Short Sunday

New Short Fiction every Sunday evening at 6pm.

Month: February, 2013

Moonshine

Well, you know how it is. You spend the first few years getting used to the job, to getting used to the space, making sure you fit in, that you’re not stepping on any toes and it happens so gradually that you don’t notice how trapped you are. You keep to yourself when you should keep to yourself and you jump through the hoops when you need to jump through the hoops. It’s a constant struggle and you work hard every day, day in and day out, for these people you barely know for some business you don’t believe in and some product that is morally grey at best. You give yourself to this thing, this nothing, for money. It’s a transaction. But it’s supposed to be more than that. You were promised more than that. You work hard, you get paid, but more than that, the suggestion is that you will be given freedom. But everyone, you, me, everybody, we wind up someplace between still and stagnant and they can’t even bother to make decent coffee.

And it’s fine that the coffee is bad, for a while. Because you’re getting used to things and it seems like such a gift to be working and, if you’re like me, you’re really kicking ass. But it’s still early and you don’t have firm footing. So you man up and drink the shitty coffee, because that’s part of the arrangement. But then you get acquainted and you reach the point where you’re caught, captured, imprisoned. They tell you to cut your hair. Cover your sick tattoos. And suddenly, you aren’t going any farther than the middle of nowhere and that’s when you start to try to change your surroundings to better suit you as much as you can.

I brought in a kick ass fern. It’s five feet tall. I set it behind my chair and it takes up so much space that it dictates my movements throughout the day. But that’s OK. Because it’s mine. It’s ok for the fern to make me uncomfortable, because I bought the fucking fern. You see? I decided why I’m uncomfortable. Not like the chair. The chair is like sitting on a stack of wet phone books and it’s bad for my back and nobody cares. They bought it wholesale. They got it cheap and I should shut up. But my point is, I don’t shup up. Not at this point. Not for the man. Why should I? I’m no afraid of them.  I fix my own problems and I bought my own chair. It’s from the Rush Limbaugh collection. It’s every bit as comfortable as it sounds.

I have the fern. I have the chair. I brought in some Vitamin D lights and some stress balls. I feel as good as I’m going to. But the fucking coffee. It’s a few months after the chair, where I feel pretty good. I’m knocking out sales. I’m ignoring the bullshit. Giving the finger to management. Standard me stuff, you know? Livestrong.

And, I know I should forget it, but I’m buying four cups of Starbucks a day. Which is fine. I have the money. I have a lot of money. I have the money, but why am I wasting so much of my money on the good stuff, while they laugh at us, and brew that junk in the Kitchen Area. That’s our Kitchen Area. I get that technically it’s their Kitchen Area, but we’re entitled to a decent Kitchen Area, and a decent cup of coffee in said Kitchen Area.

And finally, I was like. I’m not going to take it anymore. They woke the beast, you know what I’m saying?

Here’s what I did.

First, it’s an office. The first rule of office work is: Create a problem so that you can create the solution to the problem you created and then deny you created the problem in the first place. Blame it on “Workflow” or “Communication problems” or “Zero Sum Habitat Synergy” (that’s not a real thing, doesn’t matter) . Focus on how you ‘Fixed’ the problem you created – then everyone gets to pretend they told you to fix the problem you fixed that you created and it spirals out from there. Someone is going to offer to high five you. High five them.

Create a Problem: I consistently put A-1 Steak Sauce into the coffee machine.

Recognize the Problem: After a week or so of dosing the coffee. Drink the Steak Sauce coffee in front of other people in The Kitchen Area, make a sour face. Prevent people from drinking Steak Sauce Coffee. Let them smell your cup if they have further questions and watch them make the same face that you are making. Suggest that it’s a problem with “Management” and that you should “not take it anymore” you are the one to “fix it”.  It also helps to leave passive aggressive notes on the coffee machine for the week leading up to the recognition. “Who made this?!” “GRROOOSSSS!” Lots of exclamations and lightning bolts.  Leave Mr. Yuck stickers everywhere. Systematically make people question their own environment before you sweep in to save the day, which just involves you not putting steak sauce in the coffee anymore. Easy peasy.

Just a warning: This is going to occupy a lot of your time. Maybe a month or more but it doesn’t matter because nothing you do means anything in the full culmination of time, only your personal experiences. That’s my philosophy, anyway. I’m into philosophy. Anyway, watching people drink steak sauce laced coffee and not care is maybe the hardest part of the whole thing.

Announcement: Send out a mass email letting people know that there is something wrong with the coffee packets they insist on buying wholesale from restaurant supply from a no-name company with foreign, possibly socialist, origins. The name of the coffee is “English Home”. Say to others: “More like, English Hospice!” And then high five everyone. As you draw people to your cause, casually suggest that you “know somebody” at the “Warehouse” or other point of origin, maybe a “Port of Call” or “Dynasty Center”(this isn’t a real thing either, doesn’t matter). His name was “Jeff” in this instance, but it doesn’t matter what name you use. Nobody is calling anybody to confirm anything, not ever, because everyone really likes me. I’m trustworthy and I’m honest.

Brief Intermission. You’re going to take a week off to pretend like you’re working on the solution, like you don’t already know how to make the best cup of coffee in the world. But you do, because you backpacked through Seattle with your band. (I’m a drummer, no big deal). It’s not like you have not been perfecting a recipe for the best cup of office coffee that has ever existed. If you must be an artist working in the medium of freeze dried, prepackaged coffee packets, then it is up to you to man-up to the challenge and be the Babe Ruth of Office Coffee. Which I did, and I am.

Recipes: What’s the weather like? Rainy? ⅔ packet House Blend, ⅓ packet French roast. Sunny Late afternoon? ⅓ Hazelnut, ⅔ packet House Blend. Try Friday Power Jam: ⅔ packet House Blend, ⅓ packet Blonde Roast. Most blends start with a ⅔ house blend. That last third leaves room for the muse. Leave insece in the Kitchen Area. Make it a scene you know. Make it cool. Life is for living.

Important: Create a set of arbitrary rules for making the coffee. Make a series of charts, and paste them all over and around the coffee machine. Suggest that the water be a specific temperature, the water not be ‘too metallic’, focus a lot on the consistency of the grounds, though there is no way to control any of this in. It’s just a ruse. A diversion. It will create enough confusion that people will still be trying to make sense of it as you sweep through the Kitchen Area, which you’re going to be doing no fewer than six times an hour. You save the day, whip up a batch of Cream Sunrise Delight, and who’s the hero. Me. I just like helping people, I guess.

Result: Nobody liked it. I’m only telling you this, so that when you start your program, you can laugh at how much trouble I had because, I think we can agree: this thing is fucking bulletproof.

From here things got a little shaky. This isn’t for the faint of heart. The office really wanted to get back to “English Home”. There was an outbreak of post-its championing the cause of “English Home”. I had no idea where they were coming from, it’s an office, nobody talks out loud. It’s just a shitstorm of post-it’s and counter post-its. Easy to ignore at first, until I realized that “Thursday Hammer Time” tasted suspiciously bland, despite my addition of a half can of Red Bull and a teaspoon of Five Hour Energy. “Someone is tampering with my creation, methinks. Frowny face.” That was one of my post-its.

I’d love tell you the office was divided. That I was a champion of the people, but that’s not how History is forged. I was suddenly an outcast. After a while, I realized that the Post-it’s carried the same handwriting. “Wednesday Blue Vixen”, my specialty blend of ⅔ House Blend and ⅓ House Blend (aged 48 hours) was covered over with post-it’s announcing the return of pure “English Home”. It was initialed by the CEO. The C. E. O. This thing went all the way to the top. I wasn’t sweating it, if that’s what you’re worried about.

