Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Nine



My good memories and I were still in that house, hiding out behind the velvet curtains of the theatre where I’d gotten married. Any minute the doors would burst open and the last of my pleasant, fine, joyous memories would be slaughtered. 

I was trying to be quiet. We all were. Except four memories of my brother William kept forgetting, and were soon arguing too loudly about what was the best Final Fantasy video game. And my fathers were annoyed they were missing some important detective show on TV. And the many memories of my mother were taking turns holding a memory of an infant William, which wouldn’t stop fussing, crying out. My aunt Elaine had found some weapons to use in our defense, but they were just props. Foam swords for productions of Hamlet. I started to think I should walk out and abandon all my memories, good or bad, head back to the hospital. Check myself in. Start over. 

But then I heard engines. A great clamor. Machines rammed through doors and walls. Guns going off. Through the wall I heard a great stampede of bodies running and falling. And I looked at my few remaining good memories and told them to come out from behind the curtains, onstage, and out of the theatre. We better go, whatever was making their enemies run was good news for us.

We crept into the memory house proper. I saw the front door of the house had been ripped off its hinges. A great mass of bodies was seen running across the field. Four men on ATVs chased them down. Jean bib overalls, hunting caps, shotguns at their sides. The sun was just coming up. Everything was purple and gold.

I knew of these shotgun men. They’d come from Woodland, North Carolina. A town with a population of 800 people. The town’s lone police officer had quit, and then criminals had begun to rob gas stations and pharmacies and Sunday buffets. A vigilante squad formed. This vigilante squad. However it was they’d arrived here, I was thankful for them.

“I’m taking you all back with me,” I said. I led the survivors into the tunnel the grandmothers and invalids and children had used to escape. We walked through that narrow tunnel (lit up by the many memories of my father who each carried a pen light flashlight at all times). One of the memories of my brother, thirteen years old, made the comment that the men on ATVs–who’d come in at the last second and saved us all–reminded him of the giant eagles at the end of The Hobbit. “Okay, yeah sure,” I said. My brother William said, “You know, the ones who valiantly ended The Battle of the Five Armies, eradicated the army of goblins.” “Sure.” My other memory of my brother said, “Actually they were more like the Riders of Rohan at the end of The Two Towers.” And then they began to argue over the names of Tolkien’s eagles. “The mighty winged messengers of Manwë.” “Sure, messengers at first, but they became the guardians of all animal life, much as the Ents were the guardians of plant life.” “Great, eagles, that’s all that matters.” “They’re actually Buteoninae, not eagles. Closer to relatives of red-tailed hawks in species, just ginormous. Stupid big. Whoa.” “Gwaihir and Landroval, lords of the birds that saved Gandalf’s ass, how’s that?” I turned around and shouted at them to please be quiet. Thirty other memories clapped.

We came out of the tunnel in the center of the forest. Four of my grandmothers were sitting on the ground, shivering children at their feet (most of them me and William, ages 2-7). I told my grandmothers the bad memories had been chased from the memory house, and all I got was, “Then you’re going the wrong way.” I told them it wasn’t worth the fight, forget the house, they’d just try and retake it again. Besides I had work in the morning, I had a marriage to worry about, I hadn’t been home in days. 

There was much grumbling. This one wanted to do this. This other one thought we should do that. I said, “Listen fuckers. You’re my memories. And you’re all refugees now,  and I’m in charge. So follow me, and just shut up. We’re going with plan Y, and if plan Y doesn’t work, we’ll try plan Z. But I don’t know what plan Z is yet. Let’s go. If they kill you this time, I’m not going to the trouble of remembering you all again. I’ll happily stay a vegetable.” 

I stepped into the river. The current was weak. To my surprise they followed me. In the distance, we heard more shotgun blasts, which could have been good or bad, but through my urging or their fear, no one wanted to stick around and find out. They followed me across the silver river, over the rolling hills, into the darkness, all the way back to Jersey City. Refugees. 

In the vestibule of my building I pushed the intercom a hundred times, but Rae must have been in a deep sleep. I had to go around to the side and throw rocks at the window. Finally, she got out of bed, let me in the apartment. It was very late. Two in the morning. I stumbled in. She was well rested and angry. We started to fight. 

“Where have you been?”

“Look, it sucked. We were under siege, trapped and my brother kept reciting Beowulf.” 

My good memories stood in the foyer of the building, and they could hear us yelling. “Well, least you could’ve done is call, no matter what was happening.” 

“The phone died and nobody had a charger. Besides we were under attack, they could’ve all been killed. Hey, did you send those vigilantes?” 

“The who? The what? I didn’t do anything, I just worried.”

She heard the murmuring voices in the foyer. She opened the door. Thirty-seven memories stood together, looking at her like they’d been caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar of life.

