Fiction #1: An Olde Folk Song by Griffin Sherbert

An Olde Folk Song

by Griffin Sherbert

This is R.R. speaking. This is the sound of my voice. Don’t get skittish or spooked: the bark is far less worse than the bite. I’m speaking to you, you who are left because…… well because I can’t remember. So I’m gonna speak to it, and to you, because I can and because I will. This is my aces and eights. No double down. No warring. I give it up softly and ask for nothing in return.

 

—You bring a bottle home?

—Little rock? You here?

—In here. You bring a bottle home like I toldja?

—Hey… no I didn’t. There’s a show going on down at—

—Dammit Nance. I toldja fifty fucking times today to bring a bottle home.

—…I’m sorry, I—

—Fifty fucking times like fucking clockwork to bring a bottle home, and whaddayu do?

—…
—Well?

—I didn’t bring a bottle home.

—…

—There’s this show down the way—

— I ain’t going…

—…

—…

—Fine.

Magill leaves R.R. collapsed in his corner armchair, smoking his 18th cigarette of the day and stinking like it was his twentieth; the dark back section of the Dakota Double Wide stewing like the effluvium haze of some prehistoric cave, held static and immovable in a cursed delirium. She went into the bedroom section of what she self-consciously called their bedroom, and fell face first onto the musky bed. She began to cry and wish her life was different than it was now, here, with her face down on the musky bed, in the dark cave with the dark cave man. She remembers when R.R. was thin and kind. When he used to be a cowboy at the AppleWood ranch and smiled but only especially for her (or so she thought). He used to get his old guitar down and hold her softly in his hands, caress its gentle neck, and sing dryly and lonesome about some place he didn’t know about, but that of course was before everything changed.

R.R. puffs heavily on his 19th cigarette, a pile of beer cans resting at his side, one that explained the beer gut he had; a gut that screamed for a wife beater and a sweaty comb over but instead was dressed in flannel and coated with the familiar sheen known as ‘lack of hygiene.’ R.R. had been a star once. He had once known the junkie’s itch at a well-earned applause; that rising climbing inkwell of disgusting black tar satisfaction manifest in gooseflesh euphoria. He had risen to the highest position a regional folklore entertainer can rise to (don’t get caught up, he didn’t have much)—He had it all. Different cowgirl every night; some nights two if the air was right. Times was good. R.R. had been happy. So happy in fact that he let himself slip. He fell for this Irish girl—Magill—a plum young thing, here from abroad, who could drink and yell with the best of them. R.R., and most everybody else that knew her, called her Nancy.

Magill sat up on the bed and wiped her eyes red. She noticed her flushed face in the mirror and felt herself flinch upon seeing the broken handle (the handle recently broken by R.R.).

—Lill, poor poor Lill.

She goes closer to the mirror for a split second before turning around, looking teary-eyed through a bag of freshly bought Friday Night clothes and over a psychedelic-pink flyer that reads:

W.P.O.A. PRESENTS: THE QUERYMEN!

15 AUGUST 1968 9PM—? BLACKHILLS, S.D.

The Querymen were a folkband that used to play in the saloon at the Apple Wood Ranch, but had since moved on to a wide variety of failing roadside attractions and saloons after the place lost business following R.R.’s incident with the management, and the alleged affairs from both sides of the fight that preceded it.

Magill applied a fresh layer of batter-like makeup to her rosy flesh and slipped into the painfully new tight white dress she had bought from the Second Chance Department Store® earlier that afternoon. After many grunts and sighs and prayers she got the zipper up under her arm and heard R.R. stirring in the other section.

—NANCY!

—…What?

—‘tha fuck are you doing in there?

—Going.

—Goen where?

—To that show, that I was trying to talk to you about before, when you were too distracted

—What show?

—The show down at Richy’s.

—Why?

—Cuz I fuckin feel like it, alright? Cuz I fucking do.

Magill grabbed her purse and left, wiping her eyes and forgetting her keys, and not once looking over at R.R. who for the first time in 9 years actually cared about where she was going.

