Texas Never Whispers, by C.L. Bledsoe

The clos­er it got to Joey’s dad’s birth­day, the more agi­tat­ed he became, and with noth­ing worth­while to do when he wasn’t at work – which was less and less often since Jer­ry had been cut­ting his hours – he spent his time lift­ing weights. So when Chy­na rolled in, mid­dle of the night, and flashed a let­ter post­marked from Texas with his and Chyna’s names on it, he want­ed no part of it.

“It’s noth­ing bad, I’m sure,” she said. “Prob­a­bly say­ing he’s sor­ry he missed your birth­days and isn’t around.” She smelled like per­fume and Marl­boro Lights and took a long drag on a Route 44 Cher­ry Dr. Pep­per from Son­ic.

“Shouldn’t be in prison, then,” Joey said, glar­ing at the TV.

Chy­na didn’t answer that; she just start­ed in from the top, read­ing it to Joey while he sulled but lis­tened – he wasn’t far enough gone in his anger to ignore his feal­ty to his sis­ter.

The let­ter start­ed, like she’d pre­dict­ed, with apolo­gies, and then moved to ques­tions. It asked about Joey’s life, how he was doing in school, whether he was doing any­thing stu­pid.

“How’d he get our address?”

“He used to live here, stu­pid,” she said. “And I wrote to him.”

Joey was stunned. “Why in hell would you do that?”

“He’s our father.” Her voice was soft, vul­ner­a­ble.

“Is he?”

She con­tin­ued read­ing. Joey’s anger caused him to miss the imme­di­ate bits that fol­lowed, but he tuned back in as his father, appar­ent­ly in answer to a ques­tion of Chyna’s, described his life.

“It’s bor­ing here; that’s the main thing. You can read or play cards or some­thing, but it’s the same every day. There’s some real hard fellers here, but long as you got friends, you’ll do all right. The food is no good, but you get used to it. I ain’t nev­er been messed with, to answer your ques­tion. What I miss most is see­ing you two and your mom­ma and not being in prison.”

“You asked him if he’d ever been messed with?” Joey said.

“I was curi­ous.”

He went on to describe his cell and his dai­ly rou­tine, as per Chyna’s ques­tions.

“I got old, here,” he said. The impli­ca­tion was that he shouldn’t have.

Joey could pic­ture it as she read; the nar­row cell, the exer­cise yard. The images in his head were col­ored by movies he’d seen: Brubak­er, with its death row that was lit­tle more than a series of box­es; Robert Red­ford dig­ging hole after hole. He saw his father as the vague mem­o­ry he had; a bone-thin frame, taut with mus­cle. The man in Joey’s head was always tan and grin­ning. He prob­a­bly wouldn’t be tan any­more, Joey fig­ured. And he sure as hell wouldn’t be smil­ing.

“I’m going to write him back,” Chy­na said, break­ing Joey’s rever­ie. “Want me to say any­thing?”

Joey con­sid­ered it. “Tell him not to wor­ry about not being here. I don’t miss him.”

* * *

Joey didn’t see Tom­my stand­ing in the door­way watch­ing him work out, though Joey had worked him­self into such a state of exhaus­tion, he could bare­ly reg­is­ter what was right in front of him. Joey fin­ished his rep. and sat up on the weight bench.

“You train­ing for some­thing?” Tom­my barked.

“No sir,” Joey said. He wiped sweat off with a thread­bare tow­el.

“Come on and make a run with me.”

“Can I take a show­er first?”

“I’d rather you did.”

 

They drove out by the munic­i­pal air­port, in the tan­gle of bare­ly grav­eled roads, pulled off into a grot­to Joey’d nev­er known exist­ed. Tom­my killed the engine and pulled up to a trail­er hid­den amongst some weeds.

“Don’t say a fuck­ing word,” Tom­my said.

They got out and Tom­my hand­ed Joey a duf­fle bag from the trunk. They went to the door and stood there with­out knock­ing. Joey heard foot­steps mov­ing through the brush, and some­body came around the side of the trail­er, but all Joey could make out was the twin bar­rels of a shot­gun amongst leaves.

Tom­my grabbed the bag and set it down by the trail­er door. He stepped back and Joey went with him. Anoth­er bag flopped by their feet. Tom­my nudged Joey who picked it up. They went back to the car, Tom­my cranked it and revved it a few times, and backed out all the way back to the road before turn­ing around.

