Tag Archives: georgia

Not for Human Consumption

By Jon Sokol

Larry watched as his young friend squinted at an open can of tuna.

“This product not for human consumption,” Deke read aloud.

He turned the can around to show Larry the picture of an orange cartoon cat licking its mouth.

Deke tossed it into the smoky campfire the two men had built to keep away the god-awful South Georgia mosquitos and pissed-off yellow flies. He took another bite from his half-eaten cat food sandwich and tossed the rest into the flames. Deke would cry if he were alone.

Instead, he fished out a tin of Copenhagen from his blaze orange timber cruising vest and smacked it against the heel of his hand. He lifted the metal top and held the cardboard container to his nose savoring the pungent odor of the snuff.

Image by Jon Sokol

Larry fished around in his brown paper bag and pulled out a small Tupperware bowl filled with red Jell-O cubes. He lifted the top and shook the gelatinous mass until it landed with a plop in the dirt between his worn-out boots.

Deke looked over at him and shook his head.

“Dammit, Larry. Every day I watch you dump that shit out on the ground. Why don’t you tell Mrs. Soo you don’t like that mess?”

He placed a wad of dip on his tongue and rolled it around his mouth until it nestled in the familiar spot between cheek and gum.

“Believe me, bud. It’s just better this way.”

Larry snapped the lid on the plastic container. He took a long drink from a warm can of Diet Rite and balanced it next to him on the log.

Larry was a veteran. He had served in the 7th Cavalry Regiment in Korea, but he never talked about it, even when he was ripped on bourbon. Back then, the brutality he witnessed didn’t feel right, even for a once narrow-minded Georgia boy. He would just shake his head when asked about the war and say, “It was so fucked up. Nobody knew what they were supposed to be doing.”

The war atrocities that Larry saw in Korea haunted him still. He credited Soo-Min with saving his once bigoted soul, but privately, he attributed much of his change of heart to his disgust at his unwillingness to stand up to the malicious slaughter of those innocent refugees, almost all women and children.

After two tours of duty, he returned stateside with his Korean bride and enrolled in the School of Forestry at Abraham Baldwin Agriculture College in Tifton. Two years later he was living back in his hometown, cruising timber and running planting crews for the pulp mill up the road in Savannah.

That had been over forty years ago. Now he was teaching young Deke the ropes. It was time for him to turn in his cruising gear and hang up his snake chaps. In two weeks, he would turn sixty-five and have his modest retirement party on the same day. He and Soo-Min were set to haul their horse trailer and otherworldly possessions to northern Colorado. The thought made him smile. He loved his community, but he was disgusted with its excruciatingly slow progress. Still perturbed at the double-takes people gave him and his wife. He was ready to move on.

He was going to miss Deke, though. Most weekdays for the past six months, he and Deke had worked together cruising timber from sun up until the early afternoon, then checking on loggers, site prep operators, and fertilizer contractors from the air-conditioned comfort of a company-owned Ford pickup.

Image by Jon Sokol

Deke was from north of Atlanta and fresh out of college. Twenty-two years old and fifty thousand in debt to the U.S. Government who had carelessly loaned him the money to go to the University of Georgia. He told Larry that, in Forestry 101, he was taught how he could save the planet and all its endangered species by applying well thought out silvicultural treatments to bountiful forests. He said they never told him he’d be humping through pine plantations in hundred-degree weather and moving to a small town known only for having a shitty sawmill and a string of church burnings.

The two men sat on the log together and talked about Larry and Soo’s recent trip to Atlanta to see the Olympics. Larry told Deke how bittersweet it was to see Muhammad Ali, once unbeatable now trembling with Parkinson’s, light the cauldron. And how excited Soo was when Michael Johnson won the gold medal in the 400 meters. But Deke was clearly not interested in the conversation.

“How’s Jill doing?” Larry asked before tossing a handful of pecan halves into his mouth.

Deke swatted at a mosquito, stood up, spat in the fire, sat back down. “She’s going to Minnesota to see her sister.”

“Well that sounds fun.” Larry would not look at Deke.

“She says she ain’t coming back.”

Larry took off his round eyeglasses and wiped them with a faded red bandana. “You sure?”

“I’m sure. She said she didn’t want to be married to a homophobic racist anymore.”

“Hmm. Sounds like she’s pretty sure.”

“What do you think about that, Larry?”

