Alone with the Stars

Alone with the Stars

He sat on the curb, the gash in his cheek stinging and pulsating. He knew it’d hurt like hell tomorrow. Blood trickled down his face into the scruffy grey beard along his jaw. His head was still spinning, unsure if it was from the punch that had laid him out or if it was all the Jim Beam in his system. The cold night air filled his lungs. He watched his breath as he exhaled, looked up and noticed the stars shining brightly in the black, cloudless winter sky. He felt small in that moment. Alone, yet not as alone as usual. He let the thought go quickly. The bald-headed prick-of-a bouncer stood behind him, arms crossed, leaning against the wall, waiting for the sheriff to arrive. It wasn’t the first time they’d thrown Rodney Hayes out of Old Timers, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.

The bouncer was fidgeting in place, bouncing up and down. “Fuck you Rodney, out here freezing my ass off because of you,” he said. “Why you always gotta be starting some shit?”

“I didn’t start nothing. He did,” Rodney said. He stared at the ground between his feet, his back to the bouncer.

“Bullshit. I got four people inside that say otherwise,” the bouncer said. He pulled Rodney up from the ground by his underarm, watching the Sheriff pull into the gravel lot.

He pulled up near the front of Old Timers, his driver-side door reading Swinton Police Department above their department logo, a North Carolina state flag on the back panel. The door swung open. The towering man had to duck to get out of the car. His big, heavy boots hit the ground like cinder blocks. His sleeves were too tight, pinching around his thick arms.

Rodney slowly looked upward, his cheek still throbbing. “Matthew,” he said.

“Good to see you as always, Pop,” the sheriff replied.


They drove in silence down Old Mill Road, not another car in sight at the late hour. Rodney stared out the window, watching every run-down farmhouse and yard full of rusted-out cars pass him by, wondering how long it’d be before Matthew started with the same tired ass lecture he gave every time this sort of thing happened. It always pissed him off, but he knew he was never in a position to argue.

They passed Faith Methodist Church, the marquee sign lit up advertising their upcoming bake sale. Rodney used to be a regular at the church, even served as a Deacon at one point. But ever since Susan passed, he hadn’t gone back. He thought about how her lemon bars were always the hit of the bake sale. A crowd favorite. He could smell them, could taste the sweet tartness on his tongue, giving him a brief moment of joy. He heard Matthew clear his throat and turn down the scanner, snapping him back into the dreaded present. His smile faded as quickly as the memory did. Here it comes. Just get it over with, young buck, he thought to himself.

Matthew broke the silence. “How many more times do we have to go through this shit, Pop?” Matthew said. He never looked anywhere but straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the road. His big meaty hands clutched hard to the steering wheel, his knuckles already white.

Rodney arched his eyebrows and let out a sigh. “I don’t know,” he muttered.

“Enough is enough, old man. I can’t keep doing this.”

“You’re just worried about reelection,” Rodney said, a harshness in his voice. He kept gazing out the window.

“I don’t care about that. I mean can’t keep doing… this,” Matthew said. For the first time, Rodney heard the edge in his son’s voice, the anguish of this same old song and dance.

“Look,” he paused.

“It’s fucking ridiculous, man. What do you think she’d be saying right now?” Matthew’s voice was hot and full of anger. Since his mom died and his dad went off the deep end, all Matthew had anymore was this job and a daughter he got to see every other weekend. Maybe a random weeknight here and there when his bitch of an ex-wife wasn’t being quite as awful as usual. Those surprise weeknights had been less and less as of late.

Rodney rolled his eyes and clenched his jaw. “What do you want me to say? That I’ll stop drinking? We both know that’d be a lie. Besides, it’s just a little bit of scrapping here and there.”

Matthew snapped, his face turning red, his eyes glaring in the mirror full of fire. “It ain’t just drinking and fighting, Goddamnit! You almost killed Larry Melton!”


It took about a year for the cancer to eat away her body. Months and months of treatment had done nothing but cause her pain. All Rodney and Matthew could do was sit back and watch her suffer. It took a long time for her to pass, yet it felt like no time at all.

After she died, Matthew buried himself in his work, isolating himself completely. Even on those nights when there was no police work to be had, he’d still drive his cruiser for hours, following every back road to wherever it went, detached and isolated.

Rodney, on the other hand, had no way to cope, completely consumed by his grief. He eventually got fired from the factory for missing shifts unannounced, failing a couple safety checks, and even getting into a shoving match with his supervisor. They had no choice but to cut him loose. That was around the time he started drinking. He’d always enjoyed a good bourbon or cold beer as much as anyone. But it had become excessive, every moment of free time controlled by it. Turned out that Rodney Hayes was an angry drunk, always hostile or looking for some sort of confrontation.

One night, alone and half lit, Rodney had somehow made his way to a shithole dive bar over in Holcomb. Sitting at the bar, a coworker from the factory, Larry Melton, walked in with some friends. Rodney and Larry recognized but ignored one another. As the night wore on and the liquor flowed, he could hear Larry running his mouth, something about Rodney being a sonofabitch who should’ve gotten his ass whooped at work.

He couldn’t hold off any longer, nor did he want to. Rodney got off his barstool, steadied himself, and approached Larry, his fists clenched, his eyes locked in and unwavering.

