Tag Archives: spud russell

Cry for help?

The garage of the old house was attached, so it was easy for Roger to climb out of the second story window onto its roof. Spud, however, had a bit of trouble with his lack of balance, but eventually they were both laying back on that warm July night, watching stars, satellites, and the odd north/south flying airplane of the Free States.
“You ever think about killing yourself?” Spud broke the long, soft silence.
Roger chuckled, “What, recently?”
“Sure, let’s go with that.”
“Not recently. I used to think that kinda stuff, I guess I even had it in the back of my mind back when I was a soldier. Somedays I really wanted to go out in a blaze, barrels flashing, leaving a good looking widow, all that shit…then Nick was born…then it all changed. I wasn’t just some kid playing soldier and wondering whether he’ll get shot. I just couldn’t play fast and loose anymore, I couldn’t leave Toryn a new mother…and I couldn’t leave Nick without knowing who his Dad was.”
“You have something to fight for,” Will said with a hard, dry chuckle, “I really envy that, you know. Sometimes I think I shoulda fought…”
“Come on Spud, you said it yourself,” Roger was still trying to keep it genial, “if you did go, you’d kill yourself afterwards…”
“I still wanna kill myself now!” Will shouted, his voice echoing over the Wisconsin farmland, “They’re still winning, aren’t they? What difference did it make, huh? Every day I’m alive I feel like I’m letting all those horrible fucks in the world win. It’s like every day, because I can’t spend it righting every wrong in the universe, because I can’t really do anything but just stay alive…is me losing. It’s me saying ‘keep up the good work, boys: keep hating, keep killing, keep running this world into the ground, I salute you!’ I just wanna die so I feel like I could finally get ahead, finally do something constructive. I don’t think the great people kill themselves out of loneliness or lost love or whatever…I think they do it because they see the world as being completely fucked up, and they know that can’t do a damn thing to stop it.”
Another long silence reigned. Roger said nothing. He couldn’t.
“Sometimes,” Will continued, tears running down his face, “I wake up thinking my right foot’s cramping up. My toes hurt like crazy, like they’re crunched into little balls. And I go to stretch ’em out, neutralize the cramp…and then I remember. They aren’t there. Every once in a while I’m walking down the street and I see someone in flip-flops, and it takes me a second to remember I can’t wear ’em anymore. It still doesn’t click all the time, ya know? Just these little things, they never quite get fixed.”
He wiped the tears away on his sleeve, looking down at his feet. Suddenly scowling, he pulled off his right boot and tossed it off the garage. The boot made a soft thud on the grass, and a few more thuds followed as the extra weight in the toe fell out and rolled across the lawn.”
“Fuck,” he hissed, “All I ever wanted was a normal life.”
“Our family doesn’t get normal lives, Spud,” Roger shook his head.
“Yeah, but you got the wife, the kids…”
“Picket fence,” Roger smiled.
“Golden Retriever,” Spud smiled back.
“Two-point-three kids.”
“Barbecues.”
“A Neighbor named…”
“Ned or something.”
“Frank.”
“Ted.”
“How bout Winston?”
“Yeah, Winston.”
“Hey Winston! How’s life?”
“Job’s a hassle, TGIF! You’re making it to the barbecue, right?”
Both dissolved into comfortable chuckles. Both sighed, then there was another silence. Spud broke it again. He felt awful for not letting the topic drop, but it was either this or something worse.
“I’ve gotta do something, Roger.”
“Like what?”
“I’ve gotta do something, make something happen, have an impact. I just can’t keep living these days thinking I’m conceding to all these fucks. I’ve gotta start making some kind of effort. This running shit is tired.”
“All right, sounds good,” Roger nodded, “anything I can do?”
“Actually, yeah,” Spud smiled as he unraveled his entire plan, “You got any radio equipment?”
“Yeah.”
“Just military stuff though, right?”
“Pretty much.”
“How powerful is it?”
“Not bad. Nothing too huge or anything.”
“Do you have any, I dunno, overrides or anything? One regular radio?”
“Nah, that’s all government down in Green Bay. Although…”
“Yes?” Will knew where it was going. He had been a history student after all.
“We’ve got some dinosaur, Cold War stuff rotting in storage down in LaCrosse…”
“Go on,” Will grinned.
“It’s basically a relic, meant to tell everyone if the Russians were bombing. Takes over all the stations on an emergency distress call kinda thing. Of course, everything’s fiber optic, computer based now, so that’s all obsolete.”
“But still workable?”
“As far as I know…wait, did you know about that stuff?”
“Maybe a little.” Will’s grin grew larger.
Roger smiled a little as well.
“You’ll need transport.”
“I’ve always wanted a Jeep.”
“We’ll see what we can get you. When are you leaving?”
“ASAP.”
“Mom won’t be happy.”
“She never is when we leave. You’ll take care of her.” Spud was still grinning. In the face of such well-planned happiness, Roger had no choice.
“I can get you to LaCrosse, get you outfitted. But you’ll never get the signal out of the Free States from here.”
“I know.”
“So you’re ‘leaving’ leaving?”
“I’m thinkin’ of the Bitterroot Valley.”
Roger was taken aback, “That’s on a disputed border, it’s dangerous out there!”
“It’s also full of mountains and little places for me to hide. I may not be able to run and shoot, but I’ve always been a talker, I can put that to work.”
“Always the performer.”
“Nah, that was Dan. He had the teeth. I was always sidekicks.”
“Well,” Roger stood up on the garage roof, “You’re taking the lead now, and I don’t envy you. Gaining attention as a soldier on a battlefield is one thing, you’re basically gonna limp out there with a bullseye on your chest.”
“I can’t be a coward anymore, Roger.”
Roger’s blue eyes flashed just for a moment in the moonlight.
“You never were, little brother.”
He took Spud’s hand and helped him up, at the same time forming a strong handshake.
“To Wild Montana Skies,” Will beamed.
“Wild Montana Skies,” Roger echoed.

