“Men” (August 2015)

Okay, I know I haven’t been posting one story every week. I’ll try for at least every two weeks. Still have plenty to go. You can’t blame me, though. I’m a fiction author 😉 Meantime, enjoy “Men.” -ML

James watched his uncle, who sat on the log beside the fire. The man smoked quietly, gazing into the flames as though at a heavenly body. But his eyes were dim; what he saw neither interested him nor deflected him. It had no effect.

Earlier, the two of them had taken a walk while it was still light out, into the soft pine forests of Mount Monadnock, and James came to understand more clearly the concept of a nature walk. His uncle’s knowledge of plants and insects and anything with legs went a long way towards explaining the man’s place in James’s life. But his uncle’s drinking was continuous, and after awhile his subject matter switched, from the reasoning behind the placement of a butterfly’s tastebuds on its feet, to the contents of his own wretched soul.

“You know, James,” he started to say as they passed the same tree stump for the third time, indelibly lost. “You know, there are some people who are made to live. They’re made to enjoy their life, these things that surround us that we can’t get away from. You see, they’re made for it. They go around thinking how great life is, how wonderful it is, how precious, and talking about it. And I don’t think I’m one of those people. I’ve been to twenty-nine countries and I just don’t.”

By the time they’d returned to the campsite, it was almost dark. James had long since grown silent.

He watched his uncle now, a few hours later and a few more beers heavier, teetering on the log between the ground and the fire, and wondered what the man was thinking, whether this campsite would be a good place to end it all, to say goodbye to the trees and bugs and wind and sunlight, and the people who seemed to add nothing to his life. And James almost wished he would.

But when he wished that, James wondered where his father was.

“That’s right, Jimmy my boy,” his uncle said suddenly after a short silence. “Life is a huge hunk a’ dogshit, and basically consists of learning to enjoy rolling around in it.”

James cringed at the image, and at the sight of a man who viewed his life and everything in it that way, a way he had never known.

“I’ve never learned to enjoy it. That’s the thing, Jim. The smell of it, the people around me smiling even though their mouths are full of it. Full of it. That’s what I go through.”

Just then, James heard an approaching step, and the clatter of glass. His father returned, carrying a plastic supermarket bag full of empty bottles. “You didn’t leave any for me, you bum?” he said.

“But some of us have,” Uncle said, finishing his thought. “Some of us do it everyday in our offices, shuffling, climbing, wading through the shit, with a big stupid smile on our faces like all the other suckers.”

“What are you telling my son?”

“The truth. And he seems too stupid to get it, he doesn’t say anything. Both of you too stupid to do anything about it.”

James turned to his father, trembling, who extended a finger at his brother. “What’d you say about my son?”

“They’re all spoiled rotten.” His voice came from the back of his throat. He shimmied to one side and stood on the other side of the log, a little farther from the fire. “Rotten, too stupid a generation…”

“You motherfucker.” James’s father tossed the bag of bottles aside, breaking some of the glass. James started, gripping the arm of his lawnchair. His father leapt at his older brother, who swayed from the alcohol in his napoleonic system. They grabbed each other’s shoulders and fell to the ground as one unit, kicking up a small cloud of dead leaves, twigs, and startled insects.

They growled at each other incomprehensibly like dogs.

James watched as the tussle moved towards the fire, which was not roaring but not whimpering either. The lawnchair started to feel like it was closing up on him. The curses of his nearby kin became abstract, faint even, as the heat from the fire seemed to crawl up his body and force his eyes closed, his breaths coming short and shallow.

James fell forward out of the chair and onto the fire, unconscious and unaware, as his father and uncle were for at least a minute. Soon, lying on their backs exhausted and embarrassed, they laughed at their own silliness which had not waned a lick since they were both James’s age.

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