The inside of the dirty little Sundowner pickup cooks in the late afternoon sun. The maroon vinyl and cloth of the interior absorbs the rays as she sits on the passenger side of the bench seat and waits for her man. Dust and cigarette ash lingers like a dry fog and makes her cough. She doesn’t know how long she’s been waiting. He didn’t leave her the keys. At this point, she guesses, he still doesn’t trust her. She imagines herself as an infant in a car seat, left alone by a thoughtless, stoned parent. A miserable feeling of slow-roasting to death.
She waits in the little pickup, parked on the side of a road looking down a shoddy row of apartment units. Another man had taken her here once before, years before, but that memory is so faded that she cannot determine what actually occurred to what she might have dreamt.
She thinks about sunstroke. How it approaches and the symptoms involved. She assumes she will begin to convulse and pass out before she realizes the result. She picks up and brushes off a handful of scratch-offs that litter the cab. Maybe one will unveil itself a winner. Maybe one was misread.
The windows are down, yet there is no breeze. Only a slight waft trailing from an occasional passing car. A Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet is the only thing she can find to fan herself. Her thick, greasy blonde hair is pinned and pulled haphazardly atop her scalp and creates a source of absorption for the heat to then trickle down in sweat beads along her shiny, oily face. Her gaunt torso is covered by a loose white tank-top and no bra. She is thankful for small breasts; the lack of a need for a bra is comfortable and lazy—yet at times, she believes, that full breasts could have achieved her a life of demanding rather than one of relenting. Her thin legs bounce while she hums and mumbles in replace of the radio. Her pink plastic sandals sit on the floorboard, nearly ready to buckle and melt. She pulls at her tank-top, creating little bursts of air over her neck and chin like sudden lake waves crashing over a small protruding rock.
He pulled her off the couch in the late morning as she watched the news forecast detail a heat advisory. Her days were spent in similar fashion; laid down on the couch, eyes and mind affixed with daytime programming—therein inter-spliced with commercials for settlement lawyers, cheap insurance and medical products. She daydreamed about the need for a settlement lawyer. The image of a windfall check being handed over to her by a slick attorney in a cherrywood meeting room preluded the dream of sunning on the deck of a ketch called Sofia Maria, anchored just off the port of an Italian village. The captain of the Sofia Maria; a fury, barrel-chested man named Sergio, tops off her glass of Prosecco and sits down beside her. He kisses her softly on the lips before she sips on the newly chilled and effervescent liquid. She feels the bubbles chasm down into her and stretch throughout her body; crashing into endings like little microscopic firework explosions that tingle her fingertips and toes.
Her man interrupted this day dream. He grabbed her toes with his thumb and forefinger and gave them a hard wiggle. He did this to her often. Sometimes smudging up the freshly applied layer of lacquer she delicately applied to each nail.
“I need to go down and see my guy,” he had said to her still wiggling her toes. “He’s in.”
She let him hold on to her toes, as she regained her sense of the moment and as the Sofia Maria sailed away.
“Heat advisory today,” she told him; advising him both of the conditions and that if she were to venture out with him, she would require a means to cool off.
“We’ll find a pool,” he said.
“A pool?” she asked with a blank tone. She knew he would not find a pool. That once he met his guy, they would retreat to a room and get high and have sex and sweat. This state of being left her in a perpetual need of her man, his guy and another high. A cycle of waiting.
“Yeah,” and “we can go down to the bar you like and split a burger and couple beers.”
She did not like the bar as much as he. She knew he only wanted to go there because he could pinch off some for the day bartender and overcharge him so he could recoup a bit of the payday he had just lost to his guy.
She fell in love with that day bartender for a few hours when they had first met. He wore a thick ducktail beard. His stocky arms, half-hidden behind rolled sleeves, were covered in a myriad of black and colored tattoos. He spoke in short phrases that seemed to her to like quotes from books on Zen. “Work is the best therapy.” He said. “The type of work doesn’t make the man, how well he works does.”
“Another poke for the peach?” he asked her, when her drink was empty. She dumbly smiled and nodded quickly. He moved around the bar both with a graceful fluidity and a blunt brutishness that suckered her eyes into something horrifying and amazing. She likened it to witnessing two swans fight to death.
Her man was with her then, and when the bartender’s shift ended and he sat down with them for a drink of his own, her man invited him along with them to a gathering of people she knew existed in their own cycle of waiting.
