Another dark tale before December levity launches ....
Harlan stood at the kitchen sink, staring out the window, focused on nothing in particular. Cocking his head side-to-side, he pretended to study something beyond the cabin’s porch. He’d seen a guy do that in a movie once. But dense dark pines reaching to the sky were the only things outside. He was actually waiting to wash his grungy hands, but with air in the pipes water barely trickled from the crusted faucet. Meanwhile the stink from his clothes steadily filled the room.
Draping his palms over the counter, Harlan cocked his hip in a relaxing fashion. He’d seen a guy do that, too. Waiting and pretending made him think hard. “I once had sex with a cantaloupe,” he told his brother, Earl.
Lounging behind him at the kitchen table, Earl skimmed an old copy of Beaver Hunt—a popular girlie magazine. A life-long horror story freak, the Stephen King tale featured on the cover had snagged his attention. But the aged pages were tacky and some stuck together. Using a 10-inch knife he’d taken from the trucker in Southside Johnny’s parking lot, he patiently worked the blade between the trouble spots.
“Was it a fruitful experience?” Earl smirked. Harlan wouldn’t get the pun.
“I split that baby down the middle. Opened her up. Stuck my whole face inside. She was wet and warm and juicy. I spit seeds for a week.”
“The thing about any melon: don't refrigerate. Consume within two days at room temperature. Ask any chef.” Especially well-read, Earl recited from memory; and skillfuly pried apart two more pages. Feeling weary and lost, he welcomed this distraction.
The trucker had tried to kill Harlan with this knife.
So he’d cold-cocked the guy before the casualties escalated.
The trucker knew them both and Earl should’ve killed him. But after what Harlan had done? Killing him didn’t feel right, some kind of karma at work. Earl couldn’t put his finger on it at first.
An air pocket rattled the faucet. Rusty water spit in staccato fashion. When the stream flowed clean and steady, Harlan grabbed a handy bar of nearby Lava soap, slipped his hands under the water. The soap’s distinct smell made him think of the farm. The only soap that got cow shit off your hands, his daddy said. Daddy’s favorite soap did wonders with blood too. The dried, caked blood scrubbed off easily.
He rubbed his blood-soaked face and sucked some soapy water into his coppery mouth. Harlan eagerly sloshed the water around his cheeks and gums—and spit out the dirty froth—watched the pink liquid swirl down the drain. His mama had taught him that keeping your teeth clean was important. You’d need them your whole life, she’d said.
He swiped his mouth with a hairy wrist, dried both hands on tattered Levis. Harlan wiped everything on his jeans. Streaked with grime, fried grease and blood, and God knew what else … they almost stood on their own.
“What’re we gonna do now, Earl?”
Earl split two more pages and stared at the coy young snatch in the old magazine. The appeal was ageless, but he looked up. Head cocked, eyes vacant, Harlan leaned back against the sink like he was in deep thought—his arms folded in front of him like he was a politician debating his next platform.
Or more likely for a politician, figuring which filly from the secretarial pool he should pick to join him on his next stump. But staring at Harlan, Earl realised once again these were his thoughts, his imaginings. His brother wasn’t capable of any original thoughts.
“I guess we're gonna wait,” Earl said.
“That trucker’s gonna be comin’ with his boys. They know us, Harlan. No tellin’ what they’re gonna do.”
“They gonna be mad?”
“I ’spect so. That girl was the trucker’s best whore. You killed his best whore. What do you think?”
“Shit. Didn’t know she was his best. I’m sorry.”
“They’re gonna tear you up, boy.” A tear ran down Harlan’s cheek.
“I’m scared,” Harlan said.
“You should be, brother.”
“We could run,” Harlan offered.
“Don’t know. That’s you. You always know.”
“Not this time. Those guys were our best customers. Who we gonna sell our drugs to now? We got no one and nowhere to go. Because of you.”
“I said sorry.”
Earl watched Harlan suddenly pace the room—one hand thrust in his front jeans pocket. He touched things with the other every time he passed them, like he was taking inventory. But Harlan was searching hard for words he could say. When he couldn’t find any, he plopped down at the table in a chair next to Earl. He felt safe next to his brother.
“I remember the cat,” Harlan said.
Earl wasn’t surprised. Harlan could remember things. He just couldn’t think things through. His memories taught him nothing. They were just things that happened.
“You mean the one you nailed to the side of the barn?”
“I did that? I thought it was you.”
“You nailed the cat. I took the blame,” Earl said.
“Mama was real pissed off with you. I remember that.” Harlan laughed, slapped his knee. He’d seen a guy do that.
“Easier to take the blame than try to explain.”
How could he explain to his mama the deficiencies Harlan possessed? Mothers don’t see such things in their children. Denial is a mother’s privilege—
And her last hope.
Earl eased from his chair, stood behind his brother.
“Cats have nine lives. You told me,” Harlan said.
Earl pulled Harlan’s head to his chest and caressed his hair like a lover might. “Really?”
“Yeah. When he died? You told me that was number ten.”
“I guess he reached his limit.”
Harlan put his hand on Earl’s.
Earl couldn’t let him suffer at the hands of the uncaring—those hell-bent on revenge for their own reckless need.
He pushed the knife slowly into Harlan’s neck, and only a little ways, just deep enough to slit his brother’s jugular. Blood squirted between his fingers.
“It’s getting dark,” Harlan said.
Earl looked out the kitchen window. The morning sky was starting to brighten.
“Don’t worry, little brother, it’ll be light soon.”
Maybe he’d make it on his own. Maybe not.