When I found you your feet were bloodied and smeared in mud. I took you into the house and washed them clean for you. In the morning when you started talking, you asked for whiskey. When I told you no, you asked for gin.
I never had a friend that needed me like that before. I guess I always kept to myself and was happy that way. When you moved into old Ray’s, (old Ray had died that spring) and the truck came and the men tore everything out and left it bare, it was hardly a month before you bought it up. No one round here was much impressed as you expected them to be, what with you being a rock star and all. I didn’t see nothing but a lonely mess, getting drunk and crashing about up there like a banshee my mother would have said. Oh and howling like one too some nights. I bet you thought I never heard you. You aint so far in the middle of nowhere as you told yourself. This place might not be much to a big-shot like yourself, but we got a way of life here, we got good people, hard work, and big families, you might think it’s nowhere but we call it somewhere. Anyway, never was one to be offended much, but you went and caused up a storm in the end. Getting drunker than a man your age had a right too. Collecting all those empty bottles round your house like that, the night I heaved you up your porch steps, into your house, and ditched you on the couch. Not a chance in hell I could have got you up them stairs to your bed, aint my job to do it neither. Though, course I was doing my best to pick you up at all. Aint that what Jesus told us was the right thing to do? You sure needed it, whatever He said.
When I released your weight from my shoulder, I sighed out big with relief. You didn’t even look like you noticed. I could hear you snoring so I knew you were alive. I went right round the whole house; slung out every bottle I could find – especially the one’s with anything still in ’em. Not leaving you to your own devices. Bit later I noticed it got quiet, the snoring had stopped. I went over to you on the couch, and you looked up at me like a baby bird. “Where the hell am I?” you asked me.
“Don’t you recognise your own home, without all those there bottles?” I asked you. You looked offended, and lay back down like your head weighed two tons. What else was I supposed to say? I’d been cleaning for hours now. When you woke again at six in the evening, you asked me where the gin was. When I told you there ain’t none for you, you started to get mad. You got real nasty on me then.
“I’m outta here” I told you, knowing full well you weren’t gonna let me walk out on you.
“What am I going to drink now you stole all my liquor?” you yelled at the door.
“Try water, ‘fore you dry right out” I told you, and you threw a book at the wall next to me.
The crash startled me anyway.
I walked back towards you, got real close to your face so I knew you sure were listening, and lowered my voice to you. “Ain’t no star so big it don’t burn out some time. You better start taking better care of yourself.” You knew then it was a warning, and a threat.
You looked pissed, and a dog ran from another room, shot right through, and out the open door.
You sat down with your head in your hands and cried. I’ve never known much what to do with tears.
So I didn’t do nothing but walk over to the kettle, and start cooking up some of the food I’d brought over earlier from my own pantry. You looked so pathetic there,and all I knew how to do was feed you.
We ate in silence.
I wondered if you were having difficulty swallowing, I reckoned weeks since you last ate a square meal.
You looked at me while we ate, I cant remember if I smiled at you or not, but we both knew you were grateful, no need for saying so. After dinner you looked edgy. Uncomfortable and tired. But jittery, you know. I didn’t know what to do next, but I thought it best not to leave you. Though I really did feel like getting out of there, getting back to my house, being alone again and finding that peace I’ve needed my whole life. Course, I couldn’t, and so I went upstairs and made up the bed in a spare room. I told you you need to go to bed if you can’t stay awake and not drink, and you went upstairs like a dutiful child. You knew what I said was right.
Not even two months later, you were on the radio in my kitchen, and the song was a new one. I heard it; that worn out voice, that tired strumming all revived and reborn. I only knew it was you cos they said so. You hadn’t been back here since your sister came to get you when I called her. She didn’t want to come at first, but I chewed on her. I guess she came good in the end. Now I’m back to being alone, how I like it. The bars round here hit a little recession when you left. I feel like I’d done harm to local business by getting you cleaned up.
When my cousin from three towns west came to visit my granddad, she stayed here with me; save putting him out. She told me she’d heard Riley Tun had a house nearby.
She giggled like a girl when she asked me. Wanted to know if I’d ever met Riley Tun. “Not really, I guess”, I told her. “Oh but it must have been exciting? Having a star in town!” she told me. I didn’t have much else to say on that, so I started peeling potatoes and she chopped onions besides me. When dinner was ready she looked at me and said “ain’t it funny, a big star like that wanting to live out here like us?”
“He didn’t” I told her, and she looked confused. “He’s gone ain’t he?” and she considered what I’d said.
On the radio, the woman asked you what turned you around. You said you’d found Jesus, and I respect that, but aint it me who was there for you? Wiped your vomit, cleaned your bleeding feet? Kept all your poisons out of reach? Not that it matters either way. I’m happiest here alone. Every dog gotta die sometime. And the firedogs never die when you expect them to. I reckon what I did that winter got you another ten years. I just hope you use ‘em well. The music you’re making sells but aint good. So we’ll see, but I do take a little fools pride in knowing, a bit of it was cos of me. And there you are, out in Tennessee selling records, not thinking of me.