Where the Pop Machine Rattles

soda can

by Jeremy Hauck

An onion rots on the compost pile between two mobile homes and exudes a scent that even Blind Alan can see as he walks from his trailer toward the recreation center where the pop machine rattles.

The girl child, a toddler, standing in the yard between the same two mobile homes, looks at her arms, which until a second ago were holding the cat. Now wanting only to re-hold the cat, the child catches the smell of Blind Alan over the smell of the rotting onion, of the piss driblets homesteading in his denim.

That little one’ll be a prostitute in 20 years, mark my words, Lena says to herself inside her trailer, one of the two astride the compost pile and the place where the little girl stands gazing at the path, not smelling what the child smells or what Blind Alan smells but instead the Bible in her hands, which she has been holding for almost two hours now, closed, finger sweat smearing on the leather binding while she taps the pliant corner against the window, If she’s anything like her mama.

He remembers the which and why of how he came to be blind, that he was captured and by the time his platoon rescued him they’d done it with their fingers and a pocketknife, pip pop spickle. His mind tells him he ought to travel back in time and stop himself from leaving the tree line but how can he do that? He must go on. The cold pop will go down his throat and that will do today.

Mouth open, the child watches the cat switch its tail back and forth in the hot air, gnats bobbing around.

Lena squeezes her eyes shut. Mouthing “pillar of salt, pillar of salt, pillar of salt,” with each bend of leather binding against glass, the sun gamboling on her lips, she stands on a floor she can feel sagging like a hammock.

The child toddles after the cat, the grass tickling her feet.

Alan would rather be deaf than blind because at least then he could read the butterflies he remembers talking in color and wing. He feels a brushing against his leg, like a warm wave. After a moment he bends down and lifts the cat, which squirms, purring, its limbs punching scattershot into his warm embrace.

The child sees the cat looking down at her from afar and stops.

Lena’s face nestles near the curtain as if it were the crook of time’s elbow and she could push herself all the way into any fold and come out in a different year. Dust mites ascend hot up-drafts into her nostrils; memory cascades across her eyelashes. No longer is she saying words, only intoning, moaning. Now mashed against her face, the Bible smells of glue and drapetomania.

The cat yells and jumps down, then pads back toward the child, who says “deedledee” at it. The pop machine rattles on. When Blind Alan gets there his fingers feel for the slot and he drops his two quarters in and with his knuckle pats the second panel button from the top where his favorite pop lives. The machine doesn’t shake or clunk it only rattles. Blind Alan flops down Indian style in the dust.

The child wants the cat close so she leans back with her fingers wrapped around its tail. Into the air the cat springs squid-like, comes back down, then runs away.

A purring against Blind Alan’s knee; the sun sears his bare bald head. He pushes the cat away and tells it to “Git.” From his pocket he pulls a pill canister and opens it, then dumps it out into his mouth. His hands search the dry dirt and gravel around him until he finds an empty pop can, which he crumples and tears in half so that it is sharp and jagged, and with a hurried repetitive motion he runs its edge back and forth across his neck. After a while he lies down and feels the sun reach into his head through his empty eye sockets and start to pull him out. Little tiny hands fondle at his throat but he is too weak to bat them away. He thinks he hears voices.

Her nose bleeding over the binding of the bible, Lena’s breath wheezes moistly onto the window, free of words and containing only sounds of weakening. As she shakes, the bible squeegees a clear translucent trail through the fog and she glimpses the little girl scampering back to the compost pile and picking up an onion in her bloody hands, the onion sloughing off its rotten outer layer and rolling down the pile like a large, white pearl.


Jeremy Hauck’s fiction has appeared in Penduline Press and The Rusty Nail and his nonfiction can be found online at Ploughshares, TINGE Magazine, and The Review Review. He teaches essay writing at Temple, has a newborn baby, and is working on a novel about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
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