It was a dive bar with an air hockey table and 50’s monster movie posters for wallpaper. Despite this, the rural crowd liked to come here. The posters may appear to an untrained eye in the dark to be yellowed abstract patterned wallpaper. Or it may just be a stereotype; even fans of Universal Pictures get old and live somewhere. The fans here get a bar that smells like seventy-year-old roses and the glory days.
At the bar, in the bar, on a stool, my right-hand wraps around the pint glass. I take a sip of the cider and look up, no sports today, but Godzilla was devastating the countryside. At the doorway, past the bartender, I saw the bar owner Petey Walker. His hairless head could best be described as an onion in shape and color.
“HEY JONESY!” Walker shouted at me.
“Oh not much, just another Thursday night.” Seeing Walker’s face I drew another breath and belted it out this time.
“NOT MUCH, JUST THURSDAY AGAIN.” Walker caught it that time and gave a lazy wave as he approached the tap closest to me. His elbow connected with the glazed wood and stayed there despite a wince.
“AH! Jay! When are you going to capture a job that gives ya’ two days on the weekend?” He was close enough now that normal shouting would suffice.
When was I going to get a real job?
It’s not like what I did was anything good. I built and repaired rainwater collection systems for self-sustaining homes. That’s French for I’m poor and get hired to do weird shit. That means there is no day-off except the ones I choose not to eat. But I usually work those days too; the ones where I don’t eat much I mean.
What would I even do as a real job?
“When you start raising the prices around here I’ll consider it!” Walker would never raise those prices. Not in a million years. He sells cheap beer at cheap prices to keep people coming in. You would think that being the only game in town meant that you were guaranteed success. You’d be wrong. Not a lot of people are left around to partake in Cheshire Vermont’s finest booze joint.
“Well, I like seeing you around Jonesy. Not a lot of folks like good movies”. Godzilla ripped through the city.
“I just like to see the costumes Walker.”
“I know that. You loved Black Lagoon.” I gave a big nod and drew a long sip. Letting my belly get warm, but not too fast to let it get toasty.
“I do like the city in this movie too though. It’s so big.”
“No, it’s small Jonesy.”
“That’s just because Godzilla is so big. Everything looks small next to him.”
“That too, but it also is a mini-golf thing. A small place.”
“Yeah, miniature golf. Everything was built small and is small.” Walker was watching me closely. I slid my empty cup forward and put another couple dollars down. Walker wadded it into his pocket and passed me another cider.
“Watch my drink Walker. Gotta’ pee.”
“You didn’t have to tell me J… I’ll pause the movie.” Walker looked up at the TV as I walked away. Licking his thumb and rubbing it against the bottom of the screen.
Looking up into the mirror, with water dripping down my face. I could see my face. I could see my eyes and my cheeks were so red. I couldn’t think straight. What was I doing here? Where am I?
Behind me, in the mirror’s reflection was Walker. Standing there in a Godzilla costume. I could see his face revealed by a small panel that had been opened on the costumes lower neck.
“Wake up Jay!” He yelled. His voice hoarse like he had been yelling the entire time.
Looking over to the door, the costume left my peripheral vision and in came another.
“Jonesy what took you so long?” Walker was standing there, bleeding out his nose and onto his whole arm. It took me a moment to collect myself. How long have I been awake?
How long have I been working? Is today Friday?
“Jonesy, you there? You’re looking pretty fucked.” Walker was stuffing toilet paper up his nose.
“Yeah, I’m here. What happened to your nose?”
“You didn’t hear?” No, I heard nothing Walker, my face was six feet deep into my palm. I shook my head and motioned for him to quiet down a bit.
The bathroom door whipped open and there stood an asshole. Not a big brown tear in the air, but Paulie Slimms. Black jeans and a backwards red hat held together by the sparsest moustache I had ever seen.
“WE CAN HEAR YOU DUMBASS!” Slimms yelled. He grabbed Walker by the collar and pulled him out of the room. I followed.
“Open the register and pay your bills.” Slimms pushed Walker back. A pair of feet were on the ground just behind the bar, soles visible. Not moving.
“Yeah, you want to still have this bar huh? Want some customers? Eh? Eh?” This one wore long hair and a pair of green boots. Dark green worn at the edges and gently dusted with sand. He was tossing glasses on the ground at the knocked out bartender.
“Hey, asshole! Cut that shit.”
