A thick aroma of oil and cheap tobacco rushed out of Ted’s garage as Stan stepped towards the half-shut door. Stan never understood why people did such ridiculous things like opening a garage door only halfway. In his opinion, too many people did too many stupid things, like leave the iron on over night or call too late—speaking of which, he now had a throbbing migraine that refused to pay its rent or leave. The weight of the headache slid like unstrapped cargo on a rocking ship, slamming into each side of his head as he limboed into the garage.
“Hey, Stan,” Ted greeted, his voice muttered for some reason.
For a moment the voice possessed no form, or at least came from a phantom mouth. Then, Stan noticed his neighbor slide out from underneath his Dodge Charger. He said, “Afternoon, Ted, whatcha got going on here?”
Ted jumped to his feet and brought his finished cigarette to an AC-DC ashtray next to the mini-fridge on his workbench.
Before he answered the first question, Stan shot him another: “That’s kind of dangerous, isn’t it?”
Ted rubbed the butt into the lightning bolt center of the tray and asked, “Huh? Oh, no. It’s an ashtray.”
“Never mind,” Stan said. “Anyway, what’s wrong with your Charger? Thought you just got it.”
Ted crossed to the back of his garage, where a cigarette roller resided beneath a post sporting the wisdom of a bumper stick. It read: America. There’s Only One.”
What a stupid thing to say, Stan thought. There’s North, Central, South. Nonetheless, he continued observing Ted as he rolled his cigarette. On the other side of him hung a stop sign. That’s like displaying a murder weapon.
Ted came back to the Charger, lit his cigarette, which crumbled while it burned, and replied, “Yeah man, you’ll never believe it—never mind.”
Sighing first, Stan said, “You can’t just lead me into a story and not tell the rest of it.” He palmed his forehead, trying to clutch the migraine as it scrambled around inside. I guess all it takes is a phone call to ruin my sleep and bring pain into my day.
Ted replied, “Well, me and some of the boys—you know, Frankie J., Levi, John—were out about town, having some drinks and whatnot. Did you know Linda was there?
Linda, my alcoholic wife. Drinks like a college freshman. “Yeah,” he answered, “she’s usually too drunk to call home when she goes out. She’ll probably give me another call soon, asking me to come get her and bring her aspirin.”
Ted cocked his head and gave Stan a curious brow. “Ain’t you worried about that? Bars ain’t where married chicks go—I mean, the kinda bars I go to.”
“I know.” Stan did know. Bunch of unlucky, hormone-enraged morons swooning around her, just because she’s a wife living like a night owl, something unattainable by night but all too available at night. Sure, he knew the kind of bars she went to. He remembered how he met her at one of those bars, smoke in the air, drinks being spilled. Back then it seemed so sweet and innocent, so fun like promiscuity in high school. Now she wore a ring. Now he loved someone. And now, she was probably passed out on someone’s couch, which he hoped belonged to one of her girl friends.
Stan said, “If she’s stupid enough to cheat on me . . . well, I become a lucky man again.”
Ted nodded. “Suppose so.” He seemed concerned; Stan could hear small inconsistencies in his tone. The ashes built a small lodge atop of his cigarette and a few fiery strip of rolling paper dashed for the oily ground, yet Stan hardly seemed concerned; more interested in the conversation.
“Why do you ask?” Stan realized he never asked the question he wanted to.
“Promise me you won’t get mad?”
“Why do you want to know if I’m aware of where Linda goes on Thursday nights?”
“Promise me you won’t get mad,” Ted repeated, this time more of a condition of disclosure than a request.
What are we, a bunch of preteen girls? “Sure,” he said. “Whatever.”
“Mind you,” Ted said in-between thick gray clouds of smoke, “me and the boys were very drunk last night.”
“I wouldn’t doubt that you’re drunk right now,” said Stan, his eyes pointing at a case of Coors Light next to the cigarette roller.
Ted didn’t catch the gesture. He continued: “So. Me and the boys were strollin’ around the strip and, like usual, we were hollerin’ at the ladies as they strutted by. I was really hootin’ at this one babe and, to my surprise, she turns back and starts hollerin’ back at me, which is unusual, you know?”
Stan chuckled. “I know.”
“So yeah, she turns around, hollerin’ back, and wouldn’t ya know it, it’s her. Linda, your wife.”
Stan stood silent for a moment, debating how to respond and eyeing up a small Coca-Cola machine next to the case of beer. It was one of those novelty holiday items with Santa Claus and some reindeer all enjoying soda, but from what he could see, it held no cola at all; just more beer.
“I’m sorry, man,” Ted said. “Had I known, I wouldn’ta made a pass or nothin’ like that.” He traced Stan’s stare. “Oh sure, man, help yourself. Think I’ll pass on the booze, myself, though.”
“Fine with me,” Stan muttered during his short travel to the faux vending machine, that hummed like a stalling car. Or Ted’s Charger at this point. With that in mind, Stan glanced back at the damaged Dodge and said, “You never told me what happened to your car.”
“I was gettin’ to that.,” Ted replied, sliding back underneath his car. “So yeah, me and my boys were just cruisin’—you know the way we do—although we shouldn’ta have, and we all had our heads cocked to the side and what whatnot. Sorry man, your wife travels with some real babes.”
“Never met ‘em,” Stan said. He pressed one of the six buttons on the vending machine, and out rolled at can of beer. The click of the pop-top echoed across the garage.
He couldn’t recall the last time his wife brought home friends. She always wanted a life separate from their marriage, or so she told her friends over the phone when she thought he wasn’t in the room. Stupid. Hell, his only friend was a drunk-driving, wife hollerer who couldn’t recall just how she trashed his brand new car.
Baffled, Stan stared at the damage done to the Charger: a huge dent above a shattered headlight above a twisted something or another at the bottom. And a precarious red stain just above the sleek new tires. A bolder rolled down his throat.
“And one thing led to another and—BAM!—somethin’ hopped out in front of us. I mean seriously, I tried to stop—and why are there wild animals in the city? There’s not even woods in this place, yet raccoon and squirrels lay flat everywhere.”
His words faded like the roar of a passing semitrailer. Stan tried to fix the dent with his imagination, his wishes to God and the like. But the damage still remained, like a lingering sorrow of yesteryear.
“Anyway, man,” Ted mumbled while trying to un-pop the dent from the backside of the frame. “I’d worry about that wife of yours. She seems so careless when’s she out and about. Maybe you should give her a reason to stay home next time.”
Stan rubbed his bottom teeth against the top of his lips. He nodded, letting the cargo slam against the side of the ship.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.