Eddie: The Right Pope of Bongwater

DELTA SHORTS

 

Eddie: The Right Pope of Bongwater

By WILLIAM PRENTISS

WARNING: This story, though ultimately shrouded in redemption, does portray some characters in their basest state, including coarse language, non-gratuitous graphic sexuality, and internal dialogue and behaviors, which include obvious incidents of racism, sexism, and behaviors unbecoming those seen in a moral and polite society.

Please read no malicious intent into the author’s purpose for developing these flawed characters other than to present to the reader believable Delta characters–always fodder for a tale told by an idiot, signifying very little, other than just a Delta tale worth telling.

Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Photo by The Delta Bohemian

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to people or places, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

William Prentiss, with the assistance of his able and noble bride of mythical proportions, a fine meta-muse named Madge Marley Howell, has begun thinking about the “Great Southern Novel.” He will be describing characters rooted deeply in the Delta psyche.

He knows no more about them than does the reader. They reveal themselves line-by-line and serif-by-serif. William is likely more expectant than the reader to find out how his developing characters will behave.

At what point will plot be made manifest? It depends. In describing the characters and an incident or two from their past and present, Mr. Prentiss believes the story line will become clearer as the morning sun burns away the dross like dew on Saint Augustine.

All characters are fictional, but how could a Delta writer not use real-life folks and genuine incidents as the skeletons awaiting the meat and sinew of prose and verse? For a better understanding of this character, read Carlene, Father Percy and Milky Steve, Grinnel and Genevieve.

Eddie: The Right Pope of Bongwater

Eddie was down right manic about the upcoming Ides of March party held annually at Greenway Johnson’s huge summer home on Sun Lake. Eddie was not invited; it wouldn’t happen in a hundred years of laconic Delta Sundays, but he did have plans for that night. Plans that included nocturnal visits to the homes of Greenway’s most prominent guests.

Eddie Horn figured–he figured better than most he figured–if there was a Duke of Bilgewater in Huckleberry Finn, then there sure as hell should be an equivalent social rank for someone who had spent years making bong water gurgle. So he figured, and he figured, and he figured. Then he figured it would be better to be a Pope than a Duke, so he figured he would identify himself to lesser rednecks and to his sycophantish minions as The Right Pope of Bongwater.

He always thought of “The” being capitalized. He figured that was funny and appropriate. Eddie was aware of the importance of nicknames in the Deep South. Without one, anybody was a nobody, and Eddie couldn’t live with being a nobody. He was a child of destiny; he just knew it.

Once The Pope “procured”—he bought very little–his second doublewide and a two-vehicle fleet of brand new four-wheelers, he decided he wanted to be the Right Pope of Bongwater. He figured if denominational preachers could be Right Reverends then why shouldn’t a double, doublewide owning Pepper’s Point entrepreneur be referred to as the Right Pope.

Eddie, sporting a wicked mullet and a chest tattoo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant cutting Neil Young’s head off with a light saber, misunderstood–as do most Southerners–the whole erroneously reported Lynyrd Skynyrd controversery over the “Sweet Home Alabama” lyrics. But, Eddie loved thinking about a Southern Rock god putting a damn, Southern-hating Yankee crooner in his place.

Eddie worked as a small time bookie–also ran a weekly church-night poker game; ammunition salesman–he loaded his own and reportedly had more than 20,000 rounds buried in his backyard; convenience store operator–dealing in food stamps and insurance checks; purveyor of precious and scrap metals–meaning he bought and sold stolen jewelry and copper and was not in the least bit opposed to chopping up pilfered farm equipment–by the trailer load–for scrap.

His Highness also dealt in thought-to-be-hydroponic marijuana. He got it from his cousin who worked impound for the Memphis PD. His only competition, the Sun Lake Grinnel, just got his arm amputated after a dog attack, right after Ken Jenkins’s brother Roy shot himself with Grinnel’s gun.

But, the Right Pope’s crowning achievement was the recognition that he was the “get-what-you-need” guy in the three-contiguous county area, and in some counties across the river in Arkansas.

The Right Pope’s forehead was too prominent, his eyes almost kissing each other. His ears were leathery enough to strike a match on, his midsection and legs were painfully white like a fish belly. He smelled like tobacco, old spice, cooking grease, and stale beer. He wore greasy wranglers and t-shirts with the names of rock bands and their tour dates and cities on the back.

At the Wednesday night card game, bullets were currency. The value of 22’s, 38’s, 357’s, 40 cabs, nine-millimeters, 44 magnums, and 45’s were all agreed upon before the deck was cut. Any other form of ammunition, including the occasional grenade or claymore mine, required agreement as to value by all who were still in the hand at the time of the bet. The discussion over the value and merit of bullets and loads often took well over an hour.

After agreement, the disagreements began, fueled by beer, booze, and bravado. The Confederacy of Pointers–Eddie was well read and always loved that book about Ignatius Reilly, the New Orleans savant–would on occasion play for 2 days straight, ending when only one somebody was left sitting upright at the table, with at least one eyelid partially open. The Right Pope, not opposed to snorting a little crystal meth or cocaine, usually won, though he was not much fun to be around toward the end of his high.

His momma had been a Pentecostal preacher, so he knew better, but he still needed the rush he had gotten in church as a child. It had formed him, so now he channeled it through The Right Pope; he always referred to himself as such when writing correspondence. He wrote no less than one letter a day to media outlets complaining about taxes, the lack of county road supervision, the complete dearth of common sense and the paucity of lead-from-the-front management styles not patterned after the good sense displayed by Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, God Rest His Soul and God bless the Confederacy, and may God strike down any Communist, Bolshevik, Socialists, or draft-dodging piece-a-shit who says otherwise. Amen!

Rawboned, ruddy faced and rarely wrong, the Right Pope knew damn near everything about everything, and he lacked the average man’s humility to be convinced otherwise. Not only was he always right, he never stopped talking long enough to consider that others opinions might even exist.

His daughter, Ginny Horn, his one and only child that he knew about for sure, was sweet but a little off kilter. Oh, he knew there were rumors about his unfaithfulness, but nobody could prove a thing. Just because he had six toes on his left foot, the two littlest toes being webbed, and so did Ginny and three other Pepper’s Point area children, who were also rawboned, red-haired, and rambunctious, didn’t mean he sired them. Who knows, a statistical anomoly like this could be in the drinking water.

Eddie’s deceased wife, Sarah Lynn–named after Father Abraham’s wife and the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself–died from being used up. He rarely hit her and when he did always felt bad about it, but he was rather demanding. Sarah Lynn, he referred to her as Tidbit, did everything Eddie wanted and then some. She came from nothing, so life with Eddie did provide creature comforts and a one-man love life that was a strange sort of protection she had not known prior to becoming Sarah Lynn Horn, child bride.

Tidbit died a couple of years ago, and Eddie truly missed her. It took him three weeks to get Ginny Horn a new momma and him a new nighttime warm thing and 24-hour woman. Still, he missed Ginny’s momma; Candy couldn’t make biscuits and country-fried steak with white gravy like Sarah Lynn could, but she did experiment in other ways Miss Loretta wouldn’t have let ole George Jones get away with.

Candy might not be able to sing, but she could do the Pepper Point yodel the likes he had only heard about when he thought he was stationed outside Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The Right Pope still had Vietnam flashbacks, but there was still no record of his having been to Vietnam.

Most folks are pretty sure that he was a supply clerk in New Jersey during his brief stint in the military. He actually must have been good at it; he came home with a pocket full of big money and some great contacts in the steal and sell business.

There were folks around Pepper’s Point and all the way over to Sun Lake who had problems with theft, often by the Confederacy of Pointers, but always hard to prove. The Right Pope fenced his stuff up in Memphis or Saint Louis.

Eddie never had a problem with people stealing his stuff. He kept a water moccasin in a cooler in his house and a six-foot alligator in the back yard. White folks were afraid of the alligator and blacks folks were afraid of both. Eddie had been bit by the snake one morning when he was hallucinating. He figured he was inoculated now that he had survived, but he kept his distance and never fed Lucifer unless he was sober and wearing snake boots. His momma taught him how to handle ‘em, but his faith just wasn’t where it used to be and needed to be to handle snakes.

He was conflicted because of his religious upbringing. Not seldom, he wanted to do the right thing and he usually knew what the right thing was, but too often he sided with his basest, money-grubbing nature. Just last year, he tried to marry 16-year old Ginny off to a fairly decent farm equipment salesmen, three times her age, who seemed like a nice fellow with a steady job and a three-year-old bass boat that he offered Eddie as a gesture of good will and a bit of a reverse dowry.

Ginny had a conniption fit, and her daddy backed down, partly because he did love her and would miss her and mostly because he still carried a heap of guilt over having tried to make Sarah Lynn lose the baby by placing her in the bottom of a bass boat, while spanking the waves on a gusty day at Sardis Lake, in Central Mississippi. It didn’t work, and the Ginny Horn was born.

She was pregnant and the Pepper Point rumor mill was daily grinding out innuendo about who might be the baby’s daddy. The betting pool money, The Right Pope knew nothing about it, was on Snow–the black preacher/saloon keeper at the Snow’s-In-July juke joint over at Sun Lake. If the baby came out mocha colored, then there would be hell to pay. Nobody prayed harder for an all-white baby than Snow, Ginny, and Eddie.

If that baby came out anything less than lily white, Snow’s wife would stick his ass and Ginny’s dad would put her on the street. The Right Pope didn’t think he could tolerate a black baby, but he did feel like the Angel Gabriel came to him in a dream recently and reminded him that all God’s children were a blessing. Damn, he hated when he felt like God was bugging him again, but he did fear the Lord, except when he didn’t. His grandmother, a devout Pentecostal like his momma, told him to never ignore a dream; God used dreams all through the Bible she said.

The Right Pope was already scheming how he could break into those rich folks houses who would be at that Ides of March party over at Miss Johnson’s home on Sun Lake. He laughed to himself when he thought about all those “snobs” who probably didn’t know he knew all about Brutus stabbing Caesar’s ass behind that Roman curtain on the Ides of March. He might deal daily with all the area “unseemlies,” but he was not ignorant and he read more than most of the Greendale intellectual lah-dee-dahs.

If he could make certain that the old folks, the ones with the money, were at the party and that they had no one at home waiting on them, then he and his confederates would storm their homes like Quantrill’s Raiders on pillage on the night of the party.

He had been spending more time in Greendale lately, checking out the homes of those he knew for certain would be at the Sun Lake party. Eddie knew he was not the sharpest cat around, but he made up for any lack of testable intelligence with cunning, good preparation and moneymaking instincts honed on the fly.

He had a good idea of which houses were the best to rob, which of his Confederates to use for which job, and he had several backup plans and escape routes, including ironclad alibis.

His one disconcerting constancy was reinforced every time he did his after-midnight prowling. He could not shake the sense of someone always watching him when he was walking the streets alone or hiding in the hedges, dressed in all black, with rubber boots and a dog’s leash in case he got busted.

Looking for a lost dog always bought enough time to get the hell out of a neighborhood if discovered, unless someone like that crazy Yankee bitch, Gene, sicced a dog like Al Bundy’s 120-pounds of non-slack-jawed terror on him. Grinnel didn’t deserve that, even if he was responsible for that boy’s death.

The Right Pope had always been a little bit afraid of the dark. His church used to discipline “bad” boys by putting them in the dark, dank, basement of the country church house for a couple of hours until they had repented and thought about their myriad of transgressions. Eddie used to hate it. His mom thought it brought him closer to God. Eddie knew he had rubbed shoulders in the frightful church basement with some shadows who had zero association with the God his mother had introduced him to.

The Right Pope was acutely aware of his impending transgressions when he was alone, casing a place. It was during these times of remembered terror when he imagined shapeless shadows, darker than soot, so inky they left an obsidian hole in the middle of nocturnal nothingness, blacker than a tinker’s pot, and more frightening than the Ringwraiths in Tolkien’s books.

