The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

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…

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Written by seeker70

December 15, 2018 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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