The Winner of the 2002 Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes
Sam Hayter, through an absurd amount of effort dedicated to a task so without import, manages to drop a single salt crystal wedged precariously between a grubby thumb and index finger into a glass of warm water: the star performer for the wriggling ray of sunshine that has found its way through the mostly closed Martha Stewart curtained window above the kitchen sink. Sam rests his head on his folded arms plopped like a couple of pieces of skinny firewood atop the card table/ kitchen table. Sam, grinning, is watching the execution of the crystal with drug-induced stupidity. He watches it disintegrate, seemingly without pain, creating an ethereal warping of space, a visible absence where earlier there had only been absence. Sam chuckles, and his fifteen-year-old blond-white hair vibrates stupidly. Sam drools. His eyes are dilated brown vortexes, sucking the glass of water eagerly into a world of machine-gun firing neurons, hijacked by three tiny squares of Daffy-Duck paper. The acid disintegrates much earlier that morning under Sam’s tongue, protruding from a cherubic set of red lips, O-shaped in recognition of the seriousness of the jack-off session proceeding farther south. Getting high and jacking off: a summation as good as any of Sam’s young life. And cutting. He needs to cut himself.
Wanda Hayter, forty, thrice divorced, and a board certified massage therapist, leaves her trailer and Sam, her only acknowledged son, to fend for themselves yesterday (Friday) morning. Johnny, one of Wanda’s regular customers, comes over Thursday night for a session that, as usual, begins with Wanda telling Sam to “Go play in the road or something, shithead.” After an hour, Sam returns and oddly, the session between Johnny and Wanda is still in full swing. Usually, Wanda’s clients are in and out in less than an hour.
“Mom must like this one,” Sam thinks, meandering to the fridge and taking a gulp of barely in-date whole milk straight from the half-gallon jug. Just before turning on the TV to catch a rerun of Magnum P.I., Sam hears his mother scream out with, he guesses, joy: “OHMYGODFUCKYEAH, JOHNNY!”
Sam rolls his eyes and is glad to muffle the ecstatic wailings of his mom with the comforting hum of T.C.’s chopper and Magnum’s Ferrari. He needs to pee, but the bathroom is next to his mom’s massage parlor/ bedroom and, given the current amount of activity emanating from the business end of the trailer, Sam really has no desire to be closer to the action than necessary. Sam jacks up the volume of the TV, sticks in a bag of popcorn in the microwave, waits for a commercial, and steps out of the sliding glass door in the kitchen to the wooden, dilapidated excuse for a deck attached to the trailer but barely. He yawns, pushes his beltless pants halfway down his thighs (Sam enjoys the feel of the night air on his bare ass); his body is handsomely silhouetted under the star canopied night. Sam urinates into a plastic, K-Mart brand, toddlers’ swimming pool, crumpled on the ground and filled with dirty rainwater, a McDonald’s Big Mac wrapper, and an obviously used and recently discarded condom. “Some people,” says Sam out loud, his tone one of repulsion. However, he’s oblivious to the fact that pissing off a deck with one’s penis exposed for God and the world to see is just as much a violator of societal mores as flinging a used condom anywhere but in a trashcan. He shakes off the last couple of drops urine, yanks up his pants, and steps back inside the trailer to hear his mom exclaim, “INTHEASSOHYEAHBABY!” Sam slaps himself in the face, hard, numbing the grotesque reality of his life. He gingerly withdraws the steaming bag of popcorn from the microwave, grabs a Rite-Aid brand quasi Dr. Pepper–Dr. Thunder–from the fridge and sits on the couch, watching Magnum sit in his kayak, paddling in a calm Pacific, and Sam wished more than anything in the whole entire goddamned freaking world that he were Magnum P.I…or T.C…or Rick…or even Higgins–anybody but himself. He’d even trade places with one of those stupid Dobermans that are always chasing Magnum.
Sam takes a couple of bites of popcorn, swallows a mouthful of Dr.Thunder, burps, and then digs out a bone handled Case pocketknife stolen from K-Mart (the only place he and his mom ever shop) from a pant’s pocket. He flips open a blade and without taking his eyes from Magnum’s muscular hairy chest (of which he is envious), Sam guides the stainless steel tip of the blade into his left forearm and pulls toward the ceiling, as if the blade were the zipper of his fake Member’s Only Jacket. Up up up, Sam provokes the Case up his arm, slicing a freckle in two in the process. The cut isn’t deep, only deep enough to barely seep blood, just deep enough so that you can look at the arm and know that the blade had been there. Without removing his fixed gaze from the TV, Sam folds the blade and sticks the Case deep in one his front pockets and stares with wonder as the scene of Magnum paddling dissolves into a flashback of Magnum as a little kid, his father’s oversized navy issued watch dangling from his wrist. The young Magnum is saluting his dead father at a military funeral a la JFK Jr’s poignant salute to his fallen daddy.
Early the next morning, a laughing, black spandex wearing Wanda, arm in arm with Johnny, emerges from the message parlor/ bedroom. Sam is asleep on the couch, the TV still blaring, when Wanda whispers in his right ear, “All yours for the weekend, shithead. Love ya bunches.”
Wanda kisses Sam on the forehead, reaches into her purse and leaves a twenty with a Post-it Note sticking to it lying on the card table. The Post-it Note reads in wild cursive: “Gone to Crazyhorse! B BACK MON!” Crazyhorse is the name of a campground in Gatlinburg reputed (and disputed) as having the world’s largest (longest? widest? steepest?) waterslide. Sam doesn’t hear the motorcycle leave the trailer, carrying the couple to the Smoky Mountains for a weekend of drinking Bud and fucking…pointless, ponders Sam, when they could easily drink Bud and fuck at the trailer for free.
