THE WAIT - CHRIS BENTON
The house was dark. But the moon found every glowing angle. The surging roar of your heart. You open the door like a mathematician.
I awoke. The bed was wet with everything. My son Robert was going to be killed by North Carolina this evening. He was found guilty of raping and killing his girlfriend on the night of his birthday seven years ago. He had turned twenty-three back then. On the night of her death, he had brought her to the Lost Loop Lounge, a nothing place where barely articulate bastards fled to whenever the social security checks of their dead or decrepit kin were delivered unto them.
My boy was not a bastard, nor an idiot; on the contrary, he inherited his late mother’s love of books. She died giving birth to him, but not before she had read most of the classics to him while he was still dreaming inside her. I swear she drove me to the howling edge with that shit, the larger her belly grew the more fucking words she spewed, insanities about white whales and walled-up wives, and runaway niggers who were Christ in disguise.
I believe my son committed those terrible crimes. He inherited my short fuse; I was in jail five times for assault before he was ever a thought. My old man had a violent soul as well, all it took was a pint of whisky for him to realize just how profoundly worthless he was on this planet. I remember not being able to find his eyes during those nights. At first he’d break shit in the house, but found that there weren’t any release in that, objects would only break, and lay there in merciless pieces, probably laughing at him. I imagine he needed something to react to his rage and remember it, and react and remember we did, my mother and me.
I’ve never hit a woman. Not even a single slap in my sorry existence. I came close on a few occasions, but I’d suddenly see my father’s face and spend the next hour shitting him out of my mouth. I did hit my son, though, hit him numerous times. And so I was wondering, if I somehow fist-fucked a splinter of my old man’s soul into my boy’s mind, because the last time I saw my son in court, I couldn’t find his eyes.
I finally did manage to dig up the courage to see him in prison, up in Raleigh, a couple of weeks ago. First time I saw him since the day he was sentenced. We were separated by plate glass, holding telephones. For a few minutes he stared at me in amazement, like I was a mirage. His eyes were finally gone, and he wore a beard demented with prophecy. We sat there, inside the old silence for a few minutes until he broke it.
“I saw a sneak preview of hell two nights ago,” he whispered. “It doesn’t look good, Dad. Dante took a wrong turn into the woods alright, but who he met was Mickey Mouse, not Virgil, and what he found was fucking Disney World, not hell.”
“You never told me you had a girlfriend,” I said.
“You never asked, Dad. If memory serves, you were almost spiritually content within the oblivion of beer and The Outlaw Jose Wales forever and ever, amen.”
“Did you love her?” For a second, a single second, my question nearly found his eyes.
“Yeah, I loved her; why else would I attempt to impregnate her corpse?”
My tongue tried to untie some rags of love, but my balls kept crawling deeper into my ass. I wasn’t ashamed, I was afraid, and I despised him for it.
I began thinking about evil again for the first time in forty years. My mother spoke of it often late at night, after her screams finally dried on the walls.
“The devil does not live in the world,” she told me. “He does not live in the center of the earth. He does not live on another planet, or in another galaxy, neither.” I was in her arms, on the sofa that her own mother had died on. “You know where the devil lives, Michael?” She lifted her left leg, and her bathrobe dropped like a guillotine blade. She stroked the ragged riddle of bruises that crawled down her thigh, to the doorstep of my true home. “He lives here Michael, where the window is finally clear.”
I took a shower, shaved, and put on some cologne. Dressed in my best white button-up and my pair of Wranglers that weren’t too fucked up from the lumber yard, and the fifty dollar dress boots I bought at Pay Less for my son’s funeral. Despised myself in the bathroom mirror for a few minutes and wondered what my son saw whenever he looked into a mirror. Hell, I didn’t know if death row even had mirrors. Probably not, maybe that was why he had that crazy beard last time I saw him. First and last time I would see him with a beard. I wasn’t going to be there, up in Raleigh, wasn’t going to watch my boy die. I decided to wander, during last hours of the day, until I found the place which had waited for me my entire life.
The sky was clear, true Carolina blue, cleansing the roads. I drove down Mako Lane and saw what looked like a couple of happy families grilling out in front of their trailers. I honked my horn and waved to them, and when they waved back at me with magnificent smiles I stomped on the gas.
Been dreading this place for the past seven years, but my truck didn’t seem to give a shit that afternoon, because it brought me to The Lost Loop Lounge, parking upon a dead universe of bottle caps. The last time I’d been here was after I gave Robert his last great beating, when he was expelled from high school for punching Katie Henson in the face. He crossed the line. Lost all recognition. This is not my beautiful son. These are not my beautiful blood cells. I broke his nose and choked him to sleep, leaving him there upon my grandmother’s sofa.