They were all invited inside. Rae got everyone a glass of water, but the memories of the same person had to share glasses (we didn’t have enough). She searched the cupboards for things to feed them but there wasn’t anything at all, and they wouldn’t and couldn’t eat anyway. Regardless, they began to bitch and moan. Some became passive aggressive. My grandmother said, “Let me clean your stove, look how dirty it is.”

And then they all needed blankets and pillows and it was just not possible. We had things for six of them. The children and the grandmothers and my dying uncles and my young mothers got the beds and couches and inflatable mattresses and then it was just me and my father and my brothers trying to sleep on the available floor space, whatever it was, wherever it was. But the apartment was too loud for them and they turned on me in the dark room. “How can you live here? It’s so loud.” I said, “You get used to it, a few nights from now you won’t even notice.” “Won’t notice the police sirens?” My brother said, “Actually, that was an ambulance.” “No,” another William said, “It was a fire truck. There’s the horn, hear that?”

The next day it rained, and my job got called off due to the weather, and I didn’t have to go in, thank god. But hanging out with the thirty-seven of them was worse than going to work. My apartment didn’t cut it. I thought it would be good to send them off galavanting. I said, “Okay, anybody want to go see the Statue of Liberty?” They looked at me blankly. None of them had ever been to Ellis Island or to the statue proper, but no one wanted to go anyway. “Suit yourselves.” 

The phone rang and Rae wanted to know what I thought about driving the car into the city, load it up with blankets and pillows from her prototype pile in her office. I said, “I don’t think I can handle another night with them here. Maybe I’ll just send them all back like they keep asking.” She thought maybe we could get them their own place. I said, “I don’t know any landlord that would let thirty-seven of my memories live in any rental we could afford.” Then we started to fight again about money, and there’s nothing more depressing to fight about, really.

She heard the memories whining about how bad they wanted to go home. I said, “That place causes me more problems.” She said, “You should take a wrecking ball to it, so they shut up about it.” 

“That’s a great idea. I’ll do that soon as I get another day off.”

For the time being, I had to solve the housing issue. First thing I did was pull aside four memories of my father. I told them I had an idea for a new home for them all; quiet, spacious, but I wanted their opinion. No more loud apartment and sleeping on the hardwood floor. Would they come and look at this exciting property with me? They beamed with gratitude. Hugged me, one at a time. Then hugged each other. 

We drove across town. Spirits high. Halfway there, they figured it out and all slapped their knees. The Hudson County Generating Station loomed over the houses. Now defunct. Mothballed. Closed down. A coal-fired power plant where I’d often worked, doing weld repair, and where all the memories of my father had at one time worked too, in the mid ‘70s, early ‘80s. They’d had a great time there. Some of the best drunken fun times in their lives. They were nearly weeping at the idea that they could live there now. I said, “You guys are in charge there. Okay? You run the show. I’m not getting too involved.” They were ecstatic. Hooting and hollering. 

By nightfall, all thirty-seven were residing at the abandoned power plant, out of my hair. I’d driven them over, five at a time in my car. That night, I slept in my own bed and tried my best not to worry about them, just to worry about myself, and Rae.

Those memories were snug as bugs there right from the start. They had cover from the elements, and they had each other to keep themselves company. A family of annoying whistlers, most of them were already whistling completely different songs, horribly, all at once. There was a view of the muddy Hackensack River, and the Pulaski Skyway, and New York City shining in the distance. 

Home. 

They were comfortable under cover of plastic tarps hung from wire, braced with lumber, or any other garbage which they could scavenge from the perimeter of the property (construction debris everywhere, have at it). 

The power plant no longer made electricity, but would stand forever (or at least probably long as I lived—fingers crossed). It’d cost too much to demolish and politicians kept saying, “Coal is coming back!” which it never was, but they kept saying it and saying it kept getting them re-elected, so they kept saying it.

Home. 

No longer a power plant.

Memory Plant.

And on the second day, I returned with wrenches and unbolted manway doors at each elevation of the sprawling steel structure, so the memories could go inside the massive dead boiler. They liked that even better. They made that boiler into their new homes. And it sure was spacious. Two hundred feet tall. Fifty feet wide, square. Home. 

On the third day, when I returned, I saw that they were already erecting scaffolding inside the boiler, making cubbyhole apartments for themselves. Nice.

And on the fourth day, I saw that new good memories had arrived. And the new memories pitched in and found a place to call home in the rust and filth, and cleaned up the filth and sanded down the rust so things were beautiful again.

And on the fifth day, some memories of my brother played Dungeons & Dragons together and my mothers knitted socks and watched Gone with the Wind on a TV/VCR combo they had now. Aunt Elaine organized a softball game on the roof. Grandma read Agatha Christie to the children and the other grandmas and to my dying uncles, their life support systems beeping, beeping, beeping. Everyone was fine. They didn’t need me to do anything but live my life.

