I wanted to let loose with a good right hook to his grin. Son of a bitch was always treating me like I had nothing in my head but air, no way to reason or form thoughts. I had no purpose on this earth but to appease his need to be believed. Little bastard would never get as tall as the tales he told.
"Ain't that something," he said.
He stood there breathing hard, getting fat on bad news. Of course it wasn't true, meant to scare me away from giving John Peter two minutes of my time. I raised my eyes to the sky and put my hands in the pockets of my jeans.
"You shocked?" he asked.
Now listen here, bull shit is not my middle name. I shoot straight from the hip, tell it like it is. But you throw bull shit my way it's going back atcha, that you can be sure. I don’t' take any crap from anyone and I don't give it. So don't go trying to sell me the frigging Gervais Street Bridge 'cause you can't put a price on something that can't be bought.
"You owe me five shiny quarters for that little bit of news."
"Kiss my white, southern little ass, Angus."
He stared at me like I was a detour he'd come up against, his free ride to money took a sharp left, right off the road. The little bastard was stumped, like a jeopardy question that froze him up. "Duh, what is a summer's day? Can't get much easier than that."
He squinched up his nose, his leprechaun impression, I guess. He looked Irish as a shamrock, eyes the color of a glossy post card pea green sea and his jaw line was just begging to be grown into, waiting for him to get handsome, which one day he would be, I guess. But for now, he was irregular looking, like his poor features didn't know where to go to get caught up with.
"I never understand what the hell you're talking about," he said.
He wasn't too smart. "Shall I compare thee to….."
"What? I swear, Pleasant, you're out of your mind."
"What is a summer's day, asshole. It's a Jeopardy question. It's Shakespeare."
He made some whishing sound in his throat and kicked the dirt, like he wished I was getting the benefit of the end of his shoe. I always made him angry, angry as my daddy gets when he looks at his paycheck and wonders where the zeros went.
"You hear what I'm saying, Pleasant? You're nuts."
"Good thing to be, I hear."
He made a whishing sound again. "Can you believe what I just told you? I wasn't lying. Hell, I wish I was. What the hell reason would I have to be lying about a thing like that?"
"You want to play Jeopardy or not?"
"No. You listening to me?"
"I hear words falling like bricks from your mouth. They have no meaning but they are awfully heavy, hard to bare."
"Why do I bother telling you anything?"
"You don't tell me shit, you are one big piece of crap and your mouth is filled with things that don't mean nothing. Your mind is the same."
"You don't believe me?"
"You want me to believe that Mrs. Clottey found a dead body in her son's box-spring? You really want me to believe that?"
"It's the truth."
"No truth on this goddamn planet ever made its way out of your mouth. If truth was hanging out of your nose you'd blow that goddamn truth bugger into a snot rag and toss it into a fire pit."
"Fuck you, Pleasant." And off he walked.
Damn Angus Ray would have me believe that Pluto is the planet with rings and Mars got nothing to do with the God of War. Oh no, the God of War is a freaking pansy and he took his name from those little hard candies look like hearts. According to Angus we got Cupid to thank for slaughtering the assassins of Caesar.
He must think I got nothing better to do on a July afternoon but swallow any line of bull he wants to feed me.
Truth is though, I don't have much better to do on a July afternoon but join all the other aimless souls got nothing in their heads but some kind of fuzz. Damn if I understand what we're doing on this earth. I mean, I can't justify getting born. I didn't ask for it, nobody did. Then all of a sudden you're here, screaming at the top of your little lungs 'cause you know what you're in for. Hard times is what you're in for. I can't even begin to tell you what bad news is lying on my path through life but I best be ready for it. I best be putting on my armor and I'd best be prepared to fend off all the bullshit coming my way head on.
People make up things to do before they go insane doing nothing. Now, ain't that the truth? Most people I know don't take the pleasure in reading that I do. That's what keeps me from terminal aimlessness. I got my own July classroom up on Piper Hill with my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in my knapsack and five dime store paperbacks stuffed under my arm. Beats being stuck in some dusty classroom breathing in chalk in December. I been staring at Mrs. Llewellyn's layers of flesh too many semesters of my life, sneezing at her cheap perfume and pretending I am with purpose. Knowledge is purpose, and I give that to myself. All the knowledge I need I can find in Shakespeare and other great writers. So I get lots of knowledge in July. What kind of knowledge do I get in December? It don't matter none that I can name the presidents of the United States or figure out the area of a goddamn polygon. It matters that I can feel a kinship in the presence of masters and sublimely superior in the presence of fools. Fools being Angus Ray for one, masters being Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte and D.H. Lawrence, to name but a few.
Sawyer told me I shouldn't put Charlotte Bronte in the same category as Shakespeare but Sawyer is a fruitcake. He's never read anything; he's too busy making sure the part in his hair is straight, which is the only thing about him that is. Sawyer knows nothing, doesn't like to read. Great writing is great writing; don't matter if it's dialog or prose. I tell him he's an idiot all the time and he just slaps me upside my head and says I have no right to my opinions because my brain is yet to be fully formed. Shit, Sawyer wouldn't know Shakespeare from Humpty Dumpty. I don't know what the hell I'm doing on this earth with these people. I wonder if they believe the shit they spew.
