April 23, 2012
Curious old days.

I’ve never known a man whose killed someone: Uncle Charlie is the only one. His voice was calm when he called to say that he shot the couple. He spoke with the same reassuring yet solemn tone that he had spoken to me with since I was a kid. “Sean, there’s something I want you to do,” he said.

I muted the TV to listen and when he hung up I called the police like how he asked me too. I remember the exact date, November 4th, 1980. Ronald Regan was giving his victory speech on the screen. I was just 25 that night.

Uncle Charlie lived about nine miles down highway five from where Margaret and I had bought our new home in the suburbs. Uncle Charlie’s place was along the old delta road, alone, on an estate next to the orange groves that Margaret’s grandparents had left him. He was part of the old line.

There use to be a lot of families living along the old delta road before everyone grew up and left for the suburbs and cities. People like Margaret’s grandparents and Uncle Charlie stayed with the land by the river. Some of the people around said that there was money left in that house and that was why.

Margaret was at work so I left a note on the drawer by the door saying I was going to Jimmy’s for a drink and drove to that old decaying house.

I turned the car off the levee and onto the slim dirt path that led up to it. A green Honda, with its front end tipped forward into the ravine, was abandoned. I remember staring at the car with a sense of amazement as though it were there but not real.

Uncle sat on the porch steps with his rifle slung across his shoulder as the headlights across the front of the house. He was smoking a cigarette, pinched between his thumb and forefinger, inhaling it down to the filter before snuffing it out under his black rainboots.

“Sean,” he said as I got out of the car and walked towards him. He did get not off the steps.

Two years had passed since I last saw Uncle Charlie. His face had become even more wrinkled. It was more pale, not as ruddy, and his pock-marked cheeks stood out more than they ever had.

I nodded and zipped my jacket up to my chin. The sun had set and the delta winds were beginning to pick up through the willow branches and oak trees.

“On the back of the pick-up. By the shed,” he said. He reached into his breast pocket and took out another cigarette and lit with it a matchstick cupped inside his palms.

The shed was about 20 meters to the side of the house, on the edge of where the orange grooves began. It was where Grandma Dupont slaughtered the chickens for Sunday dinner and during the summers, where we kept our dirtbikes. Uncle’s red Chevy, with a blue tarp draped like a picnic cloth across the rear bed of the truck, now parked in front of it. A pair of high heels and man shoes peeked out from underneath the tarp. They were pointed down and the edge of the tailgate was slick with something.

I stood where I was between the back of the pick-up and the porch and didn’t say a word.

“I was just curious,” Uncle Charlie said. “I saw the lights coming up the road and just got my rifle. The boy…he dropped just like that. Like some rope gone slack.”

“Why did you call me?”

“I want you to forgive me,” he said.

“And what about those people? How would they answer.” I said.

“I guess I didn’t think about that,” he said. He lit another cigarette and motioned at the truck. “Go on, look under it. Go on. Don’t you want to know too?”

I held my breath and continued standing there. “No.”

I sat down next to him and he gave me a cigarette. I let the nicotine fill my mouth before I let it in and felt the familiar tingling sensation at my finger tips. We sat in silence and watched the lights of the police and ambulance flash down the levee road, their sirens shrieking towards us.

I stood up and walked away from him, still immobile on the porch, as they got closer. He looked content, his jaw slack and relaxed, but regretful I wanted to think, under shadow of the porch lamp. I remember the police cars, their red, blue and white lights casting all across the dirt, grass and wooden planks of the house. Uncle Charlie smiled as if he had just answered some eternal question and realized that the answer was simple and not as meaningful as he imagined. And the faces of the police in their cars, like they were all staring into the center of a fireplace in the winter, wanting to toss whatever they could into it just to see how the ashes formed.  

  1. commutingstories posted this