There was no brotherly love between them.
November 22, 2013
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
Willy showed up for his father’s memorial service without Colleen or his children. He left as soon as it was over without explaining where he had been or if he would return. But no explanation was necessary. Ben Tom knew he had gone back home. He thought of the work that would be necessary on the construction office to make it suitable for rent to the general public. A project he would have assigned to Purcell.
As he spread Purcell’s ashes over the small patch of land where he kept his horses, the sharp stab of grief was his first realization of just how much he had grown to depend on his father, just how much he would miss his more or less constant companion.
Ben Tom suffered his first real bouts with depression during the next few months. Traces of gray appeared in his hair; the back pain he had learned to suppress came back with a vengeance. Purcell had been the object of Ben Tom’s practical jokes, had kept him laughing almost all day, every day. Now, he laughed no more. He had always thought of himself as invincible. Now, his mortality, in the persona of a hunchback, followed him all day.
When the palomino mare gave birth to a stillborn colt, Ben Tom heard his father’s voice saying I told you so. The vet begged him to put the old mare with a broken leg out of her misery while she was sedated, but Ben Tom refused. He used his tractor front end loader and a shovel to dig a grave for the colt, and then built a small fire beside where the mare rested. He spread an old saddle blanket on the ground and sat by the fire. When she stirred with pain, he lifted her head and slid his legs under so that one cheek rested on his lap. She seemed to take comfort as he patted and stroked her face. He slept beside her, letting her breath warm his face.
The mare nickered at daylight, struggled to stand on the partially healed leg that would never be straight again. When she finally stood on all fours, a car pulling into the farm driveway startled her. Ben Tom was also startled when Trez stepped out of the car. He seemed as crippled as the old mare as he hobbled toward them using a cane.
Ben Tom had not seen his brother in almost two years until their father’s memorial service. Trez had shown up late and left early that day—left without as much as a word to Ben Tom.
As he watched Trez walk, he thought of the many times his little brother had flirted with death and disability. He had always been accident prone. There was the motorcycle wreck where he broke several bones and took a layer of hide off one side of his body. And the car wreck where he was passed out in the back seat of a car driven by a drunken friend. The friend died. Trez likely survived because he was so relaxed. And there had been numerous on-the-job accidents, mostly caused by working under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
As he drew closer, Ben Tom noticed that Trez’s thick, wavy hair was long and matted even worse than it had been at Purcell’s service. As the hair caught the light of the rising sun, it appeared as if Trez had loaded it up with too much gel and hair spray, then sprinkled it with a fine layer of dust to keep his coif in place. It looked like a clown’s wig. Trez’s usual charming grin revealed two missing teeth and the rest darkened by drug use. The usual cigarette hung from a corner of his mouth. Ben Tom’s brother no longer looked four years younger than him, but twenty years older.
“Where can a man get a beer this time of day in these backwoods?”
Under the oak tree with iced tea, Trez told his sad story. He had been more off than on work for two years. He blamed it on injuries, but Ben Tom knew it was mostly drugs and alcohol. The last injury, a fall from stilts, had maybe cracked a couple of ribs and his hip, he said. He intended to apply for workmen’s compensation and disability. But his immediate problem was that his free and clear house was going to be taken for back taxes. His utilities had already been cut off. He needed a place to stay for a few days.
Trez grinned. “Willy told me about that little construction office he bought and drug down here.”
“I figured you financed it. I know Willy ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Never has had, never will, as long as he’s married to that crazy woman.”
“I rented that little house a week ago. Every piece of rent property I got is full of antiques or rented, and I need the rental income.
“How about I just sleep on a cot at your place for a few days? Just till I get on my feet.”
Ben Tom knew that was out of the question. Penny might allow it for one night, but no longer. She would not abide Trez’s smoking or drinking. He knew every piece of property he owned, real and personal. He closed his eyes and mentally scanned each location for empty space. Nothing.
When he opened his eyes, his gaze came to rest on the fish trailer that sat in the corner of the pasture under some bois d’arcs and locusts. He had just bought it for more storage. One heck of a buy. It had been part of a tractor-trailer rig used to haul fish and of course, had been refrigerated when it was used. He could probably convert the cooling unit to air conditioning, put in a portable stove, bring in an outhouse.
Trez was not impressed with what he saw. Ribbed steel two inches above floor level ran the length of the trailer a foot apart, making it difficult, if not impossible to walk. “There ain’t no windows.”
“Not a problem. I’ll cut some.”
“I can’t walk on that floor.”
“I got lotsa plywood. Let me feed this mare and we’ll get started.”
By late afternoon, Ben Tom had the trailer floor covered in plywood and a half bed he had taken from one of his buildings sat on it. A folding lawn chair sat between an old bedside table and a fifties-era coffee table with a glass top. The mattress was decked out with sheets, blankets and pillows. An antique armoire from Ben Tom’s collection stood at the back of the trailer, near the folding cargo door.
Trez raised his shoulders as if he hurt. “Let’s take a break.”
“Break from what? I ain’t seen you lift a hand.”
“I’m tired from watching you work. You know I would help if I was able.
Under the oaks with iced tea, Trez seemed troubled. “This is just temporary, you know, till I can get my utilities turned back on.”
“And what about back taxes?”
“Figured you might see your way clear to a loan. That way, I can get out of your hair and move back home.”
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.