Gabe Calvert

I got back late, into the AM. I looked out my bedroom window and saw a faint light from the direction of Gabe’s shack.  I went out back to investigate, suspecting that Marty and Monty had returned.  I’d been back to the shack many times by now, but in the dark I still struggled to find the best route between the trees.  I tripped once, catching myself in time to avoid a face plant and scratching up my hands in the process.  Several mishaps later I reached the door of the shack and flung it open.  Inside I saw Gabe, sitting cross-legged on his beaten mattress.  A lantern cast light across the dim shack.

‘I heard you,’ he said.  ‘You do not move quietly.’

‘I couldn’t see shit.’  I ducked and stepped into the shack.  ‘Where the hell have you been?’

Gabe ignored my question.  ‘You wanted to speak to me, I believe.’

‘I want to know why you’re working for Peter Bingham.’

‘But can you tell me why your friends painted my home?’  I looked at the tagged walls, which seemed more unsightly than ever under the soft lantern light.  The trees around the shack cancelled out the moonlight so that the large window facing the house was but a black portal, looking out on nothing.

‘I can’t control them.’  I held up my hands plaintively.  ‘They’re gone now.’

‘But still in Poscataw County,’ Gabe said, correcting me.  ‘Please.’  He gestured to the opposite wall, at Monty’s nest.  I sat down on the mélange of hay and cotton and a waft of animal urine hit me so hard I flinched.  Apparently something else had made a home of the shack during Gabe’s absence.

‘We have been needing to talk,’ Gabe said.  I hadn’t expected this kind of invitation.  Gabe looked down at the ground.  I glanced again around the shack at the maze of red and black spray paint that bore testament to Marty and Monty’s tenancy.  When I looked back at my cousin I saw him avert his eyes and realized he’d been watching me.

‘How is it you figure we needed to talk?’ I said.

‘You see, we are very much alike, though you would prefer it were not so.’

‘I don’t see how we’re alike.  I don’t see it at all.’

‘But I have never told you about my father.’ He raised his eyes and they were blue and sure.  ‘I am not my brother’s brother, not in the way he believes.  I am half his brother.  We do not share the same fathers.  I am a bastard.’  He said it as a mater-of-fact.  ‘I am a child of lust rather than a child of intention.  I believe I speak for you as well.’  I sensed anger rising.  I felt no kinship for Gabe.  I leaned forward, ready to leave him to his decrepit shack.

‘We’re nothing alike,’ I spat.

‘Do not be angry.  My father, you know him.’  He sneered and at that moment, the way the lip twisted, I saw Gabe Calvert for Peter Bingham’s son.  ‘My father is the same filth as yours,’ Gabe continued.  ‘I see you trying to wash his filth.  I see you trying and I see why you try, but you try in vain.’  I opened my mouth to speak but Gabe wouldn’t let me.  His icy eyes were now in control.  When he raised a single finger to his lips I obeyed with silence.

‘There is no way to wash their filth.  It is pointless—they are eternally filthy.  You cannot wash a father—you can only kill him.’  I felt a sick constricting in my throat.

‘So that’s your solution.’

‘You can kill your father but you cannot change him.’

He had a point—I’d spent most of my time as a son trying to change my father, to no avail.  But murder was something else entirely.

‘You’re being abstract.’  I wondered how much of this charade was intended to elicit a reaction.

‘I will kill your father if you want it.’

For a moment—the nanosecond before my brain caught up with my gut—I considered what a perfect solution Gabe had proposed.  What boy hasn’t wished his father dead at some point.  But my indignity soon washed away and I was overcome with shame at even considering it.  I squinted at my cousin, unsure what role I was supposed to play in this twisted conversation.

‘Do you know,’ Gabe said, detached, ‘what happened to Cathy and Mitchell’s father?  They do not much talk about.’  He rolled his eyes toward the house.  ‘They agree he died but they give little detail.  Some say he fell in the river.  Others say he experienced a heart attack and fell in.  I have a different tale.  I told him the one thing that broke him.  We were walking along the Mississippi River.  I told him how I came to be.  He had raised me always as his own.  Me, who was not easy to raise.’  Gabe looked away.  ‘He fell into the river.  I could have shouted or offered a hand but I let him float, face down.  All this took little more will than to wipe at a fly.’

Back behind the shack I heard a branch snap, then another.  Gabe noticed my attention shift.

‘You become used to such things, living out here,’ he explained.

‘Why on earth did you choose this dirty place over your mother’s house?’

‘They have no use for me there.’  Gabe’s sat up erect, almost defensive in his tone.  ‘And I have no use for them.’

‘Your mother cares for you.  She wants to help you.’

‘Help me!’  He said it as a curse.  I heard another crack from the woods and then an awful crashing.

‘What the hell is that out there?’

‘Do not worry, Cousin Jackson.’  Gabe sank back into a controlled slump.  ‘It will not come near while I am about.’

For the first time I began to believe Marty and Monty’s story about Lieutenant Wesley Calvert haunting these woods.  Something large prowled the trees behind the shack.

‘I will kill your father too,’ Gabe said.  ‘I will do this for you.’

‘I don’t want you to do anything of the kind,’ I said, numb.  I was actually starting to get scared of whatever that noise was.  The fact that Gabe, cool as a pump handle in winter, could deliver so vicious an offer without even flinching compounded my fear.

‘Please don’t,’ I said softly, hardly recognizing the trembling words as my own.

‘The only thing to do about our fathers is to kill them.’

I looked at Gabe and hated the family resemblance.  In some subterranean section of my brain I had thought the same thing, wished for the same outcome, but the thoughts had never bubbled to the surface and taken shape in words.  I shivered.

‘Will you kill your father then?’  I hoped to trap Gabe in a contradiction; proving him wrong proved myself wrong.

‘Yesss,’ he hissed.  I stood up, ready to bolt for the house.  ‘Cousin, please stay.’

I had no intention of staying, although I still had many questions.

‘So anyway…’ I said, still on my feet, enacting a graceless escape into another conversation.  ‘I wanted to ask you about the convertible.  It burned up, you know.’

‘Yes that was unfortunate that your mother’s car burned.’

This guy seemed to know everything about me.

‘They thought they saw you.’

‘I saw them.’  Something crashed against the back wall of the shack, shaking the outbuilding to its foundation.

‘What the hell is that?’

‘I’m not sure.’  Gabe smiled at my growing dread.  ‘But it has been sleeping there at night.’  He extended a crooked finger toward Monty’s nest.  I started for the door.

‘I will kill my father,’ he said, not ready to let me go without first returning to his favorite line of talk.

‘What are you talking about—you’re a fucking psycho.’

‘The man who mated my mother.  I will kill him when he has acknowledged my legitimacy.’

‘Could you do that some time next week maybe?’ I said dryly.  I creaked open the door and looked out into the blackness.  As much as I didn’t want to encounter whatever was out there, I saw no point waiting around these claustrophobic quarters for the thing to come back and claim its bed.  I broke through the door at a run, crashing through the trees, refusing too look back until I’d rounded the corner of the house and slammed the front door safely behind me.  I went to stand at the back window, looking out at the soft lantern light as it spilled out the copious window.  I couldn’t be sure, but at one point I thought I saw something—the hulking figure of Gabe’s roommate—eclipse the light and slip through the window into the shack, ready for bedtime.

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