An Interview with PunchRiot Magazine

A pop culture vigilante known colloquially as “The Samurai” was recently bribed to interview the grouchy, recalcitrant publisher of PunchRiot. The Samurai found the publisher uncooperative so he forced the publisher to submit to the interview at sword pointPunch Riot–a new literary rag supposedly launching in Spring 2020–aspires to be, in the words of its publisher and editor-in-chief, “the kind of literary shit that real men and the women who love them” are clamoring for. What follows is the result of that conversation. The Samurai’s questions appear in bold.

What is PunchRiot?

PunchRiot is the Lone Ranger of literary journals, minus Tonto.

What does that even mean?

What does the ocean mean?

Who is your target audience?

People with eyes.

Why do you discriminate against people without eyes?

They’re shitty at pub darts.

What sorts of things appear in PunchRiot?

Words. And some punctuation.

That’s it?

Sometimes drawings or doodles.

What are your editorial or publishing standards?

Whatever the Publisher likes.

Aren’t you the publisher?

Yes.

And who are you?

The publisher.

So what, then, do you like?

I know it when I see it.

Again, the “I’m so superior” thing just because you have eyes.

Was that a question?

You’ve got a real attitude there, Skippy.

Look who’s talking, Old Sport.

So this is just a website? With stories?

Phase 1 of this project will be a website for news and updates, and some samples and free content. The PunchRiot itself is a literary magazine that will only be available in PDF to subscribers behind a paywall that will also include exclusive author interviews and other related content. The magazine will contain original work by authors as well as some reprinted work from time to time. Some special issues that are topical or collected works of certain authors are planned. Phases 2 and 3 of this project will launch later this year, and in 2021 respectively.

Why would an author want to publish with you?

Because we pay them for first serial rights. And we’re fucking cool, like Tonto.

You said you were the “Lone Ranger of literary magazines,” not the Tonto of literary magazines.

What’re you, racist?

How often will The PunchRiot be published?

As often as possible. Ideally, weekly, unless the submissions are crap or we don’t get any.

What will you do in that case?

Write it all myself.

So your writing isn’t crap?

Maybe, but I’d rather smell my own.

How much does it cost?

Monthly subscriptions begin at $7.77/month.

Why $7.77?

I was joking.

So how much really?

$6.66/month.

Six-six-six? Seriously?

No.

Editor’s note: Our staff found the publisher alone and unconscious on the floor of his office with a bump on his head and the small recorder containing  the interview conducted by The Samurai intact and still running. The publisher remembers nothing that happened after answering that last question, and it remains unclear whether he was struck by The Samurai or perhaps hit his head on the corner of the desk. Nevertheless, the police were called and a report filed, but the publisher declined to press charges. 

Regardless, The Samurai has not been seen near our offices since that day.

~ Finis ~

 

Interview with a Samurai

To my surprise, the man known popularly as The Samurai responded to the full-page ad this reporter took out in various newspapers and online discussion forums about his mysterious appearances and violent behavior. Through the use of anonymous email addresses and burner phones I agreed to fly to a meeting place specified by him. I can only say that it was in the continental United States per our agreement to keep the location undisclosed.

The dark, empty warehouse smelled of metal and oil and was nearly the length of a football field as near as I could tell. I sat on a folding chair at a card table at one end of the building facing the other end as instructed. Daylight peeked in under various-sized doors at the far end. Two battery-powered desk lamps on the table top provided the only other light, barely illuminating my two pens and notebook that occupied the space between them.

The sound which I first assumed was wind funneled through a crack in the building causing some loose metal or weatherstripping to vibrate grew louder until I recognized it was the high-pitched hum of a well-tuned motorcycle engine drawing closer. The sound of the automatic loading door replaced the increasingly infamous Kawasaki engine and as the door raised it revealed the man astride his motorcycle just outside the door, facing me, the daylight at his back and the darkness inside the warehouse cloaking him in shadows from the front.

The Samurai had arrived.

I could barely make out the sound of the engine idling. Once his head cleared the clanking door, the engine whined a little louder and he began rolling toward me, covering the long distance quickly. He maneuvered the motorcycle so that it was facing me broadside, then removed his helmet and swung his leg over the seat in order to turn and sit facing me. In the weak glow of the desk lamps I could see that he was taller than I expected, with minimal but precise dark facial hair of some indistinguishable style and a strong jawline. He smelled like french fries.

