Thursday, November 16, 2017

The astronumerology analysis of the abbreviation JDIGB.

OK.  You all know me.  Some of you know me better - now, this is just online -  than others.  Those of you who don't know me as well as the others do should probably give each others big high fives plus 40 ouncers of malt liquor and money because the stuff you don't know about me is all pathetic and whiny and messed up and shit.

But anyway, you all know me.  And you know I bitch about not liking motherhood, and  being glad it's over, and particularly my being pissed off at my daughter because she had this completely unpredictable temper, like "Of course I love cute puppiYOU ARE SATAN AND THE WORLD IS A HEAP OF SUCKyeah, puppies are pretty awesome."

It was really like that.  OK that's an oversimplification but still.  You never knew when her shit would go off like a goddamn bomb, or for how long, or why.
Ever.
And Oh My God, If you asked her "Why are you upset?"
First, she'd deny it.
Then, she'd get pissed off that you'd even askeHISSSSSSSSSSSS 666 HATE RAGE BITCH SHRIEK HEAD SPLITS IN HALF AND FIRE SHOOTS OUT.

None of that happened on this visit.
None of that happened at all on this visit.
Nothing even came close to maybe happening that way on this visit.

Why not?

First of all, she finally got her physical maladies diagnosed, which lead, via co-morbid 'Oh shit I have that' realizations, to her going in to a psychiatrist, who put her on a few pediatric doses of psychiatric stuff, like me, and that was all it took for her to suddenly realize "Oh fuck I am bipolar."

Also, "Oh fuck I have been a rampaging cunt."

 And so, Steely Dan is completely accurate when they attest that "Any 'mount of world that breaks apart falls together again."  It's just that sometimes it takes fuckin' decades of sewage before it falls together again.  And, you know, Steely Dan, I'd have appreciated you throwing that little bit of  information in there.  Walter Becker, I know your ass hears me.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Finding Home

I live in the woods now.

Not, I mean, in the total wilderness because there's things I need and so I have to stay close in to town, but yeah, no more sleeping outside, no more snug bedroom in the back of the shop.  No more summer in the warm grass circles that the elk leave.  Now it's just me and the fat dog.

 I lost my Roth hard.

It was planned.

He was sideswiped while he was riding his motorcycle.  I saw what happened to him.  That's all I'm going to say about that.

 I saw Roths' leather nailed upside down over the fireplace of Cristy Copelands house.

I made Cristy Copeland look me in the eyes and I shot him through the head.

Cristy wore a skinny braid that hung down in back.  I cut it off and sewed it  through the eye of the breast pocket zipper on Roths' jacket.  I cut off all the flash and badges and sewed up all the holes and tears, and I rolled up the cuffs and put it on.  Stains and all.
I sleep in it. I wear it unless it gets too hot.  Then I carry it.

I know I am not sane.

Now I am here in the dark of myself.  When it gets too dark I drink.  When that doesn't cut it I lay out a rail of Adderal.  When neither of those work I'm fucked, and I shudder in fits so hard they actually hurt and remember, remember, remember.

I didn't know until I met Naismuth that his brothers' name was actually Hrothgar.

Naismuth and I live in Fairchild.  He and his dog live in a quonset building which also serves as Naismuths repair shop.  He is secretly pissed off that his fat, spoiled, malodorous dog decided to live with me.  But the dog is the kind of dog that decides whether or not what you want him to do is what he wants to do.  Roth used to call him a breed-standard  Asshole-hound.  And doggy altruism aside, God bless him,  the fat dog also holds this huge grudge against Naismuth.  It has to do with something that happened right before Roth was killed. So yes. The damn dog is using me as an excuse for some getback.

Here's what happened, according to the dog:  'Hey hippie, wake up and come look what I did! It was awesome! Reward me!  Instead the hippie grabs him by the collar, gives him a cold bath under the hose in the middle of the night and then rolls him around on the greasy floor and stuffs a quid of chewing tobacco down his throat which makes him puke until he's nearly dead.  Then he wakes up at the vets, in a cage, and they wash him AGAIN. When you look at it from that point of view, it's perfectly understandable.

But here's the deal:  the poor fat thing was doing his job and deserves to be lauded as the hero dog he is. Three guys were trying to break in to the shop, and they were armed.  Naismuth slept through the whole incident, which ended up with a shot being fired and a dead shithead lying in the dirt.  The dog, having just taken out this tweaker and saved everybody's life, plus the shop and all the tools,  looks around and sees no Naismuth.  And so off trots the dog to go tell Naismuth that he just tore a guy into what I recall looked like a red rug with a head, not worried about the fact he was soaking everything with blood.  Naismuth had to wash everything, including himself, off, then get the dog dirty all over again, then purge him and call the police and play dumb and hope to fuck he hadn't just killed his best friend, because sure as shit if the vets had got something to show the police they'd have put the dog down. The official story goes that, after poisoning the dog, tweaker wannabes A and B took off when sad puke C was attacked by coyotes and fired his gun.  The story stands because it's a good story and people like dead criminals better than the live kind.

They say an animal that has tasted human flesh comes to prefer it.  I think that's some Boris Karloff bullshit.  From living with him I think that the fat dog psyche is two columns:  the heading 'List of things I own,' and 'Things to pay attention to in order of urgency'.  Human flesh is not on the list.  Horse crap is, though.  Only the fat dog knows why.

When I started sleeping all day, and to roam out further from the shop, at night, all hours, out into the meadow and down along the river, the fat dog came with me.

 I thought that I 'd been holding it together pretty good.  Everyone else noticed me acting weird a long time before I had a clue.  I was sleeping outside in random places and not eating, and sometimes I'd just stand and doing nothing for hours.  After awhile I couldn't make myself stay in the room Naismuth had made for me in his shop. I just kept going further away.

Naismuth has lived here for about half his life in a bus out behind his big Quonset shop. He's pretty much slotted solidly into the community, oddly enough, when you consider he's a gay hippie in a community which is primarily composed of right-wing Jesus-fearing home folks.

There's a sign on a big piece of plywood that Naismuth brings outside every morning he feels like working (which is every day, unless his dog kills a tweaker in the driveway) and props next to the door.  It reads 'Naismuth Motor'.  Singular.  For whatever hippie-ass reason.

He is a mechanical genius.  If you bring him something with a motor he can repair it. A blender.  A front loader. He can fabricate, cast, weld and even wham out fancy ironwork, not that the need for it comes up much.  Now of course it's not like he gets any extraordinary respect for this;  everyone knows who you mean when someone mentions ' that fuckin' hippie', but then neither does the fuckin' mailman or the fuckin' mayor.

Fairchild is a small pioneer town on the dry side of the mountains, the first one  after the pass.  The main run of the citizens of Fairchild are descendants of the pioneer Danish, all members of an obscure Lutheran sect and square-headed, stubborn fuckers to the last man.  Of course times have changed, and a straggling few other mutts and nationalities call Fairchild home too, and here we are, all living our small lives in this minute, fretwork Victorian relic of a town where all the north/south streets are named for presidents and the east - west ones for trees.

  We have one cafe/drug store where the Greyhound bus stop is, one engine repair, one Card-Loc gas station, a sawmill and a quarry, plus the antiquey-crafty shit  that never lasts.  There's a corner store with three gas pumps.  That's one of the places that Granite Bluff Penitentiary  has contracted with to 'transition' released prisoners back into the community.  Same for the Turn On Inn Restaurant and Lounge.

A woman name of Sandy is the head waitress there. She's also everything else that needs doing if nobody else will,  the real reason that it's still a business at all because the owner lives in California and couldn't give a fuck.  She's the head waitress, the manager, the bookkeeper and relief cook, and she takes care of making sure the building has a good roof and gutters and the paint looks fresh and the cook doesn't butt out his cigarettes in the hamburgers.

I guess you could say she' s a friend of mine, like the fry cook there is my friend too, and the bartender, sort of.  But it's not like we hang out in a circle and sing Kumbayah, you know.  We see each other and talk.  Usually around  last call and closing time pretty much.  I like being in the night time now more than I like the day time.  Nothing I want anything to do with happens during the day.

  I help out cleaning.  It was easy to get the job; I just showed up one night at the back door with the shakes so bad I thought I'd crack into a million pieces, and said "Give me something to do."  I got a ladder and a bucket and some rags and some cleaning shit and I cleaned until the real color of the ceiling tins came back.  That took me three nights and it didn't taste good either.  All while I was doing this, they made me stop during the day, so, manic and shuddering, I would go out and sit in a plastic lawn chair up under the covered back stoop area  and sip my drink and chew ice out of the machine until they turned off the 'open' sign in front and let me back in to work.

"We're going to have to get you on a routine," Sandy announced on the last evening.  "I can't have you in here like this looking like you haven't got anyplace to live, and you smell like it too.  So now when you're done here you go down and wash up real good at Naismuths, go get in bed and sleep, and then you wake up and come in around closing.  Can you remember that?"  I nodded.  "Good," she said.  "Now you'll get minimum wage and meals here same as everyone does.  But all it takes now is for you to bag off work just once  and you don't need to come back no more, same as everybody else."

"I wouldn't worry about her bagging off," the bartender noted. "We can barely keep her out."

All night long I clean, and work on certain projects that strike me as needing to be addressed.  One project had me chipping the fossilized who knows what off of the chairs.  Then I got rid of the unforgivable nastiness wiped under the patrons' side of the bar with a wood chisel from Naismuth.  It's like satin under there now, and I Varathaned it too.  I used a paint scraper on the walls and got into the corners of the rug-patterned linoleum with a paring knife; went over every inch of that floor with a brush and a rag and a bucket of hot water and a block of Red Devil lye soap. There's lots more projects I have in mind.  Sometimes I even fill ketchups and roll lunch settings, at least for as long as I can sit still.

That's another one of the things that happened to me after Roth died.  I get compulsive. It just happens. My mind and my whole self ramps up into a sprint.  It's like an electric thing in you that spins so fast it smokes.

I started living in the little cabin-house whatever you want to call it because people kept saying 'Oh, I heard you were living in Jeppesens' old place" so finally I said what the fucks up with this? and went out to check out Jeppesons' old place and realized I was the pawn once again in one of Naismuths hippie love campaigns.  The interior was spotless.  There was no wildlife living in the woodstove.  A knothole in the floorboards had been patched with a neatly shaped piece of stainless steel.

What sucked was that it was a really good idea.  I've been moving in increments ever since, shoes here, a bag of clothes there.  I'm on two paths and I'm under the mistaken impression I can walk whichever one I want to.  But why let Naismuth know that I know?

The little place was never meant as housing.  Instead it was an outbuilding to a larger place that burnt down.  It sets up on a stack of flat rocks, dead level. On one wall there's the woodstove (unoccupied) with a sheet of tin beneath and behind it.  Works perfectly, but I never use it for anything but to set stuff on.  On the opposite wall is a solid slab clay fireplace burnt hard and black, with a nook to dry firewood and a shelf inside.  It has flat stones from the river all around the floor for a hearth and up alongside the clay chimney too. All the wood is cut just so, coped so close you can't see light between the joins.  You can tell the guy who built it was Danish.  You can always what they had a hand in constructing.  It might lean, but only because it wants to.

 The fireplace draws no matter which way the wind screams over the ridge.  The fat dog sleeps so close to the fire that when his fur is full of rain it gives off steam.
Whenever  I wake up the fat dog is asleep in the curl of my body.

Now.
The fall of the year is just beginning, too beautiful for words to express, too beautiful to be on Earth.

Most animals were giving voice to whatever song their throats made, but the elk...oh, the elk. They called day and night, the most ancient beautiful, frightening sound, like ghostly Vikings at war from hillside to hillside.  The late customers at the restaurant would freeze like rabbits when they heard it, and the staff would camp it up and look at each other all big-eyed and whisper "Bigfoot".  Me, it put in mind the idea of stocking up for winter. The next evening I was ready.

I'm a lying on the ground by a log shooter.  Fuck deer stands and fuck standing altogether.  I'm not the steadiest aim and my shoulder knows it, from ever since the first time I fired a rifle, bruised my rotator cuff, and got knocked on my back like a rag doll.

When I got off work in the indigo blue of near morning, a shovel, a sturdy few zip-ties, k-bar, ammo and rifle were waiting for me near a spot where some bird had planted an apple tree.   Brought down a good fat doe.  It dressed out so nice it was like taking off a pair of pants.  I scraped a hole and  peeled back the sod and rolled the gut pile right down in, and was altogether proud as hell until I was about a mile away from my place, which is when being sick and tired of dragging a dead animal that weighed as much as I did started to take over.  I'd just broken several serious laws, though, which was cheering.

Making my smoke shack had meant breaking several more federal and state laws. I was out of breath and damned glad I'd done it beforehand, sly and hidden back a ways in the brush.

There's an art to smoking meat, so you can't just walk away.  You want a mix of fragrant steam, which you get with alder chips soaked in water,  but you want the fragrant smoldering smoke too.  Flames are too hot, and you'll get something you could use to patch a roof.  Too cool  and no smoke.  Your meat just goes soft and the fat flies blow it rotten with maggots.

Deep in this process I was peaceful and not-mind, as Nais would put it. I worked through the whole bright blue of the day among the longleaf pines, tan blowing tall grasses and green turf.  After I was finished I smelled as smoked as the deer.  Despite that, I could still detect ice in the air.  Not close, but on it's way.

 Someplace along the line I'd gotten the notion I was going to spend the winter in the cabin and I was either going to make it work or come out the other side as as scattered bones, dammit.  I hung the good hard smoked venison from my bear pole and felt pretty invincible. Yeah, Fuck everything.  Fuck the bad weather that came screaming through the passes and froze the ground down too deep to stick a shovel in.  Fuck the sudden freezes that came when the air was still, frozen alders bursting when the first sun struck them.  Fuck the snow, the rain, the sleet and the ice storms.

Ice storms.

I sat down fast there in the autumn sun at the thought of ice storms with my heart hammering.  I hadn't seemed able to feel afraid of anything since the last summer, but when I thought of ice storms it brought back years of memories of frightening, glittering winters spent over on the other side of the mountains,  transformers exploding in the night to light up the dark with a dangerous blue flare - and then the electricity would go out, and the cold and ice would creep in closer and closer and all the sun did was make it beautiful.

I wasted I don't know how many hours sitting there thinking about ice storms, over and over and around and around. I couldn't stop it. 

I stood up and began walking around the cabin.  The fat dog had started out following me in case I was doing something that had to do with food, but once he figured out I was just walking in a circle, grimly wearing myself down into nearly nothing so I could sleep, he went off alone on his own business.

I was glad, then, the next morning, that I  had take the time to work out my crazy and was passing for a normal young woman on her day off, sat on the stoop sewing up the ravel on a sweatshirt where the cuff got snagged in the blackberries when sure as shit here came Naismuths' International grinding its way over the river rocks.

I don't know why International Harvester doesn't make trucks anymore.  They were total  brutes.  Nothing goes wrong with it;  just small shit Naismuth can fix with copper wire, good vibes, a tampon, and some Marvel Mystery oil.  Done, it will pull up a hill like a goddamn ox.

I didn't want the company but if I heard him I waited for him because if I didn't he'd go and bug the shit out of everyone in town until the next time I went down, I got bothered by people I don't want to know telling me that Naismuth is trying to get ahold of me, and seriously, fuck that.  All these people I don't want to know who know me feels really intrusive.  I don't stick my nose into their business.  So why in fuck is "Hey, Mainly,  Naismuth is looking for you" the town Olympic sport?

"Small town, poor t.v. reception" said Naismuth.  The fat dog was lying in his lap like a roadkill possum, dozy from the fatty elk scraps Nais had brought him.  "You can't live 100 percent without other people.  They won't let you."

