Giganticby Marc Nesbitt
“[The] stories are suffused with a sort of poetry. . . . Beautiful . . . Nesbitt is smart, dark, and funny, like a young Elmore Leonard with a drinking problem.” –Sam Sifton, The New York Times Book Review
An extraordinary collection of dynamic stories by an exciting new voice in American fiction, Gigantic features ten powerful stories of emotional stagnation and personal transformation, passion and violence, race and community, that are viscerally immediate in their impact and otherworldly in their scope. Rich with language, and at turns comic and heartbreaking, Gigantic marks the arrival of an exciting voice in American fiction.
“Nearly all of the 10 lean and energetic stories here place down-and-out protagonists in laughably hopeless circumstances, and conduct them toward bruising, funny and heartbreaking resolutions. And Nesbitt presides over this pageant of misfortune with a fresh, concise and unpredictable command of language and dialogue.” –Chris Lehman, The Washington Post
“[The] stories are suffused with a sort of poetry. . . . Beautiful . . . Nesbitt is smart, dark, and funny, like a young Elmore Leonard with a drinking problem.” –Sam Sifton, The New York Times Book Review
“Exquisitely arresting . . . Nesbitt takes risks. He takes risks with imagery, details of his characters’ dead-end lives and even with structure. . . . Wonderful . . . A talent to watch.” –David Wiegand, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Nesbitt sets out to blow his readers away with his debut collection. . . . He succeeds. . . . Funny, tense and horrifying.” –Carole Goldberg, The Hartford Courant
“Gigantic . . . mounts a blitz of inventive prose, sentences like flash-bang grenades. . . . There’s music in Nesbitt’s writing and constant surprise.
” –Taylor Antrim, San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Nesbitt proves himself a powerful, emerging voice in American fiction with his debut collection.” –Elle
“A staunch enemy of clich”, Nesbitt has attempted to tweak his imagery and metaphors in unpredictable ways.” –David Massengill, Seattle Weekly
“Equal parts fun, studious and intense. . . . Reading Gigantic is like watching the movie Memento. Your senses are challenged to stay focused and involved. . . . These stories are free verses on acid. Lucid and personal, Nesbitt creates his characters–and then becomes them.” –Khary Kimani Turner, Metro Times
“The push-pull struggle between the narrators and those who wield power combines with Nesbitt’s snappy command of language to create stories with real depth.” –Heather Lee Schroeder, Capital Times
‘driven by hard, explosive prose, an almost insane ability to coil metaphors, and endings so shockingly nimble they’ll send you back to the beginnings to start again.” –Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Black Book
“Nesbitt seems to have sprung, fully formed, from out of nowhere. His language is rich and brutal enough to knock the wind out of you.” –Contents
“Fresh and creative. . . .I would recommend this book to all men, not just young, or black, or any other specific demographic detail, and I would also recommend it to women. . . . . It is a sign of a great writer that [Nesbitt] can tell the story with brevity.” –Patricia Ferguson Ph.D., Metapsychology
“Nesbitt’s idiosyncratic voice, his sharp-tongued observations and his convincing, colloquial dialogue communicate a unique and arresting worldview.” –Publishers Weekly
Kill You in
Me and Captain Earl stand where the lawn ends, each with a side of driveway and a lantern to hold. Two black guys they dress up as jockeys: I get the checkered shirt, red and cream, number 13, helmet tight like a nutshell and pants skim as a James Brown dancer. Captain Earl in vertical blue and white stripes but you can’t see the number from here. His tights fit worse than mine. No matter what color suit, your gloves are always white.
An hour already with nothing to stare at but crab apples in the gravel. This is the road the wealthy live on–just gray rocks dead in their own dust, running past us, in front of us, winding through the woods. Between the crab trees scabbed birch trunks zigzag, unsure where to twist. Our lights burn like fists.
“Even the rich road’s nothing but stones,” I say, like a fortune cookie.
Luckily, Earl can’t hear me because of headphones he welded into his helmet.
He’s at least fifty, eldest and head of the lawn jockeys, or “Captain,” I should call him, because “We’re all a team,” the people who own the house told me.
