Hasty Leverage, fiction by Brian Jones

They hag­gled out the terms.

You know I like to go fish­ing,” Ten said, “at least once a week.  I do not like to work indoors.  I won’t make much mon­ey.”

Well, but I like to have nice things.”

And I under­stand that, Joley, and you’ll have as good as I can pro­vide you with, but you’ll also just have to be rea­son­able.”

Joley sipped her beer.  The night felt oily, cold and good, on her bare arms.

Where’ll we live?”

Ten dug a thumb­nail into the pop tab of a Busch can.  The white spray flew up at Joley.  She reced­ed, blink­ing in out­rage her eye­lash­es now dewed with shat­tered foam; Ten snick­ered.

You turd!”

What’s wrong with my place, the one I got now?” Ten asked.

Joley bugged her eyes and slumped accus­ing­ly.

Ten,” she said.  “It’s a dirty, sin­gle-wide trail­er­house.  It’s falling apart.  There’s a big hole right in the mid­dle of the liv­ing room floor.  Nuh-uh.”

Ten shrugged.  “All right.  We’ll move.”

Okay, when?”

As soon’s you get moved in with me, we’ll move.”

Why do we have to wait until then to move?  That’s mov­ing twice.”

Because,” Ten said.  “Mar­ried peo­ple move togeth­er.”

The real truth was that in his heart, and for years, Ten had imag­ined the entry into his mar­riage house as a roman­tic thing.  Drink­ing beer all day, haul­ing box­es with his shirt off.  Cussing and fart­ing around, laugh­ing with his friends, who’d help him out.  Tak­ing breaks to eat deliv­ery pizza—standing up, no napkins—while his pret­ty wife stayed in the house, unload­ing and orga­niz­ing the mar­i­tal estate.  She’d wear a sun­dress, order the piz­za, go on the beer runs–and when they were done for the day, she’d sit on his lap on a chair in the lawn and lis­ten to his bud­dies’ sto­ries and laugh at his jokes, at his own sto­ries.  Laugh when he and his friends start­ed play-wrestling late at night, when the beer got ahold of them.  Then she’d drag him into the house by the buck­le of his belt while the boys hollered and cat­called from the cir­cle of lawn chairs.  Tick­ling his bel­ly with her fin­gers, kiss­ing him, lov­ing him, hold­ing him, send­ing fire through his brains–and she’d fall asleep and he’d go back out­side to con­tin­ue drink­ing beer, and the boys would roll their eyes and make their bawdy com­ments, and she’d be wait­ing in bed for him when he returned at dawn.  That’s how he’d always seen it.

But I’ll have to move once,” Joley said, “then move again.”

Hon, we can’t get mar­ried and you still be liv­ing with your par­ents.  Not even for a lit­tle while.”

Why not?”

Dammit Joley, there’s just a way things are.”

***

Joley’s moth­er, Laris­sa, encour­aged the mar­riage.

He’s just so good-lookin’,” she said.

He is.”

You two’d have such good-lookin’ babies.”

Mama!  Do you like Ten, Dad­dy?”

Sure I do,” her father said.  He was read­ing a Play­boy mag­a­zine at the kitchen table.  He was hap­py at the prospect of get­ting Joley out of his house:  the gro­cery bill, the phone bill, the gas bill, her car pay­ments, insur­ance, her clothes …

***

Ten’s full name was Bran­don Mus­tang Bass.  He was the tenth child of Pene­lope Ruth Bass and Cha­son Bass, Jr.

The bob­ber hit the pond and made a thwock sound like a ten­nis ball.

Good lay,” Jason said.

That’s what they tell me,” Ten said.

They sat in Jason’s dad’s motor­boat on swivel­chairs that went the full three-six­ty, on seat-cush­ions that wheezed and dripped old water.  The pond’s sur­face was peace­ful and reflect­ed the sun and the image of the boat.  They drank beer for three hours with­out say­ing hard­ly a word, with­out catch­ing a fish, each silent­ly with­draw­ing his line from the water and replac­ing the dead or man­gled or escaped min­nows out of the tin buck­et sit­ting between them at their feet.

Beery, con­tem­pla­tive, half-jubi­lant from a day of rest and per­fect­ed desire, Jason opened the talks.

You gonna mar­ry Joley Scud­der?”

There came a long pause while Ten cleared out his throat.

Yeah I believe I will.”

You love her?”

Yep I think I do.”

Well.  I see that.”

Nn.”

Jason now paused.  He watched the pond face shud­der.

