Page 1

© Joey Skaggs

BONE FELON

MICHAEL STONE JOHNSON


Š 2016 Michael Stone Johnson


Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 The Brief Life and Gruesome Death of Ricky the Doll . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Worms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Excerpt from “The Cuckoo” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 The Font of Iniquity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Carbon Dated . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Porn on the Bayou . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Pakee’s Fiddle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22


Introduction Before introducing anything, I would like to offer a few acknowledgments. My heartfelt thanks go out to Robin McAndrew who encouraged me to take the morning workshop last year that preceded this writing course. The workshop and course pushed me to put pen to paper after a long haitus, and it has been a positive change. This chapbook, however, is not evidence that change is necessarily good. I leave that to your estimation. I also wish to thank Robin Palmer Blanche for conducting “That’s a Great Story... Now Tell Me the Truth.” The course challenged me to complete short exercises that compelled me to “get it all out and down on paper,” which has always been a weakness for me. I tend to edit too much as I go. This class taught me the value of getting the bones in place before putting on the flesh. Additionally, I thank my friends who let me ride “the bus” to class and all of the new friends I met who shared their writing and constructive criticism of others’ work. It has been a pleasure to be a part of a group of both established and aspiring writers from different backgrounds and levels of experience. It has been a pleasure to witness everyone’s growth in a positive, supportive atmosphere, all under Robin’s encouraging guidance. Finally, I thank my family who have always been a source of encouragement from an early age. In particular, I thank my brother, Andy, with whom I share a passion for words. He is magician with language and his writing is lyrical and elegant; infused with a quick, delicate, and clever wit; keen with insight into the folly of the human experience; and poignant, tender, and moving. I aspire to write as well as he. Okay, this is the introduction part. I’ve included some of the work that I started in class, a few pieces of prior writing, and a couple of poems, one old and one new-ish. A few of the pieces included here are based on childhood memories. Memoir, to me, is a written account combining both how we remember the past and how we wish to remember the past. So, as a disclaimer to all family members and friends who may appear in the following pages, some of what I have written is mostly based on memory, but it is also embellished through the murky looking glass of time. And a smidgen of fantasy. And a healthy pinch of total bullshit. The longer fiction piece, tentatively titled “The Cuckoo,” is an excerpt of a work in progress that I began writing outside of class. The entire story grew from the opening line, which for no particular reason, popped into my consciouness. I’m looking forward to seeing how the plot progresses and how successfully I am able to treat a story 5 °

BONE FELON


about two mothers, being that I’ve been neither a woman nor a parent. The poem “Pakee’s Fiddle” was written after the 1995 death of my beloved maternal grandfather. I wrote the poem “Worms” a few years ago. I’m sure I have written better limericks. Also included are a few drawings for filler and to break up the general monotony. The chapbook’s title—“Bone Felon”—is taken from an entry in one of several diaries written by my great aunt Sallie Ellen Johnson who was born in 1895 and died from tuberculosis in 1907 at age 24. She married but bore no children. She started her journals when she was 12 years old, and the entries spanned four years. Beyond the daily drudgery of feeding chickens, cleaning house, bathing younger siblings, cooking dinner, and a host of other demanding chores, it becomes evident that she is quite a skilled and prolific writer with only the rudimentary tools of a pencil and several small memo books in which to write. She talks about how she loves to draw portraits and in one entry writes about how she is anxiously awaiting fine drawing paper that her father is to bring back from a business trip. Her diaries reveal that she plays guitar as well, as she mentions needing new strings for her instrument. She was obviously a budding and frustrated artist. In one entry, Sallie complains of getting a ring stuck on her finger and is unable to remove it. It becomes swollen and painful. Her mother finally uses camphor to remove the ring, and in the process Sallie loses a strip of skin. The finger wound develops into a whitlow—what she refers to colloquially as a ‘bone felon.’ Certainly, the bone felon must have not only impeded the completion of her household chores, but also it must have prevented—or at the very least made difficult—the artistic activities of writing, drawing, and making music, all of which that gave her the most joy in her evidently austere life. When I write, I often run into my own bone felons—all of those mundane things in life that get in the way of the devotion to and process of writing. This chapbook is just one small contribution of bones that I was able to produce in spite of life’s felonious obstacles. Michael Stone Johnson March 2016