My left shoulder’s swollen twice the size of my right. Wind in the trees, and the leaves show us their backsides. Soon they’ll all be dead. I turn and face the house, sit on my lantern.
If I sprinted the whole way, I could cross this guy’s lawn in three days easy. I heard his flat grass had bored him so he hired Asian landscapers to make it undulate–had to be Asian. You seen them bonsai trees? he’d said. Now he’s got a sod wave-pool four football fields long for his lawn, bending in the ripples as if the house had dropped on it. The driveway crosses the tops of the waves, and they bricked in the dips beneath it.
A herd of oaks explode from here to the house. Their mass grows as you notice them–just now rammed up through the earth, shaking with size, limbs dripping dirt. Their shadows lie long at their sides. White holiday lights come alive among the branches, large as gargoyles to shine on those below. Cold piles toward nightfall. It’s six o’clock late September, second night of work.
First day was an afternoon picnic. Caterers dropped from the backs of black minivans like Airborne, moving in formation, advancing on the backyard. Instead of lanterns, jockeys hold black iron rings in the day. They gave me a wet one, so dark I could see myself in it. When I didn’t grab the ring, the guy handing them out said, ‘make your glove dirty just looking at it, don’t it?” Light-blue kid with hair like a pride of fire ants. He was the kid of something famous, and by now nobody knew either one of them. I saw him again after all the food was gone, holding a mints bowl by the sidewalk where everyone left.
With the last guest and the redhead gone, I cleaned up all their shit and burned the butter-plaid tablecloths. “You can’t just throw them away,” a skinny big man said, so tall his knees needed bolts and he stooped wherever he went, not just through doorways but there in the backyard daylight, saving his scalp from the bare bulb sun on its low string. “You gotta burn them.”
He’d pointed to a dumpster with Hell in it, where the rest of The Help cradled bundles and already lined toward the fire.
But tonight’s Ruffhauser, a German chef with his name italicized on the invite, so the linen’ll stay on the table. Somebody posted an invite in the locker room; the menu half ripped off, neat along the card fold so The Help couldn’t even see what the food tastes like.
The first car shows up smoking stone at the wheels. Dead leaves jump in the headlights, eager as roadkill.
Captain Earl says, “Check out Chef’s car.”
Chef Ruffhauser slides up the driveway in a BMW with emblems the size of manholes.
A fat man waves to Ruffhauser from the stoop, if you can call it that–it’s more a cement porch, or the end stretch of an expressway; the house an obscenity in a water tank, all its features magnified. Three armies could live in there and never find one another.
Fat man is the processed-meat magnate–his
baloney has a first name and it’s his. He’s the F. Scott
of Wisconsin. Behind his back all The Help call him
Fatsby comes down from his house, walking like an egg in a maroon suit. When he nears, we hear him grunt in the valleys and blow air on the rises of his man-made hills. Standing next to me, his red head sweats like a sausage. Somehow he kept the suit dry; probably had his pores burnt shut or some other rich-person surgery.
“What in the Helen of Troy is going on here?” Fatsby says, smiling, with the weight on here since he already knows what goes on everywhere else. He drinks gin in a snifter wide as a church bell.
I stand up.
‘stand up,” he says.
“I am standing,” I say.
“Well stay that way.”
He’s beaming, fat and hobbit happy; button-on pork chops for cheeks. Reminds me of this other white guy I saw in a Chinese takeout–ordered the white-meat chicken fried rice; circled it on the sheet menu he handed to the lady. Ain’t no dark meat in there, right? he said. “Cause I can’t stand dark meat. He smiled at me. When his order was ready, he asked if they had anything besides Coke.
She said, We have iced tea.
Is that root beer? he said.
On his carton a three-tailed bird and a dragon, dancing together or fighting, depending on your mood.
Fatsby says, “We don’t sit down. And we don’t face the house.”
‘don’t and don’t,” I say. “Got it.”
He holds out a black ski mask at arm’s length. “Here ya go,” he says.
“I’m okay. It’s not that cold.”
Liquor pours from his skin with the smell of fermented pine sap. The ski mask swings in the dusk like a bloody raccoon.
‘really,” I say. “It’s only September.”
