I left the front door to discover what ended up being a 1944 John Deere B tractor parked in the gravel driveway. Not that I’m a tractor guy. I’m not a farm implement, automobile, or boat aficionado, if it matters, basically because I wasn’t born pre-Korean War, like my father and every other man from back then who could drive eighty miles an hour at night on a two-lane road, point at oncoming traffic, and go, “1954 DeSoto, 1964 Ford Fairlane wagon, 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 XL, Model T, 1933 Pierce Arrow pulling a 17-foot 1956 Chris Craft Sportsman, plow behind a mule.” Take away my testosterone card, I don’t care. I got other problems. I’d agreed to move to a house far from civilization for an indeterminate time, a place with an antennaed TV set that got one of those religious channels, and another that aired The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, The Outer Limits, and zombie movies solely.
“Where’d you get this nice John Deere B?” a man said when I came out. He was one of the retirees who hung out down at Gordon’s Bait and Coffee, a clapboard concoction with additions tagged on every ten years since trout fishing became a lifestyle here in western North Carolina, even before the actor Burt Reynolds bought a summer house down the road. “It’s a 1944 model, ain’t it? You got a nice one. You thinking to plant some corn next spring?”
I wore pajamas. I wore flannel pajamas that my wife bought for me a day or two before she sent me off to a rental house she’d found on the banks of the Tuckaseegee River, bright red pajamas with gray elephants printed all over them. Whatever marketing agent thought these things up had a great sense of humor, because an elephant head without a trunk took up the bottom front flap until I pulled my dick out. I’d bet that this nightwear attracted perverts and republicans alike.
I said, “Hey. Quarles, right, Mr. Quarles?” I said, “You got me on the year.” In my mind I thought, You were born about that same year, more than likely. That would make you seventy-five.
Quarles said, “Oh, it’s a 1944. Hey, you getting up mighty late, ain’t you? You just getting out?” He looked at his wristwatch.
The only reason I came outside was because the newspaper deliverer had been throwing a free Asheville Times-Citizen into the yard, tempting me to subscribe. I liked the word jumble. I liked the Hocus-Focus. I liked the obituaries, police blotter, any of those other items that made me feel better about myself. My wife sent me to this house in a witness-protection kind of way. She said to me, “We need to send you off for a while, so people are protected from witnessing the things you do.” Then she told me that she loved me, which I understood totally.
I had said to her, “Well.”
She said, “This place I found isn’t completely dry, but it’s going to be difficult for you to get to a liquor store.”
I said, “Well.”
And then Velvey thought it necessary to list off what I’d done in the last few months: I’d gone into our local Bank of Payne and started yelling about interest rates being too low for poor people unable to buy stocks, scaring tellers and customers alike. I’d taken a chisel and hammer to a statue of Barnard E. Bee, Jr. in our town square, a Civil War general who had little to do with South Carolina in general and Payne in particular. I’d tried to add an R to the end of his name. Evidently I’d scorned some little kids walking together down a sidewalk, all of them looking down at their cell phones. I remember none of this.
That’s right: I live in Payne, South Carolina. Before Velvey sent me away, we lived in Payne. She still does.
Quarles spit a line of tobacco juice that somehow touched my grass and his lips without an interval of airspace involved, a gigantic spume, right into my rental yard. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I thought Quarles had either confessed or bragged about being a lawyer before announcing his retirement. What kind of lawyer chews Red Man or Beechnut?
I said to Quarles, “Yeah. I was up all night, working. I’m getting a late start on the day.”
I’d been gone for six weeks and hadn’t worked whatsoever.
“Well, this is a nice tractor. You ought to be proud of it. I’d like to hear it.”
I don’t know why I didn’t plain say, “It ain’t mine, I don’t know where it came from, I don’t even know if there’s a key.” I said, “Did you steal my newspaper, man? I came out to get my paper, and it isn’t here.”
Quarles looked left and right. He said, “I didn’t take your paper.”
“Someone did,” I said. I said, “Hey, jump up on that seat and start it up. Let me go put on some clothes and maybe we can drive this thing down to Gordon’s.”
I didn’t wait for his answer. I went back inside to find the landline ringing, and knew that it’d be Velvey checking up on me. Part of the protecting-witnesses-from-me deal involved a necessary landline, seeing as I could pick up the cell and lie as to my whereabouts. I picked it up while slipping off my pajama bottoms. Velvey said, “Do you like it?”
I said, “Being here? No. I thought I made that clear on every other conversation we’ve had.”
