© 2007 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
Gabe County Jail –an Excerpt (Short Story)
We had no way of knowing what was going to happen, Joey Corbin and me, we certainly did not know we were going to get into real big trouble, even after we were arrested by Constable John Mitch and hauled off to the Gabe County jail on August 3rd, 1941, the hottest day of the year.
He knocked on our door and waited, sweating, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, and looked down at the stains on the old wooden porch and pretended to study them. He told my mother that he wanted me to come along with him for a ride .
I overheard him. When I’m sitting at the top of the stairs Momma can’t see me, but I can see her at the door and hear everything Momma says, and she says lots, mostly to herself.
The man at the door said “Good morning, Mrs., nice morning, isn’t it?”
I could not really see for certain who it was until I crept down a couple more stairs.
“I need your boy to come along with me.” he said.
“Nice morning, isn’t it? It’s gonna be a hot one. I need your boy to come along with me.”
He repeated it quieter, like it was to himself. His face was red and he was sweating profusely.
She took off her apron and smoothed her dress, blinking in the sunlight, and said “Well, ain’t that nice, John, you never mind what you’re up to this very minute, you just come right in here and set a while, its too hot to be going off riding anywhere, see, you’re sweating like a run-out horse already, but, let me guess, soon’s you set a while, and cool off, and get some lemonade, you’re gonna take the boys over to the fishin’hole, are you, again today? Ain’t that real nice, it’s a long walk, that’s real sporting of you?” she said out through the screened door.
“I need to take the boy with me” he said again. “For a little while, I might even be able to get him a ride back here later on, if we don’t run into trouble and things work out just fine.”
“Somebody’s here to see you, Billie Footch!” she bellowed over her shoulder.
“That boy’s around here somewhere” she said back to John.
“Billie Footch, you get yourself out onto this here porch right now!” she shouted into the house again.
I made a lot of racket and trundled down the rest of the stairs, through the kitchen and went to the door. It was John Mitch. He got to be a cop, I don’t know how he managed that, maybe he was just bigger than everyone else.
“John” I said, but Momma cut me off. She does that a lot.
“—Come in, John, come in” she said to Constable John Mitch, “Come in and sit, maybe I can find some lemonade or something. You need something to eat?”
She let him in the door and into the kitchen. He looked around. He looked at me and smiled strangely.
“Don’t you go to no trouble, ma’am ” John said, looking at me kind of sideways, and then, a little embarrassed, leaned back and started looking down at a mess the cat made on the floor. He shook his head.
“I don’t need nothin’ to eat” he said. “I don’t think I can eat anything just now.”
He saw me watching him. I grinned at him. Nobody likes cat messes, that’s what Momma says.
“Oh, oh” I said.
“Fur- balls’ll do it every time” he said to me, carefully stepping around it and sat at the table.
“I just come for Billie, that’s all” he said to her. She ignored him completely.
“I just come for Billie.” he repeated. He pushed the table out carefully to give himself more room. John always sits with his back to the wall. He said it’s safer that way.
“Where is that boy, now? Where is that Billie Footch? She said, blinking and looking right at me. She didn’t recognize me as usual, or maybe it was because she had her glasses on the top of her head instead of right on her nose where they belong. She put her head up and suddenly sniffed the air.
“Lookit—you, that —that damned cat, —disgusting, that damned cat, he messed the floor again, what did that boy of mine feed that cat, raw potatoes with sugar on? Damn that cat! Damn that boy! Damn that Billie Footch! Where is that damned boy!”
She blinked and looked at me again. She jumped.
“Oh, there you are, what are you doing, hiding from me again, that ain’t fair, that ain’t fair at all, you know I can’t see a thing without my glasses, but I sure can smell good, and it smells like there’s a new cat mess in here, I don’t know where it is just yet, but it’s here, I know it’s here—but—oh, look there, and don’t you try to tell me it’s not there, there’s one there, and look, under the table over there, look at that, there’s another one of those disgusting cat messes! She pointed.
