My uncle was a union foreman and got me a job as a fire watcher. I’d lost an arm a few months earlier, apparently I wasn’t good for much else but to watch for fires as the welders went about making sparks in the boilers of the ship.
But fire watching suited me fine. It gave me plenty of time to read, write, and to think, to think strangely even, to think thoughts that these welders never had to think about, like why unionists are not communists, or why the sky is blue.
One day, we got off work around noon. I don’t remember why; what’s important to emphasize is that getting off work at noon is quite different from getting off work at five in the evening.
It’s quite different. It does something to the mind.
On the way home, we stopped at a bar, and then another bar, and even one after that. My uncle was thirty-five and I was nineteen. He told me to slow down, we were drinking strong bourbon whiskey, and the like, but I was nineteen and one-armed, recently so, only six months since the operation and my uncle’s advice went unheeded. Traci had been living with me since the accident. There’s a word for people like her, not apotemophiliacs (people who lust after amputees), no, she was a hospital lush, or some such phrase, people who are drawn to hospital patients, to near-fatal victims, the greater the bodily destruction of the patient, the greater the lust, and they get real close to you as you recover from impossible wounds, but the more you heal the less they lust after you until when you are completely recovered, or as recovered as you can get, they quit fucking your brains out and pack up their bags and leave you forever. This is exactly what Traci did to me, but I’m not going to tell that story here, perhaps some other time.
I’m just going to stick with this one evening when my uncle and I got off of work early, too early. For getting off at noon served only to confuse us, we didn’t like getting off early and that’s why we were making a mess of things by hitting every bar on both sides of the lake as we gradually made it back home; one thing about Traci, she’d only seen her mother once or twice in her life, but she knew her mother was a long-haired brunette like herself, and I was thinking hard about how I had met Traci’s mother in one of the dives where my uncle warned me about drinking bourbon too quickly in broad daylight. It was August; the air was nasty like an overused kitchen washcloth. My uncle dragged me from the truck to a water faucet sticking out a foot from a brick wall of a 7-11 and turned the water on and it flowed all over my young face. I was cured almost instantly and when I got home to Traci, who was stretched out naked in the tub taking a hot bath and smoking a Marlboro 100, the first thing I said to her was, I met your mother today! She didn’t look up nor did she smile, she said quite coldly, There’s no way you could have met my mother, she never … I don’t remember what she said after that but it doesn’t matter much, because Traci packed up her things that night and never came back.
After she left, I took a handful of throat-lodging Somas to calm my nerves,
And I fell deeply to sleep like never before, had strange dreams that wonderful/horrible night of barely visible tree animals, transparency within transparency is the only way I know how to describe them, like glass within glass, who sat in the trees in the woods just over the backyard fence. They were certainly there, and had you been in the dream you would be able to see just an outline of several green-Soma-type glass animals, indescribable, yet no less ferocious in their mouths.
That was over fifteen years ago and I’m even more destroyed now than I was then.
Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, a 501 (c)(3) arts organization based in Oxford, Mississippi. Bourgeois also heads and instructs in the Prison Writes Initiative, Mississippi’s only liberal arts program for inmates.