Backer Fiction - aaduna in exile spring 2021 issue, Vol. 10 No. 1
|Thomas Backer (photo provided)|
Thomas Backer was born in the small town of Ferdinand, Indiana. Mr. Backer contributed an article and a poem to the local newspaper and attended Xavier University where he wrote a column for the school newspaper and a short story for the literary magazine. He taught History in a college prep high school. The Barker’s Voice published “Cheesey,” a poem about a horseshoe game and a theft of cheese in spring of 2014. Three short stories have been published. “Fear” about a car-jacking in Los Angeles by aaduna in the summer of 2014, “Goodwill” about a man trying to help two homeless people by aaduna in July of 2020 and “A Small Town” about hijinks in a bar and an accusation of witchcraft, by openartsforum on September 5, 2020.
“Cats kill young rabbits so there aren’t any rabbits. You have to kick into five or six brush piles to chase one out.”
That’s what Slick says but it’s not that he does much rabbit hunting. He doesn’t have a beagle and neither do the rest of us. He just wants to kill cats. So when it gets dark the two of us go on the prowl. I just got my license and love driving my older brother’s twenty-year-old ’37 Chevy with the long gearshift sticking up from the floor. Slick rides shotgun, cradling his 20 gauge.
When it gets dark we drive slowly around the outskirts of our small town and a cat eventually steps into and stares at the headlights, curious, like someone has turned on the porch light and will give it something to eat. I ease to a stop and Slick quietly gets out, aims, and blows the well-groomed tawny back a couple of feet. We just leave it lay, and I drive carefully around it so I don’t get blood and guts on the tires. We never shoot coons or possums, just cats.
Slick does the shooting but once he asks me to take over. “Naw, I personally got nuthin against cats.” He calls me ‘girly’ so, knowing I can’t pretend to miss at fifteen feet, I kill the cat.
Our next time out Slick drives his dad’s black ‘49 Chevy coupe, the ‘Widow,’ and I hold the 20 gauge. We see a grey and white striped young pussy with a white collar sitting in someone’s yard, just on the other side of a ditch, and he slows to a stop.
I stare at him. “That’s Ernie Messmer’s yard. I’m not going to shoot a cat in the Town Marshal’s front yard.”
“You chicken shit, gimme the damn gun.” He eases the car door open. The cat just sits there, staring at the headlights, and offers a quiet meow, like it is trying to make a new acquaintance. Slick places the stock on his hip and, at such close range, blasts the poor pussy in two. He gets back in the car, throws the gun at me and peels out. He skids in loose gravel as he rounds the corner and there, fifty feet in front of us, stands Big Joe Gehlhausen, the retired town blacksmith, in the middle of the road with feet spread wide and arms outstretched. Slick heads right for him but, at the last second, as Big Joe lunges to the left, he swerves into the ditch on the other side. He jerks on the steering wheel’s knob, pulling the rear end out of the ditch and lunges forward.
Joe, sitting in his ditch, yells some cuss words.
We drive to my house and hose the dirt off the wheels and underside of the car. I go inside and Slick goes home.
I want to stop shooting cats after that but Slick says I’m ‘pussy whipped’ so we keep it up another week but then even he has to admit it’s too easy, kind of like stepping on a bug.
Shortly after that a group of us students are standing in front of the Covered Bridge, one of our small town’s three bars, waiting for the school bus to take us to the high school basketball game. The president of the senior class walks over to Slick and gives him an envelope. Slick opens it, reads the note, quickly tears it and the envelope, and throws them to the ground.
“That bitch, that underhanded, chicken shit bitch. She couldn’t even tell me in person.” He stomps off and I pick up the pieces to find that Sister Aloysius, the school principal, told him that his presence at school is no long required or desired.
Tall and thin, with sunken cheeks and black hair slicked back, a year older than me, Slick has asthma and misses school a lot so I figure that’s why Sister expelled him.
The day after Slick got the note, Father Martin, the young religion teacher with thinning hair and an eager to please manner, asks if we have any questions or complaints about how things are going at school and I raise my hand.
