Category Archives: Short Stories

Dark Game

                                                    Dark Game

         
When the door thudded three times at his San Francisco apartment, Andrew Finch wondered if opportunity knocked. He shuffled to the door. He hated late company, and the shrapnel fire of rain on the sunroof had him edgy. But it might be Jingo. His head throbbed from an ogre of a headache. Andrew cracked the door—enough to peek through. It was not opportunity, or his lawyer with news.
          Crisp zigzags of lightning backlit the returning stare. Something familiar in visage—the cheek line—the set of the weak chin. The sea-colored orbs. An odd panic gripped him, coursing up his body in capillary action and his mouth tasted of saline.
“Can—I—help you?” said Andrew, as if someone had tromped on his foot in the subway.
          “I don’t know. Wait. There is one matter you can perform for me.”
Before Andrew replied, he was staring down the chrome barrel of .45 caliber Colt. He recognized the inlaid pearl handle and the death inside its blue-black chamber was his father’s death, his father’s pistol, a family heirloom Andrew had not seen since—.
“Move over to the table and SIT DOWN!”
The man barked the order from behind the pistol while Andrew prayed for Jingo’s rotten cantaloupe of face to stare in the front door window, even blinked and prayed for the landlord to come squawking for his long overdue back rent. Anything to distract this maniac. He blinked his eyes, but the stranger still stood there.
Andrew crumpled into the signaled chair. One brags about what he would do if someone pulled a gun—Sunday Morning Quarterback stuff—but most people meekly obey and try to keep from shitting their pants. He scrutinized the figure seated across the oak table. It was the dorky boy from his senior yearbook pointing the gun, and not the boy to the left of his picture, or to the right, but himself: Andrew Finch. That is why the image seemed so familiar. How often does one study the face he shaves every morning? He stared at his younger self. If not for the gun, Andrew would have comforted the boy: his son. Instead, he stood silent.
          “You recognize who I am don’t you?” asked the man with the revolver. He set it on the table with the barrel pointed, inches from his trembling wrist. Andrew watched the prominent teeth nibble at the lower lip.
          “Todd.” Andrew stated. “What day is today…Friday?”
Andrew swallowed, glancing at the resting revolver resting with its barrel toward his chest. Ironic, an antique gun like that clinker might finish him off, if it would fire. He looked over toward the still-cracked door that revealed no news from Jingo. No settlement news from Jingo. No Jingo landlord and no eviction notice.
Todd’s eyes narrowed. “So that’s what I will look like someday.”
The tense father shifted in his chair beneath the careful gaze while outside he heard a car roar by, the sound enmeshed in a wave of rainwater. Oh, crap. Not again.
          If you let life slap you around as I did, Andrew thought, and become a loser. “Yeah, this is what you will look like in, say twenty years, when you hit thirty-eight. Except the scar.” He pointed to his cheek. “Most people resemble their fathers.” Andrew smirked. His son off on his delusion again!
          “Earned? Didn’t you trip over an orange in the supermarket? Fathers. Aren’t you a little more than that?” Andrew nodded in recognition and smiled a sterile smile. A prophet never respected in his own home. He told everyone who did not know better he bore a war wound. The younger man slapped the table near the pistol and then rubbed breadcrumbs off his hands onto his wet jeans. Grimaced.
“Damn you, pig!” The boy shook his head and proceeded. “Mother told me, when you were returning from Seoul, after the cloning, you decided to name me Todd, after herfather.” The boy’s eyes peered at him with a gambler’s concentration—one betting his last hundred—. Dark circles hung beneath the eyes and the eyebrows—HIS eyebrows pulled with intensity—accented the sea green eyes.
          “Yeah, we figured since you’d have all my DNA, at least we could name you after your mother’s side of the family. At least I brought you back something besides a crummy t-shirt. You know, the ones that say MY PARENTS WENT TO SEOUL AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY—. Todd, I’m jerking you. We’ve been through this before. You are not a clone, Moron!”
          “Shut up. Shut up. Just shut the hell up!” You aren’t George Carlin or something. You still don’t think I’m serious, do you?”
As the older man listened, the youth removed a .357 magnum pistol from beneath his ill-fitting Member’s Only coat and cocked it. It produced a definitive sound, a lock clacking in place, releasing the smell of gun oil, and Todd’s fear-sweat, and mildew. A drop of rain plunked off Todd’s wrist to the furniture. Andrew wondered if people—in real life—crapped their pants when they died. You spent all your life fighting and holding in crap and in the end—it got you. Shit happens and shit doesn’t. And a lot of times, it makes no sense. You are a victim of other’s delusions.
