Monday, December 28, 2009

Cartin's Brick, fiction by Jarrid Deaton

My daughter, Laney, she got pregnant not long after her sixteenth birthday.  Me and Nora were disappointed, sure, but we didn’t come  down on her with lectures or anger. We just told her that we’d help out as much as needed, but she had a whole new world of responsibilities getting ready to crack open on her way before she was old enough.  Cartin’s father bolted a week before Laney went into labor.  The first two years he mailed Christmas cards with fifty bucks in them, but then he was all the way gone.  Cartin was born premature, all shriveled and tiny.  He made it through the close calls with beeping machines sending  nurses back and forth at all hours of the day.  We thought Laney would do okay when we first saw her with him.  That didn’t last long at all.

By the time he turned one, Cartin was, for the most part, Nora's and mine.  We allowed for it because Laney made promises to go to the local community college and get a part-time job.  She kept her word on the job, holding down a waitressing gig at Reno’s Roadhouse.  Some nights she wouldn’t come by to pick Cartin up.  Some nights she  would come by to get him staggering drunk with some guy I never got to see close up at the wheel of a truck that, by the sound of it, didn’t have a muffler.  If Cartin was sleeping,  the roar of truck would send him bawling loud and red-faced out of whatever dream he was caught in and it would take half an hour to calm him down. 

Laney eventually stopped coming to get Cartin altogether.  It worried me and  Nora, but we were more than happy to have him around.  I’d watch him play in the backyard and smile when I’d catch him staring up at the hills behind the house.  I knew he probably heard a squirrel heading for one of the tall trees, or maybe a rabbit getting brave and making its way closer to the yard.

“Papaw,” he said to me one day.  “What’s alive up there?”

“Just about everything, buddy,” I told him.

The summer he turned ten, I started letting him wander around up in the hills.  I always  kept a close eye on him.  I’d been all over the area looking for mushrooms and ginseng, so I knew it was safe.  He’d spend an hour at a time roaming around before he’d make his way back to the house, dirty with scrapes from briars up and down his arms and burrs sticking all over his back and in his wild brown hair.

The next spring, I took out a loan and built us a new house the land where my father used to have a farm.  It gave Nora plenty of room to plant her little garden and I’d always wanted more dirt to call my own.  It was mine after my father died, but it didn’t feel like it belonged to me until I had a house on it.  We deeded the old house over to Laney and her live-in boyfriend, Amos, that I’d only met twice.  Nora told me he had a  good job with the railroad, but, since Laney always borrowed money off of us, I doubt it was that good.

Not long after we moved in the new house, Amos drove over with a dog box in the back of his truck.  I walked out to see what was going on.  Amos went around to the back.

“Come on over here, Olin,” he said.  “Look what I picked up for Cartin.  Got him a pal to play with.”

Amos let the truck gate down and opened the dog box.  A big mutt slinked out and took a nervous jump to the ground.  It looked like a cross between a collie and a hunting dog.  It sniffed at the ground and made a few circles around the truck.

“Name’s Winston,” Amos said.  “Got him from a guy in Lexington pretty cheap, all things considered.  Promised to do a little roofing work for him, but I don’t plan on it.”

Amos laughed and squatted down to pet the dog.  It took a couple of steps back and stared at him.

“Hell with you, then,” Amos said.  “Tell Cartin me and his mama will come back over this weekend and see how him and Winston’s getting along.  We got some business to attend to down around Frankfort tomorrow.  Take it easy, old man.”     

They always had some kind of business to take care of in Frankfort.  I never nosed around enough to find out what it was, but I can imagine it would have pissed me off enough to have whipped Amos’ ass, so I just let it go.  I didn’t want to strain things between Laney and us anymore than she already had.

It was three days later when I drove up the dusty one-lane road leading to my house and saw Cartin with a wash rag held against his nose as he walked fast in the opposite direction.

"Cartin, what are you doing?" I asked. "Where's your grandma?"

"Damn dog bit me so I killed it," he said.  "I was looking for you.  I ain't sorry.  It bit me."

The dog wasn't dead, but it was hurt.  Cartin had cracked its head with one of the bricks  laying in the yard, left over from the expansion of the house.

I looked at his nose, the bridge covered in dried blood.  The dog had closed its jaws right between Cartin's eyes.

"I just tried to pet him," he said.  "He growled and I tried to back up but he jumped on me."

"It's okay," I said.  "Go in the house and get your grandma.  You need to head down to the clinic and get that looked at.