They looked at me. The guy who is exhausted and pale except for a cherry face. I stepped closer and Boots held out a hand.
“You’re looking sick. You should turn back around.”
I stepped closer. This time Slimms had something.
“You heard my associate here. Turn around and give it five minutes, then lunch breaks will be over.”
Another step. Now Boots had a knife. He came closer, cautiously. He marched over, blade out, and smiled.
“I’ll escort him back.”
Fuck. The blade cuts into my side. I drift for a moment. I elbow him across the throat, he goes back a step and I take a swing.
THUD. Went Boots.
KLING. Went the knife.
My knuckles are split, and I can feel the blood in my lips. I give a kick while they’re down.
My jaw is flung up and I see bright lights and black spaces. The ceiling has a black lagoon painting on it, how long has that been there?
My feet are held in place as another punches me till my guts touch my lungs.
A chair flies and stops the onslaught, a Slimms is on the ground bleeding. Back to my first target, each of my punches sends Boots head cracking on the floor.
“JESUS FUCK!” yells someone.
Free, I step to see that Slimms is starting to stand up. My shoe pushes his chest down and my fist rises above his face. His eyes reflect a lightning bolt that is about to strike, bolts of swollen meat cut by teeth.
“Stay down Slimms. Or you’ll wake up tomorrow unable to chew.”
Slimms head fell and his breathing slowed down.
The blood on my hands was first rubbed off on my pockets. Wet stains and smears of dark and darker shades of “reddish” went through and onto my twenty dollars.
“Sorry about the fight Walker. It couldn’t be helped.” I slid him the twenty as he leaned the bartender up.
“I’m taking Chet to the hospital. Look after while I’m out. Lock the doors.”
More spots in my eyes.
“What was that Walker?”
“Local boys, I pay them to keep bringing their crew over.”
Got to make ends meet some way.
“So there’s more of them?” I’m rubbing an ice cube across my hand.
“On Monday.” Walker stepped over Boots.
“I’ll take the weekend off.”
Walker kicked Slimms and left. I locked the door behind him, taped the boys up and looked out the window. No cars and no one walking around. It really is dead here.
I lay down in a booth and dream. I dream about being as big as Godzilla in a town as big as me.
While I am not completely certain that this life is the one I want to live, I do know for sure that I can’t keep eating at truck stop diners if I have any intention of making this a potential life long career choice. The driving is good, but the gas is expensive and I’m sick of soggy burger buns. Which is why, today, I was glad to see that in the middle of nowhere there wasn’t a single diner, but just a lone gas station slash pizza parlor slash county bottle redemption center. The only food for an hour in any way was something different. I wouldn’t be able to sit in the comfort of reoccurring disappointing meals anymore.
Unless, of course, I decided to wrangle some of those loose
chickens from the farm six minutes back. I smiled to myself as I pulled into the
two-space parking lot.
Me, wrangle a chicken? My best chance of capturing such
athletic birds is plowing through the gate and picking what remains out of the
To my side I saw my truck’s neighbor, an antique milk truck
I assumed. Its shape and massive tank gave it away, not much else would. All
identifying markings had been crudely covered with poorly applied chrome paint.
The only bit peeking through was an “O” in the name on the side, just barely
visible through a thinner section of the coated portion of the logo.
Ding. Ding. Ding. I walk through the front door. An empty
shelf is ahead of me and the attendant gives me a quarter of a half-hearted
glance while hammering his thumbs across his phone. I take a seat at the
nearest booth. I’m pretty surprised. The springs are good and the napkin
dispenser isn’t rusted.
There’s no ketchup, but there are salt and black pepper
shakers, and one of those wire cages full of creamers and sugar packets. I pull
out my phone and try to catch up with the world. It’s been a couple hours since
I checked, but as is what sometimes is, I have no signal here. So, I snap a
picture of the table and its neatly arranged “accoutrements” for later. The
cross-country group will be impressed by the tidiness of this place.
The floors are spotless, the only smudges are the black
marks where I scuffed the tile with my sleepy legs while on my way to my seat.
I wonder where the waitress is, it’s been a couple minutes.
“Sir?” I said to the attendant. His tag said, Sleeve, no,
“Jacob, uh, is the server around?”
Without speaking or allowing the blue glow to leave his
face, he picked up some utensils, then a menu and walked over slowly, about as
slow as you’d expect someone who was distracted to walk. It was obvious in the
past he’d stumbled and tripped around the cluttered room while performing the
exact same task with the exact same distraction.
