Right after my ninth birthday, Daddy had a tantrum that made him punch a hole in the wall, his right hand break, and his secretary walk out. That made him punch the wall with his left hand and break that one too, and that was how I ended up Daddy's secretary summer before fourth grade. We worked from home, in an office that Little Steve the Child Molester built in exchange for services rendered. The office window looked out into dry yellow field, and on the far side of the field was our cow pond and Daddy's burn pile.
Every morning we'd go on our run around the field, do ten pushups at the burn pile, and then run straight into the creek. After our run we'd come back and drink our waters and head into the office. Daddy would dictate a brief and he'd punch the air with two broken hands. I'd type as fast as he was talking, never had to ask him to repeat. Bobby Bowden our protection dog would guard over us from on top my feet. We had a good time. When Daddy got tired he'd take a break to stare out at his burn pile and plan his funeral.
"Boss," Daddy would say, "there're two rules to life. Hell if I forget the first one. But the second one is, check in and check out on time. I think with me check out time gonna be quick, boss. I think one minute I'm gonna be here, and the next minute, I'm gone."
Ronnie Lee Rummage, from Dothan, was the first murder trial Daddy and I ever worked as a team. It started the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when Ronnie Lee's mamma called and asked us to defend her son from a first degree murder charge. She was sweet at first but because of everything that happened by Christmas I was pulling Winn-Dixie cards out of the mailbox that told us, in neat, careful cursive: MR JASPER, I GONNA SET YOUR WHOLE FEELD ON FIRE YOU DON’T GIVE MY RIGHFUL TRUC BACK, and MR JASPER THE TRUK IS MINES, and YOUR WHOLE HOUSE GONNA BURN YOUR WHOLE FIELD CHRIST WILL HAVE MERCY ON YOU MR JASPER BUT I WILL NOT.
My Daddy said, "Jesus-Lady want her truck back so bad, she can show up at my door with a gun like a man. Boss, when it's checkout time, take my tractor, and put it in front of my burn pile. I want my banjo in the tractor seat, put my Seminoles hat on top of my banjo. So it's like I'm sitting on my tractor, but instead of my body, it's my banjo. And then, just throw me on my burn pile and light me up. See what those Jesophiles have to say about THAT. I'm the Bossman."
Every Christmas Daddy throws a "Taking the Christ Out of Christmas" party and invites everybody. Everybody loves my Daddy except for a small percentage that want to take their revenge, so it's lots of people, old clients, other criminal defense attorneys, Rey Mason from the feed store, everybody. No Jesus cause it makes Daddy angry and both his hands already broke. No Christmas carols, just The Late Great Townes Van Zandtbefore noon, and then The Very Best of Peter Paul and Mary. We can't even listen to the whole CD, because Daddy loves "Day Is Done" so much that he hits the "back" button with his elbow every time the song's about to end.
Today, we're making Taking the Christ Out of Christmas dinner. Mamma's soaking a ham in Dr. Pepper that Bobby Bowden keeps trying to eat. Daddy's kicking out the cats and organizing all the stray bullets into one singular kitchen drawer. My little brother who everyone calls The Son Of Jasper is wandering around with his guinea pig, Yo-Yo Ma.
Mamma says, "As long as you put Yo-Yo Ma back in that cage when the company comes. I don't want to look like trash."
But we all silently know, even little Son Of, that it's not the beer cans and multitudes of feral cats wandering the house; what's going to have people think we're trash is Carl, who lives behind the burn pile and rapes things. Animals, bushes, piles of clothes, but who he has his eye on is our pig, Pig-Pig. Carl rapes Pig-Pig like how you can count on the sun setting, every day, at dinner time, right outside our window. Pig-Pig screams but Carl just keeps on going.
We all watch Carl head-butt Nice Dog on the porch. Nice Dog lets him, that's how sweet she is.
"Look at Carl," Mamma says. "Carl thinks he's a dog but he ain't no dog."
Carl ain't no dog. Carl's a goat. Each ball is bigger than my head, and there are two of them that hit his ankles when he trots along the porch with all the dogs, or the cats, or the chickens. Carl's the only goat so he just tries to be with everybody but everybody's scared of him.
