Snakes in the Garden
Thurman and I had lived in Corcoran for a little over year and a half and had done pretty well for ourselves. We both were working steady and were pretty much staying busy building a new life for ourselves. Thurman had already gotten his first raise, and I wasn't thinking too much about Stewie and Guinnie which, truth be told, was probably the reason I was out here in the first place
I suppose with things going that well that something had to change; I was kind of expecting it to tell the truth. I guess it was the just a big ol dose of backwoods suspicion in me. Way I figured it was that God doesn't want any of us to get to smug or certain about things. Lot of people would say that it was some kind of flaw in the ways of God, but not me. I had seen it happen too many times to think that failure and mischief of fate wasn't all part of the plan.
I remember growing up that whenever something good happened, I always waited for something bad to happen to level things out. I know I overdid it at times but that stubborn doubt I always felt, I could lay on my upbringing and my Pa.
I figured that sometimes things have to change for things to grow. I don't know where I got ahold of that notion, but it made some kind of sense to me. One night I was sittin in a tent revival listening to a fire and brimstone preacher talk about the mess that Adam and Eve got themselves into in the Garden of Eden, and he said something to the effect that all us humans are just trying to make our way back to the Garden. There was something in the way he said it that rubbed me raw.
Adam and Eve didn't put that apple tree in the Garden, the snake neither. And if it was God who laid out the plans for the place, then he must have had a reason, and the only thing I could think of was that he didn't want people sitting on their ass all the time living on nuts and fruits. Why else would he put the best fruit tree right smack dab in the middle of the place and then tell people not to eat the fruit. If he really wanted them not to eat it, he could've hid it in the darkest corner of the Garden providing it had one.
Ever one was calling Oklahoma the Dust Bowl and were always going on about how bad the situation was there. It wasn't always that way though. It was good country most of the time, a little humid at times, but still a good place.
It seemed to me that the dust, the dirt and the dark gray skies were like a thick membrane that separated the past from the future. Oklahoma was always hard country; don't get me wrong, but it was green and beautiful at the same time. There were lots of animals to hunt and raise, lots of water, and the ground was rich and bountiful.
There were plenty of rosy cheeked girls and lots of good people too, funny people with weird traits and strange ways of thinking. That's the way it's supposed to be, otherwise life would be boring.
Then the weather turned bad, the winds started to blow, and the bankers started clamoring for their money, and all the bad habits of the farmers were exposed for all the world to see. Ever body else saw it as a disaster of Biblical proportions. I did too at first, but once I got out on the road I started to to believe that it was God's way of saying, "Quit worrying about Oklahoma; the place is in good hands. It'll eventually make out fine, but I really need some of you folks to head out west."
If Guinnie and Stewie hadn't died, I woulda growed into a old fat-assed farmer and one day woulda died in the same bed and room as my Pa. Way I saw it, God wanted other things for me. I don't know if I had crafted this way of thinking to justify leaving my past behind me, or the bitterness of the loss and the pain had crafted it to justify me.
The one thing I knew was that I wasn't hankering to go back to the Garden anytime real soon. I had just left and there were way too many damned snakes there at the moment and way too many bad memories of Pa. I talked to Thurman about it later, and he said, "Hell no, why would I want to go back there. Remember, I played the Prodigal Son there once, and all I got out of it was watching Mama die of a broken heart."
"Well, you made her last years a lot easier, and you got your dumb-assed brother out of Oklahoma. You should be some satisfied on both accounts."
He thought it over some before saying, "Yes, I guess I did. I learned a big lesson too. Most folks spend they whole life trying to be happy, and I understand that smiles and laughter are kind of rare in this world. Those kind of memories need to be treasured and stored, but the satisfaction that comes from doing what you needed to be doing is the real object of life not eating grapes and sitting on your ass being happy all the time. "
I was amazed, "Damn, Thurm, that shit was profound. Maybe you ought to take that preacher's place. .... back to the Garden my ass. Something tells me that lil sumbitch never worked in dirt or had a Pa like ours."
"I dunno, the way he talks about his God, sounds a lot like Pa."
My way of thinking meant I kept my eyes on the ground looking for snakes. I read somewhere that was how us humans developed. It meant that I kept eyes off the skies and distant horizons a lot, probably too much, but it was necessary for the time being I guess.
Them snakes showed up too. They always do. At first, they were hard to see because these here were California snakes and were well adapted to their surroundings.
The first one was named Colton Welles, Uncle Bill's ne'er-do-well son by his first wife. He had spent the last five years in the state penitentiary for armed robbery. He had just finished his sentence and returned to Corcoran expecting to be welcomed home with open arms. He wasn't. Uncle Bill didn't even show up at the bus station to pick him up. Colton just showed up at their doorstep one day.
