Confession of Todd Owen Brodersen
Witnessed by Deputy Sheriff Darryl England and Sergeant Robert Birch
Macoupin CountyJail, June 12, 2013
How is it Todd came to this: day upon sweltering June day, merciless sun beating down, flooding him with streams of light—you see? And he couldn’t refuse the cleansing act; him bathed in the sweat lodge of his rusted and dented old pickup truck, tread-worn tires sunk in the hot asphalt, and you could detect him, his presence, by the black tire scars, new-formed each day by the softening heat on the south side of Bunker Hill Road.
Todd became water, a slough of the larger slough of yonder marsh, the truck’s bug-splatted windows closed to shut off the scold of the great blue herons and cattle egrets, the shriek of the red-tailed hawk, the gorge of mimicry from the mockingbird in his silver maple tree; and he was awash in his own exhaled smoke of a hundred Camel cigarettes. The neighbors driving past, the country wave, the Hey that strangers pass, the Hey of emptiness. Hey, Hey back: nothing. Who could wave to Todd as if nothing was amiss, for he was a mess of slime and sweat and unshaven face and matted hair and wild eyes. Who could say Hey to that but the blind? But people are blind and witless. I believe this I believe.
It is that ignorance that drives us to connive against the All. Which is why an earthworm, unquestionably, is stronger than a man. There is no reason outside Eden, just predator and prey, the owl and rabbit, the man and the weaker man: we rob them, beat them, scare them, void their bowels with fear, which is how Todd came to this, how it is he was a sight for blind eyes. And him: not a talon nor forked tail nor horn nor red skin nor fang, just the red dead eyes, no light—none.
It is the others’ eyes that told Todd. Ron Miller, his mother’s cousin, his watery cataract eyes—he passed by in his pickup, waving, never a query. This passing was to investigate Todd, for his farm is in the other direction. He was seeking a truth, was Ron, and too late did he conclude, did he act. Todd saw himself in Ron’s eyes: sunken, hollow, his beard black and gray-flecked, his teeth moon yellow, pitted with cavities, his cracked, lumpy hands caked with grime, a Folgers coffee can filled with his deep-yellow pee next to him on the seat. His body was a rope of muscle, this bone-bulged thing, this skin bag of pus and piss and putridness, him sitting in the truck, not a drop of well water, not a speck of soap touching him. And he became fascinated by his own smell, heavy rot and nicotine puke, but the watchers could not smell the wild animal he had become.
Job Swenson—Todd dreamed of drawing and quartering that son of a bitch—always stopped. He rolled down a window in his Land Rover, and Todd had to do likewise or he would be acting like a crazy man—Job might tell. One of the local sheriffs, on a lazy day, might get a notion to come look at him. After all, he had been sitting below his own house for weeks, watching the days grow longer, watching the pregnant buds turn to leaves, watching the purple lilacs burst and longing to smell them.
Job with that wry grin: “Hey, Todd, how are you?”
Todd thinks, How am I, Job? How I look, you prick? Tit for tat, he grins. “Good, Job.”
Todd thinking, Bad, Job. Bad as it gets.
“You look parched. I got some iced sun tea in my thermos.”
“No thanks, Job, not thirsty.”
Unsure. Unfit. Unhinged, Todd was.
“I hear you’re staying over by Brighton.”
They are talkin about me.
Todd says, “Where you all hear that, Job?”
“People talk. You know.”
“Yeah, man, I know. I’m living at my brother Skip’s place. You know.”
Skip crucified on a honey locust tree last fall murdered our cousin with a Civil War saber.
“So I am watchin his place for him, Job,” Todd says. “What does a river rat need anyway but a bed, a TV, a can opener, some cans of pork and beans . . . guns.”
And jimson weed, bringing down visions that float me beyond the blue horizon, seeing through solid matter, seeing through brains and words, through skulls to the vivid color that is truth.
Job, he is a decent man—Todd knew that. He mediates when folks are riled.
“Well, it looks like you are watching your place, too, Todd. I don’t mean to pry.”
