"Liberty, Ohio" by Christopher Lettera

Categories: ISSUE 03: Edgar

Liberty, Ohio

TODAY IS A BEAUTIFUL, SHINING, GOLDEN DAY OF A DAY.
Canine teeth. Four per soul. The sharpest in the given set. The business teeth. The dentine folks tear their McDoubles apart with.

In Liberty, Ohio, it’s warm, it’s 2:57 PM, it’s Sunday.

Happy is gargantuan. One hundred and sixty pounds. Five years young. Thirty-three in Rottweiler time. In the stinky-hot living room of 639 Lois Lane, Happy gnaws, bites down on glistening ribcage, breaks through person-bone. Happy whimpers, sneezes, regards the mummified floral drapes, the filmy picture window. A piece of blue-pink human lung is clung-stuck to his jaw-line.

The carpet is beginning to smell much worse.

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What daytime Hell is this? A car-full of Liberty Leopards hoots. High school juniors sipping Monsters. Hoo-ray for Belmont Avenue which is any-American-highway-exit which is: Wendy’s, KFC, Arby’s, McDonald’s (gorge yourself), Walgreens, Rite Aid (get better, buy a shirtless firefighter greeting card).

Deja vu. Paper abs. Hoo-ray.

The Leopards want movie explosions. They swipe a credit card through the hulking machine at Speedway. Out shits the second live-action Transformers disc (“Dude, my older brother said two of the robots speak Ebonics!”).

The Hot Dog Shoppe is the last of the ma and pa Mohicans. The roof is baby-blue. The rain gutters–a light sky-blue. The rest of the place–unfazed, tan brick. Seventy-nine cent dogs. Dogs with chili–still seventy-nine cents. Cheddar-smothered dogs are a dollar twenty-five. Two flavors of soda: cherry, and root beer.

The moon makes its scheduled appearance. “Transformers” DVD was oh-so-scratched, became a Miller coaster, was flung into a septic creek. The Leopards are hooting and howling at night sky. The lit-up Hot Dog Shoppe sign delivers order to this miniature universe, shouts:

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DREAMERS. THEY AREN’T REALLY LEADERS UNTIL THEY’RE TESTED BY TROUBLE.

Kadie Warner, eight, is a little Leopard softball underperformer. She dislikes leopards. She adores turtles. Her uniform is Crayola-green, a small consolation. She studies her town from the backseat of the Warner family Yukon. Porch lights and mulch beds for all, and for all a static night.

(Dave Kale, thirty-seven, returns from the Lucky Cherry Internet Café and pounds the Everlast bag in his basement until his bare knuckles bleed; Walter Fuller, fifty-two, masturbates surreptitiously in his two-car garage while his second wife dries the dinner dishes; Mary Bowen, forty, watches O’Reilly and farts twice during the commercial break. “If erection persists more than four hours, call your physician.” None of this is seen. All of it is felt.)

Kadie’s barrel-headed father grunts, “Huh?”

Her big-haired mother thinks ho-hum.

Then Kadie counts one, two, three siren-less cop cars. An ambulance. A cop SUV. Then she loses count of said emergency vehicles, spotlights prodding from the windows of each. Probing. Kadie imagines the shape of the word fugitive, remembers how one time, when the news said these two murderers escaped from jail, her dad said, “No, you may not camp in the backyard tonight,” and he spent the remainder of that evening counting shotgun shells on the dining room table.

The Warner Family Yukon coasts into Wal-Mart. A big-belly security guard approaches. Kadie’s dad shakes his hand (almighty conference of hairy forearms), asks “Are we in trouble here?”

“Sharon got out again,” the guard says.

“Who?”

“Sharon Blessing. She’s in her seventies. Lives on Gypsy Lane. Worships at Pleasant Valley Evangelical. She might have dementia. I don’t know. No one knows.”

The guard laces his fingers across his hard-packed gut, crunches his knuckles.

“Last time she wandered out, she walked five miles. An EMT found her walking around the swim club parking lot. Nothing but a nightgown. Bloody feet. Pieces of glass in her heels. She was looking for her mom’s house.”

