from rank variance
This is the 3rd, and at 2,221 words, so far the longest, in a series of related short stories. If you enjoy this enough, friends and fellow Bloggers, to check out the related short-short story and short story I posted previously, the hyperlinked words within this story (except of course for the Daily Post’s “glaring”) will take you to them.
I hope you enjoy “Side Job”, and I welcome comments, criticism, and suggestions.
Kortnee’s hands washed the lunch dishes while she gazed out the grimy window at the triangular courtyard between the tightly packed trailers of Knight’s Court. “Mother, what happened to the playground?”
Bethanee sat at the Formica kitchen table separating small, round, yellow pills, sliding them across the chipped surface with a used emery board. “8, 10, 12—what?” She tucked a stray length of hair behind her ear, stuck a Vantage 100 into the corner of her mouth and lit it then sighed out a long stream of smoke. “What are you talking about?” She joined Kortnee at the sink and started rinsing dishes. The courtyard looked exactly the same as it did when they had moved into the trailer 8 years before, when Kortnee was a chubby, waddling three-year old. A badly bent, faded, and rusting metal swing set with crooked slides at either end and only one unbroken swing sat in the middle of the dusty crabgrass triangle flanked by a set of monkey bars on one end and a bank of see-saws on the other.
“Seems like just the other day I was out there playing on it, and it didn’t look so broke down.” She plucked the cigarette from Bethanee’s mouth and took a drag then returned it. She drained the sink, rinsed it, and started drying her hands.
“Shoot, girl,” Bethanee laughed, “it’s always looked like that, it’s just now you’re a woman you finally got eyes to see.” She rolled her eyes, shook her head, returned to the table, and picked up the emery board. “14, 16, 18, 20. That ought to do it.” She tore a small sheet of plastic wrap off the roll, stacked the pills tightly together in the middle of it, rolled it into a tiny cylinder then wrapped it into a second sheet. She stood up, handed her cigarette to Kortnee, and walked toward the bathroom. “Finish that for me, baby girl.”
Kortnee walked out the front door and sat down on the sagging wooden stoop to finish the cigarette. She looked around at the neighboring trailers with their accompanying accumulations of broken-down cars and household appliances. Everything looked faded, shabby, bleached by the glaring Friday afternoon sun. She took a last drag then flicked the butt into the crumbling, potholed service drive that bordered the courtyard. She went back inside and leaned against the wall outside the bathroom. She rapped lightly on the door. “Mother.” Bethanee didn’t respond, but Kortnee could hear her brushing her hair. “I wish you wouldn’t take them pills in with you. Remember what happened to Jeriko’s momma last year?”
Bethanee came out and hugged her daughter, leaning her forehead against Kortnee’s. “Sweetheart, I love her to death, but Rose Wall, bless her heart, she suffers from chronic stupidity.” She wiped a tear from Kortnee’s cheek. “I haven’t been caught yet, and I ain’t fixin’ to start today. Besides, rent’s due Monday, and we’re short. Speaking of which, you better get working on those home rolls. There’s a carton full of empty Vantage boxes under the sink.”
Kortnee plucked a tissue from the box on their tiny coffee table, dabbed her eyes, and blew her nose then turned on the radio. She returned to the kitchen, removed a large coffee can full of cured and chopped burley and a box of Top papers from the pantry, and set them on the table. She tossed her crumpled tissue in the trash can under the sink, took the Vantage carton and put it on the table too then met her mom at the door for a goodbye hug.
Bethanee kissed the tip of Kortnee’s nose and stroked her hair. “Take care of you and keep the doors locked. Put that carton in the mailbox tomorrow when you get the mail. Kevin will drive by and pick it up in the evening. You wait five minutes after he’s gone then go get the money he leaves. You can keep five dollars for you. I’m going to stop by Pastor Huddleston’s place and ask him to check in on you tomorrow night. Don’t you let no one else but him in this house.”
Kortnee squeezed her mom tight, kissed her cheek, and managed a small smile. “Just be careful, please, Mother, and don’t worry about me. I’ll keep the doors locked and won’t open them for no one but the preacher.”
