Bleed County



“The meaning of a piece of fiction only begins where everything psychological and sociological has been explained.” Flannery O’Conner’s Letter to Dr. T.R. Spivey, 19 October 1958, Milledgeville, Ga.

Chapter 1 – Business as Usual

Turge ran his finger along the edge of the newly sharpened bush-hog blade. His unshaven square-jawed face jerked into a stubbled grin. He grabbed a package of Orange, Slow-Burning, Zig-Zag rolling papers from his torn shirt pocket. Next, he pulled a single sheet of the rice paper along the cutting blade, the thin rolling paper’s own weight being sufficient to part itself cleanly on the blade.
“Will you look at that sucker … ain’t never been anything like that cutter in Bleed County, ought slice them roadside weeds, or anything else, slicker’n shit.”

“Maybe so, but you wasted a ZZ to prove to yourself what you already knew, you moron,” said Gankey.

“You still giving folks them IQ tests,” said Turge. Smirking, he looked at Gankey through wide set pale blue eyes. He stood, rubbed his calloused palms back over his rowdy black hair.

Gankey got up from the old, stained car seat; the garage’s only recognition to civility. She stretched, and pulled her blouse back down. Heading for the garage entrance, she awkwardly stepped over a black patch of caked grease, mixed with road dirt, stuck to the garage’s concrete floor. Gankey struggled to open the heavy, sagging, overhead door. At that moment, seemingly with a fickle mind of its own, the structure relented and slid, screeching along the steel tracks into the ceiling. She stepped outside onto the gravel, stood still, and took measured breaths of the air. A host of startled barn sparrows, who made their homes in the garage swept out of the rafters and into the windy atmosphere. Gankey covered her head with her hands. She looked up, shading her blue eyes from the brightness with her slender hands, and followed their flight until they were out of sight. She savored the chill in the air, imagining she stood on a breezy bluff; breathing in deeply of the clean mountain skies.

Gankey shivered, rubbed her hands together, and limped back into the garage. She peered into a junked, auto rearview mirror hanging from a nail over the metal sink. Gankey was as much unaware of her prettiness as was Turge. She checked her evenly spaced teeth and quickly brushed them.

“The bus depot called yesterday afternoon Turge. John Lou said you got a package coming in this morning. It’s quit raining, so let’s get ourselves on down to the depot afore the Hound gets here and there’s no one to claim your latest get-rich-quick scheme – and maybe just once – you can wipe that black greasy shit off of your ugly puss afore we scoot out of here.”

Gankey draped a light green windbreaker over her wide shoulders. She used both hands to push her long red hair out and over the collar. She stared at Turge and pushed the tip of her tongue over her full lower lip, letting her demure eyes give up their natural coy smile.

He dropped his tools and the grease gun onto the scarred wooden bench, and ran an oily rag over his face; not cleaning, just spreading the mess, leaving little cotton threads of the red rag clinging to his two-day-old stubble. Turge shook his hedge of black unruly hair and put on his mirrored aviator sunglasses; the flecks of dried mustard on the lens gave the appearance of having a form of crystal acne.

“I swear you are beyond belief and look at your finger, the cuts bleeding all over the place. I told you to quit playing with those blades. Come over here to the sink and let mammy take care of your booboo.”

Gankey waited.

“Move over ... get out of the way, I’ll run some water on the finger and then we’ll get on over there to the depot. If it’s what I’m thinking – it’ll be the best day of our lives,” said Turge.
Turge shifted his two-hundred lithe pounds from foot to foot as the cold well water streamed over his cut finger, turned pink, and swirled down the corroded drain. He torqued the faucet handle closed, wiped his hands on his bib, and reached up to pat the rear end of the naked calendar model hanging above the dirt encrusted metal sink. He glanced towards Gankey, busy spreading her lipstick; then he spat a brown stream of dip,

 “Let’s go woman.”

She began limping towards the garage door.

“Just when – Gankey, are you ever going to please me? I’ve told you a hundred times to quite wearing them noisy flip-flops – they sound like pigs farting.”

“You know damn well I can’t afford them ortho shoes, so just shut up and keep walking.”

They hurried along the cracked and uneven concrete sidewalk; Gankey strained to match Turge’s pace.

The county seat of Fishville, owing to the insular attitude of its mostly agrarian citizens, and who, rather than march with the times, managed to keep its civic growth in a constant state of retrograde. The Bleed County isolation and their religious fervor grew from efforts to maintain the fraudulent outside world at bay. They knew, understood, and could deal with their own vices; however, the corruption of the external world befuddled the Bleed County citizens. Their dwindling population now stood, holding somewhere below their peak of the nineteen forties.  Few vehicles, other than local residents and the odd commercial truck, passed through Fishville.

