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Summer Moon
Stout, Whiskey and Luther Watts
© 2013 James LaFond
The thermostat was pushing a hundred and so was the humidity. Luther had poured concrete from dawn to dusk. If he ever saw another commercial handicapped ramp again he would throw away his keys! At least he had gotten to handle the hose, and he was already headed home from the site. The poor finishers were still there; on their knees, trowel in hand, the foreman sleeping in the air-conditioned cab behind them.
He stepped off the Five Line in front of Bohanan’s Pub. He’d be the only brother in the joint, but granddaddy had been an Irishman, and Luther had never given up that taste for black stout. The white boys would just have to get over it. This black man was thirsty.
The game was still on, the stout was milky thick and cold, and some old woman was playing Al Greene on the box. He was feeling like three, and carrying a six home, to get himself to bed. Dawn would come early tomorrow, which put him on the bus to the yard at Five AM. Luther sometimes had fainting spells at night, and suffered from belly cramps as well, so did not trust himself to drive in the dark. He only took his car out—an old El Camino—on the weekends. He needed to be in bed before midnight—just knew it, had that ache in his guts that always turned into a restless nightmare-fraught sleep if he did not get in bed early enough.
“Yep”, he mumbled, foam on his lips, “this old boy needs his bedtime sleep, he does.”
A sleek sensual voice whispered from the distance of a barstool into his ear, “Old no, bed yes, sleep when it comes.”
He all of a sudden had the creeps. He turned and looked to his right to see a beautiful red-headed white woman sliding up onto the barstool in a leather skirt and leather jacket-vest. She was perhaps forty, fifteen years his younger, and smiled with nice full cheeks, “I’m Veronica. How are you this evening?”
He was no troublemaker, liked his peace and quiet, and did not fancy ending up behind that dumpster on the lot where they found Old Sam. There was no way he was buying this beautiful white lady a drink in this Irish bar—her being the most Irish looking girl of them all; and there were not enough to go around as it was.
“Hello Veronica, I’m Luther—pleased to meet you.”
He made sure not to look at those breasts, but caught a hip stretching a skirt seem out of the corner of his eye and lingered, before he looked back up at the game. He was hoping that darned handsome Greek fellow would hit a homerun and get everyone cheering so he did not have to talk to this beauty with Orlin and Josh glaring at him from across the bar—two big mean white boys they were.
He nodded to them and looked up to enjoy the three-and-two pitch. Just as the Greek marvel was called out looking a soft warm hand came to his arm just below the elbow, and her luscious voice spoke past him to Annie the barmaid, “Sweetie, please bring us that bottle of Jameson. Luther and I would like to fortify our barely wine.”
Her scent was as intoxicating as he knew his must be offensive, after sweating for fourteen hours under the sweltering city sky, “Miss, I only drink whiskey at weddings and funerals.”
As she handed over a plastic card to pay for the bottle, and Annie began to spike their stouts, Veronica hummed low in her pretty throat, and the voice came up out of that pretty mouth with an innocent quality, “Then Luther, you may decide, which occasion this most resembles, and enjoy yourself accordingly.”
She was uncomfortably close and he mumbled, “Miss, I don’t drink whiskey when I have to wake for work in the morning.”
She was under-powering, sweeping his stubbornness from beneath his hardhead with a mere shoulder bump, and he drank, “You sure know how to get a man whooped miss.”
“If you call me miss again I will walk away. You don’t want me to walk away, do you Luther?”
He looked at her, with her pretty pale skin, and looked at the back of his leathery coal-dark hand, and knew that the answer was ‘no’ despite his reasonable nature. He looked her in her cool green eyes and said, “No Veronica, I want you to stay.”
He then looked across the bar to Orlin and Josh, raised his glass, and downed the entire spiked pint. Veronica then placed her drink before him and ordered another round, “That’s right Baby, a working man needs to drink up.”
The night spiraled out of control as she questioned Luther about his life, his work, and even his home. He was really looped only a couple hours on and made to leave, reaching into his pocket for tab money. She pinned his hand, “It is my treat. Don’t leave Luther.”
“Miss, I need to leave when I can still walk.”
“Nonsense Luther, I will give you a lift.”
“I can’t accept Miss. No offense, but if I let myself get to know you I’m sure I’d have a terrible crush on you.”
She winced playfully, “Look up crush in the dictionary Luther, it is not a good thing; to constrict, smother, strangle…let’s never use that word between us.”
He placed a twenty on the bar and walked out, barely keeping his feet. When he hit the curb and began to cross he saw the full moon high in the blue summer-night sky, looking all bright and milky like Veronica back there.
As he stepped into the street he heard the bar door close again and then came Orlin’s voice, “Luther, let us give you a lift. It’s about to rain.”
He looked up and did see some storm clouds to the south, and then felt Josh’s big hand on his shoulder. What was worse was the ache coming in his belly, the liquor messing him up. Getting up in the morning would be hell. He turned and looked up at Josh. Josh and Orlin were mean and known to fight and made racial jokes, but had never seriously threatened him. So, oddly as it seemed, he felt no fear, “Okay, I am a might unsteady on my feet.”
