BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 15. Stomped-on Toad-frog

In this last chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has a chance to say goodbye to everyone he knows and loves and then, excited about leaving for New Orleans in the morning, goes to bed on his nest of pine-straw in the back yard.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 15.  STOMPED-ON TOAD-FROG, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 14 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 15. – Stomped-on Toad-frog

Maybe it was the moonlight, or the hard work of the day, but I had a long complicated dream—

It’s golden evening, and I go to the river.  Trees in straight rows, but they’re huge tall oaks that make me think Tudor.  The sunset turns amber, rays slanting through the columns.  Standing on the high bank, I say to myself, “It’s too late to swim.”  Below, there are jagged rocks in the bank.  A chorus of voices sings sweetly, “Here are the crawdad towers of shrimp-gulls, here the polyp tubes of ash-clay, and chandelier coral.”

Swift water in front of me, a wide river, and I follow its sinuous channel fast to the sea, which draws back, baring sand dunes and fields of sharp stones.  A rain of powdery shells falls and shatters to blue dust.  I don’t want to stay here, so I fly high, high overhead and away, across the land, a desert-crosser returning, outrunning the river.  Beneath blur rows of honey-green orchards to a blue lake.

Now I’m on the ground behind a big house among dark cedars.  A familiar voice, Danny’s, calls “Annie Over!”  We’re playing that stupid game.  Again I feel desperate to see him.  I run in the back door through an empty kitchen and down a hall past rooms of furniture draped with sheets.  And I know it’s our house, Danny’s and mine, the one he dreamed of.

I open the big front door to let Danny in, but he isn’t there.  So I step out onto the porch of that beautiful plantation house with white columns looking out over the lake.  Suddenly I see him running across the field, waving, and I find myself breathing hard as though I’ve just been running too.  Danny is beautiful in the golden evening, laughing.  I motion him in the door.

Evening sun streams through the windows, swirling around us.  In the parlor, the sheets are strangely gone from the furniture.  Little green turtles sit and crawl all over the sofa, chairs, and tables.  Danny stands in front of me, a blush on his smooth cheeks and a glitter in his eye.  Amber light burns like honey on his shoulders, and my own arm is also gilded.  But my skin grows dark, dark like molasses, like Zaya’s.  Danny’s arms encircle me, and there’s a blinding joy of flowing into one another.

And we slide down, down, like down a boat slide, down a mossy channel into the lake among the reed pools.  The water is thick and soft around us, the warm blood of the ancient living Earth.  Part of it, Danny and I, I and he, we drift slowly around among waving seaweed.  And I know that we, and everything else, are just cells in the body of the giant animal Earth.

Above, the sun glimmers down from a high shimmering circle on the surface, flashing through undulating sea-grasses.  Fish dart about, brightly colored, splashes on the green.  These are the glossons, the threrches, emerald black and leaf-brown birds, and we are they, in plumes and veils of rainbow-feathered fins, floating forever together and one.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 14. Hotter Than the Dickens

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben is working for the very last time in the café before he leaves for Tulane on Monday.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 14.  HOTTER THAN THE DICKENS, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 13 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 14. – Hotter Than the Dickens

I was washing a tray of cups and glasses, saying goodbye to the loathsome dishwasher, when Daddy came back and with a strange, broad smile said, “Mr. Stein thinks it all looks so neat and kept up.  He’s going to buy the place!”

“Fantastic!” I exclaimed and truly happy for him, gave him a congratulatory clap on the shoulder.  Daddy looked at me with a fishing buddy smile and left me standing there amazed.

Several more parties came in, and while working on automatic, I realized that I actually did feel awful sad about leaving the Hill now.  Before, it had just been me leaving, but now the folks would be going away too.  There’d be no Piney Hill for me to come back to on visits.  My familiar café with all its furniture and dishes and silverware would be swept up and away in this whirlwind that was whisking me off to New Orleans, like Dorothy to the Land of Oz.

#

In a while without customers, when I was hanging out by the register with Melvin, old Jim from the filling station, and Melba, Daddy and Mom came in.  She was smiling to beat the band.  Daddy said he’d talked Mr. Stein into hiring Melvin full time and assured Melba she didn’t have to worry none about staying on as morning cook.  He said Mr. Stein wouldn’t be making any changes at the service station either, at least right now.

The real surprise was that Mr. Stein was in a big hurry to move in on Monday, so we needed to move out right away.  To my amazement, Daddy’d already made arrangements to put up our furniture in Mr. Bledsoe’s barn.  Melvin said he had him a strong boy with a truck that did chores for his mama.  He went over to Humpersneck to fetch him.

All of a sudden I got real concerned remembering our zoo and asked Daddy what about the animals.  To my relief, he’d already made good plans there too:  Clark would take his birddog and hounds, and we’d put Duchess and Lobo with Mr. Jack down at Paraclifta where they’d live at his pretty house.  And he’d also stable Lady till the family could get settled in a new place.  Clark would also take Fauntleroy Fox down to the real zoo in Texarkana, and Martha Hooper would adopt the cats.  The hogs would go to Mr. Stein with the place.

“And when Mom gets our stuff packed up,” Daddy announced, “we’ll just all of us head off to New Orleans.”  In horror, I staggered back against a stool.  “So when Melvin’s boy gets here,” he went on to me, “y’all can move the furniture up to Bledsoe’s barn.”  He handed me a ten-dollar bill and instructed, “When you’re done, give this to the nigger—and anything we’re throwing out.  I got to go with Mr. Stein down to the bank in Texarkana to finish up this deal.”  And with that, he left us standing there.