"Fuckin' A," I agreed.

"So.  You got a deer over by Fourchets place," he continued.

 Oh Naismuth, you have fallen into my carefully laid trap, I told myself.

I had to give Fourchet part of what I shot because that's how it is.  Everyones' property is posted and nobody pays any attention to it just so long as you don't shoot the owner, but do share what you shoot with the owner.  That presented a problem for me because it meant interacting with a human person. So I left my shell there on the ground and figured Naismuth would just sort of take care of it.  And here he was.

"You took your shot from the ditch right across the street from the shop, Mainly. Police your brass; shit.  I saw it when I left to go to breakfast this morning," Nais said.

"Good detective work, MoonPuppy," I replied.  He just shook his head.

The meat was still hanging from the bear pole.  We wrestled it down into the bed of the truck and decided what parts to give away while the fat dog nosed and chewed at a hoof that I'd saved him.  "If my dog gets some kind of deer AIDS from that I'm coming up here with a bag and I'll put you in it with a bowling ball, piss on it, and hang you from the top of a lodgepole pine until your soul has been tenderized", he said. "We'll give Fourchet a shoulder and a backstrap and, oh, I guess some of the neck too.  And you're going to hoist ass into my truck and come with me."

"Like fuck I am," I said, utterly astonished.  Naismuth never made a big deal out of shit like this!  Oh no.  Not part of my plan.  Not on a bet.

We looked at each other across the bed of the truck.

Naismuth reached inside his truck through the drivers side window and opened the door.

The fat dog hesitated, then grabbed the hoof and jumped up into the cab.

"Go fuck yourself," I suggested.

More silence.

"Fine, Jesus.  Let me go get my coat first".  As I ran into the house for my leather jacket I saw Nais sitting in the drivers' seat with his head down on the steering wheel.

"The more you creep around out here in East Chuck LaFuck like this the more people are going to think of you as a dangerous nocturnal nut" he said. Yeah, yeah, yeah, here came the lecture.  We rolled and bucked slowly down the river rocks while the fat dog gnarled and grumbled at his deer hoof beneath our feet. "And the more you run around wearing that goddamned thing on your coat the more they're going to be sure of it.  Throw it away."

I stuffed Roths' jacked down between me and the passenger door. "Go fuck yourself," I suggested.  "Wait, I already used that. Eat shit and fly South".

"At least get rid of the hair, ok?  Keep the jacket.  Everyone gets that. But take that greasy ass dirty thing off the zipper and burn it or something.  Jesus.  It doesn't do anything toward making you look saner."

"Good.  Then people won't fuck with me."  I surprised us both by the way those words cracked. I believed them, and I didn't believe them.  Like I said, I was on two paths, thinking I could pick and choose.

"Don't kid yourself.  One day here some inbred piece of Canyon Runner shit might tie you to a table."

"Don't be sick." I glared determinedly out the passenger window.

"No.  Listen to me.  I heard, and so did Sandy and the bartender whatshisname, bowtie, fuck, Pierce.  Doug Pierce.  Buffalo Mike was in bright and early this morning running his mouth.  He was talking about you, Mainly.  He had a lot to say about you.  Including the table comment.  He wanted to be heard."

Naismuth was genuinely worried.  I didn't feel much of anything.  The fat dog went quiet and clambered up onto the seat between us, even though he got baffed every time Naismuth shifted gears.  Ravens followed us all the way to Fourchets, calling above us in high circles.

"Well', Mr. Fourchet said, "That's not, oh boy! Huh! Thats, I'd sure be a stupid idiot if I turned that, you know, you smoked that yourself; I, boy, I won't turn that, uh, down," he half-laughed.  Mr. Fourchet was a man whose words didn't arrive at the mailbox in time to be understood, or in the right order to be answered.  The half-laugh was, I don't know, just to piss you off in case you already weren't ready to strangle him.

"Come, come on now, it's, it's, you know, I was just headed out but, right up the steps, sure.  Just right up the steps into the, yeah.  I was just headed, you know, I got rental so, hey, whoops, that's, don't - "  The uncomfortable way he filled the air with words made carrying a couple of pounds of meat indoors into an awkward, clumsy, slow ordeal until we reached the sink; and Mr. Fourchet thrusting unneeded hands into the mix and laying steadying hands on shoulders that didn't need steadying helped not one bit.  He sidled his way in and took over the task of cutting the meat and in his stumbling way let us know he would take the situation from there.

We ended up spending an hour on what should have been a 15 minute visit.   As soon as the truck door slammed we both sighed - so heavily and so identically that we both lost it laughing.   And as I laughed Naismuth hugged me.

I don't know if I can explain how right it was, just wrapped in Naismuths nasty L.L. Bean mackinaw all covered in grease and dog hair and the smell of burnt metal and marijuana and gasoline and Naismuth.  I was just there for a little while, but... I was just there, for a little while.  Between all the floods of feelings and pictures and compulsions on either side of it, that one moment added another rung to a ladder I didn't realize I might be climbing.

Naismuth didn't take me home either.  He made me go with him to eat breakfast.  Well, brunch, for normal people.

Naismuth explained that he wanted to make sure I wasn't a vampire so we had to go someplace where witnesses could watch him stick silverware on me and see if I burned up.  Sandy greeted us, showed us to our favorite table, the one by the roadside window,  called Naismuth a three-legged tree-hugging dirt worshipper and refused to provide him with excess silverware.  "It's all cheap steel stuff from the restaurant supply anyway," she said, with the trace of sugar-South in her voice that was like melting butter.  Naismuth clasped hands with her and they kind of grinned at each other like they were in love.  And they did dearly love one another - but Naismuth only fucked other guys and Sandy fucked what was left over, or vice-versa; I tried not to know.

The grill chef motioned me back into the kitchen with his spatula.

Let me state here that the cook was an ex-con and a complete asshole, but he was a pro-social asshole; plus, he always made me my hamburger with a thick slice of bermuda onion that had been fried brown on each side,  which in my opinion is the perfect way to construct a burger.  "If Mr. Hippie Tie Dye hasn't already told you, your ass is grass"  he announced, flipping eggs and pancakes and bacon and moving buttered biscuits around the flat top.  "You strapped up?"

"You can go to jail for asking me that," I replied.  Just like I feared, here we go, one more person up in my shit.

"Are you?" he asked.

I thought about this for a long couple of minutes while I ate what was truly a great burger.  "Um."

He nodded.  Way ahead of me.

My inner Grinch grouched.  Am I strapped up; fuuuuuck. You want to play?  Well let's play then.

"Hey, you know what?  I got no idea what your name is.  Do you got, like, a name?" I asked him.

"Hey!" he barked.  Hell yeah, you dick.  The guys in the transition program were still jumpy and  jailhouse-leery about revealing their particulars.  Back at you.

"OK. I'll start.  Hello! I'm Mainly! You and I have known each other for about eight months now!  What I do for a living is I live here and people stay away from me so they don't get any crazy on them.  Now.  What's your fuckin' name?  Unless you don't plan on being here, you know, long," I alluded, playing the townie, just to make him uncomfortable, like I expected him to break parole.

"Milton," he said in a very un-Miltonish voice.  "Milton Freewater.  Look me up online. Felons released in the Conway County area.  They got my address too.  Come by my house Trick or Treating.  I'll give you a treat, " he said, in a way that made me not want to go Trick or Treating at his house. The breakfasts sizzled and turned and suddenly I didn't feel so salty anymore.

"Ok, listen, I'm being a bitch.   I'm grateful for the heads up," I explained.  "You're cool with me. Serious you are.  We are groovy in a happening way.   If I say "Hey Milton" are you going to pretend like you heard nothing or are you going to say hi back?"

"My aunt would have thrown a pan of hot grease on you by now," said Milton "Holystone my flattop tonight."

"You season it."

"Course I'm going to season it, ya dumb twat;  I want it done right."

I crumpled up the napkin I'd been using and threw it away.  "Is there anything else you'd like to share, Mr. Freewater?"  I asked.

There was.  We made our usual exchange.  The guy was a dick of the first water, but his Adderal was mm-mm good.
_______________________________________

The only thing I loved from my true heart back during then was the pure, pure indigo sky that covered the earth as I walked home from work. It was too late for the stars but too early for the least hint of the sun.  Everyone in town that needed to be up that early was hidden by curtains that only let out soft yellow light.  I walked from blacktop parking lot to gravel to pavement to grass, then gravel, paved road, and finally Naismuths' driveway leading down from the main drag on the west end of town.

If he had anything going at that hour I might stay and help if he wanted it.   There was no light on and no smoke coming out of the chimney of his bus, so I cut through across the field and on into the border of alders along the river, in blithe disregard of the fact that prey species are crepescular.  From there I dropped down into the flood cut, into the dark of the sapling trees along the riverside until I saw my landmark.  I thought about how the river would rise in the next few weeks as I crossed over it on bare stones.

My little place sat back at the high end of a small patch of prairie on the other side.   Azure camas grew there in the spring, beautiful clumps of star-blue flowers taller than me.
The deadly variety was indistinguishable from the edible one.

The thing was, I was so primed.  Let me make it clearer:  I really, really wanted to take out another 'Runner. For months in fact I'd thought about all the different ways, deep in blood, oblivious to everything.

On the other hand, this  moron biker war,  Rock Steady against Canyon Runner, had been going on since the late 50's for no better reason than just for the sake of someone to point a gun at,  and talk big about later over tequila shots.  It was stupid.  It was one bunch of sheep-brained cracker retards versus the same goddamn thing.  It was embarrassing and pointless and as trashy as a mud road trailer park.

My better instincts usually held.   Then I'd catch sight of a Runner or see one of their bikes parked someplace and everything would just go white. Just buzzing white.  And my hands would clench and clench, clenching around the stock of a rifle that wasn't there.

I had a pistol.  Fuck; everybody had a pistol.  When you aren't at the top of the food chain where you live, you have a pistol.  When you're disturbed enough to wander around at night like I did you have a  really good pistol and you carry it in such a way that it draws smoothly.  But as long as the subject is guns, it's my personal opinion that you don't want to use a hand gun on another person. I speak from experience.  Their death blows back in a screaming red rain and you breathe it in and you both die at the same time.

Since that very event marked the end of a time in my life that I'd fucked up royally and buried with Roth, I made myself deliberately behave as though I'd learned my lesson and weren't gonna study war no more.
Sometimes that was true.

I've wondered:  Say you're a a young guy or a woman, a soldier, with a short life an entirely possible future.  Killing someone might end up being the peak experience of your life for fucks' sake.   But say you survived. What's bigger than willfully taking a human life? How in the hell do you live with that for the rest of your life?

How in hell would I live with killing Cristy Copeland for the rest of my life?
________________________________________________


I was sitting on an old toolbox with one handle cut off watching Naismuth inside the engine compartment of a snowtrack.  "Be careful now, you don't want to come help me.  The daylight might hit you, Draculette.  Aaauuuugh! My beautiful wickedness!"

"You're mixed up between your Wicked Witch of the West and your Dracula, bud.  Dracula said shit like "Leesten to da chil-daren of da night. Vat musik dey make!"  The Wicked Witch, oh fuck it."

"Hey, feed the dog for me would you?"

"You do it.  When I do it smells delicious and it weirds me out."

"Ooohhhhhhhh....oh what a world, what a world....noooooo......"  was the only answer I got.

After I'd relented and opened the can of food and dumped it on the ground, I climbed the ladder up into the mezzanine and looked around for something to arrange.  After the dog had globbered the food down in one breath like nobody would ever make canned dog food again he followed right after me. It never ceased to amaze me.

"For a three hundred year old damn dog with an ass like a bowling ball he sure gets around like a puppy," I said.  It was true, too.  It was a perpendicular ladder for fucks sake; nailed to one of the old growth beams that held the place up. Up he hopped, farting every rung.  Of course once he was up there he had no way of getting down, so he had a dogavator.  I tied a tool bag to a rope and ran it through a pulley with a back-brake on it. I'd put him in the bag, and he'd just sit there like a fat pasha with his paws over the edge and his head sticking out, twirling as he rode down.

"Hey, bring the middle skookum hoist  down over here," called Naismuth.  I walked rafter to rafter to the rail where the old chain hoist crouched, black with old grease and velvety with the dust that had stuck to it.  I pushed it up to where Naismuth was flailing and gesturing.  "I can see where it has to go, doofus," I told him.

"Well fuckdamn.  I wasted a whole interpretive dance moment.  You look like the ghost of a pair of longjohns up there."  I could hear him racheting away in the bowels of the snow track. "What I don't get is how someone with the spatial awareness to ski down a mountain  can run a goddamn snow track over a boulder.  Snow is white!  Boulders - not white!  It's so simple!"

"The guy was drunk probably," I said.

"Sandy told me Cristys' got a brother who just started work at the plywood mill."

I was surprised to find myself mildly freaked out.

"Shit.  So. What's that mean?"

"In the absence of a dogfight people will settle for the same kind of behavior from humans", he replied.  "In this corner, timely visitor with a dead brother.  And in this corner, a mean little chick who forgets to eat.  Oh, I can feel you wanting to, little Mainly.  You're glowing."  He looked up at me.

"I can't save your life forever," stated Naismuth.  "This winter you're going to go it on your own.  Remember:  Stupid people die." And then, because he was Naismuth, he went right on and ignored himself.  "If I was you I'd buy a trail runner with all the thousands of dollars I've paid you over the years."

"Year and a third," I corrected him.

"And buy a good brand generator too.  Hey!  I might have something you could use! Stop, zoop, rewrite, wipe, zzzzz, four clacks, eight tracks, rewind. OK.  Let me look around.  Gas cans are no problem. The problem is where to keep them.  So vinyl ones, OK.  Now what about stove wood?  Have you cleaned out your chimney? I think I hear someone yelling."

We both listened.

Outside, up on the road, a police car blipped it's siren.
________________________________________________

Turned out it wasn't a police car; not strictly anyway.

"Fuckdamn you stupid dog, what're you're trying to do, eat a whole great big ol twig pig?" Naismuth said in as ridiculous a voice as I had ever heard him use while he cuddled and nuzzled the dog in his arms. "You gonna eat a whole twig pig? No you not. No you not! Now why you trying to eat the twig pig?"

The game warden had obviously seen a lot so none of that phased him.  "Miss, do you live up in Jeppesens' cabin?"

"No," I said.  Butter wouldn't melt.

"Well,  the reason I'm here today is that I had a call about you shooting a deer here in town."

"Huh!" I replied.

"I seen where you buried your gut pile across the road there," he replied.  I said nothing.  "Let's start with this. I got to check your tag book."

"Tag?" I asked.

"Miss, do you have a license to hunt?"

"No."

"Mr. Naismuth, could you pay attention for a moment?"

"Aw, I could pay attention to you all day long,'ol chubby chubby fat fat," he said, maybe to the dog.

"Sir, does this girl live with you here?"

"She's got a room back behind the counter," he replied. "That's where all her shit is."

"But you're not sure?  Because you sooooorta sound kind of not sure."

"Hey, man, I live in a bus out back.  I don't know what she does in there.  I just got her to keep down the rats." And off he strode back down the driveway with bouncy steps, talking nonsense to the dog.

The  ranger swept at the leg of his pants. "I never even heard it. The darn thing just grabbed on and held.  Like I had my leg in a block of cement. Had to reach in through the window to get to the siren."

He looked at me.  I looked at him.

"So you don't have a hunting license, you don't have deer tags, but you live here? Is that right?"

"Yeah.  Look, there's some elk out in the field," I pointed helpfully toward where three distant does were gazing placidly over the waving grasses.

We stood there, and I watched his eyes travel all over me and my jacket and clothes, and finally he got back into his SUV. "I'm headed over to Mr. Fourchets place, then, so...."

