Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by Barry Hannah

“This novel hangs in the memory like a fishhook. It will haunt you long after you have finally put it down. Barry Hannah is a talent to reckon with, and I can only hope that Ray finds an audience it deserves.” –Harry Crews, Washington Post Book World

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 128
  • Publication Date March 01, 1994
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3387-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Ray is the funniest, weirdest, soul-happiest work of fiction by a genuinely young American author that I’ve read in a long while. You need a fresh lingo to do justice to this much magic, mystery, and hilarity.” –Benjamin DeMott, The New York Times Book Review

Nominated for the American Book Award, Ray is the bizarre, hilarious, and consistently adventurous story of a life on edge. Dr. Ray–a womanizer, small-town drunk, vigilante, poet, adoring husband–is a man trying to make sense of life in the twentieth century. In flight from the death he dealt flying over Vietnam, Dr. Ray struggles with those bound to him by need, sickness, lunacy, by blood and by love.

Tags Literary


“A shorthand epic of extraordinary power . . . a novel of brilliant particulars and dizzying juxtapositions. . . . Reading it is like turning in one’s hand a sharply faceted crystal.””Newsweek

Ray is a song . . . about the electrics, cool and hot, of being alive.””The Village Voice

“A masterwork of literary jazz. . . . An intense and readable joy.””Chicago Tribune

Ray delights, provokes, shocks, amuses on every page. Barry Hannah is an original, vital talent.””Houston Chronicle

“This novel hangs in the memory like a fishhook. It will haunt you long after you have finally put it down. Barry Hannah is a talent to reckon with, and I can only hope that Ray finds an audience it deserves.””Harry Crews, Washington Post Book World

“Barry Hannah is an original, vital talent. His style is exuberant, impressionistic, and highly compressed. . . . Reading this novel is not a passive experience. It delights, provokes, shocks, amuses on every pa

ge.””Houston Chronicle

Ray is the funniest, weirdest, soul-happiest work of fiction by a genuinely young American author that I’ve read in a long while. You need a fresh lingo to do justice to this much magic, mystery, and hilarity.””Benjamin DeMott, The New York Times Book Review


Nominated for the American Book Award



RAY is thirty-three and he was born of decent religious parents, I say.

Ray, I didn’t ever think it would get to this. The woman I love and that I used to meet in the old condemned theater and we would wander around looking at the posters and worshiping the past, I just called her Sister like her parents, the Hooches, did. Her mother lives in that house with that man. Her grandmother was a Presbyterian missionary killed by the gooks.
Ray, you are a doctor and you are in a hospital in Mobile, except now you are a patient but you’re still me. Say what? You say you want to know who I am?

I have a boat on the water. I have magnificent children. I have a wife who turns her beauty on and off like a light switch.

But I can think myself out of this. My mind can do it.

It did it before, can do it again, as when I was pilot of the jet when I was taking the obnoxious rich people in their Lear from Montreal to New York to Charlotte to Pensacola to New Orleans to Mexico City to the Yucat”n to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because they had an old friend there.

You can do it, mind and heart. You can give it the throttle and pick up your tail and ease it on. You can do it, Ray.

For instance, look at this male nurse. He weighs three hundred pounds. He’s got flab in his eyes, but he used to weigh four hundred. Now he’s divorced his second wife and has no remorse and is moving to Key West for a higher-paying job. He has no care for other people because his own elephantine system keeps him employed. You would fire him, Ray. Except you can’t fire anyone now.

Nether. That’s a good one. Hang on to a word like nether.

Her nether hoot. No, I don’t, nether. This is the netherlands and it will nether get worse. That is the awfulest netherest laughter.

I just threw up my netherest soul. There’s nothing left, nether. My eyes are full of yellow bricks. There are dry tiny horses running in my veins.

That was three weeks ago, Ray. Now I am clean. My head is full of light. I am a practicing doctor again and it is necessary I go over to the Hooches.

My heart, my desire. Sister!

The stacked tires, the station wagon half-captured by kudzu and ivy, the fishing boat on wheels, the tops of an ash and a pine rising from the falling ravine behind the backyard, and in front, the house, a peeling eyesore, the complaint of the neighborhood. The Hooches!