A truck driver down the counter was looking up like wanting something, so I took the coffeepot.  Back again with Mom, I leaned up on the register and said, not without irony, “Well, looks like you’re going to a city after all.”

“Thank God!” Mom said with a big smile and dried her cheeks with a napkin.  “I’m so glad.  We’ll get us a place, and you can live with us.”

Horrified again, I said flatly, “No, I’ll live at the dorm like we planned.”  Not waiting for an argument, I took Melvin’s cup back to the dishwasher.  There was no way I was going to miss out on living in that Robert Sharp dormitory as a Tulane greenie-wienie.  I figured it didn’t actually matter if the family came to New Orleans too, because I was still going to be gone off to college.  When I came back out front, Mom was leaving to pack.  No trouble about my stuff.  It was packed already for Monday.  Then I had a horrible thought:  Leaving tomorrow, I couldn’t take my last ramble in the woods.  I’d never see my grotto again!

#

In about 15 minutes Melvin pulled up by the mailbox in his red Plymouth, a big rattle-trap green truck following behind.  As I crossed the road, a Negro boy got out of the truck, about my age in old overalls and clodhopper shoes.  But you couldn’t tell much about him the way he looked at the ground.  “This here’s Zaya,” Melvin said with a pat on the fellow’s back.  “He’s a good boy and works hard.  Zaya, this here’s Mr. Ben.  He tell you what to do.”

The black boy looked up at me for a moment and muttered politely, “Mr. Ben.”

Melvin went to take over for me in the café, and I had Zaya hang on while I checked on things in the house.  Mom was real busy with the living room full of boxes, and Janie was out in the backyard folding up the bedclothes.  I quick changed into my old Bermuda shorts because I knew it was going to be some hot work.  As I was about to go out, Janie handed me her folded up cot from under the weeping willow with, “You gotta get the bed yourself, big brother.”  So the folks’ mattress off the storm cellar was our first item to lug to the truck.

Then we loaded up the living room, all the chairs, sofa, TV, rugs, bookcase and some heavy boxes Mom had ready.  Zaya’s truck had a bunch of boards for sides around the flat bed, and we roped things down too.  He was sure enough strong with amazing muscles under his overall straps, reminding me of that banana guy on the dock.  The smell of his sweat was like a horse or maybe a deer, very animal.  Zaya acted surprised to see me working right alongside him, which I suppose probably didn’t happen much with white folks.  Mostly he’d just wait for me to tell him what to do next and say, “Yessir” a lot.

On the first trip to Mr. Bledsoe’s barn, Zaya explained that his name was really Isaiah like the Bible prophet.  “When I was little,” he chuckled, “Folks think I was saying, ‘I Zaya.’”  Suddenly he said, “I hear tell, Mr. Ben, your family is papists.”  I confirmed that, not wanting to argue fine points.  “Well,” he said, “our preacher say y’all believe whatever the Pope say.”

“Not just anything,” I objected, by now definitely not a believer in papal infallibility.  I was secretly amused at the thought of this cluster of three houses we were just now passing being called DePope.  I explained, “He’s sort of like the President of the Church, you know, like the President of the United States.”

Clearly Zaya didn’t understand.  “Well, we Baptists and follow the scripture of Jesus.”

“I know,” I said, but I really didn’t.  Catholics supposedly followed the teachings of Jesus too, but Father Jordan told me it wasn’t good for folks to read the Bible because there were lots of things in it needing explained by Holy Mother Church.  At the time I didn’t wonder about that, but now I certainly did.  With my new belief in the God in everything, the Bible didn’t mean much to me anymore, if it ever did.  I looked at this strange Zaya with his gleaming black skin and could clearly feel the inconceivable God in him too.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13. Push Comes to Shove

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben has his first day off from working in the café in well over a month, and on a long relaxing walk in the woods he achieves enlightenment.  Then he spends the afternoon painting the fence and mowing the lawns.

To read the whole BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 13.  PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, left click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, right click and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 12 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 13. – Push Comes to Shove

I ambled over to the café for some supper, and Margie fixed me a chickenfry.  Then over at the house again, I turned my radio on to WNOE and wrote to Betsy.  I told her right off about how after three years I’d at last fallen out of love with Annette.  While I was describing the old plowshare, the door from the living room into my room opened, and Daddy came in.  Surprised, I turned from my desk and said hi.  I couldn’t remember him ever coming in my room before.

“Hi,” Daddy said back.  “You know, I been thinking on that problem in the magazine.”

Pleased that he’d found it interesting, I said, “Oh yeh, I worked that out this afternoon mowing the lawn.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when Daddy’s face screwed up in the familiar rage.  Instinctively I ducked, but he still managed to smack me hard upside the head, knocking me and the chair over backwards onto the floor.

He stood over me shouting down, “Just see if I try and help you again, you smart-ass son of a bitch!”  With a kick in my thigh, he stomped out, slamming the door so hard the curtain rod fell off, the white lace crumpling up on the floor.  Stunned, I lay there not even feeling the hit or kick, nor the least bit like crying.  What had happened to wake up that monster in Daddy again?

I stood up slowly, furious about the injustice and determined not to put up with it anymore.  It quickly grew into a cold, hard anger.  Whatever spark of love I might have felt for Daddy this morning had just been knocked right out of me.  Clearly push had just come to shove.  Standing there with the chair on its back and the letter on the desk, I decided what to do.

From under the bed I took out my suitcase and started pulling stuff out of dresser drawers.  First things I packed were my Frankie Avalon sweater with its floppy collar, and Danny’s striped shirt that I’d never given back.  While I was choosing some other shirts, Mom looked into the room and saw me packing.  “What are you doing?” she asked quietly, pushing the crumpled curtain back with the door, but of course she knew.

