Under Any Other Sun
I SAT BACK exhausted and half-nauseous from digging through Lester’s cabinets for anything I could float on for a while and coming up empty. It’s the most I’d moved in two days, since I gave a dirty drop at the parole office and came stumbling to Lester’s for sanctuary. Half the stitches in my gut had pulled, and tiny blood freckles bloomed along the hem of my shirt. I took it off and put it back on inside out. Then I noticed the second stain and realized I’d done this once already. “Christ, ain’t you got anything?” I said.
Lester shrugged, the bottom half of his fat face circled in silver where he’d been huffing paint from a paper bag all night. The bits clinging to his stubble caught the moonlight, these tiny fiber optic tips glowing along the line of his chin. The couch he lay on had come apart along a seam, and pillow stuffing rode bareback across his naked stomach. Clowns in hell looked better.
I knew Lester through his mother. He had her in a low-income retirement community I’d worked security for, running drunks and whores out of the breezeway, that kind of thing. It wasn’t a bad gig. Trula, the manager, let me mooch snacks from the clubhouse fridge so long as I kept the bathrooms clean and slid the occasional finger up her ass. Shit, I’ve done worse for money.
“We need to make a grocery run,” I told Lester, and slapped the top of his head to get his eyes open. “I’m looking to get well.”
“There’s an idea,” Lester said.
“That big truck of yours still run?”
He chewed on his tongue, bobbed a finger in the air. You learned to wait with Lester. He spoke with the slow, measured clip of someone paying by the word. A deep thought something he had to save up for. “I ain’t fit for vehicular operation,” he managed at last.
“Who asked you to drive? Just give me the fucking keys.”
“You ain’t fit none neither.”
“Yeah, but of the two of us, I’m the closer to upright.”
Lester dropped his hand and took a couple of quick breaths. A shiny confetti fell from his mouth. “I wasn't aware that's the direction we were heading,” he said, and threw up on himself.
Lester owned a used car lot specializing in low CC scooters for habitual traffic violators. By car lot I mean a chunk of flat dirt behind his trailer, circled in a string of colored flags. Half his lot was trade-ins, old cargo vans and trucks with Confederate flags stenciled across the rear windows. Exhaust stacks coming up behind the cab so all these cowboy rednecks could feel like they were driving big rigs. Best one he had was a big 4X4 with knobby tires suitable for traipsing across hell on a rainy day. The former owner had been a friend of mine, a yellowed, cirrhotic man with needs extending no further than the corner stop-and-rob and an occasional needle to drain the water off his gut. Lester had scratched the flag off the window and hung a pair of plastic steer nuts from the bumper. I pulled the For Sale sign down and stuck on one of Lester’s magnetic dealer plates and hauled his sorry ass into the passenger seat.
Lester had been a kind of doctor in a former life, a tribal medicine man with an older, white wife who left him after he deposited a series of knuckle-sized fractures along her lower jaw. Lester hid out in his trailer on the reservation while Medora swore out a warrant on him in her wired-jaw pidgin. Sheriff Guppy put in a request for extradition with the Nation, but we knew he did it just to shut Medora up. Didn’t much matter by then, though, with Medora gone anyway, aiming for some Midwest town where the Ohio River belted Kentucky to Indiana. Boasted she had family there with lineage back to Clyde Barrow, all said with the stupid, prideful tone one used to brag of farm wounds, or the size of their latest dump. Lester kind of fell apart after that. Reckoned when Medora left him she took the last chance of him knowing love with her, said there weren’t likely many women left around Casper willing to wear a brand like Mrs. Lester Big Beaver. I can’t say I found much fault with his logic.
We stopped at a gas station ‘cause I needed to burp my colostomy bag. Lester complained about the grand neglect of his stomach. When I got back from the can, Lester had slid over to the driver’s seat. He gnawed on a package of snack cakes while a pair of drunks serenaded one another two cars over. Lester closed his eyes, his lips trembling.