“Know what’d hap­pen if you knocked on that door?” Tom­my asked.

“Dou­ble-dog dare me,” Joey said.

Tom­my laughed a lit­tle. “Hun­gry,” he said and they went into town for some­thing to eat.

* * *

After that, Tom­my was bring­ing him along all the time.

“You don’t ever ask nobody their name,” Tom­my said. “Don’t ask no ques­tions or they’ll think you’re a narc.”

Joey took it all in. At first, it was most­ly just him rid­ing along. A cou­ple times, Tom­my took Joey with on longer trips; they’d end up trad­ing joints in some tweaker’s house while he read from the bible about the end of the world, eat­ing can after can of baked beans; or, they’d stand in some guy’s kitchen while his bat­tered-look­ing wife chased around kids who already talked back to her because they saw their dad­dy do it, trad­ing shots. It was like that, Joey real­ized; you had to spend time with them. His expe­ri­ences with pot smok­ers had been the same, but he’d thought they were just lone­ly losers; turned out, you had to put in time, let them get to know you, or they got sus­pi­cious.

“Any­thing hap­pens to him,” Joey’s mom, KT, said after one trip. “I’ll nev­er for­give you.”

“I know,” Tom­my said, a sim­ple state­ment of fact.

Joey had known his mom and Tom­my sold weed and some­times meth for years; peo­ple were always com­ing by, or Tom­my was always off on some errand for days at a time. Joey had assumed it was most­ly weed they were sell­ing, and maybe it had been, but these days, Tom­my seemed to want to step it up. He didn’t offer an expla­na­tion, and Joey knew bet­ter than to ask for one.

It was sur­re­al for Joey – one minute, he’d be out in the sticks shoot­ing cans for tar­get prac­tice with some guy who’d just as soon stick an ice pick through Joey’s eye as see him, and the next, Tom­my would drop him off at school, and Joey would be sit­ting in some class try­ing not to fall asleep. He smoked plen­ty of pot and drank, but Tom­my only let him try meth one time – Joey was pret­ty sure it was because of KT. But this one time, they’d been out at a dealer’s house, and he’d insist­ed that Joey join them in sam­pling the wares. Tom­my tried to make a joke about it, but the guy got wide-eyed and weird, so Joey had to do it. Tom­my kept eying him as Joey lit the pipe like he’d seen so many oth­ers do and hit it.

It was kind of the oppo­site of pot; where­as mar­i­jua­na made Joey feel spa­cy and dis­tant, meth made him feel present, very fuck­ing present, and clear-head­ed in a decep­tive way.

He didn’t sleep the next day, or the one after that. He stayed out with Tom­my, and when he was final­ly made to go to school, he cut class­es and jogged around the school, grind­ing his teeth and work­ing out weird the­o­ries in his head. When he final­ly crashed, he slept a sol­id day and a half.

 

From time to time, the old guys would stare at Joey for a while and then get this know­ing look on their faces. The first time it’d hap­pened, Joey thought he was about to get raped. But then the guy had point­ed at him and asked his name. Then he’d start­ed talk­ing about Joey’s dad.

As far as Joey knew, his dad ran guns. Some of KT’s old­est friends would ref­er­ence him, but they hard­ly ever came to the house. The weird thing about them was when they did, they’d actu­al­ly talk to Joey and Chy­na, back when she was around, any­way. They’d ask how the kids were doing in school, the stan­dard bull­shit. Joey’d asked Chy­na about it one time, and she’d explained they were friends of Joey’s dad. He didn’t know how to feel about it.

But the way these guys talked, it was like Joey’s dad was a leg­end, instead of some guy rot­ting in a Texas prison. They’d tell sto­ries about fights he’d got­ten into, peo­ple he’d screwed over or who tried to screw him over. Joey had nev­er real­ly thought of him as a per­son, but here he was, liv­ing on in the tat­tered mem­o­ries of a bunch of tweak­ers.

After they’d left that one’s house, Tom­my had been antsy in the car.

“You remem­ber your dad?” he asked.

“Not real­ly,” Joey said.

Tom­my grunt­ed. “Good man,” he said, which shocked Joey.

“You knew him?”

Tom­my laughed. “We came up togeth­er. He was always smart, smarter than me.” It was the most he’d ever real­ly heard Tom­my say.

