|God’s Honest Truth
by Lance Feyh
That winter, my folks got a good deal on a house in the suburbs and left Ray behind forever.
I still think about Ray’s wife and that see-through nightgown and those haunting eyes. Sometimes I think about the kid she mentioned,
and I wonder what it must have been like to have a father like Ray.
Ray’s wife used to call the cops on him from time to time late at night, but other than that they didn’t cause too much commotion in
the neighborhood. I guess she had family money. They had an old Jaguar in the garage, but Ray only drove it sparingly. She called a
taxi once when she wanted to go to the grocery store to stock up on boxes of wine. That was probably the first time anyone had seen
her for months.
I had observed the comings and goings, such as they were, from across the street. I was spending a lot of time at my folks’ house
because I was about to get a divorce, but that’s another story.
The first time we saw him come out in the afternoon, he was wearing plaid shorts, a white wife beater, a pair of old loafers, brown
socks, black sunglasses, and a floppy hat. My dad didn’t give a shit about fashion, but he thought the neighbor’s approach to yard
maintenance was bordering on being unpatriotic. Walter always had an immaculate lawn – it was one of the things he knew he still had
complete control over.
“I thought he was determined to let it go to seed,” Walter told me the first time we saw Ray mow his yard.
Ray was a skinny man with big bones, a beer belly, and a pasty face. He moved slowly through the tall grass and weeds, the
lawnmower laboring. Birds kept swooping down to grab insects that were being expelled from their natural habitat.
Meanwhile, we were in the garage, listening to a ball game on the radio. My parents had recently moved out of their big house in the
country to take this place in town. It wasn’t a bad place, and it turned out to be temporary, but things had changed for good. Mom
wouldn’t let us smoke inside, and the back yard didn’t have any privacy at all. We had a cooler, a few fans, and some lawn chairs in
the garage. Seeing this, Ray must have eventually gotten the idea that it was some kind of divine invitation.
The first night he stumbled across the street, I was working late, listening to sad stories. It was the end of the month and I was making
collection calls and doing a piss poor job of it. Anyway, Walter was in the garage by himself, arranging his fishing tackle, when Ray
stumbled across the street for the first time.
“He’s definitely a character,” Walter told me the next day. “But what the hell is reefer? He kept saying that he knew I had some reefer
around here somewhere.”
Walter was easily irritated by Ray, especially after the crazy sonofabitch started to come over almost every night. Still, I think Dad was
more curious than ever – at least at first – about testing his own grip on reality.
I would often sit in the garage and just listen to them talk. They would argue about sports and talk about where they were when
Kennedy got shot. Walter even started to let Ray bring some joints over to smoke in the garage – though my dad wasn’t about to put
down his Marlboros in favor of getting high.
“Bullshit,” Walter would say whenever Ray finished some story about Tibetan monks or something like that.
“God’s honest truth,” Ray would say.
Then Walter would tell a fishing story that I had heard a hundred times or maybe he’d tell a really old story about herding jackrabbits
as a kid and shooting them for their pelts. Ray would howl at that and laugh until he fell out of his chair.
He complained about the brand, but Ray would always drink more than his share of Walter’s beers – and, with each beer that he
gulped down like water, he would get louder and more obnoxious. “Everything happens for a reason,” he would declare after belching.
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
Finally, he would stand up to demonstrate something important about batting stances or golf swings, and that’s when he would tend to
fall over and bump his head on something in Walter’s garage.
Ray never got knocked out for the count, though, and it was amazing how he could get through each night of his life relatively
unscathed. He no doubt attributed it to his questionable faith. And every time Walter used the Lord’s name in vain, Ray would make a
point of taking genuine offense.
“If you don’t like it,” Walter would say, “you can get the hell out of my goddamned garage.”
By August, Ray was popping a lot of pills and staying up all hours. The good thing about that, from Walter’s perspective, was that Ray
was suddenly interested in mowing his lawn more often. One evening while it was still light out, Ray found a hummingbird with a
broken wing buzzing around pathetically in his front yard. He put it in a shoe box, still alive, and brought it across the street to show
us. He said he had watched the tiny hummingbird fly around in frantic circles, tighter and tighter, until it just gave out.
“I think the bug zapper got him,” he said.
When we asked him what he was going to do with the doomed creature in the box, he looked offended.
“I once hit a ground squirrel with a rock by accident and then nursed it back to health,” Ray said proudly. “That’s what Jesus would
have done, and that’s what I’m all about.”