“The tractor,” my wife said. “Have you even been outside yet? Did I wake you up? It’s after eleven.”
I set the receiver down on an end table. I took off my pajama tops. Then I started thinking about how Quarles might plain walk in on me naked, and then I’d probably have to move to a second hideaway, maybe in Tennessee. I yelled out, “I’m in the middle of dressing, and there’s a man outside admiring a tractor. I’m going to yell so you can hear me.”
I walked into the bedroom and found the pants I’d worn the day before, and maybe about four days in a row. I smelled a wool long sleeve shirt and slipped it on. Outside, I heard the tractor crank. When I got back to the telephone I could hear Velvey yelling, “You have to admit it’s a great idea.”
I picked up the receiver and said, “What’s a great idea?”
“I figured that if I parked a tractor in your yard, it would make some of the locals think, A.) You’re normal; and B.) They’d stop by and admire the thing, which would make you talk to them, which would make you make some sober friends.”
I said, “I have enough friends, Velvey,” and then asked the normal questions: How are you doing? When are you coming to visit? Will you bring Ramrod with you if and when you visit? Has anyone said anything about me? Have you told my clients I’m busy at work?
Ramrod’s my dog. He’s a mix-breed with a gigantic head.
My “clients” are people who have so much money they don’t know good from bad, beautiful from ugly, right from wrong. Oh, I have a background in art, I got a degree in studio art, but somewhere along the line I strayed toward the Outsider, or the experimental, or the avant garde, and the next thing you know I was making these little voodoo dolls out of dryer lint, anywhere from the size of Gumby to full-scale lifelike Tom Brady and Bill Belichick dolls. You name a Prime Time FOX host, and I’ve sold a voodoo doll engineered from the detritus of working people’s jeans, panties, overalls, towels, work shirts, robes, camisoles, socks, and so on—Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Sarah Sanders, that Huckabee guy. Dryer lint on a large scale is a lot clumpier than people think, but I still need heavy-duty three-ply thread to hold my dolls together. Just like mixing primary colors to make secondaries, by taking secondaries and inventing tertiaries, I can—or could, back before these protecting-the-witnesses days—stand back, glower over heaps of lint, then get to work meshing together the perfect skin tint for Geraldo Rivera, or any of the bad Supreme Court justices.
On a lucky day I can find a Clemson fan drying nothing but his or her sweatpants, t‑shirts, sweatshirts, shirts, and pants, pull out all that orange lint, and later make lifelike replicas of the president, which is my Number One Life-size Voodoo request.
“You have zero friends, Calvin.”
It doesn’t hurt that my name’s Calvin Cline. Not Klein, like the famous fashion designer. Cline. All those people who don’t know good from bad, beautiful from ugly, and right from wrong also might not know “spelling,” or “how to Google.” Listen, back when I made my first or second lint-doll, and somehow it got on the local news, and then it went viral, I got a call from an actress everyone knows—she’s been nominated for an Academy Award a couple times, but not won. She got in touch with CNN, and they sent her to the station down in Augusta, Georgia, and they sent her up to me north on the Savannah River and on the South Carolina side. She said to me, “How much would you charge for a lifesize voodoo lint doll of…” and I won’t give the name. I can’t. I signed some kind of non-disclosure thing, about a woman who has won more than two Oscars.
I said to her, “Ten thousand dollars!” Me, I just threw that number out, because A.) I didn’t care, and wanted to get back into my studio to work on some gouaches that involved egrets; and B.) I actually liked the woman who’d won some Best Actress awards.
I made the facsimile. The voodooed actress got another nomination. She didn’t win. My client did. Word spread. There you go.
“Look, Velvey, I don’t have friends back in Payne. The reason why I don’t have friends in Payne is because I don’t want to live there—have your parents died, yet, like you said they would ten years ago when we had to move there?—and I have to spend too much time doing my work in cities big enough to offer laundromats.” I went on and on. I stood there naked for some of this conversation, then with pants. I screamed because of the tractor outside chugging, then lowered my voice when I noticed it no longer hummed.
Velvey said, “Calvin.”
I said, “I’m sorry. That was mean. I didn’t mean to yell. I love your parents.”