 

Inside Richy’s rural bar slash makeshift gambling area, Dan Fletcher sat drinking with his band, The Querymen; this being P.C. (PrizeClaw) on bass, Connie on drums, and King on keys, at table seven; all arguing simultaneously without concurrent thread about their next shithole destination and place of uncomfortable lodging that they would eventually have to make it to.

—We could always go to Dexter’s.

—Like fuck we could. Not if Vi’s still waiting.

—Red queen.

—No shit.

—Whooooooeeee, tha things I’d do to get to see her—

—No.

—But Fletch—

—We ain’t fucking going.

—…

Michelle, Richy’s lone and overworked waitress, silently sidles over to table seven to collect the empty bottles and napkins, crumpled and damp from sweaty man fists. Fletcher and the others don’t even notice her as she expertly extricates the various articles of waste in between the swerving hand gestures of the drunken white men.

—We shoulda just stayed in Oaxaca. Tequila was cheaper. Dope was too. Women don’t know ya. Better looking too. Ones round here’re only good for a poke’n’run.

Michelle knew what those were. Poke and Run’s were a technique that Fletcher had used and acted like he fucking invented the idea—of getting close then getting far away—walking around like no one had ever done it before; the flirtation, lust, intercourse, and then, the quick twilight escape. Poke and Run’s were quite common for Fletcher. He had, and continued to have, them often. Though he never knew it, three sons bore his blood—two lived guessing, one died searching.

Two miles away amongst the hills and brush, R.R. hiccups in breath and in step along Stave Slate Creek (its name less ironic and much more truthful than you’d be tempted to reckon with), drunk-talking to himself in penitently dumb derision—— I should get mah gun. I shud fucking git mah gun and fucking blower fucking head off. Hell, she’s asking for it. She been fluting and tooting too too long for me to sit idly. Like I fucking wud, just sitting here being a fucking asshole cuz some bitch got the nerve to fucking walk on me’an my dreams? No. Nuh uh. Fuck it. Imma goen down to that fuck pit and make her sorry ass look like the goddamn fool that she herself, fucking knows that she herself, fucking is. I is a cowboy as I is a man as I, as I as i… and so forth and so fuck it.

 

            Magill enters Richy’s softly. The wind sits back about a half step behind her and heads don’t need to turn to know who it is. She feels herself shimmer against the dark hum of the incandescent light. She is a drop of cream in a dark urn of coffee—the first snowflake on a bearskin rug—a white rose petal laying threedee on a dead wooden box. Connie sees her.

—Fletch, Nance just walked in.

—Behind me?

—…

—Fuck I don’t wanna see her. Not her. Not right fucking now.

—She looks different. Pretty sorta.

—Aw shuddup Connie—

—Wait, wudderyu saying?

—‘juz sayin she looks a little kind of pretty is all.

—She’s wearing a white dress, Fletch.

—I mean I ain’t sayin she’s looking knock out pretty or nothing—

—Shut up, Connie. Where she at, P.C.?

—7 o’clock, corner pocket.

Fletcher turns his head toward the door and sees Nancy standing by the bar and doesn’t recognize her or at least pretends he can’t recognize her at first cause of his own damn dumb insecurity. He kept looking though, and slowly began to see her. She wasn’t that dumb Irish girl he thought he knew her to be, or at least thought he remembered her being. She was light now; some born-again fantasy put together with cloud-soft dreams and a pinch of technicolor desire. He watched her as she laughed uncomfortably at something gross some old bar hound said to her—too close, drunk close—causing her to throw her head back and catch eyes with him, Fletcher, dead on.