“Were you friends?”

Tom­my grunt­ed. “He told me to take care of you and your mom­ma,” he final­ly said. Joey sat, stunned, the rest of the ride home. He want­ed to ask Tom­my ques­tions, but couldn’t think of a one. Lat­er, as he lay abed, try­ing to sleep, he made a list in his head that he knew he’d nev­er ask:

1. If he was smart, why was he in prison?

2. Does he know you’re fuck­ing his wife?

3. Did you run guns with him?

4. What’s the dif­fer­ence between manslaugh­ter and mur­der?

* * *

Joey was upstairs, work­ing out again. This time, it was his mom stand­ing in the door­way when he looked up.

“Know what today is,” she said.

“Tues­day,” Joey said, wip­ing him­self off and start­ing in on curls.

She came in and sat on the bed. “Chyna’s been writ­ing to him. Said he wrote to you.” Joey didn’t answer. “Wrote to me, too.” She let it slip out so he could’ve ignored it, but it hit him like a slap to the face.

“What’d he say?” Joey said, try­ing to sound non­cha­lant.

“Said to make sure you don’t end up like him.”

Joey laughed. “In prison?”

“Sell­ing.” Again, it was a sim­ple state­ment that car­ried mas­sive weight.

“Talk to Tom­my. He’s the one always tak­ing me along.”

“I have. Way he fig­ures it, and I don’t dis­agree, is you want to do it.”

“I guess I’m learn­ing a thing or two.”

“I guess you are.” Joey switched arms and start­ed curl­ing with that one as she con­tin­ued. “You don’t have to, though.”

“What else am I going to do?”

She nod­ded and rose but didn’t leave.

“Does it both­er you? That you’re out and he’s not?” He didn’t make eye con­tact, just let it lie.

“It does,” she said. “But he for­gave me. I did what I had to do for you kids.”

Joey thought of a few things to add to that, but he let it go and focused on his exer­cis­es. A moment lat­er he felt a cool hand on his shoul­der and looked up into his mother’s sunken eyes. Her face was wrin­kled, the skin slack. She was near­ly tooth­less, though her hair still had traces of black amongst the gray. There was a squir­re­li­ness about her eyes, but in the cen­ters, they were calm. She smiled and he did his best to soft­en his face.

* * *

Joey rode to school with Chy­na when Tom­my didn’t drop him off. And almost every day, he rode home with her.

“Come and go for a ride with me,” she said when he met her at her car.

“Yeah, I was going to.”

“No, I mean…just get in, dum­b­ass.”

She took him up Rab­bit Road and turned off east on the some­what paved road that took them, even­tu­al­ly, out to the munic­i­pal air­port and the tan­gle of grav­el roads that cir­cled it.

“Clint asked me to mar­ry me,” she said, apro­pos of noth­ing.

Joey laughed before he could stop him­self and she reached over and smacked him, hard.

“Sor­ry,” Joey said. “So what did you say?”

“I told him I’d think about it.”

Joey looked at her. “Yeah? And what did you think?”

She shrugged, which was a lit­tle trou­bling, because she had this way of lying on the wheel and steer­ing with her shoul­ders, so when she shrugged, the car veered to the side.

“Real­ly?”

“Yeah, I mean, I real­ly like Clint.”

Joey looked straight ahead. “Why?” He final­ly asked.

She punched him again. “Nev­er­mind.”

“No, I’m seri­ous. Why do you like him so much?”

She glared at him until she real­ized he was being seri­ous and then slack­ened up. “I don’t know. He’s nice. He respects me.”

“Does he?”

“More than Tom­my and KT.”

“Okay. So what do you get out of mar­ry­ing him? I mean, what does that do for you?”

“Not every­thing is about what you can get out of some­body.” Joey didn’t answer. He set­tled back into the seat and watched the trail­ers and trees move by. “You can come vis­it,” she added.

He laughed again. “I’m doing okay.”

She looked at him. “You’ve been going out with Tom­my. KT told me.”

He shrugged. “Got to learn a trade.”

It was her turn to laugh. “So you can end up like dad?”

“Least I won’t be leav­ing a fam­i­ly behind. But at least I can count on you to write me let­ters.”

* * *

Joey was on a run with Tom­my, hang­ing out at the house of a guy they’d dealt with a cou­ple times, just drink­ing beers and bull­shit­ting, when the phone rang. The guy’s wife answered and then turned to the tweak­er.

“Bil­ly, they’re ask­ing for some­body named Tom­my.”

Tom­my and Joey both looked up like that cat that had caught the canary.

“You give some­body this num­ber?” The guy asked.

“Hell, I don’t even know this num­ber,” Tom­my said.

The guy took the phone and demand­ed to know who it was, but clear­ly wasn’t get­ting any­where.

“Hell, it’s for you,” he said and hand­ed it to Tom­my. “Won’t tell me shit.”

“Yeah?” Tom­my said. He had a con­fused look on his face and didn’t speak again except to say. “Yeah, I get it.” Then he hung up and went back over by Joey.

“Well? Who was it?”

“Wrong num­ber,” Tom­my said, pulling on his beer.

The tweak­er looked at him, mean as a snake, and then laughed loud. They talked some more, and about five min­utes lat­er, there was a knock on the door. The wife went and answered it and cried out as some­one shoved her aside. Joey didn’t real­ize Tom­my wasn’t beside him any­more until he saw him wrestling with the tweak­er, who was try­ing to pull out a hand­gun from a draw­er by the sink. There were two guys at the door, and they bee­lined for Tom­my. One of them hit the tweaker’s hand hard, which was half in the draw­er, and he yelped. Tom­my stepped out of the way, hands raised, while the two took the tweak­er to the door. His wife was on the floor, and one of them knelt and helped her up.

“We’re sor­ry, Dar­la,” he said.

“Yeah, just call me and tell me where to get what’s left of him.”

They closed the door behind them.

“Want us to wait with you?” Tom­my asked.

She sat at the kitchen table. “Yeah, hell, y’all hun­gry? I got some squir­rel and dumplings.”

“Shit yeah,” Tom­my said.

While she was heat­ing it up in a big pot on the stove, Joey nudged Tom­my.

“What did they say on the phone?”

“Said somebody’s going to come knock on the door and ask for Jack. Said to let them take him, oth­er­wise, they take every­body.”

“Did you know who it was?”

“If I did, I don’t want to.”

 

They each fin­ished two help­ings of squir­rel and dumplings with some cats-head bis­cuits on the side before the phone rang. Tom­my looked over at Dar­la, and she gave a ‘go ahead’ motion. He answered and said, “All right.” And hung up.

“Said we can pick him up at Big Eddy Bridge. Want us to go get him?”

“I got the kids com­ing in from school any minute,” Dar­la said.

When they drove out, they found him in the mid­dle of the con­crete, bruised and bloody. They were halfway back to town before they real­ized he was miss­ing a fin­ger.

“What did you do?” Tom­my asked.

But he kept scream­ing until they dropped him off at the emer­gency room.

“Must’ve owed some­body mon­ey,” Tom­my said.

* * *

After they went home, Joey went up to his room and thought about every­thing and then went and knocked on KT and Tommy’s bed­room door. Tom­my hollered from inside, and Joey told him that he want­ed to talk. There was a lot of grum­bling before Tom­my opened the door.

“What in hell do you want?”

“I want to do more, sir.”

“Well clean the damn house, then.”

“No, with the…you know…what we’ve been doing.”

“Shit.” Tom­my shook his head and turned and slammed the door behind him.

* * *

Chy­na grad­u­at­ed, and Joey was sur­prised when KT and Tom­my actu­al­ly showed up for it and sat beside KT’s moth­er awk­ward­ly.

“I’m sur­prised you grad­u­at­ed,” the kids’ grand­moth­er said to Chy­na. She turned to Joey. “Think you can hold out two more years?”

“Yes ma’am,” Joey said because it was what she want­ed to hear.

Clint came with them when they went out for din­ner at The Cat­fish Hole restau­rant, on Grandmother’s dime, of course. She nib­bled on one piece of fish while the rest of them gulped down hush­pup­pies, French fries, and piece after piece of fried cat­fish. Tom­my burped loud­ly and pushed his plate away, knock­ing over his sweet tea, which deep­ened Grandmother’s scowl.

Chy­na cleared her throat. “Clint asked me to mar­ry him,” she said, glanc­ing at him. He smiled and took her hand.

“You knocked up?” Tom­my asked.

Grand­moth­er gasped.

“No,” Chy­na said. “Don’t be a pig.”

