The seventh story from Sean McBride’s published short story collection, A View of the Edge of the World. This episode is produced by Ed Robinson and read by David Nett.
This is the weakest story of the book, but ironically, some of my best lines are in this one. This was also my first foray into more of a normal mainstream fiction theme. Its a short one, but there is some gold in there.
The Barn Burner
I watched her drive away. The anger sifted off my head in rises of steam. The room was frigid and the tension was palpable. I walked back to the bar and took a bottle of bad plastic bottled whiskey. I had a barnburner planned. The twelve pack of Budweiser in the fridge was calling to me.
I whipped open the freezer and pulled out ice cubes, relishing in the ample cold pouring from it. I dropped the ice cubes in a glass, splashed in the whiskey and downed it; barely a sheen on the cubes before the alcohol was gone.
“That Bitch.” Not properly directed anger; It could have been towards the woman who cut me off in traffic earlier, but no, I was talking of her. My angel. My love. “That Bitch.”
I know my brain when in a state of anger. Moral consciousness is absent, leaving only pure rage. The fire that burns in my head is penultimate only to the passion that fills my heart. I have plenty of both. I sometimes believe these are the only attributes I do have, fire and passion, and I ponder of the social aspects of such drive. I wonder why girls keep coming to me.
I don’t see beauty in the mirror, I see scorched constitution, I see a boy who is so unsure of himself that when girls approach it’s an all or nothing deal; a forged contract. Alcohol disarming their tractor beams, leading them astray…into my arms. This humble self discord leaves naught for the imagination. If girls make the first move I must accept, it may be my last opportunity to find real love, but that’s not the real reason is it? I desire to be desired. A kiss…the fire that drives my passion.
Discord permeated my skull, I knew what I was doing and at the same time I didn’t. I relished the anger and frustration; it gave me solace, but yet I felt that discordant beat in my heart that told me I loved her. She came to me. She loved me. That had to mean something.
It means cold exhaust wafting into your lungs, while you watch her drive away; a lump in your throat.
“What the fuck!” Anger instills prevalence to monosyllabic words, only adding a second syllable for emphasis. “Fucking bitch!”
I start to pace, aimlessly, with purpose only to walk. To blow steam, the anger has risen so high that I can’t even think.
What’s she thinking? How can she drive away so calmly and serenely? I’d like to think of her sitting there with her bug eyed glasses blocking the tears billowing at the edges of her lids, but she feels no despair. That would only be too great, too auspicious a thought. No, she’s zoned out looking at the road but not seeing it, planning her next PETA meeting. Sure, she can be ethical towards animals, but when it comes to a man she says she loves, she’ll fuck the nearest living thing.
Carbon life, trite but true. Think about the person in front of you one day. Think about being inside of her. Being behind her eyes, feeling the frailty and deficient form that constitutes the human body. Knowing in actuality there is nothing better about her. She’s made of the same material, she’s as easily hurt as you. Flesh is flesh.
Or better yet think of her as a baby. A small child suckling at her mother’s teat. Totally innocent, devoid of any malignant imposition that will enable the brain to formulate evil…and replicate it. This child is what she was; still, what she is, flesh is flesh after all.
This line of thinking should be enough to get me out of my slump, to forget, but by the time it formulates I had already had three swigs of whiskey. Bad timing I guess.
“Fucking bitch!” I was still stretching for emphasis.
I was lucky because I hadn’t broken anything yet. This tends to be a predisposition of mine. It’s either that or punching walls; however I prefer to retain the use of my hands.
I accept the fact that I have defects in character; I just don’t think that other people should. Throwing things seems like a perfectly succinct thing for a cuckold to do, doesn’t it?
“Fucking drove away!” I still tasted the exhaust. Bland and burning. It tasted like rejection.
I threw back by head and poured what was remaining in the can down my throat, crushing it in the process. I stumbled a step back and threw it at the wall. A cacophony of clatter about as abrasive as a couple of dice rolling across a table. Great fucking effect.
I stopped myself, anger abating, when I realized just how ridiculous that looked; like a horrible B actor trying his best for the Oscar. I hope to God no one’s looking in the windows.
Heavy scented air filled the bar. I see her enter; thigh high dress with jeans on underneath. Why the hell do I find that sexy? There was a cool breeze blowing behind her, gently tossing her hair about her head. She was wearing a unbuttoned blue petticoat and there’s a streetlight shining behind her, haloing her head in soft warm light.
“Goddamn.” The guy next to me whipped his head around, drunken eyes wavering in their sockets, I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me or the bartender.
“Thas right goddamn it!” He spit as much as he slurred. “Whas it take to fucking drink ‘round here?”
