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Stumanís End

Brian J. Barr

 

At Wrightís Bowling & Billiards, a round of pool used to cost 75 cents. Mister Stuman, which was how he would call himself from now on, though he had never been called Mister anything before, would not pay the $1.25 those thieves were charging. For Stuman, pool was a game he would pay any amount to play, but to Mister Stuman he would no longer pay anything above a dollar a game. So, if it were that some shitty pool hall would start charging $1.25 for a game like it was some big city pool hall, he would not play there. Mister Stuman had found, back when he was just plain Stuman, that people took advantage of you, did things like charge over a dollar for pool. Teenagers came over and stole your Keystone Light and huffed butane from your daddyís Zippo collection you inherited when he died of a blood clot in his leg. He thought maybe heíd change his name to something with more dignity, something with force. He had seen guys on TV with those names. A name like Dirk he always thought showed dignity. But his Mom named him that for a reason and heíd stick with it. So, maybe Sir Stuman, or Stuman Stamper III. Those sounded like royalty and he didnít want that. So he just decided on a simple Mister Stuman, and with that simple addition to his name life would be different, he would be in control, never to do things against his will again.

There were a lot of things he would never do again. One of them was fuck Deanna, the pudgy blonde girl from Vinnyís Liquor & Wine, and afterwards have Vinny himself come by his trailer and bust his kneecaps with a 4"x6" for laying it to her. Another would be to no longer let those teenagers come around and get silly off his spare butane. Now, with his life changing, he wouldnít fuck Deanna, who only thought she was hot shit, but didnít really look like the girls on TV. Because Mister Stuman was running the show from here on out, and if they didnít like it they could shove off.

The Italian who broke his kneecaps was in for it, but he didnít know it. As soon as Mister Stuman could walk again, he was going to get it. He was the kind of big city Italian who moves to the country from some place like Pittsburgh and builds a liquor store in the middle of nowhere so the folks that live here are forced to buy from him. Then he takes all that big money and buys a shiny Dodge diesel truck and a vanity plate that says Vinny 1 and hauls around a horse trailer with his two horses and mows down a field on his property for pasture calling his place a ranch. Last time Mister Stuman checked, two horses did not equal a ranch. As well, Italians could not have ranches, nor could they own liquor stores that hire pudgy blonde girls. Nor should they drive around these parts like they own it and bust the kneecaps of the people who from here.

Mister Stuman was on the floor of his trailer in Marion, Pennsylvania. It was 11:00 am. and hot, hot. But his wheelchair was in the yard, under the tree getting all sticky with pinesap drippings or something. The trailer was a mess from those teenagers coming around, tearing the place up, drinking all his Keystone Light and huffing his butane, ignoring his pleas as they dumped him from his wheelchair and used it to pop wheelies in the yard. So he lay there with two broken kneecaps and a wheelchair out of armsí reach. In the silence of the early morning and late evening, he swears he can hear things rumbling, like something rolling up the driveway, gravel snapping under truck tires. Before, he wouldnít have worried over this sound in his head. He would have simply shrugged it off, but now, at any minute, it could be Vinny, or one of his goons. He wondered if he was imagining the sound, if his fear had created this auditory delusion. The only person he knew to ask was the girl at Vinnyís because she was always reading books while she sat behind the counter snapping gum wildly. Drunkenness was the only way he could forget the sound and Vinnyís was the only place to buy booze.

The carpet was littered with Crispix cereal he had tried to eat before the teenagers grabbed it from him and threw it all over the room. He couldnít sweep and he didnít know if cereal grew mold or not, because he didnít want the carpet to get wet or smelly.

He looked at the wheelchair and he thought maybe he could call the girl up and have her come out here and lift him into it. Maybe she could even bring him a case of beer so he could drink before his Mom came tomorrow after church. In his head he wanted to be drunk now because there was nothing else to do to pass the time away besides watching T.V. He thought of beer and he thought of beer, a whole case of it. That and a brick of cheese and heíd squirt mustard on the bread and slap cheese in the middle and then itíd be sandwich.

He wondered where the phone was. He looked around the room. Those kids probably ran up a bunch of long distance calls or whatever and then threw the phone in the damn garbage. Theyíd do something like that, he knew it.

