FFF #29 moderated by our friend Cormac Brown is a chance for writers to exercise their mad skills by getting a starter sentence on Friday and having a completed project done by Tuesday. Here’s my attempt:
The Stories We Tell
“I said that you don’t have to believe me, and I certainly wouldn’t…if I were in your shoes.”
Pop told me that all the time. He said I was going to be something one day. He said I would go to college and have a house where I hired a company to keep my grass green. He said all I had to do was work hard for what I wanted and I could be anything. My pop was some kind of work. When he died, one of his bar buddies and I were the only ones to see him off. We drank shots and said, “see ya in hell.” I have a feeling pop would have said “finally the kid got his head on straight” and that just pisses me off’, which is appropriate for my pop I think.
I was a young punk. Thought I knew everything. I knew a lot, just nothin’ that would help me actually do anythin’ with my life. My pop was on disability and he never let me forget it. He was hurt on the docks when I was just seven. Mom had taken off with an insurance agent or a country western singer, what’s the difference. He had been smashed by her note that just said, “See ya later, Jack.” I guess that was supposed to be funny since his name was Jack, but neither one of us laughed. What she meant to say is “I’m getting the hell out of this hellhole” but was trying to be witty about it. Pop beat the crap out of anyone trying to be witty; if they we or weren’t, it didn’t much matter to him.
So pop was crushed by her, then a week later crushed by full two boxcars loaded with coal that was ready to leave the docks. Freak accident, they said. Lucky to be alive they said. What the hell did they know?
Anyways, Pop said to me, “boy, we ain’t got much, and we ain’t gonna get help from that good for nothin’ company, so I’m gonna put you in touch with some boys. They’re down at The Sandalwood Pub. You ask for Floyd.”
It was about this time I felt like running into my closet, or being a wise ass, but he woulda just hobbled after me and beat me with his fake leg so I made a go of it.
The Sandalwood was a bar that you might see in old movies. Rough around the edges, smoked seeped into oak tables, one long bar with a bronze top, dinged and scratched from years of abuse, a handful of beers on tap, Guinness, Twisted Thistle, Bass, Harp, and Pabst Blue Ribbon for the folks who happened to wander in from the street and wanted something domestic. It had signs of soccer teams, and blinking beer signs, and two large banners: one for Auburn Tigers and the other for the New Orleans Saints.
Now you have to picture this, some scrawny seven year old kid walking into a bar filled with 4 guys smoking Camels and drinking Guinness. All their eyes focused on me in a “what the hell?” moment. I stood there like a goof. Tell me you wouldn’t. And then a guy, big guy with a thick, black uni-brow and a five o’clock shadow at the bar says, real sweet like, “comic shop is down the street.” Everyone has a good laugh. I just chewed on the inside of my cheek.
I looked to the door, back to the bar and to the door again. After shoving my hands deep in my pockets, I kind of mumbled Floyd’s name. Uni-brow growled and pointed to the door. I started to shuffle out until one of the other fellas called me over.
I walked up to the table and he put his paw on my back. He said, “A kid could find all kinds of hurt here, some he’s never even heard of before, so whatcha doin’?”
I stuttered, “Floyd.” All I could do. And his hard eyes stared at me. He took a swig of beer, wiped his mouth with his shirt, and thrust a thumb to the two guys in back.
Floyd and Jay sat there eating fish and chips, drinking beer, and neither one looked at me till they were done chewing.
“What?” Jay asked. Jay was a skinny guy, glasses, tuft of blond hair poking off his head. I found out later he was second in command.
“Pop said I should come talk to Floyd,” I whispered, looking at the ground.
“Speak up, kid. You talk to the floor and a guy is gonna put you on it with a busted lip or something,” Jay said.
“Floyd. Pop told me to see him,” I said looking Jay in the eyes.
Jay laughed then. Real hard. And Floyd joined in.
Floyd had dark eyes, dark hair, and full cheeks. He had a stare that could make a man wish he weren’t in the same room. Wiping his mouth with a napkin, he looked me up and down.
“Yer the kid, eh?”
“Your pop says you can do what yer told and even better at keeping your mouth shut.” Floyd pushed his plate away and put his elbows on the table. His blazer fell open and the gun resting in the shoulder holster sat there right in front of my eyes. I didn’t know what kind, but I swear it looked like it could kill a walrus. I know, “a walrus?” but I had just been to the Toledo Zoo and saw the crazy looking thing that could get over 4000 pounds. I mean, 4000 freakin’ pounds, and so I stood there looking stupid thinking about Floyd in a Mexican standoff with some walrus until he smacked the table with his hand.
“Hahaha, see there, Jay. We got our boy.”
Shit, I thought.
“That’s not what I said.”
“What did you say?” Mike responded.
“C’mon, what did you say” Jerry jumped in, smiling like a girl with a jar of peanut butter and a man’s best friend lapping by her side.
“I’m trying to fuckin’ tell you, so shut yer holes,” I growled. I had been in the organization long enough to see Floyd die in his bed and Jay grow old and these to doohickeys sitting with me at the bar were enough to make a man go insane.
