A journal of narrative writing.
Charlie Benson Sees the Ocean

Charlie Benson was way past knee-walking drunk when he fell and banged his head on the corner of his bed. That afternoon his foreman had laid him off from the best job he ever had, making union money at the TVA as a carpenter’s assistant. He’d cashed his check at the Blockhouse on the way home and bought as much Thunderbird wine as he could carry, then drank himself to sleep in the tiny bedroom in the back of his trailer. When the urge to pee woke him, he stumbled to the tiny bathroom adjacent to his bed. The last thing he remembered was the view of Roan Mountain through his bedroom window as he fell on the way back.

He woke with a headache like he’d never had before and pain that seared through his feet into his ankles. He smelled the odor of something burning and assumed the worst. “I ain’t dead yet,” he yelled. “You can’t take me there ’til I’m dead.” He pulled his knees up to his chest.

He felt a cool, damp washcloth on his feet. This can’t be hell, he thought. There’s no water down there.

“Who are you?” he asked. “I ain’t dead yet…” His voice trailed off. He struggled again, pulled his feet up higher, away from the pain, away from the flames.

“Amy,” the owner of the hands said. He could not make out her face.

“You’re a devil girl,” he screamed. “I know what you’re doing. I ain’t dead yet.” The yelling made his head hurt worse. He lost consciousness for a minute.

When he revived a little, he heard a male voice say, “He’s probably in DT’s. Run out of money to buy liquor.”

Charlie craned his neck back and looked up. He could see the vague outline of a round, red face floating well above a huge belly. It kept changing shapes, like those mirrors at the Marion County fair that make your head look too big, or too small, or you don’t have arms, or something.

He could make out the girl’s shape now too. She wore ragged jeans and a sweatshirt. Her arms hugged her chest like she was cold. Her tongue loved her lips. It kept sneaking out there to touch them. For a moment Charlie wanted to lick them too, but he remembered who she was and where she was trying to lure him. He wondered if the flickering tongue was forked like a snake’s.

“My name’s Slim,” the man said. Amy said something back that Charlie couldn’t understand. Slim continued, “…part-time paramedic and a part-time deputy sheriff for Oak Grove.”

Charlie thought Slim was talking to him.

“I know who you are,” he said. “You’re so fat everybody calls you Slim.”

“He ain’t changed since high school,” Slim said.

Amy and Slim leaned over Charlie. They looked like one body with two heads. Slim talked nonstop while Amy’s tongue flicked in and out like it was sensing the air, preparing to strike. Every pounding heartbeat felt like someone was swirling an ice pick in his brain. Slim covered him with a blanket that had a Marion County EMS logo on it. Charlie vomited over the side of the bed as the world faded away to silence.

* * *

Charlie woke on clean sheets, propped up on pillows. A skinny girl stood next to his bed eating cafeteria food off the tray on his over-the-bed table. There was something vaguely familiar about her.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Look at you,” she said. “One week in a coma and you wake up cussin’.”

Charlie didn’t speak.

She moved a little to let him focus on her.

“You ain’t a nurse,” he said. “Not in them jeans.”

“At least you ain’t brain damaged.” She dropped the peas back on the plate. “I’m Amy. I saved your life, so you better be nice to me.”

“I don’t remember that,” he said.

She waited for several seconds, as if debating whether or not to share.

“It’s a long story,” she said.

“I got time.”

She paused again, as if organizing her thoughts. “I was hitchhiking,” she said. “I got a ride with a man who told me he was going to Knoxville.”

She hesitated again and swirled her spoon in the mashed potatoes. “Turns out he’s your neighbor…lives in that shack down the road from you.”

“Scraggle Mahoney?”

“Scraggle fits. He needed a haircut and a good bath.”

“He’s a pervert.”

She put a little bit of the mashed potatoes on the spoon, then dumped them and loaded the peas again.

“I figured out he wasn’t going to Knoxville. I told him I wanted out. He kept saying he wanted to show me something.”

“He’s a pervert,” Charlie said again. He looked at the spoon, now loaded and aimed at his face. The melody to “That’s How I Got to Memphis” ran through his mind. He loved to strum along with that song. “How’d you get away?”

“When he parked, I just got out and started walking.”