** Warning: Vulgar Language Ahead! **
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
—T.S. Eliot, The Burial of the Dead
“I’ll bet you won’t do it.” Fat Girl lisped triumphantly; her yellow buck teeth grinding away as she spit gumwad bubbles the size of watermelons out the passenger side of the pick-up truck window into the moon-lit summer’s night.
“I betcha I will.” Thin Boy laughed excitedly; his bone-cracked eyes, black and primed, drilled back hard on that Fat Girl like she was a fly he was ready to smack down. Then he thought better of it and decided he might be better off just poppin’ her cherry tonight like it was a freshly minted silver julep sprinkled with sugar and shaved ice, and coated in pure bourbon and topped off with slices of lemon and oranges: with a sprig of mint topper, just where his tongue could slip into that sweet crevice and taste all those fine juices. His mouth watered just thinking about it.
“Okay, there’s a car comin’ right there…” Fat Girl pointed at two lights blinking just over the ridge, past the clump of scrub oaks huddled in the middle of the highway.
Thin Boy, Fat Girl, and Joey – her little brother, had been drinking and slurping down mostly cheap shine and beer all night long. Jake’s brother had gotten it for them just past County line where they say the devil’s own still brew the poison that gives men screw hairs on their chests, twisted and steely. They’d watched the zombie flick at the Chief Drive-in three times before heading out to roam the byways looking for mischief.
Fat Girl gave good head, otherwise she was a freak, Jake thought to himself. They called him Thin Boy because he was so tall and skinny, and had those dang blamed freckles from his Maw. He looked at Fat Girl and said, “Shut the fuck up. You don’t know dip-shit or doodly-squat about nothing. So keep your flap shut, here me?”
She was about to yap back at him and give him all Billy Hell, but decided better on it after she saw that smile he always got when he was about to back hand her with a double-fisted whammy. So she shut up.
He smiled. “That’s more like it. Now, this is what we’re going to do…”
Chuck Bannerman was traveling home with his wife and two kids. It’s been an uneventful day, but most days seemed that way to him anymore. Especially days spent at Lucy’s Mom and Dad’s place. Everyone sitting around like knots on a log, jawing the shit, eating, watching the Friday night games on Channel 5. Sometimes they’d play cards till the wee hours of the morning. But not tonight, no tonight his daughter Lizzy had come down with something, sneezing, runny nose, fever… so they’d decided to call it an early night. “If one could call 11:00 o’clock pm early!” He thought.
His wife was asleep against the window. He peered in the rear-view and saw that the kids were doing the same, sound asleep. It was only a two hour drive back to the house, but everyone was tuckered out. He yawned and turned the radio up, moving the channel to his local favorite KickAss 105 Country. He heard an old Hank Snow tune “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Sometimes he wished he was drifting out there alone somewhere, hitchin’ a ride to wherever rather than stuck in this thing called marriage. He loved Lucy and the kids, but sometimes he just dreamed that old dream of freedom, wide open-spaces, a world to be had… Instead he was trapped on an old cotton farm sunup and sundown, eking out a minimal living on some property his own worthless drunk of a father had left him a few years back.
Back then he’d dreamed of college, even moved to the city and gotten him a job at the gas station. Was saving him some money slowly but surely; that is, till he’d seen Lucy and some of her friends drive up to the tanks one day, then his dreams went right out the window. She was the prettiest thing he’d seen in his whole life. Her hair a blaze of golden honey, eyes like those pictures of the ocean he’d never seen on postcards; and, her laugh, was like listening to innocence itself, so mellow and assured. He’d slicked his black hair back real smooth and come out to the car, one of those convertible jobs – a Buick roadmaster skylark two-door Coupe – sky-blue with a powder finish, white-walls, and a shiny chrome grill that looked more like some kind of beast with teeth clamped down waiting to bite you. But he hadn’t been eyeing that automobile, that day; he’d been gazing at one thing, that pretty girl with the wandering smiling eyes and scarlet red lips.
