For week 31 of the 2015 Deal Me In challenge, I drew the eight of diamonds, which I had assigned to the Frank Bill short story, “This Bitter Pill” from the Indy Writes Books anthology. Now in its fifth year, Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about, may be found here.
The randomized order of my Deal Me In selections often produces eerie coincidences. For instance, just this week, in nearby Anderson, Indiana, police broke up a heroin ring of more than twenty(!) people. (News article may be found here if you’d like to be depressed) Heroin addiction and its consequences is the subject of Frank Bill’s short story, “This Bitter Pill,” originally published in Pank Magazine but also reprinted in the “Indy Writes Books” anthology, which I own a copy of.
“Tar Baby” is an eighteen year old mother of a newborn. She has a deadbeat boyfriend, “Patch Work,” a stuttering, “stillbrain” whose main attraction appears to be that he “scores good drugs.” She works at a low-paying convenience store job, and is, along with her boyfriend, a heroin addict. Tar Baby and Patch Wwork have gotten into debt to a despicable dealer, “Deuce,” using some of the money that friendly relatives have given them to help “the young couple out with the baby” as a down payment on a fix and promising the rest, thinking they’ll pay Deuce back when Tar Baby gets her meager paycheck. Sadly, they discover that much of that money is needed for diapers and other baby-related expenses.
What to do? It seems one option is that Deuce is notorious for taking payment in flesh – usually in sadistic ways – from his delinquent female customers. This option hangs in the background throughout this short story as the young couple try to cope.
This was not a pleasant story, and I’m still a little perplexed at how it found its way into this anthology, the submissions for which were supposed to have “something to do with reading, writing, literacy, books, or bookstores.” I guess a stretch could be made that “illiteracy” might be assumed to be among the young couple’s shortcomings, though that isn’t explicitly stated. Illiteracy is rampant, in general, in the margins of society that these characters inhabit. In fact “margins” of society is a good choice of words here, as one of the problems that keeps people like this down is the fact that there is little or no margin for error in their lives. Just one setback or piece of bad luck (or more often a bad decision) can quickly derail any progress (or the hope of progress) being made to extricate themselves from the margin…
I continued to enjoy the author’s gritty and visceral writing style in this story (as I have in his previous works that I’ve read, “Coon Hunter’s Noir” and “Amphetamine Twitch“) I have one more story of his to go in this year’s Deal Me In, titled “What Once Was” and am looking forward to reading it.
Indy Writes Books is an anthology for sale by Indy Reads Books, with all proceeds going to support local adult literacy programs, an undeniably worthy cause which Bibliophilopolis is happy to support. If the Indy Writes Books anthology sounds like something you’d be interested in, please consider purchasing a copy. More info may be found at http://www.indyreads.org/indy-writes-books/
Up next for week 32 of Deal Me In 2015 (Also from Indy Writes Books): “Your Book: A Novel in Stories” by Cathy Day.
Below (from goodreads.com): author Frank Bill