Tin Pedals, fiction by Lucas Flatt

Shuck’s plan was fuck­ing stu­pid. Every­body told him so, though “every­one” meant only his guilty con­science and the imag­i­nary Jiminy Crick­et voic­es of his semi-girl­friend Mag­gie and best friend Doc and his dog Bis­cuit, all in his head say­ing: “Jesus Christ, don’t do it!” The bal­lots felt like feathers—light, frag­ile, too ethe­re­al for touching—and Shuck’s hands fum­bled slick with sweat.

The tent was warm and qui­et, the fes­ti­val stages dark. The pick­ing tent cast a pleas­ant ring and buzz, the night’s breeze car­ried rip­ples over the riv­er. Shuck had two sacks: one filled with coun­ter­feit bal­lots, and the oth­er emp­ty for the real ones. He was going to cheat the Jam the Riv­er blue­grass festival’s raf­fle, for a guitar.

(And don’t get this wrong; maybe the gui­tar want­ed some­thing. You can’t say it didn’t. Don’t go on think­ing you’re bet­ter than this guitar.)

(What kind of gui­tar was it, you say? It was cus­tom-built for Shuck's friend Doc's new­ly pop­u­lar blue­grass fes­ti­val and donat­ed in con­junc­tion with Gruhn Gui­tars, a world-class estab­lish­ment in Nashville. And it was built by none oth­er than Pete Kisanou­vich of Kisanou­vich Gui­tars, which, if you haven't heard about, you might not know enough about gui­tars to appre­ci­ate this story.)

(So far as words could do her jus­tice, she had the world’s most endan­gered rose­wood for the fret­board, stuff you had to jump into the Ama­zon bush for and prob­a­bly come out shooting.)

(Set gen­tle in that pre­cious board were moth­er-of-pearl inlays milky like the creamy stuff of god­ly loins. It’s gross how beau­ti­ful this gui­tar was. The inlays were shaped like ham­mers and sick­les, some kind of hip­pie joke; doesn’t mat­ter; the hard­ware was bur­nished gold, and the head­stock wore a rose of sparkling, tech­ni­col­or tin to catch stage lights and strobe them back on rows and rows of bleached blondes and scream­ing, red-faced dudes.)

Alone and shak­ing in the raf­fle tent, Shuck scooped tick­ets into his emp­ty bag, his fin­ger­tips squeak­ing on the bot­tom glass. He dumped in the fakes. His eyes watered over. His name was on every sin­gle one. He'd done his best–that is, poorly–to change the hand­writ­ing every time, which only made it take longer.

He stirred them with his fin­gers, then ran cry­ing out loud past the big stage and down the crafters' thor­ough­fare with the closed shops and food stalls, then west through the camp­ing fields by the riv­er that formed the south­ern bound­ary of Doc's fam­i­ly lands. It was quite a haul, par­tic­u­lar­ly wail­ing and wip­ing away tears and stum­bling some­times in the dark.


Mag­gie slept in a lawn chair with her feet up in Shuck’s seat. Their dog, Bis­cuit, slept twist­ed under­neath, his goober ass stuck out. Shuck gave him a prod and dumped Maggie’s feet from his chair—he want­ed com­pa­ny. As expect­ed, Mag­gie kept snor­ing, but Bis­cuit com­plet­ed a grunt­ing extrac­tion and cir­cled to sniff Shuck’s lap.

On his Walkie Talkie, he buzzed his bud­dy and fes­ti­val run­ner Doc: "Tuck­ing in for the night. Come burn one, if you can."

Roger that. Wait for me.”

Mag­gie snored with her mouth open and her ton­sils jig­gling. She had the long, aus­tere build of the myth­ic Valkyrie and when low, as now, he some­times envi­sioned her in full bronze and plume regalia fly­ing him around the stage of some gen­uine Ital­ian opera, him tucked away like a foot­ball and her spear­ing past the fab­ric clouds and thwart­ing card­board foam thun­der­bolts. Alas, he could not place this feel­ing as love so much as abid­ing respect, even admi­ra­tion. But what did it mean about him?

In a flash of repen­tant ecsta­sy, Shuck reached and tugged her tank top and said, "I did it. I cheat­ed and I am ashamed!"

Maggie’s eyes popped open, one after the oth­er. “Shut up.” She snored and the eyes snapped back shut in the oppo­site sequence.

The dog licked his elbow; Bis­cuit didn’t give a shit about man’s laws. Maybe that meant he was part­way forgiven.

(And what’s the worst thing you ever did? Think about it; you might be, already. Or, hey, don’t. Don’t ever think about it. Maybe that’s better.)

