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Volume 1 Issue 30 (6 December 2011)

Finch Holes: Short Fiction

Uncle Skillet Rides Again

My parents and I had been waiting for Uncle Skillet to show up for five hours, wasting an entire Saturday as far as I was concerned, and not just any old Saturday but a glorious early summer one of God’s pure sunshine and chirping birds, a day so perfect that kids who were allowed to wear next to no clothes would be at the swimming pool all day long, and I’d have the perfect excuse to push the lawnmower by and get a look at Sage Ekhart in a bikini laying on a towel by the Coke machines. I was not allowed to wear next to no clothes, was not allowed to go to the pool. I was spending this Saturday in church pants with suspenders, my shirt tucked in, wearing loafers, pretending to watch television while we waited on Uncle Skillet.

My mother sat up straight with her hands in a nest on her lap; she would occasionally leaf through the Bible next to her, probably planning my next lesson, finding some verse for another excuse to keep me dressed in long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats all summer. My father drank openly from a hip flask bottle of Old Crow. He leaned back, wrinkling his linen suit. None of us paid any mind to the TV, the room taut as a piano wire.

I was enthralled with the lawnmower that summer, just as I was entering eighth grade. That spring, I’d finally been allowed to cut the grass in our yard under my dad’s supervision while he sipped on a Hamm’s and Mother watched from the kitchen window, her hands knifed together in dramatic prayer before her nose.

After that, I cut the grass every day, for fun, whether it needed it or not, and my dad stopped coming out to watch. I began cutting our neighbor’s yards while they were gone to work or early in the morning before the sun got too hot. I tinkered with the throttle and groomed the filter clean. These were tricks I learned from the lawnmower maintenance manual I checked out from the library. I scraped the underside of the carriage, filed the blade to a sharp edge, balanced it, lubed the pivot pin so it spun fast and efficient, slicing the grass like a samurai sword.

I did all this because that was also the summer my mother had scheduled me to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I mowed grass like a madman because I didn’t feel anything real calling me to be baptized. It was Blasphemy, I knew. My mother taught me that that was a Major Sin. But sinning was easier than telling her. She had the baptism all set up for me, my outfit picked out, everything.

It was supposed to be the next day, that Sunday, but now Uncle Skillet was coming.

A car drove by outside and Dad stood up like he’d been poked in the posterior with a fork. I had to say “posterior” out loud, but in my mind I was trying out saying “butt,” even though that was a total word-sin. I liked it. I couldn’t say it out loud or I’d have to write a hundred sentences for punishment. My father brushed out his suit, sloshing a drop of Old Crow on the floor here and there.

“Sit, please, Arthur,” Mom said. She taught me drinking was a sin, and when I asked her why it was even though they did it in the Bible, I had to write five hundred sentences. My mother straightened out her dress, adjusted the collar that constricted around her neck.

“He’ll be here soon,” my dad said. He straightened his hat and put the cap on the whiskey. Then he looked both ways out the window. All the other kids were always passing by that window, going somewhere with their families, or on their bicycles, while I was memorizing the family tree of Hezekiah or something at the kitchen table because my mom told me it was important.

My family only moved with a purpose—work, home, food, church. We were going somewhere when we left the house, not nomadic like the tribes wandering all around in the Bible. During my schooling at the kitchen table while dad was at work, Mom sneered while she talked about the nomads.

My dad said to me, “When we were your age, Bobby, me and your uncle one time went fishing and caught a copperhead snake right out of the creek with a fishing pole. Man alive, you wouldn’t believe how your uncle killed that thing with his bare hands, then took it to town to show the girl he was after.” My dad told stories of his childhood with Uncle Skillet all the time, how they rode bicycles down hills with the chains off so they had no brakes, how they played Army and shot each other with BB guns. My father seemed a different person than the man who sat in the chair and fell asleep during the evening news each night.

