Ann Bogle, John Colburn, M.E. Parker

Animals in Reverse

by Ann Bogle

Francis would have liked an orderly biography; Lucy did not want one. She was still alive when I started to write the story of her life, called Lucy’s Story, about her recovery from catnip, but it was not the real story. In the fake story, she took the subway to A.A. In reality, she lost interest in the catnip, because it had gotten stale—one day she turned her nose up at it and walked away. She lived a remarkable life, for a cat—even if she had not been a cat—in a series of wonderful apartment buildings and in five cities. About this book of her life, she sat in my lap and pointed her ears back while I typed, not flat back, but enough back so that I could tell she wasn’t a fan of histories of herself, even though hers is a good one, with few details too embarrassing to mention, or, if embarrassing in someone else—not in her—and for us instructive. In fact, Lucy preferred art, and before she died, she had learned to sculpt using her favorite red yarn—favorite since early cathood—in large cursive letters: G, L, J, and the symbol for pi. Lucy Rain Cat, I called her, and Lucy Bourgeoise.

 

Animals, part 1

             Francis was a good, gray, wool cat whose father was likely Himalayan, which accounts for the way he strutted the barriers of the yard, walking on fences and edges, as if he had read the deed. Fran died at the age of nearly sixteen. We still miss him and end up lavishing too much motherly attention on his successor, Walter (Wally), whom we picked at the Humane Society.

 

Animals, part 2

When Francis died, he died twice. He had lost half his body weight—thirteen pounds down to seven pounds—and he had lost the hair on the sides of his body due to renal failure. He had made a trip to the hospital just a few weeks before that and had regained half a pound after feline dialysis. He weighed ten pounds again within a few days back at home, then boom, his weight plummeted and his hair fell out. On his final day, he ate, drank water, visited the litter box and even went outdoors.

Fran was an outdoorsman cat and used to hunt each day as if he were on pest patrol; he headed out each morning like a fireman. The last day was no exception, even though his walking was weak and impaired. We were very fortunate in Francis that he was never attacked outdoors or hit by a car, even though he shared the woods with deer, raccoons, foxes, owls, hawks, and later a coyote. He survived a scare with neighbor dogs once in Houston, and that is the lesson that taught him to stay in his own territory and not stray. He led an adventurous life without injury.

On his last day, we lay in bed together looking into each other’s eyes, something we liked to do anyway, and suddenly his eyes glazed over, and he wasn’t there anymore, even though he was still breathing. I got up, called the vet, and we made an immediate appointment to bring him in. Emergency resuscitation would keep him alive over the weekend, she said when I got there. She estimated he could live one month more with constant dialysis. Since I wasn’t paying the vet bill myself, I estimated what it might cost. The weekend alone would cost $750. I asked the vet about euthanasia. We began to discuss it. She asked whether I was satisfied with the time I had spent with him until recently.

Yes, I said.

Since Fran had chronic rather than acute renal failure, we had managed to have a lot of quality time together, to the point of literally falling in love with each other after Lucy had died in 2001, also of chronic renal failure, a common condition in older cats. I reluctantly agreed to have what was left of Francis put to sleep, as much as I wished he might die naturally on his own as Lucy had with agony and grace. His body was still too strong otherwise, and he might go on breathing, his heart beating, but never return to consciousness.

 

Animals, part 3

             The vet put an IV in Fran’s arm and injected him with a lethal dose of barbiturate. Fran’s head folded over his paws, and he slept.

Because he died twice, once at home and once at the vet, his eyes and mind first, his body second, there were a series of visions after that. He appeared to me in dreams as a ghost, growing ever woollier and wilder, until he looked in the passage like a wolverine.

In the winter Francis had sat in the utility room downstairs, in the corner of the room called the sump area, a dugout rough and rusty looking, where the pipes all meet in vertical poles. His winter hunting was limited mostly to indoors, since he disliked snow on his feet and left the outdoor animals alone during the cold months. He captured about three mice indoors per year by staking out the sump area of the utility room. This hunting of his reminded me of ice fishing. He sat there in the dark in the middle of the night, concentrating steadily. I would come upon him doing his night ritual if I went into the utility room to do something—throw away something in the large wastebasket or get a hammer or screwdriver or change the litter box. There he might be, staring straight ahead, prepared to kill mice, or mice in theory. The number of times he managed to do that—catch mice indoors—reminds me of publishing, the number of times writers manage to do that, though they hunt indoors and fish for it.

The day after he died a mouse ran at me, where I stood in the middle of the office; I was in fact trying to think of a beginning of a life without Fran, without Lucy. The mouse ran directly down the center of the hallway, veered into the office, and charged almost at my feet then turned away and ran to the utility room. Aghast, I thought we might be infested now with mice. Fortunately, that is not what happened. There was one mouse only, and when it died of starvation in the utility room, it smelled.

