If You Want a Job Doing … by Jason Beech

I wound down my pick-up’s window, hot air meeting the AC, surprised it didn’t cause a crackling little thunderstorm. My son leaned an elbow in the gap, smiled.

“Is it done, son?”

He winked. “He’s lying up there, his face in the stream. Ken ain’t getting naked with Anna again.”

I nodded, eyes opening from narrow inspection of my boy. I watched the stream’s vein pump down the hillside. Rain had beaten down hard last night – made a tile or two fall from the house and kill a chicken. And yet today’s heat had slurped it all from the soil.

“Check his pulse?”

His open mouth and widening eyes made me shoulder-barge the door open and spit on his tan boots. I adjusted my hat and took steps to the track carved by God knows how many feet.

“If you need a job doing …” I rasped.

I wound down my pick-up’s window, hot air meeting the AC, surprised it didn’t cause a crackling little thunderstorm. My son leaned an elbow in the gap, smiled.

“Is it done, son?”

He winked. “He’s lying up there, his face in the stream. Ken ain’t getting naked with Anna again.”

I nodded, eyes opening from narrow inspection of my boy. I watched the stream’s vein pump down the hillside. Rain had beaten down hard last night – made a tile or two fall from the house and kill a chicken. And yet today’s heat had slurped it all from the soil.

“Check his pulse?”

His open mouth and widening eyes made me shoulder-barge the door open and spit on his tan boots. I adjusted my hat and took steps to the track carved by God knows how many feet.

“If you need a job doing …” I rasped.

“He’s dead, just like the last one.”

“You put the last one in a coma, I had to finish the job in the ward, you careless ass.”

I left him kicking more dust into the air, as if to blanket his shame. My aging legs burned up the slope. Stones dislodged and tumbled down steepening banks, chipping bark from clinging trees. I’ve lived here all my life – this ancient forest always seemed a space for men to hide their darkness from the world. As the ground leveled I sat on my haunches by the river. Cupped a handful of water. Wetted my neck. Tasted the river, thinking maybe I could get a little tang of Ken’s blood seeping into the eco-system.

The snap of a branch deafened my slurp, made me spin. A little too fast, I almost slipped into the stream. Wouldn’t have looked good floating to my son’s feet like a bloated pig. Still, would have looked better than this sorry sight.

Ken stumbled around lush tall grass, speckled by sunlight flitting through the branches above. I shook my head at my useless son. Wished Anna was my boy. I approached slow-footed, took the Colt .45 from the back of my jeans. Let the muzzle point at the cracked ground.

“There you are,” I said, all paternal.

“Mr. Beatson,” he yelped, straightening.

His foppish black fringe swung above a left eye draining blood and pulp. It would never see his daughter again. The right rolled and focused as nature intended.

“Mr. Beatson, help me …”

“What’s wrong, son?”

He hesitated, saw the gun in my right hand. Froze right up. “Zachary attacked me. I don’t know why.”

The words trembling from his thin lips pleased me.

“Sir, I … sir, why do you have that gun?” he cringed.

“I tolerated you while I thought you innocent, hanging round my daughter like a puppy. I thought she would just have you tag along for amusement and then flick you into the ether, like you deserve.”

“She loves me.”

That got my wind up. Fucking defiance had me lifting my right arm.

“She has things to see and do. She has no time for a redneck like you. The moment you got naked with her is the moment …”

“Mr. Beatson …”

“Too late for deference, son.”

His right eye started dropping tears, running in conjunction with the blood dribbling from the left. I didn’t care. The kid was useless, a work-shy ass proud of being a know-nothing nobody. Anna had sought anything, even this boy, to get away from her brother’s marauding paws.

“She’s having my baby …”

I ended it right there. Let that bullet plug further words before they polluted the air with filth. He slumped, blood now running from the right eye, darkening stones beneath his smashed head. I tightened his laces and snagged the top of a boot with my fingers, dragging him down the hill. I let my son do the donkey work of throwing him in the back of the pick-up. That didn’t take too much planning. He could dump him in the pen for the pigs to fill their boots. My only remaining work was to force my daughter to stop using up any more fools, and remove Ken from her spoiled womb.

Brother by Jason Beech

My younger brother dropped his bags at my feet, said, “I’ll be here a couple of weeks tops, Barney.” He brushed past, leaving his luggage.

“Sure.” My only reservation: Ely’s drug-dealing. I shrugged. Needed the rent money now I’d been fired .

He soon relegated me to the basement, taking residence, and court, in my bedroom. Does all kinds of deals in there. Doesn’t want me to see.

Sheila started as his customer, now she’s his accountant and lover. I hear their bedsprings most nights, lying right beneath them. Wonder how the bedsprings manage it. Glad they do. Don’t want them coming through the floorboards and smothering me with their horny sweat.

My younger brother dropped his bags at my feet, said, “I’ll be here a couple of weeks tops, Barney.” He brushed past, leaving his luggage.

“Sure.” My only reservation: Ely’s drug-dealing. I shrugged. Needed the rent money now I’d been fired .

He soon relegated me to the basement, taking residence, and court, in my bedroom. Does all kinds of deals in there. Doesn’t want me to see.

Sheila started as his customer, now she’s his accountant and lover. I hear their bedsprings most nights, lying right beneath them. Wonder how the bedsprings manage it. Glad they do. Don’t want them coming through the floorboards and smothering me with their horny sweat.

He disrespects me every day, and I take it. He’s subtle. Tells me I could do better than this sweater I’m wearing. Tells me I could eat better cereal. Tells me I could do better with a woman in my life. I nod. Women make me feel lonely. Including Adele under this basement’s concrete floor.

I try to get away, but public spaces make me feel lonelier. That bar is too rough, makes me feel threatened. This bar is a little too upmarket. Makes me feel looked down upon. Get enough of both at home.