He’s joyous, insistent. He says, ‘my daughter works for me. The youngest one. Just so she’ll know what it’s like. So anyway, she tells me she hears this couple the other day, yeah, here” –thumb at the lawn–”at the Ponderson picnic, asking each other when I started hiring Orientals.”
I laugh with him. I’ve become part of his script, about to say something like You don’t gotta tell me twice, or You and me both, pal, but I guess that line’s been scratched because he keeps talking.
“I said to her, ‘sure! Bring “em from Nam, all I care, for the lawn!”” He palms my helmet for emphasis, says serious, “You seen them bonsai trees?”
“A picture maybe.”
“Well there you go,” he says. ‘so my daughter Carrie. She says, “Not about the lawn, about the picnic.” I say, “The picnic?” I mean, between you and me? Front yard, that’s where your tour of duty ends, my friend. In my backyard? I’ll hire a faggot first, just to show you how I feel about Orientals. That’s what I tell her. Except the part about the faggots. She’s young, she’s got friends–you know, she’s been to New York a bunch. Her mother loves the place; ask me, it’s an outhouse. So I ask around about any Orientals seen at the Ponderson picnic. Come to find out, everyone worked that night’s black as stallions,” he says. “Except one.”
“I guess that’s me,” I say.
Now he points at me instead of the lawn. “You should try out for one of them game shows,” he tells me. “I’m serious.” Ice like fingernails float in his snifter. When he drinks you can hear them.
“But I’m not Asian,” I say.
“Hell, son, we can both see that,” he says. “But. No offense?”
He waits for me to nod.
“Well, no offense, but you’re yella as a sick Chink,” he says. “And I’ll be honest, people don’t need reminders of someplace they didn’t want to be. Or worse than that, some mistake from a long time ago. When they were drunk or stupid or whatever.” He looks between our feet like what he said writhes alive in the grass. Then he says, “Which one of your parents was white?”
Everyone–red, white, black, and blue–asks me this question. Never enough to say somebody died, the next question’s always, How? And whatever the answer to either one, people look down, watch their shadows trail away from a curb, nodding, So that’s how it happened.
I say, ‘my–”
“Guess it doesn’t matter,” he says. “Can’t change the facts afterward.”
I tell him my dad used to work for him, that’s how I got the job.
“Jiminy Christmas, no shit,” he says. “You’re Nimrod’s kid? Well, we know he wasn’t the white one!”
Two Thanksgivings ago Fatsby had horse coaches pick up party clients from whatever dead cornfield served for that year’s airstrip. It was something’s anniversary: ribbons up the coach sides, spoke lights, harness bells; he got the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Dad’s assignment sat with wing ice at O’Hare and got sprayed from cranes. Dad waited at the estate in top hat and red tails, nipping whiskey in his done-up fox-hunt taxi and figuring, working for Bud, the horse wants a drink too. So he stole six Guinness from the kitchen to soak the feed bag. They made the whole drop-off–cornfield to mansion–no problem. Only afterward did he race the two of them drunk into a tree.
The Fatsbys gave us a stainless steel vacuum cleaner, wet/dry silverware, a year’s worth of cold-cut condolence. Whole thing like a theme present.
Plus the sum of money Mom and I split. When I remember how much, I think I made up the number. I was young and drunk, might as well have stuffed bills in empty bottles and thrown them off a bridge.
Mom took her half to move wherever the Canyon is and pray she doesn’t fall in. Now she prays for everything. Now she helps build stilts on her church for the next epic flood.
Hey Ma, you live in the desert.
Great waters come when they will, she says. We’ve seen it. She dances at church with her eyes closed, gaining weight like it makes her more faithful.
Turns out they weren’t from Bud and weren’t even Clydesdales, just fat horses with dye jobs and false fur boots. Plus it’d been an old horse, always bit the trainer. The stable guy’d said, I’m glad it’s dead.
“Eyes like loose marbles,” Fatsby says, is how my father would gawk at The Help. He’s got a whole jukebox of homemade clich’s. He says, “I told him, “Trouble awaits those.” But still, “You can’t oil a wood chair to keep it from squeaking.” I guess that’s how you came about. All that squeaking bound to lead to something.” He laughs and shakes the ski mask. ‘so like I said, here ya go.” When I don’t grab it, he says, “Lighten up, kid, I’m only serious.”