She knew—and I knew—that I didn’t mean that. Both her mother and father said—rightly, I’ll admit—that I could’ve made more money by not going to college altogether, and painting houses. By the time I became kind of famous, Velvey’s parents slipped into a state of being somewhere between bingo-and-scratch-cards-is-good and full-blown dementia. When I said things to them like, “I need to visit a laundromat in Athens so’s to get lint, so’s to make a voodoo doll that’ll pay for ten months’ worth of mortgage for your daughter and me,” one or both of Velvey’s parents might say, “I have a hammer toe that needs fixing,” or “I like warm cream cheese!”
Velvey’s a family name. She told me this in college. She studied studio art, too, but veered into the land of Interior Decorating. Guess how many people wish to have their houses redecorated in Payne? It’s a nothing town. If you go Google “Payne South Carolina” you’re going to get “Showing Results for Pain in South Carolina,” followed by ten thousand entries, or sites, or whatever they’re called.
When Velvey’s parents diminished quicker than expected, my wife talked her way into people’s houses and barns, discovered eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy—all of those sites for people hoping to buy low and sell high. I don’t want to pull out any kind of question about Velvey’s moral nature, but by the time her parents no longer knew anyone’s names, their house looked like this: vacant room, vacant room, vacant room, vacant room, vacant room, vacant room, bedroom with two hospital cots downstairs, then vacant room, vacant room, vacant room, vacant room upstairs.At one point those vacant rooms held mid-century furniture that’s a hot commodity nowadays. They held high-boys and low-boys and baker’s racks. Velvey’s dad, and her grandfather, owned land, ran an apple orchard, started their own cidery that started as a stand out on the road and ended up at Cracker Barrel and Stuckey’s, made all kinds of money even after someone pointed out that an apple a day didn’t actually keep the doctor away. Somewhere along the line my wife talked her parents into letting sharecroppers take care of the apples. “Sharecroppers” might not be the right word. Maybe the land plain got leased out to people who knew the ins and outs of fruit trees and the laborers needed.
I might as well fill out the entire family tree by pointing out how Velvey’s mom taught elementary school. One of those vacant rooms upstairs once held nothing but paint-by-numbers “paintings” on every available wall space. Paint-by-numbers—which I know is probably akin to dryer lint art—happens to be coveted these days by Millenials, Gen Xers, even Boomers, from what I understand.
I understand nothing.
“I’m sober, and thinking right, Velvey,” I said to my wife while walking to the front door to look out the window, to look at the driveway, to see what this Mr. Quarles did on the tractor. The landline’s cord must’ve run something like thirty yards and didn’t even look like it went from spiral pasta toward spaghetti.
The tractor wasn’t there.
I said, “I have to go, honey. Someone just stole your tractor.”
Oh, I hung up without any other salutation. What did I care? It wasn’t my 1944 John Deere B tractor. If Velvey wanted to spend her money on A.) Sending me off to a protection-of-witness house; and B.) A tractor just so people would come by and welcome me into the community, then it was her problem.
I walked back and placed the receiver on the cradle, then thought, Goddamn it, I need to tell her not to waste money. I called home. I dialed the number. I thought, I’m going to give her what for.
Velvey’s father picked up the phone and said, “Apple.”
I said, “Hey, Dad,” because I’d gotten to that point of calling him thusly, “This is Calvin. Can you hand the phone over to Velvey?”
He said, “Apple cider.”
I don’t know. Call me a dickhead. There I stood in a rental house on the Tuckaseegee River, a mile from any bait and coffee place, not knowing my future and far from lint. I said, “What’s the best thing to throw at someone you hate?”
He said, “Apple.”
“That’s right. And what’s the best thing to put in your pants so’s to make it look like you got a big dick?”
Velvey’s father—I’ll give him this—waited a few seconds before saying, “A apple. A apple!”
He would never hand the phone over, I knew. In a way, I wanted to talk to no other person, so I could feel better about myself, probably.
It took me thirty minutes to hit Gordon’s Bait and Coffee, walking right down the middle of the road. When I got there, Quarles, Gordon himself, and a man everyone called Wide Open stood there staring at the tractor. I should mention that Gordon’s country store sold other things, but every one of them could be used for bait: cans of corn, Vienna sausages, bologna, white bread. Bacon, popcorn, soap, gummy bears, bubble gum, hell—even Cheetos.
I walked up and said, “What the fuck, men?” I said, “What are you doing, Quarles?” I bowed up. I understood that these men didn’t know me, that they would never respect me, my being an outsider, unless I looked like I might punch a nose or stab a jugular. “Goddamn, man, who gave you permission to drive off with my tractor?”
“Lint Man,” Quarles said. He held his mouth askew. He said, “Don’t think we don’t know what you ain’t done right. This here tractor’s something to be desired and admired.”
