We planted RD’s mom in the ground on a scorching Texas morning, him stretching the seams of the suit I loaned him, tie wadded into his pocket, pulling off his Peterbilt cap to wipe his brow and tell the preacher to get on with it for God’s sake ’cause he’s not paid by the hour and there ain’t nobody listening, anyway. We had lunch afterwards at the Golden Dragon in honor of his mother, being as she’d once had Chinese food and didn’t hate it.
He raised his glass in a toast.
“Goodbye, Momma. The next time you kick the bucket, please pick a better day.” He grinned at me. “That’s not too much to ask, is it?”
“She was a tough old bird,” I said. “Held on a long time, didn’t she?”
“Yeah. That was my first thought too. About damned time she croaked.”
“I didn’t say—”
“‘Good.’ That’s what I said when the home called. Pissed them off too, I could tell, but I don’t give a damn. I wouldn’t treat a dog like they were treating her. Even if she was on Medicaid, she deserved better. I told them all that too.”
“How’d they like it?” I asked.
“They didn’t. It was the fat one that called, and she tried getting up on me. Said I should have been up there more often. Like it’s any of her business. Hell, I was up there all the time.”
He looked over at the buffet, like he was considering seconds, but I could tell he was chewing on something else. We sat awhile, each waiting for the other to say something.
“I did all I could to take care of the old lady,” he continued in a quiet voice. “It’s not like I can go back and change anything. No reason for that fat cow to get on my case.” A pause. “I ain’t perfect. Never said I was. I did all I could, but now it’s all over… It weighs on a man, you know?”
He waited, like I was supposed to say something, but I had nothing. He looked disgusted with me.
“Anyway, I’m glad it’s over,” he said.
“No,” he said and punctuated the word with his fork. “I tell a lie. There’s still the house. That’ll have to be my inheritance.”
The family home had been sitting empty since RD put his mom away. I asked if he planned to live in it.
“Hell, no,” he said. “I ain’t got no use for it. You know I gotta stay at the lot, to keep an eye on things.” He ran a one-truck wrecker service, making enough money to stay one step ahead of bankruptcy. “I wouldn’t move back there, anyway. The whole damned neighborhood’s gone to seed. There’s a meth lab just down the street now. Can you believe it?”
“No kidding. They lock up one asshole and another moves in. A damned revolving door.” He gazed off into space. “I tried getting Momma to move out, back when she still had her mind, but she wouldn’t have it. It being the family home and all.”
He was quiet a bit. Then he came back and remembered what we were talking about.
“No, I don’t need the house.” He jabbed the fork at me again. “Tell you what I do need, though. Money. I plan to sell that house, fast.”
I asked how much it was worth.
He scratched the naked lady tattoo on his forearm and wrinkled his brow. “Damned if I know. Maybe we should go have a look at it.”
* * *
The place was a dump. A hundred, easy, on a one-to-ten-point dump scale. Rotted eaves were nothing more than strands of wood splinters hanging down. The lawn had gone riotous before summer heat turned it to straw. Bushes overgrew the windows, and a large one invaded the front porch and stood sentry before the door. Inside was the smell of age, of mold and snuff, of grease from many meals, and dust in the beaten fabric that had once been carpet. Slabs of drywall slouched, held up by joint tape, as if the entire house had shifted about in its old age, considered pulling up stakes and moving on but decided against it as being too much trouble. I figured RD could get a thousand dollars for salvage, provided the buyer was a drunken one-eyed halfwit.
He was quiet, walking about and touching doors and windows as if they were sacred.
“This was my room,” he said in a whisper. He pointed at the window. “Used to slip out that window and go catting about at night. In winter, it would ice up on the inside and I had to scrape it off with my fingers if I wanted to look out.”
He looked at his fingers, as if expecting to see ice. He stood for a few minutes, then made for the door with long, heavy strides.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Outside, he lit a cigarette and smoked it down to a stub with ferocity. He lit another, calmed down a bit, and looked around.
“This was a nice neighborhood, once. Now look at it.” He waved his cigarette about. “Trash everywhere.” He pointed out a house two lots down the street. “That’s the meth lab I was telling you about. When I was a kid, the folks there had a pony, used to let me ride about on it. Good place to be a kid. Now look at it.”
He kicked the corner of the house; a rotten length of trim sailed off into the weeds. “Who the hell will buy this dump now?”
“Probably some flipper,” I said. He gave me a blank look, so I explained. “Like on TV. They buy the house, fix it up, and then sell it for a profit. It’s called flipping.”
“No kidding. You should get out more.”
