The tow truck was at your house first thing in the morning. A burly grisly looking fellow who looked like he was part black bear knocked on the door to tell me he had arrived and was ready to take me to my car. It was a strange goodbye. There was a tension in the air that was inescapable. Though we didn’t communicate it verbally it was clear that we had made some deeper connection than just the simple savage sex would have implied. You looked at me with a knowing look telling me what I needed to hear without uttering a word. “Talk to you soon.” I whispered into your ear as I hug you goodbye. “Drive safer this time.” you whisper back before kissing me on each cheek and sighing contentedly. I take a step back, pick up my suitcase, wink, and turn to walk out the door.

“You from the coast?” the big man grumbled. His sentence sounding like it was constructed from gravel instead of words.

“Sorry?” I asked, surprised that he had started a conversation in the first place.

“I suppose you must be.” he continued, irreverent to any answer I had or had not given. “Only someone from the coast would drive in this weather with that get up.” He snorted to himself proud of his put down.

He was right of course, it was foolhardy to be driving with no winter gear in the middle of an area famed for sudden and inhospitable storms. It is what some people call fate, or others may call Gods will, and even scientists ring in calling it chaos theory. If I hadn’t been ill prepared I wouldn’t have had to take shelter in your house. If I hadn’t taken the car instead of the plane I wouldn’t have even been in this storm. If it wasn’t for my grandfather passing I would have been at work pouring over something altogether useless in the spectrum of my life. All these moments culminated with my meeting you.

Would my life gone on had those moments not come to pass? Of course it would have. The lack of knowing you would not have affected me in the least. If I took the plane to the funeral I would have never crashed and never met you. My life would certainly continue unabated along whatever path I chose. But in this moment as I sat in silence next to this awkwardly shaped and slightly smelly tow truck driver I found myself attaching greater meaning to all these inane superficial connections. I knew that it didn’t make meeting you any more important or pivotal and yet I couldn’t help myself.

The tow truck slid around a corner with a small fishtail swoop and the gruff man snorted again as I grabbed for the door handle to steady myself. He was likely under the impression I was fearful of his driving and felt superior once more for being the bigger cro-magnon man. In truth I simply did not feel like sliding down the bench seat and colliding with his now distinctly odorous mass. It’s possible outside of work he was a classy gentleman and took his wife out to a nice Friday night dinner once a week, but at the moment he was a large hulking sweaty mass and I desperately wanted to crack the window open if only for one final breath of fresh air.

“How much further?” I asked, more for the smell than the driving.

“Round about five minutes or so dependin’ on tha deer.” He clicked and sucked at his teeth before coughing and spitting out the window. Friday night dinners with the wife seemed much less likely with every minute that passed.

“Ah I see.” I managed to reply as we slid around another bend in the road. In the distance I could make out the distinct tower of a grain elevator. The tiny hamlet would be coming into view shortly. These sorts of towns always mystified me. There never seemed to be a reason why they existed and yet there they were. What made the people of this area congregate and decide that they needed to construct a town at this spot was a matter of mystery. From the outsiders perspective there was nothing here of value except perhaps the gas station and the grain elevator.

Not surprisingly, however, as we reached the two block long section of downtown there were two competing churches directly across from each other. One protestant and the other catholic no doubt. It was difficult to tell from the outside. They both were very stalwart, solid and churchy. I smirked to myself. This town had more churches than grocery stores. I suppose the residents enjoyed being able to choose which version of the religion did a better job of making them feel bad about themselves.

The truck took one final turn into the gas station lot where he parked in front of the service bay that was attached. “You’ll have to pay Geraldine at the counter.” He said stiffly, out if habit making the assumption I knew who Geraldine was.

“Thanks.” I replied and sauntered off to the entrance while he remained in his tow truck. After entering the small front office I immediately saw Geraldine behind the counter. She was a cute woman and looked to be close to the same age as you. Geraldine, however, had taken to putting makeup on at a young age and it seemed never got passed the introductory phase of makeup technique. Less is more was a concept completely foreign to her as she looked like she was plucked from the mid-80’s with her big hair and overly blushed cheek bones.

“You the guy with the car?” She asked, smacking on her gum loudly.

The question was vague but I suppose I was the guy with the car. “That’s me.” I stated dryly with a subtle nod of acknowledgement as I a swerved her.

“You took a dip in the ditch huh?” She continued, flipping through a receipt book as she talked. “Out by the old Petkau place.”

