tagNovels and NovellasHallelujah Ch. 03

Hallelujah Ch. 03


A gurgling sound, and then it's done.

The last of the juice leaves the tube, other than a few driblets clinging here and there, and the thick, dark, mush at the bottom of the bucket is all that remains. It's thick, purple sedimentary looking, and it almost seems biological. It's pretty gross.

I turn and lean in and tap the large glass carboy...big enough to hold six gallons...and frown. The directions that came with the kit say that after transferring the wine from the bucket where the first fermentation occurred to the glass carboy, I should top it up with water or wine to within a few inches of the bung.

But I have six inches or more left over. That seems like an awful lot of water to add. Fuck. Did I screw this up?

With a shrug, I start adding water. Maybe it IS an awful lot to add, but whatever. Buck assured me when we bought it that, so long as I follow the directions carefully, all would be okay. So I guess I'll keep to that storyline and hope for the best.

I have to hurry anyway. My shift starts in forty minutes, and it's almost that long a drive to get there.

My shift. Fuck. It's been six weeks since my last session as a recording engineer. Or, if you'd rather, since my brief turn as a producer. In that time I've looked for other gigs without a lot of success. It's a tough town to be an unemployed engineer in, and I'd bet your sexual organs that Bennie is giving me less than favorable recommendations to anybody who asks.

I'm pretty sure about that, but not a hundred percent. You'll note that it's your balls I'm betting, not mine.

Actually, I did hear from Bennie one last time. Sort of. He sent me a lengthy e-mail detailing all the ways he thought I'd fucked up what he called "the best job of your life" and, in no uncertain terms, telling me that I wasn't fit for recording or for any gainful employment as far as he could tell. It was a long missive, with very little in the way of punctuation or capitalization. At times, I had to take my best guess as to where one sentence ended and the next began.

Oh, yes. I read the whole thing.

I noted that it arrived very late in the overnight. I wonder if he was drunk. I hope he was, actually. The guy needs some kind of stress reducer in his life, and he doesn't seem like the hard drugs type. Not that that means anything.

Still, Bennie just isn't that important. He's not an eminent threat. Going four straight weeks with no incoming money, on the other hand, was not a small problem to have. In fact, it was absolutely horrifying to me to realize just how close I generally live to the brink. Another four weeks without any money coming in on top of that, and I'd have been in real trouble. So, two weeks ago I bit the bullet and applied at an electronics store in the shinier part of town. I'm knowledgeable enough, the pay is adequate, and nothing in this big blue world sounds more boring to me.

So of course I got the job.

Last week I trained, today I work. The manager's friendly, if a bit odd, the people working with me are mostly five to ten years younger than I am, and the hours are good. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Fuck.

You know what kind of chafes is that I haven't seen Teddy Fields since the day he let me ramble on about Jasmine. In fact, he didn't even bother to let me hear his thoughts on the story. After being so damn insistent that I tell him everything, he let me drone on and on and, when I was done, he paid for our drinks and said he had to be on his way. Left me sitting there totally bewildered and a little embarrassed. Not even a goodbye, just a wave over his shoulder. Like he expected to see me again soon. Like we were old friends.

I got some papers in the mail, to sign and return. It was all legal shit regarding payment for services as producer of the song (which now has the official title of 'As Long As I'm Here'), stuff I probably should have run down with a lawyer. But, I can't afford one, and Fields is not exactly feeding a rabid fanbase with his gruel, so I just signed and returned them. They gave me about enough money to cover groceries for a month. That was okay by me.

If anybody asks, and really nobody does, I'm hoping to get out of town and start up recording again somewhere else. Probably Omaha. The music is what matters, and I can't imagine living my life in Nashville surrounded by music I'm not a part of. I certainly don't want to be hawking gear at some Radio Shack-knockoff designed to appeal to people with half-a-million dollar houses and bullshit medical problems that they get innumerable prescriptions for. I really don't want to spend my time selling fancy massage tools to people who are sixty pounds overweight and sit at a desk all day and then come in looking for help with a "back problem."

So why am I doing exactly that? Why haven't I spent a single minute of my ample free time looking into job opportunities, or housing, outside of the Nashville area? Why do I keep looking up the listing in the phone book for AJ and Jasmine Knox?

What the fuck is wrong with me?

I called Grandpa Cooper a few days after the firing and poured my heart out to him. He was sympathetic, and encouraged me to stick it out. "Don't let the world dictate to you what you're going to be," he'd said. He was coughing a lot. I should get up there and see him as soon as I can.