Bethanee stepped away then grabbed her phone and keys and went to the front door. “Now let me go, baby girl, I need to get to the jail by 2:00. I’ll see you early Sunday evening.” Kortnee closed and locked the door behind her, got a can of Coke from the fridge, then sat down at the table and let her hands go to work. She had been rolling cigarettes for a year now and was fast and proficient, but it would still take her about 3 hours to roll 300. She lit another Vantage 100 and let the smoke drift lazily out through her lips, murmuring, “…And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep,” a line she remembered from the poetry unit they had studied in Literacy class that week.
* * * * * * * * * *
After parking in the gravel lot of the American Zion 1st Free Will Baptist Church, Bethanee walked up the concrete steps and peered in through the glass doors. She didn’t see anyone, so she pulled one open and walked in. The sanctuary was much warmer and mustier than it would be come Sunday, and it seemed to her in its silence and emptiness a whole lot more reverent, more holy, in the absence of its congregants. She could hear Pastor Huddleston’s raised voice coming from the office off the far right corner of the room, and as she approached could hear the floor creak too as he paced back and forth. She rapped twice, hard, on the closed office door. “Preacher. Preacher! It’s Bethanee Stone, I need a favor!”
After a few moments, the preacher opened the door and stood just inside the office, breathing hard and dabbing his forehead and jowls with a thick terrycloth towel. His pale blue Polo shirt was soaked with sweat down its front and under his armpits. “Hello there, Miss Stone, it’s so good to see you today. Please come in, sit yourself down.” He went to the water cooler behind his desk and filled cups for himself and Bethanee. “It gets a bit muggy back here when I’m practicing my sermons!”
Bethanee sat and sipped the chilled water. “I’m sorry for interrupting you, Preacher, and I know we haven’t been to Sunday service for a while, but I need a favor.” Pastor Huddleston folded his hands and smiled, showing his capped white teeth and deeply etched crow’s-feet. “What can I do for you, dear? Do you need me to check on Kortnee for you this weekend?”
Bethanee inhaled sharply, mouth gaping. Her eyes darted left and right, and her knuckles whitened as she leaned forward and gripped the edge of the pastor’s desk. She snapped her mouth shut, took a few measured breaths, let go of the desk, leaned back, and drank some more water. “Guess I should’ve known there’s no keeping secrets from a preacher. Yes. That’s what I need. Will you please go by the house tomorrow after 9:00 and make sure she’s doing alright?”
“Of course I will, dear,” he said, rising from his chair. He walked around the desk, helped Bethanee stand, gave her a gentle hug, and walked her toward the exit. He stayed beside her, right hand on her left shoulder, patting gently all the way to the glass doors. “You give Kortnee a call now, let her know I’ll be coming by with Mrs. Beasley and some nice apple pie. Maybe we’ll see y’all in a few weeks when you get done serving these weekends, hmm?”
Bethanee had begun walking down the stairs but paused and turned, looking up at the pastor. “I expect you will, Preacher. I thank you.” She turned and resumed walking to her car. As she was getting in, Pastor Huddleston smiled, raised a hand in farewell or benediction, and hollered, “I’ll be praying for you, child!” She closed the door, buckled her seat belt, and cranked the key in the ignition, muttering, “I need all I can get.”
* * * * * * * * * *
As she was driving toward the highway, Bethanee called Kortnee. “Sweetheart, Pastor Huddleston’s gonna bring widow Beasley and some of her apple pie tomorrow night. I asked him to come after 9:00.” Kortnee finished counting cigarettes into a box. “28, 29, 30. Okay, Mother. When I get done with this tonight, I’ll make sure everything looks good before I go to bed. I love you.”
Bethanee pulled up to the stop sign at Seven Hills Road. “I love you, baby girl. I’ll see you soon.” She lit a cigarette, rolled the windows down, turned her blinker on, and turned right. She made sure to stick to the speed limit and use her blinker every time she had to change lanes. The last thing she needed was another arrest for driving on a revoked license. The next one would come with a habitual motor vehicle offender charge, and that would land her in jail for more than just a few weekends.