I take the mask.
He grins like he just bought lingerie for his daughter. “Put it on,” he says.
“I will.” I try changing the subject, point my chin at his house. “You got a nice place here. The lawn. Everything. Haven’t seen inside, of course.”
“Well you don’t put cashmere rugs in a tree house, I promise you.”
He tips the snifter, swallows what’s left, looks in its bottom for more.
“You know they call this stuff divorce juice?” he says. “I drank a tanker already and no luck so far.”
We stand there watching the quiet between our faces. I think about nodding.
‘so anyway, kid, put on the mask.”
“How about when it gets a little colder later?”
“How about now?” he says. “That’s it. Now tuck it in the throat there. There ya go. Perfect. Cute as a terrorist. Not like anybody’s looking twice anyway, right?”
Up the gravel comes a silver CLK driven by a thick stick of butter with a mustache. His vanity plates say coach. When past us, he spits in the grass from his Benz window.
Fatsby raises a hand in heil, looks over his shoulders for friends.
“Look at this,” Fatsby says. ‘my party starts, and I’m out in the field talking to the help.”
He follows taillights up the driveway.
After Coach, all the guests arrive at once, cars almost hitched at the fenders. The modern-day twenties roar along the lawn behind me.
Across the gravel and way back in the black between crab trees, deer eyes blink like ship lanterns. The undergrowth rearranges its dead wet bed. The bark scratches with hanging animals, eating the trees alive.
The mask easy on the skin as Brillo. My head melts into my shirt. All I can see are the rims of the eyeholes, the trees across the road with squirrels nibbling their fists and squeaking invective.
Captain Earl says, “I’m out of batteries.”
I turn my head like my neck’s broken. He’s checking his hip. For the next five minutes he twitches. He folds his fingers. He whistles. Shifts his weight like a gull on a fence.
Then he says, “Take off that ski mask, man. I keep thinking I’m supposed to kill you.”
I can feel my helmet again, can see whatever I want. The mask in the grass, steaming like a hide.
‘stay cool, Yellow,” he says. “He already forgot y”all even talked. But pick it up so he don’t find it in the morning. Your name’s Cole, right?”
“Cool. Smoke grass?” he asks, but he’s already lit it. ‘don’t worry.” He taps his head. “I got four more in my helmet.”
Soon he’s so gone he forgets to be a tough guy. Drops his shoulders a little. Smiles in the silence and laughs on his forearms. Other than when I smoked with the Mormon hippie on his Michigan porch surrounded by red wine in coffee cups–all of which, when he found them, were the same mug to him–this is the strangest joint.
Dark completes itself. The oak herd swallows its shadows, holding them black in the trunks. The electric light gains confidence, brighter in the branches and lying in pieces on the lawn.
Captain Earl says, “I used to dishwash.” Tells me his stepbrother Vince still does. Holds up his hand and spreads his fingers. “Neither one of us got no fingerprints.”
“You saw that in a movie.”
‘may be,” he says. “But I still ain’t got fingerprints.” He tells me no more cars are coming. His brother had counted the number of set plates, and Captain Earl counted heads at the gate. “And if you call me Captain one more time . . .” he says.
But he seems all right, more real than the cartoon niggers who worked the picnic, even if he is short and complex-vexed, hand in his shirt warming a gun or a holstered fetus. Lantern somewhere around his knees.
He looks over his shoulder, says, “Here come Carrie.”
I turn, expecting a blood-soaked prom dress. Instead, her hips carve shape in her silhouette. She slings them side to side like she seeds fields for a living. She knows people pay attention when she walks.
She stands before us, marcelled blond in waitstaff black and white, bending every right place in her silk black pants, balancing an empty tray weighed down with darkness.
I close my mouth. ‘say, Shirley Temple.”
‘shirley Temple,” she says. “Haven’t heard that one in the last five minutes.”
She’s got eyes the sockets run away from, and I remember her from the first day–burning holes in my head behind her living room glass, watching me walk to the furnace.
“I saw you at the picnic,” I say.
“Oh? You were here?”
“But with different hair.”
