(Photo by Matthew Mellina @mjmellina)
I can’t remember ever seeing the old man without a beer in his hand. Most nights after work he would sit in his folding chair at the end of the driveway, watching the sky for planes with a nest of empties at his feet, calling out different makes and models to no one in particular. Even on Sunday mornings when he cooked pancakes, there would be a tall boy sitting next to the griddle, sweating from the heat. He never ate with us kids. He would just frown at us as we stuffed our faces, a Winston 100 dangling between his yellowed fingers.
To me, he just seemed angry all the time. My mom would say he didn’t know how to be anything else, that some people were just born into war with everyone around them. His days were an endless grind of twelve hour shifts and intolerable slights, both real and imagined—-an inexhaustible stream of resentments suffered at the hands of jackasses and bitches, the fat-baldies in their suits, and all the blowhards and know-it-alls who conspired against him.
He was a docile drunk though. It was as if the constant flood of beer pushed all that anger beneath the surface. Some men would drink liquor and slap their wives around. But the old man would get kind of dopey and sweet. Sometimes I think he drank just to keep himself from beating us.
(c) 2014 gibson grand
They teeter along the sidewalk, arms locked like two ships that have collided during a storm, struggling against the ballast of liquor and concrete, kept upright only by their masts entwined.
It is their nightly passage, moving from bar to bar until their pockets and glasses are empty and the jukebox runs out. He never speaks. He only smiles as he watches her rage against the night, rage against youth, an angry squall of spilled drinks and nameless accusations, interrupted only by occasional fits of laughter and Fleetwood Mac. And when she no longer has the strength to scream, he takes her home.
She passes out before she manages to get undressed. He removes the rest of her clothing, carefully folding it before placing it at the foot of the bed. He watches her as she sleeps, lost in the cadence of her breathing, writing love letters on her skin with his fingertips. It is only here, in the quiet moments after the storm, that he has the courage to tell her that he loves her.
(c) 2014 gibson grand
(cover photography by Jack Scoresby)
I’m excited to announce the release of my new collection of short stories and poetry, Leave Your Money on the Dresser.
This collection includes a ton of stories and poems written over the last year, as well as some of my favorites from Trash and Vaudeville, Fireflies, andAccidental Betsy (these titles will no longer be available).
Special thanks to Jack Scoresby and Aemilia McMorbid for the cover photography.
If you would like to buy a copy, you can do so here for $7.95. The book also be available on Amazon (in both print and digital formats) in the coming weeks.
Blanche would always remember the first time he took her hand. Buck just grabbed it unceremoniously, as if he were picking up a loaf of bread. And he touched her with an ease that implied ownership; it made Blanche flinch at first, imagining what her father, the preacher, would say upon witnessing such wanton familiarity. Still, while outwardly she stiffened, it secretly excited her. Her husband had been too timid in his touch, as if terrified that the weight of his body would be too much for her.
But Buck was rough. Even after a bath, his hands felt coarse and gritty on her body. His skin was like a leathery canvas, scarred by buckshot and gun powder, depicting endless car wrecks and bar fights with wildcatters. It was as if a decade of criminality had weathered his skin, just as it had hardened his heart. And although Buck had gentle eyes—he always looked at Blanche adoringly—she couldn’t escape the growing fear that his appreciation of her would never pass beyond mere gaze. This fear nagged at her. She began to view Buck as a man who could see the beauty in a flower but could never grasp it; his calloused fingers would only crush its petals.
After all, it was his hands that carried the lingering scent of whisky and tobacco; his hands that had fired a gun and broken bones. Buck could not touch a beautiful thing without diminishing its beauty. And it was this knowledge that made Blanche yearn for his hand.
(c) 2014 gibson grand
This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Bonnie and Me.
(photography by Ellie Lane)
Trees of Heaven
Wyatt no longer enjoyed the taste of tobacco but he lit another cigarette just the same. The warm smoke helped fight the chill that had descended on the valley. He continued along the path, closing the collar of his flannel around his neck as a damp breeze shook the giant Virginia pines. Perhaps it was the bitterness of aging but it seemed to Wyatt that the autumn months were growing longer and colder; endless weeks of decay with a promise of rebirth that never seemed to come.
He stopped at the top of the hill, where he had found the Parker girl, her broken body propped up against the base of an Ailanthus tree, her hair speckled with its radiant orange seeds. It was one of the police officers who told him that the name meant “tree of heaven.”’ Wyatt didn’t believe in heaven but he supposed if such a place existed, Amie Parker would likely be there.
It was springtime when he came upon her and at first, he thought nothing of finding her sitting alone under the tree. She had always kept to herself and had a reputation in town for being prone to daydreams and laughing inappropriately at inside jokes no one else understood. But as he drew closer he saw that her dress was torn, revealing a pale white breast and her once bright blue eyes had turned lifeless and grey as they stared down on the Little Miami River. It felt like hours until the police arrived, during which Wyatt had to resist the urge to brush the ants off of her dirty bare feet. He couldn’t help but stare at her bloody mouth, which the killer had molded into a grim smile.
No one knew who murdered Amie Parker. The police had questioned Wyatt, along with most of the men in town, and concluded it was the work of a transient. He told them she came into the liquor store once a week to buy a quart of Jack Daniels for her mama. He didn’t tell them that he occasionally snuck her miniature bottles of whiskey or about the time he fingered her in the storage locker in exchange for some cigarettes. And he didn’t tell them that when he was alone at night, he frequently fantasized about the color of her panties and the soft skin on the inside of her thighs. After all, he wasn’t the one who killed her and there was no reason to place suspicion on himself.
Wyatt has walked this path every day since he found Amie Parker under the Ailanthus tree. He tells himself it is in hope of finding some overlooked clue: a piece of fabric or perhaps a muddy shoe print. But all he really wants is capture some remnants of her life—to breathe the same air that she once did, and to find joy and comfort in being alone.
© 2014 gibson grand
The wonderful and talented photographer, Ellie Lane, sent me this photograph, to see if it would inspire a story. It did. Many thanks to her.