I don’t know about the rest of you writers out there, but having projects “in progress” is both satisfying and frustrating for me at once. First, I’ve got shit rolling, so that’s good. But then if I can’t get to said shit, my mind doesn’t want to focus on anything else.
The house renovations are coming along. We’re down to the wire and the floors are almost finished. God, I wish I wasn’t moving. The place looks real nice. Real nice. Since I cleared out pretty much half of what we owned, it might have stood a chance at staying clean too. Sigh.
Anyway, all I have left to do is cleaning the garage walls and floor…maybe painting too, replace a light fixture, a door knob or two, and get a damn plumber to replace the tub and shower fixtures, and a bit of cleaning and voila! Ready to sell.
Why am I telling you this boring nonsense? Well, in about a week, I won’t have to go over to the house for entire days to work on all this crap, because it’ll be done. That means, I can get at the three WIPs I’ve started, but haven’t been able to really get at.
I’ll also be able to edit a WIP titled “I Do… and Other Lies We Tell” and decide just what I’m doing with it. This is an old one, and it’s close to my heart for reasons I’ll keep to myself. So, with all the extra time on my hands, I figure I might get sidetracked by Netflix and Candy Crush, and the only way to avoid that is to have a reason to finish a certain amount of work each day.
So I’m going to share a bit of a WIP each week here on The Edge. That way, I have to have something fresh and new at least polished enough to show everyone. This week, it’s Chapter 1 of “I Do.” Next week, I’m hoping to share a bit of either NEFARIOUS or DIRTY TRUTHS.
So, here you go. And when you’re done reading or skipping over the chapter, care to share some of your tips for staying on track and focused?
I DO…AND OTHER LIES WE TELL: CHAPTER 1
Ronny was an outcast at school: twelve years old and he couldn’t read or write. When he told the teacher how the letters looked to him, she sucked her lips in and made a whistling sound. He hated when she did that, it looked like she might suck her whole face into her mouth. “Ronny,” she touched his hand and he recoiled as if burned. “You are dyslexic: I’m afraid you can’t learn with the other kids.”
Dys—What the hell was that? He’d never heard of anything so stupid. Then they put him in the class with the retards.
When Ronny gave his dad the note she’d written, the old man flipped out. He took him behind the woodshed and gave him ten lashes with the old horsewhip for being ‘stupid and lazy.’
At school it became much worse than a simple lashing. Ronny got into fights with the jocks that made fun of him. Then he began stealing smokes and booze from the little store down the street. Instead of going to class he got drunk and hid out behind the football field. He’d watch the other kids mingle and play stupid games and the girls flirt, but they never flirted with him. They kept as far as possible, as though Dys—whatever, was contagious.
The teachers never reported his absences; retards weren’t expected to come to school every day. Ronny had done this all year. Now after getting into a fight with Garret O’Brien—who at one time had been his friend—he’d been suspended. His father knew about it because his mother had told him days before when she rolled her fat ass to the phone booth on the corner.
Sometimes Ronny thought she lived to see Warren whip the boys. His older brother, Harry, moved away a couple of years ago, leaving Ronny and Arnie the last at home. Arnie was Mom’s favorite, always kissing her ass. Rarely did she rat him out unless he had really annoyed her.
Pulling on his pants Ronny struggled to wake up, his eyes droopy and his head fuzzy. His dad came home today and he had to be up and ready. He groped in the darkness for his shirt, finding it bunched beneath the curtain that served as the wall to his room, a corner of the family room which was part of the larger room that made up the entire main floor of the small house. The other side of the room held a chipped and burn marked table, a few mangled cupboards, with doors missing here and there, and a fridge and stove jammed in side by side. Until Arnie moved out, this corner was all he’d have. His dad had made the two bedrooms upstairs from one larger room, and they could only fit a bed and a dresser in each. Arnie and Ronny fought too much to share one bed according to their mother, so Arnie, being the older of the two brothers, got to have his own room, forcing Ronny to sleep in the living room.
His mom told him he wasn’t going to school. He was relieved because he hated school, but nervous. Where were they going?