When she’s noticed him looking at her she’d laughed out loud, telling her friends: “Lookie there girls, we got a live one!” The other girls turned and oohed and awed him till he blushed, turning red until she’d said: “Aw, we’ve embarrassed him… stop that now, girls you’ll give him one of those – what do they call it? – a complex; yes, that’s it, a complex.” She laughed at her own joke and jumped back in to the automobile, motioned for one of the girls to pay the nice man without ever turning toward him again.
He took the money, but when he came back he saw she’d dropped a white handkerchief when she’d sashayed back to the driver’s side. He picked it up and walked around the front of the vehicle, turning and nodding to all three of the girls making them blush in return. Then he’d looked directly at her when he came up to the door saying, “’Scuse me, Miss…” He held the hanky out to her. And, when she reached out to grab it, said: “Not so fast.” And pulled it back behind him: “What’s your name, then I’ll give it to you.”
She looked a little perturbed, just to put on a little show for the girls, saying: “It’s not proper to tell a man a girl’s name whose a ‘stranger’.” She teased.
Now, he laughed. “Well I’m not a stranger, my name’s Chuck Bannerman and I’m going to be someone someday.” He boasted, smiling back.
“Well, Mr. Bannerman,” She looked up peevishly. “Until we’ve been properly introduced you’re still a stranger to me. Isn’t he girls?” She waited. The girls chimed in… “Yes, yes, properly introduced…” both of them laughing hilariously now.
He turned back to his boss: “Hey, Johnnie these girls say they’ll tell me their names if I’m properly introduced.” Johnnie who’d been sitting on his whittling stool laughed and walked over, saying: “Well, let me see…” He stroked his chin. “If I remember correctly, since I’m old enough to be her father, and an owner of a business that qualifies me as an elder in the community to do just that.” He made a sweeping gesture, and spoke up: “This here is Mr. Chuck Bannerman, ladies, a bonafied grease monkey from way back.” The girls all laughed, while Chuck wanted to slink into some dark hole and forget he ever thought up this hair blamed scheme.
“Well, well,” She said, satisfied. “I guess that means me and the girls will just have to comply. Right, girls?” They said in unison: “Right!”
“My name is Lucy Groomer, and these two gals are Judith Temple and Betsy Peabody.”
He bowed like a real gentleman and said: “I’m pleased to meet you, Ladies.” Then he handed her the hanky and told them that anytime they need gas or anything at all just to come on back by and he’d make sure they were taken care of.
That was the first time he’d set eyes on her. The next time he’d caught her all by herself late one night needing some gas, heading back to her dorm. He’d asked her out that time, just for a soda down at Watson’s Soda Fount of Main. She’d accepted. It’d been all down hill from there.
Of course her Dad hadn’t taken too kindly with his daughter going out with a grease monkey. He’d even tried to buy him off and send him packing. But Chuck had stuck to his guns, told the old man he couldn’t be bought. After that her Dad had taken him under his wing, given him a place in the oil fields. Taught him the trade, so to speak. That is till they’d found out about his background, his drunk father who’d beat his mother to death and almost done the same to him on several occasions. The boy lied for his father on the stand and he’d gotten off with manslaughter instead of the electric chair and spent several years in the State Pen up by Tuberville.
When he’d returned he’d not changed his ways much at all. Took up drinking and cussing and roaming as he’d always done, forcing his son to work the livestock and the help around the place. Then one night he’d run into a creosote pole – the phone company had recently put up, on the way home, busting his head wide open and cutting his neck to the juggler when he’d plunged through the windshield. They’d found him dead the next morning.
After that they’d felt bad for the young man. They’d allowed their daughter to marry him. Even let them take over the farm and move out there, given them their blessings, helped them out with some new equipment and kitchen supplies and enough money to make it through a few seasons.
Things were turning around for them. They’d had a couple of children, Toby and Elena. Everything was looking up. Getting better. He looked over at his wife, back at his kids and smiled. Yes, things were getting better, what else could a man ask for?
Joey grabbed the old mattress from the back of the pick-up so they’d have somethin’ to protect them when they slammed into the next vehicle; that is, if something went wrong and the other fellow didn’t swerve in time. They’d been sitting there a while chewing the shit, drinking the rest of the beer when another vehicle topped the ridge a mile away.
“There’s one now,” Fat Girl hollered, excited. “C’mon guys, hurry up!”
