We were but stones
Your light made us stars 
From below, the enemy thrusts open the gates to oblivion and hails the striking darkness, “Fly famine. Fly fast, spread the wings of destruction and beat the breast of the earth until it seeps oil from its teet. Prick the thorn of pain, arm yourself with its bitterness and hammer the thunder of war to the frayed ends of the earth.” A storm, the likes of which no Ancient of Days has ever seen, approaches. Look east no more for the rising of the sun.
Who can harbor the light of hope in the darkness of death?
Who knows his hand from his eye, his foot from his ear?
Beetles tear at the roots of the live oak.
The circling dragon allows a clown to hang from its tail.
The Fullness of Times approaches more horrific than the Meridian, donned in sack cloth and ashes.
a lone rider ventures out to distinguish himself from the children of men.
He rides a lone ass over the torn and sewn patchwork of earth where the stench of holocaust flesh hides the graves of past torture.
No cry can rend the black clouds and reach the footstool of heaven. Heaven is a byword. Hell is visible and real.
he rides on, slip-shod-clip-clop, over the broken bottle terrain.
See his image reflected off sliced eyeballs still inside the crusted skull.
See his image ride through valleys too desolate for raven voices, too emptied to remember the promise of the cactus rose, too dark to cast a shadow. Death is visible and real.
the thin one rides on armorless, desiccated flesh cut open to reveal the vulnerable heart. The arrow of affliction flung from the depths of oblivion is on target. It will strike. It always strikes, and when it does.
Who, then, knows his heart from his head?
Percival left us. Percy left. We know he went due west, crossed the Salt Flats in his 85’ Mustang and abandoned it in a casino parking lot. We know his scrawny frame ate at the buffet in Wendover, Nevada, and that his feet dragged more salt across the gaudy pattern of casino carpet, patterns contrived to disguise vomit stains, kaleidoscopic patterns, matched with gaudy wallpaper designed to keep one lost in a sort of semi-psychedelic haze, while money lenders exchange dollars for chips so that a loss doesn’t feel so monetary to a gambler, we know he walked through this hell-hole dragging salt behind like his Nike shoes had go-go gadget salt shakers installed in them. He sat at table five, the waitress, a fake blond with lax breasts—lax because they received no attention and for their capability to sag like two balloons journeyed and hanging deflated on a tree branch—assured us he sat there and ordered a root beer and then ate three plates full of crab legs, but he sort of skimped on the plates and left them half full, and he went for a fourth when it seemed obvious to her that he didn’t even finish his first, second, or third, that the fourth would just go to waste, and he did—waste it, that is. He left without touching his fourth plate. We knew it had been Percy.
Percy explained to his then second wife, now ex-wife, that being an American, a true American, a plucked-out-of-the-amniotic-red-white-and-blue-fifty-star-send-me-to-Iraq-Ken-Griffey-Jr-Pete-Rose-Charlie-Hustle-baseball-playing-fluid, required largesse in the simplest form. He loved waste. He loved to prove he suffered no impoverishment. He banquet-ate, sort of kingish style, and if he couldn’t take the best part of the crab, the meaty hand-snapped part that didn’t require that nutcracker thing, and eat only that, and discard the rest then the hell if he lived in America and he might as well move to a third world country and beg for food from the wallet-bloated tourists that loved to feel altruistic, even though their anemic souls couldn’t feed a bulimic who fasted forty days then had them rotisseried over a fire and basted with a broom dipped in butter and garlic, that’s what he should do if someone ever questioned him on how he took advantage of the buffet, besides he had a Ferrari Metabolism.
Willy saw him employ this strategy in Vegas, sort of. Back then he did not give in completely to his quixotic eccentricity, more like you could see the quixotic seeds when he said “watch this,” after the waitress seated them and he ordered one beer, then took it back when he found out it cost extra and had alcohol in it, raised his voice and began to cause such a scene that the waitress promised him his O’Doul’s free of charge, and it had to be O’Doul’s because he sort of didn’t really drink ever since he woke up in a strange woman’s bed—more like he sort of enjoyed the color of beer poured in a glass, and the waitress, just to quiet him down, brought his fake beer along with two root beers and three waters, but Percy demanded that the water could not come from the tap but had to be filtered from a mountain spring, then quick as he checked the water by gurgling it in his mouth for some sort of verification that he had not been duped into believing tap water had been passed off as mountain spring water, as if he could detect the slightest iron difference, he slid off his seat as Willy followed and the waitress watched from where she stood near our table, and he took two warm plates from the dispenser and had Willy continue to follow him to the stainless steel platters covered in ice with expensive Alaskan king crab legs piled up like the pyramids. Percy didn’t even take the tongs. He sort of slobbishly just used his hands, which by the way were more than sort of allergic to the crustacean’s shell and had to be doused with lemon after he ate so they wouldn’t swell up, and piled the legs on his plates in no aesthetic arrangement, like a two year old with Lincoln Logs. Then he took the dipper and spread butter all over the crab and waited for it to collect in a ring around his plates. “That’s how you get your money’s worth,” he said and waited for Willy, who hated all seafood, to do the same. Willy shook his head, and said he wanted asparagus and pizza. Percy looked at him in that-what-the-hell-chu talkin-bout-Willis-way, and walked off stunned.
He ate seven half plates of crab that night, and had to return to the room before the poker tournament started because he had diarrhea so bad that it leaked out of his ass orifice quicker than piss leaked out of his penis orifice. “Go on, without me,” he yelled through the bathroom door to Willy in broken English, pausing for dramatic effect like what he said had been an edict to an offspring hanging over him as he, the benevolent father, died from a bullet wound taken on account of the family. Then right before Willy shut the room door, Percy yelled out, sort of in that damn-my-stomach-feels like-I ate-a-grenade-that won’t quite go off, but sure as hell isn’t sitting latent way, edict-pacified, in the clear, life would go on, “Hey Willy. Willy. I sure did get my money out of that damn buffet. I sure stuck it to them.” Then all hell broke loose, the grenade exploded and Willy shut the door to the room and stood in the hall wondering if Percy realized he paid and wasted one hundred dollars for the tournament just to get his twenty dollars worth at a buffet, and that his net loss, besides the time spent hunched up on the bathroom floor, and from the floor to toilet, (shrapnel, shrapnel) toilet back to floor (medic, medic, morphine), wound up to be eighty dollars, and inside WWIII was waged on a poor porcelain toilet that had no idea Percy’s ethics and it were going the pertinacious rounds until one yielded.
The police found the car. It still ran. They notified Percy’s parents and his parents called me. The credit card statement appeared on his second wife’s, second ex-wife’s computer screen two days after he ate at the buffet. He didn’t use the card for gas or anything else on the way to Bendover, NV or after, maybe lost it. Baffled, his parents wondered if I knew why he would use his wife’s, now ex-wife’s, credit card, a card, now ex-card, his name had been removed from, not removed from the actual card, but from the bank’s data base as a possible user of the card, for food, and why he would leave his own card at home with six-thousand dollars collected in the bank and ready to be spent. His mother, over-motherly, swarming the child like a hive of roused bees around a bear stealing honey, couldn’t understand how he could just up and leave, and abandon a car? Who abandons cars?
After a week or so of contemplation, I grabbed Willy and we set off on the trail of Percy. His mother, and I explained this to Willy during the two-hour drive to Bendover, NV, said Percy had been strange, sort of snapped strange for about half a year. They never called any of us because it seemed too embarrassing to explain. “Explain what?” I asked her. His behavior. His wife left him, or rather forced him to leave because he locked himself in the basement and refused to read anything but Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and an issue of Popular Mechanics that had an article on how to restore a vintage 1959 Ford Firetruck, and the subheading read: “The Allure of Old Iron.” He sort of underlined the article a lot, made a weird pattern by connecting sentences that really didn’t coincide with the other. His ex-wife, once wife, let me have the issue, and I want to send it to the Smithsonian, hate leaving it on my shelf to collect dust, believe it contains some sort of key to deciphering all that has happened since he read it in conjunction with the two books by American authors. It should be dissected by experts on great books and old iron, sort of a strange esoteric group of alchemists and readers to find these days though. So it sits, and Willy pesters me to continue with his mother’s explanation, but I wait. We pass a sign outside of Grantsville, near Stansbury Island, which has a picture, maybe a painting, of this rugged yet friendly-looking mountain man holding and old rifle and wearing a jacket made from pelts. The billboard reads: Jim Bridger Discovered the Great Salt Lake. I laugh because I wonder how many had discovered it before him, and I guess in the way Christopher Columbus discovered America, Bridger discovered the Lake, just don’t post the sign five miles from Skull Valley where an Indian reservation sits. It’s as vain and vicious as posting the Columbus sign written in Cherokee or Choctaw on the Trail of Tears while the relocation is taking place.
“Yeah, I guess she left him, or rather he left her upon receiving a visit from the constable issuing a restraining order. He moved home, locked himself in his room, and would only venture outside when Hill Air Force Base sent their Raptors and F-16s on routine flight patterns over Ogden. Father Percy, Stepfather Percy I mean, says his eating pattern is like clockwork. He hears, or heard the jets, sat on the lawn Sukhasana posture and ate like a malnourished pig that found a bed of truffles hidden in the calcareous soil. He oinked, Willy. He had this contra-Jared Subway diet. About five foot longs a day. Only he stayed skinny.”