It was still strange to hear your last name. I only found out what it was about an hour before this. I suppose we were content with first names. They are, after all, more familiar. “I suppose so yes.” I answered.

“So you met Ay then.” She said still flipping through the book before stopping and looking up at me.

I paused for a moment before nodding. I suppose to her you were Ay as you were Al to Celine and Alcina to me.

“That’s good. She needed a man to come visit.” Geraldine muttered. “She’s been cooped up in that place since her parents died and she came back from Spain or something.”

“Paris.” I corrected though a little surprised you hadn’t told me about your arrival back home. I suppose we had run out of time and had decided to enjoy it instead of reliving bad memories. I was just as guilty of not revealing unpleasant moments passed.

“Ya that.” Geraldine agreed. “Shitty way to find out your parents croaked.” She continued “come back from a trip and spend the night at the airport waiting for them to pick you up. Getting mad and shit like all pissed because they forgot about you. Meanwhile they’d been pried out of their car while you were all la-dee-dah in the plane and shit.” She scrunched up her face and scowled. “Ya that’s a shitty as fuck way to find out you’ve got no mom and dad anymore. Oh finally!” She exclaimed after finding the receipt for your repairs and tow. “Justin you dumbass you put this shit in the wrong fucking place.” Justin, if course was nowhere to be found and her irritation did not fall on deaf ears but no ears at all.

I stood for a moment contemplating what I had just found out. Geraldine, though crass and unsophisticated, was right. That was a horrible way to find out your parents had passed away. I felt like I should take my car and immediately drive back to comfort you. This was a silly idea though. In your mind you had already dealt with the loss. You had moved on as best as you could and pity was the least of your needs at the moment.

Geraldine passed the paper to me and I looked it over verifying the math quickly before signing it and handing her my credit card. All things considered it was a minor bill. I was quite lucky. “Thanks.” Geraldine said to me taking the paper away and passing me a copy. She then picked up the keys from the empty pegboard rack behind her before tossing them to me. “Cars round front.” She said with a smile. “Drive safe now ok?”

I thanked her and walked out of the building.y car was off to the right and was already covered in a thin veil of snow. I pressed on the remote and it rumbled to life shaking a small amount of snow off. I grabbed my suitcase and tossed it into the trunk before getting into the chilly vehicle. After a few moments I had keyed in my final destination to the GPS unit and started off.

For the first time in a long while I felt the nagging itchy feeling of loneliness creep into my mind. Despite the very short amount of time I had spent with you I felt that I was already missing your presence. I suppose the loneliness we feel as individuals is never as great as the day we lose a connection to someone we care about.

The irony of this was realization wasn’t lost on me, after all I was heading to a funeral. I didn’t feel that I had lost a connection when my grandfather passed. What I hadn’t admitted to anyone, is that I felt little to nothing at all. He was just…there, like an object I knew existed but had no attachment to. I could have been told that I needed to replace the taillight on my car and it would have evoked more of an emotional response. It wasn’t always like this though. It took a lot of time and effort to come to this cold detached state. I was grateful for it. The years I spent with him after my dad passed away were the worst. He was charged with my care and it seemed he was completely incapable of anything resembling caring. A vile, beastly, cruel man in private I suffered through his radical mood swings and violent outbursts. He was dead to me a long time before he died. Now I just had to go through the motions of burying him.

I knew I was expected to do the eulogy and I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it. I wasn’t concerned about speaking in front of everyone. I’ve never really understood that fear. I was more concerned with trying to come up with enough nice things to say. At least there was the road ahead of me. I had time to talk it out to myself. I had still a long ways to travel and many things to settle in my mind. I hoped that in that time I could recall enough positive moments that the eulogy would be adequate. As much as I loathed the man, his family need not remember him the way I remember him.

“His family.” I mused to myself. I had removed myself to such a degree that I did not even recognize them as my own. He was my mom’s dad, so he was blood and I suppose that blood makes him family despite my feelings. So really, I hadn’t seen my family in years. I hadn’t felt the need to. Family are the people you’re stuck with. The crazy people on the liferaft. You’ve got to stick with them, and they stick with you. Not because they agree with you, but because they’re programed to. There is no choice involved. It makes me wonder though, love without choice, is it really love at all?

When my mom died my dad took care of me. He looked after me and did the best he could to make sure I grew up strong and proud like him. When he passed I was still a young teenager. Cancer ripped him out of my life before I realized he was slipping away. I was left on my own. It was decided by someone, a will I suppose, that I was to be cared for by my mothers parents, only one of which was still on this earth. So at thirteen I was the orphaned and sent to live with my despot grandfather. He made sure I knew what he felt about that.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” he used to say whenever the mood struck him, and it did strike often. “You’re nobody. You’re nothing. You hear me?!” he’d yell. “The best part of you died with your mother, and now all I’ve got is the shit that’s left behind.”

Grandfather was the ‘spare the rod spoil the child’ type with the chilling bonus of not caring whether or not the child had done anything to provoke the rod. He kept a collection of leather belts he was fond of, most left over from his time in the army, and all but two that actually still fit him. He was fond of how they looked, their polished shiny exteriors, black, slick, and hard. The way they smelt. The way the leather felt in his hand. He liked the sound they made when he pulled the belt tight. The noise they made when they were stretched taught. He hung them in his room outside of the closet and next to the door. He’d stare at them as he went to sleep and stroke them as he left his room.

Often he’d carry one with him around the house. It didn’t serve any other purpose other than to comfort him. The belt he had on was less than impressive. It could barely contain the gut that had developed. He was far from the slim and trim hard ass that he used to be before he mustered out. I’d see him set it on his lap with care as if it was some beloved pet, stroking it and holding it as he watched hours of mindless TV and smoked several packs an evening. He was never awake in the morning. Instead he preferred to wander around the house with his belt in one hand and a large glass of miscellaneous booze in the other.

When he was feeling particularly frisky he would bound up the stairs like a rolling barrel of thunder then burst through my door yelling some unintelligible nonsense. If I didn’t respond correctly, which happened nearly every time, he would take whichever favorite belt he had in his hand, and beat me with it. His favorite spot was the small of my back. His second favorite was my stomach. “That’s why I have no money you dumb fuck look at you!” he would bellow. “You’re a big fatty.” he’d say, poking my stomach with a long fat finger. Before I could react the belt was whipping around and smashing into my stomach with surprising speed. If I curled up to protect myself he would simply aim for my back instead. “You and your big smack fat smack mouth smack You’re eating me out smack of house smack and fucking smack home! smack smack smack” You tell yourself when you’re in that situation that you’re going to be tough. You can take it. You’re meaner and stronger than him. You’re not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing you cry. But inevitably the tears come, then you plead for him to stop. The only thing that saves you is him getting tired, thirsty, or craving yet another cigarette. The hardest part to deal with was that there was no reason to any of it. If I was doing something to cause him to be upset, perhaps I could avoid that trigger, but it just wasn’t the case. I shook my head as I drove and became aware of my own tears. Dead and gone and he still managed to make me weep.

The truth was he blamed my dad for my mother’s suicide. His pain was tempered only by my grandmother, and when she passed he got even worse. We stopped visiting at that point. He and my dad would just end up in big arguments over me; where we should live, where I should go to school, what sports I should focus on. My grandfather was always bringing my dead mother into the argument by saying it’s what she wanted. My dad would counter with “He’s my son, I know what’s best for him.” It always escalated. It always got louder and it nearly always resulted in us leaving for home the next day. My grandmother was fond of saying how much I looked like my dad. I think that didn’t help the situation either. I even could recall one time while being worked over by a belt my grandfather yelling, “I will beat the lousy shit out of you.” At the time I had understood it to be that he was trying to beat me into being a better person. But as I think back on it, he was really saying he wanted to beat my father out of me.

“How am I going to write this eulogy?” I muttered to myself, watching the sunlight dim on the horizon in my rearview mirror. “Ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming today. We’re here to celebrate the life of horrible man that I’m happy is dead. He destroyed what was left of my childhood and took what family I had away from me. I despise him. I loathe him. I do not pity or accept him for what he did. I have no forgiveness in my heart, because he had beaten that out of me. Here in this casket lies a lousy piece of shit. May he rot in whatever hell you believe in. Thank you.”

I’m sure that would go over well.

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One thought on “Chapter 24 – Rot In Whatever Hell You Believe In

  1. The “town” is there because of the grain elevator, which is there because of the railroad. I grew up in Kansas practically in the middle of a wheat field (due South of MB) and can easily visualize the setting: the isolation, the big sky, the flatness that stretches on forever, the bitter cold where you can see your breath. This time of year the custom cutters will have been long gone half way to Texas by now. The majority of stories are set in cities or exotic places, so it is a treat to read one with a simple, rural setting like this one. Don’t forget to keep writing about what you know. Nice episode. I can taste the bitter-sweetness between the characters and made my heart ache.

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