Kadie’s mother thinks oh-my, ho-hum. The guard exhales.

“Sharon’s mom dropped dead thirty years ago.”

On the Warner Family Ride Home, Kadie looks out the back window. In the parking lots. The streets. In shadows of trees. She hums ghost stories in her head.

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WHAT YOU DO TODAY IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE YOU ARE EXCHANGING A DAY OF YOUR LIFE FOR IT. 

“You shot Lassie” the recruit says.

Liberty police cruisers are mildly armored Chevy Impalas. The city gets the slick Fords. Liberty is not a city. It’s a township, a shipwreck of a town. Officer Bacon Bits likes Impalas. He thinks they’re neat.

“Lassie was a Collie.”

The Impala’s front right tire endures the unavoidable pothole on the corner of Logan and Churchill. Its driver brakes in front of 639 Lois Lane, reflects briefly on Rottweiler murder, unwraps his ham sub, adds a liberal and signature sprinkling of artificial pork from a container he keeps in the glove box. He is Sergeant Jim Trowel. He is Officer Bacon Bits.

Further inquiry from recruit: “Was the dog pissed?”

“He charged me. I shot him.”

“So he was pissed.”

“I don’t think. No. I mean, he was worked up. He was starving. That guy. He punched his own ticket, blew the back of his head out with a muzzleloader. The back of his skull was all across his stove. Brain in the oven mitt hanging on the handle. You heard? Okay. And the dog, he was probably just hungry. He was in there for two weeks. What was he going to do? Lonesome Butch Cassidy and no Sundance Kid. He probably figured Hey, I’m going to get blamed for this shit. What the hell? I go out swinging.

639 is gutted, silent, over-cast with an aura that screams strange double-death. Bacon Bits takes a big bite, addresses his Padawan through a mouthful of leaf lettuce.

“I dug a hole. I buried the pooch in the guy’s forest.”

“The forest? That’s two acres of trees back there.”

“I like to think of it as the forest. The woods. I grew up around here. Where there were bunches of trees, that was the woods, kiddo.”

On the curb of 639–a rescued couch, its pattern the most drab in this our world, its seat cushions claimed by drive-by trash combers. Bacon Bits mumbles an Our Father.

“The loveseat. I told the coroner and the guys to save it. Carnage in that house. Blood everywhere. But the loveseat–blessed be all the un-dappled upholstery–the insides of that poor bastard’s dome missed it by a mile.”

Recruit reflects. “Do I talk too much?”

“No. You’re twenty-three. That’s fine.”

“The last guy I rode with called me a fucktard.”

“You’re fine. You’re okay. You’re not a goddamn fucktard. Take half of my sandwich. It’s gourmet. It’s divine.”

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IF WE ARE TOGETHER, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. IF WE ARE DIVIDED, WE WILL FAIL.

Andy can’t decide whether the veins under his wife’s forehead are purple or blue or green. They keep changing colors. As requested, he continues to mime a chokehold like Richard Greco gave in that Cinemax steamer she keeps on the DVR. The Unofficial BDSM Manual for Unlikely Geek Dom’s instructs: pretend when you can.

“You malignant pussy,” Cindy shouts.

Andy notices the splotches of inky red landing on her neck, thinks Oh geeze. Darn it.

She pulls away, he slips out of her, moans “Wah!” and nearly climaxes from the sudden sensation. He squeezes his Kegel muscle to stave off accidental happy-time explosion. Look at her Pottery Barn thing. Look at her Pottery Barn thing. He locates Kleenex, stuffs his nostrils. Drip-drop. Major League nosebleed. Should he tilt his head back? No time for Google.

Cindy emerges fully-clothed from the bathroom. She smells like Bath and Body Works’ “Love Love Love” lotion.

“Go ahead and blow it. You’re going to have to wash the sheets anyway. Damn you. You probably have a brain tumor. I told you not to sleep next to your cell. Did you sleep next to your cell? We need to change providers. Sprint is bad. No reception in the laundry room.”

