NOTHING- excerpt from The Light Horse

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Nothing- Excerpt from The Light Horse © J.D. Brayton 2020

Gwailor Province, India – 1839

At first light, Anil tethered the male goats together, laying a satchel of feed and goatskin full of water across the back of the nervous colt for the journey to the temple. Few words passed between the priest of Kali and I. The sun was just above the horizon.

Before he and one sadhu departed, he gave us all a blessing, bowed slightly, and bid us farewell. “I’ll see you in two days’ time at the house of Purusram.” Then he looked over at one of the sadhu, an emaciated creature, naked and burned black from the sun, standing beneath the tree, arms outstretched, in ecstatic prayer.

“This man is Nothing. Nothing is blessed by our Mother and covered by the ash of cremated pilgrims. Nothing will remain with you. Nothing will protect you, Fandoor.”

“I do not want him here.”

“Nothing is not a choice. Nothing is guided by dharma. He is a blessed soul. Bindachul Ke Jae, Fandoor Das Gupta. May Bhowanee guide you.”

“Bhowanee Ke Jae. A safe journey, honored Kala Ram.”

I stood watching the dust of Kala Ram and his remaining sadhu, who walked behind him leading the goats. Kala Ram himself led away the prize colt by a simple rope halter. They sang invocations as they disappeared beneath a rise in the trail. I was happy he was gone, but certain he was an augury not to be ignored. Taking my prize colt and breeding males was a small price to pay to be rid of his prying eyes and chastising tongue.

I looked at Nothing under the tree. Anil stood chewing betel nut with Lakmel, who was wordlessly brushing the dust from the coat of my stallion, Kala, with a comb.

“Lakmel, feed the sadhu some chapatti and dal. Leave him fresh water.Otherwise, ignore him.” Lakmel laughed a little and spit red juice into the dust. “We must ignore Nothing now.”

“Careful, Lakmel,” I said, my irritation giving way to mocking, “Nothing will hear you, and Nothing may place a curse on your head.”

“We should all be so lucky.”

“He is mad and blessed of the Mother.”

“His stink alone could fertilize the tree.”

“He is Nothing. Remember, Lakmel. Nothing is our guest and Nothing our gift.”

“The new priest is generous in leaving us Nothing.”

 

The Light Horse – a new novel by J.D. Brayton

Coming in April 2020

 

From ‘The Light Horse’ by J.D.Brayton

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And in the trees of Bengal, the shokun sat perched – as they had from the beginning of time – and waited for sustenance and sanction, hunched forward on bare branches, holding their wings aloft in the dry heat, always in preparation for another sacred cleansing feast of flesh.

The cries of the shokun call out, bathed under endless sun:

What fool invents history?

Death is yet another beginning. Life is naught but illusion

carried on the wings of carrion birds.

©2020 J.D. Brayton

Release in March- e-book and print

 

THRIP- dedication page, (pre-release)

 

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For Patrice and Ruby

This novel began as a series of joke haiku between Patrice and I as a result of our shared and somewhat bizarre experiences living in Ty-Ty, Georgia in 1970. I consider her my sister in humor, creativity and soul. She shared her stories of being a Homebound instructor for sick children and I was moved by the dedication and fortitude it takes to educate and to bear the burden of knowing many students in such programs will not survive. Hope is life. By extension, I dedicate this novel to all educators and all who illuminate what might otherwise be a dark world.

Also: to my daughter Ruby who used her skills as a researcher to help me with many of the facts involving gun violence in the United States. We must do better. Our children are not sacrificial lambs, they are our only hope for a verdant future.

JDB

January 2020

Author’s Forward- EYE SKIN

Author’s Forward- 2nd Printing

 ‘Reality is a cliché from which we escape by metaphor.’

