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American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud

By Barrie Darke

Warwick's sandy hair matted and darkened in the drizzle as he waited outside the jumping joint. It was Saturday night; God alone knew what would happen.

His mom and daddy were inside, had been for hours, and would be for hours to come. He was old enough to go inside and drink himself ludicrous, at least in physical years, but some people didn't like to see it, would be moved to have a quiet word, and that could bring about trouble. Anyway, he didn't like the taste of liquor, or the smoke, or the noise, or so many people pumped into one tumbledown shithole of a place. He was happier waiting outside, even in the wintry rain. Some people talked to him as they went in – and some even came out to talk to him, when they'd gotten drunk enough – but others stepped round him as though it was catching. He didn't mind not being talked to. The ones who came out didn't make a whole lot of sense anyway, even he could tell that.

Boredom wasn't a sensation he ever felt. There were always things to think about, wonder about. Why there had to be tracks, stuff like that. He'd thought about these things many times before but then forgotten them, so the world stayed fresh to him; and a bit of peace was always to be cherished. He measured the time by how often he had a full helmet of piss to empty over in the trees. Twice was about the usual for Saturdays, and twice it was that night.

They came out when the thick of everyone else did. As usual, there was a moment of panic when his mind wouldn't allow him to recognize them, but then they separated themselves from the heave and came to get him. Daddy flicked a hand, impatient, hurrying him over. The walk home was like having to eat your greens or something.

It took fifteen minutes, stretched by each of them having to scoot into the trees at least once to empty their helmets. Both insisted that the others not walk on while they were about their business: it was civilized to wait, for them not to have to run in the dark to catch up. While they waited, Warwick asked them in turn if they'd had a good time in the jumping joint. They always shrugged.

The fight usually began halfway along the walk. It was like they took it in turns to be unhappy with the way people in the joint had been spoken to or looked at or maybe even thought about.Sometimes it was even less of a thing than that – once daddy had kicked a pebble into the field and his mom hadn't liked that one bit. It would get down to the way the wind blew, the angle of a branch leaning into the road, one day. There might be a shove, a kicked hip as they walked, but the real commotion could wait till they were indoors. Warwick trudged upstairs. The cows in the barn must've heard the yells, the grunts, the metallic cracks and whangs, and accepted them as part of the world that never changed: trees and distant hills rather than sleet and fallen leaves.

That night he was hungry – he took a lot of feeding, and it took a lot to put him off his feed – and rather than wait the hours it could take for them to go to bed, he snuck down for some biscuits in gravy. Daddy had his mom in a headlock. She had his shirt rucked up to his shoulders and was slapping his back with the flat of her meaty hand. The noise of it was splashy, incredible. His back was scorched red every inch. Warwick took the food unnoticed, and returned to bed, remembering to sit up while he ate. He fell asleep to the sound of furniture being scraped in front of running feet.

They never included him in their fights, and he wondered if this had anything to do with the slabbed muscles on his sloping back. As a child, one of the reasons he'd been stopped from playing with the other kids, even the older ones, was his tendency to pick them up and throw them into walls. He sometimes wondered now if he could stop it, just go down and get in between them. The trouble was, he'd get hit a few times before they calmed down, if they ever did, and that would make him cry. He hated to cry worse than anything else. So when they fought during the day and the weather was fine, he took himself outside when it started. (He'd once seen a neighbor out there, standing round, not doing much. When Warwick looked at him, the neighbor had shrugged and said, 'Radio broke.') When the weather was bad, he went up to his room. Currently it was November, every last bit of it.

Another fight came along on Tuesday evening. This was a danger spot in the week, Tuesday evening. He had no idea why, and doubted he would get anywhere by asking them about it on Tuesday afternoon.

This one was over some burnt onions. His mom started it at the table. 'I can see you lookin at it,' she said to daddy. 'You think I can't see that? You ain't foolin no-one.'

'I ain't lookin at nothin cept your flappin hole,' daddy said.

'Horseshit. You was lookin at it. It ain't nothin but a burnt edge, ya lousy bastard.'

'I ain't even noticed no burnt edge, woman.'

'You were lookin at it.'

'Well I'm sure as shit lookin at it now.'

'Don't look at it, ya miserable asshole, eat it.'

He looked at her. 'Think I'm about to eat this pile of burnt shit?'

She threw her plate at him, spun it into his creased forehead. He reached over to twist her nose. Warwick lifted his plate off the sluicing table and climbed the stairs with it. He sat on his bed, trying not to listen to the crockery erupting down below. For the most part, he succeeded. Mom was a good cook, he supposed he had to say, even if she was the only one he'd ever known. His onions weren't particularly burnt, he couldn't help noticing.

