My job is simple. Guard the door. Sit on a barstool and take five dollars from the people who want to see my uncle’s bluegrass band. Not complicated. Upstairs they’re playing “Counting Flowers on the Wall,” “Kentucky Waltz,” “Pig in a Pen,” etcetera, etcetera, hitting on all cylinders. The fiddle is weaving terrifying mind bends around the bassline, and the banjo is ripping up some serious syncopation. A man comes up and tells me his brother is blind, but they want to let him hear the music just for a minute. Can I do them a favor, let him pass.
“Sure,” I say.
“Thanks,” the man says. “But he’s very ashamed by this,” the man says. “Act like nothing’s wrong.”
“Fine,” I say.
Later that night, however, during intermission, the bass player and I went out behind the bar to share a joint, and knowledge of this arrangement with the blind man dissipates. Who can blame? The first war in Iraq has just started, and for a couple days, we have fallen into the habitual worry of war, that it might somehow affect us personally.
Soon enough, a man approaches with a stare in his eyes that seems to pierce through walls, as if his vision includes alternate universes and spirits. His eyes hold both grief and wisdom. The man’s walk is guided by the hand of another man placed at the small of his back. The man strikes me as a prisoner of war. “Halt,” I say. “Identification, please.”
The second day at camp and we get stuck in a calm. Last week of June when the summer winds suddenly quit. Kessler, Marlon and I out on a two-seater sailboat five hundred yards from the dock. We’re goofing on it. Flipping the thing over, hanging off the side, taking leaks over the bow. The second day at camp, and we’d already been kicked out of the rifle range, archery range, horseback, crafts and dirt bikes. Now, we were stuck in a calm on the one morning we had been assigned set-up duty for lunch in the cafeteria. Table Hoppers is what they called it. “It’s a calm,” I said to the other two, who already knew. “I’ve heard about sailors getting stuck in calms for a year or more,” I said. Of course, we also knew the relativeness of the situation regarding our calm. We had options. We could paddle to shore, tie up the boat, walk back and explain the situation, but our activities were already running thin, and besides, we would have just preferred to catch a breeze, sail in, set up the tables and leave it at that, but we were in a calm.
Eventually, though, we paddled to a portion of Lake Logan Martin that involved a channel of breeze and we sailed in before our fellow campers arrived at the cafeteria. We were late for table set-up, but a new kid had arrived and had prepared the table in our stead. Big kid. Our age-ish, but just north of puberty. Throughout the week the new kid zeroed in on different targets, his mind and loins in demand of fresh images. Sometimes in the shower, sometimes at night. Sometimes he donned only a strap-on motocross mask.
TIM FITTS is the author of two collections of short stories, Go Home and Cry for Yourselves (Xavier Review Press, 2017) and Hypothermia (MadHat Press, 2017). He has published stories in journals such as Granta, The Gettysburg Review, the Xavier Review, CutBank, Shenandoah, among others. He teaches in the Liberal Arts Department of the Curtis Institute of Music and serves on the editorial staff of the Painted Bride Quarterly. His photography work is represented by the Thomas Deans Gallery in Atlanta, and his work has been featured as background art in the television series "Black Lightning."
Fitts' short story "Sand on Sand Yellow," originally published by Amazon's Day One, is available as a story single free to Kindle users: https://www.amazon.com/Sand-Yellow-Short-Story-ebook/dp/B00NY5YHJI. He is currently working on a novel based loosely on the life of John Hinckley, Jr.
Follow Tim on Facebook @FittsFiction