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Half of it is cloudy and another half has vanished into air. All that’s left that's really accurate memory is just the tiniest trace, a thin, filmy residue of what's gone on.
            I been alive thirty-one years now and all that stands out is this one thing.
            I met Big Jim Corman when I was twenty. I had growed up in East Carolina, not far from the coast. I'd done most of a two year hitch in the military, regular army, and got discharged. Not honorable, not dishonorable. Honor never seemed to come up much, then or now.
            I was working the hill country of North Carolina and Virginia, living with my gear on my back, plowing, seeding, sometimes just cutting the grass; anything for anybody who'd pay or feed me. Spring was turning into summer, creeks were high with melted snows from the Brushys, bugs were out something fierce. Mama Jane had a small farm, pastureland about three thousand feet up. She sold just enough milk, eggs, berries, apples and ramps to keep the place going. She had a couple of fine roan horses stabled out back and a three-legged old pale brown hound named Ticket, short for Meal Ticket I was told, 'cause he'd been a first-rate hunting dog back in his quadruped days.
            My Aunt Lu had known Mama Jane from when both was waitresses in Lynchburg back in the sixties. That was why I looked Mama Jane up when I got into the area, and why she took me in and treated me nice. Though I realize that treating people nice just came natural to her.
            Big Jim came from up North, Connecticut or somewheres. He was a big dumb Irish Yankee, a surveyor for the gas company, balding, red-faced, acne-scarred, probably in his late thirties. He'd gone to college, then took a job with the company, who transferred him down South. He'd been in southern Virginia about ten or twelve years when I turned up.
            I learned all this from suppers with Mama Jane and the two other people likely to be at the dinner table with us most nights, Mama Jane's friend, Sandy, and Mama Jane's strange daughter, Alex, short for Alexandrina or some such thing.
            Mama Jane was probably about sixty, a little on the fat side and sweet as pie. Her friend, Sandy, didn't have sandy hair no more, but hair streaked with whitish, almost electrical silver, and wore big huge dangling beads and multiple bracelets on each tanned wrist. It sounded like a old jug band whenever she came in. Alex must have been forty, I think, never married—no surprise there, with most of her mama's weight but none of her curves—an odd, quiet, tackle box of a woman. The only suitor of any sort she'd ever had, as far as I could piece it together, was Big Jim.
            The day I came to the farm (I didn't just arrive unannounced; Aunt Lu had written Mama Jane to say I might be popping up) I did some raking and hoeing before lunch, got fed a big chicken sandwich dripping with home-made mustard out on the back porch, then started to clean up the barn in the afternoon. Even inside, in the shade like that, I was drenched with sweat by the end of the day, little dirt pools running down my chest and arms, collecting in my navel and everywheres.
            Around 4:30 in the afternoon I started to smell ham cooking. At five o'clock sharp Mama Jane waddled out and told me to knock off and shower up. She headed me out back to the shower, just a old nozzle hung at the back of the house by the kitchen window, attached to the sink by a hose.
            "Don't worry, no one can see ya," Mama Jane said as she handed me a towel and a bar of Ivory and walked away.
            I was hidden from the dirt road out front. There wasn’t nothing out back except the back of the house, the fields and the woods, so I undressed and turned the water on.
            Icy water hit me and I howled like a hound. I'd been hoping for a nice hot shower to ease the soreness out of my arms and shoulders but it was all I could do to get the soap on, the dirt off and get out. Still, I felt pretty good as I stood there toweling off, my toes in the wet grass, listening to the birds and crickets, looking at the sun still high over the trees and smelling that ham. I even popped a bit of a rod there as I was dryin’ myself with that towel. It was then I happened to look up and noticed a woman staring at me from a window up in the second story of the house. That was the first I knew of Alex.
            In the house Mama Jane told me she kept the water cool to save money once summer came around.
            Alex came down the stairs and Mama Jane introduced us. I shook her chubby, stubby hand and said, "Mighty pleased," or something but she didn't say nothing and didn't really look at me. I would not be lying to say she wasn't the handsomest woman I'd ever seen. Sandy came bopping in a few minutes later. Mama Jane introduced us: "Rick, Sandy, Sandy, Rick," and the pattern, like the table, was pretty much set.