We pass the Tree of Life, this stupid sculpture twenty miles outside of Bendover that has huge balls like Christmas tree ornaments hanging from it and one of them has fallen to the ground and magically split open like a sort of egg in four pieces dispersed perfectly east, west, north and south of the base of the monstrosity. People piss in the four sections of egg, and the dried up piss has left a ring of smelly salt, sort of a reminder of what we leave in a philosophical-deathy-carbon kind of way. And then tourists, mistaking the piss for salt-salt, not human waste salt, sit in the cracked egg while other tourists snap shots of them in the quarter egg with anhydrous urine staining their pants. “So he eats weird! Percy has never had normal eating patterns. Maybe his digestive tract is just off. That doesn’t make him crazy, and besides, I would leave that house as well and use the ex’s card until they caught on.” Good logic, Willy has always had it. But he only used the card to eat. We pass the visitor’s stop for the Bonneville Salt Flats. The salt is deteriorating. The first measured thickness of the crust was something like seven inches; it’s down to five. They mine or collect brine shrimp just past the Salt Flats and it turns the Great Salt Lake into this dreamy pinkish-inside of a mouth or vagina color. I took a picture of me in just my overalls by it once, and it looks, sort of, if you are prone to yonic symbols, like the best example of a vaginal sea I have ever set my eye on, almost like Homer’s red-wine sea, but diluted with water by a teenager who didn’t want the parents to know they snuck into the cabinet while they were out of town.
“You remember when he got us kicked out of Caesar’s Palace?” Willy continues. “The imp kept howling like a damn lone wolf until the waitress brought us more alcohol. And we were playing pennies trying to stretch our money to get a few more free drinks, and when the waitress came with security, the bastard, and Percy is a bass-terd, threw pennies at her cleavage and demanded his drink. Remember, the pennies totally missed their target and hit the brute above his eyebrow and cut him. That asshole grabbed him by the arm so tight it left bruises for weeks, and we had to follow his 86’d ass out into the scorching sun, where they threw him. And all his drunk ass did was howl one more time and spit his diatribe at the doors, about how Caesar’s whores would have never been so damn ugly, then he yelled, Brutus, Brutus, probably at the security guard, but how would you know when all he stared at was his own reflection in the glass doors. He’s always had strange tendencies.”
We pass a dilapidated gas station and the turn off to the Salt Flats. It stinks. A few miles down the interstate, we take the turnoff to Bendover, and cross through Utah and hit the state line, marked by two shit-hole casinos.They look like the deity of bricks took a shit on the state line and said, “Here’s your casinos.”
“When was the last time you saw Percy?” Willy asks as we walk into one of the casino. We both had been 86’d from these casinos when we were nineteen and used fake IDs to gamble. The casinos were managed by the same corporation and they were connected by a walkway reeking of piss that crossed over Main Street. Our pictures used to hang on the security wall. Willy, you sort of couldn’t see his face because the camera focused on his middle finger. I’m grinning like a pedophilic clown in the multi-colored ball pit full of little kids with no parental supervision. Of course, those casinos went bankrupt and our pictures went down when the new casinos went up. The casino doors open automatically, and the insides of this hellhole, and sort of all casinos, remind me of being inside of a skinned animal, a cow hanging from tenterhooks, and I kind of shrivel up to this Lilliputian and the walls turn all sticky, and the only way out is to get to the ass orifice and shit myself out, and that’s usually how my friends and I always end any casino visit—shit out and asked not to come back. It wasn’t just Percy. “We took him deer hunting,” I tell Willy as we make our way across the travertine tile to the front desk.
The deer hunt worked out, but it neared being disastrous had I not harvested my deer on opening day. Percy didn’t bring food, didn’t tell us he had no food, no sleeping bag, no warm clothes and planned on sleeping in my dad’s truck with the heater running all night. We woke up freezing and frost blanketed the entire crevasse below us like the under belly of a white whale, not the white whale but a white whale. Our tents were shining angel-robe white, my brother’s truck looked like it had been painted white and the windshield glistened sort of like the sparkle of a tooth from a woman on a commercial for Crest, and my dad’s truck—my dad’s truck had a clear windshield and exhaust pluming out the tail pipe and a gas needle that went from three-quarters of a tank the night before to near empty by morning with the closest gas station probably out of range, unless we coasted down slick roads, or prayed for the sun to rise and dry the dirt, which it would do. Percy slept in. I took the keys and we went and harvested my deer. By three it had warmed up enough that long sleeves did the job and breath no longer looked like exhaled smoke. We loaded the field-dressed deer, and my brother and his son took down the tents and what not while Percy and I walked up to the stream so I could wash the deer blood and hair off of my hands.
He talked to me about the benefit of mistakes and heuristic manifestations. Percy was a smart bastard. He had been on this kick about who learned more—the righteous or the sinners, but he refused to judge by morals, so he had set up some pyramid scheme of amoral experience, and based his theories on biological faults. Did, for instance, a person prone to drinking, experience more than a sober biology? He would ask, but he wouldn’t let me answer, sort of like the question served as a springboard into the metaphysical. Of course the drunkard experiences drunkenness and he also experiences the pangs of soberness, just like the sober person, only to a degree much higher than the always sober person. “So the drunk is higher up on your pyramid scheme,” I said as I scrubbed my hands. “Whores are saints, Alec. Whores are saints,” he repeated as his voice trailed off. I finished washing and stood up to get a good look at Percy’s emaciated face. “That’s the enlightenment of your scheme.” Percy looked away. “Well if I were you, I wouldn’t worry about that right now.” Percy faced me, his eyes bulging the way cartoon characters eyes pop, “You might want to wash your hands again.” Percy laughed, and his laugh always made me laugh because he would curve his body and waver in esses, sort or like it exacerbated the funnyness within him and sent a shock through his whole body—a breakdancer doing an upright worm, I guess. “Because,” he said pointing five feet beyond me to a pile of discarded toilet paper on the bank of the stream, “I pooped in the stream.” I went apeshit, B-A-N-A-N-A-S, yelling at Percy, while he wobbled indifferently and laughed at me, “Who shits in the water?”
“He shit in the water? Who takes a shit in a stream?” Willy laughs as he walks up to the front desk, and gets directions to the buffet. On our way through the intestinal maze, and paisley is sort of a pattern I really dislike, I continue talking Percy to distract myself from the floor. (Note to reader—I’m not going to use quotation marks for backtracking our conversations except when necessary, either you follow or you don’t. I believe Tolstoy invented this way of writing.) So a whore is a saint? That’s Percy’s wisdom? A whore completes the pyramid scheme? No, No No, he said. First of all it’s not Amway. It’s an actual pyramid. And second, whores are saints because they have suffered the greatest loss of love, and they long more for salvation than a saint does, but they only make up one equal slice of my triptych. I tell him he is using triptych sort of wrong, and that artists, especially painters, might be pissed if they heard him use it to describe a slice of a one-dimensional pyramid. He tells me to shut up, that the pyramid is three dimensional and just listen. My second side is Mann’s Faustus. You see, and he gave me, the English major, a lecture on Mann’s Faust versus Goethe’s Dr. of Theology or Marlowe’s version of the Faust legend. It is Mann’s Faust that doesn’t create brilliance just by making a pact with the devil. He contracts syphilis and this leads to his beautiful music. He knows virginity and he knows his purity and he gives it away for damnation and power, Oh Mann’s Germany, you, Adrian Leverkuhn (umlaut omitted), embody the second part of my triptych. You know a pain much like a whore knows pain, and you too, are a saint, you, Milton’s devil, thrust out of heaven, are the only one who could represent a hell. Wait a second, Percy. You know that Leverkuhn turns tyrant, right, and that he represents a Nazi Germany, and that we ran Satan into the Romantic-faustian grave way back when with Shelley. He didn’t answer me, just told me to shut up again. We made it to my dad’s truck. Everything packed up, my brother led the convoy out of the mountains.
While coasting, and hitting bumps sort of way too fast, making Percy rattle because skinny-ass people don’t really shake or roll, he turned to me and said, oh, by the way, I’m the third part of my triptych. We did more than sort of hit a big bump when he said triptych, and it sounded poetic—his voice, in an alienistic or robotic way—as if a human said the first part and then a robot or alien stepped in and said triptych the way aliens and robots say anything, drawn-out and weird. I responded with a silent what the hell you talking about Percy, but at this point, I don’t know how madhoused this kid is, I mean he just shit in my stream, and has just explained to me how his triptych works, only he didn’t actually explain it, and he forgot, only Percy is too smart to leave out such information like a pyramid has four sides, not three, and factor in he is strong for his weight class, and he was closest to the knife in the glove box, so I just asked once, kind of acquiescent, kind of shit-in-my-drawers-grip-the-steering-wheel here it goes, What do you mean you are the third part of the triptych? He stared out the window, looking at the blue-blank sky, and left me wondering if this third he referred to meant a mystical piece of the Holy puzzle, or if he suffered like a whore, like a Leverkuhn, like an thrust down Milton-devil figure, or if schizophrenia had taken its toll on him and some other bastard had taken the controls and washed over him in films of archetypes of ancient, holotropic, synchronistic, linguistic forms, I mean I know that the insane are bordeline genius and vice versa, Willy. And I know that the best way for schizos to work out their inner journey is to let them work it out, but what if Percy had more wrong with him? What if he suffered major depression or bi-polar disorder, and meds were the only answer? I just took the trip for a weird mood of his. I should have seen the early signs of delusion.Willy calms me down. He left out the part about the fourth side, probably because he liked the word triptych and is there an avant-garde word for four-paneled pieces? Square?