Uncle Skillet had stayed the same as he was in the stories my dad told. He had become a nomad, somebody my parents argued about in loud hisses, thinking they were whispering while they thought I was asleep. The idea of Uncle Skillet thrilled me. He was one of the bad guys from the Bible, a nomad on a permanent adventure, no agenda. Wild, dangerous, sinning all over the world, a life like the underside of the lawnmower.

“How’s business?” Dad asked me without looking. People had started paying me for mowing their yards, running after me with a five dollar bill in their office suits or leaving checks in the mailbox. So I started a business cutting people’s yards. I figured it was a way to get out of the house, and a way to see Sage Ekhart in a bikini all summer long.

“It’s very good. May I please go work on the lawnmower while we wait?” I asked. I’d been mowing Mrs. Davies’ lawn the day before, because she was old as Methusula and also she lived across the street from the pool, and the engine was firing funny. The exhaust out of the little 2-cycle Briggs and Stratton didn’t smell right, like I didn’t mix enough oil in with the gas, even though I had. That morning, I was taking the engine apart to check what was wrong, sitting in the midst of the dismantled carburetor and the unwound starter rope all spread out on the garage floor when my mother came in and told me I had to quit mid-project to put on my church clothes and wait for Uncle Skillet.

My father said, “Oh, sure, absolutely,” while my mother said, “No sir, Mr. Bobby Champion.” She was tall and the way the dress went up her neck with the buttons so tight, she looked like she was a Jack-in-the-Box.

If Uncle Skillet showed up soon, I might be able to still catch a look at Sage Ekhart. She usually went from 1:00 to 3:00, and she came with Melissa Davies, who thought I was a homeschool freak. Sage was a year older than me, a ninth-grader next year. She didn’t swim most of the day. She just lay on her towel. Then she would jump in to cool off about 2:38 or so, on average. That was what I loved seeing, her laying there, then standing up, jumping in a perfect little arc, not-splashing into the water and coming out dripping, glistening.

The thing about Sage was that her father had run off with his secretary the year before. We went to First Baptist with their family but he stopped coming and moved to Florida with “that harlot,” as Mother called her, when they got caught. It was a big scandal, too, Sage’s mom crying in the meat department at Save-A-Lot and moping around the neighborhood in her bathrobe. It was the wildest story I’d ever heard, like something out of the Bible. The idea of being near Sage, somebody who’d been through all that realness, it just thrilled me. I was glad to at least have lawnmowers to think about, to keep my privates from betraying my sinful thoughts.

Because of my lawnmowing business, Mom had been alone a lot of the summer. She had a busy day with me when we were in school and had tried to run me through some summer school but I said how I passed everything she taught me and summer school was for flunkies and retards, for which I had to pray for an hour and beg God’s forgiveness for not loving thy neighbor and write two hundred and fifty sentences.

When I was at home, she stared at the empty fireplace for long stretches some mornings, waiting on the afternoon. Our house was never dirty, our dinner was never late, she was always dressed and ready should a visitor drop in, but none ever did. She did this all without ever seeming to move, sometimes not seeming animate—a miracle, maybe, but not the kind that anybody cared about.

So I stood up to go work on my lawnmower. I planned to run out to the garage and whip it together, but I stopped before I even took a step.

It was just then that the music of Uncle Skillet’s convertible came claptrapping like coins from angels. Dad jumped up and slid the whiskey under the couch cushion, Mom cleared her throat and put on a yearbook-photo smile with her chin at an odd angle. I had never met Uncle Skillet before, but the stories I’d heard about him—a tough time when he came home from the war, a jaunt out in Las Vegas, the lead singer in a band, off the grid living on top of a mountain, then a stint working on the railroad—had him a mythic figure in my mind. He was vivid and real in a way that made him almost not possible, the opposite of my mother, who was real yet invisible.

But he was for real, came in like a tornado, thin legs spread wide in tight jeans, cowboy boots, arms open in a waiting hug. He had dad’s brown hair and a bald top, but Uncle Skillet’s hung down to his shoulders. He had a moustache that ran down to his jawbone, a brown hairy frown atop his saber-toothed smile.

Two suitcases slid into the room, up against the piano, a loud laugh came from Uncle Skillet’s mouth, his boots clopped against the wood floors and his denim jacket flapped open like a shell back on a ladybug.

Dad was there instantly. A slapping-backs hug, a jovial fake punch to the belly, another hug.

“You old dog,” Dad said. “Your letter said you’d be here for lunch.”

“Well, hell—I wrote that about three weeks ago, didn’t I? I’d say I’m pretty damn close,” he said. These were the first two curse words I’d ever heard in our house, counting ‘Hell,’ which my mother did even though it was in the Bible.

“Edna!” Uncle Skillet said, coming at Mom with his arms out ahead of him. My mother’s arms dangled at her sides while he hugged her. Uncle Skillet pushed her back to arms length to take a look at her, then he hugged her again.

“You look great, haven’t changed one bit.”

She still wasn’t looking at him directly. She looked down at her cupped hands in front of her. If Uncle Skillet hadn’t been standing there, it would look like she was supplicating.

“Oh. Well, thank you, Paul.”

“Let’s call me Skillet, what do you say.” Then he looked at me, his eyes widening to cue balls. “Good God a’mighty,” he said, uttering curse number three. “You must be Robert.” He strode over—there’s no other word for it—and put out his tan hand. His hair fluttered back behind him as he came, like a cape. I put out my hand and we shook. His palm felt smooth, his fingers a little bristly.

“He mostly goes by Bobby,” Dad said. In fact, I’d only gone by Bobby and in general forgot Robert was even on my birth certificate.

But Uncle Skillet was hotfooting it to one of the suitcases. “I got a little something for you, Robert,” he said. He took out a book and looked at the cover, giving it an approving mmph, remembering how good it was.

“I read this when I was about your age. Changed my life,” he said. “Found a copy in Reno and snatched it up for you.” He threw it to me like a frisbee but the covers came open and the worn pages caught in the air and it flapped to the floor like a poorly-shot duck.

When my mother ran it was with a loping pigeon step, head bobbing, her neck giving most of the propulsion, her feet never really leaving the floor. I’d never seen her do this so fast as she did then across the room, swooping towards the book, her dress rustling all around her. She picked up the book before I could even see what it was. She held it across her chest under crossed arms.

“Bobby’s not quite ready for this kind of book, we don’t think, do we Bobby?” she said. Which meant that I needed that book desperately.

“Edna—” Dad said, stopping, reading the title as she held it out to him behind my back. Then he said, “Well Pau—Skillet, how was California? What were you doing there?”

“California?” he asked back. He walked like he was on stilts, long loping poles across the living room to the chair where Dad had sat. He turned off the TV, making himself the show, and when he sat down he felt the flask and reached under the cushion for it. He took a swig, then finished the entire flask. “That was almost two years ago I was there. We spoke once about it. But I’ve been in Hawaii, and get this: Mexico. For almost nine months, amigo.”

Dad was smiling in a way I’d never seen, his lips wide and pulled open, like he was checking the crevices of his teeth for flecks of broccoli.

“Well!  Mexico!” Dad said. “Ha Ha!” He rubbed his hands together palm to palm. He swayed a little. Dad’s brain seemed like it was sputtering and backfiring, and his forehead was sweaty. “Your letter was postmarked California.”

Uncle Skillet crossed his legs and held his arms out to either side, shrugging from the armrests. “No telling,” he said.

“Sacramento,” Dad said.

Uncle Skillet said, “Never been.”

 

I had never seen Gluttony like Uncle Skillet did it, windmilling my mother’s food into his mouth. His Sloth was incredible, too, falling asleep on the couch and snoring loud enough that I didn’t sleep much that evening. I would’ve been awake anyway, though, trying to figure out a way to get my hands on the book he’d brought me. Was it a real book? Did they read it in public school? Did it have cursing? Had Mom read it?

