dizzy and disoriented. The others had already left and he was alone. He tried to roll backwards out of the kitchen and mistakenly rolled himself into the storeroom. The wheels of his chair hit the wooden doorstop, dislodged it, and the heavy door of the storeroom swung shut on him leaving him in total darkness.

He was surrounded on three sides by boxes of detergent and cleanser stacked to the ceiling. He wheeled his chair forward, slamming into the door. He tried to push it open, but it would not budge.

“Somebody, get me out of here,” he shouted.

He wanted to turn on the light, but he could not find the switch. He gripped the wheels of his chair and endeavored to jerk it around, but discovered the stacks of boxes were too close. He kicked aimlessly outward trying to create more space. Several boxes fell on him and knocked over his wheelchair. The edge of one of the boxes had struck him on the temple just above his eye. Blood trickled down his face and into the edge of his mouth.

“Please,” he yelled weakly, “somebody help me.”

Chucky lay motionless in his overturned wheelchair, his knees doubled under him. A pool of blood had formed beneath his head and spread across the concrete floor.

Morning sunlight streamed through the white shear curtains of the dining room windows. The chatter was starting to die down as the residents finished breakfast and went back to their rooms. The housekeeping supervisor told the cleanup crew to get to work.

“Mary, find a broom and start sweeping. Floyd, get the mop and a bucket of water. When Mary’s finished sweeping, run the mop over the floor. Sammy, get a rag and wipe off the tables. Don’t push the crumbs off on the floor. Ralph, get the buffer and buff the floor as soon as it’s dry. Has anyone seen Chucky?”

Sean Lyon: Momma’s Letter to Inmate (Fiction) Nov. 2018

Southern Legitimacy Statement: The house I lived in as a child had to be abandoned when my parents got divorced. It sat on 54 acres of land, every inch of which I walked as a young man, sometimes eating apples, other times smoking cigarettes while high on mescaline. That lovely old abandoned house became a place for bored high school kids to invade, and a group of them accidentally burned it to the ground in 2010. In the end, all that stood was a chimney, of course, rising high above piles of burned bricks.

Momma’s Letter to Inmate

MOMMA’S CAT LETTER TO INMATE,

BUSTER COLE STATE JAIL, 

BONHAM, TEXAS

Dear Son,

The last letter you wrote home only asked how the cats were . . .

Well, Pumpkin Seed won’t stop the tumbling grab ass with the older black cat who always chatters in the middle of the night, and Little Diamond has eye herpes or something that makes her right eye goop up all the time, she’s the cutest. I don’t have money to take her to the vet, or any of them. Big Diamond is slapping at my bobbing pen right now so excuse the slobbering ink. I haven’t drank yet it’s too early in case you were worried about my penmanship. Kitty-Lou’s been sleeping a lot in your room. She tried to hang herself with yarnstring on a doorknob but in a wild panic Chuckles slashed her down. What a thing to witness. It’s a mystery any of us get up most afternoons. Now I’m staring down the fat one with the spot on one cheek. She reminds me of your girl you was with forever ago who punched holes in my doors whenever you fought, it was you two brought the first slew of damn cats into our home one after the other like it was a cat city. I don’t even recollect that one’s name.

The house is falling to shambles, son, crumbling to shit clumps. Some of my nice things are really falling, picture frames and such, pawed from the kitchen counter by one of these awful critters. The cookie jar that could have been on antique roadshow wound up broke in half. If I knew which cat that was I’d skin the ears off its head. I have no other visions or dreams I am so preoccupied with this garbage. How did you trick me so bad?

Your cats how they followed your rule. Your precious Lemon, who empties herself in the corner of my bed… at one time she could be talked into the litter box. Not now. She’s too stubborn for it. I sleep on the couch in the attic now by the way. I got a TV up there and I get a lot of Jeopardy questions right. I drop the attic ladder and it’s like walking down from an alien spaceship into a land ruled by cats!

Oh the cats. How did you let this happen? They wouldn’t ruin my life if you were here, your cats, good gracious everloving shit your disgusting soft spots for troubled women and stupid animals. If you even are reading anymore it bears repeating that my house is a shambles. Our house smells so much like piss. I’m afraid the walls will melt like wet sand castle. Not that you ask.