“You almost ready?” his mom barked from the kitchen. She’d been up for a while, and the room reeked of cigarette smoke.
Ronny didn’t ask any questions when she’d told him he’d be leaving, although he would love to know where his dad was taking him, he didn’t want to go to school if he could avoid it. “Yeah, just about.”
Hearing the door close, Ronny moved the stained yellow curtain and stepped out. His dad came in, threw his duffel bag on the floor and stared at him. “Well boy,” he mumbled, the cigarette between his lips muffling his words. A long, curving ash hung precariously on the end of it, as though terrified to incur his father’s wrath by falling off. “What have you got to say for yourself?”
“Garret called us hillbillies. He said Mom was your sister.”
Warren Simpson went white, then red, and Ronny knew he’d said the right thing.
“He called us hillbillies? His daddy may run his own business but that fucker drinks like a fish and lays into his old lady every night.” He flicked his cigarette onto the floor.
His mother sighed but didn’t haul her body off the chair to clean it up. She didn’t clean much of anything. Their house smelled of stale cigarette smoke and salami. They never had salami and Ronny found the smell disturbing.
“I know, and I told him that. But then he punched me and I lost it.”
Warren waved him away. “Well, you don’t need schooling anyhow. I got you a job, so you can help us out round here.”
Ronny froze. A job? This wasn’t what he expected.
“Pack your shit. You’re going today.”
“Where? Why do I need to pack?”
“You want a lashing boy?”
“No sir.” Ronny turned to his room and gathered some clothes out of the milk crates that served as his dresser.
His dad greeted his mother, fondling her breast and squeezing her lumpy ass before looking back. “Willie Baker has a spot for you on his farm. You’ll stay there and he’ll send your pay to us.”
“What about me?” Ronny couldn’t see working for nothing. That didn’t sound fair.
“What about you?”
“I’ll need money if I’m staying there won’t I?”
Warren sighed, looked at the ceiling and then back at Ronny. “You’ll take what I give you, and not a cent more. You little bastards have lived off us and given your mother and me nothing but aggravation. You owe me more than what you’ll make at Willie’s.”
“Yes sir.” Ronny didn’t argue. He’d have to go no matter what happened. No point in getting a lashing in the deal.
“Not that you’ll ever get anything better than farm work. Just be happy Willie’s willing to let a retard work for him.”
No matter how many times he heard them, the words stung, he was not a retard, he knew he wasn’t. Stupid teachers just didn’t know how to teach him. “What about school?
“You don’t need school. Can’t learn nothing anyhow. Just get your shit so you’re ready to go. Willie is waiting on us.” Warren turned back to his wife. “Get upstairs Ethel, you’ve got a little job to do too.”
Ethel giggled and heaved herself off the chair, leaving behind a permanent imprint of her ass in the stained brown velour cushion.
Ronny’s stomach turned as he watched them go up the small set of stairs that led to their room. Each time his dad returned from the road he had to listen to the two of them going at it up there. Sometimes it got so bad that Ronny snuck out for hours, knowing when they finished, both would stay up there and sleep. How his brother could stand being so close to that he didn’t understand. Sometimes he considered telling his dad about the other men who slept in that bed, but he wondered if he didn’t already know; his mother always had money and his dad never asked about it.
His first memory of a stranger in his house dated back to when he was three. Ronny knew because that was the year he got a bike for his birthday, the only bike they bought him. Red with white fenders and too big for him, but perfect for a six-year-old. It became Arnie’s bike until Ronny grew big enough to ride it. By then Arnie had bent the front wheel and the chain kept falling off.
Ronny thought of the first man as he listened to his parents thumping around upstairs. His mother hadn’t tried to hide a man she introduced as Frank. Ronny had stared at him; he didn’t know what to say to a stranger. Frank ruffled his curly black hair and followed Ethel up the stairs where they made the same noises his parents made each time his father returned. Soon after, he realized what those sounds were and never went upstairs again. The sight of his mother’s ass in the air, and that man behind her, burned forever in the darkest part of his brain.
