RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Friday, February 17

Recession Proof (a short story)

(This is a short story I wrote a while back, and was in a zine pamphlet I did too. Now it is here as well. If you read this, and enjoy it, please consider the fact I have self-published books galore that you may or may not know exist.)

Charlie Buck kicked at the asphalt where the crabgrass crawled up through the cracks. Along these back roads, you could really see the trickle down effects of governmental cutbacks. This road hadn’t been patched in a couple of years, and hadn’t had an outright paving in at least five. Back in Charlie Buck’s granddaddy’s day, it was dirt, which is what they still called it when Charlie Buck was a boy, but actually the state kept it covered in gravel and smoothed of ruts a couple times a year, once the washboards got too rough and somebody would call and complain. By the time Charlie Buck got his license, it was already paved – that cheap, glass-speckled back roads asphalt recipe, smooth as silk compared to the scratchy 40-grit gravel beneath a set of balding tires. But now, twenty years later, here it was, regressing back to disrepair. Charlie Buck loosened an edge chunk with his left steel toe, wondering if it’d go all the way back to gravel before the bright orange state trucks came through to smooth it over once again.
The sun was starting to crest above the pine trees on the opposite side of the pasture across the road. The rooster was still crowing, and Charlie Buck’s hogs were snorting around back in their pen, digging in well-turned dirt for some more food. Old John-John would be rumbling around the curves any minute now. John-John was one of the few regular people left who still ran this road regularly. There were a number of well-to-dos in the cul-de-sac at the other end of the road who still came this way, to get to town, but most of those folks worked up in Columbia City and didn’t bother having to traverse this wore out back way. But usually every Thursday morning, John-John’s  ’82 GMC pick-up would rumble towards Riverton, stopping along the way to load up whoever was standing on the side of the road that he knew. Everybody was expected to kick in two dollars on the gas, which meant John-John probably broke even if he was lucky, with about four passengers usually. First one he came to got to sit up front, unless John-John’s old lady was riding to town too; everybody else climbed into the bed in back.
Charlie Buck could hear his boy’s footsteps running up and down the stairs inside the house behind him. His two girls walked softly through the house, always, tip-toeing into adolescence, but that boy was pure hellfire toddler, and even fifty yards away down the fence line, Charlie Buck knew the house was waking up. His wife would be out in a few minutes to walk around to the breaker box and flip on the daytime power. They only ran electricity to the freezer and refrigerator and well pump overnight, but flipped the breakers to the back part of the house during the day, with the stove and lights and radio and all. Usually the last thing Charlie Buck did at night before bed would be to walk around and kill the non-essential breakers. The less power leaking into the house feeding empty sockets or off switches meant the less the power bill was the beginning of next month.
Charlie hoped that John-John would come around before his wife came out to cut on the day lights, because the dog would come barreling out of the house with her, barking at Charlie until she saw who it was, but then his wife would see him, and they’d get to talking from afar, and then the boy would hear the hollering back and forth and dog barking and come out, wild-eyed and roaring, and then the girls would slip out onto the side porch too, and the whole family would be right there in his eyesight, and then Charlie Buck would want to blow off going to town. But he had to get in there today to get seeds, before the money went somewhere else.
Luckily, before the dog got let out, John-John’s GMC rumbled through the distance, loud bellows of engine as it climbed up foothills, and coasting with a mechanical moan down the other side. John-John managed gas by coasting as much as possible, and now that cops were fairly non-existent on the two back roads into Riverton, the old man would gun it on straight stretches and coast, then cut off the engine and roll the last couple miles down into town, as Riverton Road dipped down towards the river. John-John would click the trip odometer in the dash, and Charlie Buck saw it count off 4.2 miles one day while riding up front when Charlie Buck wound the GMC up real good at the beginning of that last straight stretch.
As John-John’s truck peeked around the curve a quarter mile down the fence line, Charlie Buck could see he had a full load today. It looked like it was already five or six heads in the back of the truck. John-John’s grey beard and smirk-smile looking like he was sucking on a lime was beaming through the dusty, chipped windshield. He slowed down to a roll, coming to crawling stop next to Charlie Buck, arm dangling out the window.