“You should shut your mouth.” He rubbed his chin and sighted along a bend of the wall. “Maybe I should do it myself, this flipping thing.”
I made the mistake of laughing.
“What’s so funny?” He jutted his long chin at me.
“Come on, man,” I said. “Do you know anything about fixing up a house? Roofing? Electrical code? Plumbing?”
I watched realization come across his face, followed by a scowl. I figured it was time to leave.
* * *
My sister, Carolyn, thought I was a fool to be hanging about with RD. She was probably right. In high school, he had conned me into going half with him on a ’75 Mustang hatchback, white with blue race trim and full Cobra detail package. He rolled it on Windthorst Road, out in the county where the road makes right-angle turns along property lines. I guess I was still trying to get my money back. I called her to tell about the funeral for RD’s mom, and she lit into him right away. I asked about the kids to change the subject.
* * *
About a month later, I was taking a shortcut through the south side, when I realized I was coming up on RD’s house, what used to be his mother’s. His wrecker was on the street, and I could see lumber, stacks of drywall, buckets of nails and stuff out back.
RD saw me pull up and came out with a grin as big as Texas on his face. “I’m flipping,” he said. “Just like you said. I’m going to fix this old shack up and make a whole crapload of money.”
“How…” I didn’t know where to start.
He laughed and wrapped his arm about my shoulders. “I spent a lot of time thinking about your scheme,” he said. “You hadn’t thought it through, of course. But it was a good start. First thing I needed was money, right?” He jerked a thumb toward his wrecker. “Problem solved. I talked them boys down at the bank into giving me a wad of cash, using the old bitch as collateral. Easy-peasy. I got it all worked out. I sell the house, pay back the bank, pay off Josh, and pocket the rest. Nothing to it.”
“He’s the solution to that other problem I had. You were right about me not knowing nothing about fixing up a house. But Josh knows everything. When he was in the pen, they had him doing almost all the maintenance. We worked out a deal where I pay him some up front and then the rest when the sale comes through. Six months and I’m home free.”
“Six months? It can take that long just to sell a house.”
“Not when I’m through with it. People will beat down my door to buy this little jewel.” He thumped me on the back, hard. “You worry too much.”
I looked at his piles of supplies and then around the neighborhood. Everything had a Dogpatch look to it. “You sure it’s okay, leaving all this out here like this?”
He stepped back and laughed. “See? That’s just what I’m talking about. Who the hell is going to steal lumber? Damn, man, you take all, you know that?”
* * *
“They stole my damned lumber!” First thing next morning, RD yelling at me on the phone. “Every damned piece of wood and all them nails too. Took it sometime last night. And I know who did it.”
I asked who.
“Them damned druggies across the street. They’re standing on the porch right now, having a good laugh. I’ll fix them.”
“Hang on, man,” I started. “Don’t do anything—” I was talking to a dial tone.
The next day I went to the house, half expecting to find him dead. He was there with Josh, the kid working away and RD—as alive as ever—strutting about, giving orders that were ignored. There was more lumber and stuff, but inside the house now.
When I asked RD what had happened the night before, he leaned against the back door and motioned with his thumb down the street at the meth house. Two tough types were on the porch, a short barrel of a Mexican and something taller, glowering in our direction. RD grinned big and worked his scraggly beard as if he were looking for something buried down there.
“Well,” he said, “I can’t prove they stole my lumber, but I figure that’s okay. You see, they can’t prove it was me that stole their car. Just like the old days.”
RD had run with some bounty hunters and a repossession agency in his younger days but gave it up when he learned it was a good way to wake up dead.
“It’s an improvement, if you ask me,” he said as he waved at the meth house. “They woke up this morning with a beautiful empty spot in their yard.” More grins. “They didn’t hear a damned thing.”
“Are you crazy? Those guys can be rough.”
“Like I said, they can’t prove it was me. Suspicions is all they got.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth. “We’ve got us an understanding now. We won’t have any more trouble.”
“Is the house okay? They might come back.”
“Josh will stay here from now on. Just to keep an eye on things. Turns out he needed somewhere to flop. Got kicked out of his apartment for some reason. Don’t know why, but it works out well for me.”
When I left, the two toughs were still standing on their porch. They watched me drive by. Señor taco barrel shot me the finger.
* * *
Things heated up from that point, even with Josh on site. The druggies tagged the house with graffiti and later broke most of the windows. RD slashed their tires and sent a fake 911 call that had the cops banging on their door in the middle of the night.
