Texas Summer: The Epic and Sudden Downfall of the Gant Family


[My 2013 Texas Summer piece. Sci-fi with some deliberate seedlings from my larger epic. I like it much better than last year’s. Enjoy]

A thousand degrees.

My rear-view mirror sags in the heat, and as I drive I see only my hand gripping the gear stick. My car has become a death trap–every inch a study in the surface temperature of Mercury.

I look at the empty pill bottle in the only cupholder not filled with Dum-dum wrappers, and momentarily I notice the brain-zaps starting again.

The clearance section is a wasteland of garbage. I hate romance. I hate historical fiction and self-help books. I despise cheap fiction, loose sci-fi, vague fantasy–yet, these shelves are overflowing with the discarded volumes that fit the bill of “shit I wouldn’t waste time touching”.

The aisle is cramped. There’s fat people crowding me, pawing at Crichton for a dollar, Brown for three quarters, Sperry’s magical Texas gardening phantasmagoria for your soul, a three dollar copy of Gray’s which I find neither descriptive or surgical.

I notice to my own personal horror that I’ve selected the Sorrows of Young Werther, a short story collection of Walter Miller’s, and Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas from elsewhere in the store.

The brain-zaps ripple over my consciousness.

The Miller book reminds me to check my squid, still pulsating its wicked tentacles in my back seat. It looks like spaghetti with thick sauce extending from a square – the drive that still holds the voice. The terminal ends of the myriad of nanowire connectors twitch, seeking neural pathways, desiring to machete through brain matter towards takeover in the name of therapy.

The black market surgeon I’ve hired to remove the therapeutic intelligence drive from the base of my skull has done a good job. I finger the bandages and feel the slight sting of the open wound.

The voice has stopped.

On the toilet, I read until my ass is dead, and then I notice something has fallen out from the pages of the Miller collection I’m enjoying.

My former T.I. would have noticed this immediately and informed me to pick it up – I’m running on me time now, though.

I reluctantly find a stopping point in the science fiction I adore, and pull up my pants. I don’t bother to wipe. I came here to read, not defecate.

I two-finger the yellowed and folded paper that I’ve dislodged from its home between the pages of Miller and open it.

It’s a list, typewritten on an old manual typewriter it seems. It reads:

1. Buy a smart shirt.

2. Sort through old shoes and dispose obsolete footwear.

3. Organize and labels Doctor Who VHS tapes.

4. Make Mix Tape for anger sessions.

5. Bring about the fall of the Gant Family.

My open wound itches as I ponder the pile of old shoes at the bottom of my city-supplied plastic trash bin.

The summer stench is retch-inducing. Some neighbor has an ill-timed sense of disposal – I smell old food, aged longer than a week, discarded well before the weekly pick-up.

I find it inconsiderate.

As I’m returning to my front door, I take sudden notice of the phone book I’ve left on the porch for several months, still in its abusively bright yellow plastic bag.

I thumb through it briefly and find the listing for Gant among white pages.

The page I seek is missing.

In the heat of the Texas Summer, my brain-zaps start again.

“I would like you to come in as soon as possible,” my doctor says. “It’s highly unusual for the uploads to have stopped and for the T.I. not to have informed you.”

I tell the doctor I am on my way.

I am not.

I sit in my Festiva and wait for the air conditioning to turn the oven off. As the bass booms from the mix tape in the deck, the rear-view mirror slow sags.

I hit eject and notice the tape’s label reads: anger. Lowercase and in black Sharpie.

Under the seat, I dig for a piece of crumpled paper.

My fingers find purchase and pull the missing white page from the phonebook out of its hiding place. I verify the address and roll backwards out of my driveway.

Running, I try to minimize the moves necessary to scale the wooden fence, not counting on its weakness against my weight.

The fence collapses, splintering and spilling me into the next lawn. Blood is smeared over the slats and I take a moment to adjust the latex rabbit mask I’m wearing so that I can make sure I haven’t dropped any evidence in my spill.

Satisfied, I run some more.

I escape.

To my own personal delight, the piano recital has been called off, but I attempt to attend anyway, pretending to be a disappointed and uninformed distant relative. I carry a backpack with the well-preserved hands of a ten-year-old hidden inside.

“It’s uncanny how they’ve run into such bad luck lately,” an elder of their church says to me. “The Gants haven’t missed a Sunday service in five years, and now this tragedy with their youngest on top of that unfortunate business with the father’s company.”

Unfortunate, I think to myself. I may have said it out loud too. I begin to nervously consider that the smell from my backpack is noticeable.

I know the Gant girl isn’t on any sort of birth control, so I befriend her and her overly amorous boyfriend.

It’s ten o’clock and into the nineties – a reprieve from the hundred degree plus weather of the daylight hours. Young adults sweat on the trendy patios of a line of flash-fad sushi bars, cocktail lounges, and tap rooms.

