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Jar of Rattles / Frank Reardon

I was eight years old and had taken a drive with my father to Bushlands outside of Amarillo. We arrived at a placed called the Floating Mesa.

“What’s so great about this?” I asked him.

“Doesn’t the top half look like it’s floating?”

“Floating where?” I asked. I acted like I cared but I was much more interested in flipping my pocketknife open and looking at the sharpened blade.

“It’s an illusion,” he said.

“Like a magic trick?” I asked.

I briefly looked up at the top half of the floating mesa but didn’t see what my father was trying to show me. He lit up a Marlboro red and put on the radio. A disco song came on and he shut it off.

“What do we say about disco, Gerry?” He asked, the cigarette smoke hung around his thick black mustache.

“Disco sucks!” I shouted and turned my attention away from the mesa back to my knife.

“I don’t see it floating either,” he said with a shrug.

“Because it’s not floating anywhere. I only see some dumb boards up there and a lot of sun. It’s hot. Why are we sitting here?”

“Thought you’d like to get out of the hotel room is all.”

“It’s not so bad there.”

“You sure about that?”

“Aside from Tim’s snoring and farting, it’s one of the better places we have stayed at.”


My Father laughed a bit, flicked his cigarette out of the window, and rubbed my dirty blonde hair I kept underneath a Bruins cap twenty-four hours a day.

“Where’s Tim?” I asked.

“Probably at the Circus Room,” He replied. “Or one of the titty bars.”

My father always spoke to me like one of his war friends in Vietnam. I liked it, but I couldn’t contain my laughter when he said, “Titty.”

“What’s so funny?”

“Aww nothing,” my face turned red.

He knew what he said but went on pretending I was one of his friends and dropped a few more choice words meant for adult ears.

“Fuck, where is Tim? Goddamn, this car is a piece of crap!”

We left the floating mesa behind and made our way to McDonald’s, picked up a sack of cheeseburgers, and headed for the motel set on the outskirts of Amarillo. Dad’s ’76 sky blue Nova rumbled onto the dirt parking lot of the red motel, and he handed me a dollar in change to get glass bottle sodas out of the machine near the hotel manager’s office.


The motel manager was a real weirdo. He was thin as a pencil and wore a pearl button cowboy shirt and watched TV all day. I wasn’t sure what the people were doing on the television. They looked like they were at church, but not the type of church I was used to seeing at Saint Teresa’s. The people on Reggie’s TV set moved with their hands in their air. People dropped on the floor and flipped around like fish out water.

Thing is, Reggie didn’t even have the sound on. He played loud music on a record player, and watched the people flip out on the set. I looked inside the side window surrounded by neon lights that read, ‘vacancy.’ His enormous green cowboy boots were up on the desk, and he watched the TV to the sounds of that song, ‘Let Your Love Flow,’ through his horn-rimmed glasses. He sure was an odd one, and my father, every time he saw Reggie, reminded him just how weird he was. Reggie never said a mean word back to Dad, he pulled out a pack of Campagna Brand Cigarettes and lit one, and he simply took all the bullshit Dad tossed at him. If it wasn’t about Reggie being weird, or Reggie’s grey flat top, then it was about ‘all the damn shit-kickers in the entire state of Texas.’


Reggie caught me looking into his window. I moved my eyes away from him, then looked back inside, my eyes took an air bullet from his gun finger pointed right at me. I did the same back, and he returned his gaze to the TV set. I turned my attention to getting the Cokes from the vending machine at the end of a long dark breezeway. A few people laughing sat in chairs and drank beers. The women passed a cigarette back and forth.

“Look at this cutie,” a woman with blonde Farrah Faucet hair said to me.

“He sure is a cutie,” a woman with a brown similar hair style said.

A man with long hair and a bandana wrapped around his forehead, a person my father would call a ‘damn hippie’ was sitting in a camping chair and drinking a bottle of Miller High Life.

“Say, man,” he said. “You Gerard or Tim’s kid?”

“Gerard is my father, and Tim is his coworker.”

“Your Daddy’s the baby killer, ain’t he, man?”

I heard Dad mention those words before, but usually when he was upset about everything but nothing. One time, he woke up crying and said he wasn’t a baby killer. He noticed that I saw him crying, so he went to the bathroom for the rest of the night. I didn’t see him again until the next morning.

“He’s not a baby killer. He was a sergeant in Vietnam.”

The muscular hippie flipped around the long beads hanging from his neck a bit, then he grabbed the blonde woman’s butt and said, “Sure, he wasn’t a baby killer, little man.”

“I like your Dukes of Hazard T-shirt,” the brown-haired Farrah said to me.

“Thanks,” I replied. “My aunt Debbie got it for me.”

“Who’s your favorite Duke?” She asked.

“Bo,” I replied. “He drives the shit out of the General Lee.”

“Well, I like Luke,” she said, “he’s so damn sexy.”

“Little Man don’t know what the shit sexy is,” the Dirty Hippie said.

I didn’t like the dirty hippie. He annoyed me and I wanted to punch his teeth out like the time Tim punched that guy’s teeth out in Arkansas for not having his money.

“I know what sexy is!”

“Oh, you do? You tell me, Little Man, you think she’s sexy,” he said pointing at the blonde.

“Daisey Duke is the sexiest woman on the entire planet,” I said, like I knew what I was talking about. Truth is, I didn’t. I only knew I felt strange in the best way when Daisey was on the television set.

“He ain’t wrong, Arnold,” Blonde Farrah said.

“No, I guess he isn’t wrong,” Arnold the Dirty Hippie replied, rubbing her ass. She giggled at his touch. My stomach turned when she let the filthy fucker kiss her. I almost heaved all over Reggie’s power-washed concrete hallway when he dragged her into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. The brown-haired Farrah sat outside the closed door and continued to smoke her cigarette.

“You live in the motel?” She asked.

“No. Dad and Tim are working out in brush somewhere, and this is just where we stay is all.”

“Where you from?”


“A little Yankee right here in front of me. Long way from home.”

“I don’t really know where we are half the time,” I said to her.

“What kind of work does your Daddy do?”

“They do something in manholes, other times they do other kinds of things they won’t tell me about.”

“Won’t tell you?” she said, pretending like she cared.

“Nah,” I said. “They do the same thing everywhere all summer long. Sometimes we are in Las Vegas, other times California. Last week we were in Oklahoma. But Dad got out of there quick because he said, “Oklahoma is a shithole.” He said the same thing about Perryton, Texas, so now we are here.”


She lit another cigarette. Her eyes floated off into the heat coming up from the pavement. I didn’t know what she was looking at, but it must’ve been important. My Dad investigated the same nothingness after he had one of his nightmares. I imagine it’s why Reggie investigated his TV set for hours on end. She stayed fixated with her nothingness. Blonde Farrah and the Dirty Hippie made loud noises inside the room. I was both curious and sick about their moans, but I chose to walk back to the hotel room with the Cokes. Brown Farrah didn’t even notice that I left. I looked back at her from a couple doors away; she was still looking at her nothing. I turned the corner and walked into the room.


“Where you been, Buddy?” Dad asked, snatching a glass Coke from my hand, and

popping the top with a blue lighter.

“I was talking to a Dirty Hippie.”

“That giant fucker with the two girls?”

“Yeah, that guy.”

“Stay away from them if you can. Tim said they are weird.”

I shrugged my shoulders like none of it mattered. Brown and Blonde Farrah, and the Dirty Hippie vanished from mind when I saw that dad had put a rerun of ‘Columbo’ on the television set. I savaged a cheeseburger, opened the wrapper to another, and laughed when Columbo said, “Just one more thing…” I knew the guy with the ascot wasn’t going to get away with the murdering his wife.


Dad pulled back the curtain and looked out into the lot.

“Who are looking for?”

“You writing a book?”

I always thought if my dad were a famous TV detective like Columbo his tag line would be, ‘You writing a book?’ I must’ve heard it a dozen times a day.

He moved from the curtain, opened the door, and looked outside then shut the door. His shoulders fidgeted and he walked to the bathroom, ran the water for a minute, and returned. He sat down and picked up the yellow rotary telephone and started to pull back the numbers to dial.

 “Take your food out to the pool a bit, will you, Gerry?”

“Show’s still on.”

“The guy doesn’t get away with murdering his wife. I saw this one before. Please, go outside to the pool for a bit.”

I sighed and tried to fake a fit, so he’d notice I was angry, but he never noticed. He only noticed when it suited him. I left the burger on the bed and took my lukewarm Coke and left the room. Back home in Boston it never got as hot as it did here. I thought of Texas as a giant desert where nomads traveled to trade spices, swords, and guns. No one was at the pool. I dunked my feet in the shallow end and slugged what was left of the Coke and placed the empty glass bottle poolside.


I couldn’t see Brown Farrah in the chair. She had vanished. The only thing left was the empty chair the Dirty Hippie had been sitting in, and a few empty beer bottles. Through the steam rising from the two-lane black top, Tim’s taxi pulled in faster than the posted limit at the entrance of the motel.

