Author’s note: this is the concluding installment of the serial novel, The Confessor of Littlefield. The story will be reset to chapter one and I will begin reposting as I work on illustrations and paintings to fill out the story. I will also complete the index page with individual chapter links for the 38 chapters. I am a freelance illustrator and if you wish to inquire about commissioning me for art work, or if you would like to purchase an illustration just send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. (These days I will accept payment in rolls of toilet paper. Are they trading futures contracts on toilet paper yet?)
The bus depot was still on old Main St., two blocks from the now abandoned buildings once known as downtown. In June of 1984, a broad shouldered old man in a spotless light gray business suit steadied himself with his walking cane before stepping off the platform. He walked west two blocks past the vacant lot of the long ago demolished Casie’s Cafe and then crossed the road. He passed an antiques store that was once the office of his insurance salesman and in the distance he could see the vacant lumber yard. The old Lutheran church was being kept but was otherwise void of activity, with weeds sprouting from cracks in the pavement of the parking lot. Behind him two blocks, the house he’d lived in with Virgie was boarded up and rotting on its foundation. He’d seen it while the bus was pulling up to the stop. The cement front porch was crumbling and blocked off by saw horses and a rope with sign that hung from it that read “No Trespassing.” There was a faded pink awning over the side door that announced Penny’s Hair Salon. The wood shop and garage in back had been demolished and was now a mound of planks and shrub. That was all Rupert needed to see of it as the air brakes had brought the bus to a hiccuping, hissing halt.
The old man in the gray suit walked past a tiny cemetery of old headstones that all gave dates of deaths more than twenty five years past; mostly people he had known. He walked to the edge of town, two blocks beyond where the crooked and cracked sidewalk ended, where he stopped to look at the salvage yard. It was as though time had stood still. The old man needed to see his once home town, to resolve his curiosity before he died. Everything in his memory about the village where he had lived for 43 years seemed like fantasy to him now. He’d looked forward to seeing the same little town he had known in the 1920s. The feed mill was still there but no longer bore the Davis name but that of Bork’s, a regional business with operations in five states. The old town park was now an abandoned car lot with a faded sign that read Barney’s Autos lying on a heap of discarded trees and shrubbery. In front of him was the still standing sign that read Hapflik’s Salvage and Repair.
Bill watched through the picture window as the old man walked across the street and stopped to stare as though he were looking at something that wasn’t from earth. “That old man should be careful walking alone out this way. Nothing down this way. Obviously not from around here,” thought Bill.
“What’s that old dude want?,” asked Vida as he joined Bill looking out the picture window. The old man looked a little like Colonel Sanders with his white hair beneath his top hat and trimmed beard and mustache. “Did you order some chicken?,” Vida uttered and laughed. Bill also laughed, though reluctantly. It was evident the old man once had a large frame and even now walked with back straight, carrying the cane more for fashion. He looked like a man who was used to being in authority and moved with a confident, though age altered step. Bill saw himself at the same age as the old man, walking along with his white whiskers. But Bill had a limp and he didn’t dress the part. Others weren’t reading dignity in the appearance of Bill Dinklpfuss.
Rupert’s dejection at the sight of his old house was nothing compared to the disgust he now felt as he looked through the gate to the salvage yard he had started over fifty years ago. The place looked the same, just like one would imagine it would look if it hadn’t changed with the world around it. The lawn wasn’t mowed and the big maple trees slouched like old men with knotted joints. The grime of over fifty years oozed from under the big service garage door, and the field of cars behind it looked like a teeming nest of big metal field grubs. The greasy gate at the road was permanently tied to a fence post with baling twine. Stacks of old tires pressed against the outer edge of the dark, water stained concrete blocks of the garage. The old man turned and walked away. “Guess I just needed to know that I was right to leave this town,” he said to himself, and he quick stepped back along Main Street to the bus depot and bought a ticket for Mixford, the small town of his birth in northern lower Michigan.