Remember they would flock when you would meow with them, or cuddle them while stoned? That was you, so sweet. If you could of just kept your temper from flaring instead of being a violent fool stomping on that poor gal’s face I’ll never forget it. Now I get glared at sideways by glowing eyeballs through the window screens when I come home like I’m some stranger trying to kill them. Stamps and Late Night slash my magazines before I read them. I use the pages for filth pads. I’ll quit preaching.

I see you everywhere and in everything. I love you, you know it and you made me promise that I would see to these cats’ health and not deliver them to a pound or suffocate some of them. 

You bound me to that but I’m not perfect. Buddy Boy and Rogue run away together on the Fourth of July. I must of flung the door open wandering out for the neighbor’s fireworks. That’s my fault they’re gone you could say so if you had to. You’re fortunate they all didn’t escape.

Don’t look now but it’s happy hour. Tah-tah.

I’ll visit when I’m straight enough for the drive.

Love always up and down and side to side,

—Momma

Brandon Burris: Next Door (essay) Nov. 2018

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I’ve lived in Oklahoma almost my whole life. People who know nothing sometimes call Oklahoma the “Midwest,” but we say y’all here and eat gravy and know the importance of good manners, so every good Okie is a Southerner. Also, my momma made us promise that when she dies, we’ll pack up her body and bury it in Greeneville, Tennessee, where her daddy’s family bred and raced thoroughbreds and were, on the whole, good respectable people.

Next Door

He watched Oprah Winfrey every night between eleven o’clock and midnight, then Geraldo.  His television shared a hollow cinder block wall with our bed, so we heard every word. By twelve-thirty or one, our colicky baby would start crying.  My nineteen-year-old bride would roll over, pluck him up, and throw out a milky breast and a prayer, hoping one or the other would pacify the kid for at least an hour.  We had an understanding with the man next door.  We never complained about his noisy nighttime tv, he never complained that we had three people, including a screaming baby, crammed into a tiny one room apartment.  He wasn’t a bad neighbor.  We met some real characters there.  

The man two doors down was both scary and scared. He wandered around talking to himself, avoiding eye and human contact. The few times he looked up at me his eyes oozed paranoia, chaos, spite, but most of all, fear.  Strange for a man who towered over everyone else, even with his back always hunched over.  He had a door locking ritual: close and lock the door; make sure it’s locked by pulling violently on the door; make sure it’s locked by unlocking the door; make sure it’s unlocked by opening the door; close and lock the door; recheck, three or four or a dozen times, until his fear was under control and he could carry on. The super had to change the worn-out lockset every couple months. One time, we didn’t see him for a week.  His apartment started to smell.  Someone called the police.  The police called the super because his door was locked.  He was dead. I wonder if his death had anything at all to do with whatever scared him.

We moved to a one bedroom soon after.  It shared a wall and a heating vent with an old Indian woman who always cooked curry. My wife hated the smell.  To me, it must have been delicious, because you could practically taste it in our apartment.  She lived with her grown son, god knows why, because he never worked and only yelled and never seemed grateful for her meals. 

Below us, a couple of “kids,” years older than we were but preserved by the freedom of unshackled youth, loved listening to heavy metal on full blast starting at around two a.m.  Our son was a toddler by then and didn’t cry at night, so we’d sneak down to the basement and shut off their power. I can’t be sure, but I think they stole my bicycle.  It cost me $20, plus another $8 to make it rideable. A small fortune then. I left it in a rack just outside the door, pegged down with a tiny, cheap chain.  One day it was gone.  I almost cried.  Who steals from the poor?

Across the hall was an immigrant about twenty years old, a conservative soul who invited us to eat at her church.  The food was great, but we couldn’t understand anyone, even when they spoke English.  She had a boyfriend, and they would get in big fights and scream at each other in Vietnamese. One night, she kept shouting “no”, so I went to her door and knocked and asked if everything was okay and if I needed to call the police.  No one answered, but the yelling stopped.  He stopped coming around after that.  A few months later, one warm afternoon, she invited me in to her apartment. I had my son with me, and he tottered around the room, fascinated.  She said brokenly, “let me change into something more comfortable,” and came back in silky pajamas.  My son stumbled and almost hit his head on the sharp corner of her glass coffee table.  We didn’t have insurance and couldn’t take the risk, so we left.  