"Poor thing," Mamma says.
Daddy says, "I don't like Carl. Carl's weird."
Daddy hits the "back" button on the CD player, and "Day is Done" starts all over again. And we all help, putting the cats out, sweeping up fur, putting the stray bullets into kitchen drawers, but we're all thinking about Carl, outside the window, his balls swinging like a pendulum, as the sun's about to set, as Christmas rolls in like a hurricane, as the company is getting ready to come have dinner. We watch Carl rest his heavy, yellow eyes on Pig-Pig, and I receive a prophecy of hard troubles on the way.
Daddy says, "Boss, can you and the Son Of take Carl down behind the burn pile and leave it some food so it don't mess with that pig in front of company? People gonna think we're trash."
Son Of says, "You got a egg I could hold?"
Son Of likes to have an egg in his hand, whenever he can. Not to eat it or throw it, he says he just likes to hold the egg. Daddy thinks Son Of's a little retarded but Mamma says it's too early to tell, and there sure ain't nothing we can do about it now. Mamma gives Son Of an egg to hold, and we walk to the door with Carl's favorite food which is pork skins.
"Day is Done" gets quieter as Mamma closes the door behind us.
I take the Son Of's hand, and we walk with arms open to Carl, who's down on his front knees trying to rape a leaf pile in the middle of the yard.
Son Of holds pork skins in his extended hand and walks backwards, one hand holding his egg and the other gentle in front of Carl's face, and Carl follows, licking the grease from Son Of's tender palms, and I take us over the hills to the water.
The facts of Ronnie Lee Rummage's case were these:
Day after Thanksgiving, the Dothan county police responded to shots fired on the river, and they came to find Ronald Lee Rummage, age 14, IQ 64, holding his fishing pole waiting for something to bite with a big pink chunk of Youth Pastor Davie Flower's brain next to his knee. The Colt .38 and the rest of Pastor Davie was at the bottom of the river, and when my Daddy told me all about the case, I received the prophecy of five million tiny clear fish, tapping his body like raindrops.
Me and Daddy and Son Of started driving into Dothan a few times a week to gather information about Ronnie Lee Rummage. The big billboard you ride under to get there tells us Dothan's named for a passage of Genesis, 37:17, which says LET US NOW GO INTO DOTHAN.
Daddy drove us into Dothan with two broken hands, to the Rummages' house. The yard was covered in plastic, tires, car parts. There was a mean looking fat man lurking outside, staring at us and spitting dip. Not clear what his relationship was to anyone there-could have been Ronnie Lee's mamma's boyfriend, could have been her son, could have been her father. Their faces were so dry that I couldn't tell how old anyone was.
Ronnie Lee's mamma, Miss Rummage, was a big wild haired woman with a glass eye, chewed tobacco and Delivered the Information. Pastor Dave had been a good friend to the family. He got them church clothes, didn't let anyone in youth group make fun of Ronnie Lee for being a retard. Ronnie Lee's mamma said, "Poor thing don't know any better. Ronnie Lee can't even talk, what does he know about shooting a gun?"
Ronnie Lee's mamma didn't have any money to pay Daddy but she did have this brand new black truck. She said the keys were in the ignition, and for it to be his, Daddy didn't need to prove Ronnie Lee innocent, because Lord knows, just prove to that jury that Ronald Lee Rummage was too stupid to know what he was doing when he shot Pastor Dave right in the middle of his face.
Daddy said, "That sure is a pretty truck."
And Ronnie Lee's mamma said, "Yes sir, it surely is."
So Daddy started going by himself to Dothan juvenile corrections to meet with Ronnie Lee, and he could have left it at that. Ronnie Lee was too retarded to even talk. He'd just look at you out the corner of his eyes and moan. He never asked Daddy to go to any extra trouble, and maybe that's why Daddy did; because Ronnie Lee Rummage couldn't ask anybody for anything.
Halfway to the burn pile. The first star of the evening has risen, and Carl and Son Of and I all stop in the field, cold and covered with pork skin grease. Together we behold the star. And I receive the prophecy of raging people owed a great debt shuffling towards me and Son Of from far away.