He took a big breath and pushed himself along the floor, shoving the scattered Zippos and butane cans out of his way. His sweatpants rode down on him as he pushed and every pinch in his legs reminded him of Vinny Tatorelli and how Deanna felt, all soft in his arms. He had to stop every few inches to catch his breath and let the pain die down, but he made it to the kitchen where the linoleum made for easier sliding. He pulled the garbage can closer to him and dug through it. It smelled like the rest of the trailer smelled, except more so. When his mother was over last she cleaned out the fridge and threw out a bunch of stuff from the fridge. Old vegetables, coffee grounds and a pack of moldy Oscar Meyer bologna, all sorts of stuff. She put it all the garbage, but didnít bother to set it at the end of the road for collection. So now the whole house smelled like the garbage can and he was digging through it with his hands, looking for the phone.

He couldnít find it, so he set the garbage can back and propped his back against the cupboards. He ran his fat hand over his balding head and looked at himself, shirt un-tucked and yellowed in the armpits, sweatpants bound up around his crotch. He hadnít washed himself in a while because he couldnít, but it didnít matter anyways since nobody had come around but them kids.

He spotted the phone on the table above his head. He scooted a bit and reached for it. He grabbed it and dialed the state store, hoping Vinny himself wasnít there, or Deanna .

"Vinnyís Liquor & Wine," she said.

Shit, he thought to himself.

"Hello?" he said.

"Yes?" she said, real sassy-like.

"Listen, I know things ainít been easy between us," he said. "But Iím in a real situation."

"Whoís this?"

"What?"

"Whatíre you trying to say?"

"JustÖChrist, justÖainít you listeniní?"

"Whatís this all about?"

He sighed. "Iíll pay you extra for making a trip out here and bringing me some beer."

"Why would I do that?"

"Why the hell not?"

"I ainít cominí out there," she said.

"I ainít askiní you to fuck me," he told her. "Just bring me a goddamn case of beer!"

"You donít know what youíre talkiní about."

"What the hellís síhard about that, just drive out here after work and bring me it," he said. "Iíll pay you extra."

"You donít have no money," she fired back.

"Things is different now," he said, thinking of his new name. "Youíll be wantiní me as soon as you how people treat me."

"Iím hanginí up now," she said. "Thanks for calliní."

Thanks for calling? What the hell was that all about? Like he was just some customer or something, he thought. He yanked open the refrigerator door, hoping some beer would appear. It was empty save for a thing of dill pickles and an open can of Keystone Light. He pulled out the can, half-empty, but he couldnít remember if it was him that drank it or one of those kids. He sniffed at it and it smelled okay. He shut his eyes and slugged it down his throat. He recoiled at the aftertaste, all flat and stale tasting and decided he had to get some that was fresh.

He scooted over to the screen door and looked out at his wheelchair. It looked pathetic and useless covered in orange pine needles. He wondered how he could get down the front steps without hurting his legs even more.

He opened the latch to the screen door with his one hand and inched out the top half of his body. He flopped down onto the top step and the screen door banged into his legs. He yelped out. Pulling himself down onto the next step, his legs bent and he screamed again. Furiously, he flung himself off the steps completely and into the dirt yard with a sudden and fierce jolt of pain.

He took a minute before dragging the rest of the way to the wheelchair. Gripping the handles with his chubby fists, he pulled himself up, straining, grunting, gritting his small teeth. The pain was damn near intolerable, but he pushed himself back onto the seat and positioned his legs so his bare feet could be on the footrests. He wiped at his forehead. The humidity.

He wheeled himself down the path through the woods that lead to the main road. It felt good to feel the air in his face, like he was actually moving. The dirt round was uneven, but he wheeled cautiously and did not tip over.

When he hit the main road, he turned onto it and wheeled smoothly. He coasted on the smooth, sun-baked blacktop trying to keep his right wheel on the white line, like all those drunk nights driving home. A camper van flew past him blowing its horn. He threw his arm up in a wave and struggled to keep the wheelchair aligned within the vanís blustery wake. Dust was in his face and he wiped his teeth with his tongue, removing the grit. He wheeled on but couldnít seem to wheel fast enough. He had a pressing feeling in his throat that Vinny Tatorelli would drive by in his shiny truck, but he never did.

The air-conditioning of the liquor store smacked him in the face. He faced slick with sweat and layered in road-dust. Deanna was behind he counter, but he didnít look at her. Instead he made a dramatic swing to the beer cooler, grabbed a case of Keystone Light and placed it on his lap.

Deanna was chewing gum loudly, her face in a paperback.

"Iím here and Iím buying this," Stuman told her matter-of-factly.

She rolled her eyes, which he probably wasnít supposed to see, but did and he called her on it.

"Donít go thinkiní youíre catís meow, honey!" he said. "Your boyfriend might have busted-up my legs, but whatís between Ďem still works and thatís what counts."

"And how you planniní on payiní for that?" she asked with a hint of sass.

