Fiction

Penobscot

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 FICTION

On the morning before my journey to Penobscot, I, Charlie Hunt, proceeded to attempt calisthenics. I did twenty half-assed push-ups. Stopped to make a pot roast, carefully searing the meat in a cast-iron pan I bought at the Union Tool Store in Maine, placing it in a speckled enamel pan bought at a tag sale in New Hampshire en route to Maine. Carefully splashed with an expensive bottle of Barolo, some caramelized onions, honed carrot chunks, a garlic clove or two, a bay leaf, crushed pepper, sea salt. I thought this would make a fabulous dinner after driving with Sarah, because you could simply reheat.

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   You know what I mean. Simply reheat. Add some crusty bread, as the recipe says, although I always try that and don’t know what to do with it. It seems terribly unhealthy to slather it with butter, and I try to hold a hunk in my hand like some European fellow, but I don’t know what it’s for. To dip in the juices? The hunk feels as artificial and forced as a diamond pinky ring. I was raised basically without bread at meals. An occasional special kind of bread, like Mother would get. French bread, cut many slices halfway and filled with a few pieces of garlic and butter and wrapped in foil. She would serve that with her famous baked salmon in foil. It was a foil meal. I am a foil guy, too. This Barolo meat would get carefully wrapped in foil. I frown upon people who put foil around their cooking elements, though. And foil-wrapped potatoes, which suggested cheesy family restaurants with golden pine paneling, as Mother said. It steamed a potato, you see. And one was left with a terrible waxen potato event. So I would probably just get some new potatoes en route in lieu of the bread and boil them. Tossed with a little fresh dill and butter.

   I, Johnny Brewer, can tell you this — there’s nothing tarp and a stretch cord can’t do. I went to the fruiter’s house and I covered his porch like he faxed me, and when I was there I got cold so I figure I’d do up a fire then sit watching hockey, that old lady out there planting potatoes, she didn’t see me as I snuck in the back, and that’s when I see that, holy hell, I see the house is trashed, totally smashed up, bottles everywhere, crashed up and stuff, stinking to high hell, oh shit, I says. Oh, shit.

Rodge is asking what this rich asshole is like and I said, well, seems okay, though real faggoty.

    Because surely I know what the hell’s happened, Rodge and Sammy been here, because I’m talking at them about my caretaking and they came with me to check the heater one day and Rodge is asking what this rich asshole is like and I said, well, seems okay, though real faggoty, but has a girlfriend on occasion. Rodge says probably a cover, he says. No, he just ain’t a regular guy, that’s all, but he’s nice enough, he cooks a lot and gives me wine. Is he after you none? says Rodge, and I say, come on, I don’t think he has the guts, you know? Like I said, he’s got women here sometimes, and not bad lookers, either. One was a wicked fox. Wearing a pink dress and all, big tits. You know his mother, though, she’s that lemon-headed helmet head who Veronica works for. You know, the scrub-them-more lady. You know, Veronica’s always saying she washes up for this broad who just says scrub-em-more all the time but gives that bonus, five hundred bucks every year? Yeah. Her. And his Dad is that English dude. All crumpled over with a cane, yeah, they got a big-ass house on the bay, and babyboy Charlie here bought this place, Wick’s house, last year to be near Mommy-moms and the foreign goat dad, yeah, probably got all that money from some kind of foreign spooking deal.
   Or toothpicks or something. It’s always some little dinky invention that makes these fuckers all rich and stuff and we’re slaving away keeping this country running. I don’t think the dude has cut a piece of wood or nailed a hammer in his whole life, I’m sure.

   But anyways, I did try to clean up the place as I said he didn’t bother me much, seems harmless though godawful wimpy. I was sweeping. Sure as hell was Rodge because I know he smokes Carltons. And he put them out on the floor.
   I got lousy friends.
   Gets to be, I feel hungry. Look into the freezer and I see some frozen stuff he made. I suppose it’s all labeled and such, but like I’m really going to try those. Might be eating a pig eyeball or something. He eats weird shit. He offered me a goose gut one day on bread or something so I will avoid that shit. Lucky me, I find a package of hot dogs, all frozen up. And with a stick, I do the Boy Scout weenie roast over his stove. Just when that sucker is all cooked up and ready to go, the place still trashed, Charlie Hunt himself walks in with tinfoil.

