Bridging the Visual and Literary Arts

by Gary Guinn

Inspired by the work of Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman titled “Lost My Dad.”
The theme is isolation and loneliness.

Gerald Ransom Ase, who went by G.R., though what he went by made little difference because no one ever spoke to him, leaned back in the sagging canvas porch chair, scratched his chin through a thick black beard, and blew cigarette smoke toward the ceiling. He ran his hand through his long, brown hair and tried hard not to look at the dilapidated, white, clapboard house across the street.

There were other things to look at. A red and white Ford F-150 with full-moon hubcaps sat next door, 1963, cherry, the only cherry thing in the neighborhood. The Latino couple who lived there had introduced themselves to him when he first came, but he had avoided them ever since. The huge sycamore tree two doors down, seventy-feet tall, had fallen in one of the spring storms and had not been touched all summer. It nearly hid the small, two-story house behind it. Then there was the old Jet Stream mobile home sitting on blocks, just beyond the alley, weeds growing halfway up its sides, its roof covered with a rotting tarp and last year’s walnuts. As a last resort, he looked at his own house, small, clapboard, Pepto-Bismol pink, with rotting wooden steps leading down from the shallow front porch. But no matter how hard he tried, he always came back to the house across the street.

If that sorry thing doesn’t bark pretty soon, I’m gonna fuckin’ shoot it, he thought.

Across the street, the head of an old boxer dog poked out through the storm door, where the sliding glass section was stuck halfway up. There was no screen.

What the hell’s he looking at anyway? G.R. thought. Ten hours a day looking at my house, watching me whenever I come outside.

G.R. dropped his cigarette on the porch and rubbed it out with the toe of his shoe. “Gonna throttle that sorry-ass mutt one of these days.” He spit in the dog’s direction and went in the house. The dog didn’t move.

G.R. was frying diced potatoes and onions an hour later when someone knocked on the front door. He ignored it. His mama, who had dropsy, used to stand in front of the stove and whine that the sausage gravy wouldn’t thicken before her legs give out. She had told G. R. never to set foot in her house again because she blamed him for his father’s heart attack. He had never gone back, and it was tough shit now if she fell down on the kitchen floor and couldn’t get up.

The knock came again, more persistent.

G.R. yelled over his shoulder, “Lay off, Goddamn it! I’m cooking my supper here!” He slid the skillet off the burner and wiped his hands on a dishtowel. When he opened the front door, a Latino boy, maybe six or seven years old, looked up at him.

“What the hell are you doing here,” he said, and he looked up and down the street before addressing the boy again. “You get the hell out of here, right now.” G. R. had not registered with the police when he got off the bus in this small Arkansas town and walked until he saw the For Rent sign in the front yard. He couldn’t afford to have some stupid kid make trouble for him. “Did you hear me? Get movin’.”

“I lost my dog,” the boy said.

G.R. looked across the street. The old boxer was watching him. “Yeah, well, tough shit. What do expect me to do about it? Go on, now. Git.”

It had been a pastor at the Pentecostal Brethren that dragged G. R. into the bathroom when he was six and done what he did. None of this would have happened otherwise. G. R. wouldn’t have thought about naked men all his born days and what they did to each other. He wouldn’t have done that thing with that other boy his freshman year at college and then spent the rest of the night on his knees begging God for forgiveness. He wouldn’t have faked it all those years and then married his so-called sweetheart after college and worked at the bank in her hometown for ten years and had two beautiful daughters and spent every night watching hardcore gay porn after everyone else was asleep. He wouldn’t have said yes when they asked him to be the Sunday school teacher for the first-grade class at the First Baptist Church. And he wouldn’t have touched those little boys the way he did until they told their mommy, and their daddy told the pastor, and that was that.

Two years in the state slammer had changed him. If he hadn’t got parole for good behavior, he might have killed himself. If he could find that Pentecostal son-of-a-bitch, he’d cut off his balls in the blink of an eye.

Hanging chickens on the line here in the Natural State in that shithole plant down by the river was no life at all, but it was life enough for now. And now some kid had come looking for a dog, and G. R. had nowhere to run. If his Daddy hadn’t had that heart attack while G. R. was locked up, he’d be home right now with Momma making sausage gravy, and she wouldn’t be standing there alone on those dropsied legs, teetering like she was about to fall.

The kid stood there looking up at him. “I gotta find my dog, Mister. Please.”

G.R. wanted to punch the kid in the forehead and send him sprawling off the porch. “Great, Kid. You got my permission. Go find your damn dog. But get off my porch and don’t come around here bothering me anymore. You hear?”

The kid began crying. He yelled, “Somebody’s gotta help me. Somebody, please help me!”

G.R.’s heart almost stopped, and he jumped back out of the doorway. “Jesus, kid, shut up, will you? Stop yelling, for Christ’s sake, or they’ll be on me like dogs on a bone.”

The kid was still crying, and he opened his mouth as if he was going to yell again.

G.R. said, “No, Kid, no!” He was moving his hands helplessly. “Stop it! Stop it right now.”

The kid hesitated, and G. R. said, “I’ll help you, damn it. Just don’t yell any more. Okay?” He reached through the doorway, caught the kid by the arm, and pulled him in. He took a quick look outside, then shut the door and began pacing back and forth. “Oh, Jesus. Oh, God. I’m dead meat. There’s no way out of it. Someone had to hear you screaming for help, and the cops will never believe I wasn’t doing a living thing to you.”

He stopped and stared at the kid. “You don’t have a clue what you just did, do you?” He put his hands on his head. “There’s not an ice cube’s chance in hell I’ll get out of this.” He started pacing again.

The kid wiped the tears off his face with the palms of his hands. “Are you gonna help me find my dog?”

G. R. stopped pacing. “Hell, yes, I’m gonna help you. It’s the only way I’m gonna get rid of you. But we gotta go different directions, see? You can’t be seen with me under any circumstances. Where do you live?”

The kid pointed to the south. “Two blocks.”

“Great,” G. R. said. “You head that way. I’ll head north. What does your stupid fucking dog look like?”

“A mutt,” the kid said. “About this tall.” He held his hands about a foot apart. “And it’s brown, and its tail curls up over its back.” The kid looked as if he was going to cry again.

“Yeah, great,” G. R. said. He went to the front door, stepped out onto the porch, and looked up and down the street. He said to the kid, “Okay, come on out and get going before anyone sees you here.”

The kid came out onto the porch. “Thanks, Mister. If you find my dog, how will I know to come get him?”

“You won’t come get him,” G. R. said. “Don’t come back here. I’ll bring him around to your house. If you’re not there, I’ll tie him to the porch. Now go.”

The kid walked a few steps, then turned and said, “Thanks again, Mister.” He waved and headed south.

G. R. watched him until he was half a block away and then turned back to the door. With the screen door half open in his hand, he stopped. He looked to the south again. The kid was walking slowly, looking all around. G. R. turned and looked across the street. The boxer was gone.

G. R. stood for several seconds watching the empty door. Letting go of the screen door, he headed down the steps and turned north.