by Bram Riddlebarger
Your head bursting from sleep and sickness, you sit at the kitchen table and listen to Hank Williams moan from the stereo in the living room. Hank had just kicked it a week ago. His voice was more ghostly than ever.
You shake your head.
You wonder why Tom Robbins ended his books the way he does. Then you wonder why you thought Hank Williams had died just one week ago. Tom Robbins may have invaded your skull. It was possible. Telepathy or some crazy shit, you reckon. Maybe Tom Robbins is the cause of your throbbing brain. He could be up there, lurking like the ghost of Hank Williams between your ears.
You flip the station on the stereo until you find something loud. Thoughts of exorcism run through the sickness in your head. Is Robbins dancing? The throbbing, you notice, does have a slow, two-four backbeat-like pattern. Almost rockabilly, but surely this couldn’t be true. Have Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys decided to play One Last Show, Exclusive, for One Night Only, with Tom Robbins as the entire audience, inside your head? Why you ask? Even cowboys get the blues or what?
You think you hear the old Lovesick Blues Boy crooning away from your medulla oblongata right this second. Meanwhile, you feel Tom Robbins still kicking the beat, apparently complete with cowboy boots on his feet. You turn the stereo up as loud as it will go, but to no effect. The boot stompin’ rages on as Tom Robbins perfects his Texas two-step.
Through the pain that is your head, small questions begin to arise from your frontal lobes. Small neuro-electrical torpedoes firing away like hopeless sperm racing against the PILL. The bastards. Who sold that Robbins a ticket anyway? You suspect you know the answer to that question. Hank hadn’t led the purest of lives and Robbins never missed a chance to bash the Almighty. Then again . . . anything was possible after this, right? Maybe old Hank’s been sittin’ in purgatory this whole time and now he’s got to show Tom Robbins what he’s got. Maybe it’s his only chance. Heaven or hell, baby, which side are you on? If Tom Robbins’s cowboy boots are any indication, looks like Hank might be singing with an angel band after all. Maybe God’s going to kill two kooks with one banana. If Robbins can kick out a good two-step and Williams can yodel till he really does see the light, He’ll let ‘em both in. Meanwhile, the Old Man gets a free Hank Williams concert (everyone knows God loves country music) as well as the pleasure of watching that sinner Tom Robbins stomp around in cowboy boots, skinny legs and all.
Of course, how your brain became the venue for such a visitation of the otherworldly is the part you aren’t getting. Wasn’t St. Peter supposed to take care of these matters? Hank Williams plays the Pearly Gates? Shit. There are probably people dying to see this show.
As you complete this thought, Tom Robbins bears down on your corpus callosum. You can’t take much more. Your skull was not intended to be the Holy Ghost’s honky-tonk. Or was it? You turn the stereo off and sit back down at the kitchen table; nausea grips your stomach. You’re afraid that if you barf you may see a tiny fiddle bow or maybe a six-shooter swirling around in the oatmeal you ate for breakfast. You try it anyway. Hell, it might make them stop.
It doesn’t. Not even a break in the action. You realize you do not matter in the course of such events. They only need your head. The fact that this is your command central for all functions mental is irrelevant to the divine jig Tom Robbins now performs around your cerebral cortex. Even Hank Williams, spinal distortion and all, shows no mercy. His cowboy boots beat a leather tattoo of two-timin’ into your brain stem and you cry for mercy.
There is no such thing. You stumble away from the oatmeal stew floating like a healthy colon inside your toilet bowl and fall down on your knees. In this state of forced supplication, the Drifting Cowboys break into a frantic version of what sounds like ‘Sally Goodin’ but could be the voice of the Creator Himself for all you care. You hit the floor face down. Oatmeal flecked bile seeps from your mouth like snoose juice as you writhe among the ghosts of broken beer bottles and honky-tonk hardwood floorboards. Tom Robbins hoots and hollers, “DO-CE-DO!” in a trance-like state as the frenzy escalates to near quantum proportions. Hank’s bringing down the house tonight. And all you can think is this must be the way it all ends, this must be the way it all ends, this must be . . . the way . . . it . . . all . . . ends.
Bram Riddlebarger is a writer and musician from Southeastern Ohio. He has written seven collections of poems and short stories, including The Way It All Must End and his latest Belly Up For Fun. Bram is currently at work on his first novel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.