“Sister didn’t treat Slick fair. He has asthma like I do and I miss a lot of days too and they haven’t expelled me.”
The door, slightly ajar, swings open and there stands Sister Aloysius, all black and white and arms akimbo.
“We can make up for that lack of foresight on our part. Get your books and go home.” She slams the door shut.
I return to school the next day with my mother and we go to Sister Aloysius’ office. I hand her a written apology and look at my shoes.
“Father asked if we had any complaints and I just did what he asked.”
Sister Aloysius stiffens.
“Look at me. Slick was not absent because of asthma. He works those days at the factory. Now get out and go to class.” Tapping her pen on her desk she turns to mom, “So good of you to come. I’m sorry that your son’s misconduct has inconvenienced you.”
After school I wait on the front porch swing of Slick’s house to tell him, figuring on some gratitude for my effort. He waves a hand to put me off.
“I don’t need to finish high school and I don’t need you doing me any favors. I already have a job, and they’ve promised me I can start driving one of their semis as soon as I get a little older. She can stuff her high school diploma up her ass.”
My friend Squirrelly starts working at the same factory as Slick, just a couple of hours after school. A junior in high school like me, he has a blond flattop, nostrils turned yellow from French inhaling, and a high-pitched, squeaky voice. He off-loads boards and stacks them on a cart after Norb Sonderman saws them. Norb works so quickly that Squirrelly can’t keep up and once he is practically throwing the boards onto the cart and the whole cartload comes crashing to the floor. Norb gives him a ‘stupid kid’ look and doesn’t help pick up the boards.
Squirrelly complains to Slick, who says, “Yeh, nobody likes that sonuvabitch. Let’s twist his tail.”
Norb lives in the country so Squirrelly has the idea of capturing a possum and putting it in his mailbox.
Slick says, “Naw, let’s wreck something. We can knock over his mailbox with a baseball bat.”
Squirrelly shakes his head.
“I’ve seen his mailbox. It’s on a metal post. Your baseball bat would bounce back and hit you in the head.”
“This possum idea seems as squirrelly as you but let’s try it.”
That evening, parking near Norb’s mailbox, we walk along the side of the road with flashlights until I see a pair of pink eyes staring back at me. The possum doesn’t make a fuss when Squirrelly picks it up and puts it in the mailbox.
Two days later, Squirrelly has a fellow worker ask Norb if anything strange happened to his mailbox. The worker comes back.
“Norb said it smells funny but that’s all. Why?”
Squirrelly scratches his head.
“We put a possum in there.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. What a dumb idea. You think Norb checks his mail first thing in the morning? It’s the mailman who will smell the possum piss and have the pent up critter come shooting out of the mailbox at him. You kids don’t even know how to cause trouble.”
Squirrelly tells Slick, who says, “Keep your stupid ideas to yourself next time.”
Friday evenings I sit in a booth at the Covered Bridge drinking mugs of draft beer with my pals, Wilber and Squirrelly. Wilber, a year younger than Squirrelly and me, idolizes Slick but once he went too far in his devotion.
Slick drives Widow like he wants to replace Joie Chitwood, taking curves cautioning one speed at twice that, sometimes coming out of it on two wheels and at ninety miles an hour. Wilber tried that with his dad’s light green and white Ford Fairlane and rolled it. Squirrelly and I got bruises but Wilber got a hole in his head and they inserted a metal plate to cover it. At loose ends before, he developed a stutter and a twitch in his left eye.
Underage kids like us fill every booth and chair in the Covered Bridge’s family room and you have to yell to be understood but we can still hear Slick, a former senior, making a ruckus in the bar room. He swaggers through the saloon-type swinging doors that separate the two rooms like John Wayne looking for some bad guys. He sees us and walks over to our booth.
“Hey, you buncha misfits, you gettin any poontang?”
We chuckle sheepishly. Squirrelly says, “ How bout you, prince of studs? You gettin any?”
“Sure, I get my share. They want it. You just have to get them to the point where they can’t turn back. You guys got no balls and wouldn’t know what to do with pussy if it was sitting naked on your lap. I could dare you anything and you’d wimp away.” He looks at his lit cigarette. “I dare you to put one of these out on your arm.”