“Excuse me mister… you wanna go to Hell? Because I got this goddamnd fine rusted up red mechanical hand basket.”
Charlie Buck smiled. “Good morning, old man. You’re looking ugly as ever.” Old John-John cackled, and Charlie Buck walked around the tailgate to climb in. There were already six heads in the back, three sitting against the cab, two along on bed rail, and one guy on the other side with three milk crates full of stuff. Everybody mumbled gruff “g’morning”s while Charlie Buck squeezed into the corner against the tail gate and the one guy’s milk crates. They looked to be full of basic household necessities – a couple plates and cups and spoons and so on in one, clothes stuffed into a second, and the third with different size shoeboxes full of what’s probably that man’s personal treasure. Charlie Buck didn’t have to ask or be told – that man was only going one way.
The GMC rumbled back into motion, and everybody in the back, pointed inwards towards each other, sort of looked over top of each other with a polite sort of soft stare at nothing in particular. Charlie Buck had blocked the natural view of the first three folks who climbed into the back, so they couldn’t all just watch the road unravel behind them anymore.
Charlie recognized most of the guys, from one trip or another, everyone except the milk crate dude and the guy sitting in the opposite corner of the bed, back against the cab. He was sideways staring at Charlie Buck out the corner of his eyes, not so polite-like, and he looked like somebody, from somewhere, but Charlie couldn’t grab the who and where. It wasn’t until he saw Willie Turner up in the cab that Charlie remembered it was Willie’s cousin he’d seen with Willie a couple of times back in the day. You could tell they were kin, too; they both had that same short, chubby pit bull physique. Willie’s cousin’s thick arms had a mosaic of faded spider webs and skulls and big-breasted, big-haired angels tattooed in splotches. Charlie’s own forearms were covered in shop-bought tattoos, scuffed and scarred by work and softened by the sun. Charlie shook his head sometimes when he thought about the hundreds of dollars he blew on decorating his arms like a damned woman, and all the things he could use that money for now. But Willie’s cousin’s faded green markings looked like they came a good deal cheaper, either from an acquaintance who had a homemade tat gun, or maybe even in a jailhouse bathroom, although by the sheer amount of splatters of primitive art on his bare arms, that would’ve been a good bit of time in jail.
Willie’s cousin must have scoped out Charlie Buck to his contentment, because he looked back over his shoulder towards the side of the road passing by now. Charlie Buck looked ahead towards town, trying not to stare at the milk crate dude’s stuff. Everybody looked nowhere in particular, making sure not to stare too long at nobody else. It had been a rough run for everybody most likely, or why else would they be squeezed into the back of a beat-up pick-up truck, splitting a couple of gallons of gas eight ways? You could never tell how much of a hair trigger might be hiding behind the next man’s face, and there won’t no need to make the mistake of being the one to set him off.
John-John picked up one more guy after Charlie Buck on their road, and never stopped for anybody on the road into town once he took a left up by Old Man Gant’s farm, which wasn’t so much a farm anymore as it was a reference point. John-John got to the straight stretch before the descent into town and gunned it like always, building up as much momentum as possible to coast that last three miles. As soon as he cut off the engine though, milk crate guy hollered forward, “Don’t forget about me, John-John!”
“Aw hell,” muttered John-John and he started riding the brake to slow his roll, coming to a crawl, then easing off the road halfway into the end of a driveway running back up to a little dilapidated rancher sitting up in the woods. Charlie Buck used to know a dude named Bubba that lived there, years ago. They’d always be playing Spades at the picnic table in the yard back then, and Charlie Buck would hang around sometimes. It was the same four guys always playing, but a handful of hangers-on like Charlie would stand around, sharing beer and conversation and pretending they’d get in the next game that never seemed to come because those dudes played a quarter a point and whoever lost would always want to get their money back, so they’d go again, the same four.
