Published in The Diamond & the Thief – October 09
Published in The Diamond & the Thief – March 2010

Dave Lynn Clucas

David Lynn Clucas is a writer, musician, actor, boxer, drinker of drinks, and collector of books. Raised at the foothills of the San Gabriel mountain range, home to such notables as Sam Shepard, Ben Harper, and Oz Fox of Stryper fame, Clucas grew up fifteen minutes from a ski resort, forty miles from downtown LA, one side of a cassette tape's duration from the desert, and one episode length of "Welcome Back, Kotter" from the beach. It was a fine amalgam of environments. Of course, no one watched TV while they drove back then.

Clucas is most influenced by the writings of John Steinbeck, Cormac McCarthy, and Charles Bukowski, but he has, at times, proven himself to be less cliche. At eighteen, he read The Bridges of Madison County, and never looked back. He is also fascinated with ancient history, particularly Roman and Carthaginian, and went through a Rasputin phase at one point.

He fronts a band called The Horsepainters (a McCarthy reference), has acted in several local theatre productions, and has a beautiful wife of three years, Sarah, and a little pistol of a five-year-old, Avery. He currently resides in Austin, Texas, but will always consider Southern California home.

Listen to the Horsepainters

Visit Clucas at his home
Porch Kiss
David Lynn Clucas

He sat on his porch and smoked. He was leaning back in the chair and he had his feet up on the ledge in front of him. He was drinking wine and eating cashews and chocolates, thinking about the last time he had drunk wine and eaten cashews and chocolates on this porch. It was with that girl, the tall one with the perfect brown eyes that went a little lazy when his face was close to hers. He liked her because she was tall but she wasn’t too thin; she liked to eat cashews and chocolates and drink wine and play Scrabble when they were both a little drunk. She had one eye that went a little lazy when he got close enough to kiss her.

They had played Scrabble drunk and made up words; his were all fake South Pacific fruit names and hers were all space-alien vernacular. She looked adorable when he kissed her.

But this day was later and she was gone and a Mexican guy was walking across his lawn with several shallow strawberry boxes on his shoulder. Strawberries? he had asked. No, thanks, strawberries go bad too fast. Thanks, though, gracias. Lo siento. He liked strawberries, but they went bad too fast.

She called him and he could tell she’d been crying. She started crying again. He asked her what was going on and she just talked small with him. What are you up to today? How’s the job? It was sad for both of them. Sad for him because he didn’t like to see her sad, and sad for her because she was sad. Her best friend had yelled at her, she said, and it wasn’t even my fault, she said, and he knew it wasn’t, not this time, but it had been before. But this time made her cry. He was sad, but he had stopped crying for her long ago.
Buttermilk Road
By David Lynn Clucas

The circus

Below the hill where Charles Hubrit sat, the trucks came around the bend to line the field there. Piles of canvas and rope, bales of hay, sawdust, sand, feed, nails and pegs filled the wagons, rough combinations of trucks and gypsy carts. They sat creaking and steaming as their drivers and crews sat inside smoking and drinking last cups of coffee.

Charles sat in the morning light, his thoughts shifting from the caravan below to the cigarette between his fingers. He saw the smoke balling into his gut like a strand of silver twine. Yee told him once that he saw smoke do that in his guts.

Yee had died long ago. A burnt barn

Do you know what you’re smelling? His mother had asked.

No.

You are smelling love.

It smells like the barn. It smells like when the barn lit up. When it burned up with all the old horses in it.

He was crying as his mother ladled water over his shoulder.

It smells like love, you remember. She was rubbing butter on his skin now.

The blind boy

By the time Charles was down from the hill, the food tent was half up and dinner was underway. A small boy the color of an old candle was being shooed from one worker to the next, his grimy fingers picking at hems of shirts and coats. He had never seen the boy, and as he came closer he saw the boy was blind. From the boy’s mouth came only one sound that Charles took to be the word candy. He didn’t know if the boy was a tagalong from town or a new member of the circus.

Virginia

Charlie.

Nothing. Birds. Iron sledges on iron stakes.

Charlie. Charles, it’s time to work.

Charles opened his eyes to see Peter Tomlinson staring at him.

What?

What what? Work. Us. Now. Iron sledges on wood stakes.

Peter lit two cigarettes, drew hard on one and lowered it to Charles.

What’s there to do? Charles asked as he smoked.

To do? First, the feed, the water, then the grandstand, then the broken wheels. To do!

We’re in Virginia, correct? Charles asked.

He squinted hard in the sun, lost for a moment not knowing if it was dawn or dusk. Morning, he realized. A haze hung all around.

The earth was sweating with the guilt of allowing this circus to assemble.

Robert Kandie

The blind boy had ridden on the sandbag truck from the last town. He had spent most days in that town in front of the barber or the livery or the hat shop, waiting for some small task to be given to him for a few pennies. Most of the boy’s customers were regulars whose schedules he knew, by whom he kept time through the noise they made.

When he heard bottles tinkling on the wagon to the bar, he knew it was noon and time to go to Davey Ragg’s hardware, where Davey would give him money to go next door to fetch his lunch. When the boy heard the garbage being thrown out the back of Graff’s grocery, he knew it was time to begin the walk home. The morning the circus was to leave town, the beer wagon had broken an axle and Graff’s back was too sore to throw out the garbage.

Lost without his sounds, the boy made his way home to find it empty, both mother and father off doing the things they did. He walked straight from the house, toward the field where he knew the circus had been standing for five days, hoping to find his parents.

They’d been hovering around the circus all five days, finding work, his father hauling horse and donkey and bear shit from the tents to the woods and his mother taking a few dollars in the clowns’ tent or the ringmaster’s wagon, hiking up her skirt or genuflecting in the sawdust. His parents were filthy people and he knew this, but he loved them for never hitting him too hard and for feeding him when they could. They were not mother and father to him as most mothers and fathers were to little boys; rather he called them Oma and Opa and had learned early that his family’s name was Kandie, should he ever need to search for them in town.

No one knew that the small blind boy was the child of the man and woman who had earlier that day been taken to the jail for offenses which began with stolen bourbon and ended with a trapeze master’s broken eye socket and crushed hand. Mr. Kandie encouraged his wife’s trade but was never happy to see it, and, when drunk off stolen whiskey, had walked into the wrong tent.

The boy sat on the trampled grass picking at a hole in his shoe before being pulled up by a man and set in the back of a sandbag truck. The man had watched the boy all day, and deciding that the boy was orphaned, chose to take him along. He would be better off and might even be able to carry wood or water or some such. By the time they had reached the next town, the scared boy stayed close to the man, who was named Arnold Rain.

If you go outside the tent here and turn right, you go about ten yards and there’s a pile of wood and sticks, said Arnold. Bring me a armful of the smaller ones, and I’ll cook us up something better than what’s in that old tent there.

The boy walked outside, feeling his way with his toes until he kicked the wood. He filled his arms and turned to go back when he heard a voice in the distance that sounded like his mother. He ran straight for the voice, wood in his arms, his ankles twisting.

Well, lookit here. A sweet little blind boy bringing wood right to me, said the woman who he could now hear was not his mother. And who put you up to this? A driver? A clown? Which kinda clown? Was he a hobo or a bum? I’d even settle for a tramp, so long as it ain’t no bum trying to get in with me. At least a tramp’s got his own liquor.

The woman smelled like sweat and fish and she was touching the boy’s hair and cheeks, leaving spots of grease everywhere her fingers rested.

The boy tried to run the other way, but the woman grabbed his shirt sleeve. Everything smelled like hot animal shit.

Hey, boy! said the woman. Who sent that wood? Who sent that wood? You ain’t playing me for a goddam idiot, are ya boy?

Still clutching the wood, he twisted and ran directly into a metal drum that sat in the dungheap. He fell down hard, punched by broken wood, and began to sob. The woman stood over his shaking body and reached down, picking up a handful of shit. She stood over him for a moment, whistled softly, and smeared the shit in the boy’s face. He wailed as she snatched up one of his small logs and beat him on the back. The boy puked on himself.

The woman raised the log for another blow, but was wrenched backwards and downwards by the collar of her filthy nightgown. Charles was on his knees beside her, his face close enough to hers to place his lips on hers, his hands tight around her throat.

You would beat a little blind boy? You would beat a little blind boy? He squeezed.

Snot foamed out of her nose. The boy whimpered. You would beat a little blind boy? He squeezed. Tears came out of her eyes. The boy stood up and walked a few feet, then sat down again. Charles’s knees rose off the ground as he dug his feet in and leaned on the woman’s neck. A tiny rivulet of blood flowed out of one tear duct and Charles loosened his grip. Puke and grime flowed from her mouth, down her cheeks, around his hands and onto the stink beneath her.

