Our Daily Bread Online - Lauren B. Davis Page 0,1

back on Ray, he glanced over his shoulder. Lloyd, his dark hair and beard bleeding together in a shaggy mass, wore a plaid lumber jacket. His jeans drooped below his boulder of a belly. He stretched as though he’d been hunched over something and his back was cramped.

“Hey, Lloyd.”

“That right, Bert?” said Lloyd. “You spying?”

“Just rambling.”

Lloyd spat and stepped down from the trailer’s cinderblock step. “Bullshit.”

Albert stepped to the side so he could keep both men in his sights.

“Don’t take another step,” said Ray.

Lloyd was now within arm’s reach. He scratched his beard. “You know, Bert, you are a mystery. You don’t act like family at all now, do you? Don’t come visiting. Live in your little shack. Course maybe you have your own parties. That it? You have the kids come see you? That’s not hardly sociable, now is it? You got your own little weed-growing business going and we leave you alone with that don’t we? We let you have your way there, ain’t that true?”

“I think I’m generous,” said Albert. “You get your taste.”

Ray laughed. “You’re generous? That’s rich. This is Harold’s fucking mountain, Albert. You breathe because Harold says you breathe.”

“The point is,” said Lloyd, “you live like you don’t want to be an Erskine, and that ain’t right. Makes us think, especially when we find you snaking around like this. Nope. I don’t think Harold’s gonna like this at all.”

“You do what you gotta do, Lloyd, but I’m telling you, nothing good’s gonna come from—”

Lloyd’s fist shot out. Albert crumpled to his knees, gasping for breath. It felt like he’d been hit with a pile driver. He struggled to keep his eyes open and watched Ray’s boot travel in slow motion to his head. He rolled and the kick landed on his shoulder, another landed on his kidney.

Lloyd bent down, put his meaty hand under Albert’s chin and twisted it so they were eye to eye. “Albert, you need to watch yourself, boy. You’re Erskine. You’re family. We take care of family, don’t we, Ray?”

“We sure do.”

Albert heard a zipper and felt something wet and warm spray on his legs. He wrenched his face away from Lloyd, kicked out and squirmed away from the urine stream.

“That’s enough, Ray, put yer pecker away. Now, you get on back to that little shack of yours, Bert, and remember who you are. All right now, say it with me. Erskines don’t . . .”

“Talk,” he croaked.

“And Erskines don’t . . .”

“Leave.”

“Good boy,” said Lloyd, and he pulled Albert to his feet. “Now, get on back where you belong.”

It took half an hour to reach the compound. Albert made his way past the old outhouse. Bastards. One of these days he’d show them. His shoulder and back ached. He smelled Ray’s piss. He slapped at a cloud of gnats. That’s what the Erskines were: a cloud of biting gnats. No matter how you swatted at them, they reformed and came at you again.

A few minutes later he came on the cabin his mother Gloria lived in with whatever man she was shacking up with, and Albert’s brother and sister, Jack and Jill, and Kenny, Jill’s son. Smoke slithered out of the rusty chimney, so somebody was probably inside, but he kept going. Gloria had never been a source of comfort.

He veered toward the back of Harold and Fat Felicity’s tin-roofed grey-sided three-room main house on which the compound centred. Harold and Felicity’s grown children, simple-minded Sonny, Carrie and Carrie’s son, Little Joe, lived there, too, as did an ever-revolving stream of uncles and cousins and other assorted Erskine flotsam. A pair of shutters hung on one of the windows. The shutters and the door had once been painted red, but all were faded and peeled now, as much grey as red. The top half of the door held three panes of glass and one of plywood. There were no curtains on the windows, and under the porch canopy rested a spring-sprung couch. Next to the house sprawled a pile of garbage: disposable diapers; plastic bags, which rose up in the wind and festooned the trees, hanging on the branches like pale shredded skin; empty bottles of various kinds, some soda, but mostly beer, wine and bourbon; used sanitary napkins; a stained and swollen mattress; the twisted wheel of a bicycle, the spokes sharp and defensive-looking; a small refrigerator Uncle Dan had dragged home from the dump thinking he could fix, but with which he’d become bored after a day