Here, it reeked something sulphurous of an election day, and none of the big political names meant anything of significance to me. All I craved after was getting back to the resort and out of the steamy haze of summer sidewalk.
My wife, she’d had me call down to the liquor store to see if they were open—she wanted that blueberry vodka stuff again, we’d been tearing through the bottles going on four day straight, we’d been put up for her week’s vacation at the Pampas Inn, and all of it smacked of something she and I were not greatly accustomed to in our normal days of bluejean living. I’d been laid off from General Electric for a thinking problem, wifey had slaved as a paralegal back home in Sellars, slaved so damn hard her boss gave her this fat relax week at his condo. And so, we had lobster, we had impolite sex, we had jacuzzi, we had the sticky linger of blueberry in the mouth each morning, waiting to greet us with its great, morning punish.
I got myself down to the familiar brick store, sniffed it, licked its walls. Inside, they knew my name now, they smiled at my face now, they said hello to my liquor eyes now—I was their boy, the new daddy on the streets. They probably thought I’d become a regular, a man they’d see on and on for years, a man from just over on the South Causeway. But I was far, far from home. I paid for the Smirnoff half gallon and nodded and left out the ever-bell-clanking door.
It had occurred to me that I was a dying animal. I’d been living it, day in/day out, dehydrated, depressed, head in a fog, and testosterone at a record low, had given up smoking, even did a few push-ups here and there, none of it built me back up. I thought the present resort trip would help. It had not.
Cloudy, cloudy, cloudy, I ran square into a bum. A Mexican one, and the precious vodka shattered as he whistled tunes unknown.
“What the hell?” I screamed. “As if I am not feeling bad enough, as if I am not thinking about suicide some nights!”
He scooped down to pick up the shards of glass. Why, I wondered, did a bum pass by these affluent paths anyhow, who was he in his Latino skin and why here?
“Go to church?” he said from his kneel. He had no sweat about him, even in flannels and beard.
“Look, daddy, you really shat on my parade here, and I’m thinking you better give ‘em to me.”
“Give what?” he fired back.
“Whatever money you’ve cadged for today, you give it all on over to me. You rained on it, you rained on my parade. My wife’s, too, daddy.”
“For years I’ve come down this way. For years I’ve been looking for a cross. Plenty of churches, but not a damn cross on any one of ‘em.”
He put out his hand as if he wanted to shake mine, as if he were a gentleman golfer, as if his Jaguar were parked just in earshot.
I snarled and walked back in the direction of the high throne of the wife, empty, desolate. I’d have to conjure up some story, get another Andrew Jackson out of her mauve purse and march right back down the same, stupid street. My ears rang and the haze of my head pounded—I would have done sloppy murder for a thick cheeseburger and a Mountain Dew, but nothing like that existed in the Gehenna as I knew it.
Each step hurt, and I wanted to vomit all of the anxieties of my life out across the glimmer of the flagstones underneath me. What had bitten me, what had come up in me? My tongue tried to escape my body, my fingers did not move as commanded, my brain could not control even my bladder, and I gave over to peeing, draining it all down my Walmart khakis. I’d done this before, but it had been a while. Now here it had happened again, here in public with cars passing and crisp mailmen walking, and four irons a-hitting. Here I stood drenched in my dying.
He was right. He was damned right.
I saw a church, something straight out of a Clint Eastwood, and then another one, taller, like a standard out of South Beach, and a small pink one, immaculate was its garden, its awning, its arbor, but it had no cross to speak of—none of them churches had a cross. And this fact, for reasons unknown, was one enormous, hard pill to swallow.
I began to run, my piss-wet, sloshing legs somehow finding an energy, past the identical condos and mailboxes and seashell prints and oyster decorations and garden gnomes, but never a cross, never a cross, never a cross. The very word got stuck in my higher functioning: cross, cross, cross. Shitless, I could not stop running and looking as quick as my eyeballs would work for me. I flew down Addison Avenue and saw flamingoes and highschoolers tanning their round buns, but no old ruggeds thereat. Sprinted up Victory Lane and saw the Import Cars place and a woman and her dalmatian and her husband pumping iron as he walked alongside her, but what I wanted to find would not come out and be shown.
I ran myself ragged, as they say. Ran myself to the point of thick exhaustion, sat down on a corner and tried to summon something new. My wife? Could I call her? Could she come get me? Could she leave that damn king size and that damn watermelon and that damn ocean breeze smacking her pale thighs and come straight down to real life and fetch me? But I did not even know where to tell her I was. The streets had become something unfamiliar. The election signs were long gone, that eternal striking of Titleists, absent.
Looking to my port and then to my starboard, I found the drizzle. I knew the storm would press on, I’d seen the weatherman dance and ramble on about it, back in the morning, when she and I were sharing cantaloupes and coffees and working off the vise of the hangover and there being nothing much more to do than fish-stare at the goofy weatherman and the soaps, like our parents always did, like our grandparents always did, like some things never change. But under the graying drip of rain, I hunkered down and realized that all nature of things did change, that cells die and nations war and people get fired in America and babies are born with or without you and leaders fall and money not only talks but shouts sometimes and, and, churches and yards and businesses exist in motion without Jesus crosses to them. My testosterone was low, and I had no job, and my only friend anymore was my wife and her big thighs and her lackadaisicalness. The tranquil drizzle turned into regular and, then, after that, supreme. The drops came on with a mean sting to them, and I caught sight of a fine canopy of live oaks to sit myself under and wait out things. I crawled after that spot, my nails in the soft earth, my useless body going along with their small gains, and finally, painstakingly, I reached the shelter of love, that abode of power, the endless castle of home.
Ric Hoeben, M.F.A. from The University of Florida, lives in Georgetown, South Carolina, by the coast. His most recent work has been found in Tampa Review, storySouth, Glimmer Train, James Dickey Review, Clapboard House, The Monarch Review, Spork, Atticus Review, Hobart, Connotation Press, Burrow Press Review, Pithead Chapel, Umbrella Factory, the Newer York, and Waccamaw.
image courtesy of Tomo Sodoge via unsplash
Also published on Medium.