Okay, We Couldn’t Do Nothing Spooky

I have two spooky things, one is not very good, but I like it. The other is very good, but I don’t like it. They both kind of deal with the same thing. One deals with Hell and the other deals with Andrew Jackson, so consider yourself fairly warned about the upsettingness of both pieces.

The Devil’s Dilemma

I went to Hell to see the Devil and to ask him if he’d heard the new David Rawlings album. We talk music pretty regularly. The Devil’s a big fan.

It’s pretty easy to get to Hell. Harder to get back.

Anyway, I get down there. I knock on the door and the little imp who answered said, “The Devil’s not here.” Behind the imp, in the main hallway, I saw huge towers of bottled water, stacked in pallets. Another imp was driving a forklift, moving more water into the hallway.

I must have had a weird look on my face, because the imp in the doorway said, “Oh, that’s all for Puerto Rico.”

“Aw, damn,” I said. “Poisonous.” Because, obviously, if the Devil sends you bottled water, it’s going to be bad, right?

“No, no,” the imp said. “It’s just normal water. We’ve been sending as much as we can get along with other supplies to the island. That’s where the Dark Lord is now, helping.”

“Helping,” I asked “or ‘helping?’” I made air quotes with my fingers.

“Go see for yourself.”

The imp stepped aside and let me in. He led me down a long hall full of doors and when we got to a bright blue one, he opened it and indicated I should go through. I did and there I was, deep in the tropical forest, exhausted people before me trying to clear enormous trees from the washed out roadway.

“Hold on, Juan!” The Devil shouted. An old man, with a battered straw hat who had been struggling with a large limb turned to the voice. I did, too.

There was the Devil, lean and handsome, shirtless, but in impossibly clean linen pants, lifting a whole tree by himself, and tossing it out of the way. He brushed his hands together and headed towards Juan. As he passed by me, he winked and grinned slyly.

I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Poor Juan. No good came come from having the Devil’s attention.

But that slick old Devil just walked over to the old man, grabbed another part of the sprawling limb, and together they dragged it out of the road.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I pitched in. If any of the people clearing the road were surprised by my sudden appearance, they were too exhausted to show it. Gracias. That’s all I heard from them repeatedly. Gracias.

All day, until it was too dark to see what we were doing, the Devil worked hard, side-by-side with the people in the road, clearing debris. No sick joke, no unanticipated dark turn, no last-minute disaster to heap on misery. Just good, hard work standing shoulder to shoulder with people who needed the help.

Did they know he was the Devil?

I don’t know. They said ‘gracias’ to him, too.

He took me to a late dinner in Las Vegas and afterward, we went to a nearby hospital. He fluffed pillows and held scared people’s hands. He didn’t say “It’s going to be okay” or “God has a plan” or “Things happen for a reason.” He just listened and was sad and scared with them and they, in turn, I think were a little less sad and scared.

Later, when we lay tangled in the sheets of some impossibly white hotel room, high above the Strip, I asked him, “Okay, what the fuck is going on here?”

“What do you mean?” he asked, but with that hint of playful slyness in his voice that makes it hard for me to concentrate on what I want to say to him.

“You’re being super awesome. Kind, generous, helpful.”

“Good in bed.”

“Come on!” I made a half-hearted attempt to move his delightfully scratchy face away from the small of my neck. “What’s the trick?”

“No trick,” he insisted. “I’m on vacation. Being evil is my job, but I was born an angel. When I want to relax and get my head out of my work, I go out and get back to my roots.”

“Come on!” I said again, “The Devil can’t be good.”

“Oh, I can be all kinds of things,” he growled in my ear. And he was.

The next morning at breakfast, he said, “I’d like to show you something.”

“Okay.”

We went back to the hospital, this time to a different wing. We were in a rehab unit and a man learning to walk on his prosthetic leg was taking his first, tentative steps. It wasn’t inspiring, like you see in the movies. It was crushing. He was sweating and shaking. Tears were running down his face. He clung to the handrails like a landlubber in his first ocean storm. Two orderlies waited, ready to grab him if he fell. And he did fall. Repeatedly.

The look on his face was utter anguish. We stood watching for forty-five minutes. He never got the hang of it.

His therapist said, “That was a great first attempt.” I think she meant it.

And that man looked at her kind of hating her and kind of hating himself and I knew, if he saw any other way, he would have taken it, because this way had in it a lot more suffering. But it was also utterly obvious he would be back.

“He has a shaky hope,” The Devil said to me. “And uncertain faith that this all will be worth it. That the doctors can do for him what they say they can do. He believes he could walk again.”

“Will he?” It was hard to believe that he would after seeing him struggle so.

“I don’t know.” The Devil paused and then seemed to decide he would tell me something maybe he hadn’t intended to before now, “That’s why I love it. I don’t know what he’ll be physically capable of. I don’t know what he’ll be able to put himself through mentally. I don’t know if his suffering is pointless or not. It’s delicious.”

Delicious? Ugh, that was a word I didn’t want to think too closely about.

“Now, come home with me. I want to show you something there.”

We walked down a hall in the hospital, turned a corner and we were in Hell. We walked to the end of this hallway, past countless doors behind which I heard unending screams of anguish. Finally, we came to a door that the Devil opened. Inside there was a man hanging by his wrists from the ceiling. A demon took a hot poker out of a nearby fire, stuck the red metal to the man’s bare skin, where it hissed and popped and smoked. The skin stuck to the poker and the demon began to pull the skin off, in long, terrible strips.

“This man kept his son locked in a trunk at the foot of his bed. When the authorities found the boy, he was so twisted from growing up in this box that he couldn’t stand. He flinched when anyone tried to touch him. He screamed and couldn’t stop if he saw a dog. He couldn’t speak, so the authorities had no idea what had happened between him and dogs, but they also couldn’t bear to ask the father. It was worse than just that, of course, but I can see you’re already repulsed.” The Devil gave the man a slight shove, so he began to swing. He screamed, of course.

The Devil went on. “This is a man who clearly belongs in Hell. It’s very straightforward. He tortured his son from his son’s earliest days until he was finally caught and he did it because he liked it, because it made him feel good to have so much unfettered power over a small, helpless thing. But look at his face.”

It was hard to look at. Parts of his cheeks had already been stripped away and he was bleeding profusely. Mixed with his blood were endless tears. He was suffering. All I could think is that no one deserves this, but being in that room with him, every time I felt compelled to go help him, I saw a flash of the suffering his son had endured—being forced to eat his own vomit, being beaten with a broom stick, and on and on.

The Devil rested a supportive hand on my shoulder, “Do you see any shock? Any surprise?” he asked.

And no, the man was suffering, terribly. The look on his face was one of utter agony. But he seemed resigned to it.

“Every night, he’s healed, so every day his tortures are fresh,” the Devil said. “But there’s only a brief time in anyone’s tenure in Hell when they’re in disbelief that this is happening to them. Those scrumptious days where the magnitude of what they’re facing becomes real are so few, so short. We’ve had this one for a long time. We’ve tried a lot on him. We tried erasing his memories so that each day was a fresh Hell, but one of the most satisfying parts is when a person realizes he or she is in Hell because of a long series of decisions they made. Memory is important. So, if we erased his memories so he wouldn’t remember the torture, we put the burden on his tormentor to remember the horrific details of his many sins and recount them back to him.” The Devil led me out of the room. I was relieved to go.

“And that’s hardly fair,” the Devil said. “Why should the guy just doing his job bear the burden of the sinner?”

“I guess you could just erase that demon’s memories, too,” I said. I was feeling slightly queasy, which the Devil must have realized. Out of nowhere, he handed me some toast with jam.

“We thought of that,” he said, “But then, either its supervisor would have to remember all the details so it could be briefed every day on why it was doing this and what it needed to tell the sinner, which seems like the same problem, but one level removed, or we were completely abandoning the best part—where the sinner has hope and then loses it.”

“So, instead, you go fuck things up on Earth only to help fix them, so that you have a never-ending supply of dashed hopes to enjoy?”

“What? No. Oh, sweetheart.” There’s something awful about the Devil calling you sweetheart. Being pitied by evil is disconcerting, at best. “You still don’t get it.”

“The political situation. The hurricanes. The earthquakes. The people lying dead in the streets.”

“That’s why I like you humans so much. You did that. You did that all yourselves. I told you. I’ve been on vacation.”

“For how long?” I asked.

“Hmm, well, let’s see. I was still full-time in the Garden. I was taking like three days off a week by the time Job came around. And I think I was already completely out of the office by the time I ran into Jesus in the wilderness. Even by then, humans were doing a fine job on their own and barely needed me. So, you know, thousands of years, give or take a few.”

We walked down a hall I hadn’t seen before. We came to a normal looking, wooden house door.

“Here’s for you,” he said and I instinctively stepped back. What imp awaited me inside? What sins had I committed or been complicit in bad enough to bring me here? Did my friendship with The Devil, such as it was, count for nothing?

He opened the door. And there was my kitchen, and my dining room beyond. I stepped through the doorway and I was back in my house, as if I had just come in from the garage.

I stumbled to the couch and I grabbed the remote for the TV, hoping to put something in my brain beside what I had seen over the last couple of days. But I couldn’t bring myself to hit the on button. So, I sat there, wondering, is this Hell, too?

A few days later, I decided that, if I was going to be a denizen of Hell, I should go exploring. After all, my hobby is going to look at things, so, okay, let’s go look at Hell.

It was terrible. I mean, I guess that goes without saying. “Hell” is the word we use to mean something as bad as it can get. So, I don’t even know what to say about it. Hell is a Hell-like world of hellacious hellishness? It’s hard to do anything more than gesture to the outlier. There’s nothing as bad to compare it to.

Just floor after floor of human suffering. People being lowered into fiery pits. People having their fingers ripped off and fed to them. People having their eyes carved out with teeny-tiny citrus spoons. And at first, I was like “Lord, I can’t bear to see this.” But later, I was like, “Okay, then, someone at least has to see this and say what’s happening.”

So, on I went, looking and looking and looking.

Then I came to the room with the elephant in it. A demon stood on a tall ladder with a hose, spraying a narrow, but strong stream of lava at the elephant, who was pressed up against the far wall, screaming in fear.

“What the fuck?!” I burst into the room and threw myself against the ladder. The demon fell to the ground. Hot lava spewed everywhere until the hose shut itself off.

“Hey, fuck you,” the demon said. “I’m just doing my job. This elephant got drunk and trampled twenty people to death.”

“Who gave the elephant alcohol?!” I shook my head. “No, no. Who fucking cares? You can’t torture an elephant for being an elephant.”

“Killing is wrong. This elephant is a murderer. Murderers go to Hell to suffer through eternity.”

It was so dumb I couldn’t stand it.

“Water drowns tons of people,” I argued. “You have a room full of water… what? Being polluted?”

The demon took me by the hand and we walked down yet another hall together. The elephant followed. We came to a laboratory, filled with demons in protective gear, their cloven hooves shoved into safety booties. They each leaned over petri dishes, sharp pins in their rubber-gloved hands.

“This is the polio wing.” The demon gestured to the lab. “Each instance of the polio virus that murdered someone comes down here to be tortured for eternity.”

“A virus?” I was confused, to put it mildly. “Can a virus even suffer?”

The demon shrugged. “Heck if I know. I’m not convinced old Gertie here knows why she’s suffering and elephants are smart. It’s not our jobs to worry about whether the punishment works. It’s just our jobs to punish.”

“That must suck,” I said, because this demon didn’t particularly strike me as a sadist.

“Well, Betsy, it’s Hell. It’s not supposed to be fun.”