With God on Our Side

Dinner went well, and was delicious. The family seemed genuinely glad to see the youngest brother, if he did look a little underfed and worn out than when he left. A few questions were asked, mostly about how Dan was doing out east. Pleasantries was the order for the evening, extending beyond the odd please and thank you and dishes being passed.
“You know, Dan sends us letters when he asks for his cheese,” Mom mentioned as she poured Will another glass of milk, “said you had a thing for one of the bartenders back east.”
“Not really,” Will grumbled, obviously sore at the subject, “she’s getting married in a month, and she’s got to quit the bar. She was doing it to pay for school, and now that she’s done her husband-to-be doesn’t want her there anymore…doesn’t like her around the clientèle…”
“Oh,” Mom was suddenly very awkward, “Dan made it sound as if…”
“He wanted to hope. But I just can’t do that, not right now. My life isn’t right. I can’t support myself, let alone anyone else…there’s too much going on…”
Everyone at the table could sense the same tangible tension that had been there for years, ever since Roger went off to war. With Will here as well, it was almost as if the air was saturated with the larger problem, the problem two of the family’s sons seemed unable to escape, that hung over proceedings like a pall. Will decided he’d had enough. Enough of pretending that things were fine when they weren’t. Enough of sneaking back and forth across the border. Enough of dodging this way and that, trying to find work or, in some cases, just a meal. Enough of this conflict and bloodshed. As the family sat around the living room, watching Free State television stations that hadn’t been blocked out, when Will turned to Roger.
“Is Mom’s Epiphone still here?”
Roger looked shocked, “You learned how to play?”
“Nah, I was hoping you’d play something for me. You know ‘Patriot Game?'”
“The Behan thing?”
“Yeah, just some chords underneath.”
“I suppose so, lemme go get the guitar. Ma, is it still?”
“Yes, honey,” Mom said, a slight twinkle in her eye. The family had always been musical, and most of it had started with her old acoustic. Roger re-emerged, tuning and pucking a few strings, sitting down beside Will. Will gave him a tempo and he began playing the opening chords of the Dominic Behan tune. Will smiled as the music permeated the pall overhead, losing everyone in the music.
“Ma, you’ll probably know this one. I don’t know about everyone else…but I’m gonna change a few lyrics, I’ve been thinkin’ about it for a while…”

Oh our name it is nothin’
Our age it means less
The country we come from
Is called the Midwest
We were taught and brought up here
The laws to abide
And that land that we live in
Has God on our side.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I’s made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

I’ve learned to hate Nationals
All through this war’s life
I mangled my body
To stay from the fight
I promised my family
My own I won’t fight
Now I’m useless and crippled
But is God on my side?

We know they got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them they’re forced to
Then fire them they must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side.

In a many dark hour
I’ve been thinkin’ about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

My brother’s a genius
A War Hero too,
In the face of his bravery,
There’s nothing to do.
But to be called a coward,
To run and to hide,
And I hope my decision
Had God on its side.

So now as I’m singin’
I’m weary as Hell
The confusion I’m feelin’
Ain’t no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God’s on our side
He’ll stop this damn war.

The final chords died out, and sun bade its late summer goodbye on the Russell house, casting all into the warm embrace of night.

Now with clickable title!

Will had always had an overactive imagination. As he hopped off the back of his third hitchhiked truck, he wondered what his half-brother, the great General, would have done with the old family house. Going on nothing but history classes and movies, Spud was expecting a throne made of sun-bleached skeletons of those who dared oppose Roger. The man himself was clad in a rich robe of mink, one hand on a massive sword buckled to his waist. With two comely servant girls (no doubt captured wenches from the enemy side) holding a steaming mutton joint and a flagon of wine respectively, Will imagined his half-brother supping heartily, roaring with glee and delight as two other captured slaves fought to the death. He had managed to create a staggering mythos in the two mile trek from the old Amoco station to the house, and was heartily disappointed when he finally arrived at his old home.
There were a few lean-tos added onto the garage, but nothing special. No bone throne, no comely wenches, not even a pig roasting on a spit. All that said, it was still home. It was also still July, which meant that the one-and-a-half-footed rambler was rather rank as he made his way up the lawn, noting a few things as he did so.
“The spruces have gotten big.”
“They cut down the other big pine.”
“When was the last time they mowed the lawn?”
“It must be garbage day.”
And so on. What little security there was stationed there was taking time to enjoy the peak of a Wisconsin summer, and that, of course, means they were safely out of the sun, sipping grape Kool-Aid in aluminum tumblers. Spud recognized both immediately.
“Mom’s feedin’ the soldiers. Typical.”
Roger was never one for military regulation, and Spud was able to walk directly into the house and enter the kitchen. Familiarity was all around him, making his heart soar, but what put the smile on his face was the short figure of his mother bustling about near the stove.
Now, the kitchen in this house was not made for a culinary dynamo such as Mrs. Russell: very little counter space, too-tall cabinets, and an antiquated electric stove meant this wasn’t on the cutting edge, but every meal that came out of that kitchen was the stuff of dreams. Though both the late Mr. Stockton and the present Mr. Russell were Englishman, none of that country’s dubious “cuisine” had found its way onto the menu. Mrs. Russell, maiden name Freibose, had made sure to infuse each dish, be it spaghetti or tacos, with a bit of German hospitality and quantity. Spud remembered how those dishes had once made his waistline a robust forty inches, rather than the haggard thirty-two that long days of little food and loads of manual labor had given him. Still, a stomach was a stomach, no matter how shrunken, and it’s been said the memory of a stomach is keener than that of the mind.
“Stroganoff,” Spud said in a clear voice. “One of my favorites.”
Mrs. Russell had been too busy fiddling and fixing with her down-home, never-the-same-amounts-twice recipies that she hadn’t even noticed. However, for mothers, the memory of an ear trumps both stomach and mind. She recognized the tenor of her third born son.
“Willy?” her head shot up, tears already welling in the corners, “is it really you?”
“Smuggled in from Boston, Ma.”
The food forgotten, the mother rushed to meet the son, wrapping his artificially thin frame with powerful arms, arms that had thrown hay, pushed stubborn cows, and yet still held the gentleness of a thousand tucked-in sheets.
Unfortunately, the former Ms. Freibose’s grip was a little too strong, and in her son’s condition of reduced balance, it sent him stumbling against the antique kitchen table upon release. Always a kind one, the mother offered her quickest apology.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Willy…I guess I just got carried away, it’s so nice to see you! I always forget about the, erm, you know…thing…”
“I’m missing half my foot, Ma,” Will grimaced as he rebalanced on his cane, “and you don’t have to tiptoe around it, I kinda already know.”
“I know you know, and I know why you did it, it’s just…you used to be the nicest dancer for such a big fella.”
“Well, now I’m neither,” Will smiled wryly, patting where his paunch used to be, “but I still remember your stroganoff. What’s the deal? You couldn’t have known I was coming.”
“Well, no, but…” she looked embarrassed, “you know your birthday was a few days ago and, well…I always like to cook your favorite things around then, makes me think of you…”
“Mom,” Will droned, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, I know, I know! It’s just,” she wiped away an errant tear and headed back to the stove. Will knew it must have been close to one hundred degrees over there, but there was no persuading her away. His foot hurt like hell from all the walking, but he still managed to stump over by the stove to show a modicum of support. Mom appreciated it, and after wiping away a few more tears, she struck up a bit of a conversation.
“So, do you always use that stick?”
Spud suppressed a chuckle at the use of the word “stick.”
“Only when I’ve been really mobile or something,” he shifted his weight and held up the well-worn cane, “Got this from an old farmer I did a little bit of work for in the Dakotas. In the morning, the cane walks with me; in the evening…I walk with the cane.”
“But it’s not even dinnertime, honey, what have you been up to?”
Spud knew saying this was a bad idea, but she could smell lies.
“I walked out here from the old Amoco.”
“You did what?” Mom blustered, “you walked all that way with your bad foot? Oh, you’re probably bleeding! Get into the bathroom, I’ll–”
“Ma,” Spud held up a restraining hand, “I’ll look after it.”
“Okay, but you’d better go sit down in the living room when you’re done! Honestly, boy, you’ll lose the whole leg at this rate!”
Shaking his head, Spud headed through the cozy Americana decor from the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom. She was right, it was a little rare and there was some blood. He’d become so used to it that it didn’t phase him much…but that’s Ma. Ridiculous, overzealous, but kind, and he wouldn’t change her for the world.
Overzealous soon became an understatement. By the time dinner was ready (for all ten: Ma, Pa, Susan home from college in Iowa, Roger, Roger’s wife Toryn, her two kids, Spud, and the two soldiers stationed) Spud found himself propped up in Dad’s best chair, local brew in hand, his favorite movie on the tube, and his mother constantly tossing bits and pieces onto his lap.
“I tried making peanut brittle, it didn’t turn out quite right…here, try some!”
“Muffins from Sunday breakfast”
“Cookies from last night.”
“Toryn made these, aren’t they to die for?”
And so on. By the time Roger finally came in, Will had to brush a veritable subcontinent of home-made goodies off his lap to stand and meet his half-brother.
“Hey, Spud! Sorry, didn’t hear about you were in, was in a school board meeting. I think they agree with me because I’m packing heat, eh?”
The years had been kind to Roger. His hair and goatee was beginning to gray, his manner had subdued, but there was still a bit of the anti-establishment punk rock fire in his ice blue eyes. Spud laughed with a little bit of derision.
“Or maybe it’s because you’re the genius and the hero.”
“I’m just a stupid kid who had his organs in the right place in relation to the bullets, Spud,” he said, bidding them both to sit down, “you’re the hero round here.”
“Bullshit.”
“Fuckin’ true, man,” Spud never got used to his older brothers swearing casually, it was like he was hearing privileged information, “I was a brat kid who had ideas that were way too big for my head. Other people shot at me so I could keep my freedom, you shot at yourself. That takes guts.”
“Tell that to the draft board, or the thousands of posters labeling me a ‘coward’ between New York and LA.”
Roger opened his own beer. “Well, you’re in good hands now. You’re on Free State Soil.”
“Thank God I’m a Country Boy?”
“Thank God we’re both Country Boys.”