When Nora left with Cartin, I went inside at took my .38 from the top shelf of the closet.  I walked back outside and found the dog hunched up against the back of the garage. One eye was closed and it growled at me and bared its fangs.

"Winston," I said.  "Laney.  Amos."

I pulled the trigger and turned the crack made by Cartin's brick into a cave of blood, hair  and bone.  The dog was in the ground before he got back from the clinic.

Jarrid Deaton lives in eastern Kentucky. He received his MFA in writing from Spalding University. His work has appeared in Underground Voices, Thieves Jargon, Pear Noir, decomP, Zygote in My Coffee, and elsewhere.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays!

More content in the new year. I'm going to be busy until then, though, turning 40 and reevaluating, uh, very important things, because I'm, uh, officially at what I used to consider middle age.

Here's a song a dear, dear, friend of mine sent me today (thanks Sue!). To say I love it would be an understatement.

I hope you all are well and have family around you, if you want them there. Right now, I'm going out back of the house to piss my name in the snow. Because I can.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That's Right--Drug the Little Fuckers!

Who diagnosed this three-year-old kid (referenced in the last graph) with bipolar disorder?? Can someone in the medical professions please tell me a way in which this makes sense? Three-year olds are all over the place mentally because they're, um, three-year-olds.

And it only makes the cake taste better to know poor kids get drugged at twice the rate of their richer counterparts. I imagine that happens with adults, too, but I've not seen any research to that effect. Read for yourself, in the NY Times.

New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.

Those findings, by a team from Rutgers and Columbia, are almost certain to add fuel to a long-running debate. Do too many children from poor families receive powerful psychiatric drugs not because they actually need them — but because it is deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to control problems that may be handled much differently for middle-class children?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cow-Tipping, fiction by Mark Staniforth

The sight of all those schoolgirls’ legs unfolding off the buses at just past four o’clock every afternoon is almost enough to shut anybody up, except for Roscoe Williams when he’s got another one of them stupid ideas of his rattling around in his thick old head.

Squinting up at all that bare chicken-flesh parading right past you, it’s all you can do just to think straight, let alone talk. But Roscoe Williams, he’s so screwed-up with thinking where his next drink’s going to come from he could talk his way through a sixth-form orgy just so long as there was a bottle of Super waiting on the other side of it.

Maybe it’s because he’s so blurry-focused on the booze and his next means of getting it that the sight of all them shiny fawn thighs doesn’t seem so much of a big deal to him as it does to me. Me, I reckon I’d happily trade in swigging Super all day long on the bus-stop bench if it meant even the smallest improvement of getting any pair of them educated limbs of theirs lolled around my neck.

This time I’m trying my best to focus on the long curve of Kelly O’Mara’s calves, smooth and sleek as a sports car bonnet and guaranteed to top-speed her out of this place just as soon as she’s old enough to get behind a wheel. Only Roscoe’s blabbing in my left lughole about this weekend being a right ripe time to pull another of his ‘famous’ cow-tip scams.

Thing is, what gets me most isn’t so much Roscoe’s blabbing as me knowing how it’s going to turn out, no matter how much I try and stop it. Ever since my dinner-time drinking got me fired from the animal feeds, I’ve been desperate enough that there isn’t a whole lot left I wouldn’t do for money. Even most of those things would be tempting if you waved a bottle of Super under my nose.

Me and Roscoe go back a long way. We met when his mother threw a party when we were ten years old, snuck under the kitchen table and drank ourselves as good as unconscious on her cooking brandy. Sometimes it seems the screwcap hasn’t been back on since. Through it all, I’ve learned the hard way that Roscoe is exactly the kind of greasy-arsed bastard I oughtn’t to be listening to when it comes to the question of making up the next bunch of beer money.

So when he starts up with the famous cow-tip shit, I blink my eyes off all those perfect bodies and dribble a spit on the concrete and say, convincing as I can, ‘bullshit, Roscoe.’

‘Wayne-oh,’ sighs Roscoe. I hate it when he sighs my name that way, like he’s some kind of big-shot who can hardly lower himself to shape the words. The sun turns to shadow and there’s no need to look up to know it’s Patty Jenkins who’s blocking it out. She’s already replaced her school jumper with a tee-shirt saying ‘Frankie Says Relax’. It pegs the end of her balloon boobs then drops straight off, makes her look like some sort of slutty sandwich-board evangelist. She’s got tight scraped-back foster-home hair and smells of wet towels and cheese and onion crisps. She sags down between us and pokes a Benson in her cake-hole. She eyes up the bottle of Super and Roscoe hands it over sweet as if he was giving Kelly O’Mara a box of Black Magics on Valentines’ Day.