“You had the same stupid helmet on, I wouldn’t be able to tell,” she says. She stares at the back of my brain, smiles now, bloody lipstick in the corners of her teeth like meat off the bone. ‘so, you boys want drinks?”
Earl says, “You know what I want.”
She says, “Yeah, I know. But I forgot.”
He orders Courvoisier and cranberry. I order Jack and whatever.
“Whatever what?” she says.
“Whatever you got.”
“No,” she says. “You’re supposed to say please. Didn’t your mother teach you how to act?”
‘my dad taught me everything. Mostly late night, when he was drunk.” I smile like I’m running out of teeth.
“And that’s got what to do with me?” she says.
She sends laughs through the still-shaking trees as she leaves us.
Suddenly the night’s ecstatic on its edges. Electricity traces the leaves–as if I forgot today’s my birthday or swallowed a sparkler.
‘she’s incredible,” I say.
‘she’s so full of shit her name stinks,” says Earl. He passes me a fresh-lit. “I seen this episode already. If you knew her you’d see right through this shit. Instead, you gonna walk around here dragging your tongue, and this lawn’ll be cleaner when she get up in the morning.” He takes a hit, squints, pulls his chin back like I hit him in the throat, and stretches out. “That’s what’s gonna happen. Dig out your heart with a plastic spoon.”
I told him there were times I’d stare at what girls picked for art–a poster of kittens chewing on the same old pink yarn ball, subtitled Ain’t friendship great! Or the Seurat with the park and the rich people watching a river. Getting dorm-room head beneath the laminated replica, I’d think, Would anyone dressed that nice ever step in the grass? But Carrie would, and she did, and all to come see me.
Earl says, “I think you better let me hold on to this, “cause I don’t know what the fuck you talking about anymore. She always come down and bring us drinks.”
“Yeah, but this time she came down different.”
“You never even seen her before.”
‘she’s got the black pants,” I say.
“They all got black pants.”
“No, like the black pants. Like hot pants. But black.”
“Jesus,” Earl says. “And I did this to him.”
Our lanterns lay sideways in the grass, blacking their glass. Gravel climbs into a paintable landscape, the crab fruit glowing something holy.
Earl sears his lips and fingers on what’s still burning, the orange lying in every line of his face.
‘she’s the kind of girl–you send her your ear in the mail, right? The one without the earring, and she be like, “What. You couldn’t send me the good one?”” He flicks a spark that blows away before it lands. “That’s what they’re like,” he says. “Always seem like a good idea at the time.”
In the house, the party crosses all windows.
Earl says, “Blow out your fire and let’s go see about them drinks.”
We step down into the lawn with our dead lanterns behind us, the little hills wet with night. We kick up spray smells of piss and ginger ale, sparking when it catches light, damping pants in the dark of the valleys. A lawn long as allegory–like at the end we’re supposed to realize something, realize everything we just came from and what it meant, look back at our passage and appreciate where we stand now.
But we’re not there yet. Still kicking the light out of the grass, still dodging oaks and hiding behind their blackness from snipers lying on the roof.
Earl says, “The light ain’t gonna shoot you.”
“If they see us, though.”
“You keep staying in the same place, you got your own problems. I’m not waitin.”
He walks away from my crouch, half of him lit, half in shadow.
We make it to the side of the house, to the locker-room front door coned under a lamp bright as a pig-size firefly.
The locker room’s a converted stable with a handwritten sign above the horse door that says help in charcoal letters, edges flaking off as you read them. I’ve been inside twice. Between it and the house is a skinny addition The Help call the decompression chamber–tuxes and French-maid jump skirts on a rack under heat lamps, like they’re lamb ribs, or perishable, like anything expensive.
The stable itself is just a wide room and no lockers, splintered pegs set in the wall, head hanging as if they’ve been climbed on. Whoever converted it left the horse partitions, left the hay, added green-yellow hairy new wood benches that hurt to sit on.
When we walk past, Earl spits on the door.
