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Fiction #458
(published October 29, 2009)
Les Brers in A Minor
by Ray Sikes
Les Brers was the kind of guy we couldn't help but notice. Not too many kids show up halfway through ninth grade weighing well over two hundred pounds and sporting a full beard and shoulder length hair. When I first saw him in the hallway, I assumed he was a substitute teacher, one of those just-out-of-college hippie types who were sometimes called in to ride herd on us when the real teachers were away, but there was nothing collegiate about Les. He looked more like a mountain man who lived off the land and killed what he ate.

I didn't have a class with Les, but found out that he had moved to the Washington, DC, area from somewhere in Virginia, maybe out in the Shenandoahs, and that he was actually a year older than the rest of us. I speculated that he wasn't stupid, but rather assumed he was held back because of some criminal misdeed.

Stories circulating the spring of ninth grade confirmed that notion. Les smoked, even though junior high students weren't supposed to, and sometimes he even blew a joint out by the wall where all the delinquents slouched around. On our field trip to Williamsburg, he and Mandy Gibson supposedly went all the way beneath a pile of jackets in the back of the chartered bus, and he was blamed for destroying a bathroom in a rest stop, but I doubt he actually did that. Mandy was more his style, busting up a toilet was not. He wasn't by nature a violent person, but he wasn't the kind of person to be trifled with either. I actually witnessed the time when a tall black boy called Les a redneck because he had a hint of a Southern accent, and Les wrestled him down to the floor and told him to never say that again before the boy knew what had happened to him. The poor kid couldn't move beneath Les, so he relented and promised not to use that word any more. Les laughed and helped the boy back to his feet, and they became friends of sorts, at least enough to work together and pick up the front end of the vice principal's Volkswagen so they could shimmy it around sideways in the man's designated parking space during lunch. Many such things we told of Les, but some probably weren't at all true.

One event, however, seems to have actually happened because one of my friends told me about it, and later I checked the facts with Les himself. At the end of the school year when teachers were giving out grades, Andy Stroehman, a science teacher, awarded Les a "D".

"Give me an A, 'S'," Les said. Everyone called Mr. Stroehman "S", never Mr. Stroehman. He was a short, skinny guy in his twenties who wore steel rim glasses and drove a ratty little British sports car. None of us was terribly impressed by him.

"You didn't deserve an A," S told him.

"C'mon, S, give me an A," Les said, picking up that little man by his armpits and holding him in the air.

I was told that the little science teacher was very calm during the whole incident and simply said, "Put me down, Les. You earned what you got."

Les lowered the teacher right away, and I'm sure he did it with a smile, because Les never wanted to hurt anyone. I know this because Les was my friend.


It wasn't until the summer after ninth grade when I actually spoke to Les. I had just started smoking and walked in the 7-11 to buy cigarettes, the one place where I was never carded, and Les was there. The man behind the counter would never have asked for identification from Les because he looked more like he was 26, rather than 16, but Les still wasn't getting his smokes. The assortment of soda bottles he returned didn't quite add up to a pack of Marlboro Reds.

"C'mon, man," Les was saying. "It's just a damn nickel. I come here all the time. I'll get it back to you."

I placed the money on the counter. "If that's all you need, here it is."

"Hey, that's mighty fine of you," Les said.

"Don't mention it," I said and bought my own pack of Marlboros. Everyone smoked that brand. We all pretended to be cowboys.

We walked out together, and he said, "My name's Les."

"I know," I told him, and he seemed surprised that someone he hadn't met would know who he was. I explained it all, and I can't remember what I actually said, but in school I was one of those invisible types that people only knew, but no else knew about. Les, on the other hand, was the kind who was actually known by few, but everyone knew who he was. He invited me over that day, and that's when I started to become one of the few who really knew Les.