My wine is topped up and the airlock put on, so I dress for work and try to think up new goals for myself. It's a strange exercise, actually. On the surface, it seems like something people do all the time, but the truth is we tend to spend most of our lives in pursuit of a very small collection of goals, with small steps being shuffled along the way. Lose weight, become more financially secure, clean the garage...we don't change all that much, over time. Starting over from scratch is...well, it's liberating. It's also frustrating, and a bit depressing. I've been pretty singular since high school, and while it's lead to some pretty intense experiences and the opportunity to meet some famous people, I'm looking at my button-up shirt with my name sewn over the right pec in the mirror and realizing just how old thirty-one can sound. Not, you know, in that bullshit "oh my god I'm an adult now" kind of way. More in the fact that my career is going nowhere and I'm alone in the world. No wife, no children at my feet, no chance of either one in the nearest of futures. Maybe ever. Goddamn.

Heading out the door, my life gets a little shittier: Mrs. Married is bouncing happily towards me. She's wearing a light blue shirt that has some kind of jeweled butterfly thing arcing over her fabulous breasts. Her hair is in a ponytail. She sees that I've noticed her and waves energetically, hurrying over.

"Hey, baby," she smiles. "Haven't seen you at the gym in a while. I miss you, you know."

I shrug. "Haven't been going." Actually, I'm not a member anymore. I'm avoiding you.

"Well I've missed you." She gives me a once-over, admiring the uniform and flattening my collar like an attendant mother. "Look at you, in your new shirt. Very sexy. We should go inside." A mischievous grin spreads and she raises her eyebrows expectantly. "You can keep the shirt on," she says, and leans in for a kiss.

I pull back. I suppose I make a bit of a face, too. She scowls at me, and suddenly she's a lot less playful.

"What's this?" she pouts. "Don't give me a bunch of moody attitude. Use your big boy words. What's wrong? Suddenly you're not interested in spending time with me? I thought we had a good thing going, before. I thought we had fun. I mean I know did."

"It was good," I admit. "But I've been thinking a lot about it, and I don't feel right about sleeping with married women."

"Then we just won't fall asleep this time."

"I'm serious. This...it bothers me. A lot."

"Seriously." She pinches the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger, like I'm being an idiot or something. "Listen, this is a lot simpler than you want to believe it is. I like you. I like the way being with you makes me feel, and right now I need some of that in my life. My marriage is shit. That's all there is to that story. You didn't pull me out of it, or seduce me, or take me away from my husband. You didn't destroy anything at all. God, I'm the one who seduced YOU," she kind of smiles her way through that admission. "And I know that men go about these things in...simpler ways...but a woman doesn't cheat just because she's horny and a new opportunity jumps up at her. She doesn't have an affair because her husband isn't giving it up often enough, or just to fuck someone new. When a woman cheats on her marriage it's because she's already checking out. Because she's falling out of love, and it's scaring her. And she's insecure, and needy, and very aware of her own emotional needs. I don't want you to sweep me off my feet. I don't want to spend the rest of my life with you. And I don't want you to think whatever I do with my marriage is your fault. That mess is over in all but name." She gives me those goddamn 'save me' eyes, and leans in closer. "Please, Jake. I'm going to be forty in a few months. Forty, and single, and probably out of the reproduction game for good. I'm terrified. Being with you gives me courage. It makes me feel like I have something to offer, like maybe I really can say goodbye to a life that makes me unhappy and try starting over with someone else. Don't let some stupid idea about chivalry, or whatever, ruin that. I need it."

The gap closes a little more, and our lips meet. It's a gentle touch, deeply intimate but not passionate. A promise in a kiss.

"I have to go to work," I tell her. I've rehearsed the part where I end this sordid affair many times, but never in my mental preparation did I develop an argument for a speech like that.

Another gentle, almost tickling kiss. "Be a little late. I don't need much time." I'm aware of the faint odor of mouthwash on her breath. The swell of her breasts pushing against me.

"I can't," I put my hands on her shoulders, stepping back. Buy time, go away. Try again another day. Stupid lyrics for stupid boys. "It's my first shift and I, uh, I need the money pretty badly."

She pouts. "What about tomorrow, then?"

I should say no. I need to say no. But it's not happening, so I look down at my feet for a moment. Come on, Jacob. This is easy. Tell her you can't. Never mind the big speech, who knows what's really going on in her life. You need to be free of it.

Though you are awfully lonely.