(It’s OK. They say the one true almighty sky­ward friend for­gives you. That’s Jesus Hor­a­tio Christ.)

(I don’t have the pow­er to for­give or not for­give; I’m just an omni­scient nar­ra­tor. Or am I lim­it­ed? Sure feels that way, for all of us down here in the morass.)

Shuck felt bet­ter for about 30 sec­onds until Doc and Ange­line showed up on the Mule, parked by the dying fire.

Make sure that goes out before you go to bed,” Doc said. He always had to assert con­trol like that, keep folks on notice. He winked, was always wink­ing, too. He was a con­trol-assert­ing, wink­ing type of moth­er­fuck­er. “We got a bunch of reports about some guy run­ning around the camp­sites cry­ing and play­ing with him­self. Prob­a­bly a sex-peep­er. Can I get a hot dog?”

"Sex-peep­ers ought to be shot," Shuck said. Ange­line fur­rowed her brow across the fire­light. Mag­gie snored.

Doc gave Shuck a long look. "Okay? Prob­a­bly just kick them out, is all." Doc rum­maged around, look­ing through Shuck's camp for a hot dog. "We've gone five years with­out no sum­ma­ry executions."

Ange­line kicked him light­ly as he passed. “Stop talk­ing like some dumb cow­boy or I’m tak­ing that hat.”

The hat. The god­damn hat. Only offi­cials of the Jam the Riv­er fes­ti­val wore offi­cial straw cow­boy hats of that spe­cif­ic tint and diam­e­ter. Shuck had been promised one five years run­ning, for­got­ten every time.

Mag­gie woke up talk­ing to her dream: "Put that up, no high­er, there, in Heav­en." She smiled at every­one. "I was hav­ing the nicest dream." Bis­cuit perked, fart­ed the inter­rog­a­tive case, and wan­dered off into the black.

Shuck said, “How’s The Blue Busters? I missed them.” He took a wiener from Doc and poked it with a coat hang­er and stuck it in the fire.

Doc nod­ded. “Good.”

Doc liked any­thing musi­cal with twang. But Shuck hard­ly came out for the bands, missed as many as he caught. He most­ly liked to play in the pick­ing tent, and they had a lot of good pick­ers and fid­dlers, but Shuck was right there amongst the best.

Ange­line sighed heav­i­ly and stretched out in a chair. “We haven’t sat down all day.” She wig­gled her toes over the fire. “Shit. That’s nice.”

Turn it, Shuck,” Doc said. “You know how I like my wiener.”

Mag­gie laughed too loud, then, embar­rassed, announced she’d get the hot­dog fix­ings. She rum­maged in the dark through the arma­da of cool­ers Shuck had appro­pri­at­ed from the Lowe’s store he assis­tant-man­aged. She came back with her cig­a­rettes and no buns. They all laughed, and she went back sheep­ish. Ange­line caught Shuck’s eye, mouthed, “I like her.”

Shuck squirmed at the com­pli­ment, know­ing only a few cures for it: he lit the joint, passed it del­i­cate­ly to Ange­line. She threw her head back and took a long drag, shook her hair out of its bun.

Mag­gie yanked the joint from Ange­line and dragged it hard, shoot­ing sparks. Then she coughed and stomped, cough-stomp­ing all around the camp­site blow­ing bil­lows like a dragon.

Not to be out­done, Shuck took the joint and blast­ed on it, held it up in a big, spec­u­la­tive, cock-eyed appraisal, held up a fin­ger like wait, there’s more, and hit it again, real­ly bore down. Then he coughed so hard he threw up some in the grass and hoped they couldn’t see him in the dark.

(They did see it, but let it pass, in the name of friendship.)

Y’all got ketchup?” Doc asked.

Shuck scowled and wiped his mouth. That’s right, ketchup. Fuck you and your Paul New­man face and per­fect, sweet­heart girlfriend—ketchup. “We got mustard.”

But Mag­gie found Doc ketchup.

Doc asked, “You played much yet? I heard some guys going at it in the pick­ing tent just a while before.”

Not yet,” Shuck said, face burn­ing in the dark.

Now Doc was being so qui­et it was like he had Shuck fig­ured out. Final­ly, he said, “You talked to Dad?”

I haven’t.”

About time y’all make up.” He meant the par­ty last Christ­mas, which con­clud­ed with Shuck shout­ing at Doc’s locked door, giv­ing up, shiv­er­ing on the long, drunk walk to his truck, where he slept with­out heat—he’d lost his keys—and hoped the pre-dawn chill would take him.

Shuck said, “It was you that threw me out, not him.”