“Ah, thanks. So, is it just you here? Could I have some
coffee please? Black preferred but I won’t ignore decaf.” I chuckle, something
of a classic ground breaker for a more casual waiter to diner experience.
“All out.” He mumbles. Not to me, of course, but down to his
“Ah, uh, well what do you have to drink?”
Jacob looks up for a moment, taking a look at the counter he
had just come from and then finally looks at me.
“We have what’s in the coolers sir,” he says.
I look around and see a small cooler just under the empty
scratcher boxes. I can make out the logo on the side. Not really a soda fan.
“Ah, I don’t really drink soda though. What do you have
Jacob, who’s looking at his phone again speaks as he pushes
his finger up the screen slowly.
“I’m not sure, but I know we have orange juice. Feel free to
take a look and call me over when you are ready to order.”
In the cooler there is less than half a glass of orange
juice left in a jug, three glass bottles of milk, a cola with a faded label,
and what looks like dust in a beer bottle. Even at home I am uncomfortable with
finishing off a jug of anything, so milk it is.
Returning to my seat I open the bottle and then the menu to
see what I might have. The advertisements stand out a bit with their wild
colors, which are uncomfortably bright as the sun spills through the shades and
across the plastic cover. I spend a minute looking over the options. There are
some clear and obvious typos, and at least three items which are the same thing
described with different words and punctuation. The stuffed mushrooms seem like
something I would not trust from a gas station or a bottle redemption center,
so a big bowl of spaghetti with a white sauce sounds pretty good. I call Jacob
“Yes, I would like the, uh…” I flip open the menu again to
make sure I say exactly what I want in the exact manner it is written.
“Yes, the thin spaghetti with white garlic sauce and for
bread… the peasant bread. Is it quite hearty… or?”
“We actually sold the last of our spaghetti just before you
got here…” Jacob then goes on to explain that a very midwestern family in a
very 1980’s midwestern car, had, like any good American family, numerous kids
who were young and picky eaters and so the pizza parlor has everything but the
small amount of spaghetti that it stocked. Looking back down at the menu I
order a medium vegetarian pizza, what I don’t eat can be “on-the-road-food”
till I get to Oklahoma.
The broccoli will counteract the extra cheese, so I should
be fine. I go to take a sip from the milk and pause with it just below my chin.
I talk across the room.
“Hey, Jacob, this milk is fresh right? I hope its nothing
like that cola in the back? Heh?”
Jacob looks up from the pile of dough he is rolling out on
the counter and confirms that the milk is good. I take a sip and it is, quite
good. Pretty heavy, but certainly fresh. No label on any of the milk bottles
though, so definitely local and not full of any crap, except for what was on
the farmer’s hand. But, in all honesty, it’s refreshing. This is exactly why I
wanted to try somewhere new. The change of pace feels good.
It’s also nice to see your food get made to some degree, as
long as it is a process which is easy on the eyes and not incredibly gory or so
technically challenging that a layman might not understand. It gives you
confidence in the quality of the food, a certainty that if you become bound up
for a couple days it was an ingredient and not the method of preparation.
As Jacob sprinkles the toppings on and throws the pie under
the counter into what I assume is an oven, I choose to partake in the provided
reading materials. Looking to Jacob, I see that he has put on thick up to the
elbow in length yellow gloves and is cleaning the countertop. I guess he’s the
reason it’s so neat around here. I look down at the menu, holding it like a
This establishment’s plastic protected “E-Z Menu Publication
Advertising Group” brand menu is being sponsored by Sandra the Horse Training
and Hutchinson’s Lawyer Sourcing Services with a page advertisement each.
Another picture for the group, this one is sure to elicit a chuckle online.
Hmm, halfway down the left side is a daycare with a mascot,
a costume which looks like a color edited and non-athletic wear version of the
Highwayville school’s sports mascot pictured on the right, just above the hot
wing stuffed Stromboli. The page opposite of the school’s flexing mascot
features the same costume, but instead of a full getup, it’s just a person
wearing the head part it seems. Its wire mesh eyes are pretty well detailed for
a fuzzy photo print menu.
Then on the right…
Oh, I’m out of milk. My eyes slowly walk across the room and
to the counter. Jacob is back at it again, pounding away at the screen.
“Is it okay if I have another milk?”
He nods. I walk over and pull another milk from the fridge
and clearly, to all who may be watching, examine the bottle closely.
“So, whose milk is this anyways? Is it from the same place
that truck in the parking lot is from? Smolleys? Or maybe, Smothers? Something
with an O close to the middle?”
Jacob looks out of the glass wall that is the store front
and then back to his phone.
“No.” Then he adds, “Milk and mail come in on Sundays. I
only work Tuesdays. Hmm, yeah, and Wednesday, and today. The person who would
know is my boss, Jamie. She works the days I don’t”
“I hope you don’t text and drive in that milk truck. It’d be
a pretty dangerous load to even risk wobbling as far as the bulk of that tank
is concerned.” He looks up and at me. No, he looks at the timer on the counter
in front of me.
“I get a ride to work from my brother, so I don’t have to
worry about texting and driving that much.”
Looking around the room and past the empty off-white colored
shelving I see two doors, one with a small round window in the top center and a
second with a small pale buttock exposed in an illustration of someone hanging
a leak with their pants rolled and then scrunched up resting just above the
laces of their shit covered boots. The heels dug into the dirt, more like mud,
sinking. I’ve been sitting around here for a solid fifteen minutes now, so
where is the driver for the antique truck?
“So, is there a bathroom… or…?” I ask.
“Yes, we have a public restroom, but it is currently in use.
The guy who drove the tank truck outside had to use it after he tried the mini
mushroom cap cheese-y bites, since we were out of spaghetti.”
Well, that makes sense but I didn’t think spaghetti would be
this popular at a bottle redemption center slash gas station. First guess
having been confirmed, I raise my bottle up and return to my seat.
Just above my table hangs, from a frayed loop of twine, a
chalkboard sign. In playful scribbles it says ‘The getti was gr8!’. That must
be the oldest of the youngest of the American family! I consider writing ‘I
wish I knew! Coulda tried it!’ underneath but looking at the chalk is about as
far as I go beyond imagining where’d I squeeze in the words before I hear a
loud buzzing noise break across the room. A waft of steam comes up from behind
the counter, a smell spreads and it’s pretty good.
It looks good too! Jacob brings over the pizza and places it
on some oven mitts and then goes back to his “work”. It’s pretty gooey — a plus
— but I decide I should probably let it settle rather than allow it to burn my
tongue. I take out my phone.
Ah, yes, no signal or data, but there is a public wi-fi
available so I just hop on that. And, it’s a wi-fi that doesn’t have internet.
Crap. My hopes crushed in the hunt for a distraction. I should probably fold up
Carefully lifting the dish as not to burn myself, I fold the
menu shut. The left first, not sure why they have a bruised teen watching kids,
but who knows. It doesn’t make a good daycare advertisement, and at the very
least it seems like a bad way to present a business. Probably good though for
understanding why people get angry at kids I suppose. Then on the right, with
their sports mascot-
Is that a sport? That’s…
“Jacob, what sport ish — ” As I speak I bring my eyes up
from the menu and see that the lights are off. All that is in the air is the
sunlight which has pushed through the blinds and careened off the falling dust.
Each particle hangs in the air, surrounding me. In my breath they ripple
slightly but remain in place. The shelving units are all pushed together and
arranged behind the counter, packed up against the wall and each other so that
they take up as little floor space as possible. The cooler hums. A soda, a
milk, and a grimy jug of orange juice sit there in the cold white light.
Getting up from my seat, I walk toward the counter. No
Jacob, no register, just the holes in the wood where the cabling would be
strung. Feeling this area I pull back my hand and examine my fingertips. A
light grey slime that is warm to the touch. Yes, speckles. Looking down the
hole I see just shadows and what my mind assumes is the shape of a trash bin.
The room turns dark immediately. From some sunlight poking
into the shadows to a deep black. I see a spasm in the sheet of darkness.
I feel a sense of satisfaction, my mouth waters as I chew. I
open my eyes, the lights are on again, the room is clean, the specks are gone
and at the counter there’s Jacob. My hands are coated in pizza grease and the
pie tastes fantastic. It’s quite well cooked, not a single burn at all. Five
out of five if I had the wi-fi to report back on my profile.
“Jacob, this pizza is great. What sport is thi-“
Wait, no that’s not right.
“Sorry, what I meant to ask was where did you learn how to
make pizza? Just here or?” Jacob lets out a deep breath before answering.
“It was part of orientation.”
