Confusion is Nothing New

Amateur

Jesse slid his jean-clad ass off his Honda Nighthawk, pulled his helmet off, flicked sweaty strands of black hair away from his face. Not even night mitigated summer’s furnace. He was home, but there was no triumph, as he’d once hoped. His boots crunched on the gravel as he walked like a beaten cowboy.

On one side of his old yard grew a line of cedars, green and moist. He remembered how once, when he was five or six and had stayed up late watching one of the Alien flicks, he had lain in bed, shivering in the middle of a summer as relentlessly searing as this one, hearing the breeze stir the cedars, and thinking how much it sounded like a horde of creatures slithering around the house. And he remembered, with telling sharpness, the terror of feeling hollow and empty inside, all the living material that was the true essence of Jesse, scooped up and devoured by something implanted in him.

That was how he felt now.

The porchlight beaconed. The steps had been freshly painted, blue-gray. When he’d left a year ago they were peeling, revealing the old brick beneath. The air conditioner mounted in the den window still rattled, though; Jesse once tried to write a song using that rhythm of that rattle. The kitchen windows were bright but the curtains drawn. He could see a shape moving inside, but it wasn’t Mom. Hadn’t been for years.

The front door was unlocked. He banged through it. The TV blared from the den. He was peeling off his leather jacket when someone tackled him. He went tumbling against the wall.

“Jess, you bastard!” His father’s laughter was like classic rock–it had been repeated ten billion times, but Jesse had never grown tired of it. “That your bike I heard?”

“Yeah,” said Jesse, pinned between his father and the wall. It’d been two days since he’d showered last, and he was pungent, but his dad didn’t seem to mind. “About all I’ve got left.”

“No guitar?”

“Nah. Had to sell it to put gas in the Nighthawk.” Saying those words reopened the raw pain.

Dad nodded. He knew what the guitar meant to Jesse, and he knew he didn’t need to say anything more about it. “You’re home now. You’ve still got some shit, up in your room. I kept your clothes.” Dad released Jesse. “Dinner’ll be ready in about half an hour.” Old hunting pants, the camouflage mostly faded to khaki, hid behind an apron, of all things. Dad’s T shirt hadn’t seen too many washes, and it showed his body. His forearms looked as strong as ever.

“Since when did you start cooking?”

Dad laughed. “Get your ass in the den. You still drink?”

Jesse mostly smoked weed now, but though it grew in profusion in the hollows and valleys around here it was not permitted in this house. “Yeah. Corona?”

His Dad vanished into the kitchen. “Budweiser it is.” A frosty can came sailing out. Jesse caught it. Dad had said–not all the time, but enough–that Jesse should have been a pitcher, not a musician. Funny thing was, Jesse was actually a catcher. And a failed musician.

In the den was the biggest departure from remembered domestic normality. His sister, Justine. She sprawled on the faded couch, enormously pregnant. Though they had kept in touch while Jesse had been trying to make a go at it in the roadside bars and honky-tonks, she had not said anything about that.

Like Jesse, she sported their mother’s blue-black hair, and almost as abundantly as Jesse’s, which spilled low between his shoulder blades and hung like an obsidian visor in front of his eyes. Her eyes were Dad’s steely blue. She wore loose sweatpants and a pink shirt that rode high on her pregnant belly and low on her swollen breasts.

Bending down he pecked her on the cheek. She grinned at him, then winked. He took Dad’s recliner, said: “So. Anyone I know?”

“Yes,” she said. She picked up a catalog lying on the floor, dog-eared a page, and flung it to Jesse. “You like that for a bassinet?”

Jesse was used to her secretiveness, so he let the subject change without comment. He looked at her belly, then back to the catalog. “You think it’s big enough?”

“It’s big enough,” she said, laughing. She grabbed the remote. “You seen this new show on CMT?”

Home was always so easy because he knew the rhythms. He’d tried to make his own rhythms, craft songs that would take peoples minds away from their beers and banish, for a while, brooding thoughts. But other rhythms had prevailed, the kind of rhythm a young man learned from truck drivers eager to drive, and lonely cowboys to mount, and farmboys eager to plow a furrow. And Jesse had lost the beat.

Dad soon called for Jesse to set the table, and a few minutes after that they all sat down, just like the old times. Except for the empty chair opposite Dad’s. Dinner was steaming mashed potatoes, broccoli and cheese, hot rolls, and meat leaf. Dad fawned over Justine, encouraged her to eat more, told jokes to her, teased her about some of her exploits.

