Exhibits Excerpt – Dummy

Nov 22, 2016 by

Douglas W. Milliken is the author of the novel To Sleep as Animals and several chapbooks, most recently the collection Cream River and the forthcoming pocket-sized edition One Thousand Owls Behind Your Chest. His stories have been honored by the Maine Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and Glimmer Train Stories, and have been published in Slice, the Collagist, and the Believer, among others. “Dummy” originally appeared in the Manchester Review and was written as part of a fellowship with the I-Park Foundation.www.douglaswmilliken.com

Below is just a taste of what Dummy has to offer, but we thought this opening excerpt shows how well Douglas can shift between beauty and depravity. You’ll have to get the book to see how far this story goes…

Dummy

Douglas W. Milliken

 

All the way from his house in the hills down through the river valley, Richard hacked and pointed his directions while beside him I listened and got us where we wanted to be. The streetlights were off but some passing cars had their headlamps on. Just south of town where the river widens and skinny young trees are all that remain after last year’s clear cut, we pulled off in a wide gravel turnaround and I nosed the old Chrysler to the west. Through the bug-stained windshield, we watched the sun melt to fade out behind the shadowy knuckles of the mountains. Waxy purples and pinks flared through thin clouds, wispy as fading ghosts. Richard lit another Parliament 100 and nodded while the light slowly seeped out of the world. Like he was in negotiation with what we saw.

On the radio, David Allen Coe was hating again. When the sun was all gone, I started the engine and Richard resumed instructing me as to where to go, what turns to take, and which fire roads to follow up the mountains. I didn’t think the Chrysler should be taking on such rough terrain, but this was Richard’s car and he was calling the shots. We rumbled under redwoods with our headlights slashing wild shadows through the trees, then crested a bald summit. We had a clear view of some other little valley town and beyond that—thick reds and yellows burning over the world’s most lonesome blue the sun set for us a second time.

I took five bucks out of my pocket and told Richard to go fuck himself. Then I gave him the five bucks. But anyway, the money was already his. I was holding for him. The dollar lay right where I left it on his leg.

Neither of us said much of anything after that. I guess Richard just now and then would kind of laugh. Deep and wet in his chest. We’d argued about this before but now we both knew. He was a wizard.

***

You once told me that there are stars that shed no light. You told me I was one of those stars. So I can’t know whether you’d be surprised that I made it this far west. Winter came on hard in our northeastern city and suddenly living outside didn’t seem like so much fun—down in the tent-city, among the burnt out wreckage of the old harbor front, the snow piled deep in a single night, crowding against the naked poplars and the wandering haggard men all bleary-eyed with Thunderbird and the shock of being, their shambled lamentations rising in blue plumes from fetid, black-stained mouths—and with nowhere else to go, I made up my mind to head south. A couple crust-punk kids I knew were going to hop cargo trains all the way down to New Mexico, and somehow they’d found it in their hearts to invite me along, but I knew too clearly that during that kind of journey, someone was going to get hurt. Lose their legs or simply just die. If I was to be of that party, I knew: I’d be the one who’d go under. I think they understood this, too. To them, I’d be the lucky rabbit foot that kept them safe. I’d be the one to feed the rails. I respectfully declined their offer and left them with the uneasy job of sorting out who’d be their charm instead. Then I scraped together what cash I could and bussed as far south as the lines would let me.

My plan might’ve been to make a solid go of it down in Florida, eating oranges and sleeping on white sands, but I only made it as far as Georgia before things got kind of hazy. There were guys running crystal across state lines, which unleashed a fluttery moth of fear somewhere inside my solar plexus, but then again, also afforded me an opportunity to get around and see some country. A New Year came and went while I played copilot in the South. Then one runner—a self-styled greaser kid in an unlikely blue Gremlin—decided he didn’t need to make the drop; he’d just keep going, make a fortune for himself somewhere else, and without even trying I found myself a quarter-share deep in the Carolinas. My logic at the time told me that this was too far north, so I sold the bulk of my stash in a fire sale and hitched west. I was hoping for some baked-clean desert, but instead I hit Oregon in shell-shocked confusion with my veins stripped and scoured. My last ride was from a trucker who hadn’t slept in years, it seemed, and who opted to dump me at some reservation casino alongside the highway. My luck could’ve been worse. I washed up in the bathroom and hung around the tables, thinking that if I looked like a gambler, I could maybe score some free drinks. But this was a dry casino. I frittered and grew antsy, and I remember the ceilings seemed too far away, and at some point Richard saw me. He was working over a blackjack table, frustrating the dealer and making a fortune, and after buying me breakfast and correcting my coffee with a flask from his jacket pocket—and, more to the point, after arguing over the likelihood of the Celtics making it to the playoffs and whether they’d ever definitively get one up on the Lakers—we struck a deal that cemented our friendship. I’d help him get around and manage his self-medications and anything else he might need. In return for these services, he’d put me up and keep me in whatever chemical haze best fit my predilections. I’ve been living in his basement ever since.

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