On the six day, I had the day off work and I began to round up the materials.

And this is what I gathered: sledgehammers; one hundred gallons of gasoline; flamethrower—well I tried, but no one would rent me one; axes of all sorts; wheelbarrows; two chainsaws; safety glasses; jackhammers; 12 pairs of work gloves; earplugs; dynamite.

Oh, and I went to Longwood to rent a bulldozer but the clerk wanted to know if I planned to leave the state. I couldn’t explain just how far away I was taking the machine, and it had GPS, so I couldn’t lie. The good people of Tool Depot on Forest Avenue on Staten Island rented me a bulldozer. They didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t have to tell them any lies.

And that night I drove down to Baltimore. 

Charm City. The City That Reads. The Greatest City in the World according to its park benches.

Joseph Grantham didn’t answer his door, but I could see the light on in the living room and in the kitchen. I knocked louder on the door. 

He’d edited everything in this novel you’re reading right now, and yeah we’d had a falling out but he was one of my best friends, I needed his knowledge, and patience, and expertise to help finish this thing. 

I shouted into the glass panel of the door, “Joey this is it, this is the end of Good Luck and I don’t have any time, can you please answer the door?”

Through the frosted glass, I saw a shadow come down the stairs. I thought he was about to answer the door but nothing happened. I got more desperate, “You did a great job editing this book. But it’s got to end sometime. We’re getting too old for this shit. There’s one last job. Then I’ll leave you be. Good Luck is almost over. All my books are almost over. I promise I won’t write anything again.” 

Through the frosted glass I saw the shadow move up the stairs. Away. I sat down on the steps. Put my head in my hands. If I had an axe I might’ve chopped through the door. Any minute Rae would call me in a panic asking about the dynamite on the kitchen table and I would have to lie and just say it was gag dynamite so she wouldn’t be nervous around it.

“Bud? What are you doing? Are you crying?” 

Joey had come around the corner and was standing with Ashleigh and they had a Blimpie sandwich in a paper sack. I wiped the tears away. 

We went inside the apartment and they started to eat the sandwich and they kept offering me some but I kept saying I wasn’t hungry, though I was. It was then that I realized what the shadows on the steps had been. Cats. Two of them. Those cats wanted very badly to possess the meatball sandwich. 

An hour later, Joey and Ashleigh were in my car as we breezed up the New Jersey Turnpike. There was no more time to spare. I explained how the refugees of the house of memory had been saved by those helpful vigilantes on ATVs from Woodland, North Carolina. But neither Joey or Ashleigh had any idea what I was talking about. “Bud, who knows how your mind works.” It was quiet for a bit. Ashleigh asked if I would mind if we put on the radio. Maybe they both thought I wanted an escort to the mental asylum.

But no. We were all of us on our way to fix my mind, and by extension, my life. I explained the plan. We wouldn’t do it with drugs, we wouldn’t do it with therapy. Like all important things, it would happen through action, and action only.

At my apartment, I saw Rae had tidied up even though I’d asked her not to. She’d moved all the dynamite from the kitchen table to my closet. The chainsaws and axes were put in the pantry. The gasoline was in the guest bathroom, underneath a pile of country quilts, with a vase of faux flowers on top for disguise. I poured everyone a stiff drink. The next day would be terrible. It would help to feel terrible.

This is how we got the rest of the crew together. Rae placed phone calls to all my friends. Bud died. Don’t tell anyone. It happened suddenly. There’s a will. You’re in the will. The only stipulation is you get here tonight, or at the latest, breakfast tomorrow. 

She called my brother first. Then she called Bible. And she called Mungiello and Jackson Frons and Brian and Steve and the other Brian and the other other Brian and the other Steve and some of them laughed, and then she probably called you but you either weren’t home or you didn’t answer because you didn’t recognize the number, or you thought it was one of my practical jokes. Rae had to keep giving me the disappointing news that even with the fake bribes of lots of money/diamonds, etc., most people just couldn’t or wouldn’t come. 

To make our mission successful, what it really came down to, was reaching out to some of the guys I worked with at the oil refinery. Maybe that was for the best, all she’d had to say to them was that we were going to blow some shit up and there would be free beer. They all said they were game.

The night before we headed out, we cooked a big pot of spaghetti, the way your typical American high school football program has a spaghetti dinner before the big game. Get all the players ready. Carb load. Garlic bread, too. 

In the morning, I was surprised to see two of my coworkers actually showed up. Most surprising of all was that they considered themselves my friends, introduced themselves that way to everybody. So then I had to rearrange my thinking, as I often do in life. In my mind, and in reality, I became their friend. We, all of us, friends, had ourselves one last cup of coffee and then we headed off to demolish my house of memory. 

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books, 2020), among others.

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