When she crossed the bridge over Cottonmouth Creek, Bethanee enjoyed the cool breeze wafting up from the water. She closed her eyes for a moment, shivered, and took a deep drag off her cigarette. As she returned her hand to the steering wheel, the butt bumped against the wheel, and it flipped from between her fingers then landed on top of her left foot. “Shit,” she screamed as it began to sear her skin. She reached down blind with her left hand to remove it but pinched the burning cherry between her thumb and forefinger, and the cigarette rolled and wedged between her shoe and her foot. “Son of a bitch! Son of a bitch!” She had to look down briefly in order to remove the cigarette without any further injury. Bent nearly double and with only her right hand on the wheel, her car began to bear to the right, drifting onto the shoulder. When she noticed the car bump slightly, she quickly jerked it back left and sat up. She glanced in the rearview mirror but saw no other vehicles behind her, no cops, and nothing to indicate she’d run over anything bigger than a rock. She flicked the crushed and still smoking cigarette out the window. “Fuckin’ thing,” she hollered, and flipped a bird after it for good measure.
Five minutes later, Bethanee pulled into the parking lot of the Copperhead County Criminal Justice Complex, shut off her car, and lit one more cigarette. While she smoked, she called her best friend Rose, and the call went straight to voice mail. “Hey girl, I need you to run by the house a few times this weekend and make sure there’s no one parked in my driveway. Except for after 9:00 tomorrow night, Preacher’s gonna be there. Oh, and maybe have Jeriko call Kortnee a time or two to check on her. I’m headed in to the jail. Thanks. Love you.” She hung up, ground her cigarette out on the asphalt, and walked to the courthouse door. She put her keys on the conveyor belt and walked through the security gate. The young officer on duty smiled at her. “Hi Miss Stone. You have a pleasant weekend now.” She looked at him, smirking, “You wanna do it for me, Sonny?” He handed her keys back. “No thank you, ma’am.”
She walked to booking and was buzzed in. CO Fuller made her face the cold cinderblock wall, spread her legs, and lean up against the wall with her hands over her head. Before she started to pat Bethanee down, she asked, “Do you have any weapons, needles, or other contraband on or about your clothes or person?” Bethanee laughed, “Shit no, Fuller, I just wanna do my time and go home.”
CO Fuller finished patting her down and ushered her into a small, stainless steel observation room. The correctional officer closed the door and slid open a small Lucite window. “Remove all your clothing, ma’am, then open the drawer in the far wall, deposit all your clothing in the drawer, then close the drawer. After you have removed and deposited your clothing, ma’am—.”
Bethanee cut her off, “How long have I been doing this, Fuller? I know what to do.” CO Fuller frowned as Bethanee squatted and coughed. “Cough harder, ma’am!” Bethanee coughed harder and long enough to get lightheaded. Before standing up, she asked, “That good enough for you, Fuller?” CO Fuller passed a folded beige jumpsuit and a pair of foam rubber flip flops through the Lucite window. “Put the jumpsuit and shoes on, ma’am, and proceed through the opposite door. Report to CO Majors at D Pod.”
As she walked down the cold, gray hall toward her uncomfortable weekend accommodations, hardly noticing the smell of mildew and unwashed bodies, Bethanee smiled to herself and breathed a sigh of relief. She was eager to get to her cell, remove her product, and wait for her clients to begin filing by.
Hello friends and fellow Bloggers,
Yesterday, I posted that I was honored and humbled because I’d been nominated for my first Blogger award. Within a few hours of my first nomination, I was thunderstruck to see that the lovely and multi-talented Actress In Reality had nominated me for my second, the Versatile Blogger Award! Actress has a fantastic blog full of amazing stories, and I hope y’all check her out. She’s one of the Bloggers who inspires me to keep sharing my stories, and I am wholly grateful to her for nominating me for this esteemed award!
“Consider the quality of the writing, the uniqueness of the subjects covered, the level of love displayed in the words on the virtual page.”- Versatile Blogger Award
The Versatile Blogger award gives prominence to bloggers with passion!
Once again, I thank my nominator Actress In Reality, a very versatile, talented, and interesting Blogger. Please check her blog out as well as those of my nominees above.
Take care, be well, and versatile blogging,
Friends and fellow Bloggers,
I am honored and humbled today because declutteringmylifeweb has nominated me for the Mystery Blogger Award. This is my first Blogger award nomination, and I am deeply grateful for it. Declutteringmylifeweb has one of the more interesting blogs I’ve stumbled across as he (or she? I don’t know, hence the mystery!) seeks to close out a chapter of her (or his) life, clean out the remnants of their past, and figure out a new approach to the future. I suspect this brave and intelligent individual is a female based on this interesting post, but what does that matter really? It doesn’t to me, and I wish Decluttering all the best in her or his search, even more so now!
What is the Mystery Blogger Award?
According to Okoto Enigma, the award’s creator, “The `Mystery Blogger Award‘ is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging and they do it with so much love and passion.”
According to award creator Okoto Enigma, the rules are as follows:
Mine, a character sketch: “Morning Flight”
Mine, a song/poem: “Anna Lepsis”
Mine, a short story: “Riding High”
My favorite post of my gracious nominator declutteringmylifeweb’s: “Pando”
Thank you, declutteringmylifeweb, from the bottom of my heart!
Take care, be well, and happy blogging! Get busy with your own nominatitons!
Colt Jackson pedaled his secondhand Schwinn 10-speed along the shoulder of Seven Hills Road as fast as he could, glorying in the breeze of a sun-soaked, late spring day. Graying hair streaming from under his helmet, he marveled at the endless blend of color flashing by on his right as he sped past the continuous stream of roadside wildflowers: yellow agrimony, orange volunteers, white liverleaf, purple aster, scarlet beebalm, and the occasional burgeoning clump of black-eyed Susan. He had been riding the bike for a year and a half and had become so skilled that he was able effortlessly to dodge the frequent obstacles littering the side of the road. Beer cans and bottles, soiled diapers, hubcaps, and the occasional discarded inexplicable lone shoe no longer bothered him even at high speeds. He had learned to love the musical ping of the occasional pebble spurting out from beneath his front tire, the buoyant feeling of flight without wings.
He slowed as he approached the bridge over Cottonmouth Creek and stopped alongside the concrete barrier. He grinned as he waved to his friend Hank, who was fishing below. Laughing, Hank hollered up, “Today’s the day, ain’t it Colt?” “Yessir,” he yelled, “I’m headed to the courthouse this minute to get my license back!” Hank waved him on. “Get yourself gone, then, old son!” Colt pedaled off, quickly getting up to speed again on the long downhill straightaway leading into town. As much as he had come to enjoy riding and the improved physical health it brought, he was thrilled at the prospect of driving again when the need arose. With only two more miles to go, he felt like he could ride all day if that’s what it took.
* * * * * * * * * *
On the day the State of Tennessee had seen fit to revoke his right to drive a motor vehicle, and the judge had taken his license, Colt had been more amused and taken aback than angry. Half smiling, he had told his public defender, “I still don’t get how they can convict me of drunk driving. It was only tree!”
The public defender ran a hand through his thinning hair and inhaled. Exhaled. Opened his mouth to speak, shut it, shook his head, turned around, and started to walk off in search of his next client. He abruptly turned and walked back, stood almost nose-to-nose with Colt, clapped his right hand onto Colt’s left shoulder, and glared into his eyes. “Colt. I’ve been a PD for twenty-five years. I have represented people who were so drunk that they should’ve been dead. Never in my career has a TBI lab tech called me and offered to have her agency pay for a private lab to provide independent confirmation of the level of THC in a subject’s blood at time of arrest. You were so fuckin’ high you should’ve needed a spacesuit. And DUI doesn’t just mean driving drunk, it means driving under the influence. Of any controlled substance.”