Walter rolled his eyes, and Ray got more offended.
“Unlike those poor jackrabbits you slaughtered,” Ray said, “that little squirrel is still alive and living somewhere in my back yard – and
that’s the God’s honest truth.”
Once, after Walter went to bed, Ray invited me over to his house to smoke some reefer and play some chess. That’s when I saw Ray’s
wife up close for the first time.
She was yellow. She appeared at the top of the stairs and asked what we were doing and wanted to know who I was. Ray was loaded.
He turned the music on the stereo up louder – it was already loud – and yelled, “Just us neighbors – you know, guy stuff, drinking
It was after midnight. The chess game had stalled. Ray’s wife finished coming down the stairs softly. She was wearing a see-through
nightgown and she had small breasts and protruding bones and a distended belly. She had yellow eyes, like some kind of cat. There
was a brown bone bruise under one of her slightly swollen eye sockets. She sat down at the table and produced a pipe. “Medical
reasons,” she said, and then she lit the pipe and put it to her thin lips.
I tried to stare through her casually, hoping to fix on something behind her on the wall. I didn’t want to offend anybody. I was already
high, but she offered me the pipe and I took it from her nervously, pressed my lips to the metal, and inhaled.
Ray was irritated. “Don’t worry,” he told me. “You can’t catch the yellow fever from sharing a pipe.”
When it was his turn, Ray took several deep hits in a row, held his breath until he turned red, and then exhaled a big cloud of smoke.
Then Ray fell over in his chair and took out part of the stereo.
“Look at this,” said Ray’s wife, disgusted. “Look what I have to deal with. Sometimes, when I come down in the morning, he’s still
down here at the table, still drinking from the night before.”
Ray was gathering himself and preparing to sit back down at the table. “Look at her,” he said, pointing out the obvious. “She can’t
drink anymore at all. Look at the condition she’s in.”
Her name was Rachel. I thought that was a beautiful name and I told her so.
“He’s been a mess ever since he lost his son,” Rachel told me confidentially – Ray, of course, was sitting right there. “He used to sell
insurance, but he hasn’t worked in years,” she said. “He still blames everything on his son dying. I don’t know. We met in rehab.”
I didn’t know what to say. “Insurance,” I finally said. “No shit?”
“God’s honest truth,” Ray said solemnly.
When I stumbled back across the street, there was a light on in the garage. I had left the garage door open, but I was sure I had
remembered to turn the lights out. My dad was sitting in the garage, watching television. By now, he had put a TV out there and he’d
figured out a way to hook it up to cable. I had a moment of panic, transporting myself back to high school, but Walter wasn’t waiting
up for me. “I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “You ever see this show?”
It was very late, but I decided to get one last beer and sit down.
One of the sports channels aired a lot of fishing shows, including a program about noodling. In this program, a skinny guy jumps out
of a flat bottom boat with a scuba tank on his back. The water is muddy and full of Cyprus trees. Even with the air tank, he’s taking
his chances down there. When he finally resurfaces empty-handed, an older guy in the boat, a fat guy, is visibly upset. The heavy
redneck mutters something that’s difficult to understand, pulls the other guy back in the boat, and then takes off his shirt. He takes
the scuba tank from the skinny kid and quickly straps it onto his fat, hairy back. Then he jumps overboard and makes a big splash.
Walter was skeptical. “Since when do you need scuba gear to go noodling?” he asked.
After a few minutes, the big guy wrestles an albino catfish to the surface. The skinny kid has to help him haul it into the boat.
“I knew a kid in school who lost a hand in a noodling accident,” Walter said. “Bullshit,” I said.
Walter raised his beer in the air but stopped short of making an oath.
“Well, that was the story anyway,” Walter said. “He was a black kid, lived on the other side of the tracks. I didn’t actually know him
I thought it sounded like a good story, and I asked him to tell me more.
Walter told me about the nigger shacks that used to be on the south side of town near the river. He talked about things like water
moccasins and alligator snapping turtles, and he eventually talked about girls he knew who went off to live with their relatives in other
towns and boys he knew who went off to fight in foreign places they couldn’t find on a map.
“We were just kids,” Walter said. “We weren’t afraid of anything.”
Crazy talk. It was late and we were tired.
Still, I wanted to tell him about Rachel. I wanted to tell him about how she came down the stairs, but the story was elusive and hard to
communicate and, after a few false starts, I gave up on trying to tell the whole thing.
“She was yellow,” I said, trying like hell to make it sound like a profile in courage.