Masters of Matchsticks

by Craig Buchner Read author interview December 16, 2013

They were all Katrinas to me. The storm. My wife. Those Chihuahuas running like mad all over town. Wrecking balls and masters of Irish goodbyes. Everybody left for Connecticut or Texas, but Rogey sat tight. Friends since before elementary school. Way back. Everything was built to last then. Radios. Lighters. Relationships.

We sat on the porch, last bottle of whiskey between us, Rogey’s BB gun slung across the railing. In the game, smoking pot was illegal because it made you shoot better. Booze were allowed, but no shithead drank whiskey and expected to hit the broadside of a barn let alone one of the Chihuahuas named Katrina, except me.

“See that black and white Katrina?” Rogey said. “Little rat thing.”

Hundreds of dogs ran the streets. All day. All night. Packs doubling. Tripling. Without people around, they took over. But it was worse than that.

You look out on Biloxi now, you see matchsticks. Like God shook all them houses in his hand and shot them scattering across the county into splinters. But that was nothing without the bodies. Rogey lived near Edmund’s Funeral and the water washed the bodies out, like dead wood littered around the city. A man’s arm wrapped over the low bars of the grated security door at Shear Krissy’s Salon and Beautification School, or that water-logged woman wedged under the carriage of Zengo’s taco truck, or that naked boy, Jayme Davis, in the center of the street, like he was dreaming. But the stink of formaldehyde and methanol hooked into the air, velvety across your tongue, heavy and sour, not like sweet Krispy Kreme air.

Maybe we misunderstood God in times like this. What if he reached down and grabbed up the houses and our lives too, everyone destined down some fated path. Maybe he lost a bet with the devil, but I don’t pretend to understand what they would bet on. Losing like a man, he shook us like dice and threw us out again.

Rogey breathed loud and steadied the BB gun. Bunched in a pile in Mr. Gillin’s yard, twenty or thirty Chihuahuas crawled over one another. Gilly’s wife left the same time Katrina did. North for family. And like me, Gilly too would weather the storm.

When the skies cleared, I had found Zeiss binoculars washed up against the foundation. People suddenly wore costumes, wet suits walking the sidewalk, orange life vests in the stores. At first, I had bragged to complete strangers.

From the porch, I called down to a man pushing a grocery cart of batteries. “Zeus binoculars. Says right here.” I pointed at the logo on the left barrel.

“Zeiss,” he said, too far to read the script. “What a waste.”

I said, “No sir, I watch stray dogs.”

“I know,” he had said, pushing his cart away.

Rogey fired the BB gun, and the black and white Katrina jumped from the pile, struck in the heel or the thigh. Even the Zeiss couldn’t tell for certain. The rest of the dogs ran too, thirty Chihuahuas scattering like cockroaches.

Mr. Gillins laid in his yard, half-devoured. White fat marbled through red flesh. The dogs had done a number, but they were on to another body by now.

Rogey cocked his gun, and I swallowed a slug of whiskey. They’ll be back, I thought. I watched Rogey take aim, steady the barrel. They always come back. I let out a hot, red breath and narrowed my sights too, looking hard into something like the future. God and everybody knows that Biloxi means first people. We learned that in the second grade. I wondered what they’ll call me and Rogey.

About the Author:

Craig Buchner's work has appeared in Tin House, Puerto del Sol, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Juked, and other literary magazines. In 2006, he won the AWP Intro Journals Award for fiction. Craig lives in Portland, Oregon. He is currently at work on a collection of stories and a novel.

About the Artist:

Kathy Rodriguez is a native of and currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, with her husband, Matthew Kirscht. She teaches painting and art history at The University of New Orleans and exhibits throughout Louisiana and the U.S. She is also director of the UNO-St. Claude Gallery in the St. Claude Arts District. She earned a Masters in Fine Arts in painting and drawing and a Masters of Arts in Art History from The University of Montana in 2008.