I’ve taken to driving. It soothes, until I fill the car and watch the numbers whirl up. Random driving got a little boring, especially since the cops charged me with stalking. Aimless driving made me think of Ely’s cheek. Made me think of the money he throws around at me, as if I should bow before it. Makes me think of Sheila, all naked. Makes me wince that she’s naked with him. Not that I want her. Just makes me mad that he has somebody.

Couple of weeks ago I started following other cars again, getting right up their ass, sometimes shadowing them all the way to their driveways. Women, and I can appreciate where they’re coming from, freak out. Start hitting kerbs as they look over their shoulder. Should really use the rearview. Should keep the road in their peripheral vision.

Sometimes I follow men. I imagine they’re my friends. Got beat up once. A deep cut under my right eye, lying on top of a big red bulge. Ely sat on the wall outside our colonial that day, arm round Sheila. Said I could look after myself better. Maybe take up boxing. Maybe start with some exercise. I thought he could do better if he lied with Adele.

We ate together one night, a rare occurrence. For the first time I realized how my house had not evolved from the 70s. Brown surrounded me. I even wore it.

“Brother, I love you …” he said.

I looked up from my dry chicken and potatoes. Should really add sauce to this, I had pondered. The “love” distracted me.

“… but you’re not bringing in the money. It might be time to move out.”

I think I felt my forehead crease. Just a little.

Sheila’s dead eyes, also brown I now noticed, told me I could leave the table. I stayed put.

Two weeks later I’m following this one man. Had a friendly face. A face that didn’t judge. Had a look I could relax with. Kept my eyes on him all the way to the suburbs. He parked, got out. Nice round here. Flowering trees, well-tended front gardens, nicely maintained fences. Undoubtedly decent property prices. Nice place, so surely a nice man.

Didn’t see the dog run out.

Hit it.

Watched it lay there in the rearview.

Then I didn’t see the man I’d been following. Until I saw him roll down my back window.

Foot down. The tire squeal wouldn’t help anonymity. The rearview told me he wouldn’t get up, even with … witnesses … helping him.

I got close to home, still shaking. Noted Ely and Sheila in t-shirts and shorts, sat on the wall at the middle of our T-road’s crossbar.

My road.

My wall.

Outside my house.

They heard my tires. They saw my front end hurtle at them. Drugs must have slowed them. They only moved when I hit them at sixty.

Getting Home Late by Jason Beech

“What the hell happened, Evan?” my wife Sally says, writing another worry line across her prematurely aging forehead.

“I…” I show my palms, because I don’t know where the fuck to begin.

I think I do.

I had just picked my girl Marie up from daycare, her happy babble in the backseat calming me from the rage I always feel from New Jersey traffic. Fuckwits rubber-necking at a crash that had as much drama as a Phillies baseball game, or idiots refusing to stagger when a lane ends – all make me want to just turn my wheel at an opportune moment and send them crashing through the barriers and into a tree, or the highway below this or that bridge. Grrrr-fucking-grrrr.

Then I have to contend with Sally, who since deciding I would be the sole bread-winner, now spends her isolated hours painting over-wrought pictures nobody wants to buy, and continually freaks out about her daughter’s safety. Just because she stood at the edge of a reed-strangled pond that time when I wasn’t looking. One minute late and I’d get it in the ear. I had to find a way to convince her to get back to work before my love ran off a cliff.

My mood lifted as Marie sang stuff I always crow to her on our car journeys. A bit of Elvis, a bit of Blondie, a bit of Faith No More. She makes my ears sing.

That good feeling didn’t last. The red Porsche caught my eye immediately in the side mirror. I had got on the long slip-road to I-295 with a trail of cars getting in behind me. As I got close to the median between the oncoming ramp to I-295 and the highway I was leaving, this rat-faced squirrel-fucker indicated to get in front of me. The prick had no chance, he should have got in line way back – the line didn’t stretch enough to induce such impatience. I put my foot down and cut that donkey-fucker off, leaving him screeching and veering to the left to avoid hitting the dividing barrier.

Ha… I broke into song, my girl repeating the line “Baby, you can drive my car.” She mirrored my whoo-whoo fist-punch, a cute little curl dropping over her left eye.

It must have been four or five miles down 295 that I thought I saw that red car again in the side-mirror, fifty-or-so yards behind and in the overtaking lane. Only he didn’t do any overtaking. I thought about getting in front of him so I could flip a middle-digit in the rear-view. The thought of my girl seeing prevented it. Plus, I knew I’d be late, by at least five minutes. I thought about buying plaster to fill Sally’s forehead cracks. Her head would look like a railway crash tonight.

Every time I took my hands from the wheel I felt my navy blue Honda Civic veer to the right. Felt like a flat. Great. Spending unnecessary money on a new tire felt worse than Sally’s tutting right now, so I took the next exit and pulled up on a gravel patch, corn bordering both sides of the road. I pulled myself out, not wanting to look at the tire, dreading to see dollars slip from my wallet.

My concern drifted, focused now on the motor pulling up behind my car, its red paint looking hotter under the sun. One foot emerged from the Porsche, as polished as the car’s paintwork, followed by another. The man seemed to glide out, helped no doubt by that smooth silk shirt.

“Whoa…” I said. “There’s no need for that.”

The man walked like a robot, a handgun by his side, stopped arms-length from me, and planted its muzzle on my forehead. I could only see myself in his mirrored-glasses, my eyes goggling.

“Daddy?”

The man’s neck snapped his head to my daughter. My girl… she made this man back away, leaving only a vowel imprinted on my head. He shushed his lips with the muzzle and screeched away.

***

“So?” Sally asked.

She didn’t need another worry line.

“I got a flat, that’s all,” I smiled, feeling lines form on my forehead.