Rick looked around his little bedroom in the back of the old farmhouse he had grown up in, looked at the 12’ x 12’ space with bare pine floors with the ceiling fan he had installed just last week. He could hear his momma, Mae, in the kitchen fussing around fixing supper. The old man was out on the back porch looking at the bathroom Rick was installing for him. The old man had come out there earlier in the day when Rick was working on the plumbing and said “Well, I sure hope and pray I don’t die before I can use this bathroom”. Rick did not quite know what to make of that statement by his daddy; he pondered it as he lay there on the old bed, wondering if the old man was just being depressed and going on or whether he was having some premonition that he was on the verge of death. Rick had heard that sometimes people knew when their time to depart was near, but he wasn’t sure where he came down on that thought.
“Lot he’s got to be depressed about, what with that big bank account he’s got and all this land leased out for tobacco”, Rick said out loud, staring up at the cheap ceiling fan. He had paid twenty dollars for it at K Mart, and the plastic paddles were already tobacco smoke stained and starting to droop. He started thinking about how he had come to be where he was, a subject that he thought about a lot lately, a whole lot. Maybe too much, but he couldn’t seem to stop, somehow thinking, totally illogically, that if he sorted it out and made a little sense out of it it would help a little, give him a little insight into what should be his next move.
Rick thought back to his high school days, when for three years beginning when he was twelve, he was up every morning at four o’clock and out checking his trapping lines. He trapped muskrat and fox and sold the pelts, making a tidy sum, especially for a little kid. And his daddy kept him busy after school working on the tobacco farm; he even bought him his own tractor, a green “poppin’ john” John Deere. The farmers called it that because of the loud irregular racket of the tractor’s engine. Rick had loved having his own tractor and worked hard at it, and it did not go unnoticed by the old man. Once Rick had gotten his driver’s license he was allowed to take the family car out most any night he wanted; however, he did have his privileges suspended for a while when his daddy noticed that most of the rubber was worn off his re-cap tires. Rick and his buddies would gather in an empty cul de sac and slide their cars around in a circle and drink beer, and it didn’t take long for the activity to take a toll. But the old man was pretty forgiving, and would let things slide as long as they didn’t get too far out of control. And his daddy would give him money too, which combined with Rick’s various other enterprises kept him in pretty good shape as far as walking around money went. One of his most profitable ones was selling copper wire. All electric poles had a heavy copper wire stapled up the side for a ground wire; Rick and his buddies would chop it off at ground level and jerk the wire off the pole, then go on to the next one. Three or four hours of this “harvesting” would provide a tidy sum at the scrap metal yard.
But he was a good student, not because he tried so hard, but because he was smart and had an excellent memory. And he had been a good athlete; Rick smiled as he recalled the football scholarship he received from Central Carolina College. As Rick ran thoughts through his mind like a rolodex he remembered Evelyn, the twenty two year old divorced woman he had met when he was a senior in high school and had married two weeks later. They had honeymooned at Carolina Beach for a weekend, fishing off the pier, and had lived together a grand total of four days before she decided to reunite with her ex- husband. “Maybe that was the beginning of the bad luck”, he mused, getting up off the bed to go eat supper.
Rick walked into his mama’s kitchen and plopped down in one of the yellow vinyl chrome chairs that his daddy had bought just last month. “Getting’ mighty fancy”, he thought to himself as he dug in on country style steak, fried cabbage, and hot biscuits fresh out of Mae’s oven. Rick got up and went over to the new Frigidaire refrigerator and pulled out a pint jar of black strap molasses and set it on the table. He sat down and took the lid off and poured several tablespoons full of the strong dark stuff on his plate, chopping off some butter from his mama’s cake of butter with the fern imprints on the top. He took his fork and mashed the butter up in the black strap molasses and then started dipping a hot biscuit in the mixture and didn’t stop until he had devoured three of them. Then he gobbled down the steak and cabbage and finished it off with a big cold glass of buttermilk.
Rick had felt two sets of eyes on him while he was eating but he didn’t say anything, just watching the old man and woman behind his dark sunglasses. He wore sunglasses all day and night, inside and outside; he loved the idea of being able to look at people and their not knowing it. His mama’s gaze was exceptionally hard, so he was not surprised when she spoke up. “Ya know son, you eat like you been working hard, but I swear I ain’t seen you hit a lick at a snake since you got here last week,” she said, not real mean like but more as a matter of fact, like saying “the corn crop don’t look worth a durn this year”.
