Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Ruining of Old Parker

The Ruining of Old Parker.

     We buried Parker yesterday, and as usual in this town, the affair was flashier than a funeral has any right to be. Small town living is strange in the way it creates its own customs and traditions, and one of our many quirks was that regardless of how you carried yourself in the town, every man, woman, and child would attend your funeral. A body 6 feet underground, and nearly 100 people, all dressed to the 9s. I’ve always thought it an asinine tradition, but I suppose us good Christians are supposed to celebrate life, afterall.
     In all honesty, I should feel bad for Parker.  We sent a small regiment over to Germany during the second Great War, and he was the only to return (he was hit in the ass by a wild piece of shrapnel, and having enlisted late in the war, sat the remainder out.) Coming back home, his wife – whom had a stupid name: Maribell, or Marilanna, or the like – had left him for a fella from up north, and fell deeply in love with his personality and good looks, or rather “money,” as we all really knew. Shamed by his injury, and on account of his wife just up and leaving him, Parker rarely spoke anything resembling the truth. Every town has a man, who consistently, night after night, perches over the counter of a downtown bar, and tells stories that change slightly with each retelling, usually with a significant addition towards grandeur. All the men of those towns may very well have been taught by Parker.
     Even after a lifetime of irritating habits, Parker was much more known for one specific event, only several months prior to his burial. Like most lonely old men of a certain age, he was prone to pinching the behinds of waitresses and other working women, followed by what he assumed to be a coy pick-up line. I’ve never seen a man slapped as hard as Parker, or one screamed at as much, yet is never did a lick of good to change him.
     More recently in his life, Parker had even deluded himself into trying his games on those who did not live in this town: the occasional woman stopping for a bite to eat on her way off to someplace better. Eventually – as humans are wont to do – we simply accepted it as a commonplace occurrence, much to the horrified expression of any travelers that may be passing on through. No on in town gave those wayward souls any mind anyway though, seeing as how nobody stayed in this town. Well, except for us unfortunate souls born in this damn place, or the occasional person who finds a way out such as Marielda – or perhaps it was Marilou – did.
     Back on topic, the event happened one night several months ago. A particularly tough looking woman – probably in her early thirties - rode into town on a beat up old motorcycle, and sat down to drink like a local. Those that stay constantly on the road have an insight to the clockwork of townsfolk, and know how to pick up local customs, and blend in for an evening. Parker - never missing an opportunity to ruin an otherwise merry night – decided on smacking the ass of the woman (who gave several different names to several different people throughout the night, so for the sake of continuity, let’s call her “Lady”) as she walked to the restroom. “How about you and I get out of here?” he slyly – or so he assumed – asked Lady, sending the wrinkles of his skin marching up his forehead.
     Setting down a rag being used to clean a glass that had long since already been cleaned, Sam the bartender started to walk over to Parker, assumedly to toss his old ass out into the most embarrassing place in proximity, hopefully a muddy pit, or somebodies returned liquor and food after too much drinking. Holding her hand up, however, Lady smiled, and slipped her arm around Parker, and stared down at him as though a rattlesnake following the movements of a mouse that knew it couldn’t get away. “Alright,” she said, her smile dripping with venom. Parker’s old eyes opened wide, and he tried unsuccessfully many times to speak, but his mouth only hung open, working noiselessly. “Come on,” she cooed, and plucking at his sleeve, they walked out of the bar. I’ve often heard the expression “slack-jawed yokels,” in reference to small town people such as us, but the saying would really click with you if you saw all the open mouths of Sam’s Place that night.
     Walking to his truck after he pointed it out, Lady opened the door, and gestured for him to enter. Hesitantly climbing in, Parker stopped himself midway in, and turned to apologize. “Listen, I’m sorry for what I did, you don’t have to-“. “What are you going on about now? Are we doing this, or what?” she responded. Climbing in, the sad curiosity of the bar managed to peak out from the nearby window - left full of streaks from the half-assed cleaning of Sam’s lazy nephew of whom he employed as a personal favor to his sister – and stared at the truck as though vultures.
    Jokes started to nervously chirp into the quiet of the bar, as some of the older men made half-hearted jokes about how long they thought he would last, and if anyone would be up for a little sport – gambling mostly. The pressure of the room reached its climax – in hindsight, at least something did – as Lady strolled back towards the bar, sending us scrambling frantically to regain some sense of normal composure, of which, as with 99% of situations of this nature, we most likely failed. Strolling back in with what I could only call a triumphant smile, Lady reached over the counter, grabbed a bottle of cheap Whisky, gave a small salute to Sam – receiving a nod from him in return – and started to walk back out of the bar. It was the nephew - who is 22 if I remember correctly – that called out tastelessly “what happened?”
     Stopping before the door, Lady turned, and the smile finally reached her eyes. “He couldn’t perform,” she said, and threw her head back laughing as she walked out into the night. The sound of her old motorcycle roared up a few minutes after, and she was on her way to some other small town, we assume. Parker sheepishly walked in about half an hour later, and ordered a glass of water. I’ve never seen a man look so distraught, and he was chased out as we burst into a unified plague of laughter that swarmed around him.
     I remember that for the next few months, there was not a single pair of raised eyebrows from one of Parkers sneak attacks, nor was there a joke passed where he was not at the butt-end of it. He spent his entire life alone, eating at the diner and the bar, that he didn’t really know how to prepare food for himself. Subsequently, he still showed up at the diner and bar, but he no longer drank alcohol, and ate his food slowly, never smiling. You’d think as humans – and as I recall writing earlier, good Christians – we should have tried out best to warm his heart, but we didn’t.
     He passed away from old age – again, several months after this event – and the elder folk of town finally managed a successful campaign to stop the jokes and laughter. They said that we should be ashamed of ourselves, to laugh at the deceased in such a way, and that we should have been better to him prior to his death. Some tried to convince themselves that they were laughing “with Parker,” or that they were just laughing because everyone else was, but no, none of that is quite right. No, we laughed right up until Parker was buried, and afterwards kept the laughter locked behind closed doors, but it never truly went away.

     I’d like to get out of this town, but I worry if I do, I’ll just end up rotting wherever I end up. Or perhaps that’s too melodramatic. Perhaps I’m just afraid to leave this town the same reason as anyone else. I just have a better story for why I don’t. Sure as hell helps me sleep at night, thank you for asking.

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