Wednesday, March 29, 2017


They've been prepping me for my first sight of it for a few weeks, now.
Robin, Val and Ross have all been very supportive. They've answered all my questions----who, what and why, and they've been patient. They know it can't be easy.
For the last two or three days (Two that I remember—it feels like it must have been three but I can't recall), they've made vain attempts to show it to me. I freaked, It wasn't their fault. I wasn't ready yet, mentally, physically, philosophically, and we'd be right on the verge and then I'd panic and they'd have to give me a shot and let me sleep awhile. They've been good. They understand.
I think I'm ready now.
All the same they've been cautious. They let me stay comfortable, allowing me to sleep in today, and Robin's been grilling me the whole time (“Are you sure you're ready for this? You know we're not going to force it on you if you don't feel you can handle it....”).
I want to. I have to. All logic points to the fact that I must. You can't live your life ignorant; you must see and understand the things that affect your life and environment. I have assured them, Robin and Valerie and the rest, that I feel this way, and they agree. I'm comfortable with the fact that they're beside me, behind me, and regardless of what happens or what I see, they give me security.
The three of them are seated around me, Val, Robin and Ross, true friends, and they're with me....”okay,” says Val, “are you all set?”
“Yes,” I tell her. “I know you've been waiting to get it over with.” She runs her hand through my hair.
“Let's not bandy,” says Robin. “Show him.” I am relaxed.
Robin and Ross show it to me---they don't make any big to-do about it. A glance between them and the the unveiling.
My first thought about seeing it face-to-face is simply, “oh.” After the second I need to take in and think about what I see, in crashes the revulsion, then fear and now I'm screaming, screaming, clawing and climbing and screaming oh Christ get it away get it away don't let it touch me---
Val is battering me now this is Val and now she's battering me smashig me and I can't believe it Jesus Val it's me, Cal, Cal, your brother oh stop hurting me and I'm fighting retreating all the while crying no and then she shrieks out, “Cal! Stop! Cal, you're clawing me! You're hurting me!” And that makes me stop because I don't want to hurt her but I'm scared as hell I can't stop screaming my legs are giving out---
“Cal!” Yells Robin. “Chill, man! We told you, it won't hurt you!”
“He can't handle it,” I hear Ross saying---now the three of them are holding me down. I'm still screaming. I can't stop. Christ oh Christ stop---”deal with it,” yells Robin. Hard love. “Deal with it, Cal! Did I stick with you this far to have you melt on me?” He slaps my face. “Deal with it!”
“Noooo,” I whimper.
“Cal,” says Val, “open your eyes.”
“I can't,” I cry. “I can't, I can't, oh please don't make me I can't take it don't make me look OH GOD NO DON'T MAKE ME---”
“Cal!” Booms Ross. “You're stronger than this! Open your eyes!”
“Open them,” says Robin.
“Christ, Robin,” harps Val, “He can't handle it! He wasn't ready!”
“Ross, force his eyes open,” says Robin, ironclad, mind made up oh Robin, you bastard, how could you betray me like this???
Robin and Ross force my eyes open; I struggle and fight and object but they outmuscle me and hold me fast.
“Oh, Cal, oh, my poor Cal,” weeps Val. “it's okay, Cal, we told you---we know it's horrible, but it won't hurt you.”
They force me to stare at it into it oh God I am afraid it's hell it's calamity---”deal with it,” shouts Robin and I try I stop struggling I stare it's inconceivable and it stares back it stares back oh my God but like they say it just stand there and.
“I'm scared,” I tell them.
“We know,” and they stroke me and touch me soft and relax their grips....
“What is it?” I wail. “Jesus. What is it?”
“What do you think it is?” Asks Ross. “It's like you, me, anybody.”
“Ross, I'm sorry,” I cry. “I know, I know, you told me, but how? Oh, God.....why? Why?”
“Sssshhhhh,” sooths Val, cuddling me, coddling me. “It's okay, it's okay.”
“You know why,” Ross tells me. He's trying not to sound impatient. “We spent almost three weeks telling you.”
“I'm sorry,” I scream.
“It's okay,” says Val. “Jesus, Ross, we all knew it was going to be hard on him!”
“I know,” grudges Ross. “I'm sorry, Cal.”
“S'okay,” I cry. “S'okay....I know.” I stare at it---at once I can't stop looking at it but at the same time I want to shut these cursed fucking eyes and never open them again. “Oh, God,” lamenting, “oh, God, it's here, isn't it? It's always been here, hasn't it?”
“Yes,” Valerie whispers, rocking me back and forth. “Sshhhhhhh.”
“It's here,” says Robin, touching my shoulder gently. “It'll always be here.”
“Oh, God,” I moan. Finally, they let me close my eyes. I feel like I've earned it.