“Okay, no.” I said. “No, this is ridiculous. You both come with me.” I took the demon by one hand and rested my other hand gently on the elephant’s shoulder. I led them down seemingly-endless hallways, up near-infinite staircases, and back to my house, out north of Nashville. The demon and I went and got some hay and made up a comfortable spot for the elephant in the garage.

“There’s an elephant sanctuary south of here,” I said. “I’ll call them in the morning and see if they’ll take her in.”

“She’s dead,” the demon said.

“Then she’ll be easy to house,” I said. God damn it. Things were going to make sense. I was going to put some things in order. Set a few, tiny things right. “She is done suffering.” Then I looked at the demon, deep into its large, black eyes. “You, too.”

I took it into the bathroom and helped it climb into the tub. It was tentative.

“Is this going to burn?” It asked, as I lathered up a washcloth.

“Nope,” I said.

“Will you make the water ice cold?”

“Nope.” I just gently scrubbed it while it sat in a huddle in the warm bath water. Layers came off—blood, dirt, soot, pieces of meat the origins of which I didn’t even want to remotely begin to imagine. I pulled flaking layers of old horn off, leaving shiny slick obsidian sticking from its head. I scrubbed its hooves with a fingernail brush until they also shined black. When it was utterly clean, I let the water down the drain.

“No! No!” It said. “Will I be sucked down with it?”

“Nope,” I said. I turned the shower on and rinsed the demon off one last time. I found the fluffiest towels I had and wrapped it in them. It rested its head on my shoulder. Before it was dry, it was asleep. I picked it up, carried it into the guest room, and put it to bed.

Then I went out to the elephant with a bucket of warm water and I washed her down as best as I could. I offered her some trail mix. The ancient tip of her trunk curled around each individual peanut, poked at every raisin. She liked the M&Ms the best. Is chocolate bad for an elephant? I don’t know. I don’t suppose, with her being dead it matters.

When it was clear she was asleep, I went out into the back yard and cried so loudly it startled the crows.

In the morning, I was possessed. I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me, seeing as I took a demon home, but I was indeed startled to wake up crawling across my ceiling, scuttling like a bug.

I called The Devil.

“Yes?”

“Um, so, yeah, I felt bad about an elephant so I stole a demon and now it’s in me and I need you to get it out.”

“Betsy.”

“I don’t need a lecture. Just come help me.”

“I run Hell. I don’t help people escape Hell’s torments.”

“You’re on vacation. Doing nice things for people.”

“Touché.”

Twenty minutes later, The Devil was in my bedroom, staring up at me on the ceiling, stroking his chin as he tried to decide what to do.

“Leonard—“ he started.

“Come on!” I refused to believe Leonard was a demon’s name. You telling me Lenny Briscoe from Law & Order shared a name with a demon? Leonard. It sounds like the demon in charge of loan sharks.

“Look it up on Wikipedia,” he said. “There’s one named Amy, too.”

“You ran out of scary cool names like Azazel?”

“Azazel is about as cool a name as Walter.”

“Walteres can be scary.”

The Devil rolled his eyes at this. He’d never gotten into Breaking Bad.

“Okay, fine. Leonard. Can you please remove Leonard from me?”

“Are you sure? You look pretty badass with three horns.”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Leonard, come on out.” When you figure how gravity works, as soon as The Devil spoke, I had to be falling back toward my bed, but I swear, it felt like the demon was pulling itself out of me and pushing me away from it. I hit the mattress, hard. But I was fine.

“Boss, I was inside her,” Leonard complained.

“Who hasn’t been there?” The Devil said.

“Hey!”

“What? I’m glad about it. I’m just stating a fact.” The Devil had a way of making this corny, terrible shit sound charming. He claimed he learned it from Dean Martin, but that could have also been terrible, corny shit. I don’t know.

“Sorry, Boss,” Leonard said. “I’ll get the elephant and get back to work.”

“No!” I yelled. Not the elephant. Not the torture.

The Devil put his hand on my shoulder and kept me from lunging after the demon. The demon seemed deeply pleased at how upset I was.

And, after giving me one last wicked grin, the demon disappeared. Poof. I knew the elephant was gone, too.

The Devil pulled me closer to him, put his mouth right up to my ear.

“The elephant’s not real.” He whispered. “Don’t worry.”

“What? I fucking hate this shit. It’s upsetting and confusing.”

“Let me show you something.” Oh, great. Again. But off we went, through Hell, up and down corridors, past screams and cries of anguish, stepping over rivers of blood and piss and shit. Finally, we came to a nondescript door that had, weirdly enough, a smaller door in it.

“Open it,” he said. I reached down to open the tiny door. He stopped me. “No, the whole door.”

I opened it. I couldn’t see anything. There was this warm, blinding light. But I smelled my grandma’s kitchen. I heard the murmurings of far off conversations among family members who’d been dead for years. The sounds and smells of my happiest moments.

“The door is never locked.” The Devil said. “Anyone here can get there at any time.”

“Then, my god, why don’t you? Are you embarrassed? Is this a pride thing?”

“I give the denizens of Hell what they expect—to suffer and to inflict suffering. When I don’t have enough to suffer, I dream up sufferers for my minions to torture. This, then, for them, is a kind of Heaven. They are doing the hard, necessary work they believe Goodness won’t or can’t do.”

“But there are some real people here.” I said.

“Oh, yes, but many fewer than you’d think.” This wasn’t true as I’d long been something of a universalist, figuring either everyone was in Hell, and rightly so, or no one was.

“Dude, right there… right there.” I put my arm through the doorway and into Paradise. My hand felt like it had been clasped by a new love. “It’s just right there.”

“I have to run Hell,” he said.

“Or what? No one will be miserable? We’re all miserable sacks of shit. You said yourself we’re fine at doing evil without you. Empty Hell. We’ll still be bad.”

But he just turned and walked away. I shut the door and stood in the dark for a long time. So much misery. It felt a little suffocating. I slumped down to the floor and put my head in my hands. After a minute, I felt the tiny knob of the second, smaller door to Paradise poking in my back. I scooted over and opened it.