~ Wallace Stevens ~

There is a sickness in the United States; endemic, chronic and defined by actions rather than legalities. Racism is rooted deep within the national character, its origins explained by the basest of human instinct—the need to identify with one’s tribe, family, bloodline— the need for security in ‘sameness’, the need to protect the tribe from others who might take that which has been gathered, hunted or assumed by the dignity of scrum. It doesn’t take a social scientist to explain that we, as a tribal species, haven’t changed that much. We try. There have been huge appreciable gains brought about by heroes and common people; they who refused the threnody of marginalization. All of humanity struggles with nature, nurture, logic and jingoism. Survival is the prime directive when fear entraps the entropic. Daily vicious displays of a bellicose judicial system numb our collective psyche. Objectivity is a learned trait, it delays mere instinct, it fights ignorance with the need to gather knowledge instead of settling for a fresh kill, cultivates understanding instead of territorial boundaries, offers sanctity beyond religiosity. We, as Americans, struggle with the legacy of slavery. Guilt does ugly things to the human psyche— the need for Americans to rationalize or to equivocate in the face of our nation’s embrace of human bondage is formidable—and for many—inescapable. The sins of our forebears rest heavily on our shoulders. Our leaders offer clichés and talking points when only fundamental spiritual transformation, the most difficult of challenges as individuals, is what is necessary in order for our country, our collective tribe, our national identity, to ultimately transmogrify into a truly free society.

Talk is cheap.

In the final analysis—this novel is just a bit of fiction, not a philosophical manifesto. I’m a writer not a pontificate. At best—words as a creative outlet, can influence a reader in positive ways. Words can inform, allude and collide with forgone conclusions. (That—and entertain.) The rest is up to all of you.

Evolution is not painless.

Never take a freedom for granted.

JDB

Ritual- excerpt from EYE SKIN

 

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The service is short and to the point, neither he nor Marian were overtly religious. There was a Baptist deacon who chuntered an excised  Protestant liturgy; he was paralytic, barely hears any of it. Terser acquiesced to the needs of Marian’s family to ritualize – in truth he had no strength to resist, because none of the sights, shambolic churring of hymns or comforting prayers could shake him out of the ellipses of shock.

          Marian? Dead? Why was I at work? Why didn’t I make love to you every moment of every day? How could I have ever made you sad?

 Sitting with his arm around Clive he retreats into a sepulchral hollow where all words are static, all handshakes like desperate swats. Grim expressions of condolences masking quiet terror of mortality- the winged chimera mankind has been taught to resist, (fear not) rise above (fear not), disdain,(fear not) until it consumes hope in a moment, fully, completely —all piety tenebrous, and all veracity fastuous, (fear not) grey is the only color that matters—all cliché rings true, His one stipulation was that there be only the apricity of live flowers – big yellow daisies, bold red poppies, orange roses—only plants that smiled, reminding him of the light in Marian’s nitid eyes, after she made a corny joke, after they made love, she burned biscuits up at the cabin — Terser could bear nothing reeking of sadness or finality. Everything else around him filled those euphotic parameters.

In the pews: Clive’s grandparents sat to his left —Jason and Carol Broussard from her first marriage to William ‘Bully’ Broussard. The ex-father-in-law making no attempt to hide his tears, weeping for a daughter-in-law and his son now gone. The ex-mother-in-law wearing dark glasses, dry lips trembling, seeing in her mind Marian and Bully in the peach orchard, certain she was now rejoined in a Christian heaven with her heroic son killed in Kuwait, somber, post-lachrymal, speechless, except for answering bromidic dipthong , the King James Concordance, (fear not) the catafalque, the well-crafted asperity designed for the necessary comfort to guide the speechless, the mourners, the ones who cry as much for themselves as the ones honored.

