The Only Reason I Got To Be Civilized

Jared Yates Sexton

I’m motherfucking Superman, Bower yelled from the back of the bar. He picked up a chair and bashed it to bits against a Budweiser sign on the wall. He was in rare form.

All things considered, Teddy said at the bar, I’m being a very patient man.

Sitting next to him, looking scared-sober and just scared in general, was Ben Keene. He was staring past Teddy, at Bower’s rampage, and stroking the sweat from his untouched beer. Nobody said you wasn’t, he said to Teddy. Very patient, he said.

It’s just hard to stay that way, Teddy said. He took a swig of the Jim Beam in his hand. Something like this happens and it just tests the shit out of your patience.

Bower, still in the back, broke a mirror and collected the shattered pieces. He drug them over his muscled arms and drew great rivers of blood. I’m gonna kill tonight, he coughed. Kill, kill, kill.

Maybe, Teddy said. Maybe you will and maybe you won’t. All depends on what Benjamin here has to say about it.

You know I’m a buddy of yours, Ben said. Always have been.

That’s a fact, Teddy said.

Your pop and my pop used to thick as thieves, Ben said, wiping perspiration from his eyes.

Used to get their ball bats and go looking for trouble, Teddy said. Went down to the tracks and cleaned out all the tramps and undesirables.

Bower was in a rage. He smeared blood across his face and was beating a night-black bruise into his chest.

Fella like Bower, Teddy said, would’ve fit in a whole lot better back in those days. Back when there was honor and morality.

I promise, Ben pleaded. I don’t know nothing ’bout those pictures. Where they come from, what they look like, who’s giving them out.

I wish you wouldn’t say that, Teddy said. The truth is so much more desirable. He slugged back his glass and drained the Jim Beam. Hey Bower, he said. Show Benjamin here what you done to Clifford May.

Bower smiled through his mask of caked blood and lifted a table off the floor. In one motion he raised it high above his head and brought it down over his knee. The table disintegrated.

Goddamn, Ben said.

Did you hear exactly what happened to Clifford May? Teddy said.

Got his back broken, Ben said.

That’s right, Teddy said. He called for another Jim Beam and a waitress with chopped, pink hair brought it to him. My associate Bower here snapped his spine clean in half.

Okay, Ben said. I don’t know nothing, all right? I just heard things.

Heard things, Teddy said.

Heard things, Ben repeated.

Heard what kind of things? Teddy said.

I heard there were some pictures floating round, Ben said. That’s all and I don’t even remember who it was that told me.

Oh, Benjamin, Teddy said. You can do better than that.

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, Bower chanted amid the destruction he’d wrought.

That’s all, Ben said. Swear on my pop’s grave, rest his soul.

Teddy ran his finger round the rim of his Jim Beam and shook his head. He said, You shouldn’t bring your pop into this. Him and my old man were a dying breed. They had dignity and a sense of what was right and what was wrong.

Teddy, Ben said. I know how you feel about that girl.

She’s the only reason I got to be civilized these days, he said and called for Bower. Bower, he said, help Benjamin here out of his seat.

Bower grabbed Ben around the neck with one of his massive hands. He lifted him into the air, where Ben hung and gagged like a trophy fish snagged from the water.

Please, Ben tried to say, but it came out as choking nonsense.

Teddy put down his Jim Beam and circled around behind Ben as he dangled. He reached into his back pocket and slipped out a handful of photographs. For old times’ sake, he said to Bower, give him some peace.

Bower tightened his grip and crushed Ben’s windpipe and neck. His head lolled forward and then Bower released him and let him crumple to the floor.

Teddy laid a wad of bills on the bar and walked out. It was really coming down outside and the streets and sidewalks and buildings were covered in a thick blanket of snow. Everything was blindingly white except for Teddy’s dark green Jaguar parked out front. He got into the Jaguar and Bower joined him.

Kill, Bower said, trying to cram his huge self into the passenger seat.

Teddy was behind the wheel and looking at the photographs. They were fuzzy and faded, but he could make out his girl lying on a bed, stepping out of a shower, splaying herself out for everyone to see.

I hear you, he said to Bower, to nobody. This here world ain’t full of nothing but meanness anymore.

 
 
 


Jared Yates Sexton is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University and serves as Managing Editor at BULL. His work has been published in journals and magazines around the country and has been nominated for a Pushcart, The Million Writer’s Award, and was a finalist for the New American Fiction Prize. His first collection of stories, An End to All Things, will be released by Atticus Books in November of 2012.