TINGE Magazine - http://www.tingemagazine.org

Issue 9

King of the Eyesores

 · Fiction

Sept. 22 — 3:35 p.m. — 57 South Main St., Fritz’s Bakery:

Sheriff Gatson sniffs the buttercream air. Performs a Japanese bow before the glass case. Slim pickings. A few jelly twists left, some cupcakes, a smattering of cookies, a pound cake or two. His stomach hangs over his waistband like dough from an exploded biscuit tin. He’s a walking joke.

“When are you due?” they ask. “Twins? Triplets!?”

“Any day now,” he says and fakes a smile.

He fears someday it won’t be fake anymore.

Stephanie Fritz works the counter. Sixteen. Fourth generation in the business. Her father got pistol-whipped a few months back when he got a man’s order wrong. Some meth-head named Cyrus Pennebaker. He didn’t get very far.

Gatson found Mr. Pennebaker strung out in the alley behind Winship’s hardware store. Tats, tweaks, and black teeth. Clocked in at a whopping 115 lbs. Skin and beard and not much else. No gun. Must’ve pawned it.

Since then, the Fritz clan has comped all the sheriff’s pastry needs.

Stephanie’s hairnet lends her a Mennonite look, but the sprinkles on her hands make it seem like she just jerked off a clown.

“What can I get you, Sheriff?” she asks.

“I’ll take two of those chocolate peanut butter bars, please.”

“No problem.”

Stephanie slides open the case, plops two bars in a brown paper bag. By the time she hands it to him, grease has turned the bag translucent.

Gatson removes his wallet.

“On the house,” she says.

“Thank you,” he says. “Tell your dad I said hello.”

“Will do.”

Gatson trips the bell on his way out. Closes the door behind him.

He reaches in the bag, shoves one of the semisolid bars in his mouth. Heaven. Sweet, diabetic heaven. He sucks the stickiness from his fingers and heads for his cruiser.
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3:47 p.m. — 200 block of Main St.:

Coasts by storefronts. Canvas awnings. Three-story Victorians. Brick herringbone sidewalks. Concrete ones further back lead to bungalows and ranchers. The limestone Savings & Loan. Cut whole from the quarry and dragged here by prehistoric men.

Gatson crumbles the oily sack and tosses it on the floor. He feels sick. Scarfed down those pastries too fast. Can already feel the heartburn, and the guilt, and the next round of hunger.

So the cycle goes.
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3:54 p.m. — Intersection of Main St. and Columbus Ave.:

Woolford’s Funeral Home atop its green hill. Gatson’s mother was laid out there when her time came. His father someplace different. Learned he died while reading the obits. Neal Gatson, Sr. Didn’t even mention he had a son.

The sheriff imagines a world where he can speak to his father one last time. Strange how a person can be dead and still very much alive.
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4:23 p.m. — 1400 block of Emerson Rd.:

Switches on siren console. Jabs the horn button. Truck pulls over. Upright piano in the bed. No ratchet straps or rope holding it down.

Some bumpkin sways in the back. Plays honky-tonk tunes, sucks the life right out of a Miller Lite. Doesn’t bat an eye as Gatson approaches.

The driver’s about as plastered as a wall. Wears a boozy cologne you could smell from space. The sheriff takes a hard look at him. Man grins. There isn’t so much a gap in his teeth as there are teeth in his gap. Gatson could kick a field goal through those things.

“I’m moving it for my sister,” the man says.

His breath. Must be a brewery in the back of his throat. Gatson tries not to pass out.

“She lives right over…” He hooks a thumb behind him then to his left before giving up.

“License and registration,” Gatson says.

Barry Oliver, 45. Ends up blowing a 0.240. DUI, open container, and an improperly secured load. Gatson escorts Oliver to the backseat of his cruiser. The sheriff struts back toward the truck.

“Shit for brains,” he says. “If I were you? I’d take a nice, long walk.”

With that, the man in the truck bed bails over the side and hoofs it down the street. Gatson radios a tow truck.
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5:02 p.m. — 120 East Moreland Ave., Sheriff’s Office:

Gatson exits the station. The hunt and peck of a typewriter recedes. Barbara left a message. Out tonight. Faculty development. Been a lot of those lately.