The Hooch children are afraid. The car seems to have plunged up from the ravine. The smaller Hooches are fearful.

The roof of the garage has fallen in and around it clay pots are scattered through the lustrous ragged fronds.

The Hooch family is large and poor.

I have seen the moon make an opaque ghost of the backyard, and I have seen the Hooch animals roam out into it, smelling the life of themselves. They enter the border of visibility and pass through it into the uncanny.

Time and time again it comes back. Where the Hooches buried Oscar in the backyard near the fallen garage. Where the broken flowerpots were pulled away to make a place for Oscar. Where a single white wild blossom occurred under the forever stunted fig tree, making no sense at all, certainly not to dead Oscar.

The others of the street are not of their homes as much as the Hooches. The loud and untidy failures of the Hooches pour from the exits. Their broken car is on the curb in front, pasted over with police citations. Around the base of a ragged bush near the front door is wrapped an old rotten brassiere. In the small front yard parts of toys and soaked food lie. A rope hangs from a second-story window. The drainpipe has been beaten out of place by the children.

The Hooch family has a familiar, I am saying, a certain familiar joyful lust and ignorance. They are mine. They’re Ray’s.

I say they are mine.

“Hi, Doctor Ray. You got that morphine for me?” says Mr. Hooch.


“I do like that fog.”

Mr. Hooch climbs up on his crutch.

“I guess I’m a fairly worthless bastard, aren’t I?” he asks.

“You are. You’ve perfected it,” I say.

The old man is tickled.

“Are you horny, Doctor Ray? You want me to call Sister?”

“No, thanks.”

“There’s nothing to drink. I’ve drunk everything there is to drink.” Mr. Hooch throws out a cough, very nearly pukes. Revives. ‘didn’t you say you used to be a drunkard, Doctor Ray?”

“I did,” I say. “Almost got kicked out of the trade for it.”

I can see it makes the old man feel better to hear it. “Ray,” he says. “Ray, boy, that old morphine is sudden, hey? I’m fogging away.”

“Your leg already better?”

“Already. Listen to this, Doctor Ray. I know life all round, up and down. I have become my dreams. I have entered the rear of Mother Nature and come out her mouth, and I am the sin that is not ugly.”

“That’s fine,” I say.

“It hurts my leg to talk like that,” the old man says.

From the back of the house, looking over the fishing boat and past it to the wide, brittle leaves at the crown of the unhealthy magnolia, there comes Mrs. Hooch with her Pall Malls, a blotched woman in a bravely colored wrap, her legs lean and veiny. She arrives out of breath. She sits in the flaking chair.

“What are you looking at, Doc?” she says.

“Everything in your backyard looks hungry,” says I. “There’s a bird that looks like he doesn’t know what to do.”

“It’s all we got.”

Looking out at the unhappy foliage.

“Ever since I wasn’t a virgin no more, things have slid down,” she says.

“There must have been love or something,” I say.

‘sure, but it was all downward.”

I say, “Are you hopeless?”

“Close,” she says.

“Well,” I say, “I brought another bottle of Valium.”

“The preacher was here,” she says. “He couldn’t do anything. I told him every time you came you left us happier.”

“God bless the pharmacy,” I say.

Outside, there are two small heads wobbling in the fishing boat. The Hooch twins, the young set. They have older twins too, and three children between these pairs.

“You want to talk today, Doc?” Mrs. Hooch wants to know.

I say, “I get tired of people. All of them driving around in their cars, eating, having to be. All of them insisting on existing.”

“But you help people,” Mr. Hooch says.

“I’m one of them,” I say.

“If you’re sad, do you want to see Sister?” Mrs. Hooch says. “I think she’s still in bed.”

‘maybe I will,” I say.

Sister is always in love with somebody, sometimes me. There is a capricious wisdom she has about attaching herself to anybody for very long, although her loyalties are fast. She plays the guitar well and has a nice voice that she keeps to herself. Life has been such for her that she has no attitude at all. She expects no sympathy. Two of her teenage lovers died in an accident at the railroad tracks. That’s when I met Sister. I rode down to the tracks, and she was standing there in a long sleeping gown, two weeks after the accident.

