Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for October, 2007

William and Tamra On The Porch

Friday, October 26th, 2007

He told her about the old man, about Fresno, drink­ing cof­fee, and Maria, Tommy’s moth­er. He didn’t tell her who the old man accused of killing the boys. He couldn’t. It felt sim­ply too absurd. He wasn’t sure it was true yet, hadn’t rea­soned out all the evi­dence the old man had rat­tled off on that park bench as though list­ing the ingre­di­ents of a favorite fam­i­ly recipe.

When Tamra asked him direct­ly, “So, who does he think did it?” William stalled. “I’m not sure he was mak­ing any sense.” The old man was per­fect­ly coher­ent, a per­son of one, ratio­nal mind, with a sound con­clu­sion. “He’s not a cop any way, so it doesn’t much mat­ter.”

But he might go to the cops.”

He wants me to.”


Yeah, says he’s too old. That it’s best for me, blah blah blah.”

She leaned away from him in the large wick­er chair they had set­tled into more com­fort­ably than either would have thought pos­si­ble. She looked at him and knew he was hid­ing, she’d seen it in her mom’s boyfriends and in addicts she had scooped into the ambu­lance, both groups more the run off of human beings than whole per­sons. Casual lies as care­ful­ly and dense­ly con­struct­ed as some ancient Spanish fort, each word a pre­cise­ly cut stone, every pause dili­gent­ly mixed and expert­ly spread mor­tar, and each win­dow offer­ing only the nar­row­est glimpse of dead­ly archers with­in. She took aim and lobbed her artillary over his high walls of decep­tion, “You’re full of shit.”


I don’t know what that old man said or even if you saw some old man, but you bet­ter fig­ure your shit out.” And into the house she went with­out so much as a “fuck you” to cap the whole thing off.

The com­fort­able warmth of her body reced­ed slow­ly until he couldn’t remem­ber how they had fit togeth­er. He decid­ed to tell her the whole truth, but he would wait to start until she was almost asleep and less like­ly to hear his fears in the telling.

Home From A Fool’s Ramble

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

It’s the same upset­ting feel­ing he’s known before. Maybe known all of his so-called adult life. Certainly the last ten years of it.

Nothing achieved. Opportunities missed or entire­ly blown. Friends and so-called friends lost. Success (what­ev­er that means) almost entire­ly elu­sive. All the edu­ca­tion and what? None of the dis­ci­pline and hard work? No, there’s some evi­dence of even hard work. Of risks tak­en. But just the way he can and, more often than not, does lose at any game of strat­e­gy, he has mis-played his life so that he is in a weak, los­ing posi­tion.

He remem­bers, vague­ly, those games of chess with his grand­fa­ther so many years ago. What was the goal? The king. Eliminate the king. Keep as many of your pieces while tak­ing as many of your oppo­nents. Never make a move that isn’t cov­ered by anoth­er piece. Protect, con­trol, win. He nev­er won much at chess. Ever.

But life isn’t a game of strat­e­gy, is it? No, but using some strat­e­gy wouldn’t hurt. And know­ing what you mean by win­ning is essen­tial. If it’s enough to have played the game, to have lived, then stop whin­ing. If you must take your opponent’s king (whomev­er that is), strate­gize.

So, maybe, all this time he’s been think­ing about things incor­rect­ly. Maybe not real­ly think­ing at all.

What strat­e­gy, what val­ues got him here? A long time ago it was God and Mom and Dad. The Trinity. Maybe not so very long ago. And then his divorce. A failed dream or two. Corporate jobs that felt dead and dead­ened him inside and out. Parties. Books. Movies. An urbane city life. Somewhere along the way Art invad­ed the pic­ture. Way back. It unset­tled The Trinity, invent­ed mean­ing for the wan­der­ings and enlivened the parts of him that were being crushed under cor­po­rate cul­ture. And now? He’s off the track com­plete­ly. Back to Brenlee. Small, bro­ken, com­plete­ly with­out Art, Brenlee. A town which bared its soul to him only in the body of a dead boy, oth­er­wise he knows noth­ing of any impor­tance about it. That boy is what it showed him that he could nev­er tru­ly leave. This was its curse on him.

Nothing he could do would erase the mem­o­ry of his friend’s blood on his hand. Nothing could erad­i­cate the feel­ing now, he real­izes on end­less emo­tive loop for twen­ty years of reach­ing into the phys­i­cal death of anoth­er. That shock, usu­al­ly reserved for men or even young men, wasn’t meant for a boy. A boy can’t shake it by retreat­ing to a bet­ter vision of his child­hood. Instead, death became his ref­er­ence for life. How bad is being broke? Not as bad as that. How bad is fail­ing a test? Not as bad as that. How bad is it to get fired? How bad to fire anoth­er? How bad to cheat and know you’re cheat­ing, steal and know you’re steal­ing from some­one in need, destroy, ruin, ignore? Not so bad as that. How bad is it to try to do good and be mocked for it, because oth­ers don’t know? Not so bad as that. How bad is it to bor­row and know you’ll nev­er repay? It is all noth­ing com­pared to that feel­ing. Death wins out. Life wins out. The details between and around those two events exist in an absurd numb­ing haze. A haze he wants lift­ed final­ly. William would like to take a tru­ly deep and clear breath once and for all. Perhaps once all this is set­tled with Tommy, when he knows who did it and why.

And Tamra’s sit­ting in his favorite chair on his porch, eyes closed, a light from inside his house offer­ing a dif­fuse glow over the whole scene. He knows he might hurt her, but he can’t dream of send­ing her away. She might hurt him. He could still feel that, couldn’t he? He parks in his dri­ve­way and her eyes open, the moment of peace end­ed.

