“Taste it. Go ahead, try it. S’nothing like it.”
I couldn’t help but wonder how long it’d been since he’d last washed that hand, and where it had been in the meantime. Little tracks of dirt had worked their way into the calloused cracks and under the too-long nails. A careful dab, and,
“Yeah. Good stuff. Salty.”
“No, no. Really taste it. It’s potassium salt, it’s different. I’m telling you, man.”
He was something like 1/20th Native American, but he played it up for all it was worth. He made dream catchers in his spare time, for God’s sake. He whittled little creatures out of the stunted trees in his backyard and used the splinters to pick his teeth. He was as passionate about Jesus as he was about alcohol, which in the end would probably buy him a ticket to meet the guy a little faster.
As of late, his new hobby was arguing. He was good at it, too; he had no trouble getting offended before you even said anything. It made even the most casual conversation akin to taking a stroll through a field of landmines.
“So what’ve you been doing with yourself lately? Got a job?”
It was readily apparent that this, like everything else, was a touchy subject.
“I package lightbulbs. Now, you may not have a real appeciation for how important a job that is, most people don’t, but trust me-- someday you will. Lightbulb burns out, what are you gonna do, light some pansy-ass candles? Nah, man. You need yourself a new lightbulb. I’m the man that wrapped that shit up. Think about that.”
“What if I had a flashlight?” Suicide. This was as good as suicide.
“Flashlight? A fuckin’ flashlight? This guy, I’m telling you. A flashlight. Jesus H. Christ. Am I talking to a wall here? Am I getting anywhere? I don’t think I am.” Spit was beginning to fly at this point, he was grabbing at his collar, loosening it, barely able to contain his indignation.
“Don’t take it personally, I’m just saying think there are more important careers. Doctors, firemen, you know. You get what I’m saying? I’m not trying to offend. I’m just saying.”
“Alright smart guy, you so smart, you tell me something now. How’s a doctor gonna operate in the dark? Huh? I tell you what, he’s gonna be stabbing all around just looking for the patient, kill the fuckin’ guy. You can’t operate in the dark, come on!”
“Yeah, okay. You win.”
“You’re damn right I do.”
He looked skyward, longsuffering. Breaking the silence of Ed’s martyrdom, the screen door slammed open, leaving a fresh black scuff on the wall. Enter Ed’s crazy girlfriend. She was a posterchild for trailer trash with her leathery, sunken face and crispy blonde hair. A cigarette stained with her day-glo pink lipstick dangled precariously from her mouth.
“Ed, you know this ain’t no party house. You can tell your little friend it’s time to go home.”
“I know baby. Go on man, get outta here.”
The walk home was all dirt roads and farmland. Everything was a uniform shade of brown that rolled into flat fields and continued on for miles. The only thing that cut through the tedium was the occasional sweet acrid smell of roadkill. There were little ramshackle houses and farms along the way, but never any sign of inhabitants. It was strange, then, that somebody had stopped not too far ahead.
The stranger had planted his feet on the side of a yard and was watching a riding lawnmower roam in a looping circuit, the owner’s head having fallen onto the steering wheel at just the right angle to keep the mower going in lazy donuts around the yard. His lifeless puppet body and the steadfast mower were being dutifully pursued by dogs, their yapping through the perpetual game of catch coupled with the hum of the motor were the only sounds besides occasional birdcalls for miles. The stranger shook his head, shot a thin stream of brown saliva onto the road, and took one last look at the bizarre procession before continuing on.
“Hey! Hey wait!” I ran to catch up, stirring up tiny dust storms.
He turned around.
“Is that guy okay?”
“Naw. He’s dead. Died on the lawnmower.” Obviously scornful at my lack of perception.
“Should we do something? I mean, should I go tell whoever’s inside or call the police or something?”“Ain’t gonna make him any more alive, is it? I gotta get going, now. ”