BONE FELON

°6


The Brief Life and Gruesome Death of Ricky the Doll I am the youngest of five children. My two oldest siblings are female, then my two brothers, then me. In almost every photograph as a child, I look as if I had just finished a three-hour, snot-slinging tantrum. That, or I had been dragged through a ditch behind a mosquito abatement fog truck. I had a doll. His name was Ricky. I have no idea how I chose that name, as he was pretty generic and wasn’t already given a name by the toy factory geniuses who came up with Barbie and G.I. Joe and Betsy Wetsy. I liked the television show I Love Lucy, but I always thought that Little Ricky Ricardo was a bit of a twit. Ricky wasn’t short for Richard or Ricardo or anything. Just plain old Ricky—my beloved, fake, lifeless childhood companion. I’m talking about the doll that my two brothers mercilessly teased me about. He was fashioned out of rubbery plastic, and his hair was not made of anything remotely hairlike or fibrous, like horse mane or nylon or fleece or flocking—his representation of hair was just a bunch of plastic ripples that were factory-molded to look like hair and dyed baby-poo brown. Ricky suffered from severe halitosis. Now, there is bad breath—caused perhaps by one’s prior savory meal, or from a few days of not brushing—and then there is halitosis, a systemic condition that blasphemes in the face of every saint of oral hygiene. Ricky had a mouth with a little hole for feeding. He came with a bottle with a faux nipple that fit in his die-punched mouth hole. The child-parent was supposed to feed him water from the supplied bottle. Ricky had another hole where the water was supposed to come out. He had nothing resembling a penis. It was a raised area, an uncolorized variation on the rubber hair ripple motif. I decided Ricky and I had had enough fraternal teasing for the day and that he needed some real food. So I put milk in his bottle. Don’t ask me how I managed this, but I was a resourceful child. I fed him the milk. When it came time for Ricky to urinate, which—given his nonexistent alimentary canal or urinary infrastructure— was a matter of seconds. Most of the milk came out. But his imaginary bladder didn’t completely empty, and the dairy product went rancid over several days and weeks inside his artificial tummy. His pee hole developed a cheese clot. If you squeezed his cold stiff tummy, he belched a mephitic odor not unlike that organic matter you forgot about in the back of your fridge that was long past its expiration date. My grandmother had a cat named Frito. Frito was a generic black cat with green 7 °

BONE FELON


eyes who carried around a bad attitude. While I was napping, presumably, Frito chewed off most of Ricky’s fingers and toes. Ricky looked like a patsy who had snitched on the boss and had his phelanges methodically snipped off with garden shears by mafia thugs and mailed parcel post to collect kidnap ransom. And speaking of kidnapping, my two older brothers would snatch Ricky while I was napping and hide him. When I finally found him, or when my brothers got tired of my whining and crying about Ricky’s whereabouts, they produced my rubberplastic friend looking as if he had been bludgeoned in a gang-related throw down. They used black, blue, purple, and yellow Crayons to create realistic bruises, and red ones to simulate bloody lacerations. My brother, Stephen, the future graphic artist, made some convincing-looking sutures using something with a finer point. Perhaps it was his obtuse way of saying that Ricky had received rudimentary medical care. Or, perhaps it was his way of saying, “your imaginary friend is temporarily patched until Guido gets to town.” Ricky was a mess. And so was I, it turns out. I only vaguely remember how Ricky and I formally parted ways. My recollection of our final separation began with a hand-drawn map placed under my bowl of breakfast Cream of Wheat. The map crudely depicted the geography of our grandparents’ back yard with dotted lines for the path one was supposed to take to find the buried treasure, and a big black × marking the spot in the back of the property, near cords of rotted wood and a stack of slimy, lichen-green bricks, in a chicken-wire enclosed compost heap of raked leaves. When I finished eating breakfast and took my last sip of coffee milk, I followed the map. It was not a map intended to confuse the treasure seeker. It had maybe four right-angle turns. I was led to my grandfather’s mostly pecan leaf compost heap and saw an area that looked wetter than the other leaves on the top layer. I figured someone must have been digging there. I was a somewhat bright kid. I dug like a squirrel through the rotting musty detritus, all the way up to my shoulders, not caring about spiders or worms or other creepy crawlers. My hand hit something cold that felt like hard rubber. This was the spot where Ricky had been laid to rest. I couldn’t bear the thought of exhuming his wrecked little body. He and I had both gone through enough. It was time to move on. Ultimately, the joke was on my brothers: Ricky would have made terrible compost, what with all of that dairy—a composting no-no. At least, that’s how I choose to remember how it all happened with the life and death of Ricky the Doll. °

