Emert Cooley rode drunk out of the bar at two forty-five, high as a fighter pilot and laced with pain. Forest air whipped the flush from his cheeks like his childhood blanket, cool at the end of a long day. But what was long at age seven? Not even a whipping.
“You’re a chump,” he said under the motor sounds. “Go piss under the covers, tell a story about that.”
A belch fell out onto the steering wheel. His stomach drooped over a cold belt that dug into his crotch. Too much Guinness and fries, but he could still knock the tar out of six kids like in first grade when they wouldn’t let him play football. Then go to starting QB with the girls grabbing his hair.
Reid and he used to share that old grimy sheet with the white stars, huddle up and trade stories about soldiers and talking dogs and shy girls from Germany and Japan. Reid always told them best.
“Once there was this kid named Layne who could fly, but only when someone jumped out and surprised him. So he told his friend Dan the Bulldog to pop out of a different hiding place every day and get him started. In the garbage can, behind the fridge, under the space between the porch and the outside stairs where the garter snakes live. Dan was really good at it. Layne flew to Dublin and drank real Guinness with the old guys like Grandpa, and he fought a bear by dropping bombs on him. Dan made Ovaltine shakes for Layne when he came home.”
In the all-night diner on the way home he’d shoved away meatloaf in disgust. “What is this—dog?” Screwed up the taste of chocolate malt, too. No tip.
He drank in secret, in the morning, at work. Cassie too busy for appreciation, never mind her magazine didn’t even sell. Every day for the past two weeks he’d stopped in at the Red Branch on Route 20 to find his brother. Near Easter he got this way.
“Hey Reid, hey Reid.”
Then he’d settle down for a draught, just one, and Carl Tynecastle would sidle up with a shot.
“Left hook, right hook, left hook, right hook…”
In the room they’d always whispered a shade louder than nerves could handle; a little-kid provocation to dad’s palm. Long Hand Luke, the Army called him.
Emert rammed his head into the doorpanel to quell the liquor, but it didn’t unmake his choices. A whippoorwill trilled in the yard. Down at the Red Branch Larry Fisk had put on “I Don’t Want to Die Tonight” by the Mercurials and they’d sung along in boozy 4/4 time
Tell me love, tell me true
Say that I’ll end up with you
Honey, you’re my guiding light
And I don’t wanna die tonight.