Larry raised his eyebrows and blew out a long horsey sigh. He put his glasses back on wrapping the wire legs around his ears and stuffed the bandana in his back pocket. “Those are some pretty serious allegations.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Deke’s leg bounced up and down like an erratic jackhammer. “The last argument we had was whether Tupac getting shot dead was a good thing or a bad thing.”

“I’ll guess which side you came in on.”

“Look, I might have some opinions, but I wouldn’t say I’m racist. That asshole’s songs were about killing white people.”

Larry put up his hands as if to stop traffic. “I can’t say I ever heard any of the man’s music, but saying that anybody deserves to die is a bit harsh.”

Deke crossed his arms and spat tobacco juice. The fire sizzled.

“Look, here’s the deal,” Larry continued. “Most everybody I know in this damned town is a homophobic racist. Preachers, teachers, the man who owns the bank, my own momma. It’s just the stew we swim in.”

Deke looked him in the eyes then dropped his gaze back to the fire.

“The good news,” Larry said, “is that you didn’t come out the womb that way. It ain’t as natural as people let on. I mean, it’s up to you, but you can change.”

“I don’t know, Larry. She’s got her mind made up.”

“Oh, no. She’s gone. You’ve screwed the pooch on that one, son.”

Image by Jon Sokol

Deke removed his ball cap and clawed his fingers through his dirty blond mop of hair.  “I haven’t even told my folks yet. What am I supposed to say to them?”

“Maybe ask them why they raised you to be so damned hateful.”

“Come on, man. You know I’m as nice a guy as anybody. You and me get along good, don’t we?” Deke’s eyes reddened with anger.

“Yeah, but I’m a straight white dude.”

Deke jerked to his feet. “Fuck you, Larry.”

“Settle down a minute, son,” Larry said. Deke turned his back to the older man. “So far, your education has been mostly in classrooms, Sunday school, and hanging out with your folks,” Larry continued. “You’re out on your own now, and you’re going to find out that things are not as simple as you were led to believe.”

Deke shook his head slowly. “What the hell are you talking about, Larry?”

“I’m telling you that you need to think long and hard before coming up with your opinions. Put yourself in other people’s shoes before you spout off some bullshit you learned watching cowboy movies.” Larry tilted his head to the side. “Jill called you out on that, didn’t she?  Said to stop being John Wayne and to listen for a change.”

“Wait,” Deke said. “How did you know that?”

“Kid, I know more about you than you do.” Larry stood in front of Deke and looked him in the eyes. “I’d love to give you some life-changing advice, but I know you. You’re going to have to live your way through it.”

Deke broke eye contact. He walked to the fire and kicked dirt over it, extinguishing the flames.

“You’re going to have a lot of regrets one day,” Larry said. “Regrets you’re not counting on now. When that happens, don’t beat yourself up about them. Just be glad you can recognize them as regrets.”

Larry turned back to the log and drained the rest of his soda. “In the meantime, just try not to be a dick to people.”

“Jesus,” Deke whispered. He stomped up a cloud of powder dust to the truck and climbed in behind the steering wheel and slammed the door. The engine made an initial screech and settled into a throaty purr. Deke glared through the windshield at nothing in particular. He rolled down the window and spat.

Larry stretched his wiry frame. He squinted as he looked westward into the cloudless blue sky. Turkey buzzards circled overhead, drawn to a stench that only they could smell. Probably some dead armadillo or possum. Something not fit for human consumption.

The Short Straw

By Vanessa Reid

“Go on, stupid! Pick your straw,” said Burl. “I ain’t got all day.”

Teddy stared up at the boy who was at least a head taller than he was. He looked into Burl’s black eyes and thought how this was an impossible situation since Burl was making him choose a straw in order to decide who had to go into the old Walmouth place and Burl had most certainly rigged it so Teddy would select the dreaded small straw. 

Burl’s cronies Paulie and Little Man had already chosen their straws and miraculously, lady luck had been with them. They grinned on either side of Burl Bogle, the biggest, meanest bully at Grover Cleveland Middle School. Teddy sighed and selected a straw. It was the short one. 

Little Man danced around as he hooped and hollered at the top of his lungs. Paulie stood by Burl, with a quiet, slick smile. Burl grinned so hard he looked like a puppet, his face split in half by crooked yellowed teeth. “Well, the straw says you go in, Tumor Teddy. Whatta you know about that? Are you gonna go in like a man?” Burl snorted, “or are you gonna be a pansy like you usually are? Do we have to put you in that old shithole, Tumor Teddy?”