Jerry and Evangeline Long, Marian’s parents, sat in the pew behind him. He could feel the grief sapping Jerry’s antagonism. He knew Jerry would certainly be drunk by now—facing emotion other than malapert derision was not a strength her father ever developed. Evangeline led Jerry in the prayers, speaking loudest, making a courageous showing of it. The thought of her little girl dying so brutally, impossible to conjure. Thankfully, she and Jerry requested a closed casket. Charlie Terser agreed. Marian’s parents knew that he identified her remains at the morgue,  nothing can fix that. Terser sits, holding Clive’s hand, frozen externally, internally shambolic, staring straight ahead, praying that the service be over, and at the same time begging  it would never end. He floats above it all, watches himself sitting in the pew, hovering above the mourners, a futile supernal shadow, culling dreams, death’s reality, still-life pictures of Marian’s every facial expression, her body clothed, her body naked, resplendent in the morning sun,  her laugh amicable and discursive, her words of love broken into phrases about the trees, snakes, biscuits, art, horses, paint colors, country songs, his mud covered boots on her freshly waxed floor, all three of them laughing under the Christmas tree, her bitching about prices of groceries, standing silently watching the stream tickle the earth, chewing red licorice, filling her lungs with sweet mountain air, her hair done in a twist- smiling, ever smiling, crying over a dead goldfish, a gerbil or movie star, laughing at ruined bunt cakes or burnt toast, collapsing on the bed beside him, their first apartment, exhausted after un-packing moving boxes. I love you, Charlie. I love you, Marian and I love Clive. I’ll never leave you, not ever. Unless I need to work. Unless I need to find lost people (fear not), unless I need to read memos (fear not), unless there are cases to solve(fear not). Only then. Never, ever – except—(I am afraid.)

Dust thou art, and to dust ye shall return.

 Standing in the receiving line, shaking hands with family, colleagues, people he’d never met or seen. A deacon for whom he felt the urge to choke with his pedantically appropriate neck-tie. Now it was Zip at his side, with Lonnie from the office. “Charlie we have to talk. Maybe. Tomorrow.” She puts her hand on his shoulder, looks him full in the eyes, gives him a mournful punctuated hug. “Please, I’m so sorry about the timing. It’s that urgent.” “Clive buddy, go see pap and nana for a minute, okay?”

Clive  starts walking , the expression on his face unchanged since his mother’s death.

 “I didn’t mean now Charlie, god…all of this.” Zip said apologetically. “I need a strong drink, can I get a witness?’ “I have something in the car.” Offers Lonnie.

Yes, Terser nods, yes. “I need some air.”

Walking to the parking lot, Charlie tries not to look anywhere but up, at the sky. Lonnie hands him a fifth of bourbon. “I don’t have a glass, boss. Sorry.” He holds the bottle a moment; the last time he drank anything stronger than a beer was at last year’s Christmas party; even less to celebrate now. His heart told him this: brace yourself for a long re-acquaintance. “What is important, Zip?” He swigs, winces. It burns less than  grief.

Zip rolls her eyes, unsure how to get the words out. “They have a suspect in custody. And it gets worse.” Terser doesn’t blink, still feeling the bourbon burn.  “It’s J.J.” she nearly whispers. “…it looks like a set-up, Charlie. A plant of the…excuse me…what…um.” “The gun?” “No, Charlie.” Lonnie broke in; “…the other…thing.” “My god.” “Charlie…it could have waited, I didn’t want this now, today, here.” “You mean they have him? He’s being held?” “Charlie, they haven’t formally charged him. They arrested him at the airport leaving town.” “I knew that was a probability, him leaving town…but this other thing, they found the bat? Where?” “Behind his motel. He didn’t have any luggage. All his belongings were just as he left them in his hotel room.” “Guns?” “No guns I know of. The detectives called me and asked if I had any idea where J.J.’s truck was. They said you weren’t answering your door or your phone. Listen, Charlie…” She starts, watching with mounting anxiety as Terser took another solid get-me-smashed gulp from Lonnie’s bottle, patting him on his arm, gently , she takes the bottle away, hands it to Lonnie.

