Reggie spots Maria’s corn cart steaming on the sidewalk. He sees buttered cobs, silk, pails, root beer, salt shakers, napkins, salsa.
“Hey, Reggie,” Maria calls out. She jiggles, clad in shorts and towering heels.
Stray whiffs of corn stalk the atmosphere, swabbing Reggie’s face. “Hey, Maria,” he replies.
She pumps and twirls beside her radio.
“You look great today!” he says.
“Thanks, honey. Wanna ear?”
“Can’t. Have to get to work. I’m late.”
Since always, I have watched Maria wheel around town, selling corn. She has sashayed down Pleasant Ave, Sixth Street, West Street and year after year, she has become more like a lady.
She asks, “See my new top?” Maria pokes her nails at the frilled jersey that clings to her body. “Got it at the mall last week. Discount.”
“So…ya still cleanin’ up that church?” she asks.
“Don’t you hate it, Reggie?”
“Someone’s got to do it,” he says and shrugs. “And I like it there. It’s quiet. It’s close to God.”
“When I was a little boy, my mama used to make me go to church. Hated it. Bet they wouldn’t let me in now.”
Reggie dips his head to the right. “The lord accepts everyone.”
“You’re the only Catholic who thinks so. Remember to say a prayer for me, honey.”
He smiles, smiles, smiles. “I will. I always do.”
“And keep your eyes open. I gotta find a new job. Need some money. Wanna get my operation before next Christmas. Know of anything?”
“Don’t think so.”
“I hate my penis,” she says, fake-glowering.
Elmer is watching more suited men debate on television. He sees that their brows are damp, their smiles faux. He thinks, “Come up with a solution! Cooperate, don’t debate!”
In sixth grade, Elmer Mott ran for class President. His mother was instantly stirred, helping to make pins and posters. Even ‘VOTE FOR ELMER’ sweat bands. There were no debates, but
Elmer did champion for a cola machine. The students raved about Coke, RC, Crush. But Elmer soon found his platform unfair since a young Mormon boy named Gregory was not allowed to consume sugar. Elmer’s campaign quickly shriveled. Classmates drew genitals on his signs. He lost.
Elmer clicks off the coverage.
I know he longs for a truly fair and honest system. It has yet to be conjured.
Earlier, Reggie had slipped inside St. Leo’s church and crept toward the giant statue of Jesus Christ. He had stared into his sad, dark, droopy eyes. “I’m sorry,” he’d said, “You must hate me for all this…for all these years.”
Even earlier, Reggie had dashed into Vic’s Variety to buy one long snake of two- dollar scratch tickets. Fast Cash. Now, stretched along a polished pew, he rubs off each card, scanning for the jackpot.
Red splinters of glow slice into the silent church. Searing beams pour through visions of a stained-glass angel. The savior trumpets and he looms.
Reggie Lauderdale scratches off his final lotto box.
But there’s nothing. Nothing.
Reggie begins praying, “Lord…please make my condition go away.” Reggie sweeps metallic lotto shavings into his palm, neat and prim. “I know I ask a lot from you, but please, please don’t punish me. And don’t hate me. ‘Cause I try. I could be better, but I think I’m alright. And I like me. And I hope…I hope you like me too.” As Reggie’s prayers flutter from the balcony and bound through the chapel, he gives into a quiver. “Here my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to thee. Do not hide my face from thee in the day of my distress.”
Patsy Cline croons from Elmer’s childhood home.
He lollops down a path rimmed in pansies, creepers, and marigolds. Samson, his half-blind, brown terrier stumbles behind.
Grubby, shabby, the dog collides with a boulder. He yelps and he rises. He continues to follow Elmer.
His father crouches down, beneath a maple canopy. He rips out dainty, blonde buttercups from the earth. Once removed, he shakes away the soil that clings to their roots. Mr. Mott groans, stretching to six full feet. Like always, his face is askew. Red. Turned up. Slicked with lawn clippings. Seven seconds pass and he glances over at his son.
Elmer asks, “What are you doing, dad?”
