Saturday, March 24, 2018

Prologue: The Three Indians

Prologue: The Three Indians
The frozen winter wind rattled the windows of our shack. We all sat in a semi-circle around the fireplace. My mother slowly rocked in her rocking chair mending my old torn jeans with the remnants of another old torn pair. My father sat in a straight back chair next to her. He held a long stick and absently poked into the fire with it, sending sparks up the soot-darkened chimney. Occasionally, he and Monsieur Pete drank from the bottle of cheap bourbon whiskey at his feet. Monsieur Pete chain-smoked and told stories, the blue cigarette smoke puffing out with each word. I sat cross-legged on the quilt my mother, Madame Rowena, and Madame Miltaire had put together with scraps of material from the three families. She had spread it out on the floor between my father and Monsieur Pete.
"Are those true stories you're telling us, Pete?" my mother asked with a twinkle in her eyes. She knew that Monsieur Pete often sprinkled his stories with a little of his fertile imagination.
He had just finished telling us a story about how the Cajuns settled the banks of Bayou Serpent, which snaked its way through the woods behind our shack. He reached into his dirt and grassed-stained khaki pants and pulled out his sack of Bull Durham tobacco. He carefully folded the cigarette paper in half and shook some of the fine tobacco onto it. Then he rolled it into a cigarette, lit it, and inhaled deeply before answering her.
"They sure are, Madame LeClerc. Or they're as true as I can make them."
My mother set her sewing on her lap and leaned forward. She cocked an eyebrow at Monsieur Pete, and a small smile played on her lips. He grinned back at her.
"You see, Madame LeClerc, a story should be told many times and by as many different people as possible."
"Why, Monsieur Pete?" I asked. I had not heard this explanation before.
He inhaled from his cigarette, and his words tumbled out with the smoke. "Because it changes every time that way. Stories should be like people. They should live." He turned and faced my mother. "And to answer your question directly, Madame LeClerc, they sure are true. A story can change a lot—just like a person, but it should always have some truth to it. Storytelling is too important not to."
My mother nodded and resumed her rocking and sewing. No one talked. The wind outside pushed at the house, and occasionally, a particularly strong gust rattled the tin on the roof.
I examined the pattern on the quilt, a patchwork of colorful squares bordered by strips of cloth depicting cornflowers, magnolias, black-eyed susans, and morning glories. I remembered watching my mother and her friends, sewing it together over long summer evenings in the dwindling daylight and later by coal oil light. They told stories as they worked—stories inspired by the fabric with which they worked. I recognized some of the material on the quilt—a dress my mother wore when she and my father first started seeing each other, an old sheet Madame Rowena slept on when she was a young girl, an old shirt my father hid from my mother because he hated it, and part of Monsieur Miltaire’s old red overalls. I stretched out on it with my head toward the fire.
Monsieur Pete inhaled from his cigarette, looked about the room, and started another story. I could hear the wind whistle through the cracks in the house, but the fire kept us warm and comfortable.
"We were talking about storytelling just now, and it reminded me of the story I heard a long time ago about three Indians. You know that the Cajuns relied a lot on the Indians when they first settled these parts." Monsieur Pete threw his cigarette into the fire and rolled another. He was slow, deliberate, and spent as much care it seemed to roll a cigarette as he did telling his stories.
My father nodded in his direction and poked at the fire.
"The first Indian was a great hunter. They called him Spirit of the Wind because he was as quiet as the wind when he wanted to be. He'd go out early in the morning and stalk deer. You never seen a hunter like this one. Quiet? This Indian walked on his toes for miles and miles through the thickest woods. Wouldn't break a twig or rustle a leaf. He'd stalk up to ten feet of a deer, draw back his arrow, and swoosh, let fly with one straight through some poor deer's heart. Always, he'd get so close that he never missed, and always, he'd furnish meat for the tribe. They were very proud of him and treated him with great respect."
"Sounds like he deserved all the respect he got, Pete," my mother said.
I turned at the sound of her voice and studied her face. It was a beautiful face, filled with lines and wrinkles that could be soft and yielding, as it was then, or hard and rigid when she needed it to be.
"A man who provides for his people deserves respect."
"He surely does, Madame LeClerc. He surely does." Monsieur Pete paused for a moment. "Now the second Indian wasn't as quiet as the first one whenever he stalked his deer. But he knew them. He knew where they ate, slept, and courted each other. He knew that and more. He could tell you where a deer stopped and shooed a fly off of itself. All he had to do if he wanted a deer was to wait for it, arrow drawn back in his bow, ready to fly, and the first deer that showed its head, swoosh, and the second Indian’d furnish the tribe with deer meat. They called him Spirit of the Trees because he was as patient as the trees, and they treated him with as much respect as Spirit of the Wind."
The warmth from the fire and Monsieur Pete's voice made me drowsy, so I closed my eyes.
"That was a smart Indian, Pete," my father said quietly. "He doesn't work as hard as the other one to get his deer."
I lifted my head and watched as he uncapped the whiskey bottle and passed it to Monsieur Pete. The glow from the fireplace danced around him. His face and pale blue eyes made dark by the shadows reflected the fire’s red glow. Wrinkles crisscrossed over my father's face too—deep ones that mirrored his fields in the spring.
"That's where I got to disagree with you, Seth," Monsieur Pete said, handing the bottle back. "I believe he worked just as hard and as long as the first Indian. It takes a long time and a lot of figuring to learn something well."
My father nodded. He capped the bottle and sat it on the floor between his battered work boots. Then he picked up the stick and resumed his poking in the fire.
"What about the third Indian?" he asked without looking up.
"Well, the third Indian didn't know much about deer, except that he liked the taste of them. He wasn't much of a hunter either. Wasn't one little twig safe when he was around."
My father chuckled.
"Sounds like this one was a bit lazy, Pete," my mother said. I could hear the smile in her voice.
"Non, Madame LeClerc, not this one. He wasn't lazy. It's just that he did all the work in his head. He didn't have to stalk the deer like the first Indian. He didn't have to learn about deer. He watched until he saw the hunters come back with their deer. Then he'd walk on over to the Spirit of the Wind’s wigwam just before dinnertime and tell him a long story about the quietest hunter there ever was who could go through the woods as silent as the wind itself. Of course, Wind thought the story was about himself and invited the storyteller to stay for supper, so he could finish his story."
"That's pretty smart, Pete."
"It surely is, Madame LeClerc. The next day his stomach started growling again, so he went over to the Spirit of Trees’ wigwam just before dinnertime and told a long story about the most patient hunter there ever was. Of course, Trees figured the story was about himself, so he invited the third Indian to stay for supper, so he could finish his story."
There was a pause. I could hear the coals snap and pop as my father poked into them. I listened to the soft squeak of my mother’s rocking chair as she slowly rocked on the worn linoleum. I heard Monsieur Pete strike a match, and I smelled cigarette smoke mixed with wood smoke. I started to fall asleep, but Monsieur Pete's voice brought me back.
"You see, the third Indian was a different sort of fellow altogether. He didn't know much about hunting, and he couldn't care less about where deer did their business, but he knew men who hunted. That third Indian knew that all right."
"Didn't those Indians ever figure it out, Pete?" my mother asked.
"Sure they did, Madame LeClerc. Sure they did, but they needed him as much as he needed them. They called him the Spirit of the Smoke and treated him with the greatest respect."
I did not hear anything else Monsieur Pete said. I fell asleep. Sometime during the night, the Spirit of the Smoke visited me. He leaned over me and told me that smoke was an Indian's friend. It was a sign of fire and filled their houses, and when the smoke disappeared, the smell stayed behind as a reminder, so that it never was completely gone. Then he told me a long story about a quilt maker, a great spirit, who created a huge quilt out of stories about his people. I looked up into his earnest black eyes and saw my reflection in them.
The next day, I learned that Monsieur Pete stayed and told another story before he left. My mother said it was a great one about a quilt made out of stories, and she would try to tell it to me sometime.
"Why does Monsieur Pete tell stories, Momma?"
My mother studied me for a while before answering. She pushed back a strand of dark hair.
"I guess it’s his way of saying thank you, mon fils."
"Thank you for what?"
"For his meal, mon fils." my mother said through a grin. "For his meal."

