Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mucous train like a snail

Inspired by the last day of August, a freewriting exercise . . . choose a line from a book, eyes closed, and just write, working up to the line.

The Dog of the South—Charles Portis, p. 124

“The old man left a mucous train behind him like a snail.”

“Maveen! Maveen!” he shouted, “get down here and find me a switch so I can beat your scrawny ass.” Maveen and I were sitting on the roof again, trying to see if we could get a glimpse of the big cargo ships sailing up the channel toward the port in Baltimore. Maveen didn’t have a scrawny ass and soon as her daddy hollered for her to find a switch he’d forget what he was mad about. Everyone called her daddy Young Chester or Big C but he was neither young nor big. He was a runt of a man, old as the hills, and purely mean, but in his old age Big C forgot what made him so mean. Still, out of habit, he yelled and threatened Maveen just so he could blow off steam. Maveen said she wasn’t sure how old her daddy was but he lost his arm fighting in the big war and was a widower twice over when he married Maveen’s mother, Ada, who was only 16 at the time. We figured he had to be at least 50 years older than his teenaged bride. It was a big town scandal when Big C and Ada got married—a shotgun wedding no less. Big C gained the loud disapproval of the town’s women and the unspoken esteem of the town’s men. In a small town like that no one’s sins were kept secret. Maveen had a crush on a merchant marine who called himself Ace. Ace was working a big cargo ship out of Baltimore. Maveen had met him down at the beach early in the summer. She gave Ace a huge shark’s tooth—the pride of her daddy’s collection—just because he admired it so. He told her he would hang it on a chain around his neck, that it would be near his heart to keep remind him of her. Maveen ate up that sweet talk. She was sure she was in love. Ace sent her occasional postcards from ports in Africa and he promised he was going to see her as soon as he got back to Baltimore. He wrote that he would be back sometime in late summer, so around about the first of August she made me sit with her for hours, scanning the bay for the cargo ship that she was certain she would recognize. Just before Labor Day I was sure that all the waiting and pacing and sitting on the roof had finally made her crazy. She swore that one of those big ships—the one with the big orange stripe on the hull—was Ace’s ship. She said he flashed her some sort of signal from the deck. I couldn’t talk any sense into her and I couldn’t convince her to wait until she heard from Ace. She insisted that he was in port and she was going to get to him before she had to wait one minute longer. She grabbed a six-pack of National Bohemians and a bucket of ice and sat them at the feet of her daddy who was sitting on the back porch. He chuckled and said, “You do something wrong, Maveen? You trying to make up to me for something?” She said, “No, Daddy, not at all. I just thought you looked thirsty.” He drained one after the other and his head began to nod just as the sun slipped behind the pine trees. She grabbed the keys off the hook in the kitchen and headed for her daddy’s truck in the side yard. Big C was old and drunk and had just one arm but he caught up with her before she could get the truck into drive. He jumped off the porch and reached through the truck window and grabbed the steering wheel. “Just where you think you’re going, missy?” Big C didn’t know that Maveen was as strong as he was and nearly as mean. She pushed the door open as hard as she could, smashing her daddy in the face and knocking him to the ground. She floored the ignition and flew down the driveway, spewing gravel in her wake. He pulled himself out of the dirt and hobbled after the truck in vain. The old man left a mucous train behind him like a snail.

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