Noise, fiction by Allen Hope

At a quar­ter past six Slade real­ized he’d not make it to Marilyn’s Pub ‘n Sub in time for his meet-up with Jack­son Saun­ders. He knew Saun­ders was a stick­ler for punc­tu­al­i­ty, but he still hoped to find him parked in the lot behind Marilyn’s near the twin olive-green dump­sters when he arrived. It was their usu­al meet­ing place. The day had been a com­bi­na­tion of blow­ing mist and driz­zle, and though it had stopped an hour ear­li­er the road was still shiny with mois­ture. Slade raised a hand to his mouth search­ing for a nail to chew. He found noth­ing beyond the quick. He tried the oth­er hand and got the same result. He’d run out of meth on Wednes­day. It was now Fri­day and he feared if he didn’t find a new sup­ply soon he’d gnaw the ends of his fin­gers off.

He final­ly made it to Marilyn’s but there was no sign of Saun­ders. He parked any­way. Turn­ing the radio on and scan­ning the AM band he found only one sta­tion with­in range, some rich fuck com­plain­ing about social­ism. The FM band didn’t fare much bet­ter.

He wait­ed near­ly half an hour fran­ti­cal­ly watch­ing the high­way, des­per­ate for Saun­ders to pull in and offer up a quar­ter ounce that he was hop­ing would calm the noise in his head. He was about to call it quits when he saw the bur­gundy Chrysler that belonged to Saun­ders’ girl­friend turn into the lot and park beside him. She waved him over. Once the door was closed and they were alone she start­ed to say some­thing but stopped. She was a frail girl with a reedy voice. Her skin was almost too white and her black hair greasy and smelling of ace­tone. Slade could tell from the red­ness around her eyes she had been cry­ing. Think­ing she had come to deliv­er the meth, he reached for his wal­let.

No!” she said. “Put that away! They might be fol­low­ing me!”

What the hell, Kay! Who might be fol­low­ing you?” Slade said, wip­ing at the smudgy wind­shield so he could get a clear view of the high­way. He watched a log­ging truck pass and then noth­ing.

Jack said he was sup­posed to meet you here and need­ed a ride,” she said. “When I went by his house the sher­iff had him hand­cuffed stuff­ing him in a cruis­er.” She could bare­ly sit still, twist­ing in her seat and mak­ing lit­tle jerky motions with her arms.

Oh, shit.” Slade felt his stom­ach churn­ing and his heart thump­ing against his rib cage.

I don’t know what to do, Slade. Fuck. I didn’t want to come here but I didn’t want to go home, either.” Kay kept reach­ing for the mir­ror and read­just­ing it like she expect­ed a SWAT team to swoop out of the woods and haul her off. “The DEA was there, too, in their blacked-out Nav­i­ga­tors or what­ev­er it is they dri­ve.”

This is seri­ous, Kay. I heard they were oper­at­ing in Elliot Coun­ty try­ing to shut down the labs and the pill push­ers over there. That whole county’s like a dri­ve-thru binge barn any­way so it didn’t sur­prise me. But I nev­er thought they’d work their way over here.”

Well, I can promise you they’re here, Slade. Because that sure wasn’t a bunch of tourists I saw who stopped to watch some hill­bil­ly get bust­ed.”

They sat a while longer dis­cussing their options. Kay decid­ed to go to a friend’s house for a few days. All Slade knew was that he had to find some meth and find it quick. And since it was too risky around Way­land he fig­ured his only oth­er option was to track down his cousin in Rock Camp and see if he could hook him up.

Slade had stayed in touch with his cousin Louis by talk­ing to him occa­sion­al­ly over the phone. Louis was five years old­er than Slade and had con­nec­tions in every hol­low and back­woods hide­out with­in forty miles of Rock Camp. He was born smack in the mid­dle of town one blus­tery sum­mer after­noon when his moth­er swung by the post office to drop off a pack­age and dropped Louis along with it. Louis was proud of the fact that he had lived his entire life hav­ing nev­er ven­tured more than one coun­ty over from the one he was born in. He often bragged that if he didn’t die in Rock Camp or one of the sur­round­ing town­ships, it would be because some­body had kid­napped him and car­ried him far away, shoot­ing him, stran­gling him, or sim­ply bury­ing him in a hole when nobody stepped for­ward with the ran­som they demand­ed.

It wasn’t until mid­night that Louis final­ly answered Slade’s phone call. He’d been down in one of the hol­lows drink­ing with some friends but left ear­ly when Jim­my Cot­ton con­vinced the oth­ers to ride into Iron­ton with him and find a drunk to roll.

Lis­ten,” Slade said when he had Louis on the oth­er end. “I was think­ing of head­ing up that way tomor­row and…”

What?” Louis cut in. “You ain’t been to Rock Camp since you left. You in some kind of trou­ble?”

No. I just thought while I was there you might know some­body could tie me into some crank.”

It’s been kind of hot up here with the law and all, Cuz. Most peo­ple I know are lay­ing low, afraid to do much. But I sup­pose I can take care of you. I’ve got some oth­er busi­ness to attend to so why don’t you come by, say about six o’clock. I’ll have what you need. Sound all right?”

I’ll be there,” Slade said.

Slade pol­ished off a plate of coun­try ham, eggs, grits and toast at Papa Joe’s Café the next morn­ing think­ing that his new­found appetite was the only good thing to come from run­ning out of drugs. He’d usu­al­ly grab a sand­wich or a quick bowl of soup some­where, the needs of his stom­ach an after­thought more than any­thing else. He filled his Duran­go with gas at the BP sta­tion next door, stashed four twen­ty ounce Red Bulls in the cool­er he’d brought, and hit the road for the two hour dri­ve to Ohio.

Arriv­ing on the out­skirts of Rock Camp a lit­tle after two o’clock and with plen­ty of time to kill before he was sup­posed to meet Louis, Slade thought he might vis­it the ridge he remem­bered as a kid. He had lived a quar­ter mile below the ridge line in a place that was more shack than house. It was all his par­ents could afford liv­ing as they did from pay­check to pay­check. But they were gone now, dead before their time.

The black­ber­ries were at their juici­est in late August and the horse weed vibrant and high, near­ly chok­ing the path that ascend­ed from the old home­stead. The climb was rough but Slade kept at it, man­ag­ing the last few yards by using his boots to push aside the weeds. He made his way to an out­crop of rock and posi­tioned him­self well back from the edge. His great­est fear of late was act­ing on impulse, a sud­den thought that might flash across his mind and cause him to react with­out any con­cern for the out­come.

I’m not one to go killing myself,” he said. “So don’t even think about it.”

This had become his refrain when­ev­er the noise in his head kicked in and over­rode near­ly every good thought that came his way. It start­ed after he got him­self hooked on crank while dri­ving a coal truck. First came pills. But when he dis­cov­ered crys­tal meth was cheap­er and eas­i­er to get, he switched over. The high was good at first, the feel­ing that he was invin­ci­ble, that he could do any­thing he want­ed and do it bet­ter than any­one else. But the noise turned every­thing upside down. It didn’t mat­ter to Slade, though. The only two things he cared about now were get­ting high and get­ting laid.

Slade bal­anced him­self with one leg wedged into a knee-high crag of gran­ite. He pulled a cig­a­rette from his shirt pock­et and lit it, flick­ing the spent match toward the ravine. The val­ley at the base of the ridge looked to Slade like it always had when he viewed it from this angle. He imag­ined it as a rib­bon of green that had fall­en from the sky. There was hard­ly a straight sec­tion to it, just a series of bends and curves bor­dered by Sug­ar Creek on one side and a sheer wall of rock on the side where he now stood. What was once a coun­ty road with no off­shoots was now pep­pered with dri­ve­ways. Though they were most­ly ruts worn into the clay soil they still pro­vid­ed access to the mobile homes set at odd angles along the creek.

The only struc­ture Slade rec­og­nized was the sin­gle-pump gas sta­tion and coun­try store at the valley’s north­ern end. He was sur­prised by its longevi­ty, how it had weath­ered the years and man­aged to stay in busi­ness. He remem­bered how the store once served as a gath­er­ing place for what he called the riff-raff of a wel­fare state. His father had been too proud to accept a hand­out in any form, even in the worst times, and he had taught Slade that if a man was hav­ing trou­ble mak­ing it in this world it was because he wasn’t try­ing hard enough. Bad luck and mis­for­tune were not excus­es.