“I’m going,” I said simply.  “I’m 18 and I’m going.”  Gathering up shirts and pants, my arms were full.  Mom stood by the chair lying there and cried.  Janie looked in the doorway, all scared.  For an instant I kind of faltered but went on anyway, “I’ll catch the Greyhound tomorrow and go on to New Orleans now.”  Like Fats Domino, I was ready to walk there.

Mom sniffed hard and asked, “Why do you have to go right now, Benny?”

Her tears made it hard for me not to cry.  “He hates me, and I’m going.”

“No,” Mom sobbed, “Daddy loves you.  He just doesn’t know how…”  As far as I was concerned, I had no feelings left whatsoever.  Mom stood there by the overturned chair crying while I packed the shirts.  Janie disappeared.  “Please, honey,” she said softly and stroked my shoulder, “try and understand how worried Daddy is.  He didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“What else does a fist mean?” I asked and wadded some pants into the suitcase.  “I’m not staying here and getting beat up on anymore.”  For a moment Mom stood there crying silently and then left.  I heard the front screen door close.

#

In the King Edward cigar box on my dresser I found $380 after having paid my fees and buying some clothes from the catalog.  It would just have to be enough, I reckoned.  Take the Greyhound straight to New Orleans, and until I could get into the dorm, I’d camp out down in those willow woods along the river.  A guy could do okay there for a couple weeks with all those big boats on the river and a grocery store probably not too far away.

That meant fetching my sleeping bag from the back room.  Then I started packing my journal and old novels into a cardboard box.  Maybe I should just have Mom send them to me, but I didn’t want anyone seeing all that stuff about Annette.  Then there was all my huge record collection, the books on the shelves…  I started to get really confused because I couldn’t take all that much with me now.

In a daze I picked up random things on my desk and then scribbled on the letter to Betsy, “Change of plans.  Will write from New Orleans.”  While I was addressing the envelope, Daddy appeared in the doorway again.  I stepped away behind the overturned chair.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a choke, his eyes pained.  “I don’t want you to go.”

“I’m going,” I insisted and wary of more blows, put some pens into the suitcase.

Daddy very slowly bent and picked up the chair.  “But for your Mom, just stay till you have to go, like we planned, please.”  His face turned very pale, and he looked away toward the door.  “She’s all torn up about this.”  When he turned back to me, Daddy’s eyes were wet.  His next words came in a rush, “I really am sorry.  I just wanted to do something with you, for you, I mean, because I…”  I stared, and when he took a step toward me, I backed away.  Covering his eyes, he mumbled, “Don’t go yet.  Please.  I… I do love you, Benny.”

If he wanted me to say I loved him too, I couldn’t lie.  Inside, I didn’t love anybody anymore.  My heart was empty without Annette or Danny or anyone.  As Daddy wiped his face, our eyes met, and I saw despair there, more than just the grief of this moment.  “When you sell this place,” I said, hoping sincerely, “things will get better.”  And even better without me.

Daddy’s pale eyes looked real sincere when he said, “Look, Benny, I really do appreciate all the work you done, the fence and all.”  Again he moved toward me, but I was near the bed and couldn’t back away, so he managed to get his arms around me, squeezing hard.

I stood there thinking we were really the same size now, and there was that distinctive smell he had.  I hadn’t felt his arms around me since I was a tiny kid, and that lost look in his eyes.  And he was actually asking me instead of ordering.  So what were a couple more weeks?  It would be a lot easier just to stay on, and it didn’t really matter now I knew how I truly felt.  “Okay,” I conceded.  Besides, the money from two more weeks’ work would come in real handy when I’d at last be on my own in New Orleans.

Daddy squeezed me again and much to my relief, let go.  Surely my smile was as weak as his.  “I’ll go tell your Mom,” he said.  “She’ll be happy.”  With that, he turned and left.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 12. Some Tail

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Cousin Lew sets Ben up for his first time ever to go “parking” with a girl.

To read the whole BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 12.  SOME TAIL, left click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, right click and select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 11 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 12. – Some Tail

Good old Margie and I had that unspoken bargain that in the slack afternoons I’d cover for her to read the paper or embroider, and later on she’d handle it while I’d catch forty winks.  Round about three I lay back on the seat of number one napping in the rosebush-filtered sun.  Suddenly Margie called, “Your dad’s home.”

I peeked through the rosebush and saw Daddy and Joe Ray getting out of the Desoto over by the mailbox, and Ox was pulling up right behind in his pickup.  I trotted across the highway to see what was up.  In the bed of Ox’s truck was the hugest goddam catfish anybody ever saw, maybe nine feet long, lying there big as that walrus in the New Orleans Zoo.  Daddy said he got it off folks who netted it out of the Little River, and he’d butcher it up to serve in the café.

Joe Ray declared, “That mouth is easy big enough to swallow a full-growed man.”

They backed the truck up under a good-sized black oak off to the side of the café, and hoisted the fish up by its tail from a branch.  They got to work with big knives, and I stayed to watch the guts glob out into the tub.  But I had to get back to work.  In another lull in business I checked on the fish butchers who had it all skinned but were hacking with hatchet and saw trying to cut off the monster head.

Ox exclaimed, “I bet this fish is at least a hundred years old.”

“Was,” I corrected him and cautioned, “Don’t go telling any customers their catfish steak’s a hundred years old.”

#

In a couple hours Lew got back from the peach orchard and was so happy to be done with the work at last.  He marveled at the giant catfish head with its long whiskers and sat for the last while of my work with a nice cold Dr. Pepper and the funny papers.  As soon as Daddy showed up, we ran out to feed pets.  After a quick supper together in number three, we bummed around, chasing each other across the pasture and fighting a pine-burr war out by the gravel pit.

