Ricky tried to stretch the ache out of his back without much luck. He wasn't used to sleeping on the ground. The chill of the morning air didn't help either. The near silence made him almost afraid to talk, and he was the type of guy who, when alone, would talk to himself to not feel alone. Instead he kept quiet so as to not disturb the overwhelming, impressive silence of this strange land around him. There wasn't much forest to be had in Florida that he knew about, and Ricky had spent his entire life there. There was always the white noise of the sea or rickety clatter of traffic. Granted he could still hear the traffic on the boulevard and nearby streets, but it was a noise more like the wind than anything mechanical. He didn't talk or leave that boulder that shielded his camp. He stretched out against the stone trying to find a comfortable position to work out the campcrick in his back. He really had no idea what to do. When Henry had come to tell him he had to go to work with his father, Ricky shook his head and didn't make a fuss. He already felt a bit like a freeloader, embarrassed and out of place, but as soon as Henry was gone a sort of fear took over him. The relative silence of the trees and the unseen things skittering here and there all seemed to close in on him. In a landscape that would have otherwise seemed open and nearly empty, a free range to move about, Ricky felt like he could be crushed and there would be no one to save him.
On the streets of Tampa there was nothing like this. It seemed to Ricky as if there was a sort of bubble that surrounded him when he was home that allowed him all the room he needed to move, but here, in the dank, musty woods, that bubble had been shrunk down beneath his skin and anything, everything, could get at him whenever it so desired. Then there was the most reassuring sound that came drifting up like a smokey tether through the twisting path of trees. Soundlessly, Ricky gathered up his things and followed that lifeline down the back slope of the hill. He wasn't looking ahead to the next block, a road sign, other people along the street that might reach out for him or try to sell him a bag or ask for change. No, his sight was right in the eye, back tight to his face and jittering around deftly at the next briar to avoid or the next limb to grab for a hold. He wasn't scanning or skimming what was in front of him. He was taking it in and adjusting his body accordingly. There was a safety in it, staying this close to one's own self, one's own body, that he wasn't quite used to, but he was moving deftly none the less. It came to him like instinct: the quick eyes, the even, short breath that stuck to his ears and brought all his senses right up tight to him. He just moved guided faintly by that binding whisper in a trajectory predicated as much on the landscape as any desire, and when he broke through the trees at the bottom of the hill and didn't see what he knew he was going to see, he had to stop. It was hard to be pulled away from himself that quick. Where he thought there would be a road, the familiar smooth trance of asphalt and noise, there was a grassy field hemmed in by another blaze of trees at it's edges, and like an ancient scar of rails and crosshatches, a length of train tracks followed along the ridge line and curved back behind the far trees. He could still hear the sizzle of traffic, though much fainter now, and he knew it would draw him on. His breath was still close, his body hot and loose, his eyes trying to adjust to those deadly inches that could take him away from the body.
He let his shaky leg step out into the gravel bed of the tracks and once he knew he had a steady footing, the other followed suit. The tracks swept out of sight from both directions, but for some reason there was no question in Ricky's mind which way to go. They just flow that way, he thought. He could have taken regular steps long the tracks, for the cross ties and the gravel bed were level, but still he adjusted so that he stepped across the ties only. He stumbled here and there, but he could not take his eyes out of the trees or the track ahead. This place, it never stopped moving, he thought. On some distant highway, the sound that secretly drew him on, the cars hissed and there was a whole oblivious world bubbling out there in an unseen distance, but this world, this tree-shrouded scar of steel and wood and rock and scattered trash, it was just as oblivious, but not from ignorance. The small animals, the trash, even the wet air itself, all hunkered down in this wide divot because there was no room for it anywhere else.
On a small metal arm jutting out from a wooden light pole a hawk had landed silently. Ricky didn't know why he had looked up, but for whatever reason he did, and he saw the ruddy bird clutched there. It was watching him with steady, unflinching black eyes. He couldn't help but look back, though somehow it felt rude to stare. He, taking his careful steps across the splitting crosshatches, would steal a peek here and there and every time the hawk had it's ebon eyes trained on him. It didn't express any kind of anxiety or fear which Ricky found odd considering the amount of anxiety he felt being watched over by this seemingly deadly animal. As he moved along he could hear all the little creatures skittering away from him. The hawk kept watching. He struggled to keep his feet hitting the odd-paced crosshatches and at one point a silvery rabbit lurched into the tracks just feet ahead of him. It's red eyes opened wide at him and asked him some ancient question he could not conceive then thinned again. It settled back on it's lanky hind legs and twitched it's whiskers in deference. Languidly it loped off into the far gully then up into the trees. Ricky felt like a trespasser. Worse, an awkward, bumbling trespasser this strange world dealt with rather than...
