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C. RUSCH

THE MAN WHO BURIED HIS DOGS IN THE FRONT YARD

It's a long stretch speeding down the highway from Atlanta to New Orleans, and most everyone dozes off. But the moon is just right, and for a moment, through the gums and elms and oaks and dogwoods of the roadside forest tonight, a dwelling stands alone, its perimeter outlined with glowing colors. White lights and blue lights and red lights and yellow. In the house lives a man who believes with all his heart that Bosnia must really belong to the Serbs because he heard somebody say it on his favorite radio show. He knows for sure that a bullfighter is a man who never loses his nerve, and to prove it he has a picture of one of them, red cape swirling, taped to the inside of his closet door. And he is absolutely certain that anywhere he goes he will look cool if he puts on his curly-haired toupee and sunglasses and a loosened tie, like on TV.

Sure enough, while he pretends to be looking through the sacks of marble chips and potting soil and turkey manure and peat moss down in the Wal-Mart parking lot, a redheaded woman in a close-fitting pink silken dress that quivers like raspberry marshmallow Jell-O moves so close to him that when he whispers how he'd like to show her his house at night because it looks so pretty with all those lights, she doesn't hesitate a minute.

She even offers to help him load the peat moss in spite of the fact that she's wearing her best dress, but he tells her that the last thing a man who lives around all those trees needs is a sack of peat moss, and tosses it back down on the pile with the others. Nobody says that the first thing a man who lives around all those trees needs is a look, and then a word, and then a touch. But nobody has to say it, not now.

She cooks chili for him like Becky used to, only hotter, and she serves it over fresh warm cornbread so moist that as soon as he finishes the last piece he licks his fingers. And then after the dishes are all put away and the floor is swept clean, when he sings "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" to her at the portable organ he carries in from the shed, she has to wipe her eyes, it is that moving. And when he tells her about the dogs, she understands, even before he starts to cry.

She holds his head on her lap and tries to cheer him up with "Onward Christian Soldiers" in a soprano voice that makes him forget all about Hot Lips and Shooter. Presently, when she begins to keep time with her long, mauve fingernails on the back of his shoulder blade, he jumps up and wipes his eyes and runs back over to the organ. Their duet lasts a full twenty-five minutes, because she knows every one of those verses, and when they reach the end they keep right on going because it's so much fun.

And as they lie together on his turquoise waterbed coverlet looking out into the roadside forest from his bedroom window, they see a Greyhound bus speeding by, fast as the wind.

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