Andy blinks.

“I’m going downtown,” Cindy says. “The bank. Then Whole Foods. Be at Whole Foods in an hour. I found your empty Pringles in the trunk. You and me–we’re going to Vegan Camp.”

Andy vigorously brushes his teeth and plucks his uni-brow, cruises down Belmont by Burger King (My country tis of these...), and wha-crack–a bearded vagrant hurls a chunk of broken road at the Prius windshield. Star-burst fracture and she’s-going-to-kill-me. Andy shoulders, catches his breath, drums out the closing beats of his reinvention of “America” (Sorry, Samuel Francis Smith) on the steering wheel.

Hot midday. Game-changing heat. Sweet land of Liberty. Andy eyes the keys in the ignition, palms them, jogs towards Jethro, hurls key-ring at big-beard, says “Huzzah” softly. During his fifteen minute walk along Belmont and down Churchill, Andy arrives at several conclusions, among them a.) my God, Jethro was Bill Beckett who cooks meth in Silver Moon Comics and Cards. Then b.) the Methodists better do something about the erosion of their holy hill before these cemetery bodies wash right off church property and clog up the Dairy Queen drive-thru. And finally, the Whopper, c.) –

The Star of Bethlehem puzzle was the clincher. In their college days (not so long ago, Andy thinks), he and Cindy would take her grandmother out for nights on the town. Red Lobster. Applebee’s. Lots of take-home because Grandma was always yakking, always passing out handmade crosses to the waitresses, the bus-boys, the kids woofing down Andes mints. One winter night, Andy spends ten minutes guiding Grandma across driveway ice (“Grazie.”) and what-do-the-three-of-them-know, the power’s out in Liberty (“Fanculo!”). They light candles, they engage in Catholic jigsaw entertainment (“I have half of Baby Jesus’ head here.”). Andy sets a record for longest-eye-contact-with-a-girl-his-age.

This was in late February and it was very much Christmastime in Andy’s heart.

They put tucked Grandma in, they sorted her pills by days-of-week, made Love Love Love on the kitchen floor, pledged allegiance to each other’s souls and would Andy please learn to make a French Bowline knot because asking guys with big eyebrows to tie her up got her way off. Suffice to say, this was not the only knot Andy learned how to tie.

The fucking star of Bethlehem.

At the Shell Station next to the ballpark, Andy says–

“One pack of Pall Malls. The blue pack. Yes. And there–yes, that’s it, Ultimate Kickin’ Jalapeno Ranch–the Ruffles.”

“I’ve seen you,” the clerk with the goatee says.

“No you haven’t.”

“Yes. You’re the weatherman. My daughter had a nightmare about you last week. You drove my Explorer off the Grand Canyon and pushed her out the passenger side.”

Andy continues his walkabout, recalls something Cindy said about actualization, eats the whole darn can and finds himself in the cluster of trees behind Field A, the unofficial, highly classified graveyard for umpteen Leopard home run balls. He thinks of May Hopper, sixty-two, who checks his books and DVDs out at Liberty Local. May Hopper who blushed when she scanned out The Loving Dominant and un-pocketed her Virginia Slims and asked Andy if he wanted to burn one.

I want to burn one. Andy lights a Pall Mall. He pulls his pleather wallet from the butt of his khakis and flicks the driver’s license out onto a henceforth ceremonial rock. He runs the flame of the lighter (Ozzy Ozbourne printed on the side, eating a bat, and darn it he’s smiling) across his photo and address and he bags the home run remembrances in Shell “Thank You!” plastic, goes for the ultimate detox walk. Interstate 80. Andy Reeves, highway refugee with balls to spare and it’s not partly cloudy, folks. It’s a beautiful Thursday.

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WHEN YOU COME TO THE END OF YOUR ROPE, TIE A KNOT AND HANG ON TIGHT.

Captain Carl can’t make sense of the boy tipping over Harleys outside VFW Post 212. He just watches, smokes his cherry cigarillo.

“Fuck!” the kid screams. He shoves another couple thousand dollars into gravel.

