an excerpt from the novel "The Legend of Afro Billy & The Cactus King" by Ed Tangerine
Kathleen didn’t know what to do with the love in her heart now that Afro Billy was dead. She made coffee, sat down. She licked the concavity of the spoonhead and espied her way into a capsized reflection. Her nose was fat, eyes wide, and the bags under them mixed in to the metal curve somewhere above her freckles. Slowly, a flood of color followed the trail her tongue left, and left it purple.
“Sweetie?” called Kathleen from the kitchen, “Momma’s gotta leave for work. Will you come tell me you love me?” She rubbed her nostrils to make sure they weren’t fat. “Baby Jackson? Momma’s gotta leave. Come give me kisses, sweetie,” then fluffed her bangs in the toaster. “Baby Jackson, you come give me those kisses!”
Back the hall she stormed astutely. Jackson could hear her sneakers squeak over the linoleum, so he pulled his blanket over top his head, and tightened it against his ears. Kathleen opened the door and asked, “Baby Jackson, why won’t you kiss me?” She scanned the room: no sight of Jackson. “And why are the dogs in here?”
Chester and Buster laid in front of the closet doors, and perked their ears in the interest of their name. Chester growled, but then Jackson popped out from the corner with a finger pointed at him. “No, Chester. That’s bad. Don’t you growl at Momma!”
“And why are you hiding from me, Baby Jackson?”
Jackson didn’t answer. He turned the direction of his eyes to his easeled chalkboard. Kathleen’s eyes followed. The chalkboard was wet: wet in the shape of smeared tiny handprints. Jackson’s eyes fell to the floor. Kathleen’s followed. She saw the floor was wet, too. She smelt urine, now that she thought about it.
“I tried to pee there, but I’ve forgotten how,” said Jackson, wiping his damp hands on his shirt. Kathleen didn’t know what to say.
“Baby Jackson, you go to the toilet if you’re gonna pee! Now Momma’s gonna be late for work because she has to clean up your mess.”
Jackson sat with the dogs and watched his momma get a towel and bucket. He watched her soak up and scrub the urine. She said, “So tell me why you locked yourself in here with the dogs.”
Jackson said nothing. Until he said, “I’m scared when you go, Momma.”
“Oh don’t be, sweetie. Your daddy will be here soon. You’re gonna spend the day with him. Do you feel better now?”
“Nuh-uh,” said Jackson, hugging himself.
“Baby Jackson, I ain’t always gonna be around to protect you, you know. And neither will these dogs. It’s just not possible.” Kathleen kissed Jackson on the forehead and said, “Momma loves you,” and closed the door behind her. Jackson heard her truck fire up, and pull out of the gravel. He wrapped his arms around Chester, and Buster wrapped around them both. A mat of mangy black and brown fur covered Jackson and still, he was scared.
an excerpt from the novel "The Legend of Afro Billy & The Cactus King" by Ed Tangerine
“Billy, you comin’ to play or not?”
“Well yeah, I reckon. Just let me grab my bullets.”
“Oh good, I was hopin’ for you to grab them. Been feelin’ that itch you been talkin’ about.”
“You see? I knew’d you’d come round soon enough. It’s just a matter of—,”
Billy reached to the top of the fridge and squirmed his fingers around till he touched the barrel of the pistol, then hopped down from the counter and looked at Dennis. “Well, I ain’t exactly sure what the matter is. But my daddy does, and he’ll tell you all about it when he meets you. He’s gunna like you, Dennis, I just know it. Hey, grab those cans, will ya?”
“I sure hope so, Billy. You’re daddy sounds like one helluva feller.”
“You’d better believe it, brother. I’m gunna grow up to be just like him someday.”
“Ain’t that great... I wish I was you, Billy.”
“What did you say?”
Billy’s face was plum from pushing the bullets in.
“Nothin’. That thing loaded yet?”
“Good ‘nuff I ‘spose. We won’t need more than ten.”
The boys hopped over Billy’s Mama’s fence and army-crawled across Benn Jakobs’ lawn.
“Keep your big butt down, Dennis. Yer lucky there ain’t no snipers here or you’d be killin’ us both.”
“My ass ain’t nearly as big as that ol’ melon you got for a head, Billy. I swear to it!” They both chuckled so hard they woke up Benn’s St. Bernard and had to book it over his fence and into his woods. That big mutt crashed against the wire and almost toppled it over.
“Jesus,” said Billy. “Ain’t no reason for a dog that size. How you gon’ love it?”
“That’s one dog I could never love,” concurred Dennis. They heeled their way up the hill pushing crud into footprints. Billy checked over his shoulder to see if Dennis was keepin’ up with those cans. Sure nuff, he was. Over the crest lay an empty cornfield where they could set up targets for blasting.
“You think you’ll ever get married, Billy?”
“Marriage isn’t for me. I don’t reckon just any lady could keep up with me when I’m older. You see, I wanna be a drifter. A man of the breeze. Today I’m in Texas, tomorrow it’s Portugal. And next week: the moon. Ain’t nothin’ gonna be able to stop me, no sir. This lady’s gonna have to be real special for me to settle down. If we’re talking what-if’s.” Billy spit.