We make it to the buffet, and inserted here is our conversation with the lax-breasted waitress, fake blond, you know her, she let us know Percy had been there, but so did the credit card company, so unless we get more from her she would sort of be of no help to us. This is where everyone should have a Willy, and I mean the person. Calm down feminists, I’m with you. You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. Willy charms her with his Emerald Isle eyes, deepset, and better probers of the human heart than my blueies because he has the suffering of Ireland, Sinead O’Connor’s love for her country, an I’ll take the Pope and rip him in half if you fuck with my country-concern for the choir boys look that he can present to women without seeming fake. Did you see where he left to? he asks as I walk away to the $3 dollar limit 21 table and slap down a twenty on the spilled over alcohol stained velvet in return for pink chips—bastard knows he doesn’t like me. I exchange the chips at the next table for blue ones and a female dealer. I lose my money and get one rum and coke by the time Willy is done with the waitress. I can now walk around the casino with a drink in hand and feel better about myself for having it. I patent this behavior as Percy logic, the same impulse that causes him to gorge on a buffet and miss a tournament. “It’s the principle,” he would explain, and so do I. I can’t just go to the sport’s bar and order the rum and coke for five dollars and a one dollar tip; I just can’t.
“So this is interesting,” Willy says to me as we head in the direction of the stage and a nightclub. We leave the amoeba patterns swimming in their intrauterine daydream—the people not the carpet pattern. We step onto the stage. It’s not raised up and the oak floor is scalped of its shellac and suffered heavy damage from the country dancer’s boots on Wednesday and Saturday nights. We sit down at a corner table, the only table, and I wait for Willy to tell me the interesting part.
Would you say Percy acts noble? I mean…towards women? Willy asks. I wouldn’t call him noble, he sort of can act like an ass at times, but when it comes to matters of the heart, he can pull out the charisma and imperialism of nobility. When it comes to that, and by that I mean dealing with the opposite sex, a talent that finds me talentless, unless I grow a mustache and wear my eye patch, he morphs into a role that is much less impulsive than his sort of average dick-I’ll-crush-you like-a-watermelon-machismo. He turns on a sensitive dime’s edge and charm oozes out of him like musk from an elk in rut. Where did that come from? Willy asks. So now we delve into the traumatic-psychological depths of our Percy. I don’t know for sure, because he sure could have given two shits less how a girl felt when we were in junior high. He sort of looked at himself in mirrors a lot back then and had a narcissistic tendency. He hung out at the gym, but he never turned into a gym rat, although he loved the mirrors and flexed more than muscle builders do in a competition, and he only dated girls that padded his sensitive ego. I guess, Willy, if we analyzed his life, the seed of charm either slept within him and needed to be roused from sleep, or he changed when he finally fell in love with that one Girl. By that one girl, you mean the whore he married; the one who cheated on him during their engagement, two days after the honeymoon, and then left him for a loser he had actually pummelled when we were still in high school? Yeah, that whore. He really loved her and it took him like eight months to pull out of the funk he collapsed into.
I remember he fished almost every day back then, and he had this obsession with catching the biggest fish possible. You never came with us, but I am pretty sure I told you how he fished. He fished the way he played basketball. He boxed you out of a hole if he thought a big one lived down at the bottom, and if you beat him to the spot, he would cast his line over yours until you, not he, became uncomfortable and worried about tangling the damn twelve dollar flourocarbon line, so you, not he, moved to the next hole, but then his anxiety would get the better of him and he, not you, would rush to the next hole with you at yours, because grass is always greener, I don’t give a damn what bait-tossers who sit at one hole all day with their can of worms tell you, and he would beat you to the next hole and make you walk the twenty to one hundred yards to the next hole. The worst of it, though, is if he caught a fish. It didn’t matter if it was a whitefish, a twelve-inch rainbow trout or a sixteen-inch brown, he yelled at you from his hole, Alec! Get the net! Get the net! His yell so full of drama it has always reminded me of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, When Indy yells, “Jacque. Start the engine. Start the engine.” We had this huge net that could land a tiger muskie if it had to, and I manned it for Percy and he manned it for me, only he came slowly and lots of times I lost fish before he even attempted to net them, and I only called him once I saw the fish jump and knew it had some major mass to it, or banked it once and let it run back out, but Percy, he called on anything, in his mind every catch led to the big one and no differentiation existed until I netted the whitefish and looked at him all pissed off, only then would he apologize as I set the net back down and began the trek back to my hole. And even worse still, yes, worse than the worst I just mentioned, is we were trophy fishermen, and we didn’t take pictures of fish unless they verged on four pounds or pushed the twenty inch mark, and it becomes easy to tell after years of doing it, whether or not you have a big fish on, but that bastard never could gauge a fish right. To him sixteen always equaled twenty and three pounds five. I swear to you Willy, I spent more time measuring his fish or weighing them, or getting the net for an obvious fish outside of our slot limit, than I did fishing.
So he fished to get his mind off of stuff, but that doesn’t explain his change. I tell Willy that the river is more profound than he thinks, and fly-fishing can change a man, fill him with a rhythm he never had before, ingurgitate him with a solid motion that always moves yet never moves. Shut up, Willy tells me. He used it to escape. That’s all. Fine, I’ll save my mysticism for my church friend, I tell Willy. He likes to hear me babble. Well I don’t. I just wonder what came over Percy. Okay, Okay, I tell him. A waitress takes our order. My rum and coke is gone, so I order a Long Island iced tea, and Willy gets a beer. The waitress returns and we pay up, something that disgusts me because we could have got it for free if we had this conversation, a conversation I am not getting, at the tables or nickel slots. He escaped, but he never lost his desire to be the greatest, and maybe he shifted his hurt and pain, and instead of invoking the vanity it always had, because we know he loved his whore and we know she broke his heart, and she had been the only one who could have ever got past that armoured vanity and placed the poisoned arrow through his organ of blood, maybe his quest changed into self-affliction instead of self-aggrandizement. He saw himself as small and crushed when she left, and he probably blamed himself and still does. It was my fault, he probably thinks, not knowing she was a whore long before he ever met her, so that could lead him to believe that had he been more of a man he could have changed her, not knowing some girls leave the womb destined to be whores. You’re an idiot, Willy reminds me, and I drink to that, let the alcohol warm my stomach as Willy scooches forward in his seat. Do you remember his puppet shows? Willy asks.
Percy’s puppet shows. How could anyone forget? Growing up, Percy lived in the basement, and the only way to get to the laundry room, which consisted of part of the bathroom, was to walk through Percy’s room. The first time his mother, over motherly, walked in on him, Percy lay sprawled out on the bed with an erect penis covered like a foot with no toes while he masturbated into a sock. He sort of rolled with the punches on this one and while his mother, over motherly, dropped the basket of dirty laundry and fled the scene screaming bloody murder, Percy yelled out to her, don’t you want to see my puppet show? Needless to say, no one ever entered his room again without at least three knocks and a three second wait. This didn’t stop Percy from performing his puppet shows just to disgust his mother and get back at her for making him a teenager with an avid testosterone fueled sex drive. It earned him a twelve pack of new Champion socks every two months.
Yeah, I remember his puppet shows, Willy, what of it? I’d be willing to bet an analyst or therapist, whatever they call themselves, would have more fun with that fact than the crap you spewed at me. The truth is Percy has always dreamed big, and when the whore of whores, the mother of Babylon, left him, and he realized she had never loved him, it crushed him, and this must have led him to believe, with the optimism he is prone to, that his dream just hadn’t been big enough. That’s what I think. I never argue with Willy. He has no schooling past high school, but even with my three paper degrees elevated to grandeur in their mahogany frames, I know he is smarter than me when it comes to figuring out people’s motives.
