Pasayten Pete

Chapter 6: Lights in the Night

Alex Sr. worked away during the week on a Columbia River dam site. He came home most weekends, making the three-hour drive on Friday evenings. Often he was quite late, saying he'd gotten "hung up" with friends or late overtime work. His breath usually smelled of whiskey. He'd always been a heavy drinker and he habitually spent evenings with his tavern buddies. But now there was a new element: jealousy.

There had been jealous rages before. Once in Wyoming at a rented tar-paper shack on the South Platte river, he returned home from a drinking binge and stormed through the front door. He raged at Dee that he saw strange tire tracks in the dirt driveway. That argument escalated into a shouting and screaming match until Dee, frightened and humiliated beyond reason, grabbed her .22 rifle from the bedroom and chased Alex Sr. from the house, firing shots at his fleeing heels. He sped away in the family car and did not return until the next morning, hat in hand. That was another family "legend" — the night Dee shot the heels from Alex Sr's boots.

It was a perverse jealousy, for Dee was faithful and Alex Sr. was not. But he believed that if he could "play around," then Dee would also.

Graydon was asleep. He and Alex waited up late that Friday evening until Dee chased them to bed; then they had lain awake for another hour, peering out the upstairs windows beside their bed looking for a glimpse of headlights on the Wolf Creek road. It was a fun time for the family when Alex Sr. was sober. They'd pack the Blue Goose with a picnic lunch and fishing gear for a day's outing. Or they'd just drive one of the mountain roads up the Methow, or Chewack, or Lost River valleys, sometimes topping out on a high ridge where they could see mountain peaks stretching away in all directions. Or sometimes, during hot summer weekends, they would go to a small lake for a day of fishing, swimming, and picnicking.

Shouts and his mother's protests awakened Graydon from a deep sleep. It had been a dreamless sleep, black and unaware. Now he was fully awake hearing a raging argument downstairs. He saw Alex Jr. stir in his bed, awake but huddled under his blanket in the dim moonlight.

Alex Sr's shouts raised in anger, a torrent of accusations and curses punctuated by high-pitched, sobbing denials from Dee. Crashes shook the house when Alex Sr. kicked the door, or a table, or a wall. More shouts and another crash, and more accusations of having men visitors and cheating and playing around behind his back.

Graydon had never heard such violent outbursts or the furniture crashing against the walls so wildly as he was hearing now. His mother's voice became increasingly hysterical, broken with sobs, and then, while Alex Sr. resumed raging, she went silent. Another crash: Alex Sr. had kicked and punched the kitchen door, then slammed it open against the wall, causing dishes and pans to crash and clatter to the floor.

Silence for a time. Alex Sr. had slammed out through the front door, onto the porch, muttering. Graydon could hear his mother pull a chair out from the kitchen table, its legs scraping against the rough linoleum floor.

The downstairs erupted again in violence: Alex Sr. charged back into the house. Graydon heard a slap and his mother's scream, amidst more profane bellows.

Graydon stood up in his briefs and bare feet, frightened, unsure, his mind racing. He hated Alex Sr. when these drunken rages came upon them, but never before did he fear for his mother's safety. Now he was truly frightened for her. Graydon dare not face Alex Sr. directly. He was no match for the brawny, barrel-chested man who boasted of tavern brawling with his huge fists. Graydon was not yet thirteen, tall but thin, and he hated fighting. He was not at all good with his fists.

But he must do something. If Alex Sr. hit his mother... it was unthinkable... Graydon couldn't imagine...

His rifle was stood in the closet corner, loaded with eighteen long-rifle hollow point rounds in its tubular magazine.

In bare feet, shivering in fear and naked cold, he took up his rifle and jacked its loading lever down and back, sliding a bullet into the breech. This cocked the prominent firing-pin hammer back, ready to shoot. From long habit, Graydon slid his index finger through the trigger guard and held his thumb down on the firing hammer to keep it safe. Violence raged below but he heard no blows against his mother, only the thumps and crashings of his step-father's fist hammering against a wall or a door as he shouted curses.

