Saturday, June 19, 2004

Shooting A Dead Possum

Evelyn Victor was in the kitchen with a bad case of nerves. It was midnight and her husband Adam Victor was in the back yard, chasing a possum with an old police flashlight and a brand-new rifle. That stupid Irish setter was out there too, barking loudly and driving her crazy.

For more than a week now, she'd been taking medicine for a head cold, but not taking the medicine for her head. She was afraid of taking too many drugs at once, but now that she felt a little better, she wondered if she shouldn't start taking the anti-depressants again. Every so often she could hear Adam outside, cursing as he stumbled in the dark. She hoped that it was only tree-roots and not the children's toys.

"He gets so mad," she thought and lightly sucked her thumb. Somehow it was always her fault when the kids did something wrong. Evelyn glanced at the clock and sighed.

"Midnight is always my worst time," she told herself.

When the rest of the world had gone to sleep, she'd wake up so completely that she didn't know what to do. She was used to it, as she was used to so many things, but it looked as if tonight might be worse than usual. Her husband didn't stay up this late very often and the possum in the back yard was making him mad as hell, she was sure of it.

Evelyn started searching through the kitchen cabinets to see what was there. She'd decided to forget about Adam, the dog, and the possum. Maybe they'd all just go away. She reached into the cupboard and pulled out something that Adam had bought, some sort of expensive quick-fixer dish from Rice-a-Roni. Adam was always buying things like this for the new microwave, spending money to save time-he never listened when she insisted that they had more time than money. Evelyn's eyes skimmed quickly across the back of the box: in small black print it said, "CREAMY PARMESAN, HERBS, BASIL, LONG GRAIN RICE".

"Hmmm, sounds good," she admitted to herself.

"TRY IT WITH CHILDREN," the package said.

"No," she said, smiling to herself and looking up at the ceiling, "I don't think my children would like being served with long grain rice, thank you."

She shook her head and read it again. What it said was:


"Oh, well-that's a relief," she snickered. She decided she'd rather have eggs and sausages, anyway. Evelyn usually ate whenever she felt like it. She was extremely slim and never had to worry about eating too much.

"You're too skinny!" Adam complained, but she always shrugged. There wasn't anything she could do about it. Some of the people she'd met at the hospital told her that their medications made them gain weight, but it never happened to her.

"Powerful metabolism," she snickered to herself again, removing the sausages from the skillet. She then scrambled her eggs in the greasy pan, a habit that disgusted her husband and two sons.

"I don't fix your eggs this way," she told them mildly, "so don't bother me about mine. You don't have to eat it."

She sat down at the table and took a few fast bites. Outside she could hear the dog still barking and Adam saying something angrily to the dog. "That witless, worthless dog," Evelyn thought. It made her nervous. She went to the window and peered out, but couldn't see much. Only a patch of weedy ground which the dog kept semi-bare and dusty with his constant digging and fidgeting. Grass didn't have a chance in her yard, though the nutgrass did all right.

"I wish Adam would come in," she muttered. She sat back down and glanced at the Bible on the table; just before he went outside Adam had gotten it out, as he often did, to prove or disprove some damn thing, but she hadn't really been listening. She pulled it toward her now and it flopped open to where Adam had marked it in the book of Matthew.

"And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men."

"Horsefeathers," she said, pushing the Bible aside. His preoccupation with resurrection was morbid stuff, she felt. She slouched forward and stared idly, poking at the sausages with her fork, rolling them around on her plate as if inspecting them for some purpose other than eating. When she was a little girl, Evelyn's Aunt Heather used to tell her that her posture made her look like she was pouting.

"You shouldn't sit like that! You'll never get a husband that way, you know!"

But that was years ago. Now she was grown up and her Aunt Heather was dead, unable to tell her how much worse it looked on a woman of 26.

"I just hope I won't have to get involved with any of Adam's silliness tonight," she thought. What's more, she hoped that the possum would get away. For a moment she closed her eyes and clasped her hands in front of her as if saying a blessing over the food. Perhaps she was praying for the possum.

"Why can't he just leave it alone?" she asked herself aloud. "So what if it makes the dog bark? You can't kill everything that makes the dog bark!"

Suddenly, savagely, Evelyn speared a sausage, thrust it in her mouth, and laughed. She was picturing Adam stomping around out there as if he was some sort of intrepid woodsman.