What choice did I have?” Doc had a way of chuck­ling at you con­spir­a­to­ri­al­ly like at the bot­tom of it all, you agreed with him. And part of you did, the part you want­ed to punch in the face until your hands and face turned goo. “You wouldn’t shut up about the gui­tar, how we owed you some­thing. You know how you get.”

"He has a con­di­tion called King Baby," Mag­gie said like she was help­ing. "It's what the ther­a­pist told us."

"Aw," said Ange­line. "Poor King Baby." She reached to pat his head despite the good ten-foot dis­tance, the fire in between. "There, there, king baby."

Shuck imag­ined crawl­ing into the fire. “I didn’t mean no insult, but your Dad knows I helped you think this whole thing up, and now I’m no part of it at all.”

Well, Dad wants it in the fam­i­ly. Plus, you called him a ‘tyran­ni­cal mas­tur­ba­tor’ in his San­ta suit in front of his wife in his own dri­ve­way on Christ­mas. So, get over it.” Doc rose like mist, not prop­ping or boost­ing him­self but sim­ply slid­ing upright like a mar­i­onette. “The past is done, pard. Let’s go for a ride. I got one more thing to do before I call it.”

Shuck stared out into the dark. His eyes watered, just as they had when he’d run the half mile back to camp, like he’d wept in his car at Christ­mas, chat­ter­ing cold. “All right,” he said, eying around the camp­fire. “Hold on, Doc. Now we’ve heard about my dark­est moment. What about y’all? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

"Dat­ed you," fired off Mag­gie. She tried Ange­line for a high-five, but Ange­line polite­ly demurred, so Doc swung in and clapped her hand roundly.

No, real­ly,” Shuck said. “What about you?” He stared right at Angeline.

Huh.” She tapped her chin, considering.

Doc sighed, raised his hand. “I cheat­ed in every class I ever took from grade school through two years of com­mu­ni­ty col­lege. Every sin­gle class.”

Ange­line kicked him again. “I bet I know how you pulled that off. Was it some poor, love-struck girl you cheat­ed off?”

Doc shrugged. “Some­times. Some­times I paid in weed I stole from Dad. I have essen­tial­ly no edu­ca­tion.” He gave his trade­mark dead­pan look around the fire. “Did I use that word right, ‘essen­tial­ly?’ I heard some­one say it before. You ready, Shuck?”

Mag­gie cleared her throat. “I called in a bomb threat to my high school. I want­ed to go to Star­wood to see Incubus and it was sup­posed to be a school night.” Every­one nod­ded in appreciation.

Not bad,” Doc said. “You lose points for Incubus, but I love the creativity.”

Star­wood was what they called the Ascend Amphithe­ater back when us old-timers were in short pants,” Mag­gie said to Angeline.

I helped my ex-boyfriend com­mit insur­ance fraud with his boat for like fif­teen grand.”

Ange­line frowned. “Don’t tell any­body. Please.”

Only Shuck didn’t laugh. “Y’all wan­na hear mine?”

Doc cleared his throat. “Nope. I doubt our hearts could take it.” Before Shuck could object, Doc added, “Come on–step it up, pard. It’s not you that spent the day work­ing.” Rare irri­ta­tion crept into his voice. “You don’t under­stand, this gig is hard work. And I came by your camp to ask for help, what, three times? Four? Found you drunk off your ass.”

Shuck rose shak­i­ly. “Where we headed?”

Check the bon­fires, put them out.”

Doc climbed into the Mule and Shuck slid in by him. "Here." Doc reached behind the seat and found anoth­er straw ranger hat. He gave Shuck a point­ed look. "Dad want­ed you to have this. He ordered it for you spe­cial, 'cause your head's so fuckin' big."

Stunned, Shuck took the hat, and they went bump­ing in the dark over grassy hills steep as dunes.

Hats nev­er fit Shuck’s water­mel­on of a head, but he scrunched and crammed the ranger hat over his crown and sat back, one hand fixed to the brim lest it flew off into the sea of snores. And he beamed, despite himself.

They twist­ed through the camp­sites, the riv­er a dark gur­gle on the left and the last lights from the fes­ti­val burn­ing up ahead. They bumped down the grav­el thor­ough­fare by the shop booths where Doc stopped and gath­ered the trash from the big bar­rel cans. Shuck felt so hon­ored by the offi­cial head­gear that he stum­bled out and pre­tend­ed to help. Head­ing past the shops and main­stage toward the bon­fires, they rode past the raf­fle booth and Shuck winced.

Doc must have noticed, because he said, “Your ass still sore about that guitar?”

