Monday, May 4, 2020

Sturgis Spins a Good One Kathryn B. Lord

Everett and Perle stop for a beer with clammer Sturgis, and hear a tall tale about their friend Mervyn; by Kathryn B. Lord.

Most weekdays around four, if the weather was decent, Everett and Perle pulled their trucks into Sturgis's driveway. Though the air was a bit nippy for early fall, the men, swaddled in worn flannel and greasy insulated vests, took positions around Sturgis's pickup bed. They leaned in on the sides, arms crossed over the top edge. Except for the truck's wheels, they could have been around the bar in a tavern.

"Crissakes, Sturgis, get to the point. The wife's making meat loaf. I got to get home for dinner." Everett lobbed his empty beer can into the truck bed. "What the hell happened to Mervyn?"

"Steady now, Everett," said Perle. "He'll get to it, he always does."

"Thank you, Perle." Sturgis made a slight bow. Wouldn't hurt Everett's waistline to be a bit late. "Much obliged."

"Take your time, Sturge," Perle said. "No other place I got to be. Wouldn't want to ruin a good yarn."

Everett rubbed the back of his bald head, shoved his stained baseball cap forward. His pants sagged close to the danger point below his bulging belly. "I'm hungry, goddamnit. Just this once, can you not draw the story out till a week from next Sunday? Just cause you're a college man's no excuse for being long-winded."

Years ago, Sturgis had almost completed his first semester at the University of Maine at Machias when he'd come home so's his mother could do his laundry. He never went back. "Too far inland," he'd said.

The back of Sturgis's truck was crammed with coils of raggedy pot warp, a length of oily chain, a crusty clam rake, thigh-high rubber boots, a jumble of five-gallon buckets, and a heap of clam rollers. All any man needed to make a living on a Maine island. In the corner was a battered cooler nestled among empty beer cans. The dooryard looked about the same as the truck bed: rope, buoys, battered lobster traps, a dilapidated four-wheeler, two corroded tractor mowers. Chickens pecked in the dirt between the piles of junk.

"I seen the ambulance yesterday," said Everett. "That it?"

"Nope. Something else." Sturgis stood back, patted his pockets. Perle and Everett watched while Sturgis searched. Finally, Perle reached into his jacket.

"Here you go," he said, tugging out a crumpled pack of Marlboros.

"Put it on my tab." Sturgis pulled a cigarette out and stuck it between his lips.

"You owe me a pack, if not a whole carton." Perle crammed what was left back in his shirt pocket.

"I'll trade you some eggs." Sturgis started another round of pocket patting. "Got a light?"

Everett groaned and passed Sturgis a little box of wooden matches.

"Well, I tell you, it was most interesting," said Sturgis, striking one.

"The ambulance?" asked Everett.

"No, that was for old Miz Curtis, down the road. Mervyn didn't need no bone buggy." Sturgis drew a long puff and blew smoke out the side of his mouth. He scratched under his left arm through a hole in his red plaid shirt, the cigarette dangling, then turned and pointed to where a chicken waddled out of a patch of bedraggled ferns next to the trailer's front door. "Did you check that out?"

Perle ambled over. He didn't see anything but the ratty ferns and the occasional gone-to-seed dandelion.

"Go closer, Numb Nuts. To your right." Sturgis tapped ash off the cigarette.

"Well, I'll be darned. Look at them eggs." Perle counted. "Eight. Going to make a soufflé?"

"They's too old. Old Bess has gone broody, and those'll be chicks, I expect," said Sturgis. "Did you see her bald patches from where she's pulled out feathers? She looks a bit like Mervyn, if'n you squint."

"Was he here or off-island?" asked Everett.

"Neither here nor there, I'd say," said Sturgis.

Perle pawed in the cooler, pulled out a beer, and popped it open. Everett watched, then reached into the cooler, too.

"Sturgis. How could Mervyn be neither here nor there?" asked Everett. "Seems those are the only two possibilities."

"T'ain't easy. Not everyone can do it," said Sturgis. He wondered how long he could drag the story out. It was starting to get dark.

"Was he on a boat?" said Everett.

"Sort of. But not really."

"Was he in the air?" asked Everett.

"Maybe." Sturgis flicked the cigarette butt over his shoulder. "Yes and no."

"Sturgis, where the hell was Mervyn? Only thing left is six feet under. Godfrey mighty." Everett slammed his beer down on the edge of the truck bed. A foamy geyser spurted out the top. They all watched the beer splash to the ground.

"Now, there's a pitiful waste," said Perle.

Everett threw the can at Perle who ducked as it whizzed by his head.

"You know there was a big blow yesterday?" asked Sturgis. "Mervyn had got hisself hired to bring half a house down from the mainland on his flat bed."

"I wouldn't want to be moving anything in that godforsaken wind," said Everett. "How'd you move half a house?"

Sturgis took a long slug of beer, smacked his lips. "I wondered that myself. You know those houses they build in factories? That kind."

"Pieces of shit, in my opinion," said Perle. "How'd he do?"

"Wicked good until he got to the causeway. He was 'bout halfway across when he could tell the wind was tugging. Tie-downs popping, one after another. The frigging house was rising right off the flat bed. Windward side was wide open. House caught a gust, like it was a sail."

"Jeezum." Perle bent over and looked under the truck. "Now where'd Old Bess get off to?"

Sturgis cast a gaze around the yard. Plenty of chickens, but no Bess. He blew his nose onto the ground, holding one nostril and then then other, wiped his nose on his sleeve, took a swig off his beer and cleared his throat. "So Merv, he jammed on the brakes, run back and jumped inside, tried to catch a rope. Whole damned house rose right up."

He stepped back from the truck, stuck his arms out wide and turned, then jumped and yelled, "KaBAM!"

"I wasn't there, mind you, but seems it went up over the rocks and landed plumb on the clam flats. Right side up, all in one piece, not even a broke window. First fella come by found Mervyn inside, sitting at the kitchen table. He'd done the dishes and made hisself a cup of coffee." Sturgis straightened, gave himself a bit of a shake, then folded his arms back over the side of the truck bed.

Perle sipped at his beer. Sturgis took a fresh one out of the cooler. The chickens scratched around their feet, searching for slugs and beetles. Old Bess pulled at Everett's shoelace.

"Well, I hope the missus ain't burned the meat loaf," said Everett and hitched up his pants. He tossed his empty into the truck bed.

Sturgis waved and Perle nodded as Everett climbed into his truck and started the engine.

Perle took another swallow from his can, then followed it up with an extended belch. "Pardon me, Sturgis."

He patted his stomach, then walked over to the clutch of Old Bess's eggs, counted them again on his fingers.

Perle turned to leave, then detoured back to Sturgis. "Come to think of it, wasn't Mervyn some lucky it weren't high tide?" He chucked Sturgis on the elbow, winked, then sauntered towards his truck.

4 comments:

  1. Droll tale. I like the characters, deadpan humor, and dialogue..no big rush for anything. I could visualize the back of Sturgis's truck... Island folk become unique in their own culture. That lifestyle and those characters are amusingly described. Good 1.

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  2. Vivid characters and setting. The symbolism of a man being blown by the wind back to the sea is very fitting.

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  3. You say "I know these guys well"...it really shows in the writing. I could just see the three guys sitting against a pick-up swapping stories. I especially liked the realism of the conversation taking unexpected twists and delays. Well done.

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