8FOLD: Speak! # 2

Tom Russell twopointthreefivefilmwerks at yahoo.com
Sun May 1 15:12:20 PDT 2005

DISCLAIMER: This series uses profanity, sexuality, and acts that some may consider morally offensive in order to present the characters truthfully and maturely.


Speak! # 2

by Tom Russell

"Kentucky-Fried Redhead"

NINE HUNDRED NINETY-EIGHT, NINE HUNDRED ninety-nine and fifty, seventy-five, eighty-five, eighty-six cents. Not bad for a day's work, ten minute's work, not bad. This was easy, this was Candyland, this was checkers, this was Seuss. Now comes the hard part: telling Sandy.

"OH, HONEY. I'VE EMBARKED UPON a life of crime."

No. Buzz! Wrong.

"SANDY, WOULD YOU TAKE A look in that drawer?"

"There's money here!"


"How much is here?"

"Nine-hundred ninety-nine dollars and eighty-six cents."

"Where'd you get it?"

"The bank."

"Wow. Your bonds matured pretty fast."

Oh, no, Greg. Give her more credit than that, man! The minute you said, the bank, she would turn around and say, you robbed the bank! And you would have to nod, and she would ask you why.


Sandy: Robbed the bank, started life of crime. Don't really want to talk about it. Maybe another time. Some Mac-and-cheese in the fridge. Love, Gregory.

GOD, YOU'RE SO NERVOUS: SWEATING. It can't be that difficult to tell her, can it? Of course, you probably should have told her before you went and robbed the bank. At the very least, she would have told you to wear a mask.

But maybe you were hoping you wouldn't go through with it. That some miraculous sign from God would tell you to stop or prevent you from doing it. Hate to tell you, bud, but the simple fact of the matter is that if you're pushing the onus on God, you're shirking responsibility for the thing that you did.

Oh, that touched a nerve. That's a big issue for you, isn't it? Responsibility. To be responsible for your actions, to be held accountable for them. Or is this just some bullshit posturing? If you were going to be responsible, you would return the cash and turn yourself in. But you're not going to do that, are you?

Of course not.


I mean, robbing the bank was pretty stupid and you're supposed to be a smart guy. How long before the police figure out who you are and come after you? You leave town, go far away, you have no danger of being caught. And, and, and.

You don't have to deal with Sandy.

DON'T THINK OF IT AS running away.

Think of it as a smarter move, as staying one step ahead of the law. You've got 995.86 in cash in your pocket. That will take you wherever you need to go. This is America, buddy: the road is open and spacious and the plains and mountains just roll on by, lulling you to sleep. The romantic lullaby of the American muse, much invoked but seldom caught, as illusive as God-Jesus-Christ-Love, you can feel it there and you know what it is, but you can't touch it, define it, or make it your own. All description and metaphor are inadequate. That's America, friend.

Roll down the window. You feel the wind in your hair. Does it make you feel any different, like you're free? I don't see why it should: you're still in a tin box. Roll the window back up, idiot: it's cold. You want to freeze?

Wind-in-hair is nonsense.


Listen to one annoying pop song after another, guided by a frustrated, homely-hammy actor (he'll never get a movie deal or even a teevee series, but he's content with his lot, just like your father was, just happy to be alive, but you can't be happy with that, you need more, you need to be difficult, don't you?), a local celebrity, this disc jockey, this master of frequency ninety-six point three for miles, for as far as his eye can see. But once you venture past his grasp, you hear it start to fade, and crackle, and his power weakens: as you leave his domain static fills the car, but don't you dare turn it off, Gregory. Listen to it, relish the emptiness; listen to it.

Soon you'll be in another town, another state, and another homely-hammy actor-king will claim ninety-six point three for his own and this FM messiah will damn you to hell with his American idols (golden calves emerging with plastic breasts from the Wall of Sound) until another jockey claims ninety-six point three, and another, and another, and that's America, Greg, that's America: that's freedom, so much sadder and truer than wind-in-hair or travels-with-Charlie will ever be.


You're in Ohio now. And Kentucky: does it feel real?

People don't just up and leave, and certainly not you, not careful, thoughtful Gregory Dingham. But here you are. In your car. Driving. Driving. Gas is running low. When the tank is empty, that will be real. When you get lost, that will be real. And then what will you do? When you crack, that will be real.

When you call Sandy up, crawl back to her or beg for her to come get you, when you pussy out, that will be real, far more believable than "he just up and went". Go on and call her, Greg: it isn't the first time you've thought of it. Each and every modest mile-marker reminds you of how far you've gone: isn't it time to stop this nonsense, to find a phone or to just turn back and drive back home?

But every mile-marker you pass, you say (out-loud or deep-down, but both are lies, really): too far to turn back now. Crossed the rubicon.

