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Fiction

Gone With Wind
By Fred Bonnie

It was Lincoln Webster's 52nd birthday, and almost everyone who lived at the Hacienda Apartments was at Link's place, which was a one-room cellar apartment around at the back of the beige, fake-Spanish building, the best Link could afford on disability.
art
The cement floor was covered with several thin, treadbare rugs that various neighbors had found discarded on the sidewalk for the trash collectors to pick up. The light-green stucco walls displayed Link's parade of taped-up cut-outs from various girlie magazines. The pin-ups were blotted and crinkled with water damage from the fire the week before, and the black odor of smoke clung to the walls and scatter rugs, mixing with the smell of fresh paint that Landlord Larry had slapped on the floor and ceiling as well as the walls as soon as the insurance people had finished making their photos. The odors didn't bother Link; he claimed he hadn't been able to smell anything since the Korean War, 32 years earlier.

    He'd been in Birmingham about three years, and had lived at The Hacienda almost the entire time--when he wasn't in and out of the VA detox program. He insisted that he was named after the car, not that friggin' war criminal who sent the generals to burn down as much of the South as they could.

    "Besides," Link liked to tell Southerners, "my people all took off to Canada when the Civil War broke out."

    His greasy, graying hair hung to his shoulders, and wisps stuck out at sharp angles above his ears. In his thick-lensed glasses and his still-black, moustache-less beard, he indeed looked a bit like Abraham Lincoln — a cross between Lincoln and a big-eyed tropical fish staring from an aquarium. Although everyone at Hacienda agreed that Link was basically a garden-variety drunk, they also agreed that there was something that made people want to help him.

    It was a Friday afternoon, and everybody was at Link's except Jonas. Nobody in the building liked Jonas, so no one told him they were going to party at Link's. Jonas was fat and dark-skinned and always wore a quizzical smile that made people nervous.

    As OD, who was temporarily staying at Link's, put it, you just never knew what the bastard was thinking.

    OD was 6-foot-6 and weighed 300 pounds. His crown was bald, and the curly hair around the sides of his head — plus his tiny wire-rimmed glasses — made him look like something out of the 19th century.

    Link could only get around in a wheelchair; he hadn't walked, even on crutches, for more than a year. He'd spent most of the past three years sitting in his apartment, drinking by himself, rehashing his life of injustices and loudly cursing the world until OD had moved in. OD took Link out for a drive outside the city every Sunday and took him out to the bars every Friday night. OD and Link had met when OD lived in one of the apartments upstairs with Bobbi, but after Bobbi threw him out, OD began hanging out at Link's and using Link's apartment as a base from which to harrass Bobbi until she found another place to live. Link's place was too small for two people, but OD worked Sunday through Thursday nights as a meat cutter for a grocery store chain and slept on Link's couch all day. It worked out fine as far as Link was concerned; OD got free housing, and Link didn't have to live alone anymore. The only problem was that the landlord was after OD for breaking the lease he and Bobbi had signed, and OD had to play scarce whenever Landlord Larry came around, which was often.

    The situation with the landlord was the main reason OD didn't like Jonas. Jonas, OD was sure, called Landlord Larry to let him know whenever OD was around. Everyone else in the building disliked Jonas for being Landlord Larry's stool-pigeon. So when Jonas showed up on Link's birthday, the room fell to silence. Even the stereo, which had been booming a Merle Haggard song, went dead as the tape came to an end at about the same moment that Jonas appeared.

    "Looks like a party," Jonas said with his small, weird smile. He leaned against the door frame in his smudged mechanic's overalls but did not come in.

    "Don't let it fool you," Doris said. Doris lived in the apartment across the hall from Jonas. She was tall and red-headed and was in nursing school at the university. She had told Link and OD that she was sure it was Jonas who had told Landlord Larry about her cat. Pets were not allowed at The Hacienda.

    "Goddam right it's a party," Link hollered from the couch, where OD had set him. When Link was drunk, he hollered every sentence. "My 52nd birthday!"

    OD was the only one who didn't block his ears when Link hollered. "It's not a party," OD said. "It's a meeting. Cost you 50 bucks to join the club. And that's just to apply. Don't mean we'll let you in."

    Jonas reached for his wallet, thumbed through a wad of 20s, and slapped the wallet shut. "I got the money but I'm not sure I want to join the club."