            A couple days later I was out back along the fringe of the property, splicing some fence. Thunderheads were gathering and I was trying to get the job done so I could get back to within running distance of the shed or the barn or the house by the time the weather broke. I spotted a yellow gas company pickup parked in the woods at the edge of one of the old logging roads that cut the mountain. I looked around but didn't see no one. I was ready to start in again on the fence when for some reason I looked a couple of hundred yards down the fence line and saw about the biggest human I ever did see, before or since.
            Now how in the world had I missed him? I musta mistook him for a oak tree or something at first.
            "Hey!" I yelled. He didn't look up.
            I yelled again. This time he raised his head and turned around. I waved to him. After looking at me for a couple of seconds, he turned back to his equipment. I guessed he wasn't doing no harm, so I shrugged and got back to work. It started to sprinkle a few minutes later and I ran back to the buildings, trying to avoid the dozens of cow piles, which if you've ever been in a Virginia pasture, you know it ain’t easy to avoid. The guy was still out there, tying orange ribbons to stumps and branches just beyond the edge of Mama Jane's property.
            I mentioned him at supper that night.
            Sandy asked for the bowl of mashed potatoes and said, "Well, that would be Big Jim Corman. He's always poking his nose around here, now, isn't he, Jane?"
            Mama Jane grunted.
            "He's harmless, I guess," Sandy went on, "even if he is about as big as a gorilla. Though if old Ticket could talk, he might not agree."
            The dog, at the mention of his name raised his head briefly from where he lay on a braided rug by the front window.
            "How do you mean?" I asked.
            Mama Jane and Alex were both just kind of gazing at the mounds of food they'd heaped on their plates.
            Speaking around the food she kept shoveling into her mouth, Sandy said, "Well, Jim used to be a fairly reg’lar dinner guest around here. He took something of a shine to Alex here, and she used to invite him over."
            "That feller sure could eat," Mama Jane said.
            "So one Sunday, he comes around and asks if he can take Ticket hunting with him," Sandy said. "It was strange because he didn't ask to see Alex, but neither me nor Janie could see anything wrong with it so Janie called the dog over and off they went, Ticket's tail windmilling around and him jumping up at Big Jim's legs."
            Sandy got caught up in her food and for quite a while all I heard was her fork and knife scraping and her bracelets jingling.
            "So what happened?" I finally asked.
            Sandy looked up at Mama Jane and Alex.
            "Well, Ticket comes back with his leg shot up and it has to come off at the vet's."
            "He shot the dog?" I said.
            "Claimed it was an accident," Mama Jane muttered.
            "He'd broken one of Ticket's other legs, too, once, a year or so before that," Sandy said. "The two of them were out playing and he just landed on that poor hound's leg. I'm surprised Ticket didn't lose a leg that time, too, with that big moose landing on him."
            "So, he's got a way with animals," I said.
            Nobody said nothing.
            Suddenly Alex got up. "Well, if we're done reliving old times for this young man here," she said, "I'm going to excuse myself."
            She bustled as best she could towards the stairs. I stood up, dropping my napkin. I grabbed at it but missed. "I'm sorry," I said.
            Alex clomped up the stairs. Sandy waved her hand as if to dismiss the whole thing. "Water under the barge," said Mama Jane.

Friday night I rode a old bicycle they had into town. Mama Jane had a not too old Chevy in not bad condition which she'd said I could use but she and Sandy had taken it thirty miles or so in the other direction to go to the movies in Lynchburg.
            It was about seven o'clock when I parked the bike and locked it on Center Street in Appleville. There was a small grocery store on the corner, a hardware and feed supply outlet I'd passed on the way in and a bar called the Core. That was it for commercial activity. There were a couple of cars and pickups and one motorcycle in front of the Core. I walked in and got a Bud at the bar.
            There was a billiards table in the center of the room, a couple of guys playing. There were two waitresses, one a bit weather-beaten, the other pretty decent-looking. Their get-up was black cowboy hats with black neckerchiefs, white cotton T-shirts and black leather mini-skirts with cowboy boots. Fine with me. A baseball game with the sound turned down was on the tube above the bartender's head, country music was coming out of speakers somewhere and I got another Bud. I swiveled around and watched the pool game and the pretty waitress. I made sure she noticed me watching her.
