Sunday, 27 November 2011

To Lay Down with Animals By John Rector

I didn’t care if it wasn’t my baby. A child is a child, and when God brings one into your life it’s a blessing.
“It’s gonna be a while, Jack,” Rochelle said. She put her hand on her stomach and looked down. “These things takes time, you know.”
Of course I knew. Who didn’t know about that?
It bothered me, but I didn’t get mad at her for treating me like I’m stupid. She didn’t mean anything by it. It was just her way, I suppose.
“It takes ten months for a cow,” I said.
“You comparing me to a cow?”
“Course not,” I said. “All I meant was it’s different for other animals.”
“I ain’t no animal.”
“We’re all animals. Some of us are just more civilized, that’s all.”
“I ain’t no animal,” she said again. But this time it was more of a whisper.
We were both quiet for a while. I wanted to ask her who the father was, but I figured that would’ve been rude. I’d only known her for a week or so, and it really wasn’t any of my business. Someday she’d tell me, once she felt comfortable.
“You sure you got enough room for me and the baby?”
“’Course I’m sure,” I said. “Hundred-fifty acres, fifty head of cattle, barn, and the house has got two bathrooms.”
“And you don’t mind sharing it with me?”
“Why would I mind? You know I love you, I—”
Rochelle held up her hand, stopping me. “I told you not to say that to me, Jack.”
I hesitated. “But, I do.”
She hit the passenger seat. “God damn it!”
“What’s the big deal?”
“Jack Edwin Meese, if you don’t stop right now, I swear to God I will never speak to you again.”
I didn’t say anything right away. Instead, I turned back and watched the road stretch out in front of us, the still air shimmering in the heat.
Rochelle was quiet.
I waited as long as I could, then I said, “It ain’t something to be scared of.”
That was when Rochelle started to scream.
At first I thought I was about to hit something. It was mating season, and the whitetail came across the road all the time, so I hit the brakes without looking and Rochelle hit the dashboard, hard.
That was when she stopped screaming.
I pulled off the road. “Jesus, baby, you okay?”
“What’d you do that for?”
“You were hollering. I thought there was a deer or something.”
“God Damn it, Jack. I think you broke my neck.”
Rochelle likes to exaggerate.
The first time I met her I was filling my tank at the Sap Brothers on I-70 outside of Wichita. She came up to me and told me she hadn’t eaten in four days and needed money because she was pregnant and she wanted to keep her baby from being born deformed or retarded. Well, it turned out she lived in one of the rooms across the parking lot and had food of her own. She’d eaten a bologna sandwich that morning. The truth was she needed the money to move back to Little Rock so she could be by her folks when the baby came.
I didn’t blame her for that.
Family is important.
I’m not sure what it was, but seeing her outside, and thinking about the baby she was carrying, made me think of Mary and Joseph and the story of the manger. How they’d been forced to lay down with animals because it was cold outside and they couldn’t find anyone kind enough to help.
I think it’s important to take lessons from the Bible whenever possible.
“Jesus Christ. I think my nose is broken.”
I tried to look, but she pulled away. Her nose wasn’t even bleeding.
“Take me back home.”
“I thought you wanted to see the house.”
She didn’t answer me, and for a while we just sat there. Then I pulled back onto the road and kept driving toward the house anyway, but after a mile or two, I decided to turn around and take her back to her room.
I figured there was no point in upsetting her.