Because his momma always told him he had a discerning spirit or maybe due to the drugs he took, he considered himself rather in tune with the supernatural world. How many times had his bong been moved by unseen hands when he had gone to the kitchen to get a drink and some microwave popcorn. He knew it was subtle; movement was little, but it was real.

He would always sit still after he got back in the living room, waiting to see if anything moved, silently praying without his lips even moving. He was so quiet he thought himself catatonic, unable to move. After several minutes, he would begin praying in earnest. It always seemed to help.

Two nights ago, he had been casing the McCrae mansion, an antebellum home, sitting on a gentle bluff, overlooking the Chickasaw River in downtown Greendale. He had that feeling of being intimately watched again. The shadows brought to mind Edvard Munch’s haunting 1893 painting, The Scream. He heard nothing, but felt much.

Tonight, he would have welcomed Munch’s macabre scene. Tonight, something was different. Tonight, he had gotten within 200 yards of the palatial, Johnson summer estate, when a dense hollowness began sucking all the darkness in its purview into its core. This occurred not 20 feet from where he stood listening for dogs or sounds that should alarm.

Eddie began praying instantly. This presence was not just dark; it was evil, fouler than the smell of 3-day old fish guts or maggot-infested pork on a humid Delta day. Eddie felt movement, but saw nothing. How could the unseen move so heavily without being seen? Should he run or rebuke Satan in Jesus’s name? Should he open fire with his S&W 9-millimeter, hoping to hit something, anything?

He thought he heard a raspy whisper, sounding as if filtered through cotton. He couldn’t understand it; didn’t want to. He wanted to run. He couldn’t. He wanted to scream, like Munche’s unsung mystery. He couldn’t. The Right Pope was lost, scared, unsure. He had a fleeting vision of fire and thought he heard what his preacher mom would refer to as the gnashing of teeth in hell.

Though raised with a biblical understanding and awareness of evil, he had never felt a presence like this one. He felt the condensed mass of darkness moving his way, inhaling the air, the darkness, and the embers of decency from all that was between them, just as surely and thoroughly as Sherman ransacked the South.

The last thing The Right Pope remembers before waking up an hour prior to dawn, was the sense of a dry, forked tongue, unseen, flicking its tendrils of death deep into his right ear, putting more than speaking the following words into his soul: “I am Alive; do not take me for granted. You will see me again. You are merely a Pretender; God will not save you. You are mine; your daughter is mine; your soul is mine. Beware! I am the Greasy Man! You are the Right Pope of Nothing! Beware and behold what is to come!”

WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE COMMENTS!!


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Comments

  1. Best chapter so far W.P.!!! Hell, if you are a Deltan and have not encountered each of these characters in some way, then you have led a “VERY” sheltered life. I could contribute “MANY” Real Deltan’s to this piece but do not wish to suffer through a possible ass-whippin at my age.

    Good Show!!!

  2. Da Greasy Man figna getchew! A very believeable character one again. Sounds like the Pope was hallucinating again. Are there any nice people in this mythical land? Does anyone there have any redeeming qualities? I know that you don’t know William, because these characters are appearing on the page as you write about them. The character reminds me of some the so-called “country store owners” of my formative years. They sold alcohol, tobacco, and firearms of the legal and illegal varieties. Can’t wait to see how all these characters are going to be put together in the same story.

  3. Eric Hunter says:

    That’s very good! Look out Willie Morris.
    How could you not like the Delta imagery as in a dude called “Grinnel” and all that that brings to mind? Sarah Lynn or Candy remind me of a waitress I met up at a popular Sun Lake restaurant with a red checked tablecloth top tied at her midriff.
    The hallucinations of The Right Pope may have been from the Bongwater…just because you can drink the bongwater doesn’t mean you should!
    I can’t wait for the next chapter.

  4. Alex Lundy says:

    William Prentiss is maturing as a writer. Fine imagination and developing the “chops” to go with it…

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