Brighter and Brighter by I. Fontana


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Brighter and Brighter by I. Fontana


I looked back at the house for a moment, wondering if I’d forgotten anything. This old dark blue Plymouth was parked in the shade under a tree. There was a wasp buzzing around, and I was worried it might fly into the car. It seemed that kind of a wasp. The driver’s side window was rolled down.
     Some kid came up on his bicycle. He looked about nine or ten. I recalled that taking care of Sivanderbilt’s children was part of Olga’s job.
     “You can’t go inside,” I told him. “Something bad happened here. Some bad guys came and did something. You’re supposed to come with me to your aunt’s. Where’s she live again?”
     “That’s kind of out of the way. Where’s your little sister?”
     “She’s at summer camp, mister. Where’s my mom?”
     “Already on her way to Biloxi. We got to leave. Right now. The bad guys might come back any time.”
     “I need to pack some of my stuff.”
     “No time for that. You’ll just be gone a couple days.”
     “All right, sir. Okay.”
     And like a good boy he got in the passenger seat of the car. I got the keys in the ignition and started backing us out.
     “What’s your name?” I asked, once we were heading down the avenue. I didn’t have a viable license, so I had to take it careful and slow.
     “You named after Axl Rose?”
     “Yeah. I guess so.”
     “Guns N Roses.”
     “Right. My original mom liked them and stuff. I wish though, I wish...”
     “I wish she’d named me Slash.”
     This caused me to laugh, and we laughed together, like it was funnier than it really was. I thought I had maybe heard a story about his original mom.
     “What was he, Slash, the guitar player?”
     “Yeah. He looked stupid though, with that hat and his hair.”
     “Guns N Roses... they was supposed to be real bad dudes, right?”
     “I don’t know about any of that.”
     “What happened to her, your original mom?”
     “Sir, she lives in prison.”
     We turned, and were speeding up, getting on the highway now.
     “In Tutwiler?”
     “Yes sir. That’s just for women. But Sivanderbilt... he grew up in North Carolina.”
     “Did he now? I spent some time up there myself. I was in Azalea, North Carolina.”
     “I don’t know that town.”
     “Just up the road from Valley Springs.”
     “Oh,” he said, Young Axl, pretending this was meaningful to him.
     A little more than a half hour ago I’d been sitting down next to the kitchen table, there with my so-called friends. Some of them were folks I’d met up in North Carolina while they were paying their debt to society. I guess I might have been paying some kind of debt myself. Some would call it that. It’s too damn easy to judge.
     People have a way of doing things, little things maybe, that show how they really feel... underneath their phony smiles.
     “And Donnie Ray here, hey, Donnie Ray would like a drumstick, isn’t that right?” Jimmy said. I did not want a drumstick. I never said I did. Those are for children.
     Jimmy was smiling, red lips pulled back to show his snaggly old yellow teeth.
     Sure, he and Sivanderbilt were pretty brave now, in the kitchen, drinking bourbon while Sivanderbilt’s woman fried us up something to eat. It was a different story, I’m telling you, an hour previous at the bank in downtown Mobile. But now I could see these motherfuckers looking at each other, real sly, like they’d come up with some way to cheat me on the count.
     Numbers, you see, man, numbers have a kind of life of their own. And when you get into dividing shit up, it’s like, well... divided by three, divided by four... that’s a whole lot different than divided by one. There’s a lot of good sense in divided by one. That’s what I was thinking there, drinking a Coke. If I didn’t trust them, they could probably see this on my face, and then they didn’t trust me, and you can’t leave things like that.
     Sivanderbilt’s woman, Olga, she stayed over by the stove. There was some kind of a bandage on her bare foot. She didn’t want to come over to the table or even let me look in her eyes. That was cool. I understood Olga good enough. She had a puffy lip.
     It was hot out, and there were some flies there in the kitchen, past the hole in the screen door, and I was sweating, we all were, sweating while smelling the chicken grease, and if I got greasy fingers I’d never get nothing done.
     I took a bite off a fork and said, “Olga, this is some fine potato salad.” She nodded, I could see her face, but she didn’t say nothing back.
     It was about then that I pulled a gun out from under my jacket.
     “Hey kid—” began Jimmy—he was always talking, always had some expert opinion—and then, after I’d shot him in the face, Olga swung the skillet of hot grease in my direction, but kinda slow, almost in slow motion, so I shot her twice and then Sivanderbilt, once good. He caught himself most of the chicken fat and was beginning to object. I shot him dead.
     I could always shoot. It’s a gift.
     Olga didn’t seem too bad. She got up off her knees taking an old butcher knife and just about stabbed me. I put some more bullets in her then. They weighed her down. She just let out a deep sigh while she fell down on her face.
     Goddamn. There was all this noise stuck in my ears. I was trying to avoid tracking blood on my shoes, ’cause it was streaming all over the tile floor.
     I never had nothing against Olga. She made me a sandwich once when I came over and no one was home. She couldn’t speak English real good. I don’t know where in the hell Sivanderbilt got her from. I felt sorry for her. But there was nothing to discuss, no way I could leave her be.
     Everything was pretty quiet now, except for a few flies. Some fool dog kept barking a few backyards away.
     I got what I needed: some weaponry, the money, some good pills I found that might come in handy, and when I came back to the kitchen I picked a piece of chicken up off the floor. I was hungry as hell just from all that cooking smell.
     I used the salt shaker and then took a bite. The skin was crispy, the white meat just right. That Olga could sure cook.
     The burner on the electric stove was some real bright orange, on high, it just kept getting brighter and brighter and hotter all the time.
     I was pretty hungry now in the car. I had been just about to eat a meal before Fate intervened. Now I was troubled, sliding my eyes over at Axl, my foot on the gas. His presence complicated shit.
     It felt like he knew.
     “You missed the turn.”
     “Back there. For Pascagoula.”
     “Oh, don’t worry man. Hey. I just thought we’d go up here a little further, stop and get something to eat. Some Coca-Cola or maybe a Dr Pepper.”
     This was getting hard.
     “Axl, you have this look on your face.”
     “I don’t mean nothing, sir.”
     “You look concerned.”
     “I’m a little worried we missed the turn.”
     “Everything will be all right. You believe me, don’t you?”
     “You promise?”
     “Do I promise? Well. Axl, you ever visit your original mom in prison?”
     “No sir.”
     “Why not?”
     “We have a better mom now.”
     “Yeah,” I said, thinking it over. “She made a sandwich for me one time.”

I. Fontana has lived in Avignon, NYC, Guadalajara; now is in Portland OR. Other works have appeared in BOMB, Bikini Girl, Juked, Annalemma and PANK. A novel will be finished soon.