Come evening, Lew and I sat on the terrace in the cool under the pines and played canasta, constantly having to shoo the cats and dogs away from our cards.  I asked when we were going to take care of the problems in our pants, and Lew chuckled wickedly.  “Not yet—we gonna get us some tail tonight!”

I was too surprised to squeak.  He pulled some Trojans out of his pocket.  “A guy down at the orchard got me some,” he explained, handing me a little packet.  Staring in disbelief, I took it.  Lew explained, “Iris says she wants to do it tonight.  You know, before I go away.”

I certainly understood that but brandished the rubber and squeaked, “With me too?”

“No, no!” Lew laughed.  “She’s got a date for you too, Cuz.”

“Who?” I squeaked again, but Lew wouldn’t say.  When I reminded him that I didn’t know how to do it with a girl, he said you just had to warm them up first with some kissing and playing with their titties.  Then you reach down there and feel them up some before you slip it in real slow.  I got a bone on thinking about a girl, any girl, spreading her legs for…

The evening wore on with us playing pinballs.  It took forever, and all I could think of was me actually having a date.  By nine o’clock I was really nervous when Iris showed up, followed by Liz Butler.  What a relief that she was going to be my date, my old friend and dance partner, real cute in a tight white blouse with her light brown hair up in a ponytail.  As I sat down beside Liz in number four, I became acutely aware of the Trojan in my shirt pocket.

Iris was very intent on Lew as we all chatted about nothing in particular, and I got to feeling the same sort of affectionate attention from Liz.  She was all smiles and kept touching my arm.  Pretty soon Lew suggested we go for a little ride in Iris’ car.  Liz took my hand and sighed, “I always wanted to go riding with you, Benny.”

Lew saw my concerned expression and whispered, “You and I can make like going home and meet up with them outside.”  We got up with casual farewells to the girls, said goodnight to Daddy at the register, and walked out the door.  Once outside, Lew and I waited by Iris’ car.  Suddenly I got excited, in both ways, to be going out riding with a girl like other guys do.  Thank goodness Liz was nice-looking and we were such good friends.  After a bit the girls strolled out of the café, and we got into the car.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 11. The Race

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben’s cousin Lew visits to work in the nearby peach orchard.  Ben gets a day off from working in the café to pick peaches with Lew, and afterwards they go skinny-dipping in the river.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 11.  THE RACE, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 10 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 11. – The Race

Lew drove the jalopy out the gravel road to McKellar’s Crossing, a ford across the shallows in the Cossatot.  A rutted track wandered off across the field beyond.  If you walked a ways downstream, you came out of the bushes at the swimming hole.  There were no rocks or stobs anywhere in the broad pool about fifteen feet deep in most parts, and a great rope swing hung from the branch of a sycamore on the bank.  Lew jumped out of his clothes before I even had my shoes off and dived into the water.

Even as good a swimmer as I was, I had to admit that Lew was better, a lot stronger.  I lost some quick races back and forth, and then we just splashed and horsed around for a good while with many cannonballs from the rope swing.  I felt so happy having this companionship in my prison, even if for only the next week and some.  Then we climbed out on the bank and lay down by a towering hickory tree to dry off.  Lew’s prick looked maybe bigger than mine, more like Danny’s, and circumcised, of course.

The late afternoon sun slanted through the treetops across the river, their shadows lengthening across the water.  A cicada began its loud, whirring song down the stream.  Not a ripple disturbed the bright reflection of a few clouds on the still surface of the swimming hole.  Lew broke the silence with, “I guess it can get awful lonesome, huh?”

I grunted, “Not many girlfriends in this neck of the woods.”

Lew laughed and said, “Why not?  You’re so sexy with all this hair.”  He petted the hair on my chest.  “Why don’t you date one of these cute chicks you know?”

Wondering why he’d even ask that, I said, “You know, Lew… Catholics aren’t supposed to get involved with non-Catholics.”

Lew guffawed.  “Benny, that’s so old-fashioned!  Nobody thinks that anymore.  I mean, Joannie’s even a Lutheran.”

I lay there on the riverbank like an astounded fish out of water.  Had my whole life been because of a mistake?  I protested, “But Father Jordan said we…”

“That was just him,” Lew consoled.  “You gotta watch out for the Jesuits.”  Boy, I was so confused by now—and outraged—that I couldn’t speak.  Lew patted my hairs again and said, “Too bad you thought that, Cuz.  Some of those girls at the café got the hots for you, sexy guy.”

That just made it worse.  I didn’t even know…  Of course, Lew was the sexy one with his smooth, tanned chest.  I couldn’t keep from looking at his prick, so much like mine, lolling there on his thigh.  I asked, “Have you ever screwed a girl?”

“Plenty of times,” Lew replied emphatically.  “Joannie’s not even my first.  Back in tenth I went sparking with a girl named Sherry and fucked her like crazy.”

Impressed, I still had to wonder how many times was plenty.  Since my worldly cousin would definitely know, I asked, “What’s it feel like?”

“There’s nothing like it!”

That wasn’t very helpful at all, and I seriously suspected it wouldn’t actually be all that much different from me making love with Danny.  At that thought I got anxious again if my buddy had called me yet.  Trying not to think about it, I asked Lew, “How do you get a girl to let you stick it in her?”

Lew laughed out loud and said, “Let you?  Benny, if a girl wants it, she’ll even help you.   You just better be ready.”  What he meant was clear enough, but I wondered how you’d manage to be ready right on time.  Then Lew pulled his watch out of his pants pocket and exclaimed, “Uh-oh!  Uncle Lee said for us to be back by six thirty.  We only got five minutes.”