At the gathering, a second floor apartment in a triplex home, smoke of all attributes hung at eye-level; short, crazed laughter separated the whir of a ceiling fan that struggled against the haze and the heat of the matches, lighters and the exhaling bodies. Dreary, slow music played steadily along. She thought it made everyone seem listless and near-death. Like a compositional score for life ending in slow-motion. She believed the bartender was new to this type of gathering, but nonetheless was seized by it. All he needed was the high.
In a bedroom, they found themselves naked, the bartender’s powerful arms squeezed her wrists and pulled them behind her as he penetrated her in long, painful bursts. Her man sat by her head and slipped his stubby penis in and out of her mouth. Wanting to be somewhere else, she daydreamed—the bartender’s furious sex results in a newborn that they raise together to be a world-traveling famous musician. He takes to instruments at a young age, the bartender buys him a cheap acoustic guitar and teaches the child how to play a simple G-C-D chord. The boy becomes a teenager as the bartender now owns the bar and she mothers two more children at home; a daughter and another son. The first born goes on to play Dylan and Pink Floyd songs in talent shows and wins and moves to Los Angeles with other musicians and as the bartender and she live their lives at home, they watch and support their son with a happy heart and they can’t believe the good fortune of their family. Just as she imagined combing her little girl’s hair before her first day of kindergarten, the bartender grabbed her buttocks with both hands and squeezed so painfully as he came that she elbowed him in the jaw. Her man smacked her in the face while his wretched little penis still lay in her mouth. She spit it out, stood and left the triplex in the nude.
She doesn’t know what he is to her. Her man. The definition of a relationship has been lost on her—long before him. Too many men have entered and left without so much as a “thank you” or an “I love you” or even a “You look pretty today” that she has given up hope that another one will do anything different. Her man now exists to her as a means to an end. The supply of a tag-a-long life; where she is under-nourished in both spirit and stomach, but fulfilled with a smoke, a snort or a stab. She often falls back into old memories of boys and the excitement culled within that bade her to giggle and tremble and imagine a future with a boy that could provide for her stability, romance and confidence. She’s much too old now to continue to hope that way. She merely has to keep the cycle with this man. But then again, he didn’t leave her the keys.
Inside the cab of the dirty little Sundowner, her stomach begins to turn, yearning both for a meal and dope. She cannot stop her right foot from bouncing. She feels that it is shaking so hard that it may pop off. She imagines that the sweat covering her body is beginning to boil on top of her skin. She tries to rub away the sweat from her arms and face. She clasps her hands to together and rocks in place. She begins to moan and breathe heavily. She brings her hands together near her nose and mutters words to God. Prayer, to her, is absurd and useless. Reliance upon pleading whispers to an unknown, omnipotent presence is futile. Wanting relief from struggle will undoubtedly lead to more struggle. She says one anyway. She doesn’t know if she is dying, withdrawing or panicking. She assumes it’s a combination. She feels the heat of the sun like a hydraulic press pushing down on the cab of the pickup. Every moment of her life comes crashing through her mind like a hyper-speed reel-to-reel. She lets out a scream, leans over and presses down the steering wheel’s horn. It blares and crackles like an extinguishing log flame. She doesn’t stop until he bursts from the apartment. He runs with a duffel bag in his hand. She thinks he runs the way a jackal might, fleeing a lion’s den with a cub in its mouth. He is halfway across the parking lot, when a man exits the apartment with a compound bow. In a single deft movement, the man loads the arrow and lets it fly into her man’s back. She watches her man halt and drop the duffel. The nib of the arrow has split the middle of his white pocket t-shirt in a small burst of air. He is still standing as another arrow hits him in his lower back. That tip, she knows, doesn’t make it through his bulging gut. He falls to one knee bracing himself with a hand. Blood exits him in multiple spots. He stares at her from across the parking lot. She can see his eyes. He wants to tell her something. He wants to confess. He is one of the men who has never said ‘I love you’ to her. She knew that for him to say it, the admission of needing her and of loving her, existed to him like a transgression needing absolved. He used to make promises with her as a way around it. A future clean of dope and the cycle of waiting. With square meals and a place of their own. He promised her marriage—in a big white tent among the crisp green fields of horse stables. He had a second cousin that owned the land in Northern Kentucky. They would get married there and drive to the coast, any coast, for their honeymoon. He had it all planned out, eventually it will happen, he promised. She knew it was all a lie. He used promises as motivations.
With a third arrow lodging itself half way through his shoulder, his hand shakes around his trouser pocket for the keys. He tosses the keys forward and they hit the pavement a few feet in front of him. He collapses to the ground.
“Finally,” she thinks.