Tom­my eyed Clint. “You whipped or some­thing?”

Clint shook his head slow­ly. “No sir. I love Chy­na.”

Tom­my grinned, and KT elbowed him hard.

“And what do you do for a liv­ing, young man?” Grand­moth­er asked.

He explained his work for a propane com­pa­ny. It wasn’t that inter­est­ing, so Joey and Tom­my both zoned out. They both tuned in when Grand­moth­er laughed at some­thing Clint had said.

“He’s quit a catch, Chy­na,” she added. Chy­na squeezed Clint’s hand. Tom­my and Joey exchanged looks, frankly too shocked to respond.

The plan was that the cou­ple would move to a house Clint’s grand­par­ents had lived in

a lit­tle town called Shirley up in the moun­tains to the cen­ter of the state.

“Shirley?” KT said. “Who’s she?”

 

Joey rode up with Chy­na and Clint to help her get moved in that week­end, try­ing not to flinch when Clint raced up the hills and around the tight curves. When they got to the town, he wasn’t impressed.

“Hell, ain’t noth­ing here but bears and a Son­ic,” Joey said.

Clint laughed. “You’re not far wrong.”

The thing that annoyed Joey about Clint was that he was all right. After they unloaded Clint’s truck, he took Chy­na and Joey to Son­ic for lunch. They drove back that after­noon with an air of easy cama­raderie.

When they dropped Joey off at the house, there was a let­ter from Joey’s dad lying on his pil­low.

* * *

Joey stared at it for a few sec­onds and then sat on his bed and ignored it for a few more. He start­ed for the door to go down­stairs, but he was tired from the heady day and caught him­self. He grabbed the let­ter and ripped it open and scanned it.

“They set a date,” it began. “I’m out of appeals.” The tone was sober with a cou­ple of attempt­ed jokes, even. “I’d like you to be here, since you’re my son,” he said. “But I under­stand if you can’t.”

He read the let­ter over three or four times and dropped it. He could hear a hum of music down­stairs from KT and Tommy’s room. He went back over to the door­jamb and punched the wood, hard. Then again. Then again until his hand, not the wood, splin­tered. He went back down­stairs and knocked on his mom’s bed­room door with his left hand. When she opened it, he held up the already swelling hand.

* * *

“I’m not going,” Joey said. He was on the phone with Chy­na, pac­ing across the scuffed linoleum in the kitchen.

“He asked,” Chy­na said. “It’s his last request.”

“So?” Joey said. “Hell, he doesn’t even know who I am. I could send some­body else, and he wouldn’t know.”

Chy­na didn’t answer that. “I would go,” she final­ly said.

“So go.”

“He asked you.”

“Oh well.”

“You know,” Chy­na said. “If you hate him that much, you should go just to see him fry.”

Joey didn’t have an answer for that. They end­ed the call soon after, each agi­tat­ed, though with­out a spe­cif­ic focus for it. He went up to his room, closed the door, and went over to the book­case against the wall beside the door, squat­ted down, and pulled the bot­tom out. He paused and lis­tened, and when he was sat­is­fied, he reached in and dug out a cig­ar box and sat with his back against the door. Inside, there was a let­ter and a pho­to­graph and some oth­er trin­kets. The let­ter was dat­ed about five years ago. The paper of the enve­lope had gone yel­low, and the let­ter inside as well. He opened it care­ful­ly, being espe­cial­ly gen­tle with the folds, which were tear­ing on the edges. He read over it and then fold­ed it and put it back in the enve­lope. The pic­ture was of a man hold­ing a baby. For the first time, he could see him­self in the man’s face. He stared at it a long time and then put it back with the let­ter. There were oth­er things – a base­ball card he’d thought would be valu­able some­day, some lit­tle toys he’d held onto for some rea­son.

He put it all back in the box, added this new let­ter to it, and put the box back under the book­case and pushed it back against the wall. The let­ter had said it would hap­pen over the sum­mer. Joey didn’t know why it was such short notice; maybe his dad couldn’t decide to send the let­ter.

* * *

Tom­my drove out to the house of the tweak­er they’d tak­en to the hos­pi­tal just a cou­ple weeks before.

“You going to Texas?” Tom­my asked.

“I don’t think so,” Joey said.

Tom­my made a noise. “Why not?” He final­ly said.

Joey shrugged. “Why would I?”

