gus anderson

A couple more miles of road and a few feet of dirt and it will be as though Paul Cummings was never alive. May that open slot be filled with a radiant soul and not another of the Devil’s kin….”


by andrew riutta


What should I do with him now? I know: I can bury him somewhere up on Quincy Hill, maybe near those old gravel pits, where Uncle Gerald used to take us hunting. If anyone smells him they’ll just think it’s the swamp down the road. Maybe I’ll even make it look like it was a hunting accident, just in case. Wait, I doubt Cummings hunted. Bank presidents don’t kill things out in the open like that. They murder slowly, by shuffling important papers around on their desks. And they don’t like blood on their hands, that’s for sure. His hands were softer than the inside of a woman’s thigh. His brass name tag shinier than her pearls. Yes, Quincy Hill. Who but a few teenage boys bent on getting drunk hang around up there anymore? They wouldn’t care one way or the other. What was I supposed to do, Lord, just let him get away with turning good, hard-working folks into numbers in the unemployment line? Farming’s the only thing I know. He was a scoundrel, Lord, a man not acquainted with your justice. He served only himself. I doubt he even owned a bible. Let’s see if I can remember exactly how to get there: I take U.S. 41 about a mile past the lumberyard, and then turn left on Thimbleberry. That road becomes a T, and I turn north until I come to . . . to . . . stupid me, what’s the name of that dirt road? . . . oh yeah, Koskelas. Koskelas rd. I think Burt Heikenen lived on that road when he was a boy. Anyhow, I turn left again and the pits are maybe two miles in. That’s it. Problem solved. Gosh, if Arbutus were to find out what I’ve done she’d probably pack her things and never come back. She’d never forgive me. I know you will, Lord. I know you understand how a man must defend what is rightfully his lest he be stomped into the earth. Besides, Cummings didn’t even have a family. He made time only for himself. A selfish man he was, indeed. I’d better gas up right now. Hate to run out halfway there. Sixty-eight cents a gallon? Cohorts of Cummings, I’m sure. Who would guess there’s a dead man back there beneath all that brush? At least he didn’t suffer. A knife would’ve made it too drawn out. My shotgun, too messy. But a few whacks in the back of the head with that pipe was more than enough. Do what you will with him, Lord. Boy, it’s cold tonight. If it keeps up he’ll soon have six feet of dirt and snow on top of him. The perfect hibernation until Hell. I don’t think he’ll be missed.

It’s too quiet. Maybe there’s news on the radio. Weather? Nope. Nothin’ but a bunch of drug-induced ruckus anymore. How can anyone listen to that garbage? Guess I’ll just have to sing myself. Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin, and be washed in the blood of the Lamb; there’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean, O be washed in the blood of the . . . That wasn’t Thimbleberry, was it? I think it was. Better not make a u-turn. I wouldn’t want to give a cop a reason to pull me over. Maybe I should wait till tomorrow. No, I can’t risk being seen in the daylight. Please don’t make this any harder than it already is, Lord. Here we are, now we’re back on track. A couple more miles of road and a few feet of dirt and it will be as though Paul Cummings was never alive. May that open slot be filled with a radiant soul and not another of the Devil’s kin. Okay, the T should be coming up soon. Boy, a hot cup of coffee would taste good right about now. Where’d I put my thermos? That reminds me, Arbutus asked me to stop at the store for coffee and sweet rolls. She sure is excited about pastor Lahti and his wife coming over tomorrow night. I am too, I suppose. It’s not often I get to chat one on one with the Pastor. The ladies, I’m certain, will be busy designing their quilt for the Christmas raffle. I wonder how the pastor would react if I were to tell him? Would he embrace me as one of God’s soldiers or have me shackled like any common criminal? No matter, I answer only to you, Lord.

I forgot how beautiful it is up here in the fall. And quiet. Luckily, the chill has driven out even the most unyielding of revelers. Only their empty bottles remain. What a shame, Lord: you give us your love with which to sort out our hearts and all most everyone is capable of is a drunken affair in the darkest corners. Now where’s a good spot to lay this wickedness to rest? Guess I’ll drive some ways beyond the pits and see what it’s like. Heck, if I didn’t have to dig this would be almost as easy as taking out the trash. Who did he think he was, telling me I had eight weeks to vacate my own house and property? I didn’t work hard all my life only to have some bureaucrat smile at me while trying to steal my home and livelihood. I may not have a fancy leather briefcase to carry around with me but you are certainly at my side, Lord. Together, we expunge this flesh and all its sins. Now what about over there? Those tamarack trees make the soil nice and soft, soft enough to be dug through without much hassle. Ah, wonderful humus: the smell of life and death. Plus it’s far enough off the road that I doubt anyone will stumble that way. I wonder if I can get the truck through all that brush? Yeah, no problem. I’ll zip over there and work in the headlights. It shouldn’t take me too long. Heck, I bet if I just tossed him over the side instead the animals would pick him clean within a week. But it’s probably not a good idea. What am I going to tell Arbutus when she asks where I was for so long? I can say the truck stalled on my way to the hardware store, and that I had to put new spark plugs in. Sure, that’ll work. I’ll hand her the coffee and sweet rolls and everything will be back to normal, at least until the next fool knocks on our door, brandishing his fancy paperwork as if it were the Ten Commandments. What a splendid night it is. Just look at the moon. I may not need the headlights after all. Tonight, Lord, your brilliance alone illuminates. We’re here. At last. Cummings made himself what he became, and now, with your blessing, Lord, I make him pure again. Amen.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Two
April 2008


(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)

Andrew Riutta was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He now lives in the Cedar Valley region of Grand Traverse County with his seven-year-old daughter, Issabella. His first full-length poetry collection, Cigarette Butts and Lilacs, was published this year by Modern English Tanka Press.


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