Being late always drove Daddy wild.  Scarcely into our pants, we piled into the Ford and splashed across the river, bouncing along the old track, a shortcut I knew to the old highway.  It bounced so bad I banged my head on the roof.  The track came out on the gravel road behind the Barkers’ store, and we roared away raising a plume of dust behind us.  I sure hoped Daddy wouldn’t throw a fit.  Maybe he wouldn’t slug me, not in front of Lew.

#

It was only a couple minutes late when we got home.  As we rolled over the lip of the Hill, Lew remarked again on how beautiful our place was, the buildings with red roofs and white fences and the tall clustering pines.  We pulled up in front of the house, and I worried because the Desoto was gone.  Surely Mom wasn’t still working after all day long.

We ran straight across the road and found Melvin leaning on the register with only two parties, both eating happily.  He sighed dramatically, “Two more to feed.”

I nervously asked where Daddy was.  Melvin chuckled, “Your dad was all antsy about you getting back, so I tell him I’ll mind the store.  He’s just gone over to Lefty’s for a haircut.”

I asked if there was a phone call for me from Danny, but not that Melvin knew of.  We sat in number four, and he took our orders like customers, a barbecue plate for me with ice tea, and three cheeseburgers and a chocolate shake for Lew.  Then I went and checked for any note maybe by the register, only to be disappointed.

While we ate, Melvin sat on the stool across the way and said, “I hear you boys going on a hayride.”  I told him we were going with Iris and Pam.  Melvin said, “Well, I’m proud to hear you got yourself a date.  ‘Bout time.  I been telling your dad you young bucks need to go out and have some fun.  Looks like maybe he heard what I’m talking.”

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 10. Sin City

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, the country boy Ben goes to New Orleans to visit Tulane and see the sights of the city.  After going to a movie (“South Pacific”) and riding the ferry back and forth across the Mississippi River, he’s tempted to go into the French Quarter, which his Daddy had expressly forbidden.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 10.  SIN CITY, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 9 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 10. – Sin City

            Walking back up Canal Street, when I came to Bourbon again, I wondered what kind of trouble I could get into simply walking down the street and taking a gander at goings-on.  At the end of the second block at Bienville Street was a bar with a crowd milling around, and you could see into the back where a band of black men was playing some awful loud Dixieland jazz, good as the stuff on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Farther along was a dark, falling-down place called the Old Absinthe House.  The rickety roof looked like any minute it’d fall on your head.  Meanwhile the sidewalks were fairly full of mostly white folks, and everybody with drinks in their hands and acting drunk.  I’d dodge out of their way to be polite and often step down into the street with the constant stream of cars.

On the corner of Conti Street was a place called Madame Francine’s that sounded like a whorehouse, but the pictures along the walls showed dancing ladies covered in feathers and glitter and not much else.  One poster was for Jada, an almost naked lady wrapped up in a huge boa constrictor.  I’d never thought of dancing with a snake before.

A man in a dark vest with a pointy beard was on the steps of Madame Francine’s, and as I passed, he called, “Hey, stud!  Come on in and see some fine ass.”  I hurried on but glanced in the open door at a lady up on a stage dancing with bare breasts and rubbing her thighs lewdly.  If that was a strip-tease, I definitely preferred Joe Ray’s version.

In the next blocks with more bars and loud jazz bands, there were still folks staggering around everywhere.  I reckoned business was pretty good for a Tuesday night.  Passing a house across the street with a pretty lacey iron balcony, through the tall windows upstairs I was impressed to see glittery crystal chandeliers and big gold-framed pictures on the walls.  The smell of beer was almost overwhelming, and it was hotter than blazes for being so late in the evening.  I figured this must be what a sweat bath feels like.

At St. Peter Street I stopped to lean against a wall and watch the flood of folks of all sorts and shapes.  I’d never seen so many in one place before.  Across Bourbon on the other corner was a big bar with a sign for Dixie’s Bar of Music.  While I was looking at it, two very stylishly dressed, handsome young men came out, followed by a girl in tight black slacks and a silky yellow blouse.  Her black hair was teased out full, and she walked with her hips moving slinky.  She was incredibly beautiful.

They crossed Bourbon and then came across St. Peter toward me.  Coming near, the girl looked straight at me with a smile that made my knees go weak.  Like lightning, I recognized the Sno-Cone boy, sure as shooting!  He had the same exquisite eyes.  The two fancy boys looked me over like maybe sizing me up for a fight, and he, (or was it she?), called brightly to me, “Hi there, handsome.”

I stood there gawking, dumbfounded, and as they passed, one of the boys said, “Oh, Mary, don’t go wrecking butch numbers on the street.”

“But it’s so easy,” she-he, Mary, replied with another flirtatious look at me and walked away as sexily as Marilyn Monroe.  Frankly, I did feel wrecked.  Mary was absolutely, positively gorgeous, prettier than Annette by a long shot.  I wondered if he-she was maybe one of those “morphodites” Danny once told me about.  I couldn’t wait to tell him about seeing one.

Panting in the crazy heat, I continued up the street past St. Ann Street, and the bars and foot traffic thinned way out.  It was mostly just houses now with front steps sticking out on the sidewalk.  I picked somebody’s stoop near the corner of Dumaine to plop down and cool off.  Kitty-corner across from me was a dark bar with a sign saying Lafitte’s, like the pirate.

There were still folks walking up and down the sidewalk, but lots fewer.  If anybody looked at me, I’d smile at them and say hi.  But it got no cooler.  Like doing a striptease myself, I took off my T-shirt and dried my face off with it.  Shortly a guy who’d passed by a while before came back and nodded again at my hi.  He stopped and asked, “Got a light?”

