The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for December 2018

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.3)

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…continued from yesterday…

Tracy woke to the sound of Linda tearing open packs of plastic plates and cups.  She’d found napkins and plastic knives, forks, and spoons, too. “Why don’t you join us, honey?” she asked Tracy as she set the table.

Tracy wasn’t sure what to say.  Her phone rang. The caller ID read “Mom”.  “I’m not really hungry,” she told Linda as she pressed “ignore” on the screen.

“Nonsense,” she said.  “Have you even eaten today?”

“Yes,” she lied.

Linda walked away and returned a few minutes later with a half-dozen packaged turkey sandwiches that she opened, cut into pieces, and arranged on one of the plastic plates she had set out.  She opened several bottles of water and filled the plastic cups. She then produced a large bag of snack mix and filled several bowls. She had found a few votive candles, too, and lit those with her cigarette lighter.  When she appeared finished with setting up the table, she looked at Tracy and said, “Wait until you see dessert!” She scooted back into the booth, rubbed her hands together, and smiled.

Cuddy reappeared a few minutes later.  His eyes gleamed. He spread his arms out and presented himself.  He beamed widely, and his face was almost like a star on top of a Christmas tree decorated entirely with trucker clothing.  You can actually see his face, Tracy thought. He’d combed his hair and shaved. The scar was like a faint purple line someone drew on his face with a marker.  Linda looked him up and down, winked at Tracy across the table, and asked, “Hey, mister—have you seen our friend? Grubby-looking old scamp. You’d smell him before you saw him.”

A smile cut across Cuddy’s face, and he said to Linda, “I’m sorry, miss, but I think that old scamp is dead or something!”  

“There’s only one thing missing,” Linda said.  She pulled a red Santa hat out from her bag of table settings, scooted out of the booth, and tugged it onto the old man’s head.

The old man felt the white ball on top, and then flicked it with his fingers.  “Let’s eat,” he announced. He sat down next to Linda and across from Tracy. “This looks great, Linda,” he declared.  “And miss,” he said, looking at Tracy, “we’re glad to have you at our Christmas dinner.”

“Oh hush, Cuddy,” Linda told him.  “She ain’t even hungry.”

“I bet she’ll eat,” Cuddy said.

He was right.  Tracy gave in and reached across the table for a piece of sandwich.  Once she got started, she couldn’t believe how hungry she was. The three of them ate in silence until their cache of food was almost gone.  Cuddy finally leaned back in the booth and exhaled. The white ball on top of his Santa hat had sagged forward while they were eating, so he flicked it back over his head again.  He looked at Tracy, searching for something on her face or in her eyes. Tracy felt her face get hot again and looked down at the table. She poured herself more water, and quietly said, “Thank you, mister.”

When she looked up, Cuddy was still looking at her.  He was running his finger along his scar again. Linda looked at the two of them and finally broke the silence.  “Dessert?”

“Yes,” Cuddy said.  “I’ll get coffee.”

Linda came back with a pint of ice cream and a box of chocolates; the old man with three coffees.  He sat down, dug in a pocket in his new jacket, and pulled out a small bottle of whiskey. He poured some of it into his coffee, and then returned the bottle to his pocket.  The three of them ate again in silence until all that was left was their coffee to sip. “That was nice,” the old man said.

“Sure was,” Linda added.  She pointed out the window and said, “Looky there.  Here comes a plow.”

Tracy and Cuddy turned to look and saw a white strobe light flashing on top of a red dump truck.  Snow sprayed out into the shoulder of the road as it rumbled past. It left a trail of salt in its wake.

“I think that means it’s safe to head out,” Cuddy said.

“Sure does,” Linda added.  “I’m going home.”

“I’m supposed to be at my son’s anyhow,” the old man said.  “Guess I can bring some presents, too. They have some nice looking toy trucks on the shelves here.  Think I’ll check them out.”

Tracy felt her face get hot again, hotter than it had been since she arrived.  She reached for her cigarettes and tapped one out of the pack. She got up without saying a word and walked briskly out the front door and around back.  She smoked a cigarette, and then another as she watched snow blow off the roof of the truck stop. It was quiet except for the sound of her heartbeat in her ears.  She looked at her phone again and thought about calling her mother back, but what good would that do? The sun would rise on Christmas morning, and she’d still be at Fuel Town.  She ran her fingernail along her thumb again until she felt the groove she’d worn into the flesh. The spot was still tender to the touch, but she dug her nail in anyhow and worked it until she felt blood on her fingertip.  She allowed herself to cry, finally, and felt hot tears chill on her cheeks in the winter air. Before long, her nose was running.