He lived not far from the 7-11, in an old farmhouse that had been surrounded by subdivision housing. It was like an oasis of country life in the midst of the suburbs. His yard, while not much larger than that of the neighbors, had old established trees, and we sat out in the shade and each sipped a glass of bourbon he had pilfered from his father's liquor cabinet, so we acted like much older gentlemen, copping a mild buzz and nothing more in the afternoon heat. Of course, if Les thought we could have gotten away with it, we probably would have polished off the bottle.

Les generally had a way of knowing just how much he could get away with, and that coupled with genuine respect for his mother kept Les from getting too crazy. On my next visit, I met her, a southern lady who offered me sweet tea, and she discovered my family was from even farther south than Virginia, so we had much in common. The three of us sat around the kitchen table long enough for her to decide I was like one of her very own children, and she hugged my neck when it was time for me to leave.

Over the summer I spent a lot of time at Les's house. We never did pilfer his Father's Wild Turkey again, but we did smoke excessively. It was Camel Filters or Marlboro Reds when Miss Dorothy, Les's mother, was around. She never minded us smoking, not much, except that we'd sit on the front porch, and if it was hot and we didn't do much but sit and smoke, then the yard would be littered with butts. She'd come out and tell us to clean up our mess, and Les and I would dutifully pick up the spent cigarettes from out on the grass. Sometimes we'd get to feeling claustrophobic at the house, and when we'd leave, Miss Dorothy would ask us where we were going.

"Chasing wild women and smoking dope," Les would say.

Miss Dorothy would laugh, not realizing her son was half-serious. We didn't meet many wild women, but we did smoke pot regularly. I had just started that summer, but Les had been at it for a while. I never knew why he started and never asked. Most people assume peer pressure is to blame for such things, but in my case it had nothing to do with Les or anyone else. Sure, he gave me the opportunity, but I had already decided I was going to smoke, months before I had the chance. I'd seen anti-dope movies since seventh grade. In one of them a drag racer smoked a joint with his girlfriend, who somehow wound up being taken to the hospital that night. The next day, he flipped his Top Fuel slingshot dragster during a race, and the two tragedies were supposed to be somehow connected to smoking reefer. It all seemed pretty farfetched because I knew guys, older brothers of my friends, who liked marijuana, and nothing really bad was happening to anyone out in the world apart from the movies. Smoking dope seemed like a fine way to beat the boredom of our narrow little suburban lives, so I smoked, and it wasn't boring any more, at least for a while.

Sometimes Les and I would go up to his room where he had a water pipe his brother had brought him from overseas when he was with the Army. We would sit around listening to Led Zepplin and the Allman Brothers while we smoked Borkum Riff or Apple pipe tobacco. If Miss Dorothy left, he'd screw on another pipe bowl and we'd smoke some weed. We spent many hours there, smoking and laughing for no good reason, talking about the meaning of life but never coming to any conclusions, or simply looking at the walls while the music played. Time had a way of evaporating during those days, and summer rapidly drew to a close.

One day after smoking, Les was playing his version of the blues on a guitar, so I was forced to hear something other than a good record. He really wasn't very proficient at guitar; his fingers were huge and often failed to hit the right strings, but he played with all the confidence of Eric Clapton. Les's singing was better. He had a deep rough voice and did a great Joe Cocker impersonation when he didn't have to worry about playing an instrument. But on guitar, it was always rudimentary blues, always in the same key.

Les said, "It's like that Allman Brothers song, 'Les Brers in A Minor.'"

There was a tune on Eat a Peach with that title, which sounded nothing like his blues, and neither of us realized "Brers" wasn't pronounced "Briars" the way Les and his family said their name. Rather, "Les Brers" was French for "The Brothers." So Les didn't care about the French, nor did he care that the song didn't sound at all like the version on the record. He simply played.

Early on I got to where I could speak on the level with Les, so I told him I was tired of listening to him playing the blues. I had blues of my own and didn't need to hear any more.

Les leaned the guitar in the corner and said, "That's cool, what's eating you, man?"