“Well, mama, I reckon I have been workin’ on that bathroom daddy is so hot for—-gotta get it done before he dies”, said Rick, looking at his daddy and grinning. “Now you know, boy, I did say that, but maybe I was just feelin’ a little sorry for myself; it was just after I had got home from my cardiologist,” the old man said, smiling at his son. “All I am a sayin’ is that I think you ought to think about trying to get a real job. And you know you staying here with us ain’t exactly ever worked out very well,” she said, still with that droll tone of voice. Rick knew exactly what she was talking about and he had to admit she was right. The last time he had been around his parents had allowed him to stay in the little 500 square foot house next door which they usually rented out. Everything had gone ok for a few months, Mae and Layton pretty much leaving Rick to his own devices, not sticking their noses into his business so much. But all that changed one Saturday morning.
Rick had been roused early that morning by Crazy Ralph, an old friend of his from Lillington. Crazy Ralph had just gotten off work from his third shift job and stopped by with a fifth of Wild Turkey and the two of them had taken turns bubbling the bottle until it was gone. Then they finished the six pack of Budweiser that Rick had in the old Leonard round cornered refrigerator and Ralph stumbled out to his truck to head home. Rick passed out on the living room floor, and that is the way his mother found him when she came over to ask him about something around nine o’clock. Mae had gotten down on her knees and shook him by the shoulders; Rick had no response, and his mother could not tell if he were breathing or not. In a panic she ran home and called 911 and in a few moments the rescue squad pulled up and went into the little frame house. Mae stood in the background crying and wringing her hands, lifting her eyes heavenward and declaring that she would never say another bad thing about her boy if the Lord would please not take him. Jimmy Harrelson was one of the rescue crew, and he was the one who strapped the oxygen mask on his old high school classmate and began taking his vital signs. After about forty five seconds of oxygen Rick’s eyes had popped open and he pulled the mask off, recognizing his old high school buddy immediately and shouting out “hey Jimmy, what the fuck you doing?”. Jimmy responded “Well, your mama called us ‘cause she thought they was something bad awful wrong with you; are you ok?”. The drunken Rick started laughing and said “Ain’t nothing wrong with me, you dumbass, I’m just drunk”. Mae had been watching this unfold and rushed over to her beloved son, the one she had been praying for so hard just moments before, and kicked him as hard as she could square in the ribs.
“Why did you go and do that Mama?” Rick asked, rubbing his side.
“You get your rags together and get your sorry ass out of this house right now,” Mae shrieked, and that had been the end of Rick living next door. Rick looked at her and said he would be looking for a job real hard that very day.
“And you know I got a call from the sheriff last night about eleven thirty, interrupted me while I was a studying my Sunday School lesson and reading a passage from the Upper Room, “ Mae said, and waited for Rick to ask what it was about. But before he could utter a single word she said “the sheriff said that he had a woman in jail on a charge of public drunkenness and public nudity and that she said that she was my daughter in law. Wanta guess who the hell that wuz?” Mae waited only a second for a response before she yelled out “it was that God damned slut Barb Reagan. Well you know what I told that ol’ sheriff?. I tole him to chop her damn head off and throw it in the river”.
Rick had heard enough so he got up and made a beeline for outdoors. He was really tired of his mama haranguing him, but he was suppressing a giggle and he didn’t want her to see his reaction. Rick had known Barbara “Barb” Reagan since they were in grammar school. She had been a beautiful dark skinned half Cherokee girl who was exceptionally bright, even taking some college courses at Campbell while she was still a senior in high school, but those days were long long gone, and the beautiful girl of eighteen had been reduced to a toothless drunk of thirty five.
