“Trespass” – Excerpt from upcoming novel, Whiskey

February–March
1984

The judge sentenced Smoker to time served and restitution for the tires, which Andre bartered to
five hundred dollars, then squared it. In exchange, Smoker conceded to deliver Pork to the Yakima
alcohol center. Andre phoned Pork and ordered him to pack. Pork refused. Andre advocated
loading the truck despite Pork’s obstinance; Smoker agreed, with the caveat they drink Pork
through the weekend out of sympathy. Overruled, Andre accompanied them. They closed Crazy
Eddie’s both nights, Andre sipping Pepsi and settling bills. Smoke, caffeine, bad food, and sleep
deprivation finally wrenched his stomach, and Sunday morning he languished in bed, hungover
from a sober bender, which seemed a mean joke.

Drunk, he could at least have avoided philosophy and dread, and instead, focused on simplicities
like showering and arriving at school before the second bell clanged. Sober, he was forced to gaze
into the chipped ceiling and stare at the faces in swirling panel’s wood grain expecting them, at
any moment, to scold him. He saw no sleep for him past death, which, if the retrieval of his pistol
from the pickup didn’t require such effort, he would have seriously considered. Three times, he
heard raps against the cheap front door. He answered none.

Gravel clicked the window glass and he finally mustered his energy and lifted the window.

Claire hollered from the street below, “Are you alright in there?”

Andre waved her into the building, then opened his door.

“Are you hungover?” Claire asked.

Andre rubbed his temples.

“I didn’t get drunk.”

“You smell like you did,” she said.

“We got to detox the old man,” Andre said. “Smoker thought he needed a runner to get it out of
his system first.”

“You agreed.”

“I bankrolled it and chauffeured them so they wouldn’t put a crease in anyone.”

Andre tipped himself through the open window into the weather. Rain soaked the roof and rapped
the concrete below. Claire leaned into him and rested her face against his back. Her profile blued
in the window reflection. She hitched her arm around him and snaked it under his shirt. She
circled her palm over where his heart was supposed to be.

“Me and Smoker have to usher him to rehab.”

“You didn’t drink?”

Andre shook his head. “I never realized how dull a tavern was sober.”

Claire directed Andre to sit and he did. She rifled his dresser for fresh socks then twisted them
onto his feet. His tennis shoes were under the bed. Claire untied the laces and shod him, then
secured them with double knots. She collected her jacket, then his. He looked at her quizzically.

“It’s raining,” Claire said. “You want pneumonia?”

Andre drove. Claire, squeezed between him and Smoker, sensed her isolation. Smoker and Andre
and even Pork, and on occasion, her students, too, had recounted odd stories about Coyote, or, in
Salish, the local native language, Sinkalip. She loved the name: It tickled her though she couldn’t
say why.

Winter, Sinkalip must starve until his stories are told. Sinkalip’s acts must be spoken, not only
committed to paper; words written and divided from a tongue allow neither Sinkalip’s absence
nor his presence because words turn liquid and spill from the page. When the people speak or
the wolf bays or the elk bugles, Sinkalip doesn’t consider order or chaos. He only seeks its
distance and direction so he can deceive Mole and copulate with his cousins or defeat Dog
Monster. He forgets the stones are the bones of his mother and, instead, employs them to
construct huts that hide himself when he masturbates. If perplexed, he calls his turd sisters to
cramp his belly and he shits them into scat for their advice. If they offend him, he threatens to
piss them into oblivion.

Sinkalip taught the people how to trap the salmon and what roots to eat and how to make a good
lodge. He told everyone he was a great warrior, but he was not. Who knows why the Animal
People chose to step across his carcass the appropriate number of times and resurrect him.
Perhaps it was rebellion, rescuing their last contradiction and returning it to flesh and blood and
bone. Or perhaps it is simply Coyote’s boldness that redeemed him. Or maybe he was just too
entertaining to do without.

Claire was not certain why a people would pick such a hero, but she was uncertain, too, why she
was drawn to Andre and through him, Smoker and the rest of the family. Yet, she remained apart.
Race was not the cause; Smoker and Andre, half white and half Indian, seemed unable to see or
uninterested in the border in themselves where those two met. They were halves of all things and
wholes of none, but it was not race or a culture that divided them, she understood. It was what
they were not, not what they were.

“My whole life we ate on paper plates with plastic forks and knives,” Andre said.

“Why’s that?” Claire asked.

“Because the folks kept breaking the good ones on each other. And us, on occasion.”

“They hit you with plates?” she asked.

“Only if you lacked the sense to duck,” Smoker replied. “It wasn’t personal. Kind of like calisthenics
in PE. Sometimes the person next to you kicks you or whacks you with his hand. Just part of being
in PE.”

“I hated PE,” Claire said.

“One thing about growing up in my house,” Andre said, “I learned how to take a punch from a man
and a woman.”

“How about Smoker?”

“They were scared of him. He didn’t fight fair. Once he stabbed Pork with scissors, then drove
them into Peg’s thigh to mix the blood. He figured their poison would counteract each other.”
Andre chuckled. “My brother never did separate the literal from the figurative.”

Smoker shrugged. They were quiet awhile.

“Nothing hurt?” Claire asked.

Smoker said, “No dents me and him couldn’t pound out of each other.”

Andre, though, tapped a finger to his temple. “I remember something made me feel weird,” Andre
said. “High school, sometimes I bunked with classmates in town. You know. Two away games on
Friday and Saturday. Hardly time to drive home before it was time to drive back. What amazed me
was breakfast. I’d wake up and the first thing I smelled was food. One by one everyone in the house
would stumble into the kitchen. Except the mom or pop who would be flipping eggs and hotcakes
and sausages or bacon or ham in separate skillets. And pretty soon, a kid would assume pancake
duty or the eggs, and another would line dishes and silverware on the table. And then they would
pile plateloads of food and set them in the table’s center where the group would trade the dishes,
and split the morning paper into sections, swapping until they’d examined the whole of the thing.
I was almost afraid to eat.”

“Why’s that?” Claire asked.

“It was not my country unless I’d busted an egg or something. I didn’t know the language.”

“And now you cook breakfast for us on the weekends.”

Andre shrugged. “I like to eat.”

At the lip of the coulee, a fenced yard corralled hive-like cable insulators bigger than rooms. Others,
attached to the hundred-foot towers, shuttled electricity from the dam generators beneath. Between
them, swooping power lines spanned the coulee wall then dipped several hundred feet below to the
powerhouses. Claire said to Andre, “I remember the first time I came out here. You showed me how
to milk the cows.”

“To the rest of us that was a chore,” Smoker said.

“Well, for me it wasn’t,” Claire told him.

Andre veered left on the road named for his family. Gray snow remained in the shaded depressions;
the rest was drab and tawny dirt and dormant flora. Andre’s first kill was not a quarter mile from
here. Pork and he had gutted and dragged a two-point along a cattle trail to the barn where Andre
sawed the hooves below the shin and permitted the dogs their share, while Pork separated hide
from meat and fat with his knife blade. The deer skinned, they cut the bullet from its ribs. The
impact on bone flattened the lead. Pork drilled a hole in it and threaded a rawhide strap through,
then draped it around Andre’s neck. The next morning, at dawn, up to feed cattle, Andre gazed at
the barbed-wire fences and the first tinge of green wheat and half a dozen deer scattered against
the horizon light, indicting him for their loss.

Ten miles of washboarded gravel and they met the driveway gate: three boxed logs with the family
brand burned into a flat piece of driftwood that dangled from the center pole. A bird trilled. A lark
of some kind, Andre guessed, though he wasn’t sure.

Smoker spent most autumns at the place getting his venison and a freezer full of birds to feed him
and Dede through winter. Andre, though, visited the place only holidays. His father was more
stubborn than most men, but he wasn’t a god. Pork would die and the place would fall to Andre
and Smoker and they would lease the ground to a bigger rancher who would farm it and leave the
house to collapse on its concrete foundation. Someone would scrounge the good in it—the stove,
some clean timber—then set a fire. Springs, the grass would renew itself and the locusts would
green up and the foundation would turn one more concrete crypt visited by crows and wandering
cattle.

Outside, the bird spoke again and Andre listened. Separating a lark’s song from a sparrow’s cheep
was something he might have managed once. Though he’d never been taught the difference, he
should have had it in him to know.