Almost at the kitchen now. Where the woods start is a doorless toolshed with two rottweilers strapped to it. The right one’s got a head you’d have to own a T-top to take in the car, calm and staring–the worst kind–when they snap they never miss, and you don’t get bit, you lose a limb. The left dog sniffs weed clumps, tests the end of his leather leash. He hops around, thinks about standing, waves his unsheathed pink and wanders toward the dark behind the shed. A hose in the lawn, splayed like lost intestines. Carrie and a black guy share Chinese from a carton on the kitchen back steps. She’s got noodles strung from her teeth to her chopsticks. The brother’s eyes the color of dead custard.
“That’s Vince,” Earl whispers. “Keep a hand on your wallet.”
“Thought he was your brother.”
‘stepbrother,” Earl says. “I mean, he’s a brother. Just not mine.”
Vince the dishwasher’s got circular scars sliding across his face like someone got him with an apple corer or a car lighter. He shakes my hand, looking away like he’s taking a bribe. Skin like a burlap sack.
Carrie smiles with a greasy mouth, says, “Oh my God, I forgot your drinks.” She and Vince pass their own joint. “I’d offer,” she says. “But he gave it to me.”
She points at Vince and disappears to the kitchen with a hit in her throat.
Vince smokes, points at Earl.
Earl points at me, says, “I guess I only had three in my helmet.”
Vince says, “Want some? It’s cold.”
He holds out the carton: a clotted puddle of brown-green noodles and nearly colorless vegetables. He pulls it away before anyone answers.
She comes back with two drinks gold as apple juice, hands them off like grenades with the pins pulled, their tops spilling in the dirt.
Earl holds his up to the light. “Where’s the cranberry?”
“In the kitchen,” she says.
Vince makes a thick wet noise with the lo mein. Bugs knock a conga on the lamp. The trees throw wind around in their dresses. Between us, smoke the only thing speaking.
The quick things happen like this: You stand there, wondering could you fit inside a Chinese carton with the sides greased enough, watching the weeds celebrate at the front of a dust-smothered shed. The waitress grabs your hand and squints up at you as if it means something. The brothers start up; spit on each other during words, clash teeth, rip their own lips off, furious about pro city teams you’re almost sure you’ve heard of.
They’ve chosen sides, and in among the vague you worry you’ll root wrong. You look at her. She still squints, you might even call it a smile, her eyes on a train track or a dust storm coming, or wind, or distance–all of it, and her warmth along your arm with the confidence of weather, and she smiles like the right direction.
Carrie drags me willing into the woods, back where it’s blackest. Or not that dark but at least where the house light runs out of breath and lays fingers on the last leaf it can touch. The deer find a darkness even farther, still signaling with their pairs of lamps. They stand stock solid with the weight of nothing to do, like watching from an attic crack while people rob your house.
Carrie kicks leaves away in a narrow square, long as a grave.
‘don’t you hate my father?” she says. “The way he treats you? The ski mask? I mean, don’t you hate that?”
“I know I don’t like the way he looks at me.”
“No. Do you hate it?”
“Like he runs a zoo and fucks all the animals.”
She says, “I’d hate it.”
I sit on a tree stump wide enough to cork a reactor.
“I guess you could say I do, in fact, hate him.”
“I mean, what do you get out of dressing like a horse-riding midget?” she says.
“I didn’t dress like this. They made me.”
Everything runs beneath me like the next square of film, my heels catching in the roots of the escalator. I watch Carrie’s face turn, into what or where I can’t tell.
“And what’s he pay you?” she says. ” A hackeysack an hour? Please.”
She says it po-lice, slow and split in half.
Eventually I use the word “hate” in enough sentences to convince her. She relaxes. She sits on the stump in poses she must practice at home. Like she wants me to take notes, or sculpt her, tell her to love the camera. She lurches forward, and in kisses our teeth spark like claws.
“I don’t even know you,” she moans, sucking breath off my face.
“People who don’t know each other can say everything.”
She looks back at me, around me. I didn’t know my head had that many sides. When I find her eyes, they won’t both work without the brights on–one’s dim, the other’s glare makes my brain hurt.
I squint. She thinks I’m smiling and kisses me worse than ever. Spit boils. We shuck each other’s clothes like husks.
She lies naked across the rings of the tree stump. She writhes in subtle laughter, soft as spores and bending in places I never knew possible. The sweat on the small of her back parading against my fingers. The braille of her cold skin. She smells like crayon food, like hollandaise candles.
