Willy Mann's Uncle's House
"It is a place where one's instinct is to give a reason for being there."
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Hotel Child"
The lot of us recently had ventured just beyond that age at which boys learn how to kiss and fondle girls in the back seats and truck beds of remotely parked vehicles while also waxing prodigious in their capacities to render mischief falling on the wrong side of the law. That we found ourselves on that particular Friday night speeding down dark country roads in a Chevy Blazer which sent up cascading fountains of gravel whenever it slid to a stop so that one or two of us might disembark at a dead sprint, bent upon swiping a Christmas lawn ornament or two from someone's yard, constitutes perhaps as sorry a delinquent pastime as ever there was. True, it was not so violent nor federally prosecutable as, say, blowing up mailboxes with dynamite or demolishing them with aluminum bats or cinder blocks flung, drive-by style, from a window or truck bed; nor was it so tame as the more nuanced and, dare I say, graceful (even at times intellectual) art of shoplifting. It must, I reckon, have resided someplace in between.
"I'm so drunk," complained Guy, the driver of the Blazer, which—I have neglected to recount thus far—was given to weave as well as speed along those narrow familiar dirt back roads of our beloved country county.
"Where'd my gloves go?" angrily demanded Brent, the boy riding shotgun, his query apparently aimed at no one in particular and ignoring entirely Guy's lament, probably on account of the fact he was equally drunk.
I watched the erratic jolting and jerking of the backs of their heads—the byproduct of unrelenting torque, poor roads, bad shocks, and equally bad liquor—from my place behind them.
"Gloves or not, here's the last stop," slurred Guy, mashing the brakes so that we slid to a stop yard's edge—a little into the ditch, in fact—of a long brick ranch house horrendously decorated, flooded and mired by the season's yuletide, its rectangular form outlined, bound, by a sea of blinking, multi-colored orbs.
"Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" screamed Guy into Brent's ear like a Sergeant Airborne directing a jump in a combat zone.
And, door flung open, go Brent did, stumbling out onto the frigid slippery grass, then losing his footing and falling to a knee in the ditch, before rising with an oath and sprinting toward the elaborate manger scene perhaps thirty yards distant in the center of the yard—scores of plastic desert people, robes ostensibly meant to appear soiled by the Khamaseen dust winds of Arabia; elaborate two-storey manger diademed by a bright flashing purple Christmas tree; and most all the animals of Noah's Ark milling about below it in various three-dimensional still lifes of locomotion or repose—all of it illuminated in a bright spectacular criss-cross of spotlights no doubt employed for very different purposes during deer seasons of Christmas's past.
On ran Brent, bowling over a zebra and striking a glancing blow to an antelope as he approached, not unlike the manner in which he had flattened and shed would-be tacklers during football season, before ducking into the bright manger aperture and lifting from the raised golden crib—really more a diminutive gaudy throne than a crib—the likeness of that peculiar infant folks even now tend to get mighty worked up about, especially in remote counties such as ours, during that particular time of year.
Casey Clabough is the author of the travel memoir The Warrior's Path: Reflections Along an Ancient Route as well as four scholarly books about contemporary writers. He serves as editor of the literature section of Encyclopedia Virginia and as general editor of the James Dickey Review. His first novel, Confederado, will appear in 2012, as will his fifth scholarly book, Inhabiting Contemporary Southern & Appalachian Literature: Region & Place in the 21st Century.