King, Pork’s ancient malamute, limped down the house steps and coughed out a couple of short
barks. Behind him, Pork perched on the porch swing he’d built for Smoker and Andre years before.

Andre bent and rubbed the dog’s ears.

“You’re supposed to keep out the riffraff,” Pork hollered at the dog.

“Coffee inside?” Andre asked.

Pork nodded.

“It poisoned?” Smoker asked him.

“I considered it,” Pork admitted. He smelled gamey as an elk and his breath made an awful racket.
Smoker offered him a cigarette and lit it.

In the kitchen, Andre topped Pork’s cup with coffee and filled three others for Smoker and Claire
and himself and delivered them to the porch.

“How’s your mother?” Pork asked.

“Meaner than a rattlesnake on fire,” Smoker said.

Pork stared at them from the swing then let out a sigh. He gazed into his coffee cup like the black
liquid there that was supposed to rescue him had failed. Then he dumped it on the porch floor.
The gaps between slats drained the puddle.

“Jail’d be kinder than the dry house,” he said.

“Cheaper, too,” Smoker told him.

“Save your goddamn money, then.”

“You ought to talk nicer to them trying to keep you with the living,” Smoker replied.

“You ain’t got no say,” Pork told Smoker; then he turned to Andre, “And you’re too much like your
mother.”

“Hush, you old bastard,” Andre said.

“Why do you speak to him that way?” Claire whispered.

“Because there isn’t any other way to,” Andre said.

Pork wheezed. “You’re a pitiful pair. Motherfucked, both of you.” He stopped. “I apologize. I forgot
the lady.”

“Listen to me,” Smoker told him. “You’re going to dry out or I will shoot you in the ass sure as I
am standing upright breathing air.”

Pork said, “You ain’t got it in you.”

Smoker stormed to his truck and withdrew his pistol from under the driver’s seat then put a round
between Pork’s feet.

“Told you,” Pork said.

They all stood on the ancient porch. King limped to the old man and Pork patted his haunches.

“He’ll need fed.”

Andre nodded. “We aren’t going to watch a friend starve.”

Inside, Smoker packed Pork’s suitcase with fresh underwear and jeans and the plaid shirts he
favored, then lugged it from the house to the driveway. Pork, though, had found a gas can in the
shop. He soaked the suitcase, then dropped his cigarette and the clothes went up quick as tinder.
He unbuttoned his Western shirt and added it, then stepped out of his pants and skivvies and
tossed them to the blaze, which left him naked aside from wool socks.

Pork glanced up at Claire but didn’t cover himself. She didn’t know where to put her eyes and
finally turned her back altogether.

Andre covered him with a bedspread, then pressed him into the passenger side of his trap wagon.
Smoker climbed under the wheel.

“Mind him,” Andre said. “He might pull loose the wires just to get you pulled over and he’s hard
enough to explain dressed.”

Andre and Claire watched them go then left, too. The pickup ascended the canyon above the
ranch until Andre spied an open gate. He slowed to shut it, then recognized tire tracks in the
wet dirt.

“Somebody’s drove up on top.”

“A neighbor person?” Claire asked.

“A lot shorter ways from their places.”

Andre reached under the seat for his pistol and examined the cylinder. He left the hammer
over the empty chamber then eased past the gate and halted and hooked it behind him. The
truck slid in the mud until its tires found the old feed ruts. It crawled through the dips and
they lost the tracks, but Andre knew even a four-wheel drive would have to keep to this
fence line.

He discovered the Chevy pickup on a ridge that straddled the ranch and the neighbor’s:
Broke Hole. In the truck’s rear window, a gun rack held two rifles. Two high-school boys
hooded themselves in sweatshirts against the rear quarter panel.

Andre wedged his truck against the front bumper and switched the ignition off. They stashed
their beer cans beneath the back tires when he approached. Andre cranked his window open.

One of the boys laughed nervously. They both stood.

“You’re a teacher,” one said.

“Not today,” Andre replied. “You left the gate open down the canyon.”

The taller one spoke. “We weren’t going to be but an hour or so.”

“Don’t take that long for a cow to wander.”

“We didn’t see any cows.”

The other one nodded. Andre fished for a sawed-off baseball bat behind the seat. He tapped it
on his palm.

“I built that goddamn fence,” he said.

Claire patted his arm. “They’re just kids.”

“They are where they hadn’t ought to be.”

Andre stepped from the cab. “Stay where I can see you,” he warned the boys.

On the dash he found their ammunition boxes then unbolted their rifles and ejected the shells.
“Empty your pockets.”

The boys did.

Andre threw the lot over the bluff’s edge. He listened to the metal clink in the rocks.

“You hightail it,” Andre told them. “I don’t see you aimed east on the pavement in three minutes,
you won’t need to look for me. And close the goddamned gate behind you.”

The truck disappeared, then bobbed below in the draw. The clouds feathered a gray, low ceiling
over the river. Long bars of sunlight shone in the breaks. Most of the hole below dropped into
the shadows. The boys paused for the gate, then sped Black Lake Road toward town.

Andre dropped the bat. Claire hit him with it. The blow caught his hip clean and something
electrical fluttered his leg. Before she could swing again, Andre stepped close and covered
her arms. She spun away but remained in his embrace.

“You can’t do that,” she told him.

“I know it,” Andre said. “I do.”

They were quiet a long while. Andre surveyed the country below. As a more hopeful child,
he’d looked in the encyclopedia at sextants and constructed one with staples and scrap
wood from behind the shop, believing if he could get the lay of that great country above, he
might pilot himself through his days on earth, like the sailors of old navigated the vast blue
oceans. He could have corrected his course or chosen not to, both acceptable  demonstrations
of character, if he’d known what it was. He felt amiss in the most fundamental of ways.
Examining the country with Claire beside him defied his efforts though, and he  recalled the
last time he and Smoker ran away as children.

Once, out a basement window Andre and Smoker escaped. They trekked a dry creek bed.
Smoker discovered where a deer had bedded and rolled himself in the hair and matted
grass, then, beneath an owl’s roost, busted up the pellets and dug loose mice bones. Andre
wandered, eventually encountering day-old deer tracks, lazy steps, not the four boxed
hooves of an animal’s hurried bounce. Later, a coyote broke brush at the draw’s bottom,
head up, tongue lolling out of his mouth. The scent of burned and disked fields rested over
him.

At the river, Andre lay over a flat rock. He held his breath and dropped his head between his
arms. Blood-sound beat through his ears and quieted his head. He opened his eyes. The river’s
current, hurried by the dam’s generators, pulled tiny sticks across the rocky bottom. He
splashed his cheeks and his chest and bowled out more with his hands and soaked himself.
The sun burned high and the shadows of the coulee commenced their slow incline eastward.

Any knack for the manly arts related to nature had fallen to Smoker. Andre envied his brother’s
ease in all things and its seed seemed to have sprouted from the certainty of instinct. Andre
understood his lack was some of his own doing. He had little interest in the workings of a
weapon or the habits of deer. He did, however, have an affinity for the river. As a child, he
liked to swim and wade and throw rocks or float bark barges. Older, he loved boats and skiing
or riding an inner tube. Returning from college, he only felt home when he broke past the rocky
wall separating the farm country from the coulee and spied the river. He read in Classics that
Heraclitus claimed you could never step into the same river twice, but Andre thought of it
differently. When you put yourself in a river you were everywhere the river was, and the thought
of such constancy and permanence comforted him.

Downriver, a hundred yards or so, Andre discovered a lightning shattered tamarack. It drooped
from a ten-foot ledge that delineated the historic flood line. The lightning left half the meat intact.
A termite wandered from beneath the torn bark, then another.

In the draw above the bank, Andre found two rocks he could barely lift. With the first, he labored
onto the tree until the termite’s nest was below him and let it loose. The boulder bounced.
Shattered pine and bark peppered the beach and the panicked termites scattered.

The second stone weighed more. Andre could barely waddle it the length of the log. He grunted
and shoved the stone higher. His arms quaked and swelled. The rock hovered over his head a
moment, then crashed down. The tree folded and straightened, then swung past straight,
popping the last veins that strung it together. The rock slid off and so did Andre, dropping on all
fours in the gravel.

Andre rolled the log to the river. The work slashed his hands with slivers. Balled sap clung to his
skin. He doctored himself in the water.

The current tugged at the tree. This part of the river, the dams spun the water into a maze of
eddies and whirlpools impossible to guess with. Andre shoved the log into the main current.
He floated with it. Rocks and trees dotted the banks, shapes so large they dwarfed him. Birds
circled. He grasped a branch stub and shouldered himself onto the log. His feet dangled below;
they seemed numb ghosts that belonged to someone else.

He lifted them and they ached with the cold of the river, but he felt inside as if he’d swallowed
knotted string but undone the worst tangle. Soon Smoker whistled from a hilltop and beckoned
and Andre kicked for the shore.

Evening, Pork appeared aboard his old bay. Smoker and Andre prepared for a whipping. The old
man, though, undid his bedroll and put it between theirs. He stirred the fire, complementing the
good coals. He unwrapped a deer liver and set it on the grass and sliced it into three pieces, then
cut some sticks.

Smoker and Pork and Andre cooked and listened to the coyotes yip.

“I’d hoped to be good-looking,” Pork said. “And rich.” He nodded to himself. “We got what we got,
boys. Though roasting a hunk of good venison over a good fire ain’t all thorns and briars, even if I
am compelled to share with a couple of criminals.”

They watched the meat sear in the pink light. Grease and blood spat and blackened against the
coals. Suddenly Andre recalled a time before the drinking, Peg pampering bilious rosebushes and
daffodils with peat, he and Smoker, little boys, trailed her to grade dirt and harvest dandelion hair.
Evenings, Pork, still in his work clothes, would saunter across the cool grass, lift them by the ankles
and hose the garden from their legs while their mother gathered her implements. Often those
nights, they ate on a picnic table while the shadows stretched and the crickets sawed at the cool
night and the coyotes called.

The detox orderlies collected Pork and told Smoker to wait.

“Name?” the desk nurse asked.

“Pork White.”

The nurse nodded. “Name of patient?”

“That is his name,” Smoker said.

Her white-capped head popped up and her mouth tightened. Smoker finished the form himself.
Eventually a doctor, not much older than Smoker, called him into his office. He motioned to a
battered leather sofa.

“Your father put up quite a fight,” the doctor said. “We had to sedate him.”

“He hurt anyone?” Smoker asked.

“No, but the orderlies got some exercise.” The doctor tried to laugh, then, looking at Smoker, gave
it up. “We had to restrain him. He’ll have some bruises.”

The doctor passed Smoker some pamphlets.

“Can I see him?”

“Just remember, he’s sedated. Don’t let that scare you.”

“I think I seen him sedated before,” Smoker said.

Smoker followed the doctor into a darker room. Noisy breath clacked in the chest of each man
they passed and a bitter odor haunted them. In another bunk row, a thin man with fatigues slept
in a fetal ball. Below him a fat Mexican rested, his open eyes staring into the board that held the
bed above him. Pork was in the last section, near the nurse’s station, restrained.

Smoker leaned over the old man. Pork’s long black hair sprawled around his head, broadening his
face and showing his smooth temple. Smoker stroked the wrinkles in his father’s forehead then
placed his open palm on his father’s bare chest. A good feeling, a heart at work.

At his apartment, Andre excused himself to shower, something he hadn’t done in four days. The
spray beat his scalp and the water’s hush surrounded him. He twisted the knob hotter and
huddled underneath. He didn’t hear Claire enter the room and drop out of her clothes. She
stepped into the shower with him. She was hot and damp as breath. Claire turned her body and
let the shower spray hit him full on. It ached, but he let it beat him.

She steered his back to the water so it could thaw him, then began with soap and a washrag. The
room clouded with steam. Andre studied the squarish outline of Claire’s feet and knew he would
never again see another woman as he was seeing her, now.

 


 

Bruce Holbert’s fiction has appeared in the Iowa Review, Hotel Amerika, Other Voices, The Antioch Review, Crab Creek Review, among others. In 2010, he co-authored, with his wife, Holly, Signed, Your Student (Kaplan Press), a collection of remembrances of influential teachers recounted by prominent Americans. His first novel, Lonesome Animals, was released by Counterpoint Press in 2012 and was a finalist for the Spur Award. His second novel, The Hour of Lead, also published with Counterpoint, in 2014 was a Kirkus Top 100 awardee and also won the Washington State Book Award. Whiskey, his newest novel published by FSG/MCD, will come out in March of 2018. “Trespass” is an excerpt from Whiskey.

 


 

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