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Doctor's Orders / Dan Russell



I’ve been lying here in bed for an hour or two, thinking about everything. I ain’t sure I’m gonna say anything. Talking about it won’t do any good.


I pick up the clicker and turn on the TV. There ain’t shit on. So, I settle on some reruns of Sanford and Son. I wonder what she will think of me. She keeps telling me she knows I ain’t happy. She asked me the other night if I wanted another woman. That ain’t it. I ain’t quite sure what it is, but it ain’t that. When she says stuff like that, I tell her I love her. She puts her head on my chest and lays it there for a while. Then she’ll pat me and rub on the wet spot she left on my shirt. Finally, she’ll kind of smile and go outside on the porch and have a smoke.


Fred is arguing with Aunt Esther. They’re yelling about Lamont. If I tell her, I worry she might want to yell a little, too. I can’t deal with no more of that. We had a big one here a while back. I stayed out a little too late, and Bobby Joe McGinnis brought me home and left me on the porch in the swing. She came out there the next morning and let me have it. I told her I was sorry and had a lot on my mind. She didn’t care too much.


Fred says he’s gonna have a big one. He’s holding his chest and falling into shit. I ain’t what I used to be, either. I feel like I am stumbling around and holding on to anything that will keep me upright. She don’t see that. I try to keep that under my hat.


Sometimes, she gets to asking questions, and I don’t want to answer them. So I “umm and ah” a while and then go get daddy’s shotgun, sit out on the porch, and oil it up. I rack the arm a few times and make sure it still glides smooth. I ain’t fired it in years, but I might soon. It might be therapeutic.


When you get older, nobody tells you things get real uncomfortable real quick. I ain’t just talking about body aches and shit like that. I mean everything. It all seems to pile up like the junk at old Fred and Lamont’s. Dishes stay piled up in the sink. There are crumbs and stains on the countertop. Dirty clothes left lying around like the rapture jerked out the folks wearing them and left the clothes to fall where they may. You just get tired. Too tired to care.


Esther just hit Fred upside the head with her purse. I’ve been there. A few weeks ago, I took my wife out to a show. She’d wanted to go out for a while, and I found out her favorite group was in town and got us tickets. You should’ve seen how her eyes lit up. You’d have thought I hung the moon and painted the stars. She got all made up and looked like a million bucks. I took her out to a nice place, and we ate good. We had steaks and baked potatoes – dessert, too. They had good whiskey. I had a few.


I didn’t think I’d drunk that much. When we got to the show, I said I had to go to the john, and while I was in there, I passed out. I woke up with her screaming at me from the door, telling me to get my ass out. I was trying, but nothing seemed to work right. The more I tried, the further backward I went until I fell into the wall and slid down into a ball on the nasty ass floor. You know then, you’re low. Sitting on the floor of a public bathroom, your old lady yelling at you while she is all dolled up for a good time.


I decided after that I couldn’t do it anymore. I said I’d give up drinking. But it ain’t helping. So I went to the doctor. I felt weak and like I was betraying somebody, but I couldn’t put my finger on who. The doc gave me some pills, and I felt like a million bucks for a while. After a time, the wife told me I was different and she smiled more. We fucked like rabbits for a couple of weeks.


Tonight, I thawed out some catfish from last spring, cut some potatoes into fries, and made the hushpuppies with a lot of green onions like she likes. I wanted to show her I was sorry and do something nice. So I fixed it all up, and we ate. I wanted to make love to her, not fuck, make love. Tender, you know? So, after I finished the dishes, I took her to the bedroom. I started taking off her clothes; her hands were going everywhere, and I was breathing hard and pushing her toward the bed. But when we got down to it, I couldn’t feel anything. Everything down there just went numb. I thought about all kinds of shit to get worked up, but I just couldn’t. I kissed on her and touched her, and she came hard. She told me it was my turn now, but I knew better. I rolled over and grabbed my pack of smokes, and lit one.


“What did I do?” she asked me.


That just killed me. She didn’t do anything.


“Nothing I said. It ain’t you.”


“What is it? You want me to play with it for a little bit?”


“No.”


“You want me to—“


“I want you to leave me alone about it.”


Then I saw her shoulders start to bounce like women’s do when they’re crying but don’t want to let you know. It wasn’t long before the sobbing cut loose, and I couldn’t take it. So I pulled on my jeans and walked into the front room. I saw daddy’s gun over there, grabbed it and the oil and rag, and went on the porch.


I sat down, racked the forearm back, dribbled a little oil on the mechanism, and slid it back and forth. I jacked it a few more times, rubbed it down with the rag, and propped it beside me. When I got to shivering from the cold, I decided I’d go back inside.


So, here I am, laying in bed with her asleep beside me, worn out from crying. Fred’s yelling that he is coming to join Elizabeth. He can’t take life anymore. He’s checking out. Tomorrow might be the day I run a shell through that old gun. She’ll be off to church around ten and won’t be back till noon. I’ll have plenty of time to think about it. I might do it then.



/



Dan Russell is a writer. His work has appeared in The Arkansas Review, Cowboy Jamboree, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Tributary, You Might Need to Hear This, The Illinois Journal of History, and Close to the Bone. He and his wife and family live in Arkansas atop Crowley’s Ridge.


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