She moved back in with her parents eventually, and was replaced by a middle-aged woman who rushed to her apartment, unlocked the door, got inside, and relocked it as fast as she could.  She was like the dead one.

But, her yellow hair reminded me of our next-door-neighbors when I was a kid. They (kids and adults) were all thin and pale and willowy. The mother would send a kid over every so often: “may I borrow a cup of flour?” or “may I borrow a couple of eggs?” We would run to the fridge, and they would smile bashfully and trudge off.  Folks don’t typically mean “borrow” in that context, but they always did.  A few days or a week later, a kid would pop back up at the door with some eggs or a baggy of flour.  Ten-year-old me thought it was irresponsible: “why don’t they just go to the store?” But you can’t be poor and survive alone. It took years – the first time I couldn’t afford food – before I understood how smart and humble and proud they were. 

 Poor folk rarely get credit for how smart they are. Can’t afford food? Learn how to bake.  Can’t afford a mechanic? Teach yourself to change an alternator. Can’t afford a doctor? Make friends with the nurse next door.

I learned that last one from my momma, the night I was running from one of my brothers and tripped and cut my head open just above my eye. She scooped me up, blood running down my face, and carried me to the nurse who lived across the street, who tightened her bathrobe and clucked her tongue and said I really needed a doctor and stitches. But she must have figured out that wouldn’t be happening, so she stopped the bleeding and bandaged me up as best she could in her bathroom, leaving me with a long scar hidden beneath my eyebrow which I sometimes rub and think of her.    

I live on a few acres now, in a respectable area. Money buys distance, so the closest neighbors live down the road. They’re kind, and my wife shares our problems with them.  When the problem’s my fault, they give me a dirty look.  It’s not the same as when we were poor. They hear our problems, not experience them.  No more thankless meals tasted through the wall, no more shared saggy-eyed nods the morning after. It’s a little lonely.         

My son’s eighteen now, and he doesn’t remember those early years.  He has his own car and a new diploma from a private school and a job sitting at a desk.  He likes rice and curry and heavy metal and Vietnamese noodle soup, and he has no idea why.  These are the things I’ll tell him if he ever asks me, “what’s it like to be poor?”

Philip Boddy, Jr.: Ecumenical Challenges (Memoir) Nov. 2018

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Born in Chicago with maternal grandparents, who went back to the drawing board for childcare, probably saved me from a stint in Joliet. Mom was a “wild-child” in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Nana solved that by hiring two strong-willed black nannies from the South. Miss Roberta then Miss Betty were given total authority over mom and her sister. These ladies were rehired when I showed up. Well before the Marine Corps, the first words out of my mouth were Sir, Ma’am, Please, Thank-you, You’re most welcome, and May I?. Miss Betty taught me to cook oatmeal, grits, “dirty gravy” with greens over toast, and a myriad of vegetables for entree’s. We had garnet yams growing on the South-facing kitchen window 13 floors up. I learned the classic variations of “Uhn, huh, hmm…” with accents like Chinese to have a conversation or show you were paying attention before it was known as Black English. I was a Yankee boy lucky to be “Raised and Praised up right.”

Ecumenical Challenges

In September of 1960, the first day at St. Joseph’s Military Academy consisted of checking in, a proper haircut, and an initial indoctrination.  I lugged my duffle bag with a complete uniform issue through check-in.  A senior eighth grade cadet pointed to a doorway for my next station.

Inside, a line of new cadets aged from first to eighth grade formed along the wall.  At the far end of the hall, a barber snipped away clumps of wavy hair from a startled newbie.  His clippers buzzed as a cadet swept the scattered locks up from the dull green linoleum floor into a waste bin.

Quiet conversations droned among the boys in line.  A number of new wee tykes had tears in their eyes.  A young novitiate in a black-over-deep-blue habit consoled them.  They were homesick already. Subjecting first and second grade children to a military boarding school seemed odd to me.  Maybe they were Spartans who survived the mountaintop.

Experienced returning cadets were already in their recreation halls by grade level.  They had arrived in uniform with military haircuts.  Small groups of them with their parents and siblings were chatting among teaching nuns.  Smiles, shoulder pats, and occasional laughter trickling throughout the hallways helped the time pass.  Observing the black and white habited Sisters bantering informally with cadets and parents assuaged some of my fears.