"Tell him we said hey," I said.
___________________________________________________________

The news of Cristys' brother did what nobody else, including myself, had been able to do for nearly a year:  it reminded me I had a spine.

The next day, bright and early, I woke up, got dressed, threw back my shoulders and walked into town.

I walked every single paved street in town, too.  Sometimes I took a rest in the shade.  I picked up a horse chestnut that looked like a sea mine.

It crossed my mind that I hadn't taken an active role in local politics in quite a while, so I went to City Hall, a beautiful old brick and concrete building in the Victorian Federal style, gently tilted cattywompas from southeast to northwest.  I walked up the worn steps, through the tall windowed double doors,  and down the hallway to the Mayors' office.  Knocked on the huge oak door, a beautiful piece of woodwork all dentillated and scrolled with a fine big piece of rolled glass in the center and the words "Office of the Mayor" pressed on in leaf gold.

I let myself in and sat down.

"Is there something I can do for you?" asked the Mayors' secretary from up over the monitor of her huge old yellowing computer.

"Nope," I replied.

I waited for, oh, about three minutes - not too bad, about average - and the chief of police came jangling in.

Chief Erlund and I had a serious hate-on for each other from way back.  It was beautiful and pure - two people who despised every single thing the other one was and stood for.  I rose when he came in and reached out to shake his hand, which so unnerved him that he actually participated.

"Nice to see you!  How had life been treating you lately, Officer?" I asked, selling him every used car on the lot and holding his gaze with a steely sincerity, like they really were all low mileage.  "I've been doing so-so since the last time we met, but I can't complain."

"You have a nice day now," he replied in a voice as distant as the moon, and left the room.

I caught the secretary's glance. "Well, I'm headed out.  You have a nice day too," I said.  Then I walked out of the office and back down the hall, the braid on my jacket swinging back and forth.

About three steps away from the front doors I could have sworn I saw the fat dog looking in at me for just a second.  When I saw, and smelled, the long crescent smear of fresh shit just outside the police station doorway on the side of the building,  I thought to myself, either the dog had been here, or the other cops made Erlund shit outside.  I know I would.

As I was strolling around the root-buckled sidewalks I noticed that one of the women in town, a Mrs. Lund as I found out, ran a beauty shop out of her front room. There was a little handpainted 'Country Lady Beauti Shoppe' sign on the fence, almost swallowed by old Zephyrine roses.  It was a nice house too, one of the old grande dames, and it was in perfect repair, every rail and half moon and recurvature as spruce as the day it was made. I made a spur of the moment fashion decision.

"Do I need an appointment?"  I asked.

There I was standing in my usual:  aggressively offensive leather jacket, black pocket t-shirt, boot-cut wranglers with vibram loggers' caulks laced up over them to mid-calf; and heaven bless her, she stood aside and said "Well now it depends on what you want, but come on in and you can look through the magazines."

Afterward I took my time walking to the restaurant, my hair swinging around my face like feathers, all of it trimmed and fluffed and the cleanest it had been in more than a year; not that I didn't do my best, but I showered under a hose stuck through a window in Naismuths shop bathroom for fucks' sake and the water was hard as a rock.  I resolved to visit Mrs. Lund again in a few weeks, unless I found out anything fucked up about her in which case - well.

"She walks in beauty!  I may faint.  Feel my pulse, I'm having the fantods," said the bartender when he saw me step up to the rail. "Or is it fantod singular?  How many fans in a tod?"

This was a good example of why he was kind of my friend.  That, and the big green velvet bow tie he wore.  I dunno. It was just off-putting.

"If all it takes is a haircut then you must be up to your tits in snatch," I said, not unkindly.  "I decided to remind the world that I'm a girl today...no reason, I was just in the mood."

He poured me a shot. "No rocks," he announced, which is something he always said, for whatever mysterious bartender reason.  "One of these days I'll have to check your I.D.," he added, which was something else he always said.

At that I pulled out the little card case I carried and handed it across the bar.  "I'm just as surprised as you are," I replied to the question he was going to ask.  He ran it under his little fake id light and handed it back.

"Fuck.  Me.  Running," he marvelled.

 I marvelled too.  The man had been amazed right out of his jolly barman personna for one perfect moment. It was so beautiful. But he recovered his cool immediately.

"Oops, excuse me!  I don't generally talk that way in front of ladies.  Well I guess you just caught me being ungentlemanly.  On the house, miss."

I tipped it back and noticed the ranger standing next to me just as the liquor hit my throat.  I did not choke, nor did I splutter.  I know how to drink.  I pissed myself a little, though.

"You mind if I have a look at that i.d?" he asked.

I couldn't think of a reason why not, and he took a long look at it, and me, and back. Handed me back the card case.  And stood there.

I had a new 'do and a legitimate i.d.  I stood there too, dammit.

"Uh" said the ranger. "Names David Lee, by the way."

"Hey," I replied.  I couldn't think of a thing to say to the guy.

"So I was looking at your i.d. there and I sorta noticed that your name isn't Mainly," he remarked. "Any reason for-"

We all waited.

"He's got my pantleg again," said Ranger Lee.

And there at our feet sat the fat damn dog, his tail sweeping the dust off the floor, his jaws clasped decisively around the rangers' ankle.

"You little fucker," I marvelled.  "Look at this shit!  Does he ever come in here by himself?"  Everyone shook their head, including Milton, who was looking out through the pass through.

"He don't go nowhere.  Not unless he's with Naismuth," offered one of the customers from the restaurant half.  "And then half the time he just sleeps in the truck."

"He beeps the horn," added I guy I vaguely knew as Kope.  "With his butt."

This began a session of fat dog stories.  Everyone had at least one.  Now the twig pig had one too.

Interesting.

Someone set a beer down next to the dog, who ignored it.  Drool was soaking the lower half of the rangers' pantsleg.

"Hey you," I said.  "Dude.  Hey dog."

Sandy whistled.  Nothing.  "I don't see the International," announced Milton.  "I checked out back too."

When I finally stepped away from the bar, the dog followed me.  He followed me so close, in fact, I almost tripped.  But the penny finally dropped, and I realized I was  no longer in charge of where we went, as the dog leaned into me once again, so rather than fall on my ass in the dirt I gave in and let him take the wheel.  And off we went, all the way back to Naismuths' shop.
_________________________________________

 "This is an animal with a definite  idea of an officer of the laws' place in the scheme of things," I said,  a little shock - drunk going, after telling an incredulous Naismuth about the restaurant visit.  "He just totally, completely hates them and thinks they should all catch on fire and go to hell."

"That's basically it,"Naismuth agreed. "Why are you out in the light, and why does your hair look so not you?"

"I went to the beauty salon.  I've decided to come back out of my shell and spread my wings.  I took a walk around town, said hi to the chief of police, who still hates me and wishes I'd catch on fire and go to hell, got my hair done, stopped in and had a shot, and as soon as Ranger Danger showed up you know the rest."

Naismuth had been holding the dog upside down all during this, swinging him back and forth.  The dog dangled there like a prize bulls' ballsack.  "You goofy little fucker," said Naismuth affectionately.
"Hey, Mainly.  Lets close up shop and get thoroughly and comprehensively fucked the fuck up, huh?  I'll show you something interesting too."

 It felt so good to be human again!  Did I want to get fucked up? I was partway there already!  Did I want to see something interesting?   I had seen this man spread his asscheeks on a bet and make his butthole open and shut like a frogs mouth.  Hell yeah! Lets get fucked up! Bring on the interesting!
_______________________________________________

It was interesting.  It really was.

It was a mummified human being hanging halfway out of the insulation of a derelict pre-fab.

Something - probably a bear - had torn the cheap siding off the studs, and there was poor old dead-ass Danish King Tut in all his glory.

"That is so not real," I said.  I stayed right where I was on the back of Naismuths K model, though. Naismuth just sat there, saying nothing.  The bike rumbled at an idle, which made the fat dog on his little tank-rug jiggle like Jello. 

"It's not real, Naismuth" I insisted. "You got so took.  It's almost Halloween.  Get a grip."

He shut off the engine.  "Then go up and touch it," he said.  He took a flattened beer can out of his overalls pocket and put it under the kickstand.  "Give it a little smooch on the cheek."

He unfolded his tall self off the bike and lifted the dog down.  I followed.  We both stood there, swaying slightly.  Naismuth passed me the joint and I hit it, squinting through the smoke.

"The dog clearly doesn't give a shit," Naismuth observed.  "So it's probably just kids fucking around like  you said."

"I'm not touching it," I insisted.

"Well, it's interesting."

Naismuth turned away to take a piss in the nearby brush.  Meanwhile, I watched as the dog went up, ignoring the deader, and drug a nice big brick of aw shit no out of the wall.

"You need to see this, man.  Finish pissing first. But then look," I advised Naismuth.
__________________________________________________

As we had once before a long time past, we rolled back down to the shop, lights off, no engine, ready to run it into the ditch if we saw headlights.  Luckily that didn't happen.  We were both way too stoned to have dealt with that.

"I was, I mean, here I am!  And I'm all happy and shit!  I was running around for like fucking months and I wanted to die and nothing happened and I was all sad and shit!  And everything was ok!  So the first! Fucking! Time!" I punctuated this by kicking the wheel of the Shay engine sat in the weeds in front of the shop, which did neither of us any good - "I'm happy in like one hundred years! and shit just is all fucked up!"  I commenced kicking the shit out of the rusted iron - "OW" kick "OW" kick "OW" kick "OW" kick "OW" kick.

Naismuth inhaled deeply.  "That is not helping" he squeaked  ".....at all" he exhaled. 

The dog was still sitting on the tank of the K.  He was doing nothing helpful either.

Naismuth drew himself high and gathered the night to himself, cloaking himself in mystic hippieness,  and gestured toward me. "Come let's sit down.  Yes, yes, right here, come on, grab my hand now, Mainly, let it flow....just let it all flow....and now let's sit....down."  We plopped in the weeds. "I'm sitting on something.  No, wait, what, OK. Whup! OK, it's just the beercan.  I put it back in my pocket. OK.  Now let's hold both hands, come on.  Good.  And let it flow. Breathe.  And out.  Flow."

I wasn't flowing.  He seemed to be flowing, though.  Enough for all three of us.  Plus two more.  "What should we -"

"Flow," Naismuth said, letting his head tilt back until the bamboo skewer he was using that day to keep his hair up fell out and his long, long hair brushed the ground, eyes open to the stars.  He looked peaceful, and I figured, far from me to harsh the moment.  So I looked at the stars too.  A satellite went over. 

"Release yourself" he said.  "Play the recent past like a movie on a screen and watch, and do nothing."
I tried it.  It freaked me out.

"This is freaking me out," I announced.

"It's freaking me out too," he agreed.  "But we must admit:  It Was."

"Oh fuck this summer of love bullshit."  I started to get up and go inside, but I discovered I had forgotten how.  And then all of a sudden I had to pee. Bad.

 I was sitting in the weeds stoned as fuck with a hippie and a 300 year old dog and a 200 year old logging locomotive and I had to piss like a racehorse.

Luck favors fools, fortunately, so I got it all figured out just in time, and it was such a relief I started seeing double and triple, leaning on the handlebars of the K, one bare leg up on the tire, pissing,  the other leg far away, still in my pants, and one shoe missing.

The dog came over to watch.  "You're a bad influence, " I said.

Naismuth, meanwhile, was out in front of the shop bustling around in good cheer, smashing up machine pallets, rolling the tractor wheel from where it usually sat next to the shop door, turning the shop light on and filling an old coffee can with gasoline.  As soon as he had a fire going, like magic; everything - the vibe, if you will -  just smoothed out. I got my partially naked situation resolved and stepped up to the fire.

Naismuth went inside once more and came out with the air hose.  I could hear the compressor kick on as he directed the screaming flow of air at the base of the fire and got it cracking high and hot,  the hard, dry oak to catching and burning deep and white and clear.

"I get it.  We're being seen," I said.  Naismuth smiled and nodded.   The fat dog ambled over and flumped on the ground between us.

"Here is my flow.  OK.  First, we have this dog who said Hey stupid don't hang around this guy he is a cop.  A green cop.  This is a smart, smart dog.  This fake ass cop twig pig is all kinds of interested in here.  Maybe in me.  I don't know.  I think more me.  I totally poached a deer from the road which is against the law, although I was in the ditch but I think that counts technically.  Then I said 'Fuck this shit!  World, quit being a bastard!' and I got my hair cut.  Someone took a shit next to the police department.  Have you ever seen the Mayor?"

"Nope," Naismuth. "You're doing it.  Good.  You're in the flow.  OK, my turn.  Scooch in a little closer so we don't have to shout across the fires of hell at each other."

"If I get any closer I'll squash the fuckin' dog, bud."

"That's close enough.  I have personally never seen the Mayor and I can't think of a single person I know who has, now that I think about it.  I knew you were ready to open your heart.  I lead you to a safe place and got rid of the giant aggressive squirrels that were living in the oven.  And your heart started to open.  I heard you crashing around in the ditch fucking around loading your rifle, and your aim was true which shocked the hell out of me.  I remembered the first time I took you shooting, when we brought down a buck Jeep CJ in full antlers owned by trespassing tweakers, and I suddenly had a realization:  what happened after the assholes that used to live there?  Two got arrested and moved out of town.  One got...really dead.  There was a long, long driveway.  So I went there today, but it could have been yesterday, and the entire clearing around the house where they had lived was covered in bear shit and garbage.  A dead person-"

"Something that looked like a dead person," I added.

"...protruded from the side of the wall.  The dog pulled a brick of tar heroin out of the insulation, and we went away swiftly from that place.  Oh fuck I am so stoned."

"It was money," I said.

"It was something.  Go grab me a sparkling water."

"Do you have sparkling water?  Dang."

Naismuth rose and drifted over to where his K was ticking and cooling down.  He reached into the saddlebag and drew out the parcel the dog had found.

We sat with our backs to the road, and with the tip of my kbar I cut a line in the heavy plastic wrapping.  I teased and lifted and pried and dipshitted around, doing my best not to use my fingers, until Naismuth finally reached for the knife.  I handed it to him, and was secretly pleased that all he did was raise a nap.   Finally he flipped the brick over and we saw a piece of tape.  He slit that, jostled the poor tore up hedgehog of a package, and out fell a stack of cash.

"YEE-ES! I shouted, leaping Statue of Liberty tall and righteous with one fist in the air.  Tweaker meth money!  Beautiful tweaker meth money!

Naismuth riffled through the bills.  "Non-sequential," he said.  He burnt the plastic wrapping - discretion winning out over the ailing ozone layer - plucked a bill at random from inside the packet and tucked into his pocket. "Tomorrow I'm going to have green bowtie dude whatisfuckin bartender run this under his magic light.  For now, I'm going to stick the rest of this in the Shay and let it age like a fine wine."

"Affirmative, Captain.  And may I add my compliments.  Your intended action is logically sound."

"Hey, Shay, whaddya say?" He said, rambling off into the grass.

Later.
The gibbous moon hung over Mt. Himmel.  We had been silent for a very long time, tripping gently in the good night.

"I don't see how any of this connects," Naismuth pondered. "Go grab me a sparkling water - hey, and grab my I Ching too, wouldja? "

I clanged off hidden metal obstacles in the tall grass between the back of the shop and his bus, prised open the double door and found things in their usual places, simple, squared off and organized, smelling gorgeously of patchouli and joss-rose and turmeric.  No slob of a bachelor he.  Liked his incense, though.

When I returned he was feeding the fire with planks.  "Here you go.  Dibs on the air hose."  We exchanged items.

