The Drunk Days

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Butch Parker learns that even little dreams can be too big.

Submitted: November 18, 2016

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Submitted: November 18, 2016

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Dreams and dreams ago, in a galaxy where the grass is green, the sky is blue, and the willows and the sycamores bend in the wind, a young man named Butch Parker cashed in the future of his life for a jewel named Rene, co-captain varsity cheerleader and member of the National Honor Society.

Forever framed by the windshield of his red Ford Fairlane and burned on Butch’s brain was the memory of Rene as she walked to school beneath the lime-colored willows one bright October morning—Rene, in her purple and gold cheerleading outfit, hugging her books, hips swinging lithely in her skirt.

Rene, alone beneath the lime-colored willows.

Rene, with the centerfold legs.

And later that morning in Mr. Martin’s physics class at Smoky River High, while she sat there front and center with her soft legs crossed (her soft legs like miracle whip, like creatures apart from the rest of her body, like human beings in themselves—thinking, living, breathing on their own, haunting Butch in his dreams, talking to Butch, saying things out loud in his head, screaming at him in their own top-secret soft little way while the other students dutifully scratched equations and other cryptic figures in their workbooks, while Rene herself nibbled on her No. 2 pencil), Butch Parker let the fingers of his imagination travel through her blonde-comet hair, trace the contours of her oval face, touch her barely visible black mustache.

There was nothing but Rene.  Rene, Rene, Rene.  Whatever her lustery lips expressed as regarded her feelings for physics, mathematics and the general state of humankind, Butch believed.  And even if he did not, he gave a good listen.

But never mind about that.

“I don’t know what it is,” Butch scrawled one night in his private thoughts, “but my love for you is big.  All the dollar bills in the world, if they were tongues, couldn’t begin to tell it.”

There was hope in Butch’s private thoughts.  Who had put it there, he could not tell.

And then one night in the future, in a dream or not, Butch Parker found Rene sitting next to him, at the picnic table in his backyard.  And there was a breeze.  And they took a walk.  When Butch slipped an arm around her thorax, he felt her ribs.  She leaned her head against his neck.  Butch hoped fate would hold them together for good.  He willed it hard, with emotion.

“I just want to feel you breathing all night,” Butch Parker whispered, “in a dark room, with the radio going.”

“That would be nice,” Rene said with a sigh.  “With the radio going.”

So Butch Parker and Rene belonged to each other, technically because Butch had said so.  And life was a miracle, at least for the next eighteen months, six days and six hours, at the end of which time Butch caught Rene sharing a beer and a few other things with a jock named Chevyhead, or “Assface,” as he affectionately was known in some circles.

“But I ... “ Butch said, red face leaning hard into the windshield, the wheels of his red Ford Fairlane gripping the gray road, “I just like to call him Satan.”

“I’m in your way, Sam,” Rene said, holding Butch Parker’s hand like an offering outside the janitor’s room one October afternoon.

The sun’s rays cut across her face.

“And which way is that?” Butch said.  “The only way is you, don’t you know?  You, a small home in Smoky River, and a small job.  That’s all, everything.”

“No, Sam,” she said, looking at the floor.  “You know that’s not true.”

“My name’s not Sam,” Butch said.

 

 

“Hi, Sam,” Rene would say, being utterly natural, as she and Butch passed each other on the way to class.  If Assface was with her, walking big-chested down the hall, taking up enough space for two people, Butch would nod cordially and say, “Hi, Rene.”  When she was alone, Butch would wear his melting on his face.  Though he tried to deny his feelings, he still felt the same weakening in the knees, the same fullness in the chest each time Rene approached, her shoulders high and narrow, books pressed against her chest, chin tilted down, blonde hair like light.

It was serious stuff.

At the pep assemblies, Butch was careful not to let Rene know he had a bead on her.  At the basketball games, he sat in the balcony, studying her, memorizing the flexibility of her knees, the flick of her fingers, the flop of her hair.  He passed entire hours of study hall thinking of this jewel that once had been his.  The teachers went about their jobs, the students went about their lives, papers got passed out, assignments recorded, quizzes taken, tests bombed, lectures given, detentions served, chalkboards washed, hallways swept, bulletin boards designed, college applications filled out, and Butch Parker drifted through it all, oblivious to the present, to the future, to practical applications, religious sermons, family gatherings, the sun, the moon, the rain and snow.

 

 

And then Butch Parker took up smoking, despite what the Mothers Against Cancer (MAC) had to say.  He sat at the assemblies and nodded in agreement with the honor students who had banded together to form a sister faction, Pupils Against Cancer Too (PACT).  They played films parading pictures of the inner flesh of people who had smoked too much, shots of ladies strapped to their hospital beds, tubes snaked up their noses, cigarettes still burning between their fingers.  Butch watched and listened to all of this.  He even did his part to fight the problem, sketching a picture of a devil-horned cigarette during the week that PACT, with helpful hints from MAC, called, “Kick Butt Week.”