The last time he had seen or heard from her had been two years before, when he was living in Cary and working for a contractor. The work was okay, and his old friend Beauregard was his roommate over in a seedy motel room on Harrison Avenue in Cary. Barb had gotten in touch with him and of course he had invited her to their humble home. The invite turned into two weeks, and the two men would go to work each day and come home to find that Barb had drunk all the beer and would be lying passed out on one of the two beds. After the first week Rick had rigged a padlock onto the refrigerator and had locked up the spirits each morning when their boss, Rich Hoffman, had come to pick them up. Rich was an ok sort of guy, but he had certainly not been around the block like Beauregard and Rick had been. Beauregard had served a couple of stints for petty theft and Rick had spent a year at “Old Craggy” in Asheville on a felony drug conviction. Rick thought about the circumstances leading up to this “vacation” as he lay on the bed and looked at the revolving smoke stained ceiling fan.
He had graduated from college with a degree in medical technology when he was 22 years old and had worked at three different hospitals, never staying for less than a year, before he took a job at the hospital in Asheville. Rick loved the hospital life, the access to drugs if you were vewy, vewy, cawful, as Elmer Fudd used to say, and greatly enjoyed the availability of oxygen. Frequently after an especially alcohol and drug ridden night he would find a tank in an out of the way place and “huff away” until he emerged a much happier fellow. Rick loved Asheville, the pretty much small town atmosphere, the old cemetery along the river, the one where Thomas Wolfe was buried, but most of all he absolutely was crazy about the abundance and availability of drugs. It did not take him long to get hooked in with the people “in the know” and before he knew it he was able to obtain all the cocaine he wanted. Cocaine was Rick’s drug of choice, having had his fill of psychedelics in college; he loved the “power trip” high and used it every night if he had it. It only took a few months of almost nightly use to pretty much turn him into a very poor boy; the weekends were the killer—-sometimes he would barely sleep at all. So Rick decided to get a part time job, a sort of cottage industry , to supplement his income and to take care of his very serious needs and he knew exactly what to venture into. Rick had befriended a fellow named Jake Fish shortly after he had moved to Asheville and they became very good friends. They had known each other for several months before Rick learned that Jake Fish was a pretty big time marijuana dealer, as in pounds. When Rick brought up the idea of maybe being a “distributor” Jake agreed to the deal, having been around Rick long enough to feel like he could trust him. Being aware of Rick’s embarassed financial situation Jake even went out on a limb and fronted Rick several ounces of “good stuff”, which with Rick’s druggie contacts he was able to parlay into a tidy profit for both him and Jake. The business relationship was good and Rick accelerated his sales to the point where he was brokering over three pounds of pot a month. Rick would pick up the marijuana from Jake at a specified spot, never at anybody’s house, and take the stuff home and break it down into one ounce “lids” and put it in little baggies. Most of his customers would only buy a “lid” at a time, and Rick was very happy to supply them. After he had been dealing for several months a long haired guy from Waynesville was introduced to him by one of his regular customers. His name was Robert, but every called him Slash. Being such an odd name and Rick being a naturally curious fellow it wasn’t long before Rick asked him how he had gotten that moniker and Slash told him. “Well, when I was working in the paper mill one summer I cut myself pretty bad with a razor knife, and as I was going to the office to get it tended to one of them redneck goobers I worked with asked me what had happened. I told him I had ‘slashed’ myself with a knife and he and his ignorant buddies called me Slash the rest of the time I was there. I knew they were making fun of the ‘college boy’, but after a while I got to where I liked the name, it being so different and all. And once the rednecks saw it didn’t bother me they got over their jealousy or whatever it was and we all became pretty good friends.”
Rick took a liking to Slash immediately, and since the guy who introduced them was “cool” went ahead and sold him a lid of marijuana. Slash became a regular customer and after a month or so approached him about maybe buying a quarter pound. Rick was glad to do it, and soon after Slash wanted to buy a half pound; Rick was glad to supply it, and so was Jake Fish. Over the following two months Slash bought a total of two pounds of pot from Rick, Rick giving him a ten percent discount because of the volume. Everything was going along extremely well until one Friday evening when Rick met Slash on a washboard country dirt road outside of town and as soon as they had transacted their business two Buncombe County Sheriff Department cars roared up and just like that Rick was sitting in the back of a cop car in handcuffs.