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Deceptions (4)

Junior & Sally learn about each other and find surprises.
Sally Mae's uncle gave me a job stocking shelves Monday through Friday from 5:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. and agreed to pay me two dollars an hour. It wasn't much, but at least I would have enough money to pay Sally Mae for staying at her place. I was still shocked at how quickly my fortunes had turned around. I had a job, money, a place to stay, and I would get to talk to and see Sally Mae every day.

Her apartment building, a three-story red brick rectangle, was just four blocks from the store. The apartment itself was on the third floor and was small. It held two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, a living room/dining room combination. There were three posters on the wall. The one over the record player was a frame poster of Tommy James and the Shondells, Crimson and Clover album cover. The poster behind the couch was a Woodstock one, "3 Days of Peace and Music." The one next to the front door was the most impressive, a large horizontal poster of the early Beatles. I dropped my suitcase near the couch.

"Nice. Your roommate is into rock?"

She grinned.

"Those are mine, Junior." My face must have reflected my surprise because she laughed a deep throaty sound. "See what you missed out on when you didn't talk to me."

"But you were…I mean, you didn't seem…"

"I was prim and proper in high school, a good Catholic girl because I thought that's what everybody wanted. When I left Serpentville, I left all that behind me. This is what I like. This is exciting."

"Are you into…?" I couldn't seem to finish a sentence. I was having trouble seeing Sally Mae in this new light.

"No, I'm not into drugs, if that's what you planned to ask. I just like the music, the rush to change the world."

I nodded and sat on the couch.

"Let me show you around. That door there leads to Latoya's bedroom." She pointed to the door to the right of the couch. "This other one is mine." She indicated the door across from me with her head. "That other door is the bathroom. The kitchen is to your left. That's it. It's not a big apartment, but it serves its purpose, and the rent is cheap. I leave for work at eight in the morning and return around noon. I clerk at the IGA. On Saturdays, I work from eight until closing time at nine. On Sundays, I work from eleven, when we open, until five, when we close."

"Wow, you're pretty busy."

"I make enough to pay the rent on this place and buy food. My mother pays my college tuition. That's about all there is to know about me. What about you?" She sat next to me. I caught a scent of honeysuckle.

"Well, you pretty much know how I got here. I plan on spending four years in the navy, save some money, and use the GI Bill to get through college."

"What's after college?"

"I'm not sure, but I've always been interested in books, so whatever it's going to be will probably have something to do with literature or writing. How about you?"

"Either a nurse or a doctor. I'm not sure. I want to help people."

"Wow, a doctor."