Go West, Young Man

Roger Maris Stockton had lead an interesting life. Once a nihilistic rural Wisconsin punk, Roger had been swept up in the secessionist fervor that gripped the USA at the end of the last century. After California’s manufactured farmland failed, the full weight of provider fell to the Midwest. Ergo, rationing. Ergo, bread riots. Ergo, a suspension of that fall’s national election. Ergo, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, Iowa and Indiana left the United States of America to form the Union of Free States. For the next thirteen years, brushfire battles erupted within the country, as the former American Midwest became one of history’s largest and longest disputed borders. Roger, an unwilling hero and last surviving member of the suicidally brave Rabbit Squad, had been the only one of his unit to survive the Battle of LaCrosse and moved on to subsequent battles in Minnesota, Iowa and, later on, the newly captured Dakotas and most of Montana. He had risen through the ranks of the Army of the Union of Free States to become a general, based out of his old hometown of Neillsville, accompanied by his girlfriend-turned-wife, Toryn, and with time two sons, Nicholas and Clark.
Roger was Will’s older step-brother, the original Nick Stockton having been gunned down during the Easter Offensive in 1972. Roughly eight and a half months later, Roger was born, named after Nick’s favorite baseball player. Dying in the arms of his good friend and high school buddy, Nick had begged for the protection of his wife, his daughter, and his unborn son, and he had begged it from one Wayne Russell. Upon returning home after a year of duty, Wayne found a woman that needed him, a woman that would eventually become his wife. Out of that marriage came two more sons, Daniel and William, and a one last daughter, Susan. It was a grudging Wayne Russell who allowed his son to fight for the resistance, knowing that this time, at least there was a cause. However, when US forces began to dwindle and the Free States began to receive foreign aid in their struggle, it came time for a draft. Will Russell had managed to lie and cheat his way into the former US for grad school, and they were glad to have him. However, they were even gladder to draft him. Suddenly, was being asked to go to war and fight those he went to high school with, those he went to college with, even the man he had come to know as his brother. With a bottle of whiskey and a .357, Will ducked back across the badly-guarded north border, through Free State-friendly Canada, and back to Chicago. Once there, it was a call to his parents in Neillsville, a chug of the bottle, a pull of the trigger, and three long years of hiding from a government seeking his extradition or, in the case of his Bostonian days, his good old-fashioned arrest.
With time, the draft dodging charges became treason charges, with the penalty of death. The slippery Spud suddenly became public enemy number one in a broken nation desperate for a moral victory. While skirmishes fired among the eastern and western borders, William slipped in through Manitoba and made his way hitchhiking down the old familiar highway 73, to meet his half-brother. His blue eyes shone with a fierceness in the warm July night, laying down in the back of an old Chevy, one like his father used to drive. He’d give the parents a call too, just to see how they were doing, but Roger was his main goal. Leaving Boston had been heart-wrenching, and Will was sick of running.
Running had cost him an education.
Running had cost him half his right foot.
Running had cost him Sally Camden.
Running had cost him what was once his life.
He had a plan.