She’s got her that sweet lit­tle rear-end now.”

Fab­u­lous.”

The night fell and they returned to the shore and became like wild hogs:  snort­ing, bark­ing, pound­ing the earth in search of what fueled them.

***

There was a rick­ety church in Red Oak, Okla­homa where Joley’s moth­er had learned the man­ners of Chris­t­ian liv­ing.  The crowd who gath­ered inside its wood-pan­eled walls to serve as wit­ness­es to the Scud­der-Bass Wed­ding were, by and large, sun­burnt, for they were a youth­ful crowd, and there had been a joint bach­e­lor-bach­e­lorette par­ty held on the beach at Sardis Lake twen­ty-four hours ear­li­er.  They did things to each oth­er at that par­ty you’d nev­er believe.  There were sev­en­teen girls there, and four of them got preg­nant.  That par­ty had a preg­nan­cy rate.

So every­one was sun­burnt and hanged over—all with nag­ging sens­es of shame at being in church after what they’d done the day before—and the fab­ric of rent­ed tuxe­dos and rent­ed dress­es scratched at the burned and water­less flesh of the young.  The wed­ding went by in a shout.  The prin­ci­pals blew all the big lines.

When it was done, the kids stripped out into play clothes, gob­bled up bar­be­cue brisket and wed­ding cake, got drunk, and resumed the for­nica­tive spir­it.

***

Joley woke the next morn­ing in a hotel near Fort Smith, Arkansas, her new hus­band naked beside her under the stiff hotel sheets.  She explored his bones and car­ti­lage until he waked up.  They show­ered togeth­er, dressed, and went out to the mall.  He bought her a bot­tle of per­fume and a pair of san­dals, a cas­sette tape of Garth Brooks’s Ropin’ the Wind, a Mex­i­can food lunch, two dress­es, and a tick­et to see A League of their Own.  She cried and cried against his shoul­der dur­ing the last fif­teen min­utes of the show.

***

Ten Bass had four hun­dred dol­lars hid­den in the only book he owned, a copy of The Book of Mor­mon he’d ordered free from the LDS church when he was six­teen, under­stand­ing it to be a kind of west­ern star­ring Jesus Christ and fea­tur­ing Indi­ans.

Joley Bass had no idea this was the extent of her new mar­i­tal estate.  She car­ried into Ten’s decrepit trail­er­house a set of pink lug­gage filled up with dress­es, panties, trin­kets, Coun­ty Fair rib­bons, stuffed ani­mals, a den­im-jack­et­ed Bible, all of her make­up, and one large mag­ni­fi­ca­tion mir­ror.  She nev­er even unpacked all the way.  They were there togeth­er four months when she ran out one night, after a fight over how to slice onions.

What the fuckin’ hell does it mat­ter?”

You’re stu­pid as shit, just stu­pid as shit.”

You’re a dumb bitch.  God!”

Why wouldn’t you do it that way?”

Because it DOESN’T MATTER!”

YES IT DOES!”

NO IT DOESN’T!”

YES IT DOES!”

Ten had sev­ered the ends, peeled the skin, and set the onion on the flat side for bisec­tion.

That’s against the grain,” Joley had point­ed out

Huh?”

You don’t need to cut it against the grain like that.  You need to cut it with the grain.”

Doesn’t mat­ter.”

Yes it does.”

Nah.”

Yes, it does.”

It real­ly doesn’t.”

And so on.  And so forth.

***

Joley was bawl­ing when she slammed the trail­er door and bawled as she walked the half-mile through town, from the bare lot of scrub grass­es where Ten kept his trail­er, to the home shared by her high school friend Margie Diller and Margie’s hus­band, Phil.

Phil stirred a pot of pin­to beans while Margie sat on the couch, hold­ing Joley around the shoul­ders.

I just want to go out tonight and have fun and FORGET him,” Joley said.

Margie sneaked a look back at Phil.

It’s all right with me,” Phil said.  He just want­ed to eat his beans and watch his TV in peace for once.

They got ready using Margie’s make­up and left the house at eight-thir­ty in a wake of hair­spray fumes.  They bought a bot­tle of Ever­clear from the liquor store and two extra-large foun­tain drink Dr. Pep­pers from the con­ve­nience store.  They drove back and forth through town.  They rolled the win­dows down and sang along with the radio.

