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HAPPY CORN BELT

AN EXTRACT FROM BACKWOODS EAST MEETS JESUS

by

Kaley Noonan

Copyright © 2001
All Rights Reserved



Mark cupped a protective arm around his cereal, watching the nutty nuggets bob in the milk like rabbit turds. The cereal box was white with bold black lettering-generic cereal. Nothing to look at while he ate, no fun games on the back.

Across the cramped table, Mark's father snapped the Cleveland Plain Dealer and sucked at a back tooth. His black eyes roamed the tiny rows of the newsprint, the retinas jerking with every word. Underneath the haze of Victor's cheeks, his skin had been shaved raw. He wrapped a big hand around a coffee mug that said Pobody's Nerfect.

Mark squinted, trying to make out some of the words. But the newspaper was so dense and smeared, hardly any pictures. Words like "Libertarian" glazed his eyes. "Revolution" was another one he picked out repeatedly because it was in bold.

Nothing to look at but the angle of his orange juice. The kitchen floor tilted, putting the table where he and his father sat at a perpetual slant. The table itself was speckled with a popular silver glitter pattern, but over the years had gotten stained with grape juice rings and pan burns. It was nailed down, wedged against a red vinyl diner booth. Above his father's head were balsam shelves with dusty curios of kittens and children, miniatures, dried flowers and framed homespun proverbs hand-stitched by his mother: JESUS SAVES.

It was cold in the kitchen, with drafts eddying in from the uninsulated windows. The kitchen had a wood stove on a brick altar in the corner but it was rarely used.

Victor bent his paper, listening. They both heard a car coming up the long fire road. Mark knew instantly from the sound that they were going too fast, maybe 35 before they hit the deep rut in the dirt road beside the house. Better than a speed bump, that foot-deep rut. Of course they ignored the sign that said SLOW. He heard the hard metal sound of the chassis hitting the rut, a scraping wrenching sound, and the car stopping.

Mark turned to look at it out the back kitchen window, curious about the plates as the car moved gingerly up the hill to the little cemetery. Georgia plates. The locals would've known to take that dirt road with respect, ice and all. Good old Georgia probably kanked the muffler right off the car.

When Mark turned back to the floaters in his sad bowl of cereal, he found his father's black eyes directly on him. It jolted him slightly; those eyes were scary dead like a tarantula's.

"It is the last day of the month," Victor said.

It gave him a weird feeling, as if two eyes were actually a dozen. "I have it," Mark said, and stood up to put his bowl in the sink. "After I shovel two driveways today, I'll give it all to you."

"What about your sister? She's still late with last month's rent."

Mark looked at the sculpture of blackened pans in the sink, his back turned to him.

"She'll have it."

Victor slid out of the kitchen booth, paper under his arm and slipped on a gray overcoat, checking his pocket for keys. Those black eyes were focused elsewhere now, getting ready to leave. It felt like hot sun going behind a cloud. As Victor turned down the hallway toward the front door, Mark rinsed his bowl in the sink.

"What? No kiss goodbye?" Mark said, as the front door closed.


***




Upstairs, there was a thump. The buckled plywood ceiling shook.

"Ma-it's at the knee-" Josephine yelled.

"No it ain't!" He heard scuffling and his mother's voice. "Get that slutty thing off now!"


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