Monday, June 09, 2008

"A Guy Named Red Doesn't Like Me" (Published in Connections Magazine!)

A Guy Named Red Doesn't Like Me

“My husband left me,” she spoke breathlessly. “I’m free to be with you now.”
Sally looked at him with blond ambition.
Red paused, hovering over the ’69 Pinto engine he was fixing as ardently as a succulent picnic. Red twisted a greasy fingernail.
“…I wasn’t waiting for you.”
Sally Swift stared at him. She was pretty, and safe, and almost fifty. Red’s shop continued on in the background like it had since he started there in the fourth grade.
She didn’t feel too Swift. She was stripped. Standing there next to the car like a giant question mark. There were no words. The words about her had fled and she was a hanging sentence of abandoned punctuation.
A guy they called Monkey was getting a huge tool off the rack in the background, and paused to pull the jumpsuit out of the crack in his ass.
The noise of the shop engulfed her.
“Christ, Sally,” Red looked at her, frazzled. He had a freckled face and freckled eyes. His mom said he got them in his eyes from staring in the sun too long. His brother Philip said the spots indicated the rot in Red’s brain seeping through. Philip was a doctor.
Sally stammered. “Well. What did you think I’d be doing in Elkton? Nobody comes to Elkton. Why else did you think I’d be here?”
Red looked hopefully strained. He shrugged.
“That’s it?” Her voice rose.
“I thought maybe you got sick of Miami. Came home.”
“Miami is home. Fourteen years does that to a person.”
“You lived here more ‘n fourteen years.” He adjusted a nut.
“Not fourteen adult years.”
“Where’d you buy those,” he muttered.
She was experiencing feeling returning to her face, and it was all angry.
“What happened to Whitney,” he looked at her steadily, holding a dripping oil funnel.
The image of Whitney flashed in both their heads. A dyed-blond five foot Cuban who owned several successful car washes. Sally had married him for the drugs. He was Cuban. It was Miami. It was the ‘70’s.
“He goes by the name Swifty now,” she said. He had changed his name from Jerry Whitney to Whitney Swift when he married her. He said it was a Cuban tradition. Turned out it was a Jerry Whitney tradition. God knows how many wives he’d had before her that he ended up with the name Jerry Whitney by the time they hooked up.
“He changed his name to Whitney Swift for tax reasons,” Sally said to the carburetor. Red looked at her sorrowfully. It didn’t matter that he had recently gone by Swift, she thought. What mattered was that he had recently gone.
“Why’d he leave?” Red was wiping his hands on the filthy front of his bib apron. Underneath the grime was “Kiss the Cook” but only the “ook” was visible.
For tax reasons, she felt like saying.

Sally wandered downtown Elkton. The streets were small and cramped, like Napoleon’s corpse. Nothing looked familiar.
A Korean man sprayed off the sidewalk in front of his overpriced fruit stand and deli.
She looked at the sun and thought of Red. She never considered Red wouldn’t want her. How could he not be waiting for her? Everyone was waiting for her. Herself included. Hanging in the balance until she decided to pick them up again.
She bought a loaf of bread and a small container of real orange juice. The Korean complained about breaking a fifty at nine o’clock in the morning. She focused on his five hundred-dollar shoes.
She sat on the bus bench and ate the heel of the bread. It’s all I’m worth, she thought.
The Korean resumed hosing and the fallout from the water was misting around her head.
Her mother would say this was an opportunity, not a crisis. Whenever you don’t know what you’re doing, something miraculous is about to happen, she’d said.
Her mother’s miracle turned out to be renal failure, and she had died like a lawn dart falling to Earth.
Sally dug to the bottom of the bread and got the other heel. She ate it without the aid of the orange juice. It was stale and mealy. Now I only have the good part left, she thought, drunk on starch.
She washed down the last of it. The orange juice tasted baptismal. As she sat looking at traffic, this feeling passed. She was surrounded by exhaust and the sound of skinny city trees trying to grow fenced in in cement. Real life background music.
There’s nothing here for me, she thought. My life is bleak.
She thought about Red and what a stupid name that was. No wonder he worked in a garage. What other job could he get. When Philip was six and Red was three, Philip’s teeth were so bucked he couldn’t say “Fred” so he called his brother “’Red” and it stayed that way. Now Philip was a doctor in the East Indies and Red fixed cars two miles from where he had first jerked off. Names could entrap people. This is what my life has come to – a guy named Red doesn’t like me? I’ve gotta be destined for more, she thought.
Sally tossed the empty o.j. container in the wire trash basket. At the moment, her trash was on top.
Lots of people had sat on this bus bench, she thought. Unhappy with where they were, or they wouldn’t be waiting to pay someone to drive them someplace else. Being desperate is how it felt right now. Being driven is how it would seem from the future, looking back.

She sat on the bus bench with her whole loaf of good bread and waited for a miracle.