"Drugstore cowboy is more like it," she thought. She looked pensive for a moment, then grew melancholy. "Glorified Wal-Mart shit-kicker," she sighed. She knew he'd never been hunting very much and suspected that if he'd ever killed anything, it was probably something like this-something foolish and demented in the dark.

"I just hope he doesn't shoot up the neighborhood," she thought. "We don't exactly live in the middle of nowhere. There's people all around us. The kids are asleep too, and God Knows they were hard enough to put down tonight." Just as she'd decided to think about something else, Adam came storming into the house and went past her in a rush, his eyes full of fury.

"What is it?" she asked, suddenly frightened.

"That goddamn animal!" Adam answered hoarsely over his shoulder and kept on going. From the hallway that led back into the bedrooms she heard him repeat, "That goddamn animal!"

Evelyn got up from the table quickly and followed him. She couldn't imagine what had happened. Had the possum bit off his finger? Had it killed the dog? She couldn't be sure, she didn't know much about possums or anything else around here, for that matter. She'd never understood why Adam had moved them to Vidor in the first place. To her, Vidor was a partly pleasant, partly awful place, half-in and half-out of the wilderness. She couldn't get used to that patch of deep woods immediately behind their house and felt as if the house itself would always remain strange to her. Part of the reason she felt that way was because Adam had bought the house without even asking her. He didn't even seem to realize how insulting that was. It was a new house that someone had built and then hadn't been able to afford to move into. She hadn't yet understood how they were going to afford it either, and it made her nervous. It made her nervous too that every pickup truck going past their house had a rack full of guns in it, but it just made Adam go out and buy a gun.

"It don't hurt to fit in," he'd told her.

Evelyn caught up with Adam as he turned the corner at the bathroom and went into the children's room. Their oldest son, Jasper, was six; the youngest, little Jimmie, was two and a half.

"Get up!" Adam whispered insistently as he knelt over Jasper. "Get up and come help daddy!"

"Oh, Christ!" Evelyn thought. "What a twisted son of a bitch!"

Adam liked to believe he had control of things, though where he'd gotten that idea, Evelyn could only guess.

"He seldom has control of anything!" she thought resentfully. "With the possible exception of me!" Evelyn had argued with him about his attitudes so many times now that his revenge-or his defense-had been to stop asking her for any goddamn help at all. It was all he could do at times to ask her to pass the salt.

"He's such a fussbudget," she thought. "He acts as if I'm the first person in the world to ever argue with him, but his sister Ruth has always fought with him. Of course, he can't hardly stand her!" Evelyn was extremely fond of Ruth.

Once, drinking tea at Evelyn's kitchen table, Ruth said, "He likes to make himself the head of the household in a fashion that he just won't admit is old-fashioned! He's too much like Daddy, I guess." Ruth paused, looking solemnly thoughtful for a moment, then laughed-a loud, clear, sudden laugh-and added, "And Daddy's a terrible old jerk! Lord knows I love him, but that's all there is to it!" Evelyn put her hand over her mouth and smiled. Sometimes she liked Ruth better than anyone else in the world.

"Hey, get up," Adam said, still shaking the child. Jasper woke up and whined that he was sleepy. Evelyn could hear the dog barking in the back yard.

"Oh, for God's sake, Adam, leave him alone and come on out of here. I'll help you."

Adam looked at her as if he'd only just noticed her. "I need someone to hold the flashlight," he said. He said it as if it was something that the boy could do, but that might be beyond her.

"Well, I can do that," she told him and walked toward the door. "Come on out and let the children sleep!"

Adam followed her, looking as if he were a bit dazed by the lights in the house. He'd been outside in the dark for a long time.

"All right," he said, "but hurry up."

Evelyn ran to her bedroom and pulled a pair of jeans on under her nightgown, then threw one of Adam's shirts on over everything. As she rushed to the kitchen and then out the back door, she realized that she should have just taken the nightgown off and gotten dressed.

"I probably look ridiculous," she told herself. "Well, no one will see me anyway at this time of the morning." Then she giggled, realizing that if that was true, she could just as well have gone out in her nightgown.

Her laughter was momentary however, for as she stepped into the darkness Adam suddenly appeared in front of her, said, "Here!" and thrust the flashlight toward her. She grabbed at it, but missed, and it struck her hard in the chest.

"Jesus," she grumbled, "my tits may be small, but you don't have to try to flatten 'em!"

"Huh?" Adam said distractedly.