* * *
Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name sings the TV two hours after Sam has watched the salt crystal dissolve. Sam Malone and Woody are stationed behind the bar. Sam Hayter, in his altered state, believes himself to be sitting between Norm and Cliff. Sam sees himself as one of the cronies, one of the regulars. When he enters the bar, everybody yells, “Sam!” just as they do for Norm. He’s one of the gang. Hey, thinks Sam, me and Sam Malone have the same first name! As this notion enters Sam’s discombobulated brain, he starts to giggle, and he sees himself inside the Magnavox only inches away from his wasted frame, sitting at the Cheer’s bar saying, “Hey, Sammy! I’m a Sam, too. I’m Sam I am. You know: green eggs and Sam. Get it!? Sam instead of ham. You know: Dr. Shit’s book–I mean Seuss–Dr. ShitSeuss!”
Sam drools and cackles on the carpet. He laughs hysterically. He is naked. He has harmless slash marks all over his body, paper-cuts and bee-stings–nuisances more than real honest to God wounds. Sam’s thin body, borderline albino in its artic starkness, looks as if someone had taken a red Sharpie and haphazardly drawn all over his body; there’s even a vertical red slash, thin and precise, dissecting the top epidermal layer of his penis, unclean, and covered with a two day supply of come residue clinging to its skin like steam to a mirror.
The phone rings.
Sam is still buried in the comedy playing in the TV in front of his eyes. He sees himself bantering with Carla and eating pretzels. “Woody,” says Sam Malone. “Give little Sammy here a drink.”
Sam giggles, oblivious to the ringing phone. “Yeah, Woody! Sam wants a drink–not Big Sammy, silly, Little Sammy, you know, ya goof ball: me! I’m a Sam, too. I’m Sam I am! Woody? Hahaha! I’ve got a woody, Woody! Get it: a woody, a boner!”
On the twenty-sixth ring, Sam grabs the phone and says through slurred speech, “Hay-lo.”
“Is this the residence of Wanda Hayter?” inquires an important sounding voice, probably a fucking bill collector.
“Mom’s in Crazyhorse,” says Sam, staring at the kaleidoscopic colors of Sam Malone’s sweater; the colors are swirling like a tornado and they’re so beautiful.
“Pardon?” says the voice on the phone.
“Crazyhorse. Uh oh, um, if you’re with AT&T she’s got Real Failure like my Aunt Woozy. That’s what mom said to say the next time one of you sonsabitches called,” says Sam, blitzed, and staring at his fingertips, at the minute capillaries just underneath the surface, at the blood nets and streams morphing every stretching second into mighty torrents of gushing red rivers.
“Um…is this Ms. Wanda’s Hayter’s residence?” asks the voice with a tone turning slightly peevish.
“Huh?” asked a fucked-up Sam, who has in the past eight hours ingested another eight tabs of Daffy-Duck acid, contributing only in part to his bodily mutilation. “This is Sammy Hayter, and, uh, the check’s in the mail, MOTHERFUCKER! Hahaha! My mom’s in the hospital with Real Failure. You get that? Wait a minute: are you with Sprint or AT&T? HEY! JUST WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE! Mom doesn’t even carry long distance anymore. She buys them calling cards from the lobby of that Perkin’s Restaurant off exit seven going toward Bristol.”
Sam changes expression. He is perplexed, but not alarmingly so. Sam’s eyes glassily reflect Sam Malone’s giant laughter. “If you aren’t with Sprint or AT&T, who are you, uh, with? MCI? Who is this? This and piss. Hmm, this and piss. I’m a poet, and I by-God know it!”
Sam stares at the gigantic holes in the receiver’s mouthpiece. He moves the receiver farther from his mouth, afraid that he may fall in one of the cavernous death traps threatening to suck him in and kill him. He possibly could be disemboweled during the fall by the treacherous, knife-welding eagles sure to be on the attack.
Ike, the confused man with whom Sam is speaking, furrows his brow in confusion. Ike works as a people-finder for Publishers Clearing House and is simply trying to determine if their next multi-million dollar winner, a Ms. Wanda Hayter, is going to be at home on Monday. On Monday at 7:30 PM, tucked between game-shows airing on the east coast, the Sweepstakes team will arrive in a van, a reporter with his camera crew will emerge and bounce up to the front door, ring the doorbell, and the reporter will shove a microphone in the face of some lucky winner and proclaim happily that “Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Soandso, you’re the winner of the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes!” The telecast is supposed to be live. One of Ike’s job duties is to make sure that the lucky someone is home to answer the door. Ike is to make sure that the lucky winner isn’t naked. Ike is to make sure that the lucky winner looks surprised when the doorbell rings. Ike is insurance, baby.
Ike, known affectionately among co-workers as “Wife-beater” for no other reason than the color of his skin–black–and his sharing the same first name with Ike Turner, world famous wife beater, turns to his immediate boss, Lewis Epstein, and says, covering the phone’s mouth piece with a cupped hand, “Louie, did you give me the right number.”
“Five-five-five-forty-two-oh-two, Beater,” answers a bald Louis, employee at Publisher’s Clear House the past twenty-four years.
“Excuse me, sir,” says Ike to Sam. “Is this five-five-five-four-two-zero-two?”
Sammy, growing increasing afraid of the ever-widening holes in the telephone receiver, says, “Our telephone has only been disconnected because the government didn’t send the check on time like they said they would–MOTHERFUCKERS!”
“I didn’t say anything about your phone being disconn–”
“I need a parachute. If I fall into one of these holes, I’m so shit out’a luck–”
“I’m trying to reach Wanda Hayter–Hi-ter or Hate-er, I’m not sure which. If I’ve got the wrong number I’m sor–”
“Mom’ll be back on Monday,” says Sam abruptly before yanking the phone’s cord from the wall and flinging the receiver across the room before one of the widening mouths can swallow him whole, like that octopus in the bible that ate that submarine.