In the morning, I was looking through the hole I drilled in my closet wall that peered into my parents’ bedroom, hoping to see the book, when I heard my mother whispering in the kitchen. So I crept out my bedroom and down the hall and watched their shadows prism into the living room.

My mother’s hands were definitely not by her sides. Neither were my father’s. I’d never seen their hands move on each other, so I poked my head around the corner and heard a throat clear. It was another dimension in there, one where the hands weren’t my father’s hands—they were Uncle Skillet’s.

Their hands shot to their hips, and “space left for Jesus,” like my mother taught me to leave when she made me practice slow dancing with her, suddenly appeared between them. About fifteen feet for Jesus, all the way across the kitchen, the way Uncle Skillet slithered backward. I retreated to my room faster than I’ve ever moved, hovering on electrons over the carpet. I pretended to sleep.

About ten minutes later, I saw Uncle Skillet cutting the grass outside my window. He’d gotten the mower back together—it ran smooth and was timed perfectly. He’d managed to clean and adjust the old, worn sparkplug, even.

But he wore flip-flops, a Major Sin in lawnmowing. He wore sunglasses and my mother’s oversized gardening hat. He wore a pair of my swimtrunks that barely fit his skinny waist, hanging way up high, showing all his thigh and a pretty good idea of his privates. The whole outfit was a sin, an abomination, my mother might say. His shirt was a clingy muscle shirt, his non-muscled arms shimmying on the handlebar.

I was filled with Envy. He’d taken my job, which made me feel guilty, and he’d rebuilt the engine I’d left in a hundred pieces, and he could chop his toes off wearing flip-flops. I walked out to the kitchen and let out a huge fake yawn. “Ohhh, man,” I sighed, like I’d just awoken from the best night’s rest ever.

My mother was staring out the kitchen window at Uncle Skillet. She said, “We won’t be going to church today.”

And in that moment I felt like I had breathed straight carburetor cleaner fumes—I’d forgotten: I was supposed to be dedicating my life to my Lord and Savior that morning in my baptism at church. It was supposed to be the biggest day of my life, and I hadn’t thought one thing about it. The white pants and shirt were ironed and starched and hanging inside a special bag in my closet, and they would stay there. Uncle Skillet was here, there was a dirty book in the house, and I was playing hooky. From my baptism. I felt smoke kick up from my soles there on the linoleum.

She said, “Your daddy can’t get himself out of bed. Skillet out there didn’t bring any church clothes anyway.”

I hadn’t missed church, ever, since I could remember. Even when I was sick I was brought in for possible healing. Including Wednesday and Sunday nights, too. I was twelve and had perfect church attendance. The wild curiosity grew only stronger—what did you do on a Sunday when you weren’t at church?

The lawnmower cut off, not with a cough or a loud exhaust pop, but a purr, a hummingbird flying away.

We watched Uncle Skillet come in.

“The ol’ man up yet?” he asked. We neither one moved. I was thinking that taking Uncle Skillet to church would’ve been the best and worst idea anyone ever had. I understood that my mother determined that one miss, even on the day of my baptism, was for the greater good. My insides felt like an ant farm, shaken up.

“He can’t hold his liquor any more, can he? Softened him up, Edna.” He winked at Mom and elbowed at her though they were standing ten feet apart.

I was levitating. I swear it. There was something in that room that I never knew existed in the wide wild world. It was as live as a downed power line, hot like a smoking volcano.

That was when Uncle Skillet asked me, “Well, Robert? How about a ride?”

Before my mother could say anything, before the panic even registered on her face, I said yes and ran out the door towards his convertible that still had the top down. I heard her yelling something behind me—I made out “seatbelts!” when I heard Uncle Skillet’s flip-flops clapping behind me. Even in them he was faster than I was. He jumped over the door into the convertible and I tried the same, ending up flopping my legs against the dash and getting them caught, graceful as a fish drowning on a dock.

“You cut our grass,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.

