A River MountMature

A story that brings you a first person view point of a child who lives in louisana with his heroin dealing, addict father. Its the story that brings you the edge of your seat and in the end, maybe you will see things different. Because life is like a river.

A River Mount

By

Jake Connors

 

             “Louisiana is the birth place of great manifests,” Papa says that to me a lot. But it’s usually when he’s drunk or high. He goes on muttering, “Son, go and make as much money as you can. That is your manifest, to not become a broken down junkie like me.”

Papa is constantly conniving on some money making scheming: chopping wood and selling it, gator hunting, trapping crawdads, selling drugs, and brewing moonshine in our old trailer. It isn’t much of a trailer, the paint is moss green and peeling like bark off a tree, the bottom is rusting out, and the toilet only works half the time. There are bullet holes on the river side of trailer from when Pa stumbled home drunk one night and thought there was a gator inside the trailer, but it was only a Possum. 

We live deep in the Atchafalaya River Swamp; some call it the largest swamp in the United States. All I know is our trailer sits where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico meet. My Mama is dead, but I don’t remember how she died. I was still in diapers, but I hear the neighbors talking about Pa dying just like mama. She probably drank herself to death, or with a needle in her arm. I try to remember Mama, but Papa don’t want to remember anymore. Every night I get up to pee I see him passed out on the couch, a filthy red bandana tied around his arm and a burned spoon with the needle beside it.  Most nights Papa will shoot up and stare at the ceiling, searching for the stars through the rusted out holes in the roof. I wonder if he is looking for mama, or waiting to die.

In the morning I walk into the kitchen to scrounge around for something to eat for breakfast.   I don’t drink the water because it taste like gasoline smells.  I open the cupboard to get a bowl to eat some cereal, but the cabinets are empty like Old Mother Hubbard. Glasses and bowls are scattered throughout the trailer, most are caked with a rotten food and mouse turds. 

            The next time it rains I might collect the rainwater, heat it over a campfire and wash the dishes. I walk around the trailer collecting dishes and silverware in anticipation of the next rain. I tip toe past Papa and glance into his dead eyes staring back at me, “Papa, are you awake?” I ask, trying to mask my concern that he might be dead, “Papa, Papa wake up, please wake up.” I lay my head to his chest and hear a faint heartbeat. 

I walk back to my bedroom, but it’s not a real room. There is no door, no windows, no pictures on the wall, and no toys. There is just a dirty mattress that covers a hole in the floor, and a threadbare itchy wool blanket. I put on a long sleeve thermal undershirt, my Levi’s, and shoes. Papa will sleep through the day, probably do more drugs, and will do the same thing again tomorrow.

The next morning I wake up to the trailer filled with smoke and a smell like burning hair. I hop off my mattress in fear that Papa passed out and left the candle burning again. This wouldn’t be the first time Papa caught the place on fire and almost killed us both. 

“Papa fire!” I run screaming out into the main part of the mobile home, but find Papa in the kitchen. He is hunched over the stove frying something in a skillet, maybe squirrel. He sees me run into the kitchen and tries to stand erect, but those days are gone.  He looks older than his thirty eight years by at least twenty. His eyes are black and empty, his face concave from his teeth rotted out, but hidden beneath a bushy red beard that birds would fight to nest in.

“Hey boy, come over here,” Papa said. He took a deep swig of something in a mason jar, and then turned to look in my direction, but not at me, “I got a surprise for you.”

Two mismatched chairs sit at the rickety kitchen table, and two mismatched place mats are on the table, surrounded by Dixie cups, paper plates, and plastic forks. He flipped the mystery meat onto slices of stale white bread, slathered mustard and mayonnaise on it and slapped them together, “This is some gourmet shit boy.”

“Thank you Papa,” I had the biggest smile on my face and thought to himself that I hadn’t had a breakfast like this probably since when mom was alive. He poured me a cup of Kool-Aid and we dug into this delicious breakfast like we was rich.

 “Henry, you gonna come with me to run a few errands,” Papa said. He ate his sandwich in three bites, and gulped from his mason jar, “We’ll be home before dark.” I knew that wasn’t true because every time Papa goes on these errands he wouldn’t be back for a couple of days, to maybe a week. 

Right after breakfast I rushed to my room and got dressed in my going to church jeans and my Grambling University Football t-shirt. I am so excited I run out the door and forget to put on my shoes.

