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By Cris Mazza
Black Ice BooksCopyright © 1993 Cris Mazza
All rights reserved.
GUYS WITH TRUCKS IN TEXAS AND CALIFORNIA
The way people treat animals shows you what kind of place it is. In California in the 19th century or early 20th, ranchers devised a round-the-campfire entertainment by chaining a bear to a tree and making it fight with a long-horned bull. That's California for you. Even a farmer in someplace like North Dakota wouldn't treat a dirty pig like that. Why'd they ever leave Connecticut to move here, and how'd her elegant brother manage to end up a dentist in Texas, both of them stuck in places where there're lots of guys who drive trucks, the kind of people who dump kittens on the side of the road.
On the hottest day of the year in San Diego, it was also a hot day in Texas (but it wasn't breaking any records). A guy chained an adult cougar in his pick-up truck, parked outside in direct sun. No one knows where the guy went, maybe those saloons with mechanical horses are still popular. Witnesses said the animal was leaping about desperately because the metal truckbed was like a hot griddle, then the cat jumped out of the truck and strangled itself on its chain. The owner, when notified, laughed and said, "Anyone need a rug?"
Meanwhile back in California, there's a new law in San Diego. You can't let a dog ride loose in the back of a pick-up truck. They can't quite justify making a law purely for an animal's sake, so they say it's a hazard to general safety when a dog bounces out of a truck on the freeway, hitting other cars and causing related havoc. So you have to tie the dog in the truck. The publicity campaign showed a dog with a shoulder harness and straps that fastened him to both sides of the truck. But the law just says the dog must be tied, so you know how they're going to tie them (if they even bother to do anything). People who have trucks are only going to have Dobermans or Doberman-mixes, Labs or Lab-mixes, German Shepherds or related mixes. Nothing small, nothing dainty, nothing cute, nothing with a high-pitched voice. If they aren't dog enough to ride loose in the back of a truck, what goddamn use are they? That's how you talk while riding in a truck. Have you ever seen a poodle in the back of a truck? If you wanted to have an attack-trained dog, wouldn't a poodle make a lot more sense? The surprise element. The dog'll be surprised all right, when it's bounced out of the truck and doesn't even have a fighting chance to land on its feet because the truck's still doing 65 or 70 and that beautiful black collar with silver studs breaks the dog's neck or drags it along the pavement, like the desperados did to the sheriff, behind their horses, in lawless Texas. But it's not a hazard for other motorists. When Glenda rode loose in the back yesterday, it was different because she was under a pile of tarps. Probably painter's tarps. That's what they smelled like. She was tied, but not to anything. He hasn't said where they're going and she hasn't asked, but she can see the signs that say east, and Texas is east of California. In Texas, her brother also has a truck. But that doesn't really count because he lives in a luxury apartment and grows herbs in a planter box and doesn't have a dog. She's been having a lot of time to think about stuff like this.
* * *
This is one of those trucks where the bumper is at eye level with other drivers — because the tires are so big. Huge tractor tires but the same economy truck body, and, of course, a black metallic roll bar behind the cab with shiny silver lights mounted on top. There's always going to be one parked at any all-night grocery — the guy's inside getting cigs and a burrito, his dog waiting in the back of the truck. But she waits inside the cab and he brings potato chips or a soda. She asked for cheese and an apple. That's what she craves. Everyone's going to notice how wrong she looks — she doesn't look like the girls who are sometimes with the guys whose trucks have big tires. They have long dirty-blond unsilky hair, the slightest hint of frizz, gum chewers, and if they wear any make-up it's just on their eyes and they never put it on very well, sometimes making a dark line of mascara under each eye so their eyes look upside-down. They follow the guy into an auto parts store or hardware store or the all-night grocery, and they scuff their feet because they're wearing plastic thongs or house slippers, and because it's almost always warm in California they wear their tube-tops or spaghetti-strap blouses year-round. That's probably why he doesn't want her to get out of the truck since she put on low-heeled leather sandals before they left, and a satin mini shirt-dress with a picture of Beethoven which she bought for over $100 at a charity auction. Looks bad in a truck. But she told him — when he slowed up beside her, just as she was leaving her bank's automatic teller machine, and asked if she wanted a lift — she said, "I don't do trucks." He went around the block and slowed up again. Second time around is when she noticed his pit bull in the back of the truck, tongue to his knees, eyes glassy. She said, "Your dog needs a drink." He said "So do I," so he followed her home where first of all she filled a big bowl of water for the pit bull who slept in the shade on her condo's balcony while she was wrestled to the bed. But what about when the pit bull wakes up and is hungry or uses up the water? He could've just as easily taken the dog with them.
