Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Tungsten, Tennessee

BY JASON CLEARFIELD

by Jason Clearfield

The broken record, she was crying like some stilted off-beat country twanger. The heaving gallop of Appalachian morosity, Tammy Wynette, coal miner’s daughter. The mining crew singing heave-high, hi-ho. And it was in his ear on his worst day in his truck with a small cabin, and he thought to himself, this might go on forever. 

He turned to wife-to-be, assuming there was a switch off, but no, she went on hollering. And he looked deep into her eyes, her soul, her gritty, dusty blue irises and thought very hard, “Now quit.” And she looked him straight up and almost without a pause, continued, saying, “Don’t you look at me!”

So now he was driving, listening to the background invade his attention and snapping his concentration, wet sap, it was just about to completely take him on, when bam! The car slid into something moving and he thought, “My god, we killed a horse!”

The car skidded off the road into a ditch and she said, “My God, you hit a fucking horse the size of a Clydesdale.” And he said, “No, it was probably a mule or a pony.”

“You better not have hit a fucking pony,” she said. “I’ll kill you dead”

And she continued, “Jim Brewey, you son of a bitch, I told you to drive that fucking car and get us the fuck out of Dodge, and here you are swinging your way into whatever trouble suits you, a fine mess you got us in, you fuck-wit piece of shit out of practice ballplayer, has-been chewed-up la dee da doo dee da did…” It seemed to go on without a break, some kind of miracle at work in her ability to sing on without end, he thought.

So that when he stepped out of the car, in rhythm, he walked with the dalliance of her cadence in his thought, the 1, 2, 3, breath, 1, 2, 3, breath, the you-fucking-coward, the give-my-money-back dance, and it felt much like dancing in a barn when he used to dance with blonde-locked beauties in his childhood. Ooh, the wonder! When he approached the body of the beastly thing, he was elated, and hardly understood, until he got close to it, looked closer, and said, “My God. We hit Bigfoot.”

He raced back to the car and said to Althea, “We hit Bigfoot.”

“Bullshit,” she said.

“C’mon, we gotta get outta here. We gotta go get a haul. This is a kill!”

“That ain’t Bigfoot out there. You just hit a goddam bear.”

“I hit a goddam Bigfoot. See for yourself!”

She stepped out of the car, and without leaving the ditch they were in made a decision.

“Yeah, it’s a Bigfoot alright,” she said. “What are we gonna do about it?”

“Sell it. Sell the fucker.”

“Sell Bigfoot?”

“Sell the fucking thing.”

“How much you reckon we make off such a find?”

“Hundred thousand.”

“Oh sweet jesus, we’d be getting all that new refreshing life, would we! A new air conditioner, I get a few dresses, a Lamborghini, a trip to outer space.”

“Fuck it. We’ll get a million.”

“Million?”

“Yeah, a million.”

“So what are we gonna do?” Althea asked. “I mean, we can’t just leave the fucker out here. What if someone else finds him? A million dollar bag of cash is something, can’t just leave it in the road, even in Tungsten.”

Tungsten, Tennessee.

“Hmm,” he thought. “I reckon.”

He decided that the best thing to do would be to hitch the line from the back of his trailer to the carcass and drag it to the side of the road. Make some kind of indication a little ways down, so as not to be completely confused upon return, then come retrieve the beast and sell it to whatever newspaper would pay one million dollars for a Bigfoot. “One of them big-ass newspaper mother-fuckers in New York, I’ll bet.”

First things first, he carried the big chain over to the animal’s body, only to realize it was breathing. And he thought, my fuckin’ God, it’s gonna kill me. Then the noise it made, the low chortle of a hum that was too deep for imitation, but nevertheless could be heard from the wind, at times. It was the sound of a bear. Ah fuck, he thought. I near killed a bear and now I’m in this mess.

He stood over the half dead body and thought, Lord, let this fucking beast kill me now so as I don’t have to step back in that car.

But the Lord did not oblige, namely because the Lord felt it necessary for this man to deal with his problem on his lonesome. And the Lord, with all his glory, looked down from the heavens and smiled with a careful contempt for the incessant greed and glorification done by a man whose only honor was to ingratiate his own pride and domain in this world, outside of His honor. 

And the Lord smiled, and it was so…

He got back into the vehicle and said, “It’s taken care of.”

“What’s taken care of?  You didn’t move shit.”

“I got it, that’s all.”

She turned around, looked out the backside window and said, “You didn’t take care of shit. Fucker’s still out there.”

“I told you, I got it.”

“You didn’t get shit.”

“Alriiiiiiiiiiiight.”

He got out of the car and slammed the door. She was inside listening to her music, some song by some asshole who thought love was an amazing floating pink cloud that came out of the sky and washed you over with the vapors of pleasurable feelings, who thought that alcohol and warm pie could not compare with the ecstasies of true love. Who, when he dies, will choke on this shit of his own stupid peddlings-for-cash that he called love songs and that drove the somewhat young Jim Brewey up the wall. As the only man who did not like love songs, he had declared war on that type of music, and decided that, for long as he should live, no song should be about love. No song would be loved. And so he loved no song, with the contempt that someone hates something they once smelled with Death, he hated those love songs, and she knew it, and she turned up the volume.

So that he, while attempting to chain this bear with a big metal hook and drag him to the side of the road, would listen to the soft and crooning clamor of an insatiable pathetic quench for respect, by men with big clean hats asking patiently if, “This will be the night?”  “If you’ll take me back instead?”  Or pleading, “Leave that man for one who cares.” “Find out what it means to me, for you, to be, with me.” Bla bla bullshit, he thought, and he took the chain to the bear which promptly flinched upwards and narrowly missed him with heaving bear claws.

Shit, he thought. And indeed, he did shit himself. He shit himself clear to the point that he could feel shit dripping down his leg and he thought, Shit.

So that the bear, while rustling, continued to claw in the air, and the man, not sure of how to approach the situation at this point began to wrestle with the idea that he should be killed at this point. What do I have to live for? I got a fiancé who yells at me more than a fuckin’ windstorm, I got a two bit shack, a hack job installing chicken wire. For fuck’s sake, this world is a big hoax and here I am shitting myself and talking about a million dollars.

And the bear, with a latent conscious that seemed to still be drifting outside somewhere else, calmed down. So shit-soaked Jimmy again prepared to latch the chain to the bear so his wife-to-be would not be suspicious of his activities. 

He got close, very close to the bear. Then he realized that there was no way he could do it. The bear would wake up, would claw him, would maybe claw Althea. And though he hated her guts, he loved her dearly. And though he wanted her dead, he couldn’t stand the idea of being responsible for her death. And though he wanted a million dollars, he had just shit his pants.

So he thought to himself, a good four minutes in that cool Western Tennessee September breeze, about all the things he had suddenly been confronted with and had lost just as fast and he decided that there was a piece of birch wood that he could drag to the side of the road and she’d never be the wiser. So he took the hook away, brought it to the log and pulled it around. He fastened it securely and thought to himself, this must be love. This act, this charade. I wouldn’t go through with it all if I didn’t want her to at least think that there was a possibility of our lives changing for the better. And who knows, maybe we’ll make a million dollars for this bear. Maybe this bear is full of gold. I’ve heard of the golden bear of Appalachia. Or was that the golden boar of Appalachia? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a boar in these parts. Don’t reckon I know what one is, ’magine it’s some kinda pig.

And as he got back in the car, he told her, “I love you.”

And she said back to him, “What’s that smell?”