“It’s empty,” Arliss says, striking a kitchen match on his butt, which is a trick I seen too many times now.
“You sure?” says I. Because Arliss lies just about all the time. Once he told me why. We was driving through Pensacola. Arliss was sitting in the back seat with Howard, that dog we stole from somebody’s yard in Raleigh. Arliss called it a rescue operation. But that wasn’t true neither. He just liked the way this little furball was barking to beat all and jumping like it had springs in its legs. He done it like Arliss does everything. Smooth, just dropping his hand over the fence and catching that little yapper mid-jump. It took him two states to decide on “Howard,” though. Until then he just called it “Pooch.”
Anyway, like I said, we was in Pensacola, and I was reading road signs aloud for Arliss. He says it’s good exercise for his mental faculties. Arliss don’t ever listen to the radio. His mama was always listening to the radio, and Arliss still hates his mama even after all these years. But I’ll tell you something. I knew his mama and she was the sweetest lady you ever met. Arliss can be that way, though. He can hate the woman who give him birth and love a dog that pees whenever it gets excited, which is pretty much always.
So I read this one sign in front of a church in Pensacola that said, “Is Touching Yourself Worth An Eternity In Hell?” Arliss made me stop the car. He sat there thinking like he does, and then he told me to get out and rearrange the letters to say, “Ill Horny Tweeter Shun A Ninth Felicitous Orgy.”
“I got to break the glass to get at it,” I yelled back at him. “There’s a lock on this damn thing.”
“Go ahead. God don’t mind. He got plenty of other things to worry about.”
Well, I fixed it like he said, though it took me a few tries, with Arliss shouting to move this letter here and that one there, and then I got back in the driver’s seat, all set to go find a Shoney’s, which is where we like to eat whenever we get to a new place.
“I was at a orgy in a church once,” Arliss said. “Quiet down, Howard.”
“Which one?” I was thinking it was probably that one back home on Turkey Creek Road, because that’s where Dolores went.
“To tell you the truth, it was your daddy’s.”
Well, I known already Arliss was mostly crazy, but this was something special. A orgy at my daddy’s church? I tried to imagine old Mrs. Baker from the choir hootin’ and hollerin’ with her legs up in the air.
“Tell me this, Arliss. Why the hell do you lie so much?”
“I thought you done figured that out a long time ago, Zeke. It’s like this, see. A man comes into this world. He looks around hisself, and what he sees is nothing but bullshit. Just loads and loads of crap. It’s doo-doo coming and going. Caca here, caca there. Your preachers, your teachers, your goddamn street sweepers, all shoveling shit as fast as they can. ‘Repent and be saved!’ Bullshit. ‘If you will simply apply yourself, Arliss Glover, the sky’s the limit.’ Bull crap. ‘You can earn $500 a week working from home.’ Bull dookey. So here’s the way I see it, Zeke. We got a choice between getting buried in other people’s poo, or burying them in our own. Which ain’t much of a choice, when you really think about it.”
“I can see that. Which don’t explain why we’re burning down all these churches, though.”
“Don’t it? Well, maybe you’re right. I guess I just like them pretty flames against a big old night sky.”
So that’s what Arliss said that time in Pensacola about lying. I never asked him what I really wanted to know. Which is, why he had to keep on lying to me, even if he lied to everybody else. Maybe it just gets to be a habit, eventually.
“Yeah, Zeke, I’m sure it’s empty, like I been sure ever other time up to now. So let’s stick this match between Jesus’s toes and go see if we can find us a Shoney’s. I’m a have a slice of strawberry pie today.”
And it’s only when we pull into this parking lot at the Shoney’s that Arliss looks down at his feet, sits up and looks into the front passenger seat, reaches out with both hands and feels all around, and then asks me, “Where the hell is Howard?”