Traveling Riverside

by Henry Hietala

Ever since he was unwound from his hometown, like a string from the head of a guitar, he started practicing in graveyards, singing songs to the souls who passed on, ditties about infirmaries and hospitals and devils, funeral hymns, the dirtiest of dirges, opening caskets with the spade of his guitar, each rattlebone strum crashing like lightning between the fingers of trees, his riffs dead ringers for the riffs of a dead preacher, and after his time among the headstones and twig crosses, after two hours of loving with a hardback wench at a lowdown motel, after leaving a stack of coins on her snoring body, after a morning walk through a cross in the road, after a break in a dry forest sleeping off his black mood, after dodging through the swamp surrounding a settlement of klansmen and slaver’s daughters, after following directions from a sharecropper, after squeezing his guitar case around cypress moss, after introducing himself to the owner of the joint who never failed to remind him of his drunk papa, after asking for a higher cut, after not getting a higher cut, after practicing through dusk and eating whatever the cook slopped on his plate, after testifying like a preacher at the stump, after starting the set slow to settle the crowd, after setting their legs ablaze with dance numbers, after spinning his guitar and plucking the strings with his teeth, after sizing up the dancing girls for the one with the longest legs and nicest clothes who would take him home and love him and have plenty of food for him to steal the next morning, after two nights or a whole week of shows in the same place, after drinking so much throughout his visit that he wore the neck of a bottle on his ring finger, he rambled off to another jook joint in another town and did it all over again.

Henry Hietala is a writer, novelist, memoirist, filmmaker, activist, runner, disc jockey, horse jockey, barber, baker, bookie, and bare-knuckled kickboxer. He can’t decide whether he has an inferiority or a superiority complex.
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