"Put it on my tab," he said.

"Vinny wonít let you buy on credit no more," she said.

"JustÖChristÖ.WhyínchaÖjust, put it on my goddamned tab!" he pleaded.

"Canít do Ďer," she said, shaking her frizzy head back and forth.

He reached deep into his sweatpants pockets, searching for something, any spare change or crumpled bills he could offer as down payment or something.

"Trust me," she said. "You ainít got enough."

He turned abruptly and beat it to the door, the beer still on his lap.

"Iím calliní Vinny!" she called after him.

The bell chimed above his head as he opened the glass door. "Go ahead!" he said. "See if I care, you spoiled brat!"

He came around the bend in the path leading to his trailer, feeling a sort of pride in having made it back with the beer. The name was working. Things would be different from now. He had shown her the way things would be and if she didnít like it, she could shove off. This would mark the new beginning. No more loose women, no strung-out kids and no more damned Italians.

A set of low voices caught his attention. He pricked his ears to the sound. First thought was Vinny, but he saw no gleam of truck bumper. It couldnít be him. He wheeled closer. It was those damn teenagers.

"Left my chair in the rain," he scolded them in his new commanding voice.

"Dude, he brought beer," the one said to the other two, speaking as if Stuman wasnít there.

He wheeled closer and they stood there, glazed look on their faces, butane-soaked rag on the steps between them.

"Pretty soon, you ainít gone be able to come on this property," he said.

"Hey, man," the dark-haired one said. "Youíre gonna have to pick up some more butane next time your out."

"You goddamn kids," he grumbled. "Ainít got no business cominí round here."

He watched as the one lifted the butane rag to his face and took in a deep breath. Stuman shook his head at him. He tore open the beer case and pulled out a can, snapping it open and taking a long and (what he thought to be) deserved drink.

"Hey, Grandpa," the one with the crew-cut said. "Whatcha askiní for a beer these days?"

"Feh," he waved them off. "Mayhap if you was of age."

The boys all exchanged heavy-lidded looks and moved slowly from the front steps toward Stuman. As they got closer, he noticed the gray half-moons under their eyes.

"I guess if Grandpa ainít charginí for Ďem, they must be for free," the tallest one said.

Stuman shook his head worriedly. No, no, he said to himself. "You kids shouldnít be treatiní me this way. Iím your elder."

He took another drink, trying to maintain confidence. Before he could swallow, two of the boys gripped his arms and held them behind the back of the wheelchair. He wiggled and spit and grunted. He was helpless, immobile, couldnít even kick with his legs. "Donít tip me over! Please, just donít tip me over!"

The tallest one took the case of beer from his lap and ordered the other two to let him go. He reached in and pulled three cans out, tossing two to the others. "Thanks, Grandpa," he winked a watery eye at him.

Stuman sat with his head in his hands. He thought maybe he was gonna cry, but knew he couldnít, not in front of those kids. He had spit beer all down his shirt. He looked at the kids, they were now seated back on the steps, drinking beer and passing the butane rag between them. He wheeled over to them.

"Címon, just let me have a couple," he begged. "I ainít askiní for the whole thing back, just give me a couple."

They ignored him, kept on drinking, talking to each other.

"Just a couple, címon," he asked again.

Nothing.

"Goddammit, then just one! Just give me one goddamn can of beer!" He banged his fists into the armrest of the wheelchair in a fit.

The kids looked at him like he was sideshow feature, eyes wide with disbelief. They snickered into their shirtsleeves. He slumped down in the chair with defeat.

"Címon, letís get outta here," the crew-cut one said.

"Yeah, Grandpaís kind of a drag," said the tall one.

They stood up and walked past him, the tall one cradling the beer in his arms. Stuman didnít look up. He smelled their cologne as they brushed against him confidently. Their voices faded into the trees as they disappeared behind the woods and closer to the main road.

The silence that followed crept up on him. At first there was no noise and then there was all noise, slow, like rolling thunder, gravel snapping under truck tires. He tried to make himself believe it was quiet. He couldnít stand the noise and didnít know where it was coming from. He set his mind to the girl, Deanna, and her warm body next to his, feeling her breath against his neck, the way her body felt underneath the bed sheets. He didnít want to make another run to the state store, didnít have the strength. He sat and sighed. Inside his chest, he could feel he was getting all sulled up.