Out of nostalgia he chose to travel by bus to some of the boyhood places that marked his memory. He was an old man trying to find his inner child, only to find him all grown up and resolved to accept that his time was coming to an end. The more he saw of the little towns he’d known as a child he noticed they had not kept pace with him. He was sad for this world he was leaving behind. Everyone had opportunities to be successful if they only applied themselves. No matter what he thought of himself in his darkest moments, Rupert had always achieved his goals. He had not merely kept pace but had built an empire. He was part of the establishment that set the standard. Whoever was in control of the salvage yard had fell behind the curve.
In the first half of the twentieth century life was about God, family and service to your nation. But God spoke through a different voice in the 80’s. God spoke from a different pulpit now, speaking for financial firms and corporate takeovers. Making money was how one showed godliness. There was still a noble quality about generations of families maintaining their wealth, but Rupert didn’t recognize any of the family names he saw on mailboxes; saw no vestige of the world of the 1940’s. It was a look of appalling complacency he saw on the faces driving past or in their yards; a surliness begat by poverty, in his estimation. The newer generations had failed to care for their elders. The neighborhood that stayed behind as the town drifted toward the interstate highway looked the same as every other small town throughout the Great Lakes. Gone were the hometown bakers, grocers, and 5&10 Stores. Rupert had seen many of these towns in Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin with roads developed out of the countryside from horse and buggy trails. He watched farms transition from horse and plow to the tractor, had himself transitioned from horse and carriage to truck. Now he was 83 and marveled at the thought of what sort of transportation would be available in another eight decades. A robot car that could think for itself and wouldn’t need a driver perhaps.
That evening he was smoking a cigar and sitting in a lounge chair on the 9th floor balcony of his hotel room, looking up at the myriad lights from all the buildings like an ascending stairs to the stars. There was a quickening of his pulse, disorientation, and he sagged to his knees and blacked out. The maid found him the next morning dead of a heart attack.
Vida and Bill didn’t talk much. Bill kept to his work in the yard, disassembling cars and scrapping out frames while Vida did repair work. Bill stopped collecting old tires after taking on Vida. At night, both had their respective spaces; Bill upstairs, Vida downstairs. Bill rarely went anywhere. He bought his groceries from the farmer’s market across the street and went to the bank only once a month. Occasionally, he went to the post office, the hardware or auto store, the thrift store for soap and toilet paper. Vida drove to the laundromat; grocery store; the mall, and always brought back someone from somewhere whenever he left the house. Various of Vida’s “relatives” began staying a night, and then a week, then a month. Bill didn’t say anything at first, and that just opened the door for more bodies in the living room and kitchen.
A Monte Carlo loaded with six “cousins” arrived one crispy dark night in early January, 1985 as Bill watched from the yard. For a few months the relatives would stay up until four AM while Bill castigated himself for not having control of the situation. In April, Bill told Vida that the people would be free to stay on the weekends but had to leave by Monday morning. At noon, on Monday Bill went to the house for lunch; Vida’s car was gone. Bill heard noises in Vida’s bedroom and yelled, “you in there! Get out here!,” but there was no reply. The two men on the sofa watched television and ignored him. That was it. He was furious enough to upend the sofa and dump the two smaller men onto the floor. He then rushed across the room and crashed through Vida’s door, disrupting the two men engaged in intercourse on Vida’s bed and sending them scattering. The four men stood in the corner of the room talking in Spanish and motioning for Bill to calm down. Bill was calculating: the shotgun was kept in the trunk of an old Buick now that others were living in his house.
