Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

The Rusty Hoe


Author’s note: I believe that all you need to know to understand the following excerpt is that my upcoming novel Awesome is about a happy, rich, sexy giant of the Paul Bunyan variety. He’s on a scavenger hunt. In the passage below, which contains part of chapter 21, our narrator has begun to look for a needle in a haystack. First he has to find a haystack.

My wealth had always precluded me from much truck with the working class, but I had read a great deal about them in father’s books, and a large part of my recreation, during non-vacation months, consisted of going around and telling them they weren’t as bad as they thought they were.

I had become able, in this way, to spot the kind of haunts frequented by just the type of man who would toil in and around a haystack for a living. When I spotted a tavern called the Rusty Hoe, I knew I had found the place to sit quietly among the farmers and pickers and such and eavesdrop until the inevitable subject of hay came up. With that opening, I would be able to sidle up and buy my newfound buddies a drink or two, meanwhile easing the conversation around to anyone who might have lost a needle in the vicinity of said hay, particularly in a stack of it. Best of all, the Rusty Hoe was roofless, allowing me to step right in and mingle unobtrusively. To be precise, one of my shoes could fit in with no trouble at all, leaving plenty of navigating room for any regular person who cared to enter.

The interior of the Rusty Hoe happily exceeded my expectations, more squalid than I might have dreamt, just four walls and hardly anything to stand between a man and his drink, a cavern of a place with a dirt floor, and all over the dirt lay slimy pockets of tobacco which the occasional live chicken inspected for seeds. There was nobody home but the barkeep and an old woman in a bonnet and gingham dress, dead to the world, dipping snuff at the bar.

Such solitude was ideal for my purposes. By quitting time, when the men of _______ left the fields and came looking for a drink, I would be an immutable part of the atmosphere, acceptable as one of their own.

As open and desolate as it was, the taproom provided cheer in two immediate aspects: first the bright sunlight, which was perhaps too cheery for such an establishment, but seemed pleasantly conjoined with the heat of the potbellied stove; next the cherry-wood bar, long as winter, slick as spit, and carved with mermaids, grapes and roses.

I asked the barkeep for a washtub to be filled with vermouth and had him fetch sixteen large jars of pickled eggs and two of pickled pigs’ feet from the basement.

Before enjoying my refreshment, I tendered a friendly greeting toward the venerable old soul at the end of the bar, but she seemed to be living in a world of her own troubles, and did not respond.

The pastoral murmuring of the chickens and my soft, nearly noiseless, sucking down of a whole jar of eggs at a time were disrupted by a boot which trod heavily on mine, containing a foot as large as my own.

     This bar ain’t big enough for the both of us, said the hairy behemoth attached to the foot.

     It’s not actually big enough for either of us, I observed.

     This here is my spot, he said. Why you’ve put your big foot right down in my natural footprint. And them’s my eggs you’re eating so casual.

     Easy, friend, I said. I’m just here in town because I’m an innocent haystack worker looking for a break.

His hair was black and curly and his beard was black and curly, so massive that it nearly hid his face. Black curly hair cascaded over the top button of his flannel shirt. He wore a wool hat, too, and dungarees, and even his big black boots were covered in curly fur. He stuck out his chest and proclaimed:

     My name is Goliath Brigadoon, and I’ll lick any man here who says that round-baling ain’t the most efficient way to bale hay.

To my surprise, the little old lady — who was only about seven feet tall — hopped off of her stool, shot a gob of snuff on the floor, wiped her mouth on her gingham sleeve, and rebuked him:

     I go by the name of Great Granny McPhee, and I been square-baling hay since before you was born. Why if you mention round-baling again I’ll make you eat them words afore this day is done.

     Why if you was a man, said Goliath Brigadoon, I’d twirl you over my head on one finger till your face turned blue, then I’d sling you in that corner over yonder, and while you was sitting there all dazed and bewildered I’d grab me a buzz saw sure as shootin’ and I’d saw off the top of your head and dig out your brains. Then I reckon I’d jerk your head right up off of your neck-hole, and I’d commence to sealing up the bottom of your decapitated head with some kind of industrial sealant, then I guess I’d ship it off to a special novelty factory where they could make a souvenir stein out of it, hell, I’d send ’em the top part, too, the flap of your skull, so’s they could make one of those fancy steins out of it, to where you twiddle the little thingamabob and the lid flips up, and the lid I’m a-talkin’ and a-speakin’ about would be the top of your skull. Then I’d take the whole dad blame thing to one of them spots where you paint your own ceramics and I’d paint a picture of my cat Mr. Buttons on your skull, and boy wouldn’t I have a swell time drinking Ovaltine out of your skull. But seeing as how you’re a lady I won’t do any of them terrible things I mentioned, but I’m just saying.

     Them’s fighting words, said Great Granny McPhee.

She ran over and commenced to leaping up and slapping Goliath Brigadoon around the anklebones with a paper funeral parlor fan.

     Haw haw haw he laughed and bent down real close so she could slap him in the face with the paper fan.

     Haw haw haw that don’t hurt at all.

Our culture has not been taught to appropriately prize manliness and I sensed right away the profound psychological emasculation to which Goliath Brigadoon was being subjected. Great Granny McPhee had chosen, quite deftly, if inhumanely, to assault Goliath Brigadoon with that most subtle and devastating of weapons: her own weakness. How could he respond, aside from an ineffective haw haw haw? Hollow laughter, which masked a crumbling manhood.