* * *
Sam’s sad. Sam is trying to laugh at Garfield, but he can’t. Sam, too, tried earlier to laugh at Born Loser but to no avail. The only thing about the Sunday comics that Sam Hayter finds even remotely amusing is the space murdered by the strips themselves. The very frames of the comic’s strips shoot the emptiness of the delicious void the finger; the void is that nothingness that Sam can’t articulate, but for which he longs. To sum up: Sam wants to die.
For Sad Sam, Daffy-Duck has run out of luck, leaving our self-mutilating, masturbating anti-hero of this tale stuck with a slothful tick-tocking time, dripping slower than a leaky faucet. Acid kills time: everybody knows that. Sam, with the acid losing its punch, is alone with himself and the rank and dank trailer in which every object withers and wilts under the moisture and heat of poverty, ignorance, and desperation–all expressed and more easily classified under the umbrella category known as FUCKED. Nobody can spread his or her legs like members of FUCKED. Wanda, a member of FUCKED since she was fucked as an eight year old by her own father (also a member of FUCKED since the day he was forced as a four-year-old to ingest a meal of honest to God gruel, flour and water, looking like a bowl of come, because that’s all there was to eat) was as FUCKED as FUCKED can be. Members of FUCKED beget other members of FUCKED quite easily, and Sam, our fucked up little hero is in the hinterland between SCREWED and FUCKED, but a member of neither at the moment, is disturbing close in proximity to that wonderful club, better and more esteemed than FUCKED or SCREWED or LAMBASTED or STUPID (of which we all are members) known as WASTED. Many members of WASTED are the taints and tweeners of human anatomy and society respectively. Taints and tweeners could’a been somebody worth a shit: a Shakespeare-type or the discoverer of a cure for AIDS or even, if anything, a carbon cutout but moderately happy suburbanite; but, being in the taint of existence, they must flop like a trout on a stringer being carried to Judas’ pickup truck. The people of FUCKED must evaporate and disintegrate, just like Sam’s salt crystal in water and the squares of time-death known as the extended come, or the Technicolor OZ, or the eternal giggle, or the hand thrown over the shoulder by Jesus, or Buddha, or LSD, or Ecstasy, or Psilocybin, or an eternal round of golf at Pebble Beach, or a good cry.
Sam’s sad, and it’s early Sunday morning, and he’s not high anymore. Sam takes out the Case, flings open a blade, turns on the tube to a rerun of The A-Team, and just as B.A. and Murdock are about to kill one another, Sam plunges the knife a half-inch into his forearm. Sam stares at the blade doing nothing. He waits. Nothing. Nothing. And then, finally, there it is: a pool of blood, dark and velvety, rushing to surround the Visigoth, as if each iron rich cell were a teenaged wasteland, rushing for the rock group who’ll tell them who they are, what they are; many don’t make it to the music. Many get their necks broken, their backs broken, their spirits broken. The picture of Sam’s hunched body, staring with glazed eyes at his arm, could be the cover shot for a magazine celebrating the white trash Zeitgeist of southwest, Virginia and upper east Tennessee. Sam’s a taint, dangling precariously on the tightrope separating shit and come, and he’s not FUCKED or SCREWED but by the grace of God and the devil of capitalism and dumb fucking luck, he might avoid the sentence of WASTED and end up being in that club endeared by all: LOADED.
The phone rings only a half-ring before Sam grabs it and barks, “Mom, when are you coming home?”
Ike responds, “Excuse me. I’m looking for one, er, I’m looking for a lady by the name of Wanda Hayter. I think I spoke with you the other day.”
Sam watches Murdock prance crazily around B.A., all the while listening to B.A. scream: “You a fool, Murdock! You a fool!”
Ike says, “Sir? Still there?”
“Huh?” answers Sam. “Mom uses calling cards she buys in the lobby of Perkin’s Restaurant, that one off exit seven going toward Bristol. We don’t carry long distance anymore. Mom told me to tell you she’s suffering from Real Failure and that she’d call you–”
“Son, I’m just calling–inquiring, really–to see if Wanda might be home tomorrow evening, from, say, six o’clock on? You see, to cut to the chase, your mom’s won a lot of money. Son–what’s your name?”
“Sam Hayter,” answers Sam, turning off the tube. “I’m Sam Hayter. What did Mom win?”
“Son–Sam–your Mom has won a lot of money–A LOT OF MONEY. If she’s at home, let me speak with her for a moment. Um, you’ve heard of the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, haven’t you?” says Ike.
“Is that where you get twelve CD’s for a penny? That’s bullshit, man. I–”
“Sam, can you hold on just a minute? Please don’t hang up?” says Ike.
“Alright,” says Sam, turning the TV back on.
Ike sighs and rubs his temples. “This dumb kid–I think he’s her son or something–he’s a fucking retard, Louie. And you know I don’t throw around the word retard loosely with my family history,” says Ike, once again cupping a large hand over the mouthpiece of the phone.
“Beater,” says Louis, “death, taxes, and dumb motherfucking trailer trash winning lotteries and our sweepstakes: things you can count on. Just tell the dumb shit that he and his mommy can ditch the government cheese next week. Tell him that we’ll be knocking on his trailer door tomorrow, and that maybe he and his mommy should abstain from incest just long enough for us to get them on camera, crying, and screaming their goddamn heads off, ‘I cant believe it! I can’t believe it!’ ”
Ike smirks. “Kid,” he says. “I just want to know if your mother’s going to be home tomorrow evening. Am I going slowly enough for you? Tomorrow evening? Wanda has won a lot of money. OK, kid? You getting’ any of this?”
B.A. has Murdock in a full nelson and Sam is laughing so hard he can’t breathe. Sam loves it when B.A. and Murdock squabble, because Sam knows they love each other. The really do. Big Black assed mean motherfucker B.A. and daffy, quacky and lilly white Murdock: LOVE. They are LOVE and so funny while expressing it. Sam laughs and laughs at the antics of the television duo. Ike screams into the phone: “SON? YOU THERE? SON? GODDAMNIT! DO YOU HEAR ME?”