“…all the rest will wait until tomorrow. It just has to. You need to be with Clive. Why don’t both of you come stay with Tyler and me again tonight?” Terser feels the alcohol quicken inside. “No. Thanks, but no. Clive is going with Marian’s folks for a few days.” “Well you know the offer stands, what about you?” “It’s the best thing for Clive.” “Yeah, but boss…what about you? Don’t choose to be alone.”

 Terser returns a funny slant, a hurt smirk. Zip is apprehensive, she never saw Terser drink hard liquor from a bottle.

“It’s best I be alone now; Zip, Lonnie. Thanks. Everyone has been gracious. Kind. I need to make it through another forty-five minutes of this and then…” he trails off; “…then I guess I’ll see.” “Charlie. You shouldn’t drive. Please. You shouldn’t be alone.” Terser nods, ignores, looks away, and starts for the  funeral chapel, wordlessly brushes her cheek with the back of his hand in passing.

 I’m not alone. I have Marian.

©2020 J.D. Brayton

The Cure: Excerpt- from EYE SKIN

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The Cure

One second after sedationThe canal looked as if a cracker farmer had gotten hold of murk green algae water colors and lay it all down in a stream of hella hot Miami wax candle batik paused in primordial ooze molting cinder block sparkle jalousie glazed fish-egg spawn before the gods would have it rain all the pain away before the same old dawn in stink of unbegotten garbage filled with a variety of tattle-tail colored vipers grass snake varieties and mixed nay castigated with hot maraschino pepper cherries with no scheming nudiustertian toddler croissant covered sugar-coated cop mothers in deep deep deepest yesterwind. I’m home to visit. Stopwatch. Calloused crimped hazelnut brown eyes floating down the Miami river, afire, goats and horses burning from the melted wax at her little perfect innocent Lula feet. Burn Baby Burn. Momma. Agony. Unstill. Find my fingers. I know they are around here somewhere.

“Daddy drove the bus.”

“Ms. Liye?”

“Daddy drove a bus.”

“Ms. Liye?”

“Daddy drove his bus.”

 

Excerpt from EYE SKIN: Menagerie of Death

In the distance, another distant barrage of gunfire. “Sounds like hunters, eh? More business for you.” He quipped, trying to tease a little emotion out of the man in front of him. The sun was nearly gone. Two large mosquitoes landed on Peartree’s elbow, feasting, expanding— he didn’t appear to notice or care. He dropped the armadillo in the cooler, moved past Wholeman on stiff legs up the steps, tossing the grinning dead raccoon aside, and held the screen door open, waiting. “Obliged, Mr. Peartree.”

The stench inside was even worse. It was difficult for Avard Wholeman to breathe. He kept enough of a smile on his face to be sociable, but he began to feel cramped, boxed in by the assault on his nostrils. Every corner and available space was full of preserved creatures, it was easy for Wholeman to see this man was a savant. Every creature of the swamp, savannah and palmetto forest filled the room, half-obscured, hidden in the penumbra, pupils glimmering, the last rays of daylight reflecting red orange crimson. Directly in front of him, a fascinating pose of two white faced barn owls, their cordate faces and v-beaks like warnings, the male standing, wings extended on a driftwood branch frozen before flight. Intent, fearless. Peartree’s mastery caught the moment perfectly, seizing stark survival, the female owl posed feeding a water snake to three of her young still in the nest, necks extended, claiming their share of flesh, a coparcenary swallowing another moment until flight breaks any supposition of loyalty. The owls were immediately over-shadowed by the Anhinga- the swimming snake bird, nesting. Beside that was a pose of small feisty alligators staring back, hyaloid eyes staring forward, ten varieties of heron—white, pink, black-throated; the mammals were displayed in a far corner of the room. An endangered miniature Key deer, two razorback pigs, several good sized boars with sharp tusks, a coral snake on a branch. Like a Noah’s Ark of death, thought Avard, strange.

