Heinz sprays WD-40 onto the knees of his overalls. Earl smokes Pall Malls. Heinz waits for the blonde. Earl waits for his face to catch fire. The season is summer. The time is...they don't know the time. No sun rays reach them. Bats flutter. Cocks scream.
Heinz sits on a stool, clutching his crotch with his yellow-nailed claw. He is plump in the jowls from a diet of beef liver, which he buys in shrink-wrapped plastic from Earl. His hair is white.
Earl can’t eat. He is skin and bones, diarrhea and halitosis. He thinks he has every cancer imaginable.
Heinz lifts his claw with his right hand and looks at the watch clasped around his wrist. “Any minute now.” He lets his arm fall back to his crotch.
The howls of seven slobbering dogs trumpet from the mountaintop, and a great white panting husky emerges, leading the team scrabbling across the pavement. The blonde is hunched over the reins of her dry sled, tinted goggles and hair flowing, thighs like two golden hams shoved into spandex. She whips the dogs. She yells, “Mush, you bitches.”
Heinz’s flabby face squeezes into a contorted jumble of emotions before bursting into laughter.
Earl squints at the road as if blinded.
These two are not heroes hiding in the shadows. They are nobodies stuck midway up a mountain nobody named. Earl hasn't seen his ex-wife in months. But she called last night and told him she has decided to visit because she saw a sparrow fly into her bedroom window and die. Heinz is out back firing his German Luger into the woods when she arrives in a Chattanooga taxi.
Earl’s ex is the type of woman who will wear black panties beneath white slacks. She is also an epileptic prone to having seizures at the worst times, such as during her and Earl’s first sexual experience. As soon as she climbed on top, her eyes rolled back and her body buckled. She fell off the bed.
She exits the taxi on tiptoes so as not to get her slacks muddy. Heinz fires three rounds: Pap! Pap! Pap!
Earl’s ex spots him on the duplex steps. She crouches and runs across the quaggy ground. She follows him into his attic room. “I thought you were shooting at me.”
“Why would you run toward the gunfire?”
“You’ve always talked to me like I’m dumb.”
She bumps her head against the low ceiling. “This place is worse than a crack house.”
They sit on the bed. She looks at her slacks splattered with mud. “These are ruined.”
“Use some of the money you stole from me to buy another pair.”
“You cheated on me with my sister, or did you forget?”
“That submissive poodle of a whore.”
“You have to accept responsibility.”
“She dropped a piece of ribeye between her huge breasts and asked me to fetch it. What was I supposed to do?”
“Respect our marriage vows.” She stands and takes a step toward the door. “I didn’t come here to get berated. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Why? So you could revel in my pain?”
“My god, I feel one coming.” Her face is pale. Her hands tremble. “I haven’t had one since we separated. It’s your foul energy, Earl!”
She runs outside and down the steps. Before she reaches the taxi she falls and begins thrashing in the mud, eyes bugged, twisted mouth choking with foam, white clothes soaking up the muck.
The taxi driver steps out and shrugs his shoulders at Earl.
Earl shrugs back.
Earl parks his refrigerated meat truck at the Theater Company of the Physically Handicapped beside a station wagon covered in bumper stickers. One reads, Eat us! We’re Vegan. Earl goes to the large wooden doors where a flier hangs:
Juanita and Charlie Blackwell
Earl puts his ear to the door. He hears a female voice say, “I tremble to look at you, my lord.”
A male voice says, “I am terribly afraid the prophet can see.”
Earl knocks, holds up a frozen T-bone and prepares to give his spiel. “We’re coming,” the voices say in unison.
The door opens. The woman is wearing thick glasses. A noose dangles from her neck. On a platter-like contraption strapped to her body lies a man holding a plastic dagger. He is the size of a child, and his head is attached to her chest, their fused anatomy hidden by her specially sewn blouse. Earl can only see one of his eyes and a bushy brow. “We were practicing,” she says.
“I’m Oedipus,” he says.
He begins to squirm. He scrunches his face, squints his eye and waves his short arms. The woman sticks a finger into his ear. His body relaxes. She pulls her finger out. “Did I get it, Charlie?”
The woman sees Earl’s T-bone and her face flashes red. The man wiggles on his platter. He says, “I feel your anger. What is it?”
“An animal eater, a cow killer, a meat seller!”
“Show him to me,” he says and swings his dagger.
He stabs her in the face. She falls backward through the doorway and over a row of chairs. When she lifts herself up, the platter has fallen from her body. The man hangs from her chest, flailing his arms. He yells, “Eeewww, eeewww.”
The blonde and her dog team mush past as usual, and Heinz begins crying. He tries and fails to restrain the muscles in his face. He laughs as tears roll across his flabby cheeks. “I’m really crying right now,” he says, “I think. It’s what a stroke will do to you.”
“Is that why your hand never moves?” says Earl.
“And the WD-40?”
He regains reign over his face and wipes it with an old sock. “That’s for the arthritis. The only remedy I’ve found.”