Just like the old times, Jesse found himself looking at his Dad. At Dad’s T shirt, and Gaziantep Otele Gelen Escort the big mounds Dad’s pecs made, and the aureoles of Dad’s big nipples. At Dad’s biceps, just too fucking big for the shirt. At tufts of dark hair curled above the neck, just like that trucker who had…

But it wasn’t good for Jesse to think like that. For, just like the old times, thoughts like that made him leak peckersnot. Unlike the old times, it was not into tighty whities, but into his oil-stained, sweaty jeans.

He could never forget that time, not matter how hard he tried, when he was thirteen, and he saw his Dad and his Mom one night slipping into their bedroom. Dad became a myth that night, because he knew real men couldn’t raise a tent that huge in their sweatpants. It could not have been real. It had to have been his imagination.

Dinner passed, and Jesse’s boner subsided, and the peckersnot dried to crusty insignificance before he had to stand and reveal his shame.

Justine handled the dishes, which wasn’t too hard since there was a new dishwasher. Dad tossed another Budweiser Jesse’s way as they went back into the den. Sternly, the TV extolled, in discrete yet masculine terms, the virtues of Viagra, before doffing the mask and slipping back into inanity.

“You didn’t even keep your guitar?” Dad asked, taking the recliner while Jesse got the couch. “That’s hard. You sweated bullets for that guitar.”

“It was hard,” said Jesse quietly.

“Listen,” Dad said. “Don’t worry about things right now. It’s bad, I know. Been there. But you’ve got nothing to worry about. You can work down at the shop. Still know how to use a wrench?”

“Yeah, I still remember.” Tension poured out of Jesse, and suddenly he felt his shoulders relax, and the awful knot that had been inside him suddenly loosen.

“It’s not easy, being a singer,” said Dad. “Your Mom tried to make her living that way, too. She would’ve made it, except for me.” His grin was wry this time. “But disappointment’s just a part of the game, and it’ll pass.”

Jesse nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He looked at his Dad, this time into his eyes. “Thanks.” There was an unexpectedly intimate moment, awkward, silent, somehow deeply reassuring.

“A lady with beer!” Dad cried suddenly. Justine, as she passed by, flung another Budweiser at Jesse. She settled on Dad’s lap, cracked open the can and held it to his lips. Grinning, Dad drank like a baby.

Justine relaxed against Dad briefly, shot an electric glance at her brother, then rose suddenly. With a shy smile she moved next to Jesse on the couch.

Stories began to unfurl, and things were caught up on. Jesse was overwhelmed with a sense of how easy a year’s absence from home could turn one into an alien. Justine and Dad rattled on about so-and-so screwing around with so-and-so’s wife, and about who was cheating down at the Fastest Quarter-Mile in the State! (exclamation point part of the county raceway’s trademark), and the price of gasoline, and who had come back from the war in a coffin and who had come back in a wheelchair.

Strange. These stories used to bore him senseless. Now, they were a gateway both into his memories and into the changed, transformed present. They were about people he’d known, eaten dinner with, fantasized about, but they had not had their lives smashed against the cold iceberg of fate. He realized that these people belonged, in a way he did not, in a way he felt he never had. What he wished, more than anything else, was to be on the inside, the way Dad and Justine were, the way he’d always wanted to be.

The end of the evening news and the long-chinned dawn of Jay Leno heralded bedtime. Justine had withdrawn earlier, complaining that her feet hurt her.

Dad stopped Jesse as he rose. “Listen. Let’s camp out tomorrow. Go up to Crockett’s Hollow. We got a lot of rain last week; the river’s high.”
“What about the shop?”

“Fuck the shop,” said Dad. This was the biggest change. Dad’s body shop was his life. Catching Jesse’s astonishment, he said: “I got a guy to run the place. He’s from New York, though he’s not an idiot. So I get a day off here and there.”

“All right, then,” said Jesse, slowly.

“That’s my boy.”

Upstairs, on the way to his old bedroom, he passed Justine’s room. The bed was made, and she wasn’t in it.

Jesse’s bedroom was unchanged, as if preserved in amber. Except that it was clean, and his sheets didn’t stink of the gallons of jism he’d blown during adolescence. And his clothes, the jeans and shirts that he’d left because they reminded him too much of home, were now neatly folded and precisely arranged in his dresser, almost as if Mom had placed them there.

He stripped. He opened some windows, to catch what little breeze stirred the night. He perched his left buttcheek on the sill, and looked out over the cedars. The tree-clad slopes above the house recalled the feeling of a hard-bodied hairy-legged stud who’d pulled Jesse’s face into his groin and muffled Jesse’s ears with his thighs. Home.