He eased down the confined, steep stairway, his bare feet feeling for and gripping each board as he descended. He reached the small bottom landing fronting the three doors: one to the outside, one to the kitchen, and one into the front room where the angry shouting continued. He stood there, the rifle at port arms, waiting. He would intercede. If he heard his step-father hit his mother, he knew what he would do. He would turn the old porcelain doorknob, step through, and confront the man at gunpoint. At this moment, Graydon did not consider the raging beast in the room to be his step-father. He was a monster, and if that monster hit his mother or turned to charge, he would fire. And fire again, and again. Although it was only a .22 caliber rifle, Graydon had killed deer in the river's cottonwood bottoms with head shots aimed between their eyes. He knew well the deadly effect his rifle would have. Shots into the center of a man's chest could be fatal.

He had no idea how long he stood there, listening, the heavy walnut stock now warm in his hands, his near-naked body no longer shivering, his bare feet numb on the cracked and worn linoleum floor of the tiny landing. After a time, the shouts had diminished and his mother's voice was hardly heard except for soft sobs and gasping breath.

"It's over," Graydon thought. The enormity of his own position alarmed him. He carefully eased the firing hammer forward, slid his finger back out of the trigger guard, and softly, ever so carefully, climbed back up the stairway. He stood the rifle in its closet corner, crawled into his bunk, and there he lay awake until dawn. Then he was forced to face the cold light of another day.

He Rides Alone

Sheets from his bed must be washed by hand;
hung out to dry in the cold.
Tears of shame from the silent boy's face
fall on the sheets in the water.

Grey water wash in a sheet metal tub
cold on a rough wooden bench.
Red hands struggle to wring the sheets;
chill wind blows through the porch.

Hard words come from the room inside:
"They'll see those stains, so you can't hide
that filthy thing you do each night!"


The yellow school bus arrives outside.
Face to the window, he rides alone.


Bull Durham comes in a cotton sack
pulled shut with a yellow drawstring.
Quicklime kept in a brown paper bag
used in the privy out back.

Stepfather stands over six feet tall
with bandy legs and round barrel chest.
Bag in his hand, he seizes the boy,
grabs and encases his privates.

Jerking the drawstring shut with a tug;
standing upright in self-satisfaction.
"When you piss the bed the quicklime gets wet,
it'll burn your damned pecker off!"

Silent in bed, the tears won't come;
he has fled where his feelings can't go
and he dreams of Shamans in faraway places
invoking protections of magic.

Later that night the door bangs open;
rough hands check the bag is in place.
Morning comes, the wet lime is caked;
in shame, the boy strips it off.

"You're dirty and lazy! Do you know that?"
his stepfather shouts in his face,
"I give up! You're a damned disgrace;
you'll never grow up like a man!"


The yellow school bus arrives outside.
Face to the window he rides alone.


"You're very intelligent, but you don't fit in.
They think you're a loner, not one of them,"
the Principal admonishes the boy.
"You really should try harder."


He has heard and hated this horror before;
the shouting and raging grows wilder each time.
Confusions of anger and fear cloud his mind.
Drunken rage and threats rule this house.

The shouts are ominous, threatening harm;
bloody fists pound the walls, splinter the doors.

He remembers his rifle and the rock-piled fields
and groundhogs dropped from a hundred yards out.
Stealth-shooter walks a solitary path,
seeking peace in the silence of his ways.

Screams rend his mind, the terror grows;
He whips his head from side to side,
self-hatred of his weakness knows
this madness will destroy their lives.

With determined grip he takes his rifle,
its walnut form familiar in his hand;
he moves down the stairs on silent feet
and waits by the doorway into the room.

Unseen, the reluctant watcher stands,
rifle held ready; steady hand holding
the trigger full back, hammer held down,
Death lies waiting under his thumb.

He hears a slap and his mother's gasp,
In dreamlike judgment he knows:
if he hears striking fists, the thudding blows,
he will step through the door and fire.

Eventually the shouting slows,
the madness subsides to mutterings.
Shaken, he waits, the fighting has stopped;
shivering, he prays for escape.

Later he lay several hours awake,
'til the dawn, afraid, never knowing.
Had he shot the man and the man had died,
what rightful judgment should come?

A righteous response to a terrible wrong,
or a wrongful thing to intercede and shoot?

The boy is too young, the answer won't come,
In time he gives up and he sleeps.


The yellow school bus arrives outside.
Face to the window he rides alone.

"You're very intelligent, but you don't fit in.
"They think you're a loner, not one of them.
"You really should try harder."

Fights_and_Rescues < <> > Winter_Lodge

Pasayten Pete © Graybyrd 2010

Last modification: 2016/8/25 at 19:00