The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
It’s like the road is a pliable board unfurled across the blinking hills. The day is Tuesday and Thomas drives the minivan in Tuesday fashion—only one more payment to go—wondering at the road, the houses with and without people, the remote controlled tarantulas.
Tuesday morning is a great time to pick up the trampoline. Thomas wears a pair of black jeans that shine from wear and a green sweater he bought when his grandmother was still alive.
A light turns from green to red. Cars are moving. Their wheels are turning. The sky wraps around making a sandwich of things. He notices the edges of things, where things run to an end. The road is narrow like spaghetti, the color of dried kidney.
You can order things online and have them shipped to the nearest whopper store. Thomas sort of knew that, but until his wife actually did it… The radio is on, a small room with half a dozen people squeezed into it. They crowd one another, talk over one another. The one guy talks like cigarettes. He’s small with liver spots on his skull, has thick black hair like a crotch, and a barrel chest. When the commercials for chicken wings, lawn care, and stimulants reel by, the radio people lubricate each other with wet looks. A tuba player in a cabin deep in the Black Forest is eating whipped cream from a bowl.
The whopper store appears before it should. The parking lot is crowded, buoyant. He feels for the paper his wife gave him with the order number and all that jazz on it. He feels it. He’s cutting the mustard. Thomas chooses the grocery entrance and walks to customer service. Several old men with white socks and tan pants sit on short benches. They look like giant dead shrimp. They all wear hats, free hats whether you want them or not. One wears gloves.
An ancient man and his wife in a wheelchair are the only ones at customer service. She sits hands in lap like a baby bird in a warm nest. Her face is red and chapped, her hair gray and short. She has a quick laugh with the lady behind the counter who glares at Thomas. He does not have anyone in a wheelchair. He could be a hermaphrodite, a medical heretic, anything. She directs him to the rear of the store, where a store’s anus might be. Do you know where electronics is? she asks. With the TVs and the records? she asks. He nods and goes that way.
And in the vicinity of where one might sell records in a whopper store with an anus, Thomas finds the pickup area. A blonde lady with tight jeans restraining a satisfied tummy is ready to help, eager even, but has trouble focusing and says as much. Like a movie. Take One, Take Two. Cigarette. On Take Three she gets it right and the transaction moves forward. He hands her the receipt, which she ignores. She wants to know who will jump on the trampoline. How high will they jump? Thomas says his cat does flips. She locates two large, heavy boxes. When she bends toward him he sees the deep part in her short blonde hair. He leans forward for a better look. The scalp is red and irritated.
In front of the counter she concedes that Thomas can help her place the boxes on a pallet jack and he does. They pass people. A lady and her son browse clearance items. It’s her son because what else could he be. The boy is nicely fat, well marbled, with long stringy black hair that hangs across his face, a fried egg with hair.
Out front, the sky is crowded with clouds that no one looks at. The sun’s nuclear oven churns but there is no butter. A phone rings. A skinny man with a scribble-scrabble of wild beard sells bumper stickers. Proceeds are going to the veterans at that moment, slipping silently through a secret vacuum tube to veterans in nursing homes that smell of urine. The bumper stickers are different colors. One says, Live Free, or maybe something in Latin.
Thomas pulls the van in front of the store and eyes the busy crosswalk. Two young men appear, as if from a can, one large and one thin. The first stops the pallet jack twenty-three inches shy of the van’s yawning cargo bay, drawing a look of disgust from the second. He checks Thomas’s face for approval and Thomas laughs the laugh. I didn’t get any sleep last night, says the one guy.
The parking lot sways, is jubilant. The vast asphalt plain littered with cars glimmers like frosting. The people in the small radio room are playing music for a change. They scratch their knees, smoke cigarettes, and look forward to the end of the day.
A plane slides from the clouds. A man asks for tomato juice and there is none. He looks down and it’s like the road is a pliable board unfurled across the blinking hills.
© Russell Helms Jan 2011
Bio: Russell Helms is the managing editor for Jelly Bucket and has recent stories in Assembly Journal, antiTHESIS, Qarrtsiluni and other journals, and a story in the fiction anthology a la carte (2010) from Main Street Rag. He is also an MFA in Creative Writing student at Eastern Kentucky University.