His father swabs his sweaty forehead. “I was gonna rip out all my flowers beds, but the heat brought ‘em back to life. We’ll probably get a frost tonight. Be just my luck. Ahhh, fuck it. Might as well do it now.”
“You don’t have to get rid of them.”
“They’re still alive.”
“Well, they’re mine and I’ll toss ‘em if I want.”
Elmer sighs. “Where’s Mom?”
“The Wholesale Shop,” he replies.
Mr. Mott stoops down and yanks out a cluster of impatiens. His glasses slip further down his nose. He says, “Your mother always stocks up on big jars of junk we don’t need. Mayo. Salad dressing, steak sauce. Cocktail wieners too. I have those damn things for lunch every day.”
Elmer peers around, then asks, “Hey, uh, what happened to that TV that used to be in the basement?”
“It’s still in the basement.”
“Could I use it? I need it.”
His father frowns, shakes his head and frowns again. “That girl? In your building?”
“You get a job, yet?”
Elmer huffs quietly. “No. I’ve been lookin’, though.”
“Listen up. After your birthday, your mother and I…we’re not going to pay. You have to grow up, Elmer. You’re twenty-four years old. You finished college. And now, you have to go and make your own money.”
“I know, dad. Alright.”
Mr. Mott rubs the dirt from his hands. “Remember? I already said that you’re free to drive cars with me.”
“It’d be easy. I’ll buy a new black stretch and business would double. Triple. And when I retire, the business is yours.”
I know that Elmer sees his father as a sturdy, fixed, faceless skyscraper. Even when Elmer was six, ten, or twelve. This man did not change. Grumbles about work…grumbles about money…stillness…stillness…questions…more grumbles…and stillness again.
Samson pops out a bark.
“Shut it,” Mr. Mott commands.
“I’ll go get the TV,” Elmer whispers.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 4 of our week-long serialisation of Parade, Chapter One.
Read Michael’s exclusive essay for STORGY: ‘I’ve Learned a Thing or Two: Lessons from My First Novel’
Michael Graves is the author of the novel, Parade. He also composed Dirty One, a collection of short stories. This book was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist and an American Library Association Honoree. His fiction and poetry have been featured in numerous literary publications and anthologies. Visit his official website: www.michaelgravesauthor.com.
To purchase a copy of Parade and/or Dirty One click on the images below:
Reggie Lauderdale suffers from a crisis of faith. His cousin, Elmer Mott, dreams of becoming their hometown mayor. Both boys are stuck in suburbia trying to be adults… but they aren’t sure how to bethemselves yet. When a twist of fate sends them fleeing in a stolen limousine, the cousins escape to Florida where they meet a retired televangelist, who inspires them on a path of glitzy sermons and late night parties. But are the celebrations sincere or deceptive? And who is keeping tabs? Who is watching?
Parade is a tour-de-force, comic tale of religion and government.
Set in the 1980’s, Dirty One follows a pack of adolescent characters who live in the acid-drenched, suburban town known as Leominster, Massachusetts—the plastics capital of America, as well as the birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. In the story, “From Kissing,” a sixth-grader named Butch has his first homosexual tongue kiss during a monster truck show and, after a bout of the flu, he is convinced he has somehow contracted AIDS. With “Curls and Curls,” nine-year-old Lee hates his kinky, brown head of hair and is seemingly possessed with magic, casting spells to unfurl his evil tresses. In “A Snow Day,” eleven-year-old Cassidy longs to be the next mega-watt, teen pop star, but is forced to deal with her crazy classmates, her gay father, and her dog that continually vomits in the driveway. “Do It” follows a tween named Denise as she seeks her first sexual experience with a boyfriend who can never remain erect. Denise strives for high school greatness while her gay best friend is crowned king of all local paper routes. These selections join five more, constructing the remarkable world of Dirty One.
Read more of Michael’s fiction below:
Eclectica – ‘Black Doll’
Soft Cartel – ‘The Keepers’
Post Road Magazine – ‘Balloons’
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