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"I 35" by John Biggs
Part 2 of 2
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"I 35" by John Biggs
Part 2 of 2






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(con't)

Dad set his pipe down in his ashtray and walked over to the stranger.
“Hey now. You ought to leave that dog alone.” He held his hands out
to his side, proving he was unarmed, because that’s how soldiers act
when they don’t want to fight.

“Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn,” The stranger took a couple more
swipes at Baby Doll but his eyes fixed onto Dad.

“Perry?” Dad held his hands up even higher, like the stranger, who
might be his brother, had the atom bomb ready to drop if they didn’t
work something out. Baby Doll still couldn’t get out from under the end
table, but she got really quiet, the way white tail deer do when the road
graders push I 35 through the forest.

“Them Japs really made a mess of you, Perry.” Dad took a step
backwards because his brother’s rage was too turned up too high to
shut down all at once.

“Goddamn.” He stumbled a little as Baby Doll ran underneath his legs
and headed out the door he’d left wide open.

“Sit down, Perry. Gorgeous George is wrestlin’ on the TV.”

Anybody could see Perry wasn’t in the mood.

“I think we’ve got a bottle of Jim Beam around here. We could have a
drink.”

Mom stood up. “We’ve got no liquor in this house,” but she walked into
the kitchen, like she might be going to check anyway.

Perry lunged at dad. Grabbed him around the throat. Wrapped his legs
around him, and rode him to the ground in front of the Magnavox.

Dad made a gurgling sound. He forgot all about Germans and Japs
and Frenchies and Communists. An atom bomb couldn’t have caught
his attention right then with his brother choking the life out of him while
his son watched, and his wife was in the kitchen looking for made-up
whiskey.

Mom came out of the kitchen with her arms behind her, like she had a
big surprise for Perry.

“You get off him Perry. You’re not acting Christian.”

Perry didn’t even turn around, but he loosened up his strangle hold.
He drooled peach colored saliva while he doubled up a fist and drew
it back for a punch that was sure to turn Dad’s face to mush.

“Perry!” Mom’s shout made Perry wait for just a second, but his rage
had been building up since 1942 when the Japs marched him across
the Philippines at gunpoint. No woman could shout loud enough to
stop him all together.

If he’d looked behind him he would have seen Mom bring a butcher
knife out from behind her back. She came at Perry’s back with a
downward swing. It went in with a thunking sound, like you hear when
you test a watermelon to see if it’s ripe.

Mom tried to pull the butcher knife out, in case one stab wasn’t
enough. She braced her foot on Perry’s back yanked hard enough to
pull the blade free and send her tumbling to the couch right beside me.

Perry made it to his feet, but it didn’t look like he’d get much further.
He looked at the Magnavox and moved his lips as if he was trying to
say something important about professional wrestling.

He finally came out with, “Jesus,” and collapsed on the floor beside
Dad.

“Did you hear that Daddy?” Mom wiped the blade of her butcher knife
on Perry’s overcoat. “He found Jesus in the end.”

Baby Doll poked her head inside the front door, which was still open,
letting in mosquitos and night air. She paced around Perry, just in
case he still had some life in him. She barked at him but he didn’t move.

“Bless his heart.” Mom was quick to forgive Perry since he found
religion at the last possible moment. She kissed her hand and put it on
his forehead. She petted Baby Doll until the dog’s breathing returned to
normal.

“I think it’s bedtime Jackie,” she told me. “Texas Wrasslin’s over now.”

“Tomorrow all this will turn into a dream,” she said. “Wait and see.”

“Sleep with the lights on if you want to,” Dad said. “Even soldiers do
that sometimes.”

                                           ***

Perry wasn’t in the living room on Sunday morning.

“No need to go to church,” Mom told me. “Just eat your Cheerios in
front of the Magnavox and watch Oral Roberts.”

“Look out for them ants.” Dad pointed his pipe stem at the swarm of
ants collecting Perry’s blood from the carpet. He sucked air through
his cold empty pipe, making do until the grocery store opened.

Mom put my bowl of cereal on a TV tray so I could watch Oral
Roberts smack the sickness out of people while he shouted, “Jesus,”
louder than Perry said it but not nearly as sincere.

The ants carried Perry’s blood under the front door to be put away for
the winter with Lorna Doone crumbs and dead comrades. His blood
would help get them through the winter in their new nest—wherever
that was—since their old one was dug up for I 35.

“That’s how soldiers get to Heaven,” Dad told me. “One ant speck at
a time.”

Oral Roberts pulled an old lady out of her wheel chair and told her she
wouldn’t fall down if she had enough faith. She took a painful step or
two before she leaned against the preacher and shouted, “Halleluiah.”

“She don’t have quite enough faith to walk painless,” Mom explained.
“Sometimes that comes after a week or two, with no TV cameras
around.” Mom looked at the shrinking puddle of Perry’s blood,
satisfied she’d sent a tormented soul to paradise.

“Where is Uncle Perry now?” I slurped a spoonful of sugar-sweetened
milk.

“He’s in a better place, Jackie.” Mom told me you only had to be a
Christian for half a second before you died.

It was still hard to believe that one, “Jesus,” would make up for all the,
“Goddamns,” that came before.

Mom wanted to talk about the final destination of Perry’s soul, but I
wanted to know about the part of him you could see.

“How about his body?” I didn’t figure he went to heaven in his dirty
overcoat, smelling like whiskey and sweat.

“Dad took care of Perry’s mortal remains,” Mom said. “No need to
involve the police department in our family troubles.”

“Them remains is in a better place too,” Dad said. “In the crawl space.
Temporary, until the I 35 is ready for the cement crew.”

“The ants will clean him to the bone so Daddy can move him easy.”
God’s plan pulled together, exactly like Mom said it would.

We watched Oral Roberts lead his congregation in a noisy prayer
while the insects carried the last of Uncle Perry’s blood under the
front door. Baby Doll sniffed at the spot where he gave the last
second of his life to Jesus.


Next:
"I Saw You" by Lori Hahnel
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