Transformer, fiction by Benjamin Soileau

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.

Soileau-Benjamin-1Ben­jamin 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.

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