Literary Hook: Writer recalls cruel incident from childhood

Sometimes a writer comes along who is unflinching in confronting the world. While we might not always “like” what that writer has to say, sometimes unflinching realism can be courageous—a wake-up call to great humanity. Last year’s Rock River Poetry Contest presented such a writer. Louis Bourgeois sent three short prose pieces, all of which were haunting and unflinching in their descriptions and portrayal of certain sectors of society. His short prose piece, “Just Another Loser,” jolts us with startling imagery of cruelty. This is not gratuitous cruelty for entertainment, but realistic cruelty to remind us that we must always be on our guard against cruelty and inhumane behavior. Though his work disturbs me, I honor his courage.

Louis Bourgeois says of himself:

“I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Feb. 19, 1970, to a working-class family and raised primarily in New Orleans East along the Bayou Sauvage. At the age of 18, I was involved in a serious car accident that resulted in the loss of my left arm. This led me to the gifts that reading and writing have to offer. In a certain sense, writing has given me a new life.

“I left New Orleans when I was 19 to attend college at Louisiana State University, where I earned a B.A. in English, and in 2002, I was the first graduate of the University of Mississippi’s MFA program in creative writing. Currently, I am an instructor of English at the Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Also, I am editor of VOX, Oxford, Mississippi’s only independent literary journal. I have published poems and stories throughout America and Europe in such journals as Nimrod, Parnassus, Oxford American, The Southern Review, and The Cream City Review. This year, WordTech published my sixth collection of poems entitled OLGA.”

Here, then, is his story, “Just Another Loser.”

Just Another Loser

The old man lived alone at the end of the two-mile road that was the only way in and out of the pine wood village. It was the first house ever built in our village, and it had that grayish, unpainted-for-years look about it. Huge pecan and oak trees lined his chain-link-fenced yard, and all us boys would try to shoot as many of his squirrels as we could before he came stomping out with his Long Tom single-shot 12-gauge and threaten to blow us all to kingdom come, but as intimidating as his shotgun was, it never once kept us from coming back and shooting into his yard. There’s no use in trying to describe him in any great detail, as he was as gaunt and pathetic as any old man in that particular place and time. He was just another old man living alone with a bunch of cats and empty tuna fish cans all over the front and back porch steps and stacks of old newspapers reaching as high as the porch ceiling. He did have a name, though; his name was Mr. Rodriguez, but if he was of Mexican or Spanish descent, he didn’t at all sound like it as he hollered at us from his front porch about shooting his squirrels. He sounded like the rest of us—half Arcadian and half redneck.

Sometimes I would find myself hunting alone just far enough from the back of his house, where he couldn’t really say anything about my gun going off as I hunted the squirrels that were traveling to his yard to eat from the abundant trees, and I would listen to the high wind blow through the trees and wonder how the old man lived and how he got here in the first place and where his family might be; was he never married? Didn’t he have any children somewhere, someplace? Where were his people?

There are a couple of things I remember about Mr. Rodriguez from all those 30 years ago. One is that he died with his eyes wide open in front of a blaring television set. Somehow, my stepfather was sent to get rid of the old man’s cats. My stepfather hated cats, and he went from room to room and shot every cat he saw with an automatic .22 rifle. There were over two dozen cats, and when he ran out of bullets, he gathered all the dead cats into a huge plastic bag. When we got home, he ordered me to burn them in one of the rusty old 55-gallon drums we kept in the back yard to burn our household garbage. I threw the cats in and spread lighter fluid over the plastic bag and dropped a match. The flames shot up three feet high out of the barrel, and as I watched, I tried to think really, really hard how not to die like Mr. Rodriguez, but nothing came to mind, and I stood in front of the fire trying not to cry.


Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

From the Jan. 17-23, 2007, issue

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