I look up and open my mouth, but I don't really know what I'm about to say.

I don't get a chance to find out. Over her shoulder by about thirty feet is an angry looking man with a baseball bat. He's locked in on me specifically, and he's closing the gap between us very swiftly. Receding hair, kind of short, very red faced. His tie is flapping and he doesn't have any shoes on. In less time than it takes for a celebrity's death to travel across the internet, I know that this is the husband. He's here to fight for his woman, and he took his fucking shoes off so I wouldn't hear him approach. He has big arms, and rage-wide eyes. And that fucking baseball bat!

"Oh, shit!" I push Mrs. Married out of the way. I don't know why. I don't doubt for a fucking minute that this is all her fault. And, really, I don't think he intends to hit her.

She yelps and falls, and he emits a stupid guttural...something. Like a cross between a cat giving birth and a rock slide. He swings the bat.

Pushing her left me unprepared. My arms go down as the bat swings, but they're too slow and it slams into my left ribcage. A blink of red and I'm on the ground on my side, mouth open and kicking my legs out uselessly. I can't breathe. I hear him yell something, a whoosh of air, and blinding pain concusses on my right arm near the shoulder. It feels more like a stab than a strike, and it carries me over onto my stomach. Oh, shit. Oh, shit. I'm going to die right here. I just know I am.

Now she's yelling, too. Begging him to stop. I'm trying to get up. This isn't my fault, goddamn it. I tried...

His boot swings up into my guts. At least he's not using the bat. Whatever air I had left is gone and I'm back on my side. I fold up, unable to think or make a noise, and out of my periphery I see a fist come sailing in. It connects with my cheekbone, my head bounces off the concrete. I don't even realize immediately, but the impact makes me nauseous.

The fist drills me down into the pavement a second time. A third. A fourth. I can't think. Everything's blurry. My mind is reduced to a primordial desperate plea for survival. I hear voices, but nothing makes sense. Somebody's crying. Her. She's crying, braying like a goddamn donkey. I try to focus on her voice, to make sense of the world around me.

"Harold! You have to stop! You'll kill him!" she's sobbing.

"Goddamn right I will." He says, calmly and almost cheerfully. "Goddamn right.

He kicks me in the back, hard, between the shoulder blades. It burns, in a way the other injuries don't. I'm aware that my mouth is open, and that I'm drooling on the ground. Muscles all over my body are spasming at random. I never was much of a fighter.

"No!" she shouts. "Please! Please!" Lady, for the love of god try to be a little more convincing than that.

The punching stops. I raise my head a little. I can make him out, now, standing over me with the baseball bat in both hands. He sees me move and raises the bat. His face is without compassion.

What a jackass way to die. I'm a rat and he's going to do away with me because that's what you do to rats when they invade your house. I'm really about to die.

But I don't.

Instead, Buck Nelson comes sailing through the air from behind Harold the Cuckold like a banshee from the depths of hell, and drops the guy with the only weapon he knows how to yield. If I had to guess, I'd say Buck isn't much of a fighter either, but he apparently has this one thing that he can handle like a fucking ninja: a wine bottle.

It shatters over the fucker's head, spilling dark red juice all over him and making it look for all the world like Buck Nelson just murdered him in a single blow. A short stumble, a moan, and he's down. His hair is so matted with malbec, or whatever, that I can't even tell if he's bleeding. He must be, though. Shit, a wine bottle? I can't help but pray that Buck didn't kill the guy. A hit like that to the head could very well do it.

Mrs. Married rushes over to the now-prostrated form. She doesn't even look at me.

Buck leans over me. "Are you okay?"

I nod. Jesus, how should I know? I'm having a hard time not crying.

Now Married is sobbing over Harold the Cuck, and Buck is calling 911 on his cell phone, and the only person who isn't either injured, probably going to jail, or both of these things is the woman who started it all. I can recognize that there's some humor in that, but I don't think I'll be laughing at it any time soon.

I lay on my back and close my eyes, wiping tears off my cheeks and trying to breathe evenly.

Somewhere out there Jasmine is a Knox, and she is living a good and joyous life with another man. And she will never have to see me bleeding and crying in the parking lot of a low rent apartment complex in my button up shirt with my name sown on it and my ribs broken in the hot and humid Nashville sun, while another man's wife cradles his lifeless body and begs it for forgiveness and forgets that I exist at all.

I think of her face at the restaurant, of the way she jumped out of her chair when she saw me, and I smile. And then I close my eyes.

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