Uncle’s under the Humvee, knee cracked in two. Uncle’s wearing a dress and hollering. It’s Sunday. Uncle likes to ride on his Humvee and wear a dress sometimes, but only on Sunday. Uncle calls this freeing. Uncle calls this closer to God.
* * *
Uncle’s nice looking in his dress and everyone thinks so. But he lacks confidence. He’s afraid to go out. To the supermarket, or the bar where he likes to go. He thinks nobody will understand, that they’ll see him as a man in a dress and not all the other things he is. When Uncle says this he’s all tears. When Uncle opens his mouth big and wide you can see it full of chew. It’s like a place where wasps could live.
* * *
We carry Uncle to the bonesetters. They live in this house on the hill with the power lines. It’s where everyone around here goes if they don’t have money. And nobody has money, so it’s where everyone goes. The only place anyone ever worked was the power plant and it closed down a few years ago. Nobody has jobs. Everyone’s hooked. One woman got so hooked her baby was hooked before it even was born.
* * *
They’ve run out of room at the morgue. They’ve started putting bodies in ice cream trucks. Now they’ve run out of ice cream trucks.
* * *
The bonesetters fill Uncle up with liquor. He seems to enjoy it. He rolls on the floor like a dog with an itch on its back. We have to steady him. The bonesetters get a feel for the bones. They knead the meat of his leg.
“Tells the story,” they say.
There’s a loud pop that’s more suction. Uncle kicks and yells. He bites into his tongue and gets blood on his dress. The bonesetters pin him on the floor. They chant and hum. They grab the knee and twist. It snaps in place. They chant and hum some more.
* * *
Sometimes news networks come into town to get footage of our faces, our yards with cars parked in them. They tell us where to stand, how to look. Sad. Pained. Whatever.
They call this b-roll. It means: less important.
Once in a while, we see ourselves on TV. Mom tapes it to show her friends. They stand around and cheer.
There we were in Appalachian Agony. There we were in Opioid Hell.
“They love us, they really love us,” we say.
(We don’t think they really love us.)
* * *
Uncle’s still full of liquor, but he’s quiet. It’s around dawn. The sky is pink and orange. We walk with him down the hill into town. He’s limping. If he’s in pain, it’s not showing.
The supermarket’s open. We go inside. A few people give Uncle looks. I think, because of the dress and the blood. But for the most part, nobody seems to care. Then we lose Uncle. Then we find Uncle standing in an aisle, drinking milk from a carton. We stand in the aisle with him. We pass it around. It hits my throat cold. Uncle’s beard is gleaming.
* * *
Once Uncle said he found a nest of bird’s eggs underneath the power lines. They were cooked all through like they were boiled eggs. Nobody wanted to eat them. They said it was one thing to eat an egg you cooked at home, but another if the egg you ate was cooked by some power lines on the side of a hill. Even if you were dying of hunger you wouldn’t touch an egg like that. They called this good judgement. And they were right.