EXCERPT FROM EYE SKIN – by J.D. Brayton~ Dinnertime at Bogg’s Knoll after One Biblical Ass-kicking

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It’s as if the word Unfuckuppable is a stand alone haiku; thought he, knowing better than to say such a thing a aloud, sitting surrounded by three generations of Boggs, all of whom would, without question, re-tenderize him for using obscenity over the victuals. The conversation was as sparse as the décor in the family dining room. The wallpaper, artfully inked crucifix patterns hand drawn by extinct  proselytizers. The chairs, diabolical instruments of torture, straight-backed and knobby, designed to make meals brief, to the point, and uninterrupted by joy. The long slab table a wonderment, plaintive in execution, covered by a table cloth that must certainly double as a hand-pearled burial shroud with gravy stains. The lighting, pejorative and non-conducive to healthy skin tone, casting long ghoulish shadows under the eyes of lugubrious diners. Considering that he had spent the last four years on the run in Mexico,  squatting by cookfires in Chiapas, this was a callow luxury, and in a primitive way—novel. Subtle languor. Dripping chins. Bloat lettuce. The entire scene a Faulkner-like revelation – how  Protestants managed to upstage Catholics by visual asperity was sheer ascesis. The tacit tradition of sparsity. The only words muttered grunts, requests for murdered vegetables and cauterized pork meat. Mook nearly choked on  a mouthful of pickled mush when the thought occurred to him that the dinner conversation (if one could term it so), was straight out of the lyrics of Bobby Gentry’s ’Ode To Billie Joe’—if Chocktaw Ridge had been transmogrified into Bogg’s Knoll and re-peopled by congeries of ass-kicking, regenerate ultra-orthodox snake-whisperers clad in oil-spattered piss-stained bib overalls. At every place setting, blistered tongues, skinned knees,  and clannish devotion to puckered implosion.

 “Paiss them sire pickles.” Grunted Ezra Bogg the Elder, pointing with his fork. His face looked quite like a rotted pumpkin chewing sand fleas. Every time Ezra Bogg the Elder, or his wife, or any of his progeny over the age of twenty moved, there was a not so subtle stridulate chorus of bones rubbing, heavy chewing, nose breath, hiss burping, chairs squeaking, forks clacking, spoons scraping, knives plunging, dish binging and the predictable clearing of post chow-chow phlegm.

“Yawl lookin’ fer nuthah biskit? Gwan n’ try you Mother Bogg’s gravy mister Mook.”

The offer brightened the humor around the table considerably. As if electricity had suddenly come to Bogg’s Knoll, Alabama. It was Lucien the homunculi offering biscuits, having barely spoken since their first acquaintance, two hours before dinner, as he lay prone and shit-kicked in the Alabama red dirt. Mook accepted the offer, though it hurt him to arch his eyebrows in civil acquiescence. The biscuits had his confidence— mushy in the middle—hard as snapturtle shell on the crust.

 “Very kind, Lucien. And thank-you Mother Boggs for baking such flaky well-corralled delicacies.”

       Mother Bogg continued chewing as if deaf to the preternatural grammar used by Edsel Mook at her dinner table. She didn’t roll her eyes. She looked at the wallpaper and ground down a piece of chittlin’ and turd sauce she may not have actually invented, ignoring his presence as any rural gingham-tortured illiterate child might try to wish away shadows or the boogieman. Mook noticed that she resembled a sun-seasoned over-ripened striped gourd more closely than her spouse’s unkempt pumpkininity. Cute couple. Truly, the seed and ovulate has dried at this juncture.

Mook smiled and buttered his biscuit with what looked like home churned cow cum.

 

Highway- excerpt from THRIP

Southwest Georgia is like a dystopian public service mash-up from a Make-A-Wish Foundation telethon. ~ J.D. Brayton – THRIP

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   She didn’t talk much as Hale drove up state road 82 toward Albany. He had a cold tallboy of Budweiser kept between his legs, nursing it as they rolled behind a straw truck spitting whisks and dried splines in slow-motion all over the highway, causing traffic to slow to a crawl. Hale seemed satisfied to hang back and sip his beer, glad to spend time together, listening to a Top 40 station, singing along. They stopped at a vegetable stand just before Ty-Ty, bought some fresh tomatoes, a basket of peaches, and a mess of okra. She felt too sick to consider eating – but just handling the fresh produce made her feel more energized somehow. After a nap she wanted to make Hale his favorite dinner- fried chicken, breaded okra, and a home-baked peach cobbler with cinnamon-nutmeg seasoning.