Turge and Gankey pushed through the blue and grey wooden depot doors. From behind his oak counter, the bus station manager gave Turge a, ‘What the hell do you want?’ look, over the wire rim of his glasses. Next, he put his concern into words, so there would not be any misunderstandings.

“It’s too early for the bus – what do you all want Turge?”

“All them hundred dollars bills you keep in that cash drawer of yours,” said Turge. He smiled and pointed his index finger, like the barrel of a gun, at the station manager.

“I ain’t never seen one of them denominations, except on TV, and I don’t reckon none of you have either. And Miss Gankey, what is a fine looking woman like you, hanging with a no good like Turge?”

“Beats me ... unless that he’s such a great lover Mr. Grey, you know – what with all the grease and sweat ... makes a girl go weak in the knees.” She lowered her eyes and buried her chin into her chest; the pink wool of her blouse tickled her jaw. Gankey loosened its top three buttons, gave a little moan, and spread the garment open, fanning her breast with her hands.

“Good lambs of Christ, what kind of woman have you turned into, Gankey Stewart. Your daddy, rest his soul, would a warmed your bottom for talking like that. Turge, now just what contraption are you expecting on the bus this time, and this parcel hadn’t better be like that last shipment you ordered; them fish worms shipped in horse shit … we aired this place out for two days,” said Mr. Grey.

Turge adjusted the clasps on his overalls, “That’ll teach you, John Lou to go poking your nose into my business … and the worm farm would’ve made money, excepting you put them crates outside and they most dried up in the sun. I should’ve reported you to the Hound home office,” said Turge feeling for the round tin of snuff in the right hip pocket of his coveralls.

”It were what the situation called for … to get rid of the stink, and you know that to be the truth. Besides, you’re supposed to get a special permit and container to ship worms; so that’s what you reporting me to the Hound home office would have got told to you.”

“Hey ... look you all … the bus is early, Homers driving down the road right now,” said Gankey as she ran, placing her hands over her blouse, and with her head, gave a nervous flip to her hair.

“Stay inside until the dust settles, and keep that door closed too,” said Mr. Grey.

“It just rained. Ain’t no dust. Go to hell … I’m going out front and wait ... you coming Gankey?” said Turge leaving the door open.

Brakes squealed for a full five seconds, before the blue and silver bus came to a stop in front of the depot. Homer, the driver, hissed opened the pneumatic passenger doors, stepped down, and adjusted his shiny black-billed driver’s hat, banded with an enameled gold rope. He unlocked the undercarriage storage compartment, and replaced the wrench key back into the hand tooled leather holster he wore on his belt. He drew on his gloves as he looked around the depot dock.

Turge pushed past Homer and bent over placing his hand on the side of the bus, “Its for sure got to be that box right there ... that one ... says Ajax School of Taxidarn; Taxidarn, that’s the word ... the one printed on the match book cover ... that’s our ticket out of this dump, ain’t that right Gankey,” said Turge.

“Taxidermy,” said the Hound driver.

Gankey smiled, “Hi Homer, seems like your bus gets bigger every time I see you. I’ll never know just how you manage that be he moth out there on them interstates.”

“Well Miss Gankey, I’ve been driving for twenty three years, and I reckon most of us, or at least some of us get good at what we do for a living,” he said looking at Turge.

Homer moved in front of Turge blocking him from getting into the cargo compartment. He grabbed the Ajax package by its two corners giving such a tug that the container whizzed out over the polished metal floor of the compartment, passed him, and dropped onto the road.

“For Christ sake Homer, don’t you see the “Handle with Care - Contains Delicate Material” stamped all over the box?” complained Turge.
“No ... just like I didn’t see the ‘Do Not Breath Near This Container’ of your last shipment. What wild scheme are you up to now? I bet you talked Gankey into paying for whatever is in that crate,” said the driver.

“That ain’t none of your business ...,” Turge said. He spit a long, brown stream onto the bus tire.
“Turge, gimme a hand with the other crate, that one’s for Jeb,” asked the driver while staring at Gankey’s belly button, exposed by her open blouse.

“Hell no, that’s what you get paid for. Then after you unload, you ought just slide back into that driver’s seat and get yourself on down the road afore I lay one on your nose.”

Homer ignored Turge, and picked up the other crate. He carried the package onto the wooden porch of the depot, setting the container down with exaggerated caution, looking over his shoulder into Turge’s mirrored sunglasses. Mr. Grey came out and signed the pink colored manifest on the clipboard held out to him. Homer, smiling at Gankey, brushed off his pressed grey uniform. He climbed back into his bus and eased into the quilted leather driver’s seat. Homer pulled on the shiny handle and closed the doors and at the same time released the air brakes, the resulting pneumatics sounded like the bus broke wind as a parting gesture to Turge. Gankey smiled at Homer and waved to him as he drove away from the depot dock.

“How we goanna get that back to the garage? Sure looks heavy ... Homer couldn’t lift the thing.” Gankey asked Turge, as she tossed her hair out of her face, and pushed her blouse back into her slacks.