            The guys playing pool were local guys who thought they were hot stuff. I was on my fourth beer and starting to yawn when Big Jim walked in.
            He walked over to the pool table and put four quarters down before getting a shot and a beer at the bar. When the game ended, he grabbed the loser's cue and said to the guy who'd won, "Your ass is grass."
            "Your ass is grass?" I said quietly to the pretty waitress, tipping my bottle to her to ask for another.
            "Not mine," she said, taking my empty and walking away.
            As Big Jim racked the balls I got up and put four quarters on the table. He looked up at me for a second.
            "All right, candy-ass," he said to the other guy. "Break 'em."
            It didn't take five minutes for Big Jim to dismantle that guy.
            I got up and looked around for a stick.
            "There's only two in the place, little boy," Big Jim said. "Take his." He nodded at the guy he'd just beat.
            I took the stick from the guy and racked the balls, feeling blood in my neck.
            "I saw you up by Mama Jane Weider's farm the other day," I said as he took aim.
            "Yeah, what of it?" he said out the side of his mouth, then slammed the cue into the pile, knocking two balls down.
            "I yelled to you but you didn't answer. I know you saw me. What is it, just that folks ain't too friendly around here, or what?"
            "Didn't seem to be any reason to answer you, friend," he said, dropping the fourteen in the corner. He cackled but that was before he saw that he didn't have another shot.
            Trying to stay cocky, he called a long lame-brained bank that he didn't have a prayer of making.
            "Looks like it's just about my shot," I said before he hit.
            Well, he drove that cue like he was uppercutting someone he didn't like. A lot clattered on the table but nothing fell.
            "Balls," he said.
            I played a lot in the service, and I mean a lot, and I knew this guy was a fish, in addition to being a Yankee. I ran five balls, left him with no shot again, then ran the rest. I looked around to see if the pretty waitress was watching but she wasn't.
            "So, friend," I said, "you going to put four quarters on the table and rack 'em, or what?"
            Big Jim came over to me and started poking me in the chest. Man, he was a big sonofabitch.
            "Listen you," he said. "I ain't your friend, and I'm gonna kick your ass."
            I was hoping he was still talking about pool. When he started fishing in his pocket for quarters I breathed one of them sighs of relief you read about.
            "Damn, I gotta get some change," he said as he went off to the bar. He didn't ask if I needed a drink.
            "Don't fuck with him," some thin guy with a scraggly beard and torn jeans said to me.
            "Don't plan to," I said.
            The place was getting more crowded. There were a few nice-looking women but they seemed to be in the company of a bunch of less-than-nice-looking men.
            Big Jim came back and put the quarters in and racked the balls.
            "How about five bucks on this, pal?" I said.
            "Fuck you," he said.
            I shrugged.
            I broke soft and off-center so nothing would fall. Except for two or three balls that moved maybe a foot and a half between them, the triangle was practically intact.
            I could see Big Jim salivate. "Too late to put that five dollars down?" he asked.
            What a fish.
            "Well, no, I guess not," I said. "Nothing's in yet." Heh, heh.
            We each put a fin on the table.
            Big Jim proceeded to pick off the three solids that had broken from the pack. Of course, then he had nothing left.
            He walked around the table two or three times, shaking his head. "Nice break, fella," he said.
            He took dead aim for the rest of the pack. I knew I might be in trouble if he managed to sink something but I also knew that as long as I got a chance to shoot, or two chances at the most, I'd put him away. He cracked them, and just like before, there was all kinds of action, but nothing going down.
            I had my chance and ran the table.
            I pocketed the money.
            "Let's go, double or nothing," he said.
            I knew his type, all right: Keep trying to win something you can't win, keep trying to be someone you can't be, someone you ain't, and then at the end of the night you feel like you been cheated so you bust somebody up.
            "Naw, I don't think so."
            "Listen, you fucker," he said, coming towards me.
            I turned to go to the bar. He pushed me. I thought of hitting him but then I thought, that'd be real stupid.
            "I got a idea," I said to him.
            His eyes were bulging as he held the cue like a club.
            "Let's both make some money," I said.
            "I'm listening, chicken-shit."
            "Simple," I said. "We team up. We don't even have to shark anybody, just play 'em straight. The place is filling up. You know, Friday night in Appleville and all. We'll make fifty to a hundred each. Whaddya say?"