We went on like this for over an hour. Then she stood, made a couple of sandwiches, and we ate. When we were done, she stood and grabbed a set of keys hanging on the kitchen wall.

"Come on, Junior. I want to show you something."

We climbed into a Volkswagen Bug, and she drove to Lac Point Vert. She parked the car, and we climbed out. The sun shimmered on the water like diamonds. We sat among the roots of a large live oak, our backs resting against the trunk.

"This is my favorite spot." A heron flew across the lake and landed about twenty feet from us, and in the shallows near the shore, eyed the surface for a meal. "It's so quiet out here, and I like to sit and think about the things I'd like to accomplish."

"Such as?"

She glanced at me.

"I want to travel, Junior, to see the world."

"You could always join the navy."

She grinned.

"You're joking, of course, but I thought about it."

We were silent a minute.

"Have you ever been out of Louisiana, Junior."

"Texas once, about a mile across the border to do a boardroading job. That's it."

"I went to Pensacola with my parents once. I was thirteen. I was too frightened to go into the water. I don't want to be that way. I want to do new things, experience new things. I want excitement in my life. I'm so tired of the same routine every day—work, school, homework, church. I want surprises. I want to do new things."

"You brought me here and shared this spot with me. I'd like to share something with you."


"It's a person. He lives in the woods about seven miles south west of Serpentville. Want to meet him?"

"I don't know. It'll be close to dark by the time we get there."

"That's okay. He's a night person."

She gazed into my face.

"Is it safe?"

"I doubt it, but you wanted a new experience. I promise you, this will be a new experience."

"Okay, let's do it." She stood and handed me the keys to the car. "You drive."

Hunter Monet was a recluse. He lived in a house, a tarpaper shack really, perched on the banks of the sleepy Bayou Serpent. A dusty lane, unpassable when it rained, snaked through a mixture of cottonwood and oak trees. It wasn't quite dark yet, but he had already started his fire pit. A rabbit sat cooking in an enormous cast iron pot. When he saw the car, he stood walked into his shack. He came out a few seconds later holding his Winchester in the crook of his arm. When he recognized me, he leaned it against the wall and smiled, exposing a mouthful of black and mostly rotten teeth.

"Junior, where'd you get the shiny new wheels?" he said, walking toward the car.

I nodded at Sallie Mae.

"It's hers."

He leaned into the driver's side window and stared at her.

"Well, now, I don't get too many visitors of the female type out here. Welcome to my home, young lady."

Sallie Mae gave him a nervous grin.

Hunter could be intimidating. He stood about six two, wide shoulders, arms as thick as the oaks surrounding his shack, long grey hair that flowed down his back, and a full grey beard that hung down to his waist.

"Ya'll get down. I got a rabbit stew cooking, and we'll have ourselves a little party." He paused. "You did bring some refreshment, I hope." I nodded at the case of PBR in the back seat. He opened the back door and pulled it out. "C'mon, let's get a few of these down our gullet before they get warm."
Sallie Mae and I followed him to the fire and sat on a couple of stumps he had placed there for visitors. He popped opened a couple and handed them to us.

"Ya'll make yourselves comfortable. I'll be right back."

I could tell Sallie Mae was uncomfortable.

"I met Hunter about three years ago while hunting squirrel on his property. He didn't seem very happy about it, and I thought for sure he was going to shoot me with that rifle of his."

"He does seem menacing."

I grinned.

"Yeah, he does, but he's about as gentle as they come. He's from Opelousas. He left there for California to make his millions. He didn't make that much, but he made a bunch, invested it in a company called IBM, and dropped out."

"Dropped out?"

"Yeah, he became a hippie. Lived in a commune for a few years and came back here. He bought fifty acres of this woodland, built this shack, and has been living here, alone, ever since."

"You're saying he's rich and chooses to live this way."

"That's exactly what I'm saying."


But I didn't get a chance to answer. Hunter returned carrying a scarred and battered Washburn guitar and a joint.

"This is straight from Thailand. The very best stuff on the market." He held the joint out for us to inspect. Sally Mae gave me a worried glance. "We'll smoke a little, listen to a few tunes, and then eat. It's going to be a party." He lit the joint using a live coal from the fire. He took a hit and blew the smoke out into the air. Then he handed it to Sally Mae. She took it, looked at me, and I nodded. She hit it, coughed, and passed it to me. I sucked on it, held the smoke in my lungs for a few seconds, and exhale. Hunter took the joint from me and it made its way around again. This time, Sally Mae held the smoke for a few seconds. After the third round, Hunter killed the roach and placed it on a stump.

"Now for a little entertainment." He picked up the guitar, hit a few random notes, and then broke into the mellow chords of "The Sound of Silence." When he ended the song, Sally Mae clapped.

"You have a beautiful voice for…" She let her voice trail off.

"A big man?"

"Yes," she said and blushed.

"Don't worry. I know I'm a big bear and a little frightening. My momma was Baptist, and she insisted I learn all the hymns we sang at Bedrock Baptist Church. She even sent me to a voice trainer and a piano teacher. I never took to the 88, but the guitar rocked my soul."


"A piano has 88 keys, 52 white and 36 black. Anyway, turns out I had a mellow voice for a big man, but I never did anything with it. Might be the only regret I have about my life."

"Well, you certainly rocked my soul."

"Great, how about another song?"


"How about a Van Morrison tune? You familiar with 'Slim Slow Rider'?"

Sally Mae shook her head.

"I know some of his stuff, but it's what I hear on the radio."

"Then you're in for a treat."