Barbara still lies even though he knows, but she doesn’t know that he knows. Even if she did, she’d probably keep lying anyway.

He starts to shake. Breathes to steady himself. Can’t keep going like this. Someday he won’t. Mortality isn’t some abstract thing. He feels it in his kneecaps.

Gatson doesn’t feel alive. Not exactly. And he’s not tired or hungry or anything. It’s just that feeling where he’s not bored, like he wants to do something or go somewhere but he doesn’t have anyone to go do it with and even if he did, he still doesn’t know what he’d do or where he’d go. There’s no word for what he feels, or if there is he doesn’t know it which might as well be the same thing.
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5:41 p.m. — 1505 Easton Rd., The Sentinel Motel:

Parked out front. No one comes or goes. A wood-paneled station wagon. A motorcycle with suicide clutch. The day drags its feet like a dead man.

The sheriff considers what he’ll eat for dinner. Not that he needs to eat. The radio squawks something about a green 1993 Ford Tempo stolen from the strip mall on Crispin.
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6:23 p.m. — 17 Arendell Ln.:

Hubcaps and rusted paint cans dot the lawn. A satellite dish fallen off the house lays on its side in a pile of leaves. Neighbors called in a disturbance. Gatson feathers his breaks. The car squeals and jerks forward a bit.

A woman stands over a TV, wielding an axe. She’s ready to cut the black cube in two like a wacked King Solomon. Her shirtless husband sits on what was a lawn chair in a former life. He holds a can of beer in one hand and a tumbler of whiskey in the other. He alternates sips and offers a running commentary.

“Oh there she goes. There she does it. Gonna chop that fucker in half.”

“Just wait and see!” the woman says. “Just you wait you son of a bitch!”

“Now she raises the axe. It’s gonna be a doozie, folks. She means business. If you thought she was kidding before…”

The woman unleashes a war cry. The sheriff’s spine tingles. He never reaches a full stop. He taps the gas and keeps going.
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6:37 p.m. — Barren Stretch of Sherman Rd.:

The spot where Bill McKinnon took his life. Senior partner in the firm McKinnon, Nixon & John. Wore three-piece suits, haircut like a toupee. Bill lost millions when Lehman’s stock kamikazed and sunk the market. Like someone strapped a breaching charge to his life. Blew him wide open.

So Bill got in his car and drove to the tracks and stepped in front of a CSX locomotive. Didn’t jump or leap. He stepped. Like he was walking through a door, the engineer said. Didn’t leave a note. Must’ve been hard for his family.
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7:04 p.m. — 313 Cherokee St., The Garden:

Not even full dark and Jon already needs a lift. Do a guy a favor one time and suddenly you’re his chauffeur.

The Garden’s windows are arrow slits, but no one’s ever laid siege to the place. The bar stinks of cowboy killers and the ass of a thousand beers. While the smoke is thin and pale, the men are fat and tan and the smoke hovers like a cloud but it never rains.

Grady Napfle tends bar. He made the call. He leans on a stool behind the counter. It’s like his bones just shrugged and collapsed. His body one big lump. A human beanbag. Lost one leg to diabetes. He’ll lose the other if he’s not careful. His artificial leg is pretty cool though. Made of the same alloy the army uses in missiles and whatnot.

“Thought you’d never show,” Grady says.

“Some of us have work.”

“No shit.”

“So where is he?” Gatson asks.

Grady’s eyes dart toward the other end of the bar.

“Been down there putting the kibosh on everybody’s good time. Never comes up for air.”

“People have a good time here?”

“I just don’t want a scene. He won’t make one if it’s you.”

“Where’s my kickback?”

“Fuck you,” Grady says.

Gatson whistles Dixie and ambles down the bar. Jon would be just another nobody if it wasn’t for his hollow leg and iron liver. Killer combination. He pontificates to no one in particular.

“The world is one big card game,” he says. “And life? Bunch of shitty hands. I think, Please let me forget. Please. But I don’t. I never do.”