Outside the sky is cloudy, but it is a hot and muggy day. I should put some pots and buckets out because it looks like rain. Papa holds his drink in one hand and throws a bulky black garbage bag and a dirty green backpack bag into the old canoe. There are a couple of holes in canoe, but Papa will paddle, and my job is to scoop out the water with a rusty MJB coffee can he keeps in back of the boat.

“Henry, get in the damn canoe boy,” Papa snaps. But I just stood there, not defiant, now anxious.

“I’m sacred Papa,” I mutter. I know whatever Papa does when he is gone isn’t good, and we might get hurt, or hurt somebody, or die.

 “Get your skinny ass in that boat before I put my belt to it!” Papa shouts, and drinks from his jar.

I stand on the mucky river bank, as if my feet are stuck in the mud. I stare at Poppa standing next to the canoe, but don’t move.

Papa sets his drink down, and starts to unbuckle his gator skin belt. Once I hear the jangling of the buckle I rush over to the canoe and climb in. Papa didn’t need to say another word. He buckles his belt, pushes the canoe into the river and hops in, causing the boat to sway out into the river.

The river is a pale brown, like grease used to fry chicken. We float down the river for about three hour; Papa drank and smoked the time away, not much for talking.  “There it is,” Papa says. He flicks his hand rolled cigarette into the water, and he grows up to the shore. I notice a row of ragged trailers that made ours look like a mansion. Several beat up and dirty like us come out of the woods and help Papa pull the canoe up on the riverbank.

 Papa grabs his zip up duffel bag and walks to the first trailer. Inside it smells like farm animals, even worse than our trailer. The old couple who lives there aren’t friendly at all. The old man is named Drew, and he has a bald spot on his head and wears a sleeveless shirt with army shorts. His wife Gabby is big, old, and smelly like a wet dog. Her belly droops to her knees, and I wonder how she can wash her privates because I know she can’t see them.

“Sit down and shut up,” Papa orders me.

 I sit on the floor quietly, suck on my thumb, and stay on the lookout for rats and cockroaches. 

Father opens up his duffel bag and pulls out the big Mason jar filled with what look to be foil marbles. Drew pulls a wad of wrinkled paper money out of his sock and hands it to Papa, who reaches in the jar and gives Drew some of the marbles.

The fat lady takes one of the marbles and peels off the foil wrapper, takes out the stuff puts it on a spoon, and heats it over a candle. Papa got the last high, and the three sat there knocked for several hours. Papa left the couple nodded out and took me around to the trailers selling heroin, and getting high. Four days passed, and once he was done with the dealing we got back in the boat and rowing back up the river. He earned $854.

            When we got home I went in my room to color in my books that weren’t even coloring books just magazines adults read.  Later that day a police officer from town drove up the dirt driveway. The woman cop gets out of the car and brushes road dust off her green and brown uniform. She has brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, blue eyes, but her face looks plain as paper. She walks up towards the trailer and calls out, “Hello is anyone home?” I came out, and then she says, “Good morning Henry did you just wake up?”

I shook my head no.

 “Is your Pa home?” The officer asks.

I nod my head up and down.

 “Yeah, can I see him?”

 I shake my head

 “No, well that’s okay. Why don’t you come over here you want to see something cool?”   

I walk over to her and she shows me her shiny gold badge. My eyes open wide and stare at it. 

Papa slams the screen door open and stalks down the stairs, “Henry get your butt inside.”

I rush pass Papa and into the mobile home, but listen from a broken window.

“Calm down Darrel I was just showing Henry my badge”

“You were always good at showing off weren’t you?” Papa says,

“I never showed off,” The officer says, as if familiar with Papa, “Are you drunk again?”

“Oh yeah sure,” Papa says, “that’s why you had to leave everyone behind to be a cop”

“I’m damn proud of it,” The officer says, “I didn’t want to be a heroin addict like you?”

“Get the hell out of here.” Papa shouts.

“I wanted to have a future,” She shouts back at Papa, “I was done with that dead-end life you were offering,”

“You never gave a damn about us” Father says, “only yourself.”

“I gave everything to help,” She says, “and you kept messing with that heroin.”

 “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Papa says.

“Really?”

“Get the hell off my property,” Papa tells her again, as mean as I ever heard him.

“I’ll leave right after you let me see your arms,” The sheriff says, showing no fear.

 “I don’t have to show you a damn thing,” Papa says, “now get the hell off my property before I call the police.”

“Look I just came here to see how Henry was doing that’s all,” The sheriff said.

“We’re fine, you don’t have to worry,” Papa says, “I can take care of my own son.”