This time it smelled like a summer evening, right before rain. And I heard a voice, a low warm voice, saying, “I miss you, Luc. Come on home.”

But here’s the thing, Dear Reader, that haunts me to this day. Was that Heaven beyond that door or just the thing The Devil needed to hear to give him hope that his suffering would one day end? Is he King of Hell or its only prisoner?

 

 

My Boyfriend, Andrew Jackson

I met Andrew Jackson in the basement of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I was lost and stumbling around in the dark, trying to find my way back to the elevator. He was standing in front of a box that contained his papers, just standing there, eyes shut, hand on the box. I didn’t recognize him at first and the immediate thought I had was “Oh, hey, weird. It’s Del McCoury.” Followed by, “Come on, Betsy, why would a bluegrass musician be standing in the semi-dark basement of the TSLA on a Saturday?”

“Sorry,” I stammered. “I’m lost. I’m not supposed to be here, I know, but I got off on the wrong floor and I got turned around.”

He slowly turned toward me and I recognized him immediately—the tall shock of silver hair, the narrow face, the way he held himself like a precarious stack of books.

“That’s all right, ma’am,” he smiled. “I’m not supposed to be here either, but I haven’t tried the gate to the place I want to be and I prefer to avoid the place I don’t.”

“Are you a ghost?” What other question was there?

“Not really,” he said. “I have a body.”

He did.

There was a divot, still, on his forehead from where a British officer had whapped him with a sword when he was a young teenager. And the scars from where he had been shot. When I put my ear to his chest while he was sleeping, I could hear the rattle of some bullet against bone when he breathed and the beating of his heart, like an eternal drum-beat to war.

What he liked best was to lay on me, each sharp, fragile boney corner of his body resting on a soft, warm part of me. He slept well those nights. And I didn’t mind it. I liked to see him happy.

Other nights he screamed in his sleep or sobbed or he didn’t sleep at all. He paced around my room, jumping at every passing car, muttering under his breath. I told him that there are veterans’ support groups now, people he could talk to who would understand. I even volunteered to drive him. But he insisted it was too different now.

At first, I was embarrassed to take him places. I was afraid, you know, based on his reputation that he’d be ugly and racist or loud and sexist or that he’d shoot someone. But even now, he was still trying to be a good Christian, whatever that might mean for a man with sins as grave as his. We went out and he was quiet and charming. He held my hand. He said “sir” and “ma’am.”

Only one time did I see him get angry. We were having dinner at a bar and some drunk asshole stumbled over to me and said, “Fatty, I can’t believe you’re eating in public. It’s disgusting.” Well, he didn’t even get the whole last word out. After the “eating in public” bit he put his hand on the President to steady himself and Andrew Jackson snapped like a rat trap. One second he was in his chair. The next the drunk was on the floor and Jackson was punching and punching and punching and I don’t think he would have stopped until the dude was dead if the bouncers hadn’t pulled him off.

“If I see you again, sir,” he hissed at the broken pile of man on the floor at my feet, “it will be for the last time.”

I cried the whole way home and Andrew Jackson fumed.

Later, in the dark, he said, “I would have liked to have made him sorrier.”

Over back is Whites Creek Pike. I didn’t think about that when I brought him home from the library. But one morning, he said he was going to take the dog around the block and at most, it should have taken him an hour to walk the perimeter of the old farm my subdivision sits on. And he wasn’t one to dawdle. I put my coat on over my pajamas and my feet in untied shoes. I stumbled into the winter morning the sun not quite up yet, flurries dancing past me.

“Andrew,” I called, staggering through the back yard, the air freezing my legs. I got up to the road and hollered for him again. He wasn’t there. When I came over the hill I saw him, just standing, down below at the intersection, the dog already so bored he was laying on the sidewalk behind him. I started to call again when I saw what he was looking at. Across from the school, the houses that line the creek were gone. Instead, there was an open field and a camp in it. A thousand people or more, maybe more, were just waking up. Horses snorted, their breaths making clouds in the cold air. Men half dressed in old military uniforms came out of their tents, scratching their bellies, wandering off to pee or splash water from the creek on their faces.

I walked up next to Andrew Jackson. He was transfixed. I didn’t know how to read the look on his face and, looking back, I’m afraid I wanted so much to see regret there that I willed myself to see it. I can’t honestly say if he was sorry, at all.

If anyone in the group noticed us, they didn’t show it. The women stoked small fires and made breakfast. Children cried. Already people were in bad shape and it was still so far to Oklahoma.

“These people die,” he said. I started to say, ‘not all of them,’ but that wasn’t true. By now, they were all dead. “Hmm.”

That night, when he settled in on top of me, he looked into my eyes and asked, “What are you thinking about? Those people at the creek?”

“No,” I lied. “I was thinking about your mother searching for you and your brother during the war and finally finding you, sickly prisoners of the British. I was thinking about you walking behind her and her up on the horse, trying to keep your brother upright and alive. I was thinking about her having to choose one son to try to save and leaving one son to luck or fate or whatever. I was thinking about her watching your brother die and her knowing she invested too much energy in saving the wrong son. I wonder how she lived with that. I wonder what it did to you to live through it. Andrew, I was just wondering if you’ve ever done anything in your whole life that wasn’t done to you. And I wonder, I can’t help but wonder, if it ever helped.”

“I don’t understand,” he whispered, but the quiver in his voice told me he might.

“Was there any time you shot someone that made you feel better about being shot?” I ran my fingers through his long, soft, silvery hair. “Did anything you’ve done ever bring you peace?”

He didn’t answer me, which was probably for the best. I’m not sure I could have lived with any answer he would have given.

Even now, sometimes, I wake up sure I feel the weight of him on me and it makes me sad and relieved in equal measure to find myself alone.

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Dog Weather

This is apparently perfect dog weather. Sonnyboy bounded around the yard, played in the creek, sniffed secret sniffs, chased a shadow, came when he was called, and leaped twice over a giant log. Now he’s napping like a champ.

I’ve been doing my October thing. I was worried with the medication that I wouldn’t be able to. I mean, I feel like this year has been a slow rewiring of my brain in ways I’m not sure about yet. I don’t know how my creativity’s going to play out.

So, it’s going, but it’s going differently. It feels more abstract. The lessons are harder to put into words. It’s just different.

But I’m different, so I think it’s okay.

Bah

I spent yesterday being a grown up–cleaning up cat piss, cleaning the bathroom, cleaning the kitchen, turning in another draft of my big story, getting a thing lined up here for Halloween, some other crap that I can’t remember now. So, I rewarded myself by starting this baby blanket, which I’ve been a tiny bit afraid may be too tough for me. It involves… sport weight yarn!!!! And you have to use TWO DIFFERENT SIZED HOOKS!!!

I’m doing all my same rounds at once. So, since it’s going to be 20 squares, I did twenty first rounds and two second rounds. The first second round was super tricky, but I think I have the hang of it.

And this yarn! Egads.

Purple Afghan

I love how it turned out.

I also love that it looks almost as nice on the back as it does on the front. Trust me, too, when I tell you that, in real life, it has a really lovely “old sweater” comfy vibe.

Yesterday, the animals met the baby. It then took the orange cat some time, but this morning, as I was getting dressed, he came into my room, meowed loudly so I would look at him, and then he peed right by my closet. On purpose.

So, I fucking guess he figured out what happened to the Butcher and why.

But before that, he seemed mildly curious about the baby, so it wasn’t a total disaster.

But this dog. Oh, this dog. First of all, when you come to my house, normally, you have to be greeted by one million loud barks and jumps and maybe you even need a dog on your lap.

But the second he saw the baby, he went quiet. He still greeted everyone and leaned on everyone who sat on the couch, but he didn’t bark. He sniffed the baby so gently and then licked his hand. And then, later, on, licked his head. And he didn’t bug my sister-in-law while she held the baby.

And when I held the baby so the baby could reach over and pet him, the baby drooled on him and that was fine. I’m not 100% sure if he, at two months old, can really grab things on purpose yet but he sure likes finding new things in his hands from time to time.

I think Sonnyboy really got that this was a puppy. Or as close as we weird things can come to making a puppy. And, in typical Sonnyboy fashion, he was open to it. Okay, there’s a baby now. Let’s fix its hair and not make a lot of noise and give it some room.

I said this on Twitter, but I mean it all the time. I think Sonnyboy is a great dog and I am so glad to know him. But from the start, he should have been a family dog. I know he doesn’t feel cheated. I know he’s delighted to have a home and a couch to sleep on and a wide group of people who love him. And also, for some reason, lots of chicken biscuits to eat on our walks (seriously, people. If you’re not going to eat all your chicken, don’t buy it.). He’s happy to be out of whatever stupid situation caused him to need to be rescued. But he would have been a great family dog.

And who ever left him tied to a tree in rural Smith County cheated him out of that. And I don’t think I’ll ever forgive that. This is a dog who should have been raised up from puppydom with a child. And he might not know he’s been cheated, but I see it.

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Okay, I’ve Changed My Mind

I really love how this is looking.

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I have all the vertical rows connected, but only that top horizontal row. I like the little hint of green at the corners.

I had a dream last night that I had gotten a chance to interview “Mrs. May” about the JCC bombing and I went to this ritzy old folks home that, in my dream, I had been to before for some reason and thought I knew well, but I couldn’t find her apartment, 167. So, I was late and finally I found a front desk to ask and they sent me across this courtyard. But there wasn’t anything on the other side of the courtyard.

Then a flash of something caught my eye and I realized that there were, in fact, these mirrored buildings in front of me, that looked invisible because the trees around them were reflected in them.

So I found her building and I went to knock on her door and again, there was nothing in front of me. At which point, I realized “Oh, I’m dreaming. This is a dream. So, just roll with it.” I reached forward and my hand hit something. I knocked. And her door opened and it was just a normal small apartment inside. At which point, I thought, “Okay, so this isn’t a dream, because this is real. I must just be stressed from being late and lost and disoriented because I’ve been so tired this week.”

Y’all, I realized I was dreaming and then I talked myself out of it.

Anyway, she told me what she knew about the bombing, which wasn’t anything more than I did. But she did keep telling me to talk to… someone… she had a nickname for her, which I can’t now for the life of me remember. A black woman who, I got the feeling, had been Mrs. May’s housekeeper. She also repeatedly said the real name of this woman, but whenever she said it, it sounded like she was mumbling.

So, I was really glad that I was recording everything on my phone, so I could get back here and try to make that name out.

Then she proceeded to tell me how “they”–a bunch of people from The Temple, I think–had just been together at a dinner the night before talking about the bombing and who they thought did it and that nice reporter was there from the paper.

At which point, I was like, “Motherfucker, I will be so pissed if someone from the Tennessean is also working on this.”

Then she showed me a paper. I thought it was going to be the paper, today’s edition, with the story of all these old people sitting around talking about the bombing.

But it was from 1975.

Y’all, it wasn’t until I was out on my walk with Sonnyboy this morning that I thought to wonder if “Mrs. May” was really dead.

Anyway, so, that was weird. And I did check Newspapers.com. No story matching my story from that year.

Purple Afghan

I’m a little worried it’s not quite as gorgeous as I’d planned on. And I wanted the little pops of green to be, perhaps, not so little, but a thing the photo doesn’t do justice to is just how comfy a vibe the thing gives off in person. I hope that continues to be the case when I get it all put together. It feels more like a huge flat sweater than an afghan so far. In person, looking at this afghan fills you with an overwhelming desire to touch it and put it on your body somehow.

And that same jade green is also going to be the border, so it won’t be completely lost on the front and it does give the back some nice visual interest when it might otherwise be very bland.

