Shutdown, fiction by F. Michael LaRosa

Three months after they were mar­ried John­ny Ray Mook's wife weld­ed her thighs togeth­er and would not relin­quish what lay between them no mat­ter what John­ny said or did.

He tried every­thing he could think of. He told her he loved her. He told her she was the most beau­ti­ful woman who had ever been born on the face of the plan­et. He reached over and fon­dled a nip­ple through the big tee-shirt she liked to sleep in, but she just turned over with­out a word and balled her­self up like a roly-poly.

It pissed John­ny off and he told her so, but Karen just ignored him, so he tried beg­ging, telling her how much he need­ed her, how he had been wait­ing all day to get home just so he could have her, his wife, the woman he loved.

"My balls ache," he told her, hop­ing to play on her sym­pa­thy. "A man needs it more than a woman."

A few sec­onds lat­er he heard her snor­ing. He woke her up by fondling her back­side, try­ing to get her in the mood. She reached back and popped his hand with­out even turn­ing over.

"Stop," she said.

"C'mon, baby," John­ny whined."

"I've got a headache," she said angri­ly.

He knew she didn't.

"What did I do to piss you off," he asked. "Tell me what I did, and I'll leave you alone."

Karen sighed loud­ly.

"See. I didn't do a fuck­ing thing," he said. "We been mar­ried three months, and I've treat­ed you like a god­damned queen. You sure liked it last night and the night before. You sure hung on me like I had some­thing then."

"We ain't got­ta have sex every night, John­ny."

"I do. I like sex. That's one rea­son I got mar­ried, so I could have sex every night of the week with the woman I love."

"Well, you ain't havin' it tonight," Karen said cooly, and she pulled the cov­ers up tight around her neck, and that was that.

John­ny got out of bed, walked into the liv­ing room, sat down on the sofa, and lit a cig­a­rette. It wasn't enough that he bust­ed his ass every day of the week for Karen's uncle, or that he didn't see any of his friends any­more or even have any sort of social life at all out­side of hang­ing out at her momma's and kiss­ing her daddy's ass all week­end. Now he wasn't get­ting any either.

What was the point of work­ing like a god­damned mule if he wasn't even going to even get to fuck his own wife?

He stud­ied the palms of his hands, which were heav­i­ly cal­loused, and thought about foot­ball, about Sis­sy Rhines, whom he had laid at Bil­ly Paul's after that big game with Swansea High, and about Sil­ver Lake and the giant bon­fire they had built there grad­u­a­tion night, the kegs they had emp­tied, and the two name­less girls he and Dan­ny Walk­er had spent the night with.

He thought about the girls who used to hang with them at Champs–Vickie and Darlene–and about the time Dan Rowen's girl Trish got drunk, climbed up on the bar and did a strip tease to Skynyrd's Free Bird.

His new life sud­den­ly seemed a weari­some rou­tine.

Like his father's life–dull and stu­pid and monot­o­nous.

All work and no play.

] Up at five. Show­er. Shave. Karen burns some toast for break­fast, then before he knows it her uncle is out front blow­ing the horn like there's a god­damned fire some­place, and then, rain or shine, he's up on the back of the truck like some kind of sweat­back. He pounds nails in the heat with gnats and shit blow­ing around his face for ten or twelve hours until his arms feel like they're gonna fall off, and then final­ly, at five or six or sev­en or when­ev­er Uncle Steve has had enough and says it's time to go, every­body piles in for the ride back home, where sup­per is wait­ing to be microwaved and the whole thing begins again.

Every day except on week­ends, which also passed in a blur.

Karen's father had helped them buy a huge dou­ble wide mobile home. They parked it behind the house Karen had grown up in. It cost them $620 per month, and Karen's Uncle Steve had giv­en him a job fram­ing hous­es to pay for it. It all seemed very con­ve­nient and almost per­fect, and yet John­ny felt an uneasi­ness about the whole thing. It seemed to him that Karen had more than just a hold on his heart, with them liv­ing on her daddy's prop­er­ty and him work­ing for her Uncle Steve.

And now, all of a sud­den, Karen was cut­ting him off for no rea­son but that she just didn't feel like giv­ing him any.

It pissed him off.

