was 9:56 AM as I sat in the living room with my eyes glued to the television,
and heard Neal Armstrong proclaim to the universe, “That’s one small step for
man, one giant leap for mankind.”
a twelve year old’s imagination, hopes and dreams, this was not just a step
onto the moon, but a step into the heavens. My heart pounded and mind raced at
what promised to be the beginning of a new way of life.
God, we’d just touched the surface of another world. Nothing would ever be the
same again. If we could do this, there would be no problems that mankind could
not overcome. Over population, famine and war would no longer haunt us. Star
Trek had it right all along. We were now free to move among the stars. Surely,
it would only be a matter of a few years and there would be a colony on the
Moon, then Mars and then beyond our solar system. The expanse of the universe
was now our playground. Nothing can hold humanity back.
the end of the week, baseball, fishing and summer days had pushed the momentous
occasion out of my mind. Once the ‘space race’ was over, we realized that we
had nothing to win. Without a prize, it didn’t take long for humanity to lose
interest as well.
She was a drab forty something in fuzzy pink house slippers and tights that made her ass look like the surface of the moon. A big flesh colored moon showing all the ridges, mountains and craters. Her thin tie-dyed t-shirt was a size too small and revealed the dark nipples hiding beneath it. She lit a joint and coughed the smoke into the space that separated her from the world. A woman stuck in the 1960’s while life moved on without her.
Phillip will forever tell the story of how, at 17, a beautiful Greek goddess
brought him manhood.
We follow the
highway out to the Belcher creek turnoff and cross the train tracks. A full
moon hangs high in the cloudless Missouri sky as we approach the bridge and
stop right in the middle of the gravel road. The only people that use the
bridge anymore are a few farmers and there’s no way in hell they’re going to be
out at 11 O’clock at night.
A line of cars
pull in behind us and everyone cuts their engines. But the music from a dozen
radios still drifts through the air. I
step out of the car and gaze at the stars. I’m thinking that it would sure be a
great night to go hunting instead of pounding somebody’s head into the gravel.
Besides, I really don’t dislike Marvin. Hell, we had spent many summer days
fishing down at the ‘Pits’ or hunting rabbits together on old man Bailey’s
land. Besides, me and Beth were pretty much done with each other anyway. But
still, you can’t just go around asking another man’s girl out and not expect
Leroy and Jimmie
walk up and down the road telling everybody to shut off their radios and
headlights. Every now and again I can see them lean into a window and take a
drink of whisky or a toke from somebody’s joint. At about five till, everybody
starts making their way toward the bridge. It’s starting to look like
homecoming on a Friday night with the headlights from Jimmie’s car spotlighting
the arena. Some of the guys are cutting up, pretending to be boxing. Most of
the girls have pushed their way to the front and are leaning against the cars,
making sure they get a good look at the gladiators of the night. The crowd has
pushed in close and I’m drawing a lot of confidence from there murmurs. I peel
off my shirt and throw it on the hood. I can’t keep from smiling a little as some
of the girls start whispering about how big my shoulders are.
I can feel the
crowd starting to get a little antsy and I’m beginning to think that Marvin
isn’t going to show when a set of headlights turns the corner on the other side
of the creek and heads toward us. The red corvette stops just short of the
bridge and the door opens. The dash light reveals Marvin, with Beth practically
sitting on his lap like some bitch dog in heat. I start walking toward the
center of the bridge while Jimmie and Leroy hold back the crowd.
along a few steps behind Marvin. She’s wearing a tight black blouse and leather
skirt and puffing on a Virginia Slim. It gives me a little pang of longing as
she looks at me with those blue eyes.
Marvin takes off
his shirt and hands it to Beth and she goes on past us to join the crowd. I
chuckled a little at the sight of his pasty white torso. A quick thought comes
to my mind that he must have some Albino blood in him or something to be that
white. Why haven’t I ever noticed it before? Maybe it’s the way the car
headlights bounce off him. He looks a lot smaller than I remember from gym
class too and I start to feel a little sorry for him. I must admit the desire
to break his nose is beginning to fade.
But he walks
right up to me and spits into the dust at my feet and some of the anger comes
back. But I still can’t get as worked up as I was with the crowd egging me on
“So I hear you
said city boys like to suck cow tits and have sex with sheep.” He said.
“Well, I say a
lot of things but I don’t remember saying that.” Marvin looks puzzled, like I
just took away his reason for being here in the first place.
standing there not knowing for sure what to do next. So I point my finger at
his chest and say, “It was bull cocks and sheep dogs…City Boy.”
Marvin’s face is
getting red and I can see him double up his fist looking for the right time to
throw a punch. But he still isn’t sure if he wants to be the one to start it.
from the crowd, “You already took his girl Marvin…now take his teeth.” I swear
it’s Leroy’s voice.
“You know city
boy, you probably should go on back home and take your tramp with you before you
end up getting hurt.” I tell him.
with another spatter of spit, only this time aimed right at my chest. I give
him a little shove, surprised at how easy it was to knock him back a step.