He said, “Yeah, I found the mower all busted up so I fixed it together.”

“You had it running perfectly,” I said. “It didn’t grumble the slightest in the stroke.”

“Little advice for you, Robert: Learn how to fix an engine. Also learn how to bartend. Then, the world is yours. A job to be had everywhere you go. An instant hero.”

We drove through the neighborhood as families made their way to Sunday school. Everything was the same, the houses, the streets, the park, but they were alive and different, too.  We were temporary, baby, we were nomads. The settlers saw us like the bad boys we were, me still in pajamas, my unbrushed hair bobbing in the breeze, Uncle Skillet still with the oversized gardening hat. This, I thought, is what people do instead of church—ride in the open air, free as free could be. The car rode on rocket engines.

We got out on the main highway and built up some speed and he said, “What grade are you in now?” I told him eighth. “Are there pretty girls at your school?” He had to hold my mother’s hat on his head with his left hand.

I said, “I’m home schooled.”

“Take that as a no,” he said. “Who are you after, though? Anybody?”

“Sage Ekhart. She’s a ninth-grader.”

“Ooh—high schooler. Nice. Here, hold the wheel a second.” Uncle Skillet let go of the wheel and cupped his hands in front of his face, trying to light a cigarette in an open convertible at sixty miles per hour.

I reached across the front seat and took the wheel. I drove. I couldn’t believe the electricity of it. My arm was tingling and my grip could’ve strangled a snake. The car veered over the white line on the right and I shoved it back toward the center too fast. Uncle Skillet didn’t flinch. He lit the cigarette and took the wheel as we changed lanes, hit the gas and flipped the middle finger to the truck I’d cut off all in the coolest move I’d ever seen. All like it was just exactly according to plan.

While he did all this, he kept right on with the conversation. “What’s her name—Sage? Is she a hippie?”

Uncle Skillet drove like he knew where he was going, though he’d never visited us before. We meandered until he found the town swimming pool. There was nobody there, it being closed on a Sunday morning. Out of Respect, Mom taught me.

“Damn shame,” Uncle Skillet said, as he rattled the locked gate of the chain link fence surrounding the pool. “Come on, let’s go in for a swim anyway.” He leapt over the fence like an ancient Olympian, but I did not.

“You have on my swim trunks,” I said.

“Another shame.” He looked out at the perfect blue pool, placid as glass. “Skinnydipping. Come on.”

Then I saw my swim trunks suddenly hanging on the top of the chain-link fence and Uncle Skillet’s naked posterior walking to the deep end.

“Hey, Robert?” he called over his shoulder. “You got any money?” he called.

I thought about the lawnmowing stash that I had saved, hidden in my left Sunday shoe. We could live off of it for months. Across the street from the pool was Mrs. Davies, who paid me every week and gave me a tip and was probably home with her daughter, and maybe Sage. But now there was a convertible, now I knew a wildman nomad and he knew the open road. I could fix an engine. Lawns needed mowing everywhere. Sage looked plain as a brick, I began to think, now that I was ready to take my lawnmowing money, blow this town and live a real life, finally.

“Yeah,” I said, and looked through the fence to see Uncle Skillet holding up a wad of folded bills in his hand.

“Three hundred and fifty-six dollars, thereabout?” He smiled at me over his shoulder. “Took it from your closet last night, hope you don’t mind.”

And I found, incredibly, that I didn’t. To be robbed! What a thrill! The victim of a sin! I watched my long lost uncle, a criminal, the kind of person Jesus loved when nobody else would, as he set the bills down under a mask he took from the Lost and Found box. I watched a naked criminal climb the rungs to the diving board.

Right about then I heard this faint sound of thunder, like a throat clearing. On the horizon a few dark gray clouds bled into view. It crossed my mind that God was coming to get us.