I start to get antsy and ask Willy what this is all about. He scooches even closer and raises his eyebrows, turning them into black upside down crescent moons. Well the waitress told me something very interesting. She claims that Percy, after he left the buffet, made his way to where we are sitting. The club had overflowed and so people were dancing out here. Apparently a couple of rowdy guys were harrassing this girl who just wanted to dance. Now the waitress happens to know the girl is a petty whore, maybe she said stripper, so obviously she didn’t just want to dance, but knowing whores and strippers, you know they don’t want to give their birds and bees, who knows why that expression is still used, it should be bees and flowers, anyways, she didn’t want to be pollinated by these bastards. She probably hoped to find an old lonely man or a shy boy down on his luck who would give her the pleasure of loving them all up without much effort. Well I guess one of the guys pushed the whore into another of the guys and that guy pushed her back, and they started playing ping-pong with the whore. Percy watched all this from afar, ran up to them and knocked out the instigator with a haymaker that started from the off ramp of West Wendover and ended on his delicate temple—lights out for him before any of their drunk asses knew they were in a fight. He hit the next guy in the teeth, and the waitress says he ain’t getting those back unless he goes to the dentist. Then all hell broke loose and the bastards outnumbered him, but Percy kept swinging, and I guess they never brought him down. They got their licks in, but couldn’t bring him down. Security came over, and broke it up, and these drunks were still yelling at Percy, and all he would say is, You don’t treat a woman that way. Percy got kicked out and the waitress said the whore followed him out the door. The last the waitress saw of Percy, he hunched over outside, while the whore took her scarf and wiped the blood from his mouth. Waitress doesn’t know whether Percy went with her or not, but I got her name, and she works at Southern Exposure a block away from the liquor store.
We decide to skip the police station for the time being—reasons, we sort of have a history with them and don’t like to be reminded of the double-wide trailer they work out of. We pass the behemoth neon statue of Wendover Will, a big cowboy who points his finger towards the Pilot Mountains, and not the city, like even he is trying to tell visitors to just stay on I-80 and pass on through this shithole. His other hand is pledging scout’s honor that what he says by pointing is true—leave West Bendover, or get bent over. We make a left and turn into the mallstrip where Southern Exposure sits lit up with more neon than Will’s neckerchief. The working girls are either bused out from Salt Lake, or take their own cars or trucks, and all view the stint in Wendover as time spent in the absolute dregs of the voyeuristic populace. Some of them live together and rent cheap places in Wendover, exchanging or sharing their bed to the strippers headed to the hellhole with those taking the two hour trek back to better opportunities of not scoring meth, sort of a temporary lodging where pictures of other women’s children hang on the walls along with theirs.
The clientele resembles the outcast molds that voyaged on ships where no one asked and no one cared, and the stench of their clothing resembles smelling not sea salt. We talk to the bouncer, Willy sort of does the talking, and we find out Brigitte, stage name, is really named Vivianna and she is in town. Willy pays the bouncer a twenty and we follow his directions to an orange house with two Ford trucks, one Chevy truck, and a Dodge truck, all jacked up, as if men with small penis syndrome lived there, parked out front. The front door has one of those heavy iron screens that I relate to the movies Boyz N the Hood or Friday, sort of Compton-heavy. We ring the bell and a stripper opens the door but not the screen. Latticed shadows cut across her face. She looks like she is wearing a catcher’s mask or something for a horror flick. Her hair smells right out of the shower fresh, but it doesn’t make up for her face without makeup and even through the mask we can see runty pimples pocked over her cheeks. What do you want? She asks. Before we can answer she tells us her truck is legal. No, no, says Willy, assuaging her fear that we are plain clothes. We just need to talk to Vivianna. Is she home? The stripper presses her leg against the screen causing her flesh sticking out of her male boxers to poke through it like a potato in a ricer. I think she is playing the coquette with Willy, seems to enjoy his questions. Why do you want to talk to Viv, she pauses for emphasis, I’m right here. Here we go, I mumble because it is always the same old shit with some girls. Patient Willy smiles, which sets his emeralds deeper and makes him more attractive. The stripper’s hand runs through her hair. If we had time, maybe, Willy lies to make her feel better and so we don’t have to ferret (my new favorite word when used with strippers) the information out of her, she’d prefer it in her. She moved a few months ago. Too good for us low-class strippers, she says while making that quotations symbol that looks like crab claws with her hands. She lives at the first motel on the Utah side. It’s on the left and I believe her room is number seven, lucky number seven, my ass. Willy thanks her and we head back to the car while she asks us, mostly Willy, mostly Willy’s emeralds, if we want a free lap dance tonight. I hold up my middle finger; Willy tells her maybe. I’m surprised she would tell complete strangers where a girl lives. Must not like her much, I assume.
We enter the motel parking lot. The door to room seven is ajar, looks like a burglary took place. We hop out of my car and Willy takes the lead. He knocks on the door and it opens enough to see inside. The bedspread is made, and is one of those thin ones that if you are smart you throw off before you get into bed because they never wash the spread and who knows how many snail tracks from affairs before still stain the thing. A voice yells out from the bathroom, Just a minute. We examine the room while we wait for Vivianna. The carpet is sort of snottish green, a remnant of the seventies trend. The blinds are orange and shut, letting in a sliver of light where they can’t quite close. Why designers don’t have blinds overlap is beyond me, sort of pisses me off. Her clothes are spilling out of one large suitcase and a couple of books litter the stand where the TV sits. Vivianna walks towards us from the bathroom. We only see her outline and it is pleasing. She opens the door, and she appears to have just gone through the same ritual the other whore had—washing off the fetor of filthy looks and greedy touches. Her long black hair hangs in elaborate black goads that need to be rung out. Her forehead and face is a somber white. Her eyes are green, not Willy green, but green and beautiful nonetheless. She wears a tank top, revealing two big mounds that cause the Guns’N’Roses symbol to warp in the middle, the roses bloom and benefit from the mounds, but the guns appear barrell bent and non-fireable. Her shorts are cut-off jeans with white strings hanging down her perfect thighs. Her belly button is pierced-omphalically and how it makes me, not sure about Willy, want to kiss her belly and bless it over and over. She wears the attire of trash, true, but she could pass off as high class with the right clothes, easily, whereas some wear the attire of royalty and still appear like trash. A true riches or rags, I’d bang her on a bad day situation. Willy is about to begin his classic spiel, when she bends over, revealing a corset-looking cleavage, and finishes drying her hair while saying, you must be Percy’s friends. I can tell by the tattoos. Oh Yeah, this girl possesses qualities that could have had Bukowski and Margaret Mitchell chatting amicably for hours over a starting point.
The tattoos were a dead giveaway. We sort of covered our bodies in the same style of tattoos when we were younger, and we all went to the same artist. We never thought about how they would appear when we aged and wrinkled, back then it was how we ritualized ourselves away from the society we lived in, and into our desert Walden, where we are now joined by most the NBA. We used them as a statement to say damn the establishment, rules, powers, principalities, civilization, we want nothing to do with it, we will create our own rules and believe we can govern ourselves, but now, now, clothed in color and spitting on society we branded ourselves into our own exile, and we enjoy it. She heaves her hair back and stands up straight. I’m Viv, she says holding out her hand. Do we kiss it or shake it?—the hand of a saint or a whore? Willy shakes and lets himself into the room. I follow. She has us sit on the bed. I guess you are looking for Percy, she surmises. He left about two week ago. Did he say where he was heading? Willy asks her but she doesn’t answer. She tells us Percy is the noblest person she has ever met, and so she must explain the week they spent together. Willy and I exchange our askance glances that say without saying, Percy has entranced another.
He came to my aid. He appeared so fast and smashed in the face of one of the boys that were harrassing me. Then he knocked the teeth out of another, and then they pounced on him like a pack of wolves and Percy kept swinging, getting in his licks, but taking more punishment than he gave, but he never went down. He defended me and kept yelling that no one should treat a woman the way they had. He got kicked out and I followed him. When we were outside he revealed his hurt, and I wiped his bloody mouth. But he didn’t care about his mouth. He just kept holding his left wrist and saying it betrayed him again. He said his left had let him down. I didn’t see it that way. Willy interrupts Viv to tell her why Percy hates his left hand.
Back when we were in high school, the apex of Percy’s mirror days, his lifting days, he used to play basketball to get in some cardio, and even though he was lanky, he had thighs like turkeys, and he sort of played Dennis Rodman style, just cared about boxing out for rebounds, and took pride in being able to jump high enough to touch the rim. He could rebound over anyone, regardless of size, because the kid understood positioning and he hurled his ass like a wrecking ball, could fling anyone out of his space, that space under the rim belonged to him and he guarded it like a pitbull guards its owner. Once in a while someone would rebound over him, even with his advanced technique, and instead of following the game to the offensive or defensive side, depending on where he set up his territory, he would run off the court and punch the padding behind the basket with his left hand. He broke it three different times, and believed his hand, his weak left had let him down. He never trusted it after the first break, and the second and third just confirmed his theory that God has cursed him, in a hubric-fated way by giving him the skills but a calcium deficient left wrist. Rodman had a good left wrist he used to tell us. And the assessment of a man is conducted on his weaknesses not his strengths. A man is only as strong as his weakest part, and society exploits this to keep one up on the strengths of others.