Being an Outlaw: Look, I’m not going to lie to you: You’re going to get fired. If I got fired, you’re definitely getting fired. But it doesn’t matter. My grandfather ran ‘shine and my grandmother was  a Native American. No shit. I’m not laying down for this. Not ever. I’m not letting some limey coffee hut sashay into this country and tell me I’m fired. Besides, you can probably tell, I work out a lot. I’ll kick an ass.

Breaking and Entering. You are going to stay up mixing your special blends in the bathtub. You’re going to mix together ⅔ House and equal parts cayenne pepper and blueberry Fun Dip. You’re going to call it “The Fourth of July” and fill up fifty empty packets of “English Home”. This is a sabotage type deal. Spy stuff. Intrigue. I’m mysterious. Your mom or whoever is going to ask you what you’re doing and you’re going to ignore her because she said you should take this job and quit “The Elders of Cyanide” which is/was the name of your band/lifestyle.
You’re going to need to bribe the Janitor. Tell him you are part of “The Elders of Cyanide” and need his jumpsuit. He doesn’t speak a great deal of English, so just smash the window and switch the coffees before you get arrested.

Getting Arrested: You’re going to get arrested, like any good ‘shine runner worth his salt. But it doesn’t matter and nobody really cares because you don’t work there anymore and your mom sucks, so it just sort of fades into the background of who you are now, who I am now, which is a man set free. I see past the bullshit, you know?

I’m considering living in the wilderness and making ‘shine, maybe growing some pot or buying my drum set back from Gary.

So to answer your question: I’m kinda between jobs right now. But it’s all good.

But enough about me. What do you do with your days, beautiful?

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Next Week’s Prompt: Your First Grey Hair.

Like a Handful Of Marbles Thrown Across the Floor

It began in her leg, then moved up and out and across –  from leg, to abdomen, both lungs and lymph nodes – like it was in hurry. My father announced he wouldn’t spend another day in the house. He slept in a motel that night, and only came home to box everything up the morning after she died.  In a fit, he shattered her old figurines, one after the other on the hardwood floor. When he collected himself again, he swept them up into a dustpan, then threw the remnants out over the lawn and wept.

He moved into a motel that leaked drunks and refused to leave. My brothers and I were still in Boston, living with roommates or with bad relationships, and when she got sick we all moved home, lived in our old rooms and were more of a nuisance than a help. Dad threw us out with a phone call from the motel, we had until the end of the week to get out. He had a moving company pick over the house and toss what was left in storage. He never paid the bill, and the storage company sold everything off. Greedy strangers collected everything she owned and it went scatter shot into god knows where.

The three of us looked in Boston at first, to stay close to Dad, in case he came to his senses, and didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in a Motel. While we fanned out into the city to look for apartments, he collected all his investments, sold everything back out into the system and lived in a small room at the Shady Side Motel for about a year, until it burned down and sent it’s inhabitants along I-95 to other motels.

We lost contact with him before the fire. For the first few months, we stopped by regularly, and he would turn us away or allow a few minutes of awkward chit chat, before he insisted that he was busy and needed to be somewhere. He’d usher us out into the parking lot, jump in his car, and drive off. I collected his friends brought them to him as a sort of intervention and it backfired horribly. He screamed at us through a slammed door until everyone gave up and left him alone. My brothers thought it was invasive and terrible, and were furious that I’d arranged it. Things got more and more difficult. We all drifted apart.

I kept at it. I sent him apartment listings, travel guides, there’s no indication he ever looked at any of it or talked to anyone when I wasn’t goading him into it. My brothers gave him space, stopped calling and accepted the silence.

I saw the smoke on the horizon and heard about the fire on the radio. I sped over and watched with the gawkers and saw it crumble to dust and smoke into the sky. Nobody died. That was our only indication that he was alive. His car was gone, his few things lost in the fire.

