Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ham; No Fred: An Exercise by Frank Balara

[Note: One day in February of 1999, during writing practice, I decided to just run with some dialogue and this was the result.]

"You remember, Fred?"

"Yeah. I remember Fred."

"Wait a minute. You're not Fred?"

"Jesus Christ, Ham. Not this again!"

"All right. ALL RIGHT! So, you're not Fred. But. Do you remember?"

"I wasn't there, Ham. How the hell can I remember?"

"Ah!!! I don't know."

     They'd been sitting around the campfire for a couple hours now. Their beans were long gone, their tin cans cooled, and their gas-pockets rumbled like a fat lady dancing Swing on the second floor.

"Well," Ham started in again after letting go a good, long, loud one, "just who the hell are ya then? If you're not Fred."

"I'm George Emerson Howl-At-The-Fucking-Moon, ya old fart."

"Then what happened to Fred?"

"He's dead."

"Is he?"

"Nah. All this sing-song with Fred. I thought it'd be nice to rhyme a few lines. Just to break the monotony of it."

"You always talk like that?"

"In rhymes?"

"No. Like ya could give a rat's ass."

"Only when I've a rat's ass to give."

"Well. I thought so, too, anyhow."

"Ham, the fire's gettin' low."

"Hmph. I c'n feel it."

"Well, maybe you better get some sleep. I'll wake ya when the train's coming through."

"Like I need ya to tell me that? Ya think I won't feel that fucker all on my own?"

"Hey, I'm just trying to show there's no hard feelings. Ya never know. Tonight you might sleep like the dead."

"Where is that Fred, anyhow?"


"Ah, shit! He was there, God Dammit! Then something happened. I heard scufflin'. Then I heard Fred walkin' so I followed him. Now you're not Fred and Fred's not here and I don't know my ass from Burt Lancaster. WHAT THEE FUCK!?! Dontcha remember anything? If that was you walkin' the whole time then you had to've seen Fred. From what I've heard said, he was a tall, lanky fella with red hair. You see 'im?"


"Ya better not be lyin'. I tell ya that."

"What if I am, old-timer?"

"I - ah - I don't know. You just better not be Fred pullin' a fast one on me."

"Fred ever pull a fast one on ya before?"

"No, come to think of it. He was a nice quiet guy. Helpful."

"Yeah, I guess he'd have to be."

"Listen, you. That ain't funny. Somethin's happened to the poor bastard."

"Hey. I'm just sayin'."

"Yeah, well it ain't funny. You're gonna have to help me find 'im in the morning."

"Hey, I'm on the first train that comes through. You're welcome to come, but I ain't searchin' for dead Fred anyhow."

"I ain't sayin' I can't get by on my own. I can hop a train just as well as anyone with two hands and feet. I just kinda got used to 'im is all. He'd do my running around for me at each stop. He'd go buy the whiskey and rations, fetch the firewood, do the cookin'. Alls I had to do was sit on the curb and beg with my coffee can and hold up my end of a conversation."

"You've got whiskey?"

"Maybe's I do. Maybe's I don't."

"Don't play fucking games with me, Ham."

"Didja or didja not see Fred?"

"Maybe's I did. Maybe's I didn't. Do you have whiskey?"

"Here, ya fucker. I hope ya choke on it."

     George Emerson took the half empty bottle of cheap whiskey. He took a drink big enough to make the bottle three-quarters empty.

"Ya leave any for me?"

"You got good ears, old timer. Yeah, there's some left for you." He tossed the bottle back at ham's feet.

     Ham felt around in the dirt til he found it. He picked it up, unscrewed the cap and made a good long production out of wiping the opening clean with his greasy shirt. Then he tilted the bottle back and finished it off.

"You're a real piece of work. Ya know that?"

"Fuck you." Ham tossed the empty bottle over his head and whipped the cap at George Emerson, missing him by only a few inches.

"Watch it, pal."

"I ain't yer pal."

"I'm losing my patience with you."

"Aw. Darn it ta hell." Ham felt around to his left brushing some stray twigs away before curling up to go to sleep.

     Ham woke up to the sound of a highball whistle and the sound of a westbound freighter pulling out onto the mainline. He could feel the moisture on the back of his worn out, flannel jacket. He could smell urine. He knew George Emerson was on that train. He reached behind to the seat of his trousers where he had a personal flask hidden. He unscrewed the top and took a small sip. He smiled. It was the good stuff. A gift from Fred. The highball whistle blew again and Ham could gauge the distance the train had already travelled.

"Don't worry, Fred. I'll find ya."

Ham closed the flask and replaced it to its hiding spot. He curled up again.

"Somehow," he sighed before falling back to sleep.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the back and forth in the conversation. The ending left me hoping Ham found his poor friend Fred. Great writing!