   I, Charlie Hunt, have never really had a good friend.
   I mean, I suppose Sarah is my friend but that is different and you know what I mean. A layer of gentlemanly polish separates me from her like the tissue my mother uses to pack her luggage, a transparent veil. When she gets up to take a leak, she closes the door and one can hear the tiny click of the lock. I have heard of those who pee whilst the door is open and continue their conversation with their lover. Sarah would not do this.
   I bought the tinfoil and the potatoes. As usual, Maine produces fine potatoes and they were what they call fingerlings. I had fingerlings and a rich blade roast and a head of garlic and some nice Barolo and I drove up to my cottage, noticing Johnny’s car and walked in, walked in on Johnny in a dirty plaid shirt, cooking a hot dog over my stove.
   I did a rare thing. I completely ignored my first impulse at a comment, which went along the lines of What is exactly going on here, and instead said, I could fix some fingerlings to go with that.
   What happened then was, Johnny dropped the hot dog. Mother fuck, he said. I can explain this. By the way. Fingerwhat?
   I picked up the charred, swollen foodstuff and handed it to him. Fingerlings, I said, small potatoes, baby heirloom variety.
   I’ll pass. As I. Was saying. Mr. Hunt —
   — I prefer Charlie, actually.
   Uh, Charlie then.
   Thank you.
   I can explain. This. I think it was some lowlifes I know. They get to drinking.
   Small matter.
   Well, if it was my house.
   Beer, Johnny?
   I wouldn’t mind, Johnny said. Comes a time in life, or in my life at least, where you just want to be with people. Open up your heart chakra, as Sarah says. She says mine’s all blocked, she does this twirl with a small dowser (she learned this on a retreat in Sedona last year) and she says my heart chakra is full of black gook. So I try to open it through visualization. And so I start with who comes in my path, as Sarah would say. And that person is, well, Johnny Brewer. So I turn to him and try and look friendly.
   All right then. Let’s sit. A fire’s in order.
   I’ll probably need to get back, he says. I wonder if his heart chakra is blocked as well.
   Oh, yes, of course.
   But I suppose I’ll stay for a few.
   Who are these friends of yours anyway, Johnny? Are they individuals I would know?
   And I say that to Johnny because I’m trying to open my horizons to new people.
   I guess they’re not. Friends, that is.
   Well. You know.
   You know what?
   I don’t know. Let’s see. I have a fairly decent pale ale or, ah, perhaps a pilsner?
   Just a beer’ll do.
   Ha! Okay.

   I, Charlie Hunt, stood there quietly while the wind howled outside, trying not to look at Johnny and trying very much not to appear condescending, or judgmental. The foil dropped from my arms and it rolled across the floor.

I just want to say, you know. I’m not, you know. Well. I’m not funny.

    I’ll be happy, happy to, you know, clean this shit up tomorrow and stuff.
   Do you prefer a glass? Or a bottle?
   Johnny stood frozen. His eyebrows started faintly to dip into a frown.
   I just want to say, you know. I’m not, you know.
   I beg your pardon?
   Well. I’m not funny.
   Well, I’m not funny either, Johnny. I’ve heard actually, according to Sarah, that I’m a bloody bore! He did not laugh at that, though.
   See.
   You’re, uh, talking, sexual orientation.
   Along those lines.
   I’m just offering you a beer, Charlie. Here.
   I do like beer.
   Beer can be good. Say, did you ever knock into that roof yet?
   Not yet. Too damn cold.
   How about the leak in the back.
   Well. I sent Rodge in for that. You funny, isn’t you.
   No, I’m not, Johnny. And if I was, well, then, what would be the issue, exa —
   — Yes, you is.
   You can believe what you want. That’s your choice. I merely was offering a friendly libation.
   You people think you can take over the world, don’t you?
   Johnny, you have some hostility issues that I really —
   You can talk fancy. Go ahead.
   I’d like to be your friend, Johnny.
   I bet you would. Hunh!
   Let this go now and let’s, let’s crack open the wine.
   I don’t want no wine.
   Beer, then. A coke?
   Johnny silently stood. He walked over to the sink, spit into it.
   You knew Veronica, right?
   Veronica?
   Yeah. Remember she worked for your Mom? Blond?
   Ah, yes, of course.
   She get pregnant and all.
   Did she? Ah, splendid.
   No, it ain’t splendid at all. She was my fiancée, and it weren’t my baby, Okay?
   Oh.
   And I think, oh, I know, it was probably Rodge. Though she won’t admit it. But we break up and all of a sudden he’s hanging around like a dog. But then, last week — you got a draft in here, you know.
   I feel that, yes.
   I’ll check it out, might be needing some wood replaced out front.
   There are loose boards. The salt, I believe.
   Last week, anyways, bad news. Veronica, she’s up at the house. Your Mom’s got a party going on —
   Maggie’s anniversary.
   Right, or whatever. And Veronica don’t feel good. She goes home. And something’s all wrong, I don’t right get these things, but, all of a sudden, baby’s gone. So I go see her. Bring flowers and such. But she don’t want me. And I can’t figure it out. I keep trying to. Figure it out. So I just. Give up on that shit. Figuring out women.
   Have you heard of a heart chakra?
   A what?
   Sarah, my Sarah, knows a bit about Eastern thought and kundalini, and.
   But Johnny was probing the wood on the side with his hand.
   You got some termite damage, what it is.
   I see.
   Anywho.
   Johnny, listen —
   Them, Veronica, Rodge. Like I wouldn’t know, like I’m simple. Or something.
   Then Johnny walked forward.
   This what you want? He came close to me, stood right next to my face.
   There a point you’re trying to make, Johnny?
   This bother you?
   Your attitude bothers me, Johnny, you seem angry or I’ve —