Ike slams down the phone, digs into a pocket and starts sucking wildly on a cherry Lollipop. “FUCK!” screams Ike. “FUCK FUCK FUCK! I hate this shit. I DO NOT–I repeat–I do not get paid enough for this shit.”
Louie, playing a bowling game on his computer wristwatch answers, “Well, you made forty-two last year, and I cleared fifty-five–I’d say we’re both obscenely overpaid for what we do–mainly tracking down dipshits all over the place, so we can give them free money.”
Ike pounds his hands on the desk. “Well, they don’t pay me enough to deal with Virginia dumb shits.”
Louie, still bowling, says, “Wife Beater: dumbshits are everywhere. They’re in every nook and cranny. Dumbshits make the world go round. Dumbshits pay our salary. Dumbshits pay everybody’s salary.”
“Deep thoughts by Louie. Just what I need,” says Ike, through a chuckle. “Well, I’ve got to go early to Virginia. I can’t show up at Wanda Hayter’s goddamned trailer, and she’s off nailing her brother or something.”
“That’s true,” answers Louie, his watch beeping, indicating the end of his game. “What do you know, I finally broke one hundred.”
* * *
Sam misses school. One more month, and he’ll be back. If Sam could kill a month with his bare hands, it’d be August, so heavy and hot, and wet, like carpet with soup spilled on it in it fuck it you can’t clean that shit up. August is Wanda’s slowest month. The weather’s too hot to fuck. August is a shitty month. Sam sits in the floor, naked and self-mutilated, his stomach gnawing and gnashing and gnarling. He’s very hungry. Daisy knocks a half-knock on the trailer’s front door and steps inside. “Jesus Christ!” she says, seeing Sam’s sad body.
Daisy sits on the couch, her butt perched on the edge. She runs her hands through Sam’s dirty hair, sticky and oily. She thinks, He needs to brush his teeth comb his hair I love him this boy sitting here all hurt it’ll be a miracle if he isn’t dead by twenty a wife-beater a weirdo freak axe-murderer I love him this boy my boy his cuts every cut a river a torrent rushing into a hurting soul I will ride his boat his ship into a sea of eternal love Jesus my love is cornball shit for this boy this boy who’ll amount to probably nothing everything maybe. Daisy says, “Well, we’re back.”
Sam stands up and sits on the edge of the couch with Daisy, who, two years his senior, lives two trailers down from Sam’s. Daisy lives with her grandmother. Daisy was the product of one of those druggie moms, who sticks their kid in Foster Care because the new boyfriend doesn’t want the baggage, and the grandmother swoops in to say No No No, I’ll take her (or him). I’ll take her. She can live with me. And the grandmother thinks, Here’s a second chance. I’ll do it right this time. I’ll save this one. Daisy’s face is burnt red. Sam can tell she’s been to the beach. She’s thin and usually pale and has grown up with Sam, two trailers apart. She’ll start at the community college next year. She’s wearing a John Prine concert T-shirt. Her fingernails are cut–not bitten–short. She hates makeup. Her hair is simple, pulled back into a ponytail. She’s good.
“Hot?” asks Sam.
“Myrtle Beach sucks. God it sucks. I hate that fucking place. It’s hotter than hell. I missed you the whole time.”
“You’ve only been gone since Friday night,” mutters Sam.
“Well I missed you the entire time.”
“I don’t know why.”
“I do.” Daisy turns to Sam and kisses his lips. “You seriously need to brush your teeth. Jesus, Sam, look at you! Where’s Wanda?”
“With Johnny. They went to Crazyhorse.”
Daisy shakes her head.
Let’s go get in the shower, Daisy thinks. She smiles and traces a finger over a humpbacked multiplicity of red lines strewn between Sam’s left collarbone and nipple. She feels like she’s she gone too fast over a bunch of unnoticed speed bumps. Good God, she thinks. He’s so gone. Let’s take a shower. Let’s take a shower. Let’s take a shower. He’s so gone. She takes Sam by a hand and her clothes magically fall to the floor. They get in the shower, and Daisy doesn’t bother turning on a light. She turns on the water in the shower, letting it run awhile before getting in, allowing the shitty water heater to do its thing. Sam brushes his teeth and spits, all in the dark. He pees, doesn’t flush. Daisy slides in the shower. Sam pushes himself against her, his penis hard against her ass. Sam was hard before he stepped into the shower. Sam was getting hard mid piss. Just the proximity of Diasy’s nakedness, just the thought of it, and his cock is straining, like a hitchhiker thumbing for a ride underneath a rainstorm, one of those summer storms, out of nowhere, a deluge, c’mon and stop goddamnit! but they drive on on on down the goddamned road. Now in the shower, he’s on her and trying to shove himself into her, to fit into her, and it is this second that Daisy understands that sex can be so desperate, so like a drink of water for a thirsting to death man. Sam doesn’t kiss her neck; he isn’t moaning; he simply wants. He wants. He fucking wants. Wait a minute, Wait wait, she says, Wait wait, and she steps out of the shower, goes into Wanda’s room, opens The Drawer, grabs a condom, steps back in the shower, Wait wait Sam says, coming, already coming, must’ve finished it while she was out, and she wipes him off with a washcloth thinking, he’ll last longer anyway, and she slides the condom on his penis still quivering and leaking come, their bodies wet and warm in the water, and he sits down, his ass making a sucking sound on the floor of the shower, and she lowers herself slowly, both hands on his shoulders holding tightly, John Prine’s lyrics bouncing inside her head like flailing children running in a field, arms outstretched, running little airplanes, sometimes colliding, nobody getting hurt, lots of laughing, the kids singing when you’re in my arms I know you’re happy to be there…just as long as I’m with you I’m happy anywhere and a multiplicity of water droplets explode on the rocking backs of Daisy and Sam, killing time the time-honored way.