In the years fol­low­ing, and most­ly on week­ends after dark­ness col­lapsed like a min­ing dis­as­ter over the val­ley, the store became a hang­out for local teenagers. Slade despised this new breed of teenag­er almost as much as the riff-raff. They could not be trust­ed. Like ani­mals the worst of them would shoot a man for no good rea­son. Slade thought he was lucky to have escaped this place. He swore he would nev­er return, not for any rea­son on earth. But his life had changed since then, changed in ways he’d nev­er imag­ined.

A blast of wind from below fanned the goat’s beard at Slade's feet. As he looked over the bluff expect­ing anoth­er gust he saw a for­eign made car, a Hon­da maybe, and then a Ford pick­up with a dog bound­ing in the bed as if it was try­ing to swal­low every bit of wind that looped around the side pan­els, bisect­ing the val­ley. The traffic’s move­ment relaxed Slade and he felt the noise in his head fad­ing away. What Slade called noise most often came in the form of voic­es cajol­ing him, insult­ing him, or mak­ing demands that he strug­gled to resist though he was not always suc­cess­ful. But this time it was most­ly a high pitched whine, and as it wound to noth­ing more than an annoy­ing hum Slade began to feel at peace.

Then, “I’ll be God­damned!” Star­tled, Slade dropped his cig­a­rette.

Think­ing it was the noise start­ing in again he tried to cov­er his ears to get some relief. But his arms refused to abide.

Is that you, Slade? Jere­my God­damned Slade?”

Real­iz­ing the voice was not in his head but some­where behind him, Slade turned to see a man dressed in cam­ou­flage push­ing his way through a stand of sapling pines. He car­ried a shot­gun slung over his shoul­der. And though a gray-flecked beard cov­ered most of the man’s mouth, Slade noticed a pick­et of yel­lowed teeth that he took to be evi­dence of a smile.

God­damn it is you! What’s it been, ten years, fif­teen tops?”

Don’t know,” Slade croaked, step­ping off the rocks. “Maybe.”

The man stopped sev­er­al yards short of Slade. He spat a brown stream into the dirt and squinched his eyes, wait­ing for acknowl­edg­ment that here stood an old friend. When none came, the man low­ered the shot­gun to his side.

You don’t remem­ber me, do you?” he said. “Damned if that ain’t the shits. Lis­ten here, we went to school togeth­er, me and you!”

Some­thing about the man looked vague­ly famil­iar but Slade couldn’t see enough through the beard to put a name to him.

Stan­ton Gal­loway, dammit! You helped me steal Bob­by Turner’s Pon­ti­ac the night I had a date with that gal over in Wil­low Wood and no way to get there.”

Slade recalled that night. How Gal­loway had phoned, plead­ed with him for a ride because he’d heard how a date with this girl was a sure bet to get laid.

Okay. Yeah. Yeah, I got it. You promised if I took you to see her and you got some I could watch.”

Too damn bad your car wouldn’t start,” Gal­loway said. “You missed one hell of a show.”

They’d con­coct­ed a plan that had Slade babysit­ting Turn­er, mak­ing sure he stayed liquored up while Gal­loway pinched his car and kept his date in Wil­low Wood. The plan was sol­id. Turn­er was an easy drunk. Drink­ing was a hob­by of his, and if he didn’t have to pay for the whiskey then so much the bet­ter. But when Turn­er came to the next morn­ing and saw his car gone he grabbed a greasy tow­el off the floor and tried to smoth­er Slade, still passed out and snor­ing in an old bro­ken reclin­er. Fault­ing Slade made no sense but then noth­ing Turn­er did made sense.

You near got me killed!” Slade said.

Hell, we can laugh about it now. How was I to know I’d get a flat and him not have a spare in that big-ass trunk? The good old days! Eh, Slade?”

Before leav­ing, Gal­loway said he had a girl he want­ed Slade to meet and plen­ty of good shit to smoke if he cared for that sort of thing.