It’s a nice gui­tar, is all.”

Well, save your mon­ey. He’s got more for sale.”

I could win it,” Shuck said.

Nope.” Doc ges­tured at the ranger hat. “Con­test is just for pay­ing cus­tomers. No staff. Sucks to get what you want, some­times, huh?”

Three bon­fires were spaced even­ly along the field at the east­ern edge of the prop­er­ty, where Doc and his father pas­tured hors­es most of the year. The first fire was smol­der­ing but the sec­ond still flick­ered, and they found there an old cus­tomer howl­ing at the moon, stripped to patched, old-timey britch­es. Shuck took him by the waist of those britch­es, and with the hat on like a badge and the cheek-tin­gling, wide-open feel­ing of being out on the farm, the vig­or of the damp clean air, he would have tossed the drunk into the fire out of over-exu­ber­ance, but Doc cooly inter­vened, talked the old camper down from howl­ing and sent him sheep­ish back to camp. Doc's voice and his easy man­ner mes­mer­ized folks that way.

At the dregs of the last fire, they shared a cig­a­rette as coals smol­dered. “Any­way,” Doc said, “the draw­ing is first thing tomor­row. I thought we’d get more tick­ets. If you weren’t a ranger, now, you just might have had a shot.”

Back at the camp, Shuck took out the Aria, a mis­er­able, dingy thing fin­ished like a rot­ten cel­lar door and made in red Chi­na. He didn't check his voice despite the qui­et camp­ing, shun­ked and sang his own new ditty.

(Ever heard of Chris Sta­ple­ton? Well, this is his sto­ry. Not real­ly. But he record­ed at the Jam the Riv­er for their PBS spe­cial pro­gram a year or two before he blew up. The whole fes­ti­val served as a set up for the show, the grand vision of The Old Man, Doc’s Dad­dy, who looked like Kevin Cost­ner and inter­viewed in a weird, lacon­ic way. He liked to ref­er­ence pre-inter­view con­ver­sa­tions, so the view­er always felt a lit­tle left out. Great cin­e­matog­ra­phy, though.)

All Shuck had want­ed was his chance, and he got it. Ear­ly days, a night-time shoot on the new­ly out­fit­ted main stage, a warm-up before the fes­tiv­i­ties began the next morn­ing. Lights up, sear­ing­ly bright, Shuck had to keep his hands just so to keep the Aria's pick­up from buzzing. They'd tried just a mic but couldn't mix it well. Every­one was learn­ing. Every­thing was qui­et: must be time to go. Pick the long ride into "Aunt Hoot's Root Cel­lar for a Toot-e-nany."

Wait, Shuck.” Can’t dis­tin­guish the voic­es, the Old Man, Doc, Doc’s broth­er Virge, the sound guy. Hands won’t stop fuck­ing shak­ing. Don’t you blow this thing, don’t blow this thing.

By the time they got things right, he could only play chords and a lit­tle turn­around, some kind of lilt­ing vari­a­tion on "Old Susan­nah," first thing he'd learned in lessons twen­ty years ago.

"Thanks, Shuck." That was that. They put it in the sec­ond show, with some reel of a horse in a field and some strange baby run­ning out of a chick­en coop. His name in with a heap of names cred­it­ed as "Add'l Music" ass-end of the credits.

Some­one, Mag­gie, would call his name, ‘Hey Shuck, you’re on!’ and not mean any mean­ness at all, and he had to go to the liv­ing room and pre­tend to be delight­ed with her as his dreams ran out the punc­tured sack of his life in semi-sync with a baby falling in mud in grainy black-and-white. He flubbed the same note, every god­for­sak­en time.

There could have been more chances, maybe. He nev­er asked. He gave up. It hap­pens. I’ve giv­en up on this tale a time or two. Maybe this time, it ends up different.

To say Shuck didn't sleep well, what with his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the pos­si­bly felo­nious fraud he'd com­mit­ted and its deep­er impli­ca­tions con­cern­ing his char­ac­ter, wouldn't quite get near it. He lay face down on a thin sleep­ing bag out­side the tent grind­ing his big teeth on rocks. Bis­cuit wheezed and whined next to him, flut­ter­ing her paws in protest like she dreamt of Shuck being her owner.

And of what did Shuck dream? Noth­ing. That was over for him.


Shuck sat up wild-eyed at twit­ter­ing dawn. He start­ed his day by drink­ing an MD 20 20 Maggie'd brought—it was orange fla­vored specif­i­cal­ly for break­fast. He crept into the tent and drank and watched Mag­gie snore, won­der­ing why he couldn't love her.