* * *
Ike has just arrived at Tricities Regional Airport when his cell phone rings. “Ike,” he answers.
“Wife Beater? Ike? I can barely hear ya.”
“Louie? That you?” says Ike.
“I can barely hear ya?” complains Louis.
“This is Ike, Louie, goddamnit! What?!”
“You’re not going to believe this shit.”
Ike opens the driver’s door to his rental, a white Malibu. It has an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Goddamn smokers, Ike thinks.
“Ike? You there?” asks Louie.
“What happened?” responds Ike, getting into the car.
“Wanda–our winner. She’s dead. Motorcycle accident. She and her boyfriend, both of them.”
“You gotta be shittin–”
“I called the brat back–Sam–and his girlfriend answered. She said the cops had just called fifteen minutes before I called. She said they need the son to identify the body. She was crying and shit, Beater, but she sounded like she’s got half a brain you know. This shit is fucking horrible. Beater?”
Ike is shaking his head. “Goddamn, Louie. Dead? Jesus Christ! Dead? Goddamnit! I hate my fucking job.”
Louie’s voice is suddenly hopeful. “However, Beater. This shit can still work. Could even work great. The best. Shit this might be fantastic. POVERTY STRICKEN SON WITH DEAD MOMMY AND NO DADDY WINS MILLIONS FROM PUBLISHER’S CLEARING HOUSE! Does that not sound fucking unbelievable, Beater? C’mon, Beater. Does that not sound delicious? I’m like, give me a goddamned break this is too good–horrible, yes, but good, Beater, oh so goddamned good. Might as well make some chicken soup out’a this chicken shit. That’s what I say. The Coats say go for it. They say get on with it. Ike? Ike?”
“I’m here. Jesus H. Christ. What do you want me to do?”
“Listen, Wife Beater. Sam’s gone–to identify his mom, OK. The girlfriend is with him. Now, uh, Sam’ll be back at their trailer in say, I don’t know, probably four hours. Your responsibility hasn’t changed–well, it’s changed a little–instead of making sure Wanda is there to answer the door, you make goddamned sure that Sam is there to answer the door. Of course, uh, make sure he’s somewhat lucid while he’s on camera, OK. Ya got that, Beater? This could be good. The crew’ll be on sight by–what time is it now–OK the crew’ll be on sight by six thirty tonight. That’s uh, it’s just after six now, that’s a little over twelve hours–”
“I can fucking add Lou–”
“So you need to make sure the kid is in decent shape for the camera. If we could just tape the response, well, well fuck it, we wouldn’t have a goddamn worry, now would we?”
“No, Louie, we–”
“So get him halfway cognizant for his shot on camera, OK, Beater. I’d go ahead and go over to the trailer. I told the girlfriend that you were coming, so she’s leaving the door unlocked for ya. Go make yourself at home and complete the goddamn mission. I feel so freaking discombobulated, Beater. The kid…his mom kicking off, jeez man, ya know. What’s the world coming to anyway? This’ll be great though, you know, Beater. You know.”
“Louie, how’s the kid dong? Sam? Under the circumstances I’m sure he’s all to hell but—”
“That’s the thing–that’s the thing–that’s just it, Beater. The girlfriend said he just started giggling and laughing like a goddamned drunk banshee monkey. Can you believe that? Giggling and laughing when a cop tells you that your mother’s dead. How bazaar is that? Jesus Christ, these kids, ya know, Ike? Anyway, the girlfriend says that Sam is actually highly intelligent, borderline genius, but that he’s high out of his mind on acid. The girlfriend actually has half a clue, Beater. Maybe we should give her the goddamn money. He’s all right. He’s fine and dandy.”
“Is there any fam–”
“Way ahead of you. Nobody. An ex-husband that’s doing time. Her mom’s dead. Her dad–nobody’s knows. Anyway, Sam’s the big winner. Two point three million. He can get a whopper double-wide with that, can’t he, Beater!” says Louis, laughing.
Ike sighs and closes his eyes. “Go to the trailer and wait, right Louie?”
“That’s right. Go to the trailer and wait. You OK, Beater. You sound a little disturbed.”
“Christ, Louie, you just told me that–”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I’m Mr. Insensitivity. Well, anyway, just wait. And call me. Call me before, uh, nine o’clock. OK? Call me. I’ll need an update for the Coats.”
Ike starts the ignition. “Sure,” he says.
* * *
Sam’s eyes are closed, but he isn’t asleep as is Daisy, her head propped against Sam’s left shoulder, her mouth barely open. A patrol car is whisking them to Gatlinburg, so Sam can identify the body. Mink, the cop who’s doing the driving to the morgue, keeps saying, “Buddy, you OK? We’ll get you there ASAP.”
Mink looks like he’s about twenty, not much older than Sam. “You wanna listen to the radio or something.”
Without opening his eyes, Sam says very clearly, “Officer, that’d be great. If you don’t mind, could we listen to Public Radio?”
Mink, taken slightly off guard by the calmness of Sam’s voice, answers, “Sure, sure. You got it. Classical music, right? That’s what those Public Radio station’s play isn’t it? Classical?”
Sam, holding his eyes as tightly shut as possible, says in a congenial tone, “Yes. If you could play come classical that’d be great. Thanks.”
While Mink is scanning the stations, Sam runs a hand up his T-shirt and places it over his left breast, his right index finger on top of his left nipple. He can feel his heart beating but so slowly. Sam is upside down in that the more a situation worsens, the calmer, the more subdued is his reaction. Sam figures that right now, in the back of this patrol car driving to a morgue where his no doubt highly disfigured mother (burned up? ripped apart? her eyeballs dislodged?) lay on a metal table, naked and stiff, his heartbeat is no more than forty-five beats a minute. Calm. Mink finds Johnson City’s WETS and the sound of Debussy’s “Water Music” drowns the car’s engine.