Teddy sighed. He knew this day would come. He could have counted on it like Salisbury steak on Wednesday and church on Sunday. He knew that he had no choice. “I’ll go,” he said solemnly. 

Burl looked disappointed. “No tricks, Teddy. Do you hear? Don’t go sneaking out the back or something. You stay in there until we tell you to come out.”  

Teddy nodded, pocketed his straw, and turned to walk up the steps of the old Walmouth place. He hesitated for a moment taking in the dying house. Once a stunning Victorian with two turrets and a bronzed cupola, its expansive porches sagged, its paint peeled, and its broken windows squinted at Teddy. 

Every Halloween, kids dared each other to enter to see if the ghost of the owner, Mr. Wally Walmouth, still walked its halls. The story went that old Wally Walmouth killed himself in that house when he found out his son died in combat. Kids said the authorities didn’t find his twisted and torn body for over a week. They said he took a swan dive off the upstairs balcony and broke every bone in his body, and now, he wouldn’t leave until his son came back. 

Today wasn’t Halloween, however. It was only April, a special treat just for Teddy, courtesy of Burl Bogle. Big Butt Bully Burl, Teddy thought darkly.

He walked up the front steps which crackled with each footstep. He stood in front of the front door and he hesitated. Teddy turned his head toward Burl and asked, “Are you sure you want me to do this?” 

“You’re not a pansy. You’re a pussy! Get your ass in there, Tumor.” His sidekicks giggled. 

“Yeah, pussy. Get in there, Tumor!” Little Man croaked. Burl gave him the side-eye. Little Man stopped smiling. 

Teddy hated that nickname. Burl gave it to him in the fourth grade after Teddy’s father died from a brain tumor. His grief made him quieter than he already was, and in addition to his small size, Burl seized upon Teddy like a new toy. Burl had beat him up too many times to count, he stuck his head in the toilet at least once a week, and once even made Teddy eat worms in front of Lavender St. James, the prettiest girl in school. Teddy was so upset that he peed himself. It was the second-worst day of his life. 

Teddy reached for the doorknob and after a couple of tries, shoved the door open. He walked in slowly and closed the door behind him. 

Paulie grinned. “He’s gonna come running out like a pussy, right, Burl?” 

“Oh, sure he is. Right, Burl? He’s gonna come running out and oh—he’s gonna pee himself, even. Right, Burl?” Little Man echoed, jumping up and down. 

“Shut the fuck up, you two,” Burl said. “Yeah, he just might pee himself,” Burl said to himself softly. He grinned wider.  

The three boys stood watching the silent house for what seemed like a half an hour. “M- maybe we should call him out, huh Burl?” Little Man asked. 

“Shut up!” said Burl. “Just give him a second. He ain’t been scared enough yet.” Burl squinted at the house, frowning. “What the hell is he doing in there, anyway?” 

Seconds later, they heard a loud crash followed by a thud. It seemed to echo through the house’s halls and spill out of the broken windows. Then, Teddy screamed. “Help! Help me, please.” There was uncomfortable desperation in Teddy’s voice, and the boys could hear him begin to sob. 

“What the hell?” Burl said. Paulie and Little Man just stared at the house, mouths hanging open. 

“Please, Burl, I’m hurt. I need help,” Teddy called through a broken, dirty window, but the boys couldn’t see anything inside. 

“Are—are you gonna go in and help him?” Little Man asked. Paulie looked nervously at Burl, waiting for his answer. 

“I ain’t going in there. We’re going in there. And we ain’t going in to rescue Tumor. We’re gonna make sure he’s not pulling something. Then, we’re gonna kick his ass and lock him in a closet for a while. If he’s pulling something, he’s about to learn real fast that you can’t mess with Burl Bogle. Come on!” The other two boys exchanged worried glances. 

Burl headed up the steps to the front door, then turned around to see Paulie and Little Man still standing in the weeds of the front yard. Paulie looked grave. Little Man looked terrified. 

“Get your pansy asses up here now, or I’m gonna lock you two in the closet with Tumor!” The boys walked up the steps and Burl gave the door two sharp shoves before it opened. Then, the boys walked in, leaving the door cracked open behind them. 

The inside of the house was just as they suspected: dark and decrepit. There were old-fashioned parlors filled with sheet-covered furniture on either side of the foyer which faced a long, dim hallway. Above them on the second floor, a horseshoe staircase spilled down either side onto the landing below, shreds of rotting green carpet dotting the steps. 

