through a bottle darkly

I told her you bite me again and I’ll beat the life out of you. Sure enough she come after me when I got too near her bowl. I did just like I warned, beat her so bad she couldn’t hardly move for a week. We thought sure she would pass but look at her—she’ll probably outlive every last one of us……”

 

by laine perry

 

I want to kick the ass of the scariest hick in a certain redneck town. The purpose of naming the things in this story (like a town, or villain) in such a way is simply to allow myself a bit of venting. It doesn’t help as much as actually kicking the crap out of the thug (whoops) who beat my uncle so severely that he bled out two days later and died, the pain so bad that he whispered, or rather gurgled to the doctor not to resuscitate. If we get into it the way I want to I am as likely to emerge the victor as my uncle was to live 48 hours post-attack. It helps the way that cartoons help.

In cartoons villains are acutely evil. Odiousness is demonstrated in the oversized everything, in the vivid and obscene color schemes. Cruelty is certain and random and unexplainable. Impossible feats are routinely possible. Let me say that there are odd bits and pieces to this tale, like a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps- which sounds, looks, and probably tastes innocent enough though when examined under my less than mercurial gaze devolves into a slender blade joined to a hacksaw. In the cartoon of my uncle’s death the bottle of Peppermint Schnapps is the instrument which clobbers him. In my imagined retributive meeting with the villain, I end things by tricking him into a short fall into the bottle of Peppermint Schnapps—the goo so thick and viscous that escape is impossible, just as impossible as it was for my uncle to get out from under this brute who was beating him.

I am interrupted by a call from the only friend I have still living in Oregon. Monte lives in eastern Oregon, so close to the Idaho border that it almost does not count. He’s a saddlemaker in a ghost town overrun with mountain lions. I visited him the month before my uncle died. We met up in the above mentioned town at the bus station. We borrowed an old Monte Carlo from his aunt who was about eighty years old and had just been let out of prison for her part in a cattle scam in the nineties. During our visit, and before Monte and I went in search of my uncle, she explained the close relationship between herself and the old mutt on her porch.

We were all sitting there in full sun watching a toddler poke and roll the old girl. The dog just turned it’s misery in on itself and sighed. “Well that old dog she got into some trouble with me a while back- bit me,” Aunt Bev started,” I told her you bite me again and I’ll beat the life out of you. Sure enough she come after me when I got too near her bowl. I did just like I warned, beat her so bad she couldn’t hardly move for a week. We thought sure she would pass but look at her—she’ll probably outlive every last one of us, even uncle Buck.” They were quick on the wine refills so I was decidedly relaxed.That was one tough bitch. I felt almost proud to be sitting next to her, drinking her jug wine.

That night we looked for J in every bar in three towns, and even drove the roads on Crooked River Ranch, where he had once had a place with a girl he loved. Later I would learn that where we turned around and gave up was where we needed to turn right and go down about a quarter of a mile to find him, probably drunk and grumbling about his sisters (my mother included), who had betrayed and abandoned him, while alternately bragging about their talents and successes. My uncle had managed to get his hands on a little piece of land just as I thought he might, and a little trailer as well.

At his funeral I pinned the picture of the two of us sitting on the hood of his 55 Chevy to a tri fold poster board. It was wrong but I kept shuffling the photos I didn’t like, the more recent ones, to the bottom of the board, covering them with photos from stronger days like the fourth of July in 1977 when we decorated the spokes on our bikes with red white and blue crepe paper, and entered the parade. He was a cool kid, and I was happy just to rifle through his stack of STP stickers, and stare at the rebel flag on his wall. Truth be told I liked the smell of his dirty socks. So I think I’ve made it clear that my uncle had been my idol.

The last time I tried to find him was the first time that I hadn’t succeeded in finding him. He was no longer known by anyone anywhere. This wasn’t good and I knew it. I knew it meant that he had isolated himself, and was waiting out there on his land in that trailer, waiting to die.

The story as it was told to me goes something like this: J got a call from a guy who owed him money. The guy told my uncle that he had some money for him, and he should come into town and get it. He was dropped off to collect the payment. The two horsed around, decided to get a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps. There was talk of a coat the guy had borrowed- a coat that my uncle wanted back. The guy proceeded to beat the crap out of my uncle. During the beating my uncle managed to call his neighbor for help but was interrupted with a series of blows. By the time the neighbor arrived in front of the house my uncle was pinned below this creep. He could hear them knocking but couldn’t answer. The neighbor drove around town looking for J and in that time he did manage to crawl out from under the guy and sit down in a slump in front of the Taco Bell where his neighbor did find him. They took him home but they didn’t take him to the hospital for 48 hours. That was just too long and he died with his three sisters standing at his bedside. Three sisters who each in her own way loved him fiercely, and perhaps more than they now are comfortable admitting.

While I’d like to go to the house where that asshole lives (and yes of course I have the creep’s address) and pummel him with my fists and drag his fat ass around his dirty shag carpet until his skin burns, the truth is I will have to take comfort in the vision I have of my uncle emerging badly beaten and bleeding internally but wearing his own fucking coat. I go with that vision because if I don’t I might actually kick some redneck ass. And I’m not really like that, I write short stories, and run a toy store for god’s sake.

“Aren’t you?” my friend Monte asks when I tell him this. “Remember the conversation we had where we talked about the world being a dangerous place?” I didn’t remember it. “You didn’t like riding with a pistol in the car, remember?” Now I did. “But things can reach out and touch you at anytime,” he said, “If they reach out and touch me I’ll shoot them,” he said. It’s hard to picture Monte shooting anybody. He’s gentle like my uncle was. A mountain lion? Absolutely, but a person? “I can’t tell you how hard it was not to kill that guy.” “I know,” he said. “I know.” And I knew that Monte did understand how much I wanted to be sitting beside his pistol with his car at my disposal, and the scribbled address carefully uncrumpled in my hand. “I called to wish you a Merry Christmas,” he said, “and to let you know that Aunt Bev took out a mountain lion with a single shot. You kind of remind me of her actually,” he said. “I wish,” I said, “I fucking wish.”

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Five
February 2005

 

(illustration: troy dockins)


Laine Perry grew up on the road with her mom, making music and telling stories. Many more of these stories from Laine can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

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