Hunter played several songs, and then we attacked the stew. We smoked and drank some more after we ate, and I decided that it was time to leave. Sallie Mae staggered to the car, and I sat behind the wheel. Hunter leaned into the driver side window.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, Hunter, we don't have far to go."

"Good. It was nice to meet you, Sallie Mae. You're a very pretty girl. You remind me a little of my wife." He shook his head a little. "Anyway, ya'll have a safe trip home. Come back any time."

I turned the car around and navigated the dirt lane.

"He said I reminded him of his wife. Is he married?"

"Was. I never did get a chance to answer your question about why he chose to live like he does. He had a cushy job with some bank out in California. He married and was living the suburban life. Then one day, while he was at work, some asshole broke into his house and raped and killed his wife. As an homage to her, he decided to devote his life to peace. The hippie lifestyle seemed to fit the bill."

"He told you all this?"

"Yeah, one night, he drank too much or smoked too much, and it shot out of him like vomit."

"Why'd you bring me here?"

"Hunter is one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I thought maybe you'd enjoy meeting him."

"Is that the only reason?"

"No, seeing the sun shimmer on lake waters is calming and beautiful, and I had a nice afternoon watching it with you, but the world is a lot more fucked up than that. You can also see beauty in a person's struggle to cope with the loss of someone he loved dearly."

She stared at me for a long time as I drove.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Deceptions (3)

The continuing story of Junior Fontenot and his misadventures.



          I still had a few dollars from my last Coco paycheck, so I decided to drown my sorrows. I found an IGA store and bought a six-pack of PBR, sat on a city bus bench, and popped a top. At first, I feared a policeman would come by and arrest me for vagrancy or something, but at least I would have someplace to sleep if that happened. I was on my second beer when Sally Mae happened by.
          "Junior?" she said, walking in my direction. She looked even better than in high school. She wore sneakers, jeans, a dark tee shirt, untucked, and had her red hair tied back in a ponytail. She still had a sprinkle of freckles over the bridge of her nose, but she looked more mature, more like a woman. I laid my beer down and stood.
          "Sally Mae? What are you doing in Ellisonville? I figured you'd be in college somewhere."
          "I am. I'm taking classes here at the junior college. It's cheaper than the universities and my credits will transfer."
          "That's great."
          She eyed my suitcase.
         "Are you going somewhere?"
         "I just joined the navy." I contemplated telling her my sad story, but decided against it.
         "Oh." She seemed disappointed. "When are you leaving?"
         "Not for a while, a hundred and twenty days, in fact." I grinned.
         "Are you staying in Serpentville?"
         It didn't look like I was going to escape telling her the whole sordid story, so I offered her a seat. She sat next to me and I caught a whiff of coconut and honeysuckle.
         "I had a little accident while working for Coco Construction."
         "Was that you? I saw it on the news."
         "Yeah, it was me. Anyway, I lost my job. Then Uncle Sam told me that he was ready to draft me. My mother kicked me out. Well, to make a pitiful story short, I'm jobless, moneyless, and homeless. I couldn't get any more less."
         I guess I looked pitiful because she grinned.
         "I'm sorry. I don't mean to laugh at you. I know you must be depressed, but you sound so…well, so pitiful." She was silent for a moment. "You never did answer me back at graduation. Why didn't you like me?"
         "You want the truth?" I figured I might as well unburden myself. I couldn't get any lower than I was. She nodded. "It wasn't that I didn't like you. It was just the opposite."
         "So, why didn't you talk to me or show an interest?"
         "Because you were so popular, and I was…well, not. I didn't think you would have any interest in me."
          She smiled.
          "Remember that time in Junior High when I sat next to you in the cafeteria?" I nodded. "Why do you think I did that?"
          "There were no other seats?"
          "There were plenty seats, Junior. I wanted you to talk to me, but all you did was stuff your face with that awful stew, and never said a word. I thought for sure you hated me. I finally got you to talk to me at graduation, and then that idiot, Gary Courville, came over and interrupted us."
           Okay, here she was telling me that I had been a fool in high school, something else for me to kick myself about.
           "So, what are you going to do, Junior?"
           "Right now, I have no idea. That's why I was sitting here—trying to figure out what to do."
           "My uncle manages the IGA here. I'm sure he can give you a part time job for a few months. It probably wouldn't be much, stocking shelves maybe, or sweeping. I've got an apartment not far from here. You're welcomed to stay with me. I have a roommate, but she won't be back for a few weeks. I can't let you stay in her room, but you can have the couch."
           "I couldn't impose on you like that, Sally Mae."
           She smiled, her green eyes lighting up.
           "What choice do you have?"
           "Come on, then. Let's go talk to my uncle."