‘All right?’ I say, but it’s Roscoe who’s got her attention on account of the free slurp of Super and the always-likely offer of some more fat cash.

‘You fixed for tonight?’ says Roscoe. Patty shrugs. She slurps and bends forward to itch an inner-thigh. She passes me the Super. I take one look at the fuzzed-up rim and pass it right back. She takes another slurp, passes it to Roscoe who drains the last two inches.

‘Have faith in the cow-tip!’ he proclaims, standing and tossing the empty bottle of Super towards the village green bin and stomping across the street towards the public lavs.


Later, we’re in the Fox and Roscoe’s tipping the shots down Patty Jenkins’s neck, wrapping her round his little finger with what’s left of his charm and his cash. Strikes me there’s no need for Roscoe to be so generous with the doubles, since Patty would good as guarantee herself to anyone for keeps once she’s dosed up on Pernod and Blacks.

Patty’s swapped her Frankie tee-shirt for her best blow-job clothes, a cheap black bra just about big enough to hold them in under a two-sizes-too-small crop-top that shows off her folds. The way she’s rubbing up against Roscoe looking up at him with those big trusting eyes of hers, it almost makes me feel sorry for her. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s coming but I swallow my morals for the thought of a pocket-full of dough.


The tap-room’s full of boys with bare arms swigging pints like they know where the next one’s coming from. They’re here to give Jackie Bell a quaint old rural send-off. Jackie Bell’s hauled them up here supposedly on some outward-bound weekend but truth is he’s been after the chance to rub our noses in it ever since he swanned off to that college of his. He’s throwing twenties at Old Roy and Old Roy’s flapping about after them like a zoo-pond penguin at feeding time. It’s just as well we’re so practised in making our own pints last all night or we’d be detoxed by the time we managed to catch Old Roy’s eye.

Roscoe’s got his eye on a couple of likely lads. Reckons he’s like a lion picking out the weakest wildebeest from the herd. Calls it his sixth sense and I have to hand it to him, it hasn’t done us too far wrong in the past, save the time he didn’t account for a scrawny-arsed runt being a champion flyweight. They’re well-dressed townie types and it’s easy to see who shits it the most when the pissed-up farm boys barge past on their way to the lavs. Roscoe flicks his head and heads off, pulls up a stool. I follow him. Patty stays back by the jukebox, swivels her clack-shoes so her tits are spilling in their direction.

Roscoe nods at a pair of lads and asks if they can spare him a fag. The fatter one offers up a pack of poncey menthols and I know that at that moment Roscoe’s gone and struck gold again. Roscoe leans in for a light. He nods his head at Jackie Bell lording it up at the end of the bar and says, ‘known him for years. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.’

You can tell the pair’s nervous what with the proximity of Roscoe’s fucked-up face. Roscoe lifts his dregs and makes them clink glasses. He clocks one of them’s wearing a United pin-badge. When it comes to clocking stuff like that, Roscoe never misses a trick. A few minutes later, we’ve got fresh pints lined up courtesy of the townies, and they’re embroiled in a red-faced three-way over who’s better down the Old Trafford wing, Jesper Olsen or some other cunt I’ve never heard of. I’m looking over at Patty waiting for the signal, and I’ve half a mind to pull Roscoe aside and tell him a night on the beer’s enough for me without having to go through with all the famous cow-tip crap.

Roscoe flashes me the wink which says I’ll never see the end of it. He nods over at Patty and draws their heads in and says, ‘see that bird over there with the tits? Best blow-jobs north of Watford.’ He reaches for another menthol, sparks up. ‘Fact.’

They’re looking over giving her the ogle. She gives them the cutesy wave. ‘You’re in there.’ Roscoe says it so they both them he means them. Truth be told, they’re not the types it looks like pussy comes easy for. The fat one looks down, embarrassed. The other meets her stare.

Just then, Jackie Bell flits past and Roscoe pulls him over and steers his pint to the table and says, ‘good on you, Jacko!’

‘Hey-hey!’ says Jackie Bell, slaps Roscoe’s back. Roscoe used to be Jackie’s pussy-catching mate till too many nights on the glue turned him into an ugly sniff-faced bastard. Used to bore me senseless with stories of double-teaming sluts behind the Kwik Save. Now Jackie just treats him like another piece of shit ought to be stuck down the bottom of a brown paper bag.

Jackie says, ‘you’ve found yourself a right fucking pair here, lads,’ and I can’t work out who it is he’s talking to, us or the stag-do dickheads, but either way knowing we know Jackie seems to put the two stag-do dickheads at ease.