I tried to go through all those negatives. I didn’t say, “That’s a double negative,” because I wasn’t sure. I said, “What you going to do when I call the sheriff?” I think I’d seen someone say that one time, in a movie.
Gordon and Wide Open didn’t make eye contact. They looked at the right-hand front wheel. Quarles said, “I just took this thing for a ride, nothing else. I wasn’t stealing it or nothing, son. I was going to get it some new gas, then bring it back. Nothing else. I thought you’d be inside the house longer.”
There weren’t gas pumps in front of Gordon’s place.
Wide Open turned to me and said, “This could be a good low-rider tractor.” He said, “How much you want for it?”
Gordon looked at his wristwatch and said, “Coffee time’s over. Let’s all of us go inside and pull out the bourbon. You want some bourbon, Calvin?”
Well boy yes I did. But I couldn’t, I knew. I said, “Y’all don’t know me. Why did you call me ‘Lint Man’?”
Velvey delivered me by step-van, filled with lint, thread, and photographs in the back, but I’d never, those handful of times, come into Gordon’s Bait and Coffee saying anything about my aspersions or past. Me, I came in just saying, Hey, hey, hey to whoever sat around dawdling. I had said, “I hear there are some nice trout on this here river,” and so on. I’d said, “My wife and I split up, and I’m just rejuvenatating my inner-soul.” Maybe one time I walked into Gordon’s Bait and Coffee and said, “I’m looking for a good banjo player,” because I could think of nothing else to say.
Velvey dropped me off, dropped off the lint and thread, said something like, “Finish your commission,” then drove the step-van back to Payne. She waved her left hand out of the window and waved at me, yelling, I think, “Don’t fuck up any more.”
I said to Wide Open, “Ten thousand dollars,” seeing as it had worked for me before.
“That’s too much,” he said. But he didn’t look like he’d been offended. “I was thinking more like, I don’t know, maybe, I don’t know, a hundred dollars. Wait—did you already fill it up with gas?” he said to Quarles.
Quarles said, “I put in six dollars out of the two-gallon can. You charging way too much, Gordon.” He said, “I put in enough for you to take this thing back home.”
I knew this trick. Oh, I understood what Quarles wanted to happen. And I don’t want to say that Velvey had anything to do with it, but she did. I got it. I realized that I needed to drive to a small city blessed with an overabundance of lint, then make a voodoo doll of my own wife.
I said, “You boys got something else on your mind. How much is she paying you?”
Please know that I conceive of this as sounding paranoid now.
Gordon, Quarles, and Wide Open said, “What?” in varying tones, at various times. They said, “We don’t know your wife” and “We’ve never been to South Carolina” and “Kudzu’s a weed we have nothing to do with” and “Krispy Kreme doughnuts are way better than Dunkin’ Doughnuts” and “A lot of people think the capital of Florida is Miami, but it’s Tallahassee.” I just stood there being myself and normal, being myself and wonder-filled with everything that could go wrong in the real world.
I tried to think back. I thought about my lint works-to-be and how these geezers stood there probably wearing panty shields against their hemorrhoids. I’d noticed stacks of these things inside the store, and couldn’t imagine them being used for bait. I said, “Y’all don’t have anything else to do, am I right or am I right?”
Wide Open said, “I got a pet possum I taught how to cuddle.”
I wasn’t looking, but the other two men said, “Not yet.”
They called him “Wide Open” because he once drank more than I did, evidently, back in the day. He’d worked real estate, and sold a number of houses when this area became a haven for retirees and vacationers alike. Something that people will mention at his funeral concerns the time he addressed town council with his fly open. It’s too bad he didn’t own my pajamas for the occasion.
Quarles took my shoulder in a fatherly way and led me inside the store. The other men followed. He walked behind the counter at Gordon’s and pulled out two bottles of—get this—Pappy van Winkle, the good stuff. Gordon walked over to the refrigerator he used for Styrofoam pints of nightcrawlers and pulled out four squared glasses, each one etched with a coon dog. He said, “Calvin, Calvin, Calvin.”
Wide Open sat down at the one table. He said, “I used to know a Calvin, growing up. He’s dead now.”
I looked at that bottle. I thought about the work I needed to get done before returning to Payne. Quarles handed me the key to the tractor, then said, “Give me your key,” and held out his palm. “We ain’t going to let you drive back later, I promise.”
