Once upon a time in 1923Mature

                       once upon a time…

back in 1923, there was a guy we kids used to call tha quaker. he wasn’t religious or nothin, far from it, but he used to get tha shakes summit real bad. we all thought it was dee tees or the aftershock from frisco, maybe. turned out later it was none a these things but summit to do with his brain – dropsy, or palsy or sum such thing, that’s what pa used to tell me. so anyhow, tha quaker’s akchewal name was shakey joe. tha towen was jumpin wiv all kinds a trubble back then – cats out to scalp ya for tha soles a ya shoes – holed or not, it didn’t matter. an we kids was just as bad. we was only kids, sure enuff, an didn’t know how to mind our elders tho we knew enuff to mind pa’s belt when he’d bin at the lightnin. I tell ya, that belt itself felt like lightnin when he held it in his hands – like Zoos himself come crackin down with tha might of every thunder cloud. damn, that belt could sing in his hands an had us singin’ a tune of our own, howlin like alleycats out on tha prowl. anyhow, I’m losing tha thread of my story now. I was gonna tell ya bout shakey joe an what appened wiv him and mary james in the summer of ’23 – that summer when tha land baked so dry that ya could lose ya foot an bust an ankle between the cracks in the mud-flats outside a towen where the crops had used to bin, ceptin tha crops dried up an turned to dust an blew away like they’d never even grew there in tha first place. damn, it was sad to see. there was cattle dyin all around, thin as clothes horses, limp an lifeless, wiv leather hanging off a them an just flappin in tha wind. pa got right proper ornery that year an we kids spent many a long hot afternoon just runnin from old lightnin’s sting. I tell ya, times was tuff that year. shakey lived out on the old joneses place beyond the edge a towen. once upon a time that old place had a gulley runnin straight thru tha plot, feedin crops an cattle an the old joneses well. course, that gulley had well an truly dried up by ’23, leavin just a dirty channel of dust-blowen tumbleweeds an hollowed out critters. those critters dried up so complete ya could pick em up by tha tail an fan yerself wiv em. it didn’t help wiv tha heat any but it sure made us laugh, hard an’ long, it did. anyway, by ’23 that gulley was dead an tha old joneses place was broke up an beat dowen an not much more than a wreck of a place – all empty windows an saggin’ beams, more woodrot than anythin else. old shakey had moved in after the joneses lit out a there a number a years afore. when the drought set in it hit the joneses hard. their kids had dropt from tha tree a life, one by one, to be swallowed up by the earth almost instant-like, like so much fruit gone over in sunlight. man, that was a sorry time for the joneses. so anyhow old shakey had moved into that empty shell an lived out there, drinkin moonshine, eatin beetles an god alone knew what else. an a course we kids used to tease him sum on account of his shakes an tha moonshine an he had no belt to whelp us wiv, nor tha legs to catch a one of us. see, we never meant no harm, not really, we was just kids up for a lark was all. old shakey weren’t to know that a course, no way he could. but still, what he did to mary james weren’t right, no matter what we did to him. no, it weren’t right at all. but anyway. one particular dry an dusty day young mary james was out wiv tha rest of us, just kickin up dust an trubble an stuff. we was all of us out by the old joneses place chasin tha last of tha critters dowen that dirty old gulley when old shakey lit out a that beat up place wiv fire in his belly an summit mean on his mind. ya could see it in his eyes – bright an burnin – that someone was gonna get hurt that day. we split up tha whole gang of us in different directions an left him standin in his dirty long johns all rantin an ragin an we didn’t look back till we got into towen. it was then we see mary james wasn’t wiv us. now maybe she ran tha wrong way from confusion or maybe her game leg had slowed her dowen - polio had warped her legs as a little’un sadly - but whatever it was, it seemed shakey joe had gotten hold of her an we knew we had to go back. when we got back to tha old joneses place it was quiet – I mean – dead quiet. y’know tha way silence hangs about a place an it tells ya summits wrong somehow, I mean, ya just know it somehow, don’t ya? well, that’s what tha joneses place was like when we got back there that day – tha feel of death was all over tha place. an old rag was hangin all limp an ragged thru an empty window an the door was hangin ajar an crooked on broken hinges. tha old weathervane atop the sunken roof was rusty creakin an turnin slowly round above us all, unsure of where to settle. I was tha oldest of us an head a tha gang so it was me that took that lonely walk thru tha yard up tha steps an into that broken old house. what I saw there stopped me breathin an damn near dropt me there an then. as it was I let my bladder go, pizzle runnin down my legs an stainin the floorboards dark with tha first water spilt right there in a long time. that rag we’d seen hangin in tha window was there before me, limply turning, secured to a beam in the midst of the room. mary jameses face was all blue an bloated, her neck pulled out at an awkward angle by the tanned leather belt that was pulled tight around it, cutting into the flesh in places, the soft skin raised in ugly welts. seems shakey had a belt all along an none of us had knowen it. as I watched sweet mary james swingin gentle like before me a shot rang out in the house somewhere an tha sound of summit heavy fallin to tha floor shook dust from the rafters dowen onto me like a gentle rain an then I ran an I ran an I didn’t stop runnin till got back to the jenkins house an got old man jenkins with his rifle loaded out of his parlour an comin wiv me back to the joneses place. course, shakey was dead an bled almost dry by that time – an ugly hole in tha side of his head, his face all twisted an no longer quakin any. that didn’t stop me from kickin him a couple a times tho. we left him in there, festerin, food for any a tha critters still livin, an cut down mary jameses body an took her back to her ma an pa. a week later she was buried in the cemetery, gone tha way of so much other stuff back then, back to tha wind-blowen dust. an slowly life in tha towen began movin agin. now, it seems to me, lookin back on that summer of ’23, that our town, our county, tha state, hell, tha whole goddamned country, was eatin itself up from tha inside out. old shakey was but a small part of it, see, but all of us was at it. us kids, the ranchers, the cattle, the poliaticians, all of us was in on the feast. an it seems somewhere that we’re still busy eatin – tha hunger inside us eatin its way out – in tha guts, in our bellys, in our hearts, in our eyes an in tha memories of every one of us kids that teased old shakey joe back in tha summer of 1923.

The End

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