Most stories for children
are insanely cruel.
Filled with baby-eating witches,
and lawless fledglings flung
to the winds, we whisper our
reassurances that their worst
nightmares will never be real
so long as they trust us
Eddie had a beach house in Bolivar. Now, Bolivar, Texas wasn’t exactly a resort. It was mostly retired people and stragglers who like to fish and comb the beach for sand dollars and whatever. It’s not too far from Gulf Coast refineries, so things aren’t exactly pristine, and people don’t go on too much about the smell of the fresh air. It was just kind of a grimy place with gritty people wandering around.
The only place to drink was Bob’s Sports Bar, which was just a bar, really, with a TV, but people seemed to find their own places to drink, though you never saw scantily clad hotties strolling the beach with fancy cocktails. You’d more likely see grungy men and women pushing off in a fishing boat with a couple cases of beer.
You had a fair mix of retired people, refinery workers, laborers, and a few artists and musicians. From time to time, you could see music at Bob’s. If you wanted a nicer restaurant or bar, you’d have to take the ferry over to Galveston. I used to like walking out on the jetties and just taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. You’d hear the horns on the ships approaching the ship channel, the sound of rats scuttling across the rocks, and the bickering of older couples loading up their boats to try their luck at the trout, red fish, and flounder just beyond the breakers.
And you could smell, always, the remnants of dead fish, shrimp, crabs, and so on. When people would clean their catches, they’d put them in barrels at the marina, but of course various predators would also leave carcasses scattered about, which would add to the pungent aroma that is Bolivar. And, yeah, the refineries added their own sweetness to the miasma.
If you looked around, you’d see a bunch of clapboard houses on stilts, many a little worse for wear. You’d also see a shipwreck out in the water. Some of the locals could tell you how it got there and how long it had been there, but most people just thought about it the way you might think of a mountain in the background. It was just always there. Something you expect to see.
The beach was named Crystal Beach because it was crystal clear and clean in someone’s imagination. In reality, it wasn’t the worst beach. It was usually covered in driftwood and seaweed, but not as much litter as you’d find on a commercial beach. Most people on the beach lived nearby, so they weren’t interested in making a mess of it.
So Eddie loved Bolivar. It was a great getaway for him, and he spent as much time as possible there. He loved the fishing, walking out on the jetties, going to Bob’s from time to time, and just hanging out on the porch with a cold beer. He liked the sights, sounds, and even smells of Bolivar, but he didn’t like his next-door neighbors.
To be honest, I personally never even understood his grievance with them. His kids said they didn’t think he even remembered why he was mad at them, but he was mad at them all right, and he did everything he could to cause mischief. Understand that Eddie was a gruff and ruddy sort of guy, never really in a good mood, but I can’t remember ever seeing him do anything that actually hurt anyone in any way. Maybe when he was younger he did, but he was pretty harmless in his middle age.
So when he caused mischief, it didn’t amount to much. His neighbors had a big century plant on the border between their property and his. If you don’t know what a century plant is, it is a large agave plant. It’s a succulent, so it just looks like a big, blue cactus in the shape of a flower. They’re popular around the Gulf Coast because they grow well and impress the eye. They’re called century plants because folks say they only bloom after 100 years and then they die, so it’s a real treat to see one in bloom.
Well, that’s not how Eddie saw it. He hated the God damned neighbors, and he hated their God damned century plant. He’d sit out on his porch every night and drink a few beers and then go relieve himself on that plant. No one really understood why he thought the best way to kill a plant was by pissing on it. Sure, maybe it seemed disrespectful, but it wasn’t poison in any way.
At least, it didn’t seem to be poison for the plant. That thing grew up like Jack’s magic beanstalk, which delighted Eddie’s kids to no end. They teased him constantly about how he helped that plant grow. He had five daughters, and they really enjoyed annoying him, and annoying him was easy, but I guess it was all affectionate in the end.
Of course, other neighbors got wind of it and started asking Eddie to come pee on their tomatoes and everything like that. They would say that and just laugh in his face. He always acted like he was so mad he might blow up the world or something, but nobody ever believed he would do anything more harmful than fertilizing a despised neighbors plants.