Viv laughs and says, that’s Percy for you, always blaming higher powers, never able to admit he might have a flaw or two, but how beautiful it makes him. She continues telling us about the night. She convinced Percy to get into the cab, and she took him home. This explains the abandoned Mustang. He told me, she goes on, that he doesn’t know how he made it to Wendover and that it must have been part of his calling, and he used that specific word, calling, oh and destiny, a lot over the week. It was his calling to rescue me; his destiny to make something grand out of his life; his calling to prove his critics wrong, but he never explained who his critics were, just said they were everywhere, waiting to pounce. I took him into my room and bathed him like he had been my child. He didn’t object. I put one of my robes on him, and he shivered from head to toe, so I tucked him into my bed then got under the covers beside him. His body felt so cold, hypothermic almost, so I took off his robe and pressed my warm body against him and then we made love under the sheets. Without saying a word we made love three and then four times and then we fell asleep to the hum of the air conditioner. I woke up cradled in his arms, and it felt so good I wanted to die in his arms rather than wake him and find out about him. To worry about a man’s demise is a horrible fate placed on faithful women. But when he woke he didn’t disappoint. He called me his queen and held me tighter, succoring us both, and said never to let him go. Then he called me a saint, said I was his saint—Saint Vivianna. We stayed inside for most of the week and ordered food and made love and bathed together, and repeated the process in various combinations until a sort of bliss hung around us like a cloud or halo from some higher power, or maybe like the Chinese food had been laced with drugs. Then he said he had to go. Said he had to make it to Hollywood and that he had to make it on the big screen, and that he would do everything in my name, for his and my honor. I got him a free ride with a trucker I knew. And like that we were out of the room and he hugged me and said he loved me, and then the engine noise drowned out our voices, and I walked away as he hopped into the diesel and made way for I-80. Viv looked at us as small tears streamed down her white cheeks and burnt cold red runnels.
We sense more went on, and I take my silence as Willy takes his cue. Is that all? Did anything else happen? Viv’s tears gush sort of like tired falling stars, and she starts to shutter. There are…other moments, moments that are his and mine, and I don’t think it would be honorable to share them, but one thing, one thing more I will say. Willy presses her hand in his, whores are saints, and let’s her know whatever she discloses, we are Percy’s closest friends and will only use the information to help him. Sometimes it’s best to remain silent in a woman’s presence, especially when she is trying to speak from the heart. One thing…I mean two. Willy keeps silent and stares at her eyes, pleading with his own emeralds. “Never has Adam’s rib produced such a great man as skinny Percy. He is the epitome of righteousness.” We keep what we think to ourselves, don’t say that he just had a week long bang fest with a whore, and that he is less than a year divorced from his second, and now ex, so called love of his life. “And,” Willy says, because it’s time to talk and ferreting is what is called for now, what else. She escapes his glance by staring out the small gap of window at the corrugated rocks with graffiti on them that push up against the Utah part of town. And, Willy repeats and sort of moves her hand like they are playing paddy cake, and? And…I’m pregnant. I carry Percy’s son and he doesn’t even know it.
At this juncture she breaks down and collapses into Willy’s arms and lets the tears really run. I begged him to stay. I pleaded on my knees, but he said he had the love of another to fulfill as well, and if he couldn’t do that, he could never be worthy of me. We sit her on the bed and tuck her in. He said he would come back she cries, but I don’t know if he will. She gives us the information about the trucker plus her info and we bid her farewell as she lays in her coffin-bed, waiting for her Percy to return. I think about buying her a new bedspread before we leave town, one with clovers on it, but I don’t. I tell Willy that Viv is as crazy as Percy, that she has no way of knowing the child to be a boy. He tells me some things were destined and written out as sure as rock laid the foundation of the earth. I begin to tell him the water came first, but he wouldn’t catch my A River Runs Through It allusion. Why waste funny lines, I think. Sooner or later we will need one and the words won’t come out.
We decide it is time to talk to the police and check out the Mustang before we leave town and find this trucker Percy headed west with. We are both reluctant and neither wants to walk back into that double wide. We have been inside this Sherriff/Courtroom before. We traveled back to Wendover with Percy after he got kicked out of the Peppermill. The Peppermill is the best of the worst casinos in Wendover, and it is owned by a different corporation. Our 86 holds or held no clout at the Peppermill—that’s why we were gambling there with Percy. Percy decided to get kicked out of the Peppermill and banned for life, something he later chose to contest on grounds of improper usage of a trespassing ticket. I don’t really want to get into the details of how or why Percy thought he could win the case, the point is Willy and I were called as witnesses. Percy badgered us while we sat as his witnesses and one time actually put his hands on the rostrum and looked Willy in the face and said “You can’t handle the truth,” a phrase from A Few Good Men, and it drew laughs from the crowd waiting on traffic violations but the ire of the female judge who told Percy that he could not badger his own witness. Percy lost the case. Willy and I were pissed that we had to take the four and a half hour round trip just to watch Percy make an ass out of himself, but the final outcome does speak volumes of Percy’s relentlessness to seek justice. The defense’s witness against Percy happened to be the judge’s husband and the head of security at the Peppermill. You have to love small towns. Percy called for the judge to recuse herself from the case, and when she didn’t and found him guilty, he wrote an eight page disputation about how many laws were broken during his case and sent it to the State Bar of Nevada. He got stuck with the two hundred dollar fine, but the judge had to take off a week from her job without pay and pay out of pocket for a week long ettiquette course held in Connecticut. All told, she lost at least three thousand, Percy, two hundred plus gas, but he won one hundred back on a single fifty dollar hand of twenty one he played before skipping town and heading back to Ogden. Not your typical Percy logic where losses are gains and gains losses.
Inside the double wide an officer is out of his office and talking to the clerk. We examine him closely and decide he has never had interaction with us. The car is on the Nevada side of town, so we figure this is our guy if we want to take a look at the impound lot. He wears a short sleeve navy blue uniform with the patch shaped like a shield on his shoulder. His gold name tag reveals some name. I don’t want to jeapordize one of the fifteen officers in West Wendover from a good job, so I’ll just call him Officer Pile. Pile’s facial courage exceeds mine; his mustache has streaks of gray in it and the damn thing is thick as Tom Selleck’s. Damn him and his genes. Can I help you, he asks Willy, looking up from whatever documents he and the clerk were perusing. Yes, says Willy and asks about the Mustang. Oh yeah, Pile responds, its out in the lot. If you guys are going to take it, I just want you to know his mom hasn’t paid the bill. It’s seventy-five dollars for every day it has sat here. Willy tells him we just want to see it first then we will decide whether or not we want to pay for the piece of shit. He leads us out of the double wide, and we breathe easier not having run into that bitch of a judge or any of the officers who might remember us.
Behind the double wide is a fenced in area with some police mobiles, the Mustang, and a van they probably use in sting operations for prostitution. I find the van interesting. It is yellow as the sun, and has orange flames on the side. It reminds me of a porno version of Helios’ chariot. I mean, who would ride in such a thing without wearing a clown suit? The Mustang, meanwhile, primer grey, with a few new encrimsoned rust streaks, says Percy all over it. He claimed rust followed the impression of the mind. That is, rust sort of could be persuaded by good thoughts and run amok if negativity affected its patternization. He must have watched some documentary or read Schopenhauer because he told us about molecules that came from the same water source and had different labels, some good, some bad, or some positive connotations, others negative, and the crystals formed according to the thought process associated with them or the word spoken as they crystallized. I used to tell him to wear a Hitler costume and have Willy wear a Napolean get up and I would wear Abe Lincoln to school, and we could see who stood knee deep in it, that is, high school girls, of course. I remain convinced Hitler would get the most stank, and the most top ranked stank. Percy tried to convince me that Abe, especially as an unimpeachable man, would receive the most advances because to give a peach (sexually speaking) to an unimpeachable man would be like tempting Jesus whereas hitting on Hitler would be like trying to tempt the devil to do something kinky when they knew damn well he would be game, but I counterargued modernity, the anti-hero, a bad boy who rides a motorcycle, or a nice kid with braces pulling into the parking lot in a Gremlin-X? Percy knew the answer, just wouldn’t accept defeat. His Mustang wouldn’t either. The rust ran down the sides like wild flames blown by the pariah wind. It actually appeared to be a custom paint job from afar, but up close a state of disrepair sank in. The “Stang” had ridden its last farewell ride, and Percy, too kind to put it out of its misery, run it off a cliff Thelma and Louise style, throttle wide open, pedal floored, left it to be found, but he left it spotless, like he prepared it for a proper burial or something. We found no clues. The glove box had been emptied, besides his insurance card, and the seats had been wiped clean. Willy looked at the officer, told him to keep the clunker, and we left with no real clue besides what we already knew. Damn your cleanliness Percy. Don’t you know it is sort of next to Godliness. I asked how much for the van. Officer Pile told me It ain’t for sale. I feel ripped off that he didn’t cinch his trousers up and spit a wad of chew near my feet when he said what he said.
I should buy a clover bedspread keeps sending it synapses through my head, that, and, whores are saints. We hop in my car and leave Wendover. We have Viv’s address and phone number for Wendover and for her place in SLC. I worry she will really wait for Percy. I am pondering her beauty when Willy pulls on to I-80 and asks me if I remember when Percy got me in a fight with that bully girl. I know why he asks the question. The Mustang, sending negative connotations to him, a brain that dislikes rust, reminds him of the incident. We had just left Hilltop Lanes. Percy sucked at bowling, but he talked a mad game, making it more fun to kick his ass. I bowled a two hundred and three and he barely made it out of the alley with his pants up, because, sort of like golf rules and the women’s tee thingy, if you don’t bowl over one hundred, you walk out into the freezing snow, this occurred during winter, with your frozen balls tucked up under your chin because the tighty whiteys aint gonna save you from that chill. He bowled a one hundred and five, and had to complete this ridiculous spare pick up in the ninth frame, which after he did, he stole my brother’s line and yelled out, Hot diggety-dog, I’m throwing rocks tonight. We weren’t impressed and he knocked down eight pins on his extra ball and made it over one hundred. He seemed pissed that we wished him failure in his bowling endeavors, so as we walked out into the raw air, nose hairs freezing, just as a group of kids from Washington High, an alternative school for miscreants, druggies, and brilliant but bored minds, and our friend Jason—a category defying all description, Percy called some girl a bitch—this is before his nobility hit puberty. The girl started talking trash, and her friends, especially a kid who used to attend school with us and knew we would kick the shit out of all of them, tried to tell her to let it go.