However, one caveat kept me on guard.  These friendly dialogues surrounding me were among Roman Catholic families and the Vatican’s own version of Women Marines, the teaching order of the Sisters of St. Joseph.  My parentage was half Irish and half Brit/Canuck.  I was also an Episcopalian.  That sort of made me an Irish wolfhound among the Vatican lions.

*                   *                  *

My priest, Father Mainor, had been appalled at my parents’ decision to send my brother Ricky and me to a Catholic military boarding school.  Since we were already enrolled and our complete uniform issues were packed, he went ahead with a game plan to ease my transition.  It rivaled any strategies the Chicago Blackhawks had to handle the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

For a couple of hours a day during my remaining week before leaving, we reviewed prior catechism lessons and New Testament highlights.  Since my little brother was going into fourth grade, he was too young for any religious academics.  On the other hand, I was already confirmed.  

I was also considered a bit iconoclastic due to my questioning some of the religious authority and historical events.  Father Mainor welcomed these exchanges in our discussions.  But he cautioned me that any such inquisitiveness during, or even outside of, classes at St. Joseph’s would be viewed dimly.

On our last day, Father gave me a folded note to study before arrival at the academy.  He told me it contained two important things to learn and remember about the Sisters.

“First, Flip, always remember they really do love you.  These women have taken a lifetime vow to ensure your well-being…whether you want it or not.”

He smiled, winked at me, and dipped his head to signal if I’d understood his meaning.  I nodded in agreement, so Father Mainor continued, 

“Ah, that brings us to the second issue you’ll deal with.  You already know Roman Catholics consider Episcopalians, along with Lutherans, to be temporarily astray theologically.  Many of the Catholic clergy are convinced it is their primary duty in life to help us return to the Vatican family.  Because you’re confirmed, they’ll ask if you want to be excused from any catechism classes.  Do not take that option, Flip.  Tell them you wish to stay in those classes.  It will help you to understand our faith.  It will also earn you respect from your teaching nuns.  Hold your doctrinal questions until weekends for discussions here.  The Sisters of St. Joseph won’t be receptive to any contrasting viewpoints evolved from the Protestant Reformation.  Don’t even think about it.  Got that, kid?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Good.  Now that note…don’t deviate from the two scripted responses I’ve written for you.  They already know you’re confirmed as an Episcopalian.  Soon after your arrival an experienced Sister will contact you.  It will be just light conversation for introductions.  Once that’s done, the real purpose will come out.  This Sister will politely let you know about their duty to help you return to the authentic or true teachings.  Don’t get miffed about it.  It’s just her sworn duty.  

Be polite, articulate, and go by the script.  You were in theater at Parker so you’ll know your lines.  Give the nun your best Irish smile, look her right in the running lights, dot your ‘i’s, and cross those‘t’s.  So, are you ready for tomorrow?”

“Yeah, Father, I guess so.”

“Flip, I know what you’re thinking.  Look at the bright side.  Not having any young ladies to chase for the school year will have you all rested up for next summer.”

“Yeah, and there’s always the benefit of my having fewer adventures to bore you with during Saturday confession, huh, Father?”

He smiled and then we shook hands.  I put the note in my blue jeans’ pocket and headed up the block for my last supper of a cheeseburger, crispy fries, and a black-and-white malt from Johnny at Cotler Drugs on the corner.

*                     *                    *

I leaned against the wall, pulled out my steel comb, and realigned my blond

Brill-Creamed mane.  My attire consisted of cuffed blue jeans, high-topped black and white Converse sneakers, and a leather jacket.  My father wasn’t too keen on the James Dean look so the jacket was a dark orange-red Western-styled affair.  

I grinned at a punch line for an Irish joke whispered by a seasoned Polish cadet beside me.  He decided to forego the required haircut and was promptly sent to our line.  I learned later this, and other rebellious endeavors, had been his modus vivendi since his parents dropped him off in first grade.  He definitely was a Spartan survivor and was also in my sixth grade class.

An elderly nun in black and white strolled toward us with her arms clasped behind her.  My clothing and pompadour must have prompted her attention.  She stopped and turned with military precision to face me.  The Sister looked me up and down then broke into a broad smile.  Her aquamarine eyes glittered like Austrian crystal through her wire-rimmed spectacles.