Naismuth sat back a bit from the flames and began throwing Ching.  After awhile, I went inside and for the first time in nearly a year I slept in my own bed.
___________________________________________________

I don't know what happened, really. The next day I woke and just took back up where I'd left off.  Working with Naismuth.  Answering the phone and threatening people who didn't pay their bills on time.  Sandy replaced me with an ex-con from the transition program and never said a word, although I apologized for bagging anyway, when I remembered to.  For an entire month it was like living in a perfect snow globe world where time never passes.  Naismuth got the snow track running.  Mr. Fourchet accused the dog of eating his cat, which he probably had.

And then one day I looked up at Naismuth from beneath the engine of a 1989 Buick sedan and asked
"Why are things happening, Naismuth?"

"We should know," he replied.  "But not question."

I understood him for a change.

The next day was Sunday.  We took the morning off and went to church.

"Shhhh," he cautioned me, just at the door.
"Shhhhh," I shh'd back.

Eyes forward, brushed and scrubbed, we sat in the last pew and listened intently to the sermon and never glanced away from the pastors pink face.  He spoke about all the different types of sin.  Omission got a lot of attention there toward the end, which was...a little pointed, but not offputting.

Afterward we smiled gently and greeted people, simply 'hello' and 'good morning' and 'nice to see you'.  We went downstairs where children were whirling around their parents legs and ate store donuts and drank black coffee. It was the first time I'd ever seen him touch the stuff; he thought it was a hell substance tantamount to arsenic.  And big as life, as though he did it every day, he tipped some coffee into the saucer and then blew across the steam and drank it.
My God, the man was a master.  An artist.  An old Danish guy.

"They're tenderizing," he said.  We were strolling down one of the maple and elm-lined streets, enjoying the morning. "Now lets re-affirm our object: to let ourselves be the perfect receptacle for what we want to contain, like a vagina.  Expand the sphere of our not-knowing.  Just simple forest turds living their simple turdly lives."  He reached down and picked up a freshly-killed squirrel and put it in the pocket of his mackinaw. "You know, I've been thinking.  I could use a sheet of plywood."

Where did one buy plywood in Fairchild?
At the plywood mill.

I stayed in the truck with the fat dog while Naismuth went into the main office and howdied around.  I adjusted the mirrors and studied everything and particularly every one very carefully.  I was looking for a family resemblance.  I figured someone as butt-ugly as Cristy Copeland had been, with a giant moon head and a face like a hemorrhoid, had to have crawled up out of a very limited gene pool.

Nobody.

Nobody fit the bill.  I was baking my ass off in the cab of the goddamn truck listening to the dog snore and-
Nope.  Wrong.  Be the perfect receptacle etc. etc.

I clambered out the window into the bed of the truck and started jumping up and down.  The dog woke up and started barking.  It wasn't something he did often, for which God be praised.

What the fat dog gave voice to was, strictly, barking, since it came from a dog and that's what dog sounds are called.  Well, that and howling. But try and hear this in your mind:  a man, average, baritone, barking like a dog at 10 rounds a second, switching it up with different vowels, like wawawayiyiyiwowwowwowyeeyeeyee. But remember -  he's yelling it; so it was more like ARKARKARKROOFROOFARKayiiiiiii   ARararararararrrWAWAWAYIYIYIiiiiioooooooOO!

It gets noticed.

Oh, but lookit there. There he was like Jesus come again driving past in a forklift, wearing a Griegers' Mill uniform top,with ‘Lee’ on the breast pocket patch, looking around in wild wonder with his mouth hanging open.

The twig pig.

Several things flashed through my no-mind:  I was facing the front of the truck.  The dog was facing me, looking out of the back the truck.  Naismuth was striding toward the truck with a flapping sheet of plywood held up in his head like an African lady with a water jar.

Let it be.

In goes the plywood as I jump out.  Into the drivers' side goes Naismuth and into the passengers' side go I.  The dog is still barking, because he was already barking so why not, or his needle is stuck, or demonic possession.  I put him on the floor. He sees the deer hoof.  Barking stops. Mr. so-called Lee gets to live another day.

Don't think this went off with a bunch of ninja wigging around flipping and making crane fingers and shit.  No. It was a guy putting a plank in the back of his truck, a barking dog, and a girl getting into a truck with the guy.

Naismuth put the truck in gear and off we drove, politely, at five miles per hour so we wouldn't raise dust.

"Shall we have lunch?" asked Nais.

"Oh, you go on.  Drop me off by the hair lady's place."

Flow.

I didn't come from a really...friendly...family.  In fact I'll spare you that Dickensian bullshit and just say that having somebody do something for me like wash my hair and cut it was just amazing to me.  I was so relaxed there as she was quietly snipping away I could have fallen asleep.

"Hey, wake up!  You better not close your eyes around here," said one of the old ladies gaily.  "You could end up with one of those Mohawkans!" Everyone laughed pleasantly, even the stylist.

The old lady was one of four sat on a sheet-draped couch across the room from me,  all four heads wrapped in plastic, draped with strange cape things while their hair soaked up dye, or perm solution, or something that stunk like ass.

"I wonder what I'd look like with my hair dyed," I said thoughtfully.  In the mirror I could see the stylist smile.  "I'm all set up for it, you can see, I have my drippy old Picasso smock on and all my favorite ladies are here who let me dump junk on their heads...don't they look happy?  But it's spendy, so if you want I can put in a temporary color which doesn't cost as much."

"Don't you believe it," said the joker of the four. "She'll give you the Cadillac treatment and you'll have to mortgage your house!"  More old lady laughter.

"No I won't," the stylist assured me.  "I only charge the limit if I gotta do your bush."

The hilarity was explosive.  That's the only word for it. Four old ladies cutting loose and hee-hawing at will, no holds barred,  reaching into their mouths to thumb their dentures back into place, just pure joy.

"Oh, she does it all", they assured me.  "Do you know, men even come in here and get their hair cut?  Can you imagine?"

"That's cause she does a good job,' said the lady at the end of the couch.

"Better than that outfit in Pisgah."

"Oh, much so.  That so-and-so Elizabeth just does whatever she wants no matter what you say.  No, I won't go to Pisgah."

"Guess what?  Mrs. Lund doesn't just cut their hair.  She waxes their butts too," added Mrs. Joker.

Howls of laughter.  One lady I immediately christened Mrs. Five Second Rule lost her gold bridgework on the floor and popped it back in.  The stylist was nodding vigorously while she laughed.

"Yes I do!   And you would not believe who comes in here just to get their hind ends tore up.  -Oh!  That came out wrong!"

We all responded in grade school snorts and giggles.

"No! No!  I meant, well, it's just nature, you know.  Some guys...really, just, have to have it done!  I'm not kidding!  And I mean I figure if they can take it I can!  Give me your money and rrrrip! Ew!  And - oh my god I'm gonna die! - do they tip well!  For somebody to spread glue on their tailpipe! and, and,  rip out their curlies!"

I was breathless and wheezing from laughing so hard.  No more styling was done for awhile.  I learned a lot about how mens' junk gets strange as they get older, though, as the rest of the clientele proceeded to try and outdo each other with horror stories. The words ' droopy' and 'dangly' came up frequently.  And to think, I mused, if I hadn't decided to get out and live again, I wouldn't be sitting here listening to old ladies compare tales of terror about man ass.

"You want to know the worst, though?" asked Mrs. Lund.  "No, no, now shut up!  You want to know the worst?  It's everything you're all saying, ok, ok, but.....a redhead."

I actually screamed like a girl.  We all did.  It was the most fun I'd had who knows when.

"Oh lordy, no!  A redhead! shouted Mrs. Jokester.  "I can just see old man Copeland in here!  Remember him in school?  Fire engine red!  God never made another one! With, a patch,  his ass hanging-! I'm gonna have nightmares tonight! We used to call him the orangamonkey!"

The guy at the lumber yard?  AKA Twig pig?  Hair: carrot red.  Just like Cristy Copeland. Holy fuckin' fuck.

I found Naismuth in deep discussion with some guy in Carhartt overalls about diesel engine cars, while the fat dog ambled around scrounging french fries.  The bartender pretended to tip his hat with one hand over his heart when I came in, and I just smiled and shook my head and felt weird...but not in a bad way.  I even took a swing around the ancient brass pole, still in place at the far end of the bar room, that was the only evidence that remained of the places' 60's rebirth as the embarrassingly named Turn On Inn.  The red flocked wallpaper, along with the chunky old farm girls in pasties were long gone, but the name stayed.

I sat down, and both Naismuth and his companion hoisted ass the requisite three inches off their chairs in acknowledgement that a lady had joined their party.  I was introduced to Charlie Ko.

"Nope, you got that all wrong.  That Chevrolet Chevette was the best damn car they ever rolled out in it's time," continued Mr. Ko.  "I brought mine in to you a couple of times, you know exactly what I mean now.  Mine still runs like it did when I bought it.  No, now listen.  It was the whole package: cheap fuel, light, mass produced and 50-55 miles a gallon on the highway. They can't even barely do that today, and you could stick your whole family in that Chevette.  When Nixon changed the speed limits Chevy stepped right up to the plate. Which is why when people go saying Nixon was I crook I remind them 'but what about the good things he did?"

"But the Chevette came out in 1975," said Naismuth.  "And Nixon crawled out of office on a trail of his own slime in 1974, proving that yes, there is a God of justice;  and there was much rejoicing."

Everyone in the place went quiet and stared at him.  The only sound was a car turning in to the parking lot.  Naismuth stuffed a mouthfull of potato salad in his beard.

"Now that's not fair.  That man got run out of office by the liberal press!" announced Mr. Ko.

Naismuth and I and everyone in the place all nodded solemnly, but for entirely different reasons.

The bell over the door jingled.

I could feel the  room go weird all of a sudden.  Mr Ko got real quiet and looked down into his plate with a scowl.  I hung an elbow over the back of my chair to see what the deal was, and there was Buffalo Mike shrugging out of his jacket, wearing a cutoff over his flash.

"Good morntanoon, ' he said, taking a seat at the counter.  ""Hey Sandy, how about some service over here?  Yeah, I'm cagin' it today."  This information was met with resounding indifference, save for Naismuth.

"Well that's not good," he said mildly.

"You know it, bro.  Hey fryboy - bacon two eggs over hard and home fries," he called through the pass through window.

"Somebodys gonna get their breakfast spit innn, " sang Mr. Ko in a bare whisper, and I had to put my head down on the table and hide it in my arms to keep from cracking up.  Naismuth nodded sagely.  "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  That extra protein is necessary fuel."

I was making strange noises in the back of my throat.

Naismuth and Ko resumed their discussion, and the vibe started to smooth over.

Sandy swung past and filled my coffee cup, giving the leg of my chair a little nudge as she did soAW FUCK goddamn motherfucker bitch!
Here I was in a big stained leather reason for Buffalo Mike to start shit!

At that very moment stupid decided to lunge at the throat of flow.  I wore my flag for the same reasons that Buffalo Mike wore his. These colors don't run!  Respect or consequences! Here for the sake of a tore up piece of horsehide with a zipper I was suddenly frozen in the grip of a goddamn life crisis and I hadn't  even got to touch my coffee!

Sandy passed again and gave my chair another kick.  From under one arm I glimpsed an oblong of light appear on the bar room floor as someone entered.  I slipped out of my chair sideways and silent, and, with sweat running down my back and sides I quietly walked out the back door.

Stupid was still grappling for a hold with flow, but I was still wearing my jacket, and I had a pistol. And a k-bar.  Flow flow flow whaddo I do fuck-
_____________________________________________________

Milton took a fast look out the back to where I sat crammed up on top of some 'edible only' barrels full of canola oil with my head turned sideways to fit under the tin sheet roof.  "Catholics just got out of late mass," he said, and ducked back in.  I could hear the cars pulling in to the lot.

You have this, I told myself.  You have this.  Flow flow flow flow flow flow flow....
And I started crying.
It hurt, too.  I mean it was actually painful for tears to squeeze out of my tear ducts.  They burned their way down my face sideways and pooled in my ear.   And then Roth came back to me and my head filled up with him and time left me and the tears burned like acid flowed and flowed and flowed.

"C'mon, hey, c'mon c'mon c'mon get outta there. Get up."  Milton was pulling me out of the narrow space I'd somehow folded myself into and he wasn't being nice about it either.  He grabbed me around my upper arm and I rolled out.  He stepped aside.  I landed on the cement.  Once again he grabbed my upper arm, and my waistband, what the fuck? and to my utter astonishment bumrushed me out into the grass verge of the back parking lot and gave me a shove.  "Fuck off outta here," he snapped. "Now."

I stood there rubbing my arm, incredulous, confused, and watched him dart back into the kitchen.  It  had happened so quick.  Kind of like that one scene in Texas Chainsaw, only backwards.

So I walked off into the trees, feeling ill used and sorry assed and generally pissed off at the entire world.  I never saw the ditch I fell into, down in the grass, but I sure noticed how wet I got and how logging trucks were screaming past me way, way closer than was awesome.  I had to trudge down through the mud and tangle and greasy-sheened water for a long way before I came to a place where the side was low enough for me to see the road clearly, then I went a ways more until I found a deer track that cut sideways up the roadside slope, and clambered up onto the side of the road, and stood there, and dripped.

I was down about half a mile from Naismuths shop on the other side of the main drag, and just past an old derelict cement gas station that had a shitty old corral fallen in a jagged slouch against the side.

 I crossed over to the other side of the road and kicked around the ruination of the little covered forecourt, all four pumps stolen long ago, the two pillars holding up the streamlined roof battered and cracked, runneled with brick-black rust; the rebar inside slowly losing the battle with the climate.  The shop was fallen in and the office was an empty room full of weeds and other peoples trash and broken glass.

I ambled past the corral, noting that it had never been worth shit; you could see the baling wire that still crudely held one raw log attached to another.  Maybe if your horse needed it's tires rotated this is where they kept them; I didn't know.  It had been built and gone out of business  a long time ago in the 30's,  long after this side of the road had been the business district and the real center of Fairchild.

All the fields behind and down beyond this point had been a town at one time. Whatever remained was hidden under decades of tall grass.

About a half mile ahead a box of a building stood like a bunker in the middle of the field.  I'd never walked out in this direction so far before...sober....in the daylight...and I thought, what the fuck; and took out through the field toward it, drying off in the warm wind.

It was tough going. Not because I was falling in foundation holes; the walking was good, but because I was climbing a rise I'd never noticed.

Before I had reached the building my feet had found solid going on top of where an old road must have been under the turf.  Once I was up and walking it, I could look across the field and tell where other places had been graded too.

Up close, the building wasn't the plain cube it appeared to be from a distance.  It was made out of incredibly ornate rockwork, like the WPA kind you find in parks and federal places that date way back.

The stones, none of them squared, more than likely Erlund granite, had been raggedly, but carefully hammered so that together they made a  perfectly vertical wall with a perfectly same-sized jagged surface, like an old castle, and the stuff in between the stones was raised up and rounded over in half pipes.  It looked like varicose veins, truthfully, but I imagined that back in the day it had been considered very faw faw faw.  Probably took a shitpile of work too.

The lintel over the doorway, which itself was wide enough and tall enough to drive a truck into, was one long bar of rock. I could make out that there was writing and decoration, but almost all of it was obliterated with dark green moss.   In the very middle though was the Masons' Lodge symbol, and it was carved so that it stuck proud from the background and filled the whole width of stone.  It made sense:  the Masons' Lodge would have exquisite masonry.

Inside it was just an empty box with the light coming down, the roof gone, full of old, old junk; I guess because it was harder to get to.  Broken wood beams, weeds and crazy bedsprings, tall emerald mosses, big spools of bob wire all spiraling everywhere, and an ancient truck frame with the rotted stubs of the wood spoke wheels still sticking out of the hubs.

