So there was this old woman, almost a recluse, who lived in a shack with her son, who was in his 40s, unemployable, and alcoholic. So far, so good.
However, he'd walk up from the Flat into town around dusk, to the bar, where they let him run a tab, and he'd get drunk, usually on whiskey; he'd head home late at night, and often he fell into a large blackberry patch by the side of the road. We must remember that wild blackberry patches get monstrously large. They are entities unto themelves.
Imagine all the bad choices that lead a drunk to fall into a blackberry patch, the same blackberry patch beside a road the drunk knows well, and to fall in there more than once. I've imagined those choices. I've thought hard about lying drunk among those thorns, cut up, unable to move without making things worse, looking up at pine boughs or stars or, worst of all, the goddamned beautiful moon. Even as I look back to this local lore, I sympathize. Even if I laugh, I don't gloat. There but for the grace of God . . ., and I'm not kidding.
The old woman--her first name was Annie--always went looking for her son. She went out on the road carrying a flashlight, which cast a big yellow beam but which also had a red illuminated butt, which glowed like the tip of a lit cigar.
The town's big contribution to this complicated situation was to nickname her Flashlight Annie. No one ever walked the son home, steering him clear of the blackberry patch. No one tried to sober him up. No one tried to help Annie look for him. Now, if he had really gone missing and were not simply lying in the blackberry patch, someone would have called the sheriff, and a group of men would have gone looking for him. They might have even borrowed my uncle's bloodhound, and my father and uncle would have been among the men to join the search-party.
I don't want to give the impression that the town was cruel. It just had funny ideas about what was the town's business and what was private business. The plight of Annie and her son, the Sisyphus-like repetition of his journies home and her seeking him in darkness: the town regarded these as the business of only Annie, her flashlight, the blackberry patch, and her son.
I do not know how she was able to extract him from the patch each time. I wish I were in possession of this fact.
I picture her putting a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him the next morning, some catsup on the side of the plate, maybe a cup of coffee nearby, poured from a tin percolator. I imagine his face cut up "all to hell," as my father might say. I picture the flashlight back in its place in the shack, a place for everything, and everything in its place.
The red scabs of thorn-slashes belonged to the son's face. I imagine his hands shaking, as a drunk's hands will shake in the morning. I imagine the remorseful silence.
He is my son, and this is my life, and after he finishes his breakfast, I will wash the dishes: I imagine her thinking this, Flashlight Annie.