I’m fiddling with one of those transforming monstrosities that toy companies make just to drive men like me crazy. It’s some kind of dinosaur that turns into a speedboat and I’m looking down at it, turning it this way and that, calling it about a hundred different kinds of motherfucker. My boy stands watching me until he gets bored and runs out of the room. I’m just about to throw the thing on the ground and stomp it to pieces when I hear Janie calling to me. She’s standing over a pot on the stove, an orange apron draped over her big belly.
“What’s up?” I call to her.
“I said did you think of anymore names?”
“What about Pico and Paco,” I say.
She stops stirring the sauce for a second and looks at it like it’s an old friend whose name she can’t remember. “I’m serious,” she says, and gets back to it.
“Give me some time,” I say to her. Hell, that’s the one thing I need most. I look down at the damn conundrum in my hand.
She’s been after me to settle on names for a while now. Tom and Huck. John and Jim. Cody and Collin. I hate thinking about it. I think maybe we should just name them Smith and Wesson, and be done with it, but I keep that to myself. The smell of onions is making my stomach turn. Janie’s been using too many onions in just about everything she makes now.
The goddamn transformer has my nerves bundled up so tight that I’m pissed at my mother in law for giving it to Sammy in the first place. If they didn’t give him all these expensive toys that require an instruction manual then maybe Sammy would behold a stick and string as something miraculous, and we’d would be off the hook. I put the transformer down on a shelf behind some pictures where he won’t be able to see it. Maybe he’ll forget about it. I move behind Janie and stretch my arms around her belly. I kiss her on her cheek and sort of rub against her behind, but she just bumps me off of her and keeps on stirring. I’ve been getting the bump a lot here lately. I peck the back of her neck and leave her in there with her onions.
I go and sit in the sewing room and look out the window at the front yard. It’s the quietest room in the house. I can’t figure out how things got so far gone so quick. I think of Janie and me moving together in that old boat in the sun on Bayou Pigeon. Things were so easy. At least we had more fun back then, went out to eat every once in a while. I’d wanted to travel or maybe go to a college somewhere to be somebody important, and she was talking about going to hairdressing school, but then Sammy popped out and we got married. Just like that. I knew that I had more in me than to stay working at the plant my whole life, but I can’t just up and quit, especially now. I feel the concrete setting around my feet. I do what I can though. I get a lottery ticket from the Cracker Barrel every Monday night, and it’s fun to dream about until I look at the numbers, but you can’t get struck by lightning if you don’t go out in a thunderstorm. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
Something catches my eye out front and that’s when Sammy tears into the room screaming and laughing. He goes running right behind me, and when I look over my shoulder I see his naked ass run by. Next comes Janie, who’s hollering bloody murder after him. She’s yelling at me from the next room.
“Danny!” she’s calling. “Danny, get in here!”
I can hear the paddle sliding off the top of the fridge and then she sticks her head around the corner.
“Sammy put shit all over the dog.”
I hear her, but I’m watching the fellow that has pulled into my driveway. He’s standing at my mailbox, reading the numbers on it and contemplating my yard. His shiny peach El Camino is idling at the head of my driveway, farting blue smoke out of the muffler.
“Did you hear me?” she says, standing in the doorway with the paddle in her hand. “Biscuit’s covered in crap!”
She takes off and I hear her struggling with Sammy. She must have caught him because I hear him crying and wailing around. I think he likes when his mom whips him. It’s like a wrestling match for him.
This fellow at the end of my driveway gets back into his car and sits there looking at my house. I smell something awful and I notice that Biscuit has come into the room and is looking out the window. We watch the peach El Camino back into the driveway and then Biscuit starts barking. I grab him by the collar, careful not to get my hands dirty, and bring him in the bathroom. I walk by Janie who’s struggling with Sammy and tell her not to let Biscuit out of the bathroom.
“Can I get some help here?” she says.
“I got to see to something,” I say, and walk out of the house, away from the onions and all the crap in there.
It feels good outside. I step out onto the carport and the man has gotten out of his car and is standing with his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. The car is still running and I’m wondering to myself why on earth he’s backed in when he notices me.
“Howdy,” he says.
“Howdy yourself.” I step out into the sunlight. “What can I do you for?”