The volume elevated the crime to the level of a felony and that was when Rick had his “vacation” at Craggy. He had been writing to Barb Reagan for several months before it was time for him to get out and she met him at the front of the prison on the day of departure with a quart of Bourbon De Luxe and an ounce of pot. Rick and Barb had waited a respectable five minutes until they stopped on a lightly traveled country road and screwed like writhing snakes until they were exhausted. It didn’t take Barb long to tire of the mountain life; after a month she took off and that was the last he had seen of her until she contacted him at the Cary hotel.
He thought back to that two week spell with Beauregard and Barb in the flea bag joint. When Barb showed up she did not have her upper teeth in, and when Rick asked about it she produced an upper plate from her purse, cleanly broken down the middle. Rick quickly fixed them with some super glue and told her to put them in. “I can’t kiss you unless you got your teeth in honey”, he had said and had thrown her down on the ancient mattress and had his way with her, then held her down while Beauregard took a turn. Barb resisted for a while, or at least pretended to; as Rick watched them go at it he saw her grinning when she didn’t think he was watching.
Rick and Beauregard usually shared their women; they pretty much had the same taste in females—if they would screw they would take them on. Being real particular was not a character trait of either of them. Rick had stayed with Beauregard and his topless dancer woman,” Star”, some years before the Cary incident. “Star” was Emily Jones’ stage name; all the titty dancers had stage names. Some of her buddies were “Cindy Buck”, a lithe blonde who wore a cowgirl outfit and rode a stick shaped like a dildo around the stage and “Miss Bullard”, a Lumbee Indian who wore large horn rimmed glasses and came on stage in thigh highs and a very short skirt and a jacket. Rick and Beauregard had shared any and all they could in those days; the strippers loved sex and drugs, and Rick had discovered that most of the girls were bisexual. Sometimes the two guys would drink and smoke dope and watch the girls go at each other. But the good times had come to a screeching halt when Star decided she had fallen in love with a plumbing contractor and dumped poor Beauregard. Beauregard was crushed by this; not only did he not have a woman anymore, but his ass had to find a job. Star had supported both him and Rick for a while so the boys had had quite an adjustment to make. Rick remembered that forever after Beauregard hated plumbers. Just the mention of one would make his face go dark and scowling and send him off on one of his rants about “hating fucking plumbers”. That was when the two had teamed up and worked construction and had eventually come to be in the employ of the mild mannered Rich Hoffman. Rick smiled as he recalled the look of shock on Rich Hoffman’s face when Rick had opened the door to the motel room. Barb was sitting on the bed with nothing on but a vacuous, toothless smile. Rick had almost fallen out when his boss said rather timidly “guess it’s time to go to work”. Rick had suggested that Rich Hoffman hang out a while and get acquainted with Barb but Hoffman had beat a hasty retreat out the door and into the safety of his pickup truck.
Rick grinned at the revolving fan and remembered Red Neck Jay, another of his employers. He had worked for Red Neck Jay for three years as a laborer, mixing mortar for the masonry crew run by Jay. Red Neck Jay’s real name was Jay Crump, but Rick had given him the nickname when he first went to work for him and it had stuck. Rick liked the boring aspect of his job; it required very little thinking, and thinking very much usually sent him down a mental road of regret, so mortar mixing suited him just fine. Red Neck Jay was the middle aged son of a well respected mason in Cary; Jay was a very good mason, but that was where the comparison to his father ended. Red Neck Jay’s work ethic ebbed and flowed like the ocean, according to how many bills he had to pay. On more than one occasion Rick had seen Red Neck Jay don rain gear and lay brick all day in the rain, then other times he would lay drunk for four or five days in beautiful summer weather tailor made for masonry work.
