Friday, May 01, 2009

Chapter Sixteen

I've almost completed my newest novel. Just a couple dozen pages left, I reckon.

In celebration of getting so close to the end, I'm going to post a couple of chapters of the book here at the blog. One today and one tomorrow.


Of the Novel-Formerly-Known-As-BEAUTIFUL BOY

Copyright 2009 by

James Robert Smith

Daryl Tow was the last head of his line. The families who were at their genetic end in Daryl and son had come to North America via colonial ships filled with debtors in the mid-1700s. In various ways the differing branches of the Tow family had made its way from the low country of South Carolina to the highlands of Appalachian Georgia. In the more than three hundred years since the desperate European Tows had set foot in the New World there had been quite a number of them who'd ended up in prisons, toiling away in mills, digging in the dirt in various farms as they crept their ways up from the swamps and into the rocky ridges father west and north of where they'd landed. And there had been a few of them who'd done well, who had made plenty of money, had owned small factories, become prosperous merchants, gone to schools of higher learning, and some who had even held important positions in national office.

But Daryl Tow knew none of these things. All he knew was that he worked on the line at the Tryon chicken plant slicing feet off of dead poultry and sometimes laboring on the table where he sorted the edible innards from the stuff that would end up as cat food or fertilizer. He'd lost most of two fingers of his left hand to various blades and the first knuckle of his right pinky finger to a pair of stainless steel scissors. He was only twenty-five years old, looked forty, but still held on to some of what had been very handsome features in his youth.

Of the family history of which he was aware, Tow knew who his parents were and that they had both been born and raised in the same county where he currently resided with his wife Rebecca and their newborn son, Alex Gowdy Tow. Daryl could read well enough to understand simple directions and could write well enough to sign his name, but he was totally ignorant of the origins of his family, and of why they'd been forced out of Europe so long ago to find its seed composed by his day of himself and a six-months old infant.

Indeed, the Tow Family's journey had been a long way and a very long time pretty much for nothing.

In the mornings when he'd rise for the short drive to the chicken plant, he would look at his wife, sneer at the stench of shitty diapers in pails around the bedroom, take a quick look at his new boy, then go the bathroom to wash and shave. His hair was very thick and very brown, and one of the few pleasures he'd ever had in life was when various girls and women would run their fingers through it and tell him how nice and thick it was, and how good looking he was. One time a man had done that and said the same thing, but Daryl didn't like to think about that one too much; he'd been quite desperate then.

At the bathroom sink he scowled at the peeling panels of the cheap wallboard and wished that he could afford to move out of the singlewide. The floor was a little soft under his feet there and he knew that sooner or later it would either give way or he'd have to crawl under the trailer and shore it up before then. He was figuring on the floor caving before he did the job. Time would tell.

After a cursory examination of the bathroom, he looked into his blue-green eyes and took stock of his very thin, very pale features. Lips all but invisible. When he'd been in the tenth grade, shortly before he'd reached his sixteenth birthday and legal freedom from that total waste of time, another student--a smart ass college-bound jerk--had said that his face looked like "a blank". When he'd merely stared at the rich kid who'd uttered the words, the fellow had continued, "like a penny that wasn't quite stamped hard enough". The fight had been brief and he'd been suspended for a week, but he hadn't minded. It had been fun to punch the rich kid's face.

"Thar," he said to himself, recalling the incident. "Now yore face looks like a pussy on tha rag."

The other boy's comments had made no sense to him then. But now he wondered about it, from time to time. Girls had often told him that he reminded him of this fellow or that guy or some movie star. But it was never the same man they mentioned. Every time he'd been told that he looked like someone else--someone different than the time before, and it was that way with every single girl or woman who'd run her fingers through his hair or tugged on his belt or scratched his back in the throes of sex.

"Goddamn it," he said. Flinching, he realized that he'd uttered the words aloud, almost waking his wife and, probably, the boy, too. He wanted to do neither of those things. When his wife was awake she was generally arguing with him, and when Gowdy was awake he was almost always crying. He didn't want to deal with either of those things and just needed to get himself shaved, his teeth brushed, his clothes on, and his ass out the door. The job was a nasty one, and he often wondered what it would be like to work in a Wal-Mart or at the Western Auto downtown. But that was about as far as his curiosity took him, and he was generally happy to be out of the trailer and into the guts of the plant before his family could stir.

There was always a cup of coffee to be had at Whitaker's and maybe a microwave biscuit in the freezer there. One with cheese and sausage sounded like a good idea. In fact, it sounded so good that he did precisely that, and soon was standing in front of Whitaker's microwave oven heating up just such a tasty morsel while he sipped on the good black coffee the merchant always had ready and hot on a workday morning.

"Hey, Daryl." The voice came from the front of the store, from behind the counter. Tow recognized the voice, but turned in that direction to greet the speaker.

"Hey Mr. Whitaker," he said, and waved. The microwave pinged lightly to announce that the biscuit and its contents were warm and ready to be consumed. Tow reached into the machine and drew out the food, and walked to the counter.

"Headed in to work early?" Whitaker asked him.

"Yes sir," Tow said. "I figured I'd stop here to get some breakfast first and then drive on in."

Ben smiled at the youth. He'd seen him grow up in poverty, had watched the blush of physical beauty fade on the boy as Life hammered it down. He'd always taken an interest in the Tows for the simple reason that they were cousins of the Brauns. On Martin's side, somehow. But now Daryl's parents were both gone--killed off by bad hearts and clogged arteries, from what he'd heard. And here was young Daryl headed down the same path. He felt sorry for the guy, but short of adopting him, there wasn't much he'd ever been able to do to help. Even Martin hadn't been able to help out the family too much, other than lending them small amounts of money from time to time. It was a sad situation.

"How's your wife and son? Gowdy, right? His name is Gowdy?"

"Yessir, Mr. Whitaker. They're both doin' fine. Gowdy's doin' great. He's probably kickin' up a fuss right now for some breakfast himself."

"Rebecca back at work?"

Tow's face turned, as if he'd taken a sip of spoiled milk; the expression told Ben everything. "Naw. She ain't. She says she just wants to stay at home and take care of Gowdy."

"Well, that's probably best," Whitaker said. "How are things at the plant?" He was eager to change the subject and take Daryl's mind off of the singlewide and the troubles that were obviously contained in those paper and aluminum walls.

"Same old stuff. You know. Just chickens is all. Chickens and chicken guts. Every day's the same." The stench of that place was somehow suddenly in his sinuses and his face showed that, too.

Ben figured that there wasn't much he could talk about that could possibly cheer the young man up, but he spoke too soon, grasping for straws. "What about hunting? Don't you go hunting with Billy Sothern sometimes?" Inwardly, he winced, and tried to keep the emotion from showing on his face. The last thing Daryl likely needed just now was interaction with Sothern, who was obviously quite disturbed.

"Naw, I ain't seen Billy for a week or two. But now that you mention it I might hook up with him and go shootin'. Maybe bag some squirrel or a raccoon or two. I ain't had any squirrel in a while. My mom sure could cook up some squirrel and rice with pepper." He smacked his lips. "Damn, I think I will call up ol' Billy and see what he's doin' on Saturday."

And it was for this reason, over this small talk, that the idea of going hunting with Billy Sothern stuck in Daryl's mind all the rest of the morning, and into the afternoon, and which dogged him enough on the drive home. The first thing he did after he'd stepped through the front door of the chicken plant was go to the phone, the one in the little dining hall, so that he could dial Sothern's number.

That was how it started.

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