Authors: Kevin Hardcastle
She was on the chesterfield
again while he pulled bottles from the two beer crates and lined the fridge with them. He moved the milk jugs and plastics to the sink to better fit all the bottles. He went through the living room and put the
on loud enough that she stirred and settled again. Then he sat at the kitchen table and started downing beers.
By midnight they were both of them polluted and when Matthew spoke he hollered. Maryanna put tapes into an old stereo and played them and they were Maryanna and her sister singing some thirty years before. Warbling of the worn tape-reels that made them sound underwater every few seconds. She played it until she cried and then Matthew got up and turned the tapes off and he wouldn't listen anymore. The boy and his mother talked long at the table and Matthew thumped his beers until they sat high in his chest and then he started to lurch. He went outside and in opening the cabin door he tore the screen loose and kept on. He puked foam and cold beer on the grass fringe near the front steps and he did it as he walked.
An hour later his shirt was in the sink in a ball and he sat there angry and blind with his chest bare and the many burns and blued scars plainly visible. Most of them nearly old as he was. Maryanna had a likewise ugly scar high on her shoulder and it had been a deep cut and uneven and had a valley to it. She tried to get Matthew out of the chair but he would not go. He drank another beer and another and he would not go whatever she said to him.
He sat up destroyed in the
thin morning and he was on the chesterfield mattress where she had dragged him. Where she had dragged him. It didn't make any more sense than if she'd set the two hundred and ten pounds of him on the moon. Matthew dropped back to the pillows again and closed his eyes. He woke again and his mother was sitting in the bed with him. Maryanna had her hand in his hair and the pads of her fingers travelled overtop his ear. She'd cleaned up and tied her hair back and she wore a dress that he'd not seen in years. She held out a glass of water and he sat up full to drink it.
Matthew was there at the cabin
when the mechanics came to install the interlock device on Maryanna's truck. She'd not put a drink to her lips in three months and her impaired fines were paid. The technician worked in the cab of the truck, the temperature just above freezing. There were yet no snows come to the river valley or the towns around it and Christmas had passed with little more than morning frost in the grass and leafless trees with squirrels standing baffled on the branches.
They drove to town together and Maryanna had the wheel. She'd put ten pounds back into her arms and legs and face, and her cheeks held some colour. Her hands had their little tremors and she smoked too much on the drive. No matter. The truck ran well and she drove too fast but Matthew didn't mind. They passed vast acres of cranberry swamp and Maryanna pointed out bear scat on the gravel fringe where it shouldn't have been.
She did not use the rope.
Instead she nearly froze to death in the cab of her truck. Dressed in her nightgown and a thin coat and her snow boots. The interlock popped three times and shut the engine down and there Maryanna lay down on the benchseat and didn't get back up. She had frostbitten skin and her eyes closed and a blood-alcohol level that spoke to a life's work. A passing snowmobiler saw hazards and headlights flashing through the wood. Found her locked in the vehicle and called the cops out to the site. They couldn't get an ambulance down the winding trail and the cops had to carry Maryanna out of there in the bed of their
, her body wrapped in blankets, slow through the pass until they could hand her off to the paramedics.
At the hospital she would not give it up. They treated her for hypothermia and pumped her stomach and she kept losing consciousness and coming back and she couldn't talk at all. When Matthew got there he was beside himself and he couldn't find a doctor. Eventually the doctor showed and Matthew heard him out and then lit into him. The cops tried to make Matthew go home.
“You ever shot a man 'cause he wouldn't leave the hospital?” Matthew asked the one cop.
“No,” the cop said.
“Well, there's a first time for nearly everythin'.”
He slept in the waiting room on a bank of chairs and when they put Maryanna in a room it was pale morning. A young nurse woke him and he walked the hallways until he found the room and then he slept the morning in fits, propped up in a chair near her bed. He left but once to eat and on the way back to the hospital there were inch-wide snowflakes melting on the windshield of his car. That night the snows came and they covered all.
Her truck was full with cardboard
boxes and milk crates and the last of the furniture worth keeping. Matthew had already run two truckloads into town and the new landlord helped him get the heaviest pieces into the first floor walk-up. It did not seem like a lot even with just the few of them working. They'd an early spring thaw and the sidewalks and streets in town were all sand and roadgrit. At the cabin grounds there were snows yet in the ditches and trailheads. The passway was mush and had to be travelled slowly.
