My phone vibrated so hard it fell off the night stand. I rolled over and let my arm slide from around Mara’s waist. Cursing, I reached blindly for the phone. When I finally felt the slick hard plastic rectangle, I realized it wasn’t my work phone. That one has a heavy-duty rubber case on the off chance I drop it when I’m climbing out of my tow truck. It was my personal phone that was currently dancing across the floor.
I picked it up and stared at the glowing name on the screen.
“Fuck.” I whispered. Mara let out a soft groan then turned over on her belly. I knew she’d let out a hellacious fart in about five seconds. It’s funny the things you learn when lust turns to love and you find yourself with the same person for ten years, the last five spent as husband and wife.
I touched the screen.
“It’s three in the morning. “ I said.
“Hey brother. Glad to see you can still tell time. I’m in a little bit of a situation here. I was wondering if I could get you to come pull me out of the swamp. I ran off the road near the West River bridge,” Sugar said. His deep radio DJ voice slithered over the airwaves like a snake coated in honey.
I didn’t respond. Not at first.
My brother’s given name is Samuel but my Mama called him Sugar Son because she said he was her miracle baby and he was just so damn sweet. Born eight years after me. Eight years after the doctor told her she couldn’t have any more children. Her miracle boy. The sweetest little boy who ever lived. And just like overripe fruit he spoiled quick as a hiccup.
I was just a regular baby. Nothing special about me.
“You always in a situation Sugar.” I said finally. Now it was his turn to be quiet. If his rage was a fire I could have seen the first plumes of smoke.
“I’m in a bind here man. And you just happen to have a fucking tow truck. You can’t help your brother? Mama always said we supposed to look out for each other. “ Sugar said.
Our mama did indeed say that. But anybody worth asking would have told you that road only went one way. But he was my brother.
Anyway, the sooner I got him out the weeds the sooner he could disappear again.
I got up , kissed Mara on the forehead and climbed in my tow truck. I turned onto Rt .624 and headed for West End River bridge. The “river” was more like a deep-ass creek and the bridge was only twenty feet long. Just a little concrete spit of a thing to get you from one side of the creek to other. It was so narrow two cars couldn’t pass on it. If you saw somebody coming you gotta pull over and let them go by. If you’re inclined to be nice. My brother Sugar never pulled over.
My Mama saw things in Sugar that weren’t there. Illusions and hallucinations that she embraced instead of seeing him for who he really was. Sugar wasn’t the kind of kid to pull the wings off of flies. He was the kind of kid that would collect grasshoppers in a coffee can then put the can over a fire and watch them try to hop out.
Then crush the ones that escaped.
My Mama might have seen him as an angel but our Daddy knew he had a devil in him and a hornet’s nest where his heart was supposed to be. Mama coddled him. In my mama’s eyes Sugar could do no wrong. Every girl who said he beat her had lied on him and ever boy who he whupped was jealous of him. The funny thing was the boys probably were jealous of him. As we both grew he got more and more handsome on the outside even as he got more and more rancid on the inside. Sugar never picked up a dumbbell in his whole life but he had a six pack when he was fifteen. He was the best of my mama’s café au lait Indian and black family tree and my daddy’s ebony nightshade Virginia country DNA.
I turned down Stamper’s Creek Rd. Red Hill was a small county that rolled up the sidewalks in town when it got dark. This time of night in this part of the county the only people I encountered on the road were ghosts.
My daddy didn’t let Sugar slide one inch because our mama had already him a mile. As Sugar got bigger and Daddy older they seemed to circle around each other like two rabid lions.
When I was around 25 and Sugar was 17 he got mad because Mama didn’t have enough money to pay for his prom tux and Daddy wouldn’t give him the rest because he had just bailed him out of the jail the week before for trying to burn down Linwood Lester’s shed. Why had Sugar tried to burn down the shed? Same reason he did most things. Because he wanted to. I was living in a trailer with Mara by then out near the soon to be closed ice plant. So I wasn’t there to see what happened but from what little Mama told me Sugar had gotten that look and when she said no again with tears in her eyes , that she just didn’t have the money and Daddy wasn’t gonna ask for an advance from his boss at the paper mill Sugar backhanded her so hard it sound like a rifle shot.
When Mama told me the story she swore it was an accident.
Daddy got up from the table where he was eating his dinner . He went to the closet and pulled out an axe handle. A good hickory handle he said he was gonna fix with a new axe head one day, and proceeded to beat the everlovin shit out of Sugar. He kicked him out and told him don’t ever come back.