Jay also was subject to some pretty severe mood swings. One time during one of his “down” spells he had almost killed the entire crew. They had knocked off work early one summer afternoon on a Friday and Jay had gone by the liquor store and purchased his favorite beverage, a quart bottle of rye whiskey called Rockin’ Rye; the liquor was distinct because of a little stick of hard candy that was added to the elixir before it was sealed at the distillery. Red Neck Jay would drink fast and then suck on the liquor laden candy stick. This particular day Red Neck told Rick to drive as he got in the truck after picking up the whiskey and Jay quickly started in on the bottle. Nobody else in the truck cared anything about wanting any of Jay’s liquor; the other two masons and Rick having bought a case of Budweiser at the little convenience store adjacent to the ABC liquor store. As Rick drove them down the road toward Jay’s house Jay started talking about how sorry he was and how his daddy was ashamed of him and what terrible financial shape he was in. “You know Rick, sometimes I don’t give a shit ‘bout nothin’”, Red Neck Jay had said. Rick had looked at Jay and noticed that it looked like tears were forming in his rheumy eyes. Then suddenly Jay had grabbed the steering wheel of the big truck and jerked it hard to the right, sending the three quarter ton diesel directly toward a bridge abutment. “I wanta die, I wanta die”, Redneck was screaming as Rick struggled to regain control of the truck. Rick righted the truck, overcorrecting to the left and nearly losing the ancient cement mixer they were towing. As soon as Rick got them straightened out he looked over at the Red Neck; Jay was completely passed out, slouched up against Rick and snoring loudly.
But the crazy times were infrequent enough, and the more normal atmosphere was one of widespread light hearted teasing. Red Neck Jay had loved to give Rick a hard time about the assortment of women Rick consorted with. With Rick’s less than lofty self esteem situation he never even tried for any decent looking woman, instead pursuing skanky tattooed recently released from Women’s Prison types ,and he seemed to have an uncanny radar about locating them. Occasionally he would even hang out on Bragg Street in downtown Lillington where the prison was and see if he could catch one just as they had processed out. Rick remembered one hot August day when Red Neck Jay was giving him an exceptional amount of shit about women.
“That last one you had was sure a looker”, Red Neck had said to Rick. “I don’t think she had a two square inch piece of skin on her entire body that wuddn’t covered with them friggin’ jailhouse tattoos.” Rick had just kept working, acting like he didn’t even hear Jay, but Jay would always keep it up until he would get a rise out of him. “And that prospective leg she had; did she take it off when you screwed her?”, Red Neck Jay asked, laughing hard. By this time the other guys were taking it in, and Jay had his desired audience.
Rick looked at Red Neck Jay and grinned. “The word is prosthetic, you friggin, dropout,” Rick shouted. Jay was an unabashed butcher of the English language, and Rick rarely missed an opportunity to bring such mistakes to Red Neck’s attention. Jay also was an accomplished malapropist, and a lot of his mispronunciations were pretty funny; Rick recalled how Red Neck Jay had been talking about one of his friends who had just had an operation for “phosphate cancer”. Another time Jay had told him about his brother getting a raise at the automobile parts store he worked at. “Yep, they made it radioactive back to the first of the year,” he had told them.
The banter never got out of hand, as far as anybody getting real pissed off, and once Jay had gotten the desired reaction out of Rick like with the one legged tattooed girl comment he would shut up for a while.
Rick turned on the little black and white television in his bedroom; it had a pair of rabbit ears sitting on top of it with a tether of aluminum foil connecting the two ears. He watched intently as Deputy Dawg said “Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk, I don’t know why you went and done that Mush Mouse”. It was “The Deputy Dawg Show”, a cartoon show set in the south starring a drawling dog, a muskrat named Mush Mouse, and a very clever critter wearing a beret, Vincent Van Gopher. Rick had always thought it was funny so he lay there for a while watching it, tuning out his life in the world, but he never could get his “tuneouts” to last for very long; invariably his mind would float back to his situation and some episode that he felt had sent him down the road he was presently traveling. Rick turned off the television and went back to staring at the ceiling and thinking about all the sorry things he had ever done. Selling drugs, being disrespectful to his parents, going to prison and being a pretty serious drunk and drug addict were all things that came to mind when he got in one of those reflective moods, but he hadn’t thought about the ultimate sin he had committed for quite a while.