There was no clear answer. She was a strong, kind, love­ly woman.

So why hot tears welling? He could say it: She pitied him. (She didn’t.)

He didn’t want it. (A God damned lie; it’s all he wanted.)

She deserved bet­ter. (Ain’t that the truth?.)

He here­by released her with a bene­dic­to­ry ges­ture of the bot­tle, which spilled a lit­tle by her foot. Afraid she’d wake and find him leer­ing like some kind of sex-peep­er, he stum­bled out of the tent and rolled down a lit­tle hill into anoth­er camp.

He saw a fist­fight break out between anoth­er set of campers, didn't both­er to rise as he rub­ber­necked. A fiery red­head with droopy, mossy eyes and yel­low lip-and-chin whiskers stag­gered around his camp, crash­ing through the fur­ni­ture. He back-flopped onto a lit­tle pic­nic table and buck­led it.

A woman with some alle­giance to deco­rum or the table yelled, “Get up!” over and over.

A thick guy with short dark hair came scrab­bling from a tent bewil­dered, sur­veyed the scene, and went to help his fall­en com­rade. But the red­head came up swing­ing, smacked his friend in the nose. The girl yelled, "Don't hit him, Frankie! Don't!"

Frankie could have been either one, but the kid with the bloody nose reared back and

knocked the cold piss out of the red­head­ed table-buster.

No, Frankie!” the girl yelled.

Too drunk to go down or die, Red reeled and pitched, locked Frankie up in a headlock.

Now Frankie was mur­der-angry, but at last, the woman got them apart. Shuck mum­bled, "There's a fine, strong woman." Red slumped against a tree, every­body paced. Frankie bid­ed. The girl drift­ed too far away, sur­vey­ing the fur­ni­ture dam­age, and Frankie charged, bashed Red's head against the lean­ing sug­ar maple. The clang rang out across the campsites.

Red went down flop­py, start­ed yelling: "You hit my head into a tree, Frankie. I'm going to give you a red-ass beat down when I'm sober. I'll find you when I'm sober, Frankie. I'll beat the tar shit out of you. The tar shit! Tar! Shit!"

Mind cleared of tur­moil for that bright instant, Shuck chuck­led, Huh huh, into the dewy grass. Red kept hol­ler­ing “tar shit” until the words were dis­persed into Shuck's men­tal soup.

The woman had wan­dered over to where Shuck lay. “You all right, there, mister?”

Shuck nod­ded face down in the grass.

Let’s get you up.”


With the girl in the shade of the main stage, Shuck fig­ured now was near­ly time for the raf­fle, felt the ice water of incom­ing pan­ic in his arms and gut like he’d read about in war sto­ries. He told him­self to con­fess, here, now, and end this thing. Doc would get pissed, sure­ly send him home. They’d fix the raf­fle box.

Instead, Shuck sipped Gatorade by the fan in front of which the woman had parked him.
She told him, "Stay put and you'll feel bet­ter," had a husky voice, looked in her late twen­ties but cured by hard-liv­ing, hair in corn­rows and tied with tie-dyed rib­bons. A thin dress and no shoes. Freck­les and brown eyes. Shuck want­ed her to stick around for what was com­ing, why, he didn't know. He said, "I'm Shuck. What's your name?"

Syd, short for Sydney.”

Yep.” He came up with noth­ing else, and she took a long look around and tapped her foot.

He was sober­ing up, noticed for the first time the mass of pur­ple thun­der­heads perched to spill into the val­ley. Sal­va­tion, per­haps, if they’d roll on over and spoil the morn­ing itinerary.

What’s the mat­ter, Shuck?” Syd prod­ded his foot with her own. “You look like you just caught your dog wolf­ing down your baby.”

Jesus. What a ter­ri­ble thing to say.”

(And, were Syd present back at the impromp­tu camp­fire con­fes­sion­al, she’d have tak­en the grand prize for scin­til­lat­ing regrets; behind her ear were the ini­tials TK tat­tooed in thin blue ink and the sto­ry there­by allud­ed defies the scope and sen­si­bil­i­ties of this pal­try tale.)
(Suf­fice to say, injus­tice abounds. But all shall be for­giv­en, and those who tra­verse the rolling world with­out the weight of sin are babes alone who must tar­ry not with freight­ed souls lest they pass the precipice them­selves and lose their grace. Such may have been the fate of TK, depart­ed too soon, but, strict­ly speak­ing of the spir­it, not soon enough, per­haps, ergo, alas.)

(But what do I know? I’ve nev­er done any­thing; I’m only sig­ni­fi­ca­tion, the ghost of these sev­er­al thou­sand words.)