Downstairs there was a silence, the silence of struggle, broken by an impact here and there as one of them met the wall. But then there was a different kind of silence, a sudden one, after an effortful, clench-jawed shriek from his mom. A silence like sitting in a tree after a thunderclap. Sobbing followed it.

That made him put his plate on the bed and go back down, food unchewed and forgotten in his mouth. His mom was the one sobbing, another thing guaranteed to bring tears to his face as well. They were on their way, he could feel them in the back of his throat and nose, when the sight of daddy stopped them. He was having a rest on the floor, his head in a tiny lake of blood.

Warwick had never understood love, not that it came up much anyway. Death did, but was even more of a fuzzy concept. In his early years, when a favored animal died, there had been an attempt to explain it to him – it hadn't just strolled off, it wasn't sleeping, it was in the sky, it was on plates – but they stopped bothering with that thankless task. His idea was that things and people went off to have a rest after they'd been ill or in an accident. (He himself went to bed to stop being ill, and had done the same that time he'd been knocked out of the tree.) He waited for these things and people to return to his field of vision, and when they didn't, he soon forgot about them.

So Daddy was just having a rest in a box in the ground. A serious accident like this one would do that to you, Warwick supposed. The sheriff came to the place a few times to have the accident's nature explained to him, though mostly what his mom ended up explaining was how much Warwick needed her now there was no one else. After a few visits, the sheriff finally understood this and stopped coming.

There was what they called a funeral, which the family came to, those once-a-year people. A few of them, at different times that afternoon, asked Warwick if he'd like to go and live at their places instead, and he replied that he wouldn't really like that very much at all. They laughed and tried again, but his mom usually stepped in front of those conversations before they could get much farther along. He wasn't the center of attention anyway. There were tears, and some yelling, though nothing like the tumult that had gone on before. Warwick wondered if his daddy wasn't having an occasional shout down there in the box. All the worms and moles burrowing away somewhere quieter.

Nights passed, mornings. Afternoons seemed the longest, even though it got dark early. Every time Warwick came downstairs in the morning, he expected to see daddy back in his chair, breakfast well underway. Instead, his mom followed him down a short time later. Mostly she sat around. She would start work, then drift off and not finish it. Sometimes they even missed a meal and he had to remind her. The place gathered a dirty look to it. His mom seemed not so much sad as … something else that was like sad.

What to do, of course, was clear, even to him. One night, he got up, dressed warmly, and fetched the shovel.

The ground was frozen, but he had his prodigious muscles and the whole long night to use them. He thoroughly enjoyed the work, even when it drew hacking visible breath from him. He heard voices now and again in the distance, and thought about calling for some help, but they sounded drunk to him after he listened a bit harder. Drunks were no good at working. He kept track of the moon, playing peek-a-boo with him as it toured the cloudy sky.

After all that work – he filled the hole in again, since daddy wasn't going back in there, not if Warwick had any say in it – he had to make one more effort. Daddy, understandably, was so cold he couldn't move, had gone beyond even shivering. Warwick had to haul him back to the house. Even inside, there was no time for sitting around getting his breath back. His mom would be out of bed shortly.

Daddy was sat in his usual chair. Warwick admitted it wasn't too pretty a sight, not this early in the morning. He was wearing only a shawl, and a stained shawl, to make things worse. His mouth was open and down turned, his eyes were closed – they'd been stuck down, probably to make sure he got a good rest – and his skin was the wrong color. The thought spun round to dress him in his old familiar work clothes, but that would mean seeing him naked, however briefly, and that couldn't happen.

'Try smilin?' Warwick suggested.

Daddy paid him no mind. His ears might be frozen, or maybe plugged with dirt. Warwick found a pencil in the spares drawer, and had a timid dig in each. Not much of anything came out.

'Smile a bit now?' he tried, still to no response.

That mouth was no good. No one would want to come down and see a mouth like that. He took some string from the same drawer and hooked it round daddy's head, cutting it in at near enough the right angle for a smile. It was hard to remember what his smiles looked like anyway. With another piece of string he tried to attach a hand to the fireplace, so it would look like he was waving a greeting, but this couldn't be made to work. The arm kept clumping down, causing an unpleasant rightward list in the body.

Warwick sat him up straight again, but something had shifted permanently, there was a lean whatever he tried. So he thought he would distract attention from that by bringing in the dinner tray, and putting a glass of milk and a few slices of dried bread on it. There was a slight slope in the milk, but it didn't spill. That looked a lot better.

