As of late, the old manuscript has languished in closet obscurity mostly. I dust it off and edit (second pass) every few weeks or so. I’ve picked up steam lately when I finally admitted that there is never going to be more time to do it so I might as well get cracking.
In day-to-day life the sad and ludicrous minutiae are often drowned out by the louder, more colorful bits. I want to capture the in-between moments as much as the profound. These times give more weight to the big events.
Please enjoy, or not, I don’t care:
Ann was a person at one time. It seemed odd to him, to occupy a space no longer occupied by a person who spent the majority of their life there. He didn’t have paranormal or spiritualistic notions, but, surely, after years of living, breathing, and sleeping in this very place, some of her must be left behind. Something proving she existed other than a grave marker and the few relatives she decided to stay in touch with. There had to be something left of her. So cut off from every one and everything, yet still existing. There must be something here that is her, that has her stamp on it. Maybe she had written some poetry in a kitchen cabinet, in a back corner with a flash light and marker. Perhaps she had scrawled a stanza for someone to read years from now, maybe a child hiding from a babysitter or a demo crew gutting the place before the wrecking ball finished the job. If he tore up a corner of the carpet in the living room maybe he’d find that she had drawn a scene on the sub floor, just under the padding. A scene of picturesque beauty, the only art she had ever drawn and she hid it away to be found unexpectedly. A surprise, a treasure, a secret, but proof that she had been there.
Okay, here’s more:
Grey drove, Spruce sat passenger side. The old hatchback was seemingly held together by little more than wire hangers, duct tape, and bondo. Spruce wasn’t quite sure whether the muffler was still intact or if the car had always been louder than a low-flying fighter jet. The stereo system was a tape deck with an adapter running to an old portable compact disc player that was plugged into the cigarette lighter. Sticking out of the steering column where the gearshift should be was a shrimp fork.
Grey and Spruce more or less grew up together. When their fathers weren’t feuding over some family issue, Grey and Spruce were shooting cans or giving each other black eyes and bloody noses over some neighborhood girl. Grey’s right pinkie finger still stuck out by about twenty degrees ever since Spruce slashed him with the blade of his hockey stick one time at the ice pond by the middle school. Sometimes Spruce felt guilty when he looked at the finger. It was a relic belonging to a time he wanted to sever, and even though he sort of loved Grey, the finger disgusted him. He could feel his mouth go dry every time he looked at it.
It was a Monday afternoon, two-ish, and they were headed to the Hot to Trot, a men’s club behind a sandwich shop. When they pulled into the parking lot, Spruce noticed that nothing looked any different than the last time he had been there. Except for the asphalt patches instead of the old gravel lot it was the same dump it had always been. Getting out of the car the cold air stung his nostrils and the motor oil and antifreeze aroma of the parking lot tickled his tongue with a warming sweetness that he had grown to appreciate in ways he never had before.
The inside of the club was clad in geometric shapes and angles colored black, hot pink and neon green. The odor of menthols hung about the place, as well as baby oil, that smell was unique to the club he supposed.
A single dancer was on stage; her banana breasts inspired no one. No one was going to go off into battle dreaming of seeing her again. No one was going to lift her up onto their white horse and strike out into a gallop on a sandy beach. The best she was going to do was get enough money at her feet by the end of a Eurhythmics’ song to top off the tank on her way home that night.
Grey motioned over to a table between a corner booth and the stage. Buds are half off on Mondays, whiskey drinks too. Grey ordered a shot of whiskey and a beer back, Spruce ordered a pop.
Smoke billows were suspended in the air like cobwebs, obscuring the grime, the drop-in ceiling painted black, the cracked, recessed lighting fixtures, the blemishes on the dancers’ bodies, and the harshness of the stage lights. The place was so dimly lit it wasn’t hard to rub one out in any booth along the same wall as the bar. There didn’t seem to be any more hiding in here, not now. The despair and sadness of the place wasn’t easy to ignore, when the waitress came back Spruce canceled the pop and ordered a double whiskey.
The dancer finished her song and Grey motioned to her. She came over and leaned over the table, her pastied breasts hovering just over the rim of Spruce’s glass. He moved it.
Get up and stretch a little. Here’s the ender:
Something about wrenching on a car brought Spruce peace. Under every hood there was a little environment of its own. There was a pattern that had to exist for the car to move. He could understand an engine and its rather simplistic sequence of machinery. He used to watch and then later help Grey’s dad work on cars at his garage and salvage yard. He could recall having engines explained to him like they were women.
“Every little part is important and you have to know what they all do or she won’t rev up like you want,” his uncle told him once. Now, it sounded indelicate and silly, but at the time it could’ve been poetry.