Syd tried to laugh it off. “Just con­cerned, is all.” She punched Shuck’s shoul­der, quite hard.
“Ouch. I’ve done some­thing very stu­pid.” He didn’t know he’d admit it before he did, and the rush of relief was so great he near­ly stood up.

Yeah? What’s that?”

I cheat­ed Doc and I’m gonna go to jail. It’s the worst day of my life, I feel sick. I’m already drunk.”

Yeah. I smelled your break­fast on your breath. Who’s Doc?”

The guy who runs this thing.”

Field of Dreams Kevin Cost­ner or Yel­low­stone Kevin Costner?”

Field of Dreams.”

He looks like a dick.”

He isn’t. I mean, kind of. Not really.”

How did you cheat?”

The raf­fle. For the Kisanou­vich. The guitar.”

No big­gie. I think all the guys in my camp must have put their names in two or three times.”

No. I took out all the tick­ets and filled the box up with my own.”

She dropped her smirk. “Oh, man. You’re fucked. The Cost­ners are gonna beat your ass.”

Shuck shud­dered. One lit­tle baby teardrop slipped down his trem­bling cheek.

They’re gonna take you and throw you in that pit in Wyoming. The mur­der pit. You watch that show?”

Shuck did watch that show. He cried a lit­tle more.

"I like to shoplift," Syd offered by way of con­so­la­tion, which it wasn't. Peo­ple stole all the time from his Lowes store and hereto­fore he'd stood in judg­ment, always pressed charges. No more.

That’s it–he’d change his life. He’d let peo­ple steal from the Lowe’s. Maybe Old Man Lowe had hurt them some­how in the semi-recent past. He just couldn’t know a thing like that.

A cold breeze came down from the ridge. Shuck stood up and paced a few yards, Bis­cuit eager­ly attend­ing him every step of the way. He came back and crossed his arms across him­self, said, “That’s a stun­ning admis­sion, and I feel hon­ored and all that. But I think I bet­ter get out of this place before I’m exposed.”

Doc came over look­ing seri­ous, caught Shuck by the shoul­der, and said, "Hey, man, come help me set up for the draw­ing. We're going to get going and hope the rain waits."

Syd stepped in and said, “He was going to help me hitch a camper. That OK?”

Doc looked up at the clouds and tipped his hat back. "Well."

It’ll just take a second.”

But they’d wait­ed too long: helpers unveiled the raf­fle box already trans­port­ed onto the stage. The Old Man stepped up to a squeal­ing mic and wished the gath­er­ing crowd good morning.

Syd elbowed Shuck, “Let’s go, man. Don’t just stand there.”

But Shuck was mes­mer­ized by the Kisanou­vich, which Ange­line now car­ried across the stage. Whis­pers of admi­ra­tion bur­bled through the crowd. Despite thun­der­heads rolling down from the ridge, the last bits of sun danced on the tin rose. Ange­line gave a wide smile and curt­sey, put the gui­tar on a stand.

Syd pulled on his belt, but Shuck dug his feet in. The old man reached in, with­drew and read the card. Shook his head. Said into the micro­phone: “Shuck Johnson.”

Ange­line shot Shuck a smile and picked up the gui­tar again. Held it out. Every­body clapped.

The Old Man said, “Get up here, Shuck.”

He thought he’d have to crawl but made it upright up the short plank stairs to the stage, took the gui­tar in his hands; it thrummed elec­tric with per­fect, ultra-light craftsmanship.

Doc’s father nod­ded to the mic for Shuck to make some kind of speech. Instead, he ran, down behind the stage and around, the crowd part­ing. He glanced back and saw Doc with his hands in his back pock­ets and his hat still cocked up, tall and stern like Gary Coop­er on the stage, squint­ing down at his flee­ing friend in con­fu­sion or embarrassment.

Mag­gie stood at the edge of the crowd with her arms out like Shuck would, in his ela­tion, want to embrace, but he mis­took her for fes­ti­val secu­ri­ty, juked hard, and sent her flat on her face in his dust, Bis­cuit stop­ping for a con­cil­ia­to­ry nuz­zle before charg­ing on.

Shuck want­ed to leave the gui­tar but could see no safe place to dis­card it as he ran. Then, he saw Doc's Mule ATV idling in the horse pasture.


They—Shuck, Syd, and a whin­ing Biscuit—were tear­ing through the woods by the riv­er in the Mule before Shuck real­ized he’d just added grand theft auto of a farm all-ter­rain vehi­cle to the rap sheet. Syd held the gui­tar to her chest, too scared, per­haps, to look up but any­way fix­at­ed on the tin-plat­ed head­stock. She moved her lips as she read the ser­i­al numbers.