“What’s wrong, girl?”

“I growed up.”

“You want to go home? I’m a doctor. The preacher called me. They’re worried about you.”
“Ain’t nobody should worry. I’ll be here.”

“I can give you a pill.”

But she said to leave her be.

So I drove back to the fancy rich thing of my home in my Corvette. In back of my house is the swamp, where all the creatures are either singing or angry or sexed up. My three well-fed and luxuriously moving furred Persian cats roam around with their big eyes. The back door was open and in front of one of their feed dishes there sits a mother raccoon. She’s got two little raccoons with her, who are having a really good time. One of the cats tried for them, but I kicked it back through the kitchen. “Listen,” I said, “I am the emperor here. I reign.”

Ralph and Robert, my rich brothers, approve. But because of them, I can’t even say my name.

But then I had to go back, to see Sister, to see if she’s still there at the railroad tracks.
She was. Her gown was wet with tears and she was shivering bad.

“Nothing’ll help,” she said.

Henceforward we were together.

‘sister, do you have a real name?” I said.

‘sister’s enough,” said she, “but my real name is Betty, and my age is eighteen. My grandmother was a Presbyterian missionary, but the Chinese Communists killed her. My pappy’s from Mississippi. He ain’t worth nothing, but there he is. He never worried about too much and his words is always kind. It was hateful for him to get shot in the kneecap in World War Two. But there he is. I don’t want to talk about my momma too much because I don’t like her. Her name’s Agnes and she acts like that name.”

“Well,” said I, “I did my part in hurting the gooks back for you, Sister. I flew support missions for B-52 bombers in Vietnam.”

“You flew what?”

“An F-4, called the Phantom. It’s a jet airplane.”

“I’ve seen them jets pass over me and thought about them,” Sister said.

Her figure and face were lively and charming. Her legs were open, dark-skinned, negligent, as in the posture of lust. She had Cajun blood from her mother. Her hair was thick and black, and I suppose her beauty was astounding, even in the dirty gown and her eyes red with nervous grief.

I don’t feel that good about women anyway, nor gooks, nor sand-niggers, nor doctors, nor anything human that moves, with its zealous raving habits. Then I met Sister and my trust came back, my body was flooded with hope.

“You hear about Uncle Sweat?” she asked me once while we were making love. “He tried to take off a plane and crashed it into the state pen, Parchman, over in Mississippi. They didn’t even have to get a judge or nothing. He was already there.”

“Never heard about him.”

“Last week Aunt Viola was in a rage about Uncle Tom’s carelessness and she dropped a chain saw on her foot.”


The thing I like about Sister is that every hurt she mentions, every hurt she has, she gives it back twice in love. She beats the hell out of my wife, who looks like somebody on television.
My town now is Tuscaloosa. I want you to know about some of the people here. My friend Charlie DeSoto, for example. He and his sweetheart Eileen came in, both of them wanting the drug that would help them stay in love without the grinding nervousness they had, because they were in love and they wanted to make it stick. Yet they induced tension in each other. Charlie was going for the booze, Eileen for the Compazines and coffee.

The name DeSoto was important, Charlie thought. He’s a manager of the soap factory to the south of town and has made happen important steps toward antipollution of the Black Warrior River, into which his factory used to dump all the chemical wastes it had. It killed fish, and generally screwed up the water vegetation for fifteen miles downriver.

One night Charlie was waked up by a noise in his backyard. He caught hold of his hatchet, hoping it was a criminal, for his life had been dull lately. But when he went outdoors in the cold air, DeSoto–who was of course the namesake of Hernando de Soto, the discoverer of the Mississippi River who perished in 1542, probably of greed and arrogance–saw there was no criminal. The man in the backyard was not running. He was crawling, almost wallowing, toiling on the brown rye grass of Charlie’s yard. The man lifted his face and said, “Listen, friend, I can’t take it anymore.”