Wilber stutters, “W-won’t it leave a scar? W-won’t my p-parents see the scar?”
I lean against the back of the booth. “What’s the point of doing it?”
He flaps his wings. “Bock bcok ba-gock.”
Squirrelly gives a high-pitched, squeaky chuckle. “What the hell. C’mon. It only hurts for a little while.”
I look at Slick.
“You go first, big balls.”
He quickly smashes the cigarette out on his forearm.
“Nuthin to it. Like a mosquito bite.”
We all light up and Squirrelly goes next. He winces.
“That’s some big mosquito.”
Wilber lays his forearm inside up on the surface of the booth like he is ready to give blood and smudges out the cigarette.
“T-there. Now no one w-will see the scar.”
I go last, on the top of my forearm.
“As long as we’re doing something stupid, I’ll do it again.” I put another one out in the same spot and let it burn out slowly instead of smashing it. It stings bad.
Wilber and Squirrelly shake their heads but wouldn’t discourage someone from doing a foolhardy act.
“You dumbasses would jump off the town water tower if I told you to.”
Next morning a blister on my arm pokes up half an inch and I am careful not to bump it against anything so I can impress Slick when he gets off work. He grabs my arm at the blister and squeezes hard, puss running through his fingers.
“Don’t try to impress me with what an idiot you are. Grow up.
We start making trips to Tell City, a larger town half an hour away. Slick provides thrills on every trip. Heading home one evening, he makes us sorry for our sins. Passing a semi going around a sharp curve we see another semi coming around a curve from the other direction. We yell for him to stop but he presses on the accelerator and two feet separate metal on both sides as he swerves between the trucks like a rabbit dodging pellets. The airflow from the second truck pushes Widow off the road but Slick jerks the knob, turning into the skid and keeping Widow under control.
Another time he pulls into a Scenic Overlook.
“Okay you buncha wienies, time for a circle jerk.”
I stare at him.
“Hell no, it’ll be fun.”
We get out, form a circle and unzip. Wilber says, “W-what if a c-car c-comes?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. They can’t see your little wienie while they’re driving by.”
“No, but if someone stops and asks if we need help I don’t w-want the zipper c-catching on my bare ding dong if I have to zip up fast.”
“Shut the fuck up! Work on it.”
“Okay, boss man,” Wilber chuckles. “I p-pretended I w-was sick T-Thursday and got excused from c-class nine t-times and beat my meat each t-time. It’s still sore but I say spit or bleed.”
I zip up.
“I’m not doing it. I do it at home in front of the bathroom mirror but not here.” I head for the car.
“Fuck it!” Slick zips up and also heads for the car. Turning back, “Wilber, you and Squirrely can do it in the car.”
He peels out.
“Fuckin piss ants!”
A minute later Squirrelly yells, “Gimme a handkerchief!”
Wilber and I offer ours. He takes Wilber’s, tells Slick to lean forward and throws it out the window. He takes mine to clean up and throws that out too.
“The Bible says it’s better to slip your seed into the belly of a whore than to spill it on the ground but you sure as hell don’t want to peter puke on the Widow’s lap!” He starts laughing. “ Ride em cowboys! This is more fun than going to the circus!”
The rest of us begin a nervous laugh.
We go to Tell City a lot and we always first pull into the Frostop root beer stand on the near edge of town just as it starts getting dark. Slick tells me to check my watch.
“Ten after seven.”
He hits the steering wheel with the flat of his hand.
“Damn, I woulda set the record if we hadn’t got stopped by that light in Birdseye. They named that town after the wrong freakin end of the bird.”
Debbie, our favorite carhop, approaches with a metal tray and a smile for a car load of regulars. Our age, cute, and with a nice figure, she wears a boy-scout-tan uniform with dark brown accents and a dark brown pillbox cap pinned to her auburn hair curling around her ears. Slick rolls the window up a bit and she leans forward to hook the tray. We concentrate on the v above her top button.