Moving On

William “Spud” Russell had been living with his brother Daniel for eight months. Daniel and his wife, Terra, had been accommodating in the way that only family could, allowing the down on his luck brother to sleep on the couch, in return for the first good home cooked meals they had had in some time. Not to be pitied, Spud had taken into the habit of slipping the odd twenty dollar bill into his brother’s wallet at odd intervals, mostly when he would pace the house in the early hours of the morning.
He liked the way Boston seemed so quieter in the morning, without all the hustle and bustle. He’d stump around the comfortably appointed apartment, getting breakfast ready for both of the fully employed go-getters. After that, it was a day of cleaning, tidying, and making a dinner that would be both delicious and able to keep for when Terra came home at eight and Dan at midnight. After everything was squared away, Spud would take up his cane and limp his way down the three blocks to Charlie Kuchenbecker’s “Non-Threatening German” bar & grill, a place that had only applied the “grill” moniker once Will had started working there. So he’d cook a few burgers, serve a few beers, and make his slow way home around two in the morning. He didn’t have to stay so late, his shift technically ended around eleven, but he was a kind and helpful soul. That…and there was Sally Camden. A half-German, half-Japanese bombshell, Sally was finishing up graduate school with the NTG obliging her need for pocket money. As alluring mentally as she was physically, Spud would often stay late into the night talking with her, just the two of them, until closing time and they would both make their opposite ways home.
And so it went: day after day, month after month, until one day in mid-July.
“It’s time I get going,” Will said over another delicious dinner, his own birthday dinner. He was surrounded by several of the NTG regulars, Dan, Terra, Charlie, Sally, and Jack, Will’s young grill protege. It was a shocking announcement, one no one was expecting. They had all gotten used to the gaunt man with a beard and a funny way of walking cooking their cheesesteaks.
Dan was the first to shake off the dumbfounded feeling, confronting his brother.
“Spud…what?”
“I gotta get outta here.”
“Why?” Charlie asked.
“You guys all know me. You know my…history,” he added that last bit with a twinge of pain in his right foot, or what was left of it, “the government’s still looking for me, and they always find me. I’ve stayed too long here as it is, I’ve probably put you all in danger as it is for treason.”
“Where are you going to go?” Sally asked, deeply concerned.
“I have some ideas, but I have to get out of here. I can’t put all of you, my good, good friends, in such danger. I could never forgive myself.”
“We’d defend you!” Shouted Jack, tears welling in his young eyes.
“It’s not your fight, Paco,” Will winked at him, “It’s just the way it’s been. I spent some time with Mom and Dad, I did some migrant work in Arizona. I’ll always bounce around, they can’t hit a moving target.”
He slowly stood from the table, sniffing the air with a practiced ease.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, the cheesecake is ready. Stick around, there’s plenty for everyone.”

A few hours later, the party had dispersed, with its fair share of tears, hugs, and good lucks, but not good byes. Will’s own eyes were welling as he bid the last guest, Sally, off into the quickly darkening Boston evening. He turned to his brother.
“I’ll be gone by the morning. I’ve noticed a strange car in the neighborhood the past few days…I know it’s them.”
“This is asinine, Spud. You and I both know that. You were drafted three years ago, there’s got to be a statute of limitations or something!”
“I’ve become the poster-boy for public menace draft-dodging, bro. They call me a coward, a weakling, but I call myself alive, something I know I wouldn’t be if I woulda let them get their hands on me. They’re not gonna stop, which is why I gotta get outta the country for a while.”
“All right, Spud, all right. I know a guy, he’s got a boat up by the boundaries in upstate New York. He’s my own personal smuggler, so he probably wouldn’t mind dumping you off. Canada would like you, I think…but you’ll still have to keep your head low.”
“I appreciate it, Dan, I really do. But what do you need to smuggle into the country?”
“You kidding? Wisconsin cheese, man. This Vermont and California shit just can’t cut it.”
“Ha ha…how did I know?”
“Take the country out of the boy, et cetera, et cetera…” he coughed unhappily, “I suppose you have to pack…”
“Did it yesterday. All ready.”
“Oh…damn…you planned this then?”
“Yep.”
“In that case, hold on a second.”
And with that, Dan disappeared into his study, re-emerging with a silver disc in a plastic case.
“DVD?” Will inquired.
“My newscasts. Mom and Dad can’t see ’em where they are…and I know how Mom loves ’em…deliver them, okay?”
Spud smiled. “No problem. But…how did you know I was going to Wisconsin?”
“It’s the only family member you haven’t hit up yet,” Dan said with a laugh that was half nervous, half flippant.
“You’re gonna go see Roger.”