I got a job in Chicago. My brothers lingered in Boston for a while, but not long enough to settle. I’d heard that one went to St. Louis, and the other to Austin. I met my wife on a dating site online and I never tell anyone that. Our first date was in November, during the Leonids. I pretended to know a lot about astronomy while we sat in a park, half frozen and watched them shoot out and across across Chicago, one after the other, and quickly fell in love.

We pulled our families together to a small ceremony in Chicago. We exited in procession, spilled out onto the street, people threw rice, we lit sparklers and set off fireworks. My father was still gone, no one knew where, an empty space that presided over the whole event.  My brothers came and it was awkward until it was over, and we scattered back out over the country, trying not to look back.

He’d been living in a corner of Boston no one had thought to look in, a year after we were married, he’d written letters to each of us, begging forgiveness. We went, all together, quickly back home, arriving one after the other, broken and apart, to pull back together again.

Next week’s prompt: Moonshine.

Coyotes and Potato Chips

“And he was all like whaaattt!!!” Dave talks a lot, tells a lot of stories, his stories have lots of characters and a lot of sound effects and a lot of people who ‘are all like what’. I never know what he’s talking about, but he’s the only person who talks to me so we spend a lot of lunch hours together. He likes his job so much that it makes me hate my whole life. If it matters: Dave works with the guys in the warehouse, I work by myself in accounts receivable.

Monday and Tuesday lunches are usually spent rehashing the movies he saw over the weekend. “And it was like, BOOOM! The whole place blew up and then the dude was all like WHAAAAT and he like dove in slow motion and shot at everybody it was intense. It was great, you should check it out.” He’s more animated when he doesn’t like something, “It was hysterical how the worst it was. You should check it out, seriously. I might go see it again. It was that bad.”

Wednesday and Thursdays he will detail the movies he’s going to see on Friday and Saturday. “It looks so great, did you see the trailer! OH man, you gotta check out the trailer, it looks so fucked up. This kid is like soaking wet and just shows up wherever the fuck it wants and it’s all like ‘I’m a fucking ghost!’ and like melts peoples faces or something. Looks so fucked up.”

On Fridays, Dave is typically so excited about the weekend he can hardly sit still. He’ll rehash the trailers again, and compare the trailers to other movies he’s seen, but it’s typically too all over the place to follow and he just fidgets until he’s done eating and goes back to work before the lunch break is finished. “I gotta get back just going to be so, oh man, OK  I gotta go. Seriously excited about this weekend.” Dave is excited all the time.

He sees about five movies a week. He sees every new movie that comes out and brings every second of each to lunch. I say almost nothing. When he finishes he pats me on the back too hard or gives me a high five. I realized only about a week ago that he’s my best friend by default, even though I don’t like him very much.

Dave is the only person I ever talk to. Not just at work, just in general. I don’t remember when it happened, but I just stopped leaving the house. It wasn’t on purpose or because of the panic attacks and as near as I can tell nobody noticed. I just didn’t have anywhere to go but work. I’ve been here for ten years. It’s not how I imagined things, but it’s fine. Sometimes I try to change things – maybe about once a year and it never works. Never ever. But it’s fine. I’m fine.

My office overlooks the warehouse on one end, and the parking lot on the other. There are six other employees with desks crammed into this room but I don’t know their names or what they do. It is because nobody talks to each other, everyone is busy and kind of angry. It might be because the office is too hot in the winter and entirely too hot in the summer. The owner is old and skinny and cold all the time. She leaves post it notes in a circle around the thermostat warning people to not touch the thermostat. Like flower petals with little cartoon angry faces on them.

Dave has a personal life. He has a large and involved extended family. His Aunts fix him up on dates that he takes to the movies and that fizzle out after. He goes to church and volunteers on Sundays. He’s got a whole life and he loves it and it is difficult to be around him because of it. But there’s no place else to sit, and he sits down without asking and I don’t mind it’s fine.

