By Lee Martin
A box of rocks. That boy—oh, you know the one. Dropped his cat from
that second-story sleeping porch just to see if it was true, what they
said about cats always landing on their feet. Bawled when that tabby
hit and bounced, lay dead on the cement walk.
Dumber than dirt.
One day in school, the teacher asked him to name the capitol of Illinois.
“I,” he said, and don’t think that one didn’t get around—how those kids
howled until the windows shook, how even the teacher couldn’t stop herself
Dumber than a post.
E.T.—that’s what folks started calling him. This was way before the
movie about the cutesy extra-terrestrial. E.T.—for “elapsed time.” Whatever
went in one ear shot out the other like a laser beam, nothing to stop
it. He wasn’t all there. He was on a fast road to somewhere no one could
see. Wherever it was, when he was dropping that cat, or answering that
teacher’s question, he was zipping ahead. He was already gone.
Once at Halloween, I caught him soaping the windshield of my ’73 Plymouth
Duster. It was broad daylight, for Pete’s sake, and the car was right
there along the street where anyone could see him. He didn’t care. He
was this big, goofy kid with a bar of Lifebuoy. In a few years, he’d
shed his baby fat and become a muscle man. I grabbed him by the arm,
asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. He couldn’t stop laughing—amused,
I like to think, by his own stupidity and how pissed off he could make
me. He laughed until he was crying and spitting and his nose was running,
and that just pissed me off more. I dragged him into the house, clamped
onto him while I used my free hand to rustle up a rag and a pail and
fill it with water. “You’re hurting my arm,” he kept saying. “Hurting
my arm.” But he couldn’t stop laughing. He laughed like an idiot even
when I dragged him back outside and told him to by-God clean that soap
off that windshield. It was the most joyous sound. He laughed like the
Judgment had come and any minute he’d lift up to Heaven.
How was I to know, when I grabbed him by his arm, that one day when
he was a grown man, he’d take a golf-club—a five iron—and beat his wife
until she was dead? I ask you. Seriously now. How could any of us have
known that he’d kill women across three states—at least that’s what
he told the law. Then, when they asked him for the particulars—how many
women, where, what had he done with the bodies—he wouldn’t talk. Just
dummied up. Wouldn’t say a goddamn word.
That’s when we got all righteous. Don’t act like it’s not true. Dumber
than a bagful of hammers, we said. Now that’s one thing we always knew
is the author of two memoirs, Turning
Bones (University of Nebraska Press, 2003), and From
Our House (Dutton 2000). His creative nonfiction has appeared in
such places as Harpers, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth
Genre, River Teeth, The Georgia Review, and Prairie
Schooner. His new novel, The
Bright Forever, will be published by Shaye Areheart Books in
May, 2005. He teaches in the creative writing program at The Ohio State