Milk crate guy got out, set his milk crates in the driveway behind the truck, and walked around to John-John’s window, holding out two crumpled up dollar bills. “Aw hell man, I ain’t gonna take but one. You ain’t ridin’ back no ways.” John-John tucked the single dollar in his shirt pocket and said, “Welcome home, sir. I hope it does you good.” He ignited the GMC engine again, and added, “And remember, Old Man John-John’s GMC Express don’t stop on Riverton Road until he gets to Riverton. So if you see me coasting by, I ain’t gonna do a damn thing but wave ‘hi’ at ya.” And he gunned the engine for about thirty yards, then killed it again, coasting into Riverton. Charlie Buck looked back at the man carrying his milk crates up to the empty house that had had a foreclosed/for sale sign on it for three years.
Turning into Riverton, you could finally hear the muffled whine of other cars, and see humanity still clustered into a moving, sprawling little cluster. Granted Riverton wasn’t much, and most of Main Street was vacant windows, but it was still a pretty impressive stack of bricks, all built up together where the river twisted like a horseshoe around the town. At the main intersection, which was only two blocks from the outskirts, John-John took a right and headed back up the hill away from the river, towards the strip mall built on the other side of the only gas station still open, at the outskirts of that direction, which if you followed it for another thirty-four miles, would get you to Columbia City. Charlie Buck hadn’t been to Columbia City in four months, and not even three times in the past year. Hard to believe he used to drive that path every day, back and forth.
John-John pulled the truck into the gas station, and shut it off. “Well fellas, we’re all very lucky to have such a nice turnout today. I’m only asking one dollar apiece, because I think that’ll get it done.” The old man always collected first thing upon arriving in town, so that nobody accidentally ran out of money while finding reason to spend it on something more necessary. He probably should’ve took it when he picked them up, because a couple of times people went to town without planning on going home and stuck John-John with their share of the gas. But he was an old school type, John-John, so he still trusted folks to do right when they had to look him straight in the eyes.
Everybody handed him crumpled ones or handfuls of change as they got out the back of the truck. Charlie Buck reached into his right sock and pulled a pair of ones he’d purposely put on the outside of his small wad. As he pulled his sock back up tight on his calf, he saw Willie’s cousin looking down at him. Charlie Buck looked straight up at the guy, catching him in the stare, and Willie’s cousin felt it, and turned towards his cousin.
“C’mon Willie, let’s go ahead and walk on over to the Antiques store.” Charlie Buck watched them walk off, and Willie’s cousin started to look back one more time, saw Charlie watching, and turned his head back like nothing. All the other men had meandered off and John-John was already pumping gas into the GMC’s side. Charlie Buck walked up to him.
“I’m gonna give you two dollars like always, old man.”
“You ain’t got to do that, Charlie Buck. I done told y’all – one dollar. Keep that other one for them girls of your’s.”
“Tell you what – you take two, and let me sit up front on the ride back.”
“Well goddamn, Charlie Buck, we gonna start havin’ an old-fashioned tobacco auction for the front seat if I start doin’ that.”
“I know, old man. I gotta get some stuff up at the Antique store, and I’d rather just keep it with me up front, ya know.”
“Got it, Charlie Buck, loud and clear. Stealth wealth! You got yourself a front row V.I.P. seat to one ride home, my boy.”
Charlie Buck chuckled and headed over towards the strip mall where everyone else had gone. John-John would do whatever it was he did when he came to town, and then in about an hour, he’d pull back up to the far end of the parking lot closest to this gas station and wait for everybody to climb back up in the truck and head home to Gants Farm Road.
The strip mall itself used to be a long metal building, but a long time back – probably about eight or nine years ago – a grocery store chain decided to put one of their stores in Riverton. The metal building wasn’t nice enough, even though there was already a grocery store at the one end of that strip mall. So the grocery store chain built a new structure sideways to the existing building, and encased the pre-existing metal strip mall with a brick façade. Most of the smaller stores stayed, and the old grocery store space was turned into a big antique market with a bunch of vendor booths. As things went downhill though, the antique store’s vendors started thinning out. Eventually, the grocery store chain was losing money from shoplifters and having to hire security. That was going on throughout the country, not so much in Riverton, though it was certainly happening here as well. But the whole grocery store chain turned their little special customer cards into membership cards you had to pay a $50 yearly fee to keep valid, and just hired one security guy, to work the door, where you had to show your card and picture ID to get in to buy groceries. Of course, not everybody could – or would – pay that $50, so you started having folks trying to get other people to buy them things in the store, which was turning into a hassle itself, because people would take off with other people’s money, or you’d have this gaggle of grown folks milling around the edges of the front of the store, like high school kids trying to get beer, except they were just regular people waiting for someone they’d stopped to come back out with a big bag of rice and a bunch of dry beans and flour.