“The three of us done fell for that trick one time,” Gordon said. “How do you think we got here? You see any wives hanging around us, any better-halves, any love interests?”
“What’s going on?” I asked, but I kept my eye on that bottle. Quarles poured four double shots, and slid the glasses across the table.
I said, “The doctor said I shouldn’t drink, because of some medication I’m on.”
Gordon said, “Believe it or not, I used to be a pediatrician, back in the day. I bought this place after having to stop practicing. It’s a long story. The point of all this is, unless you’re taking Valium, lithium, Ritalin, blood thinners, or Viagra, you’ll probably be okay. Or insulin.” He held up his glass to Wide Open and Quarles, said cheers, and they sipped like urbane, enlightened tipplers. I don’t know if there was some kind of security camera in the building, but if so I bet it captured my opening and closing my mouth uncontrollably, like a trout ashore, or someone in hospice talking to imaginary angels.
I thought, Valium? How long has this guy been out of practice?
“I’ve always wanted to start up my own place somewhere—not here, but somewhere—called Rory’s Rural Brewery,” Wide Open said. “Say it. Say it out loud. Rory’s Rural Brewery. Hell, you sound drunk just trying to say the place.”
I said, “Is your real name Rory?” It smelled like an envious dog inside the bait and coffee shop. It smelled like pinto beans on the stove too long.
Wide Open stared at me too long. He said, “My given name’s Alvis. It’s a family name. Alvis ‘Wide Open’ Davidson.”
Quarles took the bottle of bourbon and poured three more double shots for his comrades. I said, “I take it y’all know that my wife sent me away for a while.”
All three men said, “Mine too,” at the same time.
“I was a doctor, I was a disgraced doctor, my wife thought I might need to unwind doing a little fishing, and she found this place for me here. I tried to go back, she was long gone, and I returned to the Tuckaseegee. Luckily for me, Gordon’s Bait and Coffee went up for sale—back then it was called Ronnie’s. I thought it the right thing to do.”
I drank my shot in two gulps and pointed the glass toward Quarles. He poured. He didn’t say, “There you go,” or “Don’t be embarrassed,” or “Things like this happen.” Quarles said, “I came here two years after Gordon. Same kind of story, for the most part. I ain’t one-upping, but similar. Son committed suicide at age twenty-two, right after getting inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Maybe I pushed him too hard, I don’t know. I’d been a lawyer, and I think he wanted to help out with the homeless. Maybe I said something like, ‘What the fuck are you thinking, son?’ Maybe.”
He drank a little, turned his head, and coughed twice. Wide Open said, “These boys know this story already, but it’s the truth. I don’t remember how or why I got to this area. I was living in Asheville, I did well, and then I woke up here one morning. As a matter of fact, I woke up in the same house where you are now, Calvin—if Calvin is your real name. My marriage wasn’t going so swiftly in the first place, so I just took it for a sign to stay. I mean, I called home once or twice. My wife said she didn’t touch our bank account. I live over thataway in a nice place overlooking the river, a rental.”
Gordon raised his hand. “I charge him four hundred dollars a month.” He said, “I could get seven times that money, if I wanted to go the VRBO route. I don’t care.”
“Anyway,” Quarles said. “That’s a nice tractor. I knew you weren’t going to be planting corn. Testing you, that’s all.”
I drank more, this time in a measured, taste tester-type way, and said, “Outside of no women around here, or cable TV, I can see how y’all might be satisfied as fence lizards.” Fence lizards? What did that mean and where did it come from? I said, “It might be nice if there was a hospital within thirty miles, internet capabilities, a place to get ice cream or waffles, a grocery store that sold hard salami, music venues, a car dealership, a Goodwill store, some antique shops, a tobacco outlet, one of those Apple stores, I don’t know, a book store, an art gallery. Definitely an art gallery. Not a fucking gun range or firearms outlet.”
Quarles put his ancient index finger to his lips, tried to slide back his chair noiselessly, and tiptoed over to the canned meat shelf. He reached behind it and brought back a vintage Etch A Sketch magic screen. He returned to the table quieter. Wide Open winked at me and nodded toward everyone else. Loudly he said, “Anyway, I don’t think we’ll ever have another real estate crash like back in 2009.”
Quarles messed with the toy’s knobs and pointed to me a screen that read, “We are here for a reason.” He shook it clean and started a new message.
“I saw a trout wiggle itself onto the shore last week, going after some kind of bug,” Wide Open said. I turned my head to look at the tractor out front. There hadn’t been a car pass Gordon’s since I showed up.
