March 21, 1986
Her screams and the sound of shattering glass were so close together I couldn’t tell them apart. Crouched behind the counter now she was still screaming, right in my ear, her hands tearing at my jacket as if she wanted to force her way inside, and the glass was shattering again, a new swarm of steel bees flying in, breaking another of the shop’s windows and ripping the shit out of the shelving above my head. I was sure it was a Weatherby pump with ball bearing load; Lyle was such a badass and I’d pissed him off.
And I knew he’d get tired of this random long-distance stuff and come inside within a round or two, looking for something fresh to destroy, like my looks. I had the screamer by the wrists, some hapless housewife who’d chosen the wrong day to shop, and I was thinking about Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and all the great gentlemen, wondering – in the limited time I had available, and Lyle was ready to put some severe limits on that, a cap, a bunch of black periods – if the notion of the gentleman was something worth dying for.
I heard the little bell on the door jingle, gave it another moment’s thought, and decided no, shoving the girl scout leader one way and going the other. I didn’t even look back when I heard the Weatherby bark again, no screaming this time, but I was putting my hands out to stop the sidewalk, rolling and running, and couldn’t think about it.
I’d called Lyle a ‘premature ejaculator,’ and felt pretty safe. How was I to know he had another friend who’d been to school? Not that we’re close friends, but you meet all kinds when you’ve got a drinking problem and I do, make a lot of unscheduled stops. So I’d seen him enough times to know his name and too few to know his sense of humor, or the lack thereof I thought as I fumbled for my car keys, fighting Velcro with shaking hands and a key ring caught on a piece of thread, oh shit, and suddenly the car didn’t have a windshield anyway and I was making other plans, running through traffic without waiting for the green, or a crosswalk, or better weather.
For this I went to college? My parents, already in their seventies, were going to add a funeral to my three weddings? What a shit I’d become, but I’d always planned on straightening out. But zig-zag seemed the way to go at the moment, knocking people down without stopping to help them up and explain, but Lyle was providing explanations as we went, very convincing ones, stilling all complaints far more effectively than I could. In spite of years spent in advertising, I was not very persuasive anymore.
And then I saw the bookstore. I used to read, all the time. I read to my kid while I was still holding it together, wife, home, daughter, job. Before the slo-mo stumble down the ever inclining ramp, growing old without every growing up, letting go of the job as I struggled to regain my balance, dropping the family by accident. Here, let me pick that up… no?
So I stopped in the children’s books, hiding behind a big red Babar, tears starting but not because I was sad to die, and then, turning my head away from the book I’d read to my little girl, I saw your book, Roland the Minstrel Pig, and I thought about you, Roland. God, how long had it been?
Roland, I would write him a letter if I lived. He hadn’t witnessed my decline. But then I thought about our parting, how I’d missed his going-away, never answered any letters, Roland and that woman with a tattoo and dark eyes, gone to New Orleans. Roland, who could eat a whole jalapeño without gasping. If God would let me live, I’d write Roland a letter. And then I thought, that’s the cheapest deal I’d ever tried to make with God. What did I take Him for? Save my life and I’ll write a letter. What an asshole I’d become.
But Lyle found me, and interrupted my half-assed prayer, and I was too tired to run anymore. I waited for this window to break and for my chest and face to break up with it. Bits of glass, colored paper and me blown back into the bookstore’s wall. “I really will write the letter,” I said aloud.
And the most remarkable thing happened. Lyle’s head whipped around, and then his gun arm, the big barrel swinging away in search of a new target, and shots so loud and strong they picked him right up into the air, his back to me now, shots so loud they deafened me picked him right up and threw him through the window, into the store, arms outstretched, head back, and that’s just how he landed, a horizontal crucifixion across a display of children’s books for Easter. I got the point. I would have complained about it being heavy-handed, but that didn’t appear to be the smart thing to do, then or now.
So I’m writing you a letter. I’m shaving, too, leaving the beer alone, kind of pulling myself together again. I only promised the letter, but I guess I’ll go the extra mile. It’s in the tradition.
So, how are you?