Maryanna sat on the porch steps and smoked awhile, still very thin, the top of her left ear lost. She fiddled with it often. In the clearing before her sat boxes and boxes of ill-packed junk. Old trophies and some framed black and whites and a stringless guitar stuffed into its own box, pushing the cardboard oblong. Her bed sat out there in the dirt, as did most of her bedroom furniture. Black garbage bags piled high atop the boxspring and full with men's clothes.
Matthew stood one foot to the porch steps and waited.
“I did not think I would live in that town again,” Maryanna said.
She stubbed out and started to rise, one hand firm to the stairwell rail. Matthew took her by the forearm and pulled her up the rest of the way. Let go. She brushed off the ass of her pants and walked down amongst the things in the yard. She had a hitch in her step now and always would. She still had the big toe of her right foot but the rest were taken in surgery. Maryanna wore thin boat shoes with stuffing in the one.
“Anythin' left in there?” Matthew said.
“Nope, but take a lap if you want, son.”
“What about this shit?”
“The Sally Ann is gonna send a truck this afternoon. We don't gotta wait for them.”
“You want to keep anything of his?” she said. “It's okay if you do.”
“Hell no,” he said.
Matthew went through the house quick. It looked very, very small by the empty rooms and it had been scrubbed to the bone. Hard sun through the naked windows. He didn't linger and when he banged out through the door he didn't lock the place. Maryanna got him as he passed and took his arm and they went across the lot to the truck. Matthew helped his mother up behind the wheel and then he went around to the passenger side. She blew clean and started the engine. Turned back but once before they broke the treeline. Matthew studied her as she drove. She swore the foot did not cause her much grief.
e drove into lafayette at dusk
, the air thick with swamp bugs outside the windows of his truck. The fights were already on. They'd put the cage up in an old
hall and the beer stalls around the edges of the place were not licensed and neither were the fights. Daniel parked the truck and went toward a service door with a duffle bag of his gear. Bikers were running the door with one gigantic black man in a shirt and tie. That man took some time to find Daniel's full name on the ledger and it had been spelled as wrong as you could spell it. They let him in and he had but half an hour to warm up and take his walk.
The man he fought had a beard
and a bald head with old scars run through his scalp. He might have been two hundred and thirty pounds. Daniel weighed just over two hundred by the time he put his mouthguard in and climbed up into the cage. Both fighters wore four-ounce gloves and cups over their junk. They were announced by megaphone to a crowd of howling drunks. The ring announcer fucked up Daniel's last name again and said he was from Columbia, Canada. Daniel barely heard it for the blood that rushed to his ears.
At the bell Daniel tried to take the centre of the cage but the other fighter hustled in low and flatfooted. He loaded up and threw wild, looping shots. Held his breath all the while. Daniel backed out on an angle and push-kicked the man with the ball of his lead foot, shoved him clear. The man came back. Daniel stood him up with a jab and tried to follow with his right but the man blocked it and got hold of him and tried to tie him up in the clinch. Nothing but raw strength and grunts and sweat. Daniel jockeyed for position and got his hands clasped behind the man's head. The bigger man tried to shuck him but he couldn't and Daniel drove a knee into the man's guts, his hips and ass behind it. All the air went out of the other fighter but he didn't drop. He let his hands fall. Daniel dropped a heavy downward elbow across the bigger man's brow. Another to the man's sidejaw. Daniel tried to follow up but the man wasn't there.
He'd gone down like someone hit the off button and now he lay there limbstretched on the mat. Eyes wound back in his head. His forehead had opened up when the elbow first landed and there was red all over the man and all over the matting. Daniel walked the cage perimeter and people were hollering at him and throwing cans of beer at the stage. He quit circling and went to his corner and knelt there and watched the doctor work on the other fighter.
Daniel took his pay in an
envelope. Five hundred dollars and a hotel room key. He had his street clothes on and thumped a beer quick and then he left. Out in the parking lot he met a man wearing a ball cap and cowboy shirt and that man paid Daniel his winnings from a bet he'd had the man make for him. Daniel counted the bills.
“I heard them calling it five to one when I got here,” he said.