He found a trail and bounced through the riv­er dan­ger­ous­ly, glad the morn­ing chill still kept the campers off; oth­er­wise, he'd have squashed man, woman, dog, and child, had any swum where there where the riv­er inter­sect­ed the wind­ing road up out of the val­ley, where Shuck head­ed now.

They made it to the top of the ridge and Shuck clicked off the motor. Got down and lis­tened for a while, wait­ing to hear some­one dri­ving up. He heard a shout or two below but far away, seem­ing­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed, or rather inter­est­ed in some­thing else entirely.

Well,” Syd said from the pas­sen­ger seat, “you might as well play me a song, Shuck.

Shuck said, “I think you bet­ter slip off some­where. I appre­ci­ate you com­ing along but this is going some­where ugly. You’ve had a bad enough morn­ing.” The calm creep­ing into his voice both­ered Shuck more than the woman’s ease with the con­spir­a­cy; she only shrugged and plinked on the gui­tar herself.

Nah,” she said. “I’ll just say you kid­napped me.”

That’s not funny.”

Yeah. Guess not. Here, play something.”

At first, he couldn’t play. His fin­gers trem­bled and the last dregs of the Mad Dog churned in his sloshy head. He couldn’t remem­ber how any­thing went, even after his fin­gers found their prop­er places. But then the Kisanou­vich spoke to him, in a voice sonorous and clear. It said: “We was meant for one anoth­er, pal. I’ll nev­er let some­body hurt you ever again.”

He played “Aunt Hoot” flaw­less­ly for Syd, who did not hide her stunned weeping
admi­ra­tion. As he fin­ished, Doc’s Jeep bounced in beside the Mule. Doc and Ange­line stepped out.

Doc said, “Uncool, man.” He said it again: “Unnncool.” Angeline’s big eyes sparkled. Syd lit a cig­a­rette and shuf­fled in the deep, dead leaves. Doc pat­ted Shuck’s shoul­der. “How drunk are you, you son of a bitch? That was the goofi­est shit I’ve ever seen.” He ran a mock­ing, wob­bly-armed cir­cle around the clear­ing, revers­ing course at invis­i­ble adver­saries, and Ange­line dou­bled over laugh­ing. Doc stopped and beamed at Shuck like this was all for laughs. “So, you got wast­ed and entered your name like fifty times. Please tell me you remem­ber doing that.”

Shuck set the gui­tar down in the Mule. “I won it,” he said, that creepy calm still in his voice. He couldn’t look Doc in the eyes.

Dad cov­ered for you.”

He was real­ly smooth,” Ange­line added.
Doc shrugged. "So, I guess, no harm done. We just played it off like it was a gag. It took a long time to get all your goofy bal­lots out, though. Set us back half an hour. Why'd you write them dif­fer­ent­ly? I have to know."

No rea­son.”

I think your girl­friend is pissed. Shit, what’s her name?”

Mag­gie,” Ange­line said, still laugh­ing. She hopped up on the hood of the Jeep. “I liked her.”

Doc spun. “Watch the finish.”

You call­ing me fat?”

Shuck felt like he was in a dream watch­ing some­thing fall on his head that wouldn’t quite land. It kept get­ting clos­er, an anvil maybe, or a big black boul­der, but it couldn’t close the dis­tance. He said, “Well.”

"Well?" Doc smiled at him, their lives already reset­tling back to normal.

Ange­line caught Shuck’s eye, a smile of recog­ni­tion dawn­ing on her freck­led face. “Wait, is this why you were ask­ing us to con­fess our sins last night? Shuck, is this the worst thing you’ve ever done, steal­ing from your best friend in the world?”

Her eyes hard­ened and she held his gaze for a full three sec­onds, then blew a rasp­ber­ry fart in her elbow and laughed. “One time, I was dri­ving these guys around and by like, the sec­ond liquor store, I fig­ured out they were rob­bing them, because, duh, the masks.” She stared wist­ful­ly out over the tree­tops. “But yeah, we must have hit like four that night, a drug store, too, and then we got fucked. Up.” She clapped her hands for empha­sis. She sighed. “Been sober six years, though,” she added, near a whisper.

I got caught for all that cheat­ing and I cried and said Mar­jorie Simp­son copied off of me and she got kicked out of school and didn’t get to go to the prom after her moth­er worked all those night shifts at the Dol­lar Store and days nurs­ing the geri­atric psych ward just to buy her dress. I could have still tak­en her to the prom as my date, but I didn’t want to. Ha-oooh—" Doc gave a tremen­dous bleat as he pound­ed his chest like Tarzan. "Damn, it feels good to get that out there."

