The viewing was scheduled on a Friday morning, burial shortly after followed by luncheon at a flashy church. Movies and TV taught me everything about funerals. Rosaries and twenty-one gun salutes. Victorian riding hats with netted veils. Widows sucking smoke from long cigarillo holders like exhaust pipes.
Even in all my wisdom, Mother made me attend anyway. Hindsight understands my adolescent denial.
He'd pick me up on Saturday mornings, which made for restless Friday nights. Yet somehow I was never sleepy when I heard his old Ford pickup coming up the street. The split vinyl upholstery smelled like cigarettes and fast food, and reeling the windows down didn't help. A plastic case full of ashtray runaways and worn cassette tapes (some glued together with spattered soda) sat between us. He called it a soundtrack from the "cocaine days of rock and roll". I always felt like an adult when talked like that. Mother wouldn't even let me watch rated R movies.
Fingering through the tapes, I'd ask: Did you know Dave Mustaine from Megadeth was one of the original members of Metallica?
Or: Iggy Pop's first high school band was called The Iguanas. That's where he got his name.
He'd say something about always wanting to have a rock and roll documentary riding shotgun. His smile hid the sarcasm.
Sometimes he would take me downtown to the basketball courts or to a matinee. Swimming down at the YMCA. But most of the time we just hung out at his place. His girlfriend, Sarah, would make us toast with cinnamon and sugar. Most visits, he'd work on his truck while I threw a ball for their dog, a collie named Fray. Sometimes I helped by fetching him things.
Sockets and wrenches.
Greasy, worn-out hand tools.
Cold beer from the fridge in the garage.
I'd ask him about souped-up engines and turbo chargers. His truck could be fast, like in the movies. He'd tease and tell me the "old clunker" would fall apart if it went any faster. Still, I always asked because he'd let me help more when I did.
What TV doesn't tell you about is the sunburn. White gloves on boiled fingers. Hours spent draining body-length blisters before the viewing. Summer sun on the pavement--imagine a peach on asphalt that steals your shoeprint.
They replaced a chunk in the back of his skull for aesthetics during the viewing, something similar to replacing a divot during a game of golf.
One time we took Fray to the park to chase squirrels. He lounged on his back beneath a shade tree and smoked a cigarette. A woman trotted by on the sidewalk, blood-blonde hair pulled back and tucked beneath her walkman's headphones. Tight spandex jogging suit with matching tennis shoes. She was older than me, maybe a high-schooler.
He said something like: Pretty girl.
Which startled me. I didn't answer but looked away, pretending to watch something else. Fray wrestled with a large stick--apparently the Heavy Weight Champion of the stick world.
He asked if there were any girls that I liked.
Me: Like, like?
Him: Yes like, like (lazy smirk on his face).
Me: Nah. Girls at school just like the older boys. And I look young for my age.
He said: I think you look your age. Maybe a little older.
He brushed his cigarette out against the elm and told me: The problem is that you grew up watching twenty-somethings playing teenagers on TV. Of course you think you look young.
Me: So what? Girls are weird anyway.
He laughed and said my feelings would change. That soon girls would be the only thing I cared about. I'd fall in love and have a whole new reason to be alive.
I asked: Like you and Sarah?
After a moment he asked: How would you feel if me and Sarah got married?
Me: So she'd be kinda like my big sister?
Him: Yep, that's what they mean when they say sister-in-law.
Me: That'd be awesome! I bet mom's always wanted a daughter…
His interruption: Mom doesn't know. We don't exactly see eye-to-eye these days.
Me: Why not? She asks about you all the time.
(Lighting another cigarette) he said something like: Hey, what's Fray got over there?
The gun was a .357 Magnum: 5-round revolver with a 2-1/4 inch barrel. They say he bought it at a pawn shop earlier that week. The bullet, a .38 Special, 125-grain jacketed hollow-point. Standard ammunition you can pick up at Walmart.
He was supposed to come get me every weekend that summer but he skipped some in August. After running over Fray with his truck.
Saturday mornings spent sitting on the curb, fading with every loud muffler.
Hindsight understands Mother's hideous reaction.
When we did get together he'd sit on the hand-me-down couch drinking beer; maybe at the fold-out kitchen table. Or on the front porch with bloated garbage bags full of abandoned beer cans. Watching cars drive by and drinking from liquor bottles that smelled like charcoal and rubbing alcohol.
He didn't sugarcoat my toast like Sarah. His place felt hollow without her frilly decor. Flowery paintings and ceramic doodads replaced with empty walls and blank shelves. He'd tell me to watch TV (if you twisted the foil-wrapped antennae to just the right angle, you could pick up channel seven).
One night I walked in on him in the bathroom. He sat on the dirty linoleum floor, bottle nearby. His eyes were soggy and red.
Me: It wasn't your fault. Everyone knows that all dogs go to heaven.
Him: Heaven? What are you talking about, heaven? I'll be out in a minute.
He slammed the door and sent me away to whimper. Our favorite professional wrestling show started at nine, the one we almost always watched together.
Another thing TV doesn't tell you is how much recoil a snub-nose revolver actually has. The jaw shatters when one is fired inside someone's mouth. Considering that those particular bullets had 248 pounds-per-foot of muzzle energy, a velocity of 945 feet-per-second--it's useless to search for every shard of tooth.
That last weekend we hung out, he couldn't pick me up because the Ford was broken down so he met me at a bus stop down the street from his place. His orange shirt (orange like saltwater taffy) looked stained and wrinkled--more so than usual.
His breath smelled like mouthwash; his sweat like liquor.
He slept all afternoon while I meandered through a static whiteout looking for something to watch on TV. When he finally got up he made me find the phone so he could call Sarah. Their conversation was shorter than most television commercials. He crumpled the phone and said: Fuck! Teeth grinding behind his tense jaw. He didn't say anything for the rest of the night; he sat alone drowning cigarette butts in left-for-empty beer cans (some crushed like siblings).
At least he found channel seven in time for wrestling.
BIO: Austin has been a part of multiple workshops and writing classes; most notably Chuck Palahniuk's workshop, the Cult. You can find his work at Troubadour 21, the Outsider Writer’s Collective, and Pulp Metal Magazine. Austin studied poetry and creative fiction at the College of Southern Idaho, where he graduated in 2009.