"In a couple of weeks, school starts. We'll be leaving junior high and having to start all over again."

"That does suck," Les said. "But at least they let you smoke over there. You gotta look on the bright side." Les broke into the Carter family's "Keep on the Sunny Side," making his voice sound high and nasal as he could, like bluegrass, but Les was always low and gravely like the blues, so I had to laugh.

"Don't you be worrying about it," Les said, and then he sang the Carter family song some more, nailing the melody while he made up words that almost fit:

We'll own the whole damn school, yes, the whole damn school.
You got that, Bud, the whole damn school, that's right.
It'll be great there every day, smoking weed and getting laid.
Yeah, buddy, we'll own the whole damn school.


While we may not have owned the school, we did at least find our place with relative ease. Our high school had a broad covered area right in front of the building, and as people arrived they assembled in various cliques. In the middle were the more respectable types, football players, cheerleaders, and the like. Les and I were on the left side, where the freaks gathered. We were too young to be hippies, and by 1974 most of that peace, love, and tie-dyed hypocrisy had vanished. We were left with long hair and dope, but none of the hippies' ideals or delusions. Unlike the hippies who later sold out when they became stockbrokers, we were merely looking out for ourselves, so when it came time to cut our hair and make money, there was really nothing to lose.

We freaks were generally cynical about most things and pretty much avoided the nonsense that we perceived was around us by getting buzzed on a regular basis. Les actually gave us our motto: Why do you think they call it high school? There on the left side of the building, we smoked our cigarettes and conspired about where we might sneak off and alter our interior selves, if only slightly. We didn't have to go far. Between classes, there was a smoking area out back by the big industrial heating units, and if we stood in the right place, no teacher could see us, so right there under the noses of them and everyone else, we smoked up and reentered our classes buzzed and totally reeking of marijuana.

During lunch, we went out front to smoke in the park, just past the swings and jungle gym, and we blew joints without fear, sometimes not even trying to cover the fact that we were passing them around, very un-Marlborolike. Occasionally, people would even break out a bong and flaunt the fact we were getting high. I have no idea where the adults were at this time.

If school got to be too much of a bore, we extended our lunch and skipped classes, seeking refuge in the woods out past the athletic fields. In small clearings we called pits, we freaks smoked weed and talked at length about the topics most important to us: sex, dope, rock and roll, and our various philosophies.

Sometimes conversations got quite metaphysical, depending on what and how much we smoked. When the speculations got too heavy, Les would pull out his harmonica and play. Unlike his guitar playing, his harp music was pretty good, and nobody would complain. He'd just cup his hands around his harmonic, play softly, and ignore us. Sometimes when we would be talking too much malarkey, he couldn't hold back and would tell us to shut up.

Once when a particularly high pseudo-intellectual was trying to tell us that the UNited States of America was actually founded by aliens—ones from outer space, not other countries—Les told the boy, "Either you're way too high, or your momma made it with a goat and you're not completely human, because that's the stupidest thing I ever heard."

Les was a bit too country, too proletarian to really fit in with all those teenage suburbanite potheads. If Les had stuck to bourbon or beer and hadn't started smoking dope, he probably wouldn't have been a freak at all. Or if we had a decent football team, his life might have also played out differently.

One morning when we were out in front of the school, he was eyeing the jocks with contempt, who were looking back at him with about the same expression, and finally one of them walked over to us. A short smart-alecky defensive back named Ronnie told Les, "A big man like you ought to be playing ball, not hanging around with losers."

"I'm not hanging around with losers," Les said, more amiably than anything else. "You gotta play to lose. Last time I checked, you guys hadn't won a game."

"That's because of people not coming out for the team. Or people who quit. What happened to you this summer? You showed up the first day we suited up, and then you were gone."

Les had been smiling around a tiny smoldering Marlboro that hung from his lips, but that smile flattened out, and his eyes became narrow and mean. He opened his mouth slightly, and using his tongue and teeth as a lever, flipped the cigarette back and closed his mouth on it. For moment he blew smoke through his nostrils as he stared down Ronnie. Then he opened his mouth, and the cigarette, still lit, hung on his lips before he took one last pull on it, reached up, and threw it away.

"Listen here," Les said, exhaling smoke. "Don't be giving me a hard time. You'll be sorry."

Ronnie said nothing.

"And you listen to this, so you can tell anyone who asks," Les continued. "I gave your team chance, but that idiot coach blew it. I came out, and he had me running the ball right away. He knew I had talent, but he had to mess with me. He has the whole damn defense coming at me drill after drill, and I get a little tired, so I ask for a break, and you know what he says to me?"

"I'm not sure I was there."

"Sure you were. The whole damn team was looking right at us. And you know you heard him. He said it all loud enough for the whole mess of you to hear it, like he was making an example of me or some crap like that. He said, 'You're soft, Brers. You're a Momma's boy, but all this running's what you need to be a man.' I could have handled that, but then he called me something else nobody calls me."

"I don't remember that," Ronnie said.

"The hell you don't," Les told him. "He said it right in front of all you guys, and I flicked him off right then. He told me I'd better apologize, and I told him he better do the same to me first, but I knew he wouldn't do it. I could tell right then that the man was an ass, a total ass, and I got no time for his kind. That's why y'all are losing. Your coach is a pure ass. You tell him that for me. You tell the rest of your punk-ass team that, too."

Ronnie knew better than to push Les. He walked over to his friends, and they started talking among themselves. It may have been my imagination, but they all seemed to back away.

"Dag, Les," I said. "I never knew you went out for football."

"You were away on vacation that week, down in Carolina with your folks."

"Well, you never told me about it."

"Weren't anything to tell. I checked out practice and knew it was all a lost cause. Wasn't no need to bust my ass so I could be on a team that sucked. If was back in Virginia, where the coaches have some respect, hell, I'd be starting. And you'd be playing too."

"I don't know about that," I said.

"Well, I know about these things. You're no wimp, just like me. But we got no time for idiots like Halverson. I ain't playing for a man that don't show me no respect. He lost his star, just for being a jerk off, so they can all kiss my ass."

Among the freaks, strange glances were exchanged. I knew what they were thinking. Most of them resented the jocks and thought the whole notion of being on a team or having school spirit was absurd, that athletes were mindless drones. The sad truth was that most of the freaks were not jocks because they chose not to be. Many of them were wimps, pansies, and waifs who couldn't have played if they tried. Les, on the other hand, actually did what he wanted.

Something brewed in Les because of the incident with Ronnie the jock boy. Les walked toward the cliques of athletes and cheerleaders and stood parallel to them, halfway across the bus loading area. He lit another Marlboro, but ignored the jocks as he stared hard at the clique on the other side. There, the greasers assembled. Time-warp refugees who looked like they belonged in the 1950s, they combed their hair back, rolled up packs of cigarettes in the short sleeves of their t-shirts, and tried to convince everyone that they were major hoodlums.

Les was not intimidated. "Hey, grits," he said derisively.

A couple of them glanced over, busied themselves with their cigarettes, and tried to ignore him

"I know you heard me, you candy-asses," Les said. "You all think you're bad. But I've seen bad, and you ain't it."

Still, the greasers did not respond.

"Come on, I know you heard me. If any of you think you're up to it, come on over here. We'll see who's bad."

The greasers eyed Les uneasily, but none of them moved.

By then a few of us freaks had walked over close to Les. "You don't need to be making trouble," I said to him. "Be cool."

"I don't need to be cool," Les said. "I already am."