I’m responsible for a lot during tax time. There are a lot of extra hours that nobody else wants. I wind up missing lunches and sitting at my awkward green metal desk for hours on end. After hours everyone is gone, the whole massive building dark except for this room and it’s quiet and lonely and every so often I start to feel the quiet space around me and it feels frighteningly lonely. I start to think too much about myself and my life and I drive home with the radio turned all the way up. I don’t like people but I hate the quiet and it’s difficult to know how to handle that. So I tend to pick up hobbies to fill the space.

One year, around this time, I tried to start drinking but I hated it. It seemed like something a guy like me would wind up doing eventually, so I jumped in with both feet. But no good, I think I’m allergic, I got violently ill. Other attempts: I joined a softball team, a bowling league, took cooking lessons and dancing lessons. I don’t think any of these things were less embarrassing than attempting to purposefully develop alcoholism. Each of them were equally as lonely, frustrating, and failure-bound as drinking for something to do, for something different to happen.

But anyway, that doesn’t matter now, the other day I saw a TV show about fishing. Fishing is going to fix everything and I’m embarrassed I hadn’t thought of it before. I’ve decided there’s no hope for me with other people. I should just stand in water and be alone.

I interrupted Dave in mid-explosion to explain to him that I was going to become a fisherman. “What? That’s great! Fishing is great! I love fishing!” It nearly ruined fishing. I recovered gracefully and said “What were you saying? About the explosions.” And he said “Oh yeah!” and went back to detailing explosions in a movie he saw while I decided that it was OK for Dave to like fishing, so long as he continued to do it in secret, and nowhere near me. As to not scare the fish, I guess. I don’t know anything about fishing.

I stopped working at work. I researched fishing. I learned about all the gear, great locations nearby to go stand in water and be alone and fish. I decided on a rod and reel, though the internet said I would eventually need several rods depending on the location of the fishing and the kind of fish to be fished, for now I could simply start with the best possible rod, and work my way backwards through the various other options. It was 800 dollars and it’s supposed to made of the same stuff the space shuttles are made of, there’s a faux NASA sticker on the shaft, but I don’t think NASA actually endorses it, or makes recreational equipment of any kind.  It is very possible I’m wrong, I bought it before I read all the details.

I would leave the city, leave the office, leave other people and become one with nature, I would get away from my life and in doing so get away from myself and be free as a cloud. I researched the hell out of becoming one with nature. Put a lot of time into it. I don’t want to go into this the wrong way. I read everything I could, but found it was hard to find good sources, presumably because interested parties would lose interest in writing the moment they became nature.

As near as I can tell, the most essential (and exciting) step of becoming one with nature is putting a tremendous distance between yourself and other people. Other people do not appear to be regarded as natural in any nature guide I’ve read in the last six months. I’ve also read a lot of poetry, a few biology books and a lot biographies of the great explorers, scientists and various away-goers and at no point was any other human, (besides the writer, the scientist or the explorer) regarded as anything but an impediment to the natural world, which is classically defined as being devoid of humanity of any kind. I am nature, you could try to be nature, but we are not nature. We are people and that’s unnatural, which is great. Nothing has ever made so much sense. It sounds perfect. I’m going to buy a hat with flaps in case it gets cold. I’m going to quit my job as soon as I build a lean-to or a thatch hut or a tent, I guess. I need to work up to the hut. Not going to just jump right in. I’ll get there though. It seems important to mention that I realize I might not be doing so great right now, mentally, but that everything is going to be fine. I am fixing things. It’s going to be great. I’m making a lot of sound decisions.

Dave is doing a lot of volunteering with the church this weekend and wants to talk about that instead of talking about how he is not natural and the last time I tried to talk about that I think he thought I was a racist and walked away. The church is just off of the interstate and occasionally they clean up the parks and the surrounding area, a bunch of people in orange vests picking up coke bottles and potato chip bags with one of those sticks with a nail on it. They occasionally go so far as to clean the shoulder of the interstate, which is nice, but dangerous and I can’t decide if it’s in nature’s (my) best interests. Ideally, there would be no highway, and no litter, we would all eat what we caught from the river, and we would just be me alone in all of North America. But, if there needs to be other people, and I acknowledge that there currently are other people, I suppose it’s best they clean up after themselves so as to bother me as little as possible.

