Doug Ross ~ Proud Flesh

Dad says, “In the lit­tle car­tridge, you mean.”

Right,” I say, “but also one inside?”

He leaves the bath­room. Goes down­stairs. I wait there with his red-gold piss still steam­ing in the bowl. The bar­rel should be point­ed rough­ly where my feet are. At any­one tak­ing a car key off the rack. I won­der if a .22 round can make it through a tin ceil­ing. It’s not enough, dad’s said, to kill some­thing that big. Just to teach a lesson.


While men work on the garage roof I pick up the trash dragged across our yard. Berry car­tons. A torn catheter bag. Foam trays of ground turkey. We have ten more pounds expir­ing in the fridge. Turkey nev­er got rare like we thought it would. Though maybe it’s dif­fer­ent for a bear.


The ammo­nia hasn’t worked. Dad comes in and takes his gloves off. He puts a jug of bleach on the counter next to it. I’m at the com­put­er, a cou­ple drinks in. Feeling bold. I say that the two chem­i­cals make poi­son gas togeth­er, like I’ve known that my whole life, and he tells me to relax.

We’re not there yet.”


I have a job. Without rain, the sodding’s start­ed to turn yel­low. It detracts from the expand­ed garage. Men still come to dump dri­ve­way grav­el, but they’re for­bid­den from water­ing any­thing, charg­ing us extra. I have to be strict with them. I go into the rose bush­es, shut off the water. The hose dies in their hands. They turn and look at me. I yell in their lan­guage: I’ve got it, which is also the name of a band.


Mom’s cousin died when we got here. She couldn’t have seen her if she’d want­ed to.

The fam­i­ly sent all these con­fes­sions from their grand­fa­ther. He was a failed spy nov­el­ist who’d gone into oil, can­dy, float­ing con­tain­ers. Several of his busi­ness part­ners killed them­selves. One drowned in his car.

I read the con­fes­sions at night, around 8:30, sit­ting by the win­dow with the .22 lean­ing on the wall. The bul­let stays cham­bered. 8:30 was when mom saw the bear. She went to throw some trash away and it stood on its hind legs, black and mas­sive with all it’d tak­en from us.

Then it ran,” she said.


I dri­ve to the lit­tle moun­tain mall. I go into the liquor store and talk to the own­er about my gen­er­a­tion and its frail­ties and what they expect of him. I try not to be drunk already because he gives me free sam­ples. Whatever he’s test­ing out at the time.


As a child mom’s grand­fa­ther want­ed to serve chick­en stew to his fam­i­ly. He’d seen all their Irish maids do it. He got the pot from the stove and put it on the din­ing room table but for­got to lock down the wing. The boil­ing stew was trapped inside his trousers. He couldn’t walk for six months. I read that the doc­tor diag­nosed him with proud flesh, a term that was usu­al­ly reserved for hors­es, but in this case seemed to apply.


The sod­ding is divid­ed into per­fect squares, except where it meets a curve. I spray each square for two min­utes on the ‘mist’ set­ting. I’ve con­firmed online that they are dead and can’t come back. It takes about an hour. I drink a triple bour­bon named after the moun­tains. The men are lay­ing stones so I avoid the dri­ve­way. They work lat­er and lat­er. A white F‑150 col­lects them at dusk. They laugh a lot, through their hand­ker­chiefs. Now and then I think about leav­ing out a buck­et of icy beers. Nursing one of them in my bed­room. Maybe they’ve fall­en, from the roof, or with fever. I’m dab­bing a cloth on their fore­head. As long as they’re kept cool.


After the oil well my great grand­fa­ther tried sell­ing insur­ance. Stenotype machines. Film pro­jec­tors to the Dutch in Grand Rapids. They were too devout for movies.

When he was in his late 50s a Yale friend got him a job as a util­i­ties audi­tor. Any billing irreg­u­lar­i­ties he found, he’d receive a com­mis­sion. But he said no one talked to him. His boss only sent him to towns where peo­ple loved the elec­tric com­pa­ny. Trusted them like family.


I wake up. 9:15. I get the .22 and head for the door. It’s dad, back from New Hampshire. He wants to show me some­thing. The garage is a hun­dred yards from our house, the men haven’t wired the lamps yet. I ask him if I should bring the gun. He says nev­er to walk with it in the dark.

We go for a dri­ve in the new car, a Mercedes con­vert­ible. In the head­lights we see some banana peels and paper tow­els smeared on the grass. We don’t talk for a few min­utes. I might vom­it. The car is low and ter­ri­fy­ing. We scream past Jasper Johns’s house. Then dad stops and has me dri­ve. He switch­es the han­dling mode from COMFORT to SPORT. When I am sure it’s good to feel the road I say, “You real­ly feel it in this one.”


A neigh­bor down the street owned a mare. She kept throw­ing their son any time he tried to ride her so they let my great-grand­fa­ther take her out. But she nev­er threw him. It was a good few months. He would gal­lop through Bristol, avoid­ing his own street. That way every­one who saw him thought the horse was his. A fine, strong horse. They’d named her Miss Highlife.


We learn that dad hasn’t pissed in two days. He thought he could hide it forever.

Mom takes him to his spe­cial­ist, all the way back in Boston. The yard must go on. It looks like rain. I get prop­er­ly drunk. The bet­ter to keep an eye on clouds, men. One of them ven­tures into the rose bush­es. I run out with­out shoes and tell him No no no, we won’t pay, I point to the dark sky, step in a pile of bear scat. He doesn’t laugh. He unrolls the hose and brings me around front and shows me the cement mix­er, says, For your con­crete. Then wash­es my feet. 

Heading inside, I hold the door wide open so he can see the rack of keys, the rest­ing gun, in case he wants to come back lat­er. 8:35, 8:40. I’ll have no use for it then.


Doug Ross is a writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er based in Brooklyn. He grew up out­side of Detroit, MI. His work has been fea­tured in X‑R-A‑Y Magazine and JMWW.