by Daylon Phillips
Levon walked along the siding of the train bridge and spat ink into the river below every few steps along the way, sometimes over the railing and sometimes attempting to make it through the thick wooden slats beneath his feet. He had some lumps on the right side of his lower lip, and a couple sores down where the pudgy skin meets the bony gums by tiny rails of thin skin. Because of these sores, he put tobacco on the other side of his mouth, which he wasn’t used to and that made it harder for him to not occasionally spit all over himself, but he could hit a river from a bridge most of the time.
The tracks were rusted, and at the end of the bridge, covered with Spanish moss and patchy grass and wildflowers. There wasn’t a train for miles and hadn’t since before he was born. This was where Levon came most nights. He and his father used to fish off the bridge before his father left to be shot somewhere in some sand.
“Daddy, how come we never catch any fish?” Levon was looking up into the sun behind his father’s head, squinting, legs dangling over the edge.
“Well, we ain’t fishermen.”
“But we’re fishin.”
“Then I guess we’re just bad fishermen.” His father spit foam out over the side of the bridge and smiled. “One day I’ll get a boat and we’ll catch somethin on this river.”
When is father left Levon gave up on catching any fish. Levon dangled his legs over the edge of the bridge in the same place he always did.
He was positioned to the right of the fifteenth pole. He stared up at the moon, almost the same place as the sun had been earlier that day. The summer was hot and mosquitoes flitted around his neck and wrists. They didn’t bother him anymore, just kept biting and taking just a little life out, just so they could keep going. No bumps ever formed any more and he figured this meant they couldn’t be hurting him too bad.
Out of the corner of Levon’s eyes, he saw movement on the water. It was a strange and reddish specter walking, then fading out, then coming back and taking a few more steps before disappearing again. Levon blinked, his eyes were never very good, he squinted down at the ghost and felt a little unnerved, knowing sweat was forming on his neck. He didn’t want to make anyone mad. He decided to spit down on the train track instead of the river. He missed a couple times and the side of his blue jeans got a few tobacco flecks and phlegm on them.
Levon sat out there, to the right of that fifteenth rung, for what was probably the five-hundredth time since his father died, just to get away and to remember something good. He’d never got along with his step-father, and rarely talked to anyone unless he was drunk. People thought he was stupid and he was okay with that, he knew he wasn’t ever going to be a scientist or a doctor like his father wanted him to.
“I gotta go into the army.”
“We got some bad people out there, needa be stopped.”
“Okay, dad.” Levon saw his father like he was built into the sky, as a fixture of the way the earth moved.
But then the earth didn’t stop when his mother got the phonecall about his father’s death, and it hadn’t stopped for ten years since. Levon wanted it move a little faster, and as much as he liked thinking about his father, he didn’t really like thinking about him. It always went back to his saturating of the sand with his life, or maybe into the cracks of some stone floor, pouring all out into there. He didn’t want to forget anything about him but didn’t want to remember any more tonight. He kept walking down the train tracks, looking to get drunk.
He stopped at Dewey’s bar, a place he and his father would go for a sandwich and coffee before fishing.
“But it’s further than the train tracks.” The heat outside was dense and painful. “And we just gotta go all the way back.”
“We ain’t catchin anything to eat out there, so might as well grab a grilled cheese fore we go.”
“Then why do we even go fishin?”
“Few reasons,” his father said. “We get away from your mother, which she likes. I get some time with you, which I like. Don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Levon said, feeling bad about complaining.
Levon was a few too many in at Dewey’s when he started talking to no one in particular.
“Mama said she wouldn’t never find no one like my daddy—and so I guess she just plum give up and settled for that rat bastard she got stinkin up her house, fillin the air with all that anger and makin her life miserable.”
“He’s too damn drunk,” Gus said.
“Levon gets that way sometimes,” Dewey said.
“Why do you even let him in here, then?”
“He don’t cause no trouble, he’s just a broken boy.”
“Don’t look like no boy I ever damn seen,” Gus chuckled. “Looks like a pitiful dog.”
“Watch yer goddamn mouth, fore I kick yer teeth in, Gus.” There was no anger behind this phrase.
“Shit, Dewey, I didn’t mean anythin—”
“Just shut yer mouth. You don’t know that boy.”
Levon fell asleep on the bar and Dewey just let him sleep there, put a glass of water next to his head. He stumbled out in the humid night, still so drunk everything was haze and home was a thought on the floor somewhere. He got to the bridge and fell asleep to the right of the fifteenth rung, the moon right above him like a light fixture, the flashing of an airplane making a blinking red specter on the river below.
Daylon M. Phillips was born and raised in Tennessee. He is a recent college graduate from Portland State University in Oregon. His writing is often character driven and focuses on the American South, lineage, and the effects modern forms of communication have on relationships and interactions. He lives in Portland, OR with his cat.