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Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
@MulcockPaul
11:33 PM 10th January 2022
fiction

Defective Parts - An Avery Story.

The days dried you up, reducing anything alive to the red sterility of desiccated, bone-dry dust. Inevitable calcification the fate of anything soft. If a man’s heart spent too much time exposed to Avery’s sun it too would shrivel. Autonomic function needs no sense of self and does not contemplate the bald truth, that one day there would be nothing left to pump.

A man’s consciousness kept him saddled to a horse going nowhere, plodding forward without any purpose beyond carrying its rider through the desert of life. If the rider was lucky, they’d have somewhere to go. If they were not, saddle sore and weary, the trail would be an ever more arduous exercise in arid futility ending only when the rider could ride no more.

Jasper scratched his cheek, gnarled fingers running over the wrinkled parchment clinging to his skull. He squinted at the world through watery pale blue eyes buried deep within ugly folds of leathery, sun-mottled skin. Those eyes, like the lacklustre paint on his rusting pick-up had once been bright, curious and defiantly unbleached.

Seventy-two years later they were insipid pools of despair, slowly drying up like a sun-baked waterhole now cut off from the source of its meaning. It hurt to cough, his ribcage pulled on ligaments and muscle sinew exhausted by decades of pointless toil. Jasper spat the dark blood out, splashing his left boot and quickly seeping into the gritty scrubland he stood upon.

Mandy and he had built a life out of ash and bone. He’d run the only garage in Avery for nearly half a century. Wrecks came in and wrecks went back out, welded together, patched up and made useable until another part failed, or a chassis crumpled. His two boys left the business when they realised they’d be poor for the rest of their lives. Their prescience about poverty was the only thing they had ever anticipated correctly. Their lives had imploded, pulverised into blood-soaked dust by fate and poor judgement.

Jed had been killed in a bar fight over his gambling debts and booze-addled bravado. Stewey had called time on his own car crash of a life when the bank repossessed his smallholding. Stewey had been generous with his remaining shells and shared them out amongst his wife and two daughters. They did not live long enough to thank him for the kindness.

Ten years ago Mandy’s untreated cancer finally destroyed her, having ravaged her body with a vulture's appetite for every last scrap of moist flesh. Jasper had left her emaciated body in their bed, shifting to the battered couch in the back room, only burying her when the smell became unbearable, and the flies more than a vaguely annoying nuisance.

He remembered the shovel ricocheting off the stoney ground before finding its way into the recalcitrant, parched earth. She had deserved more than a shallow grave, but Jasper knew the coyotes would thank him for the food come winter. He hoped Mandy’s cancer might find its way into their savage bellies, but fate was seldom that accommodating.

He butchered them when he had the chance, always using small calibre weapons to down them, before cutting their bellies open for the vultures to dine out on their entrails whilst they were still sentient. It was his way of placing flowers on a grave that had been robbed.

Jasper had loved Mandy. Respected her stoic grit and resolute belief in the need to stay above the ground that seemed so callously intent upon sucking her, and her family, into its ineluctable embrace. She’d been his reason to keep riding the bucking bronco. Home cooking, the smell of her washed hair; the way she brought him a cold lunch every day and kissed his oil-slicked forehead. Her wedding ring had cost him six months income and left them both eating beans for the next six. These responses to Mandy’s integrity and love patrolled his soul and kept his ever vengeful demons at bay.

Her mind had crumbled when Stewey pulled the trigger on his shotgun. Those dispensed cartridges ripped through her psyche like buckshot through wet tissue paper. Jasper had watched her wither like a discarded apple left to putrefy in the sun. An apple would have decomposed wordlessly, without a whimper. Mandy’s groans, bubbling up through diseased lungs had etched themselves into his Being. His mind curated a tapestry of pain-soaked memories, rendering its cloth as black as the oil staining his cracked finger tips.

Jasper had decided to settle his accounts. Those he planned to visit had it coming. His memory, like his list of enemies was long. The locals had no choice but to take their mechanical problems to the, “mean old buzzard”. His repairs had become no more than repeat prescriptions treating symptoms, not causes. With Mandy gone, his conscience quickly evaporated in Avery’s cruel heat. Consequently, Jasper’s customers invariably owed him money they had zero intention of paying. Bills remained unpaid and Clark’s boys had no interest in settling scores not involving blood, or death. They were picky eaters and liked their steak raw. Helping Jasper off the hook could wait until never.

Jasper subsisted by selling the parts he stripped from his customers’ vehicles, replacing them with crude versions knocked together from obsolete stock sulking on shelves lining his filthy, oil-stained shed. Men had died when the brakes had failed on their trucks, or the power steering suddenly gave up the ghost. Jasper put a thick red line through these accounts, scrawling, “Balance Paid”.

Vernon Dilby had become suspicious. Last year he’d nursed his Ford back to Jasper’s place after a radiator repair, the pick-up hissing boiling coolant over the thirsty ground. “Seems to me you fixed nothing old timer. Get me running before I’ve finished the last beer you’ve got left in that shit hole you call home, or my boots are gunna party with your god damned face. You think you’re ugly now…I’ll make you look like roadkill, before it gets to drying. Might even break me a leg for fun. You’ll wish for a bullet to stop the pain”. Vernon paused, considered going to the party early, but the cold beer prevailed.

“You’ve been screwing folks for a long time…you’ve gone an’ fucked up an old man…you’ve messed with me. I’m gunna see that you pay your dues”. Vernon lit a Marlborough red and headed into the shack in search of the fridge. He opened a beer and urinated on Jasper’s filthy floor, before looking for anything worth taking in exchange for his time. Destroying Jasper’s livelihood would only pay the interest on his spleen. He slipped Mandy’s ring into his pocket, crushing their wedding photo with his boot heel. His bladder empty, he spat on the shattered glass that had once entombed Mandy’s brief moment of happiness.

Two hours later, the Ford was breathing again and not wetting itself like a coward facing a knife. “Only right that this one is on the house…I’m gunna take a trip to Delby and get them to see just what you’ve done to my truck. It’ll be worth the gas and time. Reckon plenty of folks will be interested in that tale”. With that Vernon gunned the Ford, showering Jasper in fumes and dust.

Jasper wiped his grimy talons on his soiled jeans and smiled. At the first deep rut in the road, Vernon’s seat struts would disintegrate, dropping their heavy load through the weakened floor of the Ford before Vernon would have a chance to react. Metal fatigue would tell no tales. Stress something for long enough, and it always breaks…just another of Avery’s axiomatic truths.

Jasper pulled the battered notebook from his back pocket, its dogeared pages the colour of his claw-like fingernails. He’d pick five lucky winners and bide his time. He didn’t have the heart to extend this customer service to everyone in the book. For those he’d chosen to take care of, he’d give them the full service. Clark and his boys were nobody’s fools, but Jasper had spent long sun-drenched afternoons thinking about Mandy, and how he was going to balance his books. The kind of damage he had in mind could never be repaired, even by the Divine Mechanic himself. In Avery, even good hearts eventually turned bad…it was just a matter of how many sunrises it took.