Ronny took his bag outside, no point in staying and listening to them now. Sitting on the tiny front porch, he watched the sun peek over the horizon behind the house across the road. Still damp from last night’s rain the dirt that covered the grey siding appeared black. Dust and grime covered every house on their dingy little backstreet. The town of Beverley must have thought them too poor to care about paved roads, so they never fixed the potholes that littered the street, instead filling them with gravel and sand that blew up as cars passed through.
Donaldson Street, or ‘Loser Lane’ as Garrett called it, joined the main drag and people had to turn down it to get to the local arena which made it busy through the winter and spring months. From the porch, Ronny could see the grocery store. He watched a woman unlock the doors and disappear inside. Another day. He didn’t know if that made him happy or not. Ronny knew that he wanted out, far away from this town and his family. He hated them all, and he hated himself for it.
The only friend he’d had left was now his enemy. Though Garret had always been cruel, Ronny didn’t like it so much now that he was on the receiving end. When they started school this year he was different. Garret had changed. Moody and quick to anger, Garret not only started fights but he was mean to everyone. Ronny hadn’t seen much of him over the summer, he had to help at the house and Garret had been put to work at his parents’ restaurant. Neither boy had enough time or energy to go to the other’s house anymore.
Picking up a knurled stick that lay on the ground next to the step, Ronny made circles in the dirt and thought about the changes in Garrett.
On the first day of school Garret didn’t speak to him until last class and then only to ask if he was going straight home.
Ronny shrugged. “The old man’s gone, so I suppose I’ll go to the tracks.”
“You got anything to drink?”
“A little, but you don’t like it.” Garret had tried whiskey last summer and turned so green Ronny was sure he’d hurl. He didn’t, but never asked to try anymore.
Garret tilted his chin and glared at Ronny. “Maybe now I do. You going to share or not?”
“Sure,” Ronny didn’t want to share his last bit, but if it got Garret talking again he would. “I got some smokes too.” The old man dropped a whole pack in the driveway before he left. “You want some?”
“Maybe,” Garret turned around in his seat, the discussion was over.
That afternoon they met at the old railroad tracks. The rails were covered in grass and weeds and they no longer used it for trains but kids wanting to hide from the adults found it useful. On one side all you could see were trees and dense brush and on the other, the poor streets of Beverley. Ronny’s side.
Garret spoke little, smoked a few cigarettes and left without warning. Things got worse between them after that. Garret didn’t speak unless he wanted a drink or a smoke and when they put Ronny in the retard class, he ignored him altogether.
At least I don’t have to see that faggot again. Ronny frowned and dropped the stick; he wouldn’t see any of them. That was worth being sent away. He wondered why his dad didn’t send Arnie; the lazy fuck could use some hard labor. All he did was lay around and bark orders. When their dad came home, he disappeared. Ronny wasn’t sure where he went, but he came back wasted, with red-rimmed eyes and slurred speech. Who was the retard here? Maybe they all were. Maybe Garret was right.
Hearing footsteps in the house he stood an instant before the door opened and his dad came out buttoning his shirt, his wiry black hair, like Ronny’s, mussed up and standing on end in spots. Ronny wished that they behaved like other parents, not as though they were horny teenagers. Christ, by forty, people should be able to control themselves. Not his parents.
“Yeah.” He wasn’t really, but he didn’t argue with the old man if he could avoid it.
“Let’s go then.”
Ronny followed his dad to the truck; a 1955 Chevy Cameo that Ronny figured hadn’t seen a mechanic since they’d driven it away from the dealership nearly ten years ago. His dad parked the rig at the company’s lot and drove his old beaten up rust bucket around town. It’s good on gas, his dad had said, new cars were made to consume as much as possible; one of the government’s conspiracies to keep the little man down. Ronny figured they’d be poor no matter what the government did, but again he never argued with his dad. Though embarrassed to be seen in the old beast, its teal blue cab rattling and its wooden box on the back threatening to collapse under its own weight as they drove, there was no avoiding it. He slumped down while his dad turned the key.
Sliding down the seat, Ronny frowned when his pants stuck and rode up. Duct tape sealed rips in the tan leather seats. When he got out, he’d have little bits of tape stuck to the polyester, and they would never come off. The old radio worked when it felt like it. His dad often banged his fist on the cracked and dusty dashboard to scare it into singing.