I heard a car approaching.  No, it was a truck, and it wasn't jouncing around like it would if it had been going over bare field either; it was following a track that ran right past the Mason building.  As it passed I saw Mr. Fourchet behind the wheel.  It drove into a tall grove of evergreen trees overgrown and shaped by time into storm clouds and spires, dense and dark.

It hit me then: the cemetery.  The cemetery was on the old town side. Of course.

There had been a church but its wooden structure had gone up like most of old Fairchilds' frontier market and sin district, leaving the genteel suburb across the road mostly untouched, cleared of timber for miles around, nothing to carry the flames.

Naismuth said that the people fought the fire as best they could, and when it was clear that the fire was winning, they banded together and fought for the place where their people rested.

I couldn't not go in.  There was a gap in the trees, and I could feel my boots crunch through old plank wood hidden under the fallen duff that must have once been the graveyard sign.

Well, there was Mr. Fourchets truck, all right, but Mr Fourchet was no place to be seen.

Inside the wall of trees the air was quiet; moving, but not a breeze, saturated with the smell of damp evergreens and fallen leaves.  The grass between the markers had been crudely hacked at, but it was all a uniform height.

There weren't hundreds of gravestones, but there were a few that were simply amazing.  Huge things, gleaming columns of polished red stone with turned white finials, massive bolsters of polished black over which stone roses lay in lax, sad bouquets...an angel missing part of a wing, taller than I was, watching over a row of raised and decorated oblongs, 3 by 6, with backslanted inscriptions - Father, Mother, Beloved Daughter 7 days old, Son of, Wife of.

Some monuments were dusty white.  Marble, I assumed.  There were obelisks, tree trunks spiraled with ivy, tall plain oblongs. Most were slabs, some tall, some short.  Some had a dove or a lamb, clasped hands surrounded by clouds and columns, or willow trees, or garlands or wreathes. 

Of to one side, a bit set set apart and orderly, all the headstones bore the masonic symbol.  Part of an ornate cast iron fence still stood three quarters of the way around the area.  I thought it was strange.  This was a graveyard.  Why would people set themselves apart here when everybody was the same dead?

In another part there were still wooden markers.  Wooden markers!  Most were exactly what you'd expect:  an old white-painted plank of wood with a rounded top.  But some had details like the Victorian homes on the other side of town.  Some looked like the cabinet doors of elegant furniture, some wore a little fancy roof.  There were crosses with quarter-cartwheels between the arms.  A lot of the inscriptions could still be read, too, words painted on with careful brush strokes in black.  So many old fashioned names...Loyal, Patience, Ruby, Morris...all Smiths and Williamses and McMastersons and Murphys, came and went.  No Jepsens, Ko, Lukas,  Sune or Greger.  The Danes had segregated themselves too.

"You leave that alone!"

I jumped a mile and then bent over at the waist, holding my stomach, breathing fast but getting no air.  I thought I was going to pass out.

"I'm not," I began.

"Oh, you, I know you, yeah," Mr. Fourchet continued.  His voice was an octave higher than I'd ever heard it.  "I know you and those, you with your, just!"  he shouted.  "You go away!  Don't none of you no respect, got no respect, don't care for nothing!"

"Mr. Fourchet-"

"Mr Fourchet, Mr. Fourchet, yah, Mr. Forchet, pretend like you care.  Mr. Fourchet we're going to do whatever we want!  We're going to invite one hundred people!  We're going to burn tires and act like dirt!  Screaming and yelling and drunk, you criminals! All the loud motorcycles, and my wife, she would hide keep all the curtains, she would,  boy I shoulda loaded my shotgun!"

I turned and looked at  him as he raged.  "She was scared!  You!  In the middle of the night!  Dirty people!  My garage door kicked in and she, she, you made her cry!  She was sick!  She was sick!"

I had two memories of her, peering out the door when I knocked, a woman so frail, milk-white and tremulous, with blue-black knots of veins on her hands and her temples, white hair, one trembling hand on the doorknob and the other at the front of her nightgown.  And there I stood, the first time with a piece of mail that was delivered to our address by mistake, and the other time trying to make nice with the neighbors right before the party he talking about, holding a case of beer. 
I wanted to to curl up and die.

"Come on now you.  You want to see?  You!  Come and see!  You come and see her!"
And I followed him through the grass.

Mrs. Fourchet had a plain headstone, flush with the ground, and her resting place showed signs of having been tended regularly.  The stone had been edged; the grass on her grave was an entirely different green than the rest, planted 3 by 6, precisely.  There was her name, date of birth and date of passing.  Her first name had been Silja.

She rested on the river side of the highest area of the cemetery, so high that the river was a suggestion, a ribbon of yellow and orange leaves winding through the valley.  On and on into the blue distance the mountains went, still unmarked by snow, still bare of clouds.

Once again, the tears came falling down.  And soon I could hear him, Mr. Fourchet, just behind me, and he was crying too.  I would not look around.  I would never look around.

Soon he sniffed, blew his nose, and stood silently.  I wiped off my face with the front of my shirt and we both stood there with our hands in our pockets, facing the hills.
"Gettin dark," he said.  "Time to better go."

"Bye, Mr. Fourchet, I said, and walked away.

As I was walking along the side of the road, as he drove past in his truck, he gave me a short beep of the truck horn.  Just hardly a noise.
___________________________________________

The fat dog was lying in the tractor wheel by the shop door, fast asleep, like a chunk of hippo had fallen off and landed there.  Buffalo Mikes' Toyota Corolla was parked nearby.  The lights were on and the shop doors were open wide, and Buffalo Mike was pissy-ass, shitfaced drunk.  Naismuth was working on his motorcycle.

"Damn, Sam,  Gimme some of what," I said, not a bit concerned about his Canyon Runner shit talk, not in my house.  Buff held his hand up in half of the slap five I was supposed to give him.  I did, but quick.  Drunks like to grab your hand and hold you there while they get all up in your face with the 'buddy ol pal I love you man' stuff when they were as fucked up as he was.  He motioned to a bottle of bourbon on the counter.  I wiped the mouth and reminded myself that alcohol is sterile as I helped myself to a slash.

I also slid out of my jacket and dropped it back behind the counter into the nest of strange shit that Naismuth insisted on cocooning himself with.  Like confederate money and old racing posters, a lobby card for the movie Deadly Weapons, a baby doll with glass blue-dots for eyes, a deer skull  still in horns with an arrow healed through it, and everything you could possibly think of that was weird or rare or weird and small or just confounding tacked all over the walls.  This plus tied stacks of all the thousands of magazines he subscribed to.  I could have just dropped it into his Disgusting Armchair, where it would have blended right in, but when I thought to, lo and behold the Disgusting Armchair was suddenly occupied by the fat dog, sprawled out like a letter H with a dog head at one end and a tail at the other,  gazing steadily at Buffalo Mike.

"Mainly, old chap old bean.  The dog already peed on his leg.  I'd like you to go prop this mans' tire for me if you would," he said.  Mike nodded happily.

...OK then.  It was easy enough to find a long machine screw in the crap swept up against the walls, and, implement of willful vandalism in hand, I went and placed it, point first, propped against the left rear tire in such a way that when he backed out it would pierce the tread.

"So what's with his bike?"

"It's an AMF Harley."

I shrugged.

"The shit years", he elucidated. "Harley sold out to AMF in 1969 and then AMF proceeded to fire all the assembly and manufacturing specialists and replace them with loaves of sourdough bread.  Motorcycles came out of the factory with broken-off drill bits in the engine and shit."  He slapped his hands against his thighs as he stood and looked down at it.  "I've fixed this fucking thing 30 times.  Check the receipts.  Thirty times, and only twice has it ever been user stupidity.  That's saying a lot.  As long as we're on the subject, consider this: Mr. Canyon Runner piece of shit Buffalo Mike here is comprehensively stone drunk. When it occurs to him, he will drive off in his tiny car and arrive home safe as toast and not remember Jack Shit.  Then some time tomorrow he'll notice he's got a flat and drive back here so I can fix it for him.  Easy money. Cash from trash."

I grimaced.  "God, what happened to you, love child?  Isn't that kind of taking advantage of, like, a little kid, or a Down Syndrome person?" I asked.

"Why not?  Hey Mike!"  Naismuth called.  Mike swung around and gave him a big pumpkin grin.  "Why do they call you Buffalo Mike, anyway?"

He started unbuckling his pants as I stood there in dawning horror.  They hit the floor.

And there it was.  Something. A mound of brown fusty fur that was broad across the top and narrowed to - whatever - and it was shiny on bottom, and it could only be described as a buffalo head.  Less the horns.  If he had a dick and balls I could not tell, nor did I want to.  I have never seen anything like this before or since, outside the National Geographic channel.

"Ain't it fucked up?" he asked proudly.

"This is what's been living in your head," said Naismuth said quietly.  "What have we learned?"

"OK, I get it, I told Naismuth.  Then I went back out to Mikes' Toyota and removed the screw.
___________________________________________________

Fall stripped the deciduous trees day by day, and the smell of distant ice came nearer.  People began considering the sky thoughtfully, and hats appeared on heads.  I decided to get over myself and admit that I was not going to mountain it out up in Jeppesons' place, so one day, after I'd cleared out a bunch of old magazines and snuck them into the dumpster up next to the road I decided to head out.

A familiar almost-beep made me turn and there was Mr. Fourchet in his truck. He rolled down the window and handed me a letter.  "That dumb mailman can't get us right, huh," he said. I tore it open with my finger and found a check inside. "Thanks, man!  This is like a world event!  Nobody pays unless I call them at least about three times.  I gotta show Naismuth. This will blow his mind!"

"I hear you get pretty rough with them, you know, on the phone calls there," he said.  "They're getting trained!"

We both looked at the sky and the high thin scrolls of white slanted across it.  "That there means rain in four days, you know," he observed.  "Gotta get my, the stuff outside, you gotta get those blue tarps or yeah."

A notion hit me. "I've got things calmed down to a dull roar down at the shop.  You need any help, Mr. Fourchet?"

He looked through the windshield.  He considered the steering wheel.  He looked out the passengers' side window and sighed.

"You got a gun?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"Good. Like the crettit card, huh. Don't steal home without it."  (I had no idea.)  "You know autumn, there's sure some wild animals out.  Climb on in we'll go see take a look at, my, I got rentals."

He put it in gear and we headed up the mountain.  "Now I was a dumb cluck when I put the buy on this place here we're going to," he said.  "Wasn't no goot.  I could see it when, you know, the guys driving it in there put it in, the foundation wasn't no better than, than, those cement blocks they got the holes! Why, those ain't no good! I says, and the guys, well, here's the driveway."

Guess.

We stopped and he sat in the cab and considered the scene through the windshield. "Now look at this big mess," he said. "Them guys filled up every room in the place with  them big plastic, you know, all fulla garbage and dirty stuff.  Didn't drop off no key.  Just left it like," he gestured toward the building.

Danish King Tut still hung out of his coffin between the wall studs, maybe a little more worse for wear.

"I put that there.  Bad people come down here think they can hide and do criminal stuff.  Well that Halloween guy I got there, you know, down in Oddfellows Lodge at the St. Vincent, they know someone got their eye on them." I could not imagine the thought process behind that, but I had to admit that, at least from the truck, things seemed unchanged since the last time I'd been here. We debarked.

He fingered the hanging sheet of siding.  "See, bears done this.  You keep careful around here.  Look, all over the ground. Dirty animal, bears.  Them bears is destructive and mean, like just a big kind of pig. Tch."

The far side of the building was decimated.  "See dat?" he shouted, waving his hand toward the house. "Thats dem damn bears tearing ta house apart tey get at dat garbatch!" He commenced shouting in what I guessed was Danish - really pissed off Danish that rang through the woods as he stomped around picking up pieces of siding and dropping them again.  The front door was just shredded away.  Holes were clawed all the way through the walls and plastic bags of trash had been pulled through them.  Insulation lay in straggling bits and dirty swatches,  stuck in the bushes.  It was beyond awful.

When he ran out of steam he sighed and turned around slowly, taking it all in.  "Well, it's all old, I guess," he said.  "See there's grass growing up.  That's good...at least, you know, no bad guys, or squatter peoples like you see down in Pisgah, so, yeah, that there, that, thats, I guess..."

"You got insurance?" I asked.

"Yeah, I got the insurance.  No damn goot insurance.   They said it don't cover renting, renters, whatever, those thieves!  I gotta take all of dis out! For nothing!  Steal peoples goot money and tell you lies...." he was cranking himself up again and I wished I hadn't said anything.  "Don't you trust them, you.  Damn insurances government is all liars and a-holes!"

"Mr Fourchet, I totally agree.  You are right.  I have to deal with some shady people on the phone and the baddest ones are always from a big company or a department of something from the government."  And for the most part that was true, too.  Anything that started with 'Department of' was primed to fuck you up the ass if they could.

"Well, lets go look at thenother," he said.  We piled into the truck and Mr. Fourchet put it in gear and tore out backward down the drive like a bat out of hell.  He hooked a sharp turn in the leaves and slick mud at the turnout and made the tires saw-whine as he stomped the pedal to get us back up on the road.  I was learning an important lesson:  Don't piss off old Danish dudes if you're going to go drive with them anywhere.

Almost immediately he hooked a sharp left and took out across the field, headed toward the river. "Boy, this is some bad driving here," he observed, as we clanged off the roof of the cab and lurched sideways over unseen humps.  Long strands of grass tickled across my side window a couple of times.  I told myself that it was just very tall grass.

Down we went to the riverside, straight through the cottonwood saplings and alder poles, and there, right across the river, there was my landmark, a huge, huge old blasted tree trunk worn to grey silk on the water side.

I just stared out the windshield and hung on to the armrest.

"Now we're gonna go swimmin," he said, and across the river we went.  Water came in under both doors of the truck until the floorboards were awash and sloshing.  "See there? But this old truck she'll get us through," he said, patting the dashboard, and in another minute we were rambling and rolling up out onto the bank.  He drove a little further, up where the rocks were dry and bare of brush, and turned off the engine. "Now we got to track up like mountain men.  You got, you put, wait now."  Once outside the truck we both checked our weapons and set the safeties.  "Say you girl, you, there, you do pretty good," he told me.  "The other month you almost took off the end of my nose you got that doe on my place."

"Oh shit," I exclaimed.

He shoved into my side, a lot like the fat dog would, sort of a bear nudge.  "Naw," he said.  "My eye here is better on the left.  You, you swap over here, now, and you be my right."
And off we went to Jeppesons' place.

We didn't see hide nor hair nor shit nor smell of anything all the way there; probably because I was so soaked in flop sweat I was stinking out the whole forest.  Little woodland creatures running in panic.  Deer racing heedlessly through the trees.  By the time we'd crossed the prairie I was soaked clear through my clothes.

He stopped short at the edge of the little cleared space around the cabin. "Well now somebody been up here, maybe," he said.

"I was up here," I replied.  "I been living here on and off this past year."  We circled the little building slowly.

"Got a bear pole dere.  Swep the yard.  I could smell a smoker maybe? And got her shut up good and tight", he noted.  Of course, that was the only way it would shut up.

Huge windows free of glass opened on the upland and downland walls.  On the outside, each window opening was crisscrossed by misery whip saw blades, long jagged teeth on long plank steel.  Inside, hatches swung up on stout hinges and hooked into the top frame. They were made like the top of a box, with an overlap all the way around, so they fit right into the opening and plugged it.  When you fastened them up the place was snug and wind proof.  The door was made the same way, although outside, in place of long saws there was a huge circular rock saw you rolled in front and fastened with metal turning blocks when you left.