“No offense taken, bud. Talia Ann and I are separated, that ain’t a secret. But I still got the farmin to do. She has the secretary job in Shipman, and my boys . . .”
Todd’s three boys were in the Lincoln jail, attempted bank robbery.
“Your family’s going through tough times, Todd,” Job says. “You know, to save you all that traveling, Brice could . . .”
Job’s son Brice could do Todd’s chores: Feed the livestock. Weed. Irrigate. Guard Talia Ann.
“I got it covered, Job. Just waitin for her to leave, is all.” Todd thinking, I wait for her. I watch.
Job scratched a poison ivy patch on his elbow. “Okay, Todd, I’ll shut up about it. By the way, I saw Sara in Gillespie at the Subway yesterday.”
The night before she abandoned Todd, Skip and their sister Janie, their mother Sara at the table, the .45 automatic right of her plate by the knife and fork like it was part of a place setting. She ate and watched their daddy. He sipped Jim Beam, watched her, as if a wife with a .45 was a normal thing. Skip, Janie and Todd stared at their plates, didn’t dare watch a thing.
Sara screamed, “That is the last, the last, the last time, hear me. Hear me? I will kill you, you rabid mongrel, you hit me again.”
Their old man stood, Sara stroking the barrel of the .45. “Sorry to disappoint, Sary, goin to watch the TV. Hope I don’t get back shot.” He walked into the front room, calm as can be, whistling that Andy Griffith Mayberry tune.
Middle of the night, Janie came in Todd’s bed, weeping, begging him, “Stop him, stop him, Todd.” She moaned, little skinny ten-year-old Janie, “Please stop this.” If only Todd had acted then.
Sara left them the next day, and all the kids ever saw of her after that was accidental meetings in town, passing by on the highway, her children forever driftless, for the old man, Mike the Drunk the town called him, fell inward, watching porn and Pawn Stars around the clock.
Todd says, “Why you-all care about me, Job?”
For the record, Todd’s boys, Dicky-Boy, Deunite, and Eddale burned down two of Job’s barns, stole his four-wheeler, whipped his son Brice bloody all through school; they poached his deer, and he knew it, the Land Rover-owning prick neighbor.
“Have a good one, Job,” Todd says. “See you all soon.”
Todd knew that afternoon, about the time Talia Ann was due home Job would drive by to see she got in the house, safe. Brice would come by at sundown, to see she was in the house, safe. As if decent men, by showing their sincere faces, could make anything safe. As if there was such a thing as safe.
And there were other watchers: the rural route mail carrier, so nervous about the melting man he dropped mail on the road and left it to blow into the ditch or stick to the hot tar; the endless parade of Todd’s relatives, most of which had not spoke to him since they were kids, for his branch of the line was Calhoun County trailer trash.
This was said by an old biddy within earshot of Talia Ann and Dicky-Boy at the Shop and Save in Alton: “Them Brodersen trailer trash, CalhounCounty breeds that type. Whyn’t they stay there.”
Dicky-Boy, hot with Brodersen pride, followed that cow to her fancy ranch home in Grafton, up on a bluff of the Illinois River, caught her in her backyard taking out the garbage and he snuck up and cut out her gossiping tongue.
Todd told me, “O my beloved family. My red house on the hill, which I used to smile at as I came around the bend of the road, up from the Illinois River, from Macoupin Creek, and there, half a mile away, below a canopy of high green oak trees, my house invitin me: In this place were my sons—my saplins which extended the Brodersen family tree, the roots stretch all the way to Bavaria—and my wife, my Talia Ann, who, when she was young, when I saw her naked, I thought of peaches, of a perfect Calhoun County peach, and her sex tasted of peaches and salt lick and earth and there was the heat of her.