The namby-pamby, vegan vice-mayor hits you while she is out bicycling, saving gas or some such crap, and you feign injuries, because no one can question back injuries. Your cousin Jingo and you speculate collecting at least 45,000. Wear a back brace for a while. No one can prove back injuries. Lower lumbar. Split 60/40. Jingo gets 27,000—you 17,000—no 18,000 dollars. Good scam, but then your son comes wandering back in with his fricking bi-polar, schizophrenic nonsense to finish up your day.
          Todd slid the tabled .22 nearer to his parent. “Pick up the gun, spin the chamber, put it to your head. Anything funny, and I blow you away with this.” He nodded the barrel of the .357 (two?) and his instructions had the certainty of endless rehearsal and planning.
          “Look, I admit I deserted you and your mother, but—is this going to solve anything? You might help me, put me out of my misery. And if you’re going to murder me. At least let it be for something real. Son, you’re not cloned, dammit!”
The phone rang, startling Andrew. Loud, a lunch bell at a factory. He felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead like the ones on a cold tea glass; one salty drop slid into his right eye, blinding him. Maybe it was Jingo calling him with some settlement news. Now he would never know that either. His dumb luck. Shot by his idiot son either way he went here. Shot for one of the few decent deeds he had tried to do in life: leaving Sylvia with a baby.
“I was a lousy father, and I admit I went for the proverbial pack of cigarettes. But—” In some ways, Andrew felt relieved. He had expected this confrontation. Knowing his son, he had anticipated eventual pursuit. He peered down; he, finding it difficult to meet Todd’s eyes. Todd’s steely eyes.
“I love to think that I inherited your brains. You did go to Cal Tech, didn’t you?”
Andrew was mum. That was a lie also, as the source of the scar had been. He swallowed. One that had succeeded, or had his son edged his voice with sarcasm. You resemble me because you’re my son, numb nuts, Andrew thought. God! Science was not to blame for everything that happened.
“Well, we are going to play a little game called Russian Roulette, and this time: you, and mother, and Doctor Kwang don’t make the rules. I make the rules. Spin the freaking chamber, and the gun to your temple, now!”
The reluctant parent obeyed. He had never been good at games of chance. He spun the cylinder and gingerly positioned the steel against his throbbing temple. He smelled the oiled steel. In a way, I deserve this. Though, he would miss receiving Jingo’s news. He had promised to come by this afternoon and share any news of the settlement against vice-mayor prissy priss.
          “Let me update you, Pops. Oh, in case you want to grieve while we’re doing this, Mom died over six years ago.” Andrew swallowed dry cactus. He could not picture Sylvia dead. Maybe pale white, resembling the overexposed pictures in their wedding album. We should have gone for the Platinum Package, his mother-in-law insisted after examining the proofs. Look how faded Sylvia looks.
 “You remember, Aunt China?”
How could Andrew forget? She made Sylvia’s mother seem like Mother Teresa.
“Aunt China, that detested you. Well, she raised me from when Mom died until I moved out.”
Andrew remembered the sour smell of Aunt China’s kitchen, swallowing. Todd’s mother, Sylvia, was a troubled, but striking woman. However, they had lived three years together, before Todd. It slammed another door in Andrew’s character knowing her dead. He knew she would never have taken him back, but hearing her dead snuffed out any final candle of hope.
“I been trying to track you down for three years now, ever since, they released me from SPRINGTIME. I know you were in a crazy farm for awhile too, but I figure my problems were more than just heredity.”
          “This isn’t just about me leaving, is it?” Andrew said. “You really think you’re cloned. Believe your mother and I could afford that. Would do—to get you?”
Todd chuckled as Andrew stared. It renewed the uncomfortable reaction that found him deserting Sylvia and this child. His discomfort with himself. Face it. He disliked kids. Detested being around them. Lacked patience with them. Even detested their smell. And hating yourself left little room for others. A reverse-Buddhist form of philosophy.
          “You got that right, father. Dr. Christianson—at the institute—he tried to help me work through my problems. But then, they even have an acronym for us, don’t they: CDS, Clone Distress Syndrome. Seems some of us ‘20’s cloning projects just can’t deal with it, dear Dad. In fact, they dropped the program in ’23. But that didn’t help me, did it? Here’s the deal. Since you like playing God, me too. Life and death in my—” he stared down at his hands. “You spin the cylinder and squeeze the trigger three times. One time after each spin and if you can do that, and live, I’ll leave.”
          “This is nuts, let me go. Don’t’ flatter yourself that you were part of that program.” Pull the trigger three times! He must hate the crap out of you.
          “I just want you to suffer a little, like me. Pull. damnit! Pull.” Spittle from Todd’s mouth hit his .357. Andrew expected it to sizzle. He knew Todd was no bluff, never seen so much hatred in a face—. Andrew cocked the pistol’s hammer.
          “No funny business!”