“In matters of love,” he said, “I am afflicted.”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
He held a cake up and swung it in great loops around his heart, conducting this choir of inebriates. In the light of the truck’s cab, the birthmark over his eyes had the color of a dark bruise, what hair he still had divided his forehead into thin, purple lines. The chocolate around his mouth made him look younger somehow. That’s the kind of magic I needed.
“Pass me the Ho-Ho’s,” I said, reaching out. “And them cigarettes. You got a penchant for hoarding life’s necessities.”
“I’m afflicted,” he said again, slapping the wheel and half crying.
The tears were too much. I told Lester to wiggle his hips, assure me he still had a pecker flopping against his fly. But I’d lost him already.
Thing was, I felt wrong for the land we occupied. My ex, Billie, used to say I lacked the soda can nature necessary for Wyoming. A kind of contained calm until shaken up, and then spitting fury, capable of anything. Hell, she had enough fury for the both of us. I loved how the drugs we smoked arced across her, like lightning behind a cloud. Or a heartbeat. Endorphins popping, Christ. It was beautiful. I knew men who’d spend years in jail solaced with no other thought than that of getting out to wrap their lips around a pipe one more time. Tell me there’s not love in that. What else would you call it? That’s how I felt about Billie. We stayed together another five years and then she left me for a trona miner and sobriety and a chance at getting back a kid I’d never met once. Last I heard she was teaching ESL in a church down in Sweetwater County. I’ve hated this place all the more without her. The whole of the West was a painting abandoned mid-stroke, something unfinished. And me stuck in the middle of it. I wanted to slap Lester across that birthmark and tell him he knew nothing of affliction.
“What’s the occupancy of your pockets look like?” I asked Lester.
He opened his wallet and held it out. The great vacancy. My heart plummeted.
“Christ, that’s not enough to get properly well,” I said.
“This is the sorriest I’ve ever felt,” Lester blubbered.
“You’re damn right you’re sorry!” I dug in my own pockets for whatever was there. The stitches in my gut hurt. “You’re leaving a man on the field of battle.”
“I’m hip deep in regret.”
“Is there any purpose you serve in this world?”
“But I saved your life once,” Lester said, nodding, grasping at redemption.
I sat back in my seat, holding onto my stomach. A few bucks in my hand I didn’t even know I had. The blood on my shirt didn’t look much like successful living. “That something you really want to brag about?” I said.
Truth is, Lester did save my life. Six months ago I booty-bumped a bad batch of crank he’d traded me for my disability card, and I wound up in the hospital spitting gibberish while a huddle of doctors peered up my rectum, claiming there was a lump the size of one of them bull’s nuts in my descending bowel. This was one of those accidental lucky moments, they told me. Serendipitous. They cut a yard of colon out of me and stuck a bag on my hip and an injection port in my shoulder for the chemical soup meant to keep me worm-free long enough to put a dent in the bill I owed. I put on twenty pounds of water weight, sort of gurgled when I walked. You ain’t never been that tired.
Worst part was Lester acting like he deserved credit for the miracle of my diagnosis. You bring up the part about him putting me in the hospital in the first place, and he’d start mumbling about the ethereal mystery of God’s purpose. I asked what purpose God was hinting at when Lester broke Medora’s jaw. Lester scratched at himself, favored me with a look of annoyed pity and said I wasn’t too clear on the concept of mystery, was I?
A parallel welt of railroad tracks cut across the road ahead of us. In the beyond, a field of oil derricks pecked at the ground like great, industrial birds. The sun coming up over the hills put a patina on everything, what Billie used to call an acid-washed world. Lester squinted at it all like a man caught off guard by the beauty of a thing. Tears in his eyes. “If I could paint,” he said, “I’d have a wall of this.”
“Hell, it’s dirt, Lester,” I said, and fumbled with the cigarette pack. “You’re not exactly overburdened with ambition, are you?”