She let it go and almost made it into the bowling alley when for no real reason Percy hit her in the back with a snowball. The crazy chick went I-will-eat-your-babies Tyson on me—I, the smallest and closest. She chased me around Percy’s Mustang and everyone laughed, until I slipped on the ice and this MMA gothic bitch jumped on me and tried biting me and clawed at my eye, one is fake, a decoy for her claws, and tried the old fish hook in the mouth. I kicked her off me and stood up telling her to calm her ass down. She pretended to be calm, and by now we had a circumference of varying friends around us, then kicked for all she was worth at my Switzerlanded balls. I saw it in time to close the knees instinctively and catch her foot around my thigh area. I pushed her away, and for the second time told her to calm her ass down. By now the situation had diffused, that is people were talking and sort of glad that they didn’t have to kick so and so’s ass or get kicked by so and so’s ass, and then the girl, while I looked at Percy, sort of to tell his ass thanks, smacked me right on my frigid cheek. It stung, and out of raw instinct, I snapped my right fist, with no weight behind it, at the girl’s lip. It jarred her head and then blood ran where it split her lip. She did something strange at that moment. She sort of faded through the crowd and made her way to the back while my friends yelled at me, You just hit a bitch, you dumb ass. She deserved it, I screamed back. How much was I supposed to put up with? Her boyfriend, reluctant as a rat near a human asshole, told me I fucked up, and he, not wanting to, understand you, understand the situation a volatile woman can put a docile man in, had to kick my ass now. Willy told him to step back. The kid stood his ground and muttered, serious, he muttered, like a guilty child in front of a parent or priest, that he would not back down. Willy, quick to action but first a pacifist, gave him one more warning. He didn’t move. Willy moved him, actually lifted him off his feet and body slammed him on the hood of Percy’s car. It knocked the kid out, and if it didn’t, when Willy slammed him on the pavement—that did. We left in a hurry.
The body slam left a dent on the hood of Percy’s car, and he bitched about it the rest of the night. We refused to bring up the fact that it had been his ass that caused the whole fiasco, and yet, he watched from the gallery, laughing his ass off.
Did you see the rusted dent on the hood? Yes, Willy, I remember the fight Percy got me into, and I saw that the kid’s cranium mark has now rusted. Man that bitch smacked you hard, he laughs as we speed past a Grant trucking diesel and start the decline toward Oasis. A Union Pacific Engine snakes a loaded freight train toward Lucin, Utah, around the Pilot Mountains. Twenty minutes and we will pass the brothels of Wells, NV. I tell Willy to maintain eighty miles per hour and no turning off. Willy asks me what my two year mission was like. It’s an oddysey like no other I tell him, and everyone should leave home for two years, regardless of whether they believe in God or not. You really find out who you are when the family is a memory and fresh experience, virgin experience is all you can count on. What about masturbation? Willy asks. What is your fascination with masturbation today, I respond. Nothing, Willy says, just I know you’re a chronic, and how did you hide it from your companions. Truthfully, I tell Willy, I just didn’t masturbate, never had time, sort of had a lot of wet dreams—White Christmases we called them. Bullshit, Willy says. You’re telling me you repressed like all the other Mormons? I sense Willy driving at something, I understand repression, shit I understand it. The first time a Mormon boy masturbates it’s amazing he doesn’t kill himself knowing that he has just turned his soul over to Satan, that the heavens weep, that he will have to repent and tell his bishop that he has no self control, and he sort of just experimented with something that is unnatural to do. But nothing felt more natural to me, and so I lived with enough guilt to be the water that froze into the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. Repressed long enough and two outcomes emerge—Pyschosis or Self Righteousness and a feeling that all events are to benefit you and for you to gather experience. The two states of being are closely related. I tell Willy about positive outlets such as sports and preaching about God, but he sort of sniffs out my bluff and tells me to save the sermon for my Mormon friends. What Mormon friends? I only have one left. Who’s that? Willy pesters. I will not name names. Willy pulls the movie card on me, goes with Fear and Loathing, As your attorney, I would advise you to lose this Mormon friend. Tasteless people scare me. I remind him that his dad is a bishop, and that he is technically still Mormon. The hell I am, Willy says, but he knows his worldview has been shaped by family home evenings, baptisms, sacrament, Joseph Smith and funeral potatoes. You don’t just sign your excommunication card and leave the Mormon Church.
I know Willy is still thinking about masturbation, so I pull a story from my I-would-have-to-be-three-sheets-to-the-wind-drunk-memory bank. I’m a sober backstabber. I did have a deaf companion, right. I’ve told you about him, haven’t I? Willy reminds me I have told him about the kid. Only he wasn’t deaf, just hard of hearing and wore hearing aids during the day, took them off at night to sleep better, sort of shut out the world. Well we slept within five feet of each other. The rooms were small in Europe. And on the second day of our companionship I heard a rythmic sound that I thought sounded like a person trying to be quiet while masturbating—an unmistakeable sound for a boy who shared rooms with a brother or went on long road trips with a group of guys. I thought, no way, the kid is masturbating. He doesn’t even know how loud he is being. I went to bed or laid in it and listened, trying to convince myself of any other sound that could be, but then it suddenly stopped after a speed up before the stopping. I needed no more proof, and, if some dude is going to rub one out, especially a deaf dude who doesn’t know how loud he is, he’s going to do it in the bathroom. So the next night when I heard the same sounds of hand flesh on penis flesh muffled by a turned body and a sheet, I flipped on the light and watched the poor kid shift positions to hide his erect penis. I yelled at him, “I know what you are doing,” but he didn’t have his hearing aids in so he couldn’t hear me and he looked at me with the been caught stealing look, trying to read my lips but couldn’t. Finally I cupped my hand in the typical masturbation style and moved it up and down like those Shake Weight commercials and he just turned red and turned his head left and right in a gesture of no. I said yes, and continued to motion he had been masturbating and pointed to the bathroom. The kid never mentioned the incident, but he did use the bathroom every night before bed. There, Willy. There’s your masturbation story.
Was he gay? No he wasn’t gay. Why would he be gay? I just know a lot of Mormons turn gay or are born gay is all, Willy adds. Well no, this kid wasn’t gay. Let me tell you how ungay this missionary was.
In Portugal the women blossom around fourteen, my theory is it’s the steroid fed chickens, but they get these ginormous titties and keep their skinny waists. By eighteen their waist has caught up to and surpassed their breasts, but they are the hottest looking fourteen year olds you will ever meet. Well, we taught one of these girls alone; her parents conceded so long as they could hear us from the next room. During one of our sessions, this girl wore the tightest baby blue shirt ever, and let me just say the turkeys were done and those were large turkeys and perfect timers to let us know they were done. We teach her about the Atonement and God the Father. God, the who, Willy asks.
You know the missionary discussions, Willy. Let me finish this story.
Well we finish proselytizing and this kid has already turned to me during the prayer and said in English, “Those are the greatest boobies I have ever seen.” He returns to staring overtly, knowing her eyes to be closed. She ends the prayer and I get up and she gets up and we wait for my companion to get up and he stares at me with a look borderline ecstasy/handicapped and does not move then finally says to me, I can’t get up. I’ve got a boner. I laugh and the girl wants to know what I am laughing at and what the hell this guy is doing. She shares that inferiority complex that all humans have when foreigners speak their native language and laugh in front of them. I tell her he wants me to go with her to talk to her parents about baptism, which wasn’t a bad idea seeing how she had been going to church for over a year. She ushers me in and I yell back to my companion to hurry and tuck that thing in and imagine our next appointment, a fifty year old woman with a mustache that rivals mine. He recovered and came in after a minute and then we left. I asked him why he kept staring, but not going to lie, Willy, I stared just as long and I kept my eye open during that prayer. I just don’t get hard as quick as a balloon filled with helium like him. Funny shit, man, Willy says. Did she get baptized? Did she take the plunge? No. Too bad, says Willy, those things might have been hard to immerse.
