I was in Texas one summer and found myself sneaking into a famous designer’s backyard with a bisexual engineer and a carpenter who used to model for Abecrombie & Fitch. We all took our clothes off so we wouldn’t get tan lines and played Navy Seal in the pool, this game where we tie up our arms and legs with twine and jump into the deep end to see who lasts the longest without drowning. It's fun, but left marks around my wrists, so I sat out, watching the other two float around. Texas was supposed to be a stop-through on the way to somewhere else.
Faye and me were really up a creek. The rent was due and collection companies were ringing the phone every couple of minutes. My problems all stemmed from my second divorce and the child support I couldn't afford in the first place. Credit cards were the source of Faye's. She liked to shop a little too much and it'd caught up with her. So we did what we had to do. We pooled what money we had and Faye maxed out her last two cards. We loaded her wardrobe into the car and took off with no real direction.
For two days we just drove around pretending to be outlaws. I handled the wheel and Faye the map. She got into the habit, between painting and repainting her nails, of reading off names of all these small towns we could settle down in.
Harpersburg, she'd say. Maybe Murfreesboro. You know how I love Tennessee.
Hyo washes his hands in hot water. He presses his nails into his cloth to remove each excess drop to ready his fingers for pinning. The baby fusses but falls back to sleep, dreaming her arms up. Hyo tweezes his find identified easily as Thyas Juno by the orange under markings. He removes it from the aspirator and fumigates it, lulled by its increasingly tranquil spasms. He chooses a spot next to an inferior twin but the spacing in the display box is wrong. He moisturizes the smaller specimen avoiding its antennae, swabbing it with alcohol for repositioning. The radio is on. Kim Jong Un reminds us again that he has met with a famous basketball player Rod Man and they created a great friendship. Praise the Supreme Leader.
In the dream round shapes come toward her, glowing gray. She reaches.
It was Willy’s job to feed the big cats. Luray Zoo’s got a lazy Bengal tiger that was rejected by its mother, an ocelot born with a deformed jaw, a limping lynx with a missing chunk of hind leg—but the two-toed serval’s always been my favorite. She’s got this tiny head and long body, with stripes on her shoulders and cheetah spots everywhere else. She looks like some kind of messed up jungle experiment, fitting right into this orphanage for misfit animals. Willy used to say that all the animals at Luray Zoo have something that make them special. But it’s more like they’re unfit to live without a human handful of chicken necks passed through the wire cage.
The little pink house on Estacado, along with two mangy duplexes out on Coronado, belong to the late O. K. Gummer’s only surviving daughter, Irene, who packed up and moved to Lubbock a week after her husband’s funeral, so it’s Trey Newhouse of Newhouse Management (number of employees: one) who handles everything to do with her properties, rent and utilities and such, everything except upkeep and repairs. For that, she relies on her only son, Zell, who lives in a rusted-out tin can of a trailer partially hidden behind a spiny fence of cane cholla a stone’s throw south of the little pink house. If you rent from Irene and your washing machine goes on the fritz or your commode swamps your bathroom, he’ll get you fixed up, Zell will, but never as soon as you like, no matter how patient you are, and that’s due mostly to him hauling reefer freight all over the Southwest for Montez Transport.
New neighbors have moved in next door, and we're hoping for an improvement. Our former neighbor lived alone after his wife left him and took their two daughters with her. It was noisy with their girls splashing and shrieking in the pool, but it remained noisy after they'd gone. He worked at home and liked to take his calls in the backyard. He'd pace around the pool holding forth in a booming voice, everyone in the neighborhood able to hear his business, and in the evenings he'd sit poolside smoking cigars and braying like a goat. It took my wife weeks to convince me the sound came from him.
You are a city of bronze temples. Isolate. Flex. Pose. Welcome the Jacksonville Civic Center to your golden domes of pectoralis major. Usher the audience and judges through the hall of abdominals, down your thigh’s oiled sartorius, and when you arrive at the Mount of Gastrocnemius, flex the calf you’ve labored hour after hour to perfect. The sequins on your bikini shine prolifically. The diamonds in your earrings are worth their cost. Tonight you are unforgettable.
The New Literature
You bought the new bodybuilding books and the pages were filled with what everybody already knows. But you, you want answers, don’t you? Listen: the oracle has not been silenced. Your answers have arrived at last.
The Old Literature
Karen Dietrich's memoir, The Girl Factory, is available now from skirt/Globe Pequot.
My father murdered five people before I was born.
I don’t know my father in the way a child usually knows a parent, so I don’t know if murder fits him, the way a certain type of clothing fits a certain type of body. I only know what my mother tells me, what my grandmother tries to tell me before my mother stops her, what I hear teachers say to each other as I walk the worn carpet of the school hallway.
I haven’t read anything about him or his case. For now, I’ll let the information build, those stories and articles and court transcripts that surely exist out there, information strung between satellites and underground wires. It will be there when I’m ready, I tell myself.
When I was in the fourth grade this little girl in my class got killed.
I showed up at school one Monday morning and Randy Doogan was telling me all about it, “Hey Scott did you hear about Jenny Sugar? She got killed in a car crash yesterday. Yeah a tractor trailer hit her Mom’s car and they’re both dead.”
Eric Barnes' new novel Something Pretty Something Beautiful is now available from Outpost19 Books. Here's a repost of Eric's Joyland story from earlier this year.
The streetlights are shining white in the rain, one after another casting light through the windshield, the motion of the car bringing bright white then gray, the motion of the light seeming to twist the layers of smoke that hang, in circles, around us inside the car.
Carl is driving one-handed. Leaning down toward the gearshift. Taking a hit from his pipe. His face and eyes turning gray and black and white.
“Bark like a dog,” I say quietly, turning to watch him, smiling some at him, smiling wider and thinking I can cast my own little spell on Carl. “Bark.”
Carl is my good friend.
Carl turns to the road, resting the pipe in the ashtray.