He snorted and wiped at his eyes. Of a sudden he rolled his window down and stuck his face out it, retching. I’d been secretly burping my colostomy bag and I reckon the smell had finally hit him. “This an attempt on my life?” Lester said, coughing. “I need to worry about a pillow in the night next?”
“Those cakes were a bad idea,” I said.
“You narrowed it down to just one?”
I lit a cigarette and pointed it out the window, burned a sun into the horizon. Just the way God does in cranker heaven. Every so often you have to remind the world of your place in it.
We took what money we had to the pharmacy over on Peco. By law, you could only buy enough cold pills each week to unclog one nostril, part of some program to keep guys like me from trading the pills to a county cook like Muddy Banks for a fraction of their weight in shitty dope. But the old girl that worked the counter there had foster kids with life-threatening allergies, and the State exempted her from the law. She’d sell you some of her own stash at a discounted price so long as you promised her some of Muddy’s yellow crud. I hadn’t ever brought her a speck of dope, but her hope outweighed her distrust. Lester and I spent our wad and left the old girl standing there picking holes in her arms.
Afterwards, we sat in the parking lot trying to add up our score. We had enough pill boxes on the dash to float me along for another week. It was a thing of beauty.
“If I could paint,” I said, tapping the boxes, “I’d have a wall of this.”
Lester tried to focus both eyes on me at once. “You aware you’re vibrating a little?” he said.
“Yep,” I said, holding a hand up. “I can feel it.”
“That natural to you?” Lester was always inquiring as to the nature of me. Why I did what I did. He attributed a certain complexity to me. We’d been around each other enough that it bothered me I could still surprise him.
“There. I think it stopped,” I said, though it hadn’t.
“You should get that looked at.”
“Aren’t you a doctor?” I said. “Ain’t you looking?”
“I done saved you once.” A cop car drove by, and Lester pushed the boxes of pills off the dash and into my lap and I ducked down in my seat. Lester turned the engine over and sat back, staring at me, waiting. “What I need are coordinates,” he eventually said.
I looked out over the landscape. Hills in the distance jutted up like broken teeth in a diseased mouth. An overwhelming sense of failure washed over me as I realized I hadn’t the foggiest idea where Muddy lived. I knew of the man the way the holy rollers from rehab claimed they knew of God, through Jesus, His existence proven in the miracles granted in His name. I’d never seen Muddy once, but he’d gotten me high more times than I could remember. All I needed was one of his prophets about now.
I pointed out the window, down the only road I recognized. “That there’s the way to prosperity and eternal happiness,” I said.
Lester nodded, put the truck in gear. “That’s my favorite way,” he said, and pulled off the lot.
Driving past the retirement community, Lester thought he saw Medora’s old Buick cruising on the lot, and he took a turn towards it.
“What the hell are you thinking?” I said, sliding across the seat.
“She came back,” he said, excited. We bounced over curbs and scrub, the cars coming the other way dodging and weaving around us. Someone kept blasting their horn, and it wasn’t until we slid onto the lot that I saw it was Lester, hitting the column with his elbows each time we landed off a sidewalk. Lester kind of worked a wet finger along the horseshoe curve of his hair, smoothing it down. The only Indian I’d ever known with a receding hairline.
I slapped at the dashboard. “We had a commitment to a plan,” I said.
“You see her car?”
“Christ, the shape of it!” An undue anger gripped me. “The sorry shape of things. Who the hell’s in charge that people can’t follow a simple goddamn plan?”
Lester parked and slung open his door. Boxes of pills spilled into the dirt, and I shouted in a deep-souled pain and stepped out to corral them. Lester took off running through the dirt easements between the buildings in an effort to cut off the fleeing car I could now see wasn’t a Buick after all. But I let the fat fucker run.