I was trying to tell them about this woman I met. Her husband had dropped her for not following the Bible, the whole obey thing rubbed her the wrong way. I didn’t blame her. He was a real ass always preaching about homosexual this and immigrant that, real tiring shit that always ended up with some whore going to hell. When he quoted the Bible while beating her, I could totally understand why she did the passive aggressive thing: broken glass in his shoes, drain cleaner in his cologne. I guess when his face lit up on fire, he decided she was going to kill him someday and just as soon not be around to experience it firsthand.
I had just got the boys up to speed on the middle class thing and how she was a woman who had had everything, but when her husband left she was like some wounded bird not knowing which way the sky was.
Mike was enthralled with the whole situation. He liked my stories. He was a lanky guy with the largest Adam’s apple you have ever seen. His mouth had a natural downward curve so if you didn’t know him you’d think he was the sorriest son of a bitch on the planet.
Jerry didn’t give a shit about them. Not a one. They didn’t make sense to him. If he couldn’t hold it, drink it, or smash it, he didn’t want anything to do with it. I guess I could respect that. Well, that and Jerry bordered on 250 pounds and his right hand could put a donkey down.
We sat at the bar drinking Jameson and mine was empty so I ordered another and put it on Mike’s tab. He didn’t mind.
I explained to these guys about this woman, a pretty lady for sure, who had no credit, no savings, and no job. Her experience was working in her garden and volunteering for hospice. I shit you not. And she was wondering what she was going to do. How she was going to survive.
She had heard about America Pawn over on 4th St., which just so happened to be “our” side of town, where the building rock in storms of worn brick and chipped paint and music reaches up past the whiskey screams until way past all the bars close. Both Mike and Jerry shook their heads knowing this story wouldn’t end well.
Supposedly she went in and talked to Petey, saying she heard he would buy anything, and Petey grinned like he’s known to do, and tipped his glasses to the end of his nose. “Just about,” he said all polite.
“I bet,” Mike said. Jerry giggled and sipped on his drink.
She pulled out all her jewelry and laid it on the counter. Petey picked up a piece, put that thing in his eye, humphed and studied like he knew what he was doing then went on down the line to the next and next till he was through all she had.
“So he took her? What’s the big deal? Happens all the time,” Jerry said.
“There’s no fucking honor in it. A little honesty is expected. Sure make a fucking profit, but…”
“Alright, alright, what happened next?” Mike interrupted.
I continued right on, telling them how she knew that money wouldn’t be enough to buy bread and pay bills no matter how much she tightened her belt.
“What, she didn’t have family?”
She refused to go to any of them, I answered. She knew with one call all her troubles would go away, but she made her choices and was ready to suffer the consequences.
“Now that’s something I can respect,” Jerry said gulping down the last mouthful of his double.
Petey told her where she could make some money. Good money.
But I got a phone call to help her out. Her grandfather would pay. And that’s where I was at in the story when these fools wouldn’t let me finish telling them about my little conversation with Petey.
“Tell us what you said,” Mike implored.
Jerry giggled again, “Oh, yes, tell us.”
I got off my stool and walked back toward the kitchen. The boys yelled at me, and followed when I egged them on with a wave of my hand.
The kitchen wasn’t much, an obligatory after thought to the bar so people could eat burgers and fries while getting drunk. A grill, a deep fryer, a counter to do prep and some tins full of lettuce and tomato and whatever. It’s a good thing we had friends in the health department because I’m sure we would’ve been shut down long ago if they ever saw how much grease covered the place.
The boys followed me in and I heard laughter before I could turn around and see their faces.
“No you didn’t.”
“Oh shit, this is classic. You’re in love,” Jerry cracked reaching out and grabbing Mike’s shoulder pretending his feet were giving way to quaking laughs.
Mike joined in, his Adam’s apple bouncing around in his throat, hand tapping his heart.
Petey was taped to a metal chair with his mouth covered. His glasses were just about to slip off his nose due to the amount of sweat and crying he’d been doing. I just stared.
“So I said to her that Petey should have never, ever sent you to the dentist.”
Mike and Jerry bolted right up, their laughter stopped like lightning shutting up annoying birdsong.
“And I said that the dentist sells girls between gold fillings. When she looked at me like I was crazy all I could tell her was simply ‘it’s true’.”
“Then I tell her that once a girl starts working for the dentist, the girl’s white robes taste like novacaine and knock out her soul. I explain to her how if she refuses, the dentist will get to work on her. And when he pulls her teeth, leaving a mouthful of blood and saliva, a good girl, one that learned how to obey, would put a wooden bowl under her chin and the patient wouldn’t know whether to spit or swallow.”
I didn’t realize it, but my voice had been rising into this fevered pitch, like some crazy man on a street corner, and throughout it all Petey struggled against his bindings till some sort of climax then when I was silent, he stopped.
His glasses fell to the ground. Mike and Jerry looked solemnly at Petey then at me.
“I said to her that it would all be taken care of because her grandfather called me and was desperately worried about her. And she teared up on me fellas. Big, fat tears.”
I pulled out my .45 and walked over to Petey. He slumped over, a bag of muffled whimpers.
Before I pulled the trigger, Mike reached out and grabbed my arm. “Wait, how’d he know? The grandfather. How’d he know she was in trouble and why did he call you?”
“Jay knows everything in this god damned town, Mike.”
“No shit?” Jerry asked finally interested in one of my damn stories.
I pulled the trigger and walked back to the bar for another scotch.