It had happened three years before during a time when he was living in a trailer out in the county and selling dope for a living. Rick would spend his days sleeping off each night’s adventure laden mind numbing ingestion of drugs and alcohol and his nights hanging out at “The Bridge”. The Bridge was a super redneck bar that would hold about a hundred people, and it was full every night. Rick knew an awful lot of people, and they all did dope and drank, so it was fertile territory for “high sales volume”. The built in clientele of regulars were all friendly with each other, even to the point of some occasional blacks showing up. There was one black fellow who started hanging around that Rick did not know, but he was a friend of a friend so Rick accepted him into his group and soon was turning him on to whatever Rick had to sell. That was Rick’s modus operandi, to give a little up front to get them interested and then sell to them afterwards; it was truly a win-win situation, for everybody would talk about how generous Rick was. The new black guy, Roger, started coming every night, about like everybody else, and after a week or two asked Rick about maybe buying a quantity of marijuana. Rick agreed to sell him a pound of pot and they set up an exchange of money for drugs that would take place out in the country about ten miles from Fayetteville. The appointed time was on a Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on a country road; Rick arrived early and listened to the radio while nursing a 16 ounce Budweiser. After about ten minutes Roger drove up and got out of his car. Rick opened the door and was halfway out when Roger rushed him ,pinning Rick against the car with the door. Rick yelped in pain as Roger opened the door and slammed it on him again and again, then he let Rick fall to the ground and pulled a pistol from his hip pocket. “Where’s the dope, asshole?”, Roger snarled, as Rick lay on the ground trying to catch his breath. “In the trunk”, Rick managed to utter; his side hurting like hell. “Prob’ly broke ribs”, Rick thought as he struggled to his feet.
“Well get it now, big time dealer. I knew you wuddn’t shit the first time I ever laid eyes on you”, Roger said, laughing at Rick as he hobbled to the rear of the car. Rick put the key in the trunk and opened the trunk lid, but not all the way open, only about ten inches. But that ten inches was enough room for Rick to put his hand in and extract the .22 short barrel pistol he had carefully placed in the trunk adjacent to the marijuana. Rick had then pushed the trunk fully open with his left hand and with his right whirled and shot Roger in the face four times. Roger squealed like a little pig as the bullets hit him and collapsed on the dirt road.
Rick remembered how petrified with fear he had been in the aftermath; he had just gotten back in his car and gone home to the trailer, leaving Roger lying in the road. Rick also recalled how he had driven ten miles to get a Fayetteville newspaper for two solid weeks, poring over every word to see any mention of Roger. Rick shook his head as he lay on the bed; there was never any mention of anyone being found. Rick remained paranoid about the whole situation for a long time, even going to the point of tossing the pistol into the Cape Fear River, but he had never heard another word about it.
Mae was sitting in the kitchen worrying about her only child. “I swear”, she thought, “I just don’t know what to think of that boy”. Mae thought back to when she had met Rick’s daddy Clyde Layton some fifty years ago. She was working in a bank in Wilmington and was a recent graduate of New Hanover High School. She had always been a smart girl, graduating in the top ten percent of her class; her boss at the bank bragged on her a lot, hinting that there might be a promotion on the horizon. On Saturday nights she would usually go down to the Meadowbrook Supper Club, a rundown bar and restaurant on the banks of the Cape Fear River. It was there that she had met Clyde Layton; he had come down from Lillington to work on the docks and Mae thought he was the wildest and best looking thing she had ever seen in her nineteen years of life. He told jokes all the time, could drink anybody under the table and had the bluest eyes she had ever seen. Saturday nights at the Meadowbrook became an instant ritual and six months later they were married and living back in Harnett County out in the country where they set up residence in a small house at the edge of a tobacco field. Clyde’s people were pretty big tobacco farmers and they were mighty happy to have their only heir back in the fold, and were overjoyed with the attractive new wife that he had brought back. Mae got pregnant quickly and settled into the life of a stay at home mother, Clyde making plenty enough money to allow his bride to take care of their boy and mess around with a vegetable garden and such, do a little canning. When Rick was small most Saturday nights Clyde’s parents were more than happy to take care of the little boy and let them go out and kick up their heels. Their favorite place was The Windmill, a bar on the outskirts of town. There Mae met all of Clyde’s friends, most of them dating back to grammar school. It was during this time that Mae noticed that Clyde and his buddies were different from any guys she had ever known; it took her quite some time of thinking about it to figure out what set them apart but after a few months she concluded that it was the wildness that permeated each and every one of them. To a man they were all bright enough, and they worked hard and would do anything in the world for you, but they just didn’t seem to have any control over themselves after a few drinks. About every Saturday night there would be a couple of fights before midnight, and these were between good friends. She remembered one night how Otis Ledford, one of Clyde’s best friends from childhood, nearly beat another of Clyde’s friends to death over losing an arm wrestling contest. She noticed that none of the men condemned any of the other’s actions, no matter how crazy, and all was forgiven by the next week. Mae had taken two years of Latin in high school and she remembered a term that was very appropriate for the way they acted. “Tabula rasa”, she had recited to herself one Sunday morning after a particularly crazy Saturday night at the Windmill. The words meant “blank slate”, and in Mae’s observation it perfectly described the behavior of Clyde and his buddies. “It’s like there is something in the water”, she had said out loud to herself. She had been around a few wild ones in high school but this bunch took the cake in her estimation. She had just never seen anything like it; “totally untethered”, she had said to herself that Sunday morning, and that kind of carrying on was exactly what she had seen unfold before her very eyes as she had watched her boy Rick grow up.