“Help me, please,” sobbed Teddy from somewhere up above. The boys looked at one another, relieved not to have to walk down the dark hall in front of them, and then they headed up the stairs on the left.

Once they reached the open hall above, Burl shouted, “Where the fuck are you, Tumor? You better not be jerking us around!” 

“Here! I’m here,” Teddy called from a room to the left. “I’m hurt.” 

The other boys looked at one another and Burl led the way to the door to the left. He reached for the doorknob and then stopped. 

“What is it, Burl? Is he crying for his dead dad or something?” Little Man joked. Burl shot him an angry look and then turned his attention back to the door.

“Be quiet!” Paulie hissed. “Can’t you hear that?” Paulie jerked his head toward the door. Little Man, silenced, leaned toward the door to listen. 

The boys could hear a deep male voice coming from the other side of the door but couldn’t make out what it was saying. “Yes,” Teddy said to someone. “Yes. Yes, okay.” The man’s voice continued but the boys still couldn’t understand it. “I know, you’re right,” Teddy whispered, almost too low for the boys to hear.  

Burl flushed. “What is this? Some joke? I’m gonna kill that kid!” He threw the door open and the three boys rushed in. They found Teddy sitting on a sagging couch next to a broken window, the flimsy sunlight creeping in, and on the other side of the moldy velvet seat sat an old man in a strange suit.

“What the…?” said Burl. 

“You were right when you said they would come,” a smiling, uninjured Teddy said to the man next to him. “You are a wise man, Mr. Walmouth.” Teddy turned and smiled at the other three boys. “Boys, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Mr. Walmouth and you are in his house.” 

“Ah! The infamous Big Butt Bully Burl. We have been expecting you, son.” Burl stood in front of the other two boys and paled as he watched the old man in disbelief. 

“What the hell?” Burl said shakily. “You…you ain’t Walmouth. He’s been dead forever.” Little Man had begun to sob and Paulie tugged at his sleeve as he stepped back to the door. 

Mr. Walmouth grinned humorlessly exposing rotted teeth and tiny white worms crawling through the blackened holes. One fell onto his dusty lapel and wriggled there before sliding into his lap. “Yes, Burl, I have.” 

Little Man screamed and Paulie pulled him out of the door and down the stairs. Burl swayed on his feet as a wet stain spread on his crotch. 

“So, Burl,” Mr. Walmouth said. “It seems we need to have a little chat about my son Teddy, here.” 

Burl shook his head. “No, please no.” 

“Oh, yes. I insist.” The door slammed shut behind him. 

Teddy closed the front door and skipped down the steps of the old Walmouth place. He turned back and looked at the house with fondness. He had been coming here since January when Burl had become too much and the grief had become more than he could bear. 

He thought that it would be the right place to take his own life so his mother wouldn’t have to find him, but the day he chose to die turned out to be the first day that he had really lived in a very long time. That day, he met old Wally Walmouth and they became friends. They had much in common—especially their grief—and it was nice to be understood for once. 

Teddy remembered the day he entered the house and climbed to the top of the staircase. He was crying as he stood on the railing looking down and the floor below. At that moment, Teddy’s pain crested. He bent his knees and was preparing to jump when an unseen blow knocked him backward to the floor of the second-floor landing.  When he looked up, Mr. Walmouth stood above him frowning. He had never seen a ghost before but Teddy wasn’t scared. 

Mr. Walmouth guided Teddy to the parlor where they sat and talked for hours. Talked about the death of Mr. Walmouth’s son and his own suicide. He had jumped from that very banister. They talked about Teddy’s father, and how that sorrow was an unending curse. Mr. Walmouth’s grief had overtaken him just like Teddy’s. 

Mostly, they just talked about mundane things like fishing and the books they both enjoyed. Teddy learned that Mr. Walmouth and his boy used to fish together after church on Sundays just like Teddy and his father. Soon after that, Mr. Walmouth began to call Teddy “son” which was a comfort to Teddy. Just like a protective father, when Teddy told Mr. Walmouth about Burl and the other boys, Walmouth said not to worry about them, as long as Teddy kept coming back to visit. 

Now, Teddy was ready to live his life in peace. He was so grateful. Grateful for Mr. Walmouth’s friendship and guidance. Grateful he didn’t hurt his mother more than she had already suffered. Grateful that it was all over. Burl would never bother him again, just like Mr. Walmouth promised. The other boys wouldn’t mess with him either. Maybe they could even be friends. Teddy would come back soon to visit and to thank Mr. Walmouth, but not until they found Burl’s body and all of that business was behind them. He almost couldn’t wait to go to school tomorrow.  