****

When we got back to the motel, she opened the door and got out.
I leaned toward her. “You want me to wait?”
She didn’t answer, just slammed the door and started across the parking lot toward her room.
I watched her move.
She looked so good from the back, everything slid just right when she walked.
I felt bad for looking, but I couldn’t help myself.
I was about to go, then I saw a man came out of the next room and grab her arm. She tried to pull away, but he slapped her across the face and dragged her inside.
I was up and out of my truck, fast, running across the parking lot.
The man had left the door to the room open and I saw her sitting on the bed. He was standing over her, screaming at her. He didn’t see me coming, and I hit him hard.
He flew over the bed, and landed in a pile against the wall.
I grabbed Rochelle’s hand and pulled her up, said, “You okay?”
She looked back over her shoulder. “Jesus Christ, Jack, look what you did.”
“Did he hurt you?” I put my hand on her stomach, but she pulled away.
The man in the corner pushed himself to his knees. He looked up, but his eyes seemed distant, not really seeing us.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” I said.
She moved toward the man on the floor, but I stopped her. “Rochelle, let’s go.”
“I want to make sure he’s okay.”
The man was still on his knees, but I figured he’d be okay. He’d hit the wall pretty hard, but his eyes looked clearer now. Then, when he took the gun from behind his back and pointed it at me, I knew he’d be fine.
“Close that door.”
“Carl.” Rochelle’s voice had a tired whine to it. “Just leave him be.”
“You know him?” I asked.
Carl stood, bracing himself against the wall. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Jack Meese, I’m her—”
“Sit the fuck down, Jack Meese.”
I stopped talking, but I didn’t move.
He came at me and pressed the end of the gun against my forehead. “Sit the fuck down.” He talked real slow, dragging out each word, like I was stupid.
I felt the anger swell in my chest, but I pushed it back.
There was a faded green couch along the far wall. I sat down, but I never took my eyes off him.
Carl turned to Rochelle. “Why don’t you sit next to him.”
Rochelle’s shoulders seemed to slump. She stood and shuffled over to the couch, dropping onto the cushions like a scolded child.
“So,” Carl said, smiling. “How do you two know each other?”
“It’s not like that,” Rochelle said. “We’re friends.”
“Friends?” He looked at me. “You her friend, cowboy?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Yes, he’s my friend.”
Carl nodded, paused. “She suck your cock, friend?”
I stood, fast. “You keep your God damn mouth shut. I don’t know what—”
He pointed the gun at me. “You get off that couch again, it’ll be the last time.”
My chest was on fire, and every muscle in my body felt like it was going to snap. I forced myself think about Rochelle and the baby. That was all that mattered.
I sat back down and tried to relax, for their sake.
Carl watched me for a while, then shrugged. “I don’t really care if she does or not, just trying to make conversation, s’all.”
“What do you want, Carl?” Rochelle asked.
“I want to know where the hell you ran off to. Why haven’t I seen you with the others? It’s been almost a week.”
Rochelle stared at her feet and shrugged. “I decided I’m moving on, that’s all. I don’t want to stay here.”
Carl laughed, fast and short. “You ain’t going anywhere.”
I got a feeling I knew what was going on, but I wasn’t sure. I leaned over to Rochelle. “Is he the father?”
Rochelle shushed me, but Carl heard and smiled.
“What’d he say?”
“He didn’t say nothing.”
Carl came over and grabbed Rochelle’s arm and pulled her off the couch. I went to stand, but he pointed the gun at me and said, “Think it through, cowboy.”
I sat back down, keeping a close watch.
Carl turned back to Rochelle. “You told him you were pregnant?”
Rochelle pulled her arm away. “This ain’t your business.”
Carl laughed, and for a minute it looked like he wasn’t able to speak, then he pointed at me. “Are you fucking stupid, boy?”
The anger flashed again.
I was having a hard time keeping it back.
He kept laughing. “You must be the dumbest motherfucker I’ve ever met.” He motioned toward Rochelle. “Roach is a dangler.”
“Jesus, Carl,” Rochelle said. “Why do you have to do this?”
Carl ignored her. He came close to me and said, “You got no idea what I’m talking about, do you?” He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “Roach, come over here and show this boy what I’m talking about.”
“No, Carl.”
He turned on her, fast. “God damn it, now!”
Rochelle hesitated then crossed the room and stood in front of me. She mumbled something I didn’t quite hear, then lifted her shirt and unbuttoned her jeans.
I closed my eyes.
Carl hit the back of my head. “Open your eyes, dipshit. You’ll like this.”
Rochelle did a quick snake move and slid her jeans to her knees.
There was a wispy thin tuft of blonde hair between her legs, and buried beneath, like a newborn bird, was a small gray penis.
Carl laughed. “It ain’t much, but it’s enough.” He reached down and flicked her penis with his finger. Rochelle jumped back. “You’d be surprised how much money this one brings in on a good night. Some of these boys come from miles just to—”
I got up fast and swung hard, catching him right above his eye. He stumbled backward into the dresser and dropped the gun. He tried to get his balance, and I hit him again. This time he went down.
I kicked the gun under the bed and reached for Rochelle.
“Jesus, Jack,” she said, pulling her pants up. “What’d you do that for?”
“Let’s go. Now.” I dragged her toward the door, but she squirmed away and ran to where Carl was sitting on the floor, moaning, his palm pressed over his eye.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
She knelt in front of him and held his head between her hands.
“Rochelle, let’s go.”
At first she didn’t answer me, but when I came toward her she turned and screamed through clenched teeth.
“Fuck you, Jack. Get out of here.”
I stepped back, said, “Rochelle?”
She ignored me.
I stayed, unable to speak, and watched them for as long as I could stand it, then I backed out of the room and crossed the parking lot to my truck.
Rochelle’s voice burning in my head.