BONE FELON

°8


Worms It does you no good to tend the weeds, to pluck them from the soil, roots packed in baked earth so intractable that parched worms clamber out of the sun-kilned clay, wriggle and gasp onto concrete sidewalks, boil inside their sausage skins, dehydrate into an empty interrogation of mummified question marks. Weeds, like tweezed grey hairs, progenerate—one, two, four, eight—when uprooted. If you pull one tenacious shoot of nutsedge and don’t take care to keep intact the chain of drupes strung like a reticular network of inflamed, infected lymph nodes, then one nutlet left behind will metastasize and double exponentially virulent as tumors, and take over. Don’t sweat the small stuff, I’m told. Worry means less as we grow old. Instead, prune trees, trim shrubs and feed flowers, and soon their shadows cast upon the sunlit garden will cool beds. Beauty soars skyward, a parasol of pigment under which weeds wilt where even stealthy night crawlers methodically burrow tunnels, aerating humus into luscious black loam. Blossoms burst and feed the supplicated soul with stems carefully cut and composed into splendid arrangements. °

9 °

BONE FELON


BONE FELON

째 10


Excerpt from “The Cuckoo” “He didn’t kick the baby,” Muriel said, upending the last watered down sip of scotch from her glass tumbler. “He tripped on the baby.” A cube of ice with melt-smoothed corners clicked against her front teeth. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” “Well, it’s just tragic is what it is,” said Sam, watching Muriel press her knees together to create a fulcrum to lift herself from the low mid-century sofa. Her ankles bent at an inhuman angle. When Muriel righted herself and adjusted her bra strap from bicep to shoulder, she clopped over to the rolling bar cart to fix herself another round. “It wasn’t a tragedy. That would imply the downfall of a main character, and neither I nor you know who the little tyke is. Was, as it were.” Muriel was digging dramatically and noisily in the chrome penguin ice bucket like she was about to throw bones in some arcane voodoo ritual or parlor game. “I mean how much character can a baby develop? Hell, I didn’t develop hubris until I was in my thirties.” Muriel laughed one ‘ha!’ with a snap of her head like she was tossing back a shot of tequila. “I also developed crepe on my thighs that some Tri-Delts would pay good money for to build their homecoming float falderal.” “All I can say is that Henry was simply devastated,” Sam said. “He said he didn’t even see the...baby.” Sam brushed the sand from the soles of her feet and curled them up under herself. It made her feel like she should be sitting on eggs. “Of course he didn’t kick it,” Muriel shot back, sounding slightly defensive. “Henry’s not the kicking type.” I knew I should have gone on that walk, Sam thought. Poor Hen-Hen. Sam felt nauseating pangs of failure. “Need a fresher-upper?” Muriel asked, holding her tumbler in one hand and the fifth of Cutty Sark in the other, one eye closed as if she were actually measuring something with precision. “I’m good.” Sam felt anything but good. She wondered if she should check on Henry who was trying to take an afternoon nap after such an ordeal. She swirled the tea-colored, diluted liquor in her glass, watching it go round and round, trying to remember if water turned clockwise or counter-clockwise when it swirled down a drain above the equator. She really had to concentrate. Definitely counter-clockwise. Like a hurricane. “Kicking type? That’s rich,” said Muriel, who had finished mixing her third stiff cocktail. Sam imagined Muriel pulling an atomizer out of a holster around her narrow waist to puff a mist of club soda on her scotch as a mixer. Sam was silent. “Of 11 °

