Micro story – Porcelain

Saint Jean-Baptiste by Jean Dampt. 1881. Musée d’Orsay. Photo: TAM

Porcelain

By Ford Waight

Originally published in The Journal of Microliterature, Nov 13, 2011.

Revised Apr 07, 2021.

Lester Casey. If only he had needed some work on his teeth; an extraction, a filling, even a routine hygiene visit… then I might have been able to do something to stop him. Truth was, in all the time I’d been a practicing dentist I’d not once had Lester Casey in my chair. I’d gazed into the opened mouths of just about every resident of our small town, but not Lester. I wish I had. Because I would have done something for sure, right then, as he sat helpless in the hydraulic chair, his vile mouth hanging open, his obsidian eyes staring hellishly at me. But I did nothing. When I should have done something.

Our town had been stripped of its males; scores of able men conscripted to fight in the war in the east. Soon I was staring into the mouths of women and children only. The few men who remained were those deemed too old, too young or unfit for service. I fell into the first category. Lester Casey slotted into the second. At age fifteen, Lester – and let’s not forget about his gang of thugs – were too young to witness the letting of blood. Robbed of the sanguinary spectacle in the east, they decided to shed blood of their own.

They began small, as most criminals do, bullying and stealing, helping themselves to things from around the town while the men who owned them were away firing and dodging bullets. They intimidated the women. Cursed at the children younger than them. They were like a pack of bad dogs. Scavengers. And the sheriff of our town did nothing to stop them – seeing as Lester was the nephew of the mayor, and was living in the mayor’s big house up on the hill. A parentless and only child, Lester’s father was a casualty of the war in its first year, and his mother – dead from tuberculosis not six months later. The mayor, when reproached by the elders and townsfolk, shrugged off his nephew’s behavior as merely: ‘Boyish games’ and ‘High spirits’. Said he was: ‘Completely bereft of parents due to God’s good will’ and ‘Don’t be afeared, the boy will come good under my wing.’ The townsfolk and elders bit their lips hard.      

Lester’s gang of thugs was made up of three other boys: John Givens, Tom Daley, and I don’t recall the name of the third. But they were spiteful, bored, ugly kids that followed Lester everywhere. Weeks passed. Their crimes intensified both in magnitude and cruelty. They robbed from the stores, liquor and cigars, got into fights (once beating this drifter so senseless he almost died). They stole trucks. Set fire to outbuildings. Hauled machinery onto the railroad tracks, and callously – savagely – mutilated livestock.

I should have done something. We all should. Were we afraid? Yes, I think we were. Everyone was afraid back then. War hung over us like a spat out curse that wouldn’t go away. Our inability to stop Lester made him invincible. Yet, how I prayed he would come visit me at my surgery – I could have clamped his mouth open; overdosed him with novocaine; laid waste to his rotten teeth and gums with my electric bur; poured amalgam down his throat; spat in his eyes as he sat there like a dummy. But, Lord, it would have made me just as abhorrent as him. If only I had done that.

On the thirteenth of August, a Friday, while the mayor and his wife were away for the weekend, Lester Casey and his gang kidnapped thirteen year old Jessica Bates. They took her to the big house on the hill and there they raped her. She managed to escape. And she fled to the nearest neighbor who alerted the sheriff. The sheriff and his deputy took up horses and rode to the big house, where they found themselves under gunfire from Lester’s gang who had broken into the mayor’s firearms cabinet. The deputy was shot in the throat and died instantly. And that’s when all Hell broke loose in our small town.

Suddenly, men were summoned; old men, sick men, those unfit for the conflict in the east. Armed with their farm guns, they found themselves engaged in a war after all. For two hours there was a shootout resulting in nothing more than a standoff. Then an armed police division arrived from a neighboring town. The big guns. John Givens fell first. Shot in the head. He toppled from a second floor window. The police captain, witnessing this through his field glasses, believed that the death of Givens would be enough to make the rest of the gang surrender. But he was wrong. Lester and his gang fired round after round at them. Tom Daley fell next. Shot in the stomach I believe. Or was it the chest. The third boy, the one whose name I can’t recall, was seen fleeing the house. A party was sent to capture him, but they never did find that boy.

And still, undeterred by death and desertion, Lester Casey fought on, eventually retreating into the shadows and corners of his uncle’s big house only when his bullets ran out. And when the police entered they found Lester barricaded inside the games room, hiding beneath a billiard table, a pistol in his hand. Two bullets remained: the first he used on the police captain – missing him by a whisker, thank the Lord – the second was presumably meant for another officer… or for Lester himself. We’ll never know. He was shot more than forty-eight times. And all that remained of Lester Casey were crimson ribbons of tissue and his bared teeth. Obsidian eyes had turned to bloodstone. His last words had been obscenities.

Not many men returned to our town following the war. And those who did could scarcely believe the small war we’d been through ourselves. The mayor resigned and left. No one ever heard from his again. The sheriff was voted in as his replacement. As for me, I got on with my dentistry. And as time passed, I became full of self-loathing whenever Jessica Bates came to the surgery.

If only Lester Casey had needed some work on his teeth. I could have – would have – done something. At night, when I dream, I see him sitting there in my chair, his mouth hanging open, his black eyes damning me to Hell. The electric bur vibrates in my trembling hand. There are beads of sweat on the inside of my spectacles. Lester’s voice cuts through me like the splintering of enamel, like the shattering of porcelain – ‘What are you gonna do about it, huh? Old man… what are you gonna do about it?’

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