Pointing to the sky with his still bleeding finger, “I’ll get the helicopter to just come over and lift our new business up for us. What the hell do you think? We’ll carry the thing. It ain’t heavy. That Homer is a wimp anyway; you saw what he did when I told him I’d lay one on his snot box –   nothing that’s what. He knows better than messing with the likes of me. Now grab a hold of that other end when I tip this corner up.” Turge flexed his considerable guns for the benefit of Gankey. She bent over to slide her hands under the corners; Turge’s blue eyes narrowed as he stared down into her cleavage. He knew she loved him to preoccupy his thoughts with her. They did the stumbling mover’s walk, splashing in the puddles of rainwater, for the entire block to reach his garage.
Gankey abruptly let her end fall, when they stopped to open the garage door.

“Sorry ... my fingers couldn’t stay clamped on the edge any longer,” she moved back as Turge dropped his end.

He always got excited whenever he received a letter or a package, which was not that often, and never one this large. He grabbed a linoleum cutter knife from the bench and split open the taped seams of the container; like a surgeon tracking his first slice down the center of the patient’s chest; straight and not so deep as to injure internal organs.

“Gankey, take a look out of the window, and see if anyone’s in the street. After that, get back over here and give me a hand. I don’t want no one knowing about this until I get set up proper.”

“All clear except for ol’lady Dorset waddling along to afternoon vespers. She must be taking guitar lessons because she’s carrying a case almost as big as she is.”
“What the hell – look again – you for sure that’s her?”

“Who cares? You only ordered the “Surprise Me” home business kit; nobody gives a damn what you are getting yourself into again. I’ll take another gander ... she’s gone, probably in church by now, tuning up that guitar of hers, and praying the townsfolk’s will rid us sinners from this here village.”
Turge blindly wormed his arms up to their armpits into the box’s straw like excelsior. The packing material began falling out. He stopped rummaging and wrapped his fingers around an object.

“This here home business starter kit is twice the size of what I expected. Hot damn Gankey ... we’ll be able to pick and choose from now on.”
“The hell you say ... that means I’ll be able to get a real dude  ... one of them New York boy toys I’m always reading about, all body parts correct and stuffed so as I can hang the contraption above my bed. Okay, tell me again how this shipment is going to change our lives this time?”

Turge pulled out with both hands; a set of books, a box of chemicals, some stainless steel surgical tools, staples, and material for stitching. He tossed aside the remaining excelsior from the box, and then slowly and caringly pulled out a stuffed Horse’s head. Turge stared in awe, like watching a child emerge from the birth canal. Unaccountably, he started laughing.
“What the hell, those crazy bastards ... get the idea Gankey ... a horse head ... a real stuffed horse head. What’s that word you sister always used? Irony ... yeah that’s the one ... you see the irony?” Turge said as he placed the horse head on top of the picnic cooler setting on the workbench.

“Yeah Mr. Mensa, I get the irony, a horse head for a horse’s ass. Oh yeah, you do know don’t you, that critter’s not going in my house, and don’t bring my sister into this.”
“I’m thinking the other way around, the horse’s ass’ sent the ...”

“Like I said Turge, I got the idea the first time.” “Listen up Gankey, all this stuff has to be for a home course in taxidarn. I remember seeing a picture on the back of that matchbook cover along with them accountings’, postal workers, and import export business guys, all of them wearing ties. Me and you’ll set up this taxidarn business and in a year’s time be able to walk away from this wide spot in the road. I got a real winner here, and I’m the one that thought of writing away for the kit. I’ve got all the plans penciled out in my head -- every step of the way. I’m raring to get on down the road right now.”
Gankey looked at the shipping label on the crate, “Wait a minute Turge afore you go spending what you ain’t got – that shipping label’s the address for Jeb’s Apothecary. That other crate must have been yours – the way the Hound driver Homer yanked this one out on the ground, he never even looked at the label, what with you all the time hollering the crate belonged to you.”

Turge, along with his hyper-excitement at receiving a package, had already started swelling up with visions of his rosy future. He paid no attention to what Gankey said. Instead, he stood trembling and rubbed his sweaty hands onto his Jib Jab tee shirt beneath the bib coveralls. His breath came rapidly. The perspiration on his forehead ran down his face mixing with the black graphite forming grey rivulets. Turge never experienced sustained thinking; he liked to say that he saved energy by letting his “brain” rest in standby mode.

Turge ran his hands down his coveralls, reached out, and grabbed Gankey. He pushed his lips onto hers and began pulling at her clothes. At first, she remained passive, but gradually responded more excitedly than her attacker did. They fell onto the old oil stained car seat. His mouth covered hers while his fingers pulled at her lower lip until she cried in pain. She pulled away and bit into his neck – laughing. The Horse head staring straight ahead remained expressionless.

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