Ricky thought of his mother. It was a sudden but lasting thought and she was somewhere he had never been. He saw her in a jail cell and she was crying. She was still covered in the dark, thick blood that had spurted from Karl's stomach in murderous spasms. At the same time she was crouching on the floor of their house over the body and it was dim just like that night and bright like the county jail all at the same time. Hovering over all of it somehow was the hazy flat landscape of Florida and it's salty air which was in stark contrast to the Tennessee drumlin he found himself in now. It made her seem even farther away, even more like a dream, and Ricky had to fight back tears. He could sense, physically feel, his mother slipping away from him. She was dissolving from a real thing into the wispy uncertainty of memory and dreams. He was here, forced here in this strange place. It made it feel hopeless to think he would ever see her again. So too faded his brother, Douglas. He was the only man who ever stood up for him. He was the only man who stuck around. He was the only man... and where was he? In some jail too? Some linoleum and steel holding pin where he was nothing more than a number, a criminal to some officious prick who didn't know a thing about him. Ricky couldn't help but feel all this would somehow be OK if only Douglas had made it with him. Why did I make it, he asked himself. He looked up at the hawk whose head swiveled evenly to Ricky's pace as he passed under the lamppost. There was even suspicion in those coal-black eyes, now. Even that beast knew something wasn't right.
Why am I here, free? Ricky thought. I didn't do a damn fuckin' thing. I just hid all the time. I didn't do anything. I should be locked up. I don't deserve...
...To be all alone. It was an invisible, crushing feeling. It was a potent seed that bore forth guilt and fear and a host of other ambiguous aggressors clutching wildly at his brain.
Then his saviour broke through in a roaring, rufous flash as he rounded the next bend in the track... a rusted red pickup truck. A road. A parking lot. The unmistakable geometric footprint of man. The ghost of his family loomed over this newly opened landscape, loosely trapped in his mind but manifestly somewhere he did not know. Somewhere foreign and harsh. Ricky felt somehow trapped too by these past events, these strange places, these fading thoughts in his head.
He stood on the edge of the pavement just beside the track as it sunk into the road's asphalt. It continued on to the other side of the road and through another stretch of trees behind what looked like a grocery store but long abandoned.
More cars popped over the tracks and the occupants gave heavy eyes to the dirty boy standing to the side track. He knew they were staring at him. He could feel it and it made him curl up inside. He became acutely aware of the brown splotches of dirt that streaked his white shirt. He could feel the grime and lack of sleep that clung to his face.
Once the traffic cleared, Ricky darted across the road. He had to get away from here too. He made his way along the tracks wondering if he shouldn't just turn back toward the rock and wait for Henry to get home. He didn't turn around, though. He just kept walking, taking those awkward, stuttering steps along the cross ties, letting his mind wander into the formless tempo of his hot breath. He wanted desperately to have some place to go, somewhere familiar, where this sense of being lost and wretched could be assuaged. He felt like he was running away, but from what he did not know.
Then he heard a sound. He stopped in mid-stride and tried to listen through his breathing. It was laughing he heard, and talking. He hadn't noticed the fence to his left. He didn't know how long he had been walking right along with it. All he could think of was video cameras, getting caught. It didn't matter that he had done nothing wrong.
"You're scared because you're guilty. You may sit there and lie to me, but when it comes down to it, you're guiltier than hell and you know it."
The detective was short and wide and his pale face was pocked with gin blossoms. His suit was too big and his gun belt too tight. Even Ricky knew his little bad cop routine was too staged to actually be intimidating.
The cop went on: "Are you really going to let your own mother sit in jail for the murder we both know you committed?"
Ricky watched the group of men through the fence. They were distorted a bit by a thin hedge just on the other side, but he could see well enough. They sat on overturned milk crates and spread their lunches out on the wide wheel of a wooden spool. They ate thick sandwiches and slurped from different colored cans and all wore the same light blue shirt with pearled buttons running down the front and a round red patch at their shoulder that said something in yellow letters that Ricky couldn’t make out. They seemed happy. They laughed and talked and cast their lunches about with the kind of abandon only happy people do. Ricky didn’t think they were all too hungry the way they picked at their food so absentmindedly. This is what started Ricky’s stomach growling. He hadn’t even thought of food before, but once he saw them picking at their sandwiches, throwing them across the wrinkled pieces of wax paper they were wrapped in, he was painfully hungry and jealous that they would treat their food that way.