The guy who ran the Antique store, he was a first class all-American traditional capitalist though, and as his vendor herd got thinner, he started fleshing his place back out with the old shelving from the old grocery store, and stocking it with stuff from the new grocery store that he’d gotten, for sale at about a 10% mark-up. Usually, he’d stock up on whatever was on sale at the grocery store, so sometimes you could get food in the Antique store for the about the same price as it was in the real grocery store, if it had been on sale last week but not this week in the real grocery store. And it was never on sale in the Antique store. He had a big sandwich board sign painted up by the guy who used to do airbrushed t-shirts in the back corner of the Antique store that said, “NO CREDIT! TO ANYBODY! AND NO RETURNS ON FOOD! EVER!” Charlie Buck actually found the sign amusing, all happily airbrushed in sky blue with crimson red outline, because it was such an authoritarian message, but the style of the letters looked like a teenage girl’s vacation tank top.
So most of the folks coming in from Gants Farm Road, they were going to the Antique store. You could get some food there, or old tools, or hardware supplies, or pawn off some family jewelry if you had any. That was about the only type of “credit” or “sale” the Antique store guy had – he’d give you 10% more for jewelry as Antique store script if you spent it in his place. If you wanted cash, you didn’t get that 10% bump.
Charlie Buck cut across the parking lot to the Antique store. On the side of the grocery store, in between it and the old strip mall, were the three dumpsters for the store, locked up tight with padlocks. Charlie Buck used to drive by those dumpsters three times a week, right at sun-up, back before they bothered to lock them, to dig out tossed vegetables and breads for his hogs. The girls were still toddlers back then, and sometimes he’d find a big old sheet birthday cake in the dumpster, and he’d bring it home and tell the girls and the ol’ lady and they’d all go out to the pigpen to set this nice, perfect birthday cake down on the ground and watch the pigs stomp around in it and snort it down. They’d come over to the edge of the fence, snout coated in icing, grunting with joy. The girls would giggle and giggle, and sometimes they’d even sing “Happy Birthday” to the hogs.
Now, the dumpsters were locked up. They had been for a couple years now, ever since they made the store a members-only place. Somehow though, the Antique store guy had worked out an arrangement with the grocery store where he could buy off their expired or starting-to-go-bad food, and he’d sell it in his place. It worked out for everybody – the big chain grocery store never got sued for selling bad food, and the Antique store dude made money off of his neighbor’s trash. What Charlie Buck used to toss to his pigs was now a commodity.
The Antique store itself was barely antiques anymore, because after the initial vendors stopped coming, once the guy who owned the place started selling secondhand food and old, cheap, Chinese tools, the clientele wasn’t exactly geared towards high end antique shopping. But about a third of the floor space was still old, expensive crap, probably all belonging to the Antique store guy himself, and you’d still see people on a drive from Columbia City in there, poking around at extraneous items. Didn’t look like anybody much like that in there today, as Charlie Buck pushed open the stiff glass door, which still had the magnetic pad from when it was an automatic door for the old grocery store. It hadn’t been automatic for a long time.
Willie and his cousin were at the front counter with the Antique store guy, Willie watching the man eyeball some necklaces. “Cash or script,” the Antique store guy said. Willie’s cousin was watching Charlie Buck walk by, and Willie said, “Can we do some script and some cash?”
“Nope. All one way or the other. I ain’t got time to be figuring up multiple percentages.”
Charlie Buck heard Willie sigh and say, “Well goddammit, I guess script then,” as he walked to the back corner of the store, to where a bunch of old farmhouse tools were.
