The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

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

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