“Who are you, and why have you come to take me to hell?”

“It’s me, Pete. Don’t you know where you are or who I am?”

“St. Peter, you say, then give me a blessing.” I bowed my head and raised my palms. The Angel of the Lord began to laugh; I suppose to ridicule my sins.

Recognizing some of the passage of ground and bush and telephone poles, I began to waver on my conviction. St. Peter eventually slowed the beast, halting it in front of a vaguely familiar white abode. He blew the horn and I refluxed, knowing if he blew it seven times we would witness the collapse of the walls of such a fine structure. I had read somewhere that this was truth.

A winsome maiden appeared, adorned in calico and a sorrowful scowl. “Where’d you find him, Pete?”

I turned to her and whispered furtively, “Be more respectful, this is SAINT Peter.”

My eyes were shielded with my left hand, protecting my face from the blaze of heavenly glory.

“Found him down by the old Dalton place. From the looks, he really tied one on this time.”

“Yeah, he’s been gone for two days. I figured he wouldn’t be far and would come back when his money and liquor ran out.”

The maiden pulled on the arm of the metal beast and it squealed in protest as she ripped it open. “Come on, Daddy. Let’s get you in the house and cleaned up.” St. Peter aided her, and together they guided me into the bowels of Jericho. “Thank you, thank you Jesus. Thank you Abraham, Martin, and John.” From somewhere in the back of my mind, the music came back, and I began to laugh and sway with the vixen. It was the sixties again and the world was right.

She laughed and he laughed, and I was soon dispatched to a room that smelled of cleanliness and Old Spice. My eyes flew out again to orbit this ceiling, leaving me to weave dangerously, but, finding nothing, quickly returned before I could fall. “Okay, Daddy, just stand here and let me get these nasty clothes off you.”

“You’ll be alright then?” I heard St. Peter depart, and I again warned my lass to not look him straight in the face.

More laughter. “I’ll be fine. He does this every time he finishes a book and worries he’ll never be able to write another one.”

My jacket was first as she began to remove my clothes, then the shirt and undershirt, and after she laid me gently upon the bed, my shoes, socks, and trousers. I grabbed the hand reaching for my last remnant. “I warn you, madam, I have no cash with which to pay you.” She was not gentle again.

After being prodded and shoved like an unruly steer, she tried to drown me. The water filled my face, ears and mouth and I screamed for forgiveness. Nevertheless, it would not stop, and my greatest fear came to be. I started to get sober. Realizing a mere child was cleansing me, I protested again, reassuring her I was fully capable of washing my own balls.

I stood until the water ran cold, and then stood some more. “I think I am logged sufficiently now,” I begged.

The maiden returned to assisted me from the waterfall. She shoved a towel in my face. “Yell when you’re done. There’s clean clothes on your bed.”

“Thank you, my dear.” I rubbed until the skin was blood red, and when I had completed donning the non-puke-stained, non pissed-in clothes, I emerged from my catacomb, the resurrection complete.

“Well you look and smell better.” The fair maiden had miraculously transformed as my daughter, Genevieve.

“I shall accept that as an apology for such treatment.”

“Apology! Daddy, you’re going to wander off like that one of these days and the crows will be picking your eyes before anybody finds you. You’ve either got to quit writing or quit drinking.”

“And I shall, as soon as I no longer have such an angel as you to care for me. Speaking of which, is there makings of a sandwich about?”

Genevieve went in a huff to the refrigerator and began to dabble amid jars of Miller Lights, and old pickles, at last finding some roast beef and cheese. She secured mayonnaise and bread before realizing the cheese had sprouted mold on the edges. “You want that with mold or without?”

“With, of course, it contains penicillin which my body will dearly need in just a few hours.” I recovered a wooden chair and sat, a sorry-eyed dog waiting for a biscuit.

The sandwich, wrapped in a paper towel, landed in front of me.

“Could I beg a bottle of beer with which to wash down this scrumptious offering?”

She ran water in a glass cooled by the ice in her gaze. “I don’t dare to see you with a beer in your hand.”

I consumed in silence. My thoughts turned to the waiting devil. It was there, scheming, wordlessly planning my demise, a monster determined to draw me to the bowels of holy hell. Only my fingers were sufficient to conquer it. “God curse you,” I thought.

“Let me be free to walk in the beauty just beyond the door, to feel, without feeling that I have to come back to you. I want to be unleashed, the cord slashed by the jagged edge of a dangling participle.” I began to cry, knowing I could not.

“Daddy, are you okay?” The voice had gone from condemnation to concern. “I’m sorry, but you make me crazy when you go off like that.”

I shook my head to match the snubs that came. “I love you, Jenny. If not for you, I would end this madness. For your sake, please go away from here and find your life, because this is not it, I assure you.”

“You know I love you too much to do that, Daddy. You can be a maddening, crazy man, but I’m glad you’re my father.” She hugged me, squeezing tight and kissing my ear as she would a child; the reversal of roles tasted bitter in my sober reality.

Pulling me to my feet, Jenny led me to the shaded front porch, and the rocker I loved. “Just sit here and enjoy the day and take a nap.” She went inside.

I looked at the sky. White clouds appeared as lumpy piles of mashed potatoes dropped on an upside down blue plate, a dollop here, a dollop there. I thought about my life and how lucky I was to have seen the things I had seen, the people I had met, the women I had loved, the one woman I had loved who didn’t love back.

Through it all, Jenny had stayed with me, my protector, my agent, my sounding board, all things I was not capable of being myself. The awards and the accolades were mostly a tribute to her persistence; putting what mediocre words I managed to produce in front of people who cared about such things. For myself, I would gladly write until I die, then let the vultures eat their fill. Without her, I was not even a has-been. I closed my eyes, allowing a cooling breeze from the sycamores and birch to wrap their arms around my body, whispering utterances of tranquility in my ear. In a while, I rocked forward and got to my feet. The beast was waiting to be cast into the thralls of cursing, hurting, agony and ecstasy, liking its mating rough, and I was the only one who could give it satisfaction. I approached, sniffing its mood, like a bull elephant in musth. Sensing no malice at the moment, I sat down and flipped on the power. The empty page stared back at me. I began: Chapter One

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