I got out of my truck and stretched my arms, trying to find the feelings of a bitter boy on his birthday. There were several cars parked in the lot, and I recognized several of them, they belonged to dead men.
The interior of the Lost Loop was as cool as a cancer ward, and like a cancer ward, the patients needed poison to survive. Everyone at the bar turned and gummed me in unison. The oldest patrons couldn’t have been more than thirty. A grey blur of vengeful ink and runaway eyes.
The crack of a cue ball in the game room snapped their attention back to their drinks and conspiracies. I sat down beside a boy who looked liked he’d recently escaped from a chimney.
“A shot of Turkey and a Bud,” I told the bartender, whom I recognized. She was beautiful once, the daughter of my last foreman, who died three years ago from lung cancer. I forgot her name, but she had several names written all over her arms. Names of men and women who were probably dead or waiting, waiting like my son. And then I finally knew; there in that Christ forsaken shit box, waiting was dying, there was no confusion between the two. The ashen boy beside me was staring at me with a kind of careful terror.
“You son gone die soon,” he told me softly.
My shoulders began to throb. I ignored them and downed my shot and stared back at him. “What’s your name, son?”
“I done have no name, Daddy, you ain’t never given me one.”
I looked into his eyes and I saw the missing eyes of my son and father. I reached for my beer and noticed my hand was trembling.
“Was you hands all shaken when beaten the shit out of him?”
The sound of the world had suddenly left me. The little faggot pile was on the filthy floor failing to be lit beneath the heels of my fifty dollar dress boots.
I began hearing him squealing with delight like a child being tickled as I ruptured his rotten sack. I felt arms try to wrap around me and I wrung them like soaked rags. I turned around and the whole bar was creeping toward me like zombies in those dumbass movies the TV never tired of spewing late at night.
“You’re all sorry, all of you, scab scratchin’, half dead sorry asses, all of you,” I told them. I bet your mother never read to each and every one of you.” I left them trying to decipher my bony ass.
Out upon the cracked roads, past the dead fields and crumbling homes, my hands were steady again and my head was finally clear. I turned on the radio and listened to Janis howling litanies of love as I breached the bronze skin of the Neuse. I pulled onto HWY41 and headed into town, pursuing an idea that had been burrowing through my brain for years.
Inside the Piggly Wiggley, I chose the most expensive bottle of white wine they had, and grabbed some fancy crackers and a couple of cans of smoked oysters.
I waited for oaks to smother the last of the light, idling four doors from her house. When her porch light came on, I killed the engine. I sat there for a while, wondering what I was going to say, wondering what I was going to do. When I realized I didn’t have a fucking clue, I got out of my truck.
I walked up to her house letting my feet lose the last of their will. She lived in a dark green double wide. The grass was freshly cut and rose bushes bullied the front porch.
The heart of the door bore a photograph of her and her daughter, the day of a graduation, College, it looked like. Robert never even applied for college. Was that why he lost his eyes? Being forsaken a second time? No. The third, strike three, motherfucker. I was the second. As the truth ate my prostate, the door opened.
She was her daughter’s mother, a strawberry tomboy. She was beautiful, and I was afraid.
“Yes, I know who you are, Michael Dean. I’ve been waiting for you.”
She didn’t give me time to ponder her words because my nose exploded behind her fist. I staggered back, and she was upon me again, on the front porch, with an uppercut and a fierce right hook. I went down, went down hard on top of the twenty dollar bottle of white wine from the fancy region in France.
The house was dark, but the moon found every glowing angle. The surging roar of your heart. You open the door like a mathematician. She’s there, waiting for you, eyes open, smiling like a bride before the vow. You walk towards her, every step a decade.
I awoke, bathed in light on her couch. Jeopardy was on the television. Plants were everywhere, sitting and hanging. A few were staring at me with paranoid hatred. Mrs. Ellen Cause was tweezing the shards of the wine bottle from my chest.
“You were dreaming,” she told me. She wore box framed glasses and a black blouse. She tongued her upper lip whenever she found a splinter.
The remorseless dick of a migraine began to harden inside my sockets. “What time is it?”
“Seven twenty-five, just in time for Final Jeopardy, so shut the fuck up and let me listen.”