An hour lat­er Slade was sit­ting in his Duran­go at Galloway’s with the win­dows closed and the A/C and engine run­ning to ward off the after­noon heat. He had parked in a bare spot of yard just off the grav­el dri­ve where Galloway’s moth­er had died. Crazy with grief, she drank a pint of bleach after her hus­band was struck dead by a cot­ton­mouth while giv­ing praise to Jesus. Gal­loway found her sprawled beneath a bar­ren apple tree, a clump of red clay in one fist and her chin pink with the foam that had gur­gled out of her as she lay pray­ing for the end to come. The past began to come back to Slade. He remem­bered think­ing the same fate await­ed Gal­loway. And though it had yet to hap­pen, the over­all des­per­ate look of Galloway’s place meant it was still a pos­si­bil­i­ty.

Slade reached for the A/C knob and low­ered the tem­per­a­ture a cou­ple degrees. He leaned back and again heard the noise stir­ring in his head but was too exhaust­ed from hik­ing the ridge to fight it off.

You are a dumb shit!” said a voice that sound­ed to Slade like a taunt from some fat grade-school­er. “Big high-and-mighty Slade!” it con­tin­ued. “Nev­er com­ing back to Rock Camp? Look around! Tell us where you are now!”

A knot of voic­es broke loose demand­ing an answer.

Fuck you!” Slade said.

The ruckus shift­ed to laugh­ter and Slade thought of the time in fourth grade when, doing chin-ups on the mon­key bars, a sixth-grade girl and sev­er­al of her friends cor­nered him once he hit the ground.

I want to see your dick,” the sixth-grad­er said. “We all want to see it.” Two of the girls gig­gled, their eyes fixed on Slade’s crotch. The Con­roy broth­ers had stripped him naked a week ear­li­er. They buried his clothes and forced him to jump into Sug­ar Creek if he want­ed them back. Word got around. Kids called him Snake, Mr. Bil­ly Club. And now here were a bunch of old­er girls demand­ing to see it for them­selves. Slade’s cheeks had sud­den­ly felt flush, his skin burned. Reluc­tant­ly, he undid his belt and zip­per. But when he put his hand down his under­wear and grabbed his dick he pissed him­self. By then Gal­loway and a few oth­er kids had joined the girls and they all stood laugh­ing at him. Slade want­ed to kill them, every sin­gle one of them. Instead, he skipped school for a week. He hid in corn­fields and barns grown over in wood­bine and pic­tured him­self dyna­mit­ing the school and every­one in it. From there he’d work his way through Rock Camp going house to house, shoot­ing and stab­bing until the entire town was lit­tered with bod­ies. “That’ll show the sick bas­tards,” he’d sobbed. “Teach them to laugh at me.”

A muf­fled roar roused Slade and he checked his side-view mir­ror to see Gal­loway slic­ing up the dri­ve on a Kawasa­ki four-wheel­er. A girl rode behind him, her chest tight against Galloway’s back and her arms locked around his waist. They cir­cled once and came again at Slade through a clus­ter of stumps in the side yard. As it came out of the stump field the Kawasa­ki caught a dip. When it hit the ups­lope the front wheels lift­ed off the ground and the sud­den change of direc­tion pitched Gal­loway for­ward with the girl pig­gy­backed on top of him. For a sec­ond Slade thought all three of them—Galloway, the girl, and the Kawasa­ki they were fight­ing to stay astride—were going to roll like a bar­rel into the front quar­ter-pan­el of his Duran­go. But at the last sec­ond Gal­loway slammed him­self against the seat and twist­ed the han­dle­bars hard left. Grav­el pinged off Slade’s SUV and gray dust corkscrewed over the hood.

Hell yeah,” the girl whooped. She threw her arms around Galloway’s neck and pulled his head back so she could bite his ear. The Kawasa­ki slid to a stop beneath a street­light Gal­loway had snatched, its pole ham­mered side­ways by a rock­slide along State Route 217 north of town. He had wired a motion detec­tor to it and bolt­ed it to the side of his house for secu­ri­ty, the first line of defense should any of his cus­tomers come look­ing to rip him off. Gal­loway hopped from the Kawasa­ki and tossed a grit­ty hand in Slade’s direc­tion, motion­ing him over.

This here’s June and that’s Slade,” Gal­loway said as Slade fol­lowed them through the door. “June lives one holler the oth­er side of that ridge you climbed today.”

June, huh,” Slade said.

That’s right,” June coun­tered. “The names April and May were already spoke for by the time Mom­ma had me.”