“I guess I’m just too innocent,” she said. She was looking through the sex ads in the back of one of those independent papers all the cool kids used to read in whatever city you happened to be in, and for reasons you can only guess, she’d never seen any independent papers the cool kids read. She’d never seen ads for “hot, wet bisexual babes waiting for your call” before, so she figured she was pretty innocent.
The courts disagreed, of course, but she didn’t seem aware of the irony of her being too innocent for the commerce of the flesh but guilty of attempted murder. I mean, what’s a little attempted murder between friends? She never would have gone through with it, surely. Truth be told, and I think it was, she didn’t even know how to do it the right way, which is surely why she got caught. It’s safe to say a real criminal would have handled things a little differently.
She got off pretty easy, because the jury found her guilty but basically too incompetent to take out one of her neighbors by hiring a backstabbing cousin who wouldn’t lift a finger for you, much less kill someone. She later admitted she was crazy for thinking this layabout cousin could kill a mosquito, much less a neighbor lady. So she was back to her more or less suburban life, living two houses down from the woman she tried to have taken out. And her daughter was still good friends with her intended victim’s daughter, so they all just continued to live their suburban lives, except with lots more publicity.
These are the kinds of things you are driven to, she explained on television, when you love your children a little too much. That’s exactly what she was guilty of, she said, loving her daughter too much. You know, if you love your kids, you should be willing to hire someone to kill their friends’ mothers. Otherwise, can you really say you care at all? Donohue seem sympathetic but unconvinced, and that irked her even more. What did he know about her or her life? He acted all sensitive and everything, but he was still a man, and no man can understand the love between mother and daughter.
So there you have it, the picture of innocence, sitting in a Mexican restaurant while being scandalized by the idea of bisexual women taking money from desperate men. Some sins really seemed worse than others in her eyes. She was counting on the fact that Jesus would see a mother’s excessive love as the way of God and not at all like flaunting perverted sexual proclivities in ads that could be seen by children. I mean, good God, can you imagine a family eating in that restaurant and having to explain those ads to their six year old?
So she just went about her business, taking classes at the community college and hoping to work up to a better job and everything. Maybe make enough to send her daughter to a good university. Of course, it was a little awkward at the community college. The mother of her intended victim was the supervisor over at the college food court. She couldn’t eat lunch at school without seeing her, so she ate at home, in her car, or just on a bench in another classroom building. It was a small sacrifice but worth it.
Of course, everybody knew her business, anyway, seeing as she’d been on national TV during and after the trial. Even after the Donohue fiasco, she’d accepted a few interview offers, and she’d again tried to explain about how much she loved her daughter and all that, but the audiences never really want to hear the truth. They just all thought she was some kind of joke, and she made her way into more than one comedian’s monologue. Luckily, she could laugh at herself, too. After that all the hullaballoo had died down, the local video store had the movie about her in the bargain bin.
She walked right up to the cashier, waving that video around, and said, “Hey, this movie is about me. I’m a local celebrity! I think I’m worth a little more than $1.99, don’t you?” The cashier doubled over with laughter and said, “I sure do, lady. I sure do. Y’all have a good day now, y’hear.”
I tell you, Bobby could be so bashful he’d stick his foot in the can and piss down his leg to keep anyone from hearing. At least that’s how he was sometimes. He seemed to have moods or something. It probably just depended on who was around or what the situation was, but sometimes it was like he just couldn’t bear to be in the vicinity of other human beings unless he knew and trusted them, and he didn’t know and trust very many people, I can tell you that. He mostly liked his own company. He was quite content to be on his own. The only problem, as far as he could tell, was the crushing loneliness.
So he sort of always liked to have at least one companion. Now most people like you and me seek out a sort of constant companion who keeps us company, gives us emotional support, and provides a sexual release. I don’t know about you, but sexual release was usually the first thing on my mind when I was Bobby’s age. I figured the emotional support and all that would come eventually, but getting my baser needs met was pretty much my first priority.