“Evening, Jon,” Gatson says.

Jon turns and serves up one his hail-fellow-well-met smiles. It does nothing to hide the fact that there was nothing Jon Finley wanted more than to not be Jon Finley. So he drank. He drank when he was happy. He drank when he was sad. He drank in between. His drinking never caused him to lose his family or his job or anything. He never had those things to lose in the first place. Always got into fights. Always got his ass handed to him.

Yet somehow Jon managed not to piss off the whole town. Yes, there were times when folks chased him into alleys and set upon him with trashcan lids and bottles and fists, but they didn’t hate him. Everyone generally felt sorry for the guy. No one had it in them to call him what he was. They said he was just one of those, you know, got carried away types.

“Where’d you get beer money?” Gatson asks.

“The eagle flies…” Jon makes a soaring gesture with his hand.

“Uh-huh… You know the drill.” Gatson tugs Jon to his feet. “One foot in front of the other.”

“Day drinking is a beautiful thing,” he says.

“You smell like cat piss and mothballs.”

“Nobody cares, man. Nobody cares about nothing. Especially not about you. Not you, but, you know what I mean. They only care what you’re doing.” Jon burps. Pretty ripe. “Everybody knows how everybody else is supposed to live. That’s how you know people are full of shit.”

“Screw them all but six.” Gatson slaps Jon’s back.

“Amen.”

They pass Grady on their way out. Three patrons trying to catch his eye for another round. Doesn’t move a muscle.

“Have a good one,” Gatson says.

“Till next time,” Grady says.

The sheriff holds Jon’s shoulders and pushes from behind. Guides him to the cruiser, lets him sit up front. Gatson climbs behind the wheel and buckles up.

“Don’t you ever get tired of telling people to have a nice day? All that fake bullshit?”

“People love optimism.”

“Addicted to that shit.”

Gatson doesn’t need to ask directions. He knows the way.

“Real question,” Jon says, “is who can put their hands around the other man’s throat fastest.”

The town rolls by in the windows. Repeats like the background in a cartoon.

“Pull over,” Jon says. “Gotta tap a kidney.”

“Can’t you hold it? We’re almost there.”

“Fine…”

Jon’s house sits along the slope to the river. Ready to fall in at the slightest tremor. A weather-beaten skiff in the yard. More algae than boat these days. Man lives alone with his cats. Waiting to die like a pharaoh.

They idle out front for a time. Pin-drop silence.

“I’m sorry,” Jon says.

“What for?”

“I don’t know. I feel like I owe you.”

Jon gets out and shuffles toward the door. He goes inside but doesn’t turn on any lights.
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8:12 p.m. — 447 Eden St., Ogilbee Residence:

George Ogilbee’s Cape Cod is a long way from Massachusetts. An algebra teacher at the same high school Barbara teaches at. Gatson never could find x. Not to save his life. Not that a letter could save anyone’s life.

And there’s Barbara’s ‘89 Plymouth Horizon. Box on wheels. Right out in the open. No attempt to hide. She has to know he’ll see, and she does it anyway.

He wonders. What kind of pile do their clothes make? Did he chalk talk his way into her pants? Probably smells of pencil grounds and eraser crumbs. Do they swap war stories in the teachers’ lounge over Folgers? Go out on the loading dock together for a cigarette? What kind of shorthand do they have? What sorts of inside jokes cause them to share a smile during assembly?

Somehow it’d be easier to take if Barbara slept with one of her students. Up and turned into a tabloid freaks. That way he’d know there was something wrong with her. But there’re no screws loose. Barbara’s grown tired of him and only him. He can’t blame her. He’s grown tired of himself.

The morning after Gatson saw his wife’s car outside Ogilbee’s house the first time, he asked her where she’d been the night before. Barbara said she’d been grading papers at school.

Bitch-slapped by weakness, he didn’t call her on it. He retaliated though. Left the toilet seat up. Turned the thermostat low. Misplaced the spatula and the extra paper towels. Forgot to empty the trash. Little things that used to drive her wild. She didn’t notice.

Gatson remembers a story his grandfather told him. About some crackpot who sharpened one side of a shovel. Made small talk with strangers. Relaxed them with cigarettes. Then swung the shovel and removed their heads. The ground soggy with blood. He hid the bodies under his house. All stiff with “rigor morrison.” Gave him nightmares. Gatson thought about doing that to his wife. Then he thought better of it. Then he thought about doing it again.

Some relationships end in clean breaks. Others end with a bone sticking through the skin. Gatson wasn’t sure which way things would go.
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8:56 p.m. — 53 Abbott St.:

World rinsed black. Full-blown night. Windows flare. A time leased to coons and possum.

The sheriff approaches the house. The charred remains of a sofa sit on the lawn. The upholstery and kapok and springs eaten away. Something from hell’s living room, or the one just inside.

Neighborhood quiet. Dogs quiet. Everything quiet as earplugs. The quiet before the alarm clock. Maybe someone made a mistake. Maybe it’s a prank.

Then voices rise from out behind the house.

“Get your motherfucking hands off me!”

“Bitch, don’t tell me what to do!”

Gatson thumbs the release tab on his holster. He jogs around back.

An open field. Mown grass in dried clumps. A man and woman slap-box. The man’s tee rides up, exposing his beer belly. Can’t even beat the shit out of each other in a house like civilized people.

“Break it up,” the sheriff says, hand on the butt of his revolver.

“Arrest that motherfucker yesterday!” the woman says.

Sounds like raspberries. Flecks of saliva land on Gatson’s face. He resists the urge to wipe them away.

“Ma’am, why don’t you go back to the house?”

She’s pretty messed up. Top teeth MIA. Bottom ones all jagged. Blood down her chin.

“Tell him the truth! Tell him the truth!” the man says. His skin is scalded pink. “Or I’ll knock you out!” He raises his fist. “Swear to fucking God!”

The woman walks away. The man stares meat cleavers at her.

“What’s your name, sir?” Gatson still has his hand on his revolver.

“Ain’t gonna lie. Ain’t gonna lie. Okay? I hit her.”

“What’s… your… name?”

“Ronnie Bryson.”

“This your house?”

“Yeah, yeah, but I want you to know, okay? I want you to know Jodi assaulted me. With her face.”

“Sure. Turn around and put your hands on your head.”

“Shiiiiiiit.”

Gatson reads the man his Miranda rights and makes the bracelets snug. A loss of circulation is the least of his worries.

Once Ronnie Bryson’s in the cruiser, Gatson goes to get Jodi’s story. She sits in the kitchen, a Teacup Yorkie in her lap. It whines and shivers. Confusion and rage battle on Jodi’s face. Dried blood flakes off her skin. A once white now red towel in her hand. The floor is wet.

The sheriff doesn’t even need to question her. Jodi launches into a story about how her dog ate Ronnie’s weed then he beat the dog and she was mad so she took her sweet time making dinner and he was hungry but still she took her time and then he got angry and grabbed his piece and fired a warning shot at the oven and she threw boiling water at him.

“And the rest?” Jodi points to her face.

The bullet hole in the oven door still smokes. The slug probably lodged in one of the heating elements. Gatson’s pen is nearly out of ink.

“And that about covers it?” he asks, flipping his notepad shut.

Jodi nods.

“Can I call you an ambulance?”

“I can get my own damn self to the hospital, thank you.”

The sheriff’s mouth ticks left. He adjusts his gun belt. Nothing surprises him anymore.
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10:26 p.m. — 1803 County Line Rd., Flamm’s Tavern:

Gatson leans against his cruiser. Legs crossed at the ankles. Hands in his pockets. Keeping an eye on things. Waits for a couple of macho dumbshits to get into it over a woman, an insult, a spilled drink. Nothing could’ve prepared him for what he’s looking at.

The boys fan out in the parking lot, and they dance. George Thorogood blares through the open door of the tavern. A dumb-downed blues riff he ripped off some black guy. And they fucking dance. Never mind there’s an actual dance floor inside. Makes too much sense.