The Dwindlin’ Hours, a nondescript regional folk-pop band, play on a tiny cage-locked stage, fully equipped with shock- and splash-guards from many a previous mishap in the past. They play a scratchy ballad, making sounds like a tawny pack of screech owls might; the tone and rhythm drawing Magill forward into the dense seating area, unaccompanied and alone. She sits down silently; heart and knees affixed in mimetic harmony. Fletcher watches her through the sounds. He sees her legs shimmer, how her thighs, with a cross, could enchant like intricate shapes in interlocked motion. Fletcher tears back a shot, silently stands, and walks over. He sits down next to her, and at first, to everyone’s surprise, she doesn’t notice him. Magill is lost in the music and can’t be bothered by old names, histories, or faces. She was Lill…—she didn’t say now though, cause she knew that there was no such thing—just Lill. There was no more Nancy.

—Hey you’re Nancy, right?

—Pardon?

—It’s Dan.

—Sorry. I ain’t too good with names or faces.

—Hadn’t you and me seen each other before? maybe at the Apple Wood a while back?

—…maybe. I’ve been around.

—…

—…

—Man, I know that I know you… Diyu‘member that one night, down at Lucy’s by the crick?

—…

—Well shit, I guess if there ain’t water in the well—

—Fletcher?

—Yeah, well—it’s mostly Dan, nowadays.

—Nice to meetcha Dan Nowadays. My name’s Lill.

—Lil, huh? Never heard it. Well, my band’s up next. You should give us a listen. We ain’t all bad.

—Sounds good.

The Querymen then get on and into the cage-like stage, doing the kinda thing they do, where they plug in and turn on and make alotta noise, but still try and act aloof, yet all the while cool enough to seem as though they don’t recognize or can’t be bothered by the highly interested audience that is drunk and getting drunker on the mere presence of the band, staring at them through the mesh wire fence like a snarling pack of wolves demanding either calm or chaos from the tone of the lyre.

Magill watches Dan throw the strap up around his neck, the deep red stained wood leaping out through the light. She gets real lost in his eyes, staring out into the black crackle yawn of the audience, and remembers him exactly from that three years ago at Lucy’s when the two made love against a white birch near the crick, after R.R. had drunkenly stumbled off to somewhere unknown. Tonight’s air had a similar hitch and made Magill shiver with something foreign, and at the same time all too understood.

 

 

 

R.R. enters Richy’s loudly, as per usual, and garners not one look in his direction from the well-versed patrons. He had ditched the last dregs from his pint of stolen, stashed, then recently found again Beam, outside the bar, and was five-sheets-pushin-six before routinely entering and bellying up to the bar, dolefully staring at the hunkered back of Hank—the friday night bartender.

R.R. looks around Richy’s and thinks ‘Dum Slut,’ when he sees Magill sitting by her lonesome at a small, circular two-top, near the cage with the band. Hank brings R.R. his beer and tells him that, he didn’t know he was comin in today, and that the band up playing now’s called The Querymen, and that this morning prior his new born calf came under to a bout of pneumonia and had to be shot, and also that it might get colder this week but at least they’d be eaten veal.

From within the cage, Dan gives the eyes to Lill for one of those hot second possibility explosions that can happen between lonely people in lonely places. The Querymen were all checked and tuned, tight from drink and getting twitched from nerves and maybe a good hunk of speed taken with too little water from a coupla dirty cupped hands under a faucet streaked with green mold.

—Les’ getter cookin boys

­—pewpew     pewpew

—Keep it light Con, don’t make me fuckin slam it.

—You got it boss.

—‘gitter cookin

The Querymen were not a particularly good band, but, for what they lacked in talent and natural artistry, boylike charm and foolish pride they had in aces. Their song was campy and jangly sounding; broken and dumb-happy. It would get going, then slip, drip and drag, or fumble back on itself like intestinal pain. Dan shifted the song’s tempo willy-nilly, from timidly driving to blindly laconic; sheepishly crooning then suddenly crashing into anthemic, out-of-tune blaring.

Magill hears it different though. Her ears cut through the general noise and static. She swings in her chair to the old-timey rhythm, her dress feeling less tight and warm as the whiskey runs through her. Her eyes never leave Dan’s and (like she does) she gets real lost and dreamy in the mesh-grated sounds.

