Johnny America


The War­riors


“Uh huh, well, sure, Daryl, if you want to get tech­ni­cal that’s what he said he want­ed. But come one, he was maybe a half, def­i­nite­ly a quar­ter-sheet to the wind at the time and he’d al­ready start­ed go­ing a lit­tle screwy. Start­ed ram­bling on about an­cient Egypt and watch­ing Swiss Fam­i­ly Robin­son on loop, fix­at­ing on the col­or of his neighbor’s cat.” 

“I al­ways loved that movie too,” said Daryl, “I thought it was re­al­ly cool.”

Again Daryl speared a shov­el in­to the dirt, rocked back the han­dle, and ex­trud­ed an­oth­er dol­lop of red clay from the dead man’s back yard. The earth broke wind with each shov­el­ful they took, the soil­ing try­ing to suc­tion it­self still.

Ste­vie con­tin­ued, “I mean, his mind was go­ing by then. Maybe we didn’t know it at the time but that’s what the doc­tors told us since. Told you, told me. Just be­cause he asked us to, doesn’t mean we have to. He’s not our big broth­er any­more, if you want to get technical.”

Daryl hopped in­to the knee-deep hole.

“Hand me that mat­tock, would you, broth­er,” asked Daryl, point­ing to the axe-like dig­ger. “And watch out, that’s poi­son ivy there run­ning up that pole.

Ste­vie am­bled over to the clothes­line, then hes­i­tat­ed to ap­proach it un­gloved when he saw that it rest­ed against the three-leaved vine. He nudged the or­ange-paint­ed han­dle with his Con­verse and walk-kicked it over to Daryl, who nod­ded his head in thanks, took the mat­tock, and again wailed in­to the earth.

“Easy now, there’s no hur­ry here,” said Stevie.

Ste­vie pon­dered his brother’s in­ten­si­ty, won­der­ing if he’d be able to keep it up un­til the pit was done or if he’d have to step in and take an­oth­er turn. Go­ing to blow a gas­ket, he though, he’s dig­ging down as fu­ri­ous­ly as a liv­ing man stuck in a cof­fin would dig up. He pic­tured their fresh-dead broth­er, re-an­i­mat­ed. He’d have one more day to am­ble off the slab at the mor­tu­ary, if he could, then he’d be stuck pret­ty good if he snapped back to life.

“Easy now, Daryl, no hur­ry,” he called.

Daryl stopped for a mo­ment, pant­i­ng. He pulled up the neck of his un­der­shirt and wiped the sweat from his fore­head, then leisure­ly swung the mat­tock about like a dance partner.

“One, two, three, cha cha cha. What do you think, Steve?”

Ste­vie stepped to the edge of the pit and re­gard­ed his brother. 

“That mat­tock of yours is a love­ly dancer, but I still think this is a very bad idea. And that in cir­cum­stances such as ours cus­tom should be ignored.

Daryl raised an eye­brow in an ex­ag­ger­at­ed ex­pres­sion cal­cu­lat­ed to con­vey ex­as­per­a­tion. Ste­vie had al­ways had the forced con­tor­tion, and that it made his broth­er look like a rube.

“He told us him­self,” Daryl stat­ed, “clear as day­light. And he wrote the plan in­to his Will and Testament.”

“Yeah, but it’s —  “

“— it’s our dead brother’s last wish, brother.”

Ste­vie shrugged his shoulders.

Daryl spoke. “He drew di­a­grams, christ­sake. And any­way I was ask­ing about the hole, not the dig­ger or the plan. I know how you feel about the Everett sit­u­a­tion and I feel it too, but for christ­sake I’m tired of your tired harangue.”

“Our broth­er was not in his right mind when he charged us to do it.”

Daryl turned away from his broth­er and swung fran­ti­cal­ly against the earth for a while, hack­ing an­oth­er foot un­til the iron chis­el-head scraped against the shal­low bedrock.

“Guess that’s as good as it gets,” said Daryl as he reached his hand to­ward Ste­vie. Ste­vie clasped both hands around his broth­ers and pulled him up from the pit.

“I guess so,” he agreed.

The men stood over the pit for a mo­ment, each a lit­tle weary about hon­or­ing the next step of their dead brother’s bur­ial wish­es. Ste­vie was a soft­ie, and Daryl was no cool killer.

“You lock up the tools,” Daryl sug­gest­ed, “and I’ll start the latticework.”

Per in­struc­tions, they laid a lay­er sticks over the pit, then sprin­kled a blan­ket of Au­tumn-damp eaves over the thin shell. Ste­vie eased out his leg and prod­ded the trap. “You think it’ll work?” he asked no one in par­tic­u­lar, though he and Daryl stood shoul­der-to-shoul­der, “I think it’ll work.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Daryl, “me too, I think it’ll work. Though I kind of hope it doesn’t.”

“But we’ve got to try, right, you’re sure?”

“Our dead broth­er wants to be buried like a pharaoh with his neighbor’s cat, that’s what we’ve got to do. A lit­tle strange, sure, but we got to try.”

 Ste­vie agreed, “we’ve got to try.”

Each of the pair opened a can of tu­na with their dead brother’s old Swiss Army knife and set them up­on the trap. They could hear the cat Everett scratch­ing at the oth­er side of the red­wood fence — in a mo­ment he’d in­ves­ti­gate, and they’d rain ter­ror up­on him. They sat atop the pic­nic ta­ble, feet rest­ing on the long stained bench, ner­vous­ly tap­ping the butt ends of their wood dow­el spears against the loamy ground.

Filed under Fiction on January 10th, 2020

Care to Share?

Consider posting a note of comment on this item:


Previous Post


Next Post


Join our Irregular Mailing List

For very occasional ramblings, word about new print ephemera, and of course exciting investment opportunities.