Two weeks later my Daddy got locked in his work shed behind the house with a beehive the size of a basketball. My daddy was deathly allergic to bees.
I’d been in that shed a week earlier and I hadn’t seen no hive but my mama swore on a stack of bibles ten feet tall that she had asked my Daddy to get rid of the bee hive weeks earlier.
Sugar faded for awhile after that. I didn’t see him for four years. You know how water takes the shape of whatever you pour it in? Sugar’s like that. He just twist himself into whatever shape suits him best. The next time I saw him he was driving an Escalade and working for Luther Barnes out of Norfolk.
“What you do for him?” I asked him once.
“I’m a garbage man.” He said flashing me a pearl-white smile. I figured he’d finally found a use for that wicked storm that live inside him. Whenever I saw a murder on the news that was suspected of being drug-related out in the city that was especially horrific or brutal I always thought of Sugar and them grasshoppers.
My headlights illuminated him like some ethereal being as I came down to where the road narrows at West End river bridge. An old big body Bonneville, banana-yellow, had slid off the side the road. The front and rear passenger tires were up to the middle of their hubcaps in the muck. I stopped the truck and killed the engine.
When I climbed out Sugar came strutting on over and gave me a hug. It felt like something he thought he should do not something he wanted to do.
“Johnny Boy. You a life saver, brother. “
“Hey Sugar. “ I said. I was taller than him but he was still built like an African god cut from obsidian with light greenish eyes that shined like chips of peridot.
“What you doing in town?” I asked. He smiled at me. It made my belly feel like a mouse had run across it. He didn’t speak for a long time.
“How long you think it’s gonna take to get me out?” he said finally.
I latched a hook on the frame of the Bonneville just behind the rear bumper. As I worked the winch, Sugar played with his phone. The Bonneville was a big old piece of American muscle. Despite the mud and sludge, I could see it had been well-cared for. It was heavy as hell so I pushed the hydraulic switch a little harder than I intended. The car lurched out of the mud like a demon released from the Pit. The rear wheels came up then slammed back down on the asphalt.
The trunk popped open but the car was free. I started for it to unlatch the hook but Sugar cut me off.
“Let me close the trunk, “ he said. The look was there in his eyes. It wasn’t evil or scary. It was the absence of. . . anything. A blankness that seemed to stare through you.
But I’d seen. I’d seen what was in the trunk.
A blue tarp wrapped around two forms. One had a large pair of brown Timberland boots on their feet.
The other form was smaller. The feet were tiny, clad in sneakers. Pink sneakers with a floral print. The light in the trunk was painfully bright.
“Why are you in town? Who the fuck is that, Sugar?” I said.
“You don’t wanna know. In fact, you gonna forget this. All of it. “ he said. He stepped closer to me and I could almost smell the crazy coming off of him like the stench of a dog that’s crawled under the porch to die.
“I don’t wanna come see you and Mara one night Johnny Boy.” He said and I know without a shadow of a doubt he meant every word he was saying. I took a deep breath.
“Close the trunk and unlatch the hook.” I said finally. He went over to the car and slammed the trunk down. He dropped to his knees to undo the hook.
I grabbed a yellow tie-down strap off the back of my truck. The strap itself wasn’t very wide. About the width of a ruler you used in school, but they were unbelievably strong.
Sugar unlatched the hook but before he could stand up to his full height I looped the strap around his neck and pulled it tight. He tried to buck loose but I fell back against the blacktop and pulled it the strap even tighter. He scratched at my hands but my oil-stained work gloves gave him no purchase. He kicked his feet and scuffed his Gucci loafers against the road.
I closed my eyes and saw my Daddy’s face float up out the darkness.
I thought of him in that shed as the opening in his throat winnowed down to the size of the eye of a needle.
I thought of that man in the trunk and what he must have felt watching Sugar do whatever it was he’d done to his daughter because I sure as shit knew he did her first.
I held on until I he stopped kicking. Then I held on a little while longer.
I popped the trunk and put Sugar inside on top of the tarp. I shut it, hooked it up to my truck and drove to Burkes Mill Pond. I pushed the car down the embankment. I watched it sink until the bubbles stopped breaking the surface. Burkes Mill Pond is really an empty quarry. People say no one really knows how far it is to the bottom.
I hope it’s deep as they say.
God let it be deep.
He resides in southeastern Virginia.