"Nothing," Evelyn answered blandly. She knew better than to say such things out loud; sometimes she just did it anyway. "Hell, he's not listening, anyway," she thought. Of course, she couldn't be sure of it. He could be so mean sometimes.

Adam went on toward where the dog was barking, to all appearances having already forgotten that she'd spoken. When he did bother to listen, it upset him for her to talk like that. He thought it was all right for him, though. "They're the same damn words he uses in bed," she thought, "with his stupid face all red and his hands all over me!"

If she talked that way, though, he became sullen and tyrannical. She thought it was funny in a way, a sort of helpless way, and she wondered about it. It was as if the words had power over him in a way she never had. It made so little sense, she felt, in a man who liked to believe that he was always in control. In his view she had no power at all. Why then was he so squeamish when she used "those words"-words she'd learned, he said angrily, "from your trashy family and your goddamn trashy friends!"

He was awfully hard to live with. He didn't seem to know how to pull any punches. She loved him anyway, of course, though she couldn't explain why. Nobody'd paid her much attention until he did, that was part of it. And her family was sort of trashy, she thought. None of them seemed to know how to do anything, and she didn't either. Even if she didn't love him and if she had the guts to leave him, what could she do? She had no job skills. Maybe she could learn one, given time, but what would happen to her babies in the meanwhile? She'd never once threatened to leave Adam, but he always assumed she was on the verge of it. When they argued too long, he'd hit her in the face with it, smack out of the blue, threatening her with her own worst nightmare.

"You'd better watch out," he'd say. "If you try to get away from me, you'll have to leave your children too, you selfish bitch!" He knew just how to knock the breath out of her.

"What-what do you mean?" she'd gasp.

"I mean that nobody's going to award custody to you. You don't have a job. You can't even balance a checkbook. It's not your name on the credit cards! You were in the mental hospital just last year. They don't give custody or credit to mental patients, you know!"

No, she wanted to say, she didn't know! But that was part of the problem-she didn't know and didn't say. "It's crazy shit like this," she thought, "that starts all our worst arguments." Until he brought it up, their arguments were just regular fights, something that could be lived through, something you could get over. When Adam brought the children up, the stakes became more than she could play for. She tried to fight, but in the end she froze, she folded, she failed. Evelyn had never had many friends, but most of those she had insisted that she had to change things somehow.

"I really think you'd better get your name on the credit rating, dear," one of the ladies at church warned her.

Amy, a young mother she talked to sometimes while Adam and Jasper played miniature golf had whispered, "Get some kind of training so you can get a job. The only reason he can be so mean is because he knows that you're helpless."

Cathy, a patient she'd met at the hospital last year, had been exuberant about lawyers. "Get his balls in a vise and squeeze!" she'd said in a confidential tone. "That's what lawyers are for!"

Evelyn had thought that Cathy's talk was funny, but she hadn't been sure whether to show it or not. She was never sure how "natural" she was supposed to be with someone who was "crazy", even though she was crazy too. And surely this was too serious, anyway. Adam's sister Ruth had dropped by the hospital that day and Evelyn had tried to tell her about it.

"I don't know, but when you've decided you're crazy," Evelyn whispered, "it's hard to tell when you're acting crazy. I mean, almost everybody's a little bit crazy, so how do you know when you really are?"

"Maybe when they put you in here," Ruth answered gently, forcing a smile. She lit a cigarette and fidgeted, trying not to stare at the other patients in the day-room. She loved Evelyn, but she still couldn't get comfortable in these goddamn hospitals. All these people were so strange, including the doctors and staff!

"That's right," Evelyn said thoughtfully. "Only it was me that put me in here, not them, you know."

Evelyn felt she had no power or freedom except what Adam could be talked into letting her have. She wondered sometimes why he allowed her to go on seeing the shrink. In her worst moods she thought it was probably because he thought she really was crazy. He gave no signs though that he felt she could get any better and he didn't try to make her feel any better, yet he never actually discouraged her from going to the psychiatrist.

"Quit daydreaming," Adam shouted, "and hold the damn flashlight still! There, over in the corner!"

Evelyn moved the flashlight slowly. She didn't really want to see. She wasn't exactly afraid of the possum, she didn't know enough about them. But now that they'd found it, she figured Adam would feel compelled to kill it, and that frightened her.

"Hold the damn light still, Ev," Adam rumbled.

