Tag Archives: short fiction

short fiction

I Remember Florida

Note: This story uses several lines from the fine Canadian band, Blue Rodeo’s album “Diamond Mine” which served as a departure point so to speak. Cheers to them ‘eh.

##

Mostly now, I just masturbate. I’m not particularly attracted to my own sexuality or body, but a questionnaire I filled out in Cosmopolitan magazine said it would be both beneficial, and enjoyable. In this day and age, it’s not unclean or unruly, they said. There were also suggestion tips.

This fondling is mostly on account of my man being back in Florida. I do keep it under control however, I certainly don’t want to prefer it. I haven’t ever used foreign objects in my arousals, I’ve heard too many stories about women having problems. I would prefer to keep my private parts clean and in fine working order. Barry would agree, him being my man and all, and an arousing one at that.

*

He first attracted my attention by dropping a quarter near my feet at a pizza restaurant in Tallahassee. He bent over to pick it up and bumped his head on the edge of the table. The pitcher of root-beer spilled all over his shiny shirt and I said, “Nice try.”

“Darlin’, you got the wrong guy,” he said back, he looked right into my eyes, sort of squinting.

“Nice try,” I said again.

He put the quarter in a juke-box with big, silver stars and played a Nat King Cole song about the rain and clouds. He asked me to dance. “There is no one else dancing because you aren’t supposed to in a restaurant of this kind,” I said. My cousin nodded and rolled her eyes.

Then he whispered in my ear, “My senses have been shocked and I’m alive to every pain, your quiet laughter comes to me , it echoes in the rain.”

“Holy smokes, that was lovely,” I said. We left my cousin at the restaurant with Nat King Cole and the silver stars and wandered off into the stale air with the neon lights.

*

Florida looks like old Elvis movies with convertibles and blondes and people smiling and giving high-fives. We bought ice cream cones and went to his home. He called me his Mona Lisa and I blushed. My head bumped on the edge of the vinyl siding when he carried me through the door, “You make me so clumsy darlin’,” he smoothed my hair and kissed the bruise.

While we were kissing, he stopped, looked me in the eyes, paused and whispered, “Make love with me,” like they say in movies. The shadows were right and his voice was soft and husky. The blue freeway lights came through the window and the trucks downshifted loudly. His skin smelled peppery and clean.

I fell back on the couch and he covered me warmly.
After it was done, he held me and whispered in my ear. He

told me not to go back to Gary, Indiana, not to cheat destiny and to stay with him. He said he’d build me a white picket fence or something. I told him it was very important that he come visit me but I have my life back home to think about, I have my job and all.

“Sometimes you get what you want so be careful what you ask for,” he said sighing.

“I’ll be tossing my pennies in the wishing well everyday Barry baby.” I slept soundly and smiling.

We went to a diner in the morning for a late breakfast. Everyone knew him and the waitress knew right what he wanted. She winked and nudged me when we sat down. He rubbed my feet under the table and fed me homefries off his fork.

I left and thought about his promise on the busride home.

My cousin had said he was a dime a dozen and I told her if that was the case, here’s my dime and she could have the other eleven. She laughed and said I’d never learn. “You can’t hurry love, you just have to wait,” I said back.

*

Barry was there waiting for me when I got home, “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by,” he smiled like Clint Eastwood and looked at the ground like a little boy.

“You crazy you!” I said and hugged and kissed and hugged him. “You must of drove like a bandit, you fool.”

“Just a fool in love, a bandit out to steal your heart,” he said as he carried me through my front door.

The next morning, he got up early to make coffee and scramble up eggs and bacon-bits. I told him to stay and not to go back to Tallahassee. He liked his coffee the same as he liked his women, blond and sweet. He did the dishes and stacked them to dry.

“But Gary is so ugly and wet,” he said.

“They say its on the upswing with the economy,” I said.

“One day I will baby, one day I will. In the meantime, can’t let the world pass me by.”

After breakfast the next day, he threw his duffel bag in the bench seat of his El Camino and headed south.

*

I told my best girlfriend, Cherice about Barry, she said he sounded wonderful. I think it might have been just because there wasn’t much else to say. I told my co-workers at the catalog order center that one day I will be set free, one day I will. They were mostly indifferent but I worked harder to make some extra money.

