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The Earth Will Swallow You by Daniel Wessler Riordan 

Page 3 of 4

"But now that you mention it," Jim said, finally yielding to Bernie's wishes and giving Chip's lady friend a once over. "I think I have seen her before. In church."

The hole yawned, the diameter then of a bucket's rim. Bernie's dog stopped to pee by it, his urine sucked right in.

"Church?" Bernie asked.

"You know," Jim said, "The place with the steeple and the pews and Jesus on the cross. Where good people go to ask forgiveness for their sins?"

"I don't have any sins, Jim," Bernie said, sipping his beer.

Jim laughed. "Thou shalt not covet, Bernie.'"

"Let he who is without sin," Bernie said, "Cast the first stone."

And at that Jim's chest swelled with air and he launched into some sermonizing about churchly duties and the rapture and the pit fires of hell. Bernie rolled his eyes. Bernie just assumed that Jim's whole God thing was just something to stave off his whole gay thing and that judging Bernie was just a way to keep him from judging himself. It annoyed Bernie to no end, though Bernie would never dare say so. Bernie wasn't big on conflict. He wouldn't want to get involved to that degree. He preferred to remain silently irked by Jim. This was the easy thing to do. If only Bernie could've known that Jim would've turned out to be a simple lunatic just like the rest of them, perhaps he would've cut Jim a little more slack.

"If God wanted to rescue me, Jim," Bernie finally said, "He should've done it a long time ago."

Bernie got out of his the chair and walked away from Jim and was heading toward the house to get more beer for the cooler when he noticed Sara had been accosted by Ray Delhomme and his wife, Ronda, the three of them in close quarters over by the badminton set. Ray was a huge, aggressive, pig-fucker of a man with hands like bunches of cherry tomatoes, all red and round and primed to burst all over. Ray yakked at Sara and Sara smiled big and stared right through him. Ray got in awfully close and put his arm around Sara's shoulder and slobbered all over her. Ronda, didn't seem to mind. Bernie thought to himself that he didn't care about what was going on nearly as much as he thought he should. Though in his defense, Bernie felt fairly secure in the knowledge that it hadn't been Ray who'd been fucking his wife. Ray just wasn't Sara's kind of guy. Of course, Ray had never let a thing like a woman's obvious sense of repulsion curtail his flagrant attempts at philandering, so he proceeded to take a few healthy tugs off of the can of Schlitz nestled in the beer cozy tied around his neck and persisted in his throwing himself at Sara, right there in front of Bernie and all the neighbors. Even Ronda, for her part, seemed to be in on the wooing. But this is par for the course for Ray and Ronda, isn't it? The neighbors were probably thinking. Ray and his wife had no children. They didn't even keep pets. The neighbors had theories. Chief amongst them was that the only third that Ray was interested in welcoming into the Delhomme home was a woman no younger than 18, no older than 35, pretty and pliant. And Mrs. Delhomme, well she certainly had issues of her own. She kept her skin awfully tan and her hair awfully long—especially for a woman of her age—and she owned and wore a suspicious amount of leather. These were certainly two people not to be trusted.

Millie had reported once that she'd seen Ray and Ronda at a bar out near the bad side of town: Charlie's or Biff's or Bill's or Tom's; one of those joints with wood-paneled walls and pleather booths and tight carpeting that gave way to parquet floors covered in peanut shells. This particular establishment was famous for having the shiftiest clientele in the area. Motorcycles could often be found parked out front. Hooligans did loiter. The day that Millie saw them, Ray and Ronda were drinking liquor out of tall glasses and twisting dizzily, round and round, in their barstools, just laughing it up, having a good old time with some strange woman that wasn't from the neighborhood. Millie looked on, hidden in a back booth, taking mental notes. The strange woman had blond hair and big tits and teeth like bathroom tiles and a few times she even smashed those tits up against Ronda and whispered things into Ronda's ear and Ray watched and just lapped it all up and all the neighbors had a healthy knowledge of all of these events now because all the neighbors had all seen the pictures for themselves, Millie having made surreptitious good use of her camera phone. It's a good thing Mille had been out and about and stopped into the bar to use the bathroom or none of the neighbors would have known proof positive that the Delhomme's swung that way.

Leaning on a pole holding up the badminton netting, Ray and Ronda swooned and fell all over Sara. She cringed noticeably. Neighbors shook their heads in shame and embarrassment.

The hole in the ground groaned, wide as an alpine hot tub. Still no one seemed to notice. A model airplane flew too close, was toppled and devoured. The child with the remote controller went over to investigate. He was kneeling next to hole one moment and gone the next.

Sara started to get overtly uncomfortable with her situation, her voice raised, getting loud. Bernie decided he should probably have a mind to do something about Ray and about Ronda and about what they were doing to his wife, but just then Jim snuck up beside Bernie and elbowed him in the stomach, the second such assault of the day.

"You bastard," Jim said. At first Bernie thought this some kind of painful joke on Jim's part, but then Bernie remembered that Jim never joked.

"Jim?" Bernie managed through a muffled groan.

"You knew about this?" Jim screamed. "You knew about this and you were just laughing about it behind my back?"

Neighbors stopped gorging. Neighbors put their beverages down. Even Ray and Ronda took a breather from their salvo against Sara. They all gawked at Jim and Bernie like they were privy to some fascinating live reality television debacle. This was a neighborhood picnic, public outbursts were verboten and physical violence simply did not occur, but if these things had to happen, at least the neighbors had a proper ringside seat. "Jim, please," Bernie said, trying his best to keep things from getting out of hand. "I don't know what you're talking about." It seems that Jim had overheard that Bernie had heard from Sara that she'd overheard from a neighbor that Millie had made a cuckold of Jim. And what's worse, Millie had been doing her running around with none other than Ray and Ronda Delhomme. The shame of it all, Jim had heard one of the neighbors saying to another, and poor Jim having just found Jesus. He was probably just getting things straight.

"The rest of these vulgarians I would expect this from," Jim said waving a finger at all the world. "But you," and then he trained a stiff finger at Bernie's face.

"I knew nothing about this, Jim," Bernie begged. "I've never said or heard about any of this before right now. I swear."

"You swear? You swear to who? To God?" Jim shouted, frothing at the mouth. "You bastard. I thought you were better than this. I thought you were my friend. Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me my wife had been having relations with those... those... heathens? I thought you had some notion of right and wrong."

Bernie was afraid but also oddly touched by the fact that Jim had apparently held him in some kind of heightened esteem. Bernie wanted to say so, but before he could form the words Jim had already stomped off toward Ray and Ronda, his shoulders squat and square, forecasting his agenda.

"How long have you two been copulating with my wife?" Jim shouted at them, he still twenty yards away, but closing in fast. "How long, you God damned Sodomites?"

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