Then there was a loud buzzer that rang somewhere inside, and all four men turned to look as if they had not expected it. They replaced their hardhats and gathered up their lunch boxes and walked back toward the building. As soon as they moved, Ricky thought of hopping the fence. There were still bits of sandwiches, half of one lying in the dust at the foot of the overturned spool. The soda cans were sweating from the cold liquid inside, and a couple of the potato chip bags looked as if there were still a few chips left. The fence was higher than a regular fence, but he was certain he could make it over. That immense hunger in him, he was sure, would carry him up over that fence like he had wings. Just as his courage was catching up to his stomach, another man came out from the large bay door where the workers had gone back in. He was older, Ricky could tell it even from the distance from which he was crouched. He was stooped a bit and his hair was mostly white. He pushed a bulky, wide cart that gave him some difficulty lumbering over all the dirt and gravel strewn over the ground.
Ricky had taken his place crouched back on the far side of the tracks and watched the man come closer to the makeshift table where the cast food waited, wobbling slightly in the afternoon breeze. The old man seemed to be heading straight for the table. Ricky thought for a second he may have been caught, spotted lurking around the fence like a would be thief. He looked around the edge of the fence and all the obvious places for cameras, but could see none. Still the man came closer, jerking the hulking cart over the random twigs and rocks and bits of broken up asphalt.
The janitor, Ricky thought. He could see now, as the man closed the distance between them, that the cart was essentially a bid garbage can on wheels. There was a deep bucketed pocket on the front end that had a broom and long-handled dust pan sticking out like wobbly antennae and along the rim of this compartment hung various spray bottles and a pair of light blue rubber gloves. The old man, coming to the spool, honed in on the scraps of food there. Ricky knew what he was about to do and something akin to a reflex of pain shot through his body. He physically jerked as if he was witnessing some act of disturbing violence. There was a rustle of gravel under his legs and the man's head shot up like a rabbit trying to hone in on some sort of danger. He knew right where he was.
Completely ignoring the fact that he had just been caught and more than likely should have run away to avoid being harassed for being suspicious, Ricky blurted out, “You gonna throw all that away?”
The man curled his forehead and looked down at the table where the boy had pointed eagerly.
“Of course I am,” the man said with a loosely cast finger.
“Give it t’me, then,” Ricky said rising from his exposed hiding place on the lea side of the tracks.
The old man watched the boy rise up and double time it over the tracks. The kid was dirty and skinny, and couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old.
“Don’t yr folks feedya, boy. You gotta come lookin trash t’eat behind other folks?”
Ricky just shrugged. He was at the fence, his eyes shifting between the food and the man.
“You a runaway, boy?”
“Where’s yr folks?”
“I ain’t got none.”
“You got some somewheres, or you one of them maculate conceptions? Done been born outta thin air, huh?”
“I don’t know m’father and m’momma got put in jail.”
His voice was quick and impatient as if being a runaway orphan was just a matter of course. He stood up against the fence with both hands wrapped around the bars and there was a desperation in just about every inch of his body. It made the man pause where usually he would have tried his best to just ignore the boy. The old man’s face slacked and he scratched at the stubble of his chin. He was thinking. Finally, he gathered up the scraps of sandwiches on one of the wrinkled sheets of wax paper and walked toward the fence.
“That’s a rough break, son,” he said and handed over the food.
“Thanks,” Ricky said as he took the food and began eating trying not to look too eager.
“That’s purty brave a you taken off on yr own like y’done,” the old man said, and saddened look came over the kid’s face.
“Well, it was me and my brother at first, but they caught him at the bus station. Now it’s just me.”
“That is a rough break,” the man said, and then after a moment: “You got a name, son?”
“Good t’meetcha, Dicky. M’names Bart.”
Ricky nodded at the old man and swallowed a dry wad of bread.
“You got any prospects?”
“Whatcha mean,” Ricky asked through the mass of lunchmeat and white bread.
“You got a place to stay? You gettin any food regular? Gonna git any work?”
“I met a friend,” Ricky slurred through the food. “I’m stayin with him.”
“Good, good,” Bart said thoughtfully.
“You like cleanin up after them others?” Ricky asked, trying to change the subject.
Bart looked at the kid with a cocked eye then asked: “You bein a smart-ass?”
“Why’d I like to clean after anybody.”
“That’s yr job ain’t it?”
“Don’t mean I like doin it.”
“Why don’tcha git a job y’like doin?”
“Cause ain’t nobody gonna pay me t’smoke dope and fuck my wife. That's all I really wanna do”
Ricky smiled and ate the last of the sandwich scraps. Bart leaned up against one of the fence posts and fished a crumpled cigarette pack from the breast pocket of his uniform shirt. He shook one out, stuck it between his lips, paused, then offered one to Ricky with a raised, scrutinizing eye.
“Naw. I don’t smoke.”
Bart gave an approving nod and stuffed the pack back into his pocket. He went back to his cart and pulled out a plastic water bottle from somewhere Ricky couldn’t see. He came back to the fence and offered the bottle. Ricky took it and drank deeply. He stopped halfway through the bottle and handed it back to Bart with an embarrassed look on his face.
“Finish it,” Bart said waving the bottle off.
He took a slow, strong pull from his cigarette and gave his salt and pepper stubble a scratch.
“Lemme tell y'somethin, son,” he said.
Ricky looked up at the old man and felt a smallness that seemed at the same time weakness and a comfort. It was the same way he felt around his brother, Douglas. He wasn’t so sure he liked feeling that way with this stranger, but he wasn’t quite ready to fight the feeling either.
“You caint run frever,” Bart said seeing he had the boy’s attention. “I know you might feel like you can, but you caint.”
Ricky just stared into those old eyes and said nothing. He noticed that they were the same icy blue color as his brother’s.
“Fact is you’ll git caught, or you’ll git hurt, and if you don’t you’ll just git plain wore out, and that’s worse than anything.”
Ricky could feel an anger rising up in him. “I ain’t gonna get caught. and I sure as hell ain’t gonna go to no foster home.”
Bart slumped into a sigh. “I been on the run before, Dicky. I know what it’s like.”
“You give up?”
“Not like you think,” Bart said realizing Ricky’s tone. “I’s on the run from the law, and I’s good at it. I ran and I stayed hid a long time.”
“Then what happened?”
“I realized somethin. Somethin purty simple. It was somethin... well... it was the simplest thing in the goddamn world, but it took me a long time to see it. Made me feel purty damn stupid I didn’t see it before.”
Ricky stared at the man in complete wonder.
“What’s the point in runnin, Dicky?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Huh?” Ricky shrugged.
“Gittin somewheres,” Bart said finally. “I spent all that time a-runnin tryin t’stay away from the law but I wasn’t gittin nowhere. I might as well been in prison. I didn’t have no home. Only friends I had I couldn’t stick around with very long. Couldn’t really trust’em. And I’s always afraid of gittin caught. Hell, I’s aleady caught. I’s a prisoner of goddamn runnin.”
“And cleanin up after folks is better?”
Bart shook his head and put out his cigarette and shrugged. “Bout as best as somebody like me can hope for.”
Ricky stared down at his shoes and finished off the bottle of water.
“Look kid,” Bart went on. “I gotta git back t’work, but you think on what I said.”
“Alright,” Ricky said though a sigh.
“You need something to eat or need a place to stay, you look me up.”
“Just keep on these tracks another quarter mile. You’ll start seeing some houses, their back yards there. Look fr the shit-brown bastard with a big-old rooster in the yard. That’s me."
Henry laid awake and watched the room light up as the sun rose through a blazing blue sky. He heard the telltale signs of his mother starting her day at the other end of the house. The television chattering to life. The coffee maker hissing and bubbling. The lighter crackling at the end of the first of too many cigarettes. It was a beautiful, balmy Wednesday in the Scenic City, or so the television said.
It was nearly noon by the time Briar had begun rumbling around the house. Dolly had made several trips back to the bedroom to try to wake him, which she did methodically and unenthused. After a good drunk Briar slept like a bear and had to be pried out of bed. As the ritual went on, Henry ate a breakfast of cereal and toast in the kitchen. He kept quiet while Briar stumbled about the house searching for coffee and clothes and keys. His mother went about her way deftly avoiding Briar but with the air of obliviousness. They were a group of silent strangers biding their time. Within the hour the time was for work, and father and son headed out into the steadily raging heat of the day.
At some point in the night the clouds and the rain had moved on beyond the low mountains of the East Tennessee Valley and the sun had come out with a vengeance. The heat had gripped the air tightly. It seemed to lay stake to every inch of the city.
