Category Archives: Matt Phillips

May the Dust Not Rise

Wish I could tell you it was an accident.

+++++I can’t. Not this time.

+++++Remo had a t-top Pontiac Firebird, an eighties model with a bald eagle painted on the hood. The dented body all brown as tobacco goop in a chicken shit’s lip. Used to drive past my property every morning—I guess around seven in the ay-m. Had himself a janitorial specialist position at the middle school.

+++++Cleaned the toilets down there.

+++++Remo made that Firebird’s engine go, and he liked to whip the squirrelly back end down the road. Looked to me—from the open door of my trailer—like a big brown fish swimming into the sky. And that engine roared like hot oil pouring over you. Got into your head.

+++++But then came the dust. Big damn clouds of dust.

+++++Ain’t no roads like dirt roads.

+++++With the wind coming from the east, the dust blew in my face.

+++++I got me the asthma.

+++++I’m on my way to a few other things that have to do with my Marlboros and those shit-sticks over at the tobacco company. What’s it and Morris. Point is, my natro-pathic remedist says I need good air and quiet.

+++++Here I am sucking dust and plugging my ears with wads of shit tissue.

+++++Triple-ply, dammit.

+++++Given my productivity for conflict restoration, I walked over to his place one afternoon. Figured I’d have us a chat. The Firebird’s engine was still ticking when I passed it on the gravel driveway. Windshield was thick with dust. Caked over like butter in a cold skillet.

+++++Remo had himself a thirty-five footer with a master suite. Tires were flat, but it was a nice rig. I offered more than once to take it off his hands, but Remo didn’t get many raises for scrubbing shit from kiddie toilets. He held onto the thing, made it his forever home.

+++++I stomped right up and pounded the door.

+++++The trailer rattled and creaked as Remo moved inside. He opened the door, took a long sip from a High Life. He said, “You come down here for a eight ball, Morgan?”

+++++I lit a cigarette. “You mind I come in for a minute?” I blew out smoke and curled my lips around the cancer stick.

+++++“Have a beer with me.”

+++++Inside, I sat on the small sofa near the door. Remo handed me a High Life and sat across from me in the trailer’s dining booth.

+++++We sipped our beers and smoked.

+++++“Well, Morgan…What the hell can I do for you?”

+++++“You can stop kicking up dust with that Firebird of yours.”

+++++“That all what this is?”

+++++“It’s that until it’s worse,” I said. “I got the asthma and more coming down the line. Doctor told me so.”

+++++Remo squinted at my cigarette, put his own to his lips and puffed.

+++++“I’m not trying nothing now, but I need that dust to settle.”

+++++“Hmm,” Remo said. He said it again. He puffed some more. “May the dust not rise,” he said and made the sign of the cross with the cigarette between his fingers. Smoke danced all away from him like morning mist. He laughed after that, tried hard to clear his throat for a long few seconds.

+++++“I know you hear me,” I said. “I want the dust to settle.”

+++++It’s too often people don’t do what you say.

+++++What you want.

+++++It’s too often people think they can kick up dust and drive right through it.

+++++That’s what Remo thought: He did it the next morning.

+++++And that night.

+++++But he sure as shit never did it again. Tell you what, I can still hear his screams in the back of my head. And see the flames. That shit-brown Firebird buried in blue-red fire, a bald eagle on the hood growing blacker by the second. Surprised me how fast the trailer went up—at thirty-five foot it was a tinder box.

+++++And then came the roar.

+++++Like hot oil pouring over you.

Destiny for Dixon

1. Blood, Honey

The third time I went to bed with Lacey, she whispered to me about killing Damon Schizo and taking eighteen hundred dollars from the glove box in his shiny red Cadillac. Didn’t seem worth it to steal that much, not given Damon’s big pistol. But the next time I saw the red cadillac cruising down dusty Lillard Street, I thought about Lacey and her long slim legs—my God, I thought, I could take her to dinner in town.
+++++More than once, too.
+++++When Damon’s driver—Big Bizzy Simmons—pulled to the curb out front of the pool hall, I put my fist through the passenger side window. You want blood? I’ll give you some of my own blood. Like I thought he would, Damon went for his pistol, but I had it with both hands before he could grunt. It gave a monsoon boom when I shot Bizzy (oops, more blood).
+++++I didn’t hear anything when I shot Damon.
+++++My ears were all gone to hell.
+++++I did find something in the Cadillac’s glove box, but it wasn’t money—it was picture of Damon Schizo and a tall blonde lady with a plump round belly. Damon’s wife, and she was pregnant.
+++++I guessed Lacey was smarter (and meaner) than I thought.