What follows is a literal transcription of our dialogue.

Samurai (S): QUICKLY. MUST PICKUP AT CARPOOL.

Interviewer (I): Seriously?

S: QUESTIONS!

I: Why a Samurai?

S: NOT SAMURAI! MOTOCROSS! STUPID!

I: But your outfit. Your katanas.

S: FUCKTARD! MOTOCROSS!

I: What is your first name?

S: SAM.

I: Well that doesn’t help much, does it?

S: PEOPLE SUNNING ASSHOLES! PEOPLE LOSING SPIRIT OF THE MONKEY!

I: What does that even mean?

S: LIVE IN THE TREETOPS! FIGHT ON THE GROUND!

Ed. Note: He laughed for some time as though this were a private joke.

I: What kind of accent is that? It doesn’t sound Asian.

S: MY ACCENT? YOU HAVE THE ACCENT.

I: You were first spotted in Austin, Texas. Are you from Texas?

S: NO.

I: Then may I ask where you are from?

Ed. note: Sam hesitated for several seconds here.

S: EAST.

I: Asia?

S: ASIA? HATTERAS. RETARD!

I: You are very skilled on a motorcycle.

S: DISCIPLINE. HONOR. COURAGE.

I: Have you ever competed in motocross or X Games, anything like that?

S: NEXT QUESTIONS!

I: So, if I may ask, people have called you a menace, a bully, and a threat to public safety because of all of these unprovoked assaults. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you sending a message?

S: ALL PROVOKED. JUSTICE!

I: Well these were people, including women, you sought out and attacked and–

S: JUSTICE!

I: Well who made you judge and jury over the rest of us?

S: INTERVIEW IS OVER. FLIGHT TO CATCH.

I: Didn’t you say you had to pickup at a carpool?

S: NO CARPOOL! DOCTOR APPOINTMENT.

I: You have to fly to a doctor’s appointment?

Ed. Note: At this point, my cell phone in my jacket pocket began ringing. I had honestly forgot it was there, and leaving the phone in the car had been one of the terms of our interview.

S: VIOLATION!

I: I am very sorry. I forgo–

S: CONSEQUENCES.

I: But–

S: CONSEQUENCES!

The last thing this reporter remembers is the smell of linseed oil as he pulled a wooden sword from behind him and swung it across the table with smooth, deliberate force, knocking the lamps to the floor. At that point, everything went black. I awoke on the floor minutes later, alone in the empty warehouse, a bruise on the side of my head. Whether he struck me after the lamps, or whether I got the bruise by falling over or some other way, I still don’t know.

While his sudden appearances across the country continued, he never responded to my numerous requests for an interview again.

###

Kids Are Resilient

“But I don’t want to go see Daddy,” the 6-year-old girl in pigtails and Hello Kitty swimsuit said to her mother. “I’m scared.”

“I know sweetie,” her mother, a woman named Amy, told her. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, and daddy still loves you. He’ll be waiting for you at his pool. Now go back to the girl’s locker room and get dressed for the trip.”

The girl turned and walked back toward the pool clubhouse, sobbing.

“Poor dear,” said one of the other women sunning herself.

“Tell me about it,” said Amy. “He’s such an idiot. I don’t blame her for not wanting to see him. Not like this one,” she said, indicating a tall muscular man walking toward the fence as she picked up one of several glass pitchers full of iced tea and began pouring some into a red plastic cup.

The group of women in their thirties and forties sat around a large table under an umbrella at the neighborhood pool talking and laughing while selected songs popular in the early 2000s played softly over the pool’s sound system. Most of the women were fit and wearing flattering bikinis with sheer wraps around their waists and large white and pink hats with wide, floppy brims. They occasionally answered questions shouted by the kids in the pool or shouted instructions to them. They also frequently turned to look out on the playground outside the pool’s safety fence where their husbands and boyfriends surrounded by open toolboxes worked on some kind of large see-saw on the playground. Occasionally, one of the men would break off and walk over to the fence where one of the women would pour him some tea.

“Got any beer in there?” the man asked with a smile as he waited for Amy to finish pouring.