Charlie had been here two weeks ago and found a bunch of seeds from three years ago, a dollar a pack. He discreetly picked out what he knew the ol’ lady would want – greens and squashes and zucchinis and tomatoes and other things that had a lot of food per seed bulk going for it – and tucked it into the bottom of an antique chest that was full of fancy-looking hats, like women would’ve worn back in the 1920s or ‘40s. Charlie Buck’s girls would’ve loved trying them on, talking in fake British accents, about going off to school and having tea and scones. He wished sometimes he could pay for everybody to come into town, just for the hell of it, to walk around the Antique store and look at all the stuff, and think about how much fun it would be to have some things. But that would have to wait until Charlie Buck could afford to drive his own truck into town. And that would have to wait until there was work again. Well, there was plenty of work, every day of his life. All of that would have to wait until there was somebody else somewhere willing to pay Charlie Buck to work. That’s what was missing from the equation.
Charlie got to the back corner, and with no one else around, he opened up the trunk full of old lady hats. As soon as he did, Willie Turner and Willie Turner’s cousin came stalking down the aisle. Charlie Buck froze, pretending to look at a white hat with some feathery adornment on the side.
“Them girls must be gettin’ old. How you doin’, Charlie Buck?” said Willie Turner in passing.
“Can’t complain, Willie. Can’t complain.” He watched them walk by with peripheral vision, and thought he caught Willie’s cousin looking back at what he was doing. Once they cleared the corner, headed back over to the back end of the “food” section, Charlie Buck started digging towards the bottom again. Sure enough, they were still down there, twenty packs of outdated seeds, stuffed into a pair of frilly, white satin gloves, ten per glove. He was supposed to get a few odds and ends from the food section for the ol’ lady, but they had just gotten groceries when he came last time two weeks ago, so weren’t really starving for any of the things the wife had asked for. Charlie Buck felt the soft material of the white satin gloves, and looked at the tag. Three dollars. Way too much. But Charlie Buck took them back up front with the seeds, to the front counter.
The Antique store guy was just finishing ringing up some old fellow, so Charlie Buck put the seeds down on the glass case by the cash register, and reluctantly held onto the gloves. The Antique store guy, picked up the top pack of seeds, looking over the top of his glasses with his head tilted down. “Where’d you find these? I thought I’d sold them all off.”
“They were in the back there, on a shelf on one of them old cabinets by the food.”
“Well, son of a bitch,” Antique store guy mumbled, and started counting them out.
“It’s twenty of them,” said Charlie Buck, but the man continued counting, his pursed lips barely moving with each tic of his brain.
“Twenty. At a dollar apiece.” He looked back up at Charlie Buck. “Taxes?”
Charlie Buck started digging into his pocket for his wallet. “Naw. I got my card here. Hold on.” Charlie fumbled through his wallet, where he never kept his money, and went through the various plastic cards for this or that, some useless from the old days, like his bank card he still kept and the one for the grocery store before it had dues, and some governmental, like a library card and driver’s license and his tax-free card. They’d started giving the tax-free cards out for folks who probably were financially living off the state when the state couldn’t support everybody anymore. Everyone got about a fifty percent decrease in aid the same time they got a card that said they no longer had to pay sales tax on purchases.
“Alright, twenty dollars.”
Charlie Buck held the gloves out to the man. “There’s these, too. The tag says three. Will you take two for ‘em?”
“The tag says three though.” He was looking at Charlie Buck slightly confused as to why these tattooed forearms were wanting to get a pair of dainty gloves. “I mean, I would, but the tag says three.”
“I know,” said Charlie Buck, “but it’s your place, and these didn’t come off none of your vendors’ tables. So I figured maybe you might be willing to take two.”
“The tag does say three though,” Antique store guy said as he looked at the tag itself, as if he was slave to its markings.
“Well, don’t worry about it,” Charlie Buck said as he started to slide the gloves to the side of the glass case away from his seeds. The Antique store guy’s hands pulled them back over.
