Excerpt #13 -The King of Corinth

"My father? What can I say, really? I can say that he lived by the sword, he most certainly did, that's for sure. Nobody would disagree with me there. And he didn't just live by it, well, you know how the saying goes. 

"We grew up in what can fairly be described as little more than a shack, behind the old railroad station. The station was built in a time when it was more necessary for steam engines to stop in the desert for water, whereas nowadays they just barrel on through, by the old station, not needing to stop for anything. Anyone. Nothing. The town is dead, and empty. I went back once. There was dust everywhere. Tumbleweed blowing through the street. I stood on the place where our home used to be, and I could still hear the cowbell ringing, in my imagination, of course, which is often more real than real is real, if you know what I mean. After all, what is reality if not our perception of the world as taken in through our sensory organs. Sensory perception. 

"Before I made my way over to the scene of the crime, or, rather, the scene of the redemption, at another man's expense of course, the scene of Fate, who takes just as much as he gives, because, you see, fate can work that way.

"There isn’t very much left of train depot, where I used to work as a boy and until I left for college, doing everything from pumping the tanks with water, taking tickets, carrying bags and cleaning the toilets. Whatever they needed, I did. I made a good wage, but the problem was that my earnings always seemed to find their way into Pa’s pocket and, ultimately, into either the bartender’s till or, just as often, a game of dice. 

"It’s no surprise that, years later in college, when I studied Camus’ Sisyphus, I empathized with the good ‘ole King of Corinth, who was condemned to roll his boulder up to the top of a steep hill, only to have it rolled back down to start all over again.

"The quarters in the shack were very tight. Sure we were dirt poor, but that didn’t mean that Pa had to build our dwelling so small. In fact, Ma always told us the story about how much wood Pa had left over when he was done with construction, the wood her father, my grandfather had bought for Pa to build the house, and then he turned around and sold the leftover off for a sum certain which, yes, you guessed it, found it’s way into the barman’s till. While Pa may have exercised some foresight in preserving his cache of wood for sale at a later date, neither he nor Ma seemed to be thinking ahead as their procreation practices populated the shack with 7 of us, me being the oldest. Talk about on top of each other. 

"Since I was about twelve years old, it fell upon me to help Pa home from the saloon when it closed. Since it never closed at the same time, and we certainly didn’t have a telephone to call for an escort, the barman would ring a cowbell in the darkness of the night, and it was very dark out there on the perimeter, no city lights, to signal that it was time to come pick Pa up. The more he rang it, the more urgent it was to come retrieve him, as he could be on the verge of passing out, or, worse, a fight. Though the barman would not hesitate to throw some drunks out the front door into the dirt, he treated my father differently, for some reason, and he would never let him walk home without either me or Ma being called to come get him. After doing it so well the first time I was asked, Ma never did it again, and thus the lot of walking Pa home in his nighttime stupors fell upon me. No good deed goes unpunished.

"We didn’t exactly live in the safest part of town, not that there was a safe part of town at that time of night, and so I always carried a billy club and my buck knife with me, hoping never to have to use them, but ready to do so, if necessary. For as long as I can remember, Ma hung that billy club next to the front door. It was the only security that house had. We didn't even have locks on the door. Sometimes men would come around looking to collect on a gambling debt, and they would be assured that if they returned that billy club would be shoved somewhere they didn’t want it shoved. She said the billy club was from New York, where her grandpa was a policeman in the early days of the city, before he moved his family out to the Texas plains in pursuit of a failed American dream. In Grandpa’s case, his dream resulted in owning a baron plot of dusty land and marrying off his daughter to the first suitor who came her way, who, for better or for worse, was Pa. How quickly dreams turn into nightmares. Well, actually, aren't nightmares dreams too, and so perhaps it is best that dreams don't come true.           

"The short walk between the bar and our shack was always difficult. Pa was not a small man, and he was not what you might call a highly functioning drunk. He leaned hard on my shoulder as we staggered through the empty street. His voice was always louder than mine, and as he slurred his words it must have sounded to the boarders in the tenements that he was talking to himself. The subject matter, though it varied slightly on each walk, was usually consistent. Regret. He spoke most often on these walks of regret. The things he did, the things that he should have done differently, that which he didn't do, and, of course, the things I should do. He'd sing. On this particular night, the last night, he spoke of leaving this world with a Satisfied Mind and it was all that really mattered. He cried.

"I was eighteen years old the last time we walked down that street together, the night before my graduation from high school, which he wouldn't have attended anyhow. I had done well enough in my grades and on the basketball court to get a scholarship to the state school in Oklahoma. I hadn’t told Pa about it. I never told him anything about my life, whether it was good or bad.  If it was good, I did not want to make him insecure, and, if it was bad, I didn’t want to bother him with it. I probably should have reached out more. He was probably waiting for me, ashamed that he had not been there for me, like the other dads in town. He was the town drunk. How could he look me in the eye?

"The night air in the desert was always cool, no matter how hot it was during the day, and, let me tell you, it got hot. On this particular night, we could see our breath. There were no clouds and with no moon only the starlight lit the way, which, though they filled the sky, did not provide much in the way of light for witnesses to truthfully testify as to what they saw. The streetlights had burned out long before, and nobody cared enough to replace them. The desert clouds cut dark outlines against the stars.

"Out of the darkness, two men surprised us not so much with their presence on the street, but by their closeness at the first sight of them. I squeezed the billy club underneath my long jacket as they approached, and instinctively, before either could speak, planted the weighted club deep into the back of the larger man’s head. I knew that he didn’t need to be hit again, as I felt the club break through the shell of his skull and sink into the softer recesses of his head. He fell to the ground with a loud thud, and the other man disappeared back into the darkness.

"My dad rolled the man over and we saw that it was the bartender, with Pa’s jacket in his hand. Even as the endorphins of rage had overcome my senses, I immediately comprehended the tremendous mistake I had just made. So did Pa.

"As we waited for the police, he told me to say nothing about this matter to them. He said it was our right to remain silent. He knew that much. He knew how that silence would be interpreted and, over that body, in that dark street, under the stars, in the dust, he held me for the first time I could remember, and the last time, as he was swiftly accused and convicted for the death of the man over whose body we huddled."  


Excerpts For The Pandemic
The King of Corinth by M. Christian Rossman
Live By The Sword by P.J. Muer
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