I lifted Great Granny McPhee high in the air, and brought her down over my extended pinky finger, thereby cracking her spine like so much kindling.

Great Granny McPhee appeared to go into a coma. Her vital signs were negligible.

     Stand back I am a faith healer, said Goliath Brigadoon.

He knelt (destroying a wall of the bar, such was his beneficent haste) and breathed the breath of life into Great Granny McPhee. It appeared to be a pink smoke, which inflated her the way helium inflates a flat balloon.

     Where the doodle am I? said the recovered Great Granny McPhee.

     Git on out of here and tend to your hay, said the barkeep. I’ve had enough trouble for one day.

Great Granny McPhee sprang to her feet, as lithesome as a summer’s lass, and flitted away.

     Haw haw haw said Goliath Brigadoon. Let’s see what kind of man breaks the back of a pore ole biddy. It’s yore whuppin time, he informed me.

     See here my good man. I was only trying to help.

     You’ve just boughten yore self a wrasslin match.

     So be it. Under one condition. If I win, you’ll have to tell me everything you know about hay.

With that, we commenced our battle.

First I got Goliath Brigadoon into my patented chokehold. He broke several of his already jagged teeth attempting to bite through my arm, which is as hard as any diamond. One of his incisors, however, became lodged and snapped off in my soft, downy navel, my area of vulnerability. Who knew what communicable diseases wriggled invisible on the surface of that loathsome denticle?

I gave Goliath Brigadoon a kick that sent him hopping. He smashed the front of the tavern, clattered across the alley and broke through the back of a place where you go to paint your own ceramics. After smashing every dish, pot and cream pitcher in the joint, he rolled on out into the Main Street of _______, Kentucky, right down the hill into the recently gentrified shopping district with its genuine cobblestone streets.

I had been following his progress with some interest.

At this point I leapt upon his tumbling body with both feet. Goliath Brigadoon, in his helpless, prone and accelerating fall, had put me in mind of a sturdy log, and I proceeded to ride him past the lively storefronts like a lumberjack in the act of logrolling, much to the delight of the tourists emerging from the taffy shops and calendar stores on the one side of the street that was not leveled in the course of our strange journey.

     Look at him go, I recognized as the content of their unspoken delight. That man can surely put on a show. Surely this is the greatest form of entertainment we have ever seen.

Goliath Brigadoon came to rest at the foot of a quaint gazebo, where the mayor was engaged in making a speech. The crowd erupted in cheers.

     Why goodness gracious who are you, said the mayor. Surely you’ve come to assassinate me.

     Nothing could be further from the truth, I assured him. May I inquire as to the subject of your current speech?

     As you can see this is the day when everyone dresses his cat or dog in a little costume and we have a parade, said the mayor.

Looking out at the crowd, I could see that the mayor was telling the truth. Every person there held a small cat or dog dressed as Robin Hood, Zorro, a chef or some other fanciful character.

     May I inquire as to the purpose of this display? I asked.

     You may, replied the mayor. It’s to drum up business.

Something was amiss. I decided to give the populace a lecture on pet-rearing.

     What are you people doing to your pets, may I ask. Something obscene. My downstairs neighbor and formerly betrothed, Glorious Jones, was often seen to make out with her cat, the whimsically monickered General Stonewall Pussy. I’m not implying anything too grotesque, just some delicate tongue-kissing, the very tips of the tongues and nothing more, a mere show of affection, nothing to be alarmed about, you all should try it. Certainly it would be preferable to the pathos before me. I want to see all of you tonguing your pets, nothing too rough, and forget about all this dressing them up in costumes business, which robs them of their dignity.

Thus inspired, the mob indulged in a communal orgy of pet kissing, mere pecks and the slightest hint of tongue, nothing too gross at all.

     That dude knows everything. This is the best time I’ve had in my life. Hats off to that incredible dude. These were a few of their apparent thoughts.

     Well sir, that’s all very fine and dandy, said the mayor, but what are we going to do for Pets on Parade Day now? Now everyone will stay concealed in their homes, making out with their pets, and there will be nothing for the tourists to get worked up about.

     Listen up, folks. I’m going to invent a sport right now. It’s the annual festivity your town will soon be known for. I call it naked human logrolling. The unconscious human who acts as the log, such as your friend and neighbor Goliath Brigadoon here, will remain fully clothed. The roller, such as myself, however, shall strip down to nothing, like so.

With that, I tore off my garments, hopped on top of Goliath Brigadoon’s supine figure with both feet, and rolled him down the hill, down the pier, which crashed beneath our combined weight, and into the sparkling lake from which the town got its name, the townspeople hot on my heels, wondering at the perfection of my large, muscular, and entirely hairless buttocks, which glowed from within as if fashioned from costliest alabaster.

The motion of my feet was so fast that Goliath Brigadoon did not sink, but acted rather as a kind of paddle wheeler. I floated him out to an island in the middle of the lake, from which I observed the tiny people at the end of the pier like ants marveling at me from afar. My member dangled across the shore and the head of it dipped into the water. I stood with my hands on my hips, beaming with satisfaction.

Jack Pendarvis is the author of two books of short stories. His novel Awesome, from which his contribution is excerpted, will be published next year by MacAdam/Cage. He is currently the visiting writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi.