Friday, February 13, 2009

Nick Elder

andy
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A few years ago, your wife left you because, according to her, you’d become a “fat ass slob.” At first, you thought it was just the beginning of another of the many arguments you’d been having, where she’d start by insulting you, and then ream you for everything in the world; the dog shit on the floor, the laundry, the fact that she still wasn’t pregnant, despite the two of you not having sex in months. In short, everything from the astronomical inflation of lipstick to global warming would be, according to her, your fault. It was just the way things had been. And so you didn’t think anything of her insult or of her stuffing clothes into your old pleather suitcase. This kind of thing was normal. This kind of thing happened. She’ll be back, you assured yourself when she stomped out the door. But then things took a turn for the worse. You looked out the window and saw that the bottom of her favorite green dress seemed to be waving goodbye to you from the corner of your suitcase.
............You knew this meant she was gone.
............You knew this meant the end of “happily ever after.”



Now, three years later, you find yourself in a similar situation, only this time, it’s not that snooty little pre-Madonna. No, this time its Sally. Lovely Sally White, the girl who loved you, who still loves you, but just told you all teary-eyed and white with fright that, “There are things about me you don’t know. Things that would break your heart. I think it’s best that I go now.”
............This was sudden.
............This was unexpected.
............Things had reached a point. A good point. A point that led you to believe that it was time that you cut the shit with the “I need my own space at night” routine, and asked her to stay over.
............This…this whole her telling you that there were things you didn’t know and running out the door towards her rusty old Buick wasn’t the response you had in mind. You’d envisioned candle light flickering off her skin white as snow, entanglement of fingers in her ebony locks—you’d envisioned entanglement of other sorts as well.
............You hadn’t however, envisioned this.
.

You don’t want things between the two of you to end, especially not like this, so you run. You run after her. You run after her to her car, where she sits tear-streaked and fumbling for her keys. You knock softly upon her window, you speak gently, you speak charmingly. “Sally. Sally please don’t go,” you say. “There’s nothing you could tell me that would make me want you to go.” And it’s true. It’s true not because you think you couldn’t love someone else, but because you know you couldn’t find someone else with skin so white, hair so ebony.
.
“I can’t keep this from you anymore. This secret. This curse,” she says. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, I just haven’t figured out a way.”
“I’m sure we can talk this out,” you say. “Come on Sally, get out of the car. Please, can you do that for me?”
.
She finally gets out and she hugs you so tight you could swear you feel your belt buckle push up against your spine. And then her tears really start coming—they come in big waves that soak through your shirt, as she tells you that this thing, this thing she has to tell you, has really been the proverbial monkey on her back. She knows you’ll scream at her, you’ll tell her to get the fuck out of your life, but she has to tell you anyway.
.
You wish she’d just come out with it already. You’ve been around women enough at this point in your life to know that these “secrets” usually aren’t all that surprising anyway. They usually involve another man, or men and their respective sexual organs. If it’s a really “bad secret,” as Sally’s tears seem to indicate, it could possibly involve a whole heard of men, or even a goat. Even if…you probably still wouldn’t want her to go.
.
“If you tell me, you won’t feel so bad. Just let it out,” you say.
.............She almost stops crying.
.............Almost lets the proverbial monkey off her back.
“Is it your roommates? Did you sleep with one of them?” you ask.
............She doesn’t answer.
.
“All seven?...Which one was it? Harry? Barry? Jack? John? Lenny? Lou?...Frank?
............She still doesn’t answer.
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She presses her face into your chest and wipes her eyes on your shirt. Now there is this outline of her face in the middle of your chest that you’ll have to carry around until you do laundry in the morning. Finally, she speaks. She asks, “What if I told you that late at night I turn into a heavy, foul-mouthed, old woman who drinks heavily and drives a truck? A woman who drives a truck and chases other women. Would you still want me to stay over tonight?”
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............You tell her of course you would.
............It’s not like you have a choice.
............It’s not like this isn’t make-believe.
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You start to ask her what the real secret is, but before you can, she wraps her arms, white as snow, around your neck and kisses you hard on the lips. She kisses you so hard, that you have to pull away. When you do, you notice three little drops of blood running from her lips down her little white chin. She looks at you and you can tell she’s just melting inside. You’ve passed her test. You’ve proven you really care. She wraps her arms around you again, and the two of you can’t take it anymore. You rip your clothes off and go at it right there on top of her rusty old Buick, right in front of the neighbors.
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Afterwards, you lay there on top of the hood staring at her skin gleaming in the moonlight and you stroke her ebony locks. She sighs, feeling a little relieved and tells you, “If anyone can love me for the way I am, it’s you.” You get a little teary- eyed, and then you feel bad for getting teary-eyed, for being so sensitive.

