UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 11/2011
Slewfoot--stocky, two-fingers sheared at the rail yard where he worked days, untamed, wooly headed, grease smeared palms--slid me a quart of Bud as I, Eumer, sat at the midnight barstool.
Two men waddled in, growling about something. One guy swayed into my elbow, spilling consecrated beer on my khaki pants. He sat next to me in the long narrow bar. They mumbled, grumbling about wives. Their voices soon boomed through the hollowed out night.
“I ain’t taking it anymore, Charlie,” and he pulled his drinking pal’s shoulder, bringing him down on to the floor. They swung wild, senseless punches, until the downed man rose, putting a headlock on his alleged nemesis. I hadn’t budged an inch from the tussle. Slewfoot came from behind the bar and muscled them apart, then walked them towards the door, struggling with the handle, finally opening the door, dropping them into the gutter of the town’s silent square.
I chugged my beer, banged on the bar. “Another one, Slewy baby,” I said, maintaining that long sought after poise of never showing the effects of alcohol, yet my brain spun, and neurons sung to me.
“Don’t ‘Slewy’ me partner,” he shouted, yanking me off the stool, handling me like a slippery banana peel he wanted tossed in the trash. He dragged me outside, the door open, and let go, sending me flat on my keister. He went back to the bar and threw the quarter and two dimes at my head like a Don Drysdale hit batsman. I gathered up my strength, trudged back to the bar, throwing up at Slewfoot’s feet, drenching yellow puke on black shoes. I walked out, thinking he’d hammer me to death for my creative revenge, but nothing happened.
One night I sat at the bar next to a telephone lineman, discussing the civil rights movement. He argued that he couldn’t condone violence. He meant the demonstrators, saying they were responsible for serious injury and deaths of Southern police and sheriff’s deputies. “Non-violence is the only way to turn this country around,” I blurted. College jocks came to Collisions, drinking quarts from bottles. Were they Slewfoot’s henchmen? Was the lineman a plant, snitch, or informer? This was a rural county. Was he actually a racist or did he secretly agree with me? Slewfoot could’ve arranged it so I’d get clobbered, even murdered by our bar talk. I heard silence, patrons hushed, listening to us. Anyone of the locals could be out of Bob Dylan’s song about farmers with dirt beneath their nails. Had Dylan wanted to write “blood” instead of dirt? My blood.
We went back and forth, he granny-sipping while I downed Buds, alternating from drinking from the bottle or slurping from a mug. Slewfoot grabbed my mug and bottle, raised himself over the bar close to my eyeballs, telling me, “You’d better get out of here if you want to live longer.” He pointed towards the door. I was enraged. Blacks wanted dignity and so did I. Always the innocent outsider. Drunk, my steps had a life of their own, taking me to the police station, demanding my constitutional rights to drink beer in Collisions.
To my surprise, Slewfoot was there ahead of me, getting his side of things before I could. After a few minutes, he left, shaking hands with the sergeant. A hook-armed man sat behind a desk, and one officer grabbed my arms, holding them behind my back while the sergeant stood before me, yelling, “Why you punk,” then, like in a time lapse film, raised his right arm, smashing me in the mouth. My arms unshackled, I plopped to the floor. “Punk! Punk!” the sergeant yelled as he kicked me in the back. I retched onto the sergeant’s pant leg, and for that I received kicks all over, including a hard shoe to my groin.
The next thing I remember I was in a cell, sitting on a mattress. I felt my lips: they were puffy and bloody. The loss of my incisor, its bleeding hole, made me angrier than I’d ever been, including that suburban night I held a loaded .22 rifle in my hands, ready to murder my father for his drunkenness.
Weakened, humbled, but not for long, I screamed, “You can’t lock somebody up without due process, you fucks.”
I kept screaming that I deserved to see a lawyer. “Pipe down, I gotta get my sleep,” the inmate in the other cell matter-of-factly said, without hostility. The sergeant suddenly appeared in front of my cell. “We’ll hose you down if you don’t shut your trap.” That sobered me up a bit, seeing photos of innocent blacks getting high-power hosed in Life Magazine photographs as well as footage on Walter Cronkite’s CBS Evening News. I wished these yokel cops would hose me. At least I could join my Movement to defeat the inertia I felt sitting on stools, drinking beer and sometimes a shot, in Collisions.
Collisions wasn’t the sort of drinking hole to meet and pick up females. The following afternoon I sat in back, listening to Eric Burdon sing, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” and brooded, giving patrons the impression that I had deep thoughts, mulling Plato’s Symposium on love, musing on Montaigne’s Essays, how coincidence meets stoicism, dwelling on Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier,” informing himself by living among the poor rather than thinking abstractly about poverty.
Suddenly, a grandmotherly woman slid across the booth from me. Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” played on the box.
“That’s mine,” she said, asking me to buy her a beer. I did, coming back, looking at her wrinkled face, flabby arms, liver spots on the back of her hands, old-fashioned, caked rouge on her cheeks. Move over, Bette Davis.
“What’s your name?”