Yeah, but they done run off,” Gal­loway said. “Fucked ever thing there was to fuck in Rock Camp and decid­ed to branch out, expand their ter­ri­to­ry.”

You oughtn’t talk about them like that,” June said.

It’s true, ain’t it? Hell, I put it to both of them gals wait­ing on you to come of age.” Gal­loway laughed. He smacked June’s ass then watched her wig­gle over to the couch and set­tle into the cush­ions.

Slade had known girls like June, girls with lit­tle more to do in such a rat­ty town than latch onto some man for sex and what­ev­er else he might pro­vide. He despised these girls almost as much as he had the new breed of teenagers. But he fan­cied June. She was still mag­a­zine cute with a tight body that bor­dered on skin­ny. And he liked the way her sassy hair was the col­or of corn­stalks in late Novem­ber, and how it hung just below her ears, cap­ping her cheek­bones and mak­ing her face glow like an invi­ta­tion to a night of fevered wild­ness.

The laugh­ter in Slade’s head had qui­et­ed and he fig­ured who­ev­er the voic­es belonged to were as dumb­struck as he was by the girl’s pres­ence.

Unless you’re a god­damned stat­ue sit the hell down,” Gal­loway barked before leav­ing through the back door.

Slade chose a brown leather chair in a cor­ner near the hall­way. The arm­rests were grimed over and foam padding had squeezed through the cracked head­rest and greened with mildew. It was either that or plant him­self next to June. As much as he pre­ferred June, though, Slade didn’t want to risk piss­ing Gal­loway off. No need for trou­ble if he could avoid it.

The inside of Galloway’s house was worse than Slade had imag­ined look­ing at it from the out­side. The walls were a mix of col­ors a mani­ac might paint just before blow­ing his brains out in a spray of gore. The ceil­ing was dark gray, while the walls were var­i­ous shades of brown, orange, and a sort of yel­low­ing white. The win­dows had been most­ly cov­ered over with plas­tic sheet­ing, though a few of the cor­ners still peeled away pro­vid­ing Gal­loway a clear view of his yard. Judg­ing from the array of guns scat­tered about the room Slade fig­ured Gal­loway lived in a con­stant state of para­noia. He count­ed four, a deer rifle propped in the cor­ner, a Colt Python 357Magnum on the TV stand, and a 9 mil­lime­ter Beretta and anoth­er hand­gun he couldn’t iden­ti­fy rest­ing on top of a blue plas­tic milk crate wedged between a kerosene heater and a sag­ging book­case.

Gal­loway came back with a sil­ver, crin­kled-up lunch pail that he plunked on the book­case.

Get your ass up and get us some beer,” he said to June. “I’ve got to put the four-wheel­er in the shed.”

Slade watched June pry her­self off the couch and crunch her way over the peanut husks and hunt­ing mag­a­zines toward the kitchen. A minute lat­er she was back with two Stroh’s. She set Galloway’s on the floor next to the couch then crunched over to Slade. She drew Slade’s beer to her chest and rolled it across her T‑shirted breasts wip­ing sweat from the bot­tle.

That ought to make it taste bet­ter,” she grinned.

Slade grinned back at her. He accept­ed the beer while look­ing at the out­line of her nip­ples through her Cud­dle Bud­dy T‑shirt, then admired the way her hips flared tight against her Wran­gler cut-offs. Notic­ing how the dim light shim­mered against her tanned legs he tried to imag­ine her rid­ing naked beside him in the Duran­go.

I know some­thing else that would make it taste even bet­ter.” At first Slade thought the words had come from one of the voic­es in his head. When he real­ized they were his own words he tried to back­track but he was too slow.

Why don’t you come by my place lat­er?” June said. “We can go some­where pri­vate, out 141 maybe. Looks like enough room in that truck of yours for us to be all kinds of nasty.”

What about Gal­loway?”

Gal­loway is Gal­loway. He ain’t my boyfriend if that’s what you’re think­ing. He keeps me high and I keep him from get­ting too horny.” June cir­cled behind the leather chair so she could keep an eye on the front door. She ran her hands inside Slade’s shirt, felt the warmth ris­ing from his chest and the hair coarse between her fin­gers.

You won’t be sor­ry,” she said lean­ing in, her teeth nib­bling gen­tly at Slade’s ear. “I promise you that.”