It's other people boggle the mind with nonsense. That's why I long to be alone most times, completely alone under a blue sky in Hollow Creek. That's in South Carolina, not too many people heard of it. Shakespeare would have thought the same 'bout Hollow Creek, that it brings the poet out in people, well, at least in me. Shakespeare was a nature lover and he had his own Hollow Creek over there in England, must have had. He fully understood the perfection of a summer day. Why, if a man compared me to a summer day I'd be honored to pass over my virginity with no strings attached. Fortunately or unfortunately, no man in Hollow Creek sees any kind of poetry in a yellow sun or a green field with dancing weeds as high as my forehead. Only thing they see is a bottle of beer on ice and an excuse to stink behind the sweat marks that are so visibly untoward under the arms of their t-shirts.
Looking over yonder I can see my mama putting clothes on a line. There's a bunch of purple flowers between me and her. The clothes are all white except for one blue towel. It looks so proud to be different. Mama's hair is dandelion yellow, golden against the daylight. She's a compliment to the natural environment around her, like an Oak tree is to a back yard and like a lone cactus would be to a wide desert. I never been to a desert but I can see the beauty of that prickly, dangerous cactus in my mind. Everything has its compliments I imagine, even me.
Mama looked up. You'd think she'd wave. I always want her to wave when she sees me but she never does, she looks off, as if my presence has disturbed her or is about to disturb her. But I bring nothing of any consequence to my mama. She need not fear that my overbearing presence will devour her. I am well practiced in avoidance and indifference though the hollowness in my soul resents her absence; I wear the mask I must.
I was surprised to see Sawyer just hanging out by the clothes line, looking like a big, fancy poodle, prancing around and beguiling her. His dark good looks unnerved me. I’m so bewitched by beauty that I always succumb to my fascination with it, my awe of it. I am unnerved by those who have no noticeable flaws. I could pray to look like Sawyer, even though he's my older brother. I could pray to own the same kind of space that his bewitching beauty encumbers, but I don't pray for that. I only pray to grow up and find that I can deal with it all. Maybe I'll be better at that then Sawyer, who knows?
She doesn't respond, of course. She smirks. I guess she thinks of a smirk as a greeting.
"You hear the news?" Sawyer asked.
"What news?" They both looked kind of consumed. They looked over stimulated by something that had distracted them from their usual boredom and lazy egocentric paragraphs about nothing at all that ever held any interest for me.
"Mrs. Clottey found a dead girl in John Peter's box-spring," Sawyer said. "How gross is that?"
I almost fell over myself. "Holy shit," I managed to get out. "You bullshitting me I'll break your ass, Sawyer Day."
"Don't let it upset you, Pleasant, it's no one you knew. And watch that language." Mama hooked up a shirt on the clothesline. It was white. That blue towel still held its own. I was going to find it later and use it for my bath.
"I know everyone in this town," I said.
"She wasn't from Hollow Creek. She was from Summerford." Mama looked at me like maybe I had known her and she'd have to deal with my shock and my sorrow by hugging me.
"Did you know that girl from Summerford? She only had one arm," Sawyer asked me. "Poor girl couldn't defend herself. Maybe she could have whipped his ass if she were whole. John Peter doesn't weigh much more than you."
"What?" Shock waves went through my body.
"You all right, Pleasant?" Mama asked.
Well, I sure did know that girl from Summerford and I wasn't all right at all. I slid to the ground as if the weight of my shock had compelled the weakness in my knees. I could smell it, the earth. Grass must have been mowed earlier that day, I could smell that too. Everything felt clean and right, felt good. The dichotomy made me dizzy. There ain't nothing clean and right and good about dead girls, nothing pretty about it at all. I couldn't understand how anyone could get themselves done in when the grass had just been mowed and the sun was out. That's why people make up stories about harps, and heaven and all that shit, makes death look like the better place.
"Get up off the ground, Pleasant," Mama said.
"I knew her," I whispered. "I knew her well."
They both looked at me like I was the crazy bastard stuffed her inside a box-spring.
"Tough luck," Mama said and reached out to touch my arm. Her limp attempt at solace falling short of the hug I needed. She helped me to my feet, begrudgingly, I suspect.
"You sure she's dead?" I asked, like maybe they were messing with me, they were all messing with me, Angus too.
Mama laughed, not exactly a lilt, more like she'd got something caught in her throat. "Dead as a doornail, Pleasant."
"John Peter do it?" My expression was one of deep sadness, I was sure. But I often looked at Mama that way, with sadness. Sawyer too, so I cannot blame them for not being sensitive to my loss.
I heard Sawyer laugh. "Wasn't the tooth fairy, Pleasant."
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