“What the hell. I’ll take two for ‘em.” Charlie squatted down to dig back into his sock. He pulled out his wad – three twenties, two fives, and two ones, pulled off the inner twenty-dollar bill and the two singles on the outside, and rolled the rest back up and tucked it back down into his sock. Charlie always kept his smaller money on the outside, so if anyone was to see it, it wouldn’t look like nothing but ones. He stood back up with the $22 in his hand, and saw that Willie Turner’s cousin was at the far end of the glass case, twenty feet away, watching out the side of his eyes. Charlie Buck paid for his seeds, and crumpled the gloves up into a ball and stuffed them in the front pocket of his jeans. He looked back at Willie Turner’s cousin, who was still pretending to look at coins in the display case.
“You need them in a bag?” asked the Antique store guy.
“Yeah. I do,” answered Charlie Buck. Willie Turner was walking up behind with an arm full of dried pinto bean and black-eyed peas bags, plus a twenty-pound sack of rice. His cousin started that way too. Charlie Buck took his bag and headed back out the door, back across the parking lot, to where John-John’s rusted red pick-up rested in the sun, parked catty-corner across two spaces, as John-John leaned against the bed, where a couple of the guys were already loaded up for the ride back home.
“Challie Buck, how are you doing? I see you are still ugly!” Charlie Buck heard from beside him. It was Georgie Leopold, a well-to-do guy from town who had a daughter the same age as Charlie’s eldest. Georgie and Charlie coached kids soccer together years ago, when the girls were still little.
“Hey Georgie. How the hell are you doin’?” Their right hands met in a vigorous shake. Georgie was a boisterous but always-friendly guy, with some sort of immigrant background; Charlie Buck wasn’t really sure what though. Georgie had a job in Columbia City at the college.
“I am good, Challie, I am good. How are the girls?”
“Gettin’ big. You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Oh, I would believe it, Challie, because mine is there too. It won’t be long and those boys will start calling.”
“Bring ‘em on, Georgie. I’m gonna put ‘em to work. I could use the help.”
“Haha, Challie Buck, no doubt about it.” For the moment, they were equals again, with daughters entering adolescence at the same time. But the way things were wasn’t the same as when they ran kids through soccer drills. The reality of it sobered Georgie. “Challie, tell the wife and girls I said ‘Hello.’ I’ve got to go in here and get some things,” he said, nodding towards the grocery store.
“Yeah, yeah. Definitely, Georgie. Tell your family we said, ‘Hey.’” Georgie’s effervescence creeped back through though.
“And oh, the boy, little Challie Buck. I bet he’s a little stallion now.”
Charlie Buck smiled. “Wild as one, that’s for sure. He’s something else, Georgie, I’ll tell you that.”
“Good, good. You be good, Challie,” Georgie said as he turned away, headed to the store’s entrance, where the security guard checked IDs. “You be good.”
Willie Turner and his cousin had passed by during the conversation, and were thirty feet ahead of Charlie Buck, headed back to John-John’s truck. John-John was climbing into the driver’s side door. Willie Turner climbed into the front seat John-John had been holding for Charlie, his cousin taking his same spot with his back against the cab at the head of the truck’s bed, his back to his cousin’s back. John-John turned to Willie as Charlie Buck approached. “Hey, Willie, I had told Charlie Buck he could ride up front to catch up on…”
“Don’t worry about it, John-John,” Charlie interrupted, cutting the awkward explanation short. “I’ll catch you up on the girls next time,” and he climbed over the tailgate and took the available spot where the milk crates had been on the way into town. John-John cranked the GMC up and steered it out of Riverton, then back up Riverton Road.
Willie Turner’s cousin was not being as discreet with his staring at Charlie Buck on the way home. “What’d you get there, fella?” he asked Charlie Buck, nodding at the bag.
“Nothing much. Some seeds.”
“You got seed money, hunh? Ain’t that what them banker dudes used to call it when they’d buy a bunch of shit? Seed money.” He laughed, as if he was trying to make a joke, but his tone was uncomfortable.
“I don’t know. Ain’t nothin’ but some seeds to me,” said Charlie Buck. Willie’s cousin sat still, eyeing Charlie’s sock, ink-splotched arms locked into his thighs by his fists. Charlie Buck could feel the useless satin gloves throb in his pocket. No one else said anything at all, and it was a long, thick, ten-miles back to Gants Farm Road.
