Chuckie didn’t know what to think of Burt the first time he arrived to pick mama up.  My little brother just stood blindsided with Charlie’s Angels blaring while I barely flinched, their feathery hair bouncing past the spinning wheels and reflective chrome.  I didn’t notice Burt’s unapologetic sideburns, his stout demeanor, greased hair or chaotic smile; not the holes in his jeans or flaws in his jacket.  He was worn, gruff, but with a sincerity that made us both somehow uncomfortable.  We weren’t accustomed to such honesty as he sat in papa’s brown recliner and stared into the set with an unswerving fervor.

“These ladies never know what the hell they’re getting into,” he said.

“Charlie tells them what they need to do,” I replied with a sip of Cherikee Red.

“But I don’t get why they bother with that guy.  They could do whatever without him.”

“The show’s called Charlie’s Angels,” Chuckie emphasized.

“Well, I just don’t buy it, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people out there who don’t either.”

“Good for them,” I groaned.

“So your mama doesn’t mind that you watch this show?” Burt asked.

“No,” Chuckie said.

“Why would she?” I proposed.

“There’s just nothing real about it.  That’s all,” the man exhaled through his teeth.  “Damn if I don’t catch myself watching it too sometimes, then wondering why.”

“Sounds like a real problem you got there.” My tone dropped an octave.

Burt nodded, watching two angels discuss the joys of undercover as Chuckie shot me a blank look.  My little brother was being good out of some minor obligation to the woman killing time upstairs.  Her new man had become too comfortable, my back starting to ache as I considered ways to get under his skin.  Mama hadn’t told us much; just that he drove a snowplow and sometimes dressed up like Roy Orbison to sing at the fire halls and old folks homes.

After a few creaks in the floorboards, I finally sat up and smirked.  “You ever kill anything before, Burt?” I asked.

“I’ve squished a lot of bugs in my time,” he answered

“Me too.  I hate spiders the most,” Chuckie grinned.

“I got my first buck this year,” I stated with pride. “Twelve point.”

“Well that sounds exciting,” Burt said.

“Poppa kept the head to show his friends,” my younger sibling stirred the pot.

“I’m sure they were all impressed,” the man said sincerely.

His smug demeanor made me itch, as I let a little more sugar rush to my brain.  “So where are you taking mama tonight?”

“Oh just this little place my buddy owns.  You’ve probably never heard of it,” Burt remarked.

“Is it far from here?” my brother posed.

“Just a little ways out of town,” he said.  “I know a shortcut, though.”

Both of us weren’t sure how to respond, merely sitting in awe of a stranger.  He’d probably dealt with our kind many times over, never letting a younger mind get the better of him.  “So do you have any kids?” Chuckie finally inquired at the commercial break.

Burt choked a wad of phlegm back into his throat.  “I do, but I don’t see my boy very much.”

“We only see poppa once a week,” Chuckie said.

“Hell of a thing this world we live in,” Burt replied.

Eyes rolling, I skipped from our living room to the upstairs, and hesitantly strolled to the open bathroom door. “You need anything right now, sugar bean?”  Mama patted on her final layer of blush.

“No, I just didn’t wanna sit down there with him anymore.”

“He takes some getting used to,” she gently fixed the strap on her blue dress.

“If you’re not even used to him yet, how long do you think it’ll take me?”

“You shouldn’t worry about this right now.”

“You’ve left me no choice.”

Mama looked away from the mirror and stared through me.  “I need you to know that this is good for me, which means it’ll eventually be good for you and your brother.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works.  Just because you’re happy doesn’t mean I have to be.”

“When did you go and learn so much without me?” She messed up my hair on her way to the bedroom.  I went to mine and Chuckie’s, shutting the door then listening through the cracks as her and Burt reconvened.  A few muffled instructions to my little brother before Mama yelled up.  “Take care of everything now, Craig.  Don’t make any messes.”

“I won’t,” I shouted. The words nearly broke my throat.

We didn’t see her again for the next two days.  Chuckie worried, but I understood.  It wasn’t hard keeping him in line, cooking junk food before the television rocked us to sleep.  Our teachers and neighbors didn’t even notice, just so long as we caught the bus on time.  I didn’t tell any of my friends at school, blowing them off in the afternoons to keep an eye on my brother.  He’d only cry when I wasn’t looking, my threats to punch the tears out of him eventually wearing thin.  We both wanted to call papa, but knew he’d use it as an excuse to get loaded.

Mama came back alone early Friday afternoon in the same dress.  Her face was worn to a point where she never quite smiled the same.  Chuckie and I stewed in front of the television with our cellophane dinners, letting her breathe a moment.  We never saw Burt again, although every winter, without fail, the driveway would be plowed before we woke in the morning.  Mama blamed her guardian angel, but we knew better.  I pictured the whole experience a lighter shade of blue.

***

Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music archive focused on digital preservation with roots in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org). Christopher’s work has recently been published in Anti-Heroin Chic, BlazeVOX17, Drunken Monkeys, Hobart, Queen’s Mob Teahouse, and Entropy among others.