“Sorry,” I said, “don’t smoke.”

The young crew-cut guy smiled curiously at my hairy chest and asked, “Busy tonight?”

The way I was draped over those front steps, I couldn’t imagine why he’d think I might be.  “Not so as I’ve noticed,” I replied.

When he said he was Harry, I told him my name.  Meanwhile he looked again at my chest with a suspicious expression that made me think I ought to put my shirt back on.  Next thing he asked if I was looking for some fun.  “I already had lots of fun today,” I said.  “I went to the Zoo and to a movie and on a ferry ride.”

Harry leaned up against the house beside me and asked, “And what about tonight?”

“I’m about ready to hit the sack,” I said.  Wiping my face with my shirt again, I groaned, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this hot.”

“You do look really hot,” he chuckled and with a nudge, asked, “How’d you like to come over to my place?  It’s air-conditioned.”

I couldn’t get over all this southern hospitality, two perfect strangers inviting me to their place.  “Thanks anyway,” I replied, “but I got me a place to sleep.”

“How about I buy you a drink then?” Harry asked, eyeing my pants now like looking for something in my pockets.

Finally realizing he was a pickpocket, I hopped up from the stoop and said, “Thanks kindly, but I best be going.  Nice to meet you, Harry.”

Before you go, Ben,” he said, “how much you want for a trick?”

I laughed that I didn’t know any tricks and headed off down the street putting my damp shirt back on.  Did I look like I was in a circus?  Or a magician?  He seemed normal enough, but he must have been a tad touched in the head.  Good thing Joe Ray warned me about this kind of stuff.

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THERE WAS A SHIP – A Free Gay Memoir

from Gustave Dore

THERE WAS A SHIP, my memoir of being an out gay man half a century ago, is almost done (again).  A draft of the first half was written about four years ago, closely edited by a friend and fellow writer, and then largely rewritten.  Afterwards, I saw that it needed a second half and wrote that.  Just as I finished, my computer crashed, and that second part disappeared into the ether.

Regrouping, I wrote it again, to much better effect in my opinion, but then I saw that my artistic approach to the whole narrative was simply wrong.  Nothing loathe, in the course of the past eight months I wrote the whole thing all over again.  I figured then that three times was enough and posted it here on this website in 2015.

A year later I discovered great format problems and proceeded to rework it–which naturally led to revisions, and now the posted version is from October, 2016.  It is again available for free download by right-clicking here.  Recently I found a way to convert the pdf file of this and my other books into true eBook format and will pursue that route too.

I’d love to tell you more about the memoir, but I won’t.  All I’ll say is that it covers coming out in the debauched French Quarter of New Orleans and then trying to be a faerie in Seattle, which in the middle 1960’s was as straight a city as any in homophobic America of that time.

The title, by the way, comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER,” and the title-page quote literally sets the stage:   It is an ancient Mariner,/ And he stoppeth one of three./ ‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,/ Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?’

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 9. Getting Naked

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben and Danny have their own private senior party.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 9.  GETTING NAKED, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 8 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 9. – Getting Naked

            I told Daddy right away about Danny coming up and renting a cabin and us having our own private senior party.  He actually chuckled, “Well, you make sure Ed Norton signs in the register and pays his three dollars.”  He even agreed that I wouldn’t have to work till one o’clock so maybe we could go for a hike tomorrow morning.

However, this evening Daddy had to take Mom to an ice cream social affair over at the Belcher place, so I had to work for him.  It was fairly busy, keeping me running, and I figured it was a good trade-off for tomorrow morning.  It also kept me from watching the clock and thinking about my friend’s arrival.

He showed up right at the promised time, and I rejoiced to see him in a brief moment between customers.  We registered him in the motel book as Mr. Ed Norton from Brooklyn for number five, the nice one out by the woods.  I told him it was the honeymoon cabin, and he gave me a wicked wink.  Then, while I kept working, Danny hung out happily with the pinballs.  In passing I’d peek in at him every chance I got, just for his smile.

#

            The folks got home shortly before ten from their party, and it was time for ours.  Danny carried some Cokes and ice down to number five, and I ran over to the house for my cards and radio.  Going down to the cabin, I trotted along through the pine shadows from the low half-moon and suddenly felt as though I was in some other reality.  The window of the cabin glowed with the lamp through white curtains, an almost magical place.

When I walked in, I got a huge surprise to find Danny with all his clothes off, buck-naked, lounging on the bed with a Roi-Tan and a water-glass of brown drink.  He laughed, “I like to be comfortable when I get drunk.  Have a rum and Coke, good buddy.”

He went over to the dresser and poured me a drink.  Meanwhile, I shucked out of my clothes too and told him how I always like to get naked, roaming out in the woods and even swinging on vines in trees like Tarzan.  Danny handed me the glass and brushed the hair on my chest, laughing, “Benny of the Apes.  But Tarzan wore pants.”

“Only in the movies,” I insisted.  “I bet Mrs. Gorilla didn’t sew him any lace panties.”

Danny laughed and raised his glass.  “Drink up, Benny-boy.”

I took a good slug of my drink.  It was sweet and sneaky at the back of my nose.  Danny sprawled out on the bed again and left his cigar to go out in the ashtray, which I silently appreciated.  He remarked, “I’ve never been naked outside.  Oh, yeh, skinny-dipping at the river, but not just walking around.”

I plugged in the radio and got up on the bed with my drink and the deck of cards.  The music came on with “The Happy Organ,” quite a circus-y way to start off a party.  Sitting tailor-fashion cross-legged, I took another sip and started shuffling the cards.  The drink tasted even better now that the fumes up my nose weren’t so strange.  And it felt so natural sitting here with Danny like this, just the two of us with nothing on and nothing else to do.