Mae shook her head as she sat at the kitchen table and thought about her life. “Clyde ain’t gonna make it too long, what with all the heart problems, diabetes, and enlarged prostate mess. Has to run to the bathroom every ten minutes”, she thought , and then laughed out loud at the image of the eighty five year old feeble man running. “Guess that’s why he’s so het up about gettin’ that durned bathroom finished”, she mused. That got her to thinking about how she maybe should light a fire under Rick’s ass. “Bout time he got off that damn bed and got back to work on that bathroom”, she said out loud and went down the hall to where Rick was lying staring at the ceiling fan.
“Rick, do you think that toilet is gonna install itself?”, she shouted into the room. Rick flinched visibly and looked up to see his mother standing with arms akimbo in the doorway. He had been watching another of his favorite shows, a zany cartoon called Beany and Cecil, starring “Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent”. His favorite episode was showing, the one featuring “The Spits Burp Pie Rats”, a gang of rats who ran around throwing pies at everybody. He had just finished watching his second favorite, the one where Cecil swayed to the music and sang “R A G G M O P P Raggmopp”. Rick jumped up off the bed and walked out to the new bathroom and started in on it. He had already set the bolts into the floor so he was ready to lower the toilet onto the bolts, tighten them down, and attach the flexible plastic pipe to the supply line. Rick was working intently and didn’t notice that his mother had followed him and was standing just outside the door in the hall. “I don’t understand why you want to hang out with those sorry ass friends of yours. For example, that Beauregard ain’t worth a damn, anybody who would live in an abandoned car behind the pool hall for a year. And I don’t see any of those other buddies of yours looking for work; it’s a sorry ass bunch of fools. I swear to God, it’s like I have always thought; I swear if it ain’t something in the water. The way men around here carry on. I have always noticed it, ever since I moved up here from civilization in Wilmington”. Rick said nothing as he listened to the tirade. He wrapped both ends of the supply line fitting with Teflon tape and tightened them down with a wrench. The “something in the water” rant was not a news flash to Rick; he heard it about every time his mother would get pissed off about something and was looking for somebody to vent on. But it was getting old and older, really fast. Rick turned on the valve of the supply line and the toilet started filling up.
Mae stepped into the tiny bathroom and and bent down to where Rick was squatting beside the toilet and got right up in his face. “Well, I see you can at least do one thing right”, his mother spit at him as the toilet bowl neared the top and the float cut off the water. Rick jerked upright and grabbed the back of his mother’s head before she had a chance to recoil and shoved her face into the toilet bowl. Mae Layton tried to holler but the most she could get out was a loud gurgling sound. As Rick held her head under the water and listened to her attempt to escape he grinned and said “Why, mother, there is certainly something in the water now isn’t there”. Rick held her head under the water until he was sure she was dead and then let go of her, her lifeless body flopping off to the side of the toilet and wedging between the toilet and the bathtub. Then he went into the kitchen and picked up the keys to his Daddy’s new Oldsmobile and drove off.
Clyde Layton was two rooms away watching Championship Wrestling on tv. When a commercial came on he turned the volume down and listened to see what was going on out in the kitchen. He had heard Mae’s loud voice earlier but he never paid much mind to that; after all, he had heard all the “something in the water” shit many times before. What he did hear was the toilet filling up with water, and as he cranked the volume on wrestling back up he sat back and smiled, figuring he would be using his new bathroom that very night.