BONE FELON


course he didn’t kick it,” Muriel continued. Sam knew Muriel’s backpedalling well. Her voice clipped up a notch and she put more emphasis on key words. “Well, I can still see the poor little thing. You can’t blame poor Henry. I remember loving to kick when I was that age. Coke cans. Pine cones. My sister’s dolls. I still kick things when I’m not wearing open toes.” She lifted one bare foot as if she were inspecting the work of a slipshod pedicurist. This sent her equilibrium off balance like a stork with vertigo, and she listed to the side, catching her elbow on the edge of the gold-flecked Formica counter. “Ouch,” she said with a period, not an exclamation point. Sam adjusted her legs under her buttocks to the other side. The cheap indooroutdoor fabric was pressing into her calf leaving a pattern of cross-hatched indentations in her flesh. She rubbed her calf to try to smooth out the bas-relief motif left by the seat cushion. “You just said that he didn’t kick it. Him. Her. Whatever.” Sam was becoming slightly irritated. “Did the police ever say what it was? The sex...the gender, I mean...of the child?” The methodic sounds of waves slapping against the shore in the distance echoed and mimicked the waves inside Sam’s abdomen as if she and the sea were synchronized. The setting sun shifted at that moment and cut across her line of vision and she had to adjust her position again to avoid temporary blindness. She was always amazed at how slowly the sun moved during the day and how quickly it set in the evening. And how small it was at noon but how large it could be when dipping below the horizon. She remembered a science lesson that explained how the earth’s atmosphere was like a huge lens making things in the universe appear not what they really were here on planet earth. “I didn’t hear the verdict,” Muriel said, plopping back down in her sofa ass divot. “It was kind of...well...bloated,” she said, holding the knuckle digit of her index finger to her lips to silence a belch. “And half buried face down.” Sam repressed one of those teeter-tottering will-I-vomit-or-will-I-not moments. “Everything today has been like a bad dream. Tell me again from the beginning how it all happened,” she said. Sam scanned the room for anything that looked remotely like a napkin. “I just want the facts. No color commentary, please.” Muriel placed her drink in the water ring made by her sweating tumbler on the faux brass coffee table with that jarring glass-on-glass sound that causes one to make a split-second determination if shattering is afoot. “Hasten, Jason, bring the basin! Urp! Slop! Bring the mop!” she sang with no melody, using her long, slender index fingers like conductor batons emulating the swish-swash of vintage top-mounted windshield wipers. She laughed at herself with more than just a single ‘ha!’ It was a triple. “My dearly beloved father was in the Navy and that’s what all the poor bastards sang when BONE FELON

° 12


one of their shipmates had to have a rail-side talk with Ralph Vomito.” At that moment, Geraldine jumped out from behind the kitchen island. “Is somebody about to make street pizza?” Muriel’s daughter was wearing tightly fitting, dark-blue denim overalls over a light-blue chambray button-down, long-sleeved man’s shirt rolled up above the elbows. On her feet she wore oversized cowboy boots. Her short blonde hair looked choppy as if she’d received her most recent haircut at the School for the Visually Impaired. Sam guessed that the girl must have been hiding in the kitchen the entire time, because when she walked on the cool terrazzo flooring, it sounded like one of the Budweiser Clydesdales had broken free to jump rope. Jellybean, as Geraldine was called by her mother, was holding something that looked like a wand, waving it cross-eyed as if she were going to cast the Adult-BeSober spell. “Drinky-poo, stinky-poo. Who’s that on the floor but you? Get thee up, ye upper chuck. I’m not paid to mop your muck.” She was a clever girl, thought Sam, if not tipping the Emily Post etiquette scale of refinement somewhat heavily toward the troglodytic side. Geraldine used her newfound wand to punctuate her words, phrases, and sentences, giving her diction the air of pointed drama. Her wand was a flexible plastic mixology implement with a heavy stainless steel disc on one end whose intended use was to shatter ice in the palm of one’s hand, with the cubes bundled in cheesecloth. Or, rather, a floral-printed terrycloth hand towel, which was the only option in the Santa Rosa, Florida, beach house Sam and Muriel had rented. That ice-crushing wand could chip a tooth or leave a mouse on your noggin if you weren’t careful, Sam thought, cracking her neck to the side making it pop. She wanted to tell Geraldine to put the damned thing away, but she didn’t want to discipline the girl because Muriel could turn sour like raw milk left out in a solarium if her parenting skills were put into question. “Nobody’s making any pizza, Jelly Belly,” Muriel said without casting an eye at her daughter, dipping a finger into her glass as if to retrieve a sodden lemon rind from a properly mixed Old Fashioned. Sam and Muriel exchanged a psychic glance, realizing that it was quickly approaching the eating hour for the kids. Muriel put her finger between her lips and smacked the liquor from her fingertip. “It’s either Rice-A-Roni the San Francisco treat or the rest of this tube of Pringles.” Muriel put her drink down for a moment and tapped the cylinder to extract a chip. She put a broken piece in her mouth and tried to eat it, but she started thrusting her tongue like she’d just sampled a fur ball. “Don’t you have some dolls or something back there needing a little whipping into shape?” She spit the uneaten chip into the orange melamine, atomic triangle 13 °