“I was a sixteen-year-old hellion. I had pulled my back baling hay—dollar an hour, work till sundown—staggered out of the barn, pain shootin down my right hip. This slip of a red-headed girl, Talia Ann Jones, farmer’s daughter, bent over, ninety-five pounds of girl, hands on her knees, and said turn back to back with her, lay back on her, trust her. And I lay upon the back of this gal, my arms limply hangin out from my swollen soaked body, like Christ on the cross of Woman. She clutched my biceps, rose up slightly, until my booted feet left the ground, until my curved body began to slowly stretch out, pullin me back into line, and she bore my weight, and I opened my eyes and saw the blue sky full of soaring scissors-tailed barn swallows, dartin, gobbling stirred-up insect hordes from the hay cuttins. And I was healed by that sister. I lay on Miss Jones, August heat pressin down. This is what I felt: beyond the sun another heat, risin from the girl’s groin, which radiated up into my groin, and this heat made me groan, this sound made the other hay balers laugh, made me spring from off the girl’s back and limp off before anybody saw my rising erection. I ran into the dark barn and clutched at my middle and I was in a frenzy.”
It is all sex: black loam, groin smell of the marsh, silken parachutes of seedlings across the blue sky, fluidity of women, romance of the moon. We name it love to show we are beyond the rutting cows, the squealing hogs in heat, the endless mounted insects, birds, pollination of flowers, struts of cocks of the roost of all species, the colored lures of nature, the cry and song of all that we know as beautiful—it is all sex: The Big Fuck. I believe this I believe.
One day that fall, Todd walked home early from school—he had faked the flu and biked to the farm to watch the snake migration up from the marsh to the high hills. Instead, he discovered his daddy fucking his sister Janie, now fourteen, from behind, in the barn, and he saw Janie’s radiance: The Big Fuck.
And Todd heard Janie’s hoarse whispers: “Yes, Daddy, Yes, Daddy.”
And he heard the crazed hogs running madly across the feedlot, excited by this fuck, wanting to fuck Janie, to fuck the sows.
And he heard his daddy yell: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
And Todd reckoned he heard Jesus himself yell: “Jesus.”
The year after Talia Ann and Todd married, Job Swenson came speeding along Bunker Hill Road, a mile ahead of a portable saw mill on wheels.
“This guy is offering two hundred dollars for old oaks, men, we must save the oaks. Some of our trees are three hundred years and older: bur oaks, pins, whites. Don’t fall for easy money, men, picture your land without the century trees, the songbirds and the shade, and newly planted oaks would take four generations to grow.” Job told them the Sioux Indian saying: “‘In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decision on the next seven generations.’ Two hundred and ten years,” Job told those river rats. “What do you want your legacy to be? The saw comes through tomorrow. Think about it—last call.”
(Like I say: The Big Fuck. Legacies are for men in Land Rovers, for land developers, for lawyers and moneyed liars. River rats born along muddy streams, who are told by a government when they can hunt, trap, what crops to grow, how many fish to catch, what is endangered, and love your black and brown and yellow and red neighbors, even as they rape and rob you: men like Todd and me, endangered from birth, we have no legacies. We get the leavings.)
The sawmill, hitched to a pickup, arrived and found willing businessmen in overalls. Don Ed Miller sold one grove of bur oak, Hans Dieter Wilson sold an acre. Janie Brodersen Father fucker sold an entire savanna. Other relatives stood in silent protest. At the last second, the biggest fuck of them all, Jeff Miller, drove up. Todd tortured him in high school. He became an archaeologist, better than all them. He moved back down from nigger town Chicago and started telling everyone what to do. Restore the wetlands, re-plant the prairie. Go organic. He looked at Todd like he was a tick on his elbow.
Todd said of his oaks, “Take ’em all.”
Job wept. “Jesus wept.”
Talia Ann Brodersen had disobeyed him, see, and gotten a secretary’s job and stopped being a proper farm wife. This night, she would behold, high above their red house, empty space, ghost oaks. Decades of garbage bags, rusted hulks of cars and pounds of broken glass and old furniture they threw up in the trees, now all nakedly revealed. The tall green canopy a wavering ghost and she would see the consequences of disobeying.
And she did, Lord yes.
She was so shocked she drove the car off the road into their corn field. She screamed. She ran down the road, arms open wide as if to embrace trees the way she once thought of her husband. She wandered among raw, leaking stumps, a cloud of gnats surrounding her. She mourned. She saw that all was meaningless.
Todd her teacher.
Their raped road: wild raspberry bushes and buckthorn filled in the spaces; the land thorn-infested, the boys stabbed by cow parsnip and stinging nettle. All of them scarred and marked by stigmata and scabbed by the new life which armed itself against them.
And Job, he didn’t say an unkind word.
And Talia Ann Brodersen went to the Baptist church and found Jesus Christ. And then she found Jimmy Hagerman, Sunday School teacher, counselor, and—though Todd didn’t know it then—seducer of unhappy women. She attended Sunday services, Wednesday night prayer service, she visited the sick and shut-ins—all the waking hours beyond her job. Sister Talia Ann.
An old boy Todd knew said he saw Jimmy and Sister Talia, back seat of a car on the river. That night, he drove to Layman Hagerman’s house and watched shadows fuck. Candle waver light, plugged in night light, black curves and sound curves, light piercing elbow crooks and splayed legs and undulating redbud leaves in the breeze and a screech owl and a suppressed screech of a watcher.
He raged. Back at home, he heard a great horned owl mocking him. He trapped and killed eighty-five great horned owls and hung them from cottonwood and willow trees in the marsh, and Job Swenson, not knowing it was Todd, took him to the marsh to show him the carnage, and he sobbed, and Todd sobbed, not for dead owls, but for all the empty trees which had no hanging owls. And Todd Owen Brodersen was more powerful than infinite blazing suns. And he re-found God:
“Me,” Todd said, a word, a verse from Revelations.
Todd moved to his brother’s place. This was the first time I told anybody who would listen, “She serves me divorce papers, I will kill Talia Ann Brodersen.”
Some card at the liquor store laughed: “Alert the sheriff.”
“Some fisherman tying flies at Joe K.’s restaurant in Alton: “Take heart, son. Hagerman don’t hang on to one woman long, soon you all be in harness again, complainin like the rest of us. Yep.”
Todd won his peach tree called Talia Ann; he planted her in his red house on the hill; he spent twenty-five years pruning her, shaping her. In the end of days, the fruits betray the gardener. The hogs form armies. Dogs eat the babies they curled up with. Those Mayan dudes just got the date wrong.
I began stalking his wife day after day, melting in his old pickup, in choking smoke, in the blasting sounds of twenty thousand, one hundred and sixty seconds, which was two weeks; which was fourteen drive-bys of Ron Miller; which was twenty-six coffee cans of pee; which was fourteen tracks of the moon; which was four days of clouds, one of rain, eight of searing sun; which was thirty-two flights of vultures; which was seventy passing freight trains; which was six dances of sandhill cranes; which was the rising, by half a foot, of corn and soybeans and hay.
Talia Ann Brodersen, day after day, readying for work. She patted the hound dogs in their cages, drove down the hill to the road, passed by Todd Megod in the truck, not so much as a glance.
I went up to the house after she left and rummaged in her underwear drawer, and in a pile of neatly folded panties—that I had bought her for my viewing pleasure, now just something to wear, wash Hagerman’s cum out of them, smooth and fold—was this note:
“I know you come into the house. Have the decency to bathe before you handle my things. I am moving to my folks’ place next week, from where you stole me. I do not fear you.”
Yesterday morning, driving by the truck, she rolled down her window and flung a sheaf of papers onto the road. Todd waited until she drove off, then he climbed out and retrieved the papers. The fresh air made him vomit blood and shit hisself. I scanned the words until he found the key word: ‘divorce’.
That night, the moon a bloodshot eye, Megod shot Janie and Todd’s daddy with his .45, in Benld. They were sitting up in his daddy’s bed, watching Hardcopy. Megod watched a minute of it, enough to know that they would be—their corpses would be—on Hardcopy before the week was out. Megod shot them to pulp, shot the screaming out of them, the shit out of them, the sex, until Daddy was Janie was Daddy, the mix of torn flesh like thick red porridge. He drove on to Jeff’s place to kill him but he had some people over. They were sitting in his yard, drinking wine and laughing, so he just drove on by. I am sorry he is alive. I consider this a failed mission.
