WHAT NEEDS PAINTIN’ OVER - GRAHAM BOWLIN
I once been told that I ain’t got no good in me and that I never would. That’s just how she say it. “You ain’t got no good in you and you never will, Charlie Withers,” she say.
See, me and her were gettin’ together and she’s in love with me, and one day, she come to me and say that she was pregnant. And it was mine. So I say to her I’d marry her. That’s all I say. “Well then, I’ll marry you,” I say, just like that.
I went back to my hotel room that night, smoked some shitty dope she’d gave me, and thought real hard about what I’d said. Next day, I told her I was gettin’ the fuck outta town. I had changed my mind.
She cried and screamed and called me a liar. But she wrong. I ain’t a liar. I just change my mind. Simple. Every day, politicians pass laws, start wars, all kindsa crazy shit because they change their mind ’bout somethin’. I don’t get what the big deal was about me changin’ mine. And her feelin’ bad didn’t mean shit-all to me. Way I see it’s like this: you go ’round worryin’ how other people feelin’ and, pretty soon, you be carryin’ around so many other feelins from other people that you ain’t gonna have any room for your own.
People ’round town had started in askin’ a lot of questions ’round then, so it was time to be movin’ on anyway. So I went that night to her Daddy’s store, the one I was workin’ in, and I drilled a hole in the little safe. I got two grand and change, threw it in my duffle bag and got the hell outta town.
I headed from North Carolina down cross the border into South Carolina. There’s three things that South Carolina good for and that’s churches, fireworks, and the dirtiest dime piece strippers you ever gonna find in your life. I love South Carolina.
Now, the last one probably make sense to y’all, but the former might be a bit confusin’. See, I got a very particular line of work. I take things from other people. It’s a great job ’cause I don’t need an office or a tie or any tools or nothin’, ’cept the drill that time and I stole that. I only need one thing: gullible idiots. And after years of research, I discovered that the best place to find those is in a church.
I needed a place to lay low, maybe some more shit to steal. Church was a good start. So I just drove for a while till finally I hit somethin’ I thought looked pretty good. Old rundown piece o’ shit church in the middle of nowhere. It was early Wednesday and the parking lot was full up. It’s good to hit ’em on a Wednesday. On Sundays, everybody’s there ’cause they gotta be. But, on Wednesday, you hit the real holy rollers. The real generous, stupid ones.
I pulled my new Chevy truck over into the gravel parkin’ lot. I had just traded it back at a restaurant over the border. Gave the other sonofabitch a ‘gently used’ Buick Skylark, no extra charge. I liked the truck real well and was glad I hadn’t got the red Camaro. I’d almost gone for it, but it was too flashy and I changed my mind. Let the poor bastard keep taking all those speeding tickets.
As I stepped outta the car, the sun goddamn near blindin’ me, this ancient nigger come walkin’ outta the church on a cane.
“Hello, boy!” he say.
I ignored him callin’ me boy, as me rippin’ his fuckin’ head off wasn’t ’bout to get me anythin’ out of him.
“Hi there, sir,” I say.
“Hi there,” he say back.
And we just stood there in the fuckin’ sun bakin’ like bread, me waitin’ for the dumb old bastard to speak, him waitin’ for somethin’ to come into his fuckin’ head.
I did his job for him. “Sir, I don’t mean to be botherin’ y’all, I know you got a service and everythin’, but I’m lookin’ for some work. Some help, you understand?”
He stared at me for another minute, yellow eyes goin’ all over the place, thinkin’ about God knows what. His eyes settled on my duffle bag.
“You a travelin’ man?” he ask me.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Well, son, I reckon I kin help.”
I spit at the ground, just to show him I’d do it, spit right there in front of him. “Yeah?” I say.
“I reckon, yup. I got this ol’ barn, older’n Christ. I needs to git it painted.”
“Yeah...” he say.
Ever tried carryin’ on with a nigger ’fore? It’s goddamn near impossible to get anywhere. So I just shook my head and climbed into his pickup truck. Floor was so rusted out I could see the road flyin’ by underneath me as we drove down the road.
“Where ya from, son?” he ask.
