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As we sat there underneath the window, I heard my father leave the saloon and walk to the edge of the wooden porch. He didn’t peek around that corner, though. instead, he just said, “You two can come out now.” He leaned against the wall to wait, and for some odd reason, I got it in my head that if we just stayed still he’d walk off and not push us with any more questions. But after a few more seconds, he said, “Don’t you two insult me, now. Deacon…Willie…let’s go, boys. Come on out here.”
We knew we were caught, and sighed with a touch of frustration as we got back up to our feet and shuffled our way out front. “Sorry, Daddy.” I mumbled.
“Now, what did I tell you about sticking your nose in business that ain’t yours, huh?” He asked. “What are you up to?”
“Daddy, I don’t like the looks of them travelers. Not one bit. They look like they live and breathe for being a problem.” I said.
Willie agreed. “They do seem like they got the wrong kinda dirt on ’em, Sheriff. Can’t you feel it?”
That’s when he lightly pulled us further away from the bar and the window and lowered his voice. “Now, you listen to me, and you listen good. These fellas come here without raising their arms to nobody. Maybe they’re trouble, and maybe they ain’t…but you boys leave that for me to sort out on my own. The last thing I want is to go poking a hornet’s nest that don’t need poking. Tomorrow morning, I’ll talk it through with them, find out what they’re looking for and how to give it to them…and then they’ll be on their way. No cuss, no fuss.”
Willie was quiet for a moment, then he looked up and asked, “You really think they’re telling the gospel truth with what they said, Sheriff? About monsters and the devil and all that?”
He thought about it for a moment, and said, “Truth, or no truth…it’s plain to see these boys got a story to tell. Might as well hear ’em out. Just don’t you boys go spreading around no whispers about this. Ya hear? Can’t have the townsfolk jumping at their own shadows.” At that very moment, the bar doors come swinging open, and I see my Uncle Buster come stumbling out of there…both legs as loose as a couple of ropes. “Lord bless it…” Daddy sighed to himself.
We all made our way over as he leaned up against one of them nearby beams to keep him from taking a spill. He let out a loud belch that was cut short with a bit of a hiccup, and then he looked over at us to give us a lazy smile. Don’t even make no good sense for him to be this drunk so early in the day. “Hey, y’all! ‘Hic’…nice weather we’re having, ain’t it?” He said, swaying against the beam.
“Look at you, Buster. What are you doing?” Daddy asked, and Buster did his best to stand up straight, fixing his hair and trying to get rid of that intoxicated grin on his face.
“Why…whatever do you mean, sir?” He couldn’t even hold back his own laughs as he bent over and started to cackle to himself.
Shaking his head, my father turned to Willie and me and said, “Do your daddy a favor and see Buster home before he wander himself out in front of a coach or somethin’, will ya?” Then he lifted Buster’s chin to give him a direct look in his eyes. “You’re done drinking for the day. You hear me?”
Sloppily, he smiled and said, “Sure thing, Sheriff. I ain’t got the fortitude for nothing more than a good nap, no ways. ‘Hic’…”
“And I want you to keep yourself away from these gambling tables for the next couple of days. You hear me? We got some new folks in town…I don’t feel right about you mixing it up with the likes of them while they’re here.” He gave me a nod, “Now get on home, Buster. Let the sun dry you out for a spell. Get that nap in and stay in bed til I tell you otherwise.”
Great. Another day and night of Buster snoring like a runaway train. Just what I needed.
“Come on. We’ve got you.” I said, trying to position myself under his left arm while Willie took a spot under his right. Now, my uncle was bigger than both of us sitting atop on another’s shoulders, so I was hoping that he’d have the balance to assist us on the long walk home. Otherwise, he was gonna topple all three of us, face down, in the dust before we even get outside of town. “Take it easy, Buster. One step at a time…”
Suddenly, Buster got his dignity all stirred up, looking at these two youngins holding him up, and he tried to straighten up…gently pushing us away. “Now, now…you two turn me loose. ‘Hic’…I can…I can stand just fine on my own two. I don’t need two little boys to take me home. I came out here by myself…’hic’…and I can get home by myself. Just because I got myself a little out of sorts, it don’t mean that I can’t…” Willie and I watched as he was already starting his decent back down to the ground. A stagger that took him off balance, and as he stepped backwards to catch himself, his top half only took that as cause to lean back even further. So we watched as he stumbled for a few steps and landed right on his back in the middle of the road. Right in front of everybody.
People started laughing at him. So embarrassing. Even the ladies had to turn away to hide their giggles from him. Willie and I both had to blush for him, and we hurried over to help get him up out of the dirt. I was trying to help him, but Buster kept trying to push my hands off of him. “Come on now, Buster! Quit bein’ a fussy baby and let us carry you! Get up!” Willie and I strained with every young muscle we had to get him back on his wobbly feet, and he finally gave up the fight, allowing us to walk him forward and at least get him out of the middle of the road. Stubborn as a mule on Sunday, my Uncle Buster.
We were already getting weary from holding up so much of his weight by the time we reached the edge of town, but we didn’t want to drag him along too fast. He’d fall over for sure, let out a belch, and pass right on out to sleep. Then we’d be stuck trying to pull him home in a damn wagon or somethin’! But, just as I was getting fed up with having to take Buster home at all, I heard him sniffling a little bit to himself, and I looked up to see his eyes all red and misty. I could tell he was trying to choke it back, but he couldn’t hide the emotion on his face. Not today.
“You know, Deacon…’hic’…it was your dear, sweet, momma that used to keep me in line. You know that, right?” He said, his voice beginning to crack. “My baby sister. My baby sister ain’t never done no wrong to nobody. ‘Hic’! Not to nobody.”
He seemed to be getting even heavier on our shoulders as the feelings swept through him. Frankly, I didn’t need the extra pounds. “Alright, Buster. We ain’t got far to go, now. Keep your feet moving.” I said, trying to change the subject.
“She was good for me. She kept me focused.” He continued. “Some nights, it seemed like…ten shots of whiskey and your momma’s loving smile had the same effect. If I had one, I ain’t have no need for the other. And your momma made sure she smiled at me every day.” A few tears dripped from his eyes, and I started to pick up the pace a little bit, as I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with watching a full grown man cry. I don’t know, there’s something about it that don’t seem natural. I saw my daddy cry when they laid my momma to rest…and it took me the whole Summer to try to shake free from the memory of it. “Now her smile ain’t around no more, Deke. I can’t…’hic’…I can’t see it no more. I feel like I’m starting to forget what it looks like. I’ve gotta drink more and more of that ol’ rotgut to get that feeling back. I reckon…one day I’ll end up drinking enough to not wake up no more. I’m thinking…’hic’…that might be nice. Not to wake up no more. No…no more…”
Feeling pressured to speak my mind, I cut myself short and said, “Uncle Buster, you’re talking foolish, now. Just concentrate on keeping yourself together. Alright?”
Willie remained dead silent the whole time. I’m not sure what he was thinking about all this, but if he was feeling any type of way about what was going on here, he sure didn’t say nothin’ about it.
Buster leaned over to give me a kiss on the top of the head, nearly causing me to lose my footing. “You’re the spitting image of her, you know that? Maybe…’hic’…maybe your smile will do the trick for me. Huh? You think? Let me see you smile for me, Deke. Come on now…”
“Buster! You’re ’bout to make me topple over, now. Wait until we get back to the house.”
“One smile. Just one. Let me see your momma’s smile. Show me.”
Trying to keep this drunken coot still, I looked up into his face and attempted to work up the best smile that I could. I was sweating and unsteady on my feet, but I figured that Buster was almost seeing double anyway. So what does he know?
“Yeahhhh…’hic’…that’s it. That’s the smile I remember.” He grinned. “Spittin’ image…” And with that, his eyes rolled back in his head, and Buster fell flat forward on his front side, taking me and Willie with him until we were all eating dirt.
We worked our way from under him, and Willie and I both had to get on the same side of him to roll him over onto his back. Seems like we did it just in time too. Because the second he started snoring, my uncle Buster let loose with such a blast of hot air out of his asshole that it caused a lingering cloud of dust to kick up and got me and Willie scattering backward to avoid the potential encore!
Defeated, I sighed, “Lord bless it, Uncle Buster…” But just as Willie’s eyes met mine, he started to smile…which made me smile back at him…and a few seconds later, we were both bursting out into a fit of laughter that nearly doubled us over in a fit. Sometimes, you’ve just got to take your joyful moments wherever you find them.
After holding our stomachs for a few minutes, we both leaned up against Buster’s passed out body in the dirt and worked to catch our breath. Willie asked, “Alright, Deke…what now?”
I turned to look off into the distance, my house was way too far off to get Buster there without him being able to function with his own locomotion. “Nothing now.” I said. “I ain’t tossin’ my back out of whack carrying him all that way. It’s best to just let him sleep it off for a while and try again later.”
“Well, what are you gonna do during all that time while he’s sleep?” He asked.
“I don’t know. Think, I guess. Give myself a rest. Keep the fire ants off of him. I’ll be alright if you want to carry on some place else.” I said. And Willie stood up, dusting himself off.
“You sure you don’t need no more help, Deke? I’d hate to just leave y’all out here in the sun like this.”
“We’ll be alright.” I told him. “Like my daddy said, Buster just needs the sun to dry him out some. That’s all. When he wakes up, he’ll be sober enough to not drag me down with his every step.”
“If you say so.” Willie said. “It’s a good thing…you taking care of your uncle like this.”
“Well…you’ve gotta love your kin.” I said, attempting to get more comfortable on the ground.
Willie hesitated for a second or two longer, and then…almost timidly…he said, “You know, Deke…I miss your momma too. The whole town does. She was a good woman.”