He thought it better to clear his head and take a walk, so he left the four men shaking their heads and smirking at him as he slammed the back door behind him. He walked to the back row of cars and along the tangled, broken fence line that had been lain by Trenton’s father, crossed the ditch and walked along the road toward the bridge and Virgie’s property. The cabin was now an office that was never in use. A new drive way led through the thicket in back of the cabin and around an embankment to a parking lot that could accommodate two dozen cars. The artists’ retreat was a pole barn with screened windows and a year round sun patio with lounge chairs and clear, round tables. The building also had a kitchen, bathroom and large heated bedrooms. There was a light on inside and he knocked on the door. A young, slim, tall Latino woman with long, straight black hair answered and Bill asked for Virgie. She wasn’t there. Didn’t know when she’d be back. You’re who? She never said she had a son. He would have to come back some other time. Would she be there on a Friday? No. As far the woman knew Virgie wasn’t ever returning. Door closes. Didn’t have to be rude, thought Bill. Too bad if it really was her son, thought the Latino woman. Probably just wanted money from his mom or something. Looked like a loser. Big old loser in his 40s.
Bill walked toward home, hot at the woman’s rudeness, seething at the thought of his own mother’s property being guarded against him. It was as symbolic as a Freudian dream. He wasn’t sure why he had walked there. Did he have no place to go except his past? His memories of places were static while the places themselves changed with time. The past was in the back yard of the present with the future coming up the road. But Bill never heard it coming because he found a comfortable spot in the back yard to pitch a tent, away from all the human activity that caused him anxiety. The ambiguous Present, defined by past and future, was marked by routine during the day and dreaming at night in the darkness in front of a muted TV.
Bill walked to the corner of Main Street and Barnett Road and looked over at the Hapflik Salvage and Repair sign that remained. He’d touched up the painting a couple times but it was the same sign Hiram made in 1948. Rather than walk through the gate, Bill walked back along Barnett Road, crept over the ditch and along the trail John used to take to the entrance of the family garage. The path had been over grown for 15 years and tree roots jutted out from the uneven ground beneath the snow. Bill stumbled to the clearing next to the garage. Vida’s car was gone but so were the four men who had been there. Inside, their things were still stacked over the kitchen table and chairs, and on the couch was a pile of dirty clothes.
Next day Vida explained that his friends were waiting for a place to move into but it wasn’t ready yet. They just needed a place to stay for a week or so. That night another car load of people showed up and Bill insisted that everyone leave and Vida put the others up in a motel while they waited for their apartment, or he was calling the cops. At the end of the week the four were back. It cost too much money for them to stay at a motel and they had been kicked out for only paying for two people and trying to sneak the others in. Vida was usually happier with his kindred spirits who visited then he was with dour faced Bill. Nothing took the gleam off the feeling of correcting a misfiring engine then Bill’s surly nature. The man had no sense for the delicate, the innuendo, the double entendre. He spoke all the time like he was expostulating.
While Bill gave the appearance of an emotionless writer on a textual journey he was quite aware of a bleak melodrama that was constantly tugging at his intellect. A foreboding melody constantly nagged his narrative emissary voice as he performed the tasks of daily routine, haranguing him with failure. All the characters he tried to create spent the life of a story in a small corner of the back yard of history, scared of the future and afraid of the present for what sort of future it might bring. There was despair and a never quite coming to terms with despair. He again read Camus’ The Stranger, and Sartre’s Nausea, along with Winesburg, Ohio, and The Spoon River Anthology. His stories had became a way for him to put his thought processes into terms which contented him. He used a newspaperish first person narration that a zine editor would occasionally like but most of his stories evaporated rather than ended. The simple sentences of Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway were something he could mimic but they didn’t suffice to provide the tone, mood and emotion he wished to express. He also could never remember anything he wrote. He had to constantly refer to notes and would leave dangling excursions in an effort to create subplot. When he read his stories later he couldn’t make sense of plot or how the threads intertwined. His characters had no clear attachment to each other.
For themes he could come up with little more than the futility of trying to fight inexorable time. The seasons swept away the language of time and place but humans for the most part held the same values through the centuries. Evolution gave a glimpse of a limitless future, yet humans for all generations took their turn slogging over the hill after a long, degrading corporeal existence. Bill imagined a human capable beyond the body’s limitations. Static elements in changing conditions always created surprise. The choices we made were determined by the values we assign to things. What if one could escape the physical laws; rewrite them? If we could somehow control the gateway between the reasoning function of the brain and the body with its limbs, we may still have millions of years to learn about ourselves and to create our own worlds, instead of offering ourselves at the outset of our existence as a human sacrifice to an ideal for which we alone assign value.
