Sunday, June 23, 2013

To wet your appetites...An excerpt from "Old McDonald"



Gene stirred the boiling chili in the saucepan on the stove.  He watched as red bubbles bulged then popped, spitting tiny mists of steam and tomato sauce.  He pulled the pepper shaker from the spice rack, dabbed a few sprinkles in, then set it back while he stirred a bit more.  The hearty, homestyle smell drifted up and he closed his eyes to enjoy it.
He scooped up a ladle full and leaned in close for a taste test.  It was hot, too hot.  He burned his tongue, in fact, but the flavor was there all right.  Hoo-boy, was it.
Just like Deanne makes it, he thought to himself.  He looked up at the ceiling.  Their bedroom was directly above him where she was struggling to live, her breathing sounding more like a coal-powered train chugging along than anything else.  He lowered his gaze back to the chili, feeling helpless and not at all like the man he should have been, the man he promised her he would be thirty years ago, when they both said ‘I do’.  In sickness and in health was surely getting its money’s worth.
Gene took the saucepan off the burner and set it on an oven mitt to cool.  He brought the ladle to the sink and ran cold water over it.  As the water ran he looked out through the window above the faucet, peeking through the two-by-fours that barred those things from getting in.  Through the small slivers, he could see the barn across the farm, standing tall next to the tool shed beside it, both a bright crimson-blood color.  He’d spent the whole week after their honeymoon painting those pains in the ass.  The temperature had been in the hundreds, and true, he’d been sweating out water faster than he could drink it, but he did it by himself, and without so much as a jammed thumb or a red streak on his Levi’s.  When he used to look at them, those two horribly humble structures, early in the morning when he’d get up before the sun, before the roosters, to feed his animals, he’d felt pride.  Now, he felt a fear so powerful, so potent, it brought tears to his eyes.
It’d been a few days since he or anyone else had seen them, and to him, that felt all right.  Maybe they’d gone elsewhere.  Maybe they realized they didn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of getting in here, and they had an even smaller chance of getting him, or Deanne again.  But, as the lyric goes, sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you get what you don’t, and sometimes you get nothin’ at all.
He realized he’d begun to shake, his spine going cold with fright, and turned off the faucet.  He dried his hands on his overalls then grabbed a small bowl from the cabinet above the sink.  He scooped a generous helping into the bowl then walked into the living room where Scott and Lily Hayburn sat, cuddling in his recliner.  Scott held his quiet wife in his arms while she stared out into space.  Streaks of running mascara had traced lines down her cheeks, like some ridiculous gothic clown.  Her hair was greasy and hung in clumps down to her shoulders.  Scott’s face was caked with dried mud and blood, though Gene didn’t see any open cuts.  Scott kissed his wife’s head and rested his chin on her shoulder.  He squeezed her tight, but there was no reaction from her. 
“Chili’s ready.  You two can go ahead and help yourselves if you like, just clean up any messes you make and mind the noise,” Gene said, hobbling past them toward the staircase by the front door.  He couldn’t get around too well anymore, and mostly he tried not to mind it.  His legs ached a good deal of the time and he supposed he pocketed that from fifteen years of being a farm hand, then adding in another thirty years of running a farm of his own.  “Bowls are above the sink,” he added as he grabbed hold of the banister with one hand, trying not to spill the chili with the other.
   The couple didn’t move and Gene wasn’t sure, but he thought they might have flinched when he spoke.  
    The pair hadn’t said a word since he’d taken them in the morning before.  He hadn’t a clue what they’d been through, but if it was anything like what he’d seen, what had happened to him and Deanne, he imagined they didn’t much care to talk about it, and that, he figured, was all right.

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