We drive without talking until we turn into Elko, a dump of a town stuck smack dab in the middle of the Great Basin Desert. It’s a cold desert and besides rabbit brush, sage brush, Russian thistle and cheat grass lining the streets and crowding fence lines, a coyote or jackrabbit is a welcome sign of life. Elko is a hard town, a sort of everyone drives big trucks, drinks seven or eight days a week and wearing Carhartt’s constitutes dressing up type of town. We turn off Idaho Street into a big truckstop. The rigs are parked in diagonal rows, some of the engines still running, and truckers with mesh hats walk in and out of the station while the occasional meth addict loiters. Two racks of shirts line the entrance. I have Willy drop me off and sift through the shirts looking for a gem, preferably with a wolf and a moon on it, or something NASCAR. Willy joins me after parking, but we find nothing white trash enough to buy. We use the pay phone and call the number Viv wrote down. She claimed a man named Bill would answer and would be at the truckstop. Bill answers and Willy tells him where we are. He sees us from his rig and starts describing what we are wearing. You Percy’s friends? He asks. Willy says yes. Bill gives us directions to his rig. His diesel is a C.R. England, named after one Chester England from Plain City, Utah. The cab is Corvette red, and the refrigerated freight is pelican white with some sort of coat of arms and the word England painted in the same elaborate dripping of blood red. Bill jumps down from his cab and greets us. Good hell I never thought I’d see anyone quite as strange as Percy. That kid stared at my truck for hours. He said he loved the red against the white, reminded him of Viv. I knew you were Percy’s friends right away. We’ve been getting this compliment, maybe it’s a compliment, a lot on this trip.
Indians, and in no way do I mean this to be racist, hell, I come from Utah where we all say fur instead of for—thank you fur this and that—but they have an idiosyncratic way of speaking, like Canadiens, or Southerners, and my one and only political inclination is that America still owes the Native Americans reparations for the past. We would have guessed Shoshone anyways, judging by the plaited hair and the proximity to the reservation. His gut, a paunch that has as many lumps in it as a summer squash, catches us a little off guard. Most Indians, excuse the stereotype and the start to the ‘Most Indians walk in a straight line—at least the one I saw did’ negative didactic sentence or proverb on judgment, are fit, but then again, he is a trucker and truckers are a race of their own, cut out of a cloth not common to the materials most men know, a cloth perhaps even superseding race. I’m Bill, he says and extends a large wiry hand. We shake his hand and stare at his dark opal eyes. His smile reveals good hygiene. So, he says, hop in and let me take you to where we are going. Neither of us know where we are going nor had plans on going, but the going can be better than the getting there according to poets and folksingers, so we amuse the idea of going with the flow. His cab is large, and the bed in the back carries a confused look of being half made while the lower half still contains the rumples from a night of tossing sleep, as if only the legs were troubled. On the dash a Hawaiian dancer performs the hula in her grass skirt, and a plastic Jesus remains stern and staring as if the eyes dare not move or the Sea of Galillee will swallow him up—concentration, ask Peter, starts with the eyes not the ears. We sort of figure he is taking us to the 192 acre reservation two miles outside of Elko.
Bill waves to another C.R. England truck headed into town, no face visible behind the giant aviator sunglasses, and asks if we have heard of the Te-Moak Tribe. I have, but it’s rude to act like you know something when the person doing the telling wants to let you in on the facts as he sees them. We are comprised of the Western Shoshone, the Elko Colony being one of four. The Indian Reorganization Act of 34 granted us rights, that isn’t the correct word because how can you take away rights and then grant rights, and act like you have somehow shown hospitality toward a ravaged nation by relocation, but anyways, the act allowed us to form our own tribal government on the res. I sit on the tribal council, but we have no real power. We are impotent outside of the res. You ever see a neutered dog try to hump a bitch? We sort of take the comment as rhetorical. Well that is us, he says. Bill drives past a sign marking the Indian land. He takes from the back a bag of Hint of Lime Tostitos. You boys better dig in he says. Percy said it is unwise to ever travel without salt and lime. He got me hooked on these boys. I whisper to Willy that the lime and salt are meant for sea voyages, something out of Percy’s three book basement collection. Willy doesn’t get me, pummels his hand down to the shavings of chips and pulls out a handful of dust, covered in green speckles of lime-salt. He thanks Bill and feeds the chips into his mouth like a log going into the chipper. Crunch, crunch is all I hear as Bill continues telling us about the Shoshone. He parks the truck outside of a trailer, repeats to us that he knew we were Percy’s friends then hops out. We follow.
The inside of the trailer is full of American memorabilia. An encased baseball holds forever the signatures of the entire 1950 Casey Stengel managed Yankees team. I loathe the early fifties as far as the lore of baseball goes. Ty Cobb, he could play the game spikes up. My Detroit Tigers have suffered many defeats at the hands of the formidable Yankees. Now it’s different. Now, besides Jeter, Rivera and a few, the Yankees buy their pennants, outbidding Boston by a cool hundred million. On the wall John Wayne poses in a pine frame once used as a fence, his eyes staring left like something off camera catches his attention. The blue shirt along with the red scarf, are reminiscent of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, more especially Christ’s attire, the whole new world’s focal point is Wayne’s right eye, the Re-Renaissance, symmetrical perfection during a time of degradation. Except Wayne is a cowboy, by golly, and the brim of his ten gallon hat cast the shadow of an upside down woman’s shoe, as if he is ever mindful of the female principle, and you can’t rebirth rebirth.
Two Star Wars posters, juxtaposed, have Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker appearing as father and son, a homecoming of sorts, a yin and yang black and white atmosphere on the wall, with all the figures from Toy Story aligned on a shelf beneath father and son. Other trinkets and stuff adorn the wood-paneled walls. There is a Virgin Mary made of porcelain. An old Shoshone, dressed in new creased wranglers and a colorful cowboy shirt with mother of pearl buttons sits on a couch containing an array of ugly flowers for a pattern. I almost missed him. His hair is silver as a coin and plaited like Bill’s. His face holds the crevaces the Grand Canyon forgot to pick up along its formation. His eyes are darker than Bills, look like they would cry oil. He has us sit down.
The old Shoshone addresses himself as Bill’s father, Michael. He tells us that he knew Percy as well. Percy…he says, and casts his eyes to Wayne. You know Percy stayed with us for a week. He traveled with Bill and my other son, James. James had a red scarf, woven from the finest velvet you have ever seen, this velvet came from silkworms taken care of like royalty. He wore it always around his neck as a symbol of wealth, like a regular John Wayne. One day we received a call that his rig had been vacated at a truckstop thirty miles outside of Reno. The police found his body abandoned in a ditch. His throat had been slit from ear to ear. His wallet remained in his back pocket. The only thing missing was the scarf of red velvet. Percy rode with him on this trip. It is my belief that Percy stole the scarf and slit my son’s throat, but where is Percy now? Have we heard from him? No. Only the guilty hide their whereabouts. He is a murderer…this Percy of yours. He should be hung. Bill shucks the old man’s remarks off and tells us Percy would never commit such a heinous act, but it would be nice to find him and figure out what happened. The old man invites us to leave, as if we have a choice in the matter.
Outside women are gathered, but at a distance that can’t be reached by throwing a rock. They stand in a circle and Bill explains how each day they mourn the loss of James, that James sort of was regarded as the tribe’s favorite among the women, and they would never forgive whoever did this to their precious Indian with the red scarf. Bill drives us back to the truckstop, apologizing along the way for his father’s less than warm welcome, and asks us what now. We wonder why we even made the last trek in the first place, I Mean if peyote had been involved, yes, but to be berated by Bill’s father hardly seems worth the gas. Willy says he will travel on with Bill, if that is alright. I tell him I have to make it home to teach my classes on, of all things, Marlowe’s Faustus and Strassburg’s Tristan, oh, and sort of tell his mother, overly mother, that Percy is mixed up in some bad business but probably still alive. Before they leave Bill buys four bags of his Hint of Lime chips and a case of water. Willy grabs his belongings from the back of my car, and I wave a poor adieus to the two of them as the diesel engine roars like a steroidal lion. Then it stutters and stops and Bill has Willy roll down his window. He yells to me, Are you the friend of Percy’s who had a bear for a pet? No, I tell him. Are you the one who got beat up by a girl? I shuffle my feet and sort of kick at the dirt with my head hung as he sort of laughs while I tell him I didn’t get beat up, but it makes no difference what I say. Bill is laughing and Willy is rolling up the window. I give Willy one of my birdies where I really extend that middle and pull back the other fingers so it looks a little handicapped. Meanwhile Bill prods Willy in the ribs to get him to laugh along with him at my expense. That damn girl; That damn Percy and his snowball.
Homeward bound, and the desert like a silent eye conjures up images in my mind and stupid roaming thoughts. Are new age thinkers right? Do Christ’s miracles need to be studied as metaphors? Does the good wine at the end of the wedding feast bespeak of good coming to those who wait rather than of an actual miracle? Percy would never believe such peddling of haberdash, trying to fit a man with modern attire. But myths do undergo their own metamorphosis, and connote things once viewed as impossible, and all myths fit the psyche of the individual like a certain key to a certain lock or else they are discarded and turn rusty. What good is a key if the door is torn down? A coyote scampers off the road. I see the entrails of the dead rabbit hit by oncoming traffic, see two ravens sharing one lone fence post. The sun blaring in my rear view mirror, Sword of red, sort of a sliver is almost down. At night the roads are littered with jacks, and the desert animals once thought extinct or never even known begin their circumnavigation of the cold scenes. The stillness of a silhouetted herd of antelope catches me offguard, the rustling whisper of tumbleweed crossing the road appears as a circular phantasm brittle as pigeon bones. The coyote howl trails off with the speed of the car trying to distance itself from it. Even fences and rocks appear as apparition in the headlights, and to say sagebrush is only sagebrush and not outlines of some other sort of creature is to speak a daytime phrase.
