J. W. Goll ~ Three Pieces

Poultry Mystery

Within a few weeks of his return from Viet Nam, Butchie’s old­er broth­er gets a job as a heavy equip­ment oper­a­tor and a girl­friend, in that order. Jack enlist­ed to avoid an assault con­vic­tion and says this is more luck than he’s had in his life. The job lasts until he runs his back loader into an equip­ment trail­er for rea­sons he’d rather not explain, but the girl­friend sticks. She thinks he’s a catch.
Jack builds a coop and rais­es chick­ens in his back yard. Some neigh­bors buy eggs and occa­sion­al­ly a whole chick­en. Others dis­ap­prove, com­plain, and the city threat­ens fines. He los­es some to hawks, some to neigh­bor­hood cats, some to dis­ease, but he keeps get­ting more. When Animal Control comes to his house he doesn’t answer the door, but moves the chick­ens into his base­ment and burns down the coop. He says there is no law against hav­ing them as indoor pets, but he lets them enter and exit through an open win­dow. The girl­friend refus­es to use the wash­er and dry­er in the base­ment and does the laun­dry in the sink, hang­ing it on the line, the old fash­ioned way. She doesn’t com­plain. She says Jack is being harassed and that’s no way to treat a war hero.
All thir­ty-sev­en of Jack’s chick­ens die on the same day. Jack thinks he knows which neigh­bor poi­soned them but keeps his coun­sel. A week lat­er the man’s car catch­es fire in the night and fire­men just watch it burn. A few days lat­er the man’s porch erupts in flames and the fire­men use their hoses to save the house. This time the neigh­bor seizes the hint and moves away. The girl­friend says Jack is a man of action and says she loves him more than ever. Butchie thinks the girl­friend poi­soned the chick­ens, but doesn’t men­tion it, because he knows Jack deserves all the luck he can hang on to.


Cold War

I work a machine that carves the shaft of a forty pound slip gear out of rough cast steel. Next to me is a twen­ty year lathe man who cuts the gears with a fifty micron tol­er­ance. I am eas­i­ly replace­able, but he is not. Wade is a plea­sure to watch, but his only out­side inter­est is “The Russians”. He will talk about lit­tle else. He is obsessed with nuclear pay­loads, deep State Department moles, and creep­ing athe­ism. He insists there are Russian mini subs in the riv­er spy­ing on our indus­tri­al capac­i­ty and says he has pho­tos to prove it. When he shows me they look like the grainy pic­tures of the Loch Ness mon­ster and are equal­ly con­vinc­ing. He reads my face and is dis­ap­point­ed. For sev­er­al days he does not look at me but then asks if I want to go out on his fish­ing boat for more evi­dence. He tells me to bring my camera.

On the boat Wade is more relaxed and more per­son­al. His father was from Hungary, his moth­er Cuba, both refugees from the total­i­tar­i­an wave which he feels is grow­ing stronger. When I tell him my fam­i­ly is from Germany he asks if I know Hitler and Stalin once had a pact. When I explain both sides of my fam­i­ly arrived in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry his mind is eased. It’s a pleas­ant day and he is a good fish­er­man. I catch noth­ing worth keep­ing, but he hauls in two good sized Channel Cat. At first the sun is enjoy­able, but as the after­noon wears on I devel­op a headache from the harsh glare off the water. I keep think­ing he will show me some­thing to bol­ster his the­o­ry, but he seems con­tent to only talk about fish­ing and drink beer, and doesn’t seem to notice I didn’t bring a cam­era. When the sun begins to fade we head back to the mari­na with­out a peep about Russians or sub­marines. My head is split­ting and I ask him if he has any aspirin. He pulls out a large bot­tle, hands me a cou­ple, and takes sev­er­al him­self. When we step off the boat he says, “Well, wha’d I tell ya?” When I don’t respond Wade says, “The headache. Your head. You think that’s nat­ur­al? Why would you get a headache from a relaxed day on the water? I get one every time and it’s from the sonar and radio waves. They’re down there com­mu­ni­cat­ing and it affects you on the water. You ask around the mari­na and you’ll find plen­ty of folks get headaches, dizzi­ness, nau­sea after a day on the water.” I tell him I was expect­ing to see some­thing. Again I have dis­ap­point­ed him. “I’ve already shown you the proof!” he spits. He rubs his tem­ples. Maybe it’s all the beer, but I tell him his pic­tures were of tree limbs and sand­bars, not sub­marines, and the Russians have bet­ter things to do than fuck around in this dirty riv­er. “What you think they’re gonna see with a periscope any­way? They got satel­lites and spies to get the shit they want.”

