Sunday, June 10, 2012

'Big Empty' (2)

More hours pass. Sunrise blinds me but I’m afraid to destroy another animal so struggle through. Try to distract myself by thinking of names for my band. Wish I were more creative, decide to blame my parents. Thoughts shift back to Stevie, the dead dog, the thundercloud that boils inside. It occurs to me that anything I think will lead to more self-hatred so I occupy myself with counting cows, building up enough spit for a satisfactory swallow. All I taste is puke. 

See a gas station coming up on my right, submit to my craving for liquid. Swerve into the lot, park across two spots. Halfway to the store I spot a lone cloud floating in the sky, think that it’s nice to see something, at least. Blink, lower my eyes to see an awkward teenage schoolgirl, several feet away, squatting behind a bare shrub. She looks like leftovers. Like a car accident. Her auburn, curly hair is yanked into a stained white scrunchy on the side of her head. Her eye shines purple, her lip wears a mean scab. She stands up, pulling her panties, probably also stained, with her. Go inside before she can catch me looking.

Most joy I’ve felt in days comes from an antique, noisy air conditioner next to the door inside the station. The store smells like dog food and death. The counter at the back is tended to by nature’s freak. An ancient man with eyes scarred shut. His cap hasn’t been removed since his hair had color in it and his face has a line for every way it could twist.  Toss a crumpled five onto the counter for my iced tea, drink it before he can pass the change. His throat vibrates rather than speaks and the sound seems to come from the depths of his gut.

“Aren’t ya gonna ask me ‘bout my dead eyes, boy?” 

A small pudgy tongue shoots out and moistens his lips, barely. He can’t wait to tell me.

“Not interested.” 

Turn to leave, see the schoolgirl scanning the aisles, refusing to glance at me once.  Change my mind, decide to stay with the freak. 

“Okay, tell me.”

“Well, was about a decade ago, before this shop. I’m leaving the pub with my lady at the time. A schoolteacher she was, most gorgeous thing living. Anyways, I back my truck right into a dog!  Some vicious Rottweiler type that’d kill ya for laughin! Get outta the truck to do what I could, ya know…”

He’s told this story hundreds of times. It’s like I already know every word.

“…and the keeper comes right along with two beers. Not for drinkin though, not at all! Smashes the damn things right on my old truck, you believe it? Stabs me right in the eyes! Cuts away at my baby blues, he does! Well my lady couldn’t stand the sight o’ me so I got dumped! Dog wasn’t dead though. Took em with me when the man was hauled off.”

“So you haven’t been laid in years, then?”

“Nah, my boy, hadn’t needed the touch of a woman since I found the Lord. All the love I need is right here.” 

He taps his knuckles on the bible beside the register and whispers something I don’t hear. Turn back to the girl, who stuffing liquorice into her ripped button-up shirt and lollipops down her faded plaid dress. She stuffs chips in her purse. Salt and vinegar. Look back at the man who is leaning in so close that I can smell everything he’s eaten for the past three days. His scarred lids stare at me in a way that, for some reason, reminds me of my father. This thought infuriates me, decide not to think of him again. 

“Well, what’s it that brings ya my ways, boy?”

“Touring.  I’m in a band called, uh, Bastard Children. I’m going to Quebec for a concert.” 

Turn to the girl once again. She’s sliding chocolate bars into her one sock. She looks up and we make contact. She puts her index finger over her lips, whispers “ssshhhh…”  Back to the man,

“Being blind like that, how do you know if you’re being stolen from?”

He presses his bible to his chest and smiles brown.

“Ah, boy, I trust the power o’ the lord to watch em for me. I like a little bit o’ faith in people, ya know?”

“But what happens if God misses something? If he isn’t looking?”

“Well, then I got me Titan. Knows how to watch for me.”

“Some other imaginary idol?”

“Nah, my Rottweiler.” 

His trembling hand points over to an open cage at the side of the store. A growl, a bark, a scream.  Turn to see schoolgirl with teeth in her arm, struggling to fight off a beast that’s almost her size. This amuses me so I watch for a few seconds. From behind me,

“Hey! Hey, what’s happenin’ here!” 

He reaches across the counter and grabs my arm. Instinctively, swing my left, connect with his forehead. His grasp falls away and he drops, disappearing under the counter. Run across the store to the girl, kick the monster in the ribs. With every blow I’m reminded of Stevie but know this animal is across the spectrum from her. A killer. By my seventh stomp it releases its grip and cowers away. 

Take the girl by the wrist, lead her back into the heat.  Peel my t-shirt away from my fried skin, hold it out. She presses her ripped-up arm close to her chest and stares at the scars on my stomach. She smirks. Toss my shirt by her feet, say,

“Wrap it around your arm.  Maybe you should get a shot or something.  See ya.” 

Get back into my box of fire, start it up. Before I can wipe the sweat from my brow she’s in the passenger seat, on Stevie’s chew-toy, with my shirt around her arm. Broken passenger lock.

“My hero. Think you could take me a couple miles? Pretty please?”

The only company I want is Stevie Ray, but my mouth’s too dry to reply so I lay my foot on the gas pedal, continue my journey. Can feel her eyes all over me. The glare of the sun off her pale skin is making it hard to see what’s ahead. In silence, pretend I’m alone. The girl speaks after only moments,

“Got a name, tough guy?” 

Her giggle is off-key and unnatural.

“None of your fuckin’ business.” 

Stare ahead. She leans in with a whisper,

“Mine’s Jane.” She pauses, then corrects herself. “I mean Mary Jane, actually. Some people call me M. Wait, call me MJ. Yeah.  No, J.  Really appreciate the help, by the way. I really think my arm is okay, really.”

“Well that’s…nice.” 

Check the rear view, see that the road is empty behind me.

“So. You want, like, a blowjob or something?” 

She slides her hand across my thigh. Grab it with a grip that’d kill a bird, remove her touch. 

“Oh, I see. You’re like, religious, right?”

Shake my head, check the side view. Empty.

“Gotcha. You like dudes.”

Turn to look at her for a moment, try to figure out if anyone misses her. Shake my head again, extra slow this time.

“Why not then?  Everyone else takes it.”

“Just don’t find you appealing, is all.”

“Not even my mouth?”

“Especially not your mouth.  Lips are too thin.”

“You gotta want something for this ride.”

“Simple. Pretend like I’m deaf and just let me fucking drive.”

(End of Part 2)

Note: I'm pretty well versed in copyright laws, so I'd appreciate it if nobody tried to steal this story. I have definitive proof that I wrote it. If you share or re-post it, please give credit to Chessterr Hollowberry. Thanks!

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