Coop leaned against the new quarter-panel and watched out the barn as the light fell onto the still-wet grass. He looked down at Tyler’s legs, sticking out from under the front of the vehicle.
“Dew’s not burnt off yet,” he said.
“What? Say something that makes some sense. Hand me the wrench.”
Coop slid it over with the toe of his boot.
“Je-sus Christ. Pick up the damn tool when I ask you to. Kicking it over here like a child.”
“Just easier to move it with my foot is all.”
“Bullshit. You can’t stand a bit of grease on you.”
Coop lit a cigarette. A car approached the barn.
“They snuck right up on us ’cause of that wetness. No gravel dust. Now you see how it is.”
“Who snuck up?” said Tyler. He squirmed out.
The car pulled up outside the barn and stopped.
“Sneak shit. It’s just that idiot Dahlman come out here to show off that he’s got a wife can make a baby come out of her.”
Coop smoked. Dahlman stepped from his car, tiny and thin, with a too-big cowboy hat on his head. He leaned back into the car and grabbed something and came out again with a crying baby wrapped in a blanket.
“Got the next generation here boys,” he said. “Have yourself a look at the future competition.”
The baby screamed.
“Hush now Junior, hush. Get Junior his medicine, Cheryl!”
A woman came out of the car with a bottle of whiskey.
“You a funny man now all of a sudden?” said Tyler.
The woman opened the bottle and Dahlman stuck his finger in. He pulled his finger out and wiped it on the baby’s lips, on its tongue.
Coop saw the baby cough or breathe out strongly. Then the baby stopped crying.
“See how that works, fellas?” said Dahlman. “Junior’ll be doin’ laps around you on the track and dancin’ around you at the tavern at the end of the night. Gonna be a tough one he is.”
“Hell,” said Tyler. “Kid can’t even take an eyedropper of that cheap weak stuff you buy without passing right out. What makes you think he’ll be any good at anything?”
“He can take more ‘an that,” said Dahlman.
Tyler leaned in close. “He’s practically asleep already. Lookit that. Can’t even keep his eyes open. I reckon he’s had it.”
“He can take way more ‘an that! Can’t he Cheryl! He’s just tired from driving around is all. He’s had way more. More ‘an you can believe!”
“Let’s see ‘im do it,” Tyler said.
Coop crushed out his cigarette and lit up another. Dahlman stood there lifting his hat up and down on his head.
“You gonna wake a sleepin’ babe so’s it can show you how much more of a man it is than you?” said Dahlman.
“Sure.” Tyler opened the plywood cabinet next to his toolbox. He set out a glass. He took the whiskey bottle from Dahlman’s wife and poured some into the glass and then poured a little into the whiskey cap.
“That seems about right,” said Tyler. He drank down his glass. “There’s one.”
Coop watched Dahlman’s eyes get big and then squeeze down tight. Dahlman looked at the whiskey brimming in the cap.
“That’s nuthin’. Junior can do that.” He picked up the cap and used the fingers of his other hand to spread the baby’s lips and dump it in. The baby coughed.
“That proves it,” said the woman.
Tyler filled them up again. “Hell, I guess he’s purdy good,” he said. “We gonna see, though.” Tyler drank his glass.
“You big shit,” Dahlman said. He took the cap and emptied it into the baby’s mouth. “There. See what he can do!”
The baby flubbed its lips.
“He’s a good sport all right,” Tyler said. He filled them up again. He drank his glass.
“He ain’t havin’ another,” said the woman. “He’s tired. He don’t need no more.”
The baby opened its eyes and yipped.
“See that,” said Dahlman. “That’s some Dahlman blood in that one. Yessir!” He spread the baby’s mouth and dumped it in. The baby coughed and choked.
“He don’t need no more,” the woman said. “He’s proved it. He don’t want no more.”
Coop could see a clear liquid running from the baby’s nose, from the corners of its eyes.
Tyler filled them up again.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he said. “You might be right about this one, Dahlman.”
“He’s got you on the run, ain’t he?” said Dahlman. He smiled. “He’ll have you on the floor a’fore you know it.”
The woman gripped Dahlman’s forearm, sweat running down her cheek.
“He’s showed what he can do!” she said.
“Cheryl,” said Dahlman, “you don’t know nuthin’ about it. This here’s a man’s sport.”
“Junior ain’t a man.”
“Dahlman boys are always men,” said Dahlman. He tipped his cowboy hat way back on his head. “Even when we’re babies we’re men.”
Tyler was leaning against the vehicle sipping his whiskey like a lemonade. He held the bottle up to Dahlman and Dahlman held out the cap so Tyler could fill it.
“He’s leakin’,” Coop said. He pointed at the baby’s watery eyes.
“Just from the goddamn dust and shit in this dirty old barn,” said Dahlman, gesturing all around with his chin. “Make yourself useful woman and get the rag out the car.”
“I ain’t leavin’,” said the woman. “I ain’t walkin’ away ’til you hand him over.”
“Well how’s this then?” Dahlman dumped the whiskey in.
A stream of white liquid, like school glue, shot out and down its chin and onto the tooled leather of Dahlman’s shiny red boots.
“Oh Jesus Lord!” said the woman, releasing her grip on Dahlman’s arm. “It’s over. I say it’s over.”
“Over my ass,” said Dahlman. “Spittin’ up’s what a baby’s supposed to do. Don’t prove nuthin’.” He held out the cap. Tyler filled them up again.
Jared Hohl’s fiction has been published in Washington Square Review, The Agriculture Reader, Torpedo Magazine, H.O.W. Journal, Monkeybicycle, and in the anthology The Apocalypse Reader. An excerpt from his novel The Dead Generations was featured in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.
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