Les had that side to him, an aspect of his personality that wouldn't abide fools and lashed out against the phonies and bullies and idiots. But he was my own genuine friend, and he told me things that I wouldn't begin to tell everyone else, even now, because of our friendship, and I actually admitted to him the unthinkable, that I was an absolute virgin. Most tenth grades boys were virgins then, and they are today, but then just like now nobody wanted to admit it, and I honestly thought I might be one of the last guys in our school to get any action. When I finally persuaded my girlfriend that she shouldn't be the last remaining virgin on earth (I never actually admitted to her that I had never had sex), Les allowed us to use his house and his own bed when he and his folks went back to Virginia to visit relatives.


Les was the first of my friends to drive, and he would come by in his parent's old Plymouth Valiant on Friday nights. He called the car a Valium, alluding to a drug we never actually did, and he said it took two to really get off, but one would get you there. Most of the time, we never really went anywhere and drove around aimlessly while smoking and drinking. Les never made me nervous when we were on the road, even when he was probably in no condition to drive, except for when he'd do his Joe Cocker impersonation and sing "You are So Beautiful" while looking at himself in the rearview mirror. Sometimes we'd have our girls with us, and we'd go to a movie or hang out at the McDonald's, but usually we merely cruised and drank or smoked pot. Sometimes we parked with me and my girl in the back, Les and his girl in the front.

Les went through girls on a pretty regular basis, but he had one I guess you could say he loved. She wasn't as pretty as some of the others, but she was a sweet girl who never smoked pot and would nurse a single beer all night long. I never understood why she tolerated Les and me.

Les explained it by saying that all ladies loved outlaws, especially the good girls. I suppose Les considered himself an outlaw, but he was too nice a guy to really be one. In fact, there were times when he was extremely kind and generous. He was also a real gentleman and could be almost elegant. When we took our girls to a homecoming dance, I was wearing a cheap polyester sport coat when Les came by to get me. He stepped out of that Valiant wearing a black coat with tails.

"Ladies like their men classy," he told me. "I don't mind when it don't cost too much. I found this at the Goodwill. It's first rate stuff, just look." He opened his jacket and pointed at the label, which meant nothing to me. "These ain't cheap, you know. The guy who wore this probably died and his kids didn't want it. Whoever took this in didn't know what they had."

My mother was so impressed with Les that she made my father get out the Super 8 Movie camera and film us while we put on fake British accents and discussed our plans for the evening. When we met our girls and talked with their parents, Les actually bowed slightly to the mothers, called them "ma'am," and assured them we would watch over their daughters with the best of intentions.

We went out to dinner before the dance, and Les tried to buy drinks. He probably would have gotten away with it because he was bearded and so mature, even if he did pronounce the "s" in Chablis, but I was obviously underage even with gauzy sideburns framing my baby face. After we ate, he did buy some wine from a liquor store, and we drank the bottle dry in the school parking lot before going into the dark gymnasium that was decorated with balloons and crepe paper. The band the Student Council hired was some horn-playing bunch that did songs by Chicago and Blood, Sweat, & Tears. Les and I kept yelling for something by Led Zepplin or Cream or the Stones, but all we got was "Jumping Jack Flash," which didn't quite make it because they had all those brass instruments drowning out the guitars. The wine hadn't been plentiful enough to salvage the night, so Les and I snuck out to blow a joint. When we returned, Les's girl was mad with him for leaving her alone and coming back obviously high, so we all wound up leaving early. Les dropped off my girl first, and I got out with her because I figured we could go down in her basement and make out, but I wound up sitting in the living room with her parents, trying to keep my blood shot eyes averted from them as we all watched the musical State Fair on TV. The evening was a complete bust, so I walked back home alone that night, chain smoking Marlboros, and leaving a smattering of burn marks on the broad lapels of my polyester sport coat, for which my mother scorned me severely.

Les's night turned out even worse. Late the next day he came by my house, and I was in the yard raking leaves when he walked up. The side of his face was bruised and swollen.

"You get into a fight?" I asked him.

"Nobody can hit me like this," he said. "I wrecked the damn Valiant."