“The line moved.”
Daniel eyeballed the man a second and the man didn't seem to care for it much. He had his thumbs hooked in the back of his belt.
“Sure it did,” Daniel said.
Neither said another word but they shook hands. Daniel got in his truck with his gear. He did not go to the hotel and he did not stay the night in that state.
He woke in his truck and
he'd sweat through his clothes. The sun had pulled up and hung full in the window frame. He'd left the glass down in the night and a grasshopper had settled on his shin and sat there fiddling. Daniel lifted his leg and scooted his ass toward the truck door and laid the crook of his knee joint over the framing. He kicked the bug loose. Sting of hot metal on the skin of his calf. He got his leg back inside and sat up. There were miles and miles of cornfield outside the driver door and a near-empty stretch of highway opposite. He stripped to just his gitch and leaned back against the seat. Counted bruises on his arms and on his chest and at his stomach. Knots in his right elbow like healed-over gravel.
Daniel got out of the truck and stood there pissing in the ditch. A car of farm girls went by and one of them hollered so hard that his piss cut out and he had to wait a second to start it going again. He stepped light in the roughgrass to the bed of the truck and dug through his duffle for clean clothes. When he found them he stood there holding them and scoped the sun under the flat of his hand. He put some deodorant on and took the clothes into the truck and dropped them on the passenger seat and pulled out from the shoulder. He drove townward in his skivvies with a bare, bone-sore foot working at the pedals.
He lay on a wooden bench
in the warm-up room. Cinder-block walls painted over blue. As he dozed there were two other fighters hitting pads, one a heavyweight. Daniel half heard the leather taking mitts and shins. After a long while an official came in by the door and the heavyweight went out. Not fifteen minutes later the man came back with his eye shut and bleeding, his nose squashed. The smaller fighter who'd been at the pads slowed up and his cornerman whacked him upside the head. Soon they left out to take the walk as well.
Daniel sat up and took off his hoodie and his socks. The heavyweight watched him sidelong with the one good eye. A doc had come in to examine the man.
“It's like the fuckin' state wrestling team out there,” said the heavyweight. “Them against all the fighters come in from elsewhere.”
“That's how it always is,” Daniel said.
“Well, fuck,” the heavyweight said.
He spent the first round on
his back, the wrestler atop him with his head drove into Daniel's left ear. The wrestler stuck him with elbows and short punches to the body. Partway through the round Daniel started talking at him. The wrestler tried to posture up and thump him but Daniel had control of his wrists and the man couldn't land clean. At the bell the ref touched them both by the shoulder and the wrestler got up slow.
Early in the second round Daniel found his range and pumped a stiff jab in the wrestler's mug over and over, tattooed the man's forehead with it and snapped his head back. When the wrestler tried to shoot in for a takedown Daniel sprawled back and stuffed it, pushed the wrestler down by the back of his head. The wrestler had Daniel's foot but Daniel shucked loose and circled out, drilled him with a straight right and then a left hook as the man got up. Blood from the wrestler's lip and nose. Tired-dog look in his eyes. When next he shot in, Daniel had his timing and stepped in to meet him and put a knee to his mouth. It felt like he'd hit a sack full of light bulbs. The wrestler fell flat and lay there. Daniel loped low and belted him upside the ear with another left hand. The ref pushed him clear and covered the downed man, waved the fight off. Quiet in the arena save for a few fans clapping and whistling in the back seats.
Near midnight Daniel sat
on a hay bale beside the wrestler. Farm party lit by truck headlamps with one rig blasting Johnny Cash. Some people came by to talk at them or shake their hands. Many wouldn't. The wrestler had lost two front teeth in the fight but they were fakes. He had them in his breast-pocket of his shirt. They were passing a bottle of bourbon back and forth. Someone had lit a massive bonfire from old wooden pallets and fruit crates in the clearing before an ancient barn. Nobody could get within twenty feet of it and by the fringes of the clearing the cornstalk leaves were curling.
“Ain't that really fuckin' dangerous?” Daniel asked the wrestler.
“Oh, yeah,” the wrestler said.
