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Life Lessons

by Michael G. Ramsey

     Bubba Drake had known Avenue Rhodes more years than he could recall and had always felt an unspoken obligation to pick up where the boy's father had left off. He and his wife never had children of their own, so he loved helping Avenue. When Rhodes asked him to come over and give him a hand with his garbage disposal, he jumped at the invite. Idle hands are the devil's playground, he thought.

     It’s not like he had anything better to do. He’d already eaten, and the rattlesnakes were fed. There was laundry to be done, but it’s not like anyone would notice now that his wife, Bobby Jo, was gone. If she were still alive she’d be raising cane about how messy Bubba had gotten.

     Secretly, she used to love cleaning up after Bubba. After all, it kept her busy and gave her an excuse to keep clear of Bubba’s pets. Not that the presence of them ever bothered her. She was the daughter of a traveling, Pentecostal evangelist. Before she met Bubba, she was well-versed in speaking in tongues, snake-handling, and had even swallowed a shot of strychnine a time or two. Now she was gone.

     At first, his whole world seemed to crumble before him like cookies in the hands of a kid. While he was in Vietnam, he had seen more people blown to pieces than there are hotels in Las Vegas. He’d seen more blood than a b-rated slasher flick without it ever fazing him. However, when Bobby Jo died, he almost forgot how to breathe. Over time he was able to convince himself that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

     It began to rain as he strolled the short distance between his property and Avenue's. It wasn’t a Tennessee rain where the clouds open up and water comes down by the bucket instead of by the drop. No, this was more of a Seattle rain. The kind if you weren’t paying attention, you might not even notice.

      He arrived at a house so old that the only things keeping it together were dust and memories - not that his house was any newer. He swore sometimes when the wind was really bad, that eventually it was going to take the roof and, if he was lucky, him with it.

      Knock. Knock.

     "Yellow," Avenue answered as he opened the door.

     "You ready to get your hands dirty, old man?" Avenue asked while letting Bubba into his house.

     "Boy, my hands stay dirty. Cut out all the chit-chat and show me this damn sink of yours." He followed Avenue through a living-room that could easily rival most college dormitories. There were Mickey D’s bags, empty six packs, a half a smashed box of tic-tacs, knick-knacks and pin-ups thumb-tacked to the wall. There was a pair of gross mix-matched socks, flip-flops and sandals, an assortment of liquor bottles on the mantle and a discarded can of Red Bull. There was trash in a bag, and there was trash on the floor. Doesn’t Avenue put his trash in a can anymore, Bubba thought as he waded into the kitchen and eye-balled the garbage disposal which looked as if Avenue started on it and stopped right in the middle. There were screws on the ground, the pipes were disconnected, and the cover was taken off.

     "What exactly did you get stuck down there?" he asked.

     "Gravel," Avenue muttered under his breath.

     "This ain't a damn library. You're going to have to speak up."

     "Gravel," Avenue said.

     "Gravel? What in the hell are you doing putting gravel down your sink for?" he asked.

     "I was cleaning out Chappelle Show's tank in the sink because I thought it would be easier than using the tub, and I guess I got some pebbles down the drain. Shit happens, you know," he says.

     "Two tours in Vietnam, boy, I should know about shit," he said as he unbuttoned his flannel’s sleeve and stuck his arm down the drain. "Hell, I’ve been knee-deep in shit and up to my elbows in crap. Sometimes life stinks. Ha. Ha. Get it boy?"

     "Woah!" Avenue exclaimed. "You sure you should be doing that?" he asked.

     "Boy, I raise rattlesnakes, not bunny rabbits. What in the hell do I need a hand for?" he replied. "A hook would suit me just fine these days. It'd give me a reason to wear an eye-patch and get a parrot. Arghhh," he groaned as he twisted the cylindrical grinder component, loosening the fly-wheel so it could spin freely.

     Perhaps it was his old age, his stubbornness, or maybe he really did want a hook. Whatever it was, he broke probably two of the biggest garbage-disposal commandments. One, you should never stick your hand into the mouth of the beast. Two, prior to servicing any machine, always turn it off.

     The drain let out a bbbrrr rrrrnnnnnnnn and swallowed his hand whole. Maybe he should have gotten a subscription to Penthouse instead of Popular Mechanics when he was younger. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Realizing what he had done, he pulled his arm out, but it was too late. Blood spurted from his arm like water from a fire-hydrant, repainting the once white kitchen.

     Avenue just stood there paralyzed. His jaw dropped, and his eyes couldn’t have opened any wider. A fuse in his head must have blown, because his mind was unable to process the event that just transpired right in front of him.