“He’s going to be dead for­ev­er. He’s only going to be alive a lit­tle while longer. You can hate him as long as you want, but this is your only time to see him,” Tom­my said.

Joey was stunned silent as they pulled up to the house and got out. Tom­my went and banged on the door and grunt­ed some­thing, and Dar­la, the wife, opened it and let them in. Joey noticed she wouldn’t look them in the eye, but he was so focused on oth­er things, he wasn’t real­ly pay­ing atten­tion.

Bil­ly, the tweak­er, was out back in his shed, appar­ent­ly. Dar­la led them through the house and point­ed them to a squat, square build­ing still show­ing its insu­la­tion. Tom­my glanced back at the house, which caused Joey to. The glass door was closed behind him.

“Run and try that, qui­et-like,” Tom­my said.

Joey tried the door and showed Tom­my that it was locked. Dar­la had pulled the blinds closed as well.

“All right,” Tom­my said. “Something’s up. He’s watch­ing us, I fig­ure.”

He knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Bil­ly said.

Tom­my nod­ded to the side and Joey stepped clear of the door. Tom­my pushed it open and stepped to his left a moment lat­er, lin­ger­ing in the door­way just a sec­ond. A gun­shot rang out. Tom­my pulled his hand­gun out and ran to the side just as a shot blast­ed through the wall where he’d been. Joey high-tailed it the oth­er way. Tom­my found a win­dow and peeked in. He glanced at Joey, who was lying on the ground about fif­teen feet away, strode up to the win­dow, and fired sev­er­al times, then ducked back away from the wall. There was no answer­ing shots, but a sound from the house made them both turn. Dar­la came bust­ing out, scream­ing, shot­gun in hand, run­ning for Tom­my. She didn’t make it, because Joey tack­led her before she’d cov­ered half the lawn. Tom­my dis­ap­peared into the shed, and one shot rang out. Joey rose and trained the shot­gun on Dar­la, who got to her feet and crossed her arms. Tom­my emerged a moment lat­er.

“Where is it?” he asked. Dar­la just sneered. He slapped her, good, across the face, and she fell to the grass.

“It’s gone!” she said. “He smoked it all! Why do you think he did this?”

Tom­my put his gun to her fore­head. She looked scared but didn’t cry until he took it away.

“When you tell the pigs about who did this, you want to think about that boy in there. Think real good, you hear?”

“I hear you,” she said, on her knees.

Tom­my went back into the house. Joey fol­lowed, still hold­ing the shot­gun.

* * *

After that, the busi­ness dried up for a while. The famil­iar smell of weed began ema­nat­ing from Tom­my and KT’s bed­room. The week of the exe­cu­tion came, and Joey was spend­ing much of his time in his room when Chy­na came to vis­it. She tapped on the door. When Joey didn’t answer, she pushed it open. He was on the floor, sketch­ing.

“You haven’t drawn in a long time,” she said.

He looked up at her. “What are you doing here?”

She shrugged. “Vis­it­ing. Can I see?”

He passed one up to her. She stud­ied it. “You doing super­heroes again?”

“It’s from a dream I had,” he said.

She car­ried it over to the bed. “Tell me about it.”

He sat up on his elbows and relat­ed the dream, all about an alien plan­et or maybe it was in the future after soci­ety col­lapsed. There were these war­riors who joust­ed but with cars. That’s what he was draw­ing.

“Cool. Did you do any more?”

He showed her a cou­ple oth­ers he’d done of the jousters and a pro­tag­o­nist he hadn’t worked out a sto­ry for.

She set them on the bed, and he kept draw­ing. “So it’s tomor­row,” she said, after a while. He didn’t answer. “I was think­ing of dri­ving down.” Still, the only answer he gave was the scratch of pen­cil on paper. “So you wan­na ride down with me?” He paused, but still didn’t speak.

“I don’t want to see it,” he said and kept sketch­ing.

“You don’t have to. Just ride with me.”

He fin­ished and set the pen­cil down. “First time I would have seen him in ten years would be when he dies.”

“Just ride along so I have some­body to talk to,” she said.

He sighed and shook his head.

* * *

They left that after­noon after Joey packed some clothes, pen­cils, and paper. The plan was to dri­ve it in one day, crash in a cheap motel, and Joey would hang out while Chy­na went to the thing. They joked and lis­tened to music and made fun of signs the way they used to, before things got tough; Joey start­ed to feel like him­self again.