At The Station

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Is it true?” Dennis Plaster heard his 68 year old father’s tired grav­elbed voice com­ing from his own mouth. A mind blur­ring ache had tak­en up res­i­dence in his skull, he could feel the odd shade of yel­low that sur­round­ed the large black and blue bruise in his chest, but all that felt nat­ur­al and ordi­nary on top of the waves of nau­sea he’d been rid­ing since see­ing Mose Brenlee’s body.

Doesn’t mat­ter. What court is going to take the last words of a dis­turbed old fire­man who entered a home ille­gal­ly to lay in wait for an oppor­tu­ni­ty to kill its res­i­dent and then attacked a police offi­cer with a fire hydrant before blow­ing off his own head?” Win Kady’s body filled up half of Hernandez’s office and his per­son­al­i­ty filled up all the parts left between Plaster and Hernandez.

The two Brenlee offi­cers sat, Hernandez behind his desk and Plaster in a chair near the wall so he he could lean his head back and put an ice pack betwen the back of his skull and the white sheetrock, keep­ing his hands down and arms still so that his chest would main­tain only a dull throb.

A pho­to copy of Mose Brenlee’s let­ter to his fam­i­ly was spread out on Hernandez’s desk. They had bagged the orig­i­nal and put with the oth­er evi­dence, includ­ing the knife Hernandez had found at the canal that morn­ing. Win Kady would take it all to the coun­ty lab.

We’ll need to ver­i­fy that it is Mose’s hand­writ­ing…” The oth­er two looked at Hernandez and he shift­ed a lit­tle in seat. His pants were dry now but not com­fort­able and they smelled of the algae and mud of the canal. He had spent three hours at Andy Currie’s farm with the coun­ty crime scene team, Plaster, and lat­er, Win Kady. Andy Currie was on duty at the fire­house and did not show when called. Currie said he trust­ed them and would rather not see his old friend that way on his own land. Hernandez had spo­ken to Currie him­self, the man sound­ed gen­uine.

You going to ques­tion Andy?”

If he’ll co-oper­ate.”

But if it’s true…” Plaster’s chest hurt as he tried to get in on things between Kady and Hernandez.

If it’s true,” Kady answered, “then we’ll get him.”

Hernandez thought about the old truck he saw through the nar­row crack between the locked doors of Currie’s barn. “We checked the scene and Currie looks clean.” He thought about the shad­ows of that barn and it’s cement floor (an expen­sive lux­u­ry) and the dry thin ditch behind it where water had drained off that floor into the orchard not so many hours before they came to find Mose. They had no cause to force entry into the barn and he want­ed to do this by the book. It had to be by the book.

What about the kids?” Plaster man­aged to ask calm­ly with­out breath­ing deep enough to hurt his chest.

And Mr. Sneed too…” Hernandez added. “I know. I don’t want Currie to know that we know all that. I want him to think we’re look­ing past him.”

He’ll hear rumors about he kids.”

Let him. If he asks, act a lit­tle sur­prised that he’s heard any­thing. Let him think we’re pret­ty well sure he’s a good old boy.”

Win Kady nod­ded and took out his pipe and start­ed pack­ing it with cher­ry tobac­co. “If Sneed talks to any­one, the good old boys aren’t gonna like it.”

Yeah. Talk and rumors. I know. But I’m not going to let this go on that long.” Hernandez wasn’t look­ing at either of them. Maybe it was the ice and aspirin doing its job, but Plaster thought he felt the room cool a bit. Win Kady seemed to shrink and his per­son­al­i­ty took up no more room than his small wood­en pipe. Before long Win motioned to the door with his pack of match­es and moved his bulk through it, down the hall, and out the back door of the sta­tion so he could smoke.

Some min­utes lat­er Hernandez broke the silence with one word, qui­et­ly, meant for no one, and Plaster doubt­ed he actu­al­ly heard it, “Ghosts.”

William Drives North To Brenlee

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

He had made a pil­grim­age to see a guru — a Sears plaid shirt and grey chi­no wear­ing Armenian, a whiskey-breathed old new­pa­per­man, him­self more sub­ject to the whims of chance than a mas­ter of divin­ing the fate of humankind. What the old man told him was entire­ly clear and William couldn’t believe it.

But, then again, William Loof didn’t believe much of any­thing any more. He didn’t believe peo­ple were basi­cal­ly good or that things all work out for the best. He didn’t believe the infi­nite pro­ceed­ed with any sense of inten­tion or guid­ance. He didn’t believe in the way he loved or the way oth­ers loved him. He didn’t believe the words from the old man’s mouth even as he knew them to be true.

William drove his his dead mother’s car north along high­way 99 feel­ing the dull knife edge of this deep inter­nal con­tra­dic­tion: his con­sis­tent fail­ure to believe what he knew to be true. Learning to dwell on this edge had filled his parent’s life with mean­ing. The truth made lit­tle sense and seemed to offer no redemp­tion, while belief dan­gled a vision of hope and a healthy feel­ing of clar­i­ty. If he could only rec­on­cile the two, bring his belief in line with the truth, then per­haps he could break free of all that kept him com­ing back to Brenlee, he could avoid life’s many twist­ed routes that he returned him to the safe­ty of his own fail­ures. Didn’t that mean fig­ur­ing out Brenlee? Impossible. A fool’s errand, but, then again, what oth­er kind did he have?