Immediately following upon Fran’s death, rabbits, among his favorites for hunting, gathered in the back yard under the birdfeeder and stood there. They were not hopping, not running, and not hiding; they were standing about and lingering, loitering. I had never seen rabbits loiter before, regarding their cousins.

 

Curfew

Composing in my head this afternoon, I wrote a fast masterpiece. I had not had a glass of wine nor eaten a fruit; I had climbed a hill in high gear. Pushing against the pedals in sport sandals and pedal pushers—a “crossbody mini” (as such purses are called in the industry) holding my nature-man cigarettes, phone, keys, and no notepad, bobbing against my backside, my organic cotton royal blue t-shirt—I saw phrases, a seven-pack of lines, every line its reasons: nothing reasonable on the page’s blank and nothing out of order. Every minute its thing. Every thing its minute memory. Every memory its own account threading rivulets to sea, spilling water to wall flowers.

What would be perfect.

Here, indoors, sitting merely where the equipment is, after a drink with the meal, nothing comes but the memory of heightened tactics.

I sing better in my mind than I sing aloud. Mentally, I sing soprano.

The story was about the adulterous man who shaved his head in spring. The story was about the Houston police devising a punishment for the adulterous man—shaving heads of adulterers would be an excellent idea to them except the adulterer had beat them to it—never letting him cut his hair would be another. Not that the courts would cite it. Not that the adulterous man was balding or a skinhead and so had shaved it; he was a thespian. The Houston police devised a punishment for the adulterous thespian that would not hurt the nights or household income of his French young wife. The Houston police caught him drinking. The parking lot behind the tavern emptied of its hundred cars. The police wanted that one bald thespian’s car: The car was a Houston police car bought at auction and stripped of its decals. The police in their turquoise squad cars followed the thespian in his plain turquoise car as it followed a slate blue car Mondays and Wednesdays to a street far from where the thespian lived with his wife. The thespian smoked a roach on the way, proudly unaware that the police were following him, preferring to think they were riding beside him.

That time the judge sentenced him to five A.A. meetings per week, a work permit (he kept the car), plates in the driveway weeknights by nine.

 

Rock Band Days

I said to a new person, “I had had this rock band thing”—by way of saying my life had gone out to sea—but since it hadn’t been my rock band thing, but someone else’s rock band, it took years to realize that I should have said when I showed up safe on shores of heaven, of home, “that rock band thing,” instead of my faults and errors and the need for religions. The men I had thought of as sailors were living in New York and Madison and Binghamton—they had their addresses—there had not been a sailor in the bunch of rock bands in Houston. There were guitar players, and as happens with talent sometimes, the guitar players were too talented. There could not be places for all of them in a single rock band. Too many of them were too talented and their birthdays were May 1 and Oct. 31, 1966. One was born on the same day and year as J.F.K., Jr. One was a Cancer and could overhear voices. Korn was one of their bands. They were mean or neglectful or cavalier toward women. Cavalier was kind of nice. In fact, I found myself wishing that the new person could be cavalier, to let there be a door ajar to the past. Instead, the new person was nice, and I did not resemble the person I remembered myself as being during the rock band thing. He had been a bodyguard and had met many famous people—not famous like my Pulitzer- and Nobel laureates—famous like B.B. King—and had once broken the arm of a man who had messed with a woman. He was telling me that at an Irish public house. An American with a put-on Australian accent, a sea-nymph, was listening to us—he said she was rubbing up on him during the story, but I couldn’t see it because she was on his other side. I had dreamt of it, to know that fury (to break an arm) as he quoted MacBeth.

 

The Code is on the Street

m., I wrote this to reply to your thread about feeling captive to eavesdropping. I didn’t post it there, though:

“The couple who moved in next door (attractive in a way I try to figure out) smoke outside their front and side doors, as I do. The man’s voice is distinctive and carries. For their first month there, I was involved in non-stop monologue. They may have heard parts of it, the memoir in me. Then I took a trip (to New York though they wouldn’t have known where) and when I returned, I was entirely mum unless I had the phone with me. On the phone, we talked of publishing and poetry. I interjected only enough so the caller would know he hadn’t lost or started to bore to me.”

It occurred to me that the couple next door, he or she, or together, they, may have believed that I had gone away to be treated medically for the talking.

Then a quote from Chomsky in an article about his linguistics in Discover: “It takes a strong act of will to try not to talk to yourself when you’re walking down the street.”