On the wooden steps, the butane rag was lying there, yellowed and dirty looking. He picked it up and held its oiliness in his hands. It smelled like his dadís old Zippo, but more so, like how the garbage can smelled like the trailer, but more, whaddyacallitópungent. Curiously, he held the rag to his mouth and nose the way heíd seen those kids do it. He took in a deep breath and dropped the rag, feeling his head grow light and his muscles relax, the noise falling away. He didnít think of it right away, didnít think of much at all, but later thought the feeling was akin to the nights when he got real drunk, but without the heaviness in the belly, or the sloshiness in the head. Instead, his brain felt like soppy ground, a marsh maybe, or some other thing thatís soft and pliable, yet solid.

He sat there, sniffing and sniffing at the rag, feeling his head grow airy. Everything around him was blurred and he thought maybe heíd puke. He looked at his legs and thought that if he sniffed enough of this stuff, it might not hurt when he walked. Another deep breath. He cupped the bottom of his right leg with his hand and tried lifting it. It hurt, but not as much as usual. He lifted again, a sharp, but somehow dulled pinch of pain. Busted kneecaps. Like a movie. Just like on T.V. And Vinny Tatorelli was that guy who wears his black hair greased back and comes around at strange hours, busting down the door to the trailer and smashing up a guyís kneecaps because he fucked his woman. It was all seriously funny now, with his lungs and brain full of butane.

He looked up at the sky, the calligraphic pattern the trees against the darkening sky made him laugh.

HeeahÖ" he laughed painfully. "Heeeeeeaaahhhh, heeeeÖ.heeeeeaaahh, ohrrhr," he groaned. He coughed and sputtered.

 

Everything went black on him and he passed out.

 

He came to at the sound of leaves crunching underfoot. He lifted his head, felt the cool shoelace of drool stretched from the corner of his mouth to his shirt. He slurped it back into his mouth. A yellow-headed figure was coming up the path to the trailer. He cut his eyes in the figureís direction. It had curves and long hair, a woman, but thinner than his mother.

"You sleepiní?" the figure called. It was Deanna.

Shit, he thought again.

"Nome," he mumbled.

She got closer and he saw she was cradling a case of beer in her arms.

"You brungíd beer?" he said. He couldnít form words.

"I guess I was feeliní bad," she said. She ripped open the case, snapped one open and handed it to him. He pawed at the can before gripping it fully in his hand. He took a long drink, some of it dripped down his face.

"Youís feeliní bad."

"Yech!" she said, making a face. "Smells like garbage and lighter fluid around here."

He extended the butane rag to her. She waved it off. He couldnít believe she was being this nice to him now.

"Themís kidsís here urler síeveniní" he said, trying to explain.

"That Vinny," she sighed. "Sometimes he just takes things too far. Gotta real temper, yíknow?"

Stuman slapped his busted legs with his hands, reminding her. She rolled her eyes.

"I know, I know," she said.

"Lesgo inside," he said.

"Alright," she said. She stood and grabbed the wheelchair and pulled him up each step. He was heavier than she thought. They got inside and she wheeled him to the middle of the room.

"Waní watch T.V.?" he asked.

"I guess," she said. She grabbed the remote and turned it on. Wheel of Fortune was on.

"Les Make A Deal!" he shouted at the T.V.

"This is Wheel of Fortune," she corrected.

"I know," he said. He felt that feeling going away. He lifted the rag to his face again, breathed.

"Jesus," she said, watching him.

"You ainí never tried it Ďfore," he said. "Doní knock it till yítry it!"

She sat back on the couch and cracked open a beer. He looked at her face, awash in the blue light of the television.

"You waní fuck agin?" he asked. "Or go to Wrightís, mebbe, shoot pool?

"What? Shoot pool from a wheelchair?"

"Címon, fuck, man, letís just fuck it on right here now."

She laughed at him.

"Címone over hya," he said, slapping his busted knee. "Címone over hya aní hump me. Iím Misser Stuman Stamper now."

"That sounds awful."

"You donnit Ďfore. Les do it agin."

"Ainít you afraid of Vinny catchiní us?" she asked him.

"Vinny Shminny I ainít Ďfraid a no Vinny,"

She stood up and walked over to him. His head wobbled on his neck. She walked behind him and his head lobbed back so he was staring at her chest. Her face was white and puffy.

"You donít smell so good," she said.

"I canna wash maself, what yíexpect?"

She leaned over him and the round of her breasts pressed against his head. He was excited. She ran her hands down the front of his stained shirt and he moaned. Her fingertips reached the elastic band of his sweatpants and she shoved her hand down, grabbing his member sternly.

"Ouch!"

"What?"

"Nuffiní"

She fondled him some more, rubbing slowly, then violently.

"It ainít workiní" she said with a sigh.