Slade wasn’t sure he could trust June. For all he knew Gal­loway planned to mar­ry her. It could be she was the kind of girl who saw men as rungs on a lad­der and him one rung above Gal­loway. Maybe she fig­ured Gal­loway to be head­ed for jail and she need­ed to estab­lish a new foothold, one with more sta­bil­i­ty than what Gal­loway had to offer.

Why me?” Slade asked, try­ing to coax June’s hands from under his shirt.

Dar­ling,” June whis­pered. “You might have van­ished from Rock Camp all those years ago but your rep­u­ta­tion lives on.”

She pulled her hands from inside Slade’s shirt and shook her ass all the way to the couch. She eased into the cush­ions then blew a kiss across the filthy room. Slade tipped his beer back, felt the alco­hol chill­ing his throat. A minute lat­er Gal­loway beat his way through the front door.

God­damn heat,” he said search­ing the room for his beer. “I hate the fuck­ing snow but I’ll be damned if this heat hasn’t about killed me.” Gal­loway spot­ted the beer, part­ed his dirty lips and pol­ished it off in one long gulp. He tossed the bot­tle on a wad of news­pa­pers and pawed his way over June, set­tling in next to her.

Slade watched the hon­ey-col­ored bot­tle roll from the news­pa­pers and spin a lit­tle dance on the hard­wood. He thought of the old Gal­loway, the one in high school who would have flung the bot­tle as if it was molten glass instead of sim­ply toss­ing it aside. The old Gal­loway was quick to anger and just as quick to kick somebody’s ass for sport because rage seemed to be the pri­ma­ry ele­ment embed­ded in his DNA. Slade was think­ing of the guns and try­ing to deter­mine how much of the old Gal­loway still resided in the hag­gard fig­ure seat­ed across from him when June said, “Let’s get fucked up. Maybe that’ll cool you off.”

That’ll just get me hot­ter than I am now and then you’ll have to cool me off. But what the hell, maybe Slade here wants to watch. I owe him one.” Gal­loway laughed and shot a look at Slade.

June dis­ap­peared down the hall­way. She came back car­ry­ing a cig­ar box bear­ing the name MONTECRISTO FLOR FINA. She flipped the lid open and removed a glass pipe filled with a crys­tal-like pow­der. Angling the flame from a Zip­po lighter under the black­ened bowl, she inhaled and held it in while pass­ing the pipe to Gal­loway.

Slade watched Gal­loway steady the lighter and clamp his mouth around the pipe stem, the end of his thumb cal­loused from the heat of smok­ing this shit a dozen times a day. Gal­loway sucked until the smoke was gone. He swal­lowed a cough and jig­gled the pipe toward Slade.

Hur­ry up, dumb shit! Take it!” The fat grade-school­er again. Slade decid­ed the kid must’ve been elect­ed spokesman of the day. He thought it was fun­ny. Not only was he an addict but appar­ent­ly the kid was an addict as well.

Slade extend­ed a shaky hand and took the pipe from Gal­loway, care­ful not to drop it. The first hit left him feel­ing like some­body had uncorked a bot­tle of cham­pagne in his head, the bub­bles an elec­tric cur­rent charg­ing through his brain cells. He fired a sec­ond quick hit and passed the pipe to June. The three of them took turns until the pipe was emp­ty, then refilled it twice more. Each bowl pro­duced a high sev­er­al mag­ni­tudes greater than the one before it. When they were done June put the pipe away and slid the cig­ar box under the edge of the couch.

Holy hell,” Slade said after a few min­utes, his face almost as white as the pow­der he’d just smoked. He glanced at June and saw that she was rub­bing her legs as if stroking the silky fur of a house cat. Gal­loway had sunk into the couch, his head rolled to one side and his eyes as blank as a retard’s.

June noticed Slade look­ing at Gal­loway.

I’d think he died if I didn’t know bet­ter,” she said. “But you nev­er know. He might die yet with all the Oxy he ate today and now the meth.”

June con­tin­ued caress­ing her legs while she talked. Slade thought he could hear her purring too, try­ing to entice him to her end of the couch.