............You go inside.
............You go to bed, together.

.
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A few hours later a terrible crash startles you from your sleep. You reach across the bed desperately searching for Sally. You want to prove to her that you’re here. That you’ll protect her…But she’s nowhere to be found.
“Son of a bitch that stung,” yells this raspy southern voice, and then you hear this somebody toss pieces of glass into a pile at the other side of the bed. You turn the light on your nightstand on, and then you see it— you see this woman—this old, wrinkly woman—this old, wrinkly and naked woman with a crew cut staring at you. She’s holding the fragments of a picture frame in her hands.

............She smiles at you.
............She smiles at you and drops the frame.
............She drops the frame and extends her hand.

.

“Name’s Sandy White,” she says. She notices the horrified expression on your face as you grip her calloused hand. “Don’t worry honey, I’m as shocked as you are. I must’a been real good and tuned if I came home with you. Not that you ain’t cute. I’m just not real into the boys if you know what I mean,” she adds and winks. “Now could you be so kind as to hand me those underpants by your pillow there?”
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You hand her the underwear. You don’t know what else to do. You’re utterly spellbound, utterly horrified. She pulls the giant panties up over her waist and then grabs a pair of jeans, a dirty old hat, and a flannel shirt off the floor. She tips her hat to you before she lumbers downstairs towards the living room looking for her “no good, god-damned keys.” You follow her, still not sure what to think. You want to know who the hell she is and how she got in your bed. When you ask, she tells you she agrees that this was a mistake, and she wishes she could help you, but that she just doesn’t have the best memory after she gets to drinking too much. She adjusts her sagging breasts and pats her pocket, as if this might make her keys magically appear.
............At this point you’re willing to believe anything is possible.
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“I can’t seem to find my god-damned keys,” she says. “Guess you’re taking me to the shop to fetch a spare.” You can no longer think. All logic has left the building, has left you standing naked in the living room scratching your head like some sort of caveman. She gets tired of watching you stand there. She tells you to cover that god-damned thing up with a sock, and grab a pair of shoes because she’s got loads to deliver.
............You grab your keys.
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It takes a while to maneuver around the mysterious sparkling white semi in the driveway, but eventually you make it. Sandy laughs hysterically the whole time and tells you you’re the worst driver she’s ever seen, that she hopes you drove your big-rig better than your car, if not, it’s a good thing she doesn’t remember. You’d normally think of something witty to say in a situation like this, but then again, there really aren’t situations like this, situations similar to having your girlfriend seemingly morph into an old, lesbian truck driver.
............You throw the car in gear.
............You throw the car in gear, and head toward Sandy’s shop.
.
Fifty Miles, three cigarettes and five passin’s of Sandy’s flask later, Sandy tells you to turn onto a dark and nearly grown-over dirt road. You begin to speculate about your future, as in, the distinct possibility that your about to be lacking one. You tell Sandy the road is too grown-over, your car will never make it through; you’ll get stuck. “Bullshit,” she says, taking another swig from her flask. She tells you to give it hell and when you fail to respond, she stomps your foot on the gas pedal for you. The car takes off, it accelerates, it accelerates at a rate that far exceeds its four cylinder capabilities. You’re no longer driving, the car is driving itself, steering its way through impossibly tight spaces, around trees as tall as houses, over roots resembling hands reaching towards your door. And then…the roaring engine falls silent, returns to its natural put-putting, and you somehow emerge onto a newly paved driveway. In the distance, a million watt sign flashes NAPA AUTO PARTS in painful neon spurts.
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“There she is,” says Sandy. “Pull on up around back. I’ll make this quick.”
.