“You’ll be respectful to Willie too,” Warren cautioned, pulling out of the driveway. “None of the bullshit you try at home. You hear?”
Ronny stared out the window. At least at Willie’s he might not have to worry about the whip. “Yes sir.”
“I’ll pick you up weekends I’m home. You can help your mother and me with chores, then you go back. You work hard and Willie said he’d give you a room in the house.”
“I don’t have a room?”
“You sleep in the barn until you prove yourself. It’s better than nothing. Willie can’t be expected to trust a retard, you show him that you won’t hurt nothing and he’ll let you in the house.”
Ronny digested this, his stomach queasy at the thought of sleeping in a barn with the animals. He should have figured out that something in this arrangement would put him in his place. He was a stupid retard; not safe to be around normal people.
The rest of the way to Willie’s farm Warren was silent. Ronny watched the old houses fade as they drove north out of town, replaced by muddy fields with a touch of muted green here and there. The sun brightened the pale blue sky, but large fluffy clouds drifted in front of it now and then. The rain that had plagued them all month might hold off for just one day. Ronny hoped that it did. He knew that April always brought rain but he hated the gloom and the dampness, especially after a long winter.
Thirty minutes out of town, Willie’s property spread over several acres. He provided the local milk and cheese as well as vegetables in the summer. He was successful—by small town standards. Willie’s house brimmed with additions and updates like a mismatched puzzle, different siding here and there, some rooms round, others square. To Ronny it was ugly, but the locals thought it grand. Big didn’t always mean better in Ronny’s mind, not when it didn’t make sense.
They pulled into a long driveway to stop before a crooked porch. Ronny’s gut tightened and a lump formed in his throat. Before, on the way there, it didn’t bother him because it wasn’t real yet, now it was. His parents didn’t want him and though he told himself he didn’t want them either, it hurt. Willie sat in a rocking chair, coffee in hand. He waved at Warren, not sparing a glance to Ronny.
“Hey Will.” His dad jumped down from the truck and shook the older man’s outstretched hand.
Willie looked like a wild man; scraggly grey beard and long dirty hair to match. His rumpled clothes were covered in shit and he chewed a piece of hay while talking, his voice mushy, as if he had a mouthful of marbles. “Thought you wasn’t coming. Almost started chores. This him?”
His dad sighed as though acknowledging Ronny were a burden. “Yeah, that’s him. He’s not dumb at work; he can do what he’s told. Just needs a lashing now and then to remind him who’s boss.”
Ronny reddened and looked away.
“I don’t think we’ll be needing the whip, right boy?”
Ronny looked back to the old man and shook his head once.
Willie grinned to display four teeth spread out in his mouth.
“S’okay Warren, we’ll do fine. Marg has a bed ready in the loft. You prove to be okay and we’ll set a room in the house for you. I got daughters so I hafta be a little careful. Fair enough?”
Willie didn’t need to worry about his daughters. They resembled their cattle more than they did their parents. He’d seen them at school, and decided he’d be better off with the animals. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the stinking pigs Willie called daughters.
Ronny had no interest in girls anyway. The only girl that had ever been kind to him was Dana Parson and she was strange, always staring at the floor and never uttering more than a couple of words. Even then, the words were so quiet you had to listen close to catch them. She helped out with the retards and, although only a year younger than Ronny, she was pretty smart.
His dad was getting back in the truck.
Willie stood by as Warren left, then looked at Ronny. “Well boy, let’s get those chores done and I’ll show you the loft. Like I said, I don’t use no whip here, but I’ll send you back home sure as shit if you give me any hell.”
“Yes sir.” Ronny followed him to the barns that covered the back of the property.
The smell curled Ronny’s toes. Baying from the cattle in the field beyond, mingled with squawking chickens, making him wonder how he’d ever sleep among the animals.
That first day Willie worked him hard, but that was okay. He didn’t call him a retard, and he didn’t yell at him. That was fine with Ronny. He’d work his fingers raw and if it meant he didn’t have to face the whip again; he wouldn’t care if Willie ever spoke to him.