When John-John stopped in front of Charlie Buck’s, Charlie hopped out and said, “Thanks, old man. Might miss you the next couple weeks, but look for me just in case.”
“You got it. Mr. Stealth,” and he drove off back towards the curves and foothills. Willie Turner’s cousin stared at Charlie Buck as they drove off, then looked at the house, then across the pasture behind the fence line. Charlie figured the stream of thought of the man was as thick and simple as his tattoos, so he went inside the house.
As soon as the door creaked open, the boy came running. “Dada! Dada! You’re home! You’re home!” and little Charlie clutched Charlie Buck around the thigh, picking his legs up off the floor, clutching at his father’s leg like a monkey hugging a tree. Charlie Buck played along, dragging the leg with the boy behind him across the kitchen floor to the table, where he dropped the bag of seeds. The boy was sharp though, and he felt the bulge against his head, so he started clutching at the pocket with the gloves.
“What’s that, Dada? What’s in your pocket, Dada? What you got?”
Charlie Buck gently pushed the boy back. “Hold up, boy. Where’s your sisters at?” And the boy immediately started running through the kitchen, yelling “Sissies! Sissies! Sissies!” The girls came out, one about seven inches taller and fifteen months older than the other. Charlie’s wife was behind them.
“I’ve got a present for y’all.” Charlie pulled out the lump of satin, uncrumpled it, and held the gloves out. Both girls gasped. They took the gloves, oldest with the right hand, youngest with the left, and pulled them on their hand, rubbing the fabric with the bare hand opposite. They looked at the gloves, then at each other, and at their mom. The middle child spoke first.
“Look, Mommy! Daddy got us fancy gloves!”
“I see,” said Charlie’s wife. She smiled at the girls, and then looked at Charlie Buck, confused, with a hint of anger. He walked past them all, towards the hall leading to the bedroom. His wife trailed him.
“I’ve gotta take a little sleep. I think I’m gonna have to be up tonight,” Charlie said.
“Charlie, where’d you get those gloves?”
Charlie turned, “I know, I know. I shouldn’t have got them. But they don’t get nothin’. So I got them the gloves.”
The middle child’s voice yelled from the kitchen, “Mommy! Mommy! The tag says three dollars. Three whole dollars!” Charlie’s wife turned back at him, mad now.
“Now, I didn’t pay three dollars for them gloves. I didn’t. Now I’ve got to sleep because I’ve got something to do tonight.”
“I need you to fix the pigpen though. They’re digging through a spot, and I don’t have no scraps to coax them back in with right now.” Now and then, the hogs would escape, and Charlie or his wife would use a little bucket of food scraps to get them back into their pen. Hogs are pretty smart, and will scooch right back through the hole they burrow out from, to get at some food.
“Alright.” Charlie Buck went back outside, to the back part of the yard, where they had four hogs penned in with wire fencing. The pigs had rooted it up at various spots over the course of the years, over generations of pigs. Escape paths were patched up with scraps of plywood, pieces of rebar, even an old wheel from a truck Charlie Buck used to own that somehow got left behind when the truck was sold for scrap.
The hogs had worked up a pretty good hole, and were probably another couple of hours away from getting out again, if that. Charlie went back to the edge of the woods and dug a piece of rusted metal roofing out from a stack of it, and took it back to the eventual breach in the pen. He poked the pigs back with his steel toe boot, and slammed the roofing material down as hard as he could into the dirt. Then he stomped two wooden stakes into the ground behind it with his dominant foot, pinning the roofing sheet in place where the hogs had been attempting an outing. The last stomp of the second stake, and Charlie Buck left his foot on the stake and reached down in his sock, just to make sure his money was still there. It was. Then he looked through the woods, to where there was nothing, but then something again the further you went, as Gants Farm Road twisted around Appalachian foothills. The other end of the road was back there, curling around like a snake.
The girls gave their daddy a good night hug in the middle of the daylight, but little Charlie did not want to let Charlie Buck go to sleep while the sun was still up, and he kept trying to bust into the room, even after Charlie had told him not to twice. Finally, Charlie’s wife yelled, “That’s it! Outside! Run around outside! Now!” The boy dropped his head at the bedroom door, like he was being condemned.