“That cat mess smells bad, how many times have I told you, Mr. Billie Footch, that cat of yours is a plague to mankind, —stop feeding him so much of that there canned cat food, I can smell a cat mess three miles away, it smells like the trapdoor of an old Italian shithouse, and don’t you be trying to tell me there’s no cat mess, it smells to high heaven, boy, and it looks worse, I can see it, Billie Footch, so don’t you be trying to fool me, it looks like nobody gives a damn about anything around here, and cleanliness is right up there next to godliness, ain’t it, and cat messes ain’t holy at all, they just smell bad, that’s what I always say, and it’s your cat, so you clean it up right now!”
“Yes’m” I said to her and got a paper from the sports page and wiped up the mess. I threw it into the garbage and clapped the lid on quickly. It reeked.
John Mitch stuck his tongue out and pretended to hold his nose and smiled at me.
I shrugged. I got the stinker lemon disinfectant spray bottle out from under the rusty white enamel sink and sprayed the spots on the floor, soaking wet too. The pine smell was nicer than the cat was. It’s not really lemon, Momma just uses an empty lemon cleaner bottle sprayer. She fills it every week with pine stuff that comes cheap in a gallon jug and says “I hate the smell of this stuff but anything’s better’n a damned cat mess”.
I let it soak right into the wood for a minute and then wiped it off. I like the smell of pine trees.
“All done” I said to my mother. She inspected my work.
“That looks just fine,”she said, hustling around the kitchen and then she looked under the table again, “some day I’m gonna kill that cat, when he shits in this house, see if I don’t, Billie Footch, cat’s ain’t sanitary ” she muttered.
She pulled out a chair and looked under it too. I know momma was looking to see if there were any more cat messes for me to clean up. There weren’t, and she stood up, straightening her apron and primping her hair in the mirror over the stained white-enameled kitchen sink.
“Well, damned cat, don’t you be doin’ that anymore, understand?” she said nonchalantly to the cat that wrapped himself around her legs for forgiveness while she washed and dried her hands. She petted his back with her bare foot.
“You want some milk now, I’m betting, too” she said to the cat.
“You ain’t really so bad, but give me a dog anytime, I say, they don’t smell near so bad as no cat, do they” she said to that cat, and then she paused and looked into the mirror over the kitchen sink. She primped her hair and pointed her finger at her own reflection.
“You know I’m right, Miranda, don’t you argue with me, why must you always argue with me!” to her image in the mirror.”You know I’m right!”
The cat meowed at her in protest.
“Woof” I said to John. “C’mere, Woof ” I said, and the cat came.
“Momma’s at it again” I whispered to John. He looked at her.
“His name’s Woof” I said to him, smiling. The cat shook his head and rang his bell. John laughed.
” Momma likes dogs better, she wants a Great Dane, but we’re stuck with this old cat, him coming free with this old house and all.”
I grabbed the cat and handed him to John. John took to him kind of reluctantly. “You like him, John?” I asked.
“He makes messes as big as any old Great Dane can, I’d bet! See, he ain’t so bad once you get to know him.” The big tabby rubbed his chin against John’s arm.
“Like your momma says, he ain’t so bad” John said, looking at the woman standing, staring into the mirror. “If you like cats.”
“Neither are you , Billie Footch, an’ I don’t, ” Momma suddenly spoke right out loud. “Truth be known, I don’t like’em at all, not one bit, but never you mind, did John tell you he come to give you a ride to the fishin’ hole this mornin’ ?”
“No ma’am, he hasn’t had a chance to edge a word in sideways yet, me having to clean up all the cat messes and de-stinkerize the floor and all” I said, winking at John.
“I like fishing better than working and cutting wood and cleaning up stinkerized cat messes.”
“You’re a lucky boy, Billie Footch, gettin’ a ride and all, -when your Uncle Moby-Joe was fifteen he never had nobody to take him over to the fishin’ hole, he had to walk it all by himself, he did, all four miles of it, and back too, so you’re a lucky boy, Billie Footch, you better remember that” she said to me.
