Suicide no. 59: The Salesman
–by Derek Alan Wilkinson
Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes.
Nobody came into Whitmore’s General Store without having Paw’s pearly blues stabbing into their souls like daggers pulled out of hot coals. He’d stalk out the thieves and drunkards quicker than a hawk could gut a fish with its stubborn beak.
“Ain’t got no more cold medicine, Miss Blanche!” he’d yell across three aisles, “Ain’t gonna have no more, neither!” Paw’s face got redder every time the old woman showed up. Truth is, she probably needed the morphine. Truth also was, and Paw knew it, that they’d probably outlaw the stuff soon.
“But my bones ache s’bad, Mister Whitmore!”
That’s when the old Smith & Wesson came out. The poor, used up hag just stood there and shook, and we all knew she’d risk her life even on a misfire just to cure whatever ailment she had. All the townsfolk had clues that it was something—dysentery, nervousness, influenza, polio, or just bad blood. Something made that poor woman spook her own cattle moaning in agony every night; it eventually killed her, but nobody ever found out what it was.
Still, Paw had to keep the addicts out of the store—even if they were poor and feeble and old.
“Need ya to do a run” is all he’d have to say, and I’d load up a carriage full of canned goods, housewife necessities, and whatever else I could find to barter off—usually what we couldn’t sell in the store—at the ranches in western Oklahoma. Most of the junk I’d have to sell, trade, or otherwise cheat people into purchasing with the last pennies they had.
“Whether for coin, or against nature, a man’s life is thus spent” he once told me. I’d lived up to the reputation that the old man had grievously instilled in us—knowing that I’d be food for either cougars in the wild, or at the mercy of bandits or savages, if I hadn’t kept up with it.
And I did. And more than once, I’d emptied my gun. In fact, I never came back from those trips until my brothers and I either ran out goods or bullets.
And it was usually bullets, to which Paw would complain: “Learn to shoot straight, you lazy bastards!”
“Every man’s a slave to somethin’” he’d yell, especially when he’d see the freed, colored folk. My brothers and I tried to get him to quiet down to keep from running people off. Eventually he shut up—knowing good and well that these men were mostly factory workers now, and that their money was as good as any body’s.
Of course, Paw never wanted us to work in the factories: “It’s like tendin’ a farm with no borders! You toil and you work, and their ain’t no yield!”
And when our store finally got shut down—when we’d finally had to see ourselves off to those soot-filled smoke stacks really looked like on the inside—Paw took out that old pistol, and shot himself before he himself ever saw the endless labor that it truly was.