****

Her voice was still there that night when I drove back to the motel and waited in the lot next door. For a long time I sat and watched the girls move between the trucks, but I didn’t see Rochelle. A blue light flickered behind Carl’s window, and I figured she was inside. They were watching TV, laughing together.
I stayed in my truck for a while, waiting, trying get her voice out of my head.
It didn’t work.
I got out and took the tire iron from the back of my truck and headed over.
The door to Carl’s room was locked, so I stepped back and kicked it, hard. It exploded in, slamming against the wall. Carl was on the green couch, his head back, a bag of ice over his eye. His pants were off and Rochelle was kneeling between his legs. When he saw me he tried to stand, but I moved fast, catching him across the face with the tire iron. He fell over the side of the couch, slumping against the wall.
He didn’t move.
I pulled the couch back and took the heavy rubber band from my pocket.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Rochelle reached for my arm. “Leave him alone—”
I pulled away and slammed my elbow into her chest. She made a low grunting sound and dropped, struggling for breath.
Carl was on his side. I kicked him onto his back, and he made a slow moaning sound. I reached between his legs, wrapped the band around his balls, tight, then pulled the hunting knife from my boot.
Rochelle tried to scream, but the sound was weak and painful.
I ignored her.
Carl’s balls were turning a deep purple, like a small eggplant.
I opened the knife.
He jumped when I cut.
Rochelle screamed and staggered into the bathroom. I heard the water run, and when she came back she had an armful of towels.
I got out of her way.
“You think you’re a real man?” She looked up at me, showed her teeth. “You’re not a real man. You don’t know what it means to be a real man.”
I waited in the doorway, watching her press the towels between his legs. The faded green motel carpet grew dark under him.
“You’ll be just fine, sugar,” Rochelle was saying. “You just rest now.” She started humming a song to him that seemed familiar. I thought it might’ve been Mockingbird, but it didn’t sound quite right.
Still, it was nice.
I listened for a moment, then said, “What’s that you’re singing?”
She ignored me.
The towels between Carl’s legs were soaking through, dark and red, and her humming became closer to a low moan.
“Oh, sweet Christ,” she said, over and over. “Oh, sweet fucking Christ.”
There was a lot of blood, and I figured the rubber band had come off. With cattle, that meant trouble. There wasn’t much you could do.
I watched them for a while.
Rochelle had stopped humming, and it didn’t take too long until I’d had enough.
I walked out, leaving them alone.
Once I was out the door, Rochelle yelled to me. “You run away, Jack. You just run. You ain’t a real man. You ain’t ever gonna be a real man, not ever!”
I stopped and turned back.
I tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to me.
I kept walking.
“You don’t know what it means to be a real man, Jack. Do you hear me?”
I heard her, but then, halfway to my truck, the wind picked up and I didn’t hear her anymore.


REWIND<< This short appeared on the original Pulp Pusher site.