The deer leave. Trees inch away, pull up roots, ashamed and scattering, plugging vomit with branches. In the noise of us, in the smell of what we create, the mud around us fills with water from underneath, where trees used to be.
I’ve got the heat of her in my crotch, the skin on skin of now, our tongues mixing like viscera, when someone screams, “Carrie!” and at first I think it’s me.
We stop with me inside her. From here and between the trees, we see Fatsby call her from the steps behind the kitchen. He screams other names. Names like Vince! Or Earl! Names I’m almost sure I’ve heard before.
The quick things happen again–except now I’m cold and wet in the wrong places, and naked, and she whispers shit and shit and shit again, breathing like I punched out her wind.
She grows back her outfit in a time-lapse moss of shame, says, “I knew I shouldn’t have followed you out here. Now I’m dead.”
She’s already sprinting for the house before my heels finish sinking in the mud.
‘dad! Dad! Dad!” plays off the trees.
The moon took the night off. The trees are back again, close as older sisters, exhaling and furious–mean enough to make me put my clothes on, to feel the need for explanation. The spaces between their trunks hum. My jockey sleeve’s mucked to the shoulder.
When I get back behind the kitchen there’s nobody but the rotts by the toolshed, yanking the end of their tethers and panting me questions.
Vince comes from the woods with a whiskey fifth finished to the bar code. He takes two steps back to go forward, and soon he’s so close he hits me in the chest with the bottle.
“Want some?” he says. “It’s warm.”
“Where’d everybody go?”
“What’s up with your shirt?” he says. “You know you gotta pay for that. Like I give a shit!” he screams in a whisper. He laughs, wags the whiskey neck before the dogs. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”
“Inside somewhere.” He drinks the liquor, shakes with its seizure.
“He went for the lawn when the trouble started.” Vince coughs on his knees, spit in strings off his lips.
“This is bad.” I run to the back of the house, to the nearest window, all lights out in this living room and emptiness in the one hallway I can see.
Vince stinks over my shoulder.
He says, “This wouldn’t be half this good if y”all hadn’t been fuckin.” He smiles, claps without sound, answers my look with, “Hey man, I was back there too. Where’s I supposed to go?”
I look around the yard for exits. There’s one small piece of food left from the picnic–a broken bun with its pinched-off end of bratwurst.
‘she’ll tell him,” I say. “He’ll kill me.”
Vince stares at the roof, squinting at the sheer fact of gutters.
“Then we kill him first,” he says. He knocks me away from the window. “Hang him with his own hose. Out front. Where everyone’ll find him in the morning.”
Things start to make sense. My options double.
“You could do it, Vince. You got no fingerprints.”
‘shit, they gonna know who it was, that’s not the point.” He stands straight as a marine, flinging orders. “Hold this,” he says. He hands me the whiskey. “Follow me. Give the dogs some of that.”
He runs away in a crouch.
I forget to follow. I drink. I go to a different window, to a few, finally to the one with people in it–Fatsby and his fat wife pressing their heads together until they’re lopsided, dancing like a dump truck in a three-point turn. The ten others rich enough to stay late take up all the small couches. I wait for Carrie to come burning through the door. I wonder what keeps her.
The window’s cracked a touch and streaming heat. The fireplace is a nightmare. The rug swims around within itself trying to be Oriental. Everyone and their teeth swaying from the gums.
Vince comes back with an iron chair.
He says, “I couldn’t find the hose.”
“A chair.” Vince sits in it. “Just shut up and let me think.”
He picks lint off his shirt.
The room swings big band on vinyl. Smoke shortens the ceiling. Maybe Carrie’s never coming.
Vince touches the circles on his face. In this light they’re brighter, light blue and shining. He doesn’t like the look of things.
“I got an idea,” he says.
He’s up, chair off the ground in his fists.
I want to tell him wait. Tell him hold on. Tell him maybe.
But decisions are finished. He puts the chair through the window, glass screaming like a bell exploded, shards bouncing off our temples, our throats, our crotches, and into the room where everyone waits for theirs.
Copyright ” 2002 by Marc Nesbitt. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.