We started out playing blackjack poker, and whenever you lost, you had to take a huge slug of your drink.  After several rounds of winning and losing and as many slugs, the both of us were in mighty relaxed moods, chattering and laughing and carrying on over our cards.  When the radio started that really silly old song “Purple People Eater,” we commenced giggling hysterically and scattered cards all over.

With yet another drink, maybe our third, we gathered up the cards and switched to gin rummy.  After a few hands and still another drink, I got up for the bathroom and felt happily blurry, so light, not really connected to the floor.  Back on the bed, I found Danny had dealt.  While I arranged the cards in my hand, he remarked, “I wanna get my rocks off pretty soon.”  I called him a sex-fiend, and he asked, “What else am I supposed to do with a boner on?”

“Just ignore it,” I said.  “When I get a hard on out in the woods or whatever, I ignore it.”  To be truthful with him, I added, “Most of the time.”

Danny leaned back on the pillows at the head of the bed and considered his cards.  Then he looked down at his crotch and sighed, “Show me how to ignore that.”  His prick was slowly quivering and lifting, growing, that secret head slipping out of its hood, peeking at me like a little animal.  I couldn’t ignore it.  It was hypnotic.

He tossed his cards aside, laughed, and asked, “And what about that?”  He pointed at what was happening to me too.  He grinned guiltily, looking cuter than anybody should.

Leaping up off the bed, I babbled, “Just don’t touch it!  Don’t look at it!  Or think about it!  Do something else!”  Feeling dizzy from the booze, I marched back and forth looking at the ceiling and got more and more confused.

Danny jumped up from the bed and said, “I know what.  We can go outside.”  It sounded like a good idea to me.  Even though the soles of my feet were tough as leather, I’d learned from experience to wear shoes outside at night in case of stepping on things you can’t see.  So we looked plain silly all naked in just shoes, no socks, and I could hardly stop laughing.  Even so, our erections weren’t discouraged.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 8. Playing Around

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben stays over with pal Mickey for senior play rehearsal, much to Danny’s dismay.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 8.  PLAYING AROUND, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 7 chapters for reading or download from the chapter list on the book page.

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 8. – Playing Around

            Before long we went over to Herb’s drive-in where the parking lot was a flurry of cars parked around and kids getting their orders from the pickup window.  We gobbled a hotdog each, and while Mick took off to drag-race with Buck, who had a souped-up brown Ford, I went over to talk to Don and Patty, the most glamorous couple in our class, who were sitting in her red Thunderbird convertible.  Everywhere I was reminded sadly of my beloved Annette.  I’d recently read in Teen magazine that she had a white Thunderbird.

Patty thought it was great that I was out “on the town” at last, and I jokingly sang like Burl Ives, “John! John! The grey goose is gone, and the fox is on the town-o, town-o, town-o!”  They looked at me strangely and then got my humor.

Turning serious, Patty said, “Benny, I been wanting to ask you something.  Can I?”  I shrugged assent.  “Do Catholics believe in Jesus?”

Recalling the lines of the Apostle’s Creed about His Only Son J. C., I said, “Sure.  He’s part of the Holy Trinity.”  Here I recognized another opportunity to explain my faith and went on, “It’s God the Father, God the Son or Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.  They’re all one.”

Patty and Don both said, “Oh,” and shared a skeptical glance.  Frankly, I wasn’t very clear on it myself and was glad they dropped the inquiry.

Soon I moved over to sit in a car with Jackie and a couple other guys.  They were smoking cigarettes and talking about girls and who’d done it with which one.  The way I was so quiet, they probably thought I was a real stick-in-the-mud.

A flashy foreign sports car with Texas plates pulled up, and a young man got out.  He was dressed stylish with tight pants and much ducktail on his haircut, looking a lot like Ricky Nelson.  Jackie said offhandedly, “He looks queer.”  I didn’t think so.

Then another guy, Claude from eleventh, said, “I hear there’s one in Texarkana that sits in his car outside the movie house.”  I was about to ask one of what when Mickey and Buck came roaring back in their hot cars.  Mickey had won their race.

We hunted up Bonnie from the cars all over the place and headed back to Alleene.  Mickey exulted in his victory, carrying on about how Buck just didn’t know how to drive that heap of his.  I remarked that going so fast must be more like aiming a car than steering it.

#

            After dropping Bonnie off, we got back to find Mickey’s parents at the kitchen table.  It warmed my heart how his father hugged him hi, and his mother too.  I shook hands politely and noted with surprise that Mr. Wiley was drinking beer.  He had a big belly over his belt.  Mrs. Wiley, also pretty fat, offered me a Dr. Pepper and got us some pineapple upside down cake.

Mr. Wiley said, “So I hear you’re going to Tulane, ain’t it?”  I described the scholarship they gave me and told about my plans to go to New Orleans and see the place soon as school was over.  “Too bad our Mick here hasn’t got such brains!” he lamented.

Mickey winked at me as we sat down to have our cake off real china plates.  His mother patted his head and said, “He’s going to Henderson State, you know.  That’s exciting too, isn’t it, honey?”  The closeness and warmth here in this kitchen was even newer and more wonderful than the whole dress rehearsal, dance, and socializing at Herb’s.

We went into Mickey’s room to hit the sack.  It had real nice furniture and curtains, very unlike my own.  When I undressed, I laid my clothes on a chair and made for his big double bed, naked as a jaybird.  I never wore underwear or pajamas, and apparently Mickey didn’t either.  His body was very nicely built, his prick about the same size as mine.