I got blue and warm at the same time thinking about drinking in those air-conditioned bars and putting the quarters in the juke-box and what Barry looked like naked, all strong and sinewy and with those coarse black hairs making a line down his chest. I hadn’t even realized that it had been forever ago. I wrote him a postcard with a spray of perfume on it and teased him about all the suntanned, college girls he was probably hitting on.

The next day, he arrived into town like a cowboy, “Barry, baby, you’re the magic man.” We were passionate and both laid in bed for two days telling stories about childhoods and relatives.

“Come meet my girlfriends,” I said to Barry.

“Darlin’, I’ve met all the girls I need to meet,” he said twirling my hair between his fingers.

“Oh, don’t be selfish with your time,” I slapped his hand. I’ve told them all about you at work, you’re half-way a legend.”

“Don’t you be selfish by depriving me of a single moment of being alone with you.” He said with his steady eyes looking into mine.

“You’re always so poetic.” He certainly was.

*

“Baby, this town is full of losers and its dragging me down.” I didn’t bother to argue, I figured he was a lonesome wanderer just like he had told me. I told him he wasn’t lonesome or didn’t need to be anyhow.

It was then that we ended up in a trailer park outside of Reno. We drove out in a rented truck with a picture of the beach on the side. He drove the whole way and I tuned the radio.

We arrived at night when the lights were bright, the machines were noisy, and people were having fun.

“Darlin’, this is a town that knows how to swing. This is our town and our oyster!” Barry knew his way around and we went right to gambling.

“Barry baby, this is the biggest little city in America if not the whole world!” It reminded me of Pleasure Island from the Pinocchio movie I had seen two years before.

“Darlin’,” he said as we walked to our room at the motel, “I don’t want you working any of those two-bit, floozie jobs like those cocktail girls.”

“And I don’t want you packing a side-arm,” I said.
“I love you baby, don’t ever die.”
“Damn, Barry, you could make any girl blush with a line like that.”

*

Barry said if I earn the potatoes, he’ll earn the gravy. He spent the day being a gambling advisor to tourists looking to be high-rollers. He told them how to play five-card stud, set them up with sports bookies, and how to beat the odds at this and that. He mostly just spent their money for them. I worked selling time-shares to it was the only job in cleavage. “How do you more often after that.

I teased him that didn’t exist. “I’m a redneck stockbroker,” he said. (He eventually put that on his business card.)

“And life is grand.” I smiled and helped him count his pile of change, crumpled bills and I.O.U.’s on cocktail napkins. I gave away three car rentals as incentives to view the properties pre-fabricated condominiums. Barry said the town that doesn’t require showing know I don’t, baby?” He came to visit me his was the only job in the town that and made a note of it on my graph chart Barry made for me.

He made salisbury steak and peas with butter for dinner. I looked at the lights through the window of the mobile home. You could see the waving cowboy and the giant clown a ways off.

“Take me dancing, swing me like a cowgirl, get me drunk on those blue drinks with umbrellas and cherries,” I said, I was tired of lounge acts.

“Darlin’, you ain’t no cowgirl and I’m trying far too hard to be a cowboy and those drinks taste like antifreeze.”

“If there was such thing as a cowgirl, I’d be one. There aren’t even real cowboys anymore.”

“Are you disappointed darlin’? I could go find you some cattle rustlers with dusty hats and leather chaps, guys named Lefty and Slim. Maybe I’ll invite them over for pork and beans.”

“You’re right, there’s only rednecks and old men in Winnebagos or those shiny pick-ups with four wheels on the back. No real cowboy would eat at Howard Johnson’s or have embroidery on their pockets.”

“There might not be surfer boys in California either.” “Barry baby,” I said with my head in his lap, “you know my favorite part in old cowboy movies? It’s when the boys would ride into town and go right to the bath house and pay good money for a warm bath. They’d pour in those sweet smelling powders from the glass jars and just as they were getting clean, someone would come in to shoot them. They’d leap into action, pull a gun from nowhere, shoot the bad guy and say something clever. But they would always get out and pull on their dirty, dusty clothes and just be all wet and muddy. I guess they’d go over to the bar or ride out of town or something. It happened everytime. It was so sad.”

“Goddamn, ain’t it the truth.”

“You’re so poetic Barry.”

We had sex again, it being more interesting than shooting pool or playing bridge with the neighbors, and then Barry fell asleep with his hand cupped between my legs humming a Blue Rodeo tune.