“Oh you just hush, Jack Allenby!” his wife scolded as she passed him the cup over the fence. “You know the pool rules.”

“Then how about taking your top off?” he said with a playful leer.

“You’re horrible!” she said, laughing in mock outrage.

“Newlyweds!” one of the other women said. “Sickening!” she continued with mock disgust.

“Hey, watch this!” a young boy shouted from the diving board. Amy, Jack, and all of the adults turned to look as he took a few steps and bounced hard on the end of the board which flexed deeply under his weight before tossing him high the air over the deep end of the pool. The boy successfully performed a full if somewhat awkward flip and entered the water feet-first.

“Nice!”, “Atta boy” came shouts from the playground. The women all clapped enthusiastically.

“That was awesome, Joey,” his mother shouted. “Your best yet. Keep practicing for when it really counts!”

The young boy beamed and gave a thumbs up sign before diving under the water. The women laughed uneasily.

“What a great kid,” one of the other moms said. “I sure wish my Zane had his work ethic.”

Jack tilted the cup and swallowed the last of the tea. He handed the cup back over the fence to his wife as the moms grew silent.

“How is Zane doing, Janelle?” Jack asked. “I guess I need to get back up to Children’s Hospital to see him.”

“Oh he’d love that,” Janelle replied. “He’s got a few more days in traction, then on to physical therapy. But at least he’ll get to come home.”

Jack smiled and nodded before walking back to work on the playground equipment.

The moms likewise agreed amongst themselves that that was a good thing, and they all smiled reassuringly. All but one, that is. That mother wore a lacy green one-pice swimsuit and had her natural Auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail under a large straw sunhat sporting a pink hibiscus flower. She stared at the children in the pool uneasily and sipped from a plastic tube protruding from a large insulated bottle. Everyone knew there was white wine in the bottle. They knew because each of them had often used the same trick.

“It’s going to be fine, Miranda,” Amy called to her.

Miranda’s head rolled slightly from side to side as she nodded silently.

Just then the cell phone on the faux-thatch lounge chair lit up and began vibrating. Miranda’s hand trembled as she picked it up and accepted the call. She held the phone to her ear.

She turned toward the other women. The men on the playground had stopped working and were looking in her direction. “It’s Jimmy’s dad,” she said, her face ashen and devoid of expression. “Jimmy’s coming home.”

“Out of the pool, kids!” Amy yelled. “Jimmy’s coming home! Let’s get ready!”

The kids climbed out of the pool and ran into the clubhouse where they all lined up shoulder to shoulder at the glass wall overlooking the pool and looked up in the direction their parents and parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends were looking.

The children began shouting and cheering as the object came into view, descending quickly from the air, a gray bundle that suddenly dropped and skidded across the diving board, slamming into the fence. Miranda screamed and vomited in her chair, her body shaking. The women rushed to her as the children poured out of the clubhouse racing for the pool area where the men were also rushing to the motionless bundle.

The boy lay crumpled against the fence, the helmet and full face mask he was wearing cracked in several places, and the thick, padded suit torn and bloody.

“He’s unconscious,” one of the men announced. “Broken leg, possibly wrist. Looks like he lost a couple of teeth.”

The women consoled Miranda. “It could have been much worse,” Amy said reassuringly, but Miranda couldn’t hear her. She had picked up the phone and was screaming at her ex-husband. Amy tried to take the phone away from her when Jack walked over and put his arms around his wife and pulled her to the side.

“Catapult’s ready,” he told her. “It’s time for Hailey to go see her dad.”

Amy stiffened. She watched the men carry the little girl to the catapult as the men took turns cranking the tension wheel. Wrapped in what they were calling the “travel outfit”, the little girl’s sobs were muffled by the thick helmet. A small trickle of urine trickled from under the thickly padded pants leg onto the dirt under the catapult.

“Hey, the cuff isn’t tucked,” one of the men pointed out when he saw the drops of urine hitting the dirt. The oversight was quickly corrected and they positioned the trembling girl in the thickly padded suit carefully on the seat. It was an unspoken relief that the suit was so thick that it muffled the sounds the kids made from inside and similarly made it difficult to detect the children’s movements.