He fin­ished his smoke and lit anoth­er. There was one more in the pack, and good ol' Uncle Steve wouldn't stop to let him buy more in the morn­ing. It was only nine thir­ty. He decid­ed to dri­ve to the gro­cery store for anoth­er pack. He wouldn't even tell Karen where he was going–just dri­ve off and let her wor­ry about it. He imag­ined her wak­ing to the sound of his truck, see­ing he wasn't in bed, and run­ning out just in time to see his tail lights dis­ap­pear into the night.

He found his jeans and a T-shirt wadded on the bath­room floor, pulled on his work boots and stepped out­side. This August had been par­tic­u­lar­ly hot, and sun­down brought lit­tle relief. He walked through the tall bahia grass he'd be mow­ing come Sat­ur­day, climbed into his dusty old Ranger pick-up, turned the key, and took off, spray­ing a lit­tle grav­el for effect.

The Gas­ton IGA was less than a mile from his house. He was there in no time. Once inside, he decid­ed to buy a two liter bot­tle of Coke, a half-gal­lon of milk, and a loaf of bread. At the check­out he spot­ted a dis­play of per­fumed silk ros­es, and he bought one for Karen, hop­ing it might be the key that would unlock her knees and open the gates of heav­en. The cashier smiled at him as though she knew what was on his mind, but he didn't pay her any atten­tion.

She was a home­ly girl.

He was head­ed back across the park­ing lot with his gro­ceries, his cig­a­rettes and his rose when he heard some­one call his name. It was Stu­art Massey, who he hadn't seen since grad­u­at­ing high school almost two years before.

He hard­ly knew the guy.

"Where the fuck you been, man," Stu­art said as though he'd just run into his best friend. He was car­ry­ing a twelve-pack of Bud­wis­er. He looked as though he might have already put a twelve pack away.

"I been work­ing my ass off," John­ny said. "I mar­ried Karen Stepp. You remem­ber her–the cheer­leader? We got mar­ried about three months ago."

"Con­grat­u­la­tions," Stu­art said, grab­bing Johnny's hand and shak­ing the hell out of it. "C'mon and have a beer. Cel­e­brate your mar­riage."

"Can't," John­ny said. "Got to get home."

"Just one beer," Stu­art insist­ed. "How the fuck long can a god­damn beer take? 'Sides, I want you to meet my friends."

"Hey, I wish I could, man," John­ny told him. "But Karen's prob­a­bly wait­ing. I can't be fuck­ing up."

"You ain't gonna fuck up, John­ny," Stu­art said. "I nev­er even bought you a beer to cel­e­brate your wed­ding. One beer, John­ny. Good Lord, man. Are you so pussy whipped you can't drink a god­damn beer with your best friend?"

John­ny had nev­er even con­sid­ered Stu­art his friend, much less his best friend, but he didn't say any­thing.

He felt strange and rather free being away from Karen. It seemed to him that, out­side of work, this was one of the few times he had been out of her sight since the wed­ding. It felt a lit­tle dan­ger­ous, but he rel­ished it. Still, he didn't want to linger long enough to piss his wife off.

"Ain't no place to drink one around here ," John­ny said. Hav­ing for­got­ten Stu­art was car­ry­ing beer, he had bright­ened a lit­tle at the idea that Gas­ton had no bars.

Stu­art held the box of Bud­weis­er up and rolled his eyes.

"What about right here," he said. He point­ed to his old primer grey Camaro, which was parked under a street light at the edge of the lot. John­ny saw what appeared to be two women sit­ting in the car.

"I don't know, man. Maybe I bet­ter just get on home."

But Stu­art had his arm around Johnny's shoul­ders and was lead­ing him across the lot to his car.

"Aw, come on, man. Look here," he said. "Them girls seen you goin' in, and they want to meet you."

They were at the Camaro now. The two girls, one in front and in back, were all dolled up. John­ny had almost for­got­ten how girls looked when they were going out on the town. Stu­art didn't look like much, but he had some fine women in his car.

"This here is Lucin­da," Stu­art said, point­ing to the dark haired girl. "The one in the back seat is Peg­gy."

Lucin­da was the looker–tall and slim, with long, nylonned legs and the tini­est skirt John­ny had ever seen. She had nice breasts, too–small and high, two nice mouthfuls–and they hung loose beneath her sexy lit­tle top.

Lucin­da had kicked her high heels off and was rest­ing the soles of her feet on Stuart's dash­board. Her knees were wide open and it was obvi­ous she knew that John­ny could see every­thing she had, but she made no move to cov­er her­self. She blew a smoke ring, sipped her beer and sized him up with her big, lazy brown eyes.

"I 'mem­ber you from high school," she said, smil­ing. She was drunk and slur­ring a lit­tle. "You were a year ahead of me. You played foot­ball."

John­ny was mute. The night sud­den­ly sparkled with dan­ger and he had to fight an impulse to run. Stu­art cracked a beer and hand­ed it to him.

John­ny took it, star­ing blankly at Lucinda's exposed crotch. Lucin­da pre­tend­ed to be demure, tak­ing her legs off the dash and smooth­ing her short skirt.

"Hell, you ain't got to stare it to death," she said. "Ain't you nev­er seen what's 'tween a gal's legs before?"

John­ny sipped his beer and looked dumb­ly at Stu­art, who laughed and slapped him on the shoul­der.

"This here is my old friend John­ny Mooks. Don't get no ideas about John­ny. He's a hap­pi­ly mar­ried man."

"Just 'cause he's mar­ried don't mean he's hap­py," Lucin­da cooed.

"I'm hap­py," John­ny said.

"Here's to hap­pi­ness." Stu­art tapped his beer can against Johnny's.

John­ny took anoth­er sip while Lucin­da stared play­ful­ly at him.

"I think John­ny Mooks is scared of me," she said.

"He ain't scared of you," Stu­art said. "He's scared of his wife."

Every­body laughed but John­ny, who glanced over his shoul­der to make sure no one he knew was watch­ing him drink beer with two drunk women in a Camaro. The IGA was clos­ing. Cars were crank­ing and eas­ing out toward the high­way.

"You mean, you wouldn't take it if I gave it to you," Lucin­da asked coy­ly. John­ny ignored the ques­tion. She put her feet back up on the dash and let her knees fall open. "I ain't nev­er met a man who wouldn't take it if you gave it to him, mar­ried or not." She looked mis­chie­vous­ly at John­ny. "Is that cheap li'l rose for your wife? You think she's gonna give you some pussy if you bring her a damned two dol­lar rose?"

Johnny's face turned red.

"Well, I guess I got to get going," he said.

"I thought you want­ed to par­ty with us," Stu­art protest­ed.

"I told you I got to go home, man."

As John­ny turned toward his truck the car door swung open and Lucin­da got out, wob­bly on her stock­ing feet, and lurched toward him.

"You ain't going nowhere," she gig­gled. She fell against him, and as he spun around to catch her he dropped his gro­ceries while she plant­ed a juicy kiss on his mouth.

John­ny pushed her away but she per­sist­ed, pin­ning his arms against his sides and rub­bing her­self on his thigh.

"God­damn," Stu­art said. "I think she likes you, John­ny."

Peg­gy climbed out of the back seat, but was too drunk to stand and sat down hard on the pave­ment. She rolled to her knees, but decid­ed that was as far as she could go and stayed there, kneel­ing in the park­ing lot with her fore­head against the asphalt. She closed her eyes to try to stop the spin­ning. She thought she might feel bet­ter after she puked.

There was a short spurt of siren and all eight eyes turned toward the head­lights that were slow­ly rolling toward them. Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Stan­ley Mack wait­ed until he had their atten­tion before turn­ing the blue light on. He had just radioed for back­up in case he had trou­ble with the four drunks he was about to haul in, and he could hear the siren wail­ing in the dis­tance.

John­ny want­ed to run, but knew it would only make mat­ters worse. He wished he could dis­ap­pear. He thought about the police scan­ner that squealed and crack­led in the Stepp house even when the TV was on. Mr. Stepp prob­a­bly already knew four pub­lic drunks were being arrest­ed in the park­ing lot of the IGA. He just didn't know one of them was his son-in-law.

But they all knew it by the time he used his one phone call to dial up Karen. Mrs. Stepp answered the phone. She said Karen was too upset to talk right then, but that Mr. Stepp thought a night in jail might do John­ny some good.

They had, Mrs. Stepp added, heard all about the woman he had been paw­ing over in the IGA park­ing lot..

"You've got some nerve, boy," she said.

And she hung up.

F. Michael LaRosa's work has appeared in a vari­ety of print and online pub­li­ca­tions over the years, most recent­ly in Blue Col­lar Review, Under­ground Voic­es, Yel­low Mama, and The Leg­endary.

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