Papa turns his back to the officer, and walks back inside. The officer walks back to her car, waits several minutes before started the car up and driving away.

Papa walks over to me, and says quietly but with a firm voice, “So did you have nice talk with her?”

I didn’t answer. But I know papa isn’t about to let me go quietly.

 “I said did you have a nice talk with her?” He walks closer to me, and I see his hand move toward the belt buckle.

“Hello I can’t hear you!” Papa grabs me by the arm and shakes me, “Did you have a nice talk with that ungrateful bitch?”

I started sobbing, and says, “I’m sorry Papa,”

“Well sorry doesn’t cut it.” Papa stops shaking me, and tosses me to the floor, “What if it was someone that wanted to take you away from me? The world out there is a scary place, that’s why I keep you close, so nothing can happen to you. I am trying to protect you from the evil in this world.  Now promise you will not talk to any strangers including cops do you understand me?”

I didn’t say anything.

 He grabbed my arm again, snatched me off the floor, and started shaking me like a doll, and shouted, “I said do you understand me?”

“Yes Papa, I understand.” I shouted back while trying to squirm from his grip.

Papa tosses me be back on the floor, “Good now, cleanup this place. I have an errand to run, and will be back late.” Papa slams the door behind him, starts up the truck and is gone. I know late means two or three days.   

 The next day I walk into Papa’s room. The room is a mess, and smells like cigarettes and piss. There is so much junk in the way I have to start moving things just to get inside the door. Papa usually passes out on the couch, and I can’t remember the last time he changed his clothes, so he doesn’t come in here much. 

 After about an hour of digging I reach the bed. The sheets were full of piss and puke; and it almost makes me throw up. However, up by his soiled pillow I find a shoebox filled with pictures of Papa and Mama when they were young. There are so many pictures of me as a baby with Papa, and some with mother. There are pictures of mother looking towards the camera as she was sitting at the kitchen teaching me how to read.  I knew Papa wasn’t coming home soon, so I took my time and sort through the pictures, and saw several of Officer Samantha, but I don’t know why.  Then I saw a small wallet picture of her graduating the police force and knew right then who this is. 

I hear a car crushing gravel driving up the dirt road to the mobile home, and I scramble off the bed because Papa would kill me if he found out I was in his room. I peek out the living room window and see Officer Samantha’s squad car pull up next to the trailer.  I rush out the front door, down the stairs, and leap into Officer Samantha’s arms just she is stepping out of her car. I hug her tight. 

“This is nice,” Officer Samantha, says, “What’s the occasion Henry?”

“I know who you are” I whisper in her ear, “You’re my sister.”

 “I’m sorry that I never told you.” Officer Samantha says without hesitation.

“Why didn’t Papa tell me who you are?” I ask Samantha, “He doesn’t want us to be together?”

“Papa fears that you will leave him like I did,” Samantha explains, “and Mama in a way.”

“Is that why he does that stuff?” I ask.

“What does he do Henry?” Samantha asks, more like an officer than my sister.

I don’t answer her question, knowing I said too much, and Papa might get in trouble.

“Henry what does he do?”

I just stand still looking down at the ground, anywhere but Samantha’s blue eyes.

 “It’s okay Henry, I won’t tell anyone,” Samantha said, but she probably has to tell on Papa because she is a police officer.

“He pokes himself with a needle a lot,” I finally tell her, “after that he goes to sleep.”

 “Does he do it around you?” Samantha asks.

 I nod my head yes.

“Does he do it a lot?” Samantha asks, but clarifies the question, “Does he do it every day?”

 I nod my head yes again.

“I’m sorry you have to live like this Henry.” The look on Samantha’s face alternates between sorrow and anger. She kneels before me, and asks, “Do you want to come away from this life you live?”

 I shrug my shoulders, and say nothing.

               “What don’t you want to leave this place?”

“He will get better,” “I cry out, “I don’t want Papa to die.”

“Sweetie, no he won’t.” Samantha says, “I have to focus on saving you.”

“Yes he will,” I cry. I’m not even sure what Papa is getting better from.

“Henry he’s done this for a long time,” Samantha calmly explains, “and it’s not safe for you to live here.”

I turned my head and look at the ramshackle mobile home, and tell Samantha, “Tomorrow,”

“What?” Sam asked.

 “Tomorrow I’ll leave.”

Samantha nods her head in agreement, “Okay, tomorrow I’ll come get you.” She smiles and gives me a tight hug. I hurry into the house and count the hours until tomorrow.