“Elmer, that’s a good old name,” she said, puffing a Kent cigarette, exhaling out the side of her mouth, her lips looking like she suffered from Down Syndrome.
“No. It’s early English, before the Norman Invasion.”
“You’re smart. I like that. My husband’s a dummy, watches too much TV. Your name, Elmer’s Glue, that’s one thing my hubby uses a lot.” She sang the chorus to Cash’s hit, perfecting her softness, her availability, her prowess as an experienced woman.
“Want to come over to my place near the college?”
Her name was Jill, a blah name. She conked her head on a low pipe going downstairs to my basement dwelling. Damn, she hadn’t bled.
“I should’ve warned you. Sorry.” I wasn’t sorry. I enjoyed telling lies to women my older aunt’s age. Powering up my dominion stirred my guts. I offered her a can of beer, opened another, and sat on the smelly couch. A long time ago, according to my landlady, a renter had butchered rabbits, getting guts, blood and cartilage all over the dark cave-like apartment. Jill noticed, holding a hankie over her nose, trying, and failing politeness. There were other odors, like old and fresh semen on the couch, shit in the unpredictable bathroom.
I wanted her to peel off her slacks, gathering in what I hoped were Lizbeth Scott’s legs. Instead, she moved closer, giving me an open-mouth kiss I hadn’t expected. Her halitosis hadn’t anything cinematic about it, more like what I imagined was the stench of afterbirth. I tried withholding judgment, fingering her vagina, finding the clitoris.
I sent a pulsating surge of vomit into her mouth, gagging her, Jill choking on my pepperoni pizza and apple pie I’d eaten at the school cafeteria. She threw up too but not before I pulled my head away. Vomit soaked her lap. She turned paler than an albino, and I pointed to the bathroom. After five minutes she came out, her ugly truth versus my loathing that I invited her over. I wished she died of cardiac arrest, flopping her cadaverous head on Collisions’ beer-sloshed vinyl table.
She was no Queen Bridhild. The historic Eumer was an assassin, killing a king before his liege slaughtered him in the sixth century. I loved symmetry: life and murder, alpha and omega my only spiritual belief.
The following night, drinking alone in the back of Collisions, I congratulated myself that I had belief, even though inspired by the anti-Bridhild hag, Jill. I wanted to find my ex-dorm roommate, Tony. He was due to get a few bottles of slightly psychedelic mescal. Perhaps the floating beer garden residing in my liver had reached its limit, and everything in my life would worsen. I needed Tony and if rousting him from a date on the wooded banks of Drake Lake caused him to gut-punch me, so be it.
I awkwardly exited from the booth, walked out of Collisions and down an alley. I was shit-faced, a condition Tony termed “Eumer icky-beer” because my bad skin looked like Sinclair “Red” Lewis’ face. The winner of the Nobel Prize, “Red” was a no-show at the ceremonial speech in Stockholm, obviously because of his ugly face. I loved to drink alone. Maybe “Red” did too.
Tony had told me once, as we sat on the Burlington railroad tracks smoking pot, that “The redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming!” Paranoia terrorized me, never wanting bohemian mind-altering again. I was glad I heaved into Jill’s mouth because I was drunk, yet able to manipulate my consciousness under the gut-load of soda lime glass, three quarters silica, quart beer and drinking glasses, my sweaty palm and bloated belly. Ah, fusion.
I peered into the bowling alley’s large-windowed door, cupping my hands so the inside light wouldn’t distort my vision. My face, flush against the pane, nose pushing so hard it must’ve looked to patrons like I was a broken down ex-professional boxer. He wasn’t there.
I walked to my apartment, more steady now in breezy fresh air. A cop car swerved in front of me, its red light twisting around, throwing off shadows as if in a forties B movie. “Get in,” he ordered. His partner pushed me into the backseat, threatening to “cold cock” me if I said anything. Does breathing count I wanted to ask, but kept my yap shut.
At the cophouse a woman and man identified me as the “perp,” an evil-eyed monster who needed harsh discipline. Was peeking into a bowling alley, observing bowlers sliding up one foot and rolling the ball down lanes, criminal? Was I a voyeur or were these two gutter balls in their team’s uniforms?
Homer hammer-locked me, throwing me against a wall tacked with wanted posters. Hook-arm manned the desk as usual.
“We’ll have to commit you to the state mental hospital it looks like,” he said, talking to Homer, not me. My thighs pushed against his desk and, like clockwork, I lurched forward and projectile-vomited onto the shiny prosthetic. He rose, grabbed a nightstick, and came at me.
Tony appeared outside the office; I admired his timing since we don’t chum around so much now, he more attuned to biological/social urges than I was. Perhaps he’d been drinking mescal and smoking weed, drinking and blowing smoke on the tracks into the nighttime void. That kind of high inevitably lead to synchronicity: his life saving mine. He posted bond and we left.
I never took the botany final exam. I hitchhiked two thousand miles from Amiable Bump. I will not tell you how I made the money to buy a bar. Arson, armed robbery, murder---anything was possible.
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