He stared Larry straight in the face. “You got something to say to me?” he said.

Larry looked around at his friends, his eyes widening, and laughed.

“Get the fuck out of here, Hayes,” Larry said.

“That’s what I thought,” Rodney muttered. He began his way back to the bar, his shoulders slumped a bit.

“Oh, by the way Hayes,” Larry called out loud enough for all to hear. Rodney stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “I was real sorry to hear about your wife. It’s a damned shame, really, she was one fine-looking woman.”

Larry continued, speaking to his friends.

“I mean it boys, she was a real looker. She had the prettiest baby blue eyes you’d ever seen. And an ass that could crack a walnut, no bullshit.” His friends howled, one slapping his knee, another spitting out his beer. Larry laughed with them, loving being the center of attention.

That’s when it happened. Rodney picked up a beer bottle from the nearest table, raised it above his head, and smashed it across Larry’s head with as much force as he could, shattering it into pieces. As Larry stumbled back grabbing his head, Rodney tackled him to the ground, throwing punch after punch, connecting on every one of them. Larry’s face quickly became a tattered mess of blood and bone. The others tried to pull Rodney off but couldn’t wrangle him, like trying to corral a wild animal. His eyes were black, full of a rage that few people ever see. Larry wasn’t moving anymore, no resistance of any kind, completely unconscious. Rodney’s body finally gave up with exhaustion, physically unable to throw another punch. His face, his hands, his shirt were all soaked—blood dripping off his shredded knuckles onto the damp wooden floor, looking at the motionless piece of shit who should’ve kept his mouth shut.

Rodney eventually had his day in court. Thanks to testimony from witnesses, which included Larry’s comments that provoked the attack, the Judge reduced the charges and sentenced him to only 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Having a son that’s the sheriff didn’t hurt either.  Rodney served his time, while Matthew paid the fine.  When Rodney was released from jail, Matthew was there to pick him up, a silent drive the entire way home.


Matthew pulled the cruiser into the driveway. It was the same house he had grown up in, nothing having changed over the years – the same old siding and faded baby blue paint, the same shutters now hanging by a thread, worn out well past their prime. His tire swing from when he was a boy, the one he had helped his father make and his mother had pushed him in countless times, still hung from the giant oak tree in the front yard. Rodney and Susan had left it up for their granddaughter to play on, but that never happened, probably never would.

Matthew opened the back door of his cruiser and helped his father inside the house. Flicking the light switch by the door, the living room filled with a dull glow. Dust covered everything. Stacks of unread newspapers and unopened mail covered the small kitchen table. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink, giving off a putrid smell. Every picture that hung on the walls or sat on the mantel was still the same as it always had been, locked in time forever.

Matthew laid Rodney on the couch, taking off his boots and covering him with a blanket. He sat the trash bin from the kitchen on the floor beside him. As Matthew started making his way to the door, he could hear his father stirring. Matthew listened, his stomach fluttering, shifting his weight back and forth. He already knew what his father was saying.

“S-Sue… Sue…” Rodney moaned, barely audible. With one big groaning exhale, he was out cold.

As Matthew made his way to the door, he looked over and saw the pile of dishes in the sink, the sight and smell unavoidable. Then he thought of her. She would not have stood for that kind of mess. Leaving dirty dishes in the sink was a pet peeve of hers – absolutely hated it. Matthew rolled up his sleeves and started washing. He scrubbed and chiseled, fighting the filth for all he was worth. It took a while, but he got them cleaned and put away where they went, the same spots in the cabinets and drawers since he was a boy. Rodney never made a sound from the couch.

As he wiped his hands dry on the daisy covered dishrag that had always hung from the stove handle, Matthew noticed the bottles of Jim Beam on the end of the counter, one about half-empty, the others brand new. He glanced quickly towards the couch, and after a moment, moved all of them beside the sink. One by one, he cracked the fresh cap on each new bottle and poured the contents down the drain. He couldn’t help the wry grin that grew on his face. When he got to the last bottle, the half-empty one, he opened it up and poured almost all of the bourbon into the sink. Before it was completely empty, he held the bottle upright and put the cap back on. He took a whiskey glass from the cabinet beside the dingy yellow fridge, and sat it and the near-empty bottle on the counter, side by side. He took a napkin from the drawer and pulled a black pen from his chest pocket, and wrote “One last drink…”

Matthew stepped out onto the front porch, closing the door and locking it behind him, the old doorknob freezing to the touch. He stepped down the stairs into the yard, stopping for a moment, staring at the tire swing. The frayed rope, the worn-out rubber, watching it sway ever-so-slightly in the chilling breeze, the stars his only source of light in the darkness. Once he was back in the cruiser, Matthew turned up the heat and pulled out of the driveway into the empty road. He was going on another one of his long, lonely drives, the backroads as his guide, only the stars and his thoughts to keep him company.



About the Author

Corey Villas, born and raised in North Carolina, is a graduate of Auburn University.  His work has appeared or is scheduled to appear in The Milk House, The Argyle Literary Magazine, and A Thin Slice of Anxiety.  Corey is a proud husband and father of two.  Twitter/X - @CVillasFiction.


Photo "broken bottle" by  via Flickr at