Parade, fiction by Henry Hope

I can’t abide this shit. I can’t and I won’t.” Desmond, my mother’s new boyfriend, jabs his oily knob of a fin­ger into my fore­head. His breath is com­ing in rapid lit­tle spurts, a sign, I have learned, that his anger is one notch away from becom­ing phys­i­cal. “I don’t think you want me to hurt you but if that’s what it takes then that’s how it’ll be. Now put ever one of them tools back where they go and get your sor­ry ass out of here.” Desmond slams his hand on the work­bench. The sev­er­al pairs of pli­ers and screw­drivers I’d laid out jump off the par­ti­cle-board counter.

When I don’t move, Desmond steps in close. I can smell the scorched wheel-bear­ing grease spat­ter­ing his hands and fore­arms, feel the burn radi­at­ing from his shaved head.

Looky here, boy” he says. “When I tell you to do some­thing I mean it. Now get busy.”

I angle around him and reach for the near­est pair of pli­ers. He waits until I slip the sil­ver han­dles into their peg­board rings.

Soon as you’re done,” he says, “I need your help. So hur­ry it up.” With that he is gone.

I think of my moth­er while peg­ging the tools. Think how she is a lousy judge of men, always has been. My own father, before he died, was a drunk and a crook, always plot­ting how to get some­thing for noth­ing. Cheat, steal, con, it made no dif­fer­ence to him. He got shot dead nine years ago in the park­ing lot of the Rock­et Launch B&G. I was six years old. But as young as I was I had seen enough, had lived through enough of what he called dis­ci­pline to keep my dis­tance from him. I was glad he was gone, felt like who­ev­er done the shoot­ing done us a big favor.

I enjoyed the free­dom while it last­ed. Then the parade start­ed. Most of the men my moth­er brought home dis­ap­peared after a night or two. Some made it a cou­ple weeks. The only halfway good one she hooked up with was here four months before she got bored and ran him off. And now it’s back to the likes of Desmond.

If you were flesh and blood I’d shoot your ass,” I hear him yell. “Turn you into a human colan­der.”

I’m sure he’d like to shoot me, too. He’s said so. But right now I know his threats are direct­ed at his truck. It broke down yes­ter­day. The left front wheel locked up when he pulled out of the yard for a trip to Bil­ly Morrison’s place the oth­er side of Pomaria. He nev­er made it to Billy’s. Didn’t even make the hun­dred or so yards to Coun­ty Road 2 that runs past our sin­glewide.

I know he buys drugs from Bil­ly because he once told my moth­er, “Bil­ly got a new ship­ment of rox­ies in this morn­ing. I’ll stop by on my way home tonight and see what I can get from him.”

If pain pills and whiskey were a plan­et, you could look through a tele­scope and see sev­en­ty, eighty per­cent of the peo­ple who inhab­it this holler orbit­ing in its grav­i­ty. It has been this way as long as I remem­ber.

I slide the last screw­driv­er through its dou­ble-ring hold­er just as Desmond yells, “What the hell, Don­nie! Ain’t you done with them tools yet?”

When I step from the tool shed into the yard I see the coal-black soles of his Dr. Martens first, and then the rest of him sucked beneath the front axle of his Chevy. The tips of his boots are tap­ping emp­ty air like he’s keep­ing time with some drug-addled coun­try song play­ing in his head. The wheel is off, a dark cir­cle of rub­ber and met­al pros­trate on the cracked earth of our yard.

For a sin­gle blind­ing moment I want Desmond to feel the pain I feel when I have to pre­tend I’m asleep while he slaps my moth­er around in the next room. I want to ram a screw­driv­er through his fat, hairy chest, spit in his face, promise him he will die a slow death by my hand. It is then I see the jack han­dle jammed into the hous­ing. I notice there is no jack stand to take the Chevy’s weight should the jack fail. With one sol­id kick I could send Desmond on his way for good. Watch him squirm, stomp his help­less legs while the Chevy squeezes the final gasp­ing breath from his col­lapsed chest.

But then what? Déjà vu is what. The parade will com­mence all over again. So as much as I hate the man I’ll take my chances with him, and then the one after him, and the one after him. I can’t say when the parade will end or even if it will end. But what I can say is it makes me sick to be here and be a part of it. But that is the card I drew and until a bet­ter one comes along I’m stuck, just like Desmond if I trip his jack.

Desmond cocks a leg in my direc­tion. His greasy arm flops from the wheel well. “Hand me that sock­et set.” he says. “And make it quick. I don’t care to lay in this dirt no more than I have to.”

I walk to where the sock­et tray is spread open and slide it toward him with my bare foot, care­ful not to rush.

Dammit! Hur­ry it up!” he says, more of a grunt than actu­al words. “If I have to crawl out there and get it myself you can bet I’ll wrap you around that tire while I’m at it.” When the tray is close he snatch­es it, pulls it with­in easy reach.

While Desmond works I squat next to the truck, hop­ing the sock­et will slip, throw­ing his hand into the tie rod and rip­ping the skin from his knuck­les. No such luck. Across the yard, through the singlewide’s tiny bath­room win­dow, I see my moth­er hunched over the sink. She is hold­ing a washrag to her bruised cheek. I won­der how many bruis­es, how many black eyes, how many bro­ken bones she has had in her life. I won­der how many she will have yet. I hope for her sake it won’t be more than she can count on one hand. And as I wait for Desmond to call it a day, I hope for my sake I won’t have to be here much longer to serve wit­ness to it.

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