............You pull around back.
............You pull around back and check your shorts,
............You check your shorts and follow Sandy,
............You follow Sandy like a scared child.
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Inside the shop, the smell of diesel fuel and fuel injection cleaner permeates everything. It’s as if the place has formed its own variation of the Earth’s troposphere. Sandy rummages through a giant red toolbox and curses the many “god-damned, mother- fucking whatcha callits,” while you take a look around. There are seven little red toolboxes lined up next to Sandy’s. They look like ¼ scale models of the real deal, only they’re neat and orderly; Sandy’s is messy and covered with pornographic images. You smile when you see Miss January, 1974. She was your favorite when you were a kid rummaging through your Dad’s private drawer.
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After several minutes it occurs to you that you and Sandy are not alone in the shop. The whole time you’ve been here, there’s been the unmistakable clanging and banging of ratchets and torque wrenches coming from behind you, but the combination of the shop’s tropospheric composition of diesel fuel and the general shock associated with one’s girlfriend morphing into an old truck driving alcoholic has numbed your senses to say the least. It’s okay though, there’s been no permanent damage to your psyche, at least none associated with the composition of the air you’ve been breathing. Your reactions are just a little slower, a little surreal. But now the banging and clanging are registering clearly in your temporal lobes thanks to an as yet undamaged primary auditory cortex. You hear them clearly, the tools, the men singing in their singsong fashion.
.
............You hear them singing.
............You hear them singing Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho,
............It’s off the hubcaps go.
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You turn around hoping to glimpse the faces of this chorus, but all you see is seven little pairs of red shoes, seven little sets of legs, hanging out from under seven giant semis. The seven little sets of red shoes sway to the rhythm of their seven little voices.
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“Ah fuck it, I guess we’ll have to hotwire her,” yells Sandy, throwing her last wrench on the floor. “Just take me on back to your place,” she says, and then she yells towards the seven little sets of shoes, “Alright boys, me and this fella’s outta here. I’ll see ya’ll later.”
.
............Seven little voices fall silent.
............Seven little ratchets and torque wrenches
............Fall to the floor.
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On the way back to your place Sandy scans her delivery chart. Aside from the four pallets of non perishable food, nothing is urgent, nothing is required to be delivered before sunup. She and the seven little sets of red shoes apparently put in overtime last week thanks to daylight savings. She looks at her watch and sees it’s only two. She suggests you catch a bite to eat at Denny’s. She’ll buy, she says. Gas doesn’t grow on trees after all. Besides, she feels bad about you feeling bad for sleeping with her. She smiles sweetly at you. She smiles so sweetly, you could almost swear she was little Sally White again.
.
............You know you’ve seen those little red shoes before.
............You’ve seen them.
............You know you have
............But where?
.
Everyone at Denny’s knows Sandy. You can tell for some people this is a good thing-like the pretty waitresses, and the older Strippers who were sent home early. For others it’s a bad thing. It’s an especially bad thing for the men with the strippers, the ones who’ve made the mistake of raising a hand to them when Sandy’s around. Sandy waves. The strippers wave back and smile so big that their makeup masks begin to crack and reveal the signs of aging and abuse. The men stare firmly at their Grand Slams.
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Stan, the third shift manager, comes thru the swinging kitchen doors with a giant grin on his face. He tucks his shirt in and adjusts his tie. Then he hugs Sandy. He thanks her for taking care of that skirmish between the aging and young factions of strippers last night. He thanks her for reestablishing equanimity. He asks her what she’d like “on the house.”
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“No need for thanks Stan,” says Sandy. “But since you offered, I’ll have the usual. My friend here strikes me as the Ultimate Omelet type. Grits instead of hash browns.” You nod approvingly. You compile a list of evidence on your napkin suggesting Sandy is indeed Sally, that this isn’t in fact, some sick joke. The list looks something like this…