“You want a biscuit from Hardee’s?” asks Mink. “Cause I’ve got to eat something–if you don’t mind stopping. I’m getting’ the weak shakes, you know. I think I’m hypoglycemic or something. Runs in the family. My dad’s diabetic. But, hey, we’ll go straight on. It won’t bother me a bit to go straight on,” says Mink.
“Go ahead and stop. Mom’s not going anywhere. And thanks,” answers Sam, his eyes still clenched shut.
Mink doesn’t know what to say. “Huh?” he asks.
“Thanks for finding WETS,” answers Sam, opening his eyes. “I contributed fifty dollars to them last year during their fund drive. I stole the money from my mother. If I remember correctly, mom earned the money by blowing this trucker named Riley; he delivers plants to greenhouses or something. He was an old bastard, and he kept telling Mom about how his wife was a member of the Eastern Star and how she was so great and all, but that she had back problems and diabetes and couldn’t fuck anymore and what’s a guy going to do. Mom just laughed and laughed. They didn’t even bother to shut the bedroom door. Mom thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. Anyway, the next day, I stole that money and sent it to WETS. Mom never even asked me about it. That’s funny, isn’t it, officer? My mother, in her own dead, small way is helping me listen to Prairie Home Companion.”
Jesus Christ, Mink thinks, turning up the music.
“You might want to consider stopping at a McDonalds, officer,” says Sam. “I know you said you wanted Hardee’s but McDonald’s is quite good too and not as crowded.”
“Thanks, kid, uh, call me Mink, OK.”
“Mink?” says Say. “Wow. That’s a fucked up name–no offense intended officer. Mink? Sounds dirty like pussy or something–the word not the actuality.”
“Just shut up back there. I know you’re upset and all…” says Mink.
Sam hugs his skinny legs and shakes his head no when Mink asks him if he wants a biscuit. While Mink is driving and “Watermusic” fills the patrol car and the tires are now cutting through predawn day-night, Sam surreptitiously digs out the Case and opens a blade and without any hesitation, he plunges the knife into his thigh through his jeans, just a half inch or so, just the tip, just the head, poking its way through the wet hole, the entrance to something better. Mink chews with his mouth open. In the rearview mirror all he can see is Sam’s face staring straight ahead, his eyes blank, his expression neutral save for the thinnest of smirks. Sam pulls the knife from his leg, folds the blade, and puts the Case back in his pocket.
“You OK?” asks Mink.
Sam nods his head and opens his eyes for the first time since getting into the patrol car. Sam’s face involuntarily scrunches like a toddler’s. He didn’t want to see, not like this, not now. His mouth opens but there is no sound. His hands shake. His body shakes. He cries. The early morning stars are boring. All the light that fills his brain is so boring, so lame, so K-Mart, so shitty, so dirty, so unexploding, so unromantic, so unspectacular. He cries open-mouthed and without sound, his usual method of crying. He had every intention of not opening his eyes until he saw his dead mom.
* * *
Ike parks his rental Malibu, sighs, farts three times, rechecks the address on a piece of crumpled paper, takes a drink of stale, fizzless Diet Coke, and thinks, Fucking trailers.
He walks through the small, overgrown yard. An emaciated calico cat with dangling tits weaves its way between his legs. “Fuck off,” says Ike. Entering the trailer the smell of White Trash hits him flush in the face: Fried food, cat piss, cat liter, stale milk, dirty carpet, a backed-up septic-tank, spilled goldfish food ground into the fifteen year old carpet, a sink full of dirty dishes, cigarette butts squashed in the unlikeliest of places, empty beer bottles, the wafting latex fuck-stench of condoms tied in knots, hidden not well in clumps of tissue paper, dog shit, coffee grinds, old bananas, piles and piles and piles of unwashed laundry on the floor, in the kitchen, on the couch–shit everywhere.
Ike grabs his cell phone from his pocket and dials up Louis. After a few rings there’s an answer.
“Yeah,” says a tired voice.
“I’m in Mayberry, Louie, and it fucking sucks.”
“Now, now, Beater, it can’t be all that bad. Are you in Virginia or Tennessee?”
Ike laughs. “I’m in both–isn’t that wonderful? I’m in Bristol, which lies on the Virginia Tennessee line. Jesus Christ all these fuckers know how to do is fuck their brothers and sisters, worship Winston Cup Racing and Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, and chew tobaccy. Jesus H. Christ. I’m in Wanda’s trailer right now. I swear to God I need to break out the Luvox or something. I feel like bugs are crawling all over me. You know I’m a clean creak.”
“Except for your women, Beater,” answers Louis.
“It’s after eight,” says Ike, stepping back outside and heading for the Malibu. “The kid and the girlfriend’ll be back in a couple of hours. I’m going to take a nap in the car, maybe listen to Yanni or something, I don’t know. I’m sure as hell not going back in that shithole. I probably already have fleas.”
Louis laughs. “Well, everything’s looking good. The crew should be there on time. You know what you need to do. Why don’t you get some beauty sleep–you can use all you can get.”
“OK, baby,” says Ike, closing the door to the Malibu and hitting the automatic door lock button, incubating himself in the rental car with its nice leather seating. Ike slides Yanni’s CD “Live at the Acropolis” into the CD player and closes his eyes seeing he knows not why his smiling, fat, and blacker than coal Grandma cooking greens and frying country ham.
* * *
Maurice is a fallen Catholic, maybe thirty-five years old, and wears tiny diamond studs in both elf-like ears. He stands maybe five feet tall. His hair is bleached blond, cut very short, and stiff with styling gel. He wears a Celtic knot ring on his right hand. His tongue is pierced. He is gay. He is Gatlinburg’s medical examiner. He shrugs his shoulders indifferently when Mink asks him how he is doing, not really caring, just making conversation.
Maurice answers, “Heureux je ne suis pas mort.” Glad I’m not dead. Maurice minored in French in college and likes to rattle it off as much as possible, amusing himself with the blank looks of the people to whom he is talking.
“What?” asks Mink.
“Nothing oh nothing. I guess you’re Sam,” says Maurice, his voice accented with kindness and a slight lisp, his words sounding like I geth you’re tham.
Sam doesn’t respond. He’s staring at the speckled VCT industrial strength vinyl flooring. Daisy answers for him. “Yeah, he’s Sam. Sam Hayter.”
Maurice stares at Sam noticing a half-dollar sized bloodstain, now a deep burgundy, on his right thigh. Maurice touches Sam’s shoulder. “Did you hurt your leg?”
Daisy and Mink both look at Sam’s leg.
Sam looks at Maurice and smiles. “Nope–not lately. These are old pants.”
“Well. Okay then,” says Maurice. “Let’s head on back. It’s too late for this stuff–or early.”
Mink, Daisy and Sam follow Maurice through a couple of sets of stainless steel, banged up doors. The smell of rubbing alcohol and Lysol burns Sam’s nose. Daisy pinches her nose closed with a thumb and index finger. Mink sees her and follows suit. Sam lets his nose burn. His eyes burn too, as if he were submerged in a swimming pool, deep and clear, and someone had just dumped in a gallon of gasoline.
Just before going through another set of doors, Maurice stops, clears his throat, and says to Daisy: “Perhaps you should wait out here. Your decision but, you know…”
“Sam?” asks Daisy.
“Stay out here,” Sam answers.
“Definitely,” says Maurice in support of Sam.
“Let’s go on then,” says Mink, motioning for Maurice to go ahead and open the door. Daisy wrings her fingers nervously. Sam’s face actually looks healthy and pink, a contrast to his usually pallid complexion. There is even a slight bounce in his step as he follows Mink and Maurice into the refrigerated room of dead people, the stainless steel door swinging shut behind him. Daisy looks as if she’s going to cry.
The room is cold. While a radio plays a Randy Travis song, Maurice calmly motions for the cop and Sam to follow him. Maurice quickly goes to a wall of doors and pulls out a body. He throws back the part of a blue sheet covering the head. Sam laughs; he can’t believe it. Wanda Hayter is missing her nose. The rest of her head seems to be without injury. Sam keeps laughing. “Son…,” says Mink. “Uh, I know you’re upset and all–”
Maurice interrupts Mink, saying, “It was sheared off.” He offers no follow-up explanation.
Sam is laughing so hard he can barely breathe. Daisy pokes her head in the room. “Sam–you OK? Is it–she–not Wanda? Is Wanda alive?”
Sam stops laughing on a dime. With a serious face he says: “She’s dead all right. She always told me she could smell bullshit from a mile away. I don’t know if that holds true now, do you, officer?” Sam starts laughing again and Mink takes him by the shoulders. “Boy,” he says forcefully. “For the record, this is your mother, correct?”
Sam stops laughing, clears his throat, and says, “Yes. That’s Mom.”
Maurice shakes his head sadly and says, “Aide de Dieu ce gosse.” God help this kid.
Mink says, “Huh? I wish you’d speak English, little man.”
Maurice ignores Mink and ushers everyone out of the room and back into the hallway. Sam collapses onto the floor at Daisy’s feet. As Mink and Maurice rush to his aid, Randy Travis’s voice echoes throughout the hallway: I’m gonna love you…forever and ever…forever and ever amen…
* * *
Startled awake by his ringing cell phone, for a second, Ike has no idea where he is. He looks out the Malibu’s driver’s side window and sees a trailer, then another, then another. Oh yeah, thinks Ike, now I remember. Fuck. “Yeah,” he says into the phone.
“Wake up, princess. It’s after seven. I let you sleepy-sleepy, because I know you’re a grouchy-wouchy if you don’t get your rest.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“As usual, I’ll ignore that. The kid’s back at his trailer. You slept through their arrival. I’ve already talked to Daisy–she’s the girlfriend. She’s with the kid in the trailer. The crew is in a van not a mile away. Everything’s a go,” says Louie, his voice excited and high.
“The mom? Oh yeah. She’s dead. Of course it was her. Cut and dry. It had to be. Oh oh, Beater, get this: she got her nose wacked off. Can you believe that? Her nose. That’s some sick shit. Blaghhhh! Anyway, get to the trailer; make sure the kid is clothed. If the kid’s crying, well shit, now that’s OK. Here me, Beater? If he’s got the waterworks going, great. But I’d rather him not be sobbing it up uncontrollably, now. I don’t want any hysterical shit going on. We want him to look happy, for Christ’s sake. Happy crying: that’s what we want.”
“The kid’s mother just died. Jesus, Louie, you stupid fucker. You want happy crying? What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Why’re people so sensitive about their mommies? I hated my bitch of a mother. Fuck her. Your damn basset hound–smelly little fucker–could fuck her up her dead asshole, for all I care. Fuck her. Fuck my mommy.”
Ike sighs then smirks. He’s heard it all three hundred times before. “You’re right, you’re right, Louie. Everybody should hate their mothers. They ain’t nothing but stupid whores. Maggot shit is worth more than mothers. I agree, Louie–wholeheartedly.”
“Mock me, Wife Beater. Go ahead and mock me.”
“Tell the crew I’ll have the kid prepped and ready. No worries,” says Ike, trying to will away his sleep-bone.
“I love you, baby,” says Louie.
“Back at you, baby. Back at you.”
Ike puts his cell phone in a jacket pocket, steps out of the Malibu and walks to the front door of the Hayter trailer. Ike doesn’t bother knocking. He goes on in. The TV is smattered with blood and turned on to a rerun of Family Ties. There’s no sign of Sam or Daisy. The trailer is just as sordid and disgusting as it was several hours ago. Ike sees a cockroach scurry across the top of the cigarette butt laden top of the TV. How can people live like this? thinks Ike. “Kid! Sam! It’s Beat–uh–it’s Ike. Where are you?”