I hadn’t been back on the property since Trula let me go for erratic attendance. That was fine with me. I missed the free sodas and the big clubhouse TV, but something about seeing people aged past the point of self-reliance smacked the taste from your mouth. These gray sausage casings for gut cancers and liver failure. Most had no business living alone, but Trula cashed their government checks anyway, and told anyone who brought it up to eat shit. The worst was their fucking kids, dropping off protein shakes and toilet paper like someone feeding lions, everything done at arm’s length. If the families stuck around awhile, it was always on the edges of their chairs, exposing as little of their asses as possible to the temptation of comfort. I used to slash their tires. Make them go back in to use their momma’s phone or wait for AAA. I got caught packing mud in a Mercedes exhaust and got my ass kicked by two big, Presbyterian girls with a brother on the county council. That about did me in, but I didn’t mind. Shit, when Trula fired me, I thanked her, though I reckon she misses my finger from time to time.
My feet found the familiar groove over to building four, home of the morphine-slurpers. A little sluice of water cut behind the property, one bank bearded with rabbitbrush. I plucked a few of the yellow flowers and shoved them in my pocket and figured they could only help me somehow.
Adeline had her door pushed to and I shoved it open. She stood in the middle of the living room, surrounded by stacks of ancient magazines, odd collectibles lepering a giant bookcase. A kind of desperate disappointment washed over me.
“You should still be in bed,” I scolded, madly jabbing a finger at her. All her meds were in the living room.
“You come for my bath?” she said.
“It’s not even seven in the a.m.,” I said.
“I can’t find my wedding rings,” she said, looking up, and clutching at her robe. Eighty-four and dying for years, hair like a child’s scribbles, her lungs cored by the same cancer that put her husband in the turf. And there she stood, pure serenity. She had a calmness I was in awe of, this indifference towards the worst of what life threw at her. The bored, detached quality of a harassed mother. The same look Billie had when she told me adios. Frankly, right then, I’d have gladly killed her to make my gut stop itching.
I moved to the windows and made a show of checking them. “No wonder, with these locks,” I said. “This is a burglar’s paradise. I’ve come in the nick of time.”
“God bless you,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Bless you.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” I said.
But just like that she turned and looked down, the rings gone, forgotten, if they were ever there. God knows I’d never seen them.
She said, “How’d I get so dirty?” She let her robe drop. A full catalogue of clothes on underneath that she took to shucking. In the bathroom, she bent over the tub and patted one hand on the nearby commode. “Come, sit here,” she called to me, “while I take my bath.”
I found her oxy on the bookcase and took one dry. Before pocketing the rest, I smashed another to dust with a decorative rock and snorted it, stood there until I felt the warm rope pull of it on the back of my eyes, pulling my head heavenward. That’s how I knew God meant this for me. But it was moments like these that got me thinking of Billie. Out there lying under some fool crust scraper. The shit people want. The shit they don’t. The things in life we’re destined for. Lester out there chasing after a woman he’d tried to kill half a dozen times. I never understood it and knew not to try.
When I looked in on her, Adeline sat ankle deep in cold water. I turned the hot on and tried not to look down the natural funnel of her thighs. Old girl was percolating. Adeline suffered bouts of gas from the fentanyl patch on her shoulder. The one she was picking at, pulling half off. Enough pain-killing opioid in the gel guts of it to kill a man if swallowed all at once. Just looking at it made my mouth water.
She let loose a fresh stream of bubbles. “Ain’t it traditional to have soap in the bath?” I said, glaring down at the water. “What about a rag? Hell, you’re ill-prepared for the task at hand.” She slapped at the water like a child. At that age, she may as well have been.
I stood up and pulled her patch off in one movement. She didn’t even notice. It was wet so I stuck it onto my chest to dry. Dried glue clung to her shoulder like snot. Adeline curled over her knees and water slid down the rolling caps of her spine, like a capsized boat. I pulled a rag from the sink and dipped it into the tub beside her, and I laid it across her shoulders. And there they were again, those grateful tears, all her anger forgotten. “You’re an angel,” she said as I turned to go.