............Reasons Sandy Must Be Sally

............1. Sandy smokes. Sally too smokes.
............2. Both their smiles give me butterflies. Is this strange?
............3. Sally-seven roommates. Sandy-seven coworkers.
............4. Both order for me, and get it right.
............5. Sandy likes women. Sally is
................a woman.
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Between big yolk-soaked bites Sandy asks you about the picture beside your bed. The picture in the frame she broke. The picture she’s pulling out of her pocket with the hand she’s not stuffing her face with. You tell her it’s Sally. Sally White. The girl you love. The girl you wish you were here with right now. You also tell her it’s kind of fucked up that she steals pictures off of stranger’s nightstands. She apologizes and slides the picture across the table towards you. She tells you she took it so she could have it reframed for you. She knows a guy who does custom frames, and obviously this girl is very important to you. Yes, you tell her. She is. You also tell her it was thoughtful. The intent to reframe, not the stealing of your picture.
.
The Ultimate Omelet, and Sally’s flask hit your gut just right. You feel good. You feel whole. You feel chatty. The two of you talk about Sally, about the way she makes you feel, about how she’s the first woman you thought you could trust with your heart since your ex-wife left you, but that after tonight, you’re not sure, things have become complicated. How so? she asks. It’s like she’s a different woman all together sometimes you tell her. “We’re all like that. Even me,” she says, and she smiles at you just like Sally. Just like Sally White, and you want to peel off her greasy hat, run your hands through her crew cut, and kiss her hard on her withered red lips.
.
............You kiss her.
............You kiss her so hard her lips bleed,
............Three little drops fall on her chin.
.
“Well hot damn! That was about enough to make me straight. Just about,” she says, and she laughs. Everyone in Denny’s laughs, you included. You laugh so hard it hurts. Sandy pats you on the back laughing just as hard, and passes you her flask. You talk about failed loves, failed expectations. Sandy tells you that when she was younger she wanted to be a beauty queen, or a princess, but that she never felt right in a dress. She tells you that late at night she would sneak down into her father’s garage and make a tiara of his air filter, a scepter of his wrench. When he found her, he would cry and say, “You can be a princess in the morning Sweetpea.” You add Sandy and Sally’s shared nickname to your list.
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It’s three thirty when you finally leave Denny’s. Sandy tells you she had a great time. She tells you Sally’s a lucky girl. If all guys were like you, there might be less girls like her that hate men. You tell her she’s just drunk. It’s just the rum talking. She agrees she’s drunk, but says, “It ain’t the rum talking honey. Come on, take me to my truck. I got those pallets of food to deliver before sunup.”
.
............You drive Sally back to her sparkling-white
............truck.
............She sings. She sings-Heigh-ho,
............Heigh-ho
............It’s off to mother fucking work I go,
............I go.
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“Touch the green wire to the white one,” says Sandy. She’s having you hotwire the truck. She’s having you hotwire the truck because she’s too drunk to do it herself. She’s also too drunk to drive, but that isn’t going to stop her. She says she’s seen you drive, and you’re pathetic. “If you can’t fuckin’ control four wheels,” she says, “how are ya going to control eighteen.” You touch the green wire to the white wire. The semi pings and pangs to life. Sally tells you nice work, you might be useful after all, and she pats you on the back in that loving way of hers. She pats you on the back and throws the truck in gear.
.
The whole way to the Piggly Wiggly you and Sandy sing along with her Credence cassette at top volume. She toots her horn to the rhythm of Susie Q while you play air guitar and turn the dash into a snare drum. When the A side of the tape ends, you tell her that for Christmas you’re getting her a CD player or an IPod because it’s time to get out of the eighties. She says, “Fuck your CD’s, I like my cassettes just fine. Now stop yakking and sing dear.”
.
.............You sing.
.............You sing till it hurts.
.............Till it hurts enough
.............That you know you’re still alive.
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When you finally get to the Piggly Wiggly, it’s four-thirty. Sandy is concerned by this. She says she can’t get back to the shop later than five. Frank, her boss, forbids it. “He’s not a mean guy, real sweet in fact,” she says. “He and the other guys just worry about me. They like me to be home and in bed before sunup They know if I’m not, I’ll just pass out where I stand.
............You know now where you’ve seen those little red shoes.
............You know now why Sally never had a problem with your
............not wanting her to stay overnight.
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It’s four fifty when you and Sandy finish unloading the truck. The produce manager is not happy. He tells Sandy he’s considering switching shipping companies. She tells him to blow it out his ass. She and her new partner here are faster than anybody else he can find so he can shut his god-damn mouth. The produce manager drops his clipboard. He drops his mouth further. You tell him not to worry. These things happen when you’re dealing with Sandy. You hand him the order. He signs, and you and Sandy head back to the truck high-fiving and passing her flask.. It’s nearly five when you hop in the cab.