“It’s okay, boy. Running around outside is fun. It’s better than chores, ain’t it?” Charlie told him from the edge of the bed, and the boy lifted his head up, and headed towards the kitchen door, all stomps and yells. Charlie tucked himself up under the covers and pretended it wasn’t the middle of the afternoon, dreading sitting up all night. But that was going to have to be today’s work.
He woke up when his wife came to bed after dark. She slid under the covers next to him and rubbed his back to wake him up. “I didn’t cut the lights off yet outside,” she said when Charlie rolled over. “What do you gotta do?”
“Nothing,” said Charlie. “A little bit of hunting with the dog. But nothing.”
“You got some good seeds. I’ll get ‘em started in the house this week. That’s gonna make a big difference.”
“I know.” Charlie sat up, and put his boots back on. He leaned back and kissed his wife, her lips meeting with a warm softness. Charlie Buck wanted to curl up in her lips, her arms, intertwine with her under the quilt, and not worry about anything. But there was plenty of worry and work to do. “Love you,” and he left the bedroom.
He unlocked the hall closet, and looked at the rifle and shotgun. He still had a good amount of ammo for the rifle, and a couple of boxes of shotgun shells. There wasn’t as much practical use for the shotgun shells though, as there was nothing left to hunt half the time, so he left the rifle in the closet, and locked it back up.
In the kitchen, the dog was sleeping underneath the table. She popped out, scraggly tail wagging as Charlie Buck came into the room. “C’mon girl. Let’s go outside.” He put two shells in his jeans pocket and one in the shotgun and headed into the back yard.
Once outside, the dog did her normal bark-clearing of the yard, then came back, tail wagging. Charlie Buck walked halfway back to where the pigpen was, and sat on one of the stumps they had circled around a fire pit. He faced the woods, and built no fire. It was a crystal, clear night, sky full of the same stars vikings found their way west with, over a thousand years ago. Back behind the house, towards Columbia City, a power plant they’d built before things went bad created a false moonrise silver behind the pines. Charlie remembered he hadn’t cut off the daytime breakers, so he walked around the side of the old farmhouse and did so. He could hear the hum dim down lower, almost to where he thought he could hear the kids softly breathing upstairs. Charlie Buck went back to his stump.
It was quiet for the first few hours. The dog would dash off into the darkness like always when her night vision would glimpse a rabbit or raccoon or some critter creepy crawling along the edge of the yard. The hogs were silent. Charlie Buck sat silently and still, never even telling the dog, “Good girl.” Venus crossed the sky slowly.
Charlie Buck was lost in daydreams of big, sprawling zucchini plants when the dog bristled up with a growl. She didn’t dash off towards anything, but growled and then barked a guttural, angry woof from deep down her throat, down to her hungry belly. She stalked towards the woods, growling and barking. Charlie Buck sat still. The hogs came to life with snorts and grunts back to the side, and the dog got near the edge of the yard, looking in one direction, sneering towards the woods. Charlie Buck cocked the shotgun with as little movement as possible, and fired a shot about halfway up the trees in the direct spot the dog was pointed. Then he stood up, walking in that direction, while he slipped another shell into the shotgun.
Charlie was right behind his dog now, who never turned back and was still growling at the woods. “I see you, motherfucker!” Charlie said, loud but not yelling. “I see you! And the next shot ain’t gonna be high, whether that next shot is in two minutes or two days or two weeks! I will see you!” There was a soft rustling back in the woods, and the dog started barking louder at it but never left Charlie’s side, and when she went quiet there was no more rustling, so Charlie turned to go back to his stump. She looked back at him, stood there at the edge of the woods for another couple of minutes, then came over by him at the stump again, wagging her tail. He scratched her head. “Good girl. Good girl.”

His dog curled up into a bony ball at Charlie Buck’s feet, and he watched Venus move across the sky from his stump, until the sun started to overpower the power plant lights behind the pines, and then he went inside for a little sleep.

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