            Well, even his brain could add all that up. We shook hands, or rather, his paw shook my hand, and damned if I didn't go home with seventy-five dollars that night, after settling my tab.
            We teamed up the rest of that summer. Of course we didn't just go to the Core. Jim would come by in his black Ford pickup and we'd drive to bars in the other towns nearby: Boone, Boone's Creek, Wills, Chilton, Squaw Neck, even Lynchburg. I knew we weren't likely to get beat on the table, and Big Jim's presence kind of ensured nobody would fuck with us off it. We'd go out two or three times a week, and I'd clear as much as three, four hundred dollars. Things was peachy. I even got some off that pretty waitress at the Core a few times, although I found out quickly that pretty was her best feature.
            Big Jim was still an asshole, though. He'd push me around, call me "little" all the time, rag on me for missing a shot even though I hardly ever did, and even though his pool playing got worse the drunker he got and the more he saw that it almost didn't matter how he played. As long as I got to shoot, we were a good bet to win. So he'd always break 'em, and a few minutes later, I'd clean up.
            You could see summer drying up by late August. One Friday night, we were drunker than usual because after winning fifteen bucks from two fish early, we got no action the rest of the night. So we just sat in that lonely bar in Junkett, popping 'em back and staring at the few jiggling tits there were to be seen.
            "Why don't you drive me back, huh?" I said to him after a while. "I still got to work in the morning."
            "Fuck you, man," he said. "I ain't ready."
            I shook my head and ordered another beer.
            "I don't know what you're waiting for," I said. "We ain't gonna make any more money and you ain't gonna get laid."
            Big Jim didn't answer. Or at least I didn't hear him answer. Things were blurring up; my vision was scattershot: TV set, liquor bottles behind the bar then my own perspiring beer close-up in front of me; tits swimming in a white sweater, bra clasp sticking out against the girl's back, people's legs and crotches, the bar’s naugahyde bumper under my forehead. I seem to remember Jim having another couple of drinks as I sat there, my dancing eyes making me dizzy, trying to get my last beer down, like you try to stuff just a little more gasoline in your tank even though the pump has clicked off. Finally I got up and staggered off. I found my way outside to his truck. I spread my arms out wide and laid my head and chest down on the hood. It was a hot night and the metal felt cool. Some time afterwards, Big Jim shoved me and said, "Get in."
            The truck clattered down the road in what for me was almost total darkness, since I couldn't have opened my eyes if I'd wanted to, which I didn't. I felt every swerve and jolt in my stomach, neck and spine. I was afraid if I opened my eyes I might see what death looked like. The windows were wide open and I felt the wind swooshing and sucking above me and I heard Big Jim singing, screaming and cursing as we sped along.
            We came to a stop. I felt my body still vibrating, like a echo of the ride.
            "Hey, Mama Jane's still out," I heard Jim say.
            I opened my eyes. I saw him gripping the steering wheel, peering out the windshield, smiling. He looked like a nut. Oh well, he was a nut.
            "And little Alex is still awake," he said.
            "Little?" I said.
            "All women got the same shape where it counts, buddy-boy."
            As I tried to pull myself up from the seat, he said, "I'm going in."
            Suddenly I was alone in the pickup.
            I opened my door and rolled out, lurching after him. He was making his way up the gravel walkway to the front door.
            "What the hell happened with you and Alex anyway?" I called after him.
            He tried the front door. It was locked.
            "Lemme in," he said to me.
            "All right, all right," I said, fumbling for the key. "Tell me what happened," I said as I opened the door.
            Ticket hopped to the front door from his spot by the window, but I don't know if it was the smell or the sight of Big Jim, but something made him turn tail and hop away, cowering, for a corner of the room. He looked like a off-balance kangaroo.
            "And what did you do to that dog?" I asked.
            "Fuck that dog," Big Jim said. "Alex!" he called.
            "Come on, quiet," I said. "She might be sleeping."
            Then Big Jim looked up. I followed his look and there on the stairs was Alex. She must have heard us coming up the walk because she was just standing there watching us. She didn't look no better to me than she usually did.
            "What do you want?" she asked Jim.
