The flash fiction piece, “Coiled Silence” was published in Fall Lines Volume II in 2015. For a period of our lives, Terrye and I shared a duplex with her sister, Deborah, in West Columbia. This story derives from those years spent in WECO. They were good years but also ones with plenty of heartbreak. Deborah passed away from complications from melanoma at our shared duplex with Terrye at her side. Don’t get us started about health care in America. Honestly, I credit the publication of this piece on the advice and help I received from the incredible journalist, short story writer, and poet, Mike Miller. Also, my writing group improved this story before I hit the submit button. Thanks for checking it out. I dedicate this story for those who struggle each day for food and shelter and to the memory of Deborah.
You can hear it sputtering, the old mower that Plug muscles up the hills and around the yards of the rental properties. Duke is pulling weeds but not fast enough for Plug.
“Hurry up, dummy,” Plug yells.
“Shut the fuck up, Plug,” Duke responds.
Mrs. Cotton, the landlady, pays slave wages to Plug and Duke for the occasional job. She has them by the short hairs and knows it.
Wielding a knife, Duke is bald and shirtless with studded and stretched nipples that hang downward. Not a good look. He cuts around the perimeter of the crabgrass then plunges the knife deep and pulls up the floret and root and flips it toward the street. It falls short.
“Nice going, dummy,” Plug yells.
Trucks from the chicken-plucking plant whoosh by drowning out Duke’s reply. From cages, feathers spew and float down to earth creating a distinctive West Columbia ground cover. Later, chicken plant workers trancing from their “don’t ever think about it” shifts will toss in hairnets to accentuate the feathery landscape.
Plug, a master electrician, and Duke, his sidekick, have looked for electrical work for months. They exist in a 400 square foot apartment about 75 feet from my kitchen door. Plug beds down on the kitchen floor and Duke sleeps on a blow-up mattress in the front room. Though they depend on staples from the food bank to survive, they share some of what they don’t like. Since the night Plug sliced off a hairy mole from the side of his forehead, he looks done. Around here, people struggle and lose. Many have been booted to the streets by sweet Mrs. Cotton.
Out my back door in a house to the left lives my neighbor, Crash Test. He and his old lady navigate life on a whiny moped. He earned his name by smashing into the back of a stalled Lincoln. Working a few hours at a grocery store, he pilfers a smidge. A week ago, he brought over a pack of frozen Cajun Boudin sausages. I didn’t ask how he got them.
Even though we have enough to eat, I took them and thanked him. The next day I slipped them to Plug and Duke.
At night, you hear Homer across the street peeling back the kudzu and trampling on the weeds to bed down. He leaves less litter than the college brats who race by in their SUVs and toss out takeaway cartons. A year ago Homer lived under the bridge on the big-city side of the river but was driven across to our side when the half-a-million dollar townhouses were built. There are still a few units available.
None of us have much strength left. Maybe we are at the point where the arch doesn’t curve back to fair anymore. This was an intentional beat down. Many of us sunk below the bottom and most will never find a way up. You can hear it. A coiled silence before the anger erupts.