It is 9:30 at night, and I nod off to sleep, just when Papa returns from his errands. He grabs me out of bed, “Get up, we have to leave.”

“Where are we going?” I struggle my way out of Papa’s grip.

“You forget who the parent is,” Papa picks me up and carries me outside to the truck, “and who is the child.” He tosses me in the front seat, and tosses his old backpack between us. I see money peeking out of the broken zipper.

“I don’t wanna go Papa,” I whine.

“I didn’t ask you if you wanted to go,” Papa twists the key in the ignition, “Come on. Come on…Come on, goddamn it, start you piece of shit.” The old truck sputters to life. Papa switches the gears on the stick and speeds out of the driveway.

Papa drives for what seems to be a couple of hours, until we reach the opposite end of the swamp. Papa he turns up a gravel road and drives until I see the headlights of two trucks ahead of us. “Papa, I want to go home,” I whine.

He grabs the backpack full of money and looks over at me, “Whatever happens you don’t come out of this truck, you hear?”

“I wanna go home,” I plead several more times.

Papa shuts the door and walks over to the trucks and two men came out of each of the two trucks. One is a big man wearing a tan business suit, and he has slick black hair. He is with three Cubans wearing jeans, sleeveless shirts, and carrying AK-47’s. They remain in the background, and the man in the suit steps out front.

“Nice night isn’t it?” The big man in the suit says.

“Sure is” Papa says, I have the...”

“I didn’t think you would come.” Big man interrupts.

“Why wouldn’t I come?” Papa asks, looking at the big man, and his two associated standing directly behind him.

“Most people in as deep a debt hole as you just make a run for it.” The big man says. He motions to one of the men to go and frisk Papa.

 The man walks over to Papa, and pats him down for weapons, and says, “They leave town and change their name, but I always find them.”

 “You know why?” The head man asks Papa.

“No idea.” Papa says.

 “Everyone makes mistakes Punta.”

 “Is that your kid in the truck?” One of the associate asks, and takes several steps toward the truck.

I duck down to the floor of the cab, and hold my breath.

“Look we’re here on business terms,” Papa quickly answers, “don’t worry who is in the truck, you just deal with me.”

“I’m not worried,” The big Cuban says, “as long as you have my money.”

 Papa walks over and drops the backpack of money on the big Cuban’s white cowboy boots with sparkling diamond skulls stitched in them. 

The big man smiles, and kicks the bag over to one of his associates, “Count it.”

Big man’s associate retrieves the bag, carries it over in front of one of the trucks to use the headlights to see while he counts the money.

 The right hand man counts the money, returns and whispers something in big man’s ear.

“Hey Essa,” big man says, tossing the back pack over to Papa, and landing at his feet, “this is light a four thousand and change.”

 “Bullshit, it should all be there.” Papa takes two steps back toward the truck, and considers running for it, “I swear it’s all there.”

 “Senor, are you trying to screw me over?”

“No, I swear to god I would never!” Papa pleads, while digging into the backpack to count the money himself.

“You piece of shit lowlife,” The big Cuban shouts at Papa, “you trying to run game on me.”

“No, please give me another week to get all the money for you,” Papa pleads, and I know he is in trouble, we are in trouble.

“Here is what I will give you,” The man in the suit kicks Papa in the crotch. Papa falls to the ground, and he kicks Papa in the face. The man grabs Papa by his shirt and punches him in the face repeatedly. The other man kicks Papa in the ribs with the point of his boot the big Cuban stomps Papa and I can hear Papa’s nose crack.

“Go home with your boy,” Big man says, “junkies selling drugs never works out well.”

The Cubans get in their trucks and drive away, and I finally have the courage to get out of the truck, “Papa,” I scream, and ran over to him. However, all he could do is groan, and ooze blood. Papa struggles to stand up and walk back to the truck with me trying to help. He manages to get us home safely, but passes out in the cab of the truck.

The next morning I go out to the truck and Papa isn’t there. I return to the house and see the bathroom light on.  I walk in and see Papa trying to clean the blood off his beard and fix his nose; his face looks purple and battered like road kill. He catches a glimpse of me behind him in the mirror and closes the door.

Papa opens the bathroom door and walks out. He walks into his room and returns with his drugs in hand.  I remember Samantha is coming today.

Papa sits on the couch and places the drugs on the coffee table in front of him. “Papa don’t do it,” I beg, “we will get through this Papa, please don’t.”