Hey, bears are no joke. The woods aren't a fuckin' Disney movie. Black bear are disgusting, broken toothed bad moods on four legs, full of ticks and fleas and raddled with parasites and they stink like cow shit and sewage.  Grizzlies are, fuck; grizzly bears are Gods bloody judgment. Elk will ruin your whole day if they decide it's a good idea, and so will deer.  Cougar? Shred you like rotten cloth.  And while they distract you, here comes a timber rattler in under the damn door.  But not this door.

I let him in.  He looked around, picked up the corn broom, looked inside the wood stove where savage squirrels had given was to a bottle of black nail polish.  He checked the corners everyplace there was one.  The steel patch in the floor, now looking worn, he toed at with one big Danish boot.  I looked away casually, busy gathering up my things.  "Would you mind could I put this stuff in back of your truck?" I asked.

" Check under the seat I got some of, you know, those damn bags, you get them at the store now.  Fly all over the place."

I made sure I wrapped everything handle side down.  Then, for good measure, I laid the spare tire on top of it.  There wasn't much.

When I finished we both stood there.  Autumn talked quietly to itself.

"You know what this was?" he asked.  "They called it the summer kitchen.  The women in those days, olden time ladies with their beautiful long hair, long dresses and petticoats and foofoo, well come the summer they didn't want to die from the heat to cook the dinner!  Why, it heat up the whole house with one candle when summer is here, you know that. When it came time for harvesting, boy, that late summer!  They had a job of work to put up, in the glass jars and boiling the water, pickling, salting, you know, so they done it out here.  All the windows open!  Wind flying through!  Ladies they wore their underslips and draws, bare leggedy, which was, oh, it was scanulous, my granddad say, but how was they gonna otherwise, you know?  See:  the door, that's why it's there,  it opens on the privacy side toward the house.  Burn down ninedy years ago.

He paused for a few seconds.

"Yeah, it was a shame.  Those long dresses, they cotched fire and go up fast" - he snapped his fingers -  "and the lady died.  That happened a lot in them days.  And little girls, you know, and little toddler babies; the boy and the girl baby wore dresses in them days.  That baby, they have no sense so they'd go," and he gestured as if to snatch something "grab the hot coal and never use that hand again some times.  But so."  He stood there for a few moments, looking at the floor.

"This was my wifes' people," he said finally.  "OK then.  Off like a herd of turtles."
__________________________________________________________

"I don't want you out here no more now," he said, as we jounced back through the meadow.  "You, yeah...you're too big for your britches.  You be a town person until maybe someday you get sense, and, you know, not just think you got sense that you don't got.  And I'm going to tell that old beatnik so-and-so I said that."

"I'm sorry I stayed there without your permission, Mr. Fourchet, but I gotta tell you, I did just fine."

"Yah, in the good weather!  You been in April, May, June, July, August, September and now!  Don't you backtalk me!" he exclaimed.  "I see you up there I'll load me up some of that rock salt and your behind will learn what your head didn't!"  He gave my skull a couple of knuckle raps, and he wasn't fucking around either.  It hurt.

He let me off at the top of the driveway and then reversed back up the road to his place, ripped the wheel right and kept on backing right on in.

As I was trundling down with my bags of crap, a brindle blur streaked past me and stopped at the top of where the pavement and driveway met, wagging his tail slowly.  Right next to the drivers' side door of Officer Erlunds' car.  Technically a parking offense.

He didn't bother trying to get out of the cruiser.  He just rolled down the window.
Three inches.
Point dog.

"Hey there," he called.

"Hey," I replied.  "You want Naismuth?"

His gaze roamed all over the property instead of answering me. Long enough to be insulting. Cheap bullshit; I let that fly and waited.  "Your friends are late," he said, finally.

Wha?

Naismuth came out of the shop and waved as he started up the drive.

And then Officer Erlund simply rolled away, down the road at a drift, and then shortly later back he came on the other side, and pulled into Mr. Fourchets driveway.

"What was that about?" asked Naismuth, picking up the dog and cradling it like a baby. "What was dat about you dirty ol dog?  Huh?"

It hit me. "Oh fuck, the harvest party, Nais.  Just like last year! Remember when the sheriff came here and did the same thing?  Now Erlunds' pissing a line.  Got to be."

"I do believe you are correct, grasshopper.  Isn't she?  Isn't she?  Yes she is! Dat dirty ol'  piggity-pig fascist tool of o-pression is a-waving his pee-pee idn he!"

"Oh Lord Jesus Naismuth," I said, face in hands.  At least he was clothed.
__________________________________________________

Half an hour later I glanced up from the tire I was fixing and saw the fat dog, sat in the dirt, watching the patrol car drift past, headed back toward town.
Man, please. What a bag of dicks.
__________________________________________________

The next day I gave myself my pay and was walking down the road, thinking about steak and potato salad when I heard the far-off buzz of a four wheeler across the river.  You learn to ignore that, like other sounds; guns firing, chainsaws, the scream of the plywood mill or granite being sawn when the wind was right, the 'chunk' of a log splitter, the jake brakes of logging trucks being used too late to avoid a ticket.

I was about halfway to the cafe when the sound suddenly got louder.  I turned toward the river and watched.  Whoever it was had crossed the water,  come out of the trees and was taking off at an uphill slant, and suddenly I was running and screaming and waving my arms.  Behind me I could hear someone get out of a car and start running and screaming too.  By the time our insanity had made an impression on the rider I had four people trailing me, all of us windmilling our arms and shouting "STOP!" at the top of our lungs.

The twig pig, Ranger Danger, Game Warden Lee, stopped and took off his helmet, totally flummoxed.
"Stay there!"  we all shouted.  "Don't move!  Don't move!"

"WHY?" he shouted.

He was answered by a horrifying, screaming, foaming snarl as something moved toward us in the grass, hidden, several feet away.  All six of us froze.  Five of us knew what it was.  Only one of us was stupid.  Hopefully we could cure him.

"OK.  Don't do that again."

"Don't yell, man, you want to die?"

"Stay right there and don't move!"

"Fuckin' idiot!  Shut your goddamn face!" I turned in surprise to see Milton Freewater stood in the tall grass brandishing his spatula. "Is stupid a job requirement?  Is stupid on the job interview questions?  You - you know what;  fuck you in the heart.  I'm done."  Milton strode angrily back to the cafe.

The terrifying noise continued unabated, rising and falling from demon scream to tar-evil bass, slavering and gnashing filling the gaps.  Somewhere in the grass was a satanic marriage of sabre toothed cat, Prophecy, and tyrannosaurus rex, panting heavily, rumbling like a battalion of Nazi tanks cresting a distant rise, only to give voice to it's terrible cry once again.

I spread out both arms toward Lee and made wide, repeated 'stay; good boy' gestures.  True to Naismuths' aphorism, some people just don't get it unless you use interpretive dance.

As I gestured toward him I backed away, back, back, back past a tall rusted u-channel fence post with a little scrap of rag fluttering from it's top that used to be red.

"Hey bud," I said. "I gotcher back, son.  I'm right here. Your old Bitch Mainly is right here, baby boy.  I'm right here.  It's cool.  OK."  Two more steps back and I started searching the grass.  There he was, stood facing the property line and the hapless warden, panting hard but smiling, wagging his tail and giving me the ol' hanging eyeball.  He knew he was badass.

"Hey, ya little fucker," I said, and bent to pick him up.  "What a good boy!  What a good hero dog you are!  You are the best dog in the whole wide world, arentcha, ya little bastard!  Yes you are!  I know!" He gave me a lick.  I cradled him and bounced, the way you automatically do when someone hands you a baby. "You know how much I love you? Yes, I love you! Yes I do!"  I tickled his belly while I cast a look at the group. "Somebody give dipshit the Readers Digest version.  I'll get Naismuth. You," I indicated Lee with my chin "restaurant.  Now who is a good, good boy?  My fatty fatty fat boy!"

I turned away and went to get Naismuth, praising the little sack of suet all the way there.
___________________________________________________

Naismuth looked at me blankly.  "Now tell me that again."

"Oh God, are you fucked up?" I asked, exasperated.

"I've been hammering metal all afternoon," he explained.

Oh.

"OK.  Now.  Like I just said:  I just saved Cristy Copelands' brother from getting eaten by the dog.  You know, the twig pig!  Me!  I just did it!  It just happened!  It just came out of me! I've known that Lee bullshit he's been handing out was a bullshit lie it for a whole month but when I saw him coming across the field I ran out and stopped him from coming onto the property! I didn't even think about it!  And the dog was waiting for him!  I saved Cristy Copelands' brothers' life!"

Naismuth still wore his blank expression.  "Well.....yeah," he said.

Fuckin' hippie.
_________________________________________________

Twig Pig was sitting at the big round top with people emphatically speaking to him.  He looked - I dunno, he was a tough read, but I'd have to say he looked mildly...serious.   One by one the other patrons rose and went back to their own tables, still gesturing and speaking in emphatic whispers as Naismuth and I sat down.

Naismuth considered him over steepled fingers.

"I think you show promise as a being of light so I'm going to hip you onto the facts of the matter.  Go into your student mind and be there.  Mainly will grab you a drink if that helps."

"On duty, sir," said Lee.

"Are you ready to not just hear, but listen?"

"Yes sir I am", Lee replied.

"On paper, I own all the property on the other side of the road there, starting from the main drag to the river bank, and from where you were stopped on the downslope, uphill almost to the "Speed Limit 35" sign.  I'll refresh all my flags, and I apologize, I should have done that sooner but shit happens.  Ideally my property line is marked with metal fence posts and red flags. Have you grasped intuitively and loved and cherished and hated what you've heard so far?"

Warden Lee blinked. "Well, Stranger in a Strange Land," he said.  "I grok sir."

"Thou art God," Naismuth intoned.

"Never thirst," replied Lee.  It was SO embarrassing.  Sandy took our orders and the bartender sent me over a shot.

"Now in truth, the higher spiritual truth, everything inside the boundaries of my property belongs to the dog.  My bus, my acetylene torch, my beard, Mainly, Mainly's stuff, all the wild animals, the birds, the dirt, my truck, the trees and grass and my motorcycle and the shop.  Everything.  I don't know how far up it goes but it goes down all the way through the Earth."

"Antipodal ownership," said Lee.

"I better not be hearing you humoring him, dude" I spat.  "Know the truth when you hear it.  You almost got your tag punched today.  So to speak."

"We only do that with fish, miss.  But I take your meaning. No, I'm not humoring the gentleman.  I grew up on Ardenwald Farm," he explained. "My mothers' name is Lotus and my fathers are named Elrond, Interzone, and George the Moon."

"Wow.  And here you are in law enforcement.  What would your mother think?"

Naismuth stretched out a silencing hand toward me.  "Goddammit Bitch Mainly we're talking about the dog.  If you can't stay on topic then go sit in the ladies room and play with the free cowboy hats."

I shut up.

"When I tell you the dog owns everything, I am not speaking in metaphor.  It's a primal thing.  Territorial.  Enforced."

"Oh hell yeah, enforced" added someone from the other side of the room. There was scattered, uneasy laughter.

"And encouraged, I kinda noticed," the warden observed.

"Do you remember how when you were in here awhile back importuning my protege you suddenly found yourself in the jaws of the dog?"

"I don't think I'll ever forget it, sir," asserted Lee.

"So now take this in and know that it pertains to the agreements you've made with society and not you as a being of light-"

"Your dog hates cops."

"Well..."

"Your dog hates....authority?"

Milton yelled it from the kitchen "His fuckin' dog hates The Man, Einstein."  A couple of people in the gloom of the bar clapped a few times.

I jumped in.  "Deal with it:  The Man in all his forms.  Not the mailman or the garbage man or the census taker can come onto the property. Or the fire department.  Probably not the mayor either."

"You know, I've never seen the mayor," Sandy mused in passing.

"Even in the form of a smoke on the wind, the Mayor would not get one foot past the property line," said Naismuth decisively.  "Son, it worries me.  We all should know each other better.  And why are you out dickshitting around on a four wheeler with no game vest, no bpv, and no rifle for fucksakes?"

"I just transferred here from Hemet Utah, sir.  Nobody told me that when I got here I would have to get another job on top of that because Conway County has no budget to speak of. And well, as far as getting to know all of you and your ways, well, things can be difficult at first when you come to a new place.  Hemet was very much like,  just like,...um..."

"Choose your adjective," advised Naismuth.  "A few spring to mind if you'd like to borrow one."

"...like...one big extended family."

People nodded. Utah. One big extended family. Oh yeah.  Yup.

"And as you can see," he took off his touque  "Here, I'm the red-headed stepchild."  He smiled, and it was a nice smile.  You could feel him just smiling, no agenda.

"Well that there is some old bullshit," Sandy declared.  "Here you are in the middle of poaching season and you don't even get you an orange vest like the community service garbage pickers?  That is Not Right.  Mr. Doug Pierce:  isn't that some shit?"

"I'd have to say it's a sorry state of affairs, you bet," he agreed.  "May I ask:  have you had much contact with our local law enforcement, Officer Lee?"

"Yes sir, I have spoken several times with Chief Erlund," replied Warden Lee.

"Ain't he just the spirit of goodwill," someone muttered.

"Well, I found him to be a man with a lot of things on his mind, you know."

"But do you understand about the dog" Naismuth said, leaning intently across the table toward the warden.

"Sir, I understand completely about your dog."

"Like fuck you do.  It's THE dog.  He doesn't belong to anybody but himself," I said.  "THAT is what you have to understand about the dog."

"See, he's like a person, but a dog," someone explained.

"Oh boosh-waw.  I go there all the time and pet him and he's just as nice as you please."

"He's just a little ol' dog," someone argued.

"From hell," added the bartender.

 "Listen and I'll tell you his history."  Naismuth settled in, tipped his chair back, and crossed his long legs.

"OK wait," I said, standing.  "Mr. Pierce, I'd like to buy a round for the house.  Include yourself, bud."
I got an ovation.  It was rad.

"You have money?" said Naismuth.
_________________________________________________
The Story Of The Fat Dog.

"Whoa, full stop.  What exactly is your job description?  Police, Sheriff, Warden, Officer,  Ranger, Border Patrol, or what?" Naismuth asked, waving away his cocktail.

"It's ice water, stupid," said Sandy.  "It's just got pretty straws and a monkey on it."  He let her set it on the table.

"Sir, I'm a game warden."

"Twig pig," someone elucidated. "Armed and deciduous.  Birch Bacon. Wildlife Barney Fife."  Officer Lee glanced around but everyone seemed to be chewing a mouthful of food or sipping coffee.

Naismuth continued. "So then Mr. Lee.  I had just moved back here after my parents passed away.  I set about repairing and organizing and soon I had my shop open for business. I have a squirrel in my pocket."

I took it from him with a napkin and dropped it in the outside trash can.

"I was in my shop one day working on a 359 Peterbilt when I heard a noise like a dog yelp, up near the road, and a car laying rubber.  Well I got out from under the thing and went up to see what the deal was.  Lo and behold some foul fucking hellbound piece of parasite raddled dangling shit had thrown a dog out on the side of the road. He was an old, confused dog, and he went up the road and down all the rest of the day, sniffing and looking pretty beat up and tired.  I took an old hubcap and left it by the road with water in it.  It took me a week of sitting closer and closer until finally I could pet the dog, who was all bunged up from being thrown out of the car, but getting around, kinda skinny but not starved skinny.  I figured he had to have been eating roadkill, so I got a can of dog food and dumped it out.  He came up and sniffed, and ate it, and drank some water, and laid down, and we both hung out for a couple of hours.  When it started to get dark he got up and came with me down to the shop."

We all waited.

"That's it," Naismuth said.  "Skaal."  He drained his glass.
____________________________________________________

Now I knew there was a whole lot more to the story from listening to Naismuth, part kozmic ratiocination, part guessing and all Naismuth.  I'll take that half.