But Bobby wasn’t like you and me. He just wanted someone to talk to. He was quiet most of the time, but once he got on a roll, he would just ramble on for days. And I don’t mean he would always hog the conversation, either. He could listen. A lot of women said he was a good listener, you know, when he wasn’t spewing out his stream of consciousness out loud to some vessel or other.
Some women liked how respectful he was on account of how he could listen and talk without immediately putting the moves on them. They thought he was “quite the gentleman” because he seemed to suppress his need to get in their pants for some time after meeting them, and they found that kind of refreshing.
Others weren’t so complimentary. After getting no response from what they considered quite obvious flirting, they would tell Bobby in no uncertain terms that he was a “God damned faggot.” Those were the words they used, because women can be homophobic, too. Women can be homophobic and mean and abusive, and Bobby had some stories to tell, but he never really told them.
So that’s how Bobby was. He tended to be oblivious to flirting, and he never really thought of sex at all until he got to know someone. If he felt someone really cared for him and really cared for them, his feelings were intense. He wanted touch, and he wanted as much of it as he could get. You can see how someone might feel flattered by that. On the other hand, some people might think it is a bit clingy. And, hey, maybe it’s a little of both, right? You can be all those things, can’t you? Characters aren’t always one-dimensional.
But then there’s the dissociation. And the depression. And the distance. So it’s all complicated, really. Someone who listens and talks and craves physical touch can sort of disappear somewhere for a time. So many times Bobby suddenly became aware of a woman touching him and asking, “Where were you just now?” He wanted to just say, “I was right here,” but he knew what they meant. He would just say, “I don’t know.”
And he probably didn’t know, or at least he couldn’t explain it. He couldn’t just say, “Oh, I was just thinking about my dog that died,” or anything like that. His thoughts didn’t always have words associated with them. It was like he was just kind of separate from everything. Some people described meditation that way—like they were just being with empty thoughts and all that. Well, Bobby didn’t think that was any great thing to achieve. He often felt about as aware as a stone, but he couldn’t see any great advantage to it. He had a feeling there was something wrong about what meditation was trying to achieve.
On the other hand, he often got lost in his own thoughts, which tortured him to no end. Well, sometimes they tortured him. Other times they were just thoughts, if you can get your head around that. They might be thoughts about infinity, cars, the sound of running water, God, or the durability of denim. Bobby wasn’t really focused. If you asked him what he was thinking, he’d just say it was nothing and try to move on. He was often embarrassed by the banality of his thoughts, the obsessiveness of his thoughts, or the emptiness of his mind.
And all this is to sort of explain his complicated relationship to sex, because sometimes someone would do something that would trigger something in Bobby that just made him shut down. Really, like someone flipped a switch or something. Like he’d go away. Sort of like having a flashback to something he couldn’t remember. You might see how that could be inconvenient for a lover. Inconvenient, I guess, or even alarming. Some people couldn’t really deal with that shit, or even want to. So, it wasn’t easy, see?
I’m putting together a poetry trail for the New Mills Festival. The festival begins 14 September and runs for three weeks. Poem will appear in shop windows throughout the town. We will have a round-robin poetry reading for participants on 26 September 2018 at The Butterfly House at the Torrs. The deadline for submissions is the end of May, but I’m accepting poems as I go, so it is best to get them in early! Guidelines below.
New Mills Festival Poetry Trail Submission Guidelines
1. Must be family-friendly. If you know me, you know I enjoy work that is provocative or even shocking, but the poetry trail is probably a good time to tone things down a little.
2. 20 lines maximum. People will be standing on the pavement reading the poems—shorter poems are bound to be more accessible.
3. Please include a location for yourself. You can choose whether to use your current location or the place you most identify as home.
4. I will try to place poems with subjects related to local businesses in those businesses (e.g., cycling poems in the cycle shop, flower poems in the florist).
5. Submit up to three poems in the order of your preference. I have about 65 spaces. If 65 people submit, I will use your first choice. If fewer people submit, I will use your first two choices. You get the idea.