by Rob Azevedo
Jenny told me you called the other night. You sounded beaten, like someone had taken a rivet gun to your insides. And before she had the chance to tell me you got laid off from your rugging job, I knew life had you licking the curb.
There was a maze of guilt attached to your voice– a low, sardonic hum trapped somewhere between anger and confusion. How she was able to tell me this in such a richly thuggish manner is beyond me. Maybe it was the environment she was speaking from, a place plagued with sleeplessness and human gas.
Don’t be sore with Jenny, Willy, for not going into details about where I was or where I am, or who I am for that matter. She may have told you I was working on a lobster boat off the coast of Portland or riding a roller over fresh asphalt out on Route 4 in Epping. She was only lying for her man, as any descent mistress would do.
Remember awhile back when you tried to reach me at the steel yard and I wasn’t around? Later I told you I had gone to Hopkinton for the day to price out some scrap steel. Well, I lied. I wasn’t in Hopkinton. I was home pacing the floors, worrying about my unborn child and a pile of statements cluttering my desktop. I was too embarrassed to tell you I’d been laid off due to a series of lost bids.
What man at thirty-two can stand up and admit to being jobless when his friends are out there making a living, earning? It’s beyond my character. I was at home sick with grief, bug eyed and gaunt, tired of jacking off as I stared into a computer screen at hardcore porno.
Sad days, Willy. The Mecca of All Ugliness.
But there were many other reasons for my lies. I can’t get into it now, not at this point of the letter. A buzzer is going to sound very soon and I’ll be led to a room thick with cast iron tables and damaged, hungry souls. True Hell.
But I was telling you that the company gave me two hours notice and the day’s pay. That’s it, check you later, they said. No need to reapply. Your skills were bunk.
“Eat me!” I shouted at my co-workers as I rushed past the yard gates in my old beater. Yeah, man, I was still cruising in the Corolla. Yeah, man, it had about 172,000 miles on it. Yeah, man, dog days were on the rise.
I recalled horror stories about past employees being sent home with nothing more than a meaningless promise of a strong recommendation and my thoughts turned dark.
I wanted to strike back, cut into the ribs of the fat cat who ran me off the job site wielding a nickel-plated Derringer. He said I stole from him. Sheet-plates or something, maybe welding tips, whatever the Hell it was I didn’t do it!
Sure I made a fuss about getting cut loose. I may have kicked over a gas drum that spilled across the mechanic’s floor, among other acts of random destruction. But I was feverish, desperate, and I ached to rip out the black heart that feeds the organs of that cantankerous lout named Bennett.
So I started planning.
After my outburst I drove to the Dollar Store in town and bought the joint out of popcorn. It was either that or cheap ketchup. I hate vinegar. I figured if I was going on the lam I could live off popcorn. Easy cleanup.
“That’s forty-three dollars, sir,” the girl behind the counter said to me.
“You take personal checks I hope,” I said.
“Yes sir. Make it out to me,” the little vixen said, flirting with the man that smelled of gas and resentment.
Normally I would have lobbed my half hard cock up on the counter and asked her if she could read a road map. But I was in a rush and the cops were either at the yard taking notes or screaming down Route 33 looking for a rusted out Corolla. I had to get going.
I cut the bad check and was out the door. Seven bags full of popcorn in
my hands. I tossed them across the front seat of the Corolla and jetted
out of the shopping plaza and onto Hanover Street. A crowded throng of
wankers filled the lanes I needed so dearly. I rammed the horn with
iron fists, shouting at children and heavy-chest mothers.
It was then I knew the shift was on, Willy.
I drove over the city strip and up onto the embankment. The axles were
shaking, wheels bending, radiator spitting, window’s cracking, everything
going to shit in one clear moment. I was loosing my fucking mind.
My heart beat rapidly into my ribs. I was breathing oddly, taking fewer
breaths than normal. My tits were convulsing. My brow was covered in wet
dirt. The chew I had in my lip was smashed all over my teeth.
Soon I found myself standing in my kitchen, heating my hands under hot
running water. A slow breeze slid through the window above the sink and I
could smell butter burning over the popcorn going off in the microwave. I’d
vowed to ration myself to three bags a day.
Then a hard knock came from the door. Shit luck, it was my neighbor Ed. Retired buzzard was always up my ass. He was a good salt, but man, his timing sucked. I opened the door.
“Ed, I’m busy.”
“Too busy for a beer?” Ed asked holding two Bud cans. His neck was swollen and I knew this wasn’t his first tanker of the day. “Making popcorn?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Can I have some?”
“No, yeah, whatever the fuck!”
Ed was drinking his beer fast. I had just about loaded the last bag of popcorn into the contractor’s bag I’d grabbed from the basement when Ed asked if I wasn’t going to drink that beer could he. “It’s your beer Ed.”
His neck continued to swell. I loaded the popcorn into the backseat of the car and told Ed to tell Jenny that I love her and all that shit.
“You love her,” Ed repeated.
“Yes, Ed, I love her. Tell her.”
“Okay,” Ed said. “I’ll tell her you love her.”
I was out the drive and down the street quickly. I drove the back roads that lead back towards the steel yard. I had left a few valuables there. Most notably, a Holland skeet with a single trigger straight grip, full size lock and blue wood finish. I had that baby tucked away in canvas at the top of the yard, behind some brush where we stacked the steel. I pull it out some days at lunch and fire shots at families of wild turkey in the fall.
When I got there the gates were locked so I hopped a fence adjacent to the 75-acre yard on a condemned road, walked a few hundred yards in and found the Holland right where I’d left it. I checked the auto ejector, the butt and the barrels for clearance. Nice. Back over the fence I went and was clearly set on making it to Route 89 without much trouble. I’d tuck myself behind a big wheeler, I told myself, staying low in my rotting Corolla.
This time, Willy, I did go to Hopkinton, but again not for scrap steel. Bennett lived in a big house on a hill up there. I knew the area, the home and the roads that led to it. Night will be coming soon, I told myself. “Snake your way through Monroe, cut up into Henniker, past the covered bridge, past the old foundry, into Rye, and then make a straight shot up 106 into Hopkinton. Grab a coffee. Pop a chew.”
I was doing all right for a bit. My chest was settling down and right then I heard the whistles blow.
“What the fuck!” I shouted. The damn bags of popcorn were stacked so high I couldn’t see out the back window. I’ve never been good with side mirrors and I guess with all the excitement I never looked behind me.
I kept driving. Fuck this. I needed work. I needed a reason to answer that grating bell in the morning, the one that tells a man he is worth his spit. All these fucking louts depriving me of my wages, they don’t cut steel! They just cut severance checks!
Two other blues joined the race through the woods. It was on. The Corolla was handling perfectly, as if it was on its last b-double-e-double-r-u-n, beer run. Humming and gliding over tree roots and acorns. “Never mind the mirrors! Let them go!” I was shouting.
The blues were closing in. The Corolla was down to three wheels. Shit! Two wheels. My head kept smashing up into the roof of the car. Coffee was everywhere. I can’t find my fucking chew!
Then a buckshot came through the back window. One caught the side of my head and the car set sail. Right up over some dead logs before slamming into a big oak. I hate the outdoors.
Anyhow, since that night in the woods I’ve been healing up in chains. Way out here in a Concord jailhouse. It’ll be sometime before we shake hands again. I’m looking at 64 months, or less. Maybe I will use this time to tune up my resume. Make some calls. Answer some ads. A man needs work, Willy.
So, be strong good friend, bear down and clutch the walls that warm your home. You’re not alone on the Road to Chumpsville.
ART: JOEY FELDMAN