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Deception (2)

I was depressed, no doubt about it. I lost my job. There was a real possibility that I might go to Vietnam. My mother considered me a dead beat and wanted me out. I had to tell her, of course. I waited for the right moment, just after supper. She hadn't started drinking, yet. I think she anticipated the news, though.
"Why didn't you stay at work, today?" she asked, before I could say anything. She pulled a beer out of the refrigerator and opened it. She threw the opener on the table. "Get you one," she said and sat across from me. Surprised, I accepted her offer, opened a beer, and took a long drink.
"How did you know I didn't spend all day at work?" 
"Rowena saw you go into Joe's, and she told Lois. Lois told me when she came by to drop off some wild ducks for me to pluck. She was supposed to clean them for Franklin Hebert, but her arthritis was acting up, and she let me do them. Franklin paid me seventy-five cents a duck. He had over ten of them."
I knew she would go on forever if I didn't stop her.
"I lost my job, Mom."
She took a long drink from her beer.
"What are you going to do?"
"I guess I'll move out, but I don't have anywhere to go right now. Could I stay just a few days longer?"
She considered it, but after a few moments of silence, she shook her head.
"No, I don't think so."
"But I've got nowhere to go."
She didn't even blink an eye.
"You should have thought of that before you lost your job."
"It was an accident, Mom."
"Son, I love you," she said, and grabbed another beer out of the refrigerator. She motioned me to get another if I wanted. "But you're a lot like your daddy. If I don't force you to do something, you'll stay, and live off me forever." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. She was throwing me out on the street. "I can't support the both of us. You can spend the night, but tomorrow I want you to find someplace else to stay."
"I haven't got any place to go."
"I'm sorry, son. But that's the way it is." She stood up and walked out on the front porch. The slap of the screen door seemed final. "I'm going over to Rowena," she said through the screen. "Help yourself to the beer in the ice box." She left.
The free beer was poor consolation, but it would do, so I grabbed another from the refrigerator and plopped down on my bed. I felt like a lost puppy, friendless and unloved. I felt the hot tears come to my eyes. I considered suicide, but I was afraid that it would help everybody but me, and to be honest, I was not a great fan of pain, so I got up off my bed and packed my suitcase. Once I stuffed it as full as I could, I sat down in the only chair in my room, a rough wooden one that my father had made from two by fours, and watched the daylight slowly fade through my windows. Sometime after dark, I heard my mother come in. She was drunk. I could tell by how she walked, slow and hesitant. She opened the refrigerator, and I heard her open a can of beer.
I sat in my dark room, stared at the outline of my packed suitcase, and watched the occasional headlights from the traffic on the road outside bounce across my bedroom wall. I could hear the cars well before I saw their headlights—big trucks whined, pick-ups hummed, and cars whistled. Their headlights made eerie patterns on my room's bare wall, bounced to the ceiling, and disappeared across the room. I loved to pretend that each vehicle was an adventure. This one or that one would slow, turn into my driveway, its headlights would illuminate my room, someone would jump out, and invite me to go with him on some wild new adventure, fishing off the coast of Maine, surfing the beaches of California, or just cruising the highways of America. Of course, it never happened, no matter how much I wished it.
I knew that there was only one choice left opened to me. I had to get away from Serpentville. I had to move, and since I was broke, unemployed, and untrained, my only choice was to join the service. Uncle Ham's size twelve shoes were hard to fill, but I didn't seem to have much of a choice. I couldn't join the army, or the marines—these people were going to Vietnam. I didn't know much about the coast guard. That left the navy and the air force, and I was not a great fan of flying.
The next morning, I stood on the Ellisonville black top with my thumb in the air. Franklin Hebert stopped and dropped me in front of the Ellisonville courthouse steps, suitcase in hand, ready to talk to the navy recruiter. His office sat on the first floor behind a glass door with United States Navy Recruiter stenciled in bold black letters over the navy seal, an anchor wrapped in rope. I walked into a cool, air-conditioned office with three uncomfortable-looking plastic and chrome chairs sitting before a laminated oak coffee table covered with magazines and pamphlets. A man dressed in a khaki uniform covered with stripes, stars, medals, and colorful bars sat behind a desk across the room. I was sure he must have served in both World Wars, Korea, and was straight out of Vietnam. Only, he was too young-looking for any of those, except Vietnam. He had short dark hair, thick bushy brows, thin lips, and a friendly smile.
"Hello," he said in a surprisingly sweet voice. "My name is Chief Davis. Can I help you?" He stood and walked around the desk and gave me a powerful handshake.
"I'd like to enlist, sir." I threw the sir in there for good measure.
"Are you certain?"
"Yes, I am."
"Good. Let's see," he said and walked around the desk again. He pulled out a handful of papers. "I just need you to fill these forms for me. And after you've done that, perhaps you wouldn't mind taking a small test."
I took the paper stack from him and sat down at the small table.
The thoroughness and personal nature of the questions surprised me. I understood that the navy needed certain information from me, but they wanted to know everything: Did I have hemorrhoids? No. Did I ever have an encounter with someone of my own sex? No. Did I belong to any communist organization? No. Was I a criminal? No. Did I have ingrown toenails? No. Did my mother, father, uncle, aunt, or any relatives of mine ever belong to a communist organization or have an encounter with a member of their own sex? No. No. Not that I knew of, anyway. Was I, or any member of my immediate family, ever committed to a mental institution? No. We probably needed to be. Did anybody ever answer yes to any of these questions? They had to be a trick. Anybody who answered yes to any of them would be too stupid for the United States Navy.
I handed the recruiter the completed forms, and he, in turn, handed me the examination. He looked at his watch and told me to begin. It was by far the easiest test I'd ever taken. My mother could have passed it, and she never went past the sixth grade in school.
"Finished," I said, standing. He looked at me as if nobody in his right mind could finish it that quickly.
"Let me grade it, and if your score is high enough, we'll talk. Please sit here for a minute." He pointed to one of the plastic chairs. I watched him while I pretended to read a current copy of Stars and Stripes. He placed the answer sheet over the examination. As I watched, I began to doubt myself. That examination could not have been that easy. It was another trick. They wanted me to think it was easy, and just as I was berating myself for playing the part of a fool, the recruiter flung his glasses on the desk top, cleared his voice, and boomed a clear, resonant, "Good. Very good."
"Yes sir?"
"Very good, Mr. Fontenot. One hundred per cent correct. We don't get too many of those in here."
"You don't?"
"No, we don't. You've done very well indeed." He plucked an imaginary hair from his sleeve. Now what you need is a physical."
"I've already had a physical by the draft board, sir."
"Good. What are you classified?"
"Good. We can get a copy of the physical from your draft board." He wrote something down on one of the forms. "Well, you're old enough, so you don't need consent. If you sign this form, we'll make a sailor out of you."
I surveyed the paper he handed me. It had me down for a four-year enlistment.
"Sir, I'd like to join for two years if it's possible?"
"Your only choice is four, Fontenot."
I considered it for a minute, but I knew I would sign up. Four years in the navy had to be better than two years in Vietnam.
"Good. Four years it is, and I'll guarantee you one of your top three choices for school. Sign the form."
I did. 
"Good. There'll be a three-month wait, and then you'll go New Orleans for a mini-physical and then on to boot camp for your initial training."
"A three-month wait? I'm kind of ready to go now."
"I'm afraid that isn't possible. If for some reason an opening appears before your 120-day waiting period, I'll contact you. Good day."
"Somewhere between the "Sign here" and "Good day" the recruiter had lost his friendly easy-going attitude. Now, he was the voice of authority. He was superior to me. I stood on the top step outside the courthouse and reflected on what I had done. I had joined the navy. That was bad enough, but now, I had 120 days with no place to stay, unless I went crawling back to my mother, and I was not ready to do that—not yet, anyway.