***

Casey Green and Shane Law­son were two young men who’d grown up in Tal­i­hi­na but had left for the oil fields.  They were just home that night to get laun­dry done and vis­it their folks.  They were sit­ting in the gro­cery store park­ing lot with a pint of rye whisky on shares when they noticed Phil and Margie’s car.  They saw the women through the rolled-down win­dow, singing their lungs out and bounc­ing in the seats.

Casey?”

Yup.”

Casey start­ed up the motor and hand­ed over the whisky.

***

They trailed the girls to the north end of town.  Margie hooked Phil’s car around the mar­quee-stand of the Cir­cle H Restau­rant.  They were idling there when Shane and Casey pulled up beside them.

Hey!” Casey yelled out, elbow on the door.

Shane leaned over from the shot­gun seat, to let the girls appre­ci­ate their num­bers.

***

Ten heat­ed up a can of black beans and a can of Ranch Style pin­to beans and ate them using slices of white onion like spoon­ing chips.  He didn’t know where Joley was, and he didn’t give three shits on a slaugh­ter­house floor.  He lis­tened to base­ball on the radio and went to bed.

***

Joley stank of cur­dled hair­spray, liquor, beer, sweat, smoke, dirt (from a fall on her ass in a water­shed pas­ture), dry, min­gled vene­re­al flu­ids and fad­ing per­fume; her breath was chunky from all of the above, and from hav­ing not brushed her teeth after three hours of sleep in the cab of Casey’s pick­up truck, and then from hav­ing eat­en a bag of Cool Ranch Dori­tos for break­fast.  She had chewed up all her lip­stick.  She’d wrin­kled her clothes.  She could not have answered with defin­i­tive­ness which of the two men had put her arms and legs akim­bo with hasty lever­age in the pick­up truck’s front seat.  Margie dropped her at the curb near Ten’s trail­er­house and pulled away, off to give her own dark account­ings.

Joley limped up the rusty stairs (she’d twist­ed her ankle some­how) and went inside.

The liv­ing room air was stale, the morn­ing sun gray and bro­ken.  She stood there a sec­ond, let­ting all the lights adjust.

Sud­den­ly, she heard a brief whis­tle and a loud thunk.  She flinched and saw an arrow in the wall behind her.  It thrummed at the fletch­ing, like a shook pen­cil.

Ten sat on a foot­stool in the corner—his face pale, his body shiv­er­ing.  He was hold­ing a cross­bow.

Get right the fuck out of here,” he said.

Ten—”

He stood and reached for the pile of arrows at his feet.

Get out,” he said.  His voice lift­ed and rolled, mad and grave.

Ten!”

He squat­ted and fum­bled for an arrow and Joley was out the door, scream­ing like an ambu­lance.

***

Ten paid a three hun­dred dol­lar fine and moved to Ada, Okla­homa.  He lived there for the next four years, work­ing con­struc­tion.  Joley went back to her par­ents, and her father watched his month­ly over­head rise like a mer­cury ther­mome­ter on a hot after­noon.

***

There was almost no sun left in the day, just a lit­tle orange leaf­ing out by the hori­zon, reflect­ed in the water like night’s after­thought, a burn of col­or to set off the vast and glasslike dark­ness of the lake.

Ten and Jason sat in the boat.  They kicked a beer can every time they moved their feet, they were that drunk.

Her­rnnh!” Ten said, before a loud and dif­fi­cult fart plopped out his back­side.

I sec­ond that ee-motion,” Jason said, and copied Ten.

The grass on the bank siz­zled with the mat­ing calls, con­ver­sa­tion, gos­sip and war cries of the wet­land insects.  The air was so clean, so cool and aro­mat­ic, it touched their nos­trils and lips like fin­gers made of cam­phor.  Fire­flies were start­ing up.  The bald­ing sky laid bare a crown of stars, hitched togeth­er by pur­ple space.

You ever feel,” Ten asked, “like there’s jus’ some­thin’ wrong with bein’ a man these days?”

If you’re gonna ask me,” Jason said, “to do that thing, the … the what’s it called … that … chop­pin’ off people’s dicks thing … what’s it called?”

Cas­tra­tion.”

If you’re gonna ask me to cas­trate you, so you can live out your life­long dream of bein’ a woman, with a vagi­na and all—well then, you know I’d do it for you, man.  I’d do any­thing for you.”

Jason stretched out his leg and reached for his pock­etknife.

Give me a sec­ond here.”

 

Bri­an Ted Jones was born in 1984 and raised in Okla­homa. He is a grad­u­ate of St. John's Col­lege. He lives with his wife, Jenne, and their sons, Oscar and Guy­Jack.

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