This fellow seems about twenty-five, maybe thirty. He’s got jet-black hair that comes down to his shoulders and a mustache that reminds me of a young Burt Reynolds. He’s dressed in what Janie calls a Canadian tuxedo, denim from head to ankle, with a belt buckle and some nice brown cowboy boots. There’s some kind of lizard or frog on his belt buckle, but I don’t want to stare. He steps up to me and sticks his hand out.
“My name is Kyle Ducet. I lived in this house when I was a boy.”
I take his hand. “Good to meet you Kyle.” I tell him my name.
“Still looks the same,” he says, putting his hands back in his pockets and peering out into the back yard. “My daddy built that,” he says, nodding his head toward the shed. “And that magnolia tree behind it,” he says. “Me and my daddy planted that.”
I tell him that I’m glad for it. “There’s some wasps up in that shed that I’ve got to take care of, but it’s sound otherwise.” I ask him where he lives now.
“Oh, here and there.” He scratches that mustache. “I moved up north with my old lady and I was in town so I just wanted to sort of revisit my youth.”
“We’ve been here about four years,” I say. “I believe it was the LeBlanc’s before us.”
“They bought it when we left,” he says. “Listen, I don’t want to be rude, but do you mind terribly if I just sort of walk around the yard a bit. It would mean a lot.”
“Help yourself,” I say. “You want a beer or something?”
“No thanks,” he says, and scratches that big black mustache.
I tell him that I’ve got something to do inside and I leave him to it.
I don’t want to go back inside, but I know what old Kyle Ducet is feeling. I once went back to the house that I grew up in. This was right after Sammy was born, and I was feeling sentimental as hell. I sat in my truck and balled like a little baby. I didn’t get out or anything, but it felt pretty weird being back in the house I’d grown up in, thinking about my momma and daddy, and about how a person’s options in life dwindle as they get older.
Back inside Janie’s hunched over the stove. She looks at me when I walk in and a string of her brown hair falls out from behind her ear and dances a little in the steam rising from the pot. I want to go over and bump up against her, but I know where that will get me.
“Who’s that?” she asks, pointing the wooden spoon over her shoulder.
“Some fellow says he used to live here and wants to have a moment.”
“He looks like a redneck Frank Zappa.”
“Burt Reynolds, I say.” I grab her by the elbow and spin her around and she humors me for a minute and lets me two step her around the kitchen.
“Sammy keeps asking about that toy,” she says when she breaks loose.
I guess I knew he wouldn’t forget about it. The thought of fooling with that thing makes my head hurt. “Where is he?”
“I made him put on some clothes and I told him to stay in his room.”
The dog is scratching against the bathroom door. I put my hand on the small of her back and she looks at me. “You know,” she says. “I could really use your help.”
I open up the kitchen window to let those onions out and that car is idling in the driveway. I make my way back into the hallway and look in on Sammy. His bedroom door is open, but I don’t see him. That boy is trouble. I go into the bathroom and get the water running. Biscuit’s got shit all on his back and even on the top of his head. This is the second time Sammy violated the dog like that. What the hell kind of person does such a thing? I hope he won’t end up in one of those magazines that truckers keep under their seats. I get Biscuit in the tub and start washing. I don’t want to think about what it is I’m doing at the moment. I think instead about lying on a hammock on a beach somewhere with Janie, or else arguing about something with some academic fellows at a round table, maybe even receiving an award for something or other. Hell, I’d rather be cleaning fish that what I’m doing. I hear Sammy behind me. I’m on my knees bent over the tub, and I look at him over my shoulder. We’re at eye level and I don’t wait to hear what he has to say.
“Boy,” I say. “You should be the one doing this, you hear me?” He stands there in his little green shorts and scratches at that brown hair.
“Daddy,” he says. “There’s a man digging a hole outside.”
I ask him what the hell he’s talking about.
“It’s a big hole,” he says. “As big as,” he stretches his arms out, and I get up and leave him in there with the dog.
I grab a towel and clean off my hands as I make my way outside. I go out the side door and I can see a shovel leaning up against the shed. I can’t see how big the hole is, but there’s a pretty impressive pile of dirt stacked up next to the magnolia. When I get in the yard I can see old Kyle trotting to his car. He’s holding a big brown satchel over his shoulder. I look at the hole in the ground and then back up at him and he looks over at me and that’s when he starts running.
