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Red November PDF Print E-mail
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Red November
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by Mark Thoson

Charles’ dream began when Kate cranked on her bedroom window’s handle to let in the cool, Minnesota morning. She watched him, hoping he wouldn’t wake, and saw his eyes twitch beneath his closed lids. As she stole from the bedroom to the shower, she wondered if he would dream of her.

The images in Charles’ mind were not that appealing. They were burdensome old memories of Arkansas kinsfolk and a life he thought he had escaped:

As they were emptied, the tall, brown bottles formed a sloppy regiment on the kitchen table. Missing labels, like uniforms, used to give them dignity, but scratches and dings pocked the shoulders and barrels of the glass. Charles’ unsteady brothers jostled the troops to sister Suzy with what care their dulled senses allowed. She winced privately with each clink as they were handed to her. She slid the bottles down into the sudsy tub to soak. The resulting sound in the dim kitchen was a random syncopation of glass soldiers, soapy water folding over edges, bubbles gasping at the surface and a dark, low thud on the bottom of the tin wash basin.

The brothers stabbed pudgy fingers into two or three bottles and squeezed them together, transporting the offending clinks to Suzy over the wet linoleum. They each kept their other hand occupied with a bottle that still offered hoppy, cold foam. Each man paused to extract a hot drag from one of the twin cigars which leaned into a tuna can. The smoke was thick and a greasy fan made the room look like a slow-motion tornado. The smoke blurred the scene and the dim, gray light fell away.

Charles found the sounds of glass and water curious. They were both random and repetitive. He knew the sounds but couldn’t place them. He found himself anticipating each next clink or slosh, even though the pattern would not make itself clear. Presently, each sound began to amplify and clarify, so that they resembled something else. The sloshing water blended into the steady stream of a shower against plastic curtains. The spray, to his right, oscillated against something moving. The irregular clack was nearer and to Charles’ left. He looked for the sound among the bottles, but could no longer see that dim kitchen. Also from the left, the clacking was followed by a bright flash which quickly disappeared only to return after each tap. The light was brilliant, but red, then gone and Charles felt agitated at its intrusion. He strained to see what it was and slowly became aware that his eyes were closed.

With that realization, the shift from dream to waking passed like a bird flying overhead.

Awake, Charles remembered how frustrated he had been while living with his unemployed brothers. Each few weeks the bottles would again be refilled with the same home-brew. They were quickly emptied and dropped into the tub for cleaning. They all called it Tubby Beer. In those years, Charles had tried to get them to brew a marketable product, but the other three had no sense of business and were more interested in drinking than selling. When Charles left to pursue automotive work in Little Rock, the brothers brewed for cheap alcohol content. The brew was no longer prized for its taste, but it was tolerated for its price. Home-brew for these two prodigious drinkers was a necessity unless they wanted to work, which they didn’t. The brothers traded turns at saying, “Suzy makes enough for three anyway.” To which the other always replied, “Damn straight.”