As for the skin color, all he could think of was pulling the drapes and lighting the candles. They made skin glow. He wasn't allowed to light the candles, of course, but he thought he could get away with it this time. And it was a slight improvement, he was pleased to see.

After that, all daddy needed was a few smoothdowns of unruly hair, then Warwick could sit where he'd be able to see his mom's face when she came through the door. He had no problem smiling himself.

She was down five minutes later. 'Mornin, boy,' she said in her new thin voice. She gave him a quick glance, to make sure – as she sometimes said – he wasn't eating glass or anything. Warwick saw her blink, as though she had something in her eye. She turned her sleepy head back to them.

The squalling she set up made him wince with his whole body. She fell backwards in a straight line, landing with her shoulders over the threshold of the room.

He sat forward, laughing, and waited for her to jump up and start the hugging. After a minute of waiting, Warwick called out for her, told her to hurry up, come on. There was no reply, or maybe a tiny moan. He thought he should help her. She didn't seem capable of it herself, that was for certain.

There was stiffness in her all of a sudden, but he heaved her up and folded her into the chair facing daddy. She wasn't moving any part of her, except the eyes. They scampered round their sockets like friendly dogs, to and from daddy, and bugging out a little when they found Warwick.

He sat down between the two of them. 'Go on now,' he said. 'Talk to each other.'

For whatever reason, they wouldn't. Warwick knew they didn't always like talking in front of him, so although he was still waiting for his hug, or at least a pat on the back, he got up and left them to it.

He only went as far, however, as the other side of the door. Still no sounds. They could've been whispering, but he doubted it. He'd never heard them whispering in his life. He was especially disappointed in his mom. Daddy was bound to be having difficulties, but this was his first morning back, he didn't see why she should be in a bad mood.

After a few minutes of listening to nothing, he went back in. Mom stared at him, and it wasn't a loving look. Her mouth was trying to do its job, but she couldn't settle on what to say. He tried to nudge her along with words of his own, like thankyou and you'reagoodson, but it was useless, so he sat back and shut up. All this effort made him realize he'd missed a night's sleep. He said good night, and hit his bed so hard he almost broke it.

It was back to dark when he woke. He listened, quite forlornly for a while, then quite angrily. He almost never got angry, but this would manage it – people not doing what they should to stop a problem. He went downstairs to see no one had moved. The bread and milk were still on daddy's tray. Warwick took a couple of slices and drank the milk in one swallow, but there were more important things than his belly to think about.

He tried asking them nicely to talk, saying it could be about anything – the farm, the cold, himself even. It didn't work, so he tried shouting at them both, daddy for not being glad to be back, his mom for not being glad to see him. Then he tried threatening, then he was forced to carry through on his threat. He picked his mom up, kicked the front door open, and set her down on the ground, not even facing the house. Maybe if she spent a night in the cold she would have some appreciation of what it was like for daddy to sit there and be ignored by her. He shut the door and put a chair against it.

He brought out more bread, and to complement it, he found some whiskey. That should've occurred to him earlier, since they said it was supposed to warm you up. Daddy was still struggling to move. Warwick removed the string from his head and poured mouthfuls down his throat. He took a few sips himself, behind daddy's back. The taste was foul, but he decided he would persevere with it. There was no milk left, and he couldn't be bothered to go out for water.

In the small hours, when the bottle was empty, he gave daddy a slap across the face. He put most of his aching muscles into it. Daddy's head cracked to one side, and stayed there. Warwick took a few unsteady kicks at his legs, eventually causing him to twist and then roll off the chair onto the floor with his arms and legs at unusual angles. In a while, Warwick picked daddy up, saying sorry, and dumped him back on the chair any old how. He was sick in the kitchen, then fell asleep on the floor.

At first light, he woke. He lay there for a few minutes before he remembered his mom was still outside. She hadn't moved an inch, which was good, showed she was thinking about what she'd done wrong; she evidently wanted to stay out there for more thought, but he thought that was enough, so dragged her back in, his head sore as he bent and strained. There was frost in her hair that splintered when prodded. He was glad to see calm in her eyes. It looked like she'd learnt a thing or two in the night.

Warwick sat them facing each other again, then weaved into the kitchen. He intended to cook a full breakfast, see if a bit of the normal routine would get them back on friendly terms. He'd never cooked before, but this would be a good time to try.

Soon, the nearby trees had their thaw lashed from them.

dead lizard

© Barrie Darke 2012