The Bestseller

It’s in me, I know it is. A book so great the critics will be knocking at my door itching to get a word from me. It’ll be a satirical semi-autobiographical fiction novel set in modern day Russia. It’ll have a plot of seismic proportions and I’ll blow the doors off the inner workings of Kremlin and all the vodka drinkin’ commies that live there. But I just need an opening line to get me going. I stared at the computer screen hoping divine inspiration would set in. But something else got in the way. 

“Billy! You ready yet?”

 It was my ball-bustin’ wife Thelma howling at the moon again. I swear she could sear the leather off a cow with that scud missile of a voice.

 “I’m a’comin’!” I hollered back. “I’m workin’ on the book.”

“Huh!” she said loud enough to let my fat pig of a neighbor hear her. “The book! You got any words on the page yet? How about starting out with ‘It was a dark and stormy night’,” she said with titter in her voice that made my skin tighten. 

 I didn’t answer ‘cause I wasn’t gonna give her the satisfaction. This time I’ll come out smelling right as roses and it won’t matter I lost my job at the plant. I sure as hell won’t be the last guy to get canned thanks to good ‘ol Obama bin Laden and his freakin’ genius economic plans. Lucky for me I’m still getting unemployment for another two months so I still got time to finish the book. And it’ll sure as hell get done with God as my witness.

 “Comin’ Thelma!” I called. “Just let me shut down the computer for godsake.”

  Lord almighty with the fuss she made about it you’d think going to the Piggly Wiggly was a national holiday. The minute my check came in she raced to spend it on groceries and the like. Nutty Bars and grape juice were about at the top of her list. Thelma had a thing about them like they were shrimp and cocktail sauce. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the fifty pounds she packed on since we got married was some combination of the two. And whenever we got some lovin’ going on I was sure most of her extra folds were Nutty Bars piled up just below her skin.

  “About time,” she said after I got in the truck. “It’s freezin’ out here, you know.”

 I shrugged. November in Nashville was cold sometimes. Not as bad as Russia I guessed, but bad enough. I popped the key in and searched for the right thing to say. I likened my ability to find the perfect words as a gift I was born with. I knew I was some kinda idiot servant of the English language like those drooling kids that could play Mozart on the piano with their eyes closed. I could almost feel my brain twistin’ and turnin’ like a Rubik’s Cube until the words fell right into place. Then bingo! Everything on the page was smooth as ice after a Zamboni did its thing. But sometimes it was the starting point that fouled me up. When I do finally get going it’ll be like a lightning bolt spanking my head like the kick of a mule.

 “I’ll turn the heater on, Thelma,” I said. “But it ain’t that cold yet.”

 She harrumphed like she did when she wanted to let me know I was dead wrong. “It’s under fifty degrees, Billy! You know I got thin skin passed down from my momma. She died from catching a chill if you remember.”

 I remembered. Far be it for me to cast dispersion on the deceased but her momma had a boatload of problems and a little sniffle ain’t what done her in. It was more ‘en likely the packs of Marlboro’s she went through like she was a starvin’ man eating a boxful of Tricuits.

“I remember,” I said as I hit the gas. “Still, it ain’t winter yet. Your blood will thicken up soon just like sap from a maple.” I liked the way that sounded and I looked into the woods and let the Rubik’s Cube spin in my head.

 The sap streamed from the tree and mixed with the blood he left behind.

 “Did you hear me?” she asked. “I asked what you wanted for dinner.”

 The road came back into view and the words disappeared from my head.

  “Dunno,” I said. “Whatever you want to make.”

She shook her head and planted an angry look on her face. Her eyes squinched together and her lips got so tight it would take a crow bar to pry ‘em open. I had seen it a million times and wondered how it had gotten that way. Ten years ago she was funner than a wild monkey and we had one hell of a time. We hit the roadhouse and she played pool better ‘en any girl in the joint. She downed The Jack like nobody’s business and lived to tell about it. All the boys wanted a piece of her but one night after she fell face first into my lap she never left. And now it was like I was living fat old Meatloaf’s nightmare in that Dashboard Light song she always plays on the jukebox.

“I could use an idea, you know,” she finally said. “I ain’t like I’m that asshole TV chef and can whip up anything presto-chango.” She snapped her fingers in the air to make her point.

 I nodded. “I realize that,” I said. “Maybe turkey would be good.”

 I didn’t know why I said that. First off turkey tasted like wet drywall to me but everyone else seemed to like it. Second it didn’t even matter what I told her ‘cause she wouldn’t make it anyways.

“Ain’t got no coupons for turkey,” she said as if that sealed the deal.

“Okay,” I replied. “I ‘spose one more turkey running around the farm ain’t a bad thing.” And my head was already across the globe deep in Commie territory when the Rubik’s Cube did its trick.

The turkey pecked at the dead man that lay in the red dirt of the Motherland.

“Billy, you almost missed the turn!” Thelma called as I hit the brakes. “Where is your head at?”

Russia, I almost said. But I didn’t. “The sun got in my eyes.”

 “Well, pull in close. My feet are killing me. I’m all swolled up again.”

I wanted to make a crack that her ass had gotten swolled up too since we got married but I held back. Instead I just nodded. Luckily the lot wasn’t full and I pulled up as close I could. The sky rumbled when we got out and I looked above.