DeSoto considered that for a while, a whole day, actually. Charlie liked considering things. Best of all, Charlie DeSoto liked considering Mr. Wently. Now this Wently was a man who came by DeSoto’s house every morning, every morning at exactly 7:45. This Wently was a man somewhere in his seventies, and he was regular. But so was the dog, Albert. Albert belonged to two gentle lesbians, Marjorie and Jane. And the minute Wently showed himself on the block, Albert came out viciously and barked. But the old man was never appalled, for he knew Albert was just a loud coward.

DeSoto wanted to kill Mr. Wently, was the problem. He could murder Mr. Wently for the regularity of his habits. Wently had a three-piece suit and sunglasses and a cane. DeSoto owned no gun, but if he had one, he would have killed Wently first thing.

One day it was a glorious day, and the red and yellow leaves were falling all around the street, since it was fall, the dying beautiful season of the year.

DeSoto was reading about the original de Soto according to Rangel, his diarist on the expedition from Florida.

Sunday. October tenth, the Governor de Soto entered the village of Tuscaloosa, which is called Athlacia, a recent village. And the chief was on a kind of balcony on a mound at one end of the square, his head covered with a kind of coif like the almaizal, so that his headdress was like a Moor’s, which gave him an aspect of authority. He also wore a mantle of feathers down to his feet, very imposing. He was as tall as that Tony of the Emperor, our lord’s guard. A fine and comely emperor of a man.

Hernando remained seated with him a short time, and after a little he arose and said that they should come to eat, and he took him with him and the Indians came to dance. And they danced very well in the fashion of rustics in Spain. At night Tuscaloosa desired to go, and our Commander de Soto told him that he must sleep there. He slept there notwithstanding his reluctance.

The next day de Soto our Governor asked him for carriers and the rest of them he said he would give at Mobile, the province of one of his principal vassals.

Monday. October eighteen, St. Luke’s day, the Governor de Soto came to Mobile, having passed that day by several villages and mountains with two Christians slain by Indians who did not take our passing through their village peaceably. The soldiers stayed behind to forage and scatter themselves, for the region appeared populous. And there came with the Governor only forty horsemen as an advance guard, and after they tarried a little, that the Governor might not show weakness, he entered into the village with the chief, Tuscaloosa, and all his guard went in with him. The Indians danced an areyto. While this was going on, some soldiers saw them putting bows and arrows slyly among some palm leaves and other Christians saw that below the cabins were full of people concealed.

The Governor put his helmet on his head. He warned the soldiers. Luis de Moscoso and Baltasar de Gallegos, and Espindola, the captain of the guard, and only seven or eight soldiers were present. Gallegos went for Tuscaloosa, but the chief was hidden in a cabin and Gallegos with his knife slashed off the arm of an attacking Indian. Some got to their horses and killed the savages with lances. I was hit thrice by arrows. Women and even boys of four years fought with the Christians. Twenty-two of us died until the other Christians rescued us with the firearms.

At the last, we had twenty-two dead and their fortification was empty. We had killed four thousand of them.

Many pearls and a great store of corn were found.

Tuscaloosa and all his family were dead. We turned the great tall Indian over. A soldier named Stellus had fired the buss straight through his chest from five lengths.

Sometimes Charlie DeSoto read that passage to renew himself with his old perhaps ancestor. He got neither any special horror nor delight from it, but it reminded him of the adventurous perversity in himself that he cherished.

Then he thought: What was the it that fellow was talking about he said he couldn’t take any more of?

This was a friendly city, Tuscaloosa, though there were sirens to be heard most parts of the day and the state asylum across the way was full. On the streets you might see such as this: a small man wearing a football helmet, walking in front of a man in a black suit and white Panama hat, the larger man in black frequently striking the smaller one over the helmet with a broom handle. They were inseparable companions, and the man in black always tipped the clerk five dollars for a Coca-Cola at the Jiffy Mart.

But we were talking about this time in the morning, 7:45. And here comes Mr. Wently by DeSoto’s house. This time DeSoto more than ever wanted to slay Mr. Wently. Wasn’t there an old bow and arrow in the house somewhere? The hatchet–where was it? Quick!
The dog, Albert, from the lesbians’ house attacked. But Wently’s routine allowed him nothing but routine, and DeSoto’s rage allowed him nothing but passion. It is terribly, excruciatingly difficult to be at peace, thought DeSoto, when all our history is war. Look at that whining half-poodle, half-schnauzer Albert. Half-bred to sit at home, look elegant, and eat and fart. Half-bred to throw its vicious teeth into the unknown villain. Wently is killing everything.