BONE FELON


ashtray on the kitchen counter. Geraldine scrunched her face like someone had cinched a cord tightly on the opening of a medieval coin sack. “You know I hate dolls, Mercurochome.” Geraldine slung back nicknames at her mother in even measure. Her wand-punctuated sobriquet backfired on her, as the metal ice-cracker struck like a cobra against her wide forehead. Sam flinched at the sound of steel on skull, but Geraldine repressed any expression of pain beyond the initial split-second wince of injury surprise. Sam consciously repressed her maternal instinct to pacify the girl if she were hurting. Muriel laughed, “You’re gonna need more than Mercurochrome if you don’t march those boots outta here, Whacko Kid. We’re having an adult conversation.” Muriel had settled into the room’s papasan chair and reached for her pack of Virginia Slims. The unbalanced overhead fan had escalated its erratic spasming, causing the metal bead chain to whip around like a rodeo lariat, clinking against frosted fluted globes. Geraldine held her ground, trying not to be noticed rubbing her forehead. “No, no, no. Mercurochrome just won’t do the trick. I’m thinking iodine, salt, and lemon juice. Now, git.” Sam noticed a slightly impish smile cross Muriel’s expression. This made Sam smile for the first time in what seemed like days. Muriel had a brittle soft side. Geraldine scrunched her coin-purse face again, but this time, from the center of the pucker, she poked out her tongue, which looked like a starfish arm dissected in a biology lab that had seized up and stiffened. She spun on her boot heels and cantered out of the room, stopping at the bedroom doorway, saying smugly over her shoulder, “I saw the baby, too.” Surprisingly, she didn’t slam the bedroom door but rather closed it almost reverently. Muriel unsnapped the ball clasp of her red leather Buxton Pick Me Up Heiress cigarette case and used her chipped polished fingernails to pull out a slender cigarette. She fumbled her catch and dropped the cigarette on the floor. She flung her body forward like a marionette to locate the white cylinder that rolled underneath her awkwardly shaped, oversized, parabolic chair. She righted herself, flinging her hair back over her head, and with a labored sigh placed the wrong end of the cigarette between her lips. “Love you, Jellybean,” she half-projected toward the bedroom like a ventriloquist in training. “Other way,” Sam motioned to Muriel, twirling her index finger. “Whoops-a-daisy.” Muriel tried to pluck the cigarette from her mouth, but the thin dry paper stuck to her moist lips pulling them forward like she’d kissed a metal swing-set pole in dead winter. She took the urine-yellow Cricket lighter out of the side pocket of the cigarette case and attempted to ignite her smoke. “Damn it to hell, BONE FELON

° 14


it’s all soggy now.” Sam watched this like she were viewing one of the rare Carol Burnett routines that didn’t have legs and verged on bombing. Muriel’s use of the word “soggy” brought the prior interrupted conversation back into focus. It was the elephant in the room. The baby. Henry. The police. The whole nine yards. And where was I, Sam asked herself. Shopping for nothing in particular at the outlet mall, that’s where. After several sparking flicks of her lighter, Muriel achieved a flame. She drew in that first, supposedly most toxic, lungful and sank back into the scooped rattan chair and released a plume of blue smoke like it was the first breath of oxygen she’d enjoyed all day. “Babe, I’m sorry, I can’t...” Sam said with a mimed smoke-clearing hand wave. “Sorry, sorry, sorry.” Muriel managed to get up from the chair and shuffle to the sliding glass doors that opened up to the rather dark and dismal screened-in back porch that had two benches flanking a wooden picnic table upon which was placed a glass Ball jelly jar holding four artificial anemic-looking flowers. “It’s vacation, for chrissakes,” Muriel mumbled around the cigarette filter, catching a heel on the aluminum frame of the sliding glass door. “Ouch,” she said, again, to no one. The evening’s salty air smelled fishier than the beach’s more refreshed morning breeze. The ocean was the most humane of all processing plants, thought Sam. So many things alive and dead with hardly any trace but lovely shells. The huge orange sun had dipped halfway below the western horizon down the beach, a huge melting ball of a child’s dropped scoop of orange sherbert on Mississippi summer concrete. Sam’s stomach growled even though she couldn’t even think about eating. “I need to check on Henry. Be right back. I still want to hear the whole story.” She didn’t wait for a response and once again brushed sand from her feet that wasn’t really there since she had not budged from her nest. She had one tiny bit of swill left in her glass. She closed her eyes and engaged her uvula to block her nasal passages, taking it quickly like medicine. Sam stood up and felt like her neck was the axis upon which the gyroscope of the room was wobbly spinning. She moved her feet slightly apart and shifted her pelvis forward to ground herself, took a deep breath, and made her way to her bedroom where Henry was hopefully napping. She could hear Geraldine in the other bedroom behind the closed hollow door. She was using her new tape recorder to harmonize to her own recorded voice singing Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” °