“Shoot that cola can on the left.”
Dennis scanned the gun along the row of red cans.
“Take a deep breath and shoot when yer ready,” said Billy.
Dennis held his breath and squeezed the trigger. A crack escaped the chamber.
They inhaled the fumes and hot steel.
“You were just a little low. Try again.”
Another crack let out.
“Damn it!” fired Dennis.
“Yer a tad too far left. You ain’t focusin’ enough.”
“You show me what to do again, Billy. I’m nervous.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to be nervous about, friend. Here, I’ll show ya.” Billy aimed the gun, exhaled, fired. The can ping’d and plopped dead to the ground. “What are you afraid of?”
“Nothin’, Billy, I just get nervous, that’s all.”
“No, Dennis, I mean what are you afraid of: Pirates? Clowns? God?”
“I’m scared of my daddy,” said Dennis.
“Yer daddy? Well that’s awfully odd. Why you scared of him?”
“What does any uh’this got to do with blastin’ cans, Billy?”
“I reckon you’ll just have to imagine those cans are yer daddy, and that you’re gunna shoot him dead in this field.”
“Oh, I get it. Like that trick with the underwear.”
“You wanna kill him on the first shot. He’s gotta gun, too.”
“Couldn’t I just aim for his hand then? And shoot the gun right out of it?”
“No way, you big turkey. That’s movie stuff. This is life or death.”
“I don’t want to die, Billy.”
“Then shoot him.”
Dennis aimed down the sights, squeezed the grip so hard he coulda choked it. He inhaled, exhaled. Inhaled—
“Look, Dennis, there’s a squirrel!”
“I see that. Ain’t she a beaut?”
“Hand me the pistol.”
Dennis formed a line behind Billy who was outstretched and aimed with the gun.
“What are you doin’, Billy?”
“I reckon I guess I’ll kill this squirrel.”
“Now why you gotta go on and do such a thing? It wun’t doin’ nothin’ to anyone.”
“This squirrel is meant to die, Dennis. You’ll understand that someday. Just watch and learn for now.” Billy steadied, emptied, then fired. The squirrel froze. Dennis thought he missed. Until the head of the beast rolled from its shoulder and fell like a nut to the ground.
“Poor thing never had a chance,” sighed Dennis.
“Dennis, could you shoot a man?”
“If I could hit him, I would shoot him I ‘spose. What am I shootin’ him for anyways?”
“Doesn’t matter. He’s gotta die. He killed your wife, maybe.”
“I got a wife? Well, that’s just great. But now she’s dead?”
“Dead as a possum.”
“That’s a shame. Then I guess I’d shoot him.”
“You guess? Whatdoyou mean you guess? This hoodlum killed your wife with a knife and you got a gun and you guess you’ll shoot him? How the hell you gunna walk around guessin’ all the time, Dennis. Ain’t you quaint. Yer down right silly.”
“Shut your mouth, Billy. I ain’t silly!”
“Yer about as silly as a cute little Easter bunny.”
“Billy I’m warnin’ you!”
“Yer about as silly as one’uh them cannibals livin’ up in the mountains.”
“Billy, you got a world’uh hurt comin’ your way if you don’t shut your damn mouth.”
“Yer about as silly as a polka dot!”
“Stand up, Billy! Stand up and fight me, right now!”
Billy stood up. He was much taller than Dennis.
“Cool it, Dennis. I was just playin’.”
“No, Billy, I had it with you! You’re pickin’ on me.You made me shoot my daddy. You killed my wife. Now I gotta fight you!”
“Dennis don’t make a big mistake.”
“Enough of your talkin’! Put your fists up!”
“Dennis I’m warnin’ you.”
“To hell with your words! You ain’t nothin’ but a bully!”
Dennis started crying. He started breathing heavy. He charged Billy. His little lungs let out as much steam as possible—
Billy shot Dennis in the eye.
“Billy, my eye! I can’t see nothin’!”
“Just calm down, buddy. Yer gunna be OK.”
Billy carried Dennis as far as Benn Jakobs’ fence. That damn mutt was lookin’ right at the two of them.
“Look, Dennis, I ain’t gon’ make it across with you on my shoulders. I’m gunna get my daddy and we’ll be back for you. You just sit tight, friend.”
“Wait, no! Don’t leave me here! I don’t want your daddy to see me like this.”
“Just relax, Dennis. Yer gunna be OK. I’ll be back.”
Billy jumped the face and that St. Bernard chased after him. The dog got so close that Billy had to turn around and punch it in the mouth. He hopped into his mama’s yard to catch his daddy coming home from work.
“Whatchoo runnin’ from there, young one? One’uh them cannibals chasin’ ya?”
Billy’s daddy let out a low chuckled at himself.
“Daddy, I shot my new friend Dennis in the eye with yer gun and he’s bleedin’ out next to Mr. Jakobs’ bloodthirsty St. Bernard. I’m sorry.”
“I’m gunna beat you, Billy.”