“Tobacco products are the direct cause of eighty-five percent of all heart- and lung-related deaths in the United States!” class president and recycling militant Ramona cried from behind a podium on the auditorium stage one afternoon.

Butch quivered in his seat, feeling like a sinner, like a crony of Satan; and yet, after school, when the forces of evil guided a trembling hand to the pack of cigarettes in his jean-jacket pocket, to the lighter in the dash of his Ford Fairlane, when the glowing coils touched the tip of his Winston and he inhaled that first sulfurous breath, and the clouds were in the sky, and it was not too cold to keep the window cracked open, and the trees were in the middle of fall, reflecting kaleidoscopically off his windshield as he drove down the side streets of his hometown, and the rock and roll pounded pleasingly from the grill atop his dash, he felt fine, in his own sad soul somewhat saved, even, like, “Okay, perhaps this’ll lead to my untimely death, and perhaps that’ll lead to an eternity in Hell, but how come I’m soothed?”

And then Butch Parker took up drinking.  He could not help it.  He had drunk before, but not like this.  This was something else, something like a festival: beer in the park, in the afternoon, while swinging from a tree limb.  And the rusted sun sprinkled its sparkly dust, like wafers for the fish, across the waters of Lake Pearl, and Butch’s good friend Arm rolled the fatties and cranked the jams from his Skylark sound system at a volume that assumed control of the woods, as the sun sank down, its outer layers melting into the waters, and twilight came down, and dusk rolled in, and the two of them soaked and smoked their brains in the burning branches of the dead, in the snap, crackle and pop of the lovely dead.

Butch started to come home drunk at night, something he had done only sparingly before, but now he found himself stumbling upstairs to his bedroom nearly every night.  These were not his finest moments.  Sometimes, he made it only as far as the den, where the TV light blinked off the faces of his inquiring parents.  And Butch Parker would stand there in the doorway, leaning against its frame, calmly answering their questions, hoping not to slur his words, wondering whether they could smell anything.

Upstairs in his room, Butch lay in bed with his clothes on, his headphones cranking rock and roll.  The music helped him.  The music made him better than Rene, even though he suspected he was no better.  But did the music substitute for the softness of Rene?  Did it substitute for the way her hips swung in her cheerleading skirt?  For the way she lifted the fork to her lips during lunch in the cafeteria?  The way her face turned pink when the algebra teacher called on her to answer a question?  The way she seemed to be made of cotton while she leaned against the brick wall outside the band room—strands of sun-sprinkled cotton, with green eyes like those of some exotic aquarium creature, like some sort of doll from Disneyland?  Did the music substitute for all of that?  Did it substitute for the breath of Rene’s body as she passed Butch in the hallway, the smell of golden soap, now half-lathered and drying on the window sill of the shower stall?  Did it substitute for that?  For the wind that breezed through the partly opened shower-stall window?  Did the music substitute for that day in spring when Rene emerged from the front doors of the school in a pair of white tennis shorts, her legs like the hot caramel that hugs an apple?  Did it substitute for the feelings Butch felt every time he drove by Rene’s house at night, the feelings he felt from the driver’s seat of his red Ford Fairlane while the trees of town made noises like the waves of the ocean, and his head spun in the fumes of booze, and the fog of his fatty flavored the unpolluted winds of Smoky River?

No, not exactly.  But the music helped him go to sleep.

And in the mornings, Butch Parker’s mother shook him back to life, hovering over his bed, her kind round head urging him to get up and get ready for school.

“Let’s get going,” she said, slightly out of breath for taking on more than half of Butch’s worry.  “You’re going to be tardy again.”

Butch regarded this gentle giant of a mother, this being over his bed, gazing earnestly into his own face with an expression three parts concern and one part perturbation.  It was no angel, but it was familiar.

“You shouldn’t sleep with those gosh darn headphones on,” she said as Butch sprung out of bed.  “And you shouldn’t sleep in your clothes, either.”  Butch dug through his drawer for a pair of socks.  “How come you sleep in your clothes?”

Because I came home drunk, Butch said to himself.  Because I came home high and drunk.  But I’m all right, Mother.  Strange as it seems, I’m a million bucks.

“You’re going to lose your hearing, sleeping in those gosh darn headphones like that.  Here,” Mrs. Parker said, “I’ve got some clean clothes for you,” and she laid the clothes, all neatly folded, on Butch’s bed.

And she fried Butch bacon and made him toast, and Butch laid the strips of bacon on his toast and ate two bacon sandwiches, a breakfast dish with which he would associate his mother all the days of his life.

 

 

But despite the booze and blunts, the headphones and the kind mother and her bacon sandwiches, Assface lived on, pawing Rene between classes in the hallway, in broad daylight.  He would do it right there, right in front of the student body.  Butch could not believe it.  Butch studied Assface, wanting to know what it was about Assface that was so cool.  Was it Assface’s truck?  Was it the way Assface kept his truck so shiny and beautiful, from its roof to its catalytic converter?  Was it the way every nut and bolt, every tire tread, every inch of chrome looked good enough to eat?  Was it the bike in the back of Assface’s truck, the shiny and beautiful bike like Assface’s own private horse, tethered securely to the bed, going wherever Assface went?  Was it Assface’s fibrous muscles from head to foot?  The way his spandex shorts seemed painted to his other face?  Was it the way Assface ran for touchdowns on Friday nights, the way he smiled and kidded the same after a loss as he did after a win, the way you could not tell whether the team had lost or won by looking at Assface, who was always in a lighthearted mood, reliving his best runs of the night?  Was it the way Assface shot baskets from beyond the top of the key, way out in the wilderness of the court where no one bothered him, where all the other teams left him alone to loft those celestial three pointers, about two of ten that were actually worth three points?  But they were so beautiful, Butch had to admit, even the ones that missed should have been worth one point each.

Butch concluded the whole thing with Assface was a mystery, and if it was a mystery to him, perhaps it was a mystery to Rene.  Perhaps the mystery was all, and the mysteriousness surrounding the mystery is what mystified Rene, and that was why she went for Assface.

Butch Parker had his good days, when he saw potentially lovely things in other girls who walked the high school halls or sat next to him in class.  Butch Parker had days when he actually believed other girls existed besides Rene, when he saw things in the shapes of their thighs, and the roundness of their rears, and the sweetness of their feet, and the smoothness of their necks, and the sparkle of their teeth, and the breath of their voices.  Butch Parker even told himself one of these could be his and could make him forget Rene.

The problem was, in Butch’s heart, it was all a lie.  It did not matter what the experts said on TV or in the churches; Butch knew no matter what forces were called on to make him feel good and whole again, no matter how sensible all the theories sounded, no matter how the evidence stacked up on the side of reality, no matter how much he smiled and pretended to be all right, how much he nodded and said, “I know,” he knew only one truth: The absence of Rene hurt.  It hurt in his stomach and in his mind, possibly even in his soul; all the bases, therefore, were covered.

Only now and then in the days following their split, Butch found himself in the same space with Rene.  Once there was a party in someone’s basement.  It was on a winter’s night, and the banks of snow bulged up in the little windows overhead.  Bodies and heads bobbed from brick wall to sweating brick wall, cups of beer sloshing in every other hand, rap tunes blasting away in some weird dull light that turned the basement into a pit of luminous masks, flimsy as taco shells, bobbing, dipping, floating, drifting through the dark, faces flushed and raised toward the ceiling, lips flapping like beached fish.  And somewhere in that crowd was Rene, and on her torso was a soft red sweater, slightly tight to accentuate her high points, and growing out from the sleeves of the sweater were two thin white hands with nails polished faintly pink, clean white hands and knuckles, hands and knuckles a million miles from the wrinkles of the geriatric years.  Two or three times, Butch and Rene floated past each other in that pit of heads and necks, shoulders and elbows, and each time Rene said, “Hi!”

And Butch said, “Hi!”

What could it mean, that word Hi?  What was it made of?  What did it contain?  Was it hiding anything?  Telling anything?  Like a bum with the day’s first and only cup of soup, Butch took his “Hi”s into a corner and cupped them in his hands, inhaling their rich brothy smell.

“You’re young, Butch,” his elders said, not really knowing the whole situation, because there was no time to fill them in on that.  “You’ve got your whole life in front of you.”

“I’m young,” Butch said to himself, while nodding for his elders.  “I’ve got my whole life in front of me.”

“There’re plenty of girls you’re gonna meet down the road, plenty of nice girls,” they said, as though they had experience.

“Girls down the road, plenty of nice girls,” Butch repeated to himself.

Which road, though? he thought with a start.  Am I on the right road?

“This isn’t the time to tie yourself down,” they said.

“Who said anything about tying myself down?” Butch said.

“Just enjoy these years,” they said.  “See other girls.  Play the field.”

“But does anybody got a map?” Butch Parker howled from the driver’s seat of his Fairlane, his heart pounding as he raced through the night and the music gutted him and images of Assface and Rene smoldered in his head.

No matter how hard Butch pressed on the gas pedal, no matter how close he took the corners, how loudly he cranked the music, he could not kill images of Assface mauling Rene, or Assface and Rene lip-to-lip on the couch, or Rene breathing Assface her deepest secrets and Assface responding with the appropriate statistical data.

Butch drove harder, smoked meaner, jammed louder, barreling through the humid darkness in his hollow metal machine, trying to kill the nightmare of Assface and Rene, trying to kill it in the miles he drove, in the time it took him to make three revolutions around Lake Pearl, smoke seven cigarettes, play his favorite tape one-and-a-half times.  And though none of these efforts yielded total abdication from images of Assface caressing Rene or vice versa, they helped to wear Butch down and land him a decent night’s sleep, not including the dreams.


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