Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Justin Booth, whose non-fiction piece appears below, is something of a rising star in the the small literary world of Central Arkansas. Raised in Northeast Arkansas, Booth is a veteran of the U.S. Army who worked as a bricklayer, rode with a motorcycle gang, and did time in prison before falling into heroin addiction that eventually left him homeless on the streets of Little Rock for more than five years. In all that time, writing was his salvation and what carried him through. Since the publication of his first poetry chapbook, "Hookers, Ex-Wives and Other Lovers," in 2012, he has found a job and a home, left the streets, and has seen his work published in magazines and anthologies both in the U.S. and abroad. His new book of poetry, "Trailer Park Troubadour," was published in November, and is available at local booksellers and Amazon.com. Booth lives and works in Little Rock. The following story is part of a planned memoir about his life.
Cletus had called earlier and told us that he was getting a new car, something he had spotted in the paper and badgered his mother into buying for him. He'd always been able to get his way with her but now that he was dying, she didn't have a chance. On the way to Walmart with my wife Melanie and our three kids, I stopped by to give it a look. We parked in the street out in front of his place, and Cletus was out the screen door before we could even get out of the car.
"She's a good looking ride," I said.
"What is it?" my wife asked. She already knew, but afforded him the opportunity to say. She stood in as a woman he could brag to — a feminine ear to listen to his woes. By those days, he had only the ghost of a woman and her memory haunted his mind. He flirted shamelessly with my wife in front of me. We all knew that it was totally harmless, and that he might be dead soon.
"That there is a 19 and 77 Olds Cutlass Supreme," he said, "just like the one I had back just after high school."
He carried a plastic tumbler filled with coffee in his good hand, the other — the one curled eternal by a teen-age accident — held a Marlboro 100, ash two inches long but holding on as if by some stubborn mojo learned from Clete himself.
I could count, if I tried, the number of times I had seen him without these two things, caffeine in one hand and nicotine in the other. He had given up booze and methamphetamine before I met him, and these took their place.
The car was a sort of cross between silver and grey, the color of impending storms, and looked as if it might lurch forward at any moment of its own volition. The lines of it reminded me of some great African cat that was able to project great speed and power while sitting completely still.
"She's got a 350 Rocket V8 and three speed Hydro-matic transmission." He looked over at me and added, "You know, they actually made these with a stick."
He wore a rare smile, he had been heartbroken a decade since his wife left him, maybe even a little before. She was still his favorite topic of conversation unless some grand event, like the purchase of this car, took place and took his mind from her for a moment. I was as close to him as anyone in the world. I was a bricklayer then and, on days that rain made the work I did impossible, I would ride with him to some spot or other across the state for dialysis. His temper had gotten the best of him in our hometown of Jonesboro and he was no longer allowed treatment at the local hospital. He had also been removed from "the list." He would get no kidney unless someone he knew ponied one up. I had already started the tedious process of finding out if mine were suitable. Initial tests looked promising. If things continued to go well, and I prayed they would, I would have to quit shooting smack.