The memory of his Dad’s titanic hardon tenting his sweatpants was a blazing vision, so intense he could almost see Dad here, in this room. He waited and waited, wondering if he would hear that sound he used to hear. The sound he used to beat off to. The soft moans, and the squeaking bedsprings.

But there was only the droning of cicadas and, from time to time, the distant hooting of truck horns over on I-77.

It was only after he’d gotten into the bed and pulled the soft cotton sheet over his jutting hardon that he heard something. A choked gasp, followed by a demure cough.

His mind full of unnatural thoughts, he beat off at the frenetic pace of a fifteen-year-old, and commenced turning the white, spring-fresh sheets into a yellowed, crusty mass of unslaked lust.

#

The F350’s diesel rattled as Dad gunned it. The rear wheels spun, pebbles rattling in the fender wells. The flinty smell of baked dust tickled Jesse’s nose.

“If it was hunting season, we’d be set,” Dad said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. He’d had two beers even before he’d attacked this old logging road with a truck designed with an interstate in mind, but since Jesse had been a lot more fucked up (and fucked) on his Nighthawk it didn’t bother him. “I got a new 12-gauge.”

“Ah–” Jesse bit his tongue as the truck lurched across a deep gully. “Christ, Dad, this thing got any shocks on it?”

“Quit your bitching, boy.”

Far, far away from everything they pulled off the logging road into a semi-circular cutting at the base of a steep bank. Ancient trees loomed tall, casting cool shadows. Birds sang the peculiarly eerie songs only heard when civilization was distant. From down the slope came the hissing roar of river rapids.

There were no trails as such, but an old abandoned railway snaked along Swayback Creek. Shoulders braced against the load in their backpacks–light, since this was a one-nighter–they made their way deeper into the forest.

They talked incessantly above the hiss and murmur of the rushing river, and Jesse found that he was telling the tale of his great failure before he realized it, and he was on the verge of telling Dad about the pot-fuelled orgy in Lexington. Deftly, he thought, he changed the details–omitting the buttfucking, including the fairer sex, and changing the chemicals from demon weed to harmless Jack Daniels. His Dad was silent throughout the tale, and if he suspected Jesse of concocting a quick fib he didn’t let on.

At the end of it, Dad said: “Next time, don’t party so much.”

Dad’s glib assessments and pithy moralizing could, and had, grate on Jesse’s nerves. This time it didn’t. For it didn’t seem to matter much to Dad that his son spent his time doing what was fun and not what was right. It didn’t seem to matter that his son had chosen something else besides being a panelbeater at the body shop. It just seemed to matter that his son was there.

They stopped around noon for Justine’s infamous baloney sandwiches on the banks of the Swayback. The day was still hot, and Jesse’s black T shirt was soaked. So was Dad’s, and the white cotton molded to his torso as if it were a sculpted breastplate.

“How far do you want to go today, Jess?” Dad asked.

“All the way.”

“Past the gorge?”

“Yeah,” said Jesse, chewing slowly.

Further up the trail, the Swayback cut through a huge pier of limestone, rushing between sheer walls and boiling around jagged boulders. The railroad continued onwards via a cut made into the side of the gorge, oblivious to the danger in the cascade below. Jesse had never taken that path, because of the nightmares he used to have as a kid. Fascinated by trains he’d delved into their history, and learned that they had an unfortunate proclivity to jump the rails. He spent a week, waking in the middle of the night, terrified, having watched an old steam locomotive derail and plunge into a gorge, and he had watched, one by one, abandoned children drown in the cold tumultuous river. It was then he began to suspect that death and loss were the natural state of things and that home was an illusion.

“Yeah, Dad,” said Jesse. “Let’s do it.”

Dad turned a huge smile on him, unreasonably pleased.

About an hour later they reached the gorge. A cool breeze flowed from its mouth. Half-expecting to be seized by paralyzing fear, he followed his Dad, stepping from tie to tie, the ballast crunching under his hiking boots. The Swayback roared in impotent fury. The gorge was sheer, and the stone walls magnified the noise, and there was obviously no escape. But, in the end, it seemed there was no need for escape.

“Not so bad, was it?” Dad asked.

“No. Hey, Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“This is pretty fucking cool.”

Dad grinned. And they went on, into high country that Jesse had never before explored.

#

With evening came exhaustion. Jesse’s legs trembled, at the end of their endurance. He hadn’t done this much work with his body since…well, since he left to try and make it as a singer. Orgies weren’t the same. The studs who liked plowing a young black-haired buck did the work. Jesse had just absorbed their shafts, sweating, of course, but lying there, on his back, legs spread, and–

“Shit,” Jesse said. He lay on a bed of pine needles, his backpack a pillow. His legs felt molten, nervous.