Friday, December 15, 2017


          This is part of a longer work, tentatively titled Deceptions, about a young man who can't seem to do anything right. He finally ends up in the service, and his life takes on a new direction; however, he can't seem to escape the troubles he left behind. Hope you enjoy it.

Sally Mae captured the attention of Serpentville High School like no other girl had ever done before and since. At thirteen, she walked into Mr. Jogneaux's ninth grade homeroom with the confidence and assurance her beauty afforded her. At fifteen, she had already developed beyond her years. Her breasts strained against the white, ruffled blouses she loved to wear tucked into her skirts. Her small waist gracefully gave way to her rounded, full hips. She had long slender legs, still a little bony where they showed but not bad looking. If not for her face, which glowed a healthy pink under her freckles, her clear, green eyes, which turned almost yellow when she was angry, and her thick orange-red hair, which hung partway down her back, she might have passed for four or five years older. There was no denying she had a fifteen-year-old face and an eighteen-year-old body.

Sally Mae always held herself erect when she walked or sat, and she spoke softly, correctly, with a honeysuckle-sweet southern accent. I wanted to know her better, but I was too proud to stand at the end of the lengthy line of admirers trying to get her attention—she had offers for dates from most of the seniors, members of the track team, the baseball team, and the basketball team, except for Grant Guillory who was practically married to Lois Smith. She dated selectively, always careful of her reputation. She avoided places that served alcohol or boys who had wild or shady reputations; She was a member of the Christian Students for Decency in School club. There were other good-looking girls at Serpentville High School, but none of them could compare with Sally Mae. She was easily the most beautiful, the most desirable.

I hated her.

I hated her because I was not in her league and never would be. I was not an athlete. I was not particularly handsome, big ears, shaggy black hair, a stick-skinny frame, and I was a bookworm. I was boring, with a capital B. Sally Mae liked parties, horse riding, and excitement, and although I liked parties, I sucked at socializing, and horses scared me. I also liked the wrong music. While the other students listened to the Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Stones, or The Strawberry Alarm Clock, I preferred Percy Sledge, Joe Tex, Otis Redding, and the more bluesy tunes of B.B. King, Taj Mahal, and John Lee Hooker. I didn't fit in Sally Mae's circle of friends.

During our senior year, while we waited to graduate high school, Sally Mae stood off to the side of the crowd of students, alone and apparently absorbed in contemplation. I screwed up my courage and decided to talk to her.

"Thinking about what you're going to do after graduation?"

She looked up at me, her green eyes questioning.

"Oh, hi Junior. I was thinking about maybe going to college, but I don't know which one. What are you going to do after school?"

"I'll probably join the service." I didn't mention that college was not an option for me. Although I had the grades, I did not have the money. My mother was on welfare, and she could not afford to help me. I figured I'd devote a couple of years to Uncle Sam and come out with the GI Bill, which would pay my college.


"No, I don't want to go there. I'll probably join the Air Force or the Navy."

"That's smart. What about after the service? What are you going to do then?"

"I'll probably go to college."

"That's good." She paused and searched my face with her green eyes. "Why don't you like me, Junior?"

The question caught me off guard.

"I…I like you all right. It's just…"

Just then Gary Courville, the school's track star grabbed her hand and led her away.


I didn't join up after graduation like I told Sally Mae. Instead, I sat around the house, read books, and occasionally visited Joe's Saloon to play a little pool. After about a week of that, my mother grabbed the book I read, placed it on the table, and sat across from me.

"If you expect to stay in this house," she said, "you'll have to pay your way. I expect you to get a job and help me with the rent and groceries." My father died when I was seven, and my mother turned to alcohol to relieve the misery of poverty and welfare to sustain her drinking. Since I was no longer in school, the welfare checks were going to shrink.

"Your Uncle Ham would have offered to help me with the rent and groceries," she continued.

