“I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy, Jack. He went and overdosed yesterday. We rushed him to emergency just in time. They said another few minutes and he’d have been dead. They had to pump his stomach.” Isabel covered her face with her hands. She looked small and drab.
Jack had showed up for work at the usual time for work the night before. He played the piano at Big Mama’s, a restaurant in the black area of the Everglades. It took up the front of the large house, Isabel and Amos lived in the back part of the house with their son Yukee.
The door to the restaurant was locked. Amos’s truck and Isabel’s car were gone. Merle’s sun yellow SUV was gone. The day before he said he was staying a few days selling goods out of the back of his truck.
Jack sat on the porch and waited. William and Beverly showed up first. Then Lil came by, looking for Merle. She said they had a date for dinner and dancing that night. Jack got a couple of bottles of Amos’s homemade hooch from his stash in the still. They talked and sipped. No one knew anything. Maybe they were at the revival up at Rattlesnake Key. “Merle?” Lil almost choked she laughed so hard. “At a revival?”
Isabel and Amos couldn’t have gone to town for shrimp and crabs. They don’t need two of them to do that. Besides, William had brought in a big load early in the afternoon. William reported that they seemed in fine spirits when he asked them about celebrating twenty-five years with Beverly at Big Mama’s in a couple of weeks. Yukee was at the store with Merle. Finally, at midnight, everyone gave up and went home.
Early the next morning Jack knocked on the door. The place was still locked up and the cars gone. He fed the chickens, pruned some dead blossoms off the flowering shrubs, and hoed weeds in the vegetable garden out back. Then he sat on the porch and waited. Early in the afternoon, Amos and Isabel pulled in. Amos threw a half-hearted wave. Isabel didn’t acknowledge him.
Jack saw the top of Yukee’s head next to Isabel. Jack didn’t know who looked worse as Yukee walked between his parents toward the kitchen door. Yukee had the dead-eyed look of someone who was over-medicated. Amos and Isabel looked exhausted.
“What happened?” Isabel handed him a key and said, “Open the back door, would you?” Ten minutes later the three adults were in the bar. Yukee was in bed. Amos served up soda water with ice. “Talk about shame. After they pumped his stomach, he was in recovery hollering and cussing at the nurses. I never heard such language. Where’d he hear such language, Amos?” Amos stopped humming “How Great Thou Art” for a moment, took his pipe out of his mouth, and shrugged.
“His cussing was so bad I can’t even tell you what he said. The nurses laughed. Laughed. Imagine. Here’s this boy I worked so hard to raise to be a good boy and he goes and cusses like that. One of the nurses said this happens a lot when people overdose. They’re not in the right minds, even after their stomachs are pumped.
She said he’d stop. He did. Then he stopped talking. I couldn’t get a word out of him all the way back from the hospital.” Amos took the pipe out of his mouth and spit into his handkerchief. Isabel looked disgusted but didn’t say anything. “Has he overdosed before?” Jack sipped his water.
“Of course not.” Isabel looked exasperated. “He’s only 12 years old. How many 12 year-old alcoholics do you know? I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”
“I never even saw him drink any alcohol,” Amos said. “Once in a while, I ask him to taste a batch so he’ll know good from bad. He didn’t like the taste.” They sat without talking. Amos hummed “Amazing Grace.”
“I wonder if something happened to him.”
“What do you mean? In the morning, he was out sprinkling salt on the tails of buntings. Later he and Merle went to the store. They didn’t get anything. Monroe’s had closed. Some family emergency or something.”
“Is that so?” Jack rubbed his forearm. “Where’s Merle?”
“He left. When Amos drove off with Yukee, Merle said he’d be going. I locked up the place and took off. I suppose Merle knew we’d be gone a while. He’ll be back.”
“Mind if I go see Yukee?”
“Go ahead. Maybe you can get something out of him.”
Jack pushed the door open a crack. Yukee was on his side, with his knees drawn up. He sucked his thumb. Not wanting to embarrass Yukee, Jack stood back so Yukee couldn’t see him. He knocked on the door. Yukee didn’t answer. Jack knocked again and said, “Yukee, it’s Jack. I want to know how you are.”
“I don’t feel good. Come back later.”
“If that’s how you want it, I’ll go.” Jack walked back down the hall.