Slick moans, “Hey, good lookin, how bout goin steady with me?”
“Ha, I wouldn’t get in a back seat with you. Say, why don’t you guys rent an apartment down here?”
“What time you get off work?”
“What’s that got to do with the price of ketchup, Romeo?”
“Well, if there’s time enough to rent that apartment before you get off, I’ll go do that.”
“Spend time with you behind a locked door! Suicide sounds pretty good compared to that.” She puts her hand on the tray. “You guys gonna order something or you just wasting my time? This parking lot is for paying customers.”
Squirrelly leans forward from the back seat and says in his squeaky voice, “Gimme a pine float.”
“What’s that? Never heard of it.”
“Toothpick floatin in a glass of water.” Squirrelly grins and the rest of us snicker.
“Bless me, that’s real intelligent.” She unhooks the tray. “You boys can take your no business elsewhere.”
Wilber leans his chin on the back of the front seat and looks longingly at Debbie’s nice upper story.
“I’ll t-take a root beer.”
“In a frosted mug?”
“Yeh, but before you serve it, I w-want you to hold it between your hands for a minute to melt the ice off.”
“Why don’t you order a regular mug?”
“C-cause I w-want to w-watch you w-warm it up for me.”
Debbie rolls her eyes.
“Bless me, you’re not perverted or anything, are you?”
“No, but I c-can tell you’ve got a hot bod and I w-want to see how fast you c-can melt the ice.”
“You are seriously getting on my nerves.” She hooks the tray back on and leaves.
Slick lets out a wolf whistle, and Debbie waves her hands behind her back like she is scattering chickens.
She returns with the root beer in a frosted mug. Wilber leers.
“It’s t-too c-cold.”
“That’s the way we serve em, nice and cold.”
“W-warm it up.”
“I just serve the eats and drinks. I don’t have to warm up the drinks.”
“W-warm it up.”
Slick croons, “Sweetheart, he’s not asking for much. Just do what the retarded fart wants.”
“Don’t sweetheart me. I’m not going to do it.”
“Then take it back.”
“I can’t do that. Once I serve it, he has to pay for it.”
Slick gives the frosted mug to Wilber.
“Warm it yourself.”
He turns to Debbie.
“We’re going to take the mug with us and bring it back.”
“We don’t sell mugs, just root beer and hot dogs.”
“That mug isn’t worth more than fifty cents. Wilber, give her a dollar.”
“No, I’ll drink it here.”
“God dammit, I said pay her. I’m not going to sit here like a monkey scratchin his ass while you sip your root beer.”
Wilber has Squirrelly hold the mug while he gets out his billfold and hands over the dollar.
Debbie stoops to grab it. We again examine the v and she quickly stands up.
“Anybody else want anything?”
Slick looks up.
“I want you to purr like a pussycat and rub against my arm.”
“You watch it, buster. I’m not going to stand here and be insulted. I’d ask you boys not to come back but I know you will.”
Slick guns the engine with the clutch in.
“Well back off!”
She starts to walk backwards but then yells, “Wait, the tray!”
He grabs it and throws it at her with a mean Frisbee toss. She deflects it and goes to pick it up. He yells, “Scoot your cute butt!” slams it into reverse, releases the clutch and sends rocks spewing as he shoots backwards.
I yell, “Watch out! You’ll hit Debbie!”
“That’ll teach her to skedaddle when I say scoot.”
When he gets on the street, he jerks to a stop, pulls the emergency brake handle, lifts himself out the window, faces Debbie sitting on a bench in front of the Frostop and sings out,
“Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go,
you have made my life complete, and I love you so.
Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled,
For my darling I love you and I always will.”
Then yells, “Let’s fuck! Just spread ‘em.”
He slides back in, keeps the emergency brake on, presses hard on the accelerator and pops the clutch. Back tires screaming, smoke enveloping the car, he releases the brake and Widow leaps forward. He lets out his war whoop, turns right through the red light at the corner without looking left and stops.
He looks straight ahead.
“Bet I can make it to the end of the main drag in less than thirty seconds.”