Colton was tall and gaunt looking. He had a hard look and two dark eyes that look like smoldering shotgun pellets. His head was shaved, and he had couple days dark growth of it coming back. His rumpled, blue work shirt was sleeveless, and he had a tattoo of a rattlesnake wrapped around a tree limb on his left bicep and word MOM written in blue ink on his right forearm. He was also missing a couple of teeth on the top right side of his mouth.
Aunt Jean told me later that Colton had it all worked out in his head that he was going to live in the house where Thurman and I were staying. She said he got angry when Uncle Bill put the kibosh to that plans. She did call around and got him a small cabin in a labor camp on the other side of town, and Uncle Bill called in a favor and got him a job a loading sacks on seed drilling crew.
They had us over to dinner that night and Colton was there. We was eating chicken and mashed taters when he up and asked Uncle Bill what Thurman was doing for a living, and Uncle Bill told him. Then he asked what I was doing, and Uncle Bill told him.
His eyes flashed with anger, his face turned bright red and he threw down his fork, "What the hell, Pa. I'm a mechanic too. I learned how to work on engines on the inside. I'm a damn good mechanic too. Why I gotta load seed for? And this here dude, he'a cutting meat! Why I got to live in a one room shack when my daddy owns a two bedroom house that ain't even being used."
My Uncle Bill didn't bat an eye. His face didn't get red or nothing. He calmly stated, "Colton, you better mind your damned manners in this house. The house I own is being used. My nephews are living there. These boys came by their jobs honest. You think I would just hand over property to you after what you stole from me. You even took money out of Jean's purse remember. And how you expect me to set you up in a good job after all the stuff you done. Hell, most the people in this town are related to or know all the people you done wrong to. You got two choices. One, you can work it off in time and learn that there's a price to pay for everything bad that you do in this world. Or, two, you can go back doing what you were doing fore you got locked up. I don't suspect the state would mind putting you up for a few more years."
You could tell at first his daddy's answer made him angrier, but Colton quickly sized up the situation and calmed down, or at least, pretended to. He sat back down in his chair, "Sure Pop, you're right. I knowed I got some rehabilitating to do. Sorry, boys. No offense. I guess I just dreamed about the way things were going to be so long, I fooled myself into thinking everything would be just waiting for me where I left off . . . . Mama Jean this here gravy is the best thing I et in five years, can I have some more."
He wasn't fooling no one at the table, not even himself. To a person we knew that Colton Welles was going to cause trouble.
Strangely enough, Thurman didn't even talk about what happened at dinner. We'd been around too many people like Colton to let his shit bother us. Thurman had told a lot of stories about all the carnies he had met when he ran away. Some of them, he held up as the cream of the crop, but some of them were the worse dregs that society had to offer.
That night he wanted to talk about Sersie, so I let him. I asked him though, "It's plain to me that you loved that girl. I saw how happy you was that night in Reno when you finally met up with her. The question I got to ask is why the fuck didn't you marry her when you had the chance?"
He looked at me and laughed, "Damned, Billy John, I thought you knew. I asked her, begged her actually, and she wouldn't have me."
"You never said nothing about that, how was I supposed to know. I thought you never asked her. Hell, I thought she was crazy about you."
He winced a little at the question and sighed before answering, "She loved me as much as she was capable of loving another human being, that's why she said no. She knew that she'd hurt me bad sooner or later, so, in a way, she was trying to protect me."
That got my curiosity up, but I was puzzled too, "Protect you? By breaking your damn heart?"
He laughed again, "I knowed it sounds crazy, but it was true. Hell, Junior, Sersie wasn't human, she was more like a force of nature. You just don't up and put a wedding ring on a storm wind or try to domesticate a lighting bolt. I woulda died in the trying." He paused and thought about what he had said, then chuckled, " Tell me you didn't have lustful thoughts about her too."
I tried to lie, "Naw.."
"Well, maybe once or twice.."
Thurman's laughter sounded crazier this time, " Man, she had those green eyes, and those ruby lips...." He eyes rolled back, and he went back in time to find some more words to explain her, " She told me once that her own daddy started messin with her when she was twelve years old, and that when she was fifteen her daddy, her Uncle John, and her cousin Fred got in a damn knock down brawl fighting over who was gonna sleep with her that night. Said they used to use her like that for quite a spell till she ran away..
Sersie was real sweet though once you got by all the needles and the thorns. Trouble was they kept growing right back. I think she loved me more anyone in the whole damn world but never trusted me completely. If God hisself had come down and promised her happiness, she would have gave him the side-eye."
"I don't understand how come her mom didn't put a stop to that kind of stuff."
"Hell, her daddy had beat her mama to frazzle a time or two. She killed herself if you remember. Told Sersie she was gonna do it too. Swallowed a bunch of rat poison."
I thought about it a while, "You know, iffn I was Sersie, I think I would have killed her dad."
Thurman laughed that strange laugh again, "What makes you think she didn't?"