Todd’s finger tightened on his revolver. Andrew formed a silent prayer. He could not remember any formal ones. Just a “please Lord” whisper. He considered Todd’s narrowing eyes, shut his own and bit-by-bit, squeezed the trigger. There was a— snap—from the dry fire. A dry metallic, toothless click. Andrew issued a slow relieved sigh. But would he be losing that much? He scanned the hovel he occupied over 23 hours a day. The empty take-out containers and the empty beer cans, wine bottles, cigarette packs. But who had been on the phone? He speculated how many people Curiosity had kept on this earth.
          “Well, someone’s lucky today.” Todd’s voice cracked on the “lucky” as Andrew’s sometimes did when excited. “Andrew, a thought puzzles me. Will this will earn me a place in Hell—messing with you.” Todd continued.
“You see; I don’t even believe, for sure, I have a soul.”
“That’s ridiculous. You have—” The boy glared. Andrew stopped.
“Maybe we share one; what you think? That’s something Dr. Christianson and I discussed a lot. I love to read, like you. I’ve read the Bible through three times. Don’t see anything in there about clones”
Stupid kid, Andrew thought. Clone of a moron.
“When they filched that cell from you, sucked out one of Mom’s eggs, and prepared me from your helix, what did they make? Am I even human? Or just some kind of omelet.”
          “Todd, you’re as much a man as anyone.” Andrew was addressing his college self, arguing with his past single-mindedness. You did not have to be a clone to repeat the sins of the father. “Let the theologians fret this one; just live your life.” Andrew felt loathing rising through the unease Todd triggered in him.
          For a moment, Todd did not respond.
 He resumed, “In case—you’re inter—ested, I blame Mom too, but she’s already dead. Spin it.”
          Andrew rotated the chamber and placed the cold barrel temple-ward for a second time. “Why three? What’s the poetic significance?”
          “Oh, the three of us. Did Peter deny Christ three times? It’s a magical number, isn’t it? The three years I been looking for you. Take your pick, prick.” Todd chuckled at the alliteration.
          “I’m sorry I couldn’t deal with—”
          “—Watching yourself grow old, again?” Andrew’s fingers turned white as the pearl handle of his pistol. “Pull it, dear Daddy. Almost there. You’re still getting off a lot easier than I am.”
          “Boy, think this through.” Did Andrew hear someone walking outside the building? Heard them through the crack in the entrance door. His son was too centered to notice the splashy steps.
          “Don’t say that! You, you don’t think I’ve thought this through! You should have never cooked me up. I understand other sons say that, but none with more right. Who did you people think you were?” Todd’s Adam’s apple jerked downward as he spit out the last word.
          “Sylvia wanted a child, more than anything. We couldn’t conceive. I was sterile.” Andrew studied the tabletop, almost whispering the last sentence. Again, he avoided Todd’s narrowed eyes. “But you aren’t a clone. We just—borrowed some semen from someone.”
          “Borrowed semen? Pull!” This time, Todd said it as if the word itself tasted malicious. “Pull, damn you!”
Andrew held the cocked gun. He felt the thin edge of the trigger starting its backward motion. What a sorry way to go, he whispered inside his head. On the outside, he was quiet, hesitant. Had he heard someone hesitate at the door? Had his aggressor?
          Todd’s finger tensed on the .357’s trigger the nail turning white.
          He didn’t. Andrew hesitated but no one burst in. No one yelled, “Stop, what are you doing!” Andrew pulled his trigger almost as if to prevent Jingo from entering the door.
          Snap!
Andrew sighed. Was he relieved? His lower bowels flowed liquid, gurgling. He would soil his pants. He clinched his butt cheeks, trying not to embarrass himself. What an odd action to worry about. Soiling his pants, when at any minute his intellect could be gravy dripping down the kitchen wall. He had lost control of this, like everything else in his life. Just once, he would like to feel in control. Even the decision to birth Todd had been Sylvia’s. He sued people. Once again, a reaction not an action on his part.
          “That’s two,” said Todd. “You’re almost home free, but no matter what happens, I’m still just a copy. Not even a mirror image. Just, the imageimage.
          “Wouldn’t you like to know who your real father was?      
“Sins of the father are passed down to the sons. I’m sorry; but I’ve never been able to get past feeling I’m just you—all over again. Morality always has trouble keeping up with science. You two weren’t giving, but selfish and you wanted me—like a prize.”
          “You are not what you think, you stupid bastard!” Andrew said, then grinned at the irony.
          “My father? You left me—with someone who treated me just like she treated you, Aunt China. Spin it. Cock the hammer. Not my father—” Todd pointed to Andrew’s forehead. “I want to see you sweat.”
“Guess you’ll never meet the truth.” Andrew spun the barrel, and then spun it again for good measure. Yet, maybe that was a mistake. Maybe he had returned it to the loaded chamber. What did it matter? “There is only one in here, right?”