"Urrrr, don't call me that!" Evelyn said, grumbling to herself like a dog. She'd never liked pet names, but at the moment she was only trying to distract herself from what was about to happen. She wanted to close her eyes, but blinked a lot instead. In the glimpse she caught of the possum, it seemed like it was blinking too. It seemed like a long time to her before the rifle went off. Suddenly she jumped.


"Jesus! God!" she cried. The words jumped out of her throat.

"Goddamn it, hold the light still!" Adam snapped. "I can't see if I hit the damn thing or not."

He snatched the flashlight out of her hand and ran toward the corner of the fence. Evelyn felt dizzy, stepped back toward the fence, and let herself slump, thinking that the fence was close behind her. She was wrong, however, and felt herself keep going back, back, back. Her swoon ended in a hard thump in the dust of her one struggling flowerbed, two feet short of the fence.

"Damn," she said as she hastily rose and brushed herself off, "sometimes it wouldn't hurt to have a fatter ass!"

"I got it, I got it!" Adam hollered.

Evelyn felt depressed as she made her way across their new sparse lawn. Adam was standing now over a dark lump of something. Westmoreland, the big Irish setter, was yowling and running around the spot with frenzied energy. Adam was smiling like an idiot. Evelyn thought it was disgusting.

"Yuck," she said.

"What did you say, girl?" Adam said, giving her a hard look.

"I just said 'yuck'-you know, like the little kids say."

"Oh." Adam turned back to look at his big success.

"Jesus shit," Evelyn said, though very much under her breath. Sometimes Adam made her afraid to even breathe. She still didn't look at the dead possum, but stared instead at Westmoreland, idly thinking that while they were shooting things they ought to take care of the dog too.

"It-it's not dead," Adam said in a quiet voice.

"It looks dead to me," Evelyn said, forcing herself to look at it for the first time. Actually it didn't look like anything to her. It didn't look dead and it didn't look like it used to be alive either.

"I tell you it's not dead!"

Adam's egotism over killing the beast had begun to shrink before the notion that he might have to kill it again. The Irish setter continued racing around the possum in wild figure eights, yapping loudly and bumping against Adam's leg.

"That goddamn animal!" Adam exploded. Evelyn wasn't sure which animal he meant. Whatever he meant, Adam kicked the dog with all his might and the dog retreated to the other side of the yard in a trail of yelps.

Evelyn felt sorry for the dog at the same time that she hated it. She'd never cared for it. All the Irish setters she'd ever encountered had been somebody's house-pet, big bony balls of stringy flesh with too much energy and nowhere to expend it. She was vaguely aware that the breed was supposed to be used for hunting, and wondered if breeding them for sport had bred all the intelligence out of them. Certainly Westmoreland seemed stupid and incredibly high-strung to her, always knocking over furniture, running like sixty through barbed-wire fences, or bowling little Jimmie over and making him cry.

Adam shifted the rifle in his hand. Evelyn began to feel faint. She could not believe how long this was taking. Her heart sank and her pulse beat faster. Her nerves were completely shot. Just then her oldest son Jasper appeared at the screen door.

"Mommy, Mommy, what's that noise?!" he yelled.

"You woke up the children!" Evelyn said petulantly. "Hurry up and get this over with, Adam!"

Adam's head snapped around. His eyes were furious again, he looked like he wanted to spit at her. Her heart sank, if possible, even lower.

"This dumb mean bastard," she thought sullenly, gritting her teeth.

She turned in exasperation toward the screen door and yelled as softly as she could, "Dammit, Jasper, go back to bed! Everything is all right, just go back to bed, please!" Jasper opened the door and started coming toward her. She rushed toward the child, swept him up in her arms, and kissed him. "Come on now, sweetheart," she said, "I'm taking you back to bed."

"But what was that noise, Mommy?"

"It was just a big truck passing by, honey," she told him as she laid him back down on his bed, "and if it passes this way again, I want you to stay in bed, okay?"

"Okay," the boy said, yawning in the middle of the word. By the time she'd checked to make sure Jimmie was all right, Jasper was asleep again.

"Thank God for little favors," Evelyn whispered.

She didn't want to go back outside, but she knew she had to. She hoped that Adam would have dealt with things while she was gone, but when she got there she saw he hadn't done a damn thing. He was breathing heavily, staring at the possum and looking confused. Evelyn thought suddenly of some film she'd seen once, with John Wayne or somebody.

"Why don't you just knock it in the head with the butt of your gun?" she asked.

"This is a brand-new rifle," Adam said stubbornly. Apparently that explained everything, though it didn't mean anything to Evelyn.

In the dark, she squinted at the rifle's stock; she couldn't see it very well but she'd looked at it when Adam had bought it. It seemed foolishly ornamental to her. She wondered if the engraver meant to obscure or celebrate its true purpose with all those artistic flourishes.

"Then hit it with that long flashlight," she offered.

"No way," he said. "My uncle Martin gave me that. You know, the one who used to be with the highway patrol in Shreveport? He's retired now. It's high-grade aircraft aluminum, you know, really the best-."

"I don't care about that! What are we going to do?"

Adam gave her that hard look again. She wondered if his hatred was for her or for the possum that was or wasn't dead or for that son-of-a-bitch uncle who wasn't here to help them. Maybe he didn't know himself who his hatred was for. What difference did it make, anyway? This late at night, it didn't matter much to anyone, certainly not to her. If this went on much longer, she was going to shoot the damn possum herself. She'd rather shoot the dog than the possum-at least she had something against Westmoreland-but she knew that she probably wouldn't shoot anything. Still, she couldn't help thinking that probably it wouldn't hurt to shoot the possum, as long as she was sure it was really dead.

"Jesus, this is getting confusing," she thought. "If I have to be the one to shoot the possum, then I might as well shoot Adam too!" Evelyn was beginning to miss her medication.

"Hold the light," Adam said.

Yeah, sure, shithead, Evelyn thought. She wished she'd said it. She shone the light on the little creature, but didn't care to look right at it. She didn't want to be looking at it if it's brains and gore were going to be splattered all over the place. Adam seemed to be trying to find just the right stance. He hefted the rifle as if somehow it's weight or balance might have changed since he fired it a few minutes ago.

Evelyn felt nervous, but still she stubbornly wondered how a man could lose his nerve over shooting a dead possum? How could he want to do this so badly and yet not want to get it over with?

BAM! BAM! BAM! went the rifle.

"Ha!" went Adam.

"Rowf, rowf, rowf!" went the dog, as it rushed at full speed out of the darkness, bounced against Evelyn, and snapped noisily at the dead possum.

"Murdering Jesus!" screamed Evelyn, jumping back. Fortunately, Adam wasn't listening. In unthinking reflex, even as she was falling, she kicked the dog and hollered, "GET AWAY!"

"Ha!" Adam said again.

"What's the matter with him?" Evelyn wondered irritably and considered kicking that son of a bitch too. As she got up and stepped away, the dog made another scrambling kamikaze dash toward the corpse.

"A wonderfully brave dog!" Evelyn thought. It was snuffling at the dead possum, looking for its own proof of life or death.

"I hate Irish setters," Evelyn told herself, "I just hate them!" She thought about kicking Westmoreland again, but felt too guilty about kicking him the first time.

"Well, at least it's over now," Evelyn thought and sighed. Her relief gave her the courage to finally look at the dead possum, but there wasn't much to see. She'd expected it to look blown to bits, but the small still lump in the sparse grass looked pretty much as it had before to her. Maybe it was because the flashlight batteries had grown weak and she just couldn't see well enough.

"We've got to bury this thing, you know," Adam said, absent-mindedly patting Westmoreland on the head. For a moment she thought he meant the dog, and just for a moment it sounded like a good idea. Then she realized what he meant.

"You mean right now?"

"If we don't, the dog will get at it."

"Couldn't we just drag it in the garage and bury it in the morning?" she pled.

"It would stink."

"Oh." All her ideas were worthless.

"Go get some plastic garbage sacks," Adam said, "and some fresh batteries for the flashlight. And lock that damned Westmoreland up in the garage! He's driving me crazy."

"Pretty late to think of that," Evelyn mumbled as she led the dog away.

When she got back, Adam was digging a hole near the possum, but he wasn't making much progress-the ground was full of tree roots. Perhaps in daylight things would have been easier, but in the dark the earth seemed nearly impenetrable. Adam stopped digging for a few moments, slipped a bag over the possum, then held up the bag while Evelyn slipped a second bag over that. He put two twist-ties over the end of the bag, then went back to digging.

Evelyn shuddered, picked up the flashlight and held it for him. Jabbing again and again at the tree roots, Adam sweated profusely, which only reminded her how hot she was with all those clothes on. She longed to strip some of them off right there, but couldn't figure out how to do it while still holding the light. Besides, Adam was such a stickler for propriety; she didn't dare draw his attention to her odd costume. His insensibility was like a booby-trap; she never knew when she might step in it.

"Hold the light steady, willya," Adam said.

"Mmmm," she answered as if in agreement, but was actually thinking about bopping him on the head with the long flashlight. It was heavy enough, she thought. Maybe she could just dump him in the hole with the possum and-but no, she could see how much trouble it'd be to bury anything out here. Anyway, what would she do without him? She wasn't even sure if she was the beneficiary of his insurance policy. He might have left it to his parents; you can't trust a man who threatens to take your kids away from you.

"There's too much air in that bag," Adam told her. "You're going to have to squeeze it out if it's ever going to fit in this hole."

Squeeze the bag? Who, me?

"I can't do that," she said.

"Sure, you can," he said matter-of-factly. She hated it when he took that tone. It meant there was no arguing with him. It meant he had his head straight up his ass and it wasn't coming out again until he got his own way.

She loosened the top of the bag and began to squeeze it slowly. The first soft whoosh of air that came out carried an odor of death-or so she imagined-that nauseated her. As the bag got smaller and smaller, she decided that the smell was more familiar, more like that of the dog after it had been out rolling and tumbling in the woods behind the house. She felt the softness of the still body in the bag and dreaded to think what part of it she was touching. Somehow the little package looked smaller now that the animal had looked when it lay in the open.

"Do things get smaller when they die?" she wondered. She'd seen a rat last year in the garage of the house they used to live in and set a trap for it. When the trap caught it she'd been amazed at how much smaller it looked than when it had run past her. When she was still a little girl, her Aunt Heather had died and someone had made her look at the body in the coffin and Evelyn had thought her aunt looked deflated. For a long while after that she'd thought of being dead as having the air let out of you.

Adam stopped digging, tiredly and delicately pushed the deflated bag into the hole with his foot, and said, "Perfect fit!" Evelyn turned away in disgust and walked toward the house. Behind her the soft heavy earth was noisily being flung on the sack.

In the kitchen, the bright light seemed to stab her eyes; she turned on the small light over the stove and turned off the overhead lights. She looked at the plate she'd left unfinished earlier and thought about putting it in the microwave, but the gooey eggs somehow reminded her of the brain-matter that didn't splatter and she lost her appetite. She decided to take a shower instead.

"Now I know what eternity feels like," she thought as she headed for the bedroom, stripping off her jeans and shirt as she went. She stood in front of a small fan near the bed, gasping and letting the air cool her for a while before taking her shower. "God damn," she said tiredly. She paused in the act of lifting her nightgown over her head to let the fan blow on her chest.

She was standing there like that when her husband rushed in with another grievous look of agitation on his face. His mouth was open as if about to blurt out something important, but when he saw her he froze in the doorway. Evelyn froze too, the front of her nightgown bunched together between her breasts and neck. She felt exposed.

"This is crazy," she thought.

Adam's wide eyes had a clear view of her, but little clarity in his look. For a moment the two of them looked like a still photo from some implacable, inexplicable porno film. Adam's expression softened and his mouth opened wider and wider. Evelyn dropped the folds of her gown and gave him an impatient, quizzical look.

"He'd better not be thinking about sex," she thought.

He thought of it so seldom these days that she'd fallen out of the habit entirely. Maybe it was because she'd been "crazy" those months in the hospital and he'd become afraid of her and she hadn't ever bothered to straighten him out. She didn't care, it had been too big a relief to her.

"What is it?" she asked.

Adam was moving his mouth, yet saying nothing. Ordinarily he would have had some clear and extreme response to the sight of his wife's nakedness-either excitement or rancor-for he always had a neurotic interpretation of his wife's body, never an ordinary one.

"What is it?" Evelyn repeated.

"Uh-there's another possum out there," he said, his face turning red. He turned on his heels and immediately disappeared.

"Mysterious goddamn bastard, isn't he?" Evelyn muttered as she mulled over this new piece of information. Then, "Ha," she said, without emphasis, and started to smile very strangely. She sighed and went out after him, padding heavily, smiling more and more as she went. "This is too unreal," she thought. She wasn't sure if she could take it seriously any more.

Adam was in the side yard near the fence that separated them from their neighbors, Joe Bob and Aline Kisnet. He was slowly stalking something along the length of the fence. She came up close to him and spoke loudly.


Adam jumped.

"Jesus, don't do that!" he said in a hoarse voice. "Here, take the flashlight," he added.