“Gerry! You son-of-a-bitch!” He shouted.

I jumped up and ran over to Tim. He stood six-foot five and had long, wavy, black hair. His entire wardrobe consisted of blue jeans and beer T-shirts. He was the kind of guy who some would call fat, and others would call muscular. Old ladies called him ‘Husky.’ He picked me up with a bear hug and rubbed his thick black beard all over my forehead.

“What are you doing out here?’

“Dad asked me to come out here so he could make a phone call.”

“I bet.”

“You want to go hunt for rattlesnakes?” I asked him. “I can go in the room. Your machete is in there.”

“Tomorrow, little fucker. I need to see what your dad is up to and get a cold barley pop. I’ll be back.”


I sat at the pool and stuck my feet back in. It was a bit colder than when I pulled them out a few minutes earlier. I wanted to add a new rattle to my mason jar full of rattles. The gooey mess that no longer made the same sound as the snakes in the wild. When Tim and Dad were out at the manholes or huts in the middle of nowhere, Tim took a machete with him, and he went out in the brush and hunted snakes. He was fearless. Dad said he was ‘Not right in the head.’ I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Sober or drunk, he sometimes picked them up by the head and gazed at the fangs. Tim wasn’t afraid nor concerned about anything, not like Dad, who often worried about everything. Other times he chopped off the head, then chopped off the rattle and put it in my mason jar.

One time Tim told me rattlesnake tasted like greasy chicken. I almost barfed because of all the goo inside the jar full of rattles. I imagined that’s what they tasted like, a chewy green goo that got all caught up in the teeth. The Amarillo sun started to go down, and I heard Reggie’s music from the motel manager’s station. I wondered if he ever slept. The only other person I saw working there was the grumpy morning housekeeper, Natalie. She always looked tired and mumbled incoherently to no one. I looked around to see who she was talking to, but no one was ever there. One morning I saw her eating a glazed donut, she had hidden it inside her apron when she saw me looking like I was going to run twenty yards and snatch it out of her hands. I wondered if Reggie was her Daddy, her brother. I never had a sibling. I would’ve liked one to travel all over the country every summer with, but it was only me. Forever surrounded by these lunatic adults with the biggest damn problems in the world. Have they ever lost a Fred Lynn rookie card in a game of dice? I think not.


I watched the giant Texas moon push through the clouds and light up the empty pool. The Dirty Hippie went to his van and took out a brief case and walked it back to his room and shut the door. Reggie turned on the big neon lights. I loved the lights. They made me feel like I was living in a dream. The enormous moon, the brush and desert, the two-lane black top, and the giant pink and green lights that read THE PARADISE INN, Vacancy. It was far from all the loud screams in the streets of Boston. Far from loud church bells every hour, and light years away from endless rows of double and triple deckers, each one with a statue of Mary or Jesus in the front yard. A yard surrounded by rusty fences and broken chain-link gates.

The wind picked up and cooled off my sweaty body. Blonde and Brown Farrah left the room and climbed in their brown van. A few minutes later the Dirty Hippie climbed into the driver’s seat with a briefcase. “Locomotive Breath” blasted out from the van, and they pulled out of the parking spot. Before they hit the two-lane black top, the Dirty Hippie looked at me, and I looked at him. He gave me a thumbs up and I gave him the middle finger. He shook his head and pulled off down the road.


Dad and Tim came over to the pool and stuck their feet in. Tim had a cold six pack with him. I snatched a beer and cooled off my forehead.

 “Want a beer?” Tim asked.

I looked at my dad, he lit a cigarette, and said, “One sip.” Thrills and chills ran through my body. All my life I wanted to try what drove my uncles back home, and Tim, into laughter. What drove men in the streets back home into fits of rage or in to fights. Why strangers kissed after drinking from the bottle of joy. What magic lived inside the bottle? Tim twisted the top and handed it to me.

“It’ll put hair on your chest, Gerry.”

The motel lights shined against the clear bottle full of yellow, and the pinks and greens from the motel mixed with the liquid. I was sure I would be drinking a bottle full of rainbows. I tipped the bottle like cola. Foam filled my lips and the glorious taste hit my tongue. It wasn’t like the time my grandfather let me try Moxie and I almost tossed my cookies the second the thick brown liquid hit my tongue. I understood right away, why people of leisure drank beer. I continued to drink it past the suggested sip, and Tim snatched it away.

“Hey, one sip,” he said with a smile. “Don’t bogart my brews, buddy.”

Dad, who never touched alcohol, looked disgusted and turned away. Like I acquired the family curse of boozing seven days a week.

 “You liked that shit, didn’t you?” Tim said.

 “It wasn’t half bad.”

The three of us sat there with our feet in the pool. We stopped talking, each of us living in our own dreams, enjoying the moonlight above. We were far from everything and closer than anyone imagined. I felt like I was allowed to sit and enjoy the silence with two grown men since I drank half a bottle of beer. I was an adult now, but what I didn’t know is that I had been an adult all along. Kids back home talked about Disney and science projects, and here I was, worldly Gerry drinking beer. Those kids didn’t know shit. All the adults back home wanted me to live a more stable life. I was more stable than any kid I ever met. More than my lunatic cousin Shawn down the street, who had an affinity for chewing on pieces of old carpet and on his mother’s dirty underwear in front of people. What was that about? Or the Noonan brothers who I played pond hockey with, those three skeeves smelled like old Chinese food and always talked about dicks. Crazy!


I woke up the next morning to screams and the sound of police cruisers coming down the street. Dad and Tim were not in the room, but they had been there judging by the ashtray full of cigarettes and a John Wayne war movie was on the television. I put on my pants and looked out the window. Two police cars were in the lot and four cops with cowboy hats walked around the property with Reggie. I went outside and walked near one of the police cars. Natalie looked at me, I noticed her black eye, and her auburn hair was a mess, she walked towards me.

“You don’t need to see this,” she said, trying to drag me back to my room.

“Where’s Dad and Tim?” I asked.

“They are talking to the police in Reggie’s office. Come on, honey, let me take you in the room.”


Natalie walked me into my room and shut the door. I sat on my bed, and she sat across from me on the other bed. Bombs from the television set exploded in the background. I stared at her swollen purple eye. Her good eye leaked leftover tears.

“What happened to your eye?” I asked.

“I fell,” she said.

I knew she was full of shit. That’s what Mrs. McNabb told everyone in the neighborhood after she had an argument with her husband.

“Why are all of the police here?”

“I think you should talk to your father about that. I’ll sit with you until they get back.”

She didn’t say anything else. She sat there rolling the wet tissues around in her clenched hands. I watched her bones shake underneath her skin. I reached out and touched her hands. I didn’t even think about why I was doing it, I just did it. The worn skin wrapped around her frail bones stopped shaking immediately. She looked up at me and smiled, her teeth were yellow and brown, her expression was that of a stray mutt who finally found a home.

“Thank you,” she said. “You are a kind young man. I’ll pray for you.”


She got up and went to the bathroom. I took off out the door. I ran down the concrete walkway past rooms numbered: 10, 9, 8, 7, and I turned the corner and down past rooms numbered 6, 5, 4, 3, until I reached the corner where the vending machines were. I looked into Reggie’s window and saw him talking to a lawman, Dad, and Tim. Cops and men wearing suits walked in and out of the vending machine hallway where I talked to the Dirty Hippie and the two Farrah’s the day before. Natalie stood in the distance at the doorway of our motel room.

The cops back home told kids like me to “fuck off,” if we were in the way, the Amarillo cops didn’t even notice me. I peeked around the corner and saw a blanket with feet sticking out of the bottom. Blood stained the concrete around the blanket. Beer bottles littered the ground. A police officer with a big white cowboy hat came out of the room, and he noticed me.

“Son, you need to get your ass out of here.” He said, “Any of you assholes notice a kid in the damn crime scene?!”

I stepped back slowly and took notice of his big silver buckle with a rodeo clown on it. The clown cried one single turquoise tear. He moved to the side, and I got a look in the room. A man wearing a blue windbreaker covered a woman’s severed arm with a blanket. The Dirty Hippie was sitting up in the bed, blood flowed down his face. The pillows were saturated in red. I couldn’t see who the arm belonged to. I stood on the tips of my toes to get a better look. The cop returned and pushed me away. Dad saw me and jogged out the front door.

“Is this your kid?” the cop asked, looking at me through his aviator sunglasses fitted underneath his white Stetson.

“Yes sir,” dad replied.

“Get his ass out of here, and I mean now!”

I was moved like a pinball through men hustling in and out of the room, in between cruisers and ambulances, people from the newspaper, and finally into the motel office. Reggie pulled out another Campagna and lit it. I saw the tattoos on his thin, tanned, and frail forearms. One was a skull and underneath it, it read “The Chosin Few.” On his other arm was a giant crucifix. I looked at his chest and the top of a tattoo was showing, but I couldn’t make out what it was because the rest of his short-sleeved-yellow shirt was buttoned. Reggie saw me looking at his chest, trying to make out the tattoo, the turned his attention back to the conversation.

Ambulances took away three body bags, and the police stayed for hours looking in the motel room, and outside around the breezeway. They eventually put-up police tape and packed up and left the scene. They told Reggie they’d be back the next day to continue their investigation.

“After a day like today I think this young man could use a cold one.” Reggie said, handing me a tall glass of RC Cola. He gave himself and Tim a beer. Dad declined. Reggie tossed on the motel lights, and I took a seat on the worn-out leather sofa wedged in between fake plants and drank my RC. The vast brush swallowed the night sky and all that could be seen was the blacktop underneath the warm glow of the neon lights.


“What it is it, Gerry,” he said, taking a swill of his beer.

“Think Natalie will be, okay?”

He stood there a minute and looked out the windows of his office, understanding nobody would be coming to rent a room.

“I tell you, Gerry. The Good Lord knows that woman has been through hell and back all her life. Ain’t no man or act of violence has ever stopped her from showing up. I’m sure she’s going to be fine. Why you ask?”

 “She was shaking really bad earlier, in my room.”

“Some people see things they don’t want to see, and it scares them, so they put it out of their head like it never happened. Some people imagine seeing things and what they make up in their heads runs them in circles for the rest of their lives. And some people see what is real and it scares them so much that they have no other choice than to think about what they saw every day, that’s the worst,” Reggie said, “Because it drives them to a lifelong battle with the wrong kind of madness. And that’s no way to live.”

I had no idea what Reggie was talking about, and he understood I had no idea, but he also knew it was the kind of thing I’d look back at one day when my time came to think about what I had seen earlier in the day. Tim sat down next to me on the couch and pounded the last of his beer.

“You trying to scare the kid, Reg?”

“Nah, just giving him some parting wisdom is all.”

“Sounds like a whole lot of crazy,” Tim said.

Dad filled out the paperwork and told Reggie he’d leave the keys in the room. The three of us started to leave the room, and I looked back to wave goodbye to Reggie. He pulled down the front of his shirt and I saw a skeleton tattooed to his chest. One hand gripped a pistol, the other had the weights of Justice dangling from its hand. He buttoned his shirt back up and smiled at me as I walked out the door. Reggie went back to his life behind the motel desk like nothing happened. Like me, he had chosen to put it out of his head.


Dad and Tim packed the trunk of my Dad’s Nova and we all climbed in the front because I didn’t want to be alone. The engine revved and we pulled out on the two-lane black top and took off down the road.

 “Where are we going now?” I asked.

“Next job is back in Oklahoma,” Tim replied.

Dad slapped my thigh, “We’ll be back this way in about a month.”

“Back in Amarillo?”

“Yep,” Dad said.

“Can we come back and stay with Reggie?”

“We have to,” he said.

“Why do we have to,” I asked.

“Because that is where the job will take us.”


I had no idea why we had to, but it excited me to see Reggie, even Natalie, again. I looked in the backseat for my jar of rattles. I could see the neon motel lights shrinking. They got smaller and smaller from the back window until the dark swallowed them. I found the jar on the floorboard and snatched it up. When I picked the jar up, I looked at the backseat and saw a briefcase. It looked exactly like the case the Dirty Hippie had the day before.

I sat back in the middle of Dad and Tim and looked at my jar of rattles. They floated around inside their thick goo. I gave Tim a look then Dad, but their faces were fixated on the road in front of them. I shook the jar that never made a sound before, but this time every individual rattle rattled a warning to me. I quickly shot both Tim and Dad a look. Neither of them heard what I had. The conversation of silence they were busy having was too thick for them to notice.  


FRANK REARDON was born in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Charlotte, NC. Frank has published short stories and poetry in many reviews, journals and online zines. His first poetry collection, 'Interstate Chokehold,' was published by NeoPoiesis Press in 2009 as well as his second poetry collection 'Nirvana Haymaker' in 2012. His third poetry collection 'Blood Music' was published by Punk Hostage Press in 2013. In 2014 Reardon published a chapbook with Dog on A Chain Press titled 'The Broken Halo Blues.'

In 2019 he published a collection with Blue Horse, 'Loud Love on The Sevens and Elevens.' Frank is currently working on a nonfiction column for Hobart, more short fiction, and will have a short story collection finished later in 2024.


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