Briar’s old red truck garbled down the boulevard blasting it’s noise against the violence of the heat in a sort of mechanical perseverance that wouldn’t succumb to any need for silence or peace. As they neared the diner a sick feeling took up in Henry’ gut and tightened it. As if he could sense it, Briar yawed the truck across the boulevard and the three of them jostled and rumbled their way into a parking space. Briar had a shabbily concealed smile on his face as he hopped out of the truck. Henry just sat still pushing against the tightness in his gut. He watched his father circle around the front of the truck, and slap the hood of the truck with his flat, calloused hand twice sharply.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Henry knew there was no fighting it. He got out of the truck. He wasn't sure why Briar was doing it. These lightning bouts of cruelty his father was capable of made little sense to him. He knew his father was hungover, tired, but he didn't understand how that translated into the need to be an all-out, thorough asshole. Again Henry saw his father on a collision course with himself and he seemed destined, at least today, to take the boy down with him.
The air conditioning hit them with a wallop when they walked through the door. It cut through the heat outside; sped everything up. Briar strutted along the bar as if the backs of those sitting their would be impressed. Henry, on the other hand, walked as if he were searching for a hole to fall into. As if he stepped soft enough and slow enough no one would realize he was there.
Two seats at the end of the bar were open. Briar pushed Henry into one and he took a seat at the other. The ringing in Henry’ ears swirled around in the hissing draft of the wall-mounted air conditioner and the splattering crackle of the fryer and grill just on the other side of the bar. When the waitress came to ask them what they wanted to drink, he didn’t hear her. He thought he heard Briar say something about coffee, and once he felt Briar nudge his shoulder, he perked up and blurted out, “Orange Juice.”
“Not gonna be any trouble t’day is they Briar,” Tammy asked coming around the corner from another table. She was scrawling on her green pad, but looking at Henry. His ears and cheeks burned red. The ringing pulsed a bit louder.
“Aw, now. Donchu worry. We jus wantin t’eat.”
“Briar,” Tammy said leaning in close. She flashed Henry another quick look. He tried to look away but his eyes got caught on the cleavage of her freckled breasts. “You know that’s Daniel Peevey down there.”
Henry looked between her breasts and Briar to see a skinny, sandy blonde, older man sitting at the very end of the bar. He looked like Mike Peevey, but older and thinner. He was looking straight ahead of him into the small gap between the cold table and the glass wall into the kitchen. Henry could see the tremble of anger and frustration in him.
“You bess not egg him on,” Tammy continued. “I swear I’ll call the police this time.” With this she looked at Henry again. "And git yr breakfast to go," she went on. "Edgar was pissed when he found out what happened and swore he'd be the one t'call th'cops if he ever saw y'in here again."
As she turned away to fetch her orders the smile widened on Briar’s face and he shook his head. Henry watched his father out of the corner of his eye. He saw the smile and the knot in his stomach tightened. He saw him turn to look at Daniel Peevey. His ears flattened back on his head. His widening smile. Henry couldn’t see it, but he winked too. Henry could see Daniel tense and push his fist into his lap.
“Stop it, Pa,” Henry hissed and immediately looked down into the formica skin of the bar.
The ringing dissolved into a heat that settled into the fleshy rims of his ears. He felt somehow lighter with the sudden quietness. He looked up. Briar had his eyes focused on the bar under his hands, but his mind was soaked in his headache. Still, that lazily fettered smile fought to take over the face.
The smile won.
Briar swung his face wildly to his right. His hands flattened out on the bar as if he were about to push his way out of the stool. He didn’t though. He merely smiled. Smiled big showing all his teeth and pulling back his ears. Tammy came around the corner and stopped short, her mouth open. Daniel Peevey stared, his mouth pressed tight and his eyes shooting lightening bolts through narrower and narrower eyes. To them it wasn’t a smile. To them, Tammy and Daniel, it looked more like a rabid dog growling before the pounce. They both backed down.
Tammy stepped back slightly and waited for what came next.
Daniel’s face jerked and for a second he was ready for a fight, but he flenched. As Briar’s face rolled back down his teeth, and he composed a perfectly placid expression, Daniel stopped. Instead of charging at the smart-ass, he slapped his hands down on the bar.
“Fuck you,” Daniel screamed, and pushed away from the bar. He turned back toward Briar for one more look, then got up out of his seat and simply walked out of the diner.
"Briar," Tammy huffed.
Henry dropped his head in his hands and could hear Briar laughing.
"Cain't you jus shut th'fuck up," the boy yelled in a watery, blasted crescendo.
He could feel the hand on the back of his neck so quick he thought Briar had already had it ready. The force pushed his forehead into the formica, then it tightened and yanked and in a burst of light he was staring his father in the face.
