UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
GRANT PALMQUIST

Outlaw

      I’d be riding horses if they’d let me. I’d ride them past the highway, past the desert with
the moon hung above, past the ocean that holds a thousand mysteries, all the way to the
edge of the earth where nobody could find me. There would be no kid I don’t want, no
ex-wife popping up asking for money, no pistol on my coffee table, no video wired to my
door watching who comes and goes. Nothing.

      But I’m stuck here. I have to make ends meet and working at the dry-cleaner
don’t pay the bills, so I make runs to Lake Charles, Lousiana where I meet my man the
Brain and he cuts up skunk-weed and slides it inside six Ziploc bags to kill the smell. I
attach Velcro to the bottom of the bag and slide it under the stick shift in my car, a place
where cops never look.

      I get back to Houston a day later and April’s left notes on my door saying she
spent her welfare check. She’s got one son by me and two kids by another guy. I hate
them all. I walk into my pad and break out the stash and split it up to take some to my
runners who sell it for me. Once I’m finished separating it, I walk outside and head over
to Kool-Aid’s place, knock on the door, move the stash around in my briefs while I stand
there. He opens the door.

      “What up, Alton?”

      “What up?” I say. “I got your shit.”

      I step inside and throw a sack down on his coffee table. He picks it up, opens the
bag, closes his eyes, and inhales the smell for as long as he can. He opens his eyes,
smiles, and pulls out some bud and starts to roll one up, so I get ready to hit the door.

      “No smoke?” he says.

      “Just get me my two-fifty in a week.”

      He makes an O with his forefinger and thumb and smiles. Stupid fuck.
I get back to my place and as soon as I hit the couch, hear a baby crying outside
my door and, right on cue, April banging on it. I close my eyes and pretend she’ll go
away. She keeps banging. I finally get up and walk to the door and crack it open.

      “What the fuck do you want?”

      “We haven’t eaten in a day, Alton.”

      “Why do I give a shit?”

      “Because he’s your son.” She holds up James.

      “So what? Let him starve.”

      “Fuck you.”

      “Get a job, whore.” I slam the door and stare at my pistol. If I didn’t have to
worry about doing time, I could see it so clearly: I’d take that pistol, kick open the door,
knock her halfway off the balcony, press my foot into her back, and pull the trigger.

      I sit on the couch and she keeps knocking and begging. She slides down and sits
there and won’t stop crying. I stride to the door and push it open, trying to make it cut
into her skin, but she leans forward and looks up at me, mouthing please.

      “I said get the hell out of here.” I point down the stairs.

      “Don’t you at least care about your son?”

      “No. He came from your disease-ridden ass.”

      I squat and take her chin in my hand and look her in the eye: “You keep coming
back here and you’re gonna be sorry. I promise you. You know I don’t got enough
money to support your stupid ass. I give you as much as I can.”

      She stands up, lips trembling. “You’re gonna regret doing this one day.”

      I stand there and she keeps saying the same thing over and over again and I
picture the pistol in my hand and I could just lift it and boom-everything disappears.
She makes so much noise crying and yelling on the way back to her apartment that lights
turn on and faces press against windows to see who’s yelling at who. Same crazy bitch,
they’re thinking. Go ahead and kill her, they’re thinking. Probably do everyone some
good.

      In my spare time I watch Westerns. Young Guns, Tombstone, Wild Bunch, stuff
like that. Considering the time and place, I figure I’m doing my best to emulate the
outlaws in these movies. While I watch, I take my pistol from the coffee table and rub
the cold steel against my face, spin it on the table to see where it points when it stops. If
it points to Kool-Aid’s place, it tells me not to trust him anymore, but I already don’t. If
it points to me, it means it’ll be a bad day and, when it’s over, I’ll fall asleep thinking
about using it on myself. If it points to April’s place, it means kill the dumb bitch and get
it over with.

      A cop car’s been parking across from my place the past couple days and a pig sits
behind the wheel smoking a cigarette and watching my pad. I don’t use, so I’m not
hallucinating. I keep the blinds barely drawn, staring at him. I think about running to the
donut shop and bringing him a dozen to screw with his head.

      I take my pistol and shove it down the front of my pants, walk out the front door,
down the stairs, towards Kool-Aid’s place. I walk by the pig, feel his eyes on me, walk
faster, and resist the urge to look back. The whole world’s a muffled drum beat when I
knock on Kool-Aid’s door.

      He opens it with bloodshot eyes and a curled top lip. I shove him and slam the
door behind me and push him again, keep pushing him till he falls onto his couch. The
whole room’s filled with smoke. I pull my pistol out and he wakes up from his high and
grabs the edge of the couch.

      “You narcing on me?” I say.

      “What are you talking about?” he stammers.

      “Don’t make me say it twice.”

      “I ain’t no narc.”

      “Then why are cops sitting outside my apartment?”

      He turns his head from side to side and says, “For real?”

      I nod. “Yeah, for real.”

      I point the pistol at him just to see what he does, and he squirms all over the
couch. “You ever do something like that and I will kill you.”

      “What about your bitch?” he gulps.

      My eyes cut into his skin like knives. “My bitch?”

      “April.”

      “She needs me for money.”

      “I don’t know then.”

      “Remember what I said.”

      I don’t even listen to his response, just shove the pistol into my pants, turn to walk
out. After I leave, I drop by my other boy’s place, pick up some cash, roll back to my
apartment. This time it’s a different pig staring up at my pad.

      I walk inside and lie down on the couch and close my eyes and imagine riding a
horse with a six-shooter at my waist and a bottle of whiskey hanging from my right
hand--my life in a different time. I fall asleep on the couch.

      I wake to knocking on my door. I hear voices and tiptoe to the door and look
through the peephole. Two cops are sidled at my door, trying to make like I can’t see
them if they put their backs to the wall. I walk to the coffee table and pick up my pistol.
They keep knocking.

      I go to my room and grab the garbage bag full of pot, drag it to the bathroom, and
start flushing handfuls of it down the toilet. They yell, “Open the fucking door!” and
kick it harder and harder. I almost vomit while I’m flushing and can hear them breaking
in. I lean against the wall and get ready for them, but keep flushing the dope.

      By the time they get the front door open, the toilet’s clogged and buds are flowing
over the toilet seat onto the ground and around my feet. Their footsteps click in the hall
and they shout but it changes to a dull ring in my ears. Here they come, lusting after a
bust, already thinking of the jokes they’ll tell when they put the cuffs on tight enough to
cut my wrists. I lean my head against the wall and breathe and the pistol slips from my
hand and fires a hole in the wall and they hit the ground like they’re in a gunfight. If I
could get away with it I’d pick up the pistol and fire and cap both them cops and then get
on my horse and ride off with the red sky behind me and my shadow stretching long and
lean on the dirt road in front. I’d follow it wherever it leads. But I got no room left to
breathe in.

Grant Palmquist lives and works in Houston, TX. He holds a BA from the
University of Houston.







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