Unaccustomed Mercy by DB Cox

 

 

A crumbling house hugs the side of a junkyard fence. A single lamp-lit window tools a hole through the middle of a Mississippi night. An old man sits alone at a kitchen table, bent over a cheap guitar. Spent ashes fall from a neglected cigarette jammed between metal strings where they run over the headstock. Open chords stumble & stagger behind jagged bottleneck riffs—a driving blues. His left boot pounds the wooden floor like a hammer as he sings in high lonesome moans…

Thought it was a nightmare,
Lord, it’s all so true.
They told me, “Don’t go walkin’ slow,
‘Cause Devil’s on the loose.”

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Whoa, don’t look back to see….

Outside the window, on the other side of a chain-link fence, a midnight mockingbird rests on the rusty frame of a 1964 Mustang and sings along with this resident composer of twelve-bar concertos—small truths concerning drinking, rambling, gambling, and the devil.

A Vietnam veteran, an unknown blues man, lost in waves of cheap whiskey, washed up on this island of broken things—a castaway locked in the sweet release of addiction, a prisoner standing on his own chain.

Luther Whiteside stops playing, grabs a fifth of Kentucky Deluxe from the table, and takes a swallow.

Years ago, he traveled all across Mississippi and into Louisiana playing juke joints and roadhouses. Now, he plays for tips outside the Coffeeville  Greyhound station—too stoned to peel his back from the wall, singing his own secret sorrow into the concrete—broken lines caught between cracks in the sidewalk.

Lately Luther stays at home—behind locked doors. He sits. He drinks. He plays guitar. He stares out the window—mind floating, disconnected in time and space. To keep from disappearing, he sings to himself…

Over on the mountain,
Thunder magic spoke,
“Let the people know my wisdom,
Fill the land with smoke.”

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Whoa, don’t look back to see…

He is scared, afraid of the things that go on outside his door. He used to have a television set. After dinner, he’d watch the 6 o’clock news. Then the stories started to terrify him, so he heaved the TV over the fence into the junkyard. Not knowing makes him feel safer.

_____

 

Thunder rolls in the distance. Luther, guitar case in hand, moves along the shoulder of a two-lane blacktop, headed for town. He hasn’t had a drink in two days. He needs one bad.

Someone is coming up the road from behind. He turns and sees a red pickup truck. The driver seems to be slowing down. Maybe today, he’ll get lucky and catch a ride into Coffeyville—a little unaccustomed mercy.

The truck comes alongside where he’s standing. Someone rolls down the passenger-side window and fires one shot. Luther is hit. As the truck moves away, someone shouts “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

The bullet passes through the left side of Luther’s chest. He drops straight down to a sitting position, then slowly lays back into the wet grass. There’s something about that word, “America,” that echoes in his brain. Something from way back in grade school. He slides the palm of his right hand over to the left side of his bloody chest. What was it? The whole class repeated it every morning. He tries to remember, but can only recall the last line… “with liberty and justice for all.”

As he stares up through the rain, he is startled by the breathtaking splendor of a multi-fingered lightning bolt. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Luther Whiteside weeps.

The thunder speaks. Luther slowly closes his eyes.

“Don’t look back to see…”       

 

_____

 

*Song “Run Through the Jungle”—lyrics by John Fogerty

 

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5 Responses to “Unaccustomed Mercy by DB Cox”

  1. Damn fine!!!

  2. Thanks S.A. –long time, no see. Nice to know you’re still around.

    DB

  3. Really great piece. Yeah man, I’m still here. Too old and weird to go just yet.

  4. Carter Monroe Says:

    Superb writing as always.

  5. Happy New Year Mr. Monroe.

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