 “Gonna be a storm,” I said. “A bad one I think.”

“Then we better get moving.”

I nodded again and followed her in.

 

***     

 

The truth was I hated food shopping. I felt like a cow going up and down the aisle looking for pieces of hay. I just wanted to get the essentials like Hawaiian Punch and Tater Tots and get the hell out of there. But when you’re married you get to walk through shit because it’s in the contract. My buddies warned me about it but I never listened. I never was a good listener, I guess.

 “Did you hear what I said?” came a voice like a whap in the head.

“Uhh?” was all I could say.

“I said get a big box of that Cap’n Crunch. I got a fifty-cent off coupon.”

I nodded and grabbed the box. I tossed it on top of the two for one Wonder Bread.

 “Careful! You’ll leave a dent in the bread!”

 Maybe it would. Then I’d feed it to the birds. Which got me to thinking.

The crows in the trees picked the meat from Andre’s bones after he died.

 I thought about writing that one down but didn’t have the chance.

“Billy, try and help just this once! Would that be so hard?”

I shrugged. Hard, no. But I really didn’t want to help at all. I would rather be working in the plant or drinking at the bar or writing my book or be anywhere but the place I was in. But I kept that to myself.

So we plowed through the aisles like farmers in a field. You would have thought there was gonna be a food shortage as much as Thelma piled in the cart. But I pushed the food quietly like a human mule.

We filled that sucker to the top and waited at the checkout aisle. We were behind some Medicare lovin’ old lady unloading cans of tuna (three for two dollars) and a jar of mayo topped off with a box of Ex-lax. I waited as patient as I could but my eye was caught by the check-out girl. She had on a paper-thin top that brought out the best of her. I tried to ignore it, being married and all, but my eyes turned into laser beams. Hell, if she was a fruit she was more that ripe and I was freakin’ starving. And my brain jumped ahead all on its own.

The juices ran down my chin as I bit into the poison apple.

But when she looked at me I forgot what I was thinking.

“Paper or plastic?” she asked as she chewed her gum real soft and slow.

“Plastic,” Thelma interrupted. “Paper sucks.”

The girl shrugged and when she did she took into jiggling. And I was caught dead.

“Don’t be a pig,” Thelma said. “That’s gross.”

Maybe it was but I wouldn’t admit it. So I looked at the package of bologna like I was interested in what it was made of. Probably rat guts for all I knew. But at least we had a coupon for it.  

I tried to keep my eyes off the girl but it was near impossible. So I closed them like I was thinking and I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the case.

The darkness covered my eyes like a messenger of death.

 “Open up your eyes. What are you, narcocleptic?”

 “Leptic,” I said. “Narco-leptic. And no I’m not.”

 “Whatever. Then help the boy with the bagging. Make yourself useful.”

The hair on my neck stiffened. If it wasn’t in a public place I would have let her know what I thought. But I didn’t right then.

 

***

           

I loaded the bags in the truck and spun the wheels in the parking lot. Thelma gave me a cluck like I was a dumbass but that only made me drive faster.

“Speed racer,” she said in a voice filled with salt. “Slow down before you hit something.”

“I never have. Yet,” I added in a tone I knew would piss her off.

“You talk so big. But that’s all it is. Talk.”

“Maybe,” I said. And I left it at that.

I drove like a freakin’ maniac all the way home. I was stirred up inside and I didn’t know why. For the most part the day was the same as the day before and the one before that. And I remembered my grammy saying something about a watched pot but I couldn’t recall the rest. But whatever she had said it seemed to fit the moment.

  “You gonna get us killed you keep driving like a fool,” said Thelma as she gripped at her seat belt.

  And I hit the gas even harder.

 

***

 

I unloaded the bags and didn’t say nothing to Thelma. She kept quiet until the last bag split at the seams and the Oscar Meyer bologna rolled in the dirt.

 “What the hell, Billy? Be careful.”

  “I ain’t in charge of making the bags, Thelma. So get off my back.”

   And that got me to thinking.

  Igor pulled the blade out of his side and turned to face his opponent.

I picked up the bologna and slammed the trailer door behind me. Thelma shut up for once as she unloaded the groceries into the cabinets and fridge. She was okay when she didn’t talk. And for a change she was quiet as a churchmouse.

But I didn’t feel so quiet in my head. I set the meat on the kitchen table and reached for a frying pan. Fried bologna sounded good at the moment. One hell of a lot better than Slim Jims or Pop Tarts or whatever. And I fired up the gas and set the pan on the stove before I tore open the package. But my work was interrupted.

“You having that? I was gonna make some Ramon Noodles. Chicken flavored.” She explained as if I cared. “I had a taste for the chicken flavored.”

I nodded. Then I picked up the handle of the black fry pan and lifted it over my head. Next thing I knew I sent it screaming down until it connected with the back of her head and sent her flying across the kitchen. She landed in a heap in the corner and the red spread in her hair. She didn’t move and was quieter than ever.  I lost my appetite and my mind took off when it heard a rumble in the sky.

It was a dark and stormy night in Russia.

 And I ran to the computer while the words were still fresh in my head.

 

           

 

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