“Look, I’m good for it.  Open the glove box and see.” In a half second, I was back at his convertible. When I pulled on the latch, a book fell out. I opened it up and saw diagrams and drawings of naked bodies together, in the filth of the flesh, in thousands of positions, as plain and obvious as third grade cursive examples. I slapped the book shut on instinct. The cover said The Kama Sutra.

From the top of the diving board, Uncle Skillet hollered down to me. “The book I had yesterday was called The Art of Kissing.  But I meant for your mom and dad to get it, Good Lord knows they need it. You, you can get away with not knowing kissing at your age, just find you that Rosemary to practice with.”

I walked back up to the fence, still looking at him through it. The morning sun was at his back, giving him a hazy glow, his silhouette all in black leaning heavy against the safety bars. The clouds looked like they were moving our way, taking the morning back into night.

“Sage,” I said. “Her name is Sage.”

“Yeah, her too. Anyway, you better have that book there nearabout memorized when the time comes.” I already had the image I’d seen a second earlier down perfectly. “Let’s go pay her a visit after this, what do you say?”

And Uncle Skillet ran forward, the tendons of his naked legs striating in the half-light of the morning. He soared up with his arms wide before raising up his legs and cannonballing into the water, making the most enormous splash I’d ever seen at the pool, wrecking the still water.

 

He was wearing my swim trunks and his shirt and was still half wet as he strode into Sage’s house like he’d been there many times before, at home everywhere he went. I’d told him about Sage’s dad leaving with the floozy, and I wondered if I shouldn’t have. I could hear his voice warbling and swooning inside. I heard a bunch of loud laughing.

He’d parked right in their driveway, right where the entire neighborhood could see us, and I sat in the car, waiting. He’d also left the top down, and the rain was looking closer as the clouds took more of the sky away.

After about five minutes, he came striding out to the car, pointing at me. “Got a customer for us, Robert.” He pointed at their ankle-high grass.

“It’s about to rain,” I said.

“Mower’s around back,” he said over his shoulder as he headed back inside.

When I got to the back of the house, Sage was standing there at the back door. I tried to pretend I didn’t see her there in her green Sunday dress, even though we looked right at each other, even though I almost puked up both my lungs. I made like the lawnmower was the most interesting thing I’d ever seen, where it lay over on its side, beneath a blue tarp and choked with leaves. I knelt down to examine it. My heart was thundering.

“Hi,” she said in a sad voice, walking up to me. I was yanking tufts of gross, composted leaf goop out of the undercarriage as fast as I could, to hide my terror. “Hello?” she said.

I was almost putting my head into the blade’s crown, trying to hide. “Hi,” I finally managed.

“Are you wearing pajamas?” she asked. “You’re not going to church?”

I finally looked at her, and she was no brick. She was even more beautiful up close. I realized I’d never seen her this close, since I sat in the second row at church and only walked way across the street by the pool. The way her green dress hugged against her seemed magic and impossible.

I looked at my own outfit. My pajama pants had tiny cowboys on them, with elastic at the waist and ankles, and my T-shirt was from my church’s Bible school that summer and said Jesus is Just Alright With Me.

“Not today.  My uncle is taking me out on the road for a little while. He’s a real wildman, so I just wore this,” I said.

I turned back and thumbed at the blade to test its sharpness so I wouldn’t think about Sage and me doing things like the pictures in The Kama Sutra. The blade was dull as a table edge.

There was something about Sage’s face when I told her about Uncle Skillet being wild—the tiniest flinch of muscle under her eyes or in her nostrils. So small I barely saw it, but it meant something big. I knew she thought I was just driving around for the day. I knew this was probably going to be the last time I ever saw Sage Ekhart, and that her little flinch in the cool humid breeze of an oncoming thunderstorm would be what I always remembered.

“Are you gonna mow our lawn?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.  “My uncle said to.”

“Good luck with that thing, it never works.” She looked down at the grass and I saw that her toenails were painted green to match her dress. Even her toes seemed magic.

I pulled it upright and opened the gas cap. My hands were trembling. I checked the tension of the starter pull with a quick tug, glanced at the air intake and the spark plug. It looked like it might run, but not on any regular basis.