Quickly and silently, Jack Allenby nodded to the other men, and when they all looked down at the girl he struck the tension lock with a sledgehammer. The arm snapped forward flinging the girl in a high arc in the direction of her father’s house nearby, her muffled screaming decreasing as she gained elevation. Her mother, Amy, buried her face in her hands and sobbed for as much as a minute until her own phone began to ring.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Reunion

When Rod arrived at the country club where his twenty-fifth high school reunion was taking place, the party was on the verge of winding down. His showing up more than fashionably late with a woman just ten years older than they had been when they graduated in 1984 seemed to focus everyone’s attention on the attractive couple. That–combined with the fact that no one had really seen or heard from him since then–drew many pairs of bloodshot eyes framed with drooping lids above and loose, sagging bags below in his direction.

“Rex returns!” shouted a portly man in blue seersucker jacket and pants paired with a  pink golf shirt. He rushed over to greet Rod and his date.

Rod smiled down at him and shook his hand. “Indeed,” he said. “How are you, Chas?”

“You know me,” Chas replied, drunkenly mumbling and slurring his words. “Chash-tashtic as always!”

Rod smiled warmly at his old friend. Chas was sweating so hard it had soaked his shirt and was even coming through the thin seersucker. “This is Lara,” he said, introducing his companion who exchanged a handshake and pleasantries Chas.

“So what’s with this ‘Rex’ business?” Lara, a petite, girlish blonde with vivid blue eyes asked. “Something I should know about?”

“Oh I’m sure you know!” Chas exclaimed. He winked at the couple. “I gave him that nickname even though hish real name shays it all.” He winked again although it may have been an involuntary reaction to the sweat dripping off his brow and running into his eyes. “King of all swordsmen with the king of swords, Rex. How is ol’ Rex these days, podna?”

“Easy there, bud,” Rod said, followed by a stern chuckle. “Time and place was never your forté.”

Lara giggled just as a short, stocky brunette woman walked up, seemingly mesmerized by Rod’s presence.

“You remember my wife, Shally, right, Rod?” he asked in a more threatening and demanding tone. “I’m sure you do.”

“Of course,” replied Rod. “Although I didn’t know you two were married. Congratulations.”

Sally stared at Rob and seemed to say “Hello” shyly, but he didn’t see her mouth move.

Lara noticed it, too. “How did you do that?” she asked, but Sally just stared and smiled. Suddenly a stream of words, much louder now, began pouring forth from Sally’s direction yet her mouth remained closed and still.

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote…”

“Great!” shouted Chas as a crowd began to form. “Just fucking great!”

“That’s the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales!” someone shouted. “We had to memorize it in tenth grade!”

“…and bathed every veyne in swich licour…” continued the recitation from between Sally’s legs.

“Is that coming from her, her…nether regions?” a thin woman with leathery skin asked politely.

“Oh yeah,” Chas exclaimed. “King over there gave her a ride home one night in tenth grade when I had to go help pull my brother’s truck out of a mud hole.”

“Bethany? Bethany Summerlin?” Rod asked the thin woman. “That you?”

She smiled. “Hello, Rodney,” she said. “It’s Taylor now. You remember Seth Taylor?”

“Sure I do,” Rod replied. “I–”

But he stopped in mid-sentence as Bethany shuddered. Her body shook as they all began hearing a loud and energetic rendition of the Cyndi Lauper song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” coming from below Bethany.’s waistline As with Sally, she was just smiling and staring.

What seemed at first like random murmurs spreading across the banquet hall slowly grew louder. Rod and Lara looked around the room. Most of the men in the room–who also happened to be married to most of the women–stood speechless, their mouths ajar and jaws dropping as their wives smiled at Rod while their vaginas delivered performances of fight songs, school assignments, and what sounded like the emphatic observations and exclamations of NASCAR commentators.

“That’s the 1984 Iron Bowl! Our senior year!” one man shouted at his wife, a fit, fake redhead with large plastic tits. “We started dating when we were juniors!”

Another man heard “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Cleveland blaring loudly from his wife’s genitalia and simply wept. “That was our song,” he said to her plaintively, mournfully, his face twisted in abject misery. “My God! We played that at our wedding!”

A few men, sobbing deeply, walked over to the bar and started drinking, tossing back shots of whatever was close, their shoulders slumped, heads down as they poured one shot after another. Enraged, the rest screamed at their wives before turning en masse like a school of fish or a flock of birds and advancing on Rod and Lara.