Ike checks every room. No Sam. No Daisy. The place stinks like rotten eggs. Ike takes out his phone and dials Louis, who answers on the second ring. “You always gotta call me while I’m on the shitter, don’tcha, Beater?”
“The kid’s not here. I feel like I need some RID or something. This place is nastier than that ten-gallon fish tank of yours you clean once every ten years.”
“My fish like to eat here own shit–what can I say? Where’s Daisy? She’s not there either?”
Ike can definitely feel something crawling up his damned leg. He rakes one leg up and down the other. “She’s not here. Nobody’s here. The crew’ll be here in how long?” Ike looks at his watch. “Oh shit! The crew’ll be here in fifteen minutes! We’re going live in twenty! You should’a woke my ass up, Louie!”
“Lemme think, Beater. Lemme think,” answers Louis, flushing the toilet.
* * *
Unbeknownst to Ike, Daisy is eating a bowl of Golden Grahams in her granny’s trailer. She left Sam watching an episode of Family Ties. Sam likes Meredith Baxter’s character. Her long blond hair is a picnic on a sunny fall day, temperature maybe seventy five, perfect, a bit of a breeze blowing. Sam has swallowed the last of his acid–maybe ten or twelve hits. He laughs at Alex, at dumb Nick, Justine’s boyfriend, at wacky Skippy, Alex’s best friend. Sam digs out his Case, opens the blade, still laughing at the TV. He presses the pad of his right index finger onto the tip of the blade, and he likes the cotton candy sweetness of his blood, traversing down the back of this throat from his tongue, bitten in time with the knife’s blade making contact with the bone in his finger. Sam glances at his bleeding finger, the blade still grinding into the bone, and he laughs. Fingertips always bleed like motherfuckers but not enough to drain the body dry–at least not completely. Sam refocuses on Alex and that stupid briefcase he always carries. Sam giggles: Alex is such a fucking trip!
Sam pulls out the blade; he plunges his spouting finger into his mouth; he swallows himself again and again; the acidic saltiness of his blood fills his empty tummy. For no reason save Daffy-Duck, Sam thinks he’s swallowing rotten oysters, pungent, disgusting rotten motherfucking oysters that emerge without stop from his bleeding finger. His stomach bucks. Sam covers his mouth with an open hand and blood flies across the room, splattering Alex and Mallory Keaton, fucking up their family ties. Sam sees assassins carrying machine guns and wearing pantyhose over their heads, and they storm into the Keaton’s kitchen and shoot Alex and Mallory in their heads, splattering their brains across the front of the TV. Sam starts shaking and crying. Bloody snot bubbles out of his nose. His bare torso is, hairless and pale, anathema to everything comprising Maganum P.I. Sam’s pink dots for nipples are covered with blood. His mouth is open wide, silently screaming. Sam loses his pants, his underwear; he plunges the Case into his left thigh, again, down to the bone. Sam twists the blade and he’s sees a blinding white light, at the end of which is his mother, on her knees sucking goateed Johnny, black leather clad and standing in front of her, stroking her head. He’s moaning and looking upward, toward the sky. Sam blinks and sees his mother and Johnny entwined in a hard fuck, Johnny shoving it to her from behind, and, all the while, they are sliding on a blue rubber mat down Crazyhorse Campground’s world’s largest waterslide.
Sam rolls from the couch and still bleeding profusely, he walks into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator door, takes a drink from the half-gallon jug of milk that is two days out of date, leaving a circle of blood around jug’s mouth. Sam drops the milk onto the floor and then staggers out the sliding glass door and onto the deck. The air feels good against his bare ass. Sam, bleeding, pisses off the deck. After a couple of seconds, he wobbles and falls face first off the deck and into the plastic pool, mid-piss. The obviously used rubber snakes its way onto his bareback, resting like a castaway collapsed on the strange beach of a strange island. Sam is motionless. His eyes are wide open, and in the dirty rain water he doesn’t see muck and old Big Mac wrappers. He sees his mother, noseless, lying on a stainless steel table. The hole in her face grows wider and wider until there is no head at all, just a deep chasm, at the bottom of which flows a thin winding river, looking like a blue string of thread. Sam opens his arms wide, pretending to be a flying airplane, and he jumps into the chasm, falling his way toward the far away river.
* * *
Ike, desperate to find Sam, storms out the back door and sees Sam floating face first in the plastic pool, both his feet dangling over the edge. The water looks like Cherry Kool-Aid. Sam is still.
Ike runs to Sam, yanks him out of the water, checks for a pulse. Thankfully, Sam’s heartbeat is strong. The color in his face is a warm red, matching closely the Kool-Aid colored water in the pool. Sam smiles. Sam stretches out his arms, for he is freefalling toward the river, his hair swept back, and his sliced skin healing, closing, and smoothing over.
“You’re a millionaire, you little bastard. You better be fucking breathing.”
An ambulance’s siren screams in the distance.
The winding river, a blue artery in the bucolic grounds in which it winds amidst weeping willows and manicured lawns, sucks Sam faster and faster to its surface. The sun, acting the part a jaundiced baby’s curing lamp, warms his back and soothes his cuts, taking away the stings and the bites. Sam’s head enters the water and he opens his mouth, gulping as fast as he can, willing his lungs to full with water, begging for death in this clear water.
Ike slaps Sam’s face. “Wake up, you crazy little bitch.”
Sam opens his eyes to a blurry Oz-like consortium of worried looking people, staring down onto his naked body as if he were Dorothy just awakened from her sleep; Sam is cradled in Ike’s thick arms. Daisy is running her hand through Sam’s wet hair. An EMT covers Sam with a blanket.
A camera crew emerges from around the side of the trailer. A man with slicked-back black hair and very white teeth sticks a microphone in Sam’s face and says, “Sam Malone, you’re the winner of the 2002 Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.”
Watching the action from a closed circuit TV, Louis says to himself, This is some quality shit.