 

Meryl Streep Laughed at That

I once dated a man whose wife had authorized it. Years later, split and raising two boys he’d fathered with someone else, he fell off his motorcycle and jammed his shoulder on the road out of St. Paul. An ambulance came, and another rider took his bike back to work. The boys’ mother lived in a house two lawns from his, but she wouldn’t bring him ice packs; she had her period, she said. So I drove sixty miles and brought ice. He was fifteen years clean and sober. He took the Vicodin as prescribed. The children played in my hair until they sputtered out, and he and I fell asleep, slanted like boards at opposite ends of the couch, the TV on. We might have tried to make endorphins then, caring not to upset his shoulder, but no spark had lasted as we had.




from Invisible Daughter

by John Colburn

 

the past

We put our ears on limestone fossils to hear the ocean floor. Speech had gotten stuck in our big steak dinner. Our town could dream. The creek stretched out a long name. Each fossil carried a shout of joy, a mind to feel hungry with, enough thought to understand stars. All bleached. All the dogs in town pointed their music at us. We listened. We felt welcomed in the caves, animal forms slow as clouds. Caves that are really caves can dream. Up the ridge earth’s wheel got louder. My horse was so tired. How did we go from the ocean floor to the pony express? We climbed. Invisible Daughter helped us. Sad of heart from head to foot. The time of stars and ocean streaked through us, we walked like branchless trees. In deep sleep the past appeared dead, we could see it in each other but we couldn’t understand. Stars fell backward in great tides. We watched.

tuesday june 19 1979

We knew Invisible Daughter could flicker awake too. Somewhere in the trees moon war guns veils dances love all memory light bent inside light and water voices eyes road hands language all inside trees. We decided to set a trap. What else could flicker? The road flickered with ghosts and hoofbeats. We sat still to watch the edges of leaves. The father slid awake and the mother was everything. We stalked invisible daughter through the blackberries. Green leaves could flicker into silver. Shadows moved east. Trees said waves. We needed a wagon to carry what was said through the town. The creek flickered to its underground family. Stars were fires and fire might be a ghost and flickered. No one could turn back ever. Our trap was time and it could trap anything. We built a small fire-in-waiting, altar for a cold ghost girl. Ghost fire. We surrounded the altar with our hoarded baby teeth. Does the woods know the earth is round? Are we inside a bubble? Someone lit the fire. Maybe ghost girl missing a tooth. Then we heard footsteps.

acquaintance

At the edge of our fire a garden of people began to remember themselves. Pilgrims came for teeth, to eat or steal or crush them. One footstep turned red. Invisible Daughter would never. At the edge of our fire we saw Thought-Eating Man as if light were behind him, as if he had walked through a light to come to our light and our teeth and our fear. He had a dead blackbird in his heart. How do you kill a tooth? Older Brother grabbed a stick and it started a fire in his hand. We heard the hum of night approach with its moonlight. Thought-Eating Man stepped toward us. There were others our fire made a nest for. Probably hundreds we couldn’t see. Eyes raced in the gully. Fangs of light tunneled. Invisible Daughter had friends or enemies. Our town was built inside another town and both were falling apart. We heard Thought-Eating Man shifting off. Footprints of light formed and sank into the leaves. One less tooth, and a shard of fire went green.

prophecy

At dusk we found holes in the road and looked through. We found nests. Empty spaces gaped awake inside us. The woods appeared peppered with mouths that spoke light. The creek gave birth to its trees. We looked into the moving empty, the snowy summer doorways, a church spinning its black hole in the last hour. We stomped our fire too late, Made of Ashes walked the woods and heard each leaf’s omen. Older Brother said We will suffer because of Thought-Eating Man. He couldn’t say how. Unreasonable light built up inside me, I was an incomplete child. A death-white shoulder. I was called into the hills to stay lucky. Who was finding who, and with what? A history book, a record player, an elbow. The creek and the fire let our thoughts inhabit them. There was something to say but maybe it was saying us. I cleared my throat: Are we in the father’s dream? Another hole opened in the road or we had just come through it.





Tectonic Shift

by M.E. Parker 

Trees, dirt, rocks, streams full of fish, they’re all good for something, resources to harvest, or even just for looking at, for admiring. Donny figured it might all be gone soon, the way people zoom by on the Interstate, seventy-five miles an hour, more worried about some pristine rainforest halfway around the world and some population of tiny people in tiny mud huts that no one has ever seen than they are about their own backyards. Donny had never given it much thought until a couple of years ago when he helped his Uncle Rich save a tract of wetlands down by Beaumont, “Make a difference where you can, where it matters to you.” That’s what Donny took away from that summer helping his uncle, that, and two hundred bucks.
           
He pulled his pickup onto to the gravel shoulder of Highway 69, rolling to a stop at an unmarked intersection twenty miles south of Lufkin. All the rain they had this week tempted him to test out his four-wheel drive on that dirt road shortcut his uncle used to take, but with Tank behind him in a five-ton loaded with port-o-potties, Donny stuck to the main roads.
           
When the mini-caravan came to a stop, Donny gave his sister, Alison, a nod, who was slumped in the pick-up bed, arms slung over the side, eyes squinting from the sun and wind. Alison acknowledged with a nod of her own. Then she hopped out and wrangled a canvass sign on two spiked poles into the ground.
           
Donny craned his neck out the window to have a look, making sure he could see the sign from the road and shot her a thumbs-up before he started up again. Alison chased the tailgate, hopping in the truck before Donny picked up too much speed.
           
Due east with a dogleg after a mile or so, Donny followed a narrow corridor of trees in the very quick of the East Texas Piney Woods. Five miles later, passing a roadside crucifix, the spot where some poor soul met a lumber truck head-on a few years back, Donny eased off the pavement onto a dirt road, stopping in front of a drooping gate held together by a padlocked chain. On the other side, a swathe of land his family had held for at least three generations.
           
His grandfather had always said that with all the oil in Polk County, they were bound to find it under his land eventually. Donny’s uncle Rich wound up with the land when their grandfather died, and Donny and Alison wound up with their uncle Rich after they lost their parents in a car accident fifteen years ago. No one ever drilled on the property, so it sat, a family investment in trees and mosquitoes and air thick with the scent of loblolly pines, making up for in trees what it lacked in oil in one of the thickest pine forests in North America. And each and every one of those trees was off limits to loggers, protected by Donny’s Uncle Rich, the avid conservationist who never wanted to upset the fragile ecosystem there. Donny’s first good memory after his parents died was of coming out here to these woods and listening to Rich give them a guided tour of the unnoticed world of bugs and snakes and birds.
           
“Put that thing as close to the road as you can,” Donny hollered through the sliding window between the cab and the truck bed.
           
Donny tried not to look at his sister as she hopped out of the truck. Her shorts were way too tight, something she probably did for Tank’s benefit. He didn’t seem to realize that he was the third or fourth boy she’d brought home from college this year. Alison held the end of a canvas furled around two poles and rolled out a sign on the ground. “What are the odds these signs will be here tomorrow?” Alison hollered back to Donny.
           
“They better be here tomorrow. I’ve already talked with Sheriff Boyles. He knows what’s going on. It worked for Woodstock, and that was forty years ago, before the Internet. They got damn near half a million people to show up. Hell, I’d be happy with five or ten thousand. Just get in.” Donny threw the truck into gear. The tires bobbed over deep ruts as Alison jogged after the tailgate, scrambling through a dust cloud and into the bed. “Put it this way, you won't be going back to UT next fall if this doesn’t work.”
           
After a mental survey of the area, Donny remembered the ideal spot for the stage, a half mile from the gate. It was the carcass of a ’67 Corvair woven into a jumble of longleaf saplings, swallowed up to its axle by kudzu, as if by consuming that hunk of human progress, the earth would reclaim a bit of herself. His uncle Rich never went into details, saying only that he left the car here to help out a friend by keeping the thing out of sight.
           
Donny pulled his pickup next to a stand of dogwoods, already exploding with yellow blooms. He grabbed his pack and shovel while Alison hopped out of the truck bed before they came to a stop. She unhitched the generator, wheeling it to a patch of red earth in a clearing. Tank pulled up in the truck behind them.
           
“Where we setting up?” Tank asked, giving Alison a swat.
           
Donny pointed to the buried Corvair. “About ten feet over. Make sure you can still see the car. That thing looks real. You know?”
           
Tank folded the bill on his cap and repositioned it so that it trapped the hair out of his eyes. He jerked the trailer door. “Whoa.” The three of them stared into Tank’s trailer packed four deep, three across, with portable toilets Donny borrowed from the county fairgrounds.
           
Rolling in behind Donny’s pick-up and Tank’s five-ton, a green, originally yellow, school bus screeched beneath the branches of the trees beside the portable toilets. Judging from the elongated fenders and tapered hood and tight lines on the grill, Donny, a diehard antique car enthusiast, pegged it for right around a 1945 model. A sticker on the bumper boasted: “this green bus runs on natural gas.”
           
“Tectonic,” Tank read off the top of the bus. “Who are these guys? Never heard of ‘em.” Tank had a thin mustache that curved around his mouth—a cultivation Donny’s grandmother would’ve said made him look like he’d had his mouth up to a tailpipe.
           
“Think militant environmentalists. Heavy on the militant. Probably can’t even spell environmentalist,” Donny said, his voice still hoarse from smoking too many cigarettes at Alison’s twenty-first birthday party last night.
           
“Ska revival meets speed metal—with a bowl of granola,” Alison said. “I saw ‘em in Austin back in October. Check that out.” She pointed to the mural along the driver’s side of the bus showing a panda smashing a crude rendition of the Manhattan skyline with a ball-peen hammer. On the other side, a koala bear munched on a marijuana leaf, or maybe it was actually eucalyptus. Donny wasn’t sure. 
           
“What the hell is ska?” Tank asked. “Sounds like a New Yorker trying to say scar.” 
           
“Early reggae,” Alison said, lighting a cigarette.
           
The doors on the bus swung open. One shirtless guy after another shuffled off, mid-twenties, ratty hair, some with dreadlocks, all wearing cut-offs and sandals. The oldest one, maybe thirty-five Donny figured, looked like a sagging former bodybuilder. He dipped his head and flung his hair back, bunching it up into a greasy ponytail that resembled a bail of hay. “Which one of you pussies is Donny?”
           
Alison and Tank pointed to Donny simultaneously. Donny mulled over a clever response, but all he could think of was “You must be looking for Tank.” He gave his sister’s boyfriend a punch on the arm.
           
“Man, I’m just yankin’ your chain,” the older one finally said in a drawn out, raspy voice. He kicked his legs and picked at his underwear, shaking off the travel as he ambled over to Donny and Alison. Then two green vans joined the bus in a growing line of cars.
           
“This place is perfect. Meet the seismic crew, man.” The man with the ponytail pointed behind him. “That ugly bastard is Coyote,” he said, nodding to the guy with thick ropes of hair and a tattoo of a mushroom cloud on his chest.  “Over there, that’s Rob, the drummer. He’s a dumbass. Don’t listen to anything he says.” Rob glanced up and flipped them a bird, twisting the cap off of a bottle of Jack Daniels with his other hand. “That’s Eagle,” he gestured toward a gangly man with a shaved head who had a scar that ran the length of his face. “Don’t even bother with him. He’s some sort of an intellectual. And I’m Lago,” he said with a nod. “Spanish for lake, but you Texans probably know that.”
            “What’s Spanish for bullshit?” Tank whispered to Donny with a grin, his teeth streaked with tobacco juice.
           
“This is gonna be huge,” Lago said, drawing out the word huge for nearly three seconds. “I’ve been Tweetin’ it up for a month. And we already got nearly four thousand fans on the EnviroBash ’11 Facebook fan page.”
           
Rob the drummer pulled the bottle of Jack Daniels from his mouth just long enough to speak. “You could put a page on Facebook for fans of broomstick corn holing and four thousand morons would sign up. That doesn’t mean they’ll actually make it out here. How many actually bought advanced tickets? Maybe a thousand?”
           
“Common Cause. Word of mouth, baby. It’s a powerful thing. We’ll get fifteen thousand out here, guaranteed. So where is Zip? Too busy to come out and meet us?” Lago asked.
           
“Zip?” Donny asked.
           
“You’re uncle, man.” Lago smacked his forehead. “That’s right. We called him Zip back in college ‘cause he always checked his zipper first thing every time he came out of the bathroom, all paranoid about whether he’d zipped his fly or not. I mean, okay, check your fuckin’ zipper, but don’t make it a big production. Chicks do love your uncle though, man.”
           
“I guess you haven’t heard?” Donny still couldn’t gauge how tight this Lago and his uncle really were. He wondered how to drop the news, that an old friend had died from a sudden heart attack at forty-five. Just saying it aloud brought back the sudden sickening feeling all over again. “Rich, I mean Zip,” Donny said with a nod, “died two weeks ago. I figured you knew that.”
           
“What? No way. Shit, man. I’m sooo sorry to hear that.”
           
“Yeah, I thought about calling this whole thing off, but unless we hit pay dirt with this concert, the bank will own everything anyway. Too late to sell this place.” Donny’s Uncle Rich had used the property as collateral, mortgaging against its value a few years ago to keep his own house out of foreclosure. That was the first time. The next time he couldn’t make payments on his house, he quit paying on the mortgage on the property “out in the sticks,” the reason he hatched this crazy plan to keep the property in the family, something Donny hadn’t known until he received a final notice letter from the bank. As silly as it seemed, his own house, what his uncle left him and pretty much everything else, was on the line with EnviroBash ’11, and after a few minutes with Lago and his crew, Donny figured he should prepare for the worst.
           
“Call it off? No way. This is our Woodstock, man.  No Nam this time around, we’re putting a stop to the raping and pillaging of Mother Earth, baby,” Lago hollered, strolling over to the stage. “Oh, shit what’s this?” He shook his head. “Is this a diesel generator? We got to have a solar generator, man.”
           
Rob the drummer laughed. “Where would these rubes get a solar powered generator?”
           
“Who’s that fool calling a rube?” Tank asked. He hopped up to his feet in opposition.
           
“Zip said he could get one. Our fans are going to flip.”
           
“Fans?” Rob the drummer balked. “You mean those third-generation hippies—private school attending, Prius driving, smoothie sucking muthafuckers? They wouldn’t know the difference between solar powered and bat guano powered.”
           
“Dude, you better check that shit,” Lago scoffed. “It’s cool. We’ll keep the generator out of sight. Everything else better be green.
           
In less than twenty-four hours, throngs of college kids would trickle down from all over the country on their way to South Padre Island or Galveston, New Orleans or maybe Daytona. In the past two weeks, after he decided to go through with the concert, Donny sank his energy into an Internet campaign of maps and electronic flyers and even printed leaflets he sent to Madison and Austin, the two college towns most likely to generate the most buzz. He used his last bit of cash on billboard space and the signs Alison put up along the back roads.
           
In the time it took Tectonic to get unloaded, five more buses arrived, the other bands, mostly from Austin, Lago promised as part of his “ten-band bash.” Forty dollars at the gate for everything. Half of the proceeds would go to the green cause of which Tectonic considered themselves a part, though they claimed that publicity for environmental issues was their motivation. The other half of the money would go to Donny’s Uncle Rich, which now meant Donny. That was the agreement. And watching a fifty foot green globe emerge around the stage under a giant save the Rainforest banner, Donny admitted, it was coming together better than he first imagined. If anywhere close to the crowd came that Lago predicted, that would net Donny plenty enough to square away his bills.

 By Friday evening, the official start of Spring Break, Donny, Alison and Tank watched four people dressed as druids set up speaker stacks on the stage while tents cropped up alongside tables where the bands laid out CD’s and t-shirts. Donny led Tank and Alison to the ticket booth he borrowed from the county fairgrounds. “Here you go,” he said, setting down two twelve packs in the back. “Let me know when you run out. And here’s some ice for your cooler.”
           
“I see lights,” Alison said. “Looks like we’re getting ready to get this thing rolling.”
           
Before Donny left the booth to check on the generator, two pickups pulled up to the gate ahead of the sheriff’s car. He recognized the first pickup, a ’62 model Ford, black with primer-colored fenders. Donny stood his ground in the middle of the road.
           
Jessie, the guy from high school that stole Donny’s girlfriend after telling her he cheated on her with some skank from Houston, got out of his pickup with a grin on his face. The sheriff and two other men followed. “I foundthese signs along the road. Got tired of looking at them. Littering is a crime, you know?” Jessie dropped a jumble of shredded canvas just on the edge of Donny’s property. “Never pegged you for some tree-hugging pussy.”
           
Donny walked over to the sheriff, making sure he never even looked at Jessie. “I ran this by you two weeks ago. What’s the problem?”
           
“Me and your Uncle Rich go back a lot of years, Donny. He told me he was going to throw a big party out here to raise some money. Fine.” The sheriff repositioned his hat. “I’m thinking Willie Nelson. Yeah, beer and maybe a cloud of pot smoke that I don’t know anything about out here in the sticks wouldn’t hurt anybody.”
           
The sheriff gave the pile of signs a nudge with his boot. “Hell, I love the environment as much as anybody else. But I can’t have every damn California, pot-smoking liberal out here raising a stink in my backyard. Not if I can help it.”
           
“These are our woods, too. Excuse me if I’d like to keep it around a while.” Donny pointed to Jessie. “Your kind are a dying breed. Not even worth my time.”
           
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that. I bet I can scare up enough folks around here that would agree with me to out number you pussies 20 to 1,” Jessie said.
           
Donny spotted Rob the Drummer strolling over with a scowl on his face. He walked up and stood next to Donny. “What’s the problem? I’ve dealt with these backwater sheriffs before. Our bassist is an attorney. We know the law.”
           
“Who the hell is this?” Jessie said. He stepped over the crumpled up signs, heading toward Rob the drummer until their faces were inches apart.
           
“Rob, man, just go back and finish setting up. Let us handle this.”
           
“Too late. Should of thought about that before this jerk-off opened his mouth,” Jessie said.
           
The sheriff grabbed Jessie’s arm in mid swing. “I didn’t come out here to arrest anybody this evening. I just come by to try and talk some sense into you, Donny.”
           
“Twenty to one.” Jessie pointed his finger in Donny’s face.
           
“You’re burning bridges here, Donny. Listen. I’m going to watch this place this weekend. If I see anyone who even looks stoned, I’m coming in.” The sheriff gave Donny a parental stare.
           
“Oh, you can bet I’ll be back,” Jessie said. “And I won’t be alone.”
           
