FTMT's Favourite Five Top Tenets

Monday, May 30, 2005

Phobias and Manias: FTMT Short Story No 10


Phobias and manias

“It all starts with the child, the child is affected, touched, smeared, polluted, mirrored. I don’t know but I do, it’s everywhere, it sears into you, into them, every body is affected, everybody is touched. I don’t remember anything but I know all about it like it was yesterday or the day before. It was real to me at the time, still is, still burns and cuts with it’s sharp edge, still stings with it’s poison like a memory trick and unwinding dream”.

“OK Jake, we’ve established that you had a series of bad experiences, you got burned, metaphorically and you are still hurting, still smarting from the experience. How long ago? Can you put a time, a fix on it? Is it still as fresh or is there a decay factor that I might apply? Sorry for these questions but at this stage I like to bottom things out, like to see the sea bed (as we say) just to know exactly where it is you are coming from…just stay with me on this, I wont take long and despite what you may be thinking it can all be quite painless and...”

“I don’t know the time, I was young, I was scared, I buried a lot of stuff since those days. You ask me questions too quickly, I need time to pick my answers, I’m not a machine, this is tough, painful to recall. Well some of the detail is missing you know, I was small, a kid, six maybe seven, alone in bed somewhere between sleep and awake. We lived out in the desert, dad ran a gas station, and mum ran the diner. I was alone a lot. I was happy most times. We had a zoo; we had snakes, lizards, bugs and insects. Cages made up from crates, chicken wire, old aquarium glasses for the snakes and car parts. Stuff that dad had caught, found or that travellers brought in, damn! Some of them just wandered into the house, never bothered me, never meant nothing, it was the way it was. It was always hot, ice and water, cola, ice and water the most precious things. I loved it when the Coke truck rolled in, when the machine was full and our refrigerator was filled, that good feeling of knowing you’ve enough to survive, stock is high, time can crawl then, you could relax. Security.”

“And did you relax? Was the fear lifted at these times? Trucks and visitors to your little zoo, travellers wanting gas, pancakes, a cold coke and a hot burrito to scare the dust from their throat and stuff their bellys. A few words to your dad as they filled up, checked the oil, a chat to your mom over lunch or breakfast, stumble out in the dust and look at your dime zoo, must have seen all types. All the low life travellers, desperados and weirdos out there, who else travels through the desert like that? Dumb tourists? Who pays to waste their time and look deep into dirt? The clientele at your mom’s café must have left a lot to be desired. Are you ashamed of your mom? Ashamed of your dad? Setting up home for you in such a god forsaken wilderness with bugs and snakes for brothers and sisters: no wonder you’re in here talking to me!”

“It was OK, I loved it there, I loved the space, I loved the dust. The cool drinks, the desert sky at night, the long shadows, the way the night fell and just kept on falling and smothered you till the refuge of sleep was all you had left, no place else to go. I’d watch those desert stars through the open window I felt so safe. Critters making their night time noises in the cages, distant truck motor, generator running, far way radio sounds. Saxophones and electric guitars, clipped and sharp, crystalline blues and rock-a-billy, songs and scores from Lord knows where, but always in the distance. My mom loved that music, that radio music. And then that blue cigarette smoke from my daddy, sitting under the window, hearing his breath, smelling the tobacco, the snap of the match striking, the first big inhale to light the cigarette, the signs and the whispers to my mom, and always traffic, slow and lazy some days, rushing and whining past others.”

“So Jake, it’s women you are scared of? Women you can’t stand, can’t talk to, can’t relate to? Is it women?”

“One day I had to go, had to go, it all became more than I could handle. It was mom, you’re right, but dad was to blame, he never played his part and I guess mom couldn’t help it. When you’re lonely and alone you can do crazy things and somehow things slipped out of control. It was the night I lost my best snake..”

“Go on, you don’t mind if I take a few more notes?”

“Ssssss, ok, I lost my best snake that night Goddamn! I was trying to tell them but there was an argument, usual business, money. All melted together in the heat, it was a hot night I remember. They were bickering, mom had been a little over friendly with some customer, dad didn’t like that, or so I thought. When I look back now I realise that I didn’t really know anything about what was going on then, it was my home but it could uncomfortable at times, there always was a disconnect. Dad stayed busy like work was a drug for him; mom fled the heat of the day to find a refuge in the heat of the kitchen and anybody’s cheap conversation. I just stayed in the background, like I was a piece of scenery in some half-baked play. So it was that night, they’d been bickering but I just went straight into the workshop and told my dad that the snake had gone. The snake was one of my best, little sandy coloured Twi-catcher with sceranoid back pattern, I’d only had him two weeks but I was sure he’d be worth $10 cos he was so bright and $10 a lot of money to a kid like me, now he was gone. Dad came back into the tank area and checked them all with me with his torch but there was no sign. He wasn’t mad or anything, he wasn’t like that, he was quiet and he knew I was bugged. He patted me on the head and handed me a coke bottle from the machine and went back into the shop. I stood for a moment sucking on the cold glass top and swinging the coke around inside my mouth when there was more of a commotion from the diner. I saw dad run in from the shop into the diner, there was a few seconds silence and then a shot, then another. Then out ran a man, all in black and I could hear mom screaming in the background. The man in black ran across the lot to a parked car, jumped in and drove off at speed in a westerly direction. Tail lights twisting down the road in a dusty twilight cloud. I didn’t hear no more from the diner so I ran in through the front door that the man in black had just run out of, no idea what mayhem I was going to find. As I ran in I saw dad standing, legs apart and a gun was lying there on the diner counter. Dad was staring at it like he couldn’t believe it was real. It was big and shiny silver and it looked hot and dangerous, it was some kind of big automatic pistol. Dad was just staring at it like he was willing it to go off or go away or something. I was stood dead still not sure what move to make. Dad was almost in some kind of trance I thought and I couldn’t imagine what he’d seen or even done to get him so”.

“He stepped back sudden and turned round and looked at me square in the eyes, sweat was running down his brow I could see now his hands were a tremble. Then I began to wonder where my mom was, if their quarrel had got real big and out of hand and if that man who’d run out was all part of their fighting. I moved forward to see what might be behind the diner counter, where mom usually stood and where she should be now. Dad signalled me to freeze but I kept going because I knew that something was very wrong. I twisted by him and ran around the end of the counter to see for myself what had happened. Dad was still slow to react, he reached out to grab my collar as I ran past but he was too slow and now I was round him and inside the counter. I say my mom lying there on the green tiled floor all crumpled and awkward looking like she’d just fallen from the ceiling and landed there between the coffee deck and the refrigerator door”.

“A whole lot of things went through my head right there in double quick time, I was wondering if she was with the Lord Jesus, if he was holding her head and lifting her slow and taking her to some shining city away somewhere. Maybe he was whispering in her ear and telling her I was ok and not to worry and how we’d all be fine saying “don’t worry little darlin’”. Then as I got closer to her I saw that her hand was holding a hot dog bun, a foot long one and she was still gripping it so tight even as she lay. I thought that during the struggle and fight she had been fighting of some mad violent attacker, a robber or a molester with that hot dog and I thought no wonder she had got hurt. By now my eyes were filling up with tears and an angry kind of grief and feeling of desperation was pumping up my heart like a bicycle tyre on a hot day. I was going to burst. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I knew my dad was going to set things right, whatever it was that was wrong. He squeezed me gentle and we both kneeled down beside mom.”

“I was looking at her up and down, her eyes were closed, her body crumpled and there was a gash on her head which was dripping fresh red blood in a vertical stain down her forehead and into her tousled, hanging hair and onto the floor. She was still gripping the hot dog. Her fingernails were chipped, the red varnish was maybe three days old and I noticed all the freckles on her arm for the first time, her apron was grease stained and pulled tight across her waist hitching and creasing at her skirt. Her thighs and legs were frozen still and at an uncomfortable angle, one shoe was off. Dad spoke, ”OK son, OK, it’ll be OK”. I was dumb and shocked, in my head the two gunshots were still reverberating, they had no place I thought, gun shots have no place in my mom’s diner, in our home, in this filling station, they have no place, these bullets don’t belong here.”

“I looked at the hot dog and saw mom’s grip tighten on it, her hand jerked and at the same moment her eyes buzzed open and she blinked. She stared at the hot dog roll again, let out a scream and in a single whiplash movement threw the roll across the diner floor. Dad moved close towards her, held her shoulders and began to speak softly. I was sobbing in a low childish sob, not believing what was happening. Mom was crying and beginning to shake as if the first wave of a huge fright had just hit her and now she must react in some mechanical, logical way. She threw her head back as if convulsing, dad caught her and cradled her and whispered more into her ear. My thoughts gathered and I thanked God and Jesus and the Pope that she wasn’t dead and in heaven, she was with us but I had no idea what was wrong, where she had been shot or anything. The blood on her head which dad was gently catching with a napkin even I knew it was too slight an injury to be a gun shot wound. I looked more and panicked less and could see no more blood or hurt. She wasn’t shot, that man who ran out had missed or shot someone or something else, not my mom.”

“I stood up and wiped my tears and asked if I should call the sheriff or Doctor Brown, dad looked at me puzzled and just repeated the it’s OK line. I stood back and at some safe distance began to tell mom I loved her. She looked up her head in dad’s lap and smiled a weak smile. I felt the shocks drain more of my strength; I walked out in front of the diner counter and saw a bloody stain and mess of skin and flesh down between a stool and the counter. There was a clear bullet hole in the floor and I could see a reptile skin pattern plastered across the floor. Dad popped up from the other side and leaned across the counter looking down meeting my gaze rising up.”

“Sandy Coloured Twi-catcher!” said dad, “tough little varmint, kill a man stone dead in sixty seconds they do say.”

“Since that night and even right now, I don’t much care for snakes.”

No comments: