Bowl of Chili


“Elgin, Joe, El, and I were enjoying a bowl of chili. Sure, there were a couple of cases of beer in the fridge. Joe and El had just gotten back from Viet Nam. Elgin was an older man. It was a frosty night. The rickety old trailer house wobbled occasionally as short blasts of cold winds slammed into the north side of the simple home.

In the kitchen, Elgin was laughing and bragging about his secret recipe for chili, which was nothing more than the right amount of cans of Van Camps beans. I was barely sixteen at the time and the women, hanging out in the front room, were teasing everyone. Yea, they were too old for me, but they were sexy.

A GMC pickup truck and a Bonneville rumbled up the driveway – lights out. One of the girls peeked out the window and saw the vehicles as they stopped next to the trailer. After idling for a bit, the engines were cut and five guys got out of the smoky cars. Another woman, eyes set determined, grabbed my arm and said, “Get the hell out of here.” She ran down the hallway practically dragging me along. She shoved me into the bedroom closet and said, “Sit down there and be quiet.” She covered me with blankets, curtains, dirty clothes and baby stained bedding.

“Sit down there and don’t move – don’t say anything,” she said. She shut the closet door and just then I heard the front door slam open with a loud crash. The uninvited guys had kicked the door off the hinges and strode into the trailer each of them carrying guns and whisky. The women were screaming and crying and pleading with the intruders to leave – but they wouldn’t leave. I heard furniture and glass breaking. I heard more fighting and I heard people talking – I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then it got really quiet. The intruders took the beer and threw the chairs and dishes out the front door. I heard gunshots. The GMC fired up and roared off into the night. I could hear one of the women running down the hallway – she opened the closet door and whispered, “Get out of here – they’ll be back.” There were more gunshots outside. I climbed out the bedroom window and as I walked away, I looked into the front room and saw Elgin kneeling down with a rifle pointed at the back of his head. Elgin was crying. I walked off into the dark leaving my jacket behind and made my way home in the winter night.

This was my belated sixteenth birthday party – I’ve never had another birthday party since then. Elgin lived, but he was never the same.”

(Excerpt from an unpublished interview).© 2015


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