g r a v e l
A L I T E R A R Y J O U R N A L
Momma wanted to make us all go live in Granite Falls. The beet plant was in Granite, and Momma needed easy reach.
But over our dead bodies! People lived on pheasant feathers in Granite Falls – »Granite kitchen« we called it.
One sister Janet came back from a summer of Granite skanked-up like a skeleton. »The Granite skank« we called it.
We voted Maynard because Maynard at least had Budger’s. At Budger’s the boys of us could take turns busboying.
»Okay,« Momma finally relented. »Maynard'll work. Nine miles to the beet plant don’t mean the end of the world – that’s eighteen up and back.«
Momma was never a hard one to convince. Just so long as she didn’t need her calculator. And you told her the truth.
Hardly a Maynard night went by I didn't snag myself two girls, Olive One and Olive Two. Back then a keggar meant a keg of Olympia, Hamm’s, Grain Belt – or some bathtub brew: Cobweb Ethanol or Cross-eyed Leaded. Bert and Dinger over in the corner, giving each other Joe Blobs. (Bert would take the lit end of the doobie in his mouth, and blow the smoke backwards into Dinger's open face. Then Dinger would return the Joe Blob favor in Bert's direction.) One night I finally snared me Deb Landers. (Olive Two’s still got me paying for it. Worth every cent, though: Deb Landers!)
»Dinger, how high is high?« We called such conversations, »Socratic downers.« About gave Dinger the living colic. »Dinger, how long is now?«
Years went by like the Brisendine Linoleum truck rusting out back in Eye’s (pronounced eeee-yeeeee’s) grove. Course we never seen the Hardy's coming. Hardy's in Granite Falls was the big game changer. Beet plant women come back to Maynard carrying ten more pounds these days. »The Granite love bundle«, we call it. (On some it looks swell; on Olive Two, not all too exactly.)
Mort in the Grips of a Cold Not his Own
The heatwave takes Hooters Girl prisoner. The sempiternal snowmobile kneeling in wait behind the garage with the patience of a Nakota warrior. Men want to do the things most women won't allow them. The old buffalo way: what excites comes down from the sky, and what calms wells up from the earth. Mort unwraps another tongue depressor. Hooters Girl opens up, says »AHHHHHHH«, her tonsils like a beautifully preserved Victorian Punch-and-Judy theater.
First, on a cold winter morning, you popped the spark plug cable, unscrewed the plug, scrubbed the gap and sprayed a little of the token remaining ether. Then you re-screwed the plug, reattached the cable, flipped the choke, settled your boots point blank on either running board, and wrapped your hands around the starter cord. On the count of three you dove backwards as powerfully as you could, the Clomp Clomp Dlomp inside the eighteen-horse cylinder freezing stillborn. Such murderous compression! For all you were worth you repeated your blind leap backwards. Clomp Clomp Dlomp Clomp... nothing. Again. And again. And again. Originally it sounded like the carburetor wasn't feeding enough gas. Nothing. Again. And again. And again. And then it sounded like the cylinder was flooded. You unflipped the choke and again dove backwards. Yesirree, flooded. You popped the cable and unscrewed the plug and flushed the lifeless cylinder with five easy, one-armed starter cord yanks. Down your zipper you scrubbed a farmer match and burned the wet from the spark plug's bottom. Like a final prayer you sprayed the last of the ether.
Beneath the muggy canopy of eavesdropping leaves, Mort says, »At least there's no white.«
Hooters Girl gangways half her cowcatcher rack directly into the meaty heel of Mort's free remaining palm. Her mattered eyes like a troubled deer. No cold is more unexplainable than a summertime cold, none so hard to be rid of.
In the confusion at the diabetic clinic, I take a number and sit down fourth row next to Brandy. She’s never supposed to be pregnant, but normally is. That one guy Jack walks past, his face discolored by years of rings from wine glasses. I say, »This is no place, fella, to parade around in your pajamas.«
»Fella yourself,« he says. »Look who's talking.«
»Who? Me? These ain't pajamas. Never seen a boa constrictor?« I point out my two missing ring fingers. »I'm a free man.«
I was thinking of that hirsute bag of bones who had planted a crock of shit in my wardrobe, Ellen. If I could only get my hands on that sorry ass for the length of the ferry-crossing! To this day I can't go anywhere without a stiff breeze in my face and a stiff drink in my pusgut.
»Forget it,« that one guy Jack says. »Forget I even opened my mouth.«
I say, »Not much toll of energy, that.«
Back on the island, there’s far fewer mackerel drying on the clotheslines. First go the fish, then go the seals. If we net an octopus we toss him in the dryer. After forty-five medium-high minutes, fried up, the tendrils taste like veal.
Brandy reaches under my boa constrictor. She needs my bottle cap to mix some powdered dextrose with water, heat it with her lighter, suck it up through the fresh needle of her dirty syringe.
The old people think television’s responsible, that television chased away the fish. Two weeks ago a mob with torches smashed the televisions. We heard them downstairs and pulled the covers over our heads. In the nine last days three island youth have committed suicide.
Brandy injects her belly. Two after her number comes me as next. If you are a true lover of any movie, even if it's not Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, you will likely agree with me that in the end the end is not the end. Her chocolate eyes glaze.