The next morning, seven a.m., Todd Megod was back at Talia Ann’s.
Brice Swenson drove by and stopped. “Morning, Todd.” Mistaken identity, you could say.
“Hey, Brice. How you?”
“Okay. You are out early.”
“So you. Kinda busy here, guy.”
“I’m driving up to Peoria, to interview for BradleyUniversity.”
“Good luck. Brice?”
“If goin to BradleyUniversity helps you see one-tenth as clear as I see this minute, you will be a wise man. You all take care.”
Brice is a good kid. He was terrified. What did he see, looking at me? Blood-flecked arms from last night’s orgy, rust odor of blood, essence of bowels.
We mentally checked our surface, feeling for change, discovered that we were smiling crazily, rotted breath leaking out of our mouth like vapor. We could not pull our mouth shut, we were too purely happy.
Brice drove west to the bend in the road and stopped. We watched him in the rearview mirror, saw him pick up a cell phone. We started up the truck and drove backwards, straight at the Land Rover, swerving, the coffee can of pee upturning on the passenger side floor, spraying us, forming a putrid-smelling puddle, the pickup nearly turning over. Brice peeled off toward the river.
We put the truck in drive and headed straight for the red house on the hill. An alligator snapping turtle the size of a platter came out of the soybeans—we had lifted that bastard out of the road a thousand times, for we were kin—but this day we hit the monster. It spun up from under the back tires, landed upside down and twirling, like a carnival ride.
Talia Ann Brodersen, in a blue business suit and white tennis shoes, stood at the top of the hill.
We braked, grabbed our .12-gauge Remington, climbed out of the cab and marched up the hill.
“Is this about Jimmy Hagerman, Todd?” Mistaken identity once again, Todd and me twins you could say.
“If it is, he dumped me, like all men have dumped me. And I shall never have another.”
No, you cunt, you won’t.
“Men need firearms to be warriors. Women are the true warriors. We endure, without weapons, without superior physical strength we endure. We split our insides open to let children break free, and we endure. We watch our bodies wither and our men lose interest, and we endure. We nurture, we live in the shadows, and there is nothing between our acts and the grave, and you are a coward, Todd Brodersen.”
Who is Todd Brodersen?
“And I do not fear you.”
She turned her back on us. I recalled how he saw her the night they separated: Naked from the waist up, which was her way in the house after the boys were jailed, and he came to get his things, and she made no move to cover herself. It was hellishly hot; she carried a plastic spray bottle and misted her drooping breasts; fine spray ran down the front of her and her breasts glistened with tiny drops of dew, and he walked up behind and took her fallen breasts in his hands and lifted them, and they sat in the rocking chair, her on top of him, back against his stomach, and she peeled off her shorts and they rocked and fucked, his hands on her ribs. And she told him what possessions to take, what to leave, even as she rode him, even as she whinnied like a horse. She wished him good luck and stood, her body pulling off his body with a sucking sound. And this was the end. One lip of her cunt pasted against the inside of her leg, his seed dripping down, this was the end, like frog spawn in the marsh, jelly and ooze, this was the end.
She opened the car door. We fired from the waist and her right shoulder exploded, splatters of blood on hot metal and gravel, and she fell to her knees, her back to me, a run in her stocking, a sluice of blood spurting from an exploded artery. She fell to her knees and did not pray but looked up the scarred hill where lightning once cracked and smoked a tree; where our innocent infant boys played soldiers; where we had picnics; where on winter nights we would stand outside and smoke hand-rolled cigarettes; where we were young lovers in the oak Garden of Eden; where once we climbed seventy feet up in the crook of an oak and watched bald eagles soar in the winter wind across the valley.
Where now it was the rotted, fetid, regretted Garden of Gethsemane.
Talia Ann Brodersen gasped, “Oh God, my God. Please kill me.”