     "Agh! Son of a bitch! Mother-fucker." Bubba exclaimed as he hit the floor in a crumpled, bloody mass. Out of sheer survival extinct, the by-product of his coming of age in a war-zone, he grabbed a kitchen towel off the oven door and wrapped up his marred stub. However, the blood wasn’t stopping. For years, it had been trapped in Bubba’s veins, and now it had a chance at freedom.

      "Don't just fucking stand there, boy. Get me an iron!" he exclaimed.

     "B-b-but you need a hospital," Avenue stammered.

     "Boy, now's not the time for advice. Get me an iron," he repeated.

     Avenue ran and grabbed his barely-used Rival iron out of the hall closet. If it wasn't for his initial job interview at the Lazarus Gossiper, the iron would have still been in the original box on a shelf at Wal-Mart, or in someone else's hall closet. He hurried back so quickly that in doing so, he almost tripped over the cord.

     "Here you go," Avenue said.

     "I don't want the damn thing, boy. Plug it in. Plug it in," demanded Bubba.

     Avenue plugged it into the closest outlet. "Now what?" he asked.

     "Turn that damn contraption off," Bubba pleaded.

     In the rush of excitement, Avenue didn't notice the sound of Bubba's bones grinding and whizzing around in the disposal. All of the sudden, he noticed it and flipped the switch off. The sound didn't seem to sicken Avenue half as much as the sight of all the blood. There was blood in the sink, blood on the oven, and blood on the floor. He should have called Dexter, called a medic, or invited a vampire over because there was a party going on in the kitchen, and the theme was blood. He began to get light-headed and almost threw up.

     "Boy, you're turning green on me", Bubba said. "Man-up and hand me that iron, and get me a rag and some liquor."

     "I don't have any liquor," said Avenue.

     "What? No liquor? You invite me over and you can't even help kill a couple brain-cells?," Bubba said. "How about Vanilla extract?" he asked.

     Avenue rushed over to the cupboard, dug around, and pulled out the vanilla extract from in-behind a can of Pam. Normally, it was reserved for French toast, for it was no ordinary vanilla. It was the real deal. It was an economy-size bottle from the other side of the Rio Grande that Avenue had bought while he was on vacation last summer.

     He then reached in the drawer and pulled out the first rag he came across. A black and white checkered towel that matched the one Bubba had already bloodied up. It was one that his mother had given him when he first moved in.

     In a few gulps, Bubba downed the extract.

     "Now turn your head," Bubba said as he clenched the rag between his teeth.

     Before Avenue could do so, Bubba un-wrapped his disfigured hand and jammed the bloody stub into the heating element of the iron.

     "Son-of-a-bitch," Bubba exclaimed.

     The iron hissed as it shook hands with Bubba. The sound was too much for Avenue, and he barely managed to stumble two feet before puking into his cat's litter-box. Avenue didn’t know which was worse, the noise it was making or the smell of burning flesh. It sounded as if someone with a lisp was imitating a snake, but smelled like nothing he had ever encountered. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He had smelled that sinister scent once before. When he was younger, he went through a lot of dogs living in the city. They were always dying from something. The majority of them were from hit-and-runs. However, one was poisoned, and one was half-eaten. He buried the first few in the backyard and even held funerals for them. There came a point in time when there was nowhere left to bury them. He ended up taking two of them up to the train tracks, threw them on the side of the rails and buried them under white rocks provided courtesy of the Union-Pacific Railroad. The last one was carefully wrapped up in a blanket and placed on a bed of timber. He poured gas on it like he had previously poured tears on it. He said a prayer, then flicked a match and said goodbye. The smell of burning flesh would end up staying with him forever, and here it was once again.

     "Aghhh," Bubba screamed in the background.

     Avenue just wanted his disposal fixed. Something so simple had quickly turned into Bob Villa meets Rambo. This is just crazy, he thought.

     Avenue spit a little residual vomit onto the ground. He reached over to help Bubba up, still in disbelief of what he had just seen. He wasn’t sure of the best way of helping him up and decided just as long as he didn’t touch the wound itself, he should be safe.

     "You're not going soft on me are you? On second thought, don't answer that. Just get me to the hospital. Hell, it's the least you can do for me fixing your drain."

     In the end, the tale of how old Bubba Drake got his hook never made it into the local paper. It didn't have to. Most of the towns-folk know the story seeing as how Avenue can't help but tell it whenever he has the chance. The tourists don't have a clue though. The story tended to change with every new tour of Bubba’s rattlesnake factory, getting a little more far-fetched every time. If there was something to be learned from this story, it would be this: if your friend asks for your help in fixing his garbage disposal, don't give him a hand.


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