“Crock-Pot” by Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet

This is the latest in Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet. To go to the column page, please click here.

His friends called him Crock. He smoked pot constantly and his last name was Crocker, so it stuck. Crock and Daphne had been living together for close on six years now. His mother had scolded him over and over, “Don’t marry the damn heathen,” which had worked out fine for Crock. Daphne was Jewish and Crock was born and bred by Evangelists. “She’s already damaged goods, but if you marry her, she had better be dunked by the Holy waters, mister,” his mom was constantly bellowing. Well, he hadn’t had to worry about that until now. All of sudden, Daphne was wracked with a damn wedding fantasy complete with bridesmaids, dress and all. Crock had to contend with her ramblings about the affair and his periodical phone calls from his bitching mother. He had been working his ass off as a roofer in the height of the steamy Florida summer doing 12-hour shifts just to bank roll the cash for this event so Daphne would stop talking about it and it would finally be over.

Crock couldn’t count how many times he was sludging tar along the edge of a roof and could taste the freedom of jumping and running like hell away from Daphne and his mother and the whole damn circus. He didn’t tell Daphne, but he made sure to buy a pound of Venetian Ice, a strain so beautifully constructed that it only took Crock two hits to get where he wanted to be. Far, far away from the peach bridesmaids, the seven-tiered chocolate mousse cake and Daphne in some hideous white organza bush of a dress and so much make-up on her face that she could have been one of those freaky mimes he despised on the streets of Orlando, moon-walking and begging for change.

The date was set and Crock and a few of his close buddies were dressed in tuxedos and arrived on time only because they were guaranteed a few hits of Venetian Ice. Somehow the guys made it through the day smiling so hard it hurt and laughing whenever they could. Daphne and her Jewish clan were happy and her mother even kissed Crock on the mouth. “You’ll always be my boy,” she said. “This isn’t a shot-gun wedding is it?” She actually slapped him in the face, but he was so stoned he giggled. “Cause if it is, you’ll make me the happiest lady on the planet.” Crock’s mother just glared at him whenever he caught eyes with her and Preacher Rayborn, the man who never seemed to leave her side. Their wedding had been performed by a non-denominational minister named Bob. Crock’s mother called it a farce and Bob, a devil worshipper.

The night had been a blur of bad outfits and strange conversations, but Crock and Daphne had solidified the deal that day and were now deep in the forest of the Everglades on their honeymoon.

“Why the hell did you have to bring your shotgun?” Daphne asked.

“In case we come across some ferocious crocs on our travels,” Crock answered.

“Really baby, why can’t we just stay in a hotel?”

“Daph-baby, this is something we’ll never forget! Camping out in the Everglades. Think about it. We’ll have stories to tell our kids,” Crock added. “I need to take a piss,” he said as he pulled over. He groped behind some bushes and pulled out his pipe and weed.

Tamping the weed quickly into the bowl, Crock fished around in his pockets for a light, pipe hanging between clenched teeth.  He pulled out a red Bic and lit the pipe. Sucking the sweet smoke deep into his lungs, Crock eyed the Florida sky. The stars glittered in regular patterns, but after the second hit, they seemed to coalesce around a huge black void directly overhead. The call of a night bird floated over the still air of the nearby swamp. His body suddenly felt light, as though he could float right into the sky and enter that blackness forever. Maybe that was heaven? Daphne’s whine startled him back to the present—

“Crock?  Crock!  Did you fall in a gator hole?”

“No, baby, I’m comin,” he shook his head a couple times and picked his way out of the palmetto, making a play of zipping his fly as he walked through the pick-up’s headlight beams, then slid into the truck.  “Daph—look up.  What do you see?”

“Where Crock?  All I see are stars and empty road. I don’t know why you thought camping was a good idea for a honeymoon.  I’d rather be down at the PierHouse, sipping rumrunners and getting a massage.  There’s probably a million mosquitoes just waiting to suck our blood at the campsite. This place is creepy.  Let’s go,” she whined. That little girl voice used to be cute. Crock ignored her and pointed out the windshield as he cut the lights.