“Great, a whole army of peckerwoods marching around with sticks up their asses,” Rob the drummer said in between drags of his cigarette.

 A couple of hours into what Donny had expected would be the peak arrival time, Donny knocked on the side of the ticket booth to relieve Alison and Tank. “I got us a tent set up. You guys go get some sleep.”
           
Donny counted the receipts, thirty-five advanced tickets, forty-two credit card receipts, and $580 in cash. “Fucking Ninety-one people? Only nine thousand nine hundred and nine to go.” Donny checked the cooler—those two had already wiped out the beer. He slammed the door behind Tank and Alison as they stumbled off into the woods, their flashlight beam bouncing through the trees.
           
At nine a.m., feedback from the first band to take the stage, some band called Stymie, the ones dressed like druids, jarred Donny from half-sleep. He rubbed his eyes to see a caravan of shoe-polished vans and SUVs, along with a handful of hybrids and economy cars, all sporting environmental slogans. Earth First. Save this. Conserve that. It was a mixed-up crowd, a wool-sweater-in-the-summertime coffee shop crowd, women with hair in their armpits, white guys with dreadlocks, girls in leather, a few punker types and skaters, all thrown in with frat boys and sorority girls, people hanging out of the windows, out of sunroofs, screaming, honking horns.
           
A gray step-van pulled up first, what looked to Donny like a reconditioned parcel delivery truck. The driver sported a full sleeve of tattoos on both arms, a ring through his nose, a pin in his tongue, and plates wedged into his earlobes. “Is that forty bucks a car, or per person?” the driver asked, digging his wallet out of his pocket.
           
“Per person, man,” Donny said, noticing a number of shadows behind a veil of smoke in the back of that van.
           
“FYI, some asshole a few miles back set up a roadblock with pickups across the road. Rifles—the works.  I got GPS on this thing,” he said, holding up his phone. “We came around on the back road. Muddy as hell.”
           
“It’s a hillbilly blockade, man,” one of the shadows from the van hollered.
           
Donny took money from the rest of the cars in line, seventeen in all, and then jogged over to his pickup and unlocked a metal toolbox that sat across the truck bed. He fished around in the box for a few minutes tossing out a couple of sleeping bags and a lawn chair, finally coming up with a box of .308 caliber rounds. He pulled out his rifle, yanking back the bolt to make sure there was a round in the chamber.
           
With Alison working the ticket booth, Donny grabbed Tank and Rob the drummer, who had really gotten under Jessie’s skin. “Come on, Rob. Let’s go unclog ourselves a road.”
           
Rob cocked his head, the same way a dog does during a high-pitched sound. “Look here dude, I may not look like much, but, regardless of my easy-going demeanor, I am the drummer for Tectonic, a band, in case you hadn’t heard, that just got back from a European tour and had an invite to do an MTV Spring Break gig that we turned down to be here. Which means, I ain’t your errand boy. I’m the fucking drummer.” He drummed the air with his fingers. “D-r-u-m-m-e-r. That means I bang on shit that’s been around since the fucking cavemen, as long as people have been stretching skins over hollow logs.”
           
“Just get in,” Donny said. “You’ll like this errand, I promise.” 
           
They sped to the Highway 69 junction. There was no sign of Jessie at the spot of the alleged roadblock, only two old men in lawn chairs jotting down the license plates of every car that turned down the road.
           
After nearly three hours of driving around trying to track Jessie down and listening to Rob the Drummer bitch about society, how the government should require “moron tests” before issuing mating certificates thereby helping natural selection along, they pulled off of Highway 69 to an orange glow through the trees on the opposite horizon from the sunset. Donny sped to the concert while Rob had his hand gliding out the widow like an airplane wing, mumbling and glaring at nothing in particular.
           
Donny began mentally counting money when he saw all the cars lined up along the road. Then he noticed they were pickups with bumper stickers he had seen many times, cars he recognized, local people.
           
They pulled up to the gate. Alison was gone. The ticket booth was unmanned. Donny could see a huge bonfire raging by the stage. As they drew closer, he realized the huge bonfire was the stage. Before the pickup stopped, Rob the drummer had opened his door and was already running full speed to a fight between a mob of drunk college kids and Jessie’s posse of twenty-to-one he had threatened, which turned out to be twenty-to-one in the other direction. Four deputies had already handcuffed at least thirty people that Donny could count, including Jessie. Donny was relieved to see Alison, out of the fray, flirting with one of the deputies.
           
The remnants of the stage flickered through the trees, and behind that, Donny noticed the sheriff standing in front of the ‘62 Corvair just staring at it. The sheriff walked around to the side. He yanked the vines from the window and stuck his head inside, studying the floorboards, picking something up.
           