 

So, while all this is going on, from atop his butt-worn barstool, R.R. glares with inebriated hate at the back of Magill’s provincial head, muttering dumb curses and slurred incantations the likes of which he hopes can maybe make her numb head straight up combust and explode, leaving only the void of a once-head. He gulps down the lukewarm remainder of his beer and cricks his finger at Hank for another, when out of nowhere he feels a warm hand on his shoulder. He turns around to see but no ones there. Just empty space full of people. Across the bar, R.R. sees Michelle. In a blur he turns back round and tries to unsee and unthink what he just saw and is currently thinking—her dark face and deep brown eyes, smooth and worn like well loved wood in his memory—but knows all too well that no amount of drinking or cursing can ever really stop what comes naturally to a person.

The Querymen finish and pack up, while some other sweaty honky-tonk quartet prepares to inhabit the cage. Magill moves to stand without thinking or hearing or really caring even, but becomes from a sudden nowhere, in motion and being, like the first sights and sounds of day, right in front of Dan.

—Dan… You were incredible.

—Thanks. You made it easy.

—…

—So, Lil?

—…

—Wudja wanna throw back a few? maybe see where this night takes us?

—Yes. I do.

Dan and Lill are so lost in each other they don’t hear the deafening crack of a wooden stool hitting the floor, mixed with the half-hearted cheers or jeers from a few odd barflies, showing either lustful attraction or misplaced hunger for the fallen R.R. He slowly gets up and spies Nancy’s legs and feet through the post-show forest of legs and feet, and sees that she keeps floating up on her tippy toes and then back down again in rhythm, and can’t understand why she’s doing that and why he ain’t ever seen her do that before. How R.R.’s still conscious at this point is anyone’s guess, but he does think this, and maybe wonders too, a little bit scared like even, about who or what she’s talking to and subsequently making her do that. R.R. sits heavy again on his stool; the thoughts and feelings cutting him quick from the inside out; sweating, probably bleeding, when all the sudden, he feels again a warm hand on his shoulder.

—Well spit on it and slip it in! That ole R.R. Sassoon I see?

—Huh? Aww fuck me.

—The famous’n’dangerous R.R. Sassoon! Back in the Black Hills, I see.

—Ain’t back, never left.

—Yea? Shore didn’t forget howta drink I see. Goddamn R.R. Whatcha been up to these days?

—Fletcher for fuck’s sake leave me—

—It’s Dan, nowadays.

—Whoopdee fuckeroo Fletch. Tell it to the wind. Just get the fuck outta my face before I find my mind and beat the shit outta yur fuckin grin.

—Ho ho! Man oh man, same ole R.R. Sassoon: ignorant and violent as they come…. You see Lill here tonight?

—Doen knower. Getcher hand off my shoulder.

—I’m tellin ya, boy—she is looking tight in all the right places.

—Fletcher, get the fuck out of my-

—And you just know that she’s wearing that white dress as an act. Under that satin sheet, word is she ain’t nuthin but a pin-cushion.

—Whosis Lill?

—That fine stack over there.

—That’s Nancy.

—Not according to her. She says she’s Lill now.

—I don’t give two fucks what she says, Fletch. Her name’s Nancy. Everybody know that.

—I don’t know that…—Wait a sec… aww hell, R.R.—didn’t you used give it to her or sumthin? way back when, when we was all at the Apple Wood?

—Never stopped.

—Eeyeesh… Well, you mind if I give her a spin? Cause I’ll be honest, she’s ripe and split wide open tonight, and if you ain’t got any objections—

R.R. didn’t think but felt something inside him click. His body lunged forward, arms swinging wildly, only to instantly get caught in the tight grip of Fletcher, whose heart, too, was cookin’ something sinister. The two remained locked for a breathless instant; the time kinda slowed; Fletcher’s smile tearing open wide, ripped and rabid, threatening the elasticity of his cheeks. He had been waiting for this moment since R.R. had gotten him and the rest of the staff fired from the Apple Wood Ranch those nine years ago, prior. This was American justice; the correct kind of fate, and Fletcher was ready to perform.