Man was a snake; a worm within a rib cage driving an anatomy that featured a mandible with a soft, feeling mouth like a horse. He was able to procure foods of delicacy, fashion building materials and fabric with hands and fingers, move to higher ground on shoes worn by feet and balanced by toes. A human had a reasoning process which gave him cognition and allowed him to function, both accurately and inaccurately, but which also confined a consciousness to its own private hell; a hell for which there was no exit and one which could not be shared with anyone else.
He sent what he thought were his best four stories to the book editor on the card Clara had given him. In April, 1985, Clara stopped to see him. She was now in her 70s, but as she approached Bill in the driveway he was thinking to himself that she still had the gait of a sure young woman. Clara said the dilapidated condition of the yard was horrifying to her. She said Susan, the editor had told her about the stories Bill sent but she didn’t think they warranted any attention. She said to send them to a small press publisher if it was important to get a publishing credit but Bill needed to develop his plots more; define more clearly the meaning of the characters to one another; bring some sort of denouement.
Clara told Bill to describe with words his comprehension of his own self while he drew pictures. How did his fingers feel? What was the environment doing or lending to the experience? What are the values you hope to attain with each paragraph? Clara always spoke far better than Bill could ever write, he thought to himself as she continued, “study Film Noir. The characters may show nothing other than nobility in the face of adverse conditions but they should at least provide a sort of program for their being in the novel. What are they telling the reader? Just ask yourself these sort of things. Okay?” She raised her eyebrow at Bill, who was already trying to remember what she said. “Give the reader a character they identify with and that gives them some kind of encouragement or hope; some reason to make a reader feel good about spending an hour on your story.”
No, she hadn’t seen Virgie in a few months. “You know your mother, she likes attention. Lots of attention. Always has to have people around her.” Clara said that Virgie seemed happy to know Bill was taking care of himself, then looked at Bill and said, “but we both know that isn’t true, don’t we?” Clara looked down and then at Bill; looked around the yard with a look of dejection and said, “what is your goal for yourself, Bill? You don’t have any answers for your characters because you don’t have any answers for yourself. Why don’t you get a camper or something and leave this place behind? There is nothing here for you. Look at this place. Is this all you want out of life, this?” Clara looked at him and shook her head.
Bill knew Clara was right. The three acres of tires in the hollow was a problem. A health inspector had stopped to see him a few months before and implied there was a serious issue with the tires. If they caught fire they would burn for days. And they couldn’t be buried. They had to be shredded and disposed of at a yard licensed and equipped for shredding tires. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars. Bill didn’t have anywhere near that kind of money and couldn’t get it.
Clara pulled a notepad and pen out of her purse and wrote down an address. “Here,” she said, handing the slip to Bill. “You might want to consider a change of direction.” She took a deep breath and nailed him with her eyes. “Everyone who does any sort of art at all is their own worse critic. On either end of the spectrum are those who have a lot of natural ability and those who have a need to say something. Your mother’s only real great piece of art is herself. And she always needs to say something. Maybe you just have to be more like her whether you like it or not.”
On a Monday morning in May, a week before Memorial Day, 1985, Bill was served with a court order giving him 30 days to clean up the tire pile. He stood in the back yard with a cigarette. All the years of his adult life had been stored in that maze of cars. The big engine hoist was in the middle of the yard as if holding an invisible circus tent. Above, an airplane left contrails behind it as it languidly turned to the southwest. The black birds were were calling each other in the trees along the road. Vida came out to work. He was a good model person for the most part, thought Bill. He did good work and didn’t care much about money. Never seemed to question Bill about anything. An agreeable fellow in a way that didn’t seem likely when he first moved in. But he also ignored Bill about having his people stay at the house. They ate Bill’s food and stole his cigarettes. They fixed their cars in his garage. Things disappeared; a silver necklace, music CDs, a portable radio. The only way to get rid of all of the people was to get rid of Vida. But he kept thinking about what Clara had said. What was the point? Where does the story end? What conflicts are resolved? He didn’t see how any conflicts resolved themselves by evolving into other conflicts. What was the action that would bring on the resolution of old conflicts? The people of his youth from the neighborhood were all gone. All the old farms were sold and destroyed. All the neighborhood houses that showed conspicuous consumption generations ago were hungry ghosts, starved for attention.