15 °

BONE FELON


The Font of Iniquity I was an altar boy once, but I became skeptical early on. I couldn’t decide if I was more puzzled by the pomp or by the circumstance. I simply could not suspend disbelief that the plastic-wrapped stack of eucharistic hosts I unwrapped back in the church’s sacristy and poured into a plate-brass monstrance could be transubstantiated into the body of the son of God Almighty who died and rose from the dead a couple of thousand years ago, which is somehow supposed to be helpful to us now. I just didn’t buy it. Growing up, my two older brothers and I shared sleeping quarters. When it’s two, it is still a bedroom. When it’s more than two, it becomes quarters. Bad things happen in quarters. When one is the youngest child in a large family, one becomes the subject of all manner of taunting, teasing, tickling, and torture. By the time I entered junior high, I had been shot with a pellet gun, nearly immolated by a burning mattress and boxsprings, punctured with a makeshift blow dart, stabbed with a pen knife, confined in a foot locker, tattooed with a firework-lighting punk, and had aerosol Mace sprayed in my face. In every bedroom of our house, right beside the room’s overhead light switch hung a ceramic font, not much bigger than a toddler’s shoe, that I was told held holy water. No one ever said where the water came from or how it got holy. It’s funny how we become indoctrinated into a particular religion, just because we were involuntarily brought into existence by a couple of people who cling to a certain mythology you haven’t quite had enough time or experience to evaluate. Every time I entered or exited the bedroom, or turned the light switch off or on, I was instructed to reach up, dip my fingers into the holy water, and make the sign of the cross. I didn’t really know why. It was just another ritual. From endless repetition, the routine lost its significance. My lazy sign of the cross became a gesture that resembled making the sign of the hula hoop. When you’re a kid and you’ve been up to your hips in mucky brown bayou water, with duck week clinging in a halo of tiny green organic sequins around your goody bits, marking the water level into which you’ve been wading, it seems anathema to bless oneself in a shiny clean piece of white ceramic. I always thought that those blessing fonts looked exactly like a urinal you’d see in a football stadium or Sambo’s men’s room. They both have a backsplash and bowl. The only thing lacking in a holy water font was the dissolving chemical hockey puck intended to neutralize odor. And most urinals I had seen didn’t have an appliqué of BONE FELON

° 16


the Virgin Mary standing barefoot on a snake and clutching her bleeding heart like she was about to hand you a saucy meatball. I had a plan. I went to the bathroom my brothers and I shared, and I found the milk-glass tumbler intended to be used to swish one’s mouth clean of toothpaste after brushing. I grabbed it off the bathroom vanity and stepped in front of the toilet. I unzipped my Catholic-school-issue twill shorts and pulled down the elastic waistband of my Fruit of the Loom briefs, tucking it beneath my hairless scrotum, and held the pearlescent glass tumbler under the tip of my penis. I suffered a moment of stage fright, but I knew what I had to do, and suddenly my stream of urine came blasting out a little more forcefully than I had anticipated. My hand got wet. I filled up the tumbler with yellow liquid, placed it on the vanity, zipped up my shorts, and brought the tumbler to the bedroom. I stood on tiptoes, said a little prayer to the pot metal crucifix above the font, and carefully filled up the tiny urinal bowl of forgiveness. Then I just sat back and waited. My plan was in vain, because there was nothing I could say to convince them to repent and annoint themselves. They didn’t believe in magic either. °