Marvin steps forward and takes a swing at me. I side step it fairly easily and
we walk circles around each other a few times…sizing each other up. Jimmie and
some of the other guys are yelling at me to knock his head off. So I take a
swing at him, not really wanting to hurt him but just letting him know I mean
Marvin is a hell
of a lot faster than I realize and ducks it easily then pops me one in my right
eye. It hurts like hell and I know the swelling is going to come soon. I really
misread him. The next few blows don’t really make much contact but then I see
his left drop a little and I plant one on his ear. That makes him step back a
little and I can see that it’s blood red. I charge him and land a couple of
good hits. One bloodies his nose and another busts his upper lip. I start
feeling pretty proud of myself and I give him a couple more jabs thinking he’ll
back down. That’s when I see his right hand coming.
straight for my jaw. Everything is moving in slow motion. I watch it coming at
me, my mind is telling my body to get the hell out of the way but my body is
saying…screw you. I feel my head snap back and my legs are having trouble
keeping me upright. I can feel the blood running down my face and taste it in
my mouth. A few seconds seem eternal before my vision starts to clear. I think
he’s in shock that he hit me so hard because he’s not pressing me, so I take
advantage of it. I go after him again and I can feel a few of my jabs have some
effect. Then my right hand connects to his chin and I have him down on his
knees, staring up at me through two swelling eyes. I step back a little and
spit blood off the side of the bridge into the water below. I’m thinking how
nice it would be to jump in and let the water cover me with its coolness.
his footing and we circle each other again. I throw a few more punches but they
have nothing to them. Suddenly, Marvin drops his guard and I prime my arm for
the kill shot. But I don’t want to deliver it and I think he knows it so he
drops both hands to his sides and he’s just standing there. I’m listening to
the jeers coming from the crowd. I see a little quiver run through his entire
body and he shakes his head slightly. He lifts his hand toward me. I realize
that I want nothing to do with the whole damn thing anymore either so I take it.
I stare at him, as he walks back to his car and gets in on the passenger side. Beth closes the door and runs around to get in on the driver’s side. Her ass swinging in her tight skirt and tits heaving in her blouse. I can tell, she’s about to cry and I can’ help but wonder if anybody really won. Maybe it makes no difference but I think I’m going to miss her.
Heavy air on breeze less days
Push you into shady corners
Sweat stained ball caps
Cover red leather faces
Adonis boys display their prowess
To bikini clad Aphrodite
Blood runs hotter than the sun
When darkness hides their passion
An excerpt from an upcoming new book by Jerry Brotherton ‘Small Stories from a Tiny Town’
How in the hell the news got to us so quickly is still a mystery. One minute, we’re in the middle of the street playing our childish games then, what seemed like only a moment later, we’re standing at the water’s edge. Red lights slashing through the early evening dusk.
We watched as Sheriff Rankin and his brother Will maneuvered their boat around the middle of the lake. Casting a snagging line out like it was just another evening of spoonbill fishing.
Everybody from town was standing around in little groups whispering to each other. Speculating on what, then how, it happened. It seemed that seventeen year old Terry Bowman had tried to swim across the lake by himself. He didn’t make it.
All us guys were standing a few yards away from the somber faces of the adults. We were jabbing each other in the ribs and joking with one another like we had just come out of the movie theatre. Even there in the face of death, our youthful immortality poked its head out. We knew one thing for certain, whatever hand fate had dealt to Terry, it had nothing to do with us.
But the moment they lifted Terry’s body from the boat and laid him gently onto the shore, his blue lips highlighted against his pasty whiteness, his eyes wide open and staring toward the night sky. His mother kneeling over his wrinkled body and crying for God to give him back. That’s when I knew death for the first time in my life. And my youthful naiveté abandoned me.
As I stared into his face, I strange curiosity overtook me. I wondered what thoughts went through Terry’s mind the moment he realized that he was never going to make it to the other side of the lake. As he looked back and saw his friends, highlighted against the setting sun, dancing, singing and making out; when did panic set in?
Was it when his arms turned to rubber and he struggled to just stay afloat that he started looking for some miracle to get him out? Or later when his first gasp for air brought him nothing but a mouth full of water? At what point did he stop fighting and just accept that death was going to take him. Or did he struggle to the very end, never giving up hope?
So as I stood there in silence, watching his mother cradle her son. Her tears dripping into his unblinking eyes and her sobs choking out any words she tried to give to him, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground. I watched her gently rock her baby in her arms and I suddenly hated God for taking him away from her.
That evening, those flashing red lights slicing into the stillness and the sobbing moans of Terry’s mom burned a memory deep into my innocents that I was sure I would never forget.
But the next morning found us all gathered at the ball park laughing and joking like any other summer day. Like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Except choosing up side was just a little harder now that Terry was gone… but hey, the game must go on.