Somehow our Ashland neighborhood had turned to shit, and I don’t mean knock-down-drag-out domestic disputes that spilled into the street where groups of snot-nosed, ruddy kids gathered to watch. I mean the neighborhood had literally turned to shit. We were on my porch drinking beer, a small slab of concrete with no railings, watching cars go by. It was a muggy Friday evening in July, and Jim and I had just finished painting Hank Kilgore’s place.
“Look who it is,” Jim said, pointing with his beer.
Across Magnetic Street, Martin Salter stood in his front yard wearing a pink polo shirt and short-shorts, coiling a garden hose; he looked our way often and shook his head.
“He’s a prick,” I said. “But at least he hasn’t threatened me lately for ol’ Merle being too loud. If he does that again he isn’t going to like me none.”
“Maybe you should’ve been nicer when he complained the first time, invited him over for a bratwurst or a Miller or something, instead of telling him to kiss your ass. He seems alright.”
Jim hadn’t seen anything. Salter had shown no respect since he moved in last year. Whenever he had an issue with someone in the neighborhood he tried to bully them. If a candy wrapper blew into his yard from a passing car or a neighbor’s, he picked the trash up and stuck it into one of our mailboxes after dark, regardless if it came from our yard or not.
I got up to fetch another Miller from the refrigerator. When I returned, Jim was standing.
“What the hell’s Salter doing?” Jim asked. “It looks like he’s dancing.”
Salter leapt from foot-to-foot over a dip in his yard, and each time a foot landed water splashed.
“Christ, I don’t know. Maybe a rare rose sprouted and he’s celebrating.”
Salter turned and hopped again over the dip. When he got into the middle again he jumped and planted both feet. Then he sunk to his waist, the ground collapsed, and Salter disappeared.
“By God, would you look at that,” Jim said. “It’s quicksand.”
Large chunks of sod and soil continued to break loose and slide down, creating a jagged hole in Salter’s yard the size of a station wagon. When we walked over and leaned in, Salter splashed in brown muck up to his neck—a wad of wet toilet paper rested on top of his head.
“Help me,” Salter pleaded.
“I don’t know,” Jim said, and turned up his beer. He coughed and stood back, shook the can and lifted it again, then tossed the empty toward a bush. “Damn, we ain’t the law. Technically we’re trespassing.”
“Listen,” Salter said. “Get me out of here right fucking now. I’m the law.”
I looked at Salter, then up the street. About six houses down a group of women in bikinis cheered in the front yard of a duplex and two men held another woman upside down above a keg of beer.
“Damn it, help,” Salter screamed. “I’m going to drown and you two idiots are just standing around, watching.”
I had some rope in my truck, but I wasn’t ready to grab it just yet, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to since it was twenty-dollar rope and it would stink like shit forever. If it was some kid, sure, I’d have it tossed over the edge already, fishing him or her out.
“If you pull me free,” he said, and clawed at the bank, “I’ll never mess with you again. I swear.”
A whining noise then came down the sidewalk, and Ms. Emory stopped her electronic wheelchair in front of Salter’s.
“What you fellas doing over there?” she asked. “Don’t you know he’s anal?”
“Martin fell into a cesspool,” I said.
She turned toward us, made her way through the manicured grass, bouncing along. A couple of times she lost traction and spun the tires, throwing mud behind her. When she reached us, she kicked the chair sideways and tilted her head down at Salter.
“Got yourself in a fix, huh, boy,” she said.
“Ms. Emory,” he said, “get help. I don’t want to die in here, please.”
“I would,” she said, “but ever since you spanked my grandson for peeing on your daffodils, we ain’t much wanted your kind here.”
“It wasn’t me,” he said. “I didn’t do that. The boy’s lying,” and he tried to get his footing again, creating a wave of tainted water that rose over his nose and mouth. When he swallowed some, he coughed and gagged, vomited some lettuce chunks down the front of himself.
“Christ,” I said, “let’s just pull him out. I don’t want to watch anymore of this.”
Jim went and grabbed the coiled garden hose attached to Salter’s house and dragged it over. He tossed the end with the spray nozzle into the cesspool, splashing shitty water into Salter’s eyes.
“There,” Jim said. “Don’t ever say we didn’t help.”
Salter grabbed on, and Jim and I took the hose in our hands. We pulled and the hose stretched. Slowly, Jim and I played tug of war with Salter. We slid him up, close to the lip of the bank, and let him back down, and then we pulled him up again. Each time we let him slip he called us bastards. When we finally got him onto solid ground, he laid there, his pink shirt and short-shorts now brown and one of his shoes were missing.
After Salter regained his strength, he squashed for the house without looking back. Around dusk, a drunken woman staggered from the duplex and fell down in his lawn. She had dry heaves. Through the glow of the street lamp, Salter wrapped her in a blanket, tucked a pillow under her head, and in the morning both the woman and blanket still remained.
About the Author: Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student, working on an MA in Writing, at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, apt, Underground Voices, and Split Lip Magazine, among others. He edits a literary magazine called Pithead Chapel and you can learn more about him at www.keithrebec.com.
Story Song: "The Fightin' Side of Me" by Merle Haggard