April 23, 2009

Short Story: The Incomplete Life of Henry Driggs. By Waylon Lewis.

Author’s note: Just found this story in a virtual dusty desk drawer, an old word document on my laptop when I searched for grills. Here you go, don’t know if it’s any good or not, probably at least 4 or 5 years old. ~ W.H.L.

The Incomplete Life of Henry Driggs.

By Waylon Hart Lewis

Henry Driggs was an incomplete man. Like Hemingway. Macho as hell. Liked to speak in short sentences. Good to look at. Not quite tall enough. Not quite thin enough. Arms like steel cables, sinews twisted round themselves, chest wide and powerful as a barrel. Women loved him. He did not love them back. He used them like beer. He drank them down with lime threw them back his gullet opened the next. He was not a pleasant man. He will not be introduced to my sister.

That is, he would not be introduced to my sister, if he were alive, which he’s not, and if I had a sister, which I don’t.

Henry Driggs died at the age of 38, which is the last year you’re any good to look at. He always had a sense of timing. A few more years a few thousand more cigarettes and bottles and women who wanted him then hated him and he woulda looked like shit. Already he looked tired all the time. Bags beneath his eyes so dark looked as if he’d got black and blue fighting with the boys last Friday night. Which he had been; he enjoyed it.

Cattle was his trade. He roped ‘em and yelled at ‘em and loved them, in a way. Cows and big wide open spaces. His father was a ranch hand, died at 55 of a heart attack. His grandfather, too, worked on a ranch. Only he owned one. And he was still alive right up to a few years ago, I think. Thin as a flamingo, wrinkled as a rhino.

Henry Driggs remembered the Denver Zoo. He loved it. He always sneered at the girls when they said, ah, poor things, in the cages. What did girls know about stupid animals. He loved ‘em.

He loved cows, most of all. He understood what the Indians were up to, driving all around the cows, sacred cows. He liked cows and big wide open spaces. His favorite movie was HUD, which he saw on TV one night. A quiet black and white modern cowboy movie. His favorite books was everything Louis L’amour ever wrote, maybe it wasn’t great but it was good to read outside in the grass.

There were no more effing ranch jobs. All the cows were raised and butchered in laboratories, you know—drugged to grow fast, penned in so they ate lots, killed on an assembly line no one knew their name or cared much. Shrink-wrapped and sent to the grocery. Disgusting. Making money. That was not The American Way. That’s not what got America where it was. Hustle was the American way. Hustle and strength and fun. Like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and like Kerouac.

Yeah, he had. He’d read Kerouac in high school, 11 grade.

He was big and close enough to handsome and dumb. Great hands, never dropped the ball. Great legs, took two boys to bring him down. He rushed 1,000’s of yards, man.

He’d had a crush on Jenny. Her long gold legs. Gold the color of sun. She wore white cotton skirts, one had red flowers and trim. When she sat in the classroom bent over her exam he looked back at her, chewing her yellow pencil, curling strawberry hair falling all over like a waterfall, so he couldn’t see what she was writing. He was dumb. But he wasn’t that dumb: he could see her legs. She’d hitched her skirt up, sure she didn’t mean to, just concentrating. She was a tomboy. He could almost see right up…it got dark. And the Teach was looking around, he looked back at his own paper. Who gave a shiite about math. Math didn’t do anything for him. Didn’t get him a job. Didn’t help day-to-day. Didn’t shut Dads up, didn’t shut Moms up. He’d read On the Road, listening to them yell, yell, yell

When he left high school he did some yelling of his own. Told Dads just what he thought. Packed up his stuff in a dirty black duffle bag, borrrowed Dads’s car. They always called him that: Dads. Not Dad. Moms, not Mom.

He took Dads’ car from ranch to ranch ‘til he found work. Cows and big, wide open spaces. Money was good always fence to mend he didn’t mind, he liked the hot sun and cold water and big straw hats and horses and dry earth. He ate big meals. He had all the cows and big open spaces and cowgirls with beautiful sunburned cheeks and ready chests and too-soon-sad eyes. All of them with their stories, rocking casually back and forth above him or below him. Didn’t take long. Sometimes he thought of Jenny Hooper, that was her last name.


One summer I worked with him. I didn’t like him; none of the men did.

But the girls did. He was quiet and didn’t treat them special. He just stared at them and they thought he was thinking deep things.

He liked me, he wrote me after I left. I’d write him three sentences on a postcard and Esme’d mail it for me: I’m good, yeah I’m still engaged, no I’m not planning on getting married ‘til I can afford a little house. Stuff like that. He’d write me three pages back, within a day or two, every time. He wrote big, sure, but still. I had to write him back. I think he liked to write me because he thought I was literary, because I brought a bunch of books with me, that summer. I think he wanted to be a writer

I lined ‘em all up, a bunch of rag tag paperbacks I’d picked up at library sales or bus stations. I lined ‘em all up at the head of my bed, a sorry collection of trash books and cowboy stories, and a few things by L’amour, On the Road by Kerouac, Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden. I liked Steinbeck. Also Sun Also Rises, I think. And a few things by Twain

“Kerouac, I read him,” he’d said that first night I moved in. We were bunkmates in a little yellowed clapboard house near the main house. The place stank; I always left the windows open.