We fired again, in the small of her back, smoke rising from bone and some organ purple and throbbing in the fist-sized hole in her back, and beneath skin we are but gut/bone-paste/ gelatinous compost, and she dropped down, down, in a sea of blood and moved no more.
We heard Brice up the road, screaming like a girl.
We said to our wife, to his peach: “We told you not to divorce us.” We dropped the shotgun, walked back to the pickup, climbed in and drove past Brice, who was running for the red house. He would learn things up there that BradleyUniversity—that all books—could not teach him . . .
When we got to Carlinville, we walked into the coffee shop, Erma the waitress wincing because of our stench, brought us heavily creamed coffee and tomato juice. The good old boys stared at our blood and filth, could smell the sweat and piss. There was a word for all of this: ‘murder’. Two sheriff cars sped by, headed south along the river.
Erma brought the check: “Todd, I am going to bathe you, darlin, you keep comin in here like this. You been deer poachin? You look like a homeless man, and you going to drive away my other customers.”
We pulled money from our pocket.
Erma says, “What’s that?”
“Hunnert dollar bill, Erma. What’s it look like?”
“I cain’t change no hunnert, guy.”
“It is yours to keep. We got no use for it—not where we are goin.”
“You ain’t makin sense, hon. We?”
We crossed the street to the police station and stood for one last free moment. You law enforcement boys were about to have busy days. We walked inside to the front desk. The uniformed man there, ‘England’ on his brass nameplate, looked at us like we were the apocalypse. We were the apocalypse.
You know the rest.
Officer England adjusted his gum: “Help you, bud?”
“Hey there, Officer England. This place has held us and my brother Skip, on several occasions.”
“Is that right. Your name is?”
“You all must be new, or you’d know our name.”
“I am fresh out of Desert Storm, sir, this is my first post. For the record, there ain’t no ‘our’ in this room.”
“God bless you, Officer England.”
“Thank you, sir. Your name?”
“We were in the bad war. Nam.”
“There ain’t no good war, sir.”
“I disagree . . . sir.
“We have just killed Todd Brodersen’s daddy, his sister, his wife Talia Ann ‘Peach’ Brodersen.”
The officer nearly toppled back out of his swivel chair, groping for his sidearm. We held out our blackened hands, as if pleading. England finally got the gun out and leveled it at us.
“Sergeant Birch, get the hell in here now! Now!”
As Sergeant Birch ran in, gun drawn by the force of his partner’s voice, probably.
Time to go.
We recalled the secret forest glade where Megod nee Todd futilely dreamed a life; the way storms purpled up and swelled over the valley; our own purple storm, and how we cherrybombed fish and ripped and raged and flattened; Talia Ann, the girl-tree whose belly at the first birth, Megod nee Todd listened to like the radio for the sound of dreams stirring in seed and egg; train whistles slicing through loneliness; men on the moon, which the family witnessed on TV with popcorn and chocolate bars and glasses of root beer; the ruination of the moon; little Janie squirming on Daddy’s big lap; loss, and loss and sorrow.
“Us?” Birch says.
“We will, buddy, you move.”
We held out our arms, leaden and paralyzed, movement nevertheless, but—just like Mother Sara—they didn’t shoot.
Officer England, his hands on his gun shaking. He would have shot a foot off, is all. It would grow back.
Sergeant Birch aimed with his eyes closed. We could have killed them both. Instead, we raised our hands, like Megod nee Todd did when he was baptized, like he did when Skip scored four touchdowns, like he did when Daddy saw Death and squealed and shit and pissed. We smiled at Officer England.
“Where you live, Mr. England, sir?”
“Why you want to know that, sick son bitch?”
“Listen to them cicadas, man. We live for them.”
“Is that right?”
We said to Officer England: “Where you all live: do you have oak trees?”
Megod nee Todd laughed the laugh of free men. We laughed and laughed. Like we were on the Letterman show and we had just told the golden joke, the one everyone strived for. They could hear us laugh all the way to the blood spot on our driveway, the finger-printers and detectives and that moron coroner. We couldn’t remember when we laughed . . . We never laughed.