Les explained that after he dropped me off, his girl was more than mad with him. She couldn't put up with his dope smoking anymore, demanded to be taken home, and broke up with Les.

"I was bummed, man. Here I was, by myself on homecoming night at ten o'clock, and I was out of weed. Got me a bottle of tequila, and I guess that's what done it. I was driving along, and that's the last thing I remember before I woke up in the steering wheel. I just left the car there, out in this guy's yard, and dragged my ass on home. I was too messed up to deal with any of it. My dad woke me up when the cops came and told him the Valium had plowed down this guy's fence and run into his house. Man, it was not a good way to face the day, let me tell. Worse than that, I probably ain't gonna be driving any more until I'm eighteen.

My mother appeared at the door and waved to Les. He waved back and told me, "I got to get going. I don't want your mamma seeing me looking like this."


That accident ended my cruising days with Les. We were back to walking, and the whole incident seemed to deflate him. Les slouched more, walked with a smaller stride, and sought out no new girl to replace his old one. It was as if he had given up on making anything better. His family was eventually moving back to Virginia, so he was just biding his time. To make matters worse, we passed right by the house he had run into with the Valiant in order to get to school. Each morning, we walked by the new fence that had been erected, the stone facade that had been replaced, and the yard that had been graded and reseeded, courtesy of the Brer's insurance company. Seeing all that would have been bad enough, but Les also had to endure the man's barking dog. A yorkie-like mutt, the pooch ran out of its little house and followed us the entire length of the fence, jumping up like a flea and yapping.

"Man, that dog pisses me off," Les said each morning as we passed by.

This went on for weeks, and every morning, Les cursed the dog. Finally, Les had enough, and as we walked along the fence, Les nonchalantly reached his arm out and pounded the dog with the side of his hand, right at the apex of his leap.

"Les, you probably killed it," I said.

Les kept walking, never breaking stride nor looking back. When I glanced over my shoulder, the dog was still sprawled out by the fence. "I hope nobody saw you do that."

"I don't much care if anyone did or not," Les said.

The next day, we passed the house and I was relieved when the little mutt came running and yapping toward us. He stopped in his tracks when he recognized Les, and just stood there, watching us until we rounded the corner and went out of sight.

"I guess that little turd learned his lesson," Les said.


Les and his family moved back to Virginia just before his senior year, and that pretty much ended our friendship. Still, Les was the kind of guy I couldn't forget, so I'd visit him once in a while and kept in touch with phone calls from time to time. He played football, but blew out his knee, then failed to graduate because of one English class he just couldn't bring himself around to passing. Shortly afterwards, he married a beautiful Pentecostal girl whose parents begged her not to marry Les. When I asked him why she tied the knot anyway, he said, "Well, you know what I told you before. Ladies love outlaws. My brother-in-law the preacher says my outlaw days are numbered, though. He says I gotta come to Jesus. He told me, 'One way or another, you gotta come to Him. You're either gonna come easy or hard, but you gotta heed the call.'" Les then broke out laughing, pulled the harmonica out of his pocket, and played some twisted blues.

Because of the miles between us and our different stations in life, I lost track of Les for years, but then I heard he'd developed some pretty serious health problems. When I called him on the phone, Les still sounded like the same guy I'd always known. We both were more than a quarter century out of high school, but it was like all the time that lapsed had made no difference. We simply picked up where we left off, even though there was such a huge gap, and we each had veritable lifetime of experience apart from each other's company. The years hadn't been kind to Les. Maybe it was the same genetics that had made him grow up so quickly, or maybe it was all the abuse he had put himself through, but either way he had the body of a much older man. A nearly fatal heart attack, bypass surgery, and diabetes had left him permanently disabled, so I knew it was past time for a visit.