Outside, I saw Lester speed-walking across the commons. “Hey!” I yelled at him. But he kept motoring, his arms two swinging V’s, his feet kicking up dirt. “Go help your momma with her bath!” I said. The sun came up over the trees in a kind of cosmic slot pull. A sour wind blew over me like a curse coughed up from hell itself, like omens of ill-tidings. I sat down and closed my eyes against it. What else could I do?
I woke up to Lester standing over me, digging through my pockets.
“Tell me what you’re looking for,” I said, “and maybe I can point you in the right direction.” But Lester just dug deeper ‘til he hit something solid, and stopped.
“Does the whole world have to suffer cause you’re sucking air?” he said.
“Christ, it’s my soul you’re after, then.” I slapped at his arms, but Lester was husky by nature. His shadow outweighed me. “Damn, this is a grand thievery!”
His hand came out holding Adeline’s pill bottle. He held it up and stared down at me, shaking his head with a kind of angry confirmation of his senses. The same look my P.O. gave me when I dropped dirty. Lester was old enough to be my father, and there was a part of me that wanted to hit him hard. Really, really, hard. It surprised me how badly I wanted it. It surprised me even more how much I wanted him to hit me back.
“Thought you’d be disappointed in the jackpot,” I said, and smiled.
Lester smiled back for a second, and then he did hit me, in the forehead, with the meat of his hand; not hard, but hard enough to let me know how hard he’d wanted to hit me. I grabbed his hand and tried to thank him, but he shook me off.
I watched him stumble back into building four. The sun burned a slow weld up the sky. Billie used to say you knew the sun was something of God by the way you couldn’t look at it without suffering for it. I reckon that’s how I knew she was, too. Billie said a lot of funny things like that. But that’s about the only one I could remember right then.
It wasn’t long before Lester had us lost in the great expanse of Wyoming scrub, but I was still fixated on that sun.
“I’m not of this world, man,” I said to him.
“That’s a hell of a thing to say to me now,” he said.
“I’m saying under another sun, I could do things. Special things. This sun’s all wrong for me. It comes with strings attached.” I leaned over and poked a finger into the dirt, ran a line in it. “This world comes with a bunch of fine print.”
Lester kicked the side of the truck with the pulled-lip look of someone on the verge of tears. “What I need is a man who knows his way around this part of the universe,” he said, and sat down.
We’d stopped to extract a kid’s ball from up under the front wheel well of the truck. I’d felt it bumping against my feet for the last half hour as Lester drove in circles around struggling fields of alfalfa and sugar beet. Like the truck had a heartbeat. The insistent thump of it woke me from sweet-colored dreams that vanished the moment I opened my eyes and exposed them to reality. There was the matter of how the ball got there, and Lester said he was prone to seizures and might’ve had one a while back, while he was driving, said he had a black spot in his memory up to the exact moment I asked him what was thumping.
“Anything else about you I need to know?” I asked him.
“I told you I wasn’t fit for driving,” he said.
“You ain’t fit for much,” I said. I took the ball from him, this flattened white sac, this spent egg. A smear of blood or clay ran along one side. I pulled my shirt off and tried to wipe the ball clean. “You should wear a sign warning of your shortcomings. Let everyone know what to expect from you.”
“Whoa, here comes another!” Lester shook a little, let a spume of spit vibrate around on his lips. He slapped at his eyes and mouth, chewed hard on his tongue. This went on for a while.
“That it?” I said when he’d finished. “That’s not quite what I expected.”
He spit out some blood and stood up, held onto his gut for balance. He gulped air in the manner of something used to drinking for it. “Exactly what about this world is how you expected it?” he said, and got back in the truck.