“I think I just saw heaven,” Crock murmured.

“Whatever,” she said, slumping into the seat and fiddling with an auburn curl that had fallen from her $85 wedding dippity-do.  “Let’s just get to Chokoloskee and settle in. It’ll be too late to do anything by the time we get there, except maybe one thing.” She raised her eyebrows a couple times, and wiggled her breasts in his direction, trying to lighten the suddenly oppressive mood Crock had brought into the truck with him from the edge of the swamp.

The promise of sex had always gotten his attention before, but Crock just flicked the lights back on, put the truck in gear, and pulled back onto the county road.  As the newlyweds drove deeper into the wild, past mangrove hammocks crouched beneath dark mahogany trees, Crock glanced up every few seconds at the hole that seemed to be expanding, leading him toward something he couldn’t yet name.

After a ninety-minute drive past vast, dense beds of sawgrass, they finally arrived at the campsite that was well into the pinelands.  Campsite was maybe a bit too formal of a word to use for where they were.  It was really just a clearing of land, no more than the size of a residential backyard, with patches of cabbage palms, and the rest, sand and pine needles.  Crock chuckled at the irony of the entrance sign: “Choko.”  The “loskee” part had been splintered off.

“What’s so funny, besides this shit hole we’re in?” Daphne said.

“Nothing.  Nothing at all,” Crock answered with a devious grin.

“And where are all the campers, Crock?  A campsite usually has campers.  Where are they?”

“I’m sure it’ll start filling up,” he said.  “At least we’ve got our choice of a tent spot.”

“This is a joke, right?”

“What do you mean?  People come out to the Everglades on vacation all the time?”

“Crock, this is not a vacation!  This is our HONEYMOON!  And when people come to the Everglades they don’t live in it, they get a hotel room and drive to it!  Crock, it’s our honeymoon!”

Not responding, he drove the truck towards the back of the campsite, just along a line of slash pines.  A full moon made it easy to survey the area.  This’ll work, he thought to himself, slowly nodding his head.

They got out of the truck.  Crock put his arms on the hood, resting his chin on the tail of a serpent tattooed on his forearm.

“What?” Daphne said.

“Nothing.”

“Well, then, why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?  I can’t look at my wife?”

“You’re not looking, you’re staring.  Just stop, Crock.  It’s like you’re staring through me or something.  Start helping me unpack the truck.”

There wasn’t much to unpack: a two-person tent, a small propane stove, a duffle bag of clothes, and some bags of burgers, dogs, and chips.  Crock put up the tent while Daphne set up the stove.

“Daphne, I’m going to go look for some wood for the fire.”

“You’re what?”

“Some wood.  I’m going to get some wood.  For a fire.”

“And leave me here, alone?  This honeymoon just keeps getting better and better!  What else do you have in store for me?  What else, Crock?”

Crock stared through her again.  “You’ll just have to wait and see, sweetheart.”

“Hurry back!  I’m not staying here alone!”

“I’ll be over there, just past the pine trees.  Yell if you need me.”

He started walking into the woods and pulled out his pipe.  He stuffed it and lit it with his Bic.  Three hits and he was back to that place, looking up at the sky, smiling at the now familiar blackness.

“Are you kidding me?” he heard Daphne yell from the site.  “Oh, this is just great!”

He hit the pipe against his palm a few times and started walking back to the campsite.

“Josh, you’re here!” shouted Crock, walking out from the pine canopy.

“What do you mean, ‘you’re here’?” Daphne asked Crock.

He walked right by her towards Josh’s beat-up, blue Ford F-150.

“You made it, man!” Crock said.

“What do you mean I made it?  Of course I made it.”