DeSoto called in to the soap factory to say he was sick, which was true. He was sick with thought. He lingered awhile, watching a few joggers pass his house–healthy, harmless, in love with the thought that health promised the whole thing–bigger breasts, penis, chest. Endurance. That’s it. If you can cut through it with peace and joy. If you can give health to those around you. But DeSoto didn’t feel like it just now.

I want Wently, thought DeSoto. I want to purchase his death.

Maybe there are worse guys than me, he said to himself. For example, the guy from Minnesota who hummed all the time. He seemed to be furnishing the score for every puny adventure of his life. Always the hum, tunes various, dense, thin, largo, allegro. A trip to the caf” would take him through a sonata. There was a tune for feeding his cat, another for his goldfish, another for watering the plants in his crummy color-clashing apartment. He had no radio or phonograph. His time with women was limited–by them. But on he hummed incessantly, arrogantly, until somebody broke his mouth at a graveside ceremony one afternoon. DeSoto played Ping-Pong with him once. The hum was infuriating. They were odd tunes, nothing familiar. This man’s game was mediocre, but it must be sung about. Every gesture must be styled by the hum, every blazing inconsequential adjustment had a song. Maybe he had been to too many movies, watched too much television. But the hum incensed Charlie DeSoto even more than Wently incensed him.

He got out his French horn and played a few quick scales, then an inventive cadenza, to impress himself with his culture.

The next morning there was Wently and there went Albert pretending to be at him again. DeSoto was sitting on his front steps reading the paper and Wently passed within three feet of him.

“Hello, damn it,” said DeSoto.

The old guy neither replied nor missed a stride. The cane clicked, the shoes, which were rubber-soled, flapped through the leaves on the sidewalk.

DeSoto went to the soap factory, but he was in a state. The workers under him wondered what had happened. He drank on the job, cursed, was loud and impatient, lit and stomped out many cigars. A handsome young man of thirty-four, Charlie was beheld a despot of years. Usually a well-groomed and soft-spoken fellow, today he wore slovenly pants and shouted.

His girlfriend, who was Eileen and was his secretary, almost called the doctor, who was me. But instead she locked the door to the office and faced Charlie.

“I’ve got something temporarily that not even love will cure,” he said.

The next afternoon he walked around the block to see where Wently lived. He had never known exactly. It was a tall green house with a splendid porch. Wently was rocking in a rocking chair, pushing himself with weak jolts of his cane. He was wearing the three-piece suit. He must have been a man of some means. Big oaks and an enormous magnolia comforted his yard. In a chair next to him rocked a younger man who held his face in his hands, as if in anguish. Wently, decided DeSoto, was also driving this fellow crackers. The two were not speaking. Wently was staring ahead serenely, fascinated only, it seemed, by himself and the system of his rocking–not even by the weather, which was medium blue and fine.

DeSoto observed the grief of the younger man –Wently’s grandson? his nephew? Then he walked back home and inquired among the neighbors. It was Wently’s grandnephew. DeSoto had been in there right on it.

At 7:40 the next morning DeSoto began his own walk around the block. He was wearing a headdress, cheap, from the K-Mart, and he carried his French horn with him. From thirty feet away, he saw Wently coming toward him on the walk. Should he? Yes. DeSoto played a chain of blats in the high register. Maybe Wently was deaf, but he was not blind.
Anyhow, the old man just passed him.

“Jesus!” cried DeSoto.

A woman professor he knew was just leaving for work in her car, and she saw and heard it all. I’m making a donkey out of myself, thought DeSoto. For the rest of the day he could not eat, and he practiced self-abuse in all possible ways, sort of living in the toilet at the soap factory, moving from stall to stall so as not to invite the looks of the curious and their hellos and how-are-yous.