“Wait. Come in.”
Jack pushed the door open. Yukee lay wrapped in white sheets with his arms across his chest. His eyes were enormous, while his face looked small and drawn. At that moment, Yukee reminded Jack of the fawn he had found on the side of the road with a broken leg.
Jack sat on the bed and placed his big warm hand on Yukee’s head.”My boy. I’m so sorry.” Yukee turned on his side. His small body shook with silent sobs.
“I want to know what your troubles are about.” Yukee didn’t say anything. Jack thought he’d wait. He kissed Yukee on the top of his head and sat next to him. “You’re a good boy. You’re not the kind who overdoses for nothing. Something must’ve happened to set you off.”
“Nothing happened. I just felt like taking a drink of wine. I like the taste of it.”
“Nothing bad happened yesterday?” “Nothing.”
“Your Mama said that Monroe’s was closed yesterday.”
“That’s right. That’s why Merle and me didn’t get what Mama needed at the store.”
“I was at Monroe’s yesterday afternoon, Yukee. I heard Todd tell some of his customers he’d been so busy all day that he didn’t stop for lunch. He didn’t say anything about closing.”
“No, sir. Monroe’s was closed when me and Merle went there.”
“Okay.” The sat quietly for a while.
“Did Merle do something to you?”
“No. He showed me where banties live in the Glades. We didn’t find any, though.”
“Banties in the Glades? How would banties live in the Glades? Those tiny birds can’t fly. They just run along the ground. They’d be eaten up faster than you can say Jack Robinson.’ You sure Merle didn’t do anything to you?”
“Nothing happened. I don’t want to talk anymore.”
“You’re my best boy, Yukee. If anything happened, you can come to me. I’m there for you.”
Jack went back to the bar. Amos polished glasses and motioned with his head that Isabel was in the kitchen.
“We’re opening up tonight,” he said. “The docs told us all Yukee needs is rest and some pills every four hours.”
“How you doing?” Jack sat at the bar.
“I’m one worried dude. I’m scared Yukee will turn out like his biological mother. She was an alcoholic. She couldn’t take care of Yukee.
Amos blew his nose. “I’m questioning what I did to cause it. I haven’t been a good father to him. Not talking much. Letting Isabel have her own way when I know better.” Jack clucked in sympathy.
“I think Isabel’s feeling guilty, too,” Amos said. “She’s not about to say so, but I know her. She’s got a hard shell, but she’s soft inside. She loves that child. She don’t show it much. You should’ve seen her flying around when I carried him out of the still. That woman was frantic the whole time we waited for the docs to finish with him. The poor boy probably thinks she’s mad at him, but she’s not.”
Amos knocked ashes out of his pipe into a glass ashtray. Jack never heard Amos say so much at one time before.
“Tell me what Merle did when you found Yukee.” Jack took a sip of water.
“What’s Merle got to do with it? The man left. Isabel told him it’s up to him. If he stayed, he could tell customers to come back tomorrow. He decided to leave. Isabel said he’d call today to see how things were.
“Did he call?”
“Not yet? Amos, it’s the middle of the afternoon. You’d think he’d call by now.” “Maybe he couldn’t get to the phone.” Amos wiped down the bar.
“He’s got a cell phone.”
“Look. Merle is a brother. He takes care of his own. He’s a regular here. He pays his bills on time. Lil is one fine woman. What would a classy woman like her want with him if he was no good?” Amos opened up the trap door where he kept ice. “You got a point. Merle’s a hell of a fella. I’m just wondering why Yukee overdosed yesterday, the same day he was alone with Merle.”
“You think Merle’s a pervert? Not Merle. I can’t think about that. I got a wife who’s dying inside and a little boy who probably is, too. Set up the tables, would you. That’s Yukee’s job, but he won’t be working for a while. I got to go in the kitchen for more ice.”
Jack set up the tables, played sous chef for Isabel in the kitchen, and thought about Merle Gooding. Banties in the Everglades, my ass.
Just before he left at around midnight, Jack looked in on Yukee. He could smell something burned. The boy was asleep. He had taken down his map of the stars that Merle had given him. The waste basket had ashes in it. Jack decided to find out where Merle was.
Excerpt from a novel in progress called Legacy by Jane Gilgun