It always surprised me when Willie was having one of his affectionate moments. I’m not exactly sure why, as he had them more often than most fellas I know. But it was touching, nonetheless. Especially when it came to my momma.
“Thanks, Willie.” I said. “I miss her something awful sometimes, ya know? It’s like I can still hear her calling me whenever I hear the wind blow. It’s crazy.”
“Well, I don’t right know how to bring you no comfort at a time like this, Deke…but you know I’m stuck to ya if you need a shoulder.” He said.
“I know it, Willie. And I appreciate it.” I said. “I think I just need some time to get my thoughts and prayers together. That’s all.”
“Alright then. I’ll leave you to it.” He started to walk away, but turned with a grin to say, “You watch that blowhole of his! He’s liable to scorch a hole in his britches if he keeps bringing it like that last explosion!”
“Hahaha! I’ll stay vigilant, Willie. You got my word on that one.” And I watched as he walked away to head back towards town. I just sort of sat there in the dirt with my uncle for a while, hoping he’d get enough snoozing in to get back on his feet before I got too bored to dust him off again. If nothing else, at least I can keep the buzzards from pecking at him.
It took a few hours of waiting, but just as it was starting to get dark, Buster started stirring and sat up again, only half knowing where he was and what he was doing. He certainly wasn’t sober, not by any means, but he had enough of a headache to keep him from wanting to lay there in the dirt for one minute longer. Thankfully, he seemed to have his emotions under better control than he did earlier…but I have to admit…for me, they seemed to linger for a bit longer. I usually try to avoid thinking of Momma too much or too often, but sometimes, I reckon my thoughts come for me when they feel like it. Not much I can do about that.
I finally made it home and got Buster to bed. My daddy cooked us a decent meal and left some for Buster in the oven to keep it warm for later. But my main concern was waiting for the stars to shine and the moon to rise up so I could go out and set the fire again away from the house. I try not to look too eager, worried that my father might start getting itchy and looking out the window to see what I’m up to, night after night. But…when I think about seeing Colby again…it’s a bit hard to hide the kind of fireworks he sets off inside of me.
I know that I keep trying to tell myself that it ain’t right and it can’t last…but my heart keeps working double time to make me forget. It’s almost like it don’t matter none, just so long as I get to look into those pretty eyes, and maybe snatch me another kiss or two from him. I swear on every star above, if I see Colby tonight, I’m gonna steal me as many kisses as he’ll allow me to have, and maybe try for a little bit more.
I want to touch his hair. He has such nice, shiny, hair. And as soft as his lips are, I reckon his cheeks are even softer. I wanted to kiss them too. And maybe up and down the side of his neck. One side, and then the other. As I waited by that fire, staring out into the darkness…focused on the direction towards the mountains where he say him and his friends been living…I felt myself getting downright dizzy with anticipation. And as some of that feisty energy returned to me…visions of kissing him with passion and maybe sucking tongues with him for a little while…I felt myself getting stiff down below. I kept using my hands to press it down some, but I think that was only making it worse. I just wanted to hold him close to me. So close. Feel his breath on my face. Hold his sweet hand in mine. Maybe even…cuddle him up under the covers with me and rub skins with him while he slept peacefully in my arms.
Why am I so confused? It doesn’t feel like it’s confusing. Not to me, anyhow. But the fact that it should be has got me all turned around backwards. It’s the only kind of ‘wrong’ that’s ever excited me this way.
I kept waiting to see if Colby would show up. If maybe those bright eyes and pretty face would soon emerge from the shadows and put my aching heart to rest. But…after an hour or so, with no arrival, my whole mood began to sink. And I started to lose hope that he’d come calling tonight.
Was the fire not bright enough? Couldn’t he see it from wherever he was? He promised to come by so we could look each other over again. I wanted to kiss some more. I wanted to touch some more. I just…heck, I was willing to offer him my heart on a silver plate if he wanted it. Just…keep coming back to see me. I missed him. And it felt like heartbreak when I didn’t catch sight of him.
Daddy eventually peeked his head out of the house and told me to come inside for the night. Naturally, I wanted to wait for as long as I could…just in case Colby got himself a late start and just hadn’t reached me yet. But…he didn’t come by. And I had to put the fire out before bed.
I hope that me kissing him didn’t make him feel too awkward about coming to see me again. I hope that he ain’t afraid of feeling what I’m feeling right now. Because I don’t think I can even imagine going back to my day to day routine without the promise of seeing him again. I reckon everything else that I get up to would be pointless, now that I got a true pinch of what love feels like.
Did I say love?
Yeah. I reckon I did. Love. Real love.
I went back to the house, a sad shuffle of my feet as I tried to keep from feeling the hurt of it all. But who knows? Maybe I’ll see him tomorrow. Or the day after. It really doesn’t matter.
I just want to be close to him again. My heart don’t feel like it’ll beat right without him. It sure ain’t beating right tonight…