In the night DeSoto studied gentle thoughts. He attempted to dream of his sweetheart and her delicate parts; of light pleasures he had known, such as reversing the clock an hour when daylight saving time was over; of healthy food; of morning light on the small green ears of corn in his patch last summer. He hummed the placid tune “Home on the Range” several times through. But sleep would not come. He poured himself a tomato juice and took five B-complex vitamin pills, which were supposed to be settlers. But eventually he found himself sitting furious and awake in a chair that faced the window to his backyard.

He was there an hour, through some ten stale Lucky Strikes he had found in a drawer, when he saw the figure slough across the fence in the light of the moon. There was no doubting it was a man, a whole man. DeSoto watched him roll onto the earth and begin squirming on down the lawn. DeSoto was transfixed by the man’s progress. When he saw him reach the driveway, DeSoto stood up from his chair. He hurried out before the man could reach the next yard.

“What’s with you, fellow?” demanded DeSoto.

The man rolled toward him. DeSoto recognized his body, perhaps his face from their first encounter, the set of hair and forehead from their second. It was old Wently’s grandnephew. The neighbors said his name was Ned, a namesake of Wently, who was Edward. Ned was around thirty, but his face was haggard, his eyes heavy with bags and his mustache scraggly and askew, as if false and pasted on at a wrong angle. DeSoto had brought his flashlight.
“I say, what’s going on?” he asked again, as Ned Wently blinked his eyes in the light.

“I’m trespassing, se”or. Better let me have it.”

“What’s this se”or?”

“Aren’t you Spanish?”

“It’s a lie,” DeSoto said. “Now answer my question.”

“I finally let him have it,” the Wently fellow said. “He never knew what hit him. They took away my liquor, my dope and my piano, and they sent me to live with him. I’m interviewing for one dumb job after another. Got one tomorrow at the fucking soap factory. That hideous, fucking soap factory that’s screwing up the river?”

DeSoto switched off the flashlight.

“Let him have it, did you? Never knew what hit him? Come see me. I’m a foreman at the factory.”

The younger Wently did not respond. He crawled off the driveway and through a hole in the fence of the neighbor’s yard.

“Why are you crawling?” Charlie called after him, to no use at all.

DeSoto was early on the job, at 6:30. He had to open a lot of the doors himself and his only company for a while was the maintenance and sweeping crew. The fumes of the place were violently sweet and sour. He was hungry, horny, happy, and handsome, and he made up a chant to life and himself. I am Charlie, he sang. Hai hai, hai, hai hai, hai!

Charlie DeSoto had had no sleep, but he was elated. He sat behind his aluminum desk, speculating on the gross points of the homicide. Let him have it would indicate a gun, or maybe poison. Truly, it could be anything when you put it together with Never knew what hit him. Ned would cover it. DeSoto would help him if he had to.

Eileen arrived earlier than usual, and she was all worn out. The old DeSoto car, which she had bought just as a flirting joke to please Charlie– though the orange leather interior was nice–was smoking and stalled at traffic lights. And the driver’s door would not open because of some fault in the lock.

She was confounded and thrown into a perilous dither by Charlie’s alterations. Moreover, she had cheated on DeSoto the previous night. The man was not nearly as handsome as DeSoto, but his desire for her was constant, soft, a genial tribute to the shrine of her body, and she recalled even the Bible said that was okay. She had allowed the man everything. Now nothing assuaged her guilt. Poor Charlie, poor Charlie, she muttered, sleepless and insane with contrition.

She had to arrive early and make his appearance at the office comfortable. Also she was very erotic, and her satisfaction was not close. She had driven by Charlie’s house earlier in the morning. He was not there. The mystery was compelling a storm of expectation. Here was his car in his parking slot at the factory. She hurried in, her body showered but slick again with a new sweat of the day.

She looked pretty and clean by the time the plant air conditioning had cooled her down. DeSoto responded to her chic wool skirt and satin blouse, and, as always, her dark trim ankles and sandals. She was about a quarter Lebanese and it seemed that all the best traits of that race had sprung up in Eileen suddenly.

They were alone in the office.

