we’ll start here…
“oh, bill,” susan murmured.
“…yes,” susan’s husband bill replied.
we’ll continue here
dawson phillips was of provisional vocation.
when i knew him, dawson was road crew, aide-de-camp and rather puissant bodyguard to paul dickerson and william monatague of we never sleep. dawson did the work that needed doing. given the circumstances in which our collective often operated, it sometimes explicitly went without saying that some of his labors were rougher than others.
himself, dawson was a rough man who wanted to be smooth. versed in violence and seeking kindness. a solitary man much needing community. he socialized poorly. he told atrocious, unfunny racial jokes. his admiration for dickerson and monatague was well-deep. his loyalty was viciously unswerving.
dawson was not a good man. he was our man.
speaking of which
i have tried too hard to use a grammar and syntax that is not mine and never will be. that I developed any facility therein speaks much to carefully developed survival skills and little to any empathy for the community exercising said grammar.
it is a woe to be that alone among others. it is a blessing to have the anguish and fear of misspeaking burnished from panic red to weary rose.
blunt, blunted, bluntly: i’m sick of this foreign tongue. surely there must be other vocabularies. a compendium of actions. a dictionary of gestures. an anthology of motions. some other, new way of just keeping my fucking mouth shut.
not speaking of which
one evening, dawson returned home to the sprawling we never sleep headquarters quaking from head to toe. his eyes were boiling red and simply illuminated the hallway. his hands hung inert at his sides – his knuckles were ravaged and dripped with blood – his own and others.
we were alone: the others had gone to some event in which i had no interest. i’m sure I must have stared at him, pale, agog, both amazed and horrified.
“…don’t ask,” he croaked instructively. passed me brusquely to wash his battered hands in the dirty kitchen sink. reached into the creaking fridge to retrieve the last two beers. opened them both, holding them between his fingers at the neck. sunk into the sofa william and he found in the alley the month previous. lit a jittery smoke.
“just don’t ask,” he commanded the room.
we never did.
let me tell you, brother: hitting people is no real way to make a living. you usually have a long hard apprenticeship getting hit. over and over. all unpaid.
unpaid and expensive.
you get your master’s card. by then you’re truly ready to pay it forward. sometimes you’ll hit a sumbitch harder or more times than what he really owes just because you can. other times you’ll do it because it scares you how much it hurts him. then there’s the times you’ll do it because it hurts you how much it scares you. those poor fuckers never walk the same afterwards…
this shit happens every day. up close and personal. push button anonymous. it’s all the same. usually for the same reasons: you did something somebody didn’t like. and they have guys like me on payroll willing and able to explain it to you.
educators, you know?
yeah: i almost like that.
we’ll recap here…
“oh, bill,” susan groaned.
“…yes,” susan’s husband bill replied.
my father died when i was fourteen. the man who had been my father went on to live years thereafter. i don’t know what became of him.
the man who had been my father was a lonely man, poor in spirit, burying himself in the dirt-common story of angry addictions. it was hard to feel sorry for him. it grew impossible to feel for him.
stories usually get rounded, burnished with the telling. regular handling…
this one remains spear-point sharp.
…it was the tooth.
that tooth. if ever there was a corner to be reached and turned, it was that tooth. at a quart of bottom-shelf and two packs unfiltered a day, health was not the man’s primary concern. it showed. the morning coughing ritual and the red-flecked phlegm on the toilet rim. the brown filagree of burst capillaries on nose and cheeks. the swollen hands. the bandy limbs and outsized belly. the sour stink of rye and smoke and poison farts and just every bad smell a person could exude. his body was its own harbinger, and he aggressively ignored its messages. but somehow that tooth got through.
we were sitting down to another rancorous meal. we had again in disrespectful little bastards manner managed to raise his ire. our regular serving of lumpy split pea soup supplemented by threats of the orphanage, reminders of our absent mother’s whoredom and our questionable patrimony, and assessments of our worth as human beings.
he hadn’t yet reached the apex of his spite when something popped out of his mouth, landing directly in the half-melted stick of butter on what passed for our kitchen table. he gingerly touched his cheek, then reached into the butter to pick up the oral disjecta. it was a tooth. more accurately, the silver filling and some of the enamel from what had been a tooth. his tooth.
he held it between rough forefinger and thumb, examining it. his eyes widened as he gleaned its nature, and his shoulders – only moments ago armored with his righteous wrath – slumped utterly. he folded in on himself then, wrapping himself in a woe-filled silence as dark as philosophy. this wasn’t metaphor – this was the real deal. he was losing himself to himself. and we all knew it.
we held our breath. was the toxic rain of bile to become monsoon?
no. no: he finally heaved a messy, rattling sigh and lifted himself from the table.
“eat your fuckin’ soup,” he muttered at us, as he headed to the fridge to finish the remainder of his bottle.
fired by experience. annealed by years. tempered? no: yield nothing. nothing!
i shouldn’t have just fired him. i should have incinerated him.