*

“This towns full of deviants, cheats and fools,” he said frying eggs and potato pancakes. It had been raining for three days which was probably to blame.

“That’s why we fit in so well baby.”

“It’s dragging me down. You see darlin’, my uncle owns a trailer park off the freeway right near Sacramento, California’s capital city! It’s a real town, no phoney’s. Not too far from the coast either, we could go to the beach sometime. I think they have a big mall and maybe a zoo or something.”

“Baby, the mountains are so pretty here, besides, we’ve barely been here long enough to meet our neighbors,” I didn’t particularly care either way.

“All the more reason.” He flicked the frying pan up and flipped the pancakes over. He knew I was watching.

I knew what was next. He looked out the window and said, “Darlin’, maybe what I need is a temporary diversion, I think I need a stiff drink and a drive down to Florida to visit the alligators and the silver stars.”

Perhaps it would be healthy and beneficial for him. “What do you want to go for, baby. It’s a bog down there.”

“It’s a swamp darlin’, the water comes in and goes out, in a bog it just sits there until it smells.” He was probably right.

“Barry baby, don’t leave me being so poetic, you’ll drive me loopy crazy.” I touched his sinewy forearm, the dark hair was still there but the tan had faded some.

He put steak sauce on his eggs and touched my nose and smiled. After that, he drove off like a cowboy again except with the sunset on his back.

written in 1990 in Salt Lake City, Utah

What I Thought in Sweetgrass

“Where you going?” His first question. A little vague.

Well I’ll tell you. That’s a toughie. I wish I knew. Finish school, get a job, wife, kids, that sort of thing. Or maybe not. You know how it goes. It was just a thought. A logical answer to his question.

“Utah.” The reply.

“Where you been?” Another question. A thinking man’s question at that.

A whole load of places, Disneyland even. Remind me to tell you about this great little diner in Nebraska sometime. How about you? Religiously speaking, however, I couldn’t tell exactly. Too deep for me. Just another thought.

“Just up skiing in Banff.”

“How long were you out of the country?”

Long enough to spend every bit of our money, see the sights, take advantage of the 18 year old drinking age, lock the keys in the car, get three flat tires, get ripped off, be savagely humiliated, not to mention the headaches and general frustration.

Kind of a hellish trip all in all.

“Oh, about four or five days.”

“Four or five?”

Well, sorry, Mr. Picky. You writing a book? “Since Wednesday night.”

“What’s your purpose?”

Ah! There we go, the eternal question. Why the heck are we on this sphere anyhow? Tell you one thing though, I’m pretty damn sure my purpose isn’t the same as yours.

“Just four college boys taking off for Thanksgiving to go dig some scenery.”

“What’s your status?”

Basic flesh and bones, mostly H2O, carbon, et cetera. These questions are getting boring. How about a game of Trivial Pursuit? He really ought to be more specific.

“American and one resident alien.”

“Alien, huh? You boys park over there and go inside. I’m going to need some identification from each of you.”

Grrrrr. The bastard.

Sweetgrass, Montana. Functional, run of the mill, one story prairie town with an uncommonly cool name. The home of the valiant border station that would herald our return to the land of the free and the brave. Functional, run of the mill, one story, cinder brick, sterile, plain, not real big but not too small. Basic government issue building.

We traded slices of I.D. for small, white, typewritten pieces of interrogation. They came with quarter-inch thick instruction manuals. Basic government issue forms. Believing for a moment that we would be treated fairly in this bastion of justice, we collectively scribbled nothings on the form and slid them across the warped counter top. We stood and looked at them until some dude in tight, polyester, basic government issue border guard garb came over to perform his part of the slow mental torture. He stared over at us. His beady pig eyes staring. This could really suck rocks.

“You through filling out these forms?”

“Guess so, found them a bit confusing though, on this part here it said …”

“Anything you would like to correct?”

“Uh, no.” He checked a box saying that he asked the required questions and left to talk to another border dude, a guy wearing piss-yellow shooting glasses, just in case he had to cut down some illegal at 100 yards or maybe just to look cool. They whispered, pointed at us, then laughed.

Not a good sign.

He came back fully armed and barraged us with a salvo of questions. “Do you have on your person or in your vehicle any firearms? Controlled drugs? Alcohol? Products of endangered species? Stolen goods? Mexicans in the trunk, slave chicks…” A red flush began to boil, filling his slab of stinking, leathery flesh.

Checking boxes like a mad man, he continued, “Do you understand that any mistruths, intentional or not, will be held against you as evidence and be cause for you to forfeit all of your belongings to the government of the United States?” His pulse was going through the stratosphere. What the hell was he so excited about? I was nervous. Pretty damn nervous. “Fresh fruit? Wild animal products? Food? Minerals?”

We started to categorize, justify, qualify and beg for every meager possession we had in our car. Sweaters from thrift stores, maps, free pamphlets, food in our bellies, rocksalt from the road.

“So now the truth comes out. Why didn’t you put that on the form? What were you thinking?!” His ears, his baldhead, his hands, his sideburns reddened, or maybe even purpled. The veins in his neck were throbbing, pumping. Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. Hey careful Mr. Borderman, don’t let your neck explode. “You didn’t claim anything on Form # d-2 62USDA X-1 w3456!!! Are you kids dumb?!”

“Well, gee. What do you know? Guess we forgot a few things.”

“Forgot!” Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. “Do you realize the potential consequences?”

We listened to one of those speeches you hear a lot in third grade. Something about how the world of customs duty would collapse causing the world to crumble if he forgot to brush his teeth, filled out his forms wrong, picked his nose or something. “We have no choice but to search your car.”

So began the bargaining process.

“Well, come to think of it, we do have a loaf of bread and a few cheese slices to get us home, and a friend donated a big chunk of deer sausage and….”

But he didn’t care. His veins were really thumping now. I hated him. I wanted to grab his goddamn jugular vein between my canine teeth and pull until the stinking bastard lay withering on the floor. Then I would laugh with my faced smeared with his blood, arteries hanging from my teeth. Maybe not that, but I hoped with everything I had that his children would know what a ass their father was. Bastard.

Half an hour later, ten minutes had past. We slouched in four chairs, our backs towards the windows for all to see. Give us your hungry, your tired, your forlorn, your stupid; it says something like that on the Statue of Liberty, I think. But as forlorn as we were, we waited. And waited.

Waited as our emotions twisted and contorted through the hours, zooming between realms of depression, frustration, rebellion, hostility, and helplessness. Across in another room was a portrait of President Ronald Wilson Reagan. Something to stare at as the noonday sun heated backs of necks and fueled fires of nasty thoughts.

“Ron, stop laughing at us, give us a break, I didn’t mean any of those things I said about you. You’re the President, it’s up to you to help us out. You appointed someone, who appointed someone, who appointed someone, to okay the hiring of these meatheads. We’ve been through a lot. Forgive us, we know not what we do. Hey, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or any of those other constitutional dudes wouldn’t approve of this garbage, really.”

That’s it! I’ve figured this whole mess out. It has something to do with the Constitution. The guy just doesn’t understand. But it’s too late. We told the guy everything, and he didn’t care and now he was out tearing apart the car just sure a kilo of cocaine somewhere.

The guy with the piss-yellow glasses walked by, I asked if the oil pan had been taken off yet. He said maybe. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. I had been.

Not a good sign.

Cars kept passing through. We were the only ones they had called in. Little old ladies who probably had a dozen illegals in their trunks, cowboys with a ton of pot mixed in with the horse poop in their trucks, Indians, Rednecks, tough guys, bikers and Hutterites with funny looking beards. They all went through with no hassle, except for us.

I watched them and thought of how to gently tell the guy that he didn’t have to go through the trouble of searching us. The Constitution had been written to make everyone free, to do away with dumb rules. He would probably thank me. His job would be so much easier. I’d figured the whole thing out after all. I was now a political science wizard. Either that that or just a bored person who was trying to be smart.

I would tell him that it was all right to ask a few questions–necessary precautions and all–and look up your license plate number maybe, but remember friend: Government that governs least, governs best. I’d allow him the opportunity to apologize and let him keep his job if he had cute pictures of his kids (sympathy factor) after all, government by the people, for the people and all that. He would breathe a sigh of relief and send us on our way.

He came in for a moment. He was carrying our box of treasure, our lifeblood, provisions to feed four hungry souls for the long journey home; a nine-pound box of mandarin oranges. Japanese Mandarins! Panic. Things had gone a little bit too far. I went up to have a little talk.

Marching boldly up, I swallowed hard and looked him in the eye, “Umm, where’s the bathroom?”

“Can’t allow you to use it in the event that a more thorough search becomes needed.” Yikes!

I returned to my seat to contemplate the now huge and still growing list of bad signs. It was bad enough that he was reaching into our packs to find brown-streaked underwear; but now he was going to probe us. The border bastards stood around, talking and laughing. “So who gets this box? No thanks, I already have plenty. The back room empty? Is it gonna get used? Ha, ha, ha.”

They aren’t border guards; they’re a bunch of food pirates and amateur proctologists.

My accomplices in innocence and I sat locked to our chairs with verbal chains, left alone to dwell on the horrible things we couldn’t see. All our tough guy aggressions that we had managed to muster up again crashed to the floor as the sight of his pulsing veins reminded us that we were prisoners, not of any country but of a room full of government issue border guards. Horny, cavity-searching, rednecked border guards with flashlights and piss-yellow sunglasses.

He had managed to think up a new load of redundant, meaningless questions which partially rekindled the thirst for direct and forceful contact. Almost. But not that much.

He explained how we almost single-handedly destroyed the agricultural machine of the U. S. of A. Quite a serious guilt trip, I’m sure. We thanked him for saving our intestines from the delightful chunks of fruit that apparently overflowed with miscellaneous larvae. Then with a bit of fanfare he proclaimed our humble bundle of oranges seized. We asked if we could each have one to eat. His veins almost blew up. Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. So much for the philosophy.

We zoomed off after urinating on the bathroom floor (we couldn’t kill him, so our adolescent prank had to suffice for revenge). Miles away, while reassembling our car, four oranges appeared from under a seat. Laughing, we enshrined the peels in a field. I reckon Thomas Jefferson would’ve let us keep our oranges.

Written in 1988 in Orem, UT based on events in past Whitefish, Montana.

Eight o’clock A.M. In Some Tacky, Classy Hotel Discovering Mental Health Hazards

I see the sun. For some reason I didn’t think they had the sun here in the daytime. Just at night. Neon night. I stumble towards doors but stop in the lobby. “How’s the luck treating ya?” An old man with a cigarette and a green suit slumped on a stool praying to a box. The lights, whistles, levers and chrome looked washed out and bland in the light. Not designed for daytime.

“On and off. Long night.” He swallowed a large amount of drink. “Me and the wife just came up from Kansas City, Missouri.” Winnebago Warriors, true yankee pioneers. He satisfied the machine, shoving silver biscuits down it’s starving mouth. “Can’t beat it, coming here,” thousands of bad cliches, “Viva Las Vega$. Ha, ha, ha.” Cough, cough, hack, cough. On the back of a poster board, I made a sign.

WARNING!!! LAS VEGA$ MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH BE WISE, LIGHT A BOMB

Eight o’clock A.M. I wander through the aftermath of last night, or a thousand-million last nights. Halls of slot machines topped with pyramids of martini glasses, roulette tables, overflowing ash trays and skanky chicks in mini-skirts vacuuming away the revelry, frustration, depression, elation and popcorn and pretzels. It depressed me. Shouldn’t have though. Everyone loved it. Better than life itself. Maybe that explained things. But I felt wrong. I could leave the glamour sluts alone to their city of tastelessness, none of my affair to decide how THEY would live. To them, the long haired, granola head was the freak. But I wasn’t dammit. I would blow the whole fucking place to hell (no big change) but no one understood my logic, my philosophy, the way it SHOULD be. I made a list, kind of. “Things I hate about Las Vega$”

A list of tasteless things. Gold chains, polyester clothes, 69 cent shrimp cocktail (almost a plus if somewhere far away) lounge singers, sequins, Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, smoke, neon lights, wedding chapels, the word “classy”, heart shaped beds, limousines and people who dig them, sexy senior citizens, bumper stickers, hair grease and people who have fun in this den of squalor and filth. An extremely long list. What kind of justification was that? They could all write lists about me. So what! I tried a new list, “Good things to do instead of Las Vega$.” A good list, I figured. With less clout, however, than the previous one. A new viewpoint was needed. Socio-political maybe? No good. Gamblers generate tax dollars and all that. Environmental. Waste of power, cause for building damn dams, etc. A personal sore spot. I liked it. Sort of, almost, maybe effective. A good start but not enough.