2. Live, and Let Love

“Dixon,” Lacey said, “You’re the man who killed Damon Schizo, and everybody will know it—don’t that make you proud?”
+++++I popped a piece of chewing gum into my mouth (cherry cough syrup flavor), and scrubbed my hands in the motel’s bathroom sink. Damon’s blood ran like oil across the white porcelain. You ever want a tough job, go and get yourself a maid position at a crappy motel down on Fourth Street. Don’t worry, I’m not staying there no more. “You know, Lacey…We should leave a tip for the maid, the way I made a mess in here will drive the lady crazy.” I came out of the bathroom and put my hands on my hips.
+++++Lacey was on the bed, belly down, reading the phone book. “You know there’s a lawyer here in town who calls himself Snap Jennings?”
+++++“I see Snap down at the pool hall on Thursdays. He’s a decent stick when he doesn’t have too much whiskey in him.”
+++++“What a name,” she said.
+++++It was time for me to get down to business with her. “Lacey,” I said, “there’s something I got to tell you. It’s about Damon and—”
+++++“I bet that money is over in his house.” She flipped the phone book’s yellow pages, licked her index finger each time. “I bet he keeps it under his mattress, like some kind of half-wit crook.”
+++++I came out with it fast, tried to get it out before Lacey talked over me. “Damon’s got—well, he had—a baby on the way.”
+++++Lacey tossed the phone book onto the threadbare carpet, turned onto her back and sighed. “What’s that got to do with eighteen hundred dollars, Dixon? I know you didn’t finish school, but you know how much money eighteen hundred dollars is?”
+++++I shrugged and rubbed my belly.
+++++Lacey sat up and glared at me. “Enough for some plane tickets to Rio de Janeiro. That’s how much. I looked it up myself at those computers in the library. That’s in Brazil. It’s by the ocean.”
+++++“What the hell do I want in Brazil?”
+++++Lacey fell back on the bed, scrunched a pillow beneath her head. I swear, that woman lounged around more than a dog in the highest heat of summer. She was lazy, now that I look back on it.
+++++Lacey said, “You can want whatever you want in Brazil.”
+++++“What am I going to do there?”
+++++“How am I supposed to know?”
+++++I said, “You brought up the tickets and the money.”
+++++Lacey closed her eyes. “Damn you, Dixon,” she said. “Sometimes I think you’re stupid. Are you stupid, Dixon?”
+++++Some questions, I thought, a man don’t have to answer.

3. Baby, I’m on The Way

Damon and his wife lived down a dirt road outside town; they had themselves a mobile home with a covered porch and a whole army of these rusted motorcycles parked out front of it—skeletal, that’s the word to describe the bikes. Weeds grew ankle-deep around the place and it looked to me like Damon spent all his money on that shiny red Cadillac. Too bad he wouldn’t be riding shotgun in the thing anymore. I parked it where I saw weeds pushed down by the wheels. I figured it for Damon’s regular spot. When I got out of the car, the mobile home’s front door swung open; Damon’s wife stepped onto the porch. Just like in the picture, her belly was big and round, like an egg turned onto its side. She ran her hands over the mound beneath her sundress and looked at me funny. For some reason—I still don’t know why—I saluted her. She came down the porch steps and walked toward the Cadillac. That puzzled look stayed there on her face—her lips were pressed off to one side and her eyebrows came together. I thought more than once: That’s one nice looking lady.
+++++When she reached the Cadillac’s passenger side, she squinted.
+++++“My name’s Dixon, Mrs. Schizo. I just came to hand over your Cadillac.”
+++++“What’s all that red and black in there?”
+++++I liked how she kept her two hands on that plump belly. It was sweet. “How much longer until—”
+++++“It’s a boy,” she said. “In a month, I’ll have my boy. What’s all that red and black in there?”
+++++“A boy!” I yelled it louder than I meant to; imagine that, bringing a little boy into this dusty town. Hell, I did imagine it. More quiet, I said, “A little boy.”
+++++“What’s all that—”
+++++“That’s the life we got in us, Mrs. Schizo. That there is blood and guts.” I sniffed hard. All the dust sifting around the mobile home bothered me. The wind was picking up and—despite the dust—I liked how the lady’s sundress flapped around her legs.
+++++She said, “Holy hell, and let Jesus see me now.”
+++++I looked up at the sky; it was getting dark by then, a slow-moving desert dark that fell across the sky like an eyelid. “I think he can see whatever he wants, Mrs. Schizo. I think—”
+++++“Call me Diane, please.”
+++++“Diane,” I said, “If it’s Jesus you want—”
+++++“Did you kill my husband? Did you kill…Damon?” Her eyes lifted from the Cadillac and ran over me like hot water.
+++++I shifted my feet, tried to find a place for my hands. “Now, look, all I wanted was some money. And Lacey—my girl—told me that Damon had some eighteen hundred dollars in that glove box. Now, if you can understand, imagine how stupid I felt when all I found in there was, well, a picture of the two of you.”
+++++“The three of us,” she said.
+++++I nodded.
+++++She said it again, her eyes searching mine. “The three of us.”
+++++I watched as she rubbed her hands along that nice round belly. In that little time, the darkness came on full around us. She cleared her throat and walked around the red Cadillac; she came face to face with me.
+++++“If you’ve got that money—”
+++++“I love you,” she said.
+++++She put her hands around my neck, plowed that stomach into mine. Her fingernails were like cactus spikes in my skin. I felt her heart beating hard against my chest and, after a minute of her being there in my arms, I felt the boy inside her kick against my lower ribs. “What in the hell is—”
+++++“He likes you,” she said.