He had walked out of the courthouse and up the hill to his rusting and dirty ’78 AMC Gremlin, an emerald green relic he’d kept running himself for over 30 years and lovingly called Gizmo, glancing over his shoulder every 50 feet or so worried a cop might be following him to see if he tried to drive away. When he was sure he was unobserved, he collapsed into Gizmo and drove several blocks to where he’d stashed his kit under a moss-covered boulder in the shade of a looming water oak alongside the Cumberland River. Again he assured himself no one else was around, pulled his bag out from beneath the rock, and took a few moments to contemplate the worm-scrawled hieroglyphics carved into its covering of mud. With great care, he rolled a quarter inch-thick joint, sparked it, smoked it ‘til it singed his calloused fingertips, then tucked the roach into the front pocket of his jeans.
Hands laced behind his head, he leaned back against the oak and watched the river roll along. A solitary unhurried heron glided by, and a squirrel scurried out onto an overhead limb and chittered at him. He eased his battered pocket Merton from his frayed and faded denim vest and caressed the cover with its black and white picture of the smiling long-dead monk. He had been carrying the book so long, referring to it almost every day, that the edges of its thick, once-white pages were a dog-eared, grimy gray. Eyes closed, he flipped through it, stopping at random and sticking his pointer finger between the pages then reading the passage closest to his fingertip. “A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.” He smiled, chuckling. “You never let me down, Brother Tom.”
Eventually, Colt stood up and returned to Gizmo. As soon as he was on the highway and headed home, he had been overcome by a gut-clenching fear that he would be pulled over. His eyes darted from the oncoming lanes to his rearview mirror and back again, jittering like mad as he searched for cops. His palms sweated so profusely he had trouble maintaining his grip on the age-slick steering wheel. A tenth of a mile from home, he noticed a blue glow cresting the crown of the hill he was descending and began to panic. The cruiser sped toward him, siren screaming, so Colt braked and pulled to the shoulder. He reached for the glove box, but his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t open it. The cruiser swerved left and sped by, and as the siren Dopplered and began to fade, Colt uttered a shuddering moan of relief. He rolled the last few feet to his driveway before stumbling out, crawling a few feet, and puking into the rain gully along his poorly graveled drive. He staggered to his front door and had considerable trouble steadying his hands enough to get the key into the lock. Once inside, he fell onto his couch. His last thoughts before passing out had been that he would sell Gizmo tomorrow then go buy a bicycle from the Goodwill store.
* * * * * * * * * *
Now, eighteen months later and with only a mile to go, Colt was nearly giddy at the prospect of taking his reinstatement papers from the judge. He hardly noticed his surroundings as he daydreamed about what he would do with all the money he had saved not having to keep Gizmo running. He had been to both of the used car dealerships in town and sat in a couple of cars. He was seriously entertaining the idea of buying a well-maintained 1985 El Camino that Hank had on his lot if he could talk him down another hundred dollars or so. He planned to buy a mountain bike and start touring Tennessee’s State Parks, and he wanted something he could easily haul his bike and camping gear in.
Even if he hadn’t been so distracted, he would not have noticed the car approaching from behind as it began to veer toward the right shoulder. Even if he had noticed it, he would not have had time to react before its passenger side front fender grazed his left knee, sending him careening off the shoulder and down the bank of the drainage ditch. As his front wheel slammed into a large tire laying on the bank, his bicycle stopped abruptly, but Colt kept going, ejected up and over his handlebar. He was amazed to be overcome by a strange sense of peace. He raised his arms like Superman, and smiling as he enjoyed his brief flight, he was grateful to notice the drainage ditch remained rather full of water after the recent spring rains. And that was the last thought he had for a good long while.
Saturday, July 29, 2017
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I want to give a shout-out to a handful of bloggers I follow and admire, all of whom accepted my invitation to review and comment upon one or more of my previous posts. I am grateful to each for taking the time to offer me encouragement and advice. They are a diverse group and worth a look, so please take some time to drop by their blogs.
It’s July 24, 2017, and I still haven’t written any new poems since the poor one I dashed out on 1/13/17, listed on my Poems page. I also haven’t yet figured out how to either: 1) Publish a new post simultaneously to a particular page (for instance, Poems) as well as my Home page; or 2) Remove a post from my Home page after publication and move it to a different page.