That night, in the motel, they ate piz­za and didn’t even turn on the TV. Joey woke in the mid­dle of the night when Chy­na threw a shoe at him to make him stop snor­ing, but even that felt right to Joey. The next morn­ing, she asked if he would go with her. He’d known she would but hoped he was wrong.

“I don’t want to see it,” he said.

“Because you hate him or because you’re afraid you don’t hate him?” she asked. When he didn’t answer, she added, “It’s a chance to see some­one die.”

“I’ve already seen that,” he said. He told her about the tweak­er.

“Oh Joey,” Chy­na said and grabbed him in a hug. Some­how, he end­ed up in the car try­ing to think of excus­es not to get out all the way to the prison.

There were a hand­ful of pro­tes­tors out­side, which real­ly shocked him. When Chy­na parked, he hopped out and went over to them, with her fol­low­ing and try­ing to stop him.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

An elder­ly nun with sad eyes explained that they were protest­ing the death penal­ty.

“That’s my father in there,” he said.

“I’m so sor­ry, my son,” she said.

“He killed 37 peo­ple.” She just stared for a moment. “But it was manslaugh­ter not mur­der because he was just involved in the killing. Like he helped oth­er peo­ple kill. They couldn’t pin them all on him.”

“Come on, Joey,” Chy­na said.

“It must be hard hav­ing a man like that for a father,” the woman said. The oth­er pro­tes­tors were gath­er­ing around him and her, now.

Joey shrugged. “He’s been in prison most of my life, I guess.”

The woman pat­ted him on the arm and called out, “This boy is the son of Lucas New­carter!” Peo­ple start­ed notic­ing, then. “How can you mur­der this man while his son watch­es?”

“No,” Joey said. “He should die. He’s a bad man!”

“They’re mak­ing an orphan! Will that bring back the dead?”

Chy­na dragged Joey away to the build­ing. “Bitch,” she said.

A man guid­ed them to met­al fold­ing seats in a lit­tle room fac­ing a big win­dow. There were a cou­ple oth­er peo­ple there, but not many.

“You know, I think you were right,” Chy­na said. “He made his bed, and he has to lie in it.”

They brought him out and led him to the chair. It was kind of far away, but he saw them and smiled a lit­tle. Joey smiled back, pure­ly by instinct. They put him in the chair and strapped him in, said some words, and pulled a big elab­o­rate switch, and he was dead.

“Well,” Chy­na said, “I guess that’s it.”

But Joey was cry­ing, hard. He didn’t know why and he didn’t know how to stop.

 

clbledsoe200x288CL Bled­soe is the author of five nov­els includ­ing the young adult nov­el Sun­light, the nov­els Last Stand in Zom­bi­etown and $7.50/hr + Curs­es; four poet­ry col­lec­tions: Rice­land, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short sto­ry col­lec­tion called Nam­ing the Ani­mals. A poet­ry chap­book, Good­bye to Noise, is avail­able online at www​.righthand​point​ing​.com/​b​l​e​d​soe. Anoth­er, The Man Who Killed Him­self in My Bath­room, is avail­able at http://​ten​page​spress​.word​press​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​0​8​/​0​1​/​t​h​e​-​m​a​n​-​w​h​o​-​k​i​l​l​e​d​-​h​i​m​s​e​l​f​-​i​n​-​m​y​-​b​a​t​h​r​o​o​m​-​b​y​-​c​l​-​b​l​e​d​s​oe/. He’s been nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize 10 times, had 2 sto­ries select­ed as Notable Sto­ries by Sto­ry South's Mil­lion Writ­ers Award and 2 oth­ers nom­i­nat­ed, and has been nom­i­nat­ed for Best of the Net twice. He’s also had a flash sto­ry select­ed for the long list of Wigleaf’s 50 Best Flash Sto­ries award. He blogs at Mur­der Your Dar­lings, http://​clbled​soe​.blogspot​.com.  Bled­soe reviews reg­u­lar­ly for Rain Taxi, Coal Hill Review, Prick of the Spin­dle, Mon­key Bicy­cle, Book Slut, The Hollins Crit­ic, The Arkansas Review, Amer­i­can Book Review, The Pedestal Mag­a­zine, and else­where. Bled­soe lives with his wife and daugh­ter in Mary­land.

 

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