Last one, I promise ^_^

Charlie Kuchenbecker walked into a hefty surprise as he entered his place of business that evening. The regular people were still there, drinking their regular drinks…but something was different.
They were eating.
And, by the looks of it, they looked like they were eating food cooked in his kitchen.
Something must be terribly, terribly wrong.
“Hey Charlie!” Sally waved from the bar, “Can you believe it? People are actually eating your food?”
“We serve food here?” Charlie said, a wry, sarcastic grin creeping up into his graying temples.
“Yeah, apparently there’s some wacko who charged back into the kitchen and started making, get this, edible food,” Sally shot a crooked smile and handed another beer to Tom.
“Wow,” Charlie whistled, examining some of the quality food that was adorning his simple plates, “I keep forgetting this place has a kitchen. I just use the damn thing for my own food, mostly… so who’s this wacko?”
“Ask Dan, he brought him in with him,” Sally chuckled as she wiped down the bar.
“You know this wacko, Mr. First at Five?” Charlie questioned.
“Yep!” Dan responded energetically, “That wacko’s my brother and, from the looks of it, a damn good cook! Hey Tom, lemme try some of that Philly Cheesesteak!”
“No way, Danno, this lovely’s all mine,” Tom chortled and took another bite.
Charlie decided it was time he saw what this “wacko” was really up to. As he walked into the kitchen, he heard the tail end of the following conversation:
“…and if you keep the grill nice and clean, it’ll turn out like this.”
He then heard the familiar voice of his normal and terrible cook:
“Waaaaaaow.”
“Well now, what’s all this then?” Charlie entered the kitchen with a toothy grin.
Spud was in a fine state of embarassment and apology. “Oh jeez, you must be the owner. I’m so sorry, sir. I just…no offense, kid, but I wanted a decent burger, ya know? I’ll pay you back whatever you want, don’t worry, it’s just that once I brought out my burger, I guess it looked so good that everybody wanted something. But don’t worry, I’ll pay it all back, I swear…”
Charlie cut him off in a fine display of mock rage, “you’re damn right you’ll pay me back for all of it!” he roared, “In fact, I’m gonna make you come in tomorrow at eleven to start paying it back! And I’m gonna keep you here, at seven fifty an hour, as long as it takes until I’m satisfied!”
“Thanks for understanding sir, I…” Spud stopped mid sentence, “seven fifty?”
“Would you like more? Cuz if you do I’ll hafta fire Jack here…”
“Don’t fire me, Mr. Kuchenbecker, please? Mr. Russel’s offered to teach me a little bit, and I promise I won’t burn anything any more, honest!”
“I dunno, Jack… I can’t really afford to pay you both…”
“Then cut some of my pay for the new guys.”
Sally Camden stood, bold as brass and just as resplendent, in the doorway of the kitchen. She cocked that charming crooked smile again.
“God knows you pay me too much already, what with all the tips I get from the bar boys. Why doncha let them have a little dough from my part? I’m not struggling for cash, and it looks like Boxcar Willie over here could use a change in wardrobe.” She winked at Spud, who turned a brilliant shade of vermillion.
Charlie held out his hands in mock protest. “Hey, it’s no skin offa my hide. You wanna give some of your dough to these two scabby lookin’ sons a bitches…no offense boys,” he winked at Jack and Spud.
“None taken,” Spud grinned back.
“Then it’s settled, you’ll–”
“Mr. Kuchenbecker?” Spud piped up shyly.
“Yeah?” Charlie cocked an eyebrow.
“Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Yeah, no prob.”
Spud asked Jack to practice some of the techniques he had taught him. Sally moved back out into the bar.
“Whactcha want, kid?” Charlie looked suspicious.
“Well, Mr. Kuchenbecker–”
“Charlie.”
“Well, Charlie…I’m a convicted felon. Draft dodger.”
“Oh really? How didja get outta that?” Charlie was curious.
Spud tapped his plastic half foot. It made a strangely hollow thumping noise. Charlie immediately felt sorry for asking.
“Oh, jeez, kid…I didn’t know…”
“Don’t worry about it, Charlie,” Spud waived a dismissive hand. He was used to it, and frankly didn’t like a fuss to be made about it, “I just wanted to know if that’d be a problem with payroll and stuff…”
Charlie chuckled and shook his head. He picked up a club sandwich Spud has recently made and took a bite, his eyes rolling back in ecstasy of the simple deliciousness.
“Mmmmmm…kid, if you keep making grub like this, you could shoot the President and I’d still give you a job.”
“Well, I’m not planning on it yet…” Spud chuckled softly. Charlie gave him a strong clap on the back and went out into the bar, still enjoying the sandwich. Spud heard a voice, possibly Dan’s, shout from the bar.
“So what’s the deal, Chuckie?”
“He’s gonna stay!”
A loud chorus of approval rang out through the bar. Spud turned bright red again. He was embarassed and felt a little stupid, but he had a job.
A job with Sally Camden, of all people.
Almost on cue, she appeared in the doorway again.
“Hey Boxcar…you know how to make a BLT?”
Spud smiled. “I think I could manage.”
She smiled back. “Then get crackin’, Willie!”
“Hey wait,” Spud called after her. She turned around and fixed those dazzling eyes on him.
“Did you know my name was Will?”
“Nah, I just thought the name fit,” Sally grinned, “but thanks for telling me, looks like you’re gonna have a nickname, Hon…”
She tweaked his nose playfully and shimmied her way back to the bar. Spud couldn’t help but watch her move all the way until she was out of sight. He touched a finger to his still-tingling nose.
“…she called me ‘Hon’ …”

You n Me n the NTG.

The NTG was one of those shoehorned bars stuck in a small space below someone’s house. The house and the bar both belonged to one Charlie Kuchenbecker, who was the proprietor and namesake of his beloved bar. It was small, but cozy; full of gentle-hearted folks who all enjoyed each other’s company and the taste of a fine ale or, in some cases, something a little harder.
Dan was no stranger as he walked in, as one of his pre-recorded station promos had just flashed across one of the bar’s two television screens. On nights when the Yanks and Sox both had games, the twin TVs were a blessing. The patrons were all friends, but loyalty to one’s drinking buddies only goes so far.
Dan sat down at his usual spot at the bar, flanked by his usual pals. There was Tom, the construction worker and part time substitute teacher, and Dustin, the delivery man. These were the real heart of this city, and Dan’s credibility with the people of Boston was always made stronger by his interactions with the blue collar element.
Plus, they were both great drinkers.
Spud drew a couple of strange stares as he sat next to his brother at the bar. On top of his rather shabby and gaunt appearance (the after-effects of living on ten dollars a month) his curious walk attracted many a stare.
“Hey Danno,” Tom grumbled in his grizzled and sawdust tinted voice, “who’s the kid?”
Dan threw a friendly arm around Spud. “This here’s my kid brother, Will. We all call him Spud. Say hi Spud,” he gave his brother a good natured poke in the ribs.
“…Hi.” Spud said. He was rewarded with a resounding chorus of greetings in return, which worked to elicit a smile from his typically taciturn features. The smile soon turned into a sheepish and embarassed grin as the bartender sauntered over to take their order.
Not just any bartender.
Sally Camden.
Five foot eight and built like a German racecar: not one gear out of place, if you know what I mean. Natural jet black hair that ran straight from her head halfway down her back with bangs hanging coyly in front of her bright hazel eyes. The eyes, the hair and the porcelain nature of her skin betrayed some Asian ancestry, even if her name did not. She was exotic, she was strong, and she held her hands on her hips with a certain kind of sass as she waited for his order.
His order.
Oh shit, he needed to order!
Somewhere between trying not to look like an ass and cursing himself for not shaving that day, he muttered out “cheeseburger, medium,” or something along those lines. Sally smiled, flashing a dazzling set of pearly whites, and disappeared to give his order and get their drinks.
“Heh,” Dan snickered, “not much has changed.”
Spud thumped his head on the bar in defeat. So it wasn’t just him overreacting again, he really did manage to screw things up pretty well. But still, who woulda thought that this hidden little bar in downtown Boston would have held such beauty?
He watched her re-emerge from the kitchen and go to make drinks. She set down a bottle of Bud and a shot of tequila for Dan, and something brown and interesting looking in front of him. He raised his head up from the bar with enough time to see her look at him, give him a smile and a wink, brush her errant bangs away and head off to take care of another customer.
“Hey hey, little bro, looks like she don’t think you’re too bad!”
Spud tried in vain to banish the red bar bumping mark from his forehead.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. What did you order me?”
“Rum and Coke. Don’t worry, nothing nuts.”
“Three parts Rum and one part Coke?”
“Nah. Did you want it that way?”
“Not really,” Spud smiled, “I’ll take Coke anyday.”
But the drink was good, Spud wouldn’t deny that. Or maybe it was the girl that made it. As he saw her going back and forth around the bar, he was trying to figure out the rest of her lineage because, frankly, Asian girls aren’t typically built like Sally Camden. Dan seemed to read his mind (or his wandering eyes) and took a timeout from discussing the Red Wings/Rangers debate to give his two cents.
“Her Ma’s from Japan. Her Dad’s from Allentown. Papa Camden’s half English/Half Italian. Talk about a mixed bag that pulled out a jackpot, eh?”
“Eh…” Spud muttered, still entranced.
“You’d like her too, kid. She’s a little younger than you, just finishing up at BC. Doin’ the whole English thing I guess, she’s always correcting the patrons grammar and shit. Too bad her boyfriend’s kinda possessive…”
And that was all it took. Suddenly, everything rosy that had been blooming in Spud’s imagination turned to diseased, ashen wasteland. Nothing looked good anymore. Not Sally, not his Rum and Coke, and definately not the burger that that previously angelic figure had just lain in front of him.
Although, to be honest, the burger would have looked plain nasty to any patron. The NTG wasn’t known for it’s food, unless it’s in the drunken sponge category. You could cram some of the grub down a drunk’s mouth to try and sober him up, but once he came back to consciousness he’d revile the taste in his mouth worse than the vomit he’d be chugging up later.
Spud couldn’t take it anymore. The burger was the charred, meaty straw that broke his camel’s back.
“Oh…oh no way,” Spud grumbled, and hopped off of his barstool. Sally was busy with a one of the few tables outside of the bar’s perimeter, so he had a clear shot around the counter and back into the kitchen. As he crossed the threshold he expected to be mauled by angry patrons believing him to be taking advantage of something or another. But no one stopped him. They knew where he was headed, and they knew why. They’d all been there at one time or another when they, in their poor, misguided youth, had foolishly ordered food at the Non-Threatening German.
The stumping noise of Spud’s right foot seemed to grow louder and louder as he reached back into the kitchen. A small and modest affair, but he had worked in worse. It seemed to have every amenity needed, and it was clean enough. The only problem seemed to be with a flustered looking young Latino boy, who was at the moment trying to navigate his way around a hopelessly charred chicken breast.
Spud gave a shrill whistle. The boy turned around. He must not have been more than fifteen.
“Yo, Paco!” Spud growled, “salga de la Cocina.” He had worked with enough migrant workers in three years to pick up enough Spanish.
The boy didn’t move. He looked absolutely terrified of this hulking, stomping man that had just entered his kitchen. Finally he found words to speak.
“B…but I’m from Cleveland…” the boy sputtered in shock.
“Then get out of the way,” Spud snapped. He stumped over to the grill and looked at the poor, poor doomed chicken breast. With one smooth flick of the spatula he flipped the disgraced bird into the garbage can and swept the charred bits of fowl off the grill into the grease trap.
“Wow, that’s pretty good, mister!” the boy said in awe.
“Oh Yeah? Well still around, Chico, I got plenty more to show ya.”