17 °

BONE FELON


Carbon Dated On Sunday afternoon, I was exercising at the YMCA as I have done every weekend now for about a year. Since I blew out the shoulder and elbow of my left arm, I have been relegated in the last six weeks to lower body routines. I was sitting on a leg extension machine that is supposed to work quadriceps. A proposition that makes the grand assumption the user possesses leg muscle tissue above the knee. I set the weights five pounds higher than the prior week. Doing a set of 15 reps, I felt like the rubber core of a golf ball about to unravel. A young man sat down at an identical machine next to mine, a floor-to-ceiling mirror in front of us. I tried to guess his age based upon an impressively well-developed crop of raging acne pustules on his face, so I was guessing about 20 or younger. A bright-eyed, forthright fellow, nonetheless, he turned to me and said, “May I ask how old you are?” Impressed that he correctly used the word “may” instead of “can,” I replied, “Yes, you may. I’ll be 53 years old in August.” He did a visual scan of my torso. I was wearing an A-shirt, or what we trashy Americans refer to as ‘wifebeaters’ and tactful Brits call ‘vests.’ He said with eyes wider than before, “Well, the reason I ask is, you look to be in pretty good shape for an Old Timer!” I couldn’t decide whether to be completely flattered that I had been complimented on a scrawny body that has been ridiculed since birth or to be insulted to have been carbon-dated by a teenager. Ultimately, I think I blushed. I’ve developed a rather thick skin for insults but have a soft spot for anything that remotely resembles a compliment about my dysmorphic physical appearance. “Thank you,” I said. “I really appreciate that.” He asked how long I had been working out, and I told him that I have been doing calisthenics and yoga-type stretching for years but that I had only been doing resistance weight exercise seriously and with regularity over the past year. Still probably blushing and trying to avoid eye contact, I felt compelled to add with a chuckle, “I have to say, I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would be referred to as an ‘old timer.’” It was he who was now flushed. His acne pustules took on a fiery embarrassed glow. “Well,” he back-trod, “fifty-three is not that old!” I had to agree with him, although I had trouble convincing myself of that fact. With my white beard and drawn face and half-hairless shins, I’m as old a timer as one can get. It turns out that he is a high school junior. I was off by a few dermatological BONE FELON

° 18


outbreaks. We went on about our separate exercise routines. He looked like a blonde spider monkey, doing things I’ve only seen in Olympic gymnastic footage. I saw myself in the mirror looking like an old chimpanzee who has been retired from decades of being a test subject for awful subtropical chronic diseases. As I was leaving, I approached the young man in the free weights room just as he was about to do seated bicep curls, catching him awkwardly halfway into his first rep. He dropped the weights with a clang and ripped the earbuds from his ears, almost startled. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” I said, “but I just wanted to thank you for your kindness and to introduce myself.” He outstretched his hand for a gentlemanly handshake. “I’m Michael,” I said. We shook in a single firm gesture. “I’m Pierson,” he replied. “Nice to meet you, Pierson. You can just call me O.T.” He cocked his head like a dog who knows he’s detected an important sound signal in his master’s voice but has not yet determined whether to shake, beg, fetch, roll over, or discontinue urinating on the carpet. “Otey?” he asked, puzzled. “No!” I laughed. “O.T. as in Old Timer.” He smiled, plugged his ears back in, and I left him to his curls. Entering the men’s dank, dismal fluorescent locker room, I felt like I was being ushered by the cold authority of Time into what was supposed to be a shower. °

19 °

BONE FELON


Porn on the Bayou When my father touched me on the shoulder, I flinched. Dad had this uncanny ability to move in almost complete silence when the occasion required it. It was the summer of 1974, just weeks before my eleventh birthday, and I was sitting on the bank of Bayou Roberts in Alexandria, Louisiana. A grackle so black its iridescent sheen looked purple landed on the branch of a dead tree nearby and croaked a guttural readle-eak that sounded like a rusty graveyard gate. “Did you write this?” His tone was flat, neither angry nor accusatory. I could see it in his hand. It was a book about half the size of a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I made the tiny book from folded memo paper using round-tipped safety scissors and Elmer’s glue. Holding the tiny book in his adult-sized hand, he looked like the Jolly Green Giant holding a prize from a box of Cracker Jacks. I glanced away and spotted a box turtle on a log just as it was retracting its head into its shell. “No,” I lied. My body was overcome with the sensation that, at any moment, every ounce of my body’s fluids and solids would explode through every body orifice. I tried to look up at him, but a blade of sunlight slicing through the trees cut across my eyes. I was blinded for a moment. I sat there in the cool grass in my cutoff shorts and began picking at a scab on my

