Four Times

I’m not saying John was a perfect man, because he wasn’t. When he went to Afghanistan, he assured us it would be fun to kill something more dangerous than a deer. When he came home the first time, it was obvious that it hadn’t been.

We all saw he was trying to atone for something—buying Laurie that house, all the toys for their son. I always saw it as an attempt to balance the scales. He had done something so wrong over there, but he was going to do exactly right here.

Then he went back. This was hard for all of us to understand. But he told me once that he couldn’t stop thinking about the other guys who were still there. Who was watching their backs?

While he was gone the second time, Derek moved into the house John bought Laurie.  For a while, none of us told him, but then I got to feeling uneasy about it. Hey, man, I emailed him. I’ve got some hard news. They broke up over Skype.

When he got home, he had a hard time of it. Being back here was boring, he said, which was both a relief and not. He had a hard time sleeping soundly, because he didn’t have anyone nearby sitting up with a gun. He was nervous around his kid. That was the hardest part. I never want him to be like me, he emailed me. When I see how much he loves me, it scares me that he will be. That he’ll want to grow up to be just like me. What do you say to that? I sure as fuck don’t know. I always thought—and I still do—that John was a good man. But when a man can’t see the truth about himself, no one can show it to him.

Eventually, he started seeing Becky. Nothing serious, just a little sweetness every once in a while. He still wasn’t sure he deserved any happiness, so he was taking it slow.

This is the part I don’t get, this next part. My wife tells me it’s because I’ve never understood women. But when I ask her if she’d ever do this to someone she loved, to someone, remember, that she cheated on while he was away, she says “no.” I believe her. I’ve known her since we were in third grade. I think I understand people just fine. I don’t understand Laurie.

It started out small. Well, not small. It started out plausible. Laurie told everyone that when John had come by to get the kid, they’d had a fight and he shoved her. Not cool. But she assured everyone that she wasn’t going to call the cops, because she knew he had problems. We were all grateful for that. It’s so fucked up, he emailed me. That didn’t happen. We didn’t fight at all. She was nicer than she’d been in a while. But I didn’t really believe him.

She said she was nervous about him seeing the kid and all of us could see why. She asked me if there was a way she could keep him away, and I said she’d have to go to court and get the visitation arrangement changed. For some reason, she didn’t want to get lawyers involved. This seemed weird to me. After all, if it’s your kid’s safety, you do what it takes. But she just wanted us to tell him that we thought he should stay away. Some of the other guys did and you should have seen how much it crushed him. It was like she was trying to take his kid and his friends away from him.

“Do what the judge told you to do until the judge tells you different,” I said to him.

A few weeks later, she got him fired. She called down to his work and told his boss that she was his ex-wife and that she heard him talking about shooting up the place. Not just talking. Planning to do it.

Now, you’d think that this would have turned more of the gang against him, but he spent a lot of time with us. He told us shit men don’t tell just anybody. He’d never mentioned any problems at work. But more than that, the last two times he’d seen his son, Laurie’d dropped the kid off at her mom’s and John had picked him up there after she was gone. When, exactly, had she seen him to hear about this plot?

Not three weeks later, she was in before the judge complaining that John was behind on his child support. Well, yeah, because he didn’t have a job, because you got him fired. But I noticed she didn’t say shit to the judge about being afraid of having the kid with John. After all, he really had missed a child support payment.

Then Becky had four flat tires. Which was weird enough in itself. They hadn’t been slashed. The shop didn’t find any leaks. Someone had deliberately let the air out of her tires. But then she noticed that her whole car had been sprinkled with dried leaves of some sort. And it smelled like someone had peed on it. Then the car started dying whenever she tried to drive it faster than 45. She’d be trying to get up on the interstate and all of a sudden she’d be trying to steer a brick out of traffic. Mechanic couldn’t find anything wrong with it. And it wouldn’t do it for him, though he could sit in the passenger’s seat and see it die when she drove.

“Ma’am,” he said, already kind if laughing, so he could play it off as a joke if what he said wasn’t going to go over well. “I think someone jinxed your car.” Becky, at first, did laugh at it. But when John woke up one day and he couldn’t see and the doctor tried to write it off as all in his head, Becky started to wonder if the mechanic wasn’t on to something. And, of course, Becky had a suspect in mind.

I hunted around and found the name of a guy down near Shelbyville who could, they said, break any curse. I had to drive them to him. Obviously.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess something like in a movie—a run-down old house, a line of superstitious clients outside the door, an old guy with no teeth and eyes that looked like they were focused on the spirit world and not on you.

But the address was for a really nice, large new brick house out on a good piece of land. When we drove up, three of the most beautiful coondogs you’ve ever seen were chasing a kid around an enormous back yard. We went into a clean, well-lit kitchen and waited for this guy.