I groaned. Uncle Ham was my mother's brother, champion of the navy, veteran of World War II, wearer of size twelve shoes. Whenever my mother was angry with me, she used Uncle Ham as a measuring stick. "You ought to be more like your Uncle Ham, Junior. He was a good boy. He never left his bed unmade. He knew how to make a bed." If she was especially drunk or vindictive, she resorted to comparing me to my father. "You're just like your daddy, Junior, lazy and no good. He stayed home and share-cropped that two-bit farm of his, while brave young men like your Uncle Ham went off to fight the Japs."

Uncle Ham's shoes were difficult to fill. Sometimes I wished he hadn't died off the coast of Okinawa like he did. I really would like to have had a talk with him.

"Okay, Momma," I said. "I'll find a job."


I met Philip Brashear in a bar in Ellisonville, one rainy afternoon. He said he needed a boy to work with him at Coco Construction, and since I had no money, and my mother was about to kick me out of her house, I agreed to meet him at the head office at four the next morning.

"I don't have a car," I told him, hoping that it wasn't a deal breaker.

"Where do you live?"

I explained, and he said that since it was on his way, he'd pick me up at 3:30 a.m. I groaned my agreement.

"What should I wear?"

"Wear something you're not too attached too. Wear something cool, but make sure it has long sleeves. Bring gloves and a good wide straw hat."

"What exactly does Coco construct, Philip?"

He grinned, revealing a row of tobacco-stained teeth.

"We construct board roads."

"What is that?"

"You'll see," he said and bought me a beer.


Coco Construction serviced the oilfields, building, servicing, and tearing up board roads that led to oilrigs and wellheads situated in pastures, swamps, and marshes. The roads were constructed of two-inch by six-inch by ten-foot boards laid across each other and held in place with sixteen-penny nails. Sometimes, the roads were single layered, if the ground under them was high and dry. Sometimes, they could have as many as five or six layers if the ground was especially soft and wet. Laying a board road was back breaking work—driving sixteen-penny nails with a special sledgehammer all day, hauling and stacking mud-encrusted boards through several inches of mud, prying up boards held together with rusty nails, mud, and months of heavy traffic. In the summer, it was hot, mosquito-slapping work. A boardroader always had to be on the lookout for snakes, scorpions, spiders, or thousands of other bugs and critters that lived under the boards. In the winter, it was cold, teeth-chattering work. Too much clothes and a worker couldn't move comfortably. Too little clothes and he froze. I soon learned that laying the road was not for me. I had been there less than a month before I started looking for an easier job to do.

There were five duties when laying a board road. Two of them I did not qualify for—supervisor and truck driver for the eighteen-wheelers that hauled off the bundles. The rest of the jobs, I felt I could handle—boardroading, which involved laying, servicing, or tearing up the roads, swampy, which involved slinging a wire cable around the bundles and securing it, and winch truck operator, which involved positioning the truck, and working the winch. I started helping the swampy, a short little guy who smoked roll-your-owns, every chance I could. At first, Shorty was a little suspicious of my attentions, but he was slow and lazy and soon started relying on me for help. When he fell sick, I was the natural replacement. By the time he returned, I was firmly entrenched at swampy. I was faster and smarter than Shorty. Philip had no choice. He told him that he needed to return to boardroading or quit.

He quit.

Swampy was much easier, but I still got my feet muddy, so I started hanging around the winch truck driver as much as possible. Soon, he was letting me position the truck and work the winch—I could do both and still do my job as swampy. After a while, he allowed me to load the eighteen-wheelers. I learned everything he did, and when he took sick, I moved into his job, but Jeff was not Shorty. He had been with the company for years, and he knew people in the front office, so when he returned, I went back to my duties as swampy. During my third month with Coco Construction, Jeff developed cancer and never returned, and Phillip made me winch truck operator.

I didn't get my feet muddy anymore, but I lost my job with Coco Construction.

We were pulling up a road near a wellhead, a set of pipes, valves, and gauges sticking out of the ground and under a tremendous amount of pressure. Another team worked on laying a road about two or three football fields away. I was busy hauling bundles and stacking them up on an eighteen-wheeler. Philip called me over and told me to pick up a bundle and take it to the other team. The bundle was heavy, the boards covered with a sticky, clay mud. As I winched it up, the front wheels of the truck lifted slightly off the ground, about two or three inches. I looked over at Phil, but he said nothing. I put the truck in gear, and again, the wheels left the ground. Phil waved me forward, so I didn't worry about it. I drove slowly and carefully, but the front kept bouncing up and leaving the ground a few inches. My route took me about twenty-five feet from the wellhead. When I hit a slight incline, the front end of the truck lifted straight up into the air. I was sure the truck would flip over, so I opened the door and jumped out.

Only, the truck did not flip over.

When the bundle touched the ground, the front of the truck came back down, and since it was still in gear, kept on going toward the wellhead. I could hear Phil yelling at me, but my head was still spinning, and I couldn't make out what he was saying. I turned around, noticed him running toward me, waving his arms and yelling.

"I'm okay," I said, when he was close enough to hear.

"You stupid shit," he yelled at me and knocked me on the back of the head. "It's moving toward a wellhead."

Sometimes, it takes a knock on the head to make a person see clearly. When Phil hit me, I realized at once what I had to do. I ran as fast as I could, away from that truck. I hadn't gone very far when I heard grinding and then an explosion, which knocked Phil on his face and me on top of him. He threw me off and hit me four times on the head before finally standing and dragging me away from the fire. When I could see again, the winch truck lay on its back, all four tires spinning and burning. Flames shot out of the ground a hundred feet in the air where the wellhead used to be. The heat was almost unbearable.