They look at the road. Dog hair hovers in the dimness. The dogs’ howls echo from the Tennessee River at the bottom of the mountain. “You should get off this mountain while you can,” says Heinz. “The golden years ain’t worth a fuck.”
“You don’t look so bad.”
“You can’t see what’s in here,” he says and pats the chest of his overalls.
“Was it a woman?”
“Two of them. One was my wife. The other was a French girl named Margo. She used to get naked and eat fruit off of me. They thought I killed her and put me in jail in Knoxville for a while. That’s how my wife found out. She took our little girl and left. She’d be about your age by now. I guess she hates me.”
“How’d you get out of jail?”
“They found out Margo choked on a grape. I didn’t know the Heimlich Maneuver, so it was my fault but not really my fault. Can’t you see how it haunts me?”
Earl tries to think of something to say. Heinz lifts his left arm and puts it on Earl’s knee. “Can you feel that?”
“Yeah,” says Earl.
Earl goes fishing. He parks his meat truck on the side of Highway 72 and carries his rod and tackle down to the river. He puts a three-inch worm on his hook and casts. His bait sinks out in the shifting flow. He feels what he thinks is a nibble. He jerks and reels. Earl just knows it is something big. A fat catfish, he hopes. People will kill over beef.
When he pulls it in, he drops his rod and takes a few steps back. At first, he thinks it is a piece of somebody’s skull or some strange salamander. There is what looks like skin and curly wet hair. He doesn’t see any blood. He pokes it with a stick. No movement. He steps closer and realizes what it is: a small plastic vagina molded into a tube. He sees serial numbers and the words “Pocket Pleasurer Model IV” stamped beneath a labia minora.
He hears the dog team and looks up at the road to see them barrel past, wild and howling, the blonde missing from the fishtailing sled. He removes the hook from the Pocket Pleasurer and sticks it in his pocket. He climbs the bank and gets in his meat truck, drives in the opposite direction of the dogs. A mile later he sees the blonde walking alongside the road.
He eases his meat truck to a stop beside her and rolls down the window. She looks at him from behind her tinted goggles. She is wearing gloves, black spandex shorts, a small backpack and a sleeveless shirt. Her bronze elbows and knees are skinned, pocked with bits of asphalt. Lines of dried dirt lead from her eyes to her chin. She has been crying. Earl says, “I saw your dogs down the road.”
She swings open the passenger side door and hops in. “What are you waiting for!”
Earl drives. “What happened?”
“They threw me. It’s not the first time.”
“My name’s Earl.”
She doesn’t respond. She is looking out the window. “You’re getting fast,” he says.
“I better be. The Iditarod is in eight months. My husband’s company is sponsoring me.”
“You sled past my house every day, that duplex on the mountain.”
“I’ve never noticed it.”
“Me and an old man live there. I think he’s in love with you.”
“Old men are always in love with me.”
A breeze blows through the cab. Earl smells the blonde’s perspiration and perfume mixed with the smell of frozen meat in the back. He wants to crawl beneath the spandex that covers her body and suck the sweat from her skin. He wants to bandage her wounds, make love to her soul.
“Are you some kind of pervert?” she says.
The Pocket Pleasurer has fallen out of his pocket. It lies on the seat between them. “It’s not mine,” he says. “I hooked it in the river. Damn litterers.”
She scoots closer toward the door, gripping the handle. “Will you please stop?” she says.
“Do you see the dogs?”
Earl slams the brakes. The blonde opens the door and jerks a small spray can from her backpack. She sprays Earl with a burst of stinging liquid and jumps out of his truck. He chokes and coughs and spits. He can’t see. He feels like his brain has exploded. In his confusion he hits the gas.
There are a series of bumps and bangs, metal on rock. His head slams against the steering wheel. He presses the brakes to no avail. When his meat truck finally comes to a stop and his cloudy vision returns, he sees that it is caught in a thicket of trees, the river looming thirty feet below him. Black smoke rises from the engine. There is hissing and the smell of antifreeze. At the top of the bank the guardrail is twisted and collapsed.
He falls out of his truck and climbs to the road. There is no sign of the blonde.
He makes it home that evening. His leg muscles burn from the walk up the mountain. His head aches. He can’t get rid of the chemical taste on his tongue, the sting in his eyes. His meat will spoil. He finds Heinz behind the duplex. He is standing in the twilight firing his German Luger. Bats circle overhead. Smoking casings pile up at his feet, the reports caroming through the dense woods.
“Here,” says Earl.
He pulls the Pocket Pleasurer from his pocket, but it has turned inside-out and now resembles its opposite. “Get that thing away from me,” says Heinz.
“No,” says Earl, “watch this.”
Earl pushes and prods at the plastic until it pops back into place and then reaches it out to Heinz. Heinz raises his pistol, closes one eye and fires. The bullet hits the Pocket Pleasurer and knocks it to the ground. It lies in the muck smoking, the fake hair singed.
“Nice shot,” says Earl.
“I got lucky.”
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