4. Tones of Home

Lacey’s voice came over the line, but I could barely hear it through the static: “…The hell are you? I’ve been…don’t come back and…my money.”
+++++“I can’t hear too good over here, Lacey. Look,” I said, “I won’t be back, not anytime soon. I’ll just say it: You were right about all that money. Hell, you were right about Rio and—“
+++++“Fuck you…Believe you did this to…loved me…-damned liar.”
+++++“I can’t hear you down here, Lacey. It must be the connection.”
+++++“…it all to hell. You—”
+++++“I’m just calling to check in is all. Me and Diane—that’s Damon’s wife—got ourselves a little motel down here. And the boy, he’s got his own bed with—”
+++++“…Gonna kill you with my bare…You no-good…hellbent prick of a—”
+++++The line buzzed and died. Nothing but cold dial tone. They got a whole big city down here in Brazil; you’d be surprised. It costs a small fortune to call my people back home though. Long distance, you know. That’s why I stopped doing it. I figure, shit, if Lacey wants me bad enough, she can come on down and ask for me at the front desk. Me and Diane and the boy, we’re right here—they gave us room 219. It’s a family suite. For the three of us.

Truth in the Badlands

With one hand, Johnny Dimes steered his off-white El Camino through a loping curve in the highway. With the other hand, he raised his dark square sunglasses and squinted at the town sprawled just ahead; it was a checkerboard of beige buildings set dead-center in a landscape that Johnny could only think of as a badlands. Sprawled sure was a generous word. Sprinkled, maybe. That fit the scene a little better. Along the roadside, Johnny spotted a line of white signs splashed with red lettering—the unfortunate work of an uneven hand.
+++++The first sign said, ‘All men are Gods.’
+++++Well, Johnny would take that sonofabitch to the bank. He grunted and checked the rearview mirror. He saw empty highway and dim mountains flushed purple in the distance. He brought his eyes back to the road as the El Camino whipped past the next sign.
+++++The second sign said, ‘Who speak with honesty.’
+++++Johnny lowered the sunglasses back across his eyes. That ain’t gonna happen, he thought. Not in this life or the next.
+++++The third sign said, ‘Tell me a true story.’
+++++Johnny scratched his beard and groaned. The El Camino groaned with him, its engine under strain from the high heat and unending miles.
+++++The last sign said, ‘And I’ll give you a free tank of gas.’
+++++All this about true stories and honesty didn’t say much to Johnny. But the free tank of gas, that’d be alright. He could do with that.