As the closing circle of patrons naturally formed around R.R. and Fletcher, Michelle looked on from the corner of the saloon, knowing full well what was bound to happen, and felt relief, if only slightly, that the lighting was dim and no one would be able to see her cry.

 

I knew it wasn’t right to fall in love with a man like that. Me being who I am, and he being who he was—but it was hard. Everything round here and most everywhere else is the same thing, same way, every damn day. Same looks. Same jeers on the street. Same white, nameless, faceless faces spreading hate on the exhaust of their getaway cars. But then there was him. He was different. Kinda dumb and dope-ish. Said his name was R.R. Sassoon and that he was a cowboy.

            I didn’t really get why he was talking to me at first. White folks don’t ever really talk to us black folks, up here in the hills, and if they do, I always feel like they’re talkin at me, not to me, like I was some kinda dog. Some wildass animal that they know they’re afraid of but still gotta pretend to seem stern to and brave towards. Cause if they don’t, and start treating me like I was people too, I might learn to bite. And if I ever learned to bite; that I had razor sharp fangs to pop all those wobbly, ridiculous balloon heads;— believe me, I really, really would.

            But he was different. He just talked to me. Asked me my name and what I called myself. I told him my name’s Michelle, and then he said something that he said was French, and then said that it meant ‘beautiful,’ and I tell ya: it made me glow inside—grow inside until I felt like I would burst. He called me, Mi, for short. Mi. It took the air right outta my chest, and even kept on ringing in my ears after, without sound. It’s like what I’ve always called myself for years and never even knew it. He said my name, and for the first time it rang clear and true. Being me felt possible, like I could go beyond what everybody else had already decided was my final fucking note. I could be Mi. His Mi. Me

 

  1.                                    

Dan holds R.R.’s ragdoll body still for a moment, and tries to see fear in his eyes. But alas, when no fear comes, he cocks his arm back and decks R.R. square in the eye. The patrons of Richy’s Bar and Saloon instantly shut up and stand, en masse, in the wobbly stillness of drunken attention. All eyes fall on Dan Fletcher. He slowly walks over to the heavy breathing mound of flesh that once was Rocky R. Sassoon. A gasp might’ve escaped from the back of the crowd; some lone pitying soul, watching all this tragically unfold. But even if one did, no one there could’ve really heard it. What everyone did hear was laughing. It almost sounded like singing, if you could’ve heard it right. But whatever it was; it was coming out of R.R.—the sound limply moving between the lines in the air, making the little hairs go straight under everybody’s collar.

Dan goes over and stomps the ground hard by R.R.’s head, so hard that his boot’s large heel punches through a rotten floorboard of Richy’s Saloon and gets thoroughly stuck. After a brief shocked silence, R.R.’s laughter doubles in volume and veracity and echoes off the wooden walls of the saloon, multiplying into a chorus of giggling ghosts that surround the primal scene. After freeing his boot, Dan ignores the tears that are beginning to crowd the corners of his eyes and kicks R.R. hard in the gut, telling him to stop bawlin; slammin his steeltoe, with a kind of blind energy, into R.R’s side. But his laughing doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets louder and more resonant with each kick to Rocky’s gut, like a choked engine in the dead cold. The surrounding crowd grows tense; bodies upon bodies packed in tight together, real close, as shouts for death and mercy mix into animalistic barking.

At the climax of the chaos, quicker than anyone there can imagine, Dan mounts the laughing R.R. and relentlessly begins to pound the life out of his face. More than a few mouths hang agape as his fists senselessly go to work; blood flecking on the floor and across the bottoms of some patrons’ pants, destroying the meat of his cheeks, lips, and nose; like hammers trying to drive nail through stone. R.R. only quit laughing after Dan, in a blurry moment of motion, grabbed R.R.’s bleeding, bleating head, and crushed it—hard and fast—three times against the floor of Richy’s Bar and Saloon… whack—ahwhack—whack…

The circle tightened in silence around the two. Noise like rattling change now crept out of the glistening pulp that used to be R.R.’s face. Dan gets up shaky, not sweating but panting, and wipes his bloody, broken hands on R.R.’s shirt; spitting on his barely breathing body before coldly exiting, eyes glazed and unfocused into the unbreathable silence that followed him. Breaking the circle of the crowd, Dan walks back towards the cage, grabbing both his guitar and Magill, and leaves silently out the rear door.

 

  1.                                    

Maybe im just one of them cold, god-fearing men; one that cant catch a break or take a hike. Honest—i try to be people, but it seems whenever, to me, im being people, everybody else is tellin me, really, i aint. I don’t givva great fuck about any peoples color or mother tongue or way it was or where it could be goin or all them other maybe-could-be-might-bees. People to me is just people. Folks is always just fucking folks. Aint nothing different bout any one of em, cept where they are and where they been. All my life people always been trying to tell me something different. They tell me that people have fates in life, set roles and a goddamn heavenly purpose. But that aint right, hell, that ain’t even it at all. People is just people. Folks is just fucking folks. Some sing good. Some act good. Some look good and some watch good. But that aint a ruler. Shit, no man eatin steak with a lofty hobby and a drawer fulla ideas. You git down to the grit and muck of each beast, and you see they just the same as everyone else that ever was and ever will be, and no mount of talking, or crying, or claiming is ever goen change that. Since from when whoever first gave this tumored rock its first breath, it aint ever been any different. Each one of us is just trying to stay alive long enuf till that one day we can say we got it all figured out. Somehow wull see whats truely beyond the eyes, somethin true true and true, way bigger then the little nothings our colors and shapes be. No more trying. No more laughter. Just panting beasts in the throes of the unknown, without thought or word to cling to—just fuckin being. Not one of us done it yet. I dont spect i see it soon……. Man, i wish i was black

Don’t say that.

It’s true, I do.

No you don’t.

Trust me, Mi—

Hilarious

What?

It ain’t funny saying you wish you was a different color then the one you gotta be.

I wish I was though. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to know why I hurt so. Way now is, I know full too well what wearies me, and there ain’t any wishing er praying that could stop the start of my unchosen tickin.

…Wut?

Being black or white don’t hurt no more than you let it, Rock. Both us folks gotta work and both us folks don’t wanna die. It’s simple.

Speak fur yourself, Mi.

Psssh, if I got to get a do over and come back new; it wouldn’t matter what color I was. Black, white, some kind of beautiful in between. To me, it don’t matter. Cuz if I come back, I tell you what boy, you betta believe I’m coming back as a man!

Wut!?

You heard me.

Are you outta your head girl?

A BIG man.

Kinda fucking crazy talk is that? Whachu wanna be a fucking man for?

…Wut?…naw…

Uh-huh…

naw…cmon now.

You know.

Fuck am I doin splitting sheets widda goddamn looney bird.

And I’d want IT to be big, too.

Stop.

A huge, veiny, purple muthafuckin monolith!

Jesus Michelle, enough.

Hold it like Dick Allen before he cracks a homer into outer space!

Fuck! Ce ne sont pas des mots qui vont bien ensemble. Mais hélas, je te aime encore.

Wait, wait—I don’t know what that means.

Nobody does baby. It’s French.

What’re you suppose to call the person that you love, but can’t say it in words?

Why do you always gotta play the fool Rock?

What do ya mean?

Why do you always gotta play so dumb? You know it don’t really matter what you call a person. Man, lover, woman, baby, nigga, sir. They’re all just words. Words that matter nothing cept the matter you give em. They’re just shapes, shapes like people, people like ideas, and any old person can want to make them special and true, but I’ll tell ya somethin Rock—shapes ain’t never had a soul. That’s something only folks got. All folks. Black, white, red, brown. It don’t matter. All that matters is you treat people like people. All the rest can go around.

 

the invasive beam looking like a frozen pour of something blinding and immortal; transparent and yet sturdy; stuck and held perfect in its transitionlessness; hearing, but not feeling, the thuh-thud—thuh-thud—thuh-thud of his swollen eye; not knowing where he was, but realizing that he’d probably find out soon, and most likely already knew; hearing the faintly familiar sound of hiccupping, paired with the gasolinic-tinge of room temperature gin, R.R. was gradually becoming aware of his surroundings, and they were already making him feel sick.

            Suddenly, a body landed next to R.R., accompanied by the static discharge of crinkly medical-table paper, on the cot where he lay, and he desperately tried to think and understand what was going on, and what had previously happened, and what was soon going to happen, but his thoughts were all in different keys, all being inter-transposed at random without semblance of separation or connection. The sounds and smells of the gin-related something were now inching achingly closer to him, and he could almost say or remember why this all seemed familiar, but couldn’t.

—Man…hik You reely metcher match this time hik champ. That Fletcher, he hik he really cleaned your tightly-wound hik your tightly- hik your-ti hik… Suffice to say he kicked your ass eight ways to Sunday, Rock.

R.R. knew it was Dr. Roberts at this point, and was trying to say and thinking to say, that he needed Michelle, and all this could be better if he just had Mi, but his saying wasn’t happening, and when he tried to make sense of what the drunken doctor was saying, the words would flash and fade without becoming anything of meaning, and all R.R. could do was try, and keep trying, and still keep trying to speak, and say that it wasn’t all that bad, and that it weren’t nothing more than a scratch, and that all he needed was some time; but all the while he couldn’t say any of this and needed Michelle and there just was no time.

—I just can’t hik I just can’t even make sense of it, Rock. hik Whus all this hik whus all this hik for anyways? hik Huh?… hik Whatcha gotta go an let that punk mess hik mess you up so bad for? Stealing Nancy hik and the like from ya, and for what? hik Huh?… You coulda just lied, hik you know that, Rock? hik Do you know that? You shoulda just let that little hik that black hik that little black girl take the fall. Ranch woulda backed ya, you know hik no fucking doubt… hik… Stead, your laying here, droolin and bleedin all over my hik extrapolation table hik all over…I mean, look at this mess. All cuz you just had to go fall in love with some black girl and just hik just had to be diff—hik just had to do things your own damn way. Now yur all fuckin brain damaged and clinically dumb hik and all.

R.R. kept trying to say, but the sounds wouldn’t go, and his thoughts wouldn’t move, and he felt that if he stopped trying to say who he was, and why he was here, he’d lose it all forever. He thought of Michelle, he thought of kissing her backstage, late nights at the Apple Wood in the cascading purple sky. He thought of how he was happy with her before Fletcher saw them and tore everything apart. How she was something different, and how maybe, since she loved him, he was something different too. R.R. wanted to believe it, but then, if that were so, if he were really different; why did all this feel so much so the same?

—Goddamn Rock, can’t you just hik can’t you understand me? hik C’mon, don’t die in front of me, dammit. You gotta be able to keep it together. You gotta hik be able to tell your side of the story or everybody’s gonna let you pass by, Rock. hik You gotta remember so you can tell em hik remember and separate and distinguish the… hik Hell, if you caint understand it when I’m here tellin it to ya then how the fuck is anyone else goen to?… hik… Huh? hik… Fuckit. Guess yur just dum now. hik I knew getting you to understand why you’re a fuckin fool would be like trying to get a goddamn pony to understand fuckin Sanskrit.

R.R. stopped trying, stopped trying to say, because it was no use,—but yet, still he kept saying, and saying in his head long after the Doctor’s voice stopped making sense to his ears. He lay there, alone, bleeding, in a bed in an empty room at the flophouse Doc left him in cross the way; still trying to say, and to recognize, and to associate, and to separate; thinking out the whole ordeal from front to back or back to front or somewhere in between. But his thoughts were not parallel and wouldn’t line up. All chords were out of tune. All he could do was lie and wait, not saying and slowly losing touch, but still always saying, still saying in his head, so he didn’t forget his name or the reason why he stopped being able to say, just in case he should ever be able to say again—:not being able to say but still saying in his head—This is R.R. speaking. This is the sound of my voice.

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