“Boy!” he exclaimed, “You sure are a hairy guy.”  Then he looked straight down at my prick and exclaimed, “I’ll be damned!  You’re cut.  So Danny lied, that fucker!”

“Lied?” I wondered as I climbed onto the bed.

“Yeh!  To win our bet.  He didn’t think I’d find out.”  Suddenly I understood better why Danny had sounded so serious telling me to keep my pants on.  Climbing onto the bed too, Mick paused thoughtfully and then flopped onto his pillow laughing.  “Now he owes me two!”

“So you already paid up?”

“Yep—because I believed him.”  He sounded pissed off.

“What did you guys bet?”

He lifted up on an elbow and looked at me with a question in his greenish eye.  “Oh, nothing much.  Never mind.”

Having heard the same thing twice, I was now even more intrigued.  But if it was their secret…  Of course, I couldn’t help getting a mite jealous about Danny having a secret with Mickey, and them not wanting to let me in on it.

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BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 7. Annie Over

In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben finally gets permission to stay after school with Danny for a basketball game, but he’s got to come right home to Piney Hill afterwards to help in the café with the game crowd.

To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 7.  ANNIE OVER, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”  You can access the previous 6 chapters for reading or download from the list on the book page .

BAT IN A WHIRLWIND

Excerpt from Chapter 7. – Annie Over

            After school, I tossed my annual and play script in my locker for tomorrow and left with Danny, walking down the shady street beside him.  I was so happy to be with my buddy instead of on the Ben Lomond bus.  At the corner of Main Street while we waited for the light, Danny gave me a pitiful look and mumbled sadly, “Shit, I’m so horny I can’t see straight.”

I tried to comfort him and took his arm.  “Here, I’ll help you across the street.”  He laughed and gave me an affectionate poke.

In Phillips’ Drugstore where Danny worked on Saturdays, he made us a couple chocolate sodas, and we sat together leaning on the cool marble of the counter top.  Danny whispered, “Do Catholics really truly believe it’s a sin to jack off?”  Excited to spread the Truth of the Church, I assured him we do and then wondered for a moment if I still did.  He shrugged and asked, “You don’t never play on the skin flute?”

Without looking at him, after a chuckle and a slurp of soda, I admitted, “Only when I simply can’t resist the temptation.”

Danny slurped his own soda and laughed, “I can resist anything but temptation.”  Seeing another opportunity, I talked about keeping our souls free from mortal sin so as not to go to hell when we die.  With a serious expression, Danny broke in, “But all you gotta do is take Jesus for your savior.”  I argued that we’re still responsible for our own personal sins.  Danny snorted, “Including tooting off.  Well, I’m sure glad I’m no Catholic and wish you wasn’t neither.”

I was so shocked all I could do was stare.  This wasn’t at all where I wanted our conversation to go.  Besides, I was getting less and less confident about arguing the sinfulness of doing those things, and I still wasn’t at all clear on what sex had to do with God.  The best thing was to drop the subject and get back to being best buddies.

It was only five blocks to Danny’s house, which was all quiet since his Mama didn’t get home from work at the Sheriff’s Office till five, and his Pop was on the evening shift, three to eleven, over at the paper mill.  In the yard we were greeted by a bounding puppy named Nina, almost as overjoyed to see her master as I was to be with him.

Danny found his basketball lying by the steps and suggested we play Annie Over.  So we wound up on either side of their long brown house pitching the ball back and forth over the roof to each other.  To let the other know you were throwing, you had to shout, “Annie Over!”  I always hollered, “Danny Over!”  Nina got super excited, running around and around the house each time we’d throw the ball.

Most of Danny’s throws kept coming down in the big legustrum bushes, and after a half dozen more tosses, I got bored.  Besides, I really didn’t like not being able to see my buddy.  Catching his next throw, I raced around the house with the ball.  He was looking expectantly up at the roof when I hollered, and the ball whopped him upside the head.

“You rat-fink!” Danny yelled and chased me hooting and growling off across the yard.  A tackle sent us crashing into the tall bushes at the back of the house.  “Gotcha!” he shouted triumphantly as we fell through the crunching branches.

He landed smack on top of me, face down on the ground, and was pretty heavy.  I wiggled to try and roll him off and suddenly felt him hard against my behind.  He started rubbing and panting in my ear.  Again all I could do was laugh, especially since Nina was jumping all over us, and try to pull his arms loose.  Finally he let go and moaned piteously.

Struggling to stand up, I scolded, “Bad puppy dog!”  Danny sat on the ground looking ashamed, and I patted him on the head like a good dog.  He grabbed me with a growl and pulled me down to the ground, humping my leg with great fervor, and Nina again joined the fray.  We both collapsed in laughter.  Crawling out of the bushes, he grinned at me and blushed.  Wrestling with him like that had somehow caused me to get hard too, so I’m sure I also blushed.

With Danny dribbling the basketball and Nina nipping at my heels, we strolled out to the front yard and found his mother pulling into the driveway in a blue Buick.  Ethel was a sweet-looking heavy woman with one of those beehive hairdos.  Danny quickly explained about inviting me to supper to go to the basketball game.

Opening the back car door, she said, “You’re that smart kid he’s been talking about?  Ben?  Well, I just been to the grocery and got a bunch of pork chops.”  She looked hard at us.  “You two been rassling?”  We nodded and let her pick grass out of our hair.

“Look what you done, buster,” Ethel chided Danny.  “You done tore Ben’s shirt.”  She pointed out a small rip in the side under my arm.  I assured her it was there already, my old red plaid shirt.  As we climbed the porch steps with the grocery bags, behind us Ethel said, “Dirt all over you boys!  Into the tub with you two.  Supper be ready in a half hour.  Get cracking!”

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