“Hi, you must be John. I’m Skip,” the guy said as he entered the kitchen. He went right to John. He held out his hand, but then reached to John to guide their hands together. Skip stood straight as a board, his legs slightly apart. When he saw me looking at him, he smiled warmly. “First Gulf War.”

He examined John and Becky like a doctor might. He shined a small light in John’s eyes, took Becky’s pulse, listened intently to how they breathed. Then he took out a pocket watch at the end of a long chain and let it hang in front of him. When it stopped moving, he slowly brought it closer first to John and then to Becky. As it approached each of them, it swung widely and spun as if someone had knocked into it.

“Yep,” he said, “You’ve been bewitched. The bad news is that she’s angry and really motivated to try to screw you up. The good news is that she’s not very good at it.”

“This is ‘not very good’?”  John said, motioning to his eyes. But I heard something like relief in his voice.

“We can fix that right up,” Skip said. He rummaged through his cabinets and came up, finally, with two clear marbles. “Come on over to the sink.” He guides John. He spoke some words over the marbles and then he put them in John’s hand. Skip turned the water on and squirted some dishsoap over the marbles. “Go on and give them a wash.”

“Still can’t see,” John said.

“Well, it’s magic, son,” Skip said. “It works in its own time. But it’ll work.” Skip then took out a pair of kitchen shears and began cutting all around Becky. “I’ll give you a little silver amulet to ward off the rest,” he said. “But this works to cut away big chunks of bad intentions.”

“What are we going to do about her?” Becky said.

“Well, I’ll tell you. I feel for her,” Skip said. “Just based on what you told me about her on the phone and what I can sense in the magic she’s working, she feels like you left her first, but she’s the bad guy for cheating.”

“And getting the man fired,” I pointed out.

“Well, it’s gotten out of hand, for sure, but I see how she’s ended up here and how she could be set right,” Skip said.

“I doubt that’s possible,” Becky said.

“Here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll fix each of you up a charm to wear.” The charm turned out to be four small circular mirrors glued together in a pile, each shiny side facing the same way. “She’s still going to be able to get you,” Skip explained. “Because I want her to know what’s going on, how her work is backfiring on her. So, she’s got to see that she’s doing to herself what she’s doing to you. So, it’s going to still be unpleasant for a while. But these mirrors will reflect back on her four times what she’s doing to you.”

By the time he was done making up the charms, John’s eyesight was coming back. By the time we got home, the wrecker was pulling up in front of Laurie’s house because her car would not move. John got another job, working with one of the gang, and Laurie called again to say that he was dangerous and violent and I’ll be damned if her mom and three of her aunts didn’t call her work to say the same about her.

I could see she was pissed about it. Everything she tried, it just went worse for her. So, finally, she pulled her last trick—when John was having visitation with his son, Laurie called the cops and claimed that John had beaten her up and taken the kid and was threatening to kill the kid and himself. She was determined to take from him the person he loved most.

Every cop in a three county area descended on the park where John and the boy were. The media with their cameras were not far behind. Guns drawn, kids screaming, people running from the park as fast as they could. John knelt in the soft grass, his hands behind his head, as ordered. The boy stood next to him, crying. The gal from DCS swooped in and grabbed the kid. She rushed for her car with the boy.

“Go, go, go,” the police man shouted at her. “Get that kid out of here.”

What could be worse than losing your kid to the state? Worse than having the cops called and the cameras catching it?

I would guess that what’s four times as bad as that is watching it all unfold on your local station, feeling like you won, and then, in the background, hearing a crash. All the cameras swivel to the sound of new screaming. And there in the intersection is the gal from DCS, struggling to get out of her car, which has just been t-boned on the passenger side. Watching her limp back to the car, try to get into the back seat, and then watching her sink to the ground because no one in that back seat can be saved.

I would bet that would be four times as bad—knowing you set that in motion.

But Laurie never said.

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And I Have a Cold

I can’t even be mad about it. It’s just one more ridiculous thing. Plus, I just don’t think you can put your body through “Here’s bad news. Here’s good news. Here’s a death and burial. Here’s some exciting crap!” and not have your body be all “And here’s something to knock you off your feet for a few days.” I’m reading a story at the East Nashville Boofest this afternoon. If you’re there, come on by. The other storytellers seem like they’re going to be awesome, too. We’ve been encouraged to wear a costume, but I just didn’t feel well enough yesterday to go buy one.

I’m pleasantly surprised to find that “Bad Maddy” is, so far, the most widely read of the witch stories. I definitely thought that was one of the better ones in the bunch, but I wouldn’t have put it among my favorites. Still, it’s gotten some nice link love and spread far and wide. That’s really cool.

I’m debating whether to put a border on the black, white, and gray afghan when the time comes. I’m also worried that I’m not going to have enough red yarn to finish sewing it together. But I am loving it. I really hope Jess likes it, too. But I am so pleased with how it’s turning out.