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A Bad Man, Speaking Poorly
Vir bonus, dicendi peritus—Cato the Elder
Daddy come out the Chevron bathroom with a tire iron. He go, “You never done right but when you tried to suicide in grade school.” I go, “I never done that.” He swings the iron at me, busting open the jar of eggs by the coffee urns. They slide across the floor like penguins. Daddy’s all, “Well, you should’ve.” He ain’t shaved since church three weeks back when he smeared Crisco in his part and played the devil with Ms. Daltry. During the creed he go, “My wife couldn’t kneel like you, Edith. Had them rheumatoid arthritis.” Mama died in 1980. How come Daddy goes to church, and how come he gets us kicked out. Ms. Daltry’s like, “Shhhhhhhhhh!” But he don’t. He mouths off during the next creed, too, and we’s booted by Butch Washington—a real church man—around communion time. Then, by God, Ms. Daltry come by our place and sits with Daddy in his room, whispering over Romans and feeding him airplane peanuts saved from her mission to an ignorant land. She go, “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.” She go, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” When she drives off in her Buick Daddy’s kicking his heels and saying a prayer unto the Lord. He rubbing our dog, Juniper, all over her fatty tumor. He’s all, “Now there’s a woman to match your mama,” the which he’s said fifty times since the burial. But no woman wants him. The next week Ms. Daltry takes ill and goes to the Lord, and that’s mainly why Daddy’s swinging that iron. Slim Jims and cheese sticks go flying, and the only other customer in the Chevron hides behind the rotisserie counter. I go, “We gonna have to pay for all this.” Daddy go, “Yougonna pay for what you said about Edith.” The tire iron connects with my shoulder, feeling like a soldering iron, and I hear a snap. I’m lying in a heap of Tom’s crackers, hot nuts, fruit pies, and Ho Hos. I said what I did about Ms. Daltry out by the gas pumps before we come in to pick out dinner. I’m like, “If she hadn’t a died you’d a seen she weren’t no Mama. You’d a seen ain’t nobody gonna be Mama again.” We bing into in the store, and he’s like, “I guess you’s right, Junior.” But instead of walking to the potted meats, he slinks off to the john. Must’ve found the iron back there. He stands over me with it raised, one shoe creaming a Ho Ho. The manager go, “Sir?” Daddy go, “You’s a bad man said a worst thing. ‘Tweren’t enough to kill your mother with meanness. You got to keep her dead these years.” The iron smacks my shin, soldering the same but sounding more like a jack on glass. He’s wrong, always has been. It’s him what was mean to Mama, me back to him, Mama what defended Daddy, making him think I had all the meanness. And it wasn’t me kept her dead, neither. Daddy don’t have luck with women. His dandruff is tick-size, and he only shaves enough to look scraggly half the time. He interrupts the preacher and picks fights with the shoe boy at league bowling and rots his teeth on Jolly Ranchers and tells old ladies his son’s a wastrel. I guess I am. But I ain’t keeping Mama dead. The manager go, “Sir, you can’t do that in here.” Daddy come back with, “Where else they gonna let me do it, you A-rab?” The manager’s like, “Scum.” The iron sinks into my stomach with a muddy-boot sound. This pain’s harder to feel with my arms and legs sounding off. I puke up something I didn’t et. I’m like, “Don’t kill me.” Don’t know why I’d want to live, but that’s what I say. The customer behind the rotisserie go, “For God’s sake.” Daddy go, “Mind your own killing.” Then to me, real low, he’s like, “I ain’t going to sink to your level, Junior. Murdering family. You’ll learn to do like I raised you.” I’m thinking, I raised myself. The tire iron chinks against my other shin bone, but I don’t feel it. I don’t feel nothing but shame for us acting this way. A gun go, “Pow.” Daddy’s lying beside me in the crackers. With my one good arm I shake him. He’s out, or already dead. My one good hand grips the tire iron. I’m thinking, he was just trying to do right by me, in his way. Son of a bitch. The customer’s all, “Is he dead? Oh God. Is he dead?” Footsteps crunch through the crackers, and the A-rab stands over me with a cowboy’s pistol. He go, “It appears the older gentleman is.” He don’t look sorry when he nudges Daddy with a loafer. Then he crouches by me, smelling like spices. The customer’s on the phone. “Send a ambulance. Pike Road Chevron. And the police.” Soon Daddy’ll be gone. Soon he’ll join Mama with the Lord because the Lord takes us all. But I’ll still be here. The A-rab’s like, “Are you okay? Did that scum bag hurt you bad?” I’m thinking, I hurt him bad. I’m a bad man. I puke some more nothing, and the A-rab peers into my eyes. He go, “Just stay calm. The medics will be here soon.” A bad man. I swing the iron at his head.