Phil grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me.

"Damn it. Didn't you know that these trucks never flip? Didn't you know that?" I wanted to answer him, point out that the truck was lying on the ground with four wheels up in the air, but something in his eyes stopped me. "Go on. Get out of here."

I started walking. I was fifty miles from home, but there was no way I was going to ask Phil for a ride back, so I thumbed my way home.


When I finally arrived home from my work disaster, my mother handed me a letter from Uncle Sam informing me that I had passed my physical and I was classified 1A.

Sometime during the first few weeks with Coco, I received a letter from Uncle Sam, demanding that I go to New Orleans for a physical. I spent a night roaming around Bourbon Street, spending my meager Coco Construction pay on beer and women. The next day, I stood in lines as doctors probed and poked me. Then the government placed me on a bus and sent me home

"They going to draft you?" my mother asked.

"Yes." I threw the letter in the trash. She pulled it out.

"They put you in jail for doing things like that."

"Isn't jail a damn sight better than dying in Vietnam somewhere like Jimmy Durio?" Jimmy was the only person from Serpentville to die in Vietnam. Young people used his name to point out what could happen. The older people used him as an example of the ultimate sacrifice. My opinion was that Jimmy would prefer being alive than an example of anything.

"He died for his country like your Uncle Ham. You could learn something from them." She placed the letter on the table in front of me and walked off.

"What? I could learn how to die?" However, she wasn't listening.

The next morning, I heard knocking on the front door at three thirty. It was Phil, and he wanted me to go with him. I didn't want to, but I was afraid that he would cause a raucous, and I didn't want my mother to know, just yet, what had happened, so I told him to give me a couple of minutes to get my clothes on, and we drove to the central office. He did not say a word to me all the way. When we arrived, he told me to go see the big boss and headed toward the workshop. I knew I was in trouble because Sonny Whitmore never fooled around with the likes of me, unless it was very serious. I knocked on the door.

"Come in."

Whitmore sat at his big ebony desk and glared at me from behind a huge cigar. He took it out and waved it at me.

"You sure fucked things up royally, Fontenot."

"Yes sir," I looked around the office for some place to sit, but there was none. "I thought I was going to flip over."

"What I should do is stick your butt in jail," he threatened, but I knew he couldn't do anything to me like that. I had been working for him, and it was an accident. "But I'm not going to. I'm going to make you work for every penny you cost this company." I wasn't too sure about that. Maybe he could.

"Do you know how much you cost this company?" I shook my head. "Over two hundred thousand dollars so far." My knees buckled.

"Don't you have insurance?"

"You insolent little bastard. Of course, we have insurance, but how long do you think they will stay with us if we present them with accidents like this? Christ almighty, boy. We had to call a special team in from Texas to cap the damn thing. They worked all night and just finished this morning." Whitmore leaned back in his chair. It groaned its discontent. He was a huge man, tall, and fat. "Well, answer me boy. How long do you think it's going to be before that insurance company raises my rates?"

"Not long, I guess." I was trying not to say too much. I didn't see any sense in making him angrier than he was.

"Finally, you're talking some sense. I have a letter in front of me that specifically says that my insurance rates are about to double. They couldn't even wait for the regular mail—a messenger dropped it off this morning before I even got here. That's how anxious they are." Whitmore leaned forward, and the chair groaned. He glared at me, his bushy gray eyebrows arched over two fiery bloodshot eyes. "You are the cause of that increase, boy. You are going to pay dearly. You are going to work your butt off from morning to night. You are mine." He pushed his cigar in my face, so close, I gagged on the smoke and the stench.

My head reeled. I did not want to go back to boardroading—dusk to dawn in the stifling heat or freezing cold, up to my ankles in mud, snakes and all sorts of bugs, sore muscles in the evening, sore muscles in the morning, and in my case, my already tiny paycheck was going to get tinier. I couldn't let that happen, but I didn't want to go to jail either. Then I had an idea. Whitmore couldn't touch me if I was in the service.

"Mr. Whitmore," I said, trying to sound as sincere as I could. "I"m real sorry about that accident, but it was an accident, sir. I did not intentionally set out to blow up the well. I would really like to help you pay your insurance increase, but I'm afraid I won't be able to, sir." Whitmore jumped up from his chair, as if blown out of it. I didn't give him a chance to take his cigar out of his mouth. "I've been drafted, Mr. Whitmore," I said, backing away from his desk. "Uncle Sam wants me."

"What?" he bellowed, but he did not advance.

"I've been drafted, Mr. Whitmore. They want me to go to the army."

Whitmore surprised me. He started laughing, a deep, jolly, enjoyable laugh. I grinned.

"Well, I'll be damned," he said, once he caught his breath. "I was going to make your life pure hell, boy, but the army can do that good enough for me. Get your little butt out of my office and off my property." I turned around and started for the door. "And boy." I stopped with my hand on the knob.

"Yes sir?"

"Next time I see you, if I ever see you, you damn well better salute me."

"Yes, sir." I almost ran out of his office building, and since no one offered me a ride home, I thumbed again.

I was beginning to hate my life.

Prologue: The Three Indians

Prologue: The Three Indians The frozen winter wind rattled the windows of our shack. We all sat in a semi-circle around the fireplace. My...