It was Josh Kenner.  Crock’s best man from the wedding and best friend since the first grade.  Josh idolized Crock and Crock knew it.  He loved the control he had over him, which is probably why he always kept Josh as a best friend.  With Josh was Tara.  Nobody really knew Tara—or any of them, for that matter—not even Crock.  She wasn’t invited to the wedding and Josh couldn’t have cared less.  He had a new girl at his disposal every month.

“Hey, Daphne.  Long time, no see. What’s up?  Enjoying married life?”

“Yeah, Josh.  Just loving it.  How could you not in this paradise?  Crock, can I see you for a minute?”

“Dude, I’ll be right back,” Crock said, rolling his eyes.  “Then we’ll chill with some Ice!”

“Ice!  Nice!” laughed Josh.  “Should have known, right?”

Crock walked over to Daphne who was sitting on the tailgate of the truck.

“Crock, what’s going on?  Why the hell is Josh here on our supposed honeymoon?  It’s bad enough we’re in this pit of hell, but now we’ve got to share it with him, and that new whore-of the-month?”

“Daphne, hold on.  I thought it’d be fun.  Come on, he’s my best friend.  And I didn’t think you’d mind.  It’s camping.  Camp fires, ghost stories, all that stuff.”

“Crock, I can’t believe you did this to me.  I’ve waited my entire life to get married and dreamed of this first night when our marriage would officially become a marriage.”  She started to cry.  Crock stared at her with his hands in his pockets.  “How could you, Crock?  How could you?”

She slid off the tailgate and walked towards the tent.

“Whatever, Daph, I didn’t think it’d be a big deal. I mean, they’re only staying the night and I thought it’d be fun.”  He turned around and walked back to Josh.  “Screw you, bitch,” he said under his breath.

Later that night, when the girls were asleep, Crock and Josh sat near the campfire smoking cigarettes, enjoying the rest of their two-bowl high from after dinner.

“Didn’t your mom freak that you married a heathen?” asked Josh.

“Oh, come on, Josh, your not falling into that ‘praise the Lord’ crap that’s been burned into our fried skulls since day one, are you?”

“I don’t know, Crock. I mean it’s one thing to live with a Jew. I know they give better head than these local bible thumpers, but…”

“But, what, bro! Give me a break! You ought to branch out a bit. Who’s this Tara you brought? She’s ain’t no virgin!”

“Yeah, but I’m never going to marry any of these girls. I just give them a little of the Josh smoking fire to make them happy. Then I dump them. No. If I ever marry I’m going to find me a local chick who doesn’t rock the boat,” said Josh.

“Speaking of boats, give me a hand getting that canoe off your truck,” said Crock. “We’re going to hunt some crocs, tomorrow.” Crock looked at Josh from the corner of his eye. “Hell yes, brother, they don’t call me Crock for nothing. Crock flexed his biceps.

“The oars are in the cab, behind my seat,” said Josh.

“Come on, let’s get the canoe and then hit the sack.  Time for me to get in there and consummate this thing. At least I get some good non-denominational head out of this marriage,” said Crock, and they both started cracking-up.

When Daphne opened her eyes, it wasn’t yet morning. A haze, something like smog but certainly of nature, hung over the campsite. Smells of piss and weed emanated from the spent pile of firewood and ash.  As she surveyed the Chokoloskee dawn, Crock and Josh were nowhere.

Beside her, snores leaked from Tara’s open mouth. Daphne resisted the urge to hold Tara’s lips shut and pinch her flared nostrils. She stood too quickly, and the fog around her seemed to seep through tensed pores. She floated through trees and brush and thought, for a moment, she might still be sleeping.

She called out her husband’s name, the way you would announce an evening stew bubbling in the crockpot, and the woods bounced his name off branches and moist soil. Again she shouted, nothing. “Bastard,” she yelled to the woods. Why the hell had she married such a ridiculous man. Her feet found water, up to her ankles, before her eyes registered the lake.

It was a swamp, really, and Daphne left her husband’s name in the air one final time, listened to it echo over the surface of the green, brackish water. Then, she heard voices. At least two, but more followed. She recognized Josh’s, and a woman’s, but no others. Where was Crock? That sonofabitch. Were they having an orgy in the woods during her honeymoon? A giggle, a smack of wood against wood, a splash somewhere. Someone yelled Shhh. It sounded like Crock.

Daphne shuffled her legs, dug her toes into the velvet mud of the lake. A series of canoes, attached to one another with rope, glided into view. On the first was Crock’s mother and that fat, old minister that Crock’s mom adored. The few that followed revealed more of those white trash relatives, siblings and cousins of Crock’s. What the hell was this? Daphne rubbed her eyes again as Crock came running over to her.

“Baby, I had no idea. I had nothing to do with this,” Crock squeaked out as Daphne pushed past him. Josh was pulling Crock’s mom and the preacher’s canoe up to the shore. Crock’s mom got out smiling with her smeared orange lipstick and hair-sprayed orange rat’s nest of whatever hair was still clinging to her doddering head in one of her white polyester jumpsuits and said, “Well good morning to the bride. I’ve seen you look fresher honey, but that’s alright. We’re going to douse you anyway, so no need to get dollied up yet.” She looked over at the preacher who was holding a bible in his hand.

Daphne started to back away as Josh came from behind and grabbed Daphne’s shoulders. “No reason to fight it, honey,” said Crock’s mom. “We’re all family here and soon you’ll be one of God’s children as well. Get her in the boat, Josh.”

Daphne twisted around quickly and kneed Josh in the balls. He fell back screaming, “Bitch,” over and over. She pulled the shotgun that was holstered over Josh’s shoulder while he rolled back and forth and kicked him once more for good measure.

“Listen, you pile of half-wits,” Daphne aimed the gun in the preacher’s face, who had dropped his bible and was now holding his arms up in the air. “I’ll be damned if any of you put your grimy mitts on me,” she said in a shaky voice. They all stood on their canoes that were attached to one another like a line of scared, sickly children holding hands, single-file.

“Crock? Where are you, baby?” Daphne asked as tears started to stream down her face. “Let’s get out of here, okay, baby?” she asked, as she began to back away from the boat-train.

Crock was sitting off to the side, toking away on his pipe, smiling at the absurdity of the scene, looking for the skies to open up again and that black hole above to take him prisoner before his new bride with the shotgun did below.

***

This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet are:

JP Reese, a poet and occasional writer of fiction and creative nonfiction whose work has appeared in many online venues and print journals.  When she isn’t writing, JP teaches English at a small college in North Texas.  She is also a poetry editor for THIS Literary Magazine and associate poetry editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.  You can read her published work at Entropy: A Measure of Uncertainty: jpreese.tumblr.com.

Eryk S. Wenziak, a drummer who teaches management at the graduate level.  His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in: elimae; Short, Fast, and Deadly; Thunderclap Press; Dark Chaos; Deadlier Than Thou (anthology); 52|250; Long River Run; Negative SuckPsychic Meatloaf;Guerilla Pamphlets. Currently, he is working on a chapbook, the flowers were trying harder, a collection of prose poems, each accompanied by a photograph.

Danny Goodman, the founder and editor of fwriction : review, along with its sister blog, fwriction. He is a writer, editor, teacher, and highly-skilled beard trimmer. A list of his publications can be found at www.fwriction.com/publications/. He lives in New York City and is in need of a nap, like you wouldn’t believe.

Meg Tuite, whose writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals includingBerkeley Fiction Review34th ParallelOne, the JournalMonkeybicycleHawaii Review andBoston Literary Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review andConnotation Press. Her novel “Domestic Apparition” (2011) is now available through San Francisco Bay Press (www.sanfranciscobaypress.com). Her blog is http://megtuite.wordpress.com.

More of Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet at Used Furniture.

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Comments

  1. I’m bookmarking this story. So wild! So much fun!

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