Some fatty pogos around. Bitch tits spinning like two compass needles. Others, not as fat but plenty drunk, waltz. Or try to. The cans of Bud Light in their fists lend a touch of class.

Gatson’s sight drifts. The ebb and flow of Friday night. Headlights, taillights. He spots a green Ford Tempo. A glimpse of the driver. Matted hair like the mitter curtain at the car wash.

“What are you doing, man?” the sheriff thinks aloud.

He hops in his car. Fingers hesitate on the wheel.

At last, Gatson starts the engine and shifts into drive. He steers the car out of the parking lot. Hits the lights. Red and blue. Looks like Independence Day. He dials the siren to “yelp.” His favorite sound effect.

The sheriff gains on the Tempo. Not even two blocks ahead. The driver swerves from one side of the street to the other. Sideswipes one parked car, then another. Gatson’s adrenaline pumps freely. Has that junkie twitch in his muscles.

The Tempo slurs through a turn onto James Street. The sheriff follows suit. Tires smoke. Tread’s gone. The driver of the Tempo miscalculates. He pulls out of the turn late and collides with a telephone pole between Lydia’s Beauty Salon and the post office.

Gatson stomps the brake. Cruiser whips to a stop. He grabs his handset and requests backup at his present location.

The wreck is a half-squeezed accordion. The pole mimics the Tower of Pisa. The driver of the Tempo abandons his ride and staggers into the street. Unharmed by the looks of it. He spins around and around, overwhelmed by all the directions to run in.

Gatson approaches, hand on his holstered weapon. Before he can say a word, the man sprints. Gatson gives chase. His tendons twang like bowstrings. He huffs and puffs, breathless.

It isn’t long before the suspect trips, hits the deck, hurries to get back up. Gatson lands on top of the ugly motherfucker. Only a crowbar could fix his face.

They tussle and roll and flip.

“Get off me, cocksucker!” the man says.

“Stop resisting!” the sheriff says.

Man headbutts Gatson. Sees fireworks. Man reaches for his pistol. Gatson grabs his wrists. They strain and groan. Footsteps. A shadow with legs. A second man. Seven feet tall, three hundred pounds. Probably a buddy. Gatson’s fucked.

But the second man kicks the first and says, “Officer said not to resist!”

The boulder of a man tackles the Tempo driver and pins his arms with his knees.

“The cuffs!” he says with a gimme wave of his hand.

Takes Gatson a second to realize the man means him. He tosses the handcuffs. Two clicks.

“Now don’t fucking move!” the giant says.

The sheriff’s hurting. His chest wheezes like two squeaker toys. Has a case of swamp ass worse than the Everglades. The man walks over. Shirt torn at the seam of the shoulder. Pants stained with God knows what. He helps Gatson to his feet.

Hands of light and shadow touch the man’s body, his face. It’s all gray and washed out. A living Xerox. A bad one at that. Something you get for a nickel at the library.

Even so, Gatson loves the man. It’s like all the good dreams he’s ever forgotten on waking come rushing back. That’s how he knows he loves him. He’ll never say it. All he says is, “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

“You deserve something. A citizen citation. Something.”

“I’ll pass.”

“Come on. What’s your name? Tell me that much.”

“I don’t wanna sound rude, but… I got a couple outstanding warrants, so…”

A siren in the distance. They shake hands. Off he goes.
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Sept. 23 — 12:34 a.m. — 35 Eagle Rd., Gatson Residence:

His deputies’ jeers are fresh in his mind. They don’t buy his story, but what do they know? Doesn’t cost them anything to believe.

Gatson sits in his cruiser. The engine pings as it cools. Barbara’s Plymouth in the driveway. The house dark. She’s in bed.

The sheriff will join her soon and rest his head on his pillow. He’ll keep one eye open. Barbara will pretend to be asleep, but then she’ll ask him about work.

Will he tell her what happened? Or will he say, “Same shit, different day”? His favorite response. Or will Barbara say, “I love you”? She says that sometimes. And will he finally say, “I don’t believe you”? Probably not.

The sheriff tries not to think about it.


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