She heard snow crunching around the corner of the building, and a few seconds later Linda appeared.  She approached Tracy, took her chin in her hand, and said, “There’s a cab here, dear.”

“You’re leaving?” Tracy asked.

“We’re leaving,” Linda said.  She registered the confused look on Tracy’s face, and explained.  “Cuddy left money for us to get where we need to be. That’s just a few blocks for me.  It’ll be longer for you, of course.”

She took Tracy’s hand and walked her back into the truck stop and to the bathrooms.  She ran the water in a sink until it was hot, wet some paper towels, and gently dabbed Tracy’s face.  “I’m just gonna wipe the stress off, dear. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better.”

Tracy stood still and closed her eyes, trying to remember the last time someone took care of her.  The memory didn’t come, but she let her mind go blank. The water was warm on her face; Linda’s touch gentle.  When she opened her eyes, Linda was smiling at her. She smiled back.

“I knew you had one of those,” Linda said.  “It looks beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Tracy said.  She took Linda’s hands in hers and squeezed them.

“Are you ready to leave?” Linda asked.

“I am,” Tracy said and let Linda lead her to the cab.

They walked through the truck stop and past the cashier, told him good night and Merry Christmas, and made it to the cab.  As soon as they closed the door, the driver pulled away from Fuel Town. When they reached the highway, another snow plow sped past.  Tracy watched the red brake lights trail into the distance.

They rode a half mile up the street and dropped Linda off.  She hugged Tracy sideways as the moved to get out of the vehicle.  “Merry Christmas,” she said. “And good luck.” She was a large woman, but soft and warm to the touch.

The cab pulled back onto the highway.  The snow made it hard to see the houses they were passing, but red and green and white lights twinkling through the snow gave each one away.  Tracy thought about the families sleeping inside them and kids who couldn’t wait for morning.

The cab slowed almost to a stop as they approached an intersection where a blinking yellow light hung over the road.  Tracy glimpsed down the intersecting road and saw a flash of reflective yellow. It was Cuddy tromping through the snow with a bag over his shoulder and the red cap on his head.   He raised his arm, somehow knowing it was her passing by. He couldn’t have seen her. Not with all the snow. And he was too far away. Tracy raised her hand in the window nonetheless and imagined a gleam in the old man’s far-away eyes as the cab picked up speed and continued south down the highway.

Written by seeker70

December 16, 2018 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.2)

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…continued from yesterday…

She turned and looked at the fat lady and the old man, who were feeding the machines like they didn’t care about money.  It was stupid entertainment. They fed bills in, the machines lit up and whirred, and they hit buttons. The old man kept running his finger up and down the scar on his face while he played, like it was itching him.

The fat lady said, “Why are you here tonight, Cuddy?”

“On my way to my son’s,” he told her.  “‘Sposed to be there right now, matter of fact.”

“Bullshit,” the fat lady coughed. She glanced over at the cashier real quick.  “You ain’t going like that. Look at you.”

“What?” the old man said.  “Don’t matter. He’ll give me hell anyhow.”

“I would, too,” the fat lady said.  “Show up like you were working in a barn all day.  Why are you here?”

“Tryin’ my luck,” the old man told her.  “Same as you.”

“Yeah.  We’re a lucky pair, ain’t we?”  The fat lady laughed until she coughed.

An idea came to Tracy.  She walked over to the pair and asked if either of them had a phone charger.  The old man didn’t respond. The fat lady said she had a flip phone. Did that help?

“No,” Tracy said.  “It doesn’t help at all.”  She pulled her phone out and held it in front of the fat lady.  “Mine is newer.”

The fat lady looked at it and said,  “I don’t know what kind that is. But look around.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tracy replied.  “I got no money. That asshole that took off stole it.”

“Don’t worry about that, honey,” the fat lady told her.  “Look around.”

Figuring it would at least give her something to do, Tracy walked up and down the aisles in the truckstop and found what she guessed was a typical setup for truckers.  Shirts and pants. Cowboy hats. Porno magazines. Knives under a glass case. Bandanas. Rubbers. Zippo lighters. Blankets. Fake leather vests. Any kind of crap truckers would buy if they needed it or wanted to blow some money.  They did have a charger for her phone, though. The fat lady waddled down the aisle and saw Tracy holding it as she checked the package. “Is that it?” she asked.

“Thirty-five dollars for the damn thing,” Tracy told her.  

The fat lady shoved a pair of $20 bills into her hand.  “My dead husband’s pension,” she said. “Might as well put it on a sure bet.”