For several days they've kept a vigil with me. Val. Robin. Ross. I can't tell them enough how grateful I am. They say they know. Helping me to cope with all this horror----I'm not sure they do know.
Today it all went wrong. They left Blake to watch me. Like Blake, of all people, has any idea what gives. Blake is a fucking bastard.
I woke up and right out of the blue there was Blake and he was pissed. He said he'd been there several days (which I found very hard to believe) and he'd had to sedate me----he had bruises on his arm and cuts and bruises on his face and said I'd done this to him.
He then locked me in there with that thing----presumably to punish me.
The only comfort I found all that time, the only thing that took the edge of my fear, was that they told me, remember, Cal, remember, no matter how scared you are, it's at least that frightened.
Ross told me, when all else fails, don't show it your fear. Fear drives it wild, agitates it. That's why it bares its teeth. Just the same, I hid my face for what must have been hours, may have been days....
Finally, Val showed up and pulled me out, thankfully. She said Blake wouldn't be coming back.
She held me. Comforted me....

It took me a long time, but I learned to accept it as a part of my life. It's been a difficult process.
Do unto, the law my sad head keeps going back over---do unto, do unto, and I cry for it and understand it----its pains, its didn't ask to be born----none of us asks to be born, and I always have to remind myself of that. Sometimes I feel an urge to collapse on it, to throw my arms around it and beg its forgiveness, but its repugnance keeps me at arm's length....
Still, I have learned to coexist with it----sometimes I stare at it for long, bewildered hours on end. I know that's hard to believe, but I do.
And I know and I see that in its own stunted intelligence it tries to reciprocate. The way it feebly reaches out, touches back in its questing, ham-fisted way.
I think it is possessed of a brilliant, blunt, unfortunate soul; when I reach out, it stares back placidly. It almost never blinks as I run my fingers along its smooth, flat, shiny face....

Originally published in THE MOWER. Copyright 1993 C.F. Roberts, 2016 Molotov Editions

