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Reginald Blisterkunst, Ph.D.
Among the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Pluto Wars

Greg Chandler
"Bee's Tree"
"Local Folk"
"Roland's Feast"
"Pond Story "

Doug Childers
"The Baptism"

Gene Cox
The Sunset Lounge

Clarke Crutchfield
"The Break-In"
"The Canceled Party"
"The Imaginary Bullet"

Jason DeBoer
"The Execution of the Sun"

Deanna Francis Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Dennis Must

Charlie Onion
"Love Among the Jellyfish"
Pluto Wars
"Feast of the Manfestation"

Chris Orlet
"Romantic Comedy"

Daniel Rosenblum
"A Full Donkey"

Deanna Frances Mason
"The Daguerreian Marvel"

Andrew L. Wilson
"Fat Cake and Double Talk"


Dennis Must

Jimmy Rouges was dead.

Rougsie, his widow, rented their house to my mother. It sat across from Hollyhock Avenue Grade School with an oak swing hanging by link chain from the porch ceiling, a garage whose walls were covered with license plates from every state in the Union, and a tiled bathroom...all white. "That's where Jimmy passed away, Mrs. Daugherty." Rougsie pointed to the toilet.

"His moaning got me out of bed. I opened the bathroom door and there he sat, goose-fleshy, lookin' up to me. 'What is it, Jimmy? What's ailin' you?' I yelled. 'Jennie,' he cried. 'Jennie, who in Jesus name is that floatin' in the tub?'"

Rougsie's hair was the color of Little Orphan Annie's...a henna orange. She stepped to the bathtub that had ball-and-claw feet, her voice muffled as she dipped her flaming bush inside its basin.

"'You're seein' things, Jimmy. Tub's dry as a bone.' But when I looked up, Jimmy was sittin' there starin' at me like I was bein' untruthful. 'Goddamnit, Jimmy,' I said, Go see for yourself.' But he was stiff and clammy as the hopper he was sitting on."

Mother shook her head in commiseration. Rougsie sat down on the tub's lip and began crying. I'd never seen Jimmy Rouges, but I could see him that afternoon of the house inspection—perched there, glaring at me.

"Most humiliating thing of it all, Mrs. Daugherty, was calling Noga. [He was the undertaker.] 'Noga, Jimmy's dead,' I said. 'Where, Rougsie? We'll pick him right up.' What was I gonna say?"


On the way home, Mother said Rougsie was a little touched in the head, but it was a nice house. "You'll fall out of bed and cross the street to school. Your Aunt Evelyn will love the swing, too." Aunt Evelyn vibrated. Her hands fluttered and her head shook like she was always saying No. I loved her with all my heart. I could picture the two sisters watching school let out, gliding in the porch's shade.

Mother said the garage was mine. I'd make it my hideaway, only letting in friends. I'd show them the metal plates—every one with different numbers and color combinations—and tell them Jimmy Rouges had lived in every state. That the licenses came off an onyx-black Packard with a silver grill whose interior had a walnut dashboard with ivory radio knobs and a cigarette lighter that glowed like a hot plate in the dark. That Jimmy Rouges was in show business. That he traveled the country discovering gorgeous women who'd sit in the back of his seven-passenger, wrapped in furs, smoking with their legs crossed. Music came out of special speakers in the upholstered roof of the car, and Jimmy'd open a secret bar with crystal decanters in the rear of the driver's seat.

Anything to get him off that toilet.


I was nine years old. It was our fifth address. I thought that's what people did. Friends of mine moved as often, too. Mother did all the looking and negotiating. I suspect my old man was too embarrassed to say we were behind on our rent in the place we were vacating. She'd spend days at each address with a bandanna wrapped about her head and wearing rubber gloves that stopped at her elbows, scrubbing its walls, woodwork, and floor with Spic & Span and a toxic Lysol brew out of a pharmacist's brown bottle. "This is the best house yet!" she always swore. The bathroom in the Hollyhock house got a special going-over.

Two weeks after we moved in, one Saturday afternoon, Billy Manse visited. Everybody was always tsk-tsking the boy. He lived on a farm outside Hebron, our town. When he was three years old, Billy mounted his father's John Deere, fired up the tractor, and drove it and the thresher through the milk house. Huge dairy pails clanged riotously down the gully. That afternoon the pigs took a milk bath, and Billy Manse got his ass whipped—again.