I obeyed and watched her hands. She had a plumber’s hands, hands experienced with fixing things and breaking them. There was a wedding ring, but the jewel was gone. My gaze strayed upon her face. Her chin was as hard as her hands, and her lips were thin from years of smothering the wrong words to death in their bed. I couldn’t find a single wrinkle on her beyond the long dark ditch dividing her brow.
“What is the Ganges?” she said.
“Shhhhh!” she hissed, pressing the tweezers to her lips. When Alex Trebek confirmed her question, she smiled and shook her head softly. “Fucking idiots.”
My migraine was getting worse by the second. I needed a drink. And she knew it. My chest was a weeping nightmare. She plucked the last splinter buried beneath my right nipple and said, “You reek of piss; you know that, don’t you?”
I began shaking my head like a moron, and she nodded her head sympathetically and left the room. There was a new shirt upon the coffee table beside me, still in the package. I tore it open and pulled it on. When my hands failed to defeat the first button, she walked back into the den with a bottle of Crown Royal and two tumblers.
“You know you’re fucking that shirt up for life,” she told me, slamming down the tumblers.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“Stop the ma’am shit, I’m not your fucking mother.” Her eyes were a couple of girls giggling beneath a frozen pond. She walked over to me and buttoned up my shirt. When she thumbed the last one, she looked at me and smiled. “You’re more pathetic than I thought. I was waiting for a monster, a true mythic asshole, not a functioning sack of formaldehyde bearing wine.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I said.
She shook her head and poured the tumblers full.
“That was a nice vintage that you brought, too bad you had to fucking fall on it like a tragic trooper.”
She sounded deep Yankee, New England, probably Boston.
“If you can’t translate the label, it must be nice,” I said.
“Don’t try to be smart, it’s already making me sick,” she said, passing me the tumbler. “Hope you like it neat, the ice machine is fucked.”
I drank. And I poured myself another and drank. And poured myself another and set it on the coffee table with divine discipline. “Thank you for the drink, sorry to have troubled you, Ms. Cause,” I said.
“Don’t.” She said.
“Don’t leave. I thought you wanted to share the countdown with me, so we can cathartically console each other and eventually slobber on each other’s genitals.”
I downed the divine discipline. “You’re a strange woman.”
“I am infinite, I contain multitudes,” she said before downing her glass.
“Walt Whitman,” I said, pathetically hiding my pride.
“Really? I thought that was Charles Whitman. Walt’s way overrated.”
“He was a nurse, he healed people.”
“Oh yeah? Have his personal cell number? My daughter’s decomposing corpse is in dire need of some neo-fucking-sporin.”
“I never knew about Cathy, Robert never mentioned her. He just went to work and appeared at home whenever he felt like it.”
“Yeah, serious communication malfunctions at the ole homestead. That’s fine, I sympathize, and Cathy never shared the meat as well. She always attracted psychos, though, always sending out pheromones for Frankenstein’s latest failures.”
“What time is it?”
“Ten till eight, almost time for us to wonder what the fuck happened to our lives.”
We could have done this forever, could have talked, could have screamed, could have wept, could have fucked, and could have shared a sweaty, bitter bed with no words left. But this was not the place. This was a long festering mistake. There wasn’t much time. I finally knew the place that was waiting for me. I rose to leave and all she said was, “Drive safe.”
I pulled onto the dead universe of bottle caps once more. I only had a few minutes, if that. I jogged to the front door and kicked it down swinging the Louisville Slugger I’d bought for Robert when he was seven. He didn’t have much use for it, save for curing dying dogs, which was what I was curing now. I connected with several heads, a couple of them female, but they didn’t seem offended in the least. The bat was vibrating with joy. My arms were finally found and overwhelmed and someone was beating me with what felt like the biggest, brightest diamond in the world. They were all over me, eager for a small scrap of love.
The house was dark. But the moon found every glowing angle. The surging roar of your heart. You open the door like a mathematician. She’s there, waiting for you, eyes open, smiling like a bride before the vow. You walk towards her, every step a decade. The old man asleep beside her, howling for a way back home. You reach towards her, but it’s your son who gently takes the pillow from under her head. He’s smiling and his eyes and ears are black and wide.
The wait was finally over.
BIO: Chris Benton was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina where he still resides. His stories have appeared in A TWIST OF NOIR, PLOTS WITH GUNS, THRILLERS, KILLERS ‘N’ CHILLERS, BLACK HEART and CRIMEFACTORY. He can be found on facebook.
Launch: GRACE by Paul Lynch
1 hour ago