A minute later, Tracy waited as her phone charged at an outlet by the booth where she had sat earlier.  Linda and the old man kept feeding the machines. The cashier sat behind the counter and stared out the window at the parking lot, where nothing moved but snow falling from the sky.

Once the battery was at a decent level, Tracy dialed her parents.  Her mother’s rough voice came to her ear after the third ring. “Hello?”

“It’s me, mom,” Tracy said.

“Tracy?” she said.  “Honey, it’s almost nine o’clock.  You and Roy were supposed to be here.”

“I know.  I left a message earlier.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Yeah, mom,” she said.  She felt her face get hot again and dug a fingernail into her thumb to distract herself.  “Yeah. There’s a lot wrong. I’m at a truck stop near the state line.”

“What?” her mother said.  “Tracy, what’s going on? Is Roy there?  I tried to call you at home. He hung up on me.”  Tracy could hear the strain in her mother’s voice, like she wanted to get mad but didn’t dare.

“Roy’s not coming, and I don’t know how I’m going to get there.”  She paused to breath, surprised that for some reason she was out of breath.  “He was drunk when I got home. Said we’re not coming down. He wanted to fight, so I got out of there as fast as I could.”

There was a long pause on the other end.  “Did he hit you again?”

Tracy paused and clenched her jaw.  After a few seconds, she said, “I told you he’s off that.”

“You told me he’s off the booze, too, Tracy.”  Merry Goddamn Christmas, Tracy thought again.

“Okay.  It doesn’t matter,” Tracy said.  “I left. I got a ride this far. Hang on a sec.”  She brought the maps up on her phone and put in her parents’ address.  “Blue Island is like seventy miles. Can you come get me?”

“What?” her mother said.  “Have you looked outside? We went to the bar after your father got home from his shift.  He’s asleep on the couch.”

“Well what am I going to do?”

It was quiet on the phone, and Tracy thought for a moment that the call had dropped.  Her mother’s voice returned. “I don’t know, dear.”

Tracy felt her face getting hot again, but her thumb hurt too much to keep digging her nail into it.  She said, “Look. I’ll call you back.” She hung up without saying when.

She noticed the video machines were quiet when she hung up.  She looked over, and Linda and the old man were looking at her.

She looked away and thought to answer a call on her phone so she’d look occupied.  She pretended to talk until the eavesdroppers were back dumping money in the machines and there was electronic noise instead of silence.  She wrapped up the fake conversation, and that’s when it happened.

The first thing she heard was, “Goddammit!  Goddammit! Look at that!” It was the old man.  He was dancing in front of the machine he’d been playing.  Lights flashed, a siren whirred, and the sound of coins clinking in a bucket blared from the speakers on the game console.  “Good God! I did it!” the old man yelled.

Linda stood up, looked at his machine, and said, “My god, Cuddy!  Merry Christmas!” She looked over at Tracy and said, “Two thousand dollars!”

“Goddammit!” the old man yelled again.  “Goddammit! I won! I won! I won!”

The cashier walked over from behind the counter.  He looked at the machine and said, “Congratulations, Cuddy.  Cash out if you want.” He gestured to a machine next to the game machines.  Cuddy stood up, snatched a slip of paper that came out of the machine he was playing, and slipped it into the other machine.  The cashier watched him, and once the cash came out, told him, “I’m happy for you, but can you stop swearing so much?”

Tracy could see the old man’s gray-blue eyes gleaming.  Tears streamed down his cheeks. Linda came over and sat down across from her in the booth.  “Can you believe that?” she asked.

She couldn’t.  Dumb luck. Tracy had hers that got her to Fuel Town, and the old man got an entirely different kind.  “I wonder what he’s going to do with it,” Linda said.

“I know what I’d do,” Tracy said.  She looked back out the window at the snow falling and covering everything.  It was kind of peaceful the way snow had of covering up all the ugly stuff a person would usually see.  She didn’t know what the place looked like in the daylight, but it didn’t look bad with the snow covering it.  There were still no cars, and she could barely see the other side of the highway. She looked and looked for a long time because it was better than seeing that old man jump around.  Linda sat there next to her. Tracy could hear her breathing. The old man came up to the booth and announced, “Hot damn!”

Tracy turned to look at him.  “Look at what I got,” he said.  He had a load of stuff in his arms that he laid on the table.  A pair of dark gray Carhart pants, packs of undershirts and underpants, and a red flannel shirt.  He also laid down a little bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, a small bottle of shaving cream, a razor, and a comb.  “That ain’t even all of it,” he said. He skipped over to the counter and came back with a pack of socks, a pair of insulated boots, and a heavy brown Carhart coat with a hood.  He ran his finger up and down the scar from his cheek to his throat as he grinned enormously.