Dramatic Running

I don’t know why, but for some reason the new kitty–who, good lord, by this point isn’t remotely new, but the nickname has stuck–has started running dramatically through the house. Not zoomies. But just, when she needs to get somewhere, rather than walking, she runs.

It cracks me up because it’s just so weird.

The other night, I heard a lone coyote singing very close by. I think it must be more common than I realize, because the dog slept through it. Last night he barked at my across-the-street neighbors for, as usual, getting out of their car. I’m just saying–he normally barks at anything.

I continue to fret about the orange cat. He continues a slow decline marked by periods of forgetting he’s in decline where he tries to get the dog to play with him. I just don’t want him to suffer, but cats are so grouchy, how do you know when they’re physically suffering and when they’re just overburdened by the ennui of constantly dealing with fools?

Money Changes Everything

My parents came back through on their way home last night. We had to stop at Walmart and send money to my nephew for something. Then they fought about how much money to give to the Butcher for his birthday.

They ended up giving him a generous amount, but I’m sure it was less than they gave my nephew.

Which… I don’t know. I have grave doubts that money they sent my nephew is going to the thing he told them it was for. I think, instead, it’s going to his mom, who has, yet again, burned all bridges in her life.

And on the one hand, it’s their money. They should do what they want with it.

On the other hand, it’s utterly noticeable how much more money they give to our brother and his family than they give to the rest of us, how uneven it is.

I’m trying to just learn to roll with my resentment, to tell myself that it’s okay to feel angry and conflicted about it and to not have a plan for resolving those feelings.

But it’s hard because I feel like they’re also trying to spend my money. I should get a new car so our brother can have my car so the nephew they’re always throwing money at can have my brother’s car. I should get this furniture or that furniture. I should… blah blah blah.

This is a fear that’s always been sitting in the back of my mind–that I’m supposed to also do for the family what they do for the family. That they can’t see me as a person with my own life and wants and desires. I’m just supposed to be another sucker like them–working hard and throwing that money at whoever seems to need it the most.

Plus, they’re miserable. They just fight with each other and bitch about their friends.

And I have been working so hard to stop being miserable that I am afraid of getting sucked back into that.

Anyway, here’s my nephew. He’s also unhappy. But I think that’s just because he’s in a growth spurt.

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Afghan Thoughts

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This is how the purple afghan is going. I only have twenty-five more squares to go, but ten of those are in a dark purple, so I need some daylight to work them up in. Which I guess is what rainy Sundays are for.

As is obvious from this picture, the straightness of those x-es is dependent a lot on proper seaming. But I think they’re going to look very cool all put together.

My plan had been to finish this afghan, make two mermaid tails and a baby afghan, and then use all the leftover yarn for a cool afghan for the black dog’s family. But yesterday I had a change of heart and bought some different yarn for the project. Someone else, later down the afghan list, will have to get a cool scrap afghan.

The one thing about this purple afghan that just won’t be clear until they’re all sewn together is how the outside corners where the braids come together will look. Nifty, I hope.

Also, I guess I should say technically, those aren’t braids. They’re just loops twisted together to look like braids. It’s super easy and looks fantastic. Definitely a way to add something special to your granny squares even if you’re not an expert crocheter.

Baby Growth Spurts are Nothing to Joke About

Y’all, I just saw this child on Friday and last night, he seemed a third again as big as he was on Friday.

Also, on Friday, he was still like “Eyes? Yuck, why do I have to see things? I will just shut these and hope for the best.”

And last night he was all “I will kind of look at you! Oops, my eyes slid over to this other thing to look at! Whoa, here’s another thing to look at.”

His mom said that he smiles at the tassel on the curtain by the changing table. She doesn’t know if that’s because the tassel is his friend or if he’s just pleased he recognizes something.

It’s weird when you think of how sight must happen. That at some point, you have to make the connection that you’re seeing actual things out there in the world that you can predictably see again, that the things you’re seeing are something and so looking at them is worthwhile.

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I’m also… ugh… this is stupid and uncomfortable, but I’m trying to get more used to how I look, to just be neutral to slightly pleased with it. So, that sucks and is weird, but I just can’t run around being all “I hate this meat sack.” I don’t need to love it, but I have to make some peace with it.

Anyway, look at those adorable tiny jeans!

History Thoughts

A thing that strikes me in these FBI files is that once the FBI determined someone was crazy, they disregarded them as a threat. Instead of thinking, “Oh, hey, here’s a troubled, unstable loner. He might be easily goaded into doing something bad.” they were just like “Oh, he’s a troubled, unstable loner. He couldn’t get it together enough to do something bad.”

I’m truly starting to think that a side-motivation the FBI had for also going after Civil Rights activists is that they were smart and together and made plans they could follow through with.

The racists they were looking at were not worthy foes. And because they were not exciting to chase down, the FBI didn’t even try.

Also, if I learned anything at all yesterday, it was that racists really hated integrated basketball.

4:45 is Early

I’m going to talk to the man who headed up the JCC in 1957 today. I have to be there by 8 a.m. I also had to walk the dog. So, I had to get up an hour early and whew boy is it very dark then.

But Orion was high in the sky, walking his dog, as well. And the moon was a thin grin in the west. So, we weren’t completely alone.

And the dog found half a rabbit and some poop and he rolled in the rabbit and tried to eat it, but I dragged him away, because who in our neighborhood other than him leaves poops that big? And who can catch a rabbit? Not him.

There is but one answer and I didn’t want to tangle with a coyote, who I suspected was very close, because that rabbit was just half-eaten.