Naismuth had to teach the dog to be a dog. At first, it didn't dig holes or chase animals or follow trails or play.  You'd throw a ball or a stick and he'd just look at you and wag, like "well that came out of nowhere."  He marked, halfheartedly, here and there.  He didn't chase cars.  He didn't notice horses or deer or elk or rabbits, rats or mice.  A bald eagle dived on him and whiffed past at the last minute and he just kept ambling along.


Naismuth knew he had to teach the dog before the poor thing died and missed out on the joy of dogs.


First, he mourned the dogs past.  I wasn't there, but I can get with being crying sad about a dog that people ignored for it's whole puppyhood and youthful years.


He sat out in the meadow in the evening, and let the dog come to him.  Naismuth...mourned.  The dog dozed at first.  The next day he became anxious and walked back and forth, making puppy sounds.  The next day he began trying to make dog sounds, find his dog words, and his rusty little voice got louder and clearer and finally he let loose a pure note, and then his dog heart opened and the two of them howled until every wolf, dog, coyote and fox gave voice up and down the valley, from Fairchild to Oddfellows Lodge.  People freaked out and started firing off guns.  Everyone remembers that night but nobody knows it was Naismuth. I wish I'd been there.


After than night Naismuth spent every minute he wasn't wrenching on hunting and fishing and walking game trails, the dog following him.  The dog and he would eat the small shit he killed, which must have been tough on Naismuth but was fine with the dog.  Naismuth would shoot the occasional big animal too.  He didn't need that much, so once his freezer was full he parted the rest up for smoking and giving away - but not before he let the dog roll on the empty carcasss, get right inside it,  go over and walk in the gut pile and growl and shake the innards, crush bones, bite, drag, eat, gnaw, lick and carry.  Naismuth held his rifle ready.


Finally, one day when both of them were bloody and reeking, a bear stalked them to the river, just out of sight in the brush, and the dog learned from the fear coming off Naismuth that it was prey, just like everything else alive.  


Naismuth ran the dog playing stick - well, steer knuckle -  until his short legs could give him a chance to escape if he had to.  The dog learned how to piss tall and shit so it signified.  The dog learned to kill when Naismuth let him toy with small game he'd stunned with a thrown rock. He learned to find the place in the river where he could cross without drowning, although he never learned to swim. What he did was he'd hop across in the water in big, moon-gravity hind leg hops, while holding his head high out of the water and beating the surface with his front paws.  That didn't help, but it looked hilarious.


Naismuth dug roots and cut leaves.  The dog learned to eat salmonberries off the bush and apples off the ground. He uncovered alder truffles and played with them.  He uncovered baby rats and licked them up them like popcorn.  He found ducks and their eggs.  He leaped for pheasant and came away with long tail feathers that he chewed up, grumbling in his chest.  He only got taken to school twice; one by a porcupine, and once by a skunk.


Naismuth disported with the companions of his choice; the grinning dog didn't waste a thought on the fenced-in females who barked as he strode past.  He was after the good stuff. Coyote stuff.


Before Roth crossed the mountains, when I had only been here a month, I saw the dog late one evening out in the field in a circle of the bastards.  His Casanova ways must have finally got on their last nerve.  I started to freak but Naismuth held me by the shoulders and said "Let it happen."


They darted in and skulked back, all chatter and cacophony while the fat dog watched them.  Suddenly he cut loose with his insane hell scream and dove for the closest one, low, bowled it over, tore out its guts and ran with them, crazily, like a puppy, playing and jumping, covered in blood and muck and rejoicing. The grasses didn't even ripple as the rest of the pack crouched and shadowed away.


I also once saw a wolf come to the edge of the river, and he and the dog exchange a look across the water.  I wondered just how far on the wild side the fat dog was sinning.


Naismuth never taught him a trick. He never gave him a name. He never taught him to be a good dog.   The way he saw it, the dog was good enough the way he was. And, as may or may not come as a shock, he also swears that the dog is living backwards in time.
_____________________________________________________________________

Every day for the next week, Officer Erlund would drift past our place,  going all slow with his hat slouched down and his dark glasses on,  up one way, back awhile later, cleverly switching it up, an exemplary example of law enforcement enforcing the law exemplarily.  Every time he passed we'd stand and give him identical 'parade float' waves.

Meanwhile the yearly scumapalooza that Erlund was expecting to happen at our place,  the annual Big Takedown party, was raging ten miles down the road in Pisgah, where participants robbed a liquor store,  burned down 20 acres of timber and stole a bunch of cars and a life-sized plastic statue of Wolverine.

We watched as the large packs of bikes passed by.  Nary a member of the Rock Steady MC gave us so much as a wave, and when the last patch had passed headed downslope, Naismuth sparked up, turned to me and said "Mainly, I just got a whole year of my life back."

Outlaw or not, though, word gets around the motorcycle community, and so Naismuth Motor experienced it's annual surge in income and contacts as the two of us handshaked and haggled and horsetraded away the nice old parts we had, and unloaded trucks full of new old parts to replace them.

Still, that whole month, for me anyway, was 30 days of suck.  I missed the excitement of the year before, and the times before that when Roth and I first met.  I missed feeling like I was a desperado among the bad and mad and dangerous to know. Of course, mostly I missed Roth, always Roth, always Roth.  I'd hear a certain familiar note in the passing bikes and it would tear me up. 
________________________________________________

When I walked in, Mrs. Lund had a mile wide smile and was dressed in her Picasso smock, ready to go.  My four ladies leaned forward and waved gaily with a crackle of plastic.

"Well I hear you you're finally going to do it!"

"She's gonna make the jump!"

"Oh you're gonna love it, you really will."

"Make a big change the first time and go wild.  Then see if you get used to it," said Mrs. Joker.  "You can always get a buzz cut if you don't!"

Hair washed and dried and my neck wrapped in a little weird thing, I sat in the chair, and the goop went on.  Mrs. Lund massaged it in so thoroughly my head wabbled around under her hands as she kneaded and squeezed and sklished the ice cold crap into my hair.  "So how you been?  I heard you two did really good this year," she said.  "I know I sure did.  I had ladies in here that wanted me to do the craziest colors, but I keep up with the times.  Can you imagine, though, walking around with blue hair?  You could not pay me enough money.  Blue as a blueberry!"

"Well now you know, we come in here every week and get our Fanci-ful, and now don't you tell me that's not blue, because when you girls all stand out in the sunshine real good, that's blue," said Mrs. Five Second Rule.

"Takes one to know one," said Mrs. Joker, and they all chuckled.

"I'll tell you something funny.  My husband, he just doesn't E-ven know." In the mirror I could see Mrs. Lund make an erasing motion.  "One Sunday him and I are sitting in our  pew at church, and the light was coming in so nice,  and old Mrs. Mikkeldatter was sitting at the keyboard and she'd just had her rinse,  and he whispered and asked me "How old do you have to be before you hair turns b-"

The laughter had already started.

"What did you tell him?" I asked her.

"I I told him "When you get too old to pull your pecker!"

"No!" Mrs. Chihuahua yipped.

"Right there in church!"

"Somebody get my purse!  I need a nitroglyceryn!"

"My color wrap is coming out!" Mrs. Joker scrabbled at her head, laughing so hard I could see the raging pink of her dentures as one side of her wrapping slipped over her eye.

"Oh, oh oh, that reminds me! - here now, let me get those drips; look down. -so I was saying, remember when we were talking about my men customers?"

"Come do my wrap before you go on," Mrs. Joker wheezed.  "If I die laughing I want to look good in my coffin."

Mrs. Lund bustled over and pinned it back in place with plastic crane clips she kept in the pocket of her smock.  "So I was saying, sometimes, how some men,  they come in to get their unmentionables..." she looked around the room, clearly wanting someone to volunteer an adjective.  I was already laughing to hard to be any use.

"OK!  Well!  I just recently got myself a new customer.  Shush, now. Karen,  don't pick at that or it will just come out again."  Mrs. Lund tore off a long, long strip of plastic wrap and expertly whirled it into a snug turban-hat on my head. It was amazing. Plastic wrap hates me. I'd have ended up with a stuck together wad of pissing me off.

She continued. "Now I am not going to say any names, but -"

A lady I called Mrs. Chihuahua snorted and giggled into her hands.

"Now what is wrong with you?  Asked Mrs. Lund.

"You said 'but'," Mrs. Joker explained.

"Somebody has a dirty mind," said Mrs. Five Second Rule, who looked pointedly at Mrs. Chihuahua.

"I have wisdom."

"My foot," Mrs. Five Second Rule declared.

"Now," Mrs Lund said to me with her hand on her hip.  "You see them over there?  Don't you turn out like that.  ANYWAY.  So my new customer just happens to have....guess!  ....he has red...."

"They all have that!" shrieked Mrs. Joker, Karen.

"Someone's been hitting the Catholic cough syrup," said Mrs. Chihuahua.

"That's Jagermeister," Mrs. Never Said Much explained.

"No! Now you know what I mean!" Mrs. Lund continued.  "And I mean, the poor man!  It's just terribpffffffft!  oh, save me! terrible! Really you gotta feel sorry for him!  It's almost like he has, he has!  Has, jockey shorts!  Made out of..."

Mrs. Five Second Rule, the lady with the loose bridgework, let same drop glistening to the floor while she bent over in hysterics, holding her stomach.

"I filled up a whole outside garbage can!" Mrs Lund concluded.  "It looked like a can full of orangamonkey!"

No way in hell! 

Man, I let  go.  I guffawed straight into the iceberg and slowly started tipping starboard, taking on water,  leaning over the arm of the styling chair, building into an upending, slow circle as my hull split in two, and then out of the chair I rolled and laid plop on my side on the floor and just howled. Mrs. Lund was going to help me, but ended up on her butt beside me, laughing.

"Am I gonna have to put a safety belt on that thing?" she asked me with mock sternness.

Mrs. Forth Lady Who Didn't Say Much piped up.  "You tellin' me you rip out butthair andja don't already have one?"
_______________________________________________

The cuts I was making in the sheet metal were super bad.  Melting metal, burning metal, veering off the line, just a sad, sad state of affairs all the way around.  And my welding helmet kept slipping down my head, and there were beard hairs in it too.  When I was done I turned off the torch and sat down hard, hung my head and just let the helmet kind of slide off my head onto the ground.

"Well.......you followed safely procedure," Naismuth said.  He leaned the results of my handiwork against a pillar.  There it was:  a wangity five-foot peace sign that looked like it had gone through a war.

"Oh God that is so bad," I observed.  "This shit is harder than it looks." I gestured toward the cutting torch.

"You're incrementally more skilled than you were the last time you cut metal, though, aren't you," said Naismuth.  "Hey, you're learning, and learning is FUN-damental."

"You did not just say that" I replied.

We put Christmas lights around the rim and stuck them up through the cuts I'd made.  Then we used the dormer hoist to get it into place where we'd put metal brackets that would keep it from falling down and slicing the dog like baloney.  Nais and I ran cord down to the outside outlet and he taped it in place so the wind wouldn't flail it around just in case.

We stood back and looked at the fruits of our labor.

"Kinda loses something during the daytime," he observed, "but the sentiment is there."

We were going to do Christmas this year.
_________________________________________________

Business picked up again as everyone suddenly remembered their chainsaws and snow blowers and ski-doos.  Winter was well on it's way, a constant wind blowing down the mountain, and the days had turned bone-dry and the nights deadly cold.  The last leaves didn't blow past,  they skittered along the ground, contorted and freeze-dried, like a rattling horde of crippled rats.  In blithe disregard of the cold and wind, the fat dog snoozed the days away in the tractor wheel next to the front man-door.  I picked a leaf off him and held it up to blow away.

One of the waiters from the restaurant, just a high-school kid, trotted down the driveway with our dinners stacked in two styrofoam clamshells.  Before we were served, he put a hamburger wrapped in napkins down in the dust near the dog.

"He'll go far," Naismuth remarked, and I nodded.  "So how are things going on the job?"

"It's a job," said the kid.  "I gotta head back before Milt runs me through the grinder."

"You know what human meat is called?" Naismuth asked, and you could almost see the kids neural connections piss themselves as this question knocked on the door of his brain.

"Long pig," Naismuth continued.  "Pigs and humans are omnivores.  So are bears.  That's where the meat gets that piggy sweet taste from.  Of course when you subsist on a diet of human meat you get kuru.  That's the human version of mad cow disease.  Turns you stupid."

The poor kid stood there for a second. “Oh,” he said finally.
________________________________________________

Naismuth and I had spent a number of evenings out in the bus, polishing the brightwork, cleaning and odd-jobbing little things,  brainstorming what to do with our King Tut cash.  Amazingly, Doug the bartender and his magic light had pronounced it negotiable U.S. currency without a mark to be seen.  We both agreed that made it super secret Karma Kash.

Rule 1. Don't shit where you eat.  In the chance that the serial numbers on the bills had been recorded, misfortune wasn't going to redound on anyone in our purview.

Rule 2. Person to person cash transactions only.

Rule 3.  Not one red cent was to be spent for our own use or benefit.  Karma Kash was, as you'd expect, a bitch.

"Is restoring balance a personal benefit?" Naismuth pondered.  "Or now wait:  is it more properly reparation?"

"If I had a fuckin' context I could tell you," I said.

"Remember when the dog ate Mr. Fourchets' cat?  Well I was thinking, there he is all alone with no cat."

"Oh!  Easy!" I exclaimed.  "That's the dogs' karma!  It's reparation.  So you get sweet double karma points, like when you use a letter Q in Scrabble."  God, this shit was starting to make sense to me.

"Mainly, you are right.  It's a plan."

"Actually you get triple whamma lamma dog karma points, because the dog will eat the new cat too.  Or wait, that wouldn't work. Hang on.  OK.  You'd be back in the karma hole with Mr. Fourchet, but that would be negated by the whamma lamma karma goodness which would come into play because the dog would get fed by eating the new cat."

Naismuths' white tombstone teeth shone through through his beard.  "Not this cat."

I had already been working on my present, and I'd probably get a Karma Kash goose egg, but it wouldn't put me in the hole either.  I hoped.  I'd put a lot of work and study into it, fingers crossed.
__________________________________________

Bartender Doug was behind the wheel of the International, and I was passenging with some difficulty.
He yammered all the way to Oddfellows Lodge, just pleasant nothing, until my ears hurt and my teeth were grinding.  Perfectly nice, perfectly mannerly, but...I dunno, it just made me want to punch him.

Oh, but it was all worth it when we drove into the lot.  There sat my chariot, all hooked up, trailer and baby and all, idling like a sleeping bulldog.  I took a couple moments just to admire it.

I reached through the window and shook hands with Doug.  "Thank you so much, Mr. Pierce.  We both really appreciate it a lot."

"Glad to help, glad to help.  It beats standing there all day on a Wednesday till my dogs are barking waiting for someone to come in," he said happily.  "So, I just park this in the driveway, right?"

"Then run like hell before the dog grabs you," I replied.

Doug laughed gaily as he put it in reverse, but there was the slightest edge on it.
Heh heh.
_____________________________________________________

Operating a backhoe is a lot harder than you'd think it would be.  Backing a backhoe off a trailer, for example, is pretty much the most scary, ticklish, onerous thing I'd ever done, and it was just crossing a few feet of distance.  Backwards. Freaking out all the way that I was going to tip over inside a mechanical beast that probably knew I didn't have clue one.

I had my whole shmodus de operationo written down on a piece of paper that had been folded and read so many times it was soft as flannel.  I had put so much thought and planning in, and run through it mentally hundreds of times, and here I was still damn close to shitting myself.

After all the backing and filling and angling and dump truck truck bullshit was done I returned to confront the backhoe.  Got it going.  Backed it away from its' trailer some.