“You know why I did it, right?”
“Yeah,” Dan said, looking slightly peeved. “But don’t worry. Me and Terra completely understand and respect you for it.”
Spud chuckled. “You know, it seems like only people I know…and people who know me… are the ones that understand and respect me. It always seems like the people that don’t know me or what I’m about that called me a coward or a traitor or whatever.”
“Well, they got their heads up their asses. No hard feelings, little bro,” Dan ruffled his brother’s hair again, “but you wouldn’t have lasted five minutes over there.”
Spud smiled. “I know. That’s why I did it. God damn, the day after my 22nd damn birthday, of all the times, ya know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Dan said, poking at his pizza crust.
“I figured, I had three choices. One, go and die. Two, go and miraculously survive, come back majorly fucked up (because you know I would be) and probably kill myself. Or three…don’t go.”
“You chose three,” Dan said.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t as easy this time. That dickhead in the White House wasn’t sending the conscientious objectors to jail, he was arresting them and sending them anyway. For the good of the country, and all that bullshit. Threatened with treason, threatened with death, you know how it goes.”
“Yeah,” Dan nodded, “you’ll go to jail, but dying is something different.”
“Hell yeah, and I wasn’t gonna give that fucker the satisfaction of killing me, either by gun or by the zapper in some overcrowded prison. I thoroughly support the death penalty, but only for the jerk-offs that deserve it.”
“I hear that,” Dan chuckled.
“So, I figured…I had to find some way out of it. So I called up Mom the day my number was called. If I didn’t do something quick, I was goin’ out right away. Mom was all for it, she was gonna drive me to Canada, hide me in the basement, whatever. Problem was, they closed the borders and you know they’d try to find the dodgers. They’re fucking desperate for more bodies in the meat grinder.”
“Fuck!” was all Dan could grunt in angry response
“So, I ask Mom for her professional medical opinion. Mom got out her ol’ anatomy book, and showed me just what to do.
My plan was set. It was simple, really. Later that night, on my second day as a twenty-two year old, I drove up and parked outside one of the nicer hospitals in chicago. It was pouring rain, fuckin, POURING. Worse than last week when I got here. So I sit there, in my t shirt and jeans. In my right hand, a bottle of Johnny Walker Red. In my left, a brand new, shiny, .357 Mag. There are so many people moving around, going here and there, trying to get out of the rain, no one seems to bother with some bummy lookin guy having a drink, eh?
“Actually, that was the first time I really overdrank. Don’t think I’ll ever do it again, it was kinda nasty. But it got the job done. By the time I was ready, I wasn’t feelin’ nothin. I turned behind me, and I see a doctor, a motherfuckin’ doctor, of all people, havin’ a smoke outside the hospital. So I call to him,
‘Hey! You a Doctor?’
He goes ‘yeah.’
I say, ‘what’s your name?’
He says ‘Thomas Salk.’
I say, ‘thank you, Dr. Salk.’
He says, ‘what for?’
I say, “for takin’ me into the ER.”
“And that was that. Click, click boom. One little squeeze, and this.” Spud jerked his head towards his right foot, which was relaxing out of its special boot.
“Thanks to the Johnny Walker, and the shock, and the bloodloss, which was helped by the Johnny Walker, I passed out pretty damn quick. I woke up three days later, realizing that my parking was probably expired. Apparently, not only was there trouble closing the wound, but there was also plastic surgery, skin grafts, and treatment for alcohol poisoning needed. Guess I overdid it. Oh, and by the way, a .357 will take your foot apart at close range. Food for thought.” He winked and took a pull of his Coke.
“So the nurse comes in. Pretty hot too, nice ass. Anyway, I ask ‘where’s Dr. Salk?’
she says ‘He’s on call today at six.’
I glance over to the clock on the wall. 5:45. Damn good timing.
‘Could you send him over to me when he’s got a minute?’
‘Sure thing, hon,’ she says. She called me ‘hon.’ I always got a kick out of that…
Anyway, she also says ‘He wants to talk to you, too, you know. Wants to talk to the guy whose life he saved. You know he used his own jacket to stop the bloodflow?’
‘Awwwww fuck,’ I said, ‘now I gotta buy him a new coat!’
She giggled, and told me she’d send him up. Round about 6:15, he walks in. I offered to pay him back for the jacket, but he won’t take any of my money. He says I’m gonna need it later. We talk for a bit, and he’s a damn good guy. Sadly, though, not a podiatrist.”
“Damn,” chuckled Dan.
“This was six AM, by the way, not PM. So I still got most of the day left. Helluva day too. At about nine, some jack-off with a fancy suit comes in. I ask if he’s an insurance guy or something. He says no, he’s with the United States Government. This jackass had been coming every day since I failed to show up after the lottery. Every. Fucking. Day. I guess I was finally alive enough to get served my papers. I’m still in my God damn hospital bed, and this dickhead is serving me my papers. I told him, in no certain terms, that he and his bullshit administration of fear mongers and murderers could go fuck themselves. He said he’d see me in court.
“So they let me out after a couple of days with a cane. I still got the cane, but I’m trying to do without it. I’m getting pretty good, actually. Anyway, I went back to that damn hospital ever day, trying to get Salk to take my money. After my court date, Salk told me to stop coming in and keep the money, because I was going to need it. And boy was he right.
I couldn’t find work. No one wanted to hire a lame draft dodger. Within about a year, I was flat fucking broke. Did a little freelance writing work and odd jobs to keep me alive, but nothing was ever constant, ever stable. Looking back, I coulda borrowed Dad’s .38 and bought some shitty cheap Silver Wolf Gin and gotten the same results and saved some money. Money, ha, I can’t remember the last time I saw twenty dollars. What a fucking waste I made of my life, eh?”
Tears were starting to show in poor Spud’s face. Dan didn’t know what to do, only to let his kid brother vent his spleen.
“You’re doin’ all right, though, Mr. Ron Burgundy, Mr. TV Newsman. You’re doin’ all right. Maybe…maybe I should get outta here, before my bad luck rubs off on ya, or before someone at the station fires you for housing a felon.”
“Hey,” Dan spoke up sternly, “you’re not going anywhere. Don’t worry about money or bad luck or whatever. I’m here to help you out.”
Spud sighed. “I know…it’s just the rest of the family couldn’t help me. They’ve all got their own problems making ends meet in this shitty economy. You were really my last hope. I know we haven’t exactly been the closest of brothers…”
“But we are brothers,” Dan smiled, “I’m not perfect, and neither are you, Spud. But we’re still of the same blood, there’s no mistaking that. And I’m gonna watch out for you until you feel better.”
He looked around the house, noting the clock was close to tolling eleven.
“Hey,” he said, “we need to get outta here. We need to relax a bit. Come on, I’ll take you to the NTG for a drink.”
“The NTG?” Spud said, wiping his nose.
“Yeah, the Non-Threatening German. The owners a chubby old good natured Kraut, just like you used to be,” Dan winked at Spud’s retaliatory raspberry, “it’s a good place, we’ll hang out and have a drink. You know what? I think this is the first drink we’ve ever had together, it’s on me. Come on, Hopalong, but on your Moonboot and let’s go.”
“Ass,” Spud sneered playfully, “awright, let’s go. They got a grill there?”
“Yeah, but you just ate,” Dan asked quizzically.
“No, you ate,” Spud smiled, “I talked.”
“Sorry,” Dan laughed, “nervous eater?”
“No prob. Just buy me a meal to go along with that drink.”
“Sounds like a plan, bro.”
“Hey Dan?”
“Yeah?”
“No Johnny Walker.”
The brothers shared a good laugh as they headed out the door for Dan’s beat up old Chevy pickup and off to the NTG.

I love Mom’s Pizza.