Charles stood up and stared down at her, wiping his hands on the seat of his pants. He calmed himself and looked around, fearful that this had been seen. Turning, he grabbed the boy’s sleeve and walked.

Arnold Rain was looking for the boy. He came out from behind the main tent and saw Charles walking between this tent and the next, holding the boy’s hand. He ran to them, calling out.

You there! I’m looking for that boy!

Seeing the boy’s condition, he grabbed Charles by the front of his shirt.

What in hell have you done here? What the fuck?

Charles grabbed the man’s wrist and twisted the grip away from his shirt.

You’d better take a care with how you talk to me, old man, Charles said. I stopped the one what was smearing him in shit and beating him with a stick. Just take a care.

Who was it then? Arnold demanded.

A dirty woman in a nightgown. If she’s where I left her, you’ll know it’s her, I s’pose.

Where was she left?

Shitheap, Charles said.

The boy took Arnold’s hand and Charles’s hand.

My name’s Robert Kandie. Robert Kandie, the boy said.

The laundry woman

Arnold and Robert walked to the dungheap and found the woman lying in it, weeping, sprawled flat, her palms upward, her skin the color of watery milk.

Arnold knelt down. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a long leather lanyard with a crucifix on its end. Putting the crucifix in his mouth with only the head of Christ showing between his lips, he pulled his sodbuster from his pocket and opened the blade to her left earlobe. Wide-eyed, she tried to scream, but her throat had been ruined by Charles’s grip.

Standing up, Arnold opened his mouth and the crucifix jumped at the end of the lanyard. He wiped and pocketed the knife and nudged her in the side with his boot. He walked away, dragging Robert along. The earlobe settled into the mud.

Arnold stuck his head into Charles’s tent when they returned.

Thanks for detaining her, he said. Charles stared.

My name’s Arnold Rain.

Charles Hubrit.

Nice to meet you, Charles, shaking hands.

Where’s the kid? Asked Charles.

He’s in my tent, asleep. Pretty shook up. Pretty good and fuckin shook up.

Should be. Demon of a woman, beatin a blind kid.

I seen her before. She worked laundry, I think. Or sewin. Somethin. You seen her before? Arnold asked as he sized up Charles and his tent.

Picked her up in Stockton, I believe. I never met her, though. Course, I never met you before neither. Big circus.

Arnold paused.

Well, he said, thanks again. I’m responsible for that boy, seein as how I took him with us and all. That bitch won’t be hurtin any little ones anymore.

Little blind ones, Charles said.

A mother’s love

He had just turned five years old and he was alone in front of the window in the back room of the big house. He turned and peered over his shoulder at the reflection of his back. The letters were healed now. HH. Branded onto his skin with the hot end of a horseshoe nail.

If you get lost and someone finds you, you show them that. You tell them who you need to get home to.

Helena Hubrit was standing in the doorway now with a blood-soaked rag in one hand and a hunk of cheese in the other.

I won’t get lost.

I know you won’t, not now.

She looked at him as if she thought he was trying to tear the scar off.

Do all boys have their mommas’ name on em? At the river I seen boys without their mommas’ names on their backs.

Charles was backed up against the wall, holding his shirt in front of himself.

Just the ones whose mommas love them that much. Them boys at the river maybe got mommas don’t love them that much.

She was wiping the cheese down with the rag.

Do you love me momma?

Boy, what else do I have to do to show you? She walked away as her eyes wetted over.

A theft

Charles turned the handle and leaned into the door to pry it open. It scratched and popped inward and he and Peter and Arnold stepped into the bar. All of the customers turned to look, all but one, who was face down at his table. In his hand he held a half-filled tumbler of whiskey, and a trail of tobacco juice ran down his chin. In the other hand he held an open bag of smoking tobacco.

Is he chewin on smokin tobacco? Arnold asked.

Seems to be, Charles said. Man’s in a bad way if he’s chewin smokin tobacco.

Arnold looked about the room. No one seemed to care about them anymore.

Peter, go see if he’s got any money on him, said Charles.

What, steal from this man in this condition?

Not steal in the sinful sense of the word. Steal for the eventual greater good of everyone here. He won’t have the money to drink no more and won’t no longer pose this threat of violence you see he must possess.

Peter looked at the floor, wiped his forehead, and walked over to the man. The drunk was covered in sweat and reeked of it and the whiskey and tobacco. The sweat on the man’s forehead looked to Peter like hot fat that was beginning to cool. Peter bent down and stared at the man’s eyes. They weren’t quite closed, and there was water in their corners.