Papa didn’t listen

I laid my head on his head on his lap for what I thought would be the last time, and fell asleep. I woke up to candles burning all over the trailer, and ask, “What’s wrong?”

“They turned off our electric bill,” Papa shouts, “I can’t even pay a fucking bill”

“Papa its okay we will get through this.”

“You got into my stuff while I was gone;” Papa grits his rotten teeth in anger, the tension hurting like knives to the face, “didn’t you?”

“No I didn’t pa,” I lied.

Don’t you lie to me you know you did, now fess up and take your beating.”

I started to cry aloud, “Okay, Yes I did. I did see the pictures and read the letters. I now that Samantha is my sister.”

Papa stands up and walks towards me with hands clinched into fists, “You are getting into grown folks business that don’t involve you boy.”

“I want to be with Samantha,” I shout at Papa, now standing over me.

“You ungrateful little shit,” Papa shouts, and slaps me across the face, “after all I have done for you. You are my son, and aren’t going anywhere.”

“Yes I am,” I shout at Papa, and get up to run; however, Papa slaps me hard across the face, and I fall back to the floor.

“You little shit, you are just as mouthy as your sister,” Papa says, and stomps into the kitchen, “I got something to take care of that bay attitude.”

Papa snatches the cast iron from the stove and charges at me. I was still stunned from the slaps to my face, but still able to run down the hall. Papa is close behind swinging away at the walls putting holes in them. He corners me in my makeshift bedroom, holds the frying pan overhead, and yells, “You want to leave me?”

“Samantha is coming to get me today,” I tell Papa, before the heavy frying pan comes down on my head.

There is a light mist in the air and the river meandered past, Officer Samantha drives up and sees the other cop cars in front of the mobile home along with an ambulance. Yellow crime scene tape surrounds the mobile home. She gets out of the squad car and sprints to the sheriff, and asks, “Grady, what happened?”

“I’m sorry Sam.”

“Henry!” Sam shouts, and runs toward the mobile home, but Sheriff Grady stops her.

“Sam calm down.” Grady says, “We had a call from the neighbors saying they heard some disturbance in the house...’

“Tell me what the fuck happened?”

“He killed the boy.”

Two men from the coroner’s office roll a gurney past Samantha with a small body bag on top. She looked over and saw her Papa sitting in the dirt with his hands cuffed, and two cops standing next to him. She rushed over unsure whether to shoot him or beat him like he did Henry. However, the two cops and another sheriff restrain Samantha and trying to pull her away, “You bastard I hate you, I hate you.”

The next day, Samantha walked over to the interrogation room and sees her father on the other side of the glass sitting in a chair in front of the metal table.  The interrogator emerges from the room, and Samantha immediately asks, “What did he say?”

“The boy told the old man that he was leaving, and the old man went batshit crazy.”

“Can I see him?” Samantha asks.

“Ten minutes,” The man nods, “leave your firearm with me.”

Samantha walks opens the door, walks around her father, and grabs the chair and sits in front of him at the table. She asks “How do you feel?”

Papa doesn’t answer, and averts his eyes to avoid her cold stare.

“How could you have done that to your own son I mean why...”

 “You think I’m proud of what I did?” Papa interrupts Samantha, “All my life I have been making excuses and blaming others for my mistake?  And now I have realized it hasn’t brought me anywhere.  After when your mom died my world crumbled I started to blame myself, you, doctors and even god. I don’t even think god is real but I talked to him that day when she died, I really did.  I tried so hard to not let Henry leave by not letting him know you, to not even know the knowledge of living anywhere but with me.” 

“That is your excuse to kill my brother?”

“When he told me that he was leaving I knew I would be alone, and I couldn’t stand the thought.”

 “I stopped by the other day and he told me that he knew that I was his sister.” Samantha says, “I asked him if he wanted to go away, and he said tomorrow. He wanted to spend one last night with you.”

Samantha walks away leaving him with his eyes wide open and mouth shut.

The next day she was sitting in her squad car by the highway staring out the front windshield. I sometimes like to sit out here and think about if I want to get married or have a few kids but what can make me just leave it all behind. Where would I live, will I be able to support myself, how will I get a job is it really worth it to leave it all behind? She paused as she thought about it, “yeah I guess it is worth it,” She then turned the ignition and drove onto the highway that comes out of Louisiana not knowing what her future will look like only to start fresh and maybe find some peace.  Because every life is a river and in that river are rocks and mounts we can’t go back but only keep going forward and soon we will get to the peaceful streams and will realize it sure was worth it.

The End

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