BONE FELON

° 20


bony left knee. I had accepted a dare from a neighbor who lived across the street from our house. Randy Tarver. A bully with angry orange hair and body odor that smelled like sour laundry and scraps of rotting vegetables. He dared me to ride my bicycle over a makeshift ramp. This was back when Evil Knievel was big, and—even though I was not into showmanship—I accepted Randy’s dare, hurtling over the handlebars, scraping my knee badly on hot cement. It bled and formed a thick scab. My father stood there holding the book. I guess I fancied myself as a budding pornographic writer at eleven, even though I didn’t know what pornography was, nor had I read any. I relied solely on word of mouth. I had older siblings and a handful of potty-mouthed friends, and I had begun to expand my vocabulary with new words for body parts and for activities grownups engaged in that produced babies. All of the characters in my degenerate story were the kids in my neighborhood engaged in uncharacteristically risqué behavior. I wrote about little hayseed Tammy Ford doing something naughty with Herbee Chadwick in a hollow among the privet hedges surrounding her parent’s ranch-style brick house. Dimple-cute Susan Chadwick was steaming up the family’s tool shed revealing parts of her anatomy to Ross Dunbar that he had never seen before, despite his having grown up with two younger sisters. Bespectacled and buck-toothed Diana Dunbar proved quite popular with B.H. Texada when she showed him other things one can do with a recorder beside play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I was not the least bit clinical in my descriptions and word choice. No, I was slinging slang like a short-order chef flipping filthy-dirty flapjacks. Yes, I wrote the book, but I knew that I could not hide it inside the house. So, brilliant kid that I was, I hid it somewhere no one would ever think to look—behind the air conditioning compressor unit outside of our house. I guess I didn’t count on my Dad mowing the lawn. I was sitting on the grassy berm of the bayou behind our neighbor’s estate across the boulevard from our house. The Provosty’s dog Dolly sat beside me and placed a paw on my shoulder. It was if she were saying, “It’s okay, Mike. The pen ain’t that bad. Don’t forget to write.” I could smell the daffodils, which will forever be the smell of shame. And dogs that talk telepathically like Humphrey Bogart. I looked at my father. He wasn’t angry. He had been a boy once. He slid the book in his breast pocket and reached out his hand, grabbing me under the arm to help me stand on my feet. I was crying and wiping snot on my shirt sleeve. “It’s okay,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulders. “But the plot needs a little work.” ° 21 °

BONE FELON


Pakee’s Fiddle I wish I’d have heard you when you played long ago before a truck side-swiped your car on that Sunday drive, my mother just a girl of five. The doctors fused your forearm to the left humerus because my grandmother said she would not live the rest of her life or be caught dead with a one-armed man, and they left you with a fiddler-crab limb. The Stradivarius replica you strapped to your mule as you rode to weekly lessons down St. James’ River Road in 1912 collects dust in the back room broom closet these 65 years, unplucked or thrummed, the cake of rosin a buried amber jewel, tucked in its red velvet lined coffer, the brittle catgut strings silent as four summer-scorched pavement stranded sun-fried worms. I watch your eyes cloud over. You fiddle with your gown and thrust your tongue, hoary as a crocus bulb, through your parched withered lips that will never call me ‘rascal’ or ‘old boy’ again, I know. The nurse tries in vain to find a vessel in your crooked little arm, bone-dry veins stretched and strung along the calcified elbow, knotted as a petrified root. I hold your right hand as loose and lightly as a bow, your chin rests on your bony shoulder as if to cradle the violin, and I listen for music, one gracious, tranquil note, and I hear you play it, softly, lovely, just for me. ° BONE FELON

° 22


Bone Felon  

A chapbook of writing

Bone Felon  

A chapbook of writing

Advertisement