I smiled back at her.

The Sister rocked back and forth on her feet then spoke, “Well, Cadet Hollywood, it looks like you’re finally going to get a decent haircut.”

The reception hall fell silent except for the buzzing of the barber’s clippers at the far end.  The veteran Polish cadet next to me sidestepped two strides away quietly while looking down.

I grinned and replied, “Yeah.”

I came to, after a sharp crack accompanied by a white flash, on the floor by the wall with one leg over my duffle bag.  The other cadets snickered along their line. 

The nun stood over me with her arms again clasped behind her.  Her head tilted while she still grinned.  The left side of my face throbbed and burned.  

She leaned down toward me and whispered, “It is Yeah, SISTER.

I was still holding my face and replied, “Yes, Sister.”

She nodded and quipped, “Ah, and you’re a quick study, too.  What is your name?”

I jumped up and faced her.  I wasn’t really angry.  Curiosity overtook any reactions I may have had.  Just who was this lady?  This Sister strolled up to me and joked about my hairstyle like Pat O’Brien. 

Then I came to at her feet as she grinned down at me like James Cagney.  Funny…she didn’t look Irish, but she hit like one.

I smiled and told her my name, making darned sure to add the Sister.

The nun nodded again then spoke, “I’m Sister Pietro.  My class is the eighth grade and I have other duties regarding behavior throughout the upper grades.  Your name is on the sixth grade roster.  You and your younger brother are listed as non-Catholics.  May I be impertinent in asking what faith your family is?”

In my best formal use of the King’s English, I answered according to my script, 

“My pleasure, Sister.  We are Episcopalian and I am confirmed in the records of

The Church of Our Saviour at Fullerton and Clark Street on the North Side.  

My priest is the Right Reverend Father Mainor from Toronto, Canada.”

Sister Pietro chuckled, “… and a bright heretic, to boot. You are probably aware it is my sworn obligation to attempt your conversion back into our community.”

I paused, remembering those dotted ‘i’s and crossed ‘t’s, served up my deepest stare right into her aqua crystals, and repeated the second phrase of Father’s note, “Oh, yes, Sister.  I am looking forward to any ecumenical challenges.

Her eyes twinkled as she laughed.  She reached up with her right hand and gave a gentle tug on my left ear lobe followed by a faint tap on my left cheek.  Then Sister Pietro murmured, “Me too, Cadet Hollywood.  I’ll introduce you to your teacher, Sister John Mary, after all these formalities are concluded.” 

In that moment, we became joined at the theological hip.

Sister Pietro turned on her heels, stepped off, and resumed patrolling the haircut line.  The other newbies stared at me.  By the end of the afternoon, my nomme de guerre would be The Heretic to many of the cadets.

Sister Pietro called me Cadet Hollywood the rest of that year.

J. Edwards: Royal Blood (fiction) Nov. 2018

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am certified in using a picket fence, rubber flooring, and duct tape to seal a bedroom for a Florida CAT4 hurricane before running inside to drink. My blood is now mostly orange juice, BBQ sauce, and a form of ethanol from bourbon and grit residue.

Royal Blood

It was a sticky Tuesday, that day Travis insisted he was royalty. We had just finished a long day pushing old Earl’s rusty mowers through the tall grass where no one lived or yet cared to live. Earl never told us how much Southern Utilities paid him, but we knew we had a hundred dollars each heading our way for a single day’s work. It was good beer money for two sixteen year olds. 

Earl sat his fat ass on the tailgate, his boots comfortably swinging above the ground, waiting for us to fire up the mower. Travis smiled, asking me if I was ready. Before I could say no, he pulled the line laughing. I was not as anxious to see what happens when a water moccasin, rattlesnake, coral snake, alligator, python, or a wild boar faces a lawnmower head on. We knew things were there, beyond the solid wall of mosquitos dancing in the Florida summer sun. I quickly fired up the whacker to follow.

The nearest doctor was more than thirty minutes away down a dirt road, past all those signs that read “Coming Soon: Cypress Lakes Golf Community; a 50 and over gated community.” 

