...

"In the morning I opened the door to find five of a six-pack of Tequiza sitting on the porch. It was still in the brown paper bag. 'Hmmph,' I said aloud, and cracked the top of a bottle.' Blechhh...phfuh!' I drank two more before deciding to write to the manufacturer. Horrible...."

new ground
fiction by laine perry


"My mother gave me this place," I told Jayhawk. "Good," Tommy said. "I don't know what to do with it," I told him. "Live in it," he said. I hadn't thought about the house in such simple terms. "All right," I said, "I guess you can push that thing around in the backyard. I don't know what you'll find out there." Tommy was an old Indian who liked to run his metal detector up and down people's lawns. "A lot of Indians used to live around here," he told me, appropriating my lawn with ease. "Yeah, there's quite a collection of vodka bottles under that tree," I said pointing. "Those were real good guys," he said. He had his back to me already detecting. Jayhawk had been coming around all week asking for money and beer, and sometimes just permission to work over my lawn.

"I got this place when my grandmother died," I told Jayhawk. "She was a great story teller. I could ask her anything," I went on after him in bare feet, navigating the metal debris and rain sodden newspapers. "She'd take me with her wherever she'd go... garage sales, flea markets, the local cafe for a patty-melt and cokes. Depression glass. That was my area. I was almost an expert by the time I was eleven. We were going to buy a pink VW with purple polka dots, but she died before we had saved enough money." The machine was quiet. "Your grandmother didn't give you this place though," he said, poking around in a pile of wet shingles. "My mom gave me this house so I would never have to be with a man. That's a quote," I told him, wincing. "Oh," he said with a nod. I liked the size of him, and his blue-black hair. "Before she called to tell me about the house we hadn't spoken in five years. I didn't want to accept the place but the gift was more than a trifle," I said.

"I had a VW Thing once," he confessed. "It was orange. I won it in a contest," he told me. "What kind of contest?" I asked. "A & W Valentines' Day contest," he said, "I won second place." "What was first prize?" I wanted to know. "Free food for a year. All of the mamma and pappa burgers the winner could eat. I had to sell it after awhile. I got it back a few years later though. The exterior was rough, but the Thing ran." He rubbed his temple, dislodging a few flecks of dirt. "Lucky twice," I told him ."So, have you ever been in love?" I asked Jayhawk. "Sure," he said. "I've been married too. My first wife Maria was beautiful. So-o-o-beautiful that god-damned Maria." He reached for the beer he had tucked in the waist of his jeans. "I broke her heart," he told me, "You don't know," Jayhawk said, taking a swig of warm beer. He looked up at me, his mouth splitting horizontally to expose the few good teeth the alcohol hadn't rotted away. "I have kids too, girls, three of them," he said, realizing he did have certain accomplishments he could list if needed. "Where are they?" I wanted to know. I had only seen him walking alone. He took ground like a sidewinder. It wasn't easy to watch. "Oh," Jayhawk said, uncovering a small silver button, "I don't know...Montana, I think. They're with their mom. My oldest, Maria's girl, they live on the 'res'. I think she wrote they're in South Dakota." He pocketed the piece of silver, leaving the machine alone. "When was the last time you saw your girl?" I asked. "Silky? Oh, long time ago. She might have been seven." She was still that age to Jayhawk. I could tell by the smile he had for her. "Is that her name?" I asked. Silky, sounded like a nickname, and I wanted to hear the story. "To me it is," he said. The story was his. He didn't want to give it to me. "Will you see them again?" I asked, but Jayhawk was already down the road.

In the morning I opened the door to find five of a six-pack of Tequiza sitting on the porch. It was still in the brown paper bag. "Hmmph," I said aloud, and cracked the top of a bottle. "Blechhh...phfuh!" I drank two more before deciding to write to the manufacturer. Horrible.

So Jayhawk was bringing me beer instead of asking for it. Interesting. I crawled back in bed. At eight Jayhawk was knocking. "Sorry to bother you. Did you get the beer I left?" he asked. "Was that beer?" I asked. He grinned. "Yeah, pretty bad, I know." "Thanks, though," I managed. "Do you know about arrowheads, and that type of thing, or just depression glass?" he asked. "Why, what do you have?" I asked him.

"Anasazi tools I think." He pulled the arrowheads out of the pocket of his jeans. He had a handful. "Where'd you get those?" I asked. "Back there," he said pointing to the area I had nicknamed the refrigerator graveyard. "Well what else is back there?" I asked, the image of an ancient burial ground in my head. "Just these," he said, still palming the loot. "And this silver piece. I've found these before. We can get about forty-eight to fifty bucks for it. You want half?" he asked. "Thanks," I said. "I need it." "So what about the Indian artifacts? Where do we take that stuff?" Jayhawk asked. I didn't know. It had been a long time and several states since I had gone junking. "What about the museum?" I suggested. Jayhawk grimaced, shaking his head. "I know a guy. I'll be back and let you know what I find out." And he was down the road again, this time toward town.

I saw him once again the following week. He was standing on the old highway road with his back toward my approach, wielding his thumb with what looked like mighty big intent.

The rain had just started in as I slowed to pull to the side of the road. A yellow Ford truck missing a back end swung in ahead of me. The passenger door opened with a whine. They remained ahead of me for at least twenty miles, laughing, smoking, and headed toward a place of certain kinship. My mother was due to arrive the same morning with a carry-on bag's worth of stories, excuses, memories, guilt, and disappointment with which she planned to coddle me.

Jayhawk's metal detector leaned against a barren lilac bush, already humming. Ahead lay the espial of submerged strengths under fine soil: roots, treasures, tools, whispered tips of antiquity beneath my feet. I longed for the easy days of our history, days when the repatriation of our souls seemed imaginable; afternoons full of hunger and bad beer, when truth was in good company.

(illustrations: troy dockins)



©2005 Laine Perry • Smokebox
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