Alpha Desperation March


Joy J. Henry is writing a series of connected short stories to accompany songs by The Mountain Goats. Have a listen:

The Mountain Goats- Alpha Desperation March

Alpha Desperation I came out of the bank to find Barb chain smoking next to the Olds. She cut quite a figure there, her body long and lean from the exercise DVDs she couldn’t stop ordering off the TV.

“Dja get it?” she said, as I opened the door and snaked my body in.

“Why’d they build that bank with the hills around it like that?” I said instead, fiddling with the radio knob. It was permanently set on seek, and every 30 seconds would abandon its current station.

“Earthen berm,” Barb said, but it sounded like “earthen berm-a” because she was emphasizing so much. “Keeps the cool air in.” She smacked her gum with a knowing satisfaction. She was always chewing gum and smoking at the same time.

“I got it,” I said, showing her the withdrawal envelope stuffed underneath my left armpit. “$8,375.”

“Oh goddamn!” she said, slapping the dash. “Thank you Milly! Goddamn, duck soup!” Barb was from Brooklyn.

I had killed my Grandma’s cat, and taken the insurance money. I was in charge of Grandma’s finances, being that she was showing signs of senility, and I was the only one left.


At home, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror. “How do they even make money selling pet insurance,” I said loudly, so Barb could hear. “Pets have such a short life span. Around here, you get a good five years before a feral dog eats it.”

I cut off my long brown ponytail with two or three clips of the scissors and threw it in the trashcan. I had hated it for some time.

“You’ve got these old ladies, they don’t let their cats see the light of day. They buy cat food instead of blood pressure meds.” She paused to chew some cereal. “Three weeks later the cat’s licking the dead broad’s eyeballs.”

I made a face in front of the mirror. The sink was surrounded by more of Barb’s TV purchases. A woman’s mustache trimmer, all-in-one makeup kits, a magnetic bracelet designed to decrease stress. I slid it around my wrist.

I changed my mind, picked the ponytail out of the trash. Inside the master bedroom, I sprinkled the hair across Barb’s rose bedspread. Around the bed, opened and abandoned boxes filled the floor: faux leather jackets, limited edition NFL jerseys, pillows for side sleepers. This was what my savings had been transmogrified into.

Barb stood at the kitchen counter over the empty cereal bowl. “Whaddya say we pawn some of this stuff before we hit the road,” I said, trying not to let my hands shake. We put the DVD player, the TV, and a Brett Favre juicer into some trash bags, grabbed our suitcases, and got in the car. The plan was to go live in her brother’s in-law unit in Palm Beach, get a fresh start with our cash.

I pulled into the plaza, helped Barb carry the bags of electronic equipment into The Getting’ Place Pawn. I had never had the heart to stop her, really. She was only ever truly happy when she was telling me how some new purchase was going to change our lives. Those leathery ladies on that QVC channel prey on the weak, and they know it.

As I walked back out to the Olds, I could hear Barb’s familiar pointed tone negotiating with the pawnshop man over prices. “You’re called Barb for a reason,” I would half-joke to her sometimes. I snaked my body into the driver’s seat, fiddled with the radio, and drove left out of the Food Ranch parking lot.

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