Jackie gone, Roscoe’s back to drawling on like a Match Of The Day pundit. Out of the corner of his eye he tips Patty the wink and she wobbles over.


Long past closing time we’re out in a field in the middle of nowhere and I hate to admit it but Roscoe’s plan has worked like a charm. Getting the pair of them out of the pub didn’t present much of a problem once Roscoe started gabbing on about quaint local activities, and Patty piped up about the cow-tipping right on cue.

It’s fair to say the fat one was a bit more reluctant to give up his seat in the thick warm pub for a spot of gallivanting round pitch-black fields getting his box-fresh Filas all fucked up with animal shit, but it’s nothing a well-placed hand on a thigh from Patty couldn’t sort out quick-sharp. We pile in the back of Roscoe’s Cortina Estate. It’s had the back down so long now the seats wouldn’t sit up if you tried. Roscoe uses it as a mobile bed most nights given as he’s pretty much permanent estranged from his folks these days. Colder it gets, the more litres he gets through for insulation. It smells of old fags and stale piss and the bearings squeal like a yard of pigs as Roscoe bathes the pub car park in full beam. ‘Jesper fucking Olsen,’ he says as he backs out, shakes his head in the best fake awe you’ve ever seen.

Soon we’re bouncing up the pitch-black back-tracks so much it’s giving me a stiffy and I’m hating myself for it taking just a few stupid pot-holes to get me horny about Patty Jenkins of all people again. She’s squeezed in between the college cunts in the back and if everything’s going according to Roscoe’s well-laid plans she’ll have each of her hands down their respective boxers by now and be twiddling their no-doubt tiny nobs towards the point of splurge.

After more bumping and grinding than you get on the dancefloor of the Pickering Ritzy on your average Friday night, Roscoe pulls up and half-turns and his teethy smirk is lit up by moonlight.

‘Cow-tip time!’ Roscoe says, and we all lamp out the car and feel our feet sink in pools of warm shit. The fat lad stops to light up another menthol and by the look of his face in the match-glow he’s not all that thrilled with where we’ve took him. The other one’s more perving at the gigantic bouncing balls Patty’s got stuffed up her tee-shirt and they’re looking even bigger in the moonlight glow. Patty’s looped an arm round both the boys and she’s steering them off to the darkness as planned.

Roscoe hisses open a couple of cans of Special and we clank them together and glug them down. After giving them ten minutes we creak out after catching one or both of them in the act. Sure enough there’s the flabby lad silhouetted in the open field with his arms sticking out like a scarecrow and he’s mumbling to no-one in particular: ‘I knew it. I fucking knew it.’

There’s a slurpy sound coming from a block of black on our right which we take correctly to be a hedge, and closer inspection reveals Patty Jenkins down in her most convenient pose gobbling the other lad’s sweaty knob with his boxers tangling his knees. Patty’s still got her mega-baps well strapped in which I can’t help feeling is a mighty waste on the lad’s part, though they do say some are inclined to save a little mystery for their lovemaking.

The routine is for Roscoe to step out out and politely inform the chap that in order to keep such a sorry and perhaps illegal activity under wraps there may have to be a small session of financial transacting. But somehow the sight of Patty summoning up such enthusiasm for the one-thousand-and-forty-third nob she’s ever had in her gob seems to rub Roscoe up the wrong way. So while the flabby lad’s still stomping around the field moaning about fucking knowing it, Roscoe bellyflops over the top of the hedge and slaps the lad out of his fantasy and calls him a paedo.

Patty slops his nob out of her gob and wipes herself on the hem of her upturned top and gets to her feet and giggles at her mucky whore knees.

The lad’s staring big-eyed at Roscoe going, ‘I don’t want no trouble, like,’ but Roscoe slaps him round the chops and sinks him in the mud. He goes, ‘she might be a dirty slut but she’s only fifteen, like.’

The lad’s got his arms in the air and he’s starting to panic. He starts to yammer about not knowing, and it would look well funny if it wasn’t so serious because he’s plain forgot he’s still got his boxers round his knees and his danglies dangling. Then while he tries to get up Roscoe slaps him back in the mud and he plants his bare arse in the soil with a slop.

The fat lad comes over with all the commotion and Roscoe calms a little and gives it the, ‘your mate’s been knobbing my sister and she’s only fifteen,’ bit, and for good measure, ‘what with her mental what-nots, I’m afraid it don’t look good.’

The fat lad squints through the gloom at Patty like he’s checking if she’s dribbling enough to pass for a spaccer. Patty leers right back at him and licks her lips.