We spent weeks driving back and forth from Dothan in Daddy's new black truck, Son Of sitting in the backseat holding his egg. Every time we'd pass the Dothan town sign with let us now go into dothan. GENESIS 37:17, Daddy'd say, "It's some stupid people in Alabama, boss."
We pulled into the Rummages' front yard, Daddy punched my shoulder with his bandaged fist. "Boss, we get inside, say Son Of's gotta pee and you gotta help him cause he might be a retard himself. Boss, go through that door, turn a corner, it's Ronnie Lee's room. That kid's walls are covered in pictures, boss, and some of them are postcards. Boss, you see a postcard, you take it off the wall, put it under your shirt, put it in Son Of's diapers or wherever, then you run back to the truck and put it in the glove compartment. Under Top Security, boss. Training for United States Army."
I said, "Yes boss." And Daddy said, "You the man, boss. You the man."
Ronnie Lee's room was like being in an aquarium and you were one of the fish. Pictures from fishing magazines, National Geographics he'd stolen from Special Ed, drawings of fish alone, fish in schools, fish caught and dying and swimming through the water like they was champion of the world.
Son Of and I tore off the postcards, ran out to the truck, shoved them in the glove compartment. We leaned out the window and stared at Daddy and Miss Rummage. They were both drinking beer. I tried to count the other kids wandering around the yard, but I've never been good at math. Son Of held his egg and took in everything.
Miss Rummage was crying, and Daddy put his bandaged hand on her shoulder, and said, "Ma'am, I do apologize for the distress. We're gonna take care of Ronnie Lee, ma'am. You be strong. You hang in there, okay?"
Daddy waved goodbye, with a cowboy smile, like he'd tip his hat if he had one while he backed the truck out of the trash lawn. Daddy turned onto the dirt road and his smile turned too. Daddy said, "Woman trynna put a lie on me, boss. Can't put a lie on the Boss Man."
Christmas Eve. The dry yellow field, right in front of the burn pile. Small on the horizon, I see a dirty green truck growing and puttering towards us, and I receive the prophecy that none of this, my daddy, this land, my house, is guaranteed to stay with me, and won't. That I can't hold onto nothing.
In the truck riding home from Dothan, Son Of and I pulled out the postcards. On the front, fish swimming, thrashing on a hook, jumping out of the water into the sun. But the back of the postcards was handwriting: "I love you." "You are the sunshine of my life." "I thank God for you."
They were signed Your Friend Davie.
Daddy said, "Jesus H, boss. Connect the goddamn dots."
The next day Daddy came home and poured papers onto the table. They were simple cards like you'd get at Winn-Dixie, and in neat cursive, thank you notes to Pastor Davie Flowers: "Thank you for the camping trip, thank you for the trampoline, thank you for the two hundred dollars, Love, Ronnie Lee Rummage."
"Now what's wrong with this picture, boss?" Daddy said. "Ronnie Lee can't sign his goddamn name. Boy's a goddamn retard. Worse than Son Of." And Daddy pulled out the cards that were asking for two hundred dollars for the dentist, one eighty for the trailer to be repaired, a new truck to take the kids to school, all signed in the same neat cursive, by Ronnie Lee's mamma, Miss Darlene Rummage.
Daddy said "Honest to Jesus, boss, you can't throw stones in Dothan 'cause there ain't enough goddamn rocks."
The Son Of Jasper and I watched in court as Daddy pulled out the thank you cards and the paid utility bills and gifts to the family, all in exchange for silent, stupid Ronnie Lee Rummage to be picked up by Pastor Davie every Friday morning and taken to his peaceful lake house. Returned Sunday night with brand new clothes and a two hundred dollar check for his mamma.
Daddy faced the jury and showed them his open, broken palms and said, "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it's like my Grandma Deedee used to say, some people just need killin."
Daddy got Ronnie Lee off on self-defense and he and his multitude of brothers sent to be wards of the state. Ronnie Lee's been arrested a few times since then, for setting fires, but no one holds it against him, because the poor thing is too simple to even know what he's doing.