He sat there, chewin’ on his lip like he was waitin’ for me to respond but, like I told you, there ain’t no point in tryin’ to talk to them people so I didn’t say nothin’ back. Finally he just shrugged his old shoulders a little bit and stared back at the road.
His place was way out in the middle of goddamn nowhere, took near half an hour. He had a farmhouse, a shed, and a barn. Everythin’ was a real old piece o’ shit, ’specially the barn. I had no idea why anybody would wanna get the thin’ painted up, but there’s no point in trying to get a ’groid to listen to any kinda reason.
We went inside the old house. There was a little living room and a kitchen and a dark hallway that went off somewhere. I look around for some good stuff to steal, but there ain’t much. Shotgun hangin’ above an old television and some Hummels, that’s ’bout it.
“You kin sleep onna floor,” he say. “Put yer bags an’ what not ovuh there.”
I dropped my duffel bag on the wood floor by the couch. If there’s one thin’ you can say ’bout a nigger, they real trustworthy. Hell, they ain’t smart enough to trick anybody, ’cept maybe another black. And then, what they gonna steal from ’em? There’s nothin’ to take.
He went into the kitchen and grabbed a paint bucket and a brush, then he take me outside and we look at the barn. It’s all fucked up, painted white in different places, like they was all done at different times. Some people just can’t finish a task.
“So you just paint the barn white, see?” He waved his hand in the air like he’s showin’ me how to paint, like I’m a retard.
“Yeah,” I say.
“All right, dinner seven o’clock. I’m leavin’ now. Goin’ out.” he say. “Oh, and my grandbaby aroun’ here somewhere. She come help you, maybe.”
“Yeah,” I say again.
He turn and goes stumblin’ through the field, all overgrown, back to the house. I pretended to get ready to paint for a minute, pullin’ open the can and what not, when I heard the truck pull away and down the road.
I turned back to the house, goin’ for that shotgun, when I seen his granddaughter. Goddamn, she look good. She musta come out soon as the old bastard left, ’cause she was damn near ten yard away from me, smiling at me. I nearly finish my business right their in my pants, just lookin’ at her.
First of all, she must have had a helluva lotta white in her ’cause she had the prettiest yellow skin I ever seen. Her little titties stood up under her old dress, showin’ her nipples for the whole world.
“Hi,” she say.
I didn’t say nothin’. I kept on staring at her, lettin’ her know I saw how good she looked and I liked it. I could tell real quick that she liked me, ’cause she kept lookin’ at me all nervous, like girls do when they all wet.
“What you doin’ out here?” I say.
“Comin’ to help,” she say.
She laughed, then looked all around to make sure we was alone. She smiled at me, then turned and ran back to the farmhouse, picking her knees up high in the tall grass, her little ass bouncin’ as she went.
I ain’t gotta tell you I sprinted myself after her, and I had her pinned against the wall ’fore the screen door closed shut. I tried kissing her, but she turned her head away and started to push me down onto my knees. She didn’t have to ask my ass twice. I was halfway between pullin’ her dress up and her panties down, so close to seeing that nice little hairy hole, when I felt somethin’ I hadn’t felt in a long time... The barrel of that shotgun against my back.
The girl wriggled away from me real quick. I looked over my shoulder and saw the face of that old nigger, grinnin’ down at me. The girl kicked me real hard in the balls and laughed.
“This one even dumber than the other ones,” she say.
“Stannup,” he say.
I stood up. I looked over at the girl. She was already tippin’ up my duffel bag, lettin’ all the money spill everywhere.
“Damn, granddaddy! This one got alotta money!” she said.
“Good job, baby,” the old nigger said.
My dick was still hard and I didn’t know what to say.
“I thought you was leavin’,” I said.
He snorted at me like he was laughin’.
“I changed my mind,” he said. He cocked the shotgun, said to me, “Now let’s go on out back to the barn. See what needs paintin’ over.”
BIO: Graham Bowlin is a recovering Southern gentleman, currently hiding out in Los Angeles where he lives with a girl, a cat, and a hangover. His stories have been featured in Thuglit, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, and others.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago