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Sunday, 23 September 2012 18:41

Blood

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Down in Canaan-town a sweat-stained street preacher dances along cracked concrete and prays over abandoned cotton mills, boarded store buildings, and one defunct movie house—stone-dead illusions that can never be raised from the ground. Hollow invocations ride on a feeble breeze—curling round & round down in Canaan-town.

Sunset drains crimson remains from gray clouds. Thunder rumbles in the distance and night comes down like a gate on a chain. As Blood Dixon moves along the downtown sidewalk, he can sense wary eyes shifting in his direction. He’s back home in Canaan, Louisiana—land of underworked citizens and overworked churches. Hopelessville, where it’s easier to find a place to rob than it is to find a job. A closed circle where fear accumulates like dust in every dark corner.

Bobby Lee “Blood” Dixon is a bad hallucination: clean-shaven head, mean black moustache drooping over the corners of his mouth, a long scar down the right side of his face that looks like a river marking on a Louisiana map. He’s wearing jeans and a short-sleeve, black T-shirt—a size too small. On his prison-developed right forearm he has a tattoo—a matador poised to thrust a sword into an already bloody bull. The caption below the dying bull reads, “Born to Lose.”

Blood has walked all day—twenty-six miles along Highway 66 from “Angola Prison Farm” to Canaan. He was cut loose after doing every minute of a ten-year sentence for manslaughter. He has fifty-three dollars in the right, front pocket of his new jeans—all that’s left of the hundred dollars he received as a parting gift from the Louisiana Department of Corrections. 

Blood Dixon was born and raised to be a bad man. Even as a kid he knew fighting. Fury always ready—waiting like a rock in his pocket. The world reduced to a single primal point. Strange lessons that were more real than a “golden rule” that could not hold. He was comfortable hanging in the netherworld—on the fringe where the outlaws gathered—bad luck and trouble tied to his ass like two clanging tin cans.

Blood was put away for killing Reggie Fontenot in a barroom fight. Fontenot stabbed him in the back with a lockblade knife and Blood choked him to death with a pool cue—old rage from old places. It was a clear case of self-defense, but a local judge and jury saw it as a chance to get a dangerous man out of town for a while. So the judge sentenced him to ten years and sent him down the road to the “Alcatraz of the South.

After the judge slammed down the gavel, he couldn’t resist making a short farewell speech: “Son, if you don’t change your wicked ways, you’re gonna find yourself riding through town with your belly to the sun, your best suit on, and nowhere to go but hell.”

_____

Just outside of town the multicolored neon outline of “The Rock House” cuts through the dusk like a cheap carnival. Blood’s emotions are spreading like a slow-burning fire—barely able to contain himself—impatient to get at the task he has to do.

Blood looks up into the night and shakes his head as if to rearrange his vision of the heavens. He fights to stay calm as the adrenaline races like an express train through his veins.

As soon as Blood walks through the door and takes a stool at the bar, all of the rednecks that are talking too loud go silent. Papa Rock grins and says: “Hey Bobby Lee. You break out?” Blood leans forward until his nose is almost touching Papa’s nose and growls low, “They let me out and were happy to see me go. The warden told me I was a bad influence.”

Papa Rock is the owner and bartender of “The Rock House.” He was there the night Blood killed Reggie. He had seen it all. In court he had told it like this:

Bobby Lee was bent over the pool table lining up a shot when Reggie slipped up behind him and put a knife in his back. Bobby Lee turned, quick as a cottonmouth striking, and caught Reggie across the face with the big end of the cue stick. Reggie dropped straight to the floor like he’d been shot. Bobby Lee jumped on top of him, jammed the cue stick against his throat with both hands, and choked him ‘til his eyes were bulging like a bullfrog.

Blood looks around the room, but he doesn’t see who he’s looking for.

“This place is stuck in a fucking time warp. Same tired assholes sitting on the same stools. Same old bitch in the same tight-ass pants and cowboy boots in front of the jukebox dancing to the same song.”

“Quaint, ain’t it?” says Papa.

“Ain’t it?” says Blood.

“You want a beer, Bobby Lee?”

“Not tonight, bartender.”

“Papa, was Marie still coming by before she died? Was she still pretty?”

Papa knows where Bobby Lee is headed with this question.

“She was still pretty, but the drugs were making her old before her time—especially around the eyes. There was something desperate about the way she looked at you—like she was slipping off the edge of the world.”

“Was she still living with Caiman?”

“When he found out she’d put a dent in that classic car of his, he slapped her around and threw her out of his houseboat in the middle of the night. She told me he was so far into the pipe she couldn’t talk to him, but she kept going back. Toward the end, she was staying at your old place.”

“Hard to believe that beat-up box was still livable. When I leave here I’m gonna walk out that way.”

“Bobby Lee, for what it’s worth,” Papa said, “I’m damn sorry about Marie. I had no idea she was so desperate. But nobody can turn back time and change the way the whole thing came down.”

“I ain’t looking to change things,” said Blood, I’m just looking to finish things—that’s what I do.”

“Where’d she get the pistol?” asked Blood.

“Well she asked to borrow mine. She said Caiman was gonna kill her.”

“You didn’t give it to her?”

“Hell no. I told her there was no way that I was gonna loan her my gun. I joked about it. I told her she might shoot herself—damn stupid thing to say.”

“That’s alright Papa. I think I know who gave her the gun—probably told her what she could do with it.”

“Bobby Lee, the best thing you can do is stay away from your fucked-up brother. When he’s on crank, he’s crazier than a shit-house rat.”

As Blood gets up to leave, he looks around the bar as if he might address the drunken patrons. Then he turns and stares straight into Papa Rock’s eyes. A curious half-smile flickers across his face.

“Papa,” he says, “Caiman ain’t never seen crazy.”

Then he nods, crosses the floor, and walks out the door into the night.

_____

Blood stops on the roadside and eyes the dark outline of his ruined house. The front-porch swing dangles like a hanged man from a single chain. What’s left of the shack is watched over by a five-foot tall wooden statue of Jesus. The faded Savior gazes down coolly on the frame of a fire-gutted car and the white bones of a stray dog that no longer sings of lonely things in the night. Years ago, on New Years Eve, he and Caiman had stolen the carved grave-marker from a cemetery in Chataignier. Blood had suggested that they stand the “Son of God” on the porch so he could get a good look at the sorry-ass place his Father had wasted six days making.

Behind the house, next to the treeline, fireflies blink like tiny, yellow caution lights in the summer damp. The light drizzle seems to magnify the smell from the wetlands—dark, damp, dismal places of evil deeds—home to snakes and vermin—haunt of werewolves, vampires, and voodoo queens. Some folks believe that the “bad vapors” drifting out of the marsh can literally make you sick.

In the distance lightning flashes and after a moment thunder rumbles. This miserable little house is where they’dfound her after she’d turned the gun on herself. How many years ago—five, six? What had she thought about while she’d waited for a signal to come from a gray place that only she could see?

Blood looks down the empty two-lane road and tries to spit, but his mouth is dry and his tongue tastes like iron. Everything in his mind is moving toward a single blinding point—heading for a place where there’s no coming back.

The metal ammo box is still where he’d buried it—under the burned-out frame of a Pontiac Bonneville. The nickel-plated .357, inside the box, is in a zip-top plastic bag. He unzips the bag and drops the cylinder. The pistol is just as he had left it—fully loaded. He closes the wheel and stashes the pistol under his T-shirt inside the waistband of his jeans.

The storm is closer. The wind has picked up. The leaves turn their undersides toward the night sky. He can reach Caiman’s houseboat before daybreak.

_____

Floating in the dark waters of the Tupelo River Basin Swamp, the houseboat called “End of the Line” rocks against the old tire-lined dock. A red 1970 Chevelle is parked a few feet away.

Caiman Dixon wakes with the barrel of a .357 resting against his forehead. When he brushes back the long, stringy hair from his eyes, he recognizes the face of his brother staring down at him.

Blood jerks back the sheet and checks the bed for hidden firearms—nothing.

“Lift your fucking head Caiman.”

“Do what?”

Blood fires one round into the headboard—about an inch over his brother’s head.

Caiman lifts his head. Blood snatches the pillow off the bed and flips it across the room. A .38 is resting beside his brother’s right shoulder. With his left hand, he lifts the pistol and hurls it through the window—the jarring sound of breaking glass. A damp delta breeze lifts the curtain and slips in over the windowsill.

“Now, Caiman, you can lie back and relax.”

“What the hell is this all about, Bobby Lee?”

“About? It’s about you and me. And most of all it’s about Marie. You remember her don’t you? The lady we both walked all over. And the last footprint—that one was yours.”

“Hey Bobby, if I hadn’t given her the gun, somebody else would have.”

“I know it doesn’t stick in your gut because you spit it out—the same way you spit out everything else. But it sticks in mine. I loved her. I loved her and I traded it all in on one more time to play the badass—one more chance to tone the legend. She didn’t mean a thing to you. You never cared about anybody or anything except yourself. You can’t feel anything because you’re dead inside and you have to make everything else dead around you. Well bro, decadence has lost its shine, and I’m about to punch your ticket to perdition.”

“Come on Bobby Lee, there’s got to be a line you can’t cross. We’re brothers—both the same.”

Blood looks down at Caiman, taps him lightly on the forehead with the barrel of the gun, and speaks to his younger brother like he’s talking to a child:

“You just don’t get it do you? It’s because of the one thing you just said that’s true. You and me—yeah, we’re the same. Two more expendable motherfuckers—both of us dead men. Always have been—right from the start.”

Blood’s right hand shakes a little as he pulls the hammer back on the pistol. As the rain rattles down on the tin roof, he raises his voice and says the last words he’ll ever say.

“Caiman, I’ve spent most of my life looking for a clue that might unlock this Chinese fucking puzzle box—something, anything that might stamp a little meaning on this deranged game of a thousand cuts. And I can tell you one thing for certain. This whole goddamn show, whatever it’s been about, it’s not about you or me.”

For a split second, time stops. In that instant, Caiman looks up into his brother’s eyes. He watches mesmerized as one tear rolls down that sad river of a scar on the side of Bobby’s face and drops onto the back of his right hand—just as his index finger curls inward against the trigger.

Caiman Dixon smiles. Bobby Lee Dixon smiles.

The explosion sends the Blue Herons and Pelicans skimming along the surface of the river.

The blast from the second shot gradually gives way to the rain. The bayou wind moves high through the Tupelo and Cyprus trees—seeming to sound a sigh of satisfied accord.




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Last modified on Sunday, 23 September 2012 21:09
DB Cox

DB Cox is a blues musician/writer from South Carolina. His poems and short stories have been published extensively in the small press, in the US, and abroad. He has published five books of poetry:“Passing For Blue,” “Lowdown,” “Ordinary Sorrows,” “Nightwatch,” and “Empty Frames.” He has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Rank Stranger Press has just published his new collection of short stories called “Unaccustomed Mercy.”


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