It all happened quick, like a gunshot, and before Tammy could tell what exactly happened she saw that look in Briar's eyes. She had seen it plenty of times on plenty of men and there was reaction in her far beyond reflex.
"What," he fired back and looked her dead in the eyes. There wasn't an ounce of fear in them. There was only purpose.
"Y'ain at home," Tammy said. "Y'don pull that shit here."
Briar released Henry and straightened up, silent. It wasn't until he could hear his embarrassed son crying softly that he decided they should go.
"Gotta problem with what I done?" Briar asked as he parked the truck in front of the dilapidated house.
Henry shook his head dubiously and grabbed for the truck's door latch, but Briar grabbed his arm and held him in place. Henry looked up at his father and down at his arm and then settled back into his seat.
"If y'do, I wanna hear it now."
He thought for a moment and tried to read Briar for just what he could say, but all he saw was the noxious ache of his hangover and the blotched patina of his sour sweat. He was trying hard to keep his eyes open against the headache and the exhaustion. They had settled into a comfortably lidded droop that kept him from having to focus on anything in particular. Henry thought he was a pitiful sight.
"I jus don't see why y'gotta egg them folks on," he said with a malleable whisper.
"I ain scared of them Peevey boys," Briar replied with a start as if he had received a mild shock.
Henry shook his head in exasperation.
"Ain't nobody sayin yr scared."
He pulled his arm free of his father's slackened grip and slid out of the truck before Briar could stop him again. He walked around the front end of the truck and up onto the curb and on up through the dirt yard without once looking into the truck at his father. Inside the house he stumbled over the broken sheets of drywall they had failed to clean up the day before. The clatter of the scrap and the weakened walls seemed amplified beyond possibility. It sounded as if the house were made of dying kindling.
He drifted across the waste for some semblance of what to do. Where to go. He figured he could work. Just bash the shit out of the place for a while. Let things work themselves out. He made an about face and headed back outside for one of the sledgehammers. Right out of the door he could see Briar slumped slightly, his chin tucked flat against his chest. Henry snapped his eyes toward the bed of the truck and took a deep breath and just listened to the wispy crunch of his steps in the dirt. He stopped himself from straining to lift the sledge out of the truck bed and let it drop with a resonant clang and paused to see his father's reaction. He drug it over the corrugated steel of the bed, levered the handle over the tailgate and gave it a quick jerk so that the hammerhead slapped solidly against it. He envisioned flecks of paint popping away from the steel and a sizable, satisfying dent. It didn't seem to stir Briar at all.
"Gonna git some work done t'day," Henry said shrewdly to the body on the other side of the window.
He gave two wraps on the glass like a cop and when Briar turned his head slowly Henry opened his eyes big and waved the sledge in front of his face. Briar nodded and waved him off. Henry stepped back and the door opened and he turned, not quite willing to be within arms reach.
Briar swung his feet out and let them rest lightly on the ground as soon as everything else stopped turning, and once he felt stable he rested his elbows on his thighs. He thought of the sledgehammer, the day before and he smiled and then he puked. His arms and legs fanned out in effort to stay clean and he pitched his head out farther than it felt like it should have gone. It was quick and loud and the queasy cold that had been mounting in his head ever since he put the truck on the interstate syphoned out of him like a cast off sheet. Once the push was out of his stomach and he felt his back and his asshole relaxed, he took a few thankful breaths and stayed there hunched out of the truck just in case.
Henry heard the effort, but couldn't bring himself to turn around and look. Where just a second before he held himself upright and sturdy with a bit of confidence he slumped and let the hammer hit the porch floor. He drug the sledge behind him, shaking his head. He stepped over the threshold and the hammer snagged on the lip. He felt a hot surge of frustration tighten up his body and he yanked the thing up through the door and flung it across the skeletal remains of the room.
"Leave th'wood standin," Briar yelled from the seat of the truck.
"I know, damnit."
Henry had one wall down in what he assumed had been the bedroom before Briar joined him. Every few minutes he would catch sight of him out the window alternately standing and sitting in the truck, sipping on a beer, and at one point ate a bit from his lunch sack. When he was ready to walk, he made it to the front steps, convulsed with dry heaves for a minute and then straightened up seeming alright.
"Sorry 'bout that, boy," he said when he clamored into the room.
Henry turned toward him looking doubtful and hurt.
"What exactly y'sorry fr,?"
"Gettin a slow start t'day," Briar said with a grunt as he lifted the sledge and sent it crashing through a moldy sheet of drywall.