          “Just one, DEAR dad. One hollow-point and five empty chambers. That bullet will make mush of your brains. I can’t blame you for leaving anymore than you can blame me for this crazy stunt. It’s genetic. We’re predisposed to this you know. Both losers.” Todd’s free hand swept to encompass the dreary room. “Our family has got its share of crazies. You…and Aunt China for instance.”
          “Aunt China.” There were several crazy people in their …his family tree. Aunt China and others like him…them.
          “One more.”
The barrel pushed a dimple into Andrew’s tender temple. He felt the pulse of his living blood against the gun barrel. He gripped the trigger. No one could be lucky enough to tug this trigger three times and not discharge that waiting chamber, even him. His index finger tightened on the trigger, and he felt it giving. But was death such a bitter pill? His head pounded from headache and stress. Up above jagged light flashed through the sunroof. The rain hit the plastic like small marbles.
          “I’m sorry. We…I was selfish. Having you…me leaving. But don’t do this. You could be the first one in this miserable family to be somebody. You’ll end up in jail over this. I’m not worth it. Aren’t you the least bit curious who your real father is?”
          “I won’t. I don’t. Who’s to say this is even a crime?”
          “Boy, we’re not puppets. No matter what you believe, God watches. He doesn’t pull your strings.” Where did that come from?
          “You make a point worth considering. You’re reallynot—” Todd did peer shortly at Andrew, debating their choices, spinning the different scenarios in his mind as Andrew spun the gun chamber. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I believe all that crap. Sophocles stated it well in Antigone, destiny, and the fates. If God can see the future, then he must already have all this planned, and I am just playing my part. Pull!” Andrew hesitated, his finger thick, as if pulling against the pressure of a vice.
          “Pull, damn it, or I’m going to plug you myself!”
          “Good. I’m glad you won’t know, everything.” Andrew curled his finger around the trigger again and tightened. Please, it couldn’t end this way. He could feel fierce tears in his eyes for both. He and his son—himself. He never made the rules. Maybe fate did have the final say. If his pull released the bullet, he would be unaware, and it would murder him so quick the world would end right there on the end of his finger. Finally, he eased the trigger back.
          Click.
          The two stared at each other. No jubilation released in Andrew’s chest. What had either proven? Todd’s eyes remained hollow. Andrew’s own eyes years before, yet here, now filled with something worse than hate, pity maybe. How this mixed up person pity him? That loaded the dice for him. A hammer clicked back and then a trigger pulled a fourth time.
          Bam!
Luck forced to expire.
Todd missed it coming. His face…held clamped in disbelief. He hesitated, unaware what was next. Andrew was motionless. Then, he whacked against the table and Andrew exhaled. What rage had made him do that? But Andrew was in control again now and would not let anyone pity him. He plucked Todd’s .357 like fruit from the boy’s curled hand and he checked: every chamber held a bullet.
          He still had a chance to do right by himself. He searched around. Found a scrap of paper and a pen. A black pen. Had to scratch it across the paper a couple of times to make it work. He scrawled six words, smiled. Andrew noted the filthy apartment with its many empties—back at the .357, debating. He was back in charge. What now? Meticulously, he placed the thick pistol barrel in his mouth. It was cold and biting on his tongue, the hard-set of metal against his teeth. This time he wouldn’t pull timidly, but jerk the trigger back…wouldn’t he?
Up above, the fall shower had subsided while a few beads of water were afterthoughts clinging to the Plexiglas. He stared at the back of the boy’s head. There were the telltale signs of male pattern baldness appearing in the hairline on the scalp, a definite thinning, and there was blood. His eyes moved back up to where the pistol was a smoking pipe protruding from his mouth and Andrew released an exhausted breath captured in his lungs. At the same time, he relaxed his trigger finger and positioned the pistol flat on the table. Maybe fate still controlled him, or destiny.
Maybe he just lacked the guts to pull the trigger. His hands went up to stroke his temples as he released a flood of anguish in the form of hot tears and rained it down on his son’s still form. Andrew started as the door swung open. His brow creased in recognition. “Jingo.”
“Andrew. What the hell happened here? I came to talk to you about the—then—what is this. Todd? What’s he doing here?”
Andrew glanced down at the note. Jingo was still staring at Todd’s bloody head. Andrew retrieved the paper from the table where he had placed it for his cousin to find. No sense stirring up any harder feelings. Jingo’s glance was still elsewhere. “Wanted to tell you we’re getting the settlement—before—this.”
“Good,” Andrew said. He glanced at the note before crumpling it up:
Say hi! to your son, Jingo! Though he takes after me. Cloning’s getting better. You would think they would work a little on improving psychiatry.
Andrew stuck the crumpled note in his pocket while Jingo punched 911 on the phone.