“I’m home!” Dan announced as he opened the door. He sniffed the air lovingly. “Damn, is that what I think I smell?”
“Yup,” Spud said as he pulled the pan out of the oven. “Mom’s Pizza.”
“God damn, I can’t remember the last time I had that. Smells so awesome, just like back in the day.”
“Yeah,” Spud chuckled, “It took me a few years to get it down right, but now even Mom can’t tell the difference.” He placed the large sheet of pizza on the cutting board. He noticed as he started cutting that his brother sure had some nice kitchen tools, but they seemed very unused.
“Mmmmm, Mom’s Pizza,” Dan rocked back in his chair and sighed in anticipation, “So how is Mom? You’ve probably seen her more than I have lately.”
Spud laid the pizza on the table. “She and Dad are doing well, still in that same old house, but still managing to fill up the extra space with plenty of stuff.”
“We’re a family of packrats,” Dan smiled.
“Tell that to He-Man, still standing heroically atop Castle Greyskull in my old room.” Spud grinned back.
The pizza proved just as satisfying and filling as the old memories the two brothers discussed. The topic seemed to continue returning to one subject: Mom and Dad.
“Yeah, Mom and Dad offered to hold me up for a while right at the beginning…but I was too much of a hassle, really. Plus with the economy in the toilet I felt like I was being too much of a strain on ’em.”
Dan put down his pizza. “Still having trouble finding a job?”
“Yeah” Spud sighed, “you’d be surprised how tough it is to find a job with a felony on your record. But it’s okay for you, people still gotta hear the news.”
Dan caught himself glancing at his brother’s right foot at the mention of the word “felony.” Immediately uncomfortable, he tried to change the subject.
“Yeah, um, well…I could probably get you a job at the station, or something, and–”
“Hey,” Spud interrupted, “it’s OK. I got it from the whole family. You wanna see?”
Dan was at a loss for words. Spud smiled, swelling with a little bit of pride.
“I consider it a war wound now, really. I think it was pretty damn worth it. C’mon…you know you wanna see it…” he prodded in a wheedling tone.
“Okay fine, whatever.”
Spud giggled as he pulled off his right boot. “You know, you’re the last member of the family who’s seen this.”
“Well, I’m kinda busy, I don’t get the chance to get around the…family…often…”
Dan stood in shock as Spud lifted his right foot high above the dining room table. To be frank, it looked like someone had tried to cleave the foot in half with a rather dull cleaver. About halfway down the arch the foot simply stopped, ending in a patched up, but oddly uneven, blunt stub.
“Oh Jesus Christ,” Dan said in shock, “Mom never told me it was that bad…”
“Mom doesn’t always like to tell you exactly what’s going on, does she?”
“Yeah, she ain’t as tough as she seems,” Dan shook his head, “All I remember hearing was ‘Bill’s hurt, he’s in the hospital.’ She never told me it was something like…this…”
“Yeah, well, now you know why I have trouble even getting grunt work jobs. The guys in the offices at the factories or the janitorial lounges were always telling me that I should just give it a rest and go on disability, but these days disability is gonna get you nothing but disa-broke. The damn country’s almost broke, they can’t afford to pay a clubfooter like me enough to stayh alive…” Spud looked at his half-foot, “Still, I can’t say it wasn’t worth it.”
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Dan said, “what was that all about?”
“Well, Spud said, “it’s a long story. First, I’m gonna get another Coke, then I’ll tell ya.”
“Sounds good, kid brother. Oh…”
Spud turned around.
“The pizza was great.”
Spud smiled as he put his boot, fake foot-half and all, back on. The extra piece of plastic allowed for better balance while walking, and simulated the piece of his foot that has been gone for over three years. He laughed nervously.
“Ha ha. Thanks.”

It’s raining in Boston…

Outside of a small, but cozy flat in a comfortable section in Boston, a heavily weighted and bedraggled figure drags himself up to the door and rings the bell with the only free apendage he has, his nose.
The man that answers the door resembles the man at the door, and no surprise, because they’re brothers. However, the one on the nastier side of said door looks a little worse for wear, with the rain coming down in sheets off of his thin green raincoat, nearly saturated duffle bag, and worn-thin Chicago Cubs baseball cap. The eyes that peek out from under the hat are the same curious and intelligent blue as the eyes he looks into. He brushes a soggy, wayward hair out of his vision and smiles. His teeth are a bit mismatched compared to his brother’s, but both share a quality of natural clarity.
“Thanks, bro.” The soggy one says, sighing and smiling as he stumbles into the doorway. His brother, clad in a smart sweater to guard against the late September chill, helps take the bag and sort out the now nearly ruined contents. The soggy brother unslings a dilapidated yellow backpack and sets it next to the doorway, followed soon by a muddy and battered pair of Chuck Taylor’s. As the soggy brother makes his way into the warm and comforting flat, it becomes known that he was not staggering under his bags (which are piteously light for being all that he owns) but because of a strange limp in his right leg. He stumps his way into the flat, leaving soggy sockprints on the polished tile floor on the way to the bathroom, taking great care not to sway one way or another with his limp, as some mud or rainwater may splash and damage some of the worn, but loved, cherry furnishings or the thin, but still comfortable carpet.
Oddly, very little dialogue is exchanged between the two brothers, either for lack of energy on the soggy one’s part or due to the quick need for dry and clean clothes. Within the span of forty five minutes the soggy brother emerges, no longer soggy. Shaven, cleaned, and in a worn thin, but beloved Flogging Molly t-shirt and a pair of holey shorts, all of this which seemed quite unfit for the weather.
The newly refreshed brother again offered up his thanks. “Thanks, really.”
The other headed over to the kitchenette, “no problem, Spud. What kind of brother would I be to refuse you?” He asked with a smile as he started setting out a cold impromptu late dinner
“A successful brother who doesn’t need his lazy, wishy-washy, but still rougishly charming brother hassling him in his nice apartment” Spud beamed back as he sat at the table. He looked around sheepishly and finally asked, “So where’s Terra, Danny?”
Danny smiled as he cracked open two Cokes. “Oh, she’s still out at work. She’ll be back around ten or so.”
Spud took the Coke and had a drink. It was the first soda he had drank in quite some time. After his first drink, he could take it. Maybe it was the bubbles from the Coke, or maybe it was something else.
“Jesus, I’m sorry Dan. I didn’t wanna do this, you know. I didn’t wanna lose all my money and not be able to get a job because of my…problem… and then have to come bothering you, and your wife, in your nice little comfortable suburban house life thingy you got here…but you were all I had. Jack’s got his own family and problems, and Mom and Dad could never afford to take on another, not with how times are…and Sue, she’s barely outta college, she’s got enough to worry about…God I’m sorry. I feel like I’m coming in outta nowhere and totally fucking up your life, which I hate, but it was either this or the park bench and the park bench was taken tonight. I won’t be here long, Dan, I swear. I…I just feel awful about completely butting in on your life like this and…”
Dan had heard enough. “Listen, kid brother. You and I weren’t always the closest, and we didn’t always see eye to eye, but God damn it you’re my brother and there’s no way I’d turn you away. Terra and I will deal, it won’t be a problem. Don’t worry, you take as much time as you need. Don’t worry about it, all right kid? You’re not fucking up anything…you’re family.”
Spud wiped his tears away. “Thanks, brother.”
Dan ruffled his kid brother’s neatly parted hair, “no thanks needed.”
So they had their dinner of Cokes and cold turkey sandwiches. Later, Terra came home and hugged her brother in law, and enjoyed a Coke herself. As the cold September rain pounded the windowpanes, they all sat back, talked about life back in the good times, and listened to Nirvana’s Unplugged album late into the night.
Spud laid his head down into a converted sofa in the spare room, full of food and drink for the first time in a while, warm and comfortable. His last thought before slipping off into unconsciousness was a twinge of regret, of sadness, of a life lost, which mimicked the pain in his right foot.
The damn thing always acted up when it was raining.
And it was raining in Boston.