"Aah, shid, I dunno, it mebbe needs a lil warm-up," he said.

She rubbed it again with force.

"Hey!" he hollered.

"You fuck!"

"What?"

"Iím goiní" she said pulling her hand away.

"Aah, no, donít do at, donít," he whined. "Iíve hadda rough day."

"Too rough your dick donít work no more," she rolled her eyes.

"Firsí itís this," he said, wrapping his gimp legs with his knuckles. "Then itís Ďem damn kids cominí rouní here. Place a smelliní like traish. I can allus make love to ya witout you grabbin at me. I jes want sumbuddy to hold an be close wit. Iíll do whuddever you want, if youíd jes dance a little for me."

She hesitated, then got up from the couch.

"Ohhrrhhr," he said. He lifted the rag to his face again while she removed her shirt. She was just as white and puffy underneath, flesh folding out over her red bra. He looked at her and at the space between her teeth and thought of how now she didnít look as good as what he once thought she did. Now, with her clothes off, she didnít look so much like the girls on the T.V. And he thought of his crumbly, useless kneecaps and of whether it was all worth it with her.

She danced awkwardly and drank from the can of beer while she did so. She removed her jeans and her legs were pale, spindly, but her ass was wide and full. And she danced and he laughed and moaned and touched her and promised her everything. And he swore he heard Pat Sajak say "Survey Says!"

 

He woke to the sound of a diesel engine. It chugged and guzzled and gargled fuel. He sat up and looked at Deanna. She was on the couch, still naked and white, holding a small glass pipe to her mouth. The room smelled brown and green. Her eyes were glassy, like those kids.

He held up one finger and said, "You hear that?"

She blew smoke from her mouth. "Huh-uh."

He listened. "Thatís a diesel engine, ainít it?"

"I dunno," she shrugged.

"If it ainít a diesel engine, I dunno what is!"

"Whatsa big deal?"

"Just listen."

He listened and looked out the window. It was now dark and he thought that if someone, anyone was out there, they would be able to see him and her in the trailer because of the television light. It was all dark out there, but in the trailer there was light, dim, flickering.

He wheeled closer to the screen door, looking out, pressing his hand against the cool aluminum frame. Hydraulics. Rubber squeezing against lime rock. Snapping of gravel, grinding of gears.

"You told him, you did!" he cried to her.

"Huh?" she said. She took another hit.

"You set me up, like a trap, like a goddamn movie or something!"

He saw the truck lights dancing like shafts of sunlight through the black woods, slowly.

He wheeled around furiously. "Thatís a diesel engine and thatís him cominí rightn now!"

As he moved throughout the room, his wheels rolled over and bent the scattered Zippos and butane cans. He slapped the top of the television. His forehead dripped sweat. He could smell himself.

"Mister Stuman Stamper doesnít like this!" he said, his voice cracking nervously.

"What?" she said, holding her breath.

"Mister!" he yelled. "Mister Stuman Goddamn Stamper!"

"Youíre funny."

"Funny!" he flung his arm around in a grand sweep. "Shit! This is all funny to you, huh!"

She laughed. Her face was red.

"And you think this is all so goddamn funny! Like itís some kinda goddamn joke. Well, I ainít laughiní! Cause Iím a serious man, now, yíunderstand! And Iíll never pay over a buck for a round of pool!"

He started moaning, was unsure if he was crying. He wiped at his face. It could have been sweat.

The truck was pulling around the bend. Whyís it going so slowly? The chugging of the engine grew louder. He swore it was rattling the trailer walls. When the windstorms came in the fall, the wind blew so hard it shook the acorns from the white oak outside the back bedroom window. If the wind was hard enough the acorns would pelt the aluminum roof like a series of amplified tin-type hammerings. The truck sounded just like that! Just like it, but louder!

Out the window he caught the glint off the chrome bumper and the headlights washed the trailer in a sea of white light. He shook his head back and forth, back and forth. Never shoulda done it. Never shoulda. Shoulda just kept it in my pants.

He wheeled to the door once again, saw the Dodge symbol on the dash as the driver sidled the truck to the trailer and cut the engine. Silence. Noise. Growing.

"Itís a Dodge," he whispered to her. "Itís a goddamn Dodge diesel truck with a goddamn trailer hitch on back!"

"Well, I donít know anybody else that drives a Dodge diesel," she said.

"Well somebody by God does!" he yelled. "Somebody does and heís out there right now!"


Brian J. Barr was raised in rural Pennsylvania and now lives in Seattle, Washington. His music reviews and
criticism have appeared in No Depression, HARP and The Stranger. This is his first published fiction.

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