“Nice ride, that El Camino,” the old man said. He patted the gray patch of hair atop his weathered head and grinned. His dentures gleamed in the sunlight charging through a large glass window along the service station’s front.
+++++Johnny Dimes shoved a hand into his waistband and—behind the sunglasses—tossed his lazy gaze around the place. “Smells like jerky in here,” Johnny said. “You got any deer jerky? Or just that stuff they ship everywhere?”
+++++A hollow laugh breeched the old man’s throat. “I got rattlesnake jerky,” he said. “You ever have that kind?” He slapped the counter with a flat palm. “Listen: I was out in Carrizo with my oldest grandson, the one with the dune buggy, and we came across a rattler out there. I swear, I about blew my top—biggest snake I ever saw. Thirty-two years I been living out here and I never saw one like this. Reed, that’s my grandson, he gets out and pulls that old thirty-eight he’s got—it ain’t legal, but I got no right to tell him what’s what—and he shoots the sonofabitch. Pow! like that, see.” The old man lifted a hand and mimed firing a pistol. “Painted that canyon with rattler blood. Anyhow, we skinned it and left it in the smoker quite awhile. Came out pretty good, if I don’t say so myself. I’ll be sure to use mesquite next time, give the meat a little more spice.” He raised his eyebrows.
+++++Johnny said, “I guess I’ll have some of that. I’ll get me a free tank of gas too. If you don’t mind, like all those signs say it coming into town.” He shoved his other hand into his waistband and waited for the old man’s reply.
+++++“You got a story to tell,” the old man said. He ran a finger along his chin and then shoved it into an ear and scratched. “Should’ve known it, the way you walk in like you own the place. I guess I could do with a story. Long as it’s true.”
+++++“It happened like this,” Johnny said. “I lost three hundred twenty-seven dollars in a Poker game last night. Or, I guess it might’ve been this morning. Not much money unless it’s all you got. There’s a slick dealer out in New Mexico—goes by the name Seahorse Candy. She starts laughin’ about how I ain’t got a pot to piss in nor a dollar to burn. I’ll be the first to say: I had me a bad run out there and the cards weren’t all to blame. Seahorse, she starts telling me how her ex-husband won a Mack semi-truck in a game down near Santa Fe, like I need to hear that? Story goes he had a pair of jacks and nothing else. Baited a local Deputy into layin’ his sister’s husband’s rig on the line. Imagine that, losing your truck in a Poker game you didn’t even know was on. Point is, I didn’t need to hear all that mess about the Mack truck.” Johnny lifted his sunglasses from his eyes and hung them from his blue button-down shirt with pointed seams and stiff collar. “It pissed me off is what it did. I walked across the highway and borrowed another few hundred from the 7/11 store, if you get me on that.” Johnny paused.
+++++The old man patted his gray tuft of hair again and cocked his head. “I hear you.”
+++++“Turns out I lost that dough, too. Like I told you, it was a bad run. But then Seahorse starts asking me do I want to come out and play tomorrow, like I got more money to waste in a small-fry poker game. ‘No, go to hell,’ I says. ‘You go to hell, you dumb bastard,’ she says. Like I’m not even there, alright?”
+++++The old man nodded. His jaw clenched and his eyebrows arched in toward his nose, formed an inverted spade on his face.
+++++“That’s when I pulled the knife,” Johnny said. He pulled his right hand from his waistband. Tucked between his thumb and index finger was a maple-handled pocket knife. Johnny flipped it open one-handed and matched the blade’s grin with his own. “Nobody moved, at least not right then,” he said. “I got me a bag and packed all the money inside. One thousand ninety-seven dollars. Not a bad haul, but then that Seahorse Candy, she just can’t shut up. ‘My brothers’ll come for you,’ she says, ‘and you ain’t gonna like what happens.’ I says to her, ‘shut up Seahorse, don’t make me more pissed off tonight.’ But she won’t shut up. You don’t know Seahorse, but she can be a real pain—I mean she can dig at you. What I did, what I ended up doing, it was just to get her to shut up. You know what I mean? Can’t you see that’s true—that I had no choice about the thing?”
+++++The old man lifted his chin. His eyes darted to the service station’s large front window. Outside, the El Camino sat hunched over the hot pavement, its headlights glaring like eyes.
+++++“Can’t you see it? Tell me you see it—that I had no choice. It’s true.”
+++++“Let me get you some of that rattlesnake jerky,” the old man said. “It’ll make a hell of a snack for the road.”


Johnny pressed his boot hard against the El Camino’s gas pedal. The engine hummed. It was full with gas and guzzling like a beast. In the rearview mirror, he watched the beige outline of the boxy service station recede into the stark white backdrop of the badlands. His eyes darted to the passenger seat. Enough jerky for a long ride and enough money for a day or two in Vegas.
+++++Not bad, Johnny Dimes. Not bad one bit.
+++++Johnny looked up in time to see another line of white signs lettered with red paint. Here it comes again, he thought.
+++++The first sign said, ‘All men are Gods.’
+++++Amen to that. Preach it. Johnny let a grin slip wide over his teeth.
+++++The second sign said, ‘Who do good work.’
+++++Johnny’s grin vanished. Sonofabitch. The El Camino whipped past the last sign and a groan roared from deep in Johnny’s belly. He ran his eyes over the sign’s lettering and whispered its message to himself, “In the service of truth.”