Evelyn giggled and took the flashlight. Something rustled behind the viburnum bushes and Adam stiffened, taking aim at what he couldn't see.

"Wait a minute!" Evelyn said sharply, "You'll end up shooting into the Kisnets' house!"

Adam remained stiff. "Well, what do you propose?" he said coldly.

In the dim moonlight Evelyn could detect the sheen of perspiration glistening on his forehead. A large drop of sweat hung from the tip of his nose.

"He looks ridiculous," she thought. And yet it was exactly that look which made her realize that she had to take him seriously.

"Let me go around to the other side of the fence and see what's there, okay?" she said placatingly. She took a couple of steps, then turned and looked back. "But don't you dare shoot that gun while I'm over there!" Adam grunted. She assumed he was agreeing not to shoot her.

There was a place in the front yard where she could squeeze between two fence boards and get into the Kisnets' yard. As soon as she got through the boards, she tripped on a tree root and bumped loudly against the side of the house, right next to the Kisnets' bedroom window.

"Who's there?" a woman's voice asked querulously.

"It's just me, Aline-Evelyn from next door. I think there's a possum on the fence back there and I want to chase it away before my husband starts shooting at it again."

"Is that what I heard a little while ago? I thought I heard something."

"Yes ma'am. Is it all right if I go in your back yard?"

"Go ahead, dear," Mrs. Kisnet said sleepily, "but try to be quiet."

In the neighbors' back yard, everything became simple. She didn't need the flashlight to see the possum huddling on the fence near the viburnums. Perhaps, Evelyn thought, it was the other's mate. She felt sorry for it coming to such an unlucky place. She found a broom leaning against the Kisnets' utility building and poked the possum with it. At first the creature sank his teeth into the straw and pulled, but that only lasted a couple of seconds. Either because there was nothing to really bite or because Evelyn over-balanced it by turning loose of the broom, the possum turned, ran the length of the fence, then jumped down and disappeared into the dark woods behind the house.

When Evelyn got back to her own yard, Adam was still standing there, stiff and poised. The same or a similar drop of sweat dangled from his nose.

"He really does look stupid," she thought, then decided, "No, he looks like a demented squid." She didn't know what a squid looked like, but it sounded like what she meant. She was sure she wouldn't like a squid any better than she liked Adam right now. Ruth had been right-Adam was a jerk and that's all there was to it.

"What time is it anyway?" he asked.

"About two-thirty, I guess," she answered and started walking toward the house. As Adam followed along behind her, he stepped in the hole they'd buried the possum in and fell headlong across the lawn. There was a heavy thump, then silence. She turned around, wondering why he didn't start cussing about it like he did about everything else. Going closer, she saw that he was on his back now, making weird stifled sounds and incomprehensible gestures. The fall had knocked the breath out of him, that was all. In the darkness, Evelyn smiled broadly. She turned around and shone the light on the hole. It was empty now. No sign of the possum at all, only the torn, flattened bags lying on the ground.

"What is this?" she thought, shaking her head and scratching her hair vigorously with both hands. Was it some kind of weird goddamn possum epiphany or was she simply going nuts?

"Thank God, anyways!" she exclaimed, wiping her forehead.

She'd decided that she didn't care any more, she just didn't care. But why was she feeling like this, then, her heart pounding like sixty? She closed her eyes a moment and took a long deep breath, then headed toward the house. She moved quickly past the man sprawled as if dead in the sparse brown grass of their new lawn. She hated that dead lawn and she hated Adam and she thought there must be something she could do about it. Once inside the kitchen, she leaned back hard against the door and locked it.

"Oh, hell, it isn't over yet, though," she grinned wildly, then wondered what else there was to eat. Maybe she'd try that rice with Parmesan. There was a grumbling in her stomach and a terrible noise in her head. Maybe she'd just go to sleep.


4th draft: 06/18/04
©1988 Ronald C. Southern


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Joe Dan's Religion

"I think you're protected sometimes by the things you don't know," Eddie said.

"What in the world you mean by that?" Joe Dan Darden asked, brushing wildly at his face.

When Joe Dan got nervous or irritable, he had a habit of squinting and brushing at his bushy black eyebrows as if gnats had attacked him. Taken in congress with the rest of his appearance--short, stocky but muscular, close-cropped hair--he was an uneasy and far too serious semblance of one of the Three Stooges. Handsome Curly puffed up by steroids. Stoopid Curly hopped up on Jesus.