Saturday, March 11, 2017


It was getting cold out and Billy thought Duke would never show. Eventually, though, the blue pickup rolled up in front of the complex.
Come in outta the cold, boy,” bellowed Duke. Billy slipped into the passenger seat. “You in the doghouse again?”
I don’t want to talk about it,” said Billy, “just drive. Somewhere. Anywhere. Just drive.”
Duke pulled out. “No particular place to go,” he said in a sing-songy voice—some old tune. Chuck Berry? One of those old rock’n’roll guys, anyway.
Beers in the back,” Duke offered. Billy reached behind the seat and found the case of cold buds Duke had stashed back there. He didn’t waste any time popping one. He noticed, now, for the first time that Duke was steering with one hand, holding a beer in the other.
You know, “ Duke drawled after a few minutes, “I don’t give a shit what you and Alice might be going through tonight. Y’all are gonna be alright….I know. I like a girl with spirit.
Shit, redneck, you like her that much you can have her!”
Sorry, kid, I’m off the market,” Duke smiled.
Billy took another pull off the beer. “Anymore I just think she’s getting the upper hand in the relationship. I don’t know why it’s always gotta be a goddamn power struggle.”
Well,” said Duke, “there’s some women’s just bent that way. They think they gotta ‘train’ their men.”
Yeah, well, she’s gonna learn, I’m not here to be trained,” said Billy.
Duke laughed. “I know you’re deep in it, now—maybe you’ll pull past it tomorrow or maybe next week, but you kids have got a good thing….I know y’all fight now and again…”
Now and again,” huffed Billy, taking another pull off the beer.
I know y’all fight every now and again,” Duke repeated the phrase, louder and more firmly, as if he were trying to override Billy, “but that’s a good thing. You wanna stay real and grounded with your woman, and sometimes you just gotta have these knock-down-drag-outs. Me an’ Marlene have been together twenty goddamn years ---she stayed there for me the whole goddamn time I was in the big house.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah,” muttered Billy.
Well,” shrugged Duke, “yeah, yeah, yeah! I been around the block, I’ve had good times, I’ve had bad times, I’ve done hard time, which is the slowest time, the worst kind of time…I think I know whereof I speak…I ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I know a few things!”
Maybe so,” sighed Billy, deflating. “Just…when I know what earthly good the knock-down-drag-outs produce, maybe….”he trailed off and shook his head.
I’ll try and bring my tea leaves and help you read ‘em kid,” Duke laughed. “You’ll be alright---ain’t nothing you two are goin’ through that folks ain’t been goin’ through since Biblical Times. Pass me another one of them beers, willya?”
The two men cruised on through the countryside for some time, shooting the shit on any number of subjects---how Meadows, the bullet-headed little sonofabitch, ever could have made assistant foreman; the lottery and whether either one of them would ever win it and what they might do with the money if they did; how the Hogs, as good as the season was going, would probably never have a championship program again; Alice’s obsession with “Dancing with the Stars”. Midway through “Dancing with the Stars”. Duke slammed on the brakes.
Shit,” yelled Billy.
Deer,” said Duke. Billy saw the deer wandering back off the road into the trees.
Christ,” said Billy, “just keep on telling the goddamn Democrats hunting is cruelty and we can’t thin the herds!”
I’d like to have thinned out the herd right there,” said Duke, taking his foot off the brake, “if it wouldn’t have cost me my truck….know how long it’s been since I had me some venison chili?”
I never cared a whole lot for deer, personally,” said Billy. Relaxing again. “I like my meat tender.”
Tender like your women?” Chuckled Duke. Billy shot him a wounded look, which made him laugh even harder. “Oh, now don’t start cryin’ on me---I’m just bustin’ your balls. Venison chili’s real good, Billy, you’d like it---you need to let it simmer and carmelize overnight. Nice’n’tender.”
Hey,” said Billy, switching gears, “what are the chances of your running by Wally World? I gotta pick us up a turkey for Thanksgiving.”
Duke’s eyes twinkled. “You sure you kids are gonna make it to Thanksgiving?”
Shit,” said Billy, rolling his eyes.
I think I can swing that trip for ya,” said Duke. “You know, me and Marlene are doing a Turducken this year!”
A Turducken! That’s a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey! It’s a Turducken!”
Shit,” said Billy, “that’s like a bad wreck---you can’t identify the bodies, because you can’t tell where one bird ends and the other begins!” Duke laughed. “Turducken, huh?”
Turducken,” laughed Duke.
Billy smiled, then turned halfway and felt around in back. “I think we’re all outta beers, buddy…”
Figure maybe we could swing back around to the liquor store?”
Doubt it,” said Duke, “it’s after midnight!”
Well, shit.”
Oh, it’s alright, I got more back at the house,” Duke said.
Cool.” A possum waddled out into the road. Duke swerved to avoid it.
Goddamn, Mister Compassionate, let’s get back to the house in one piece,” yelled Billy.
Nature’s little speedbumps,” sighed Duke, his heart sinking back down from his throat. It was then that a set of headlights pulled out behind them and caught up with them fast.
That’s a cop,” said Billy.
I’ve been drinkin’ off and on all day,” said Duke.
It’s cool,” said Billy. “Just drive straight, play it cool.”
I got a quarter in the glove compartment” Billy was now sensing the agitation in Duke’s voice.
Man, it’s alright,” said Billy. “You think they’re gonna be able to search you if you don’t let ‘em? You think they’re gonna want to do the paperwork? Just play it cool!”
They’re on us,” rasped Duke. He was looking alarmed, now.
Dammit, Duke,” cried Billy. “You draw these kinds of things to yourself…Alice told me about that---some shit on Oprah!”
Oprah?! What the fuck are you talkin’ about, Billy?!”
If you think you’re gonna get caught, then you’re gonna get caught!”
What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” Behind them, the cop turned on the blues.
Okay,” said Billy, “just pull over. Remember—you don’t have to let them search you!”
Fuck that shit,” yelled Duke. He floored it, just as they hit the Leatherwood Curves.
I’m not goin’ back to the joint!”
No, you’re not,” said Billy. “Duke, Jesus Christ, you’re making this something we can’t get out of!”
 I’m not going back,” screamed Duke as the cops gave chase. “I have a good life, it’s not ending like this!”
Duke was going so fast at this point that he nearly blew the guard rail. Turducken, Billy thought again. A carload of joyriding high school kids came around the bend and that was the last thing Billy knew.