We knew the land well. Many of the trails and deeper cuts through the vegetation, between the tall pines, were our handy work using our ATVs. Not too long ago the cops busted us after years of ignoring us. They told us to go home, but officially threatened us with trespassing. Travis’ dad told us some Indian lawyers claimed the land was sacred. They won and immediately sold it to developers to build golf course retirement communities. 

Florida’s population was on the rise. Even the forgotten swamps west of Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach became a huge commodity. Commercial growers sold their strawberry fields and their palm and orchid farms. Migrant workers from Haiti to Mexico to Guatemala had to traverse once again unless they were lucky enough to get a job at one of the new storefronts or the Casino. 

It was the new cycle of Florida life. Our part was to slay the cattails and plow through the swamp so the utility workers could make their rounds with a running chance against the waiting wildlife. Teenagers like us were stupid and expendable. We wore combat boots and jeans that made us invincible. Anything to make a buck in the summer. 

Travis plowed through while I did my best to keep up with the whacker. Things black, red, or green ran, darted, slithered, submerged, and scattered too quick to identify. Our t-shirts were too soaked to wear comfortably. We took them off, wrung them out, and wore them on our heads until the mosquitos became too much to bear. Every so often, Earl called us to the truck to drink water out of the old orange water jug he filled from a hose behind the Cracker Barrel. The water tasted funny and was hot, but we didn’t care. Earl was heartless, killing a cold Mickeys wide-mouths while “managing” us workers, smoking his Swisher Sweets, listening to country music. 

Creatures evaded our spinning blades with the exception of a small iguana. It never stood a chance. My plea to leave him was ignored. Travis claims he didn’t hear me, but he did. Earl was just glad the blade held up, told us next time to call him, he had a machete for those. In the winter, whenever there is a freeze, those things fall right out of the palm trees and you lob their heads off. If it were a game, Earl would be the score to beat. He likes to eat them, says they taste like chicken. I always ask him why he doesn’t just eat chicken, but he ignores me and goes back to his drinking. A fat, drunk, hillbilly with a machete makes an interesting boss.

The paths we plowed to the utility boxes were looking professional, like a five foot parting of a greenish brown sea of weeds. In some small way, we felt like we bravely contributed to the safety of some father or son who had to do whatever it is they do. We also knew our trails wouldn’t last long as the summer rains would soon intensify. Earl said he hoped to keep the contract for an extended period but had a feeling the development of the area was going to be overnight. “Soon enough, you fellas won’t recognize these parts,” he said. “Damn shame.”

   

As the day came to an end, Earl dropped us off at Travis’ place. He gave us our money through the truck’s back window. Travis snuck a Mickeys out of the cooler and into his pocket before carefully hopping over the tailgate. Earl drove off and we ran to the pool, stripping to our boxers as we did it. Travis moved a lot slower, having difficulty. He had to stop to try and pulling his sore left leg out of his jeans. I noticed the purple and black bruise on his calve muscle. You couldn’t miss it. Travis started to squirm at the sight of it, realizing the pain he plowed through was real and it looked like a mess. 

I dared him to touch it, but he didn’t laugh like I though he would. He lost interest in hitting the pool. I helped him to the old brown leather couch in his living room. He sat there in pain, arms folded, mad, staring at the ceiling fan, sweating. He eventually laid out on the couch and propped up his feet on the arm of the couch. He started to get sleepy. I called his Dad. He was stuck at work, told me to put some ice on it, so I did and kept him company waiting for his mamma to get home from the diner. 

I was worried, but like with anything else, Travis was not. He kept talking about his royal roots. I didn’t believe him earlier but then he pointed at the small red shield with the blue crest on it. It was the newest display along the wood paneled wall in the family room. It had a gold lion on it, a sword, and a book of some kind with the letter R written in a fancy blue font. I saw one just like it on television, in a commercial where you pay some company to research your lineage for two installments of $19.95. It seemed legit. They research your name and tell you something about you. 

Travis winced through the pain, telling me more about the letter certifying that they were Scottish, to their surprise. Their lineage was traced back to a member of a royal family. I asked him if the dude was like one of those guys we saw in Braveheart. Travis smiled, looked up to the talking bass on the wall, and said, “Yeah, those big fuckers… just like them.” I told him that was pretty cool and asked if he thinks that bite will be okay for us to work more land tomorrow. He closed his eyes. “Aye. It’s in my blood.”