He wasn’t sure what to do next but he was sure he couldn’t just sit there and do noth­ing. He knew Louis would be wait­ing for him at six but there was plen­ty of time for that. He could wash his truck, or sweep the peanut husks and mag­a­zines off Galloway’s worm-rid­dled floor. He thought he might even repaint the walls while he was at it if only he could find a brush and a buck­et of paint.

June palmed a vein of sweat from her cheek and stud­ied Slade, amused at the way he sat fid­get­ing in his chair. It was like watch­ing some­one whose clothes were shrink­ing by the sec­ond, the way Slade kept pulling at the sleeves of his shirt and clasp­ing and unclasp­ing his belt buck­le. She fig­ured he prob­a­bly wasn’t accus­tomed to meth as pure and pow­er­ful as what he’d just smoked. She muz­zled a laugh when he reached for his leather boots and retied the laces sev­er­al times each before he was sat­is­fied with his efforts.

How you feel­ing?” June asked, the frayed edges of her cut-offs inch­ing upward, her fin­gers draw­ing lit­tle cir­cles on the sweet spots of her thighs.

Some­thing from out­side caused the front door to rat­tle against its frame. The plas­tic on an adja­cent win­dow flut­tered then went limp. It seemed the only thing that hadn’t moved was Gal­loway, slumped like a corpse since June had stashed the pipe.

I don’t know,” Slade answered. “I either feel like a mil­lion dol­lars or like my head’s going to explode any minute.”

Hand me that lunch box,” June said point­ing to the book­case.

Slade vault­ed from the chair as if a cop­per­head had fall­en in his lap. He retrieved the box, pass­ing it to June and then watch­ing while she unlatched the lid. She lift­ed a brown med­i­cine bot­tle from inside, twist­ed the cap open and passed two red and blue cap­sules to him.

Here,” she said. “Take these. It’ll knock the edge off.”

Slade car­ried the cap­sules into the kitchen and washed them down with a Stroh’s. When he came back he saw that June’s hands had moved from her legs to her breasts. She squeezed at a nip­ple with one hand while her oth­er hand caressed the tan skin beneath her shirt. Her eyes were closed and Slade stood mes­mer­ized like what he was see­ing wasn’t real.

Don’t you think it’s time to teach that sick bas­tard a les­son?” The fat grade-school­er asked, a ref­er­ence Slade real­ized was meant for Gal­loway. It was Gal­loway who had led the oth­er kids in laugh­ter that day on the play­ground, then got every­one chant­i­ng bed wet­ter pants piss­er until a teacher came over and ordered every­one to class. Slade felt the humil­i­a­tion punch him in the gut. This was a prob­lem he should have tak­en care of long before now but the tim­ing was just nev­er right. He glimpsed the Mag­num on the TV stand but dis­missed that option as too dras­tic. There must be a bet­ter way, he thought, some­thing that wouldn’t land him in prison.

He looked at Gal­loway, not­ed his shal­low breath, his milky eyes and the way he lay bur­rowed in the couch like one of his cus­tomers had just cold-cocked him with a sin­gle blow to the head. When he turned back to June her T‑shirt was draped around her neck, her breasts ful­ly exposed. Slade knew then the les­son he want­ed to teach Gal­loway. He crossed the room, stop­ping next to June just as she slipped a hand down the front of her cut-offs. He watched the cir­cu­lar motions her hand made beneath the fab­ric and heard low moans ris­ing from some­where deep inside her. When he looked at her face he saw that she was look­ing back at him, her move­ments invit­ing him clos­er, her eyes as clear and green as the rib­bon of land bor­der­ing Sug­ar

Creek.

 

Allen Hope’s fic­tion and poet­ry have appeared or is forth­com­ing in Apro­pos Lit­er­ary Jour­nal, Eclec­ti­ca Mag­a­zine, Ghost Town, Sleet Mag­a­zine, Snow Mon­key, and else­where. He is a grad­u­ate of Sono­ma State Uni­ver­si­ty and pre­vi­ous­ly worked as a pro­duc­er and scriptwriter for Project Censored's radio doc­u­men­tary series, For The Record, which aired on Nation­al Pub­lic Radio. A for­mer win­ner of the Genevieve Mott Memo­r­i­al Lit­er­ary Schol­ar­ship, he cur­rent­ly lives in Gal­lipo­lis, Ohio with his wife and two daugh­ters.


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