Okay, So…

First of all, from the moment you get there, the folks at Third Man make you feel like a star. I walked in and immediately someone greeted me, double-checked that I was, indeed, me and then Chet came out and brought be into the back, which is this large part kitchen/part lounge space. There’s a giant buffalo head. They had pizza, but I’d already eaten, because I didn’t expect they would have pizza. Everyone was like “You can hang out and talk to us or sit on the couch or…”

But I just wanted to read through my story a few times. Chet offered me a quiet office, but I wanted to read through it with some distractions. So, I just sat on the couch. The band, Ornament(?–I think that’s singular), came backstage for pizza and a discussion in which one of them tried to argue that The Doors without Jim Morrison and fronted by Ray Manzarek was the superior iteration of The Doors, which caused me to die of outrage, come back to life, and die of outrage again.

The other authors showed up. They were amazing. So nice and interesting. Chet took them for a tour, but I’d already been on the tour a couple times, so I read through my story again.

Then we went out and took our seats. The Butcher and his family were there, so I went and sat next to them. Chet gave me this amazing introduction that made me sound all classy and important, but my story started, “It goes without saying you don’t want fifty crawdads up your cooter.” So… yeah. But people laughed in all the right spots and that made me happy.

When I came off stage, Alice Randall told me my story was fantastic.

Then I sat down with my nephew and listened to great stories while he slept, because he can sleep through anything but quiet, apparently.

And I had flowers and everyone was super excited.

I think that’s everything. It was lovely. But it reaffirmed for me what a bullshit word “deserves” is. I don’t deserve this more than someone else. It’s not happening because I deserve it. It’s strange and wonderful and I am lucky. I can’t imagine trying to explain to my high school self this life. And I wouldn’t have known–didn’t know–back then to strive for this life, to want this life, because I didn’t believe it was possible for me. I didn’t think I deserved it.

And I feel like there are so many people out there who are just as talented as me, but maybe they didn’t move to Nashville, so they couldn’t get lucky.

Anyway, “deserves” is a bullshit word. Weird and nice stuff happened and I’m just going to enjoy it. And wish for weird and nice stuff for all y’all.

It Was Amazing

I’ll have more later, but I’m already kind of late for the Southern Festival of Books, in that, I need to leave here in a half an hour and I’m not in the shower.

But it was amazing. B and K sent me cool flowers. I got to see a bathroom I’d never seen before. S. showed up in her adorable glasses. My dress kept popping open every time I hugged someone. People laughed at the right points. And the Butcher’s family came! So, I got to spend some quality time with my nephew. And the stories and music were amazing. And the very young rock stars all hugged me. And Alice Randall liked my story, which is cool enough on its own, but it also means I’m now one-degree of separation from Harper Lee, so that’s weird and cool.

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Today’s the Day

We have to set up for the Southern Festival of Books this morning and do the festival all afternoon and then I have to come home, feed the dog and myself, then get ready and go back into town for the reading at Third Man tonight.

Argh!!!! These are all things that I love and am super excited about, but also, whew, am a little geared up about as well.

Did I tell you guys I need reading glasses? Worse than that, I don’t have enough eyeball slime, so I have to take fish oil. But not just “get it at the grocery store” fish oil. Prescription fish oil.

The burps.

Oh, dear readers, the burps.

It has once again confirmed for me that the set of the Fast and Furious movies must be a very stinky place.

Any Excuse to Talk about Festering Crotch Wounds

Y’all can listen to me talking about ghosts and history and the tiny-bit-odd trip to Cragfont we took this weekend here on the Something’s Not Right podcast.

I believe some strange things, I guess. And I have become more reticent in recent years to talk about them. So, I’m a little nervous to have y’all listen to this, because I’m afraid, maybe, I sound like a complete loon.

And yet, it’s October and I love to talk about spooky things and the spooky things I know best are the things that happened to me.

So, enjoy! I’m guessing by the length almost everything made it in but I haven’t listened to it myself yet.

Rug Yarn

I decided that, when I’m done with this current batch of afghans–this purple one, a baby blanket, two mermaid tails, and another afghan I don’t have a name for yet–I’m going to take a break and make something for me–a rug for the living room.

The thing is that I want some heavy-duty yarn, but I don’t know jack shit about rug yarn. Does it need to be wool to hold up to foot traffic? If I’m using cotton t-shirts for my core, could I use cotton yarn to hold it together? After all, it should wear at the same rate, right?

I’m really loving this purple afghan. It’s nice to be working on something simple and beautiful. So, each square is a solid shade of purple, but I have all the shades of purple I could find in worsted weight acrylic yarn at Joann’s. I’m trying to decide if I should do a random mix of purples or arrange them so they form a kind of gradient across the afghan.

I’m leaning toward just mixing it up because I want the afghan to have a kind of homey feel, but I may lay it out once from darkest to lightest to see if I change my mind.

Tortilla Soup

I made tortilla soup, like, not a fancy recipe. Everything except the onion and the green pepper was either from a can or a pouch, including the shredded chicken. It’s pretty dang good. But, like, you’re not going to come raid my fridge over it or anything.

But you guys. This dog! He sat intently by the stove the whole time I was cooking it. He drooled all over the couch while I was eating it. He did this weird stompy dance while I was putting half of it in the freezer and the other half in the fridge. And then, he stayed in the dark kitchen right by the fridge making weird lipsmacking noises.

He’s certainly liked some things before, but this was… I don’t even know. This was Sonnyboy’s jam, as the kids say.

Let’s all vow to love something the way that Sonnyboy loves tortilla soup–with surprise and delight and dancing.

Cragfont

I went to see my nephew yesterday and he is just so adorable. I can’t even tell you. He has one very light, but very bushy eyebrow. He may also have another, but where I was sitting and the lightness of the eyebrow made it hard to see the other. He makes cute little snores.

The Butcher’s Wife and I contemplated whether the Butcher can read minds or is just super empathetic and where the line is between those two things.

Then I went with some friends who have a podcast to Cragfont, a creepy old house up in Sumner County and it was delightfully and sufficiently spooky. I’ll link to the podcast when it goes live, because I was on it! Talking about festering crotch wounds and old Tennessee history and creepy things. All my favorites.