Quarles hit the table to get my attention. I looked to see that he’d printed out, “We’re surrounded by white supremacists up here. Don’t say anything liberal.” I was amazed at how he could print so much, quickly and legibly. “We’re bugged.”
I pointed my thumb toward the door, and raised my eyebrows. I figured it to be the international sign for, You want to go talk in the woods?
Quarles shook his head sideways. He wrote, “POSSUM” with a question mark after it, and lifted his shoulders, another international sign.
I looked up at the four ceiling corners, over the door, above the cash register. I pretended a need to tie my shoes and inspected the bottom of the table. I searched for cameras, thinking I might be on one of those reality TV shows.
Gordon said, louder than normal, “There have been some recent medical articles that say people live longer if they surround themselves with possums. People live longer without ticks and fleas. Possums eat a lot of ticks and fleas. And if there’s no need for insecticides, you know. It makes sense. There’s a way to make people live longer.”
I felt emboldened. I reached for the bottle and poured a single jigger.
“People Opposed to Southern Supremacists United Militia,” Quarles showed me on the Etch a Sketch. He pointed at Gordon, to Quarles, to Wide Open.
I tried to think back: How would Velvey know about such an organization? Why would she think it necessary to put me in their midst? I’d heard of VAGINA—Veterans Against Guns in North America, but not POSSUM. Hell, I’d made a lint voodoo doll for someone in VAGINA, a smallish piece that involved a tiny AR-15 and a rebel flag.Why would my wife send me off to be possibly indoctrinated?
Quarles wrote—as if he read my mind—“It’s hard to explain.”
I thought, Well, I guess it’s okay to talk, as long as I don’t say anything about how I would rather hang around non-whites. I said, “I got a dryer back at my rental house, but my clothes are so old they ain’t giving me enough lint to do my work. Y’all want to do your wash over at my house later on today? We can make a real party of it. Bring the bottle.”
Call me selfish.
“I got things to do,” Quarles said.
Gordon said, “I can’t leave the store.”
Wide Open said, “I’m fishing. I promised to take some little kids fishing.”
Quarles wrote on the Etch A Sketch. He pointed the plank my way so I could read, “Local cops KKK. Don’t take tractor back. DUI. Get tomorrow.”
He handed me the rest of the bottle, though, a good half bottle, to take home on my walk. He said, “Think about it, Calvin,” and pointed to the now-erased Etch A Sketch, I guess to invite me into POSSUM, to leave my wife for good, et cetera.
I stood up and noticed how the place smelled like a ruined marsupial. I thought, Rory’s Rural Brewery for Ruined Marsupials might be difficult to say. I thought, This is the reason Velvey thinks I shouldn’t drink.
I didn’t say Yes or No. I didn’t commit, though I thought that—if I imagined correctly— these men’s makeshift non-profit organization probably met and tabbed racist local fishermen. I imagined their nodding and smiling and pretending, waiting for white supremacists to leave their abodes, then burning the places down, or at least stealing their guns, finding ways to send them elsewhere.
“You’re one of us, whether you like it or not, Lint Man,” somebody said. All of them said, on cue, as if they worked as a Greek tragedy chorus. I thought, I need to finish my work.
I walked to the house where people wouldn’t witness my destructive ways. It’s easy to say this now. It’s easy to feign dextrous intuition and soothsaying endowment. But this is true: I walked home as dusk appeared, through a gloaming the old-timers mentioned whenever possible when it came to near-nightfall, stumbling across macadam in a way that wouldn’t have happened during my real drinking days back in Payne. Oh, I swerved and skewed. My brain felt like marzipan, like the filling of a Mallo Cup. I found myself saying, “Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it,” with every step.
Back home, I sat on the porch step, knowing: The next day I’d have to walk back to Gordon’s to pick up the tractor and drive it back sober, so as not to get pulled for DUI by white nationalists. But the tractor would not be there. And the store would be emptied, no bait or coffee, no Vienna sausages, white bread, Etch A Sketches. I saw it. I saw it. Then I’d walk all the way back, call Velvey, and she’d say either “Where are you?” or “Who is this?” She might say, “Maybe it should’ve been a Farmall tractor in the driveway.”
George Singleton has published eight collections of stories and two novels. His work has appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, One Story, Georgia Review, and elsewhere. One story appeared in the Pushcart Prize story anthology. He was a Guggenheim fellow in 2009. He’s a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. His latest collection, You Want More: Selected Stories, will be published in September 2020.