Some say Charlie and I live on the wrong side of town, Trumbull and Lincoln, the Motor City, Detroit. Others say, “They’re no good parts.” I figure no one will know for sure until it’s too late and we’re underground. Then somebody can figure out how many of us in the city are buried here or someplace else. I don’t give a crap. We’re all gonna get ghosted anyway, ain’t none of that shit gonna matter.
To put food in our bellies, I hang sheetrock on walls and ceilings. I’m strong and fast, liked by the contractors. Hanging ceiling panels is the worse, especially when I work alone, which ain’t often enough. She was always on me about my lack of people skills.
I wear a hard hat on the scaffold, spin, and balance seventy-pound pieces of gypsum board with only my neck, thick as an elephant’s trunk. Sometimes I come home late and shuffle up the sidewalk like Herman Munster. Charlie laughs. Charlie cries some of the nights I turn the lamp off.
I live to hear Charlie laugh, not much else. I have more darkness in me than all of them riveted and bolted clouds up there. Some days it feels like all them clouds are rusty bridges. And them bridges gonna buckle and fall. I know, cause they leak like my patched-up roof most of the time.
Just last week, I gave Charlie a big kid’s party at Buddy’s Pizza. He’s eight. After Buddy’s, the one on Conant Street, I drove Charlie, and his scrotes over to Palmer Park to fly kites. The cab of the pickup smelled like an opened can of anchovies and sneakers.
She created a morning prayer by leaving wildflowers in a water jar on the Formica counter, near the kitchen’s chipped porcelain sink.
The huge park is the one with the gothic fountain designed to resemble a giant’s leaky headstone. Charlie flies a skull and bones kite better suited for a pirate’s ship mast. Charlie and I do a lot together, on the one day a week, I don’t work a ten. I have to keep up with the late bills somehow.
This evening it’s Halloween. Out of the shuttered window, the moon looks like it’s been cut and stacked in slices the color cinnamon and tangerine, at least out there, under the streetlamp.
This year, I’m a Jack Daniels bottle. Charlie is an unfiltered pack of Camels. The school says he’s hyperactive. Worse since…
Neighbor Dick laughs his ass off. The renters across the street shout at us as we head down his steps, “Make sure you get the filtered brand next year.” I wave with my pillowcase hand, Charlie clinging to the other.
We get high fived from a stranger around the block, near Wong’s market, as he is headed to his patched-up Cadillac. He shouts through the driver’s side glass, as he is getting in, “Watch that shit, brah, you know that’s the liquor that killed Janis Joplin.”
After turning the corner, the abandoned pharmacy with all the Bloods and Crips graffiti, a woman in a 2011 Jetta speeds past us. She’s manic as if she got a nervous ghost up her ass. Before she disappears, she throws a handful of Bit-O-Honey’s at Charlie and me. Charlie says, “Dad, it’s a Halloween drive-by.” He laughs so hard. He blows a snot bubble.
“I say to Charlie, leave them on the pavement, nobody likes ’em.” He’s only eight. Not too discerning.
And “by the way,” I said, “Charlie, ignore the nasty words that bitch yelled at us.” In the dimming light of the cloud-covered moon, I could tell Charlie was puzzling his face. After, he barked whatever, just like kids do nowadays, whether something is good or bad?
I’ve been a stickler about raising my boy the right way. So, I teach Camel’s a thing or two by practicing what those school shrinks call behaviorism. Sometimes, it works for me too. I coffin my nails into the palm of my hand when I think about her. Usually, when I am tired, or I feel alone. Or for any good reason, I suspect?
Too quick up the concrete steps at home, I trip and break my bottle. I quickly pick up my pieces and stand straight up.
I tell Charlie, “I’m thinking, all in all, we had a good evening, little man.” Over my shoulder, I see Charlie dragging himself up the steps, he’s nearly out of cigarettes. He appears empty and sad.
“Next year Charlie,” I say, “I might damned well replace myself. I’ll be a bottle of Southern Comfort. That’s all she drank, one-shot, neat.”
“After all, Charlie, my boy, the truth is, that’s the only drink Janis Joplin enjoyed.”
Charlie amuses me, he grunts.
“Damned,” I nearly shout.
Charlie asks, “What.”
“Nothing Charlie, it’s just that now I’m gonna have that damned Janis Joplin, Piece of My Heart, earworm tunneling holes through my brain well past midnight.”
“Ear Worm? Holes?”
“Exactly! Those guitar riffs might as well be electric eels, Charlie, for all the damage they’re gonna do up here. I tap my temple with my index finger. “Your mother loved Janis Joplin.”
“You lost me there, dad?”
“Never mind, Charlie!”
Later that night: “Goodnight, Jack Daniels! Love you, daddy.”
“Goodnight Camel’s, I love you too, all the way to the Raleigh North Carolina Cigarette Factory and back here in Detroit.”
Giggles permeate their bedrooms. Charlie is going to be just fine.
Ok, I know how curious you are. This past May, Mia was a new coffin. Charlie and I are almost certain, come next Halloween, she’ll be joining us as a ghost.
Dan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in the Apple in the Dark, Aphelion, BlazeVOX, Bull, Cleaver, Coffin Bell, Door=Jar, Entropy, Dark City Magazine, Gravel, Lowesoft Chronicles, Mystery Tribune, New Flash Fiction Review, Poetry Northwest, Spelk, Your Impossible Voice.