Teddy paused in the overgrown yard, took the short straw from his pocket, and stuck it in his mouth, smiling as he headed home.

Trouble and The Good Girl

By Lena Kotler-Wallace

I was born a Good Girl. In sweet, pinafored dresses, hair tied neatly with a ribbon, hanging down straight and shining to the small of my back – because I brushed it every night 100 times like someone from somewhere once said to. I was precocious, but not in that obnoxious way, so as not to challenge the adults around me. Like a good Southern child my “pleases and thank yous” were always followed by a “ma’am” or “sir” strung out with a charming drawl that hinted at more of the kind of genteel South, sweet teas sipped on porches, than it did of the banjo-playing, cousin-screwing hillbilly variety.

I was a Good Girl, and good girls got praise. They got love. They got fathers who paraded them proudly in front of friends to recite their multiplication tables or mothers who hugged them tightly as they stood tall, a perfect doll-like trophy. Good girls got parents who told stories hinting not so subtly that their daughter was not just pretty but SMART.

Good girls did not get the terrifying father who slammed doors while their hand was still in the frame, or who left them sprawled out on the floor, his handprint welling upon their cheek when they corrected his math.

Good girls did not get that glaring look from their mothers. The ones that let them know that with a single childlike misstep such as forgetting to clean their room or making a B on that quiz, they could be too much for the Good Girl persona to bear.

That look and those words inevitably let me know I had suddenly slipped from being The Good Girl to (capital T) Trouble.

I learned very early on that I did not want to be Trouble.

As a child growing up in one of those houses that the neighborhood kids were told they couldn’t play at as their parents pretended they couldn’t hear the horror show going on behind closed curtains, I learned bad things happened because you deserved them, and, if only I had been a Good Girl, then daddy wouldn’t hit, and mommy wouldn’t say those mean things that honestly left wounds much deeper than any punch my dad could throw.

I avoided trouble like it was my sacred mission. The Holy Grail of Good, however, proved to be a difficult thing to achieve. Turns out living in a fear-filled, abusive household tends to give a person some mental health issues, and things like depression and bipolar disorder are not something that Good Girls contract.

I soon learned that Good Girls also only come in sizes like thin or straight. They are only that 1990s kind of liberal that’s really just a Republican in a blue power suit. They are not radicalized. They are not queer. They don’t fucking curse. They are not any of those things that can’t politely be put on the family Christmas card.

Good girls are silent trophies you put up on a shelf. They aren’t me.

Now, staring down the barrel of 35, those people who taught me to fear trouble are all dead and buried. The monsters in the dark are gone, and I can finally face the truth that chasing the phantom of the Good Girl won’t protect me. That actually it never did.

And maybe that’s okay.

Being silent. Being good. Well, it’s no longer an option.

Because life can’t be lived in perfection. The very act of living and existing in our world means that at one point or another you will be too much for someone, not enough for someone else.

You will be too smart.

You will not be in the right body.

You will be tired, and you will say the wrong thing.

You won’t be tired at all, and you will still say the wrong thing.

No matter what you do. No matter how carefully you try to pass in our fucked-up world, you will somehow not fit in that straight cis/het mold of the Good. The day will come when it is your turn to be trouble, and that is not something we should be scared of.

We can’t.

I can’t.

Not just because I deserve that kind of unconditional existence. I do. But so do those three kids who now call me Mom, who are looking to me for love.

And I’m going to love the ever-living shit out of them. I will love them when they bring home A’s, and I will love them when they forget to do their homework entirely. I will love them when their rooms look like a hazmat team is needed, and I will love them through all of the messiness of life. They will know that they are safe and celebrated, and, no matter how much trouble they may be, they will know this is not a home that worships at the altar of The Good Girl.

This is a house that makes trouble.

Sweet Fruit

By Alec Prevett

there were no clouds in the day
all across was a sugary electroshock blue
         stretched and squashed by a universal pull.

the trees behind the fence
mocked me with their absurd height, extending
their limbs and tasting
that sticky sky—
munching on it as giraffes do
         on leaves.

the naked fruitboys nestled in the boughs
fed on it, too, reaching
from the branches to steal blue in their hands.
they hung there, far above me, laughing
         as i drooled, hungry.