During our phone conversations, I had always pictured Les living out in the country, but his house was in a development, one of those with a name that ends with the word "Farm," but there was no farm, and the streets had names like Meadow View, but there weren't any meadows, just meandering streets and dead end cul-de-sacs lined with houses in just a few styles that repeated themselves over and over. Les lived in a rather nice two-story brick colonial. When I rang the doorbell, he hollered from inside and told me the door was unlocked. I walked through the foyer and found him in the family room wearing gym shorts and a white t-shirt, sitting in a huge recliner. He still looked like himself, big and imposing, but friendly, though his hair was now short and graying, his beard trim and neat. Slowly, painfully it seemed, he hoisted himself up from his seat and hugged me like a brother.

"Man, it's good to see you," he said, stepping back awkwardly. "I notice you finally learned how to comb your hair right. You're looking good, man."

"You're looking pretty good yourself," I said.

"Considering all I've been through, anything would look good. There ain't nothing but us men here. Let me show you something." He pulled up his shirt and pointed out scars from his surgeries, scarlet, snaky welts from bypass operations and kidney interventions, large pockmarks from hoses and needles and tubes. He pulled at one leg of his gym shorts, hitching it up virtually to his groin, revealing a deep healed over hole on his inner thigh. "Man, they had this one in clear to bone. Let me tell you, it hurt like a mother."

"Just looking at it hurts. That's mighty rough looking."

"You ain't kidding. It hurt bad, but it doesn't pain me anymore." He hid his thigh again with his shorts and stood up straight, or at least it was his version of straight. "Other places hurt, though, and they hurt all the time. I got meds like you wouldn't believe, but they don't do much good. I don't let it get me down, though. My scars are a testimony of the Lord. I was in a coma, and they gave me a five percent chance of pulling though. My wife, she prayed for me. The whole church prayed, and I'm here."

"I'm glad you're here, Les."

"I'm glad too, but I'm even more glad to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Yep, I'm gonna be alright, whatever comes my way. But I gotta tell you, it's a good thing you came when you did. I have one of those walkers, but I try do do without it much as I can. I got myself out here, and but then I was hurting like hell. Just sat down and didn't want to move."

"You want me to go fetch that walker for you?"

"Just let me lean on you a little, help me take a few steps first. Then, you can help me with my pain meds."

"I can do that," I told him.

Les put his arm on my shoulder, and beside him I felt small although I am at least six feet tall myself. "Just come along with me on outside," he said.


"Yeah, my wife gets ticked off when I medicate in the house."

"Why's that?"

"She's not like us. She's always been a church girl. Hasn't been around the block like we done before meeting Jesus. She don't understand."

"I'm not sure I do either."

"You will in a minute."

We hobbled outside where Les gave me his hand, and I eased him down on a patio chair. With considerable effort, he pulled a small pipe and bag of reefer from his gym shorts pocket.

"You still smoke?" Les asked me.

"Haven't for over twenty years," I told him. "I quit partying when I got saved."

"Well, I ain't partying either. This is just pain medication. I ain't been high in so long I forget what it's like. This stuff just takes the edges off so I don't have to take as many of the pills the doctors give me. I hate that junk. Binds me up something terrible. One time I didn't take a dump for five days."

"Do you have a prescription for the weed you smoke?"

"Don't need one," Les said.

"I guess that's between you and the Lord," I said.

"It's always just between me and the Lord," he said. "Nobody else's opinion matters much. Except for my wife's, maybe. That's why I'm out here, not in the house."

Les packed the bowl and lit it with a wooden kitchen match. He drew in smoke, held it in, and exhaled a thin cloud. "You want a hit?"

Even though it had been years and I had refused offers countless times, for a moment, I wavered. "If there was anybody I'd toke up with, it would be you, Les. But I'm gonna pass. It's between me and the Lord, too, and I'm not in pain."

"That's what you think," Les said. "We all got pain. One way or another, we all hurt."

Ray Sikes is the author of Blues for a Dime Store Guitar and Keeping It Between the Ditches, and notes that "Les Brers in A Minor" is sort of a memoir, and sort of isn't.

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