Dan Holden's Creative Writing
Most really don’t have a good story to tell. Fact, most folks remember him on account of the things he steals from their houses and boats.
But everybody knows if something’s missing, the first place you go to look, after looking in the closets and cupboards and the ice house, in the back seat of the truck and the truck bed, under the skiffs…then you go to Big John’s place while he’s still out on the water and look for it there.
Nobody stops you, least ways not his wife, she come to expect neighbors dropping by for their things. It’s like a social time for her because nobody ever come by for any other reason, on account of all the boys on her property, children and teens with no sense of right nor wrong and can’t keep they hands to themselves.
They ain’t contributing much to the island other than being the bad folk, but they ain’t so bad. They just have a sense of barter that don’t involve no trade.
Lucy and me, we go over there just a couple weeks back looking for my sawsall. I traded an entire catch for that thing just nigh on half a year ago and I ain’t about to let no crazy Big John just take it for good.
So we wait till one day we is coming’ in off the water and we see him goin’ out. We know he’s headed to town, likely to get a bottle and maybe stay for a while, so we walk over to his place before it gets dark. His wife Aggie is there, of course, yellin’ at the boys and the dogs, tryin’ to hang some laundry though it might take days to dry with the weather turnin’ like this. You have to know when to bring it in under the porch before the fog rolls in, but since she don’t have much of a porch Lucy said, she suspects she just lays things out on the table to dry.
She sees us about the same time we see her, so she says “Hi Lucy hi Martin.”
Lucy says hi.
She says “You come for your goods?”
I says “Yeah that sawsall. Did you see where he put it?”
“That big saw?” she says and I say “Yeah.”
She says he put it in the back seat of the truck. She says it’s locked.
“Do you have the key?”
“No he don’t give me no key. I can’t drive,” she says but I already know that.
“I gotta have that saw,” I says.
The boys take note of my voice and stop they foolishness. They looking at they Ma to see what she’s gonna do.
I don’t know neither.
“Hank,” she says without lookin’ at him, “you got the key?”
Hank jumps down out of the truck bed and says, “Pa don’t give me no key unless he’s here. But I know where it is.”
“Go get it,” says Ma, and he does. He goes into the house and there’s clangin’ a bit, I think he hides it in the tackle box.
He walks up to me kinda strange but they’s all kind a strange, like they been hit in the head too many times, they look a bit confused.
He says “here” and drops the key in my hand like I’m infected with something. Maybe he is.
So I open the truck and fold the torn old seat down and, sure enough there’s the sawsall under the rifle, lookin’ ok so I pick it up to take it. I’m just pullin’ my head out of the truck when I hear some fast footsteps and then “Holy shit!” come outa Big John’s mouth like a bear growlin’ down the back of my neck, he grabs my head with both his hands and tosses me outa that truck like a dog.
My sawsall is still in it so I ain’t ready to leave yet.
“I just come for my sawsall,” I says gettin’ up.
“That’s mine,” he says, like he done had it for years, and he squares at me.
“What do you mean, I just got it two weeks ago in trade…”
“It was mine before you got it,” he says. “Somebody stole it.”
“That’s crazy” I says.
“You callin’ me crazy?” says Big John. I can tell he needs a fight like some people need a cigarette after two weeks of no smokes.
“Big John you know that’s Martin’s sawsall,” says Lucy, but I don’t need her to defend me and I wish she wouldn’t do that.
“You shut your face,” says Big John at Lucy, which I don’t take kindly to neither so I’m lookin’ for something to hit him with. You can’t take Big John on all alone. Then I wonder what his kin are gonna do but they’s all standing still, like somebody nailed them in place.
There’s twigs and leaves everywhere and shadows all around, which makes it hard to see anything in particular. The fence post is still in the ground and the rock is too big. There’s truck parts against the shed but I’d have to cross him to get to them. There’s the gun in the truck but I ain’t gonna get to that, no.
So I just stand there for a minute thinkin’.
It’s odd because nothin’s comin’ to my head.
He looks at me sideways like I done changed color or something.
“Well,” he says.
“I got nothin’,” I says. “I just want my sawsall.”
“You can’t have it,” says Big John.
“But it is mine,” I says.
“It was mine first,” he says.
“Maybe so once,” I says. “But not anymore.”
“You a lawyer,” he says.
“No I just know it’s mine.”
“How you expect on getting’ it” says Big John.
“Same way’s everybody does,” I says. “I’m just gonna wait till you’re gone.”
“Same way as everybody does,” says his wife, at the front of the house, nodding. Then she looks up like she’s surprised herself, and Big John looks at her too.
I don’t right know what is going to happen next.
“What in the hell are you sayin’” says Big John and his voice is strange like he’s found something new to beat on, and all the boys step back a step. And he’s just movin’ her way when I hear Hank sayin’, “Everybody does, Pa.” And he’s shakin’ but he’s protecting his Ma.
I’m not sure what to do. I could leave now, but I think he might kill that Ma and that boy. On ta other hand he might kill us all if he gets that gun.
I hear another boy sayin’ “It’s true,” and another one. I don’t think they’s helping much though because I can see Big John’s fists getting bigger and his face is all red. He’s nigh on crazy now.
And then somethin’ happens that I ain’t expectin’.
They whole family, all of them, they just leave. Each in his own direction, they just walk away or run away, but they’s gone before he can decide which one he wants to chase. So he’s just standin’ there, lookin’ around, confused like Hank was, but even more because he’s all crazy too.
So me and Lucy we leave too. There don’t seem to be much reason to stay when he’s like that, so we just go.
That makes sense like I never seen anything make sense before.
One minute, he’s gonna kill somebody, and then we just leave him there with his craziness.
I never seen anything like that.
Mostly there’s fights but nobody ever tried standing up to Big John not that I heard of.
I guess nobody ever did.
He’s just all big wind blowin’ around the island.
Ain’t more than a couple of days later his boat capsizes in the middle of the lake on the way back from town. It’s dark out and he’s drunk, probably swims in circles till he drowns. They find him later, floatin’ face down.
It ain’t really a funeral so much as a burial. His kids dig a big hole over by the shed and put him in it.
Nobody says much of anything but we all get our stuff on the way home.
I get my sawsall.
Hank gets the car keys and loads Big John’s family in the truck, even Ma. They’s all smilin’ like it’s Easter Sunday. One of they boys turns on the radio and the little ones are jumpin’ around in the back.
He drives them down the road, I think they go round that island like twenty times that night.
I don’t think I ever seen so much happiness over somebody dyin’.
I guess it’s the same when he’s alive though.
Everybody’s always waitin’ till he’s gone.
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