She brushed off her apron and rushed around the kitchen looking for a clean glass to give John Mitch some lemonade.
“My, he used to catch the biggest fish, too, my brother Moby-Joe” she said to herself then glared at me. “He ain’t like you.” she said, “catchin’ nothing, and
his name wasn’t really Moby, you know, but everyone called him Moby just because he was a little chubby, real manly he was, he wore a few extra pounds, and they were always making fun of him, comparing him to that fish, right up to him gettin’ his heart attack and dyin’ on me.”
“Whale, momma” I said. “Whale, Momma, Moby Dick was a big whale, not a fish.”
She glared at me. “Don’t be saucy with me, Billie Footch, —Moby Dick was a big god-damned fish an’ he ate Jonah, just ask him when you see him, well, okay, maybe you’re right, maybe he didn’t even eat Jonah, so how do I know, I wasn’t there.”
“Okay, momma, it’s okay, Moby Dick can be a fish if you want, tell it how you want, even if it ain’t right.”
“What ain’t right is you makin’ fun of my dear brother Moby-Joe, and he’s dead now, you shouldn’t be speaking ill of the dead, either, I told you that before, he was a good boy.”
“Okay, momma, he was a good boy” I agreed so that momma wouldn’t get upset. I hate it when Momma gets upset. She wiped off a bowl and glared at me. “He was your uncle, remember.”
“He caught fish but he never caught no girls though, he was too fat” I told John. “I remember him, he was real fat.” That was the truth. He was fat and weighed three hundred and fifty-six pounds when he was fifteen and they all said he died of a heart attack when he was nineteen and a half. He was over four hundred by then.
“You listenin’ to me, Billie Footch?” she demanded. “Moby-Joe caught a lot of fish, fat or not! Are you listening to me boy? Moby-Joe was a good boy!”
“He shot himself in the head with a Peewee .22-calibre rabbit gun the day after his birthday”
I whispered to John. “He said he didn’t want to be fat no more.”
“I read about that in some old big-city paper down at the station, the boss told me to take’em out and burn’em” but I read it, he did, too” he whispered back.
“Them out-of-town papers tell the truth, don’t they.”
“He did it in the outhouse just before church on Sunday mornin’ but Momma don’t want to believe that nohow” I whispered. “They had real trouble gettin’ him out the door the next day, he was sitting down, he got stuck there, rigor mortis and all, I heard all about it, but Momma, she don’t want to believe any of it now.”
John shook his head. “Won’t do no harm, her believing what she wants to.”
Some dishes rattled in the sink. Momma was watching us whisper and put her hands on her hips like a drill sergeant. Her face looked like a hurricane coming.
“You listenin’ to me, Billie Footch?” Momma demanded. She wagged her finger at me.
“Yes, Momma” I said, looking over at John. He raised up his eyebrows at me and shook his head.
“I gotta be taking you down the Gabe County Jail for a bit” he whispered.
“I always listen to you, Momma” I said, smiling at John. “I always listen to my Momma” I said to John right out loud so she could hear me. I saw her smiling. I like it when Momma smiles.
“You’re a good boy, Billie Footch” she said. She bustled around the kitchen banging pots and pans in a flurry. “Cleaning up cat messes and all for me, an I do go on and on about Moby-Joe, an’ how he had his heart attack, and about your cat messin’ too, don’t I, but I do hate cleaning up after that cat!” she added to herself.
“Dogs don’t make no messes that smell like that” she said, grumbling.
“No, they’re sweet as cherry pie” I whispered loudly to John.
Momma heard me that time and glared as only Momma can…
(To be continued….)
Is that Incoming I hear?
Photo credit: Morguefile JConnors
tags: # excerpts, #Gabe County Jail, #cats, #Billie Footch, #short stories, #fiction, #incomingbytes.com , Raymond Alexander Kukkee, #Moby Dick, PeeWee .22,