Thomas Wictor

The cost of the freedom to write, part two

The cost of the freedom to write, part two

Greg left the party every half-hour or so, saying he had to go home to check on the sprinklers, or make a phone call, or “do…uh, something.” He came back a little more friendly and a little looser each time. Greg planned on moving his family up north somewhere; he wasn’t any more specific than that.

“Up north,” he sighed.

He was tired of life in Southern California and was going to be a novelist. Currently, he was writing a novel on a government conspiracy to take over the country with the help of the United Nations. This was his second novel; he’d completed the first but hadn’t published it because when he’d given the manuscript to his pastor, the man had burst into tears.

This book was inspired by Satan!” he’d shouted. “You must destroy it!

So Greg did. He refused to tell us what it was about, except that it too dealt with a government conspiracy.

Will went into his parents’ bedroom, which was behind sliding glass doors next to the pool. He squatted on the floor like an enormous spider-marionette—his kneecaps a full yard above the top of his head—and proceeded to play peek-a-boo with Wayne and Frank, hiding his face behind the curtain. When Will went behind the curtain, Wayne and Frank ducked their heads under and surfaced again. Then they’d howl and smash the water with their open palms: du-PLOONG, du-PLOONG, du-PLOONG. This went on for a very, very, very long time.

Floyd saw one of his cats in the room with his son and said he wanted to show us what a special, expensive breed it was. He slid open the door, grabbed it, and brought it to us at arms’ length as it hissed and spat, a rabid black-and-white ball of spiked fur. It twisted its body and dug its claws into Floyd’s forearms, and he ripped it away with a wet sprrrrrrrp.

They tussled interminably, the cat whooping like an air-raid siren, until Molly pleaded for Floyd to lay off. He put the cat on the ground, and it streaked into the bushes. Floyd sat down and calmly sipped his wine, runnels of blood trickling down his arms.

Floyd then brought out the grill and loaded it up with raw hamburgers and the pork tenderloin he said had been marinating for a few days.

“You have to try this,” he drooled.

I hate pork, but I agreed I’d have a piece.

Greg cleared his throat and belched.

“I have this friend C.J.” He paused and slowly smacked his lips. “Black,” he whispered, peering around with his tiny, sightless pupils. “He’s gonna drop on by and say hello.”

Sure enough, a muscular, middle-aged black man showed up a few minutes later. Greg introduced him. He sized us up with ice-cold eyes and began bobbing his head, his broad shoulders pumping up and down like wings.

“Ah-hee-hee-hee!” he bellowed. “Dis sho be a nice bobbakyoo ya’ll folks got goin’ heah, mmm-hmm. Sho nuff!”

Everyone except for Tim, Mom, and me roared with laughter. I expected them to applaud. Sue asked C.J. to join us.

Whoa, no! Whoa, no!” He shook his head as though desperately denying an accusation. “Hyah-hyah-hyah-hyah! Thankee, Ma’am, but Ah gots to be goin’! Ah gots to boogie!

He and Greg disappeared out the back gate. Later, Tim and I ran into Mom in the kitchen.

“Who do you think C.J. is?” she asked.

“He’s Greg’s connection, of course,” Tim answered.

Mom gave us her 10,000-watt, say-no-more smile and hurried away.

I was in Floyd’s living room when he cornered me and asked if I wanted to check out his new big-screen TV. It was so huge—six feet square—that I hadn’t even noticed it. I thought it was a section of wall he’d painted glossy gray. He turned on the VCR and put in a documentary about a toy-train factory in Germany.

“It’s the biggest toy-train factory in the world,” he said. We watched for a few minutes before he went out to check the meat.

“Isn’t the resolution great?” he called as he left.

Actually, the screen was so big that the horizontal lines that made up the image were almost the width of pencils. It was like watching a video through a venetian blind. I could endure only five minutes of the buttery, heavily-accented narration, which didn’t quite jibe with the shots of forbidding Teutonic grannies joylessly snapping together the plastic trains.

The meat was ready, so we sat down to eat. I tried some of the marinated pork, which tasted like dirty hair.

“Great!” I gushed to Floyd and washed it down with full glass of Diet Coke.

Across the table Wayne devoured eight hamburgers and buns one after another. He had the compulsive eater’s affectation of turning his food over in his hands after each bite, examining it from all angles to see how much was left. His brother wolfed six burgers. Sue told Mom how Wayne going to chef school and was really into sauces.

As she described her son’s cooking classes, he leaned forward and said, “Yeah. We’re studying glazes right now.”

Sue jerked in her chair and squeezed her eyes shut, gaping as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. She held this pose for two seconds and then whirled on her boy.


Saliva flew from her lips onto her son’s glasses. She yelled so loudly that my ears rang. As Wayne went back to his eighth burger—completely unperturbed—Sue smiled apologetically at my gray-faced mother, who’d flinched and dropped her hamburger onto her plate.

“He just never learns,” Sue said with a shrug. “That boy just don’t have no manners.”

When we finished dinner, the party immediately broke up. The final act came as Tim, Mom, and I headed for the car. Greg and Sue followed, telling us a kind of allegory, I guess, about accepting Christ and what happens to people who don’t. It was a combination of threats and bribes, the gentle caress of the Creator’s mailed fist. The special feature of this outreach was that the missionaries suddenly lapsed into utter incoherence, as if driven out of their minds with ecstasy.

They began mouthing literal gibberish, the fabled speaking in tongues of Appalachian snake-handlers: “Peskala hepala chandara mendola lapalapapala moleskalo! Chubala! Chubalopalindalo!

Tim, Mom and I backed up, nodding and saying, “Right. Uh-huh. Sure. You got it,” as they closed in.

It took forever to disengage, as more and more layers were added to the story. One situation reminded them of another, so they piled that one on too, talking faster and faster as they watched us slip out of their clutches, our souls mulishly resistant to salvation.

After about forty-five minutes, we managed to get into the car. The entire way home, silence reigned inside the station wagon. All around us, though, the various municipalities put on their Independence Day fireworks shows, so as we drove through each city, we were bracketed by endless, multicolored explosions.

It was as though the noise, flashes, and concussions of the holiday had become a permanent fixture of our lives and would accompany us wherever we went from then on.

The freedom to write like this is very strange. It’s a major responsibility that requires a lot of thought.

You should see what I left out of the story.

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