Got the settlement. Damn, maybe this was his lucky day after all.

Wildflowers

                                                         


 Wildflowers

     The mountain air tickled goose bumps awake on Arlene’s arms and bare calves as she felt the pull of 60’s music. The thought of living in the mountains intrigued her—but not alone. She had tired of living alone, dining alone, driving to church alone. She glanced up at blue sky and muttered a simple, selfish prayer. Not to be alone. Without her little greenhouse to keep her busy back home, Arlene would doubtless go bonkers. Her flower orders had trickled to almost nothing though, so she welcomed this excursion as a break from routine. 

     Arlene frowned; hoping no one saw her standing here in her grass stained pants, and with her sweat stained bonnet. Arlene and her church group had just finished the annual spring cleanup at Camp Willbright. The church had received a monetary gift from a rich parishioner and had planned some impressive camp additions: a volleyball court, fresh paths and landscaping. They even hired a new director. 

     “Heard that song first in San Francisco,” a voice said. 

     Arlene started, the tone reminded her of Ted: rumbling, substantial. She had lost him a year ago, just five months after he took early retirement as a church music director. Arlene’s goose bumps worked their way further up, and her cheeks tingled as she faced the voice’s owner. 

     “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.” The stranger appeared about Ted’s age—if he were still—. This must be the new camp director. Arlene’s throat tightened and her eyes beaded with tears. The stranger’s cheeks had blushed pink in the cold air. His warm turquoise eyes beamed. 

    “I didn’t mean to—.

     “That’s fine,” Arlene said, “I just wasn’t expecting anyone back here. I must look a mess.” Arlene fussed with the collar on her grimy Old Navy t-shirt. 
The stranger smiled, and his grin spread like butter, putting her immediately at ease—like hot chocolate, warm socks, or daffodils. He appeared stately, even in his gray sweats, topped by his beige golfer’s hat with its green bill. He stepped forward, and Arlene caught his aftershave—spicy and as solid as his chin and shoulders. He must be a sportsman, because he still bore the appearance of strength. He offered his hand, and it pressed firmly in hers.Arlene felt the small place between her shoulder blades tighten. She had not been this close to a man since Ted died. 