What happened behind the locked door was sacred to them both. It was a drunkenness of the bodies. DeSoto was charming and expert at his job, as was Eileen, and DeSoto could bear the fact that, minute after minute, Ned Wently did not appear for an interview with him. DeSoto had looked up a real job for him. It wasn’t a make-work job. Ned would have a small, quiet office near the truck docks, a supervisory position. Something higher than he should be hired at, really, but DeSoto would bring in the muscle to make it possible.

As for DeSoto’s early morning, it was exalted by the absence of old Mr. Wently on the sidewalk at 7:45. The day was clear and merry without him. DeSoto met the loud bark of Albert with an understanding smile. He also saw the pet monkey come out of Lester’s house next door. DeSoto went over and took the morning paper out of its paws, speaking to the monkey, whose name was Amy, in monkey whispers, and taking the nice animal back to his own kitchen, where DeSoto made a huge breakfast. He peeled a banana and opened a can of sardines for Amy, put them on a plate with a napkin nearby.

There was nothing about a death on the block in the newspaper.

Now the office door was locked and DeSoto was near to entering Eileen, with her skirt around her blouse and the tops of her stockings close to her sex. Charlie adored this half-clothed demonstration of lust almost better than anything. There was a call in, however, that a Mr. Ned Wently was waiting outside to see him.

Eileen stood off to the side. She shivered when Wently came in.

He was garbed in a rough tweed suit. His hair and mustache were combed a little, but he still looked disoriented, worse in daylight. The bags under his eyes were dark. His shoulders were wide, but his legs were bowed and thin. The stain of some red sauce was on his neck.
Wently looked at Eileen. His eyes lit up with the normal sex-crazy look of a man. But then he threw his weak gaze at DeSoto, and Eileen left the room.

They sat down, DeSoto and Wently, the desk between them, and were quiet for a spell.
“I’ve got something for you,” said DeSoto at last.

“And I’ve got something for you,” said the younger Wently.

He pulled out a small silverish .22 automatic pistol. DeSoto regarded it. It looked like the foetus of firearms.

“You let him have it with this?”

“I didn’t even have to after you scared the fuck out of him with the headdress and that horn. He already had a big cancer and heart disease. You took him to the edge, man. With peace and routine, he would’ve lived forever. So I never had to fire a shot. Just pointed it seriously.”

There was a long silence.

“Then all we needed was the ambulance.” Wently’s eyes were welling with tears. “Thing is, he loved me. He willed everything to me. I broke his heart when I pulled this thing on him.”
Wently began openly weeping.

“But he owed us one, my daddy and me. My daddy was swamped with debt and in precarious health when he was supporting us and my grand-uncle Edward. Edward didn’t always live in that big green house, you know. He’s sucked off the family with his goddamn routine and righteousness for years. Until he had his own stack of green and a place. Tell you what, man. These people, these peaceful people leave as many bodies behind as those big war copters in Nam, where I also had to go.”

“Then you feel justified?” said DeSoto.

“No!” Wently stared at DeSoto. Then he bent and put his face in his hands, as DeSoto had seen him doing on the porch of the Wently house. “I feel awful guilty. I put him in the ground.”

“Come on. Get out of it,” DeSoto said.

“You get out of it, DeSoto! Have you seen the crap spilling out of those pipes from this puking factory into the river? Where I used to fish when I was a little boy, there ain’t nothing but nasty white soap twenty feet down.”

‘shoot me in the thigh,” DeSoto said. “If you shoot me in the thigh, I’ll get you a job,” said DeSoto.

“I don’t need it. I got his will money.”

“Then just shoot me in the thigh. I need some of the pain.”

DeSoto put his foot on the desk. Wently shot off one low in his thigh.

Wently went away with a new perspective.

That was all by way of showing you how I come to know Charlie DeSoto and some others. Because I met DeSoto and Eileen in the emergency room. Nowadays, DeSoto fakes a limp, happily. The bullet is in there so deep and harmless and near the bone, cutting for it would be a shame.

Eileen came by to see me by herself later. She was really something to grab, after you got through the usuals. But I liked Charlie and I had rules.

This was all when I was thirty-three and divorced.

Copyright ” 1980 by Barry Hannah. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.