What do I care about anyway? Let all the fools dwindle in the abyss. I don’t like it just because I don’t like it, goddamitalltohell. In fact, I’m in favor of making it better for them. They need a huge opaque dome placed over the whole city. Paint it black inside, with neon stars, spaceships and with a few more of those huge cowboys with waving arms. Hey, what a sexy place that would be. Distribute free “I ♥ Las Vega$” or “Gamblers Do It By Chance!” bumper stickers and multi-colored condoms with sequins and glitter glued on. Change the name to VEGA$, not las vegas. No one classy calls it that. The inhabitants of this new garden of eden could create a race of perfect humans. Humans born with hairy chests, gold chains, pencil mustaches, bloodshot eyes, bad singing voices, facelifts that put their eyebrows up by the hairline, silicon tits, leopard spotted bikini briefs, tubes tied and the vital lucky touch and the never-fail system. The dome would provide perpetual nighttime. No one would have to sleep, just “go to bed” (hint, hint, wink, wink). Everything looks too washed out and bland in the daytime anyhow, too damn natural, no one much sees it though.

No more “morning afters,” just the perennial last night. Infinite nights to use your best pick up lines on the nasty cocktail girls. Baby, baby, ain’t it the life. Even if you ran out of speed you wouldn’t have to sleep a minute of the day. Too much to do. Viva Vega$. They could clone Wayne Newton, twice, three times, make a million. Of Barry Manilow too. Resurrect Elvis. Breed little Elvis’ and bronze Telly Savalas’ testicles. I’d support the idea if they all promised never to leave. To remain, not prisoners, but special V.I.P. guests in this hell for life. Do it all. I don’t hate it here, I love it.

But I’m going to nuke this fucking pit sky high anyway. Either that or just take a long nap after my three dollar buffet.

—————–

Written in 1987, Orem, UT

Satan Lives in Moab

Devil Lives in Moab
Devil Lives in Moab

Note: Thanks to the long defunct Provo band, “Trees” for the title and the also defunct newspaper “the Stinking Desert Gazette” for inspiration for this tale.

The Devil lives in Moab
He owns a small convenience store
From which he peddles hotdogs
The Trees, Provo Zion

One

Satan lives in Moab, he owns and operates a small convenience store. That is where I first met him. He was selling hot dogs and six-packs to lycra-dipped, granola-yuppie types. I asked him for a job to support my sorry, misguided ass in the stinking desert.

“Bob,” said Satan, “Bob, Bob, Bob….”

Two

I first came to Moab, Utah to re-align my cosmic psyche by way of crystals, incense, Taoism, Buddhism, mysticism, jism, potions and lotions, and a bundle of printed matter all smelling of patchouli oil. Really an amazingly curious, new-agey thing that ran its course like a cold-sore. That ambition gracefully lost itself in time, my senses returned with the assistance of longtime residents, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Now it was mostly Buckhorn beer and the noble, greasy camaraderie of the local poets, prophets, polygamists, tour guides, lynchers, rednecks, miscellaneous madmen and uranium miners. Several of them were acquainted with Satan; I was introduced the night the Poplar Place burned down. Things burn in Moab a lot. Things burn and grocery stores close down.

Three

First off, Satan is not red, fuming, flaming or have goat horns. Still, he is not a particularly attractive man; balding, pasty skinned, overweight and what appeared to be an acute case of lip cancer or maybe just a horrible cold sore. Most days he wore a blue velour sweat suit and expensive, high performance running shoes, “I have bad arches,” he justified. He took the time to mention the hi-tech specifications and features three times daily. I told him they made him look younger the day I asked him for a job. His shoes were usually blue to match the suit, the coloured highlights varied with the pair.

Four

“Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob,” he mumbled, “a job, a job, a job.”

We were sitting in the back of his store. I was perched between large crates of waxy drink cups with catchy, trademarked names distinguishing them from other drink cups. The air conditioner crooned and rattled, Satan went from his particleboard desk to turn on the sink. He placed his veiny scalp under the running water for several minutes while we talked. He patted it dry with a stiff paper towel.

I felt uncomfortable and out of my element, as I often do, and thought of trying to make intelligent conversation but stopped on account of it being impossible. Instead, I listened to the running water splash and bang on the bottom of the deep stainless sink. He held another paper towel under the stiff stream of water then tucked it under his armpits, dragging the sweat out. Undignified, but useful I figured. He stuck his thighs back on his Naugahyde and duct-tape chair and spun it around on the rollers.

