Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Maria’s Story Pt.1

Maria heard the stereo first. She sat in the dark out on the porch because she wasn’t sleeping. She wrapped her hands in her son’s favorite t-shirt and smelled him when she could no longer cry. Inside, her brother Neto and his wife had gone to bed hours ago, worn out from their own tears and consoling her. After the twang and thump of country western music she heard the big engine of an old pickup truck revving her way. She looked out to the road and saw the headlights between the trees of the nearby peach orchard. How did she know the truck was coming to her? It came.

The truck missed her dirt driveway and pulled up onto the small lawn in front of her small porch, holding her in its lights. The music blared. The engine revved, then chugged, sputtered, and finally gave out. The driver’s side door squeaked open. The music obscured the swearing and banging coming from the cab of the truck. Neto came to the front door wondering what was going on, still half asleep. Maria told him to go back to bed, she would take care of it. He hesitated, but then went back inside. She saw a shit kicker cowboy boot dangle out from under the truck door.

“How about turning off the lights?”

“What?”

“YOUR LIGHTS.” It felt good to yell.

“Fuck NO.” The stereo volume went down instead. The brights went on.

She shielded her eyes with her hand. Though they had never spoken before, she knew this man better than she knew why. “Come on down old man. What’re you afraid of?”

“Bullshit.”

She sat down again. She put her head in her hands. She made a wish. He would lose all sense and drive his pickup over her porch, through her, crushing her entire life. She could see the house exploding in thousands of cheap, old, broken, overused pieces. The trucks lights went out.

“Aw shit.” He was on his hands and knees on her lawn in front of his truck. His expensive cowboy hat, battered and ripped under his right hand and a bottle of expensive whiskey under his left.

“You okay?”

Kenneth Sneed looked at her. The habitual spite and meanness in his eyes, the only things unblurred by the liquor. “Hell no.” He sat up on his knees, dropped his hat and pulled a drink from the bottle. “How ’bout you?”

“What do you think?”

He turned his head quickly into the night air to the left and snorted, hawked, and spat. ” ‘Scuse me,” he muttered. Then he took a delicate sniff of the air. “Peaches, there. Gettin’ old, one more season, maybe two. Those are Trot’s. No doubt.” He turned back toward her and looked at the ground in front of him. She thought he might be sick. “No doubt, he’ll get three good seasons out of ’em. Maybe four. He’s got the touch, that boy. Things just grow around…” He waved his hand in the air. “Not me.” He drank again. “My Daddy’s got it. Son’s got it. Skips a generation.” He sighed and looked at her almost kindly, “Yer’ boy woulda been a serious business man, but not much of a farmer.”

“Like his grandfather.”

“That’s right.” It was the first time Ken Sneed had ever admitted that Tomas was his son’s child. “Maybe not as big a bastard.” He drank still more. Maria cringed at the way he gulped the whiskey down. “Definitely not. I’m the biggest around here.” He swayed on his knees. He held the bottle up in the moon light. He had worked his way to the bottom third. “Nothin’ but tears left. I come here to fight, but all I got left is this. The tears. The bottom of nothing.” And he drank again, spilling as much down his chest as he drank.

“You came here to fight me old man?”

“I dunno.” He slumped over on his knees, one hand in the grass. He wouldn’t be able to hold himself up much longer. He looked at her and forced his eyes open wide. “You sure are pretty though.”

Maria didn’t move even though her eyes started to hurt with the heat of still more tears. They looked across the lawn into one another’s faces until all they recognized was the reflection of their own grief in the other.

Ken Sneed’s collapse was almost comical in its suddenness. He rolled onto his back and looked into the sky. When he spoke again, his voice was awkwardly clear and loud. “I saw him once. More than once. But one time… I saw him playing baseball. It was goddamned beautiful. I wasn’t much at sports, but I played hard. And I saw him. He did it the same way, but he hit and went into that base. Better ‘an me, but like me too. I knew he was Trot’s.” He laughed. “No one’s as serious as a Sneed about a game.” And the laughter ran suddenly dry.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I planned to. I planned to…but…” and she thought he passed out. And then he rambled, but Maria never forgot it, because it sounded so important to the man. “I know he did it. Got us good. He knew too. Knew about you. Knew about Trot. Cut me in the blood and the dirt. That fucker, but he… shit… screwed himself too. Now I know something, don’t I? Don’t know how cold a bastard I’ll be. Cut me. Cut me off in the blood. The dirt too. He’ll feel the one gets him…” And then he was out, lost to the whiskey, his grief, and the night. And Maria could feel herself crushed under the wheels of his tears, the porch and house exploding as he drove those words through her overused and now empty life.