We drove some more, but somewhere in all this we lost Muddy’s place, even the idea of it. Lester said we were coasting on the memory of gas. Adeline’s pills had worn off, and there was that feeling again, of being wrong for this place, this country. What Billie called a cardboard cowboy, someone standing in, but ignorant of, the dirt. Unearned of a squint. By then, the sun had slipped past a line of trailers down the road and it wasn’t coming back. Hell, why would it?
I felt the boxes of pseudoephedrine at my feet and stomped on them, listened to the pills crunch inside. Lester let out a strangled cry and punched me in my gut. The cap of the bag on my hip came off with a burst of brown liquid and Lester screamed again. But I laughed, laughed until Lester came around the truck and pulled me from it and threw me into a beet field. I chucked a few beets at him, but he stepped back out of range until my bag stopped leaking, Lester tapping his foot the whole time.
“You done?” he asked, breathing hard.
I nodded, but I wasn’t, which is the saddest thing I’d ever thought.
Lester nodded back. “Me, too,” he said. He threw the keys down at me and started walking in the general direction of nothing, his pants streaked with blood or oil or bits of me, maybe. Either way, he kind of sparked when he walked. I put my shirt back on and scooped all the shit-stained boxes out of the truck and left them lying there like some devil’s scat. It was a long time before I moved. I found the keys and spent a while trying to coax the motor into talking to me before it finally rolled over. By then sun had abandoned the sky and I couldn’t see much, just a phosphorescent outline of two wide legs disappearing into the dark.
I cruised alongside Lester, trying to sweet-talk him back into the truck, but the stubborn fucker wouldn’t budge. He kept looking around with a sort of confused panic, the way my grandpa did after he had his first stroke and started seeing his dead sister mopping the bathroom floor. My teeth tingled in the cold night air. My gums retreated further into my head to get away from the funky taste in my mouth. I asked Lester in a singsong voice if he’d kept any of his mother’s pills, but he turned and kicked the truck in the ass, so I left him huffing in the dirt.
The roads circled and backtracked over one another without really leading anywhere, and I finally gave up and stopped. I was hungry, but the only thing left in the truck was one of Lester’s half-eaten snack cakes, and I knew my gut couldn’t take it. I felt so empty I tried to revive some of my old rehab hymnals, the way those holy rollers would sweeten all our favorite diseases into declarations of hope. Shit like, “PCP has cured Billie of her fear of public nakedness,” or, “Jimmy’s willingness to drink rubbing alcohol demonstrates a tireless will to meet his goals.” There was a time when those words worked on me as an enchantment, soothed me, but like anything else, you build up a tolerance until they make no more sense than the flapping of insect wings. I could listen to TV static now and get the same effect.
The truck was sputtering hard on fumes, so I tried to siphon gas from a big Silverado outside a defunct saddle factory and wound up with a gut full of it. Some of the fuel came back up in thick waves, and when I looked down afterwards, there were spirals of blood mixed in it. The house next door had a light on, so I stumbled there, tried to spit the smell out of my mouth as I begged a glass of water through a window screen. An old man in pressed jeans let me in and offered a kindness to me I didn’t deserve, watched me choke down some charcoal with a glass of sour milk. He went on and on about his dead wife like someone who’d been waiting awhile to finish an interrupted thought. A starchy dandruff on his pant legs. I lost him a little when I asked how long she’d been dead. A little more when I tried to bum some of her old meds. But I lost him completely when he looked out the door and saw the wet spot in the dirt by his truck, the tube hanging from his tank. He sniffed at me and turned towards the back of the house, trailing a line of expletives with a promise of armaments upon his return. I hit Lester’s truck running. Once I got the engine going, I killed the lights and put petal to metal. Each rut I cleared felt like the edge of hell itself. When the wheels lost contact with the earth, the great expanse of sky yawning above me, a part of me hoped it was for the last time.
