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Ralph BishopBack

“Listen, some things in life seem senseless, surer than

shit, unfair. Later when you look back, if you’re honest,

you can see they shaped your life for the better. It depends

on attitude.”

He took a drag from the cigarette held between his

thumb and second finger. Milo caught himself staring at

the missing digit. Ralph squinted sidelong at him through

the smoke.

“Tell you a story. When I was sixteen, I left home.

Went south, and ended up in a little hole in Louisiana,

Morgan City. My family was from Quebec. A lot of those

coon asses in Louisiana were descendants of French

Canuks who’d mixed with blacks and Indians. I was cozy

there, but they were a rough, hard-drinking bunch and

full of hell. We were hitting the bottle and whorehouses

pretty regular.

“There was one old guy, the coon ass king, Pierre

Labois, a nasty fuck. One night, old Labois was drunk out

of his skull. On a dare from some asshole, I took a solid

gold earring out of his ear. Next day, two of his bravos surprised

me, and dragged me to Labois’s dive.

“Labois never said a word. His boys dragged me over

to this big chopping block. I started kicking and screaming.

They held my hand down. One of the guys says to me,

“By God, boy, be still there. It is better to lose one finger

than the whole hand. That be for sure, boy.”

“Labois came over and looked me straight in the eye,

and offed my finger. I stared at it doing a little jig all by

itself on that chopping block. I couldn’t believe it. I

screamed. They cauterized my stump with a hot coal from

the grill and bandaged my hand. When they finished,

Labois came over and said, ‘Nobody steal from Labois.’

Then he gives me a job in his joint. I was there for three

years. He gave me the recipes I use here.”

Ralph ground out his cigarette and put his hand on

Milo’s shoulder.

“One thing’s for sure; life’s going to throw some shit

at you from time to time. Try to keep this in mind. Bend,

but don’t break. Got it?” Milo nodded. Ralph grabbed an

apron from the counter, tossed it to him and said, “I can

use an extra hand around this dump. Put it on and get to

work on that basket of spuds.”

“Thanks, Ralph.”

He nodded and clomped up the stairs. Milo put on the

apron and started peeling. It felt good.

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A sure Candidate for the BOOK SENSE book of the year award.

© 2005-2006 Joseph Mastroianni


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