What the hell, I think. “Hey!” I holler at him. I see the bag he’s holding is covered in dirt, and I take off after him. His boots are clacking on the driveway and then he’s almost to his car. He throws the bag toward the window, but it bounces off the door and a bunch of money spills out of it onto the concrete. He starts scooping the money back into his satchel, and he just about gets all of it as I’m getting up to him. He slams the door and peels out. I get up to where the car had been and I stand there in a big cloud of blue smoke. I squat down and pick up the little bit of money that he left behind. It’s caked with dirt, but I flip through it and there’s ten hundred dollar bills wrapped up in what looks like dental floss. I immediately shove the cash down into my pocket and slap at the front of my jeans for my truck keys. I run inside and grab them off the kitchen counter. Janie’s standing at the kitchen window looking confused, but I don’t wait to hear what she has to say. I get in my truck and go screeching off after him. There’s no way in hell that I’m gonna let some Burt Reynolds son of a bitch stroll into my back yard and make out with what I figure is legally mine. I can’t believe what’s happening, but I’m not the sort of person to stand around scratching my head over it.
I haul ass through the neighborhood, blowing right through stop signs. I get to the entrance of the subdivision and I see where some tire marks veer off to the left, and so I follow them. I wonder how much money was in that bag. Jesus, I think. How many times had I mowed the grass right over that spot? Five years I’d been out in the yard walking right over a fortune. I start fantasizing what I can do with a bunch of money. Hell, I just want to talk to the fellow and find out what’s going on and what that money was from. Maybe we can even work something out since it was on my property. I pass up a few cars on Greenwell Springs Road and then I start coming up to town. When I get up to the Kroger’s, I can see the peach El Camino idling at the red light. There’s two other cars in front of me, and just as I’m about to get out and jog over to him, the light turns green.
He goes squealing off and me right after him. I get in the next lane and zig-zag my way up beside him. He looks over at me, and I’ll be damned if he isn’t wearing that black mustache anymore. “What the fuck!” I shout out my window to him. That car has some muscle, because it coughs out some more blue smoke and shoots off. I kick down on the gas and go after him, but he’s really moving. I chase him for another mile or so, and am feeling pretty good about my chances. He’s not getting too much ahead. I let out a loud hoot, almost a laugh, thinking about what it is I’m doing. I sure didn’t think I’d be in a car chase when I woke up this morning. I figure it’ll be interesting on Monday morning when the fellows ask me how my weekend was, but then I wonder would I even have to go to work. I feel like I’m in somebody’s dream. I press my hand against my leg and can feel the money in my pocket. Even if I don’t catch him, I think, I’d still have a grand. Then I start thinking about the doctor bill that’s coming and I gun it. The cell phone buzzing in my front pocket just about gives me a heart attack. It’s Janie.
“What the hell are you thinking!” she screams into the phone.
I tell her what happened, how I’m following him at the very moment. She wants to know how much it was in the bag.
“I don’t know, baby, but it’s enough for us to get out the hole and get a maid. Hell, go to Hawaii.”
She’s quiet for a minute and then she begs me to just come home, to please not get hurt. “I need you here, Danny,” she says.
“I just want to talk to him.”
“Well if you go off risking your ass with all you got relying on you then you’d best catch that thieving son of a bitch!” she screams.
I snap the phone shut and toss it on the seat and keep my eye on the road. I feel glad I’ve got a cheerleader, but it hits me that Janie can be tricky with her words. I really don’t have time to ponder.
I wonder where Kyle Ducet is really from and where he’s going. Once we get over the Amite River Bridge the two lanes turn into one. He’s a good hundred yards in front of me, but I’m determined. I check my gas gauge and figure I can go for as long as he can. Up ahead, a big, red truck pulls out into the road right as the El Camino passes him by. I’m yelling every name in the book.