He was no mechanic, but Spruce could usually figure out a problem or two given adequate time. Tracing the difficulty to its roots was where he excelled. Some guys he knew from back in the day could diagnose any problem by listening to the rumble of the engine or the way it struggled when you tried to start it up. At first it seemed like black magic to him, when his uncle would hear someone describe their problem and he knew what it was at an instant.
“It’s the starter,” he’d say.
“Are you sure, I was thinking-”
“No no no, it’s the starter,” he’d always interrupt the most auto ignorant customers without the slightest hesitation. “You prolly grinded all the teeth off the damn thing.”
“Alternator,” was another popular one.
“Maybe it’s the battery-”
“Nope, nuh uh, definitely an alternator thing,” cutting off another ignoramus. “Prolly got something in the yard that’ll match, no problem, get it towed here on the weekend and it’ll be ready by Monday morning.”
Spruce was bent over his car, an extremely dated looking Eighty Eight. He’d chosen it for the engine; efficient, reliable, and easy to work on what with all the space under the hood. Rick told him he knew a guy selling an old car his mom had kept under cloth in a pull barn. Something about her being a widow and she was certain her old man was haunting it or some shit. All Spruce knew was that it had the 3800 Buick V6 he’d worked on in a shop a decade or so ago and that he thought it was the most overlooked, over achieving engine in American automotive history. He had a soft spot for the overlooked he guessed.
Driving. Driving was freedom to Spruce. Granted it was also a necessity in this part of the state. No public transit, just large farm plots, interspersed wooded areas, subdivisions, and industrial parks. Nothing connecting them but underfunded, under repaired concrete stretching for miles in straight lines.
Spruce glanced at the speedometer, just three over. Early afternoon Thursday, everyone had gone back to work after lunch, so he had the road all to himself. Thin Lizzy came on the radio, “Jailbreak.”
“Yer god damned right.”
Music made more sense to Spruce than talking. He couldn’t identify notes or every instrument for that matter, even the lyricism of his favorite bands was over his head. Especially Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. But like many, music had an ethereal hold over him. He couldn’t explain it any more than he could read sheet music. He just knew the feeling when a good tune was playing. It was like nothing mattered at the moment of listening. He could let go and be nothing, not Spruce, not a loser. He could shed it all for some few fleeting moments. If a song like “Black Dog” came on while he was driving, he might just take the car over a cliff to preserve the moment and keep it for himself instead of giving it back to the disc jockey or an advertisement. It felt personal, escape in a good song. Like it was written for him and an interruption was just as personal and cut deeper than maybe it should have but it still cut all the same and there was nothing he could do but feel his feelings and lose himself in a song from time to time.
There was something in the sound of a guitar that reached out to Spruce and into his skull and ribcage and comforted his mind and heart respectively. He remembered Elvis from his youngest days, and The Beatles as he got older, even though all their songs about love went right over his head. Led Zep was the first band that really blew him away. There was imagery in the lyricism that confused and fascinated him. Plant’s vocals were entrancing, and any attempt by himself or his friends to impersonate him usually ended in a squeaky embarrassment. Page was a god to all who listened to him play. Spruce once picked up a guitar in a pawn shop and when he first went to strum it he hoped that “Kashmir” would come out, even though he had never played before and couldn’t read music or understand notes. When nothing but a mangled mess of notes twanged from the guitar it hurt his soul. The chasm between his musical talent and Jimmy Page’s had already been noted but it never seemed as wide, deep, and irrepressibly real until that moment. He would never pick up another instrument again. If he couldn’t be Page then why play at all he thought.
On family trips Spruce would turn his head and stare out the window at the passing countryside and side streets until he grew weary or his neck started to get stiff.
A farmhouse a quarter mile out from the highway, surrounded by crops on all sides and with a single track dirt road leading to it drew great interest from his young mind. Anything could be happening in there as far as he knew. The family could be gathered around the table, happily sharing a meal. Or the members of the family could each be shut up in their rooms, each doing something private, separate from each other and alone. He could make out cellar windows and door and would imagine a monster, locked under the house that only the parents knew about and kept a secret from the children. A hideous older sibling, born malformed both physically and mentally, the secret shame of the mother and father. It was just biding its time until it could escape and reach out from the dark to kill the rest of the children and exact its revenge for being unfairly imprisoned under the very floor boards that his younger brothers and sisters were allowed to roam freely. And sometimes he just imagined that the house was empty and would always be until the crops grew too tall to see the house from the road. They would continue to grow and eventually the crops would transform into trees and the whole area would be obscured, both from the roadside and from above, where birds seemed to hover on the breeze.
You are now free to move about the cabin.