A Day in the Life

Louis Bourgeois

You are old enough to speak and feel but you have no real thoughts and you can’t believe how annoyed you become when your stepfather watches The Lone Ranger and The Three Stooges with the television at top volume at 5:30 in the morning before he goes to work where he welds all day long on black-hulled ships from around the world.

Your mother goes to work too, she does something at the State Department and you’re an only child and school is out for the summer and you have to spend your days alone and your nights hidden because your mother and stepfather are doing the unspeakable in the dark and when the lights come back on all they do is watch television; Quincy, Bonanza, and Charlie’s Angels, mostly—or, it’s Sunday again, and no one but you attends Mass even though St. Genevieve’s is only at the end of the road, and when you walk back home all they do is watch the Saints lose another game once again in the Superdome.

But it’s mostly the weekdays that are torturous. You’re not quite old enough to be truly turned on by your stepfather’s Playboy collection but you thumb through them anyway because you know it’s something you’re not supposed to be doing. Even at the age of eight, you are genuinely startled that the pages of Playboy actually smell like the nude women on the page. You also notice how your stepfather’s sacks of gunpowder, which he uses to reload his shotgun shells, are as intoxicating as the scent of the slick pages of Playboy. Then you rush from the room because you feel like someone is watching you, even though you know that no one could be watching you, but already Catholicism has damaged you forever.

You are a strange child of course, but what child growing up in the 1970s in a working class household is not strange? But you especially; for the school’s test reveals that you are somewhere right in the middle of precocity and stupidity—you read on a high school level but your analytical skills border on retardation.

You find strange ways to destroy the time between the moments of solitude and the visits by your parents—you kill honeybees with your feet; you smash them until they can’t so much as flicker a single dying wing. You gather a handful of them, and crawl under the enormous white wooden house that your mother rented ever since she left your father two years ago because Father was a wife beater, although not a child beater, and you are conflicted, somehow arrogant, because he never beat you, only mother. You are under the house and the cool mud-packed earth feels good on your skin. You bury the bees with all the rest of the bees you’ve killed during the summer—pushed a twig in the dirt for each bee grave you’ve dug. Perhaps this is the world’s only Bee Cemetery, since you’ve made sure the graves are neatly arranged in rows of six under the wonderfully spacious house, just down the street from Bayou St. Genevieve. You tell no one about the Bee Cemetery, because you somehow know this is a ludicrous thing to do even for a child, but you keep killing them just the same.

You spend hours on the bayou watching many things that eventually bore you and so you turn and go home but before you get to the gate of the huge chain-linked yard, you walk to where there’s thick brush and tall pines, where there is a pit of trash; some of the trash is very old, going back to the 1940s. At the pit, you break ancient bottles of Dixie Beer, Nehi root beer, and Milk of Magnesia bottles by the dozen. You feel guilty about what you are doing, but you do it just the same because you love the sound of busted glass, there is nothing better than breaking old bottles, even if the bottles are so old that they’re sacred; a car pulls up the shell laden drive near the dump, you think of the naked women and of the smells of the pages of Playboy and of gunpowder and you’ll think about it later on tonight when they’ll go to bed and the strange sounds will come from the walls again, like they do almost every night, and then the long silence before the sounds start up again; you think how magnificent it’s going to be when you climb out of your window and escape into the grassy yard where you’ll jump ten feet in the air and run faster than any animal on earth under the heavy moonlight.

1978

Author Portrait

Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, a 505 (c) 3 arts organization located in Oxford, Mississippi. His Collected Works is due out by Xenos Press in 2015.