I step on the gas and go to pass up the truck even though there’s a car in the other lane heading my way. I get up as far as I can alongside that truck and I glance over at the driver. All I see is a blonde bushy beard underneath a camouflage hat. He’s screaming at me and shaking his fist. I hear the driver that’s heading toward me laying in on their horn, but I keep on. I cut back into my lane with no time left, and I nearly clip the front of that red truck. Horns are blasting everywhere. I floor it. I can see the truck in my rearview mirror go screeching to a stop, smoke from burning rubber enveloping it. That El Camino has gained some more, and I call that old bastard in the red truck every name I can think of for impeding my progress.
I keep my eye on the peach El Camino, but it’s getting farther and farther away. It turns left off the road toward Sherwood Forest Boulevard. He’s gonna try and hump it to the interstate. I think about all the stops between there and here, and I start feeling some hope. Once you get out to Sherwood, there’s about four red lights before the on ramp to I-10. I know traffic will be a mess on a Saturday. My heart’s beating in my windpipe. There’s just no way in hell I’m gonna miss out on this. I’d been in the trenches for too long. Me and Janie have dreams and two little alarm clocks on the way. I imagine that with even half of the money I saw in that bag that I won’t be showing up at the refinery on Monday. I can see us not having to struggle any more, and I can damn near taste the salty breeze of some exotic beach, but I shake my head and try to concentrate on the task at hand. There will be time enough for dreaming later.
The phone starts buzzing again and I know it’s her wanting to know what’s happening. That gives me some wind. I don’t plan on coming home empty handed. I picture our house and it takes on a strange glow in my mind. Five whole years we’d been living in a gold mine.
I come up on the first red light, and I can see the little prick up ahead stuck at a light. I was right. Traffic is bad. I have to wait another hundred feet or so before I can get out from behind the cars in front of me, but when I do, I cut to my right and haul ass through the Wal-Mart parking lot. The El Camino is at the second to last red light before the on ramp and the parking lot will spit me out right behind him. I punch it down and soar along the edge of the lot with no problem. I’ve got him. When I come up alongside him the light turns green, and my truck goes lurching out from the parking lot back onto the road behind him. Horns are blasting everywhere, and I’m so close. There’s only one car separating us now and I’m flying. The last light turns red as we come up to it, but he guns it on through and pulls up onto the onramp. The car in front of me brakes for the light, and I’ve got nowhere to go. I slam on my brakes and cut the wheel at the very last second. I swerve off to the right into the Waffle House parking lot, scrape a phone booth, and slam to a stop against a light pole. I feel a little fuzzy, but when I look out the window I don’t see any peach El Caminos, just some smoke hissing out from beneath my hood. I turn the ignition, but nothing happens.
I want to get out my door and borrow somebody’s car, but I’m having trouble moving. There’s a fellow in his little Waffle House hat standing at my passenger window looking in at me and asking if I’m ok. A siren rings in the distance, getting louder. I look away from the man and out my window. People sit in their cars staring at me. I hear the screeching tires. I look in my side mirror and see that red truck that I’d clipped come sailing into the parking lot behind me. The bearded man gets out and starts marching toward me. My cell phone buzzes gently from the floorboard. I listen for the sirens to get louder, but before I know it he’s pulling me out of the cab. He’s got my shirt all bundled up in his fists, standing over me, cussing me to hell and back. His words wash over me, along with his spit, but for some reason, I focus in on his hat. It’s camouflage and there’s a cartoon of a lady on it with her back showing. Her rear end is whiter than the rest of her body and the caption reads, I hunt white tail year round.
Right before he lays in on me, I’m aware of a crowd of people standing around watching. I picture my backyard with a big pile of dirt and an empty hole. I can see that peach El Camino just cruising into the sunset and I wonder how far I would have chased it away from town, away from my family. I feel like laughing knowing it was there the whole time. I can see Janie standing over the stove back home, and Sammy chasing the dog around. I remember the toy that I’d been working on and I know I’ve got to get it right. I can’t start on it soon enough. Maybe when I finish with it I’ll put it in the hole out back before refilling the dirt. Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about before I’m all out of time.
Benjamin Soileau is a raging Cajun from south Louisiana who self-exiled to the Pacific Northwest. His fiction has appeared in The Monarch Review, Eclectica Magazine, B O D Y Literary journal, Border Crossing and elsewhere. He drives a beer truck in Portland, Oregon.