    OD and Doris might not have been happy to see Jonas at the door, but Link didn't mind. He was glad to see anyone who showed up. It was his birthday and he was drunk. Even with his vision blurred, he could see the stubble on Jonas' grease-smeared face.

    "You need to give up on that shaving cream and try napalm," Link shouted. He saw right away by the general silence that he was not supposed to be friendly toward Jonas. Link looked from OD to Doris to Evelyn, who was OD's date. Evelyn was also Doris' classmate at nursing school and lived in the building. She was short and stout, with hair cut short in some places, left long in others. Her jaw sat atop her neck like an iron. She'd been a secretary for 10 ten years before she had quit her job to go back to school. Now Evelyn felt older and wiser than just about everyone, including Link and OD.

    "Just exactly what in the hell are you doing here?" Evelyn asked Jonas.

    "Just come to say hello." Jonas pulled a can of beer from the paper sack he carried and handed it toward her.

    "I just can't picture taking anything from you, Jonas. Least of all anything I was planning to put near my mouth."

    Jonas felt his little grin turn on. "How come you always try to insult me?".

    "I guess you just bring out the worst side of me."

    Link noticed Jonas' beer bag, drained the can in his hand, and burped loud and long.

    "I'll take one of those;" Link hollered. "It's my birthday. I'm 52 goddam years old, and I only weigh 120."

    Jonas crossed the floor to hand Link a beer, then stationed himself again in the doorway. "Happy birthday," he said, raising his can and smiling his dark smile.

    "Thank you, Jonas. This ain't my brand, but I'll drink it anyway." Only Jonas laughed. The others silently watched Link drain the new can.

    "I heard y'all were thinking about going out for something to eat," Jonas said.

    "Where'd you hear that?" OD roared.

    "I was leaning out my window a minute ago and heard you talking about it."

    "Damn!" OD bellowed. "If there's anything I hate it's a thief, a liar and a fuckin' eavesdropper! I might just hate a eavesdropper worst of all."

    OD stared at Jonas for a moment, then went to the stereo to put on a new tape. The attention shifted back to Link, who was opening his presents. Evelyn had given him some handkerchiefs.

    "I know you get a lot of colds," she said. "I thought maybe you'd need these."

    "Yeah," OD howled. "You ever see one of this guy's handkerchiefs? You have to beat it with a club to get it into the washing machine."

    In the ensuing laughter, which went on for several moments as OD acted out the pummeling of one of Link's handkerchiefs into submission, Jonas moved closer to Chad, who stood against the refrigerator.

    "Where y'all gonna go eat?"

    "I don't know, Jonas. You'll have to ask OD or Doris or somebody."

    Chad stepped away, leaving Jonas alone. Jonas leaned against Link's kitchen counter and watched as OD turned the stereo way up and started dancing by himself. His massive feet shook the windows.

    "Go man!" Link shouted.

    More people arrived from upstairs — Edgar, the law student, and his roommate, Rawlins. They both had girls with them. Link began hollering again, and OD turned the stereo even higher.

    "So are we going out for something to eat?" Edgar hollered to no one in particular.

    "We haven't decided," Doris said, nodding slightly toward Jonas. When Edgar and his people saw Jonas, they nodded, too.

    Jonas edged toward Link, who was unwrapping two cassette tapes. Link held one tape at arm's length, then brought it closer to his face, then held it a couple of feet away, shaking his head in frustration. Finally he handed it to Jonas.

    "What the hell is this tape?"

    "Willie Nelson," Jonas said. "Where do you think you're going to eat?"

    Link fidgeted, and Jonas knew he would lie. "I dunno. Ask OD."

    "You gonna tell OD about the other night?" Jonas asked.

    Link's eyes picked up a different tape from his lap. "What's this one?"

    "You gonna tell them about the other night? Especially OD"

    "Jesus, Jonas . . .it'd kill OD to know what you did."

    "Good."

    The skin on Link's face seemed to sag with his pain. "Don't push it, Jonas. I'll tell him one of these days."

    "I think he needs to know it today."

    Link reached for Jonas' hand and looked as if he might cry. "It's my birthday, man . . .don't make it hard for me."

    Jonas yanked free from Link's hearty grasp and lightly brushed the freed hand through Link's hair. Doris had come up beside him to hand Link another present.

    "Mind if I come with you guys?" Jonas asked her. "You'll have to ask Link," she said. "It's his party."

    "Hell it is. OD's party."

    "Why would you want to go when you know nobody here can stand you?" she asked, finally looking at him.

    "I'm kind of conducting a poll."

    "What, to see how many people in one room can't stand you?"

    "Yeah. Something like that. And to see what else I can do to piss everybody off." Jonas smiled. "You got pretty hair, though; I'll give you that. I like how it goes every whichaway."

    Doris shuddered and backed away. "I don't want you giving me nothing."

    "So, can I come or not?"

    Doris shrugged. "Do I look like a travel agent? Ask Link."

    But Link was busy. The waitress had come in with more beers, and Link watched her long, quick fingers pass the bottles around the table.

    "It's my birthday," Link said, smiling up at her.

    "Happy birthday, sweetheart," the waitress said. She was tall and thin and had bleached streaks in her long, black hair. She wore a bikini top with hotpants and fishnet stockings and red spike heels. She came around to Link's side of the table and kissed him fully on the lips.

    "All right," OD shouted. "Get it on!"

    Everyone at the table laughed and clapped, and Link's face flushed deep red as the waitress kissed him again, pressing a breast against his shoulder a moment before she gathered the empty bottles and scurried away.

    Link wore his biggest smile of the night. "She's byooooo-tiful, man..."

    "Link, can I come with you guys?" Jonas asked.

    Link squirmed and glanced toward OD. "I dunno . . .ask OD."

    "Don't give me that crap," OD yelled. "Why does he have to ask me?"

    "Well. . ." Link looked from face to face, then took a swig of his beer.

    "How about it, OD?" Jonas asked.

    "You gonna put it on me anyway?" OD said to Link. He turned in his chair and faced Jonas. "In that case . . .no. You can't come with us. Okay?"

    "Oh hell," Link said. "Let him come."

    OD's voice exploded. "Then why in hell are you telling him to ask me?"

    "Because the whole thing was your idea," Link yelled back.

    "I think we should take a vote," Doris said. "My vote is no. Not after he turned my cat in to Landlord Larry. And I had to have the damn thing put away. Thirty bucks-plus lose my little cat."

    No one else voted. The silence lasted only a moment, then a new song started, and Link looked at the stereo speakers and smiled. "That's my song," he bellowed. "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, with Mr. Sinatra on the chords. Sing it, baby."

    OD and Evelyn started dancing and whooping again.

    Jonas leaned against the opposite door frame and watched everyone. He finished his beer and stuffed the empty can in his sack. Then he set the sack on the counter and backed out the door. He needed to use the bathroom, and the only place he knew he'd feel comfortable was in his own apartment.

*****


    Link and OD and the crowd had been at The Corral over an hour when Jonas showed up. The Corral was one of the few places other than the chains where you could get food all night, and the specialty was ribs, either beef or pork. The restaurant was a hodgepodge of rooms that had been added onto the main part of the place, which was a 90-seat dining room. The paneled walls were covered with Bear Bryant and Shug Jordan posters. Jonas assumed that Link's crowd would be in the back room, which OD liked to call his own. He'd even autographed one wall with three-foot-high strokes of a paintbrush.

    Jonas approached the door of the room but did not immediately come in.

    OD was the first to spot Jonas and whispered, "Who the hell told him we were coming here?"

    "Not I," Doris said.

    "Don't look at me," said Evelyn.

    "Must have been you."

    OD grimaced and held his stomach. "I wouldn't tell Jonas Dillard where to find the nearest hydrant if he needed to piss."

    "Hey you guys," Jonas said. No one looked at him or spoke to him. "I guess I missed the bus when y'all left."

    The chatter had died the moment Jonas walked in.

    "Some people just don't know when they're not invited," OD said. "Personally, I can't stand that in people. When I want to have someone come somewhere with me, I tell them so. If I don't want them, I don't say nothing."Jonas stared around the long table, waiting for someone to look at him just for a second. Link was the one who finally looked up. Jonas could see that Link was between the old rock and the hard place, wanting to let Jonas join them but afraid he'd irritate the others if he did.

    "Saw your sign on your door," Jonas said. "Gone with wind. Be back Soon. Cute. But it shoulda said, Gone with windbag."

    Jonas shook his head. "Don't you think I figured out a long time ago that particular sign means The Corral?"

    OD raised his finger toward Jonas and cocked his head to the side. "Have I ever told you that that smile of yours and the way you shake your head like you smarter than everybody else gets up my ass? Sideways?"

    OD and Jonas continued to stare at each other and finally OD looked at his ribs, picked one up in a way that Jonas thought almost delicate, and started gnawing again.

    "Are you going to sit down?" Link asked. He had only beer bottles on the table in front of him, no food.

    "I don't think so."

    "Good," OD said without looking up.

    "Jonas is my friend," Link said absently, quietly. . .

    "You're drunk," OD said. "Most of the time you enjoy running Jonas down just as much as the rest of us do."

    "Well, I'm moving out," Jonas said. "You can run me down all you want to after I leave. At least I won't have to listen. Not that it ever bothered me the damnedest bit, considering the source."

    "If you wouldn't eavesdrop, you wouldn't have to hear it."

    Jonas picked up an empty chair near the door and carried it toward Link's end of the table. "Maybe I will sit down a minute after all. If I can sit next to the guest of honor here . . .happy birthday, Link."

    Link looked at him suspiciously, as if he knew exactly why Jonas wanted to sit so close to him. Jonas set his chair close enough to touch Link's. He sat down and leaned to whisper in Link's ear.

    "Sorry you weren't willing to tell them about how I dragged you and OD out of the apartment and called the fire department before the whole place went up."

    Link didn't whisper, he only muttered. "Jonas . . .goddam it!"

    "Uh oh, it's tell me a secret time," OD said, leaning an inch closer to the whispering.

    "I don't mind saving your life," Jonas went on into Link's ear. "I just wanted that fat fuck beside you to know he owes me for saving his."

    Link sat back in his chair and looked for a long moment at Jonas. "What the hell difference does it make?"

    "It makes a big difference." But even as he said it, Jonas saw that Link was right; the whole thing made no difference whatsoever. It was one of Link's famous moments of inebriated lucidity. He could hardly hold his head up.

    Jonas sighed. "So what does he think happened?"

    "The firemen dragged him out."

    Jonas shook his head at Link and felt his smile spread almost painfully. When he spoke again, he didn't bother to whisper.

    "I guess that makes sense. Makes perfect sense. Anybody would think that."

    Now it was Link who whispered. "He thinks it because that's what I told him."

    Jonas tried to make his smile relax before he got a cramp in his facial muscles. As he glanced around the table, he was pleased to see the others talking about the ribs and the baked beans and the waitress's bad hair-streaking job instead of sneering their silence his way. He stood up and held his hand toward Link.

    "Anyway . . .take care of yourself. Don't be cooking any more bacon fat when you're too drunk to pay attention. And the only other person in the room is out cold."

    Link grabbed the hand, a little too earnestly, as always, and pumped it slowly up and down as he listened to Jonas.

    "And use them new handkerchiefs instead of just blowing your nose in the sink," Jonas said. He laughed, yanked his hand away, and tousled Link's hair. "And don't forget to say your prayers!"

    The silence descended once again as they watched Jonas leave. Link weaned in his chair, studying the bottle in his hand.

    "Thank God he's gone," Doris said, turning her eyes toward the ceiling.

    "Amen," said Chad.

    Link looked up from his bottle toward the wavering faces seated around the table.

    "Jonas wasn't a bad guy," Link droned. "He was the only one in that whole building that came downstairs and helped me move in."

    "He was a pain in the ass," OD said with a single tap of his bottle against the table. "And a snake, and a liar, and a filthy, smelly smutch."

    Link suddenly swarmed with hatred for OD. He studied his friend's rounded face, small lenses that somehow shrank his eyes, the curly wisps along the sides of his head, the delight on his lips.

    "You don't know it, but Jonas pulled your ass out of that fire!"

    OD's burst of laughter was so loud it hurt even Link's ears. "Is that the story he told you? And you believed him?"

    "I was there. I saw it, OD . . .I think."

    "You're drunk," OD said.

    "Let's get that waitress back in here so's we can order you some take-out. Then we'll go backhome."
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