The kid looks fifteen, maybe, a hundred and ten pounds, maybe. He cocks a single muddied Converse, kicks the trademark Harley flame on the side of a sleek low rider, does a job on his toes, invents a new curse. Eighth grade extraterrestrial vulgarity. Nanu nanu? “Fuckmadashicket!”

“Give it time,” Carl says.

“My older brothers are thieves and my mom is in a wheelchair.”

“Do you want a bowl of cavatelli?”

“No.”

“Would you like a soda?”

“No. I need a ride home.”

Carl drives a spotless 1982 GMC Jimmy. The kid shifts frequently in the passenger seat on the short ride. Carl sips Folgers from a Styrofoam to-go cup. No Jack, no Beam, no thanks.

Young man. Old man. Silence. Then, finally–

“They took the PSP my mom got me for Christmas.”

“Oh,” Carl says. “I don’t know what that is.”

“You look all jacked up. Were you in a war?”

“I was in Korea after the main conflict. No combat.”

“Did you ever get in a fight?” the kid asks. Did Carl ever kick ass? Did he ever shoot a bad guy and was it between the eyes or in the belly?

Carl sighs. “In Seoul, the South Koreans–not all of them wanted us there. They were mostly good people. I fished with a lot of good guys. I got sunburned real bad. Extra crispy. But this one time, in Seoul, this little guy was kicking the shit out of my back thighs like he knew karate or something. He wasn’t a kid or a midget. Just a little guy. He was pissed, I guess. And finally I turned around and tossed him.”

The kid studies Carl’s posture, his turquoise jacket, his big cap, the pristine interior of the truck, the numbers handwritten on an index card clipped to the sun visor, family relations to be called in cases of emergency.

"Then these two really big guys came over. And normally, you don’t think of Koreans as being big guys, but these two were large individuals.”

“So you fought em?” the kid asks.

“Nope. I said sorry. I walked away.”

“Here-here-here,” the kid says. He clicks the door open, hops down from the truck, breathes gratitude out through his nose. A thoughtful exhale. Carl nods. The kid stands there for a minute, glances at the weed-ridden lawn, the small home beyond. “I gotta go take care of my mom. Listen, I’m not gonna pussy out on a fight.”

“Ok,” Carl says.

That night, Carl totes his grandkid on his broad shoulders, walks the boy towards sleep. Piggy-back quiz. “What’s that?” Carl asks.

“Closet.”

“Good,” Carl says. “And that?”

“Clock.”

Little townhouse apartment. Little boy’s bedroom. Blue and red lights bouncing off the walls from the highway behind the development. The cops pulled somebody over, bent and cuffed the suspect over their cruiser’s hood. They’re searching the trunk.

“What’s that?” Carl’s grandkid asks.

“I dunno,” Carl says. “Maybe dope. They probably have dope in there.”

When Carl shuts the light, when he’s nearly gone from the room, his grandkid mumbles, “You’re nice.”

“Ok,” Carl says.

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CHEDDAR DOGS 1 DOLLAR TODAY!

Walter Fuller, fifty-two, was manually worshipping his garage goddess–Sports Illustrated swimsuit stunner circa Eighty-something–when through the adjacent window he saw a hand shoot upward from his backyard drainage ditch. Sharon Blessing, seventy-something, had a broken ankle, a pulse. Sharon Blessing maintained until her quiet death several years later that Walter Fuller was, in fact, Karl Malden, who was then in league with the space aliens who were in league with President Obama and wasn’t it a shame because Sharon always went gaga for that priest in On the Waterfront.

Before this rescue made the nightly news, Kadie Warner, eight, pajama-clad, made her way to the kitchen window, kneeled on a stool, peered outward. She imagined Sharon resting on a Warner family deck chair, imagined welcoming Sharon inside, pouring her tea, listening to her adventure, the two of them summoning good through their unlikely togetherness. Kadie Warner wakes the next morning, tosses her Coach’s Choice trophies off the back deck, decides her day.

--Story by Christopher Lettera