The fat lad starts cursing under his breath again and he reaches out his wallet and Roscoe’s most peturbed when he finds the two lads between them can only summon the paltry sum of thirty-five quid between them and their cash cards are stuffed safe behind Old Roy’s bar running up a fine tab.

Faced with the prospect of having a pocket-full of  short change once he’s deducted travelling expenses and the cost of a couple of four-packs of Special Brew and Patty’s considerable pre-event bar bill, it doesn’t take Roscoe too long to get his radge back on. First he orders the thin one to kick off his air-bubble Nikes and the Levis from round his ankles and the boxers from his knees, then he’s after his dress-shirt and the lad’s left clasping himself white and blubbery in the nude. The fat lad’s got wind of what’s happening and he’s legging it away over the field stumbling as he goes, happy to spend the night tramping out on the moors if he means he’ll avoid having to get his own pair of floppy norps out in front of a lass. Roscoe gives the thin lad a boot in the ribs and the lad’s proper crying now. ‘Fucking hell Roscoe,’ I say, thinking the lad’ll most likely freeze to death just lying like that, and on second thoughts Roscoe chucks him his shirt back, and I might say it’s one of the touching things I’ve seen him do, only he spoils the effect by pulling out his car keys and chucking them and his trainers into the blackness for the spite of it.

Roscoe’s fair raging and we sit in the car in silence and neither me nor Patty has the courage to ask Roscoe for our cut. The car stinks of mud-shit and Roscoe’s got the Stone Roses on blasting which is totally wrong for the mood we’re in.

Roscoe swigs another Special while his lights search the road and I feel Patty sobbing in my armpit and I say, ‘you didn’t need to call her no dirty slut.’

Roscoe slams on his brakes and almost sends us arrowing through the windscreen. He turns and slurs, ‘get the fuck out of my car.’

Well the mood he’s in we don’t need no second invite, and I help Patty out and he zooms off with the door still flapping, and Patty sobs more till his red back-lights turn out of sight.

It takes us a fair few hours to make it back and those hours present plenty of time for thinking. Instead of risking waking her old man at her place we head in the site static with the broken window catch that those of us of a certain age been using for extra curricular activities for years. Patty sprawls out over the stinky couch and starts talking her fanciful notions about getting a one-way ticket out of here. They’re tempting enough notions all right and what with all that thinking time I find myself swept up with thought that it’s not too late to make a go of it somewhere else. Then I look into those eager-to-please blowjob eyes of hers and suddenly I hate myself even more. Truth is I know how tonight’s going to end up, just like I know how things’ll end up next time Roscoe cools off and comes back round spouting another of them stupid ideas of his.

Mark Staniforth lives in a small village in North Yorkshire, England. His fiction has been published in Night Train, Eclectica, The Dublin Quarterly and Suss, among others. He has a blog at

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Content Coming Soon

Just letting you all know.

 I think it's a sign my family's getting older and older, or just not hunting, or something. No one got a deer on the first or second day, or at all that I've heard of. And I know the PA deer population is exploding and has been for some time. I never got one. I had a chance a couple times. My brother and I were right down behind the house at joining of our feeder crick with Seeley Creek. I didn't have my mind in the hunt--I often didn't--so my brother tapped me on the shoulder and pointed across the water to the steep sidehill covered in pine. A buck was skittering his way down among the pine needles and rocks, a couple doe close behind. I can't remember what I was hunting with--probably my brother's 12-gauge-- but I remember drawing the bead down behind the front leg and waiting for the buck to stop at the bottom before he took off again. I waited and waited, in the way time turns like molasses before the shot, and realized I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it. I liked venison, a great deal, but not enough to shoot and kill to get it. So I didn't shoot. My brother winked at me when I brought the barrel down, but didn't say anything. He didn't shoot either, but he has his own reasons for that. I don't know them.

As penance of a sort, I haven't eaten venison much since then. Though I do love the memory of seeing the deer hang from the apple tree overnight, and then butchering the cold carcass on the metal dining room table, seeing my dad or my mother slide the knife into the meat on either side of the spine, and how the backstrap would go straight into the frying pan with some butter, maybe some flour--I don't remember exactly--and then out on a communal plate, even while our hands were still bloody, and even though the carcass wasn't nearly done.

I have bad memories too, like trying to force the shot-meat and the gristle into something identifiable as hamburger, which meant through the hand-grinder attached temporarily to the kitchen counter,and often coming close to breaking the thing. That was my job, to grind.And grind. And grind some more.