     A surfer song blared from the loudspeaker. “There’s another oldie but moldy!” His eyes crinkled, lifted by his bright grin. “Beth loves that one. I tease her about it constantly.” His hand dropped after their brief touch, and he stared ground ward as if seeking lost change. “Names Ernest Caruso,” he said, over the swift opening of a melody.

     “Arlene Bass. And no fish jokes!” she said.

     He grinned and creased the bill of his hat. “I promise.” He crossed his heart. 

     “I haven’t seen you before. I thought just our church group was here,” Arlene said. “I didn’t attend last year. This is my first time—in a while.” She stepped back a tad in case she had worked up a sweat, so she wouldn’t offend.

     He smiled and toed the plush campground grass with his tennis shoe, and a grasshopper flicked away with a rickety scratch of yellow wings.

     Arlene smiled, smelling the sweet spring. She blushed and inside chided herself for thinking that this amazing man, with the slight graying temples, would not have a Beth, or a Roxanne or someone. Arlene stared down at the gold band on Caruso’s hand and remembered his mentioning Beth. All the good men were taken. Well, she could still initiate a friendship with him and dear Beth. It would be better than nothing. Yet, two made company—three a crowd.

     “Beth like it here?” she said. Arlene looked down, as if hoping to help him find the coins his eyes seemed searching for in the grass. She felt her cheeks burn. He fidgeted with what sounded like other coins in his jacket pocket. Arlene saw a wistful expression spread across his generous face. She continued, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” 

     “Oh, it’s not that,” he said. He pulled his hand from his jacket and studied the gold wedding band she noticed earlier. Twisted it. “I guess I’m a sentimental old fool, or a romantic. Still wear it. You see Beth passed away two years now: an auto accident. I miss—she always helped me give places a woman’s touch, when we arrived. I guess camp will miss her knack with flowers and such. One thing death teaches is: seize the moment. I don’t take life for granted. That’s why I took this position when it opened.” He laughed, then coughed. “I’m rambling.” 

     “Oh, no. It’s nice to hear a gentleman talk,” Arlene said. “I miss my Ted’s conversation. Where did you get the live band?” The troop of musicians below began playing Baby I’m a Want You. 

     “From Baltimore. They’re staying in guest cabins. I have my work cut out perking this place up. Twenty-four cabins present a challenge for one guy to refurbish, repaint and provide with new landscaping. The church wants to spiff up the place. Want to stroll down closer? Take in the music.” 

     His eyebrows rose.

     “I’m not presentable. I must be a mess, working all day,” Arlene said. She brushed at her hair. Getting to know someone new like Ernest scared her. 

     “Oh, you look fine. Like a wildflower.”

     A blush rose in Arlene’s cheeks. She strolled down through the close-cropped grass toward the musicians and the smiling onlookers. A flash winked in the crowd, indicating someone had snapped a picture. Caruso followed a step or two to Arlene’s right. He strode confidant, yet casual. Maybe one did not have to stay—alone. She just needed to give Ernest a chance. No she must be making too much of their encounter.

     “Speaking of wildflowers…I think you could plant some along the walks over there.” She pointed. “I have several varieties in my greenhouse ready to transplant.”

     “Hmmm. You know flowers then?” Ernest Caruso said. 

     Arlene nodded. “I own a small greenhouse.” She tried to avoid grinning like some schoolgirl she would have frowned upon as a teen, but found it hopeless.

     “Well, I guess I’ve found a landscaping expert; it seems. What do you think?” He winked. “Carpe diem, seize the day, I always say. Can I interest you in a snow cone from the refreshment stand, while you share flower advice?”

     Arlene relaxed. “If I know anything,” she said, “it’s flowers…and seizing the day.” 

     Caruso beamed that perfect smile she noticed attracted her like fresh-cut flowers. “I can see that, Mrs. Bass. I can see that.” His eyes crinkled, and he and Arlene strolled together toward the refreshments.

     Arlene walked, glancing at the shape of clouds, smiling. She hesitated.

     He glanced at her, puzzled. “A penny for your thoughts?”

     She felt warmness spread out from her heart to her fingers and toes. The nearness of another thoughtful human being felt so right. “Nothing. I was just thinking that front wall,” she pointed, “would be a good place for wildflowers.”

