“I can’t tell you I love you enough,” he said to his wife, the taste of blood in his mouth. This was Coach. He said it to her in the parking lot outside The Paradise Lounge. This was the Darlington 500 race weekend. Coach was drunk. He saw a man. He threw the first punch. Emptied the bar. “When a man loves a woman,” he said to her, wiping the blood away.
I have a witness. Billie Jean was there. We had been Coach’s students in high school. I was that faceless kid who sat beside someone like you. But a face empty of expression isn’t the same as an empty heart. No self-pity here. Fact is, when you’re a man without a face, you witness a lot that others miss. You become Vapor.
My mother didn’t know I was watching.
My dad blew himself into tiny red specks lighting the gas grill he’d invented. I was a witness.
One thing I didn’t see was the dead animal under the house in August here in Darlington when I was a kid. Could have been a dog. Big one. Maybe a fat possum. I never saw it. The dead thing was stewing under the kitchen. Outside, the temperature was 105 degrees. Our air conditioner quit. Inside, everybody’s eyes watered. Except mine.
This was summer in the South. Power overloads. Air conditioners blowing like cheerleaders at spring break.
I’m not much with the social graces. My mother was right about that.
She said other things too, that I’ve never repeated. My mother had an affair with the air conditioning guy. She didn’t think I’d see. She didn’t think I’d tell. I’m not sure who removed the dead possum or whatever from under the house. But when the detective found the air conditioning guy buried under there a few weeks later, it was a cop, a big fat one with a face almost as expressionless as mine, who pulled the guy out. Stuffing the A/C guy into a body bag must have been like trying to put the Pillsbury biscuits back into the can. “He swole. He swole bad,” the big cop kept saying as he sopped his face with a sweat rag. He hooked a rope to the trailer hitch of the Crime Unit’s Jeep. When Mr. Temperature Control came flying from under the house, I thought of Santa’s sleigh. It was between the arraignment and the trial, when my dad was out on bail, that the exploding gas grill event occurred.
I can’t cry.
I drink bourbon. My dad drank bourbon. Coach drank bourbon. My mother drank gin. When I smell green pine needles or juniper, I always think of her. And about some of the things she said.
I miss my dad, the way he looked at me. We all miss Coach. And his wife, B.B.