Running for their lives, Rod and Lara squeezed past the ornately furnished tables and pushed through the double doors of the grand entryway and sprinted for Rod’s Audi, running for their lives with the mob of his former classmates, wild-eyed and howling like coyotes, just steps away. Rod hit the ignition and stomped the gas pedal as the back window was smashed and chunks of safety glass the size of pea gravel tumbled into the back seat. Rod steered the car directly across the flower bed in front of him and over the curb, taking the quickest route directly up the street quickly increasing the distance between them and the crazed pack of screaming cuckolds.

“You fucked them all in high school then?” Lara asked as gunshots echoed far behind them. “All those women? All of them?”

Rod checked the rearview mirror and shrugged. “The pussy never forgets,” he said as they sped away into the night.

###

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2024

I left town after the divorce, intending to make it back one day, but the boy stayed deployed most of the year, every year, and the girl married her college boyfriend right after graduation. He is a successful college basketball coach and they moved every few years as he kept winning and better job offers came in. So the 442 and I got to see most of the country together and alone.

It wasn’t my first choice for later life, but it sure as hell hasn’t been a bad second choice. Use your imagination.

Now I’m meeting the boy in Atlanta, at the airport. He’s done operating. We’re going to spend the night and then road trip up to Boston where my daughter and son-in-law just brought my third grandson into the world. My ex moved there so I might run into her. Haven’t seen her since the last birth. She started gaining weight and I think drinking a lot after the divorce and probably hasn’t stopped. It’s impossible not to care because who she is and what she does impacts the kids, same as I do.

People are pouring off that steep escalator between the two baggage claims but I see him immediately. He walks with purpose and no presumption and the crowd just parts for him. The truth is that I’m just glad he’s alive because he and his sister are my favorite people.

We hug and walk to the parking deck. I pull the key fob and hit the unlock button, and the car beeps. My son smiles, pulls that old suicide knob out of his pocket and holds it up.

“This thing has seen four continents,” he says.

I laugh. “Can’t believe you didn’t just bury it in the sandbox.”

“Thought about it,” he says and hands it to me.

“No,” I say. “It’s yours. Do what you want with it.”

He says, “Are you sure?” I say I definitely am and he closes it in his fist, shoves it in his pocket. He’s looking around for the 442.

“Here,” I say as I open the tailgate of a big black Yukon and take his bag.

“What the fuck?” he asks. “Where’s the Olds?”

“In your pocket,” I tell him as I toss his bag in. “Sold the rest to a doctor last year.”

“Well holy shit,” he says. “Holy fucking shit.”

Two days later we stop off in the District of Columbia for a couple days to take a driving break and to see some of his operator buddies. On our last night there we go for dinner at a crab house restaurant in Virginia on the Potomac. We stand out on the deck with drinks and look at the water while waiting for our table. Without saying a word he pulls that silver skull from his pocket and holds it up. We both smile as he chunks it high and far out over the river and watch it fall.

###

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2014

My daughter’s bare feet rest on the seat back between my son who’s driving and me riding shotgun. It’s a Tuesday in early Fall and the interstate south of Montgomery is wide open, practically deserted. I sip my water and watch the trees that border the roadway reflect in the glossy clear coat on the midnight blue hood of the 442, painted after almost thirty years when my son turned sixteen. The boy drove it for eighteen months until he’d saved enough at his various jobs to buy the truck he’d always wanted and have it lifted and modified proper. He just enlisted, intent on becoming a Ranger so he wanted to be the one driving down to the gulf for this long weekend before he has to report. The girl never wanted to drive it but made me teach her how the Hurst shifter works.

“Just in case,” she had said.

“In case of what?” I asked, laughing.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I just want to know how it works.”

But she didn’t care about how it worked. She wanted to know how I work, wanted to know me and how my son knows me.

We cut the music off south of Birmingham and put the windows down to catch some airflow. It’s still just warm enough and the moving air whips through making talking difficult, which is fine. We said all we had to say for now the first hour and a half and talked ourselves out. My phone beeps and I check it. Email. Wife’s lawyer finally sent the divorce papers. My son hits my shoulder and I look up. I’m keeping this down. Can he see it in my fucking posture?