But you haven't and you know it. There's always an out, you can always turn back. There is no such thing as a point of no return. But the farther you travel, and the more time elapses, the more shit you're going to have to face when you do go back home.


"May I help you, sir?"

It's a shock at first, her accent, and then you realize, I'm in Kentucky. I'm actually here, and people actually speak like this. This isn't a dream, I'm here.

When you order your artery-choker with fries in your bland Midwest lack-of-accent, you half-expect her to say, you're not from around here, are you? But she knows that, she knew that before you even got in line: restaurants just off of the freeway don't have any repeat customers. Everyone is from out of town, and everyone is in a hurry. She's probably gotten so used to the many different accents that she comes across on a daily basis that she's desensitized to it; she's even desensitized to your reaction to her accent. And even if all this wasn't true, she still wouldn't say a word to you other than may I help you, sir? and would you like to upgrade to a bigger size for only thirty-nine more cents? People don't speak to one another any more than they need to, especially when one of them is working a shitty minimum wage job fattening you up. She's not looking at you, or your order; she's looking at the money changing hands, and at the clock, and her eyes never meet yours as she turns
 on her smile and shoves the tray at you.

Mmm. You haven't ate all day long, man. (Never rob a bank on an empty stomach.) That's a tasty burger. You can feel the fat sapping years from your life already, Greg. Greg... Greg! Why are you looking at that girl behind the counter?

"Come." She gasps suddenly, a squeal flying out of her before she even has a chance to stifle it.

"Come." Another squeal, and the scattered transients all turn their heads towards the counter. When they finish their food and leave, and file back into their cars, they'll say, what was up with that redhead behind the counter? And then they'll forget all about it, just like they'll forget all the tiny fast-food restaurants and rest-stops and periphial people. They save their vacation-time memories for majestic mountains, historical landmarks, and rubber-band balls, not human oddities and mysteries: space is scarce.

"Come." Her hands cover her mouth, and only a little meep escapes, with no hint of a drawl. Someone comes up to the counter and you give her a reprieve.

You just gave a beautiful, Kentucky-fried redhead three finger-licking good orgasms. But don't pat yourself on the back, man. Doesn't this seem a bit fucked up? Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this qualify as rape? You didn't touch her, this is true; you didn't use her for your own sexual satisfaction. But rape isn't necessarily about sex, is it? It's not about getting off. It's about power, and violation: and making this poor girl come without consent would constitute a violation. You can argue that it's really more on the level of a sophomoric prank, like that time in high school when you coped a feel off of Amanda Crumb. But there's a difference here: you didn't make Amanda Crumb come. Whether you physically touched this girl or not, you reached inside her body with your words and manipulated the muscles inside her, controlled part of her body against her will. Exercising control over another person is a power trip, Gregory. And that's rape: violation and power.

What's more, you knew it was wrong before you did it, and while you did it, and now, after you did it. You knew it was wrong and you did it anyway: why?

Come on, Greg. We're waiting for an answer.

Why are you walking towards the counter, towards the redhead? You're smirking. Why are you smirking, Greg? This is wrong, man. This is wrong and you know it.

"May I help you, sir?"

"Come harder than you've ever come in your life."

She braces herself against the counter with her arms, her body shakes, and her thighs clench together, her mouth a twitching chasm that smells of bubblegum and french fries. She exhales sharply through her nose, and her body relaxes, and she looks you straight in the eye and smiles. "Thank you."


YOUR MOTEL ROOM SMELLS LIKE sex and so you call Sandy.





"Where the hell are you? What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it right now."

"Are you safe?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Where did you go?"

"Did anyone come looking for me?"

"What do you mean?"


"Uh, no. No one."

"Not the police or anybody?"

"What did you do?"


"No, you don't just say the police when you mean nothing."

"Forget I said anything about them. Fuck. I shouldn't have called. This was a bad idea."

"Are you hanging up?"

"I don't have anything to say."



"Could you... could you say it for me?"

"Sure. Sandy, come."

She coos and thanks you and you hang up. But you don't think about her, you think about the redhead, and the bank, and your mother and her heart and how it stopped when you told it to, when you told her to die. Does that count as murder? No such thing as a point of no return, or is there? When does a sin become irredeemable?


The pretty redhead knocks on the door to your motel room, and in another moment, she's naked and pouncing, dancing, dancing, dancing, kissing, loving, tumbling, screaming, crumbling (sated), drifting off to sleep as you caress her red locks (the mark of Cain) and she says her name is Sandy. Morning comes and the dream ends.

YOU PAY FOR THE ROOM and get back on the road.

YOU PICK UP A HITCH-HIKER. His name is Harry Cash and he just got out of prison.

YOU LOOK AT THIS OLD man, and you wonder: could this be me in fifty years? Sunlight pours in from the diner window (yes, a diner, a real live diner, you actually found one deep in the heart of Tennessee) and splashes on half of his face, making it glow, making his black dots-for-eyes twinkle. The dark side of his leathery face is wrinkled and pock-marked, like a block of pavement; there's a crack in this cement block of a face, running from his ear to his nose, a nasty, curving scar, pink and ugly.