Mother had gone to the grocery store.

I took Billy out to the garage, but he was more interested in exploring our new house. Mother's chiffonier drawer where she kept her unmentionables especially fetched him. He pulled a dress out of her closet, held it up to himself, and paraded in front of the door's mirror. A cobalt-blue perfume bottle with a rubber ball sat glistening on her dressing table. He spritzed it into my face, then locked himself in the bathroom.

He was in there at least ten minutes.

"My mother will be coming home any minute, Billy. Come on out now. I'll make us a sandwich."

No answer.

"Are you coming out?"

"I can't."


"I'm stuck."


"In the bathtub."

"In the bathtub?"

"We'll, kind of."

"Jesus, Billy. Stop playing games. I'll make us triple-decker jelly sandwiches."

"I'm hungry," he cried.

Mother met me on the porch. "Where's Billy Manse?"

I pointed up the stairs.

"What's he doing alone up there?"

She didn't even wait for me to answer, and let out a scream. "Billy! Billy Manse! Where are you?"

From behind the bathroom door meekly, "I'm in here, Mrs. Daugherty."

"Then you get out of there right this minute!"

We knew what was going through the other's mind: ours, Rougsie's and Noga's secret.

"I'm stuck," Billy sobbed.

Father came home from the pottery and banged the pins out of the door's hinges. Somehow Billy had climbed between the clawfoot tub and the wall, up where the spigots were, and wrapped his legs about its pipes. All we could see was his head—it rested on the bathtub's lip, right under the hot and cold faucets. Tears were streaming onto the porcelain.

"Oh my God!" When Mother bent down to comfort him, she whiffed her White Shoulders. That's when she cast a baleful glance at me. "What have you two been up to?"

I didn't want to tell her he'd actually tried on her gingham going-to-church dress, and her pill-box hat with the veil. That he'd scrunched his farmer's bare feet into her pumps, and swanked through the dark hallway, making suggestive gestures to me as I stood in the bedroom doorway mortified.

Father had to call the plumber, who cut the tub's pipes in half.

"That urchin's not to cross this threshold again," she warned Father and me that night at the supper table. "He's a bad influence on you, Westley."

I knew that.


Two years later, Billy's mother invited me to spend a weekend on their farm. Mother acquiesced at my urging. I thought I'd get to drive the tractor. He was more grown up now, muscular and not so curious. I slept in the same bed with him, listening in the dark about the Crisdale girl on the adjoining farm. "Sarah has tits big as cow udders," he said, "and she lets me milk her. Our parents hide from us the secrets we learn by observin' the farm animals." The day before he'd watched the bull, Chester, give it to Alice, his prize 4-H Holstein.

I lay there in the country stillness, no street lights like outside my Hollyhock bedroom—each of us with the covers off, and our dicks gazing at the ceiling—when I said I had to use the bathroom.

"Westley, in the night we use the can."

In the corner of the room sat a white tin pot with a lid that looked like a kettle my mother used for canning tomatoes. "You sit on that," he said. "Too far to go to the outhouse. Mom and Dad have one in their room. Is that what you got to do?"

"I got to pee," I said.

"Me too."

We crawled out of the bed. His only window looked out over a farm pond that was covered in chartreuse scum—I couldn't see the water at all, but heard the frogs croaking and splashing into it.

Billy pissed through the window screen, urging me to do the same. It sprayed back onto our thighs.

"Tomorrow morning I'll take you over and meet Sarah, Westley."


But the next morning Billy didn't get out of bed. "I've never seen such a shade on a boy!" his mother said when she called the doctor. Shortly he came down from their upstairs looking grim.

"I'm afraid it may be polio, Mrs. Manse."

Billy didn't even look up when his father laid him in the backseat of the doctor's black Packard. Same one as Jimmy Rogues rode.


The next week, I couldn't get out of bed, gasping for air like my lungs were sacks of meadow dust. Billy and I'd played farmer's Tarzan up in the barn's attic. We'd take hold of a thick hawser in the rafters, and swing a two-story drop into the hay. Christ, it was the most real fun I'd had in a long time, having indulged myself in too much make-believe at the Hollyhock house.