“Read that shit later,” he said. “We got nothing but time.”

My heart is broken for these kids. They’d made it through some bad years with the wife and assumed nothing but blue skies ahead. For some reason, I had, too, but the family is gone, exploded. I hate that they’ve lost that. That we’ve all lost that. What most people don’t understand is that when a family fails, over the long run there is usually no “better” solution. There is simply swapping one set of difficulties for another and it changes everything. But the world doesn’t quit spinning out of spite or pity. It keeps pushing the future at you. If my daughter sees me the least bit shaky, she bursts into tears which only breaks my heart more. A vicious circle.

My wife thinks the boy enlisted as some kind of reaction or something. She doesn’t know he’d been talking to me about it for a year and had asked me to keep it between us for now. Not sure why he hasn’t told her the truth. He’s a good boy, ready to conquer the world. Just out of high school and doesn’t really know the real education is just beginning.

My daughter just wants to finish school. This should be her final year if she keeps the momentum going. Dean’s list, all that. The boys she’s brought home every now and then have said and done all the right things. The ones she’s brought home. She talks to me about some of them but I don’t know what I don’t know. Not sure I want to know and pretty sure I’ll never know. But I am happy she’s in the Olds with us, her red, white, and blue toenail polish upon on the seat next to my son on his way to basic in a few weeks. It’s a memory I immediately know is one I will have as long as I have a memory, and I put the phone in the glove box and settle back into the seat, thinking about flags and family as the warm air flows through the car and I drift off to sleep.

When I wake up the air is salty. I sit up and see we are winding down the peninsula to our neighbor’s beach house. That neighbor couple is older than me. The boy and I have always helped them out with their vehicles and big projects, and they’ve always given us some time at the beach. They have the oldest house on the beach, almost a shack, really, compared to all of the new construction, but we’ve helped them keep it up as well.

We keep fishing gear there and the gulf always feeds us. Whiting. Pompano. The occasional flounder. We’ve been coming here near twenty years, but never without her until now.

“Some things never change,” my son says as he pulls into the slanted driveway and makes the tricky move in tight space to roll perfectly into the parking space under the porch on stilts. I watch him expertly turn the wheel and guide it back. We all get out and they start unloading the trunk. I take a deep breath and just watch.

I marvel at the both of them. I know I’ve accomplished something here but I’m not sure what anymore. I know that will change, that my compass is just spinning right now. For now, we’re together, the three of us, and that’s enough. I’ve kept them together all these years and kept the Olds together, too, and they all three look good. Everything looks good except that old, chipped suicide knob.

That old thing is starting to look out of place.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2004

The boy pushes the wrench to me. I tell him to quit scraping it on the concrete and I reach out from under the 442 to take it. It’s the wrong one, but he’s eight. I make like I’m using it for something important then push it back out. I turn my head and see him crouch down to pick it up then a loud clank as he drops it in the toolbox. Someday when this car is his I’ll tell him he was made in the back seat on a moonlit night while his sister slept in the house. I’ll leave out the part where we were listening to her on the baby monitor while we did it. He wouldn’t understand.

His sister is eleven now and can’t decide whether she wants to work on cars with me or get manicures with her mom. She’s been sticking with mom more lately. Her brother tells her girls aren’t supposed to work on cars.

I keep it to myself but I feel better when the girl chooses manicures. There’s been something off with her mom so at least I know when my daughter is with her I figure she can’t be up to something. I think that, anyway. My cousin’s wife used to carry their kids up to church and sign them in to mother’s day out then go fuck the music minister. But too many bills to pay for me to worry and it’s not like I haven’t had my side pieces though it’s been a while. I got these kids and jobs and life and who has time and energy for one woman much less others you have to keep happy and secret. The sometimes one-bang waitress is enough.

“We should paint the car blue,” the boy says. I can hear him spinning the ratchet. I can’t see him but one of his favorite weekend habits is holding it by a deep plug socket and then spinning the handle. Once he wasn’t paying attention and the handle popped him on the cheekbone. He looked stunned until I laughed at him. Then he laughed too and I sent him inside to get me a fresh beer but he never came out with the beer. Mama saw his swelled up cheek and kept him inside, babied him.