            "I want to talk to you, that's all, just talk to you," Big Jim said. It was weird because I'd heard a number of low-life, shifty things in Big Jim's voice before but I'd never heard him sweet-talk anybody. That's what he was doing, though, sweet-talking poor boxy Alex.
            I excused myself, got some water and aspirin from the kitchen and dragged my ass off to my room. I was supposed to be up and at 'em by seven the next morning, to help Mama Jane pick up a load of feed at the outlet store. Where was Mama Jane anyway? Every once in a while, she'd stay over at Sandy's for the night. Who the hell knew what that was all about?
            Next thing I remember, I woke up feeling scared, like you do when you hear something at night that ain't supposed to be there. I listened but there was just quiet, and not much breeze. Thanks to the aspirin, my head didn't hurt too bad if I just let it sit there in the pillow. My mouth tasted like muck from Toohey Creek, though. Don't ask how I know what that tastes like.
            I was nodding off again when I thought I heard someone calling my name, like a whimper: "Ricky... Ricky..."
            Should I get up or shouldn't I? Could I get up?
            I heard my name again, softly, and then I heard the same voice saying, "Help." Quietly. Crying. It was Alex.
            I got up. I put my pants on. Then I had to sit back down on the bed. I shook my head slowly a few times, groaned and got up again. I started down the hall.
            My own movement made it hard to make out what Alex was saying, but she was still crying something, the sounds coming faint from the living room.
            The door was closed.
            Just as I pushed it open, I heard a slap. Alex cried out. Shielding my eyes in the blinding light I saw Big Jim, butt-naked, on top of her. She was face down.
            "What the fuck?" I yelled.
            Her face was bleeding. Big Jim was pushing her down against the sofa. Her clothes were torn off, hanging from her in shreds. All she had left on was some kind of underclothing thing on her upper body. I was trying not to look. She reached out her left hand to me and Big Jim pushed her down harder.
            I could see him trying to get his dick down between her legs.
            "Get offa her!" I yelped. I tried to push him.
            "Get the fuck out of here, asshole," he yelled at me. He threw me aside with his left arm. His face was all red, his face muscles all scrunched up. He was mad as hell.
            So was I. I got up, my head clearer now, and walked into the kitchen. He must've got that thing inside a her 'cause she let out a horrible little squeal that sort of sounded like and sort of covered up the sound of me opening and closing the silverware drawer, old tin wheels with food and other stuck stuff on warped rusted track.
            Big Jim punched Alex in the head as I walked back in. His fat beefy back bunched up as he pushed down on her.
            "Get off, you fat shit," I said to him.
            He didn't turn around. "You and her got a thing going or something?" he said. "She's been calling out your name for fifteen minutes."
            Alex was just lying there, a big mass of white flesh and ripped clothes. He'd knocked her out.
            I pushed him again. He swung at me but I ducked. Then I stuck him. Then I pulled the knife out of his gut and stuck him again, full in so my hand almost followed the knife through the wall of his skin. He exhaled hard once but didn't no longer have the capacity to follow it up with a inhale. He half-coughed and half-gagged and I pushed him off her.
            I looked at him twitching and Alex not moving. I fished a couple of tens out of his wallet. I went back to my room, washed, got the rest of my clothes on, gathered my stuff into my pack and got out of there. After walking south all night, ducking in and out of the woods at the sight or sound of cars, I stole a ride in the back of a pickup parked outside the grocery store in Appleville in the early mists of the next morning. I took a bus from Lynchburg to Richmond, Richmond to Washington, and flew the hell to the west coast from there.
            I've killed two people in my life. The first is what got me discharged from the service. It was self-defense. This one was something different. I still got the knife that done in Big Jim. It's shiny and clean, one of the few solid objects you get to hold onto amid all that slips away like memory.

© 2014 Laurence Levey

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Author Bio
Laurence LeveySince attending Naropa University’s Creative Writing Program in Prague, CZ, Laurence Levey has had short stories published in Cezanne’s Carrot, Art Times, Versal, and Ellipsis, and book reviews in  Drunken Boat and Word Riot. He was a semi-finalist in the Summer Literary Seminars-2010 Unified Literary Contest, he writes for Worcester Magazine and the Review Review, and he is at work, with a co-conspirator, on a nonfictionish book about Cuba.