Writing is hard work, but not all characters are hard to write. Such was my experience with Onan Buess, a teenage boy who walked into my mind fully faceted and clothed in Lee jeans, a madras shirt and a light case of acne. I knew Onan Buess. I knew how he smelled (funky), the count-me-out slouch he adopted in English class, the motion of his shoulders as he pushed through the cafeteria line. He had a vocabulary that orbited around three words (said with force) and an excitable girlfriend named Rochelle. Her spotty skin was covered with either orange or tan goo that ended abruptly at her jawline. She had big hair and did her nails in typing.
I’d placed them in a book that I later revised and retitled. It’s now called Silver Bottle (available on Kindle and Amazon), and though I fought it, Onan had to go. Rochelle went without saying. They’d been happy in the town cemetery, kadoddling like crazy, but they had to roll aside for Lizzie, who was waiting to rise.
I killed my darlings.
No, I killed my darling: it was Onan for whom I grieved.
He grieved for me as well. He’d malinger at the edges of my mind, shouting, ‘Hey, whad’ I do wrong this time?” One night, I woke to the sound of someone rocking my window.
It was Onan. Invisible.
My husband told me either to forget him or put him back in the story because I was losing my mind.
I couldn’t do either. There’s no letting go; there’s no place in a heavy revision.
But here’s a place, and I’m grabbing it.
Reader, I present to you, Onan Buess, the premier character of Rondo, as he prepares to poison moles.
Take it away, Onan . . .
At two a.m., Onan Buess hung up the phone feeling something like a husband.
Rochelle had been wild. Graverobbers in the cemetery, dirt piled everywhere, and valuables flung in the air. Sure enough, they’d get dragged in. She’d left her backpack and pantyhose. Their names were on the wind.
“It’s them moles,” Onan had said, and when met with silence, repeated, “Moles, Rochelle. The place is overrun with them. There’s no grave robbers around here.”
“Jenna Johnson said—”
“I don’t care what that bitch said. Just because she’s rich doesn’t mean she knows everything.”
“I want my stuff, Onie,” Rochelle said, and slammed down the phone.
He’d get her stuff, but he’d have to get rid of the moles before they went up again.
Castor Oil, Dawn dishwashing liquid, and a gallon per. That’s all it would take to flush them. Onan had gone back to sleep, but doggone, if he hadn’t dreamed of those things. Moles the size of cats leapt out of holes, moles light on their feet jumped from tombstone to tombstone; one even tickled Rochelle’s feet with its pink snout, making her squeal.
The sound pierced the air.
He’d set his alarm for ten, but by the time he’d mixed the ingredients, the story had grown. A dead woman talking from the ground and snakes that tunneled through the grasses without making a sound.
He stands at the entrance of the cemetery. The gates are unlocked and no one is around.
It’s quiet, too quiet considering all the talk going around. Then, he sees it. A disturbance of earth, just below the highest hill. Onan trudges up, the gallon of solution sloshing against his thigh.
He looks down at Hugh and Elizabeth M. McComas. Nothing separates them but two feet. In the middle, but more to the lady’s side, is a hole. Onan squats and peers. No mole has done this. The hole is deep but the bottom and sides are packed and smooth as glass. Clumps of dirt are everywhere, big clumps, some larger than his hand. Something has been taken, but the dirt’s been stuffed in.
Suddenly, he feels a rush of anger, as if the joke’s on him. If Jenna Johnson has done this because he can’t afford a car and they use the cemetery, he’ll teach her.
None of her damn business. No way, no how.
Onan growls and tilts the gallon when he sees a tuber poking from the packed earth. How could he have missed it? It’s white as shock.
He pulls it out. It’s not a tuber. Not exactly. It’s like a bleached bone with the feel of water. No, it’s . . .in a movement inexplicable to himself, Onan puts the stalk in his mouth, and worries it. He sees himself as a child, playing with his truck in the red clay on the hill. He sees Rochelle. He sees little Rochelles. He sees a little boy playing with a truck in the sandbox, about to crash into the same mess he’s in.
He begins to dance like a man under the influence of electric shock. He flails, he falls and from a distance it looks like he’s fighting himself but for this: his eyes are rolled back. Unable to let go of the plastic gallon, mole solution rains down.
The bone flies out of his mouth and disappears. Onan doesn’t look back to see where it’s gone. Hands on his knees, he takes big breaths. Having seen his past, present, and future, Onan Buess runs hell for leather down cemetery hill.