I couldn’t give it much thought, though, because Carolyn showed up at my door one night after walking out on her Mr. Worthless. I put her and the kids up for a while, but my duplex wasn’t big enough for me, much less big Sis and her five little ones. I was forced to find something for them and then began sliding toward the poorhouse by paying rent for the two of us.
Despite all the hullabaloo at home, I considered myself lucky to be out of RD’s sight. But good luck never lasts, of course.
“You need to come stay at the house with me tonight.” I was wrapping up my deliveries when he called.
“I thought the kid was staying there.”
“Yeah, he was. But he’s got something happening tonight.”
“How the hell would I know? I ain’t his daddy. Besides, he’s been acting strange lately. Between you and me, I think he’s getting back on the stuff again. I’m glad we’re about wrapped up here—”
“Wrapped up? No kidding?”
“No kidding. Don’t sound so surprised. Josh is a good worker—was a good worker—but his give-a-damn went south a few weeks ago. Maybe he just found himself a girl. Whatever. All I know is he ain’t going to be here tonight, so I need you instead.”
“I don’t know…”
“Don’t go getting pissy on me. Ain’t nothing to it. We just gotta keep the lights on and keep an eye on things. Nothing will happen, but a man’s got to sleep sometimes. You just spell me for a couple hours and wake me if you hear anything. Nothing to it.”
By the time I got there, I had talked myself out of it. Nobody ever mistook me for a hero. But I changed my mind when he opened the door. He looked like crap. I almost didn’t recognize him, worn on the edges, bags under his bloodshot eyes, and his head wobbling about like it was too heavy to hold up. Between working his business at all hours and helping Josh on the house, he hadn’t slept in days. I couldn’t walk out on him.
We camped out in the living room of the almost completed house. Everything looked great and I told him so.
“Sounds stupid,” he said. “But this makes me feel so good. Like I did something right for once. You know, for Momma.” He took a deep breath and looked about the room.
“I had some pretty good times here as a kid,” he continued. “It wasn’t perfect, but what is? And now some other kid’ll have good times here. That’s important. Houses should have kids. Lots of ’em.” He gave me a long look, the light glinting from his moist eyes as if they were two diamonds buried in the deep crags of his face. “I feel like I done a good thing.” He sighed with satisfaction.
He turned and clomped off. Over his shoulder he added, “Having a boatload of money will make it even better.”
* * *
Frenzied banging on the door woke me. Or maybe it was the roar of flames.
RD, sure enough, had fallen asleep not long after I’d finished my shift. The druggies snuck up to the back of the house, doused it with gasoline, and set it off. The cops had them staked out, after calls from the neighbors complaining about their shenanigans, and saw it all go down. They saved us and the house, at least kept the fire from spreading, but there was a lot of smoke and fire damage.
I felt that would about do it for RD, but no. He got a grim set to his jaw when I asked about it.
“I’m finishing this out. For once in my life, I’m going to do something right.”
When I asked how he would pay for it, seeing as he had already mortgaged everything to get this far, he gave me a “shut-up” look, so I shut up.
At that moment, I thought nothing would stop him from finishing that house. Funny, all it took was a letter.
* * *
I doubt RD understood half of what the lawyer said, legal mumbo-jumbo about Medicaid clawback provisions and how the great State of Texas wanted the eighty-three thousand dollars they paid out for his mother’s room and board back from his mother’s estate, that is, the house. RD waited him out, then asked one question.
“So any money I make by fixing up the house… what happens to that?”
“The state will expect to receive any and all proceeds from the sale of the house, up to eighty-three thousand dollars. Anything above that you can keep.” The lawyer paused, then asked a damned fool question. “Do you expect the house to realize more than eighty-three thousand dollars profit?”
* * *
I didn’t see RD for three or four years after that. Word had it he was on the road, somewhere out West, trucking. Eventually, though, he knocked on my door as I knew he would. I stood there in what used to be his family home before I bought it for a song at auction, expecting him to punch my lights out. We each waited for the other to say something, like we had done back at the Golden Dragon. Then he saw Carolyn over my shoulder and noticed the kids watching from the yard. He gave a short grunt, amused I think, and slowly nodded his head before walking away with a dismissive wave of his hand. Good enough.
Glynn Germany is a short story writer working from the high desert of Albuquerque. Recently retired, he has returned to a long-standing writing habit that refuses to die, despite his best efforts. His work has also appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine and Scarlet Leaf Review.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Good”:
Sometimes there’s no special thing we can point out regarding why we chose to publish a piece other than it’s simply a well-done and enjoyable story. That’s exactly what author Glynn Germany gave us—a good story with well-crafted characters and good dialogue. And the twist at the end made us smile.