"I mean, like not havin' car insurance," Eddie said. "If you're drivin' 'round all day and you're not even thinking about it--you know, like you've totally forgot about insurance, whether you have any or not, and you're just thinking about ordinary stuff. Just takin' an ordinary attitude, ordinary precautions--then you're safer than if you remembered how you didn't have any, 'cause it'd make you nervous and you'd probably have a wreck."

"What'd make you nervous?" Joe Dan asked impatiently. The explanation had been too long and he'd lost track.

"Thinking about the responsibility, of course," Eddie grinned.

"Well, I sure don't see how an irresponsible guy like you'd ever be worrying about stuff like that," Joe Dan declared. "You ain't never worried about nothin' else you was supposed to!"

"Well, I used to worry," Eddie grinned. He paused and started to pull a small heavy item out from under his jacket, something wrapped tightly in a piece of old split leather.

"Durn," Joe Dan thought, "he's gonna show it to me again!"

"I show you my new gun yet?" Eddie asked, then shook his head and yawned. "Oh, yeah, yeah! Sure, I did."

"Yes, yes! And I told you you shouldna never brought it to work, too! Keep it out of sight, will you?"

"Yeah, sure. Uh, anyway, what I was talkin' about, I used to worry, you know, before I figured everything out."

"And just what did you figure out?" Joe Dan asked impatiently.

"That nothin' makes any fuckin' difference."

"This is absolutely not true!" Joe Dan yelled, his face red as a beet. "That is not true, boy, and you just better refigure that stuff!"

"What fuckin' difference does it make, then?" Eddie teased, deliberately placing his emphasis on what he knew Joe Dan would only refer to as the "F-word". He liked to upset Joe Dan. It was so easy. "I guess now you gonna tell me it makes some kinda difference to God, huh?"

"It certainly does, it certainly does!" Joe Dan spluttered, almost choking in his effort to get the words out as quickly as possible. His loose bridge did a little flip flap inside his mouth and he clapped his mouth shut fast to hold it in place. He breathed hard, thinking how his dentist's appointment wasn't for another two weeks.

"Jesus, don't spit on me, Joe Dan," Eddie snickered, pretending to wipe something off his face.

"I didn't!" Joe Dan said through clinched teeth.

"Don't get so excited. Anyways, lunch is over; I gotta get back to my crew. That ole nigger Hargraves gets seriously pissed off if I'm even half a minute late getting them started." He picked up his gun, tucked it under his arm, and started walking.

"Don't just walk away from me on this!" Joe Dan bellowed after him, his face contorted with frustration. "This stuff is important! This is your soul we're talking about!"

"That's what you're talkin' about," Eddie hollered back with a grin. "That's what you're always talkin' about! But just talkin' 'bout it don't mean a damn to me!"

Joe Dan wanted to rush after him and keep arguing, but decided he'd better not. Meanwhile, though Joe Dan was unaware of it, the superintendent, Dick Hargraves, was headed toward him in a hurry.

"Goddamn that boy, he's just bound for hell!" Joe Dan muttered. Every day he got more worried about Eddie. "I got to do somethin' to save him!"

"Are you a foreman or not, Joe Dan?" Hargraves hollered gruffly, still walking toward him.

Joe Dan didn't answer. A moment later the superintendent stopped in front of him, embarrassed by the trance Joe Dan was in. He always hated it when one of his employees was so plainly strange. He never knew how to handle it. He looked down and cleared his throat, pretending to clean something off his shoes by scraping it against a piece of angle iron. When he looked up again Joe Dan still wasn't snapping out of it.

"Damn Christian nit-wit!" Hargraves thought. "I go to church too, but I don't haul it to work with me like a sack of potatoes!" He reached over and gave Joe Dan a mild shove on the arm.

"Huh?" Joe Dan shook his head and looked around.

"Joe Dan Darden, you go on now, your crew's waitin'! Goddammit, they're all waiting for you!" he hollered, pointing toward a group of men on the far side of the yard. "C'mon, you wool-gathering about Jesus again or what?"

"Sorry," Joe Dan blushed.

He put his head down and headed for his crew. He was forty years old and sometimes still felt like a kid. He hated it when Hargraves got on his case like that. When he got his crew in the field, he handed them the shovels and stood over them, hounding them to dig faster while he did nothing but occasionally spit. After a while, he felt better about everything.


©2003 Ronald C. Southern