December 22, 2010 by markstani
This story, from Lindsay Hunter’s collection Daddy’s (see review below), published by Featherproof Books, is reproduced by kind permission of the author. It was first published in the Cricket Online Review
He drove. Called his best friend from a motel with a swimming pool. I don’t know if I can go on. Everybody thinks that, his best friend said.
He had a wife and soem kids. With every state line they became more like lace drapes in a window, with every state line he had to remind himself to miss them. He didn’t know how hard it could get.
In New Mexico the clouds had stretched across the sky like blown sugar. In Oklahoma he poured a jug of water into his engine. He pretended his car was a great paintbrush, that he was leaving a black creek behind him.
He watched the news, the free movie, the scrambled porn channel oil painting, turned the volume up just to hear the uh, to hear the oh, to hear the yeah, you like it.
The nights were fine. They were dark, they were the bottom of something. At twilight he pressed his stomach into the railing outside his room, swallowed what he was missing into the watered-down sky.
At a Golden Griddle in Alabama he met a woman at the counter. Bought her a cup of coffee and watched her stir it one way and then the other. She pressed her finger into some spilled sugar, told him she was missing the part of her tongue that recognized sweet. At that, his eyes filled.
Back in his room she stood at the foot of the bed and undressed. Her thighs were toned, bits of pubic hair peeked out the sides of her underwear. She bent, crawled up the bed, straddled him. The air conditioning kicked on, light came through the windows lazily, he thought of his middle daughter holding something up, saying Can you open it? He fucked the woman, those were the words he used when confessing to his best friend three days later. He didn’t tell his friend about the scar he found over her heart, a scar that had teeth, didn’t tell his friend that she asked for money and he gave her everything in his wallet, that he’d asked to braid her long black hair and she’d laughed at him and walked out and left the door wide open, him on the bed naked and sweating and empty every which way there was to be.
He kept driving. Veered toward the Gulf and rented a room a block from the beach. Kept his shoes on as he waded into the water for fear of jellyfish. It felt natural to be pulled by the tide, to be tempted to let it take him, and then for the tide to finally let go and push the other way. He stood like that for some time, dipping in his fingertips at one point and tasting the salt. He saw a shark’s fin on the horizon and it wasn’t until later that he realised it was probably just a sailboat.
On the way back to his room a teenaged boy said Hey man, you got any change? and then, You want a date? He brought the boy back to his room, sat on the bed and waited while the boy went into the bathroom, locked the door, turned on the water. He put the TV on, some kind of soap opera, interrupted by a weather report hinting at a tropical storm in the next day or so. The bathroom door opened and the boy walked out, wet hair, no shirt, drips of water running down his neck, hands shaking. His heart filled and he stood up, put his hands on the boy’s shoulders to try to calm him. Don’t worry, he started to say, and the boy punched him in the sternum. It wasn’t a hard punch, but he guessed that it was supposed to be enough to knock him down, so he played along, landing on his stomach, clutching at his chest, moaning, trying for breath. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty, held it in the air like a small green flag. The boy took it, backed away from him, called him a pervert and then a motherfucker and then a perverted motherfucker, opened the door so hard that it slammed into the wall. He could hear the boy’s boots on the metal steps outside, then as they ran across the parking lot. Only then did he push himself up onto his knees, wipe the carpet bits from his face. The weather report was showing an animation of the tropical storm growing until it covered half the state. The weatherman assured him that it wasn’t a definite, but that he had to be prepared.
He sat on the bed for a while, watching families walk by his open door with towels and snorkels and baggies of sandwiches and cookies, looking in at him and then looking quickly away. He walked to the 7-Eleven on the corner, bought a pint of rocky road and a couple of MoonPies. On the way back to the motel the sun was an orange yolk sliding down the sky. He forced himself to look into it, but after a short time had to look away.
Back in his room he thought for a second about hanging himself from the shower rod. Ate both the MoonPies and started on the ice cream, turned on the evening news. Someone had been abducted, a small girl with saucer eyes and messy hair. In the morning he’d drive north, make another state, maybe two. He finished the ice cream in four large spoonfuls. It slid down his throat and iced his heart. He pulled the covers up to his belly, wondered what he could leave of himself behind and all he could do without, thought of how his wife often had lipstick on her teeth, how it made her look like she’d just bitten into something alive, something that bled. At a commercial break he picked up the phone, dialed home, hung up when he heard his daughter’s voice, small and distant, singing Hello, Hello, Are you there?