copyright © 2002 Arlen Lawson

Shoestring Hangman’s Noose

By Arlen Lawson


Grant Cut

   Let me tell you about something!  It’s like a story but it’s real, ‘cause it happened.  Except maybe I think the first stories were stuff that really happened, too, only later people thought, “Hey, if I don’t like my life ‘cause it’s boring or terrible, I can make shit up,” and that’s how stories as we know came to be how they are today.  And that’s a true story I just told you.

   Oh, man, has your dad ever died of eating mushroom?  Well, it sucks!  The only people I know whose dad died of eating a mushroom is me and Bobby Cut.  And Bobby Cut is my little brother Bobby, so that makes only one dad who ever died of eating mushroom, if you do your maths right.

   How it happened was spaghetti.  Mom makes spaghetti sometimes, right, and whenever it happens my dad got his sauce made special in a little pot ‘cause he likes mushroom and no one else likes it.  It used to be he didn’t get it special, and we’d just switch up if there was mushroom or not and when there wasn’t he’d grumble how it’s not really spaghetti sauce without mushroom and when there was he’d say, “For once in my life, real spaghetti,” and no one else would eat.  And either way he’d end up storming out of the house, screaming, “You’re all a bunch of filthy whores!” and stay gone for weeks.  Which is why for a long time we wouldn’t eat spaghetti, except when mom wanted “a little time to herself.

   Then Bobby, who’s eight years old and in all special classes at school, which is code for he’s a little ‘tarded, said we ought to make Dad’s in a special little pot with mushroom and the rest could be no mushroom.  And it worked and we got to eat spaghetti again, so we told Bobby how smart he was, and he said, “It just came in my head all the sudden.”

   The only bad thing was Mom had to find new ways of getting “a little time to herself,” which she did by saying things like, “Frank, you’re a loser, and will always be a loser, just like your father!  Back me up here, children.”

   That’s how come our dad ate mushrooms and died without the rest of us.  Toadstool poisoning.  And that’s how come our mom’s at work when we come home and leaves us with a baby sitter, name of Russell, 17 with blond hair and little holes in his face except for one big one on his forehead, who comes an hour late, always, then eats some of my mom’s pain pills, looks me in the eyes and says, “I never heard of anyone dying from mushrooms, kid.”


   Bobby’s at Cub Scouts, usually.  His favorite part of Cub Scouts is two parts: 1) The uniform that he wears even to school, even when it stinks, which is most of the time because mom doesn’t like to wash clothes every single day because she is not our slave. And 2) His second favorite part is knots.  He brought me in his room to show me a lineup of little knots he’d made using shoelaces.  He points at each and says its name.  Sheep shank. Thief Knot. Clove Hitch. Reef Knot. Left Handed Sheet Bend.  Savoy.  They’re very impressive, very pretty, tight, perfect.

   Even Russell whistled when he saw them and that made Bobby smile ‘til Russell called him a fag for smiling at him.  Then Bobby kind of started to whimper ‘til Russell showed him how to make a Hangman’s Noose to cheer him up.

   I don’t go to Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts or any.  I am old enough to be trusted on my own, says mom, except by that she means trusted on my own as long as there’s a baby sitter.  That’s Russell, except he’s OK if I just go in the woods, which he lets me do.

   There’s a book I read that talks about how there’s a special place in the woods that this one kid can only get to by crossing a bridge he made, and it’s his special place.  Except in the movie it’s a rope swing, and I really think a bridge is better.  I spend most of my time looking for a place like that, and preferably there’s a bridge, but maybe it’s a rope swing and that’s still OK.  I haven’t found it yet, but that’s not gonna stop me from looking.

   What happened once, and this is the main part of the story, really, so if you haven’t been listening so far, you should really start now, is there’s this little patch of picket fence just thrown in the woods like maybe it was going to be a fence there and they gave up, or maybe they just made too much picket fence and threw the leftover there.  But, whatever, I’m looking for the perfect spot in the woods, and I come to this fence and there’s Bobby, who got out of Cub Scouts early or something, and he’s swinging a dead weasel around his head with a Hangman’s Noose and whacking it into the fence, where it leaves a little red-brown weasel-shaped mark.  And Bobby said it was his machine that he invented.  And he keeps slapping the post with the weasel and each time it leaves a mark until, after enough slaps, the post’s color is solid again.  And then I figure out he thinks it’s a painting machine.  Which is cute.  Come on.

   So I ask, “Is it a painting machine, Bobby?” and he says no.  It’s a prototype machine and he’s already working on the bigger model.  And this is kind of creepy to me, so I ask him to show me what he’s got so far.  And Bobby gets a big smile on his face and takes off running.

   I run after and he’s going in directions I’ve never been, so I’m thinking maybe Bobby gets out early from Cub Scouts a little more often that I thought and I just never bumped into him before, and he leads me to this dead tree, which has dead branches hanging down on all sides, so thick you can’t see through them, but Bobby’s broken a little door in it, which must have taken him I don’t know how long, and he leads me through and inside to where, in the inside dusk of his hidden dream come true, suspended from just where the pillar-trunk of the house-tree veers off to the right, is a hangman’s noose fashioned out of a garden hose, impressive, tight, perfect, and very, very pretty


   And I brought my fist into Bobby’s shining face, because I was scared or angry or jealous and he fell to the dirty floor of dead branches where I continued my assault.  And when I had finished, I dropped to my knees, tore my pants on the branches there, crying, and held Bobby and apologized, and together we stared up through the noose at the threads of light behind the branches, and I whispered to Bobby, “Now you repeat after me.  Fuck you, Russell.  Didn’t you ever hear of toadstool poisoning?”  And Bobby repeats back, in wheeze through swollen lip and bleeding gums, “Fuck you, Russell.  Didn’t you hear a toadstool poison?” 

   And that’s close enough.


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