He's been talking for an hour (hardly touched his coffee). He talks with his big hands, grand gestures undercut by tiny, self-effacing chuckles. It's not so much a laugh as a raspy invitation to laughing, like he's about to start but since you don't, he doesn't. Whether the story is funny or sad, he laughs in this way: maybe he's embarrassed to be talking at all. But he keeps talking.

"First time I went to prison, Mr. Dingham, I was put there by 'Menlo' Parker. Now, I know the name doesn't carry much mileage these days, but in those days, he was the best damn gadgeteer there was. He was never as big as some of the others, never famous and revered like the Journeyman, for example, but he was damn good at what he did, and for the two or three years that he did it, he really shined. Now, I got a very light sentence on account of me being a first-time offender, and an account of my wife came from good people and could afford a lawyer that really danced, a real Fred Astaire of loopholes, you know? And this is before any of the laws were passed that makes it harder on super-criminals. Which is what did me in, in the end. But I was talking about 'Menlo' Parker, and the first time I was in.

"There was this guy there, Larry, who was my cellmate and became my friend: I watched his back, he watched mine, etcetera. Well, it turns out Larry was put away by 'Menlo', too; in fact, Larry was the first costume that 'Menlo' put away. He went by the name of Fish-Monger, on account of he could control fish. You think it's a silly power, but Larry was a very canny sort of guy, and even captured him, took him to his lair, which was actually his apartment. And Larry goes to city hall and demands a ransom. And while he's away, 'Menlo' unties himself, kills all Larry's fish on account of feeding them too much, and then blows up all the fish in the lake. Well, Larry got himself tuckered away into prison, like I said, but what really burned him up wasn't that he was in jail, but that the son-of-a-bitch overfed his fish.

"And so, Larry and I, we plot our vengeance, so that once we're both out of jail, the Gas-man and the Fish-Monger will rid the world once and for all of 'Menlo' Parker, or some such nonsense. Larry was very serious about it, though. He loved those fish. He got out before I did, and was going to wait for me, but two days before I got out, he ended up coming back in, trying to steal some tropical fish or something. And so I'm going to wait for him to come out, and what happens is, while he's in prison, Larry gets himself killed.

"See, there was this other guy, from Boston, called himself Fish-Monger on account of he could control fish also. And Larry and him get into it, and Larry shoots his mouth off like he does and..." Harry throws his hand up into the air, and then continues quietly: "Broke his fucking neck.

"I was pissed, this guy was my best friend. So I swear vengeance and I pull on my costume and I find the Journeyman. The Journeyman! Now, if I'm outclassed by 'Menlo' Parker, you know damn well the Journeyman is out of my league. But I did this to get thrown back in jail so I can kill the bastard what killed Larry, right? And the day I get in... the Boston Fish-Monger dies of a heart attack. And that's just my luck, you know? When that happened, my wife said, Harry, you are a schmuck! And she was right, god bless her. She's gone now."

And he throws his massive paws up in the air and lets them drop on the table, the gesture with which he ends all of his stories. This is a man with history in his veins, with ancedotes burned into his skin.

"All gone. She was good to me, damn good to me. I mean, it's damn decent already to be married to a super-criminal, to stick with him all through the years. Well, we were on and off mostly, and when I was in prison, we were mostly off. But if I needed her, I could call her, and that's love, young man. We were on again when she died, back in '88. She said, these were her last words, she said: tell that schmuck I love him. Sense of humour, that one. Tell that schmuck I love him. That's poetry, you know? Better than I deserve. Damn sweet of her, to go out of this world with me on her mind and that on her lips. Hmm."

He drinks his coffee, and it's cold. He gets the waitress to refill it, and smiles at her like a grandfather before he turns to you and says, "Well, enough about me, Mr. Dingham. What about you? What's your story?"


Slowly, carefully, you tell him your story, Gregory Dingham: about your mother and how you killed her, about Sandy's orgasms, about the plumber, about the bank, about your flight from Michigan. Unlike his stories, you don't digress, you don't give a single extraneous detail or colour to it. You just tell your story, plain and straight-through, unardorned, and only a minute or two elapses.

Maybe you've been telling your story to yourself these past couple days, over and over again, rehearsing it like a speech, honing it to its essentials, whittling it down, casting off the shaggy-baggy real-life stuff that makes one memorable, and unique, and endears you to someone. You don't want to be memorable, or unique.

Even though you're draining the story of personality, with the kind of bare-bone facts that should make you out to be a bastard, there's something about you that this old man likes.

Harry Cash reaches his hand out and puts it over yours and says, "I have a very stupid idea."

NEXT TIME: Things are things.

(C) 2005, Tom Russell

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