eighteen            

            The flesh round Zachary's mouth distends; his tongue probes teeth and gums—their taste is unmistakeably foul, hence he grimaces. Eyes averse to opening, nonetheless do, relent, wince shut. The light is too intense; the hour must be late. He fartsthe vapours rise, exhuming noxious memories:

            Old man Abernathy, Felicia's pompous father, grinning ear to ear.

             "It's settled then, my boy, September first—'new moon, new broom, new bride and groom.' You'll find a woman makes a difference in a man, kind of tempers him, cools his blood down, makes him more respectable. You'll gain weight, Zack, lose that lean and hungry look you bachelors have. All for the best, all for the best. I do declare, a woman's role is vital. Treat her right—and keep her pregnant—and rest assured you'll have a loyal mate for life."

            Proud father (and silent, doting mother) went on and on, while their dear, devoted daughter squeezed my thumb suggestively, unobserved—behaviour none-too-chaste for a blushing bride to be.

            Zachary palms his temples, pressing and stretching his features into a comic-tragic mask. Drunk, dead-drunk, he was. And now? Hung over wretchedly.

            Been a while.

            "So what's your name? You got a name, big fella... Hm?... Don't say much, do you. I don't mind. No one says you got to talk to Lulu. Pay her; you got to pay her. But who needs talk?... Hey, you steady enough to make it up them stairs?... Here, lemme help you. Lean on Lulu. That's it. My, you're heavy. Is all this muscle? Stud, you sober up, we'll both have us a time."

            Zachary's belch allows more fumes to escape. He rubs his day-old beard. His recollections rally.

            September first. What else? That jug... at Randy's... drinking. God, we drank!... Then what? Then rode home, I guess. Hit the hay.

            His fingers rake his chin. His eyes again wince shut, this time not from the light but rather from a flashback of further goings-on.

            Stairs... I climbed the attic stairs... bumped my head. It hurt. The room was hot as Hell. Pitch-dark. Musky scent. Striking matches, I remember, then catching sight of her... in the corner... cowering.

            He turns and buries his face, then his fist, in the strangulated pillow.