Blue would work. Or black. Silver or dark gray. Saw in the paper where General Motors is shutting down Oldsmobile this month after a hundred something years, put out of business by imports and younger generations who’ve never felt the power and glory of a properly tuned V8 and four-barrel carb, never seen a bench seat. Dipshits who think they’re saving the planet by driving a beefed-up lawn mower. Shits turning crazy and even with all my time in this life these jackasses act like I’m the one who doesn’t belong. Just an old fuck with an old car.

Once I got her out from under the tarp and running proper again I took her down the highway and opened her up good way out in the county. Sure blew some carbon off the pistons that day. Made those glasspacks roar like Godzilla singing bass in a shape note choir.

Sheriff’s car had passed me going the other way and never even turned. Probably an old-school hell raiser just glad to hear a real motor for a change. Damn good for me too cause I had beer in the cooler and one between my legs. State trooper would’ve nailed my ass.

I slide out. The boy is waiting by the driver’s door. When he was five he tried to climb up into the car while it was up on ramps and I was still underneath. I got mighty hot with him over that, more than I should’ve, but I don’t fancy gettin’ crushed. We both been patient ever since.

“You good?” he asks me. I look over and nod and he climbs in, sits forward as far as he can, one hand tight on the Hurst shifter, one twisting the suicide knob. The boy gets that serious look on his face and I smile at him. He sees me and grins back, both the kid and the worn silver skull, still grinning like the love child of Terminator and Dirty Harry.

Sometimes I catch him picking at the flaking chrome.

###

 

Suicide Knob, 1994

The Olds has been tarped a while. Never did paint it.

Sometimes I flip the tarp and sit behind the wheel, one leg outside, my foot on the dirt, and race my after-dinner beers to that line between lukewarm and still cold while she puts the baby down.

The baby. That smell sends a shiver down my spine. She’s a brand new start, one of the only fresh starts there ever was, real and true. I know I would do anything for her but when she looks up at me I hear a loose screen door slapping its frame during a summer storm, and I’m already crushed by all the ways she will hurt.

I drink my warming beer. Moonlight paints the hood to where I peeled the tarp back and shines on the suicide knob, that old cheap chrome skull that grins at me like Dirty Harry, flecks of dried blood still in one eye socket when I got rear-ended and busted my head, broke my tooth after I dropped her off one night on my way to see another girl.

She shows up in one of my undershirts and her flip-flops, nothing else, holding the baby monitor loosely by the antenna like she could drop it any second and run away. She sits on my outside leg, the shirt rising high up those softening thighs as she puts her head on my shoulder, drops the monitor on the seat, squirms on my leg and confirms she’s not wearing any panties.

“Dishwasher’s broke,” she says in her going to sleep voice just as I’m telling myself I’m gonna finish this beer and fuck her good and paint this vehicle proper soon and see my little girl down the aisle one day but I don’t move, don’t even lift the beer.

Her nipples are hard and now so am I. We listen to those small, deep breaths crackling in the monitor. Love and time have nothing to do with each other except in liking to kill the other off but this ain’t hard.

She cooks good and never tells me no.

###

 

Suicide Knob, 1984

1
Gray bondo 442 rushing 
windows down, tiny
twisters rustling notebooksloose paper swirling
flying at us like messages we can’t understand,
baptized by the sweet and sour always smell of
honeysuckle and smokestacks, always on the breeze,
our second skin someday shed.
2
A tidy brick ranch with
sagging gutters and cracked roof tiles–
well-lit
well past curfew,
a single chainsmoker
behind sagging mini-blinds
watches the street, the bloated figure
striped and segmented, rings on
a scarred, split tree.
3
Slender, glistening cheesecake thighs
stick to black vinyl. She
crushes into my shoulder
at fifty-seven miles per hour,
like I’m a magnet that will keep her
from flying out the window at any speed.
4
Who knows the lost glory of bench seat handjobs
on an open road
at night?
5
Van Halen “Eruption” live,
always live while
glass packs add crazy percussive bass.
I listen. I marvel.
We see each other more clearly than we see ourselves.
6
One sweaty hand high up her thigh,
one on that silver skull, that suicide knob slick with sweat,
fingering both as it were the first time and last time looking
everything and nothing right in the eye.
###

The Coach: Bath Talk Therapy

Trent and Mrs. Trent lay at opposite ends of the deep, wide soaking tub, the scent of lavender and vanilla bubble bath encompassing them and the mounds of bubbles. Trent’s eyes were wide open while Mrs. Trent lay back, lower in the water, the back of her head resting on a thick towel on the edge of the tub.