At work Wade stops talk­ing to me and sur­rep­ti­tious­ly inspects my fin­ished parts, pre­sum­ably to look for indus­tri­al sab­o­tage. He reports to the line boss every time I take a few min­utes extra on breaks, which is just about every break. In return, I slip notes with Cyrillic let­ters around the area. He reports this too and I get called in to the sec­tion supervisor’s office, but noth­ing comes of it beyond a warn­ing to shape up. I com­plain to the union rep and loud­ly call him com­rade, which the rep thinks is fun­ny. The per­son­al Cold War con­tin­ues, but this is the begin­ning of the end for me. I get fired sev­er­al months lat­er for some­thing I didn’t do and I’m sure it’s Wade’s doing. I leave a beat-up copy of the Communist Manifesto with crude maps of the plant on the inside cov­er before I depart, because, who am I to get between a man and his hobbies?



It’s my gold­en birth­day and Butchie gives me a box of cher­ry bombs, M‑80s, and Roman Candles he picked up across the state line. He’s got a list of things he wants to blow up and most of them sound like fun, though I draw the line at his father’s gravestone.

Cinderella gives me a copy of The Watseka Wonder, an 1887 book about Lurancy Vennum, a local medi­um, who claimed to have been to heav­en and back. Lurancy also said her body had been pos­sessed by the deceased, includ­ing a Sauk chief­tain, Sieur de la Salle, and the dead chil­dren of sev­er­al city lumi­nar­ies. She reg­u­lar­ly out­drew the vaude­vil­lians flock­ing to local the­aters and dance halls, but when she was exposed by a local jour­nal­ist she cursed the town by quot­ing Lamentations:

How desert­ed lies the city, once so full of peo­ple! How like a wid­ow is she,
who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.

Cinderella buys me a beer in a tav­ern sit­ting at the site of Lurancy’s last known per­for­mance, where she spoke with the voice of the journalist’s dead moth­er. Cinderella tells me she stole the book from her father, who long ago lost inter­est in the para­nor­mal, trans­fer­ring it to the Illuminati and Freemasons, and then alien inva­sion. He’s begun attend­ing a Pentecostal church and speak­ing in tongues, so she thinks he’s about to shift again.

I give myself a beat-up brown bomber jack­et I find at Salvation Army. A name, M. DeAngelo, is engraved on the out­side. Inside I find a crum­pled snap­shot of a girl stand­ing in her under­wear between a lamp and a bed­post with a phone num­ber on the back. There are also a frag­ments of a Sassoon poem:

Lord Jesus, ain’t you got to more to say? The bat­tle boomed, and no reply came back.

Butchie blows off the explo­sives but only man­ages to chip the mar­ble, Cinderella’s dad joins, then leaves the Pentecostal church and begins study­ing Homeopathy. I call the num­ber, but it is dis­con­nect­ed. Nothing changes. I am a year old­er, But my birth­day con­tained the best this town has on offer: explo­sions; char­la­tans; seek­ers; poet­ry; brief melan­choly con­nec­tions with a trace of desire. Who would not be delight­ed to live some­where so splen­did. There was even a beer involved.


J.W. Goll is a writer and artist cur­rent­ly work­ing as a Patient Advocate at a large hos­pi­tal in Durham, North Carolina. His sto­ries and poems are informed by expe­ri­ences as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er in Chicago, the Dakotas, and Central Europe. He has a degree in pho­tog­ra­phy from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. As a sculp­tor and instal­la­tion artist, he has been rep­re­sent­ed by gal­leries in Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Chapel Hill, NC.