* * *
It's going to be okay as soon as they get to Texas because that's where her brother Olin is, filling teeth and adjusting braces, fitting dentures. He could've been a dentist anywhere, why Texas? This guy, what's'z'name, doesn't even know what kind of fuss is going to be kicked up when he shows up with her in Texas. If he had known, he might've chosen to go north to Canada or south to Mexico, both places where a truck with big tires is as obvious as a neon sign advertising "Please don't trust me," or "Please rob me." He probably thought Texas is safer for him, but he doesn't know about Olin. First time in her life she can be thankful that beautiful, genteel Olin moved to doltish Texas. Why should she bother to try an escape now when a much more satisfying rescue is imminent. Not that there'll be a struggle or fight or showdown — Olin won't degrade himself by messing with this guy. You don't fight with a coyote to get him to give up his toy, you just go take the toy, that's that, just open the truck door, pick her up like a precious doll and say, "Come on, Mouse, time to go home." Would that finally mean home to Connecticut? In California no one knows her as Mousey. Can you imagine a modeling agency taking on someone named Mouse? Why Mouse? She never asked him. Maybe for her mousey brown hair She changed that. Maybe because she was always so quiet. Just being polite. If he'd moved to California with them he might've had to start calling her Glenda, when it became obvious she was certainly no longer a mouse, but he hadn't lived at home since she was eight. Naturally she's had a lot of time to plan this long-overdue reunion with Olin since it seems like there's only cowboy music on the radio, and this guy hardly ever says anything. Olin might not talk much either, but at least he probably has a tape deck so she can listen to classical or light rock. He always liked James Taylor. She couldn't believe it when she saw James Taylor is bald now. And his songs seem boring. The hot wind coming in the truck's window vents made enough noise to drown out the radio until the station was too far away to be reached anymore. She hardly noticed the songs turning into static because there's something she hasn't quite got figured out: How will Olin find her? What if the truck's at a stoplight and Olin's on the sidewalk, or if they're parked at a coffeeshop and Olin stopped there for a newspaper, he might just walk past and not notice her. She might say, "Olin," gently, as he passed, but he still might not notice — she doesn't belong in a truck like this so he wouldn't think to look. It won't be like she's expected, like when he drove his new truck to California for his wedding reception last year. He'd married a Texan, maybe it was her idea for him to get a truck. Then with her dripping, drawling accent, she said, "Oh, from what Olin mentioned, I didn't know you'd be so grown up, dear." You don't tell someone who's 22 and a professional model that they're grown up. Maybe you'd say sophisticated or stylish or mature or independent. That's what Olin could've called her, if they'd had a chance to be alone so she could make it all obvious. She almost had a chance to go with him to the drugstore one evening, but Dad decided to go. She was already standing beside the truck, waiting for Olin. Not an economy truck: his has tweed bucket seats and custom teak interior and he uses it to take his wind-surf board to the lake. She'd look more than all right in Olin's truck. They used to look like each other, almost like twins, at least their baby pictures did, but nobody mentioned it during the reception. She'd gotten a new haircut and style for the occasion, but how was Olin to know it was any different from what it had been. Know what he noticed? Her ankles. She was playing with the cat on the floor beside his chair where he was reading or watching television or talking to their dad. All of a sudden he grabs her ankle and tells her it's too fat and should be slender, like Suzy's. Glenda was a fashion model and what was Suzy — she doesn't even know what Suzy was. They never had that sister-to-sister talk Suzy thought would be so good for her when she finally told them the lost truck key was on the bottom of the aquarium at her condo. But Olin will have to notice, and know something's amiss, when he sees his chic little sister in a truck with this guy. The guy's been calling her by her name, but she doesn't know his. She hasn't inquired. After he asked for her name, he said, "Don't you want to know mine?" She didn't answer. A few minutes later she said, "I'll call you Duke or Butch or Rover or Spike." He thought that was funny enough for a smack in the mouth. But since then started calling her Glennie. Nobody's ever called her that before. People who tie your wrists together shouldn't call you Glennie.
* * *
After they spend twenty years convincing you it's romance at its highest form to lie under the stars with a man, and maybe you even put luminescent stars on your bedroom ceiling, you find out that you have to sleep on your stomach because your hands are tied, and you drool all over the tarps you're using as a bed because if you breathe through your nose you'll be asphyxiated by the paint smell. And how about when Olin finds out about this: in the middle of the night he groans as though still asleep, but climbs on and takes you from the rear. Maybe wolves do it that way, but wolves don't make such a mess. He gently cleaned her afterwards with a wash-n-dry.