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When she gets up in the truck, Sandy tells you she’s not feeling so well. She tells you she hates to do it, but she has to let you drive her home; she might just fall asleep if she doesn’t. You tell her it’s probably just the alcohol. She says, “I don’t think it’s that. I just get this way every mornin’ and I can’t put my finger on it.” You tell her to relax. You know where to take her.
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You slide into the driver’s seat, and Sandy crawls back into the sleeper cab. She tells you if you hurt her baby, she’ll beat the piss out of you. You laugh nervously and grab the wheel with one hand and the shifter with the other. At first you grind the gears a bit and Sandy growls in her sleep, but after awhile, you get the hang of things. You even start to sing Sandy’s little song.
.
............Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho
............It’s off to mother fucking work I go.
............I go.
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The sky begins to turn a lighter shade of blue and the moon becomes less pronounced as you make a wide right-hand turn into your neighborhood. You hear Sandy groan in her sleep when you catch the curb with your rear wheels. You ease the truck back onto the pavement. You’ve never seen your neighborhood at this hour. It’s beautiful. Everything’s stock-still. In an hour, the birds will begin to chirp, the coffee makers will churn, and the sun’s rays will begin to break over the horizon and dance on the truck’s sparkling white hood. But for now, it’s just you and Sandy navigating through this deathly still landscape. You tell yourself you could get used to this. ..
.
When you get to your house, you notice a little blue and yellow work van in the driveway. You park in the middle of the street and check on Sandy. She’s out cold.
You throw her over your shoulder and stumble up the drive. You head inside to deal with the seven sets of red shoes.
.
When you walk into the kitchen you see them. You see Harry, Barry, Jack, John, Lenny, Lou, and Frank. They’re all drinking little thimbles-full of your best scotch, well, all except Lou; he’s already passed out naked in the pantry. They’re all drinking your best scotch and singing in that sing-song way of theirs. They’re singing…
.
............Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho
............It’s down the bottle goes
............When the drip drip hits your lips
............It’s time to show some nips.
............Hi-ho Hi-ho.
..
You ask them, What the hell is the meaning of all this? Don’t you know a locked door means do not enter? You also ask them if they have any idea what they just drank. Frank tells you, “Yes, we drank your Dalmore 62 Single Highland Malt Scotch, and that’s no way to talk to your guests.” You tell him, they’re not your guests. Lou stumbles out of the pantry and urinates in the refrigerator.
..
“We noticed someone wasn’t sleeping in their bed,” says Harry.
“We noticed someone wasn’t at the shop by five,” says Frank, pointing at Sandy passed out on your shoulder. “We were worried.”
..
“She was fine. She was with me,” you say.
..
“We were so worried,” say all seven sets of red shoes, even Lou. Frank, who’s always struck you as the tough-guy out of all seven roommates, gets a little teary eyed. He tells you he’s so glad she’s okay. He’s so glad you understand. He asks you to sit down so he can explain the details, and offers you the last shot of your Dalmore 62.
.
............You tell them to wait.
............You tell them to wait and,
............You Lay Sandy on the couch.
.
You pull a stool up to the table and take your shot. You take your shot and tell Frank you’re all ears. Fire away.
.
Frank tells you that this whole Sally/Sandy morphing thing is the result of some curse Sally’s great, great, great grandmother’s stepmother put on her when she was a little girl. On the distant grandmother, not Sally. Sally just had the misfortune of inheriting this awful thing at birth. “She also inherited a house in the woods, and all seven of us,” says Frank. “We were supposed to be her servants, but she didn’t think it was fair to boss us around. So we just make sure she’s okay now. We love her. She’s like family. Like a pretty sister, and an over-protective lesbian sister all in one. It’s nice.” You ask Frank a series of questions, like—how is it Sally knows about Sandy, but Sandy doesn’t seem to know about Sally? And why does her Buick change into a Semi; couldn’t there just be two vehicles? He tells you it’s complicated. It’s a mix of repressed emotions and magical realism that, when it comes down to it, you either accept or you don’t.
.

............You find this answer to be sufficient.
............It’s not like you have a choice.
............It’s not like the woman morphing on your couch
............as you and frank speak
............isn’t
............evidence enough.
.
You excuse yourself from the table.
.
As you approach the couch, you notice the beams of sunlight dancing across the horizon, fragmenting off the Buick’s rusty hood thru the window—they’re illuminating the steadily disappearing wrinkles in her skin white as snow, accenting the transformation of her tightly trimmed locks to long flowing ebony stands while the two of them lay as one on the couch before you, a wonderful juxtaposition of brashness and beauty. You look at them and you realize you love them. You love them both.
.

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About Me

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I write short stories and essays. I have published over one hundred stories, essays, and flash fictions or nonfictions in magazines or anthologies, as well as a novel, Jack's Universe, and a collection of stories, Private Acts. I grew up in a military family, so I'm not from anywhere in particular except probably Akron, where I've lived for forty years. Before I came here, I never lived anywhere longer than three years.