Friday 22 September 2006

Bad Traffic, Part Three

Bad Traffic is a short story of five chapters, posted over five week days -- by me, your sensualist host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Objects in the story may be closer than they appear.

And now, today's chapter:


Yves drove the night away, his companion twisting and sighing in the passenger seat under the thinnest veil of sleep. Yves turned up the Johnny Cash to drown out the troubled muttering, then carefully counted the hours ahead and methodically took the correct combination of pills to get him there.

In moments he felt sharp as a knife.

The road was empty. The truck felt still, the country moving around it. The album repeated. Yves had been letting it repeat for decades. His mind sank away into a driving place until the first blush of dawn coloured the way ahead.

"Where are we?" asked Alishaer groggily.

"Wyoming," said Yves. "Sleep okay?"

Alishaer shrugged. "I have some nightmare."

"Yeah, I figured," agreed Yves. "We're gonna stop for some chow in Cheyenne, then I'm going to catch a few zees and after that we'll get back on the road. Sound good?"

Alishaer nodded, rubbing his eyes. "This chow is food, yes?"

"Food yes," confirmed Yves.

Yves pulled off at a signless joint he knew well on South Parsley, drawing the truck to shuddering but majestic halt in a row of similar rigs. The sudden cessation of motion caused Alishaer to feel as if he were drifting backward. With rubbery legs he descended from the cab and met Yves at the nose. He blinked at the wide expanse of sky, cloudless and deep blue even at the horizon.

The diner was quaint, with a chrome and flecked formica style that looked half a century old. There were just a few other customers, lone truckers reading the paper as they put away their food. A tinny radio discussed the weather. A bald man with a series of light scars criss-crossing his features stood in the open kitchen, hands on his hips, staring into space. He smiled distantly when he saw Yves, the sad lines around his eyes unmoving.

"Ed Hulver!" called Yves. "How the hell are ya?"

Ed wiped his fingers on his white undershirt and then shook Yves's beefy hand. "Hey, Frenchy. How's the road?"

"It's flowing," reported Yves. "This is Al."

"Goodmorning, sir," said Alishaer.


They ate runny eggs floating in a pool of grease that tasted suspiciously like corned beef hash, washed down with bitter coffee whose cream was slightly curdled. Alishaer left his bacon, so Yves ate it, mopping up the flaky debris with an edge of yolk-soggy toast.

Yves lit up a Camel and brought out his billfold. Alishaer took his cue, bending down to his ankle and coming back up with a handful of crumpled, badly distressed low bills. "That's all you got, isn't it, partner?" said Yves.

Alishaer looked embarrassed. "It will not be enough?"

Yves tucked the cigarette into the far corner of his mouth and grunted. "It's enough, but forget it. You go on and keep your pocket money, Al. Breakfast is on me."

"You do not have to do this..." replied Alishaer awkwardly, smoothing out a couple of dollars carefully as if they were fine art.

Yves pushed the kid's hand back. "Don't make me offer twice, boy."

They held each other's eyes for a moment. Then Alishaer nodded and started putting away his cash. "Thank you very much, Mr. Yves."


While he smoked Yves pulled a plastic pill organizer out of his jacket pocket and flipped open one of the little compartments. He checked his watch and then swallowed two small pills chased by a swig of coffee. He noticed Alishaer watching him. "You have a medical condition?" asked Alishaer.

"No Al, these here are my sleepers. Gotta crash for a bit before we hit the road again. You understand?"

"Yes sir."

On the way out Yves asked Ed who was awake in the Chicken Ranch and Ed told him Cheyenne was probably around. Yves and Alishaer walked around the back of the diner and Yves rapped on the door of a cream-coloured trailer sitting on cinderblocks. The hatch cracked and a girl with purple bags under her eyes stuck her head out. "Papa Rock!" she smiled.

"How the hell are ya, Chey?"

"Just gimmie a sec to get my shit on. Be right out."

Yves crushed the end of his smoke under his boot and jammed his hands into his pockets, rocking on his heels nonchalantly as he scanned the cloudless sky. A moment later the girl called Chey stepped out of the trailer, her tired face painted and her unruly hair pulled into a loose ponytail. Her dress was short and either intricately patterned or dirty. "Who's your friend?" she asked.

"This is Al. He's riding with me today."

"Goodmorning, Miss," said Alishaer with a small bow.

"Al, this is Cheyenne."

"She is named Cheyenne and living in Cheyenne?" asked Alishaer, furrowing his brow.

"Are you making fun of me?" Chey wanted to know.

Alishaer looked stricken. "No, no no!" he stammered.

Chey frowned. "He's like foreign or something, huh?"

"Yeah. But he's okay."

"Does he want?"

Yves shrugged. "You want a date after I'm done, buddy?"

Alishaer looked puzzled, then blushed and shook his head. He loitered around the parking lot while Yves and Chey spent some time in the cab of the truck, whose suspension creaked rhythmically to broadcast their sin. Afterward they smoked a couple of Camels together and then Chey went back to her trailer. Yves sat in the open door and smoked, barefoot. "What do you say, Al?"

"I am wondering a thing," said Alishaer.

"What's that?"

Alishaer gestured along the row of parked rigs -- Wonderbread, Old South, McDonald's, Oscar Meyer. "Why is it each of these trucks have the big letters on their sides, but your truck is only white?"

"Not everything needs advertising, Al."

"So what is it that is carried inside, Mr. Yves?"

Yves scanned the sky again. "Doesn't matter what's inside. Doesn't have anything to do with my job. Whether it's Corn Flakes or mattresses or house paint, I just get it there." He tossed his cigarette butt away carelessly and stretched. "Forget about it. I'm gonna lay down a while. You good by yourself?"

"Do not worry about me, sir."


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

Well, it's not what you'd call an action packed short, no matter how you shake it. It's just a slice.

I'm leaving shortly for a long weekend of writing time, drinking and smooching my wife without any children underfoot. I hope to knit some more exciting stuff for October.

Thanks as always for troubling to comment, Simon.

Cheeseburger Brown

Moksha Gren said...

I agree with Simon. I'm not sure why I find this facinating...but I do. Sure, sure, the writing it tight and the descriptions are engaging. But I think what really keeps me coming back is that I know it's a CBB story. In other words, the indifferent universe is about to start raining very bad things down on relatively good people. It's like meeting a very nice family with a sweet little dog in a horror film. The more you like them, the more nervous you get.

It's a cruel universe you polpulate, Mr. Brown...but it's an interesting one, so I'll be there.

Enjoy your weekend. Oh...were you more succesfull than me in finding a way to make the carseat fit in the new car?

Mark said...

The great thing is that I have no idea whether your snapshot of trucker life is accurate. It's well-written enough that I'm buying it. Sure, truckers have whores lined up at each dive diner along the road. Why wouldn't they? They're just pill-popping slugs with a big heart and a big hard-on.

Dædalux said...

Although I agree with Simon - I wouldn't want to be a Trucker either - I think thats part of why I like 'Papa Rock' so much. He manages to take such honest pride in his ordinary existance. It's both humbling and empowering.

You can mire the settings in the mundane if you like, but I know why we keep reading this stuff: Your characters - even the 'ordinary' ones are always extraordinary.