He worked all summer for a man that bled tobacco and spoke like a drunk poet. The
man’s name was the same as his own and sometimes their identities did seem
to merge up there in that sweatroom attic. The beams of the roof, split through
by a falling tree trunk, seemed to squeeze them in like a throat closing around
a word they could not say. The man’s eyes were sad and wet and glassy and
he talked about his depression as flooring that could give way at any moment. The
boy was incompetent with a drill, but he tried, wanting to impress the man. He broke
drill bits, bent saw blades, and nailed in boards crooked, so that the man would
have to come along and fix his mistakes. But he did so gently, in a way that made
the boy listen. Learn.
“Sometimes the crust of life gives way,” the
man would say. “Then you fall into yourself and don’t come out for a
The man had a wife and the wife had a problem. She sat immersed in
her own kind of sadness, looking at her face like a cracked mirror. The scar ran
from chin to cheek and it spelled a time when she’d lost everything but barest
life. Now she hoped for the man to touch her, but he would not. He found the scar
hot, insectile, repellant. It reminded him of his sin. So the woman eyed the boy
like a jaundiced tiger—sick, but ferocious. She liked the unguarded lust in
the boy’s eyes, the deep pool of his youth. I will give myself to him soon,
she thought. But the summer passed and she did nothing and the boy never knew that
he was not the only one.
—Previously published as “beam, crust, jaundice”
in Troika Moonshine 300 (11-24-2009); reprinted here with author’s
lives in Greensboro, NC. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in
Blue Mesa Review, Coe Review, and The Surreal South ’09 anthology,
among others. He is an editor at Mayday Magazine and New American Press.
He is at work on a novel, Joshua City—a post-apocalyptic, Brechtian,
sci-fi monstrosity replete with lepers, revolutionaries, and Siamese triplets who can
see the future—with coauthor Okla Elliott.