MY LITTLE BROTHER MIKE and I are sitting in the audience of our high school auditorium watching our mother play a lush in the local theatre production of “Bessemer’s Follies.” Bessemer is our hometown, and I laugh now at the idea that anyone could capture the town’s follies in a two-hour stage production. Back then, our mayor had been in power for 20 years and had just been quoted in a national news magazine as saying that the McGovern delegation to the ’72 Democratic National Convention was a bunch of “damn queers.”
In another few years, a bomb will go off at Bessemer City Hall, killing a policeman and wounding many others. No one will ever be arrested; no one will know for certain who did it, but a former high-ranking city official—a self-avowed “practicing Christian”--will self-publish a book claiming to “shed new light on the subject,” although this writer will be considered by many to be the bomber himself. The book will be sold at the local BBQ joint, alongside various sauces and t-shirts. Waitresses will offer their own half-formed theories about the crime which patrons like me will listen to and half-believe.
In years past, Bessemer had been proclaimed as a Klan-friendly town, or at least it kept a sign from the Klan on the outskirts of the city welcoming everyone, right next to Lions and Kiwanis Club greetings.
But now, in this auditorium where high school plays like “The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch” compete with talent shows and graduation exercises, we’re entering a more private world of “follies” and to protect the reputations of the innocent and not-so-innocent alike, some names have been changed.
Mike is nine, and he’s sitting next to another friend his age who, with a beat-up looking, half-gnawed pencil, has been flipping the hair of the guy sitting in front of them: Randy, a guy I know well. A guy whose date this evening was my first girlfriend, Janey Ruth, though our affair was strictly chaste, the way all of my affairs with girls were until I turned nineteen.
Randy keeps turning around looking first at Mike, then at his friend, trying to catch the culprit in the act. He’s mad now, and he’s showing off for Janey Ruth, and I keep thinking that it’s all in fun, that nothing will come of this, because he knows me and my brother.
Because we’re friends.
And then suddenly, Randy reaches back and grabs my brother by the throat:
“I’m going to beat the shit out of you if you do that one more time!”
While Randy’s eyes are bulging, Janey Ruth continues staring straight ahead at the follies onstage, at the tiny Shriner’s car that a grown man with a fez drives in maddening circles while honking a freakishly high-pitched horn.
Mike is turning red; his friend is racing out of the hall, and I’m sitting stunned motionless as Randy continues to squeeze.
It’s over in a flash. My brother sits back, not making a sound. No tears streak his face, and I’m amazed and proud of him for that. Randy relaxes now; his large head returns to its normal setting as he puts his arm around my ex-girlfriend Janey Ruth. He’s all done now.
Poem of the Week
who have experienced
on a large
i tell raif
i think my
might be dead
haven't seen her
& her car hasn't moved
for two weeks.
you would smell it
passing me a plate
of triangular shaped bread
slathered in jam.
Story of the Week
DARLEEN SQUEELED into the empty spot as soon as the gleaming white Mercedes pulled out. "We got lucky," she told Montana. "Even on a Monday night, this lot is killer."
Montana rolled her big blue eyes. "Whatever."
The eleven year old had better things to do, like text her friends. Incessantly, as if she had a tic. The kid hadn't wanted to shop tonight, but Darleen insisted. This was their first Christmas without Paulie and the girls needed to stick together. Darleen's ex had been nasty lately and mediation had hit a cement wall. Montana wasn't aware how dangerously close they were to losing access to Paulie's vast and unreported wealth.
Montana sighed dramatically as she yanked open the door of the Porsche Cayenne and tumbled out. She didn't pause in her texting.
Darlene checked her face in the rearview mirror. The most recent fat transfer had been wildly successful. She loved her new lips. Grabbing her Gucci bag, she hopped out of the front seat.
Her daughter trailed her into the mall, thumbs flashing on her phone keypad.