He put his hand on my shoulder, a gesture of friendship, of companionable fortitude in the face of a packed bar. I smiled gently and pushed it off, nodding and looking back for the bartender intently. She had sidled up beside me at the bar and I didn’t even notice.
Looking back I realize there was only one possible entrance for her. The bar was busy and the person that was sitting on the stool next to me had gotten up to take a leak and when she sat down I could feel her there; as if she were giving off radiation.
My mouth was suddenly dry, her auburn hair ruffled from the wind and her cheeks rosy, not from makeup, but from the cold night air. Her lips were full and red, not overtly, but with a slight sheen that enabled the light to reflect and show their full plumpness.
I took a deep drink of whatever I was drinking, hoping the quaff would alleviate my inhibitions. Liquid courage. I tried to lean my body ever so slightly so as to turn more towards her, get her attention. Only I made a slight miscalculation, the stool I was on was precariously balancing on the edge of a step and by moving so briskly I managed to plunge the stool off the edge, in turn plummeting myself off the stool and onto the hardwood floor of the bar. Excellent first move.
“Shit!” The parameters of intelligence only encompass times of mental inaction. It’s very hard to say anything intelligent when you’re drunk and falling off a stool in front of someone who takes your breath away.
She was on me before I knew I hit the ground. I felt her soft hand press up against my cheek, a gesture of concern. I opened my eyes into clear deep pools. Hazel with a tint of the sky swirled in. Kind eyes, with only a hint of smile around the edges. She knew I was embarrassed, but she didn’t take advantage.
“Are you ok?” Breathy diction with smooth intonation. Sexy.
“Umm…” Fear and anger work the same way. In the throws of either only one syllable will emerge.
“Is that a yes?” Her smile revealed itself and her hand moved from my cheek around the back of my head. I felt her finger nails sweetly scratch through my hair. I used all my nerve not to reach up and hold her against me, to feel her heart beating close to mine, to smell her lavender scented hair and strawberry breath. To keep that comfort completely encompassed in that embrace, that memory. Instead I slowly stood up.
“Wow, that wasn’t embarrassing or anything.” I could feel my ears burning, I envisioned my cheeks turning scarlet, especially where the memory of her hand still lingered.
The whiskey bottle is half gone and there are four empty beer cans lying in front of me. I didn’t spend the time to right them when they fell over. They all seemed to fall over. It doesn’t matter which way I put them on the table. Defective all of them. Why the fuck cant I get anything to stay upright? Do I have to slam a fucking pole through them and pound it into the table? And, yes, by the way I realize how ridiculous this sounds; being angry at the fucking beer cans, but where else should my anger lead me? I don’t want to think about her. I don’t want to think about her betrayal.
I long for solace so I look to a giant painting of an old ship I have on the wall. It was something my grandmother gave me, and with it came an insatiable wanderlust. I remember a deep longing to be on that ship as a child, to ride along with the sailors and pirates. Never to be held down in one place, never having to worry about paying bills. Just you, a couple of other stall-worthy men and the open sea. Nothing to fear but death. I feel peace when I look at this painting; there are worlds outside of my own. Outside of this beautiful-tortuous relationship, a place where I can be at peace.
I’m pulled back from my wonderment by the sound of a can falling over.
“Fucking Bitch!” I’m not sure if I’m talking about her or the can. Hell, at this point I don’t think it matters. She’s ruined my life and I’m in hell. Not only did she cuckold me, but she left of her own will! I didn’t even boot her out the door!
I reach into the cabinet and grab the shotgun, lay it against the couch and head back to the fridge for another beer. Funny they call it a barnburner. I would like that, yes. Burn down that fucking barn.
She held my hand the entire night. The warm compress of her palm against mine, with only slight dampness of impending sweat. I felt comfortable, conjoined, as if I were stronger with her attached to me, even if we were only connected through our hands.
I saw nervousness in her feet first. On the drive back to her house I could see them jittering, as if moving to a silent beat. The talk was light and pointless, about the movie we just saw. Never-ending story. We were both ignoring the fact that she balled her eyes out when the horse was dragged into the swamp. I could see the embarrassment in her eyes, deep and ingrained.
She had a purple coat on that night, matching the sunset. I’d look at her image framed by the orange-purple light and she was perfect. Her cheeks were slightly rosy, reminiscent of the first time we met, and her eyes were soft from the tears that watered them earlier. She had wiped away her makeup during the movie with my handkerchief and it gave her an ethereal glow; a natural soft face with all the colors of the sunset giving a dramatic backdrop. She smiled when I looked at her. Coy and shy all at the same time. I intimate she thought it was because I was attempting to ascertain her forlorn demeanor. In actuality, it was because in that exact moment, with the dying sun lighting her up, putting fire in her hair, emphasizing the tenderness in her gaze; the color of her jacket framing her petite body against the fading of the light, she looked like an angel. Her hand was the only thing to give me illusion of reality. That warm damp compress and the more intently I stared at her, the tighter the grip became.
I felt a surge of energy float up from my hand, through my arm and into my heart, following the blood stream; flowing through my vesicles. It was as if she was giving me an infectious disease. I could feel it surge through my body, a levity, a lightheadedness, a surge of joy; my heart entered my throat and made my tongue stick into place. The only words I could manage to convey my feelings came at her doorstep when I dropped her off.
I looked at the barn behind her house. I smiled at her.
My mouth hung open for a moment after I spoke the words, as if I were going to say more, but when nothing came I smiled again.
She, however, didn’t answer, just jumped at me and hugged me with fierceness; like she was trying to squeeze me in half, destroy my body and hold onto my soul. My heart leaped again and she felt it, the loud thump against her breast caused an echoing rhythm in her…and she hugged tighter.
She moved her head from my neck; I could hear and feel her intake of breath. I looked into her eyes and watched as she bit her lower lip, eager, eyes provoking.
I lost reason. I lost lucidity. I lost hope. Her lips touched mine and I forgot how to live my life alone.
I gazed down into the barrel of the shotgun. She had a cute little name for him. A pet name. She called him the Italian Stallion. Too fucking cute for words. He wasn’t even Italian.
Two thirds of the bottle was gone and two more beers. I had a vague recollection of what the problem was, but at that point I pretty much only felt anger.
“Sherb fook, haarry prick.”
Flailing blindly around the room, the only thing keeping me alive is the fact that I didn’t load the shotgun, though I’m not entirely sure if I could load it at this level of drunkenness.
I know at some point I tried to fire it. I think I blacked out. I think I’m pissed. I think I need to burn her barn. That beloved fucking barn where all her indiscretions took place. That fucking barn, where she made a cuckold of me. That fucking barn was where all the damage came from. Fuck the barn.
I had planned a barnburner tonight, but now that phrase took on a whole new meaning for me. Fuck her, and fuck that barn.
The shotgun dropped from my hand with a perfunctory thud, and I made my way to my garage and grabbed my spare tank of gas, that just so happened to be resting snuggly against the back hatch of my Jeep. Fucking divine providence.
I was watching football at the time it happened. Ignorant to the indiscretion, the blind cheating that was about to be unloaded on me.
“Baby, I need to talk to you.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder, warm and soothing. A surge of warmth flew through me, straight to my heart, brightening my disposition. I turned and looked into her azure-hazel eyes, tendrils of color weaving into one another giving them a slight marble touch. There was consternation in her expression; her mouth turned down into a purse. My thoughts turned black with the quintessential quote: “Uh, oh!”
“What’s wrong baby?” I reached behind me with my right arm and caressed her forearm, hoping to coax fortuitousness. “Come over and sit down.”
“No, I’d rather stand.” It was a quick answer; I knew I was in trouble.
She didn’t answer at first; she just sighed and walked around in front of me, in front of the TV. She was indicating I was to give her my full attention.
“I don’t know…”
I grew impatient with her game. “Babe, I know you like to be coy, but just say what’s on your mind. We’ll get through whatever.”
“No I don’t think so.”
My heart dropped and skipped a beat. Not this talk, not with her. Please God not with her.
“I’m leaving.” She stopped as if I would say something in response; as if I could respond. “I’ve…found something, someone.” She was quick to correct herself.
I think I tried to speak. I tried to come up with something intelligent to say. I wanted to be Humphrey Bogart, instead I said:
“It’s been in the barn, only a few times, but I can’t go ba…I mean it’s unlike anything…”
I stayed silent a second time, Then the nausea hit and I ran for the toilet. I retched three times. It was a horrible feeling, there was nothing in my stomach, but it was clenching like vice grip. I heard her in the hall behind me.
“I know its coming as a surprise. It was for me too, but it’s just so damn good.”
I retched harder. I could feel my intestines moving upward.
“What’s his name?” I managed between retches. I reached up to the toilet tank cover trying to raise myself, the horrible clenching of my stomach slowly subsiding.
“Paulo. He’s beautiful and exotic. He’s fromAndalusia. He’s just so…I mean we have this connectedness…I just cant go back. He’s just such a beautiful man.”
My stomach retched, but I didn’t throw up. I shat myself and I screamed more than I thought possible. She left in a hurry. I thought of the drink in the kitchen. I had to plan a barnburner; as much as I could drink. I would have to stay up all night. I had a barn to burn, and with any luck it would be occupied.