“Hold your horses, will you. Got to get things set just right. Okay!” They nodded at the driver, who seemed to know what he was doing.
“Now when I holler pull the mattress up and over out of the cage, got it?” Thin Boy looked at the two of them as if they were idijits… they were. He pointed to the area behind the seat where two rifles were locked up. “There, got it?” They nodded. “Ye, haw! Now we’re talking, let’s go…”
So they set off in the dark without any lights showing. The skinny driver figured to wait till they were right on top of them to turn the lights on so they’d have to react fast or be slammed. He didn’t tell the others that he hoped they’d plow right into that other car no matter what.
It was a moon-lit night or he’d of not seen the dark blob in the road ahead of him. It was strange looking, something he’d never seen before on this highway. And, he’d driven it a hundred times or better. Something wasn’t right, he felt it. He thought about slowing down, because whatever it was seemed to be getting closer as if it were moving at a high rate of speed.
Then when two light beams came on he realized it was a truck, and it was speeding right at him. All he could do was react, he tried to swerve right to the other side of the highway but too late realized there were some scrub oaks that way so suddenly shifted back to the left which would have plunged him immediately into a gully about four or five feet down and across. So instead he turned back and slammed on the breaks, hoping the other driver would swerve out of the way knowing he had no maneuvering room at all.
The driver didn’t swerve…
At the funeral, everyone, even the First Methodist preacher looked haggard as if the whole affair were some kind of horrid joke. The preacher, who usually had something profound to say, didn’t offer anything more than the basic set eulogy. He’d decided not to charge the family. He didn’t want to be there, but felt obligated to them for their support of the Church.
Everyone was in shock, no one wanted to say a thing. It was as if the world had just gone dark and meaningless for good. Words no longer held any solace. None at all. Everyone left the funeral home as quiet as they’d come in. At the graveside service the same routine. A few minimal words were said by the Preacher, and he left unable to say anything else, anything of comfort to the parents who seemed more like stone figures on a marble tomb than living flesh and blood. Their eyes were gray and empty, even the tears seemed to freeze in those eyes. Death had undone more that the dead this time. He shivered and turned away.
The next morning they’d found them all except the skinny driver of the truck. Dead. His friends, Joey and Fat Girl had been thrown clear out into the fields. The family had been thrown through their windshield onto the highway. Even the State Patrol and ambulance services had to turn their heads. It was a bloody mess.
Only the skinny driver was found wrapped up in the mattress snoozing away in the truck unharmed. The truck was totaled. Looked like it had flipped and rolled over so many times that the paint and all the chrome accoutrements were stripped clean off. The axles and tires were broken, and the frame twisted up like an accordion; even the rear end was missing, strewn metal cut into the asphalt like someone had taken a can opener and had a heyday; everything but the cab was a complete wreck. And, yet, the skinny boy had not only survived, but didn’t have no broken bones, not even a fucking scratch on him as if he’d been floating on a cloud like an angel.
The state patrolman and his partner asked him what he was thinking. Why he’d done it?
Thin Boy looked up, grinning from ear to ear, and said, “I saw it in the drive-in movie last week. They was playing chicken. It looked fun. I had to do it. It looked fun. And, by golly, it was… fun!”
One of the patrolmen sighed. The other just stood there blinking at the kid.
Thin Boy rose up out of that mattress naked as a jaybird, and said: “Boy howdy, I can’t wait to do that again next week. Anyone seen Joey and Fat Girl?”
One of the patrolmen cuffed him, saying: “Boy, where you’re goin’ you better pray to gawd you can find a friend; any friend at all.”
Thin Boy grinned: “Oh, don’t you worry about me none, I make friends anywhere I go. Chicken, anyone?”
Note: Back in the mid to late fifties kids used to dare each other and play a game called Chicken wherein they’d either bluff each other and drive old wrecks off cliffs and wait to the last minute to jump out; or, they’d actually run at each other head-on and see who would chicken out and swerve at the last second. Sometimes such idiot games were played on innocent unsuspecting people. This tale is of such a family and of such a psychopath…
One will remember James Dean and Rebel Without a Cause…
©2016 S.C. Hickman – Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.