Peter reached into the man’s coat feeling inside for an interior pocket. His hand closed on what felt like a wallet and the man stood up, eyes blinking and fixed on Peter’s face. He was much taller than Peter, and with Peter’s hand still inside the pocket, his wrist bent and his feet went up on point. The man lurched back, dragging Peter with him until the pocket in his coat ripped open and Peter fell to his knees. The man picked Peter up by his hair and heaved him against the bar.

What in hell? What in hell!

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Peter was gasping.

The man hit Peter on the side of his face twice and punched him like a palooka on his ear. Peter began to cry as the man said nothing and brought his fist down on the top of Peter’s head, causing his knees to buckle. With his left hand he delivered blows like a professional boxer and with his right he pummeled Peter wildly like a school kid in a back alley fight. Peter threw up on his own legs.

Charles grabbed the man’s coat and yanked him back as Arnold pulled Peter away from the bar. When Arnold looked back, the man was frozen in a stance, staring, confused, blood staining his collar. Arnold pulled Peter up, dragged him to Charles, and shoved them out the door. The man was on his knees, holding his throat as blood continued to flow.

How’d you get my knife? Asked Arnold in the alley.

Goddammit, how’d you get my knife?

You gave it me earlier when we were eating. I asked for it for my apple. Forgot to give it back, said Charles.

Dammit. Arnold rubbed his knees. I like this knife. Now it’s got boozed blood on it I never intended to get on it. You’re gonna have to clean this for me.

Give it here. I’ll clean it now. Charles spat on it and rubbed it on his pants. The blade was rusty and it was hard to tell if it was clean. He wondered if the rust was really blood.

Give it here; it’s clean, said Arnold. It was blood, not wood glue.

The three men sat in silence.

That man is dead, muttered Arnold then, and everyone in that place saw us do what we did to make him that way.

Shit, you stuck my goddamn knife in him.

There was little else to do, said Charles. He was about ready to choke hell out of all three of us. Did you see how big he was? Biggest man I seen in a long time. I had to’ve been up on my toes to do what I done.

Shit, said Arnold, peering out of the alley.

They comin? Asked Charles.

Ain’t no one coming, said Arnold.

Then why in hell you say shit for?

Because I find that downright strange, no one coming after us.

Everyone in that place was piss-ass drunk, said Peter.

Maybe was they didn’t even notice what happened.

That ain’t likely. I say we make the hell away from here, and now.

Charles spit in the dirt.

Circus’s still here for three days, Peter said. Don’t you think that’s the first goddamn place they’s gonna go lookin for three fellas no one in this town ever seen before?

They ran. Through block after block to the edge of town, and then ran on through the grass until they reached trees. They fell among the leaves and sat up, panting, looking back.

Shit.

What?

Circus is on the other side.

Shit.

Return

They arrived back at the circus to find everything as usual; no posses rode through the streets, no cops penciled notes on tablets.

Arnold looked for Robert Kandie for three hours. A juggler told him he had seen a dirty woman, coughing and shaking, shoving a little boy into a truck that was going to town for goods.

Arnold was too tired to go back that way.

Emancipation

Charles knelt outside in the garden, cutting flowers. He pushed the front door open with his elbow, his arms filled with geraniums and lilies, and entered the parlor. His mother was sitting on the floor with her legs stretched out and her dress soiled. Beside her lay a pair of fire tongs, bent slightly where they had struck her face. In her hand she held an infant’s baptismal gown, the lace yellowed.

Charles set the flowers down all around his dead mother and replaced the tongs on the hearth.

Charles was now ten.

In his bedroom, he retrieved the small nail keg from under his bed filled with coins and bills, placing it in a sack with cans of food, a Farmer’s Almanac, and two pistols, and walked out the front door. He closed it quietly, feeling his mother’s gaze through the small glass in the door.

The sun beat through his shirt, inflaming the gnarled patch of scar tissue on his shoulder where he had taken an iron rasp to it.

Published in the Diamond and Thief Edition 23

Moleskine
by David Lynn Clucas

He opened his Moleskine up to where the ballpoint clicker sat
The spine long since broken and flattened
In the crease rolled bits of burned tobacco of some sort
He pressed it with his thumb and drew his thumb across the page
Across fourteen words, three of which were altered,
Two left illegible, and the third's meaning changed
And the page, as a whole, rendered senseless.