I'd even encouraged Mother to rent me a drum set so that when twilight came—that's when I began fixating on Jimmy's ghost—I'd shut the bedroom door and beat the drums like Gene Krupa. Make all the noise I could to keep Jimmy from crawling out of his bed. On a Saturday night, when Mother and Father went out, I had to give an especially solid performance. Sweat rolled off my face on the bandstand of some lakeside ballroom just so I wouldn't hear Jimmy calling me into the bathroom.

But then I was having complications like Billy Manse.

"I can't get my breath," I cried. Father came into my bedroom. He placed a cold washcloth on my head. "It'll be all right, Son. Take little breaths. Don't panic. Everything will be allright."

"I'm dying, Daddy. I can't get my breath."

"Close your eyes and listen to me," he said.

I could feel my lungs deflating. I was trying to suck air out of them, but the inner tubes had been punctured. Like the black ones of Jimmy's old Packard hanging from the rafters above the license plates.

"Listen to me, Westley. I'm pressing down hard on your chest, pumping the pond water out of your lungs. Do you feel it? Take deep breaths. Come on, Son, do it!"

I began spitting up frogspawn from Billy Manse's pond, spitting it out of my throat like piss, green piss spraying through the fly screens in his window, and it was running down the clapboards of the farmhouse. Billy and I were spitting our guts out, all the phlegm of boy dreams, Sarah Crisdale's sour milk we'd ingested that night when we'd made love to ourselves. The toxic mix of flying into alfalfa mounds, and young girls who breathed apple blossoms through the windows of their white porcelain thighs.... Oh, how we could get sick on it.

"Breathe, Westley, Goddamnit, breathe!"

I saw Billy Manse come to me in Mother's black dress, the hat's veil down over his green eyes...green as the algae in Manse's pond...his lipstick on crooked, and earrings of faux pearls. He's clopping like a pony out in the dark hallway with its hardwood floor. His feet squeezed into her pumps, piglets entombed. Her nylon stockings hanging off his legs like loose skin, rubber canning garters just above his knees...and Billy reeks of cowshit and White Shoulders perfume as he spreads his arms, calling me.

Behind him—the white commode where I see Jimmy Rouges beckoning, too. Billy Manse wanting to embrace me in drag, and Jimmy Rouges wanting to take me for a ride in his black Packard across every state of our wonderful Union with the buxom State Fair queens sitting in the back seat, furs draped over their alabaster skin, legs crossed keeping their perfumed interiors closed—and smoking bones.

The radio's playing New Orleans.

Billy Manse wanting to do the Dosado. Allemende Left. To Swing his Partner Round.

My old man on top of me, begging I catch my wind.

"I want to spit up!" I cried.

Pap lifted me up in his arms, rushed me into the bathroom, and knelt with me in front of the toilet.

In prayer.

He wrapped a wet towel about my head as I coughed and wheezed. All of the Firestone's and Goodyear's on Hollyhock Street had suddenly collapsed. Pap bent my head over the porcelain rim. It was cool. No frogspawn.

"Spit it up, Son! Spit it all up!"

There floating in the basin was the face of Jimmy Rouges. Calm and peaceful like, smiling at me.

I took a deep breath. "Oh, I'm beginning to feel a little bit better, Dad. I can get some more air."

Father lifted me off the tile floor, and closed the commode's lid. Billy Manse grinned at me, too, from behind the cleft-foot tub.

"You're going to be fine, Son."

"I'm not going to die, am I, Dad?"

"Not in this house," he said.



About the Author

Dennis Must is the author of Banjo Grease: Selected Stories (Creative Arts Book Company, 2000). His plays have been performed Off Off Broadway and his fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Blue Cathedral: Short Fiction for the New Millennium (Red Hen Press), Rosebud, Portland Review, RiverSedge, Writer's Forum, Salt Hill Journal, Sun Dog—The Southeast Review, RE:AL, Red Cedar Review, Sou'wester, Blue Moon Review, CrossConnect, Exquisite Corpse, Alsop Review, Big Bridge, The WAG, Linnaean Street, elimae and Green Hills Literary Lantern. He resides in Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.


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