“Oh, that’s good it’s a thing you might use someday.”
Turning my head away from him, I’m back at the table, back among the specks.
The dust has been disturbed where my hand had reached out, grabbing at the air
for a second slice. Each dot slowly moving outward from where I had clutched at
it, at nothing.
Getting up, I move with some speed. I am unable to control
my movements as I dart to the back of the store. The bottle return machines are
exposed, their mechanical guts spilled out and onto the floor, and glass cracks
under my heel.
The bathroom is vacant. I touch the handle and it changes to
occupied in big red block letters, it spins and the handle twists until it is
red hot. I pull my hand back as the metal rolls into itself and into the door
as the paint bubbles then settles, but not before a slight ripple goes across
the door, across the tile on the walls adjacent, and across the specks in the
air. But they aren’t really specks.
I fall back and my forearm slaps into the shards across the
floor, with complete control regained for a moment, I let out a sharp yelp.
A thick white fluid drips out of each cut.
Uh, this food is making me parched, and ouch! My hand hurts!
I’m out of milk again, weird, I could of swore I just got this bottle.
I did just get this bottle though. I better ask Jacob for
“I’ll be right back,” I say as I stand up. I need a drink is
what I tried to say. I felt my mouth move with different words than what I
heard. I push myself to try to say something, anything, I get nothing.
I walk to the bathroom. It seems the guy’s gone. It’s empty
so I reluctantly grab at the door handle. It’s still a gas station bathroom
after all. I don’t want to trust a population in which most likely less than
10% of its members actually wash their hands after wiping their own ass.
Cupping at the hot water.
“Ack! SHIT!” My hand is beat red. The water must be too hot.
I turn off the hot and leave the cold on.
Cupping at the water, I bring it up to my face and let it
run down over my cheeks and then flow onto and past my lips. I gargle what
remains. Reaching for a paper towel, I return to the mirror to wipe off the
excess water, but in it I see my face. It’s filthy.
Small droplets of sand cling on. Trying to wipe it away is
of no use. The more I pull off, the more sand is visible on my face. I cup the
water again and try to soak it. Then I vigorously claw at my skin hoping to
peel off the surface, and along with it the sand that must have become
attached. I need to try again.
I scream, and in the process kick the cleaning supplies
across the bathroom and as soon as my foot makes contact…
Darkness again. Now it’s the quietest and stillest silence I
have ever heard, twisting and cascading into my head, rolling into my ears like
a mudslide. This silence would have terrified me if not for the interruption of
a small silver garbage can connecting with the wall.
It is deafening in contrast. Disoriented, I spin backwards
and reach for a hold. I get a grip with my upper teeth on the rim of the sink.
My body whips against the door to the bathroom. Stumbling
with blood in my mouth I reach for a handle. I have to get out of here. I have
to get out of here. I can’t stay any longer.
But there’s no handle.
My hands slap across the door. Dull thuds at first, then a
wet smacking, then a small crunching comes with each consecutive hit.
Clack. Clack. Increasingly louder, and more painful. CLACK!
I have to get help.
“Jah-cusb! JAH CLUBS!” I call out desperately, as the knives
in my mouth scrape across my tongue on the back of each word.
Reaching at my face, I feel a loose sand roll down the
outside of my hand. I can feel the pile growing between my knees. My posture
breaks from panicked to every muscle in my entire body being wound up and
tightened beyond possibility. I hear it so clearly, the sand pouring. I can
hear it through my jaw, the vibrations adding an umphf to a sound I wish I
could ignore. My hand is buried! I can’t move my hand. It’s trapped under the
weight of the sand.
I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE ANYMORE!
A low grumble and then a bounce up, then down. The roads are
terrible here. And the sun!
I pull down the visor, dust scatters across the air of the
small cabin. I crank down the window and the wave of particles rush past me and
blow out behind me as I go driving by. I have to watch that I don’t lose
balance. I can’t spill the product.
“Let’s see what’s on the radio…” I reach out to the dial and
turn through the channels. The remainders of the echo of a slow sob immediately
drown in the static. I turn up the volume.
I’m nearly back to Streetwalk Township in Oklahoma, driving
my truck to make some deliveries and having recently received instructions from
dispatch that the company just got a new contract. It seems we’re taking over
the delivery of fresh milk from Family Dairy (an out of state supplier).
Hurrah! A big win for local, Highwayville distribution co.,
and a good sign that I landed in the right career.
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