Who can harbor the light of hope in the darkness of death?
Night leaves little room for the things of the day, it sort of is its own language governed, this hour, by the waning moon and drifting black clouds. Lone junipers stand as witness to all that occurs under the drought-resistant leaves. Rock structures cast shadows larger than Noah’s Ark across the road, and entering dynamited cliffs makes one feel like they have driven into the underworld, and coming out does not lessen the feeling. The desert now takes hold, a hot place in the day but inhospitable to the lone traveler at night. No wonder Percy took on companions. Companions, sort of a funny word. We used it in the Missionary Training Center. The man, really a boy, who you spread the gospel with, was to be referred to as your companion. Two by two they filed us out into the unknown. Did the Church know what companion meant as it metamorphosed into a new word altogether? I remember I met for the second time, one of my first companions from the MTC on an island off the West Coast of Africa. We transferred there the same day, and experienced the same kind of culture shock that the primitive brings out of man. For me it felt natural, and I sort of went with it. He didn’t take. He had already been polished and refined beyond such substratal systems. We carried our Book of Mormons next to our Bibles. We carried them the way a photographer carries his camera. We handed them out to those whose eyes said they would believe anything that got them off the island. But then we would find pages of the Book of Mormon torn out and scattered all over the city. The pages, holy writ, directives from the God of us all, scriptures from prophets with names like Moroni, Omni, Nephi, could be found wadded up and discarded along walls, blowing like emaciated ghosts over the dirt roads, mouse-hidden in corners. This drove my once companion insane. He would pick the pages up and carry them with him. Perhaps he hoped to piece the pages back together. One day his senior companion, five months privy to the island way, told him that he might want to stop collecting torn-out pages. He asked him why. Because, said the senior companion, they use them to wipe their asses with. My once companion happened to be a sensory bigot and not until he put the paper to his nose and smelled someone else’s excrement did he throw down the holy writ and fly into a panic that looked like his pants were on fire and he was trying to put them out. After that, the prophets’ words drifted as toilet paper over dirt roads, hid in corners and fumbled along rock fence lines unheeded. No town I know of has ever discarded or fluttered with more prophetic writings, or warnings.
I tell myself this story, replay it in my mind because it’s funny, and the road to nowhere seems to construct itself by the act of my headlights hitting it, and I refuse to think that our lives unfold the same way, with a God unaware of our path until we take it. William James believed this, says it in his Variety of Religious Experience. God is the Master Chess Player and thinks five moves ahead of the other player, so that, no move is unanticipated regardless of its boldness, and countermoves always exist. This, however, sort of puts God on the defensive, and all I have been taught or thought of seems to place God as the ultimate offensive player, constructing roadblocks, managing fates to His whim and will. Is this why Christ controls Nature rather than attempts to learn from it? Poor fig tree. Westernicity seems bent on believing Nature to be a dull factor in the scheme of the world. A tree does not think or act, it is there to be acted upon, and only action considered by cognition makes a human somewhat like God. Numinous as God is, God thinks in terms of humanity not Nature. But then Nature no longer serves as microcosm to the macro and Roethke’s poetry would lose all meaning to me. Damn shame, all these thoughts. Roethke, I still love you. And if everything posesses a soul; the tree, the rock, the man, Roethke’s truth is still the most correct, for Nature appears to contain a geometry far superior to our latest political and social catastrophes. It’s like the God of order sits on the precipice and dangles his feet over the ledge and into the fractals of chaos.
I make it to Wendover and spend the night at Viv’s. She is leaving in the morning, so I sort of tell her she can go with me rather than ride back with one of her whore friends. You would have got road head if you took one of them she tells me, teases me. Well…I consider but stop short. I’d rather talk with you if that’s alright. She lets me sleep in her bed, and I admit my jealousy and love of Percy spark up simultaneously. What I wouldn’t give to sneak a hand across the barrier sheet and touch her warmth, put my hand on her belly. I don’t sleep.
I head to Montego Bay to lose some money. The casino is a patchwork of plaid shirts and polyester pants. Old people, tired of waiting around for death, but not alive enough to get the stench off their breath, gather around the tables. There are more oxygen tanks than there are young people. They shuttle these people from Salt Lake City and all along the Wasatch Front and they come in droves. I decide I won’t stay long. I sit at a table and call the man across from me Methuselah. He hates me and complains to the pit boss. I let the table know that the dealer is a known communist with ties to the Mexican cartel and his cards dealt to me will display such a truth. The pit boss watches our games. Four drinks in, I get five bad deals in a row, and I start cursing at the commie bastard. I told you so, Methusaleh. You’ll die before I get a good hand. The pit boss tells me one more outburst and I am going to be asked to leave. I tell him to take his 52 tarot cards and use one each week of the year to stick right up his ass so that his future is foretold as shitty. I get shit out of the casino and return to Viv’s side. I slide my hand with drunken courage on her belly and keep it there all night. I am pretty sure I feel Percy’s child kicking in disgust, in unborn anger.
The next morning she gathers her few belongings and has me sit on the suitcase while she zips it up. I carry her suitcase to my car and then discard of it in the back. I don’t get her door. Chivalry died long ago, I tell myself to feel better. The drive to Salt Lake goes fast, too fast, as if 80 mph, a whopping five over the limit, somehow warped us ahead. I don’t remember the Tree of Life, the Salt Flats, the giant smokestack at Kennecott. I only remember what she said. What she said? She talks about how she used to raise horses when she was little. How she grew up in Montana. She makes Montana seem like Camelot, sort of a tid bit nippier. The rodeo roars like a jousting tournament when she recalls it. After creating a fantasy in my mind, she drops the weight of gravity by telling me about her rape at sixteen. How that changed everything (for me and her), and the only comfortable moment since then, with a man, she shared with Percy. She kisses my cheek and waves goodbye. The ride to Ogden takes an interminable amount of time, reminds one of eternal senses in a timeless vacuum of empty space. I count the molecules in each mud puddle; number the reeds along Legacy Highway. I think about what I am going to tell the overly mother and stepfather. Me, Alec Bryan, the messenger, harbinger of news about their dear Percy. The task outweighs me.
I remember one last Percy logic to calm myself down and to put myself in a better mood and back in the realm of time consumption. Percy had come over to my house and we had just installed an invisible fence, I think it was actually a buried wire, and put two shock collars on our dogs. The settings ranged from one, the slightest of shocks, to nine being a mega jolt. Well at least the dog’s treated nine like it jolted. They refused to go back outside after two shocks. Percy said it couldn’t be that bad, put on the collar, had us leave that baby cranked to nine and walked out near the barrier then crossed the barrier and fell to his knees screaming, turn it off, turn it off. He told us after he recovered that we should be run out by PETA and that if he ever saw those collars again he would kill someone by shocking them to death. Percy! One in a million is to easy a find to describe you, and a needle in a haystack can be found, you are as rare as a unicorn wearing panties that read PINK across the crotch while riding a hypervelocity star through a black hole.
Stepfather Percy meets me in the driveway. I didn’t tell him I would be there. He is sitting with his legs spread out and is clutching at his knees. I see he has been crying. I rush out of my car and to his side. He is crying. Stepfather Percy is crying like a child. Dead, is all he can speak. I pick him up so as to not make him look foolish in front of the neighborhood crowd gathering. Come inside. Have some water, I tell him. Does he really think Percy is dead? Then I hear it clearly, as if the wax in my ears turns salve and tenses up the invisible hairs. SHE’S dead, he says. He takes me to his wife’s room. She isn’t dead. I see her chest heave up in an effort to inhale. She is dying not dead. She sees me and tries to sit up but her feeble body, like a puppet with the strings cut, doesn’t really move, sort of looks like a heavy current runs through it. Percy, she whispers to me with the raspy voice of one choked by the inimicable hands of death. PEEERRRCYYYY! I tell her we found the girl he stayed with and that he is in Reno and Willy is on his way to retrieve him as we speak. My words, meant as balm end up being the final embalming of overly mother’s life, and unarmored flesh unveils her naked heart—it bleeds its last, and the arrow flung by affliction already has hit its target. The marksman and the woman, the afflicted and the afflictor both knew their heart from their hands and their hands from their heart.
She dies bereaving the name of her one son, an image of him fallen down in the desert seeking water, the pack on his back too heavy, turns wooden then rock, while the arrow completely and ruthlessly pierces its way through the heart: PEEERRRCYYY. That bastard, and in May of all months, and no trees drop their leaves in May, only October.
Alec Bryan is the author of one novel: Night on the Invisible Sun, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Aqueous Books website. His work has appeared in Pank, LitnImage, Mudluscious, Prick of the Spindle, Corium Magazine, Ducts.Org, Dogzplot and other places. Visit his website, www.alecbryan.com to see a further listing. He is reading Wright’s Black Boy and a book on Bacon’s art. He loves the smell of bacon and double knotting shoelaces.