But then came a woman. She stepped from a lone farmhouse and called out to me, called for my truck and added some prayers and curses, cause God traffics in both, I guess. When I pulled up in front of her porch, she had a tiny boy in her arms. His limbs were twisted in ways that didn’t make sense, his body crisscrossed in knobby tire tread. He was dead, and if I told you I envied him, you might doubt it, but I’d already calculated the odds of living or dying in a woman’s arms, and in my eyes, the boy was the beneficiary of masterful fortune.
“Look at him,” I said as she opened the door and tried to wedge the boy in. She had her shirt off and wrapped around the boy’s misshapen head. The skin of her back was too tight, and the muscles underneath rippled like plucked strings. Man, the sound they made. Her raw titties had the worn look of purpose. Still, she was beautiful. The whole of the truck reeked of blood, sweat, and shit, which was about as apt an odor for this godforsaken place as any.
“Drive, drive, drive!” she shouted at me.
She had the right idea, but the truck was as envious of the boy as I was, and died with a great grunt. I sat back and slapped the wheel. The great, neutering disappointment I felt. I couldn’t catch my breath.
“I worry about the God we pray to,” I said, huffing.
But she just slumped over and rocked the boy, whispering into the spot on her shirt his ear must have held. I’d have given anything to know what she said.
The truck door opened and there was Lester, reaching in and pulling the boy from the woman’s arms. She let him go with a strangled plea for mercy, and Lester laid the boy out on the ground, kind of chanted over him in his native tongue. Something must have been trying to get out of him, cause Lester pushed down on the boy’s chest, right above it. The woman bent down over the boy as if to suckle the life back into him. I took a few of them flowers from my pocket and laid them around the boy cause I didn’t think it right someone lying dead in the dirt without something beautiful surrounding him. The mother was in great disagreement, and threw the flowers back at me.
“The pain you’re in,” I said, trying to touch her.
“He’s allergic!” she cried, pulling away from me, flinging yellow petals.
“Not no more, he’s not.” I meant that to comfort, but she was in a praying mood.
“Oh, Jesus,” she said. “Oh, Jesus, Jesus!”
Lester gave up on his heathen gods and alternated cursing the boy and begging him to breathe. Every time he pushed on the boy’s chest, red-tinged bubbles dribbled from the boy’s mouth, the holes in his crushed neck. The mother slapped at Lester’s hands until he stopped. Lester sat back, a big, sweaty melt of a man. A tortured look of memory on his face, and I knew in that instant whose ball it was, and how it got caught up under the truck’s wheel. Lester sucked air like someone preparing for a deep dive. “There ain’t nothing left to do but tend to the pain,” he said through his tears.
I knew what Lester meant if even he didn’t. Hell, I’d been doing it long enough. I reached up under my shirt and pulled Adeline’s patch from my chest and shoved it into the mother’s open mouth. She bit down on it, spitting goop over her square chin, and I said, “Yep, that’s how you do it.” Her arms flailed around like someone gone instantly blind. All that opioid hitting her brain like a freight train, and I can’t express the jealousy I felt at the look in her eyes, that moment she left this world in a cotton-coated bullet with a memory as useless as the shirt she’d left on the boy. Still, I’d like to know what she thought at that moment, what came snorkeling up through the static of this world to freeze-frame on the back of her eyes. Me, I’d have thought of Billie and everything she ever said to me.
“It’s not hard,” I said to the mother, meaning this life, this place. My hands had stopped shaking at last. “Christ, it’s easy.”
Kevin Corbin was born in Southern Indiana, but spent a good portion of his childhood in small Wyoming towns like Casper and Riverton, where he once found a stray cat frozen solid on his front porch. He studied Elementary Education at the University of Southern Indiana while trying to pay the bills as lead guitarist in a traveling cover band. Following a decade (and nearly a thousand concerts) in smoky bars, he put the guitar aside and settled into a career in law enforcement. In his free time, Kevin writes short stories and plods along on a novel. His work has been featured in the Southern Indiana Review and Permafrost. Kevin currently lives in Evansville, IN with his wife and two daughters.