   These thoughts buoyed her until they cruised slowly through the tiny downtown strip of Ty-Ty proper. It was a strange mixture of ramshackle wooden rectangles and newly funded municipal buildings constructed of plain brick, left languishing by the side of a forgotten state road, a ghost of old Georgia; architecturally squat, unadorned and utilitarian – tiny, secretive, unannounced, save by the white municipal signage pocked through by .22 shot. A whisper town, hemmed like a forgotten Jim Crow funeral jacket –tarnished buttons portrayed by farm trucks, bent Coca-Cola signs, broken bottles, empty plastic soft-drink jugs and rusty machines. Easily forgotten; if it weren’t for one shameful family of serial killers. A blink in eternity. Jesus choking on a fishbone. Pee-stained bib overalls covered in wisps of soy and tobacco seed. She and Hale had never actually stopped in the town or spoken to anyone. She had never met Thrip face to face. Somewhere off to the north, on one of the languorous back tar-top rural roads her star pupil sat, cogent, alone in a room with his pet dog; inscribing the entropic vision of freedom. As they traveled past the last town-limit sign, and the speed limit increased, she watched the dead-end dirt roads push out to the west- like straight cracks in the old dusty firmament, out where they praised God, the Son, the Father, the Holy Ghost, humming hymns intoned by the pitch proffered by John Deere, warbling under the whispering redemption, the thumb-faced redneck everyman conjuring soybeans, tobacco, okra, beans and pigs. Out where tractors groaned and smoked like robot dinosaurs – scarring and suturing loam, divided, parenthetically, by a godsend of pine, southern oak and lob-lolly left to provide green pauses for wicked winds pushed hellishly ahead by the sun, gusts strong enough to vibrate banal dirt-merchant homes, chaffed, chipped, standing alone like catafalques of un-discovered Yankee derision, watered by sulfur scented wells, surrounded by skeletal irrigation rigs spraying the straight numb inculcate rows, infinitely numbered, sucking the water table dry, sip by suck, hunkered and hunched behind endless caustically injected hectares, sewn with bland raw commodities –but here and there lay hidden swatches, whispers, left by wise old stewards, dreamlike golden grasses bedding forest  meadows, which supposition dictates only skeletal freizes, biblical clans, and spotted deer know exist, an Eden between seasons of slaughter, dripping chins and comestible tornadoes. Out there where Breedlove and his wife’s last dying breaths still mixed with the Georgia dioxide – air heavy with rancid August sweat, manure, chemical fertilizers, insecticides and stubborn resignation.

 And everything, EVERYTHING permeated by the omniscient stink of caramelized pig shit.

I may cook tonight, she thought, but I won’t be eating much.

   Hale trolled slowly, sipping the can of beer, glancing surreptitiously side to side as they rolled through the known hog-town speed traps of weedy Poulan and time-creased Sylvester. Once free from all constraints, he pushed the pedal to the floor for the last remaining twenty miles of flat, straight road to Albany. He maxed the A/C, rolled down the tinted windows, pushed the engine up, pegging 85 miles an hour; the fields blew by as one solid conjoined, empty heartbreak that Deidra Brook was now, perhaps forever, content to leave behind. The sound of the engine lulled her into a hypnotic trance, where she traded worry for dreams of rebirth; innocence, a childhood uninformed of death or infirmary, gentle Mississippi gulf vistas, the clean hopeful parable of fresh, pan-baked, peach cobbler; the poetic inclusion of ingredients were – mistakenly, undeniably, and without proper explanation, left out of the 23rd psalm.