Thomas M. Atkinson | River’s Edge

At least in Ohio we had glass in the windows. Arnett and Jo Marie’s Uncle Carl, who everybody calls ‘Cash,’ I guess because he never had any, decided to put up a log cabin to rent to the overflow from the park in the summers. He bought the cheapest little kit he could find then worked like hell all one spring. That was two springs before we came back and Arnett drove down a couple of times to help. They got the shell up, no windows, no running water, and a line of Romex from the road to run some power tools and that was it. Cash just brushed the sawdust off his overalls one day and never came back. The cabin sat that way and when we moved in there was two years’ worth of crap piled up from a pack of wild dogs who’d taken up residence. If the wood stove is going and the crawl space under the house is flooded so the floorboards are spongy, you can still smell it. Cash also left rusted tools slung all over the yard that I found with the mower all that first summer. Arnett tacked some new tar paper on the roof and some rolled screen over the window openings and mid-October he stapled plastic sheeting over the screens and there wasn’t a breath of air till mid-April when he tore it down.

We used to get water out of the rain barrel to flush the toilet and we showered up at the stable for awhile until I found one of Eddie’s peep holes. I didn’t say anything because it didn’t seem worth losing a job and having to move and Jo Marie never speaking to Arnett again after he knocked Eddie’s face in. Arnett’s jealous, always has been and time never seemed to help. It didn’t take long for him to get tired of helping me haul water to the tub so he ran a line from the spring, finished off the inside lines, and bought me a hot water heater that runs off the propane for my birthday. Where the line came in the house always froze up in the winter but five minutes under the kitchen sink with a hair dryer a few days a year was a small price to pay for hot and cold running water.

There’s a corrugated steel shed out back with one of Cash’s old saws, the mower, and a set of tires off Arnett’s truck. And there’s a pond that I’ll miss. It was snowed over with arrowheads and cattails and it had some catfish big enough to swallow your fist.  Sometimes when Arnett was out drinking I’d feed them broken biscuit when the sun was going down.  We had some big Canadian geese last year but Arnett broke up their nest one morning when they woke him up hung-over.

Jo Marie said, “Harnett, don’t go down there and get arrested again.  He’ll show up.”

She always said his name like ‘harnett,’ which was exactly the way she said ‘hairnet.’ I don’t know why, but he said she’d done it since they were kids. I could never imagine her as a child even though I’d seen pictures. Arnett still looks a lot like he did as a little boy, just pissed off all the time instead of happy, but Jo Marie, she looked like she was up to something right when she came out of the chute. She also said ‘I God,’ instead of ‘my God,’ and she drug the ‘I’ out like a siren and it was worse than chewing aluminum foil. I used to call him ‘Are Not,’ but only once to his face.

Eddie said, “’Sides, take him in the office to sign the receipt while I run a screw through his sidewall. He ought to make it halfway somewhere.” He slurped at his coffee and when he looked back up, he said, “Well, speaking of screwing, Arnett, you need to come and take a look at this.”

A phone company truck had pulled off the road just past the gravel drive, and a woman pushing fifty, with bleached blond hair and tight jeans was setting a ladder up against the utility pole. Her hair was shellacked with Aqua Net and teased up so high that her hard hat sat four inches up off her head and tilted way back. If she’d been fifteen years younger and had any boobs, she would’ve looked like one of the girls in Arnett’s old porno tapes, ‘I’m here to work on your phone…oh, it’s in the bedroom?’

Arnett said, “Eddie, she might need you to hold that ladder for her.”

And Eddie said, “She can climb my pole anytime.”

Jo Marie whispered to me, “Like she’d need a ladder.”

Arnett said, “I don’t know, Eddie, she looks mighty old. Hell, she might even be old as old Jo here.”

Jo Marie did a little trick she does of dropping her upper plate down and sticking it part way out of her mouth with her tongue. Arnett used to do it too until it stopped getting a rise out of me. I don’t know if it was because of a bad diet or being weaned on crystal meth through their teenage years, but everyone in Arnett’s family had their last few good teeth pulled before they turned twenty-five and got a full set of store-boughts.

Jo Marie punched his arm and said, “Listen to you.”



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