They find me charmingly aloof. Surprised at my knowledge of their dead-tomorrow pop culture obsessions, they hang on my every word. They don’t notice the pills I feed their drinks, and though the dosage is low, they continue to order beyond their limits.

I offer to drive them to a party where I ensure the amorous youth occupying the typical male slot in the relationship is sufficiently excited into accidentally impregnating the Gant family’s prize offspring.

I don’t watch. I’m not a pervert.

The brain-zaps subside with a heavy tidal wave of rum. The bandage is off, though the wound refuses to close. The hot Texas Summer air is doing it good, I believe.

The cuffs click home and I sigh. My face cooks against the metal table on my patio and I imagine its diamond pattern top permanently ironed onto my cheek. Looking through my window I can see my beautifully organized Doctor Who videos.

I’m wearing my smart shirt, light orange and crisp with starch.

The more important officers are digging up an obvious location in my backyard. They expect to find ten-year-old Will Gant’s hands there. Instead, they find my dead squid.

“It won’t tell you anything,” I explain to the heavy pressing down on me. “I had it removed weeks ago.”

The cicadas are screaming, creating a vicious counter-rhythm to the intermittent chatter of an old metal sprinkler. This could be the last Texas Summer I bake in for a while.

It is a dark room, sound-proof and oppressive in its silence.

My doctor sits opposite me, flipping through his folder of truths.

“Tell me about this list,” he says.

I don’t like that he doesn’t ask.

“It’s not mine. I found it in a book I purchased at a used book store,” I say, wincing at the itch of the newly installed squid in the back of my neck. The squid is working for them now. I cannot refuse to answer.

The doctor smiles.

“Interesting,” he states.

He knows you are lying, the T.I. says in my head.

I tell the squid that I’m not lying, and I think i mean it.

“The detectives say that the typewriter we found on the premises of your house is the same typewriter used to type out this list.”

I must admit confusion – the squid is confused, too. I feel it probing, saturating me with veritable truth serums, seeking answers it doesn’t understand near as well as its predecessor.

“Not only that,” the doctor continues, “the records from the book store show you sold that very copy of the Miller collection to them only a few days before all this started.”

“I just felt like following the list,” I explain. “I didn’t write it.”

I hesitate.

“I don’t remember writing it.”

The Ulysses employee runs a diagnostic on the squid I had removed. He doesn’t seemed surprised at what he has seen.

I want to ask why I’m here.

“I would call it a success, then,” a man named Rolo says to another man I cannot see.

The silence is oppressing as I wait for the answer.

“We won’t ever know,” another voice says. “Just trust that our instructions were for the greater good.”

“They didn’t seem that influential,” Rolo says, toying with another dead squid on the table before me.

“Who knows what havoc the Gant’s may have wreaked against the paradox,” the other voice rhetorically muses.

My vision fades and the brain-zaps have stopped.

“Nice touch,” Rolo says. “Having the squid tell him to remove it itself. That’s the second one I’ve seen take a dive on its own. I never thought they’d be so–”

In the hesitation, the other voice answers, “Noble?”

I roll a pill bug between my fingers, but don’t press hard enough to crack the delicate carapace.

The Texas sun beats down on the small garden at the hospital I now call home.

I see a young man walk by, itching a bandage over his newly installed squid.

I wonder what instructions he’ll be given for the greater good.

I turn my face upward, feeling the heat of a Texas Summer bearing down on spot away from the shade of elder oaks and runaway Ligustrums.

I wish they had let me keep my rabbit mask.

Texas Summer Again

Last year I decided to write a Texas Summer piece every year at the first day of 100 degree temperatures in my area.

That was yesterday, apparently.

While I don’t have the new piece ready yet, I am working on it. I have another project that I’ve been trying to complete in the meantime. Sometime this week I should have my Texas Summer piece for 2013.

If you don’t know the magical mysteries of the Texas Summer, I can’t really explain it to you. It’s not the smell of hot water running out of a garden hose. It’s not the continuous drone of cicadas or the shimmer of heat off asphalt.

I don’t know what is – I just know that it only happens in Texas.

Here’s last year’s piece:

This rock we eat, sleep, and fornicate on careens through another cloud of debris and our eyes widen at the sight of meteors streaking through the skies. But time loathes our memories of this passage. Time takes our firefly dreams and throws them into the grass. Time kicks our childhood into glowing smears in the high grass.

There is one Texas Summer that time cannot kill.

The boys and I had managed to rig an old washing machine inside a tractor wheel using lots of Crazy George’s duct tape we had stolen and some abandoned extension cords. I still had a crush on Gina that summer, but the pup love would fade after she put her palm on that asp later that year while climbing Crazy George’s oak. I guess George got his revenge on us through that fuzzy demon. I couldn’t tell you then why that scream of agony from that little girl turned me off of her. It scared me to know that someone had felt pain like that. I didn’t want to feel that pain, or know someone that had.

Damaged goods, I guess.

We meticulously filled the washing machine with as many pillows as we could and still leave room for a body. I took my mother’s throw pillows without her knowing, but in the end they always know. I didn’t get the belt that night, I got the paddle – a sick twist of irony, being that the thin wood of that particular instrument of punishment had once been a paddle ball toy.

Texas summer is a cacophony of cicada madness. You start to hear it even when its not there. Your sprints through the high grass send swarms of bugs into the big sky, and some days, the bugs are the only clouds to see.

Adam took the first roll, and what a terrible racket that contraption made as we pushed it over the precipice of the hill behind the old Ford dealership. We knew our time was limited, so once his ride was ended, we yanked Adam’s crumpled body out of the machine and set him aside. It took us another fifteen minutes just to haul the contraption back up the hill.

I wanted to go next, but Gabe was already in, his coonskin cap cocked sideways over his frighteningly blonde hair.

A week earlier Gabe had eaten a bunch of angel dust that Mike Cheevers had given him under the juniper tree at the corner of the Burnside fence. Gabe didn’t know it was just a bunch of pixi stix powder, but he still managed a convincing performance all the same. A few years later, Mike Cheevers gave him some meth and now Gabe’s lost.

Years later you find a reason to hate the trailer park crowd, though as kids, they’re just as daredevil as any suburbanite wanna-be. I don’t blame Mike, I blame Gabe’s preacher father.

When it came my turn, most of the duct tape had come loose, so we found some old chain in Crazy George’s shed to secure our mad scientist machine.

The door had been ripped off when Gabe finally had his turn, so when I first felt my stomach float up into my throat as the tire began its death roll down the long hill, I was treated to a view of the world on spin-cycle. With a metallic clang, the washing machine broke loose and separated from its rubber shielding. My arms and head went out the hole and I got tangled in the flailing chain. The other end of was still attached to the tractor tire and it yanked my shoulder hard enough that it popped.

My ride ended in a heap of rubber and rusty metal with me at the bottom.

I felt the flush of boyhood pride. The bigger the crash, the bigger the bragging rights. I was still bearing rights on having touched a girl’s breast first out of all of us from earlier that month, so I was doubly proud. Taylor Boggs’s sister was a few years older than us. She had her hair cut short and wore jean shorts that her ass cheeks hung out of. Her breasts were small and hard, but that doesn’t mean much when you’re a young boy. She told me she’d let me touch them because I was special. Ten years later, I asked her again and she admitted that I was the only male to ever touch them. This upset her lesbian lover.

Once the boys pulled me out of the wreckage, a handful of parents had arrived, but none of them were mine. My daddy was still sleeping off a gig night, so Adam’s mother laid down the law on me. She punished us with double-stick popsicles out of her coffin freezer. They were just the right temperature to freeze your tongue.

Crazy George had a son, Jacob,  that was in high school. Occasionally, he’d come out and play Star Wars or G.I. Joe with us, but mostly we only knew he still existed by the sound of his father screaming at him. We used to hide under the bushes right under Jacob’s window and listen to the violent spats. Sometimes Jacob would play Yes or King Crimson or Jimi Hendrix or some other musician we were too young to appreciate.

“Hey kids,” he said to us that afternoon. My lips were still stained purple from the tongue-freezing punishment. “Come play outside my window for a bit.”

I guess we gave him funny looks, because he tried to explain:

“I just need to hear some happiness outside my window right now.”

What the hell did we know about melancholy? We were kids.

Gabe grabbed his AT-AT and I dug Bazooka and his men out of Mr. Kemp’s sand pile where we’d left them. It was to be a brilliant battle.

Adam had Cobra Commander setting up a bush base with Beastor and Hordak, and I took Zartan and Ponda Baba over to the storm drain where they were going to launch an assault against Gabe’s AT-AT.

Music started to play, but we ignored it.

Gabe set fire to a stick and tortured Destro for information as somewhere someone might have insisted it took place in the court of the Crimson King.

We had never heard a shotgun blast up close before. The window shattered and Jacob’s broken skull lolled backwards through it spilling his melancholy brains onto Cobra Commander’s strategically sound bush base.

I remember looking down at bloody glass on my dirty legs.

King Crimson played on for a long time as we sat there, stunned. We knew we had just grown up in a matter of seconds.

Crazy George stared at us through the window and I’ve never seen an adult show fear like that ever again.

Maybe it wasn’t Gina’s scream that turned me off after the asp incident, maybe it was the fact that I’ve always needed to scream since that Texas Summer and I never have.

Damaged goods, I guess.

Time hates a Texas Summer.

But this is one Texas Summer that time will never kill.

The one thing I remember about that Texas Summer…

…is that it was so fucking hot.