So, Cragfont was built by the Winchesters. General Winchester was a buddy of Andrew Jackson and he and Jackson and Judge Overton went and founded Memphis. Winchester’s son was Memphis’s first mayor. Jackson’s protege was Sam Houston. Sam Houston’s ex-wife, Eliza Allen (Houston Douglass) stayed with the Winchesters often enough that her silver tea cup is still in the house.

Winchester also owned a bunch of flatboats he hauled stuff back and forth to New Orleans on. One of his primary exports to New Orleans was bacon. And, I would imagine, other cured pig products.

This was also some of the early work of the Franklin family. And remember, the Franklins and the Douglasses were all intermarried. Also, Isaac Franklin’s mother was a Lauderdale and the Lauderdales were just east of the Winchesters.

I felt like I was hearing a story the Franklins figured into, but without hearing the Franklins properly figured in.

Anyway, we did have one strange experience in the house. I won’t spoil the podcast by telling you what it was, but I will note that one of the pictures in this bunch shows the location of the strangeness. Since it’s October, you should see if you get a spooky vibe off of any of them and give it a guess.

Seeing

I went to the eye doctor yesterday and our strategy continues to be me having the most sight I can for the longest time I can and drilling about what to do when my retinas finally tear. It makes me feel a little anxious about how creatively dry I feel lately, to think that there may come a time when I can’t see to do the things I enjoy.

I took the dog for a long walk this morning. We went over to the school and waved at a bunch of neighbors and both struggled up the hill. If you listen to the Another Round podcast, you will appreciate that I always say, “Rufus, we made it,” when we get to the top of the hill.  Now he’s laying on the floor and sleeping. Just a minute ago, he was snoring so hard that I could feel the floor rumbling through my feet.

But man, it’s beautiful out there. The tall grass in the neighbor’s yard is yellowing. There’s some plant right at the edge of the woods that grows these tiny red berries and they’re doing that now. The trees all seem on the verge of turning.

I just love this time of year. Even when I’m out of sorts and feel kind of cut off from the mysterious. Even without ghosts, even without feeling the Universe whispering in my ear, this is still a special time.

This Dog

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I let the dog off leash probation and he had a day of doing the right thing and a day of doing the wrong thing and now he’s back on leash probation.

Last night, he apparently didn’t go pee when I put him out for the evening. I was suspicious because new kitty was on the steps and I know how afraid he is of her, but… well, he peed on the floor and then mopped it all up with his dog bed. Which I guess I appreciate.

But then! He almost bit me trying to get a can of wet cat food out of my hand! Like, not deliberately, more just “I’m being a doofus and not being careful and I really want that cat food.”

Can you put a dog on whole-life probation? I need to take him for a long, long walk tomorrow, I think.

In happier news, I finished my afghan. I went with a non-fancy border. The only tweak I made was to make the second round of it–even though it’s just a regular old granny square stitch–going the other way. That’s the one thing about these two-color granny squares–you don’t just work them in the round. You flip them over and go the other way. So, many of the squares have front and back sides of stitches visible. So, I did the same with the border.

Also, the whole house smells like cat piss and I can’t locate a source. It’s one of those cases where I can’t tell if I’m just not finding it, if maybe a change in the weather has caused old smells to reemerge, or if the cat may be just leaking a little bit, which, god, I hope not, because that would indicate the end of him.

I really, really want that cat to just go in his sleep one fine sunny afternoon. Or in a knife fight. Something that would be sad, but I could live with.

Come Together, Right Now, Over Me

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I’ve just got to put a border on this bad boy and tuck in my ends. I’d also like to find a place I can spread it out completely and get a picture of the whole thing. I think it’d be interesting to do this afghan solely with variegated yarn or self-striping yarn, or both. I love that middle square so much.

But, yeah, definitely, if I do this again, I’m going to do each square with three rounds instead of four. I mean, this is practically a bed spread. I like big afghans. I want you to be able to wrap yourself in them when you’re sick. But this is a tad ridiculous.

Nothing fancy for the border. Just  few more granny rounds.

Jesus, Crawdad, Death

So, here’s what I know. It’ll be out early next year. It’s a chapbook–part of Third Man Book’s new chapbook series–containing three stories. The title is also, therefore, a loose table of contents. “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” about Jesus and professional wrestling which originally ran in F&SF, “Mother of Crawdads” about a woman who gives birth to some crawdads at Walmart, and “Little Sister Death” about dogs and sadness and literary influence and St. Francis and stuff.

The chapbooks are inexpensive. The first two are both $7. They’re available at Third Man’s stores and on their website. So, that’s all exciting.

I’m toying with the idea of doing a book trailer that would be just me singing the death verse of “All Creatures of Our God and King” while dropping a luchador mask and a crawdad on the ground. Like, so the video would be shot at floor level. You hear singing, then feet enter the frame. The mask drops into the frame and then, oops, the crawdad.

I have to figure out where to get a stunt crawdad, though…

The Thing Below

So, yeah, that’s happening. Me on the same bill as Kiini Ibura Salaam and Pinckney Benedict. That distant noise you hear is me laughing for a million years.

Why would Third Man put me on the same bill as those two? I think it’s okay for me to say that there is a reason and that reason is the exciting thing I haven’t yet told you about, but which you may now have enough information to give a good guess at, and which will become public knowledge very soon.

It’s weird to have good things when everything is so shitty. I mean, I know everything is always so shitty, but sometimes we’re able to meet the shittiness with grace and love and sometimes, like now, we stand here looking at each other in horror not sure what to do.

I’d like to get back to feeling like I can act and my actions make a difference. I’m tired of not reading fiction and not writing fiction, because I’m overwhelmed by the need to know facts and state facts loudly and clearly and repeatedly hoping someone will hear them and know what to do with them.

I would like to tell you a story or a bunch of stories, like I do every year in October, but I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t have them.

I’m just here, nodding when people ask me to tell them old stories, hoping that, if I do that, someday, the new stories will come back.

Edited to add: Oh shit! They announce it in the press release. The news is loose.