I am eating a lot of berries and I started drinking a great deal of tea, which seems to be the most natural of the hot beverages. I read something online about making your own tea from tree bark and various mosses. I’m working on my own special recipe from the weeds in the parking lot and wood from the warehouse pallets, I toss in some red berries that I found out back on a bush. I also need to figure out the most natural way of starting a fire and boiling tea. I assume a lightning strike would be best, but I have not yet discerned how to call down lightning from the sky and I am dizzy almost all the time. I imagine there is a lot of interference from all the other people and I stopped washing my clothes and I am short of breath. Once I am alone, so attuned to nature I will be able to do things properly. I have not been sleeping and I want to figure out how to leave right now and immediately to go fishing and be alive but I cannot because the pole has not yet arrived. It’s roughly one hundred degrees in my office and I don’t want to be here for even one more second.

Dave still insists on detailing the movies at lunch but I have so much more important things to say and he thinks that I do not look healthy, but it’s probably because he is not nature and I am and I have been drinking that pallet tea from it takes a bit of time to get it all down because it smells very bad.

“I never felt better. I just need the fishing pole and then I’m going to go fishing. It’s going to be great.”
“I love fi -”
“SHUT UP DAVE”

I’ve decided it’s best to leave immediately and then come back for the fishing pole and then maybe stay out here forever anyway because it’s for the best. I will fish with my bare hands! Return to the earth! Deep breath. I don’t want to go too far. I don’t have – I didn’t bring most of my things. I meant to. It’s supposed to rain. I will drink the rainwater like a god. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. I can live in my car until the rain clears up and I shove the car into the river. Cars are not natural, and I bought this with money. I don’t think anything you can buy with money is natural. I think you have to acquire it all by hand. I’m not sure where this puts the fishing rod or the flap-hat, those are in a grey area, but I just needed to get out there, and then everything is going to be fine. I’m going to drink rain water and drown my car and live in the mud, eat all the fish I want and I will be away from everyone, I will be away from everyone who doesn’t seem to want me there anyway and I and be one with the great indifference of nature, I will call down lightning from the sky and not panic because I will be the steward of my own life, once and for all.

I did not expect to be, or want to be, back at work so soon. I was driving too fast, and not quite paying attention because I was yelling so much about everything and I hit a coyote that had wandered into the road. He skidded off into a ditch and his neck was broken and wet red. I parked a hundred yards down the road, turned off the car and just fell asleep with the radio on as loud as it will go.

I started to apologize to Dave, but he brushed me off and said that he’d been with his church group, cleaning on the side of the highway and found a dead coyote on the side of the road “It was like booooom all the guts were everywhere and it was soooo gross. It was awesome. Pastor Robin didn’t let me keep it though. I was going to bring it in and show everybody. It was so fucking gross.”

They sent me home. I got sick because I was so upset and they sent me home. I took some vacation time I had saved up and I’m having groceries delivered and when the vacation time runs out I’m not going back and I don’t know if I’m going to leave the house ever again. It’s going to be great.

 

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Next Week’s Prompt: A Handful of Marbles thrown across the floor. 

Floorboards and Silverfish


Supposedly our grandfather built it. Dad had always said the house belonged to our Uncle Kevin and the silence that followed Uncle Kevin’s name. The few times that name was mentioned Uncle Kevin was always “Our” Uncle Kevin, never “My Brother Kevin”, and was waved aside as our father turned away from the conversation, pulled a newspaper in front of his face, or turned the volume on the television back up. Our only interaction with Uncle Kevin was spending an awkward moment in his absence while my brother and I realized our father was done talking to us. 