He even seemed to have been forgotten by Dev, whom he’d hadn’t seen in almost a year. Gail was stricken with scoliosis as she aged and the pain had gotten to be too much of a strain for her to work anymore. On Tuesday, Bill drove up to the stable and in the pasture and the barn where horses had strode for eighty years there was only weeds flailing in the rainy wind. A realtor’s For Sale sign was punched into the ground near the end of the driveway. It was a dreary day even for the end of May. June seemed to be oozing in this year. June in Michigan was always Bill’s favorite time of the year because of the array of sunshiny earth scents from the leaves and soil. The sound of chickadees and sparrows could be heard over light washes of windy rain as he got out of his car and walked to the barn, recalling the names of horses that had occupied the stalls.
He walked to the back of the barn and looked out into the hay field where he’d helped Dev hundreds of times and wondered why Dev hadn’t stopped by to say good bye. Bill mentioned it to Vida, who admitted that Dev had stopped by, maybe a couple months ago but he had forgotten to tell him. “He said to tell you to stop by and see him. Sorry, my cousins were fighting and I got side tracked.”
Bill walked past the two young men sleeping on the couch and went to his rooms upstairs. He took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the dead bolt on the door to the bedroom. In a safe he kept a box of cash. He had accumulated 2500 dollars over the years. 2500 lousy bucks. The last poetry entry in his notebooks is dated three days before.
Always think before speaking,
listen to what people say to you.
These are words that quickened givers,
out of time, say, when their time is due,
I have lived what seems to me an offered illusion
Not by God, but by the systems that have taken hold
with the most dominant men leading us through
what seems to be productivity only because of consumption;
consumption, a product of productivity, leading us around
to the back of the barn where we can see the sun
one more time before we die
Bill had tried telling Clara about the cost of getting rid of the tires but Clara held out her hands in a push back motion and shook her head. “I don’t need to know.” The address on the slip of paper was to a cabin and property in Vermont that she leased to artists who paid off food and lodging expenses by working a few hours in the yard every day. Bill wanted to know what kind of work. Clara assured him it was nothing his old body couldn’t handle; pulling weeds, trimming the trees and shrubs, mowing the yard. “Leave. Leave now!” she said. “Let the city have this dump.” Bill asked about his mother. “Well, you know your mother. Always going places and meeting people.” She hadn’t asked about Bill but that didn’t mean she didn’t think about him now and again.
Clara didn’t say goodbye; she just got in her car and drove away. Not away from Bill, she was just leading the way out. Bill wadded up the 2500 in a sock and put it in his pants pocket. There was nothing else of value that wasn’t too cumbersome to take with him. The night before he’d taken all his notebooks, including the suitcases in the attic and put them in the body of a 1944 Sedan Delivery that was wedged against a rock on the hill slanting into the ravine. He destroyed all of the business ledgers. He was just taking a couple changes of clothing and some bedding which he carried with him down the stairs. He didn’t need a camper; he already had an Olds Delta 88 and could sleep in the back seat. He turned out of the driveway without looking back.
He passed the old house he lived in as a child but there was no fondness; no cherishing of fond childhood memories. He’d held onto the past for too long while the seasons changed everything around him. Along the expressway, fields, horses and cattle fled past his window. Even horses and cattle were granted leisure and were to be admired for it. Each animal was a new version, a prototype continually evolving, not just a stand in for those who came before. And in time, Bill felt, he too might find a place that was ready and willing to embrace him for his twilight years; acknowledge him and teach him; teach him to reclaim the first 44 years of his life as building years.