Donny spotted Lago and the rest of Tectonic hoisting their equipment to the top of their bus. Lago pulled Rob out of the fight. Donny saw them exchange words before they both climbed on the bus.  “Get this up on YouTube as soon as you can, “ Lago said to one of the roadies who had been filming the burning stage.
           
“Hey. Hey.” Logo tapped into the microphone. “First of all, welcome to the first annual Envirobash.” The sheriff deputies managed to get the crowd divided, a crowd of at least two or three thousand by Donny’s estimate. “Burning the stage,” Logo continued with a chuckle, “that’s something I would have done after the show, but to each his own.” He shrugged.
           
When the sheriff noticed Donny, he walked over to him. “Donny, look I’m sorry about this. Jessie’s a big talker. He doesn’t ever follow through with anything.  Hell, he wanted to join the department a few years back, and I couldn’t even get him to fill out the paperwork.”
           
“Yeah.”
           
“Me and Rich,” the sheriff said with a quiver in his lower lip. “We were like brothers. You know, I was just trying to look out for you and the people of this county, which is a peaceful place, Donny. I’ve seen the news about this kind of shit.”
           
Lago cleared his throat into the microphone. “For those of you that came out here to stop the plunder of our beautiful planet, I thank you. Mother Earth also thanks you. For those of you that came out here to get baked on your way to Padre Island, welcome. You other dudes, with all your anger and aggression, if the sheriff hadn’t graced us with his presence, we would have fed you to the volcano.” Lago pointed to the burning stage where two roadies had already started assembling a volcano stage set around it. “Feed Mount Envirobashius,” he yelled. The two roadies started throwing dry brush and logs onto the stage. “A controlled burn prevents forest fires.”
           
“I’d really hoped we wouldn’t have to shut this thing down,” the sheriff said, staring at Lago on top of the bus as though Lago were an alien from Venus.
           
“Yeah, well it figures. I don’t have much luck with this kind of thing. Rich would’ve pulled it off, though.”
           
The sheriff pointed to the Corvair half-swallowed by kudzu. “You know, truth be told, I owe Rich a couple. A big one, in fact. That was my son’s car over there.” He took his hat off.  “Involved in a hit-and-run. Don’t matter now, I guess. He and Rich are both gone. Rich said he would take care of it. I never asked any questions. And here it is after all this time.”
           
Lago looked back at his band with a nod. “We had planned on kicking this off with songs from our new album. But the way things have gone down, we rethought that. For all you rednecks that came out here tonight to kick somebody’s ass, here’s some Skynard for you. And if you're nice, I bet someone will give you a beer,” Lago said into the microphone, which was so close to his mouth the static made him sound as though he had a mouthful of corn chips. “Freebird,” he yelled, and then massaged the crowd into a mutual bonfire stupor.
           
“Look, just try to keep a cap on this thing, and I’ll make sure Jessie and his crew stay away,” the sheriff said, walking to his patrol car, signaling his deputies to follow suit with the handful of people already under arrest.
           
“Yeah, thanks, but it doesn’t look like we really have enough turnout to pay for shit,” Donny said, popping the top off a beer.
           
After a couple of hours of playing on top of their green tour bus, after Eagle the bassist lost his footing and slipped over the edge into the arms of the thrash pit below, Tectonic took a break. “For any of you freeloaders that came in without paying—if you liked the concert, Rob’s going to pass around a jar for you to stick a little something in for our gracious host.” He pointed at Donny. “If you didn’t like what you heard, well, fuck off, and then put something in the jar for our gracious host.” He teetered on the edge of the bus. Donny expected him to take a swan dive off the roof. “CDs on sale by the bus.”
           
Donny walked over to Lago as he stepped down. “Hey, thanks man, but we’re going to come up short no matter what happens at this point.” Donny took a swig of beer. “Didn’t do much for the environment, either.”
           
“Man, fuck the environment,” Lago said with a moan. “I should’ve stuck to straight speed-metal like my old man.” Lago leaned up against a tree and unzipped his fly.
           
“Dude,” Donny said watching the yellow stream begin to trickle down the tree trunk before he turned around.
           
Lago shook and zipped his fly.  He turned to Donny, wagging his finger in Donny’s face. “Now, Zip, I think he really cared about Mother Earth—trees and streams and conservation and all that shit. Your Uncle Rich, he was good people, man.”
           
“Yeah, I know.”
           
Donny figured Rich had been done pretty well by him. He had been a mom and a dad to he and Alison; he even played the cool uncle role about half the time. Even if Donny managed to save the house and this property out in the sticks, Rich was gone and he wasn’t coming back. But Rich was all over the place in those woods, and Donny figured all those trees would be there a while.