Dad tried to discourage us, saying that it was in a swamp, that it was dangerous and filthy. His father built it too close to the water and “The swamp probably ate it by now.” We were kids. It was dirty and dangerous and we could never go there because The Swamp was a monster that ate houses, and we could never be so brave enough to go near it.

We’d probably need weapons. I’d need a sword. My brother would take a crossbow. We’d have to find The Swamp’s weaknesses, sneak around and observe it for months, learn its habits, make a plan. We’d need a map. We’d need ninja stuff. Maybe there’s a dragon too? No. No dragon. The Swamp would have eaten the dragon. A hungry green mouth in the woods that sucked in anything that dared get too close. It was too good to be true.

We had bunk beds and talked about it at night. “We could get guns!” Don’t be stupid. It’d laugh at the guns and eat the bullets. “Grenades!” Hmm, better, but if it blew up, it’d just pull itself back together again. It might get bigger.  “Oh. What about a Flamethrower?” Flamethrowers wouldn’t work because it was probably too damp and The Swamp was probably too clever for that, it would suck in the flame and spit it back at us. My brother saw something on television about those helicopters they use to fight forest fires – the ones that would tip over great tubs of water to seemingly no effect. “What if we got one of those” You’re going to add water to a swamp, don’t be stupid — “but filled with cement!” Oh wow. That would totally work.

Not only would we kill it, but we’d have an insta-monument to our victory. The only other option was to cover it with a giant cage (also dropped from the sky) and charge admission to see The Swamp. But after serious consideration, and weeks spent developing a pretty extensive business plan –  if the Swamp eats the cage and escapes, then where are we? Dead. Not just us, but everybody. It’d be so mad it’d kill everybody. Better to sacrifice fame and fortune and just petrify it. Then, later, if we change our minds we can always sell tickets to the Swamp Statue. Maybe put a roller coaster around it.

This is how we spent years of nights. Fighting The Swamp and reclaiming our ancestral homeland.

“Do you think Dad’s hiding something?”
“You think there’s treasure?”
“Yeah, there has to be.”
“I think so too, goddamn it.”

A calm conversation, just before sleep that made us suspect our  father for months. “What’s with you two?” It made sense. Anyone not telling you everything you want to know is hiding something and it’s usually treasure. We weren’t sure if all adults had treasure, but we assumed that the odds rose sharply in the event of a secret swamp house.

It probably looks like an old abandoned houses so that nobody goes near it. But probably behind a picture frame, or beneath the floorboards there’s piles of money. Maybe there’s a whole substructure, like a Batcave under the house. And then the Batcave is full of money. It’d be wrong to steal it, but we could keep an eye on it. Make sure The Swamp didn’t get the house. Protect it. Maybe buy some comics. But only a couple. Because we’re going to be there protecting it, we’re going to need food and things to do. Maybe a pinball machine or something. We’re going to be working long hours. We’re going to want to unwind.

—-

Dad died later. When we were older. When we were mostly done with The Swamp. Before I found Uncle Kevin.

—-

There was some strain between my brother and I after Dad died. Mom was long gone, one of us wanted to find her and the other didn’t. I focused on work. He found our Mother and stood at her front door explaining who he was, who we were, who Dad was and where he was buried. She cried, but never touched him, never opened the door more than a crack, and apologized to him like he was selling two sons door to door. She closed the door abruptly and “I just started laughing, I don’t know why. It was just funny all of a sudden.” But he was heartbroken about it.

I tried to console him, but my heart wasn’t really in it, I was mad at him for looking and trying to get me to look for this person who didn’t’ want to be found. Most importantly, I tried to not say I told you so, but I did, and we didn’t speak for months.

—-
It seemed like a good time to find Uncle Kevin. He wasn’t difficult to find. He’d never left home and had been working. He was a security guard at a not-so-nice Mini Mall far from the highway and on the other side of town. He looked like my father.

When I told him that my father had died and he took a deep breath and I had to watch him shake off emotion for a moment before he said “Ah, well. He never liked me anyway,” faking a laugh before lowering his head to look into his coffee. He started to ask how it happened, never lifting his head, but just said “no, no, nevermind. Nevermind that.” and asked if I wanted some coffee.

