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Chapter 4

“She could jack you off or something at least,” Hank Kidd would say as he stood on top of the mound of dirt and caliche that had been tossed up from the trough in which my father was digging. It was a hot day, relentless, merciless hot.

“You could be balls deep and it wouldn’t hurt the baby,” he went on to say, “Unless you’ve got a pecker the size of a Louisville slugger or a pickaxe handle or something like that, or that porn star Johnny Wad maybe.”

The pornographic film actor John Holmes, known for his gigantic penis, who portrayed the character “Johnny Wad” in such memorable skin flicks as: “Flesh of the Lotus”, “Confessions of a Teenage Peanut Butter Freak” and “Saturday Night Beaver”, would not even start working in the porn industry until 1967, so the reference to him and his legendary twelve inch schlong was an embellishment to the memory when my father recalled it some years later and it could not actually have occurred at the time my father was convinced he first met and worked with the man he knew as Hank Kidd.

He was from Comanche, Texas, or hinted that he was anyway. There was something familiar about Hank to my father, my father would tell me, from the start but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it and figure out what it was.

“She could get you started with her mouth and finish you off with her hand,” Hank Kidd would tell my father, or at least, that’s the way my father would say he remembered it.

He had a habit, or character flaw, or something, my father did, wherein he would inappropriately tell private things to people that he shouldn’t or needn’t; so that made it believable to me that the conversation between he and Kidd had actually occurred.

Kidd was about my father’s age, according to my father. He had a wiry build and thick hair on his head and body as dark as the crude that my father and him and all the rest of them in that oil patch served... and he wore wire rimmed spectacles.

“It ain’t fitting...” he would say, one hand cupping the top end of the wooden shovel handle and the other hand at his side, “that a woman would leave her husband to his own devices when he comes home at night after he’s been out here all day with the hot sun scratching at his back like a bobcat... and the sweat stinging at his eyes like a scorpion.”

“It ain’t!” my father would agree.

“I don’t see how a baby inside her can soak up all the hankering from every other elsewhere in her body...” Hank Ladd would say, “expecially from her nether.”

“Don’t make sense...” my father would mumble half under his breath and half to the dirt he was stabbing at with his pickaxe.

“She’s gotta have itches and hungers still...” Hank would say, “down there... and if it ain’t you feeding ’em...”

The job foreman, George Chapman, had walked up behind my father unawares just as my father was tossing a shovelful up and out of the ditch. It landed at George C’s feet mostly, all but about a half a handful that peppered the steel toes of the big man’s leather work boots.

“Talking to yourself, JT?” George C would say.

“What?” my father would say surprised as he turned and looked upward. The sun was behind the man so his face was a shadow, like the moon in eclipse, a dark orb in a halo. “No...” my father would start but then stop himself when he realized that Hank had slipped away. He didn’t want to cause him trouble for standing and talking when he should have been working. “Yeah...” my father would correct himself. “I guess I was.”

“We’re knocking off early today,” Chapman would say.

He was a God fearing man, Chapman was, by most accounts, but there was some whisper that he done a stretch in the state pen for killing a man in a bar fight; beating him to death with his bare hands when he was drunk. Five years, he served, as the scuttle went, for a crime that he couldn’t remember on account of he was in a blackout. Most everyone figured it was true but nobody talked about it, and George C never brought it up. He was a pleasant enough looking but there was something behind his eyes and voice that let a fellow know not to mess with him too much.

“Why?” my father would ask, still in the ditch that he’d dug, looking up at the man who made him think of the giant Goliath from the Bible... for some reason whom he’d heard one time was supposed to have been about nine feet tall.

“Because you’re doing too good of a job!” George C said, something akin to a smile breaking the corners of his parched lips. “We’re about to meet up with the other line and we’re ahead of them just a bit. We don’t want to do their work.”

“It don’t matter to me,” my father would say. “I need the money.”

“I suspected that was the reason you were here.” The giant said, still a shadow with a halo. “Take the rest of the day off. Go home and fuck your wife or somebody else’s for all I care, just not mine. We’ll be back in the morning, or the next at the latest.”

My father looked in the rear-view mirror to see if there was a car or truck on the road behind him. There wasn’t. He pulled the steering wheel to the left to prevent the Fairlane from running over the carcass of a skunk that had been flattened by a car or truck that had passed that way earlier but not yet removed from the asphalt by the buzzards or other scavengers. They were not that common in West Texas but you did see them sometimes, what is called the Western Spotted skunk although they look more striped than spotted. And the smell of a “polecat” can linger inside the cab of a vehicle for days, if the vehicle happens to strike one or even just pass over one that has already been flattened.

“They’re about to cut us loose aren’t they?” my father said straightening the car back out on the road.

“Yep!” Hank agreed. “Probably end of the week when they pass out paychecks.”

“Damnit!” my father said. “Damnit! Damnit!”