“Now you’re t-talkin. Dead on.”
Squirrelly leans forward.
“I’ll take that bet. There are five lights and you can’t make it if you get stopped at any one of them. I’ll bet fifty cents.”
“I’m willing to risk losing my license and all you’ll put up is fifty cents.”
“Okay, a dollar.”
Wilber reaches in his pocket.
Slick turns to me.
“How about you, chicken shit?”
“No thanks. You’d get us killed for three dollars.”
Squirrelly and Wilber give me their dollars and Slick gives me two.
Squirrelly squeaks, “This isn’t fair. You’ve already gone through one light.”
“Well, I’ll be damned.” He squeals backward, stops on the other side of the intersection, waits for the light to turn green and takes off.
We’re soon doing sixty and get green the next two lights but the one after that blazes red and there is a car in front of him and one stopped in the lane from the other direction but he goes around the first car and swerves to miss the second one as if playing pinball. Then we hear a siren and turn to see flashing lights two blocks behind us.
Slick hesitates for a second, then floors it.
“Damn that cop. I’m not going to lose my license.” He hits the brakes hard so he can make a sharp right turn off the main drag. I slide into him.
“Get the fuck off me!”
I grab the armrest and pull myself over. The Widow slides and bumps the curb. Some of Wilber’s root beer spills on his lap.
“Oh p-poop, it looks like I p-peed in my p-pants.”
Slick makes another right turn and heads down the side street, picking up speed. The cop turned the block before us, heading for the same intersection but, going too fast to stop, he goes skidding sideways, tires squealing while Slick swerves around him on the right. Smiling as he looks back, “Now catch me if you can, you bastard! C’mon, Widow, you can do this.”
He speeds down the side street for another block then makes a right turn back toward Main Street and a red light. I roll up my window, lock my door, ball up my legs as I scrunch myself into the corner, holding onto the armrest and ducking my head so I can’t see death or maiming fast approaching me in my dead man’s seat. Wilber and Squirrelly both hug the floor in back, Wilber with wet pants and sobbing hysterically, Squirrelly in a high-pitched scream, and Slick yelling, “Shut the fuck up. I can do this.”
I hear cars honk and slide but Slick makes it through the intersection without hitting anything and gooses the Widow. A sliding turn to the left on two wheels, Widow slams down hard and takes off. Squirrelly and I are praying like we believed. Wilber pleads through his sobs, “P-please stop, Slick. I’m gonna be sick.”
Another turn to the left, heading back to Main Street, he swerves to the right and the rear fender hits something hard, which spins Widow around, sliding sideways down the street, tires screeching, burnt rubber, smoke and Slick jerking the knob to lunge forward.
Another block and a sharp sliding right turn ends with Widow’s driver side slamming into another car. I lose hold of the armrest and hurtle into Slick. He pushes me off and I can see that he has crashed into a police cruiser sitting sideways at one side of the intersection while another had blocked the center. Slick jams it into reverse and floors it, jerking the knob rapidly right and left. Scrunching of metal on metal, the acrid stench of more burning rubber, smoke, and a slight movement as Slick tries to break free but can’t. He turns the ignition off and lays his forehead on the top of the steering wheel.
“Fuck, fuck, fuckin cop sunsabitches, I hate you!”
Three cops approach, one from the patrol car Widow ran into, another from the cop car blocking the intersection and the third from the car behind us.
Very sore but nothing broken, I ask Wilber and Squirrelly, untangling themselves from the left corner of the floor, if they are okay. Wilber sobs, “I’m not dead.” Squirrely nods.
The cop driving us home turns to look at us through the wire screen.
“You boys are lucky to be alive. Your friend will spend the night in jail and will lose his license for a year.”
Wilber blubbers, “Friend? W-what k-kind of friend t-tries to get you k-killed?”
Squirrelly squeaks, “He makes fun of us, treats us like scum.”
I add, “We’ll never have anything to do with him ever again.”
But of course, we do.
aaduna - an online adventure with words and images - a globally read, multi-cultural, and diverse online literary and visual arts journal established in 2010.