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Branches
     

Branches

by Mitch Cullin, Ryuzo Kikushima (Illustrator), Ryuzo Kikushima (Illustrator)
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A smalltown West Texas sheriff is the antihero of Cullin's quietly chilling short novel in verse. Pacing the desolate, burnt-out ruins of his boyhood home 22 miles from town, Sheriff Branches (a minor character in Cullin's previous novel, Whompyjawed), catalogues his misdeeds and probes his conscience. On the surface, he is a solid family man, devoted to his wife, Mary, and looking forward to a cozy evening at home eating beef burritos and watching America's Funniest Home Videos. But as Cullin reveals almost immediately, Branches has killed his stepson, Danny, pushing the teenager down a well on the deserted property and emptying his Colt Trooper MK III after him. At the bottom of the well, the decaying corpses of two Mexicans already bear witness to Branches's homicidal instincts. Danny, a budding neo-Nazi, may have committed a crime of sorts. But Branches's other victims--and their numbers multiply--are guilty of little more than crossing the sheriff's path. Nevertheless, Branches remains a remarkably sympathetic character, the balladlike strains of his narration counteracting the grisliness of his actions. Cullin is adept at blending the affable and the sinister, and while this hybrid effort is just a simple song in a minor key, as such it succeeds admirably. Film rights to William Finnegan. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Jim Lewis
Prose disguised as verse: briskly narrative, colloquial and for the most part lacking either overt meter or consistent rhyme . . . The prose is a stage set for Cullin’s ventriloquism, which is brilliant and beautiful . . . A gem, albeit strangely faceted and a little bit dirty...
New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781579620615
Publisher:
Permanent Press, The
Publication date:
03/28/2000
Pages:
198
Product dimensions:
5.83(w) x 8.82(h) x 0.85(d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


    Somehow

    I always end up

    right back here,

    twenty-two miles

    into the heart of isolation:

    The old place is nothing

    but charred wood now,

    all sooty

    and cracked timber beams.

    The roof is gone.

    But the foundation is there,

    as if the fire just decided

    to take everything

    from the waist up,

    leaving the rest—

    the lumbered floor,

    ashen from exposure,

    and the rotting support poles

    thrust into the gnarled hide

    of West Texas—

    for the skunks and rattlers

    and coyotes to claim.

    I don't get out here much anymore.

    Truth is,

    I stay as far away as possible,

    if I can help it.


    The two-way chatters

    in my patrol car,

    little squawks

    and bursts of static,

    impossible to understand

    from where I am

    in the yard,

    and this dusty,

    vagrant wind

    doesn't help either.

    But that's okay.

    What I wish I couldn't hear

    is Danny yelling:

    Daddy,

    I can't move my legs!

    I'm sorry,

    Daddy!


    And I want to shout at him

    that I ain't really his daddy,

    but he already knows that.

    And he's splashing around

    like a minnow

    down in the well.

    I thought the drop

    would've killed him,

    but I was wrong.

    I figured the water

    might still be deep enough

    to drown the life from him.

    But it didn't happen.

    And he's not alone down there,

    but I don't think he knows it yet.

    There's two others,

    both Mexicans,

    probably decomposed to hell

    by now.

    The stink carries

    on up to the yard,

    not like any thing

    I care to think about—

    not like the raunch of shit,

    or even spoiled fruit,

    as some have mentioned

    about decay.

    Just Death,

    pure and simple,

    unmistakable,

    the stench of guts

    burst open

    and bile,

    like the last thing in the world

    someone would want to smell.

    The very last thing

    any fella would want

    hanging in his nostrils.


    Daddy—!


    My stepfather said

    he built this well,

    but I know better.

    My stepfather's father told me

    he'd built the well.

    And I suspect that's the whole truth.

    The old man said

    he'd gathered all the stones himself—

    a month of quarrying around

    in this nowhere of nowheres

    to find enough rock to line a well.

    And it's a dandy too.

    What my stepfather did do, though,

    was add the little shingled awning,

    sheltering the well

    like it was a tiny house

    or oasis or something.

    He also put in the draw-pole,

    so us kids and my momma

    and him too

    could crank the bucket

    on down down down

    to fetch water.

    Except the bucket is gone,

    so is most of the awning.

    So is my stepfather

    and my momma.

    My older brother Kent,

    he's dead too—

    skidded his Harley

    into a bunch of mesquite trees.

    That happened

    when I was still working

    as a highway patrolman,

    and I was first on the scene,

    found him tangled in gray limbs,

    might as well have been

    some tornado-blown scarecrow.

    Jesus christ, Kent, I said,

    what've you done now?

    But he didn't answer

    because he was already on his way

    to the hereafter.

    My younger brother Taft,

    he's dead also.

    But he died when we was babies

    and I don't remember much

    about him.

    And my older sister Alma,

    she lives in Wichita Falls.

    And Mr. R.C. Branches,

    my natural father,

    I never really knew him—

    no good tramp of a man,

    carrying his tuberculosis retch

    to the grave.

    So, as far as I know,

    I am the last there is

    of the Branches men.


    Now I'm sitting with my spine

    plumb against the well,

    sucking on my third Camel.

    Everything stretches away

    from this spot—

    the yard is just weeds

    and more weeds,

    with chunks of strewn and bent,

    rust-absorbed metal bars

    from a fallen swingset

    poking through the scrub.


    I think my legs are broke!

    You still there?

    Don't go, please!

    You still there?

    I'm sorry!


    And what do I tell my wife?

    Danny sobs his head off,

    but he ain't flapping around

    in the muck no more.

    Stupid kid.

    Sure enough,

    I feel a right asshole

    for doing him like this.

    It wasn't supposed to happen

    this way at all.

    But my job

    as King County sheriff

    is to encourage the law,

    and that responsibility

    don't stop at my front door.

    I loved that boy

    as if he were my own,

    and almost as much

    as I love his momma.

    I'm truly heartbroken

    at this moment.

    And this unforgiving,

    sonofabitch breeze

    stirring the dirt and leaves,

    whistling

    through the black frame

    of the old house,

    might as well be blowing

    straight through me.

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