Daniel woke up in the rear bedroom
of a trailer with a girl's forearm across his stomach. He had no clothes on and she wore his T-shirt and not a stitch other. His dick was hard and he felt funny with it just out there in the open, the one bedsheet wound up in the girl's legs. He stared up at the ceiling and tried to get his shit together. The girl beside him had auburn hair and a tiny lip ring, pretty as could be with her little make-up and freckles by her cheeks and along the line of her collarbone. He got clear of the arm slow and moved a pillow under it. No matter. She slept like the dead and her nose whistled.
The cop's knuckles got him up
again, over and over on the truck window. When Daniel sat up the cop took a good step back and watched him. Daniel looked around his resting spot at the highwayside and car after car spat past and carried on to wherever. He blinked hard and wound the window down. The cop came back. After a second he leaned in with his forearms on the metal sill.
“Long night?” the cop said.
“Yes sir,” Daniel said.
“You know you can't just pull over and squat on the side of a busy goddamn road like this, right?”
“I do now.”
“Uh huh,” the cop said. “You get into some trouble, son?”
“You been in a scrap?”
“It was a legal one.”
“At the arena?”
“At the arena,” Daniel said.
The cop nodded and tilted his hat back a little bit. He started toward his cruiser.
“Just take it on down the road,” the cop said. “The state line's that way.”
Daniel watched him go and then he turned the key and tried to fire the engine. It picked up on the third try. He took off.
His last fight of that year was on
a ranch in northernmost Montana, the cage put together atop two flatbed trailers. Portable bleachers set up around the clearing. Three hundred people saw Daniel get his brow split open by an accidental head-butt and they saw him bleed all over the matting and all over the other fighter. He wrestled the other man to the ground and in the scramble got behind him with his stomach to the man's back, hooked both heels under his quads. The man tried to turn out but couldn't and they were both facing the sky. With red pooling in his left eye Daniel slid his arm under the man's throat and all the sweat and the blood made it hard for the man to grab his gloves and fight off the choke. When he cinched it in the man didn't have time to tap and there he went to sleep.
They had the cut dressed and taped by a cattle veterinarian. The vet offered to stitch the wound but Daniel wouldn't let him. Instead Daniel took his truck and his gear off the ranch and drove the twenty miles to the Alberta border. Where he crossed, the guard in the booth was asleep but the truck motor got him to stir. Daniel showed his passport. The guard asked about the cut and Daniel told him the truth.
“They didn't see to it there?” the guard said.
“If they messed it up it'd never be right again. I figured I'd better come back.”
The guard studied him long. Daniel waited with the windows down. Plain winds whistled by and they carried the scent of dewgrass. Somewhere beyond the pass there were coyotes crying.
At triage he gave his health card
and other particulars to a rather pretty middle-aged woman who looked to have not slept in days. If there were a way to be less interested than she was, he couldn't figure out what it might look like. He sat in a row of chairs near to a busted pop machine. Only one other person sat in that room and he was likewise alone and looked Daniel over but once. A minute later that man was sleeping, chin to chest. He had his arm slung to his shoulder with a tied-off pair of corduroys. Daniel did not see any blood.
There was just the one doctor in the place and he came by Daniel's bed to examine the cut. After that he fetched a nurse and she came in through the curtain with a basin full of gauze pads and a plastic bottle of antiseptic. Red, red hair that hung about her shoulders. She sat at the edge of the bed beside him and went to work on the gash. A few seconds passed with her that close and he realized he'd been holding his breath. He'd no way to explain it to himself except that he'd never had feelings just like those before or at least not all in a row. She did not seem to mind him at all.
“Where'd you do it?” she said.
She pointed at his brow.
“At work,” he said.
“I'm told it was someone head-butted you.”
“That's where I work,” he said.
The girl took the gauze pad off and studied the cut, his face, the whole of the man. She pushed in the tip of his nose with her index finger.
“How many times you break this?”
Daniel shifted on the bed.
“Just twice. I got it fixed the first time, but it kind of kept getting bashed so the second time I let it stay broke.”
The nurse got up and threw the soiled pads away. She'd lain the anesthesia needle and the stitching needle on the counter and she took up the first. Flicked the cylinder and pushed a dribble of anesthetic through the bevel. Daniel saw her back through the scrubs, the knobs of her ankles. She told him to lie down on the bed. When she came over he saw the needle and sat back up.