And right after that was when the neat cursive notes in the mailbox started.
YOU NEED KILLIN, and YOUR WHOLE HOUSE CUD BURN. YOUR WHOLE FIELD, and HEBRIWS 1037 IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.
And that's where it takes us to right now, is Ronnie Lee's mamma in her beat-up green truck bigger than all of us, driving up to me and Son Of with his egg, Carl the Raping Goat and his pork skin grease, all together in front of the mighty burn pile.
Ronnie Lee's mamma stops the car and kills the engine and I receive the prophecy that everything precious will be lost from me.
Ronnie Lee's mamma gets out of her old green truck. She's holding a big can of gasoline in both of her red, flaking hands, and she looks like someone cut her hair with a lawnmower. Her glass eye is lolling up towards the single star in the Christmas Eve sky, but her real one is set straight on the burn pile. Carl's feet stomp the dead grass underneath us.
I look at Miss Rummage, at her flat cracker face and glass eye, and I receive the prophecy that I'm in trouble, but hers is bigger, deep as this whole sky. I hear my daddy say, "Boss, I could be dead any day now."
Miss Rummage says, "That truck is mines." And gasoline sloshes around her thick red ankles.
The Son Of has his egg close to his face. All that's moving in the field is the dead grass, reminding our ankles of the saints put to death by many fires.
Then Miss Rummage points to Son Of's egg and says, "Whatchu doin with that egg? You hungry?"
Son Of shakes his head, but she won't believe him. She says to me, "Is he hungry?"
Son Of says, "No ma'am, I just like to hold the egg."
Miss Rummage breathes in and out, while her good eye traces over Son Of's egg and lands there.
I receive a prophecy of her lungs trynna push themselves out of her chest. Like all her insides wanna bust out.
Swiftly, the Son Of stretches out his egg towards Miss Rummage, right in front of her pink boiled ham face. Miss Rummage stares at it a moment, and then she shifts the gasoline can to her left, and reaches out her right, and together Miss Rummage and Son Of hold the egg. Their palms facing one another, their fingers almost touching.
I receive the prophecy of people tired and poor beyond my imagination, blessed with time suspended, not clawing for their lives.
Miss Rummage leans into her arm, like she's drawing electricity from Son Of's egg. Then she breathes in real hard like she gunna break, drops her gasoline can, and runs towards her sorry green truck. Son Of stands with his egg and Carl and me, and we watch Miss Rummage tear over the hill and back to her trash yard with no money, and now no children in it.
And Son Of and I take off running, me holding his hand, him holding his egg, Carl the Raping Goat galloping ahead of us, his gigantic goat balls knocking his hooves, away from Daddy's great burn pile, through the dry yellow field, through the front gate. To Pig-Pig in the back yard. To our home far from the hurricane.
We hear "Day is Done" getting louder and louder and we tear through the front door, and I receive the prophecy that some people need killing, but it's not us, not tonight. We slide right into the table, and we feast all over Mamma's Dr. Pepper Ham, me and Son Of, our Christmas guests, Mamma and Bobby Bowden and Daddy with his bandaged hands who is champion of the world.
And then Daddy's nightmare comes true and out the front window Carl starts up raping Pig-Pig, and Pig-Pig starts hollering, we all see it. All the company. We see everything, they're big animals. Mason from the feed store says, "Sweet Jesus!" Judge Mobley says, "Oh my dear Lord Jesus," Kenny Massey, who crossed state lines with a minor, said, "Jesus Christ," and Daddy says, "Help me, Lord Jesus, help me, help us, help everybody."
And for the rest of our lives Mamma talks about that night as when Carl the Raping Goat saved Christmas, by putting Jesus back into it.
I looked up the Genesis 37:17, in Mamma's bible, under Top Security, as Christmas swelled around us. Under the table, I was pretending to feed Bobby Bowden some ham.
An old man found Joseph wandering the fields, and asked him, What are you looking for?
Joseph said, I'm looking for my brothers.
They moved on from here, the old man said. I heard them say, Let us now go into Dothan. So Joseph went into Dothan, and he found his brothers there.
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