“Does your dad use this thing?” I asked, before I could think. I felt the blood drain right out of my face. But Sage didn’t flinch this time.

“He used to,” she said, then she looked off down the street. It was like she was looking all the way to the pool, to the cool water and the nothingness of her lying there. Her skin was brown as a leather Bible cover. “Can you fix it?” she asked, still looking out at the distant nothing. “I see you walking by the pool sometimes.”

The motor was easy to fix. I cleaned the air filter and put a shot of WD-40 on the starter and rewound the rope that had gotten petrified and stiff. When I yanked on it and it started, first pull, Sage gave a little whoop like she was impressed.

I cut the yard in my pajamas and bare feet. It took me ten minutes, I was so supercharged. I hurried to get done before the rain, which was just a mile or so away. The thunder smothered the noise of the lawnmower engine while I mowed. But Sage watched me the whole time and I knew it, so I cut the yard in a textbook-perfect forty-five degree crosshatch while I started feeling sad that I’d never see her again. It was like Sage knew it too, because she still didn’t go inside when I finished, like she had been told not to.

“Well,” she said.  “Good job and all.” Then she just stood there some more. I didn’t know what to say, so I pretended to look at the engine. It was so hot I couldn’t touch it. I heard a burble of thunder that seemed a lot closer than before. The humid air turned a notch cooler.

Something about her standing there in the thunder before the rain came made her look like the saddest person in the world, but I didn’t tell her that. I looked at the air filter and smelled the lingering exhaust. I pulled the tarp over the steaming engine.

Then I heard the horn to the convertible honk loudly and Uncle Skillet call my name. Around in front of the house, the car was waiting on me in the street, already creeping towards the highway. “We’ll be going now,” he said as I caught up to the moving car and jumped in.

I saw Sage run around the house to watch us drive away, saw Sage’s mom watch us from a window inside. I hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye. I saw the first drops of rain land on her dress and turn spots a shade darker.

 

By the time we got to the highway, raindrops the size of softballs pelted us, cold bombs against our skin. Uncle Skillet was laughing. We were riding with the convertible wide open to the sky.

“Aren’t you going to put the top up?” I asked him.

“Doesn’t work!” he yelled. “Yee-haaaa!”  He hollered and laughed at the whole bit, a genuine laugh, not like Dad’s. But what he was laughing at, I could not get. I was terrified. The seats of the convertible, the Kama Sutra, my pajamas, all were soaked, maybe ruined.

But Uncle Skillet was driving like it was just another day, wearing sunglasses and cruising at sixty. He shot me a sly grin and reached up under his shirt, pulled out a big platter.

“That’s sterling silver, there. Get good money for it.”

I noticed that he was wearing my swim trunks backwards. “You took this? From Sage’s mom?”

“Well,” he hollered above the rain, “She got a free lawnmowing, didn’t she?”

The tires sounded like they were unzipping the road. Then he slowed down and took the next exit. At the stop sign, he looked over at me in the rain.

“Robert? It’s been nice, but this is your stop.”

I got out. I slammed the door. The rain hit me like leaded thumps. My wet pajamas were falling and clinging on to my body for dear life. I watched him drive down the street, the taillights fuzzy in the mist of the rain. He tossed the platter out of the car like a Frisbee halfway up the on-ramp across the road.

The platter was big enough to use it as a kind of umbrella, as I saw when I went to pick it up. He was gone by then, miles down the highway, miles toward the day a decade later when they would find his body on a boxcar in Venezuela.

I didn’t use the platter to shield the rain, though. I held it at my side as I turned back toward town, toward my house, and Sage’s house, and all the manicured and unkempt lawns in between. All of it was getting doused, the lawns and the roofs and the churches.  Even the pool was being cratered where water met water. I could almost see the lawns drinking it up, growing high and wild right in front of me.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Source: Lawn and Garden Tools

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