Luther walked through the alley to the lot behind the bar, past the dumpster where they had found Old Sam, with nary a fear. Josh steadied him and pushed him up into the cab of Orlin’s giant pickup, and they all rumbled off the lot, him sandwiched between two boys half his age and twice his size.
As Orlin turned up Wisteria he began to talk, while Josh patted his leg, “You know Luther, I think we need to have a talk about your friend.”
Somehow, he still was not nervous, even as Orlin turned the wrong way off of Wisteria toward the cemetery, instead of toward the big old house where he rented an apartment from Mister Wilkens off of Mace. Josh then held up a business card, with a woman’s fine writing on it, ‘call me Luther’, it said, with a phone number. Josh chuckled, “Here Luth, your lady friend asked us to drive you home and give you her card.”
He reached for the card and Josh let it drop. He then reached for it and doubled over horribly from the spastic late-night pains he would get when he stayed out too long. These were particularly bad, perhaps exasperated by the drinking. Josh patted him on the back as Orlin ranted and raved about this and that—politics, and what have you. And they drove on into the night, down Wisteria to the cemetery, where the old winding city road dead-ended at the spooky old place where the Jewish people used to be buried—a graveyard that got little traffic anymore, full to the stone walls as it was.
His mind kept telling him he was in trouble, but there was no fear. His belly hurt like the dickens for sure. Eventually the truck stopped and they all sat upright, Josh having pulled him back from between his knees, “Tanks Josh, my belly be crampin’ somethin’ fierce.”
He cringed to hear himself speak like an uneducated black person. This was a big reason why he always secluded himself and lay down to sleep when he got the belly cramps. Not only did he look like he had to use the bathroom, but he spoke poorly, to the point of embarrassment. His head was now pounding and something smelled bad, like he had already thrown up, “What dat smell y’all?”
Josh, tossed his big head of curly blonde hair and snorted, “Smells like wet dog, like a big soaking wet German Shepherd.”
Orlin rolled down his window and sniffed, “Could I have hit a dog? It smells like a dead dog around here!”
Then a terrible chill streaked down Luther’s spine from his head as he heard the howl of some big terrible dog that dissolved into a slathering snarling mess of sound. His stomach seemed to expand like a balloon and vomit coursed out through his mouth and nose. He panicked and tried to cover his mouth with his hands so that he would not fowl up Orlin’s truck so bad and turn some simple whooping into a stomping. But his hands had grown numb and had swelled up. And his feet! His feet hurt like the dickens and he cried out, “Oh Gawd no!”
Luther emerged from his sick spell into a nightmare sleep. The same nightmares that had ever plagued him when he lay down late or drank too much savaged him with their terrors. He sensed absently that he was being beaten and kicked and dragged by Orlin and Josh. It was so dream-like though he could not really tell. And he so feared opening his eyes, of even emerging into a semi-conscious sleep; not wanting to even have the choice of waking, lest he be tempted to. He did not even hazard a dream prayer but just bounced along on the wisps of misery.
He had overslept he knew, because he could hear the birds chirping outside his window. He opened his eyes, resolving to make his way directly to the job site, knowing that the boss would have driven the mixer himself. He would work for free, stay and help the finishers; anything to keep that good-paying job.
He should have never let that lady buy him a drink. He held his head and mumbled, “How did I even get home? Did they beat me bad? Do I have knots on my bald head?”
He rose to go to the bathroom and noticed that the window was open, noticed that bloody steaks and gouges marred the windowsill. As he rose to his feet from his mattress, which he kept on the floor on account of his bad back, he noticed that he had not gotten undressed. But there was something the matter. The remains of his shirt hung from his shoulders. His jeans were now shredded cutoffs, and his steel-toed work boots were burst open, the shell toe guard flopping like an open mouth, the laces shredded, the entire sole of the boot gone.
“Oh Gawd!”
He slammed the window down, quieting the birds, and rushed to the bathroom. He stood there in the mirror and looked at himself as a bloody mess, just covered with blood! And there was something hanging from his mouth! He tore it loose and held it up before his eyes. It was a mess of blood-matted curly blonde hair attached to a flap of skin.
He looked at the skinned bloody hair, “Josh?”
He then looked in the mirror at the red-eyed black man, as black as old Smokin’ Hoe Frazier himself, “Luther Watts, what the hell did you do all drunk with them white-boys?”
He was then overcome by a pang of guilt. It should have been a pang of hunger, him not having eaten for thirty odd hours. But his belly was swelled to bursting and he could not imagine even drinking some water. He panicked, stripped, and jumped in the shower, shampooing over and over again.
He was crying so much that the shower water on his face was salty as seawater. It took so long to wash away the guilt that the hot water and shampoo was all gone, and still he stood under the cold water. Eventually, feeling somewhat cleansed, he stepped out of the shower and regarded the pile of torn clothing and the shredded boots, “Oh no, this won’t do!”
Luther picked up the shredded clothes and boots and took them in a rush to the spare closet that his roommate Allen had used before he disappeared. He pulled the door open to toss the remnants of yesterday’s work attire into the empty space beyond—and shredded boots by the dozen spilled out from behind the door, tangled in crusty matted clothes so torn as to be mere rags, “No!”
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