There was no one for miles, so she screamed at him, "Last night you wouldn't let me wash my face and you've had wash-n-drys all the time?"
"I just got 'em," he said, "when you made such a stink about your goddamn face. Shit, I thought you'd thank me, not crawl all over my ass."
Why should she dignify that with an answer.
* * *
Twenty miles since the last gas pump, thirty miles before the next one, all of a sudden he has something to say.
"How come you haven't once started bawling?"
"People don't bawl, they weep."
"What're you talking about? How come you never cry?"
What if she did, and he wanted to comfort her? Sometimes it's easier to ignore a question than answer it.
* * *
There was this gas station man with oily hair and a face like a weasel, skinniest face she'd ever seen. He stared at her while putting gas in the truck. It was a huge truck stop, about ten lanes with pumps, six and eight-wheelers huffing and puffing, everything covered with a visible layer of grease or grime or black exhaust. She hadn't even known what's'z'name was leaning on the bumper beside her, until he coughed and said, "Think we can find any fresh air around here? I'll share it with ya." Since when do guys with trucks concern themselves with air? She couldn't think of anything to say, unless she'd suggested he use a wash-n-dry as an air filter over his nose and mouth. But the weasel-faced man was there to get his money. She asked where the restroom was. "Think you can foller this?" the man said, "through that yaller door there, to yer right, down a long hall, then to yer left," then with an elbow jabbed what's'z'name in the ribs, winked and chuckled, "wimmin folk, eh? Trust her not to git herself lost?"
If she was the type, she might've put a knee in his balls. Instead, hands on hips, faced him eye-to-eye, but his kept shifting away. "And I suppose you think I can't balance my own checkbook, buy my own insurance, or decide for myself who and who not to bring home for a drink —"
The weasel-faced man put his hands up in surrender, still laughing. He had horrible yellow-brown teeth and breath like something had died in his mouth. Maybe she wouldn't've even cared at all, except for how Suzy held Olin's arm like the edge of a life raft and told their mother she'd done such a good job raising a real feminist man. She wasn't finished telling the weasel off, had only paused for breath, but what's'z'name touched her shoulder and said, "S'okay, go on, I'll wait here."
She did get lost — had to ask someone else for directions because she'd forgotten what the weasel had said — and when she got back to the truck found a Tootsie-pop on her seat. He had one in his own mouth too, a bulge in his cheek like a squirrel saving nuts.
* * *
Probably from now on she'll think air's supposed to smell like a painter's tarp. And he held onto her all night like she was going to get up and go somewhere. Bottom of the truck is lined with ridges so she woke with that groggy stumpy feeling, you push your feet ahead of you on the way to the bathroom instead of lifting them. The bathroom: a rest stop and they only have cold water. He pulled the tarp off her face, her eyes still shut, he whispered, "God, you're pretty this morning." Laughing would've been such an effort. But there were plenty of times it would've been true if someone wanted to say so, instead of, at most, messing up her hair and calling her Mouse. Morning, Mousey. You know what a mouse is? Something they torture in labs. Well, you come out of a restroom at some barren rest stop, no one calls you mouse. He waited by the truck. Trusted her to walk all the way from the bathroom by herself. Can't even see the marks on her wrists anymore, where he used to tie her. If it's been so long, why aren't they in Texas yet? A truck meant for backroads takes the backroads. Her brother's honeymoon was to San Simeon, the Hearst Castle, never would've made it if she'd gone ahead and put the sugar in the gas tank.
* * *
Is the Southwest really a desolate wasteland dotted with reststops, overnight campgrounds and truckers' cafes? When he buys candy, she saves it until they can't find any radio stations at all. Maybe it's just that even a lovesick cowboy's out-of-tune yodeling is better than listening to each other breathe. He really doesn't say much. He had a pack of gum and offered a stick of it to her, but he used the gum to tap on her arm to get her attention. She took a stick, then he took a stick. In less than five minutes it was like chewing wood pulp. He took another stick. The pack of gum was sitting on the seat between them, so she took another stick too. Then there was only one stick left.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" she blurted.
"What can I possibly say?" Then he broke the last stick of gum in half and carefully, like building a house of cards, placed one half on her leg.
* * *
Just when you think they're obsolete, you come across one of those mini-zoos, a reptile show beside a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. She was chewing caramel, took the blob out of her mouth and offered it to a tortoise. The goo was hanging from her fingers toward the animal's mouth, but what's'z'name stuck his hand in the way so when she let go, the candy landed in his palm.
"It gums up their innards," he said.
"How about what it does to us?"
Excerpted from Revelation Countdown by Cris Mazza. Copyright © 1993 Cris Mazza. Excerpted by permission of Black Ice Books.
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