Linda laughed out loud.  “Damn, Cuddy,” she said. “This is probably the best stuff you could buy!”

“Tell you what I’m gonna do,” the old man said.  “I’m gonna get me one of those showers back there–” he stopped for a minute and yelled over to the counter.  “How much are those showers?”

“You can have a free one,” the cashier called back.  “You just spent all that money.”

“You sure as hell need it,” Linda said.  She laughed until she coughed. She looked at his pile of stuff and asked, “Why don’t you get yourself one of those reflective yellow coats instead?”

The old man thought for a minute.  He walked over and swapped the brown coat for the kind Linda described.  He came back and said again that he’s gonna get a shower. “A nice, long, hot one, too,” he said.  He looked around, taking in the entire truck stop, and then his eyes came back to the table at the booth.  “How ‘bout Christmas dinner?” he asked.

“Ain’t no place open, you old fool!” Linda said as she coughed again.

“I know,” the old man said.  “There’s food around here.” He pressed some money into her hand.

“Alright, Cuddy,” she said.  “Go shower so you’re nice for dinner.”  Linda scooted out of the booth and the old man disappeared down the hall past where Tracy had found the bathrooms earlier.  Her face felt hot again, so she rested her head on her arms on the table and closed her eyes. She felt a dull thumping in her temples.

continued…

Written by seeker70

December 15, 2018 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.1)

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Note:  I somehow cranked this story out in the midst of the PAD Challenge last year.  It kinda hit me around this time when I stopped in a local gas station and noticed the gamblers trying their luck on the machines that seem to be everywhere these days.  I never did much trying to publish it, but it is Christmas-themed, so it’s good to post here.

Fuel Town Christmas

Tracy had already told Mick three times to take his hand off her thigh, and they were only twenty miles out from the truck stop in Racine.  She tried to move over in the cab of his semi, but each time he dug his fingers into her leg and pulled her back towards him. His fingers had found a hole in her jeans, and she could feel his rough skin on her.

“Look,” she said.  “Thank you for the ride.  I have a little money bit of money I can give you, but that’s it.”

He shot her a quick look.  “Don’t make up your mind so fast,” he said.  “Look at how it’s snowing. Who else is going to pick you up?”  He was right. Fat flakes of snow were slanting through the night sky almost like rain.

She had tried at the truck stop in vain for over an hour, asking anybody who looked safe.  The place had been busy with vehicles heading south, each one full of kids and presents and pets.  Nobody had room, though, even if it was just her with no bags or anything. Mick had overheard her and approached.  He had adjusted a black stocking cap on his head like he was making some kind of greeting and told her his name. “I’m heading to South Bend,” he added.  “Gotta go south before I can go east. I can drop you at Blue Island.” He seemed safe, and with the snow coming down like it was and the day creeping into evening, he looked like her only chance.

He was right, but in her mind that didn’t mean she had to give him anything but money for the ride.  “Just stop it, okay?” Tracy said. “Please.” She pulled his hand off her thigh and pushed it back towards him.

Mick sighed heavily and muttered something about Christmas that Tracy couldn’t fully hear.  A minute later, he pointed off to the west at a yellow glow that Tracy could barely see. “Fuel Town,” he said.  “I gotta top off so I can make South Bend without stopping. Except to drop you off.”

They drove past someone walking on the shoulder as they slowed down to turn in to Fuel Town.  Tracy had barely seen the person and wasn’t sure if Mick had since he was downshifting and maneuvering the steering wheel.  Once they were under the canopy at a pump, he told her, “Use the potty if you need to. Grab a snack.”

Tracy dug for a moment in her purse and pulled out a ten dollar bill and two wrinkled fives.  She held it across the cab to him. “It’s all I have.” Mick took the bills and stuck them in his pocket.

They both got out, and Tracy walked toward the station.  Whoever they’d just seen along the shoulder had made it to the parking lot.  It was a man walking out of the thick snow like some mystery figure.

Mick yelled out from over by the pumps.  “Hey! You’ll get your ass run over!”

The man waved his arm.  He got to the door before Tracy and held it open.  She knew she was under-dressed for the weather, but didn’t have a word for what he was.  She could see his socks through holes in his beat-up work boots. His jeans were ripped out at the knees, and forget about a coat—he wore a green flannel shirt and a pair of hoodies.  His splotchy beard did very little to hide the scar that ran from his left cheek down to his throat. She couldn’t tell if his hair was wet from the snow or greasy, but nevermind because he needed to run a comb through it.  He pulled an empty whiskey bottle out of one of his pockets, threw it in the trash barrel next to the door, and said, “Merry Christmas.”

Tracy told him thank you and tried to hold her breath as she walked past him.

The cashier saw both of them and called out, “Happy Holidays!”  He looked at the old man and said, “Cuddy, you old cuss! Merry Christmas!”

The old man grunted something and walked over towards the video poker machines while he dug his hand into one of his pockets.  Tracy walked back to the restrooms, where the smell of bleach was strong enough to come under the door. She came out a few minutes later, glad to breath air that didn’t burn her nose.  The old man had settled into a stool at the video machines. A fat lady sat next to him.

Tracy thought to get some cookies and juice, but remembered Mick had the rest of her money.  She walked to the door and looked out across the parking lot under the canopy. There was nothing except big fat snowflakes falling on everything.

“Holy fuck,” she said.  The cashier shot her a look.  She approached him at the counter.  He looked up at her behind a pair of glasses that had slid down his nose.  “Where did that semi go that was out there?”

The cashier looked outside.  “I don’t know.”

“Do you know the son of a bitch who was driving it?”

“Probably not,” he said.  “I didn’t see him.”

“You didn’t see him?  You don’t know him? All you Fuel Town people don’t know each other?”

“No, m’am,” he said.  “He left. He didn’t even buy gas.”

“Call the cops,” Tracy said.  “And tell them he stole my money.”

“I could, m’am, but it’d be best to wait a bit,” the cashier said.  He pushed his glasses up his nose and pointed to a radio next to him on the counter.  “They’re busy. Accident at the state line. It’s on the scanner. You just missed it.  Lucky.”

Tracy gave him a hard look, but he didn’t notice.  He pointed at a set of small monitors and said that he could check the cameras when the owner comes by in the morning.

“Good.  I can tell him about the excellent customer service here at Fuel Town,” Tracy said.  “It looks like I’m going to be here anyhow.” She gave him a hard look again, and then said, “Forget it.  I’ll call the goddamn cops.”

“You’re welcome to do that,” he said.  “But could you do it outside so we don’t have to hear all your cussing?”

Tracy stepped outside and pulled her phone out of her coat pocket, but couldn’t turn it on.  She checked her purse for the charger, but stopped when she remembered she had left it on her nightstand when she rushed out of the house in mid-afternoon.  There she was at Fuel Town with no money, a dead phone, and no charger. She reached into another pocket and felt for her cigarettes. Half a pack. Merry Goddamn Christmas.

She lit a cigarette and stood there watching the snow fall so thick she could barely see the tracks where Mick had pulled in.  There was a pounding sound on the window behind her, and then the cashier’s voice yelling to go around back to smoke.

Tracy walked around to the back of the station.  Snow crunched beneath her feet with each step, and she felt wetness seep through her shoes.  When she turned the corner, the fat lady who had been playing video poker next to the old man was standing there puffing on a cigarette.  She was so fat that she couldn’t even zip her coat, so she stood there with it hanging open. The place smelled like grease and rotten food, and Tracy was grateful for the stench of tobacco smoke.

“Merry Christmas,” the fat lady said.

“Yeah,” Tracy said.  “If that’s what you call this.”

Tracy could feel the fat lady’s eyes on her, like they were glued to her as if she was some kind of Fuel Town freakshow.  Was the poor little abandoned girl the evening’s entertainment? She purposely looked away from the fat lady, and even pretended to check her phone.  She finally decided distance was the best option, and took several steps away. The fat lady was unshakable, though, and kept drilling Tracy with her eyes.  Finally, she broke the silence. “Are you in some kind of trouble, honey?”

Without looking at her, Tracy replied,  “Don’t concern yourself.” She let silence fall between them again, and then turned back to the fat lady.  “Got a car?”

“Can’t help you there,” the fat lady said and coughed into her hand.  She dropped her cigarette and ground it out with her foot. She brushed some of the snow out of her blonde brush-cut hair.  “My name is Linda,” she said. “If I can help you, just ask.” She went back into the station. Tracy stood there alone and thought back on all that happened since she came home from work in the middle of the afternoon.  Her face felt hot, but she was determined not to give in to her emotions.

She finished her smoke, went back inside, and sat down in a booth near the video machines.  She needed to call her parents. It probably wouldn’t help, but they’d be worried by now. And how was she going to call them?  Their damn number was on her phone.

continued…

Written by seeker70

December 14, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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