It was windy and cold, we stood side by side and looked over an empty parking lot. “I have to write down in that book if anything unusual happens. I’ve never had to write anything in there.” He nudged me with the notebook and it said “BROTHER DIED.” And we laughed hard enough that he had to shush me, and pointed to the houses on the far end of the lot.

I spent the rest of his shift with him, talking, catching him up on my life, on my brothers life. He told me about himself, he’d been a bastard, but had gotten help and gotten better. He’d reached out to my father a few times, and they spoke, but “it didn’t take and I don’t blame him.” We went backwards in time, from the last time they spoke, back to their childhood and their parents, who were “like wild animals.” They had a difficult time, their father disappeared for stretches and when he was there it was worse, nobody knew where he’d disappear to until he died and “We found out he had this house out in the woods.”

—-

“It was a mess. The wood was rotten everywhere, the whole house was infested with bugs and most of the roof had fallen in. We thought were going to fix it up. We were 21 and 22, I think. It was a bad idea.” laughing “Just never going to happen. But your dad was so serious about it. Had a whole plan together, went broke buying materials. I was bad already. I was making it difficult.”

“But we got pretty close. Your dad got pretty close, anyway. He did all the work. I was barely there, really.”

I told him about how much we’d thought of that place, how we’d imagined it, secret lairs under the floor, The Swamp. We were going to live there. We didn’t even know where it was, but we were going to find it and live there forever. “You sound like your dad.” He said.

“Mostly the only thing I remember was the day the storm came. Everything was closed so I was sober. The whole house was cleaned up and your dad was mostly through with the roof. We’d spent the summer there, just scraping by. Your dad thought he could get the roof finished before it really hit. But it was raining first thing in the morning and just got worse and worse. I was in the truck, and he was up on a ladder trying to get the tarp tacked down onto the roof. It was impossible, but he was up there. Hitting the damn thing with the thunder and lightning coming in behind him. It was terrifying. I only got out of the truck to get him into the truck. But before I know it he’s got me up there and trying to save this horrible place. When you think about it, it’s not exactly a holy place, you know.

And then it just rained so hard that we gave up, exhausted. We let the tarp go into the wind and it whipped above where the roof should be and kind of watched wave goodbye before it pulled off and flew away. We shouldn’t have been there but it was hard not to be there. There was someone on the news saying not to be there. We had nowhere else to go, your grandmother was worse than me, then. Your dad talked me into staying. Said it wasn’t all that bad. We spent the night in the truck, soaked and half frozen and the next day we found the tarp tangled in some power lines. So we just went home. We left it there and went home. Your dad left a few months later, I think. Me and your grandmother were hard to be around.”

—–

I called my brother and let him know I’d found Uncle Kevin and he just wanted to know when we were going to The Swamp.

Uncle Kevin gave us directions My brother and I found the house. It was far back from the main roads and we got lost a few times getting there. But then we found it. It was a shack on stained cinder block risers with no roof. The Swamp was barely that; a pool of rainwater and muck. The mosquitoes were terrible and we sat in his truck deciding whether or not to go inside.

The house was still standing, but just barely, it was pitched to one side, the roof was open. And we tried to see where the newer wood was, where our father had tried to patch it. But it was all the same mess and indistinguishable from our grandfather’s construction.  It looked like it was going to fall over at any second.

“Should we check under the house, see if there’s a Bat Cave.” I’m not crawling under there. “We could probably just tip it over. Pick it up from one side, take a quick look.” Might be able to knock out the cinder blocks on the far side, it’d probably just roll over. “I could probably just push it into the swamp.” By yourself? Might need a few more — “No, I could drive into the side of it, and push it into the swamp.” Oh wow. Yeah. That would totally work.

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Next Week’s Prompt: Coyotes and Potato Chips