The marriage had been rocky from the beginning and their tribe suggested they discuss their problems in the tub surrounded by candles and gradually move the conversation from talking out their grievances to flirty, sexual talk. Just as she was beginning to call him a fucking dork and he was going to ask her where her mind had been, Trent realized he had to take charge here and lead his wife, so he started talking a little shit to get her in the mood.

“Uh, say that again?” Mrs. Trent said as she flicked at a mound of bubbles floating on the surface with her toe.

“I’m in this, baby,” Trent replied. “Whatever happens, happens.”

“Mmm,” Mrs. Trent responded. “Such a bad boy,” she said.

“The baddest, baby,” he said. “And our family is the baddest, too.”

“Ahhh,” moaned Mrs. Trent. “Yessssss.”

Trent could see her pelvis gyrating somewhat beneath the water as the mounds of bubbles seemed to grow larger and thicker. Something seemed off to him. He didn’t expect her to be moaning like that until he started the dirty talk.

A bubble popped on the surface of the tub and released a voice that said, “I like being bad, too.”

Trent sat up quickly. “Say, babe,” he said. “Did you hear that?”

“You said you like being bad,” she answered, her eyes still shut, her head still back, her breathing growing deeper, heavier, raspier.

“But I didn’t say it,” Trent said, a concerned look on his face. “A bubble said it.”

Mrs. Trent giggled. “You’re so kinky,” she said. “Just think if these bubbles were alive!”

“We are,” two popping bubbles said in unison. Upon hearing them, Trent began pushing mounds of bubbles aside, trying to see down into the bathwater.

“How did you do that?” Mrs. Trent asked. She giggled some more.

“I didn’t do anything,” Trent insisted, getting ever more agitated. “They did. Goddammit!”

“They who?” Mrs Trent asked, her voice growing deeper, throatier. “The bubbles?” She shifted slightly and moaned again. Her knees broke the surface of the water as she bent her legs, mounds of bubbles growing where she lay.

The motion of her legs sent more bubbles skating across the surface of the water, popping as they collided with the edge of the tub and each other.

“You’re my pretty whore,” one bubble remarked. “Such a good girl for daddy!” said another.

“How are you doing that oh my god!” Mrs. Trent gasped. Where her arms and hands before were simply resting along the tub’s edge, she was now starting to grip the edge, the muscles in her slender arms becoming more flexed, more pronounced. A shudder went through her body, stirring up even more bubbles sliding everywhere across the bathwater. “I’ve never felt this before, honey!”

Trent ignored her and began popping bubbles. “We might need to call it a night before we prune,” he suggested. It seemed that the more he popped, the more were stirred up. And of course they spoke as he poked and flicked them making them burst.

“Shaved pussy!” one said. “Check those lips! It’s like Arby’s down there,” said another. “Mmmm big brown nipples!” said still another.

“Goddammit!” Trent yelled. “This is spiritual warfare!” He slapped at the suds with his hands, small suds clinging to the dark hair on his knuckles. They had high pitched noises and although he couldn’t make out everything they said, he could tell they were taunting him. To make matters worse, the growing number of voices from the bubbles cheering each other on as Mrs. Trent began spasming and gasping with pleasure sounded like the roar of the crowd at the Super Bowl.

“I will defend this family!” Trent shouted as he pulled the plug and the water began draining from the soaking tub, taking the suds with them.

“Gah…fuck oh my… fuck,” she began mumbling but it devolved into high-pitched whimpers and gurgling noises. When Mrs. Trent ultimately climaxed for the last time that night her scream sounded like a response to such a violent attack that their children began pounding on the door, crying.

By the time the police got to the house, he had smashed every tub in the house with a large cast-iron dumbbell.

Later, Trent would tell his court-appointed anger specialist that he had been temporarily blinded by rage. The counselor suggested that he just had soap in his eyes. Trent called him a degenerate and punched him repeatedly in the head until two security guards and several samaritans pulled him off. He dreaded prison but was thankful that, like the county jail, there were no bathtubs, only showers.

###