“I can’t pay you a lot of cash, but . . ., but there are perks.”

Five

Today, like yesterday, it was hot out. I sat in front of the store sipping sticky, orange soda from my coffee mug. Being summer, I took off my shirt to work on my burn. Like always, between 11 and 3 o’clock, there wasn’t a customer to save my life. I read a wrestling magazine that became a mess from sweat and soda-pop.

Satan rode up on his bicycle — huffing, seething and smelling of freshly killed meat. There was a large circle of perspiration sticking his shirt to his flaccid chest. He dumped his bike and walked directly into his store, the little bells tinkled and the door wheezed shut on its compression device.

Satan used to drive his 1963 Buick hardtop everyday, now he usually rode a bicycle the three blocks to work. A lot of bicycles in town these days. “I think the ladies will notice me more,” Satan said a while back.

“Sure, that should gain favour with the women,” I said. That’s what started that.

He reappeared shortly, scalp gleaming and holding a hot dog and a quart of milk. “Cow juice and cow guts,” he told me, holding them up for display. He did this most days. There was a thick line of mayonnaise sliding towards his elastic waistband.

His breath was gaseous from eating pickled hard-boiled eggs from a large glass jar by the cash register. He also ate goldfish — he won one hundred of them at the ring toss at the Grand County fair. They came in plastic bowls filled with colored water. He ate them on crackers.

“Bob,” he said munching, “what’s your bit.”

“What?” I said.

Eventually, we had an animated conversation about hopes, dreams, ambitions, plans, etc. His were mostly very different from mine. Then we reorganized the Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs.

Six

By October, the air usually cools off some. This year, however, things kept burning. It was mostly cars overheating on the road and the occasional flaming house in Castle Valley.

The big mountain biker Halloween party in the old City Market building was the last time I saw him. It was actually on the 30th. I dressed as Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and he went as a construction worker. The band was good and I won a pair of boots for a door prize. He won ski racks.

After he was gone, I found the manila envelope he left amongst the burnt rubble of the store. The fire hadn’t been terrible, although he was uninsured.

He said in the letter, that I was right about employment losing its novelty quickly when it wasn’t essential, as was his situation. Included were several riddles, clipped comic strips and three moist goldfish although no sign of his whereabouts. He did say how much he enjoyed Moab, it being the center of the universe and all. Landscape Arch was his favourite, until the three-ton chunk of rock fell from the center; oddly he stopped going after that.

He went on to say he had left a gift for me in a town called Fruita; it was just across the Colorado border. I had just enough money for my gas and oil, so I drove out in my pick-up truck to investigate.

A large real estate sign with “SOLD” scrawled across in bright red paint in front of fifteen acres of sagebrush. Certainly not prime real estate, but adequate. There were fourteen, healthy black and white Holsteins, a well-charred fire pit, and a mailbox with my name on it. I grinned, and went to meet the neighbours and get cable T.V. hooked up.

Seven

Months later, after I had skipped bail, I received a letter in Whitefish, Montana. Satan said how surprised he was when he heard about what I did with my ranch. He said he had pictured me living comfortably, raising my herd of cows, driving to the Spic n’ Span Cafe and pinching the polyester bums of the waitresses. Maybe even selling pumpkins on the side of the road come next Halloween.

With the benefit of hindsight, it probably had been extreme, though naturalistic. I had left after torching my aluminum tool shed and stampeding my brand-covered cows (eight sunshines apiece, no mistaking) throughout the county with a very large shotgun. It was my first real weapon, a mighty beast I bought at a pawnshop in Grand Junction. I sawed the bitch off like the Road Warrior and drank more so I’d more bottles to shoot at. Feeling so primal and hedonistic was new, interesting and somewhat unexplainable at times. I handcuffed the sheep to the dog kennel and drove off, lobbing homemade Molotovs at the billboards. It had made for an interesting sight.

Satan wrote that he certainly understood the potentials of innate human responses, which often produce extreme behaviour. He had dealt with this on several occasions so he wasn’t particularly surprised.

“Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob,” he wrote, “that was, however, very poignant of you.”

I’m quite sure he didn’t know what that meant either.

© 1990, written in SLC, UT — Modified in 2014 to reflect Canadian spellings.