Time to make the cab turn so the business end was facing my objective.  All righty.  Looking at the plastic instruction sheet ziptied to the inside of the cab, I worked the controls, and movement occurred.

There was an enormous crash.

Still, as I stood up and peered through the windshield, if I had to make a mistake, I'd made a good one.
Half of Mr. Fourchets' rental house lay in shit and flinders, and I hadn't even felt the hint of a tremor.  The side of the bucket had merely bumped the roof.

"He was right," I mused, trying to make the same mistake again. "He really did get took on this thing."

You might think I worked for days, but you'd be wrong.  It was just a case of make the thing eat a chunk of house and then barf it into the dump truck.  I didn't do it well, and I didn't do it neatly, but I did it so that all the big stuff was in the truck, and all the trees were still standing.

The biggest wonder of wonders was, I hadn't even needed to use the tracks!  I did it all from one spot!  I was falling in love with this monster.  All kinds of possibilities suggested themselves.  But time enough for that.  I got the backhoe rearranged back the way it was, and nice as pie, I backed the machine right up onto the trailer again, and I only hesitated 150 times.

I dropped the backhoe and trailer off first, and then drove out to the dump.
_________________________________________________

On top of a small hill with a road that spiralled gently up around to the top, the dump was a stinking monument to everything that was wrong with the world.  Naismuth wouldn't even mention it if someone asked for directions.  I was more pragmatic.  It was here, and I had garbage.  Big garbage.

When you drove up to the top, there stood a little wooden shack about the size of an espresso stand next to a scale you drove up onto.  The astoundingly greasy image of exactly what you would expect a guy who ran a dump to look like would record your entry weight.  A bulldozer with a backhoe would whiz down from the top of the garbage heap and lead you up top, right to where your contribution would best help construct the whole heap just so.  Then you'd drive back down, get weighed again, and the difference determined how much you had to pay.

Everybody in the county was in collusion with these guys, and I'll tell you why.

Shack dude would hop up on your bumper, cast an eye over your crap, and if he saw anything he wanted he'd ask if he could pick the load. Say yes, and off came the items.  In fact there was a stack of rescued stuff of all kinds trailing behind the shack, like something the size of an outhouse was going to hide it, and it was all usable, resale-able stuff.

They made a little extra, and you paid a little less.

 Loader dude zipped down to meet me  "Come on up," he shouted, and up the hill we went.

Dumping a dump truck is one of the most deeply soul satisfying things you can ever do in your life.  God it's amazing.  It's something about the big truck with all those hydraulics at your command, the huge box beginning to lift, tilting, bit by bit, your front wheels taking less of the load, barely coming up, juuuuuust a bit, and then all that gigantic weight sliding and crashing and smashing and rumbling and tumbling down, rattling and tinkling, screeching, scraping, a few more cinderblocks falling out, and finally nothing.

Loader dude waved and gave me a big 'OK' with his gloved hand.  I lowered the bed with an awesome 'kachungclang' and followed him down.

All the while bald eagles, proud symbol of our nation, circled overhead in a flock of 20 or more, waiting.  It was such an obvious metaphor that even I felt shitty. 

But someone had made good.  Some weeks later word went around that Loader Dude had up and disappeared.  Nobody had a clue.  There was even a half-hearted search of the garbage heap.  Me, I think he'd seen dollar signs.  Real dollar signs.  Plastic-wrapped dollar signs in the wreckage I'd dumped.  I didn't grudge it to him one bit.  Tweaker meth money was just going around the karma wheel and getting right.

The rental fee was a total assfuck, although I wasn't going to say a word, since I'd just dented my karma by an egregious failure to recycle.  And karma was quick.  As I was sat using their bathroom it hit me:  I hadn't arranged for a ride home.
Fuuuuuuck.
_____________________________________________

I was talking to one of our customers at the top of the driveway when the screaming began. "Good gravy Marie! " she exclaimed, meanwhile rolling up her window so fast her hand was a blur.
 "Shall I get the cops?" she yelled from inside.  I shook my head.

Naismuth was out back, sitting behind the wheel of an old cube van we used sometimes.  Back and forth the dog stalked, slow and stiff-legged, giving horrible voice, gazing steadily at Naismuth through the glass with pure prehistoric rage.  A ruff of mane had risen on his neck, trailing a tall line of fur down his spine to his tail, which bristled like a fireplace brush.  I looked up in amazement at Naismuth.

"I fucked up like a giant pile of fuck," he said loudly so I could hear him through the glass - and over the dog. "Major affront to canine teinei.  I may die here.  I'll write you a recommendation on this paper."

"What happened?" I yelled.  Naismuth was busy writing.  I mused on the possibilities-

"Oh fuck tell me you don't have a cop in there!"  I shouted.

"Madame you are insane."  He took a breath.   "It's not a cop.  It's a cat."

I looked from him to the dog, aghast.

I went down on one knee next to the dog, who was scrabbling away at the side of the cargo box and taking off paint.  "Hey bud.  Hey now.  I gotcher back, bud.  OK?  I gotcher back.  Naismuth did a really bad thing.  NAISMUTH IS A BAD BOY."
"AAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEERRRRRrrrrrrr" agreed the dog.
"Naismuth is a BAD BAD BOY."
The scream went down into the basso register
 "He does NOT GET FRENCH FRIES!  BAD NAISMUTH NO FRENCH FRIES!  You get french fries.  Yes you do!  Yes you get french fries!  You are a good hero dog!  You get french fries!"
"RRRRRrrrmmmm," said the dog, musing on the injustice of the world.

"I get french fries too!  Only you and Mainly get french fries!  Bad bad Naismuth! Stay, Naismuth! Stay!  We go get french fries!  Sandy has french fries!  Mainly and the dog go get french fries from Sandy!  Come on, bud!"


I backed away a few slow steps, and the dog looked from me to Naismuth about four or five times.  Finally he came to some kind of dog decision and walked on by, leading the way to the restaurant.
"Bad Naismuth!" I added.
  _______________________________________________

Naismuth poured coffee into his saucer and blew across it, took a sip and smiled at the coffee lady.
Most of the treats laid out were home-made and full of everything that was bad for you, which is the way all good holiday food should be.  "Go try the pfefferneuss," she advised him.  "They dunk really good."

I wouldn't know a pfefferneuss from a fire hydrant but Nais dove right in and grabbed three little grey things, which he dunked, ate, and thanked the coffee lady for. "Take one, they're good," he offered.

I didn't.  They looked like macaw crap.  That, and  I was practically face down chewing in a huge can of Danish butter cookies someone brought; and it was tough not snarfing down the little paper cups they sat in too.  I am a slut for Danish butter cookies.

 The atmosphere was light and happy.  All the women had their hair done and had broken out their goofy holiday jewelry and the kids wore long sledding caps.  A few of the men sported Santa hats.  The pastor circulated, smiling  and apple cheeked.  Christmas was in three days.

Mrs. Never Said Much bustled and shouldered her way in through the crowd and spoke aside emphatically with the pastor.  He hurried away upstairs.  I washed down my butter cookies with red Kool-Aide and thought 'Hm.'  I had to take a whiz anyway, so I stepped out to the ladies room and took a quick one.  Then I went upstairs too.

The basement entrance was at the front of the church, in the vestibule.  Downstairs it smelled like the holidays, like baking and coffee and cheer.  Upstairs, it smelled completely different.

In the vestibule it was wool coats and wisps of fresh air, leather and old bell rope;  a warm dusty smell from the furnace grate and snowmelt on the floor mat.

Once you walked through the inner doors, it changed.  Warm golden wood polish, lemon, honey, oil and hymnals with old paper lined up in rails on the back of each pew.  It smelled like a large wood room, part airy, part musty, and through it running a ribbon of decades of perfume and aftershave and cologne and shampoo and scented lotion, hairspray and lipstick, people and candle wax; and for a few days a year, the evergreen swags up on the alter.

From the vestibule I watched as the pastor sat next to a hunched over figure in one of the back pews, a man bent and shaking, shoulders and back in plaid flannel.  I could hear emphasis and calm talk and the rising key of Mr. Fourchet when his emotions ran high.  "And then I came home and the phone I was calling! Hey insurance!  You don't keep me from doing nothing now, I think! Ha! So the doorbell ringed and I was, you know, the phone was done, so right after, the door, I rang, it opened and I sees look!  A gift and a card!  You know what the card it says?   It say, "God knew you were lonely so he send you a friend."
___________________________________________

That day in the back of the van, the card was already written and the kitten-cat was in it's little crate with a blanket and some toys, and all of that sat in a big cat box with a little bag of food and a red ribbon tied around it all.  "I just grabbed the goddamn thing and ran,"  explained Naismuth.  "I don't think the cat appreciated it.  I booked ass across the road, set it on his stoop, rang the bell and took off like Michael Jackson with his head on fire."

Now, this cat wasn't some pluck of fluff destined to be the dog's dinner.  This cat was a wonder of genetics and a curiosity of human history.  This cat was Something Else Again.

Up in the Cascade mountains lives a legendary animal.  People who have even heard of it immediately dismiss it as hogwash.  "What wild animal would put up with that?" they said.  "Even imagining that such a thing happened."  Or, "Oh yeah, I hear Bigfoot owns one, har de har har."  People would assure you that such an animal was the mountain version of a Jackalope.

They were wrong. 

This creature of legend and myth is:  the Pixie Bob.  And it is  one hundred percent real.  A lady down in Oddfellows Lodge bred them for show, for fucks' sake.  Naismuth found her in the phone book.

Starting with whoever got here in a ship first, it is said that the jack tars and alley cats press-ganged from far away cities,  upon sighting land and cheerful natives, immediately started in to imagining all the free-range pussy, forgive me, just waiting for their company, and the fact that it was foreign pussy just put sugar on top, tomcats and sailors being interchangeable. The sailors rowed to shore in boats. As soon as low tide left the ships listing,  off the ship the cats crept through the cold marl, to the sand and shingle and wrack and vast ocean-cast tangles of logs.  Through the yellow gumweed and grasses they slipped toward the forest to increase and multiply.

In that quest, my conviction as to who got what first goes to the cats.  Swaggering shipboard tomcat, rat fed and rat-nasty meets exotic and dangerous female bobcat on the Northwest Coast, a restless wanton who was probably as sick of the local stuff as the ships' ratters were intent upon showing them what a little foreign initiative could accomplish.

They're a gorgeous cat.  Some tend toward the tabby side and you get what looks like a regular barn cat - a huge one.  Some tend toward the bobcat side, with snowshoe paws and tufted ears, a little tail and tall hind legs, and you get a small bobcat that shits in a box.

They'd been bred for years, and the wild was almost gone from them.  Naismuth said that the lady in Pisgah, at the least provocation, would raise hers up overhead with one hand and brandish it around while it hung there like a kielbasa.  Neither of us could determine what that was about.  But as far as giving Mr. Fourchet a new kitten to replace the old cat, Naismuth showed genius above and beyond the call of Kozmic Karma.  True, the wild had almost been bred from the breed.  But if the fat dog tried, the fat dog would remember for a long, long time.
_________________________________________

I raised my bottle and clanked glass against Naismuths' can of animal beer.  "Awesome, dude," I said earnestly.  "Total class move.  I just can't get over what you wrote on the card, man."
"Good Lord I didn't write that.  The cat lady wrote that after she saw what I wrote," explained Naismuth. "My card said 'Here is a cat."
We drank to that.
________________________________________________
Starting the day I came home from the dump I'd put in a few hours getting Mr. Fourchets now-vacant lot looking decent and ready for a new structure.  I became Secret Agent Double-O Landscaping, sneaking up to the mobile site to do some high-speed raking and putting nasty shit in garbage bags.  It seemed to breed.  And then I'd have to hoof it all down to the ditch next to the road so I didn't leave tire marks, and come pick it up later that night.  I left the broken brush, and let the broken limbs lay where they were.  When someone steals your house, you expect some damage.  I worried for a little while about 'Will he think it was stolen by aliens or some backwoods shit and call the authorities?'  but then I realized I was dealing with an Old Danish Guy.  Someone stole his house?  Well, that was Gods Will.  Aliens?  Fuck; aliens could abduct him and use him as a pool toy in their nasty spaceships full of goop and butt probes, and the man would take it to his grave.
_________________________________________________

"Skaal Bitch Mainly, valkyrie, demon goddess, being of light."  Naismuth raised a fresh can of beer and I cracked into it with my progressively emptier short dog of expensive whiskey.  "You blew that mans' mind so hard his what the fuck is still looking for his how in hell.  A true job well done, your bloodthirstiness."

We drank to that.  "Goddamn, Naismuth, your ass is shotfaced," I observed.

"I can't feel my lips," he announced.

I took a large hit and passed him the joint, gakking and spazzing like a 13 year old kid until I exhaled.  We were really treating ourselves tonight.  Nice red-haired sinsemillia.  Spendy single malt whiskey and, well, canned beer.  I had also been promised a special midnight dessert treat, so I tried to keep from getting out of my mind by sipping and whiffing.   The dog snoozed in the tractor wheel next to the door, on top of Roths jacket.
Braid still attached.

I aimed a stream of compressed air at the fire and the sparks climbed in an arc up to the night.
"It's midnight, I announced.  It's midnight because I said so.  I have the munchies so bad.  Please tell me you bought Christmas crap."

"I did better," he replied, cloaking himself in groovy mystery as he unfolded to his full height and stretched up toward the sky.   "Follow me.  I don't want to get grost in the grist."  Off we shuffled through the shop to the bus. The fat dog plopped to the ground and held up the rear.

Inside the bus he lit a bunch of votive candles, the kind in the little tin cups.  All his stuff, the upholstery, his bedding, a lot of his clothes and shoes and the curtains were brand spanking new, because the dog had re-asserted his residential status all over everything.

Out of his tiny refrigerator Naismuth produced a container of crazy-expensive designer ice cream, dense as cement and triple chocolate. "Now, I needle ender.  Do I have one?"

I pointed to the cabinet.  He looked at it.  "-oh blender, yeah.  Cool."  He carefully took it down and got it set up.  "Now gret the ice cream to melt for a while so it doesn't get hot.  So leave it alone."

I was sitting in the little C-shaped dining area opposite him, pretty much like you'd see in any camper, only handmade out of teak and brass nautical hardware.  The rest of the bus was the same way.  Gorgeous and gleaming and cozy and reeking of incense, with just a hint of canine revenge.

"Now, Mainly...." he dropped into the little booth opposite me.  "This is going to be heavy.   I want to invite Roth too.  It's twisting me inside.  I miss my brother.  He was an asshole.  We finally got to be friends.  I want to think about Roth, man."

We sat, heads bowed over the tabletop, and we remembered Roth.

I cried.  Naismuths usual aura of agelessness slipped, revealing a sad, thin, bowed old man.  The dog sat between us, and before too long he was making puppy sounds, tiny puplet noises:  come find me. Come save me. Everything is dark and I'm alone.

We both reached out and scratched and petted him, patted him and ruffled his fur.
"I think we should be done now," I said, snuffling. "We're bumming the dog out."

Naismuth scooped ice cream from the little container into the blender, and then added some soy milk and crap from a box.  "Oh come on, man, why do you have to make everything healthy?  If that's spirulina I'm going to throw up," I announced. "Or brewers yeast.  God I hate that shit."
"EW," I added over the sound of the blender.

Naismuth sat down and put two water glasses full of milkshake on the table.  "Bottoms up," he said. "Wait."

He dumped a puddle onto the tabletop and the dog licked it up.  "OK, now."  We clinked again, and drank.

"Mmm, that's so good," I said, stopping for a breath.  "Kind of grainy."

"Two parts ice cream," explained Naismuth, his moustache full of chocolate.  "One part Roth."

We looked at each other.

Then we drained our glasses.
______________________________________________


The End.

"