SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Tycoon

Story by Curtis Smith (Read author interview) June 28, 2011

art by Gay Degani

Despondent over the cotton that grew no higher than his shin, the boy’s father put a shotgun to his heart and pulled the trigger. The chunks of spine the sheriff pulled from the shanty wall looked like opossum teeth. Surprise! Their crumble dirt farm swam atop a sea of oil. The first gushing derrick blotted out the sun, and before the roughnecks could cap it, the crude lay thick across the land, the puny cotton stalks flattened and drowned. The boy grew into a man. With his millions, he purchased every surrounding farm, not stopping until the horizon was his. Next he bought politicians and sheriffs and everything else that made life bearable in north Texas.

People called him a tycoon. It was his title, the way some people were doctors or reverends. To avenge his father’s fate, the tycoon irrigated his clan’s original claim, a field of improbable white blooms where rainbows shone in the artificial mist. Beyond this boundary, the bone-dry soil reclaimed the land. The tycoon bought Cadillacs the color of fresh crude. When his dogs rumpled the interior or the odometer climbed too high, he gave them away. In town, the Sisters of Mercy drove his old cars; Jimmy Dooley, the one-eyed roughneck, drove one, and so did the waitresses at King’s All-Night Truck Stop. The tycoon, now knowledgeable of the earth and its secrets, imagined the archeologists of the future digging up his old cars. The archeologists would make up stories about the giant metal husks and their roles in the religious and mating rituals of this forgotten tribe. This made the tycoon smile.

The tycoon adopted strays wherever he roamed. His driveway was a half-mile long, and when he neared his house, he’d slow to a crawl, the car doors flung open. Out rushed his dogs, a slobbering mass of tails and paws. The most agile leapt in, licking his face or lifting their heads to catch the breeze. As the sun set, the tycoon grilled steaks larger than most people’s pillows. The dogs waited patiently, knowing their dinner waited when the tycoon had eaten his fill.

At night, the tycoon often returned to the boyhood shack he’d refused to tear down. He picked cotton along the way, careful of the bristles that could draw blood. He rested on the shack’s sagging porch and opened the bolls, the soft white clumps like four-pointed stars he could cradle in his palm. A dog or two would curl by his side. A tireless oil pump, one of the army that spotted the earth in all directions, labored beside his father’s grave. Shh-thump, shh-thump, it sang, a lament for the fortune seeker who fell short of his dream; shh-thump, a heartbeat that echoed in the tycoon’s chest. The tycoon would be buried here someday; his dogs, too. He would return to his father and to the earth. In time, they would all be turned to oil, and with a pump’s single heartbeat, they’d be resurrected back onto this land. Or so was his wish.

About the Author

Curtis Smith’s stories and essays have appeared in over one hundred literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and The Best Small Fictions.

Smith has published five collections of fiction, the first two with March Street Press and the last three with Press 53. He has published three novels, the last two with Casperian Books, and two essay collections (Sunnyoutside and Dock Street Press). His latest book, a personal take on Slaughterhouse-Five, was recently put out by Ig.

About the Artist

Gay Degani has been nominated here and there for Pushcart consideration, Best Small Fictions, and a few various and sundry honors including the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her micro “Abbreviated Glossary” appears in the anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fictionedited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. She occasionally blogs at Words in Placeand is currently working on another novel of suspense.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Two

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