Another tale from the oil field…

                                                                         Mr. Blister

    They called him Mr. Blister, because he always showed up after the work was done. Mr. Blister is that person everyone works with, but doesn’t want to. He’s the hypochondriac who wants to tell you about his hemorrhoid operation, he’s the one who always leaves work early and comes late, he’s the boss’s relative, he’s the person who makes your job harder, and the one that steals the last donut.
 
    Our Mr. Blister was supposed to work derricks, but he weren’t very handy. Well, maybe at avoiding work. For him, he could squeeze 15 minutes to smoke a cigarette. Eating involved a mini-vacation. I think he would have cut off his own arm with a dull knife—if he’d been clever enough to think of it—to avoid work. Course, cutting off his arm would have been work too, so he couldn’t have accomplished that.
 
    And Mr. Blister was a sight to behold. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show, but without Don Knotts’ rugged good looks. I’m trying to remember if he had hands, because they were always stuck in his front overall pockets. Even the time he sported that parrot on his shoulder. Now that was a funny.

    What bar urinal our driller scraped Mr. Blister from, I don’t recall. I think he was a little embarrassed to admit. Maybe he was the driller’s brother-in-law. Hell, we never knew. Ah, and Mr. Blister loved to narrate his stories. When he wasn’t complaining about his lumbago, or his shin splints, arthritis, or twenty-odd other diseases, he was barking away with some tall tale he knew.

    “I embalmed my own Daddy for his funeral,” he’d said one time while I was trying to eat a ham on rye with mustard, and we were waiting for the drill pipe to circulate down hole.

    “Why would you want to do that?” Jake our driller had asked.

    “Hell, I wanted it done right! I used to do that, when I was younger, so’s when Pa bought the farm I told old Bishop down at the King & Sons funeral parlor he weren’t laying a hand on Pa without me. He told me, if that’s the way I was going to be, I could do it all myself. So’s I did.”

    Proud? The old geezer probably wouldn’t a died if he’d knowed that. I shook my head at the time and pointed out Mr. Blister’s socks to Paul, the lead tong hand. One was black with a white stripe, and one was argyle. Paul snickered. “What’s comical about that?” Mr. Blister asked, loafing in the rig’s doghouse peeling an apple.

    “Nothing, George, I was thinking of something else,” Paul answered, biting his tongue. (Mr. Blister’s Christian name—seldom used behind his back—was George).
Mr. Blister pictured himself something of a Romeo also. Remember, even Barney Fife courted Thelma Lou. But Mr. Blister even sucked the enjoyment right out of nattering about sex—which among oil field topics—attracts men like flies on manure. There was a time when sex and Mr. Blister in the same sentence rang funny though.

    The crew was over at Glen’s trailer drinking beer. I know you’re thinking, man, how unusual, a drilling rig crew drinking beer! We were all feeling as jovial as tics on a fat hot. We were on six and two, and tomorrow would be the start of our days off. We’d also been drinking successfully for over two hours fore Mr. Blister found us.

    “You guys forgot to tell me where the party was,” he said as he rolled out of his Ford station wagon—one of those old ones with the fake wood panels. “I had to cruise all o’r town looking for you.”

    “Man!” Glen smashed a beer can into his forehead squishing it down to the size of a Copenhagen tin. “Sorry, Blist…I mean Georrrge.” Glen laughed from under his thin, red mustache. Mr. Blister sauntered on up to the yard’s white picket gate. He looked ragged—even for Mr. Blister. Like his clothes had been used as a dog blanket. And dogs were attracted to him like stink on shit, as you’ll see. Mr. Blister carried a pager so he could be contacted without calling poor unfortunate Mrs. Blister. He told her he needed it because of the odd hours his job demanded, but truth is, he kept it ‘cause he slept around a lot on Mrs. Blister.

    I know what you’re thinking. It is scary enough thinking Mrs. Blister put up with his sorry ass, but it was even scarier thinking he found women to cheat on her with. You wondered if they had, say, all their faculties, body parts, or both.