“Really?,” I asked, surprised, though I didn’t really care. I was tired and had a head full of thoughts.

“Yeah. Remember when they go to Mexico, man?! All the bugs!? I’ve never been there.”

“You ever read anything else of Kerouac’s?,” I asked, by way of conversation…so I could go back to my thoughts. I was thinking about Esme, how I didn’t want to eff it all up.


“Man, he’s got some good stuff. One called Dharma Bums. And Town and the City, about growing up and falling in love. And one called Tristessa…Book about this lovely whore he’s in love with, she’s Mexican, he’s Buddhist…”


“Yeah, so he’s in love with her but doesn’t do anything about it.”

“Why’s that.”

“He’s Buddhist, man. He’s trying to be holy. Yeah. But then in the second half I think he’s Catholic again, see he grew up Catholic. So now he wants to be with her…it’d cool, seeing the same man coming from two totally different places. And POMES, a book of poetry. I’m not a big poetry fan, but his stuff isn’t bullshit. There’s this poem in there gets me every time. Called Hymn.


“Hymn. It’s great. In it there’s a poem called Woman, that goes:

Women are great

But you have to swing and swing and swing and swing…

Like a hankerchief in the wind.

“Something like that.” Then I told him Good Night and lay back hands behind my head and looked up at the dark ceiling and thought my girl.

It was nice, that summer, leaning back on my thin pillow and drinking, I liked good Scotch with one ice cube when I can afford it, or good Tequila, sipping and drinking with the scratched desk lamp on the headboard, beside my books. And Driggs would borrow a book, and paw through it with his big strong, clumsy, greasy hands. He didn’t like Steinbeck. He liked chillin’ in the den in the main house and watching old movies, and crap like that.

Better he liked hanging in town, going fishing he called it.

“I’ll be back later,” he’d say and smile. It wasn’t a happy smile, it was the set smile of a hunter set to go into the forest.

After with my books, and our laying around sipping and reading, and with our little talks about Kerouac and all, I think Henry Driggs always associated me with writing. He always liked to write letters. Even though I never really liked him. Even though I was only there a summer. So I wound up knowing everything there was to know, you know, about this man who I didn’t really like or care about. The letters just kept coming, often from a different addresses. He’d write me about all the little things on his mind. I always thought that if I made a book outta the stuff he wrote some poet would read it and think he was a genius, the awkward way he put things.

When he was 38 he’d seen it all. Nothing was gonna change. Drought and less work, all the cows in labs with white coats, farms turning into paper-thin cream-colored condos everywhere you looked. He was tired. Didn’t have vacation coming to him. Didn’t have money for all the things he wanted: thick socks more comfortable, vintage pickup with turquoise paint like lacquer and a good radio, all the beer and burgers he wanted without having to worry about his debit card bleeping all the bleeping time. That’s no way to live.

One night playing cards Henry Driggs got drunk as hell. Whiskey sneaks up on you and hits you over the head. Had a straight flush, won a little money, said goodnight. Drunker than drunk.

Didn’t want to throw up, look at the ceiling spinning.

Didn’t want another day of work. So he went back to his room, wrote a postcard. And then he tied his sheet to a hook and looped the other end. He got a chair and pulled it over and stood down on it. He tucked his neck in the rope. He was so godawful drunk.

The police called me. I was packing up a buffalo steak and a cooler full of beer for a little July 4 action down at the reservoir.

This Jack Turner?, the voice said.

“Sure,” I said. You never know who’s calling.

“This is Officer Bla Bla Bla, I don’t remember what the cop said, from Jackson. Friend of yours Henry Driggs killed himself this morning.”

The cop waited for a reaction. I didn’t really have one.

“Okay,” I said, finally.

“You a friend of his?”

“Not really.”

“He wrote you a suicide letter.”

Obligatory pause. “He liked to write me. I don’t think he had anyone to write.” 

“We’ll send it to you when later this week, when we’ve done all the paperwork. You good friends?”

“No, I already said. We knew each other one summer; worked together.”

“You know why he’d want to kill himself?”

“Well, he was an…he wasn’t a happy guy, he didn’t have any friends, or family I don’t think, he didn’t make much money?”

“Right. Thanks for your time, Mr. Turner. We’ll call you bla bla bla, official police bullshiite, I don’t remember what all.”

I set down the receiver. I’d just told them the truth. I didn’t like him. I wasn’t particularly sorry.

But I’d miss the letters, in a way.

A week later, I received an official police letter and envelope. Takes the cake for weirdest letter I ever received.

From the hand of a dead man:

July 3


Drunk. Played cards got strat flsh all spades. Time to call a spade a spade? I’m tired but I don’t want to go to bed and stare at the ceeling spinning around and go throw up. Grils don’t make me happy. I don’t make them happy. There’s no more jobs not good ones. No more cows and wide open spaces like we used to talk about. I read Hymn the other day finally, in a bookstore. I like how Keroac says about falling on the ice twice, twice. Made me want to feel sad. I mean, what plans does God have for me? What’s the point of my living every day? Spade. and until—

Henry Driggs

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