“You said it.” Dad pulled off his T shirt. He was a shaggy beast. His chest hair spread across his torso, east to west, north to south, matted with sweat. Droplets like dew decorated his face. “You going to pitch the tent?”

“Why me?”

“It’s in your backpack, dumbass.”

“Shit,” said Jesse, and wearily struggled upright.

By sundown, Jesse had the pup tent erected and Dad had a fire blazing in a ring of stones. The flames danced in the northwesterly breeze.

“Jesus,” Jesse said, shivering.

“What?”

“It’s the middle of fucking July, and I’m freezing.”

“Just like your Mom,” Dad said. “She hated the cold, too.” He smirked. “I guess I never told you the story how she…” He trailed off, but not before Dad, casually, scratched his nuts, a far-away look in his eyes. Then he stood, walked to the edge of the circle of light. The ripping sound of his zipper was followed by the splatter of piss on the soft leaf carpet.

While Dad pissed, Jesse squatted upwind of the fire, to absorb the heat and avoid the smoke. The movement of the flames was hypnotic; they swayed like fiery cobras dancing

Turning and zipping, Dad said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.”

Jesse laughed. “I’m fucking dead.”

“Fine.” Dad chuckled. “Let’s hit the sack. Keep warm. I’ll zip the sleeping bags together.” Dad crawled into the tent.

Jesse closed his eyes, utterly helpless as his cock grew into life. No, no, not that cliché. Even before the tent began quivering with Dad’s exertions inside, his boner jutted in his briefs, trapped between the white stretched cotton and his steamy black pubic hair.

In the sack with Dad. Alone. In his briefs. This was something he just couldn’t do. He knew very well what was going to happen. This was the moment the thread snapped, and doom fell.

He had tried to soar, a redneck Icarus who wanted something more than what lay hidden in these mountains. Failing, he had fallen like Icarus back to these mountains. Unlike Daedalus’ son, though, Jesse had found a vine to cling to, something to arrest his fall into the ultimate black sea. And now, when all he had was his vine–his family–his body and its urges and his evil and twisted mind…that last vine was going to snap, and he was going to fall, and join those kids dying in the river, or fall victim, at last, to the phallic-headed alien about to burst from his chest.

This was the misery a guitar must feel, forever consigned to play a tune that someone else had written, unable to play for itself.

Dad emerged a few minutes later, eyed his shivering son. “Jesus, you look beat. Get in there. Take it easy.”

Jesse smiled faintly. “All right. Sorry.”

“Sorry for what? You can’t help being what you are.” Dad lay on his side, next to the fire. “What’s bugging you?”

“I don’t know. It just…all this shit…I mean, it just gets to me sometimes.”

“You’re home. Don’t worry.” He grinned. “Bedtime for my boy.”

Jesse smiled fatalistically. There was nothing he could do. He was trapped.

He crawled into the tent, pulled the flap close. He stripped off his shirt and jeans, balled them up and shoved them in a corner. The dime-sized spot of pecker snot was a cold medal of dishonor on his briefs. He slipped into the sleeping bag, pulled it up to his shoulders. Lying on his back, just the way he liked to when big men plowed his cunt, he tried to think of nothing.

Next to him there was a big, silent, cold space, while from outside the tent came the crack and hiss of the dying fire.

#

He didn’t realize that he’d fallen asleep until he woke up, laying on his left side, smelling hickory smoke. Dad curled against his back, his breathing nasal and raspy, punctuated with snorts and gasps.

Jesse felt each and every hair on Dad’s chest and his legs as if they were temptation itself, coaxing him to come out and play amongst the cedars, or dive into the cool waters of the river. Suddenly he felt Dad’s arm go around his chest, tug him in tight. Dad murmured something. Cold as ice? You feel nice? Hot boy ice? Dad’s nipples, like pencil erasers, pressed against his shoulder blades.

Rough fingers began to stroke his right pec, starting just below Jesse’s shoulder then descending until it found his nipple. Jesse gasped, shifted, almost rose, until his brief-clad butt came into contact with–

Hard. Bone. Cock.

Pressing into the cotton-draped valley that was the core of Jesse’s need was Dad’s fat shaft. A soft furry shape, feeling like giant oranges in a sack of velvet, had to be Dad’s nutsack.

So exciting. So deadly.

Jesse’s hands stirred, moved towards something they shouldn’t, froze, trembled.

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