Syd grinned, scrolling through her cell phone. “If we’re let­ting it all out there, y’all ever heard of yodel-fuck­ing? ‘Cause I’m kind of famous. Wait, dang, I don’t have any reception.”

Shuck cleared his throat. “It was mean of you to embar­rass me at Christ­mas when I asked to buy the gui­tar at a friend­ly rate. You hurt my feel­ings and you told me once I could even ask you anything.”

Doc squint­ed at him, apprais­ing qui­et­ly, not lik­ing what he was seeing.

Shuck tried not to cry. “You said we were brothers.”

Ange­line said, “Aw.” Syd went and sat a ways away, her back to every­one, still play­ing on her phone and grum­bling. Doc looked out over the cloudy morning.

Shuck said, "I just want­ed it 'cause it's got our Jam the Riv­er logo right across it. You remem­ber I came up with that design."

I do.”


Doc hooked his thumbs into his belt loops. “Well.”

Shuck looked up into the tree­tops and said, "You can have it back."

Doc said, “We thank you. Your girlfriend—Maggie—left with all your shit.”

I fig­ured that. Don’t believe she’s my girl no more.”

Shuck threw a glance at Syd, who had swiveled back to watch the reuni­fi­ca­tion. “But maybe that’s for the best.”

Syd shook her head, gave the slow thumbs-down of a Roman emper­or. “Total les­bian. One hun­dred percent.”

Every­one is, when it comes to Shuck,” Doc said, dis­tract­ed by the com­ing weath­er. “Sor­ry. I just can’t help it.”

But then the clouds broke. The sun shone down on the gui­tar and Ange­line look­ing pret­ty and in love lit up hold­ing it, the scout­ing ray glit­ter­ing on tin ped­als. Hell, she looked like the ver­i­ta­ble “Angel of the Morn­ing Light,” which was the name of a song Shuck had writ­ten and sung for his spe­cial girls, includ­ing Mag­gie, missed bad­ly now and gone for­ev­er with his tent and cool­ers, which were the prop­er­ty of Lowe's, but he wouldn't report the theft. Instead, he'd write Mag­gie songs and sing them to her win­dows until she took him back. Star­ing at his friends, he didn't know what in the world could be bet­ter, how he could ever tru­ly be part of some­thing like that.

Doc reclined against the Jeep under that lone­ly, only ray. Ange­line waved the Kisanou­vich around, laugh­ing as it cast a dance of sparkles across Doc’s bare, goose-pim­pled chest.
Every­one had what they want­ed, but him. He said to him­self, “It ought to be mine. I earned it.”

(And if it wasn't true, and if Shuck, not giv­en to intro­spec­tion, or, for that mat­ter, appre­ci­a­tion of the kind­ness shown to him by abid­ing friend­ship, didn't feel the least bit sor­ry, so what? If we can't write it off as "poor Shuck" or say "Ah, fuck him and the giant head he rode in on" or sew the world's lit­ter of Shucks up a pil­low­case and toss them in the riv­er, where does that leave us?)

(Maybe we just give him the damn thing, because he wants it. Like that poor jilt­ed girl want­ed to go to the prom­e­nade with hand­some young Doc. Like Bis­cuit wants, just once, to eat everyone’s din­ner while they cow­er in fear at his dom­i­nance. Like peo­ple like Doc and Ange­line, seem­ing pos­ses­sors of every­thing, must want some­thing, too. Maybe just line them up–everyone–and give them what they want.)

(And is it possible–might this all have occurred there on that ridge to Doc, watch­ing his sulk­ing friend, chew­ing his lip, mulling over the next move? Maybe so. My nar­ra­to­r­i­al intu­ition sug­gests it's just what Doc was going to say.)
Then Ange­line asked, “So how are we going to decide who real­ly gets the guitar?”

Shuck had it back before she could stop him. "Just let me see it for a sec­ond," he said and ran. And before Shuck tripped, before he bounced down the ridge and crushed the Kisanou­vich to smithereens beneath him, he turned back his head and told them, "You said I only had to ask."

Lucas Flatt's work has appeared in Puer­to del Sol, Type­house Lit­er­ary Jour­nal, Sun­dog Lit, and Ellipsis…literature and art. He won the 2016 Lar­ry Brown Short Sto­ry award at Pit­head Chapel, and teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at Vol­un­teer State Com­mu­ni­ty College.

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One Response to Tin Pedals, fiction by Lucas Flatt

  1. JBird says:

    Good stuff! Funny!

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