We grappled and wrestled and gnawed each other in a roulade on the floor.

    Then Johnny grabbed my face and kissed me. Not a soft kiss but a harsh knocking of teeth and grating of beard. I fell back against the couch. He bit my neck and then kissed me again, forcing his tongue down my throat. At first I was horrified. My heart chakra felt insulted. But the smell of sawdust and sweat must’ve added an allure of mystery, and I found I kissed him back. And somehow we grappled and wrestled and gnawed each other in a roulade on the floor which amounted to nothing. Clothes stayed on is what I mean. But we ended up confused, lying on the floor, covered in cigarette butts. The tin foil was mangled and sparkly by Johnny’s head.

   I, Johnny Brewer, feel like shit.
   Someone ought to stop you people, I said as I got up and brushed off my jeans. Damn if I weren’t crying, too. And I just felt sick.
   Johnny, he says.
   They told me and I didn’t believe it. Now. Now, look what happens. You people ought to be, ashamed.
   I just wanted to get out of there before he did something else to me, like put me in some faggot spell and make me forget who I am and then he goes:
   This doesn’t mean anything, Johnny. This was just a, just an odd circumstance.
   They told me you was weird.
   I have a girlfriend, you know.
   And I said, yeah, right. It’s all infiltration and stuff. In that beer, you put drugs. You work on my head.
   But as I talk to him, I feel sorry for the dude. And I’m thinking, don’t nobody, Rodge and them, need to know about nothing. And he ain’t that bad. Thing is, he got tears down his face. And I’ll tell, here’s the deal: Johnny Brewer always got a soft heart for the little people, the underdogs. Because I get them. So I just feel definitely real weird, and I’m not gay and all that, but, shit, everybody needs friends and as long as he like keeps his distance and shit, maybe we could, you know, hang.

   Silence.

   I, Charlie Hunt, stood up and cleaned up my hair and tried to make some coffee, but poor Johnny Brewer was still crying by the couch.
   What’s a man to do, I’m saying.
   I sit on the couch. I’m very shaken but my heart chakra is reverberating through my whole body and I feel happy.
   Johnny sits down. He wipes his face with his big stained hands in swiping movements. He sighs.
   What’s a man to do, he says.
   Thing is, Johnny, I say, there really are no easy ways of anything. Nothing is easy. Everything is so damn complex.
   I can get to the roof next week. After I finish the job in Belfast.
   He drinks his beer. He looks up.
   When you’re roofing, it’s actually okay. You hear stuff. Birds. Animals. You listen to it all. Then when it gets dark, stars come out. You come down. You pack up. Your legs feel spent, crouched over the tin, crimping with your tools in an even line. Then, you come home. You cook beans. You watch TV. You see shows about all these people doing other stuff. Or bad-ass guys on the loose. Then you lay in bed. And you get to thinking. What you’re doing and shit. You hear of things happening to people you knowed once. They won the lotto. They get crushed up by a tractor. Stuff happens to you too, but it’s too slow to see until it’s done. Then you get up. You get on a roof. You go up. You go down. You know what I’m saying, or is this all bullshit to you?
   I cooked a blade roast, Johnny. A blade roast. It’s simple, good meat. Buffered by the gentle sweetness of wine. I’m talking about just a good blade roast. With fingerlings.
   Yeah, said Johnny. Yessiree.

    Charlie could hear all the frogs starting up, loud in the woods, and to him, it seemed like they were chanting some ancient, primeval song. 



 

©2004Nani Power and Nerve.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nani Power is the author of Crawling at Night (Grove/Atlantic Monthly),a New York Times Notable Book of The Year and a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Award as well as the British Orange Award. It has been translated into seven languages. Her second novel, The Good Remains (Grove/Atlantic Monthly), was also a New York Times Notable Book of The Year, and a finalist for The Virginia Library Award. The Sea of Tears, her third novel, will be published by Counterpoint Press.