The family was just starting to establish some kind of normalcy after the move from South Texas. I remember that during that time we ate a lot of pinto beans and fried potatoes with stovetop corn bread or biscuits. My mother was a good cook: she could spice up or “doctor” just about anything and make it tasty, probably even that dead skunk. My father brought home a Mule Deer once: pretty sure it was roadkill that he’d harvested off the highway between where he worked and the city limits. It was small and female and therefore illegal to hunt... but we feasted off venison and felt prosperous, eating like royalty, for a few days.

“You really don’t remember me do you?” Hank Kidd said. “From childhood?”

“I went to Comanche a few times, as a kid,” my father said. “But I don’t recall...”

“Stop here...” Hank said suddenly. “I can walk the rest of the way.”

“Here?” my father said and abruptly laid a heavy foot on the brake pedal in response. They had arrived at the outskirts of town where a bunch of caliche roads trailed off on either side of the main highway. There were a lot of trailer parks back then, outside of town, and a few “beer joints” and some cheaply constructed houses that had been intended as oilfield man camps.

“I can take you the rest of the way.” My father said.

“That’s alright.” Hank Kidd said. “Remember what I said. If you ain’t taking care of business then somebody else...”

There was a quick honk from behind the Fairlane. My father looked up and into the rearview mirror to see that it was a police car behind him- also a Fairlane but painted differently, black with white doors and one red light on top that whirled round and round. The driver’s side opened and an officer emerged, slowly adjusting the black, eight point cap on his head- Brian James, on the force for almost two years.

“What was the idea of stopping like that?” Officer James said to my father.

“We just got off work,” my father said. “I was just dropping my friend off.”

“What friend?” James said.

“Well... him...” my father said and turned to look out the passenger side window.

Hank Kidd had apparently beat a hasty retreat. There was nobody there.

In the mid-1960s, postal workers tootled around in three wheeled Cushman scooters that were painted red, white and blue just like the American flag. They were usually blue from the bottom to about midway with a red stripe and then white top. There was one sitting in front of our house when my father arrived home that day. And of course, the words of Hank Kidd immediately played themselves in my father’s brain like a scratchy old phonograph in a horror movie or the words of an evil ventriloquist’s dummy.

“If you’re not taking care of business then somebody else...”

My father practically sprinted from the Fairlane across the scruffy lawn to the front door. He heard laughter and voices coming from inside the house- a man and woman.

The door was locked and my father’s hands trembled has he furiously stabbed the brass key at the little upright slit in the round knob before finally getting it in and then almost snapping it off as he turned it- only to discover finally when he pushed the door, that it was also locked at the safety chain on the inside.

“Open the door...” he said and threw his hands against it where the chain lock was hooked on the inside, at his eye level.

“Open the door!” he said louder, pushing harder. “If you don’t open the door...”

The laughter and voices stopped abruptly.

My father was just about to throw his shoulder against the door when he heard the chain being unlatched, and then the door opened enough that he could see my mother’s face.

“Where is he?” he said.

“Who?!” my mother said opening the door all the way.

“The mailman!”

“The mailman?” she said. “I suppose he’s... delivering the mail somewhere.”

“His truck is parked at the sidewalk right in front of this house!”

“Are you expecting something important in the mail?” my mother said.

“Oh don’t give me...” my father started, and then spotted the postman coming up the sidewalk toward the house, his leather mail pouch at his side and several pieces of mail in his hands.

I heard them again that night arguing over sex... or the lack of it.

“Is that all you think about?” she said.

“No...” he answered. “I think about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over this family’s head.”

“And I appreciate how hard you are trying.”

“You could show me, then.”

“Please...” my mother would say, “that makes it sound like a business transaction. You work and buy bread and pork and beans and then I fuck you.”

I had heard that word before, but never from my mother’s mouth- older kids at school mostly. It was not like she never cursed or used language that she told me not to use; I had just never heard her say “fuck” before- as well as I can remember. And it was about then, as I recall, coincidentally or not, that I noticed a very finely atomized mist or haze or something had begun to accumulate, or gather itself perhaps, in the dark hallway outside the room... between mine and theirs I think, but could not determine exactly.

“I don’t feel like it”

“You could at least touch me.”

“Touch yourself.”

“That’s cold”

“I don’t feel like it”

“Please...” my father continued.

“Don’t beg!” my mother said “do you know how ‘unattractive’ that is?!”

“Are you saying that you’re no longer attracted to me?”

“I’m pregnant!!!”

“I don’t remember you being like this last time.”

“Well that was last time. It’s different this time.”

“Is there somebody else?”

“Who? The mailman?! You think I don’t know what you were talking about?”

“You could put it in your mouth”

“You know I don’t like that”

“Or from behind...”

“NOOO!” my mother insisted.

It seemed like there was a face or something, maybe it was my imagination, articulating itself in the faintly milky ectoplasm or mist or whatever it was that seemed to be gathering itself in the hallway. I pulled the covers up above my nose just below my eyes and watched and listed to my parents continue to argue about sex.

“Stop begging!” she said. “It really puts me off!”

Eventually, despite everything, I fell asleep.

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