    “I just left Dora’s house.” He spoke of the woman everyone else called Dumpy Dora. Some people in town had bets on when Dora would bathe; nobody had won yet. “Got me some!” That image alone called for everyone to chug another round. “Didn’t even have time to change clothes.” That, we could believe.
Mr. Blister stepped inside the gate. Next to avoiding work like a full-blown case of AIDS, he loved to flirt with other men’s wives. And Glen’s stood just inside the gate talking to one of the other spouses. None of us paid any mind to his flirtations. We figured if any of his bait caught fish, they weren’t worth keeping. Most times, when Mr. Blister was mentioned, Ugh! Was the first word that issued from a reasonable woman’s mouth. But this time his flirtations caught everyone’s attention, especially Farts, Glen’s beagle dog. Farts was named to emphasize the obvious?

    Next to—his was about to engage in with Mr. Blister—honest to goodness farts, flatulations, were nothing. Apparently, when Mr. Blister had partaken of the prairie flower of Dumpy Dora he’d picked up a distinct aroma that TURNED FARTS ON!

    I looked down, and while Mr. Blister flirted with Glen’s wife, Farts humped his leg. I mean major sex. Mr. Blister peered down. Still trying to remain cool, he shook his leg. Farts humped harder. That dog vibrated like one of those little monkeys that played the cymbals, only Mr. Blister was the cymbals. Mr. Blister shook. Farts pumped. Shake. Pump. Shake. Pump. Shake, shake. Pump, pump…shake.

    Mr. Blister, unwilling to risk irritating Glen by hurting his dog, finally just shrugged and ignored Farts. By now, everyone roared in laughter. Glen’s wife laughed so hard she literally peed her Lee jeans. I guess Mr. Blister decided that the only way he was going to shake Farts was to leave; so he did. He managed back to his car with Glen’s dog still hanging from his leg. Mr. Blister developed a sailor’s walk as he carted Farts back to his station wagon, like he was trying to avoid the listing of a ship that was tilting in the waves. Farts just humped.

    Then there was the day rig owner visited to check on his investment. The tool-pusher had warned us to be on our best behavior. That was his big mistake. Everyone was nervous watching the tool-pusher being nervous. Everyone that is: except Mr. Blister. Big wigs didn’t bother him. The tool-pusher noted a sleek, black Suburban cruising up to the location. He looked around, hoping probably that Mr. Blister had sensed work and was hiding out. But that wasn’t to be the tool-pusher’s luck.

    Just as the owner’s vehicle drove up, Mr. Blister sauntered toward the pad (that’s the cleared area where the rig sits). He’d been out in the mesquite answering the call of nature. The rig was circulating so no one was really needed on the floor. Anyway, those free from labor had grouped around by the tool-pusher’s trailer to meet the owner. It was said he sometime gave out caps, cigars, and booze to impress his workers. So, the rig owner walks over, and right then Mr. Blister strolls up from doing his duty. In his usual boorish way, Blister crowded the owner and grabbed the man’s hand in a firm handshake. The owner stared…… Truth is, we all stared. And stared.

    “Mr. Russell. It’s a pleasure,” Mr. Blister blasted before anyone else could speak. Everyone remained speechless. Why couldn’t he see it himself? Everyone else could. As Mr. Blister was talking—perched on his shoulder like a brown parrot, sat a huge brown turd. Everyone else stood like hamstrung calves. If it hadn’t been for the owner, we’d been rolling on the ground. Blister had taken down his clothes to relieve himself and crapped on his own coverall shoulder—never realizing it in his eagerness to horn in on meeting the boss—and it had stuck.

    “Mr. Russell, like I said; it’s a pleasure to meet you. Why, my daddy did a little oil investing fore he died. God rest his soul!” Mr. Russell, like the rest of us, just stared at George, flabbergasted. Did that crap parrot have to squawk to raise Blister’s attention?

    Actually, it probably more resembled a Bizarro Dairy Queen fudge sundae. You know the way they have that “little curl” on top when they halt pumping the ice cream. A piece of turd oozed down the front of his coveralls, and I kid you not, little yellow-bits of corn dripped down his shirtfront in the shit, but he were too involved in himself to notice.

    “…well, that was before I helped embalm him. You know I helped embalm my own pap. You believe that, Mr. Russell? Right after I got back from two tours in ‘Nam.

    “That so,” Mr. Russell finally managed.

    “No shit!” said Mr. Blister.

    “Well, I don’t know about that,” said Mr. Russell.