I’m posting this old poem (first written as a song during that delirious summer, circa August 2011, when I joined two friends, Tommy on acoustic and Corey on electric guitar, and briefly deluded myself into believing I could front a band) not to showcase my profound poetic skills (they’re more profane than profound) but to see what happens when I publish this post. Will it appear on my Home page and my Poems page, or will it only appear on my Home page? If only on Home, how do I get it to post on Poems?
Anyway, the poem, which begs for revision, follows. I welcome any comments on the poem, its quality, and especially suggestions for how I can make my blog posts do what I want them to do. Thank you all for taking the time to read and offer feedback. As always, take care, be well, and happy blogging!
So this is the place
at which I’ve arrived
somewhere I hope
just a little bit shy
of the midway point
on the path of my life.
I never believed in regrets
‘til they started to come.
All I swore that I’d never do
I’ve damn sure now done.
And tears of blood fall
from my eyes ohh, one by one.
So long since you were
my girl and I was your man.
I looked in my dark glass my dear,
and you weren’t in my plans.
I lit out alone and now
that’s where I still stand.
My only relief comes
in my time machine.
The tires of my ’88 Mustang
and old metal bands scream,
while the ghosts of my past
rise and dance just like steam.
Now I’m here as you
check your mail all alone.
Just a short walk down the drive
of your broken home.
My fears unrealized
when my gaze doesn’t
turn you to stone.
Love sit yourself down
in my time machine.
I’ll carry you back
to our younger days’ dreams.
And our lives will just stop
rippin’ apart at the seams.
And where we’ll arrive
won’t be as bad as it’s been.
As quickly as she could after the scalding water caused the ancient pipes to start their rhythmic clanging, Jeriko scrubbed her face and armpits before shutting off the water. The pipes gave a long, loud squeal of protest, and she held her breath, listening for any sound of movement from the den just outside the thin bathroom door. All she could hear was the thud-thud of her own heart as it tried to beat its way out of her chest. After a minute, she wrung the washrag out over her head, tamped down her sleep-mussed hair, and finger-combed it into some semblance of order. She painted on some lip gloss, plucked a few stray eyebrow hairs, and applied some deodorant before shouldering her backpack, wincing as the straps rubbed her bruised biceps. Grabbing her mother’s long-defunct curling iron with her right hand, she locked eyes with her mirror image and steeled herself for the short but fraught journey from bathroom to front door.
Jeriko opened the rusty-hinged bathroom door quickly to reduce the duration of its squeal then stood silent and quaking, breath held and eyeing the couch bed between her and escape. Momma and last night’s bar find, a bad-tempered brawler named John Mark, both still lay immobile in a tangle of sheets and shed clothes, apparently in the same positions they’d been in a few minutes before. If it weren’t for the gentle rise and fall of their chests, they would almost look dead. Like most of Momma’s boyfriends, Jeriko wished John Mark was.
As she surveyed the debris strewn across the narrow path to the front door, marking the exact position of every empty bottle and crumpled beer can, Jeriko’s left hand brushed the sore spots on her right arm where John Mark’s huge paw had gripped her as he shook her back and forth when she tried to push him away after he had begun slapping her Momma. He had pulled Jeriko close then, close enough that his sickly sweet and whiskey-reeking breath made her gag, and hissed, “You little bitch, you try that shit again, and when I get done with your whore of a Momma over there, I’ll do you next.” He licked her nose then manhandled her into her room and kicked the door shut, and she sobbed herself to sleep with her pillows pressed firmly to her ears.
Now she stared at the ill-framed door limned by the golden sunrise light and visualized silently walking to it without kicking, stepping on, or tripping over any of the empties littering her path. She took a deep breath, half raised the curling iron and, eyes firmly on John Mark’s inert form, walked confidently toward the door, opened it, and walked down the three rotting wooden steps to the gravel path leading to the gate. The door banged shut behind her and she dropped the curling iron and began to run, breathing in great gulps of the cool and liberating morning air.
The fence on both sides of the gate had been gone for years, but instead of going around it, she stopped, lifted the latch, opened the gate, stepped through, and closed it firmly. She turned and began the long walk toward the next 8 hours of freedom.
Friday, July 21, 2017