April 26, 2015
He walked into the café—stumbled more like it, slowly making his way to a table, his left arm held close to his body, the hand and fingers curled, like someone who had suffered a stroke. He might have been eighty, though tall and straight. He was dressed in blue and a blue ball cap rode his head. His feet wobbled badly—every step was a balancing act. No sooner did he sit down, he got back up and headed for the men’s room. His journey took fifteen minutes.
Sometime in the 70s. He had been a handsome man, cut a good figure and women flirted with him. He was married and had kids, but he liked the attention. And then love struck him blind: a married woman. They acted like teenagers and evoked disgust from the judgers and moral leaders of the town, and there were plenty of those.
And the two carried on in a public manner. One night he and his mistress were sitting at a bar and drinking beers and bumps. The cigarette smoke was blue and thick; the juke box blared country western music. Life was electric. He needed to urinate, but the men’s room had a line. He stepped outside, walked around to the back of the bar and relieved himself.
Three shadows descended on him, knocking him to the ground and beating him with ball bats. They grabbed him and stuffed him into the back of a pickup truck and drove off. He was just drunk enough that the pain of the attack and the reality of the situation hadn’t fully settled on him.
Until they pulled up to a gated cemetery, cut the bolt on the locked entrance gate and drove in. His dad was buried here. His cousins lay in a row. The attackers seemed to know that.
The driver parked the truck. The attackers climbed out, opened the back of the vehicle and dragged him off the truck bed and onto gravel. They pulled pistols and waited.
Suddenly there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world that could keep him from the realization that they intended to kill him. He was a confident man, a dandy, and he laughed.
And they laughed and began to fire. He was shot seven times. The shooters kicked at his body, ran for the truck and drove off, leaving the cemetery gate wide open.
The next day, a Sunday, a woman walked into the cemetery, intending to plant flowers on a loved one’s grave. She saw the shot-up body, flies covering the bloody mess of a man. She ran to a house down the road and called the police.
He lived. But the seven bullets had crippled him. His days as a dandy, as a lover, were over. If he lusted, he did it in secret. His days as a useful citizen were over. And a man who loved his own looks now resembled something from a freak show. Had he thought of suicide? Had his family abandoned him?\
He walked out of the men’s room, almost falling, almost twirling in a circle. He grabbed walls and chairs for support. He looked at no one. Because it is the Midwest, people returned the favor—until he passed by. Curious heads turned and watched and nodded knowingly. He was paying a price for his sins; they approved.
He sat at a table by a window and looked out on the bright spring day. The other patrons resumed their breakfasts, and small talk filled the room and a young boy and girl held hands and a baby made the rounds of proud relatives and a table of white-bearded old bikers in leather told road stories and a toothless old grandma masticated her scrambled eggs and the waitresses hustled and the female cook called out their orders.
A writer, like a painter sketching preliminary ideas, sat at a table and scribbled notes on napkins with a borrowed ink pen. The other patrons were used to him now: “Oh-oh, he’s got a inspiration. We had better watch what we say taday.” The writer sketched the shot man, who was so deep into thought he might have been in a trance.
Still, he lived.