by Cecile Dixon
When my olé lady, Kourtney run off with Dwayne, I took to drinking beer. A lot of beer. I still got up every morning and went to work. My brother Jimmy’s sheet rock business didn’t suffer because of my drinking. But, as soon as five o’clock rolled around I’d climb in my truck and head to The Liquor Barn for my nightly case of Bud and two packs of Marlboro reds, in the box.
I didn’t pay the nosey ass cashier no mind when he stated, “You sure buy a lot of beer.”
“That’s a fact,” I answered and walked to the door.
“See you tomorrow evening Larry,” he called to my back.
At home I’d open a can of something that Kourtney had left in the kitchen. She’d either been planning on leaving and thought I’d starve or she was prepping for Armageddon, cause the pantry was stuffed with canned goods. There must have been two cases of pork and beans alone. Not the good kind, but the store brand.
I leaned against the sink and ate pork and beans, straight from the can. That little bit of flab, that weren’t like no pork I’d ever seen, went into the trash.
After I’d finished my supper, I iced down my Bud’s in the cooler on the front porch, started a George Jones cd and kicked back in the recliner that I’d moved out there. I’d figured that after Kourtney left I could decorate any way I wanted. My style was comfortable. By the time the cd got to “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, I was on my fifth beer. Good timing. I stood and pissed off the porch and sang with George. A dog down the road howled along.
“What’s the matter, your bitch leave too?” I yelled into the darkness. The dog quit howling and the disc ended. Time for Hank Junior. I popped the top on can six, but before I could start “Rowdy Friends”, I heard the distinct sound of a Cummings Diesel. To be exact Dwayne’s Dodge. The hair on my neck prickled and I downed the beer with one swallow and was opening another when that black Dodge rolled up in front of the house.
The moon was pert-near full that night. I didn’t have any trouble making out Dwayne setting behind the wheel. He didn’t say nothing, just looked hard at me. So I give him my hardest look back. After a long minute he grinned, flipped me the bird and floored that Dodge. Black smoke rolled out of its twin stacks.
“You mother fucker,” I yelled at his taillights. I could feel hot mad burning my jaws. Son of a bitch might get away with taking my woman, cause after all she willingly walked out the door, but he wasn’t gonna rub my nose in it. I threw my cooler in the truck and lit out after him.
Now it’s a fact that a Cummins diesel is a strong engine and it’ll pull a brick house out of a shit hole, but it ain’t known for speed. I floored the pedal on my old gas guzzling-Ford and it fishtailed onto the pavement, before laying a little rubber then it smooth assed flew up the hollar. It weren’t long before I came upon Dwayne’s taillights.
I downshifted and slammed right into his bumper. The quarter inch plate steel my winch was bolted to held fast and I heard a crunch from his tailgate. Olé Dwayne must not have been expecting me to pull up on him like that cause he swerved straight into the ditch, and before I could get stopped that steel bumper of mine caught his rear quarter panel. It opened up the side of that truck bed like opening a can of peanuts. The sound of splitting metal drowned out the noise of both motors. My cooler flopped around and before I could grab, it slid to the floor. The lid held fast.
I jerked the wheel hard to the left and my bumper tore loose from Dwayne’s Dodge, taking a big hunk of his door with it. I stopped the truck and climbed out to survey the damage. The only damage to my Ford, far as I could tell was my steel bumper was jacked around a little and my winch might have gotten pinned up. Now that Dodge was a mess. Most of the bed was gone or wadded up. The tailgate was laying in the middle of road about twenty-foot back. Dwayne was trying to shoulder his door open without any luck. He finally give up and climbed out the passenger side. I was feeling bad about his truck until he opened his mouth.
“Fuck you to hell and back Larry,” he spit the words into the night. “Look what you did to my truck. I just got it painted.”
It came back to me. This was the sawed off fucker that Kourtney left me for. He started this whole mess tonight. All my mad come roaring back. We stepped toward each other at the same time. Somewhere about the middle of the road I swung with my right. Me being taller and longer my fist connected with his nose. I felt, more than heard, his nose give way. When you’re hot mad there’s nothing more satisfying than the crunch of cartilage.
Blood poured from his nostrils. He swung at me and before I could duck, his fist caught my jaw. My right ear rang. Pain shot into my temple. “My mama hits harder, you fuckin pussy,” I yelled.
Now I’ve heard athletes talk about getting in the zone. It’s true for a fact. When your body gets loaded with adrenalin you don’t feel pain. All you can think about is getting to the finish line. Or, in my case, whipping Dwayne’s ass. I wanted to give him the pain of my empty bed. The pain of talking to myself. The pain of pork and beans.
I stepped in and landed three short jabs into his nose. His eyes began to swell. Dwayne landed a gut punch at the base of my breastbone. Air whooshed out my mouth. I doubled over to try to catch my breath. He broad armed me across the back of my head. I stepped back out of his reach. Sweet night air filled my burning lungs.
I handed a hard blow to his swollen right eye. The lid split. He raised his chin up. My next punch caught his teeth. I felt my knuckles tear open. He went for my gut again. I danced and his fist landed on my right side. I jabbed his right eye again. Blood washed over his face. He caught my lips with a hook. My mouth filled with blood. I summoned every ounce of muscle in my body. I swung a roundhouse. It hit his left temple. He went to his knees hard, like a sack of led. I kicked him in his left ribcage. Bone crunched. He folded up on the pavement. I was gearing for another kick when he raised his hand. He was done for. Whooped.
I staggered back against my truck and let my mind adjust to the fact that it was over. I leaned there, trying to slow my breathing and all the pain I hadn’t felt rushed in as the adrenalin faded. There wasn’t a spot on my body that wasn’t throbbing, burning, busted or plain raw.
Dwayne groaned and rolled onto his back. I could see his chest heaving. I spit a mouthful of blood and teeth out. My Ford was still running so I opened the door and cut the engine. The red Coleman cooler was wedged on its side in the floorboard. I wiggled it free and opened the lid, grabbing two beers.
I tapped Dwayne’s boot with my toe, “here.” I handed him a beer and he pulled himself to sitting before opening it.
I sat down on the Ford’s tailgate and resisted the urge to groan with the movement. The first mouthful of my beer stung like rubbing alcohol and I used it to rinse with before spitting it out. The second drink went smoother. I watched Dwayne fumble to get his beer open. When he finally did he drank a long pull.
I finished my beer and threw the can in the ditch before getting out my tow chain. “Come on Dwayne, let’s get you out. I gotta work in the morning.”
“Kourtney, when are you and Larry gonna give me a grandbaby?”
Every fucking Sunday before dinner was over, my mother in law would ask me this same damn question. Today, before I could give her a vague answer my husband, Larry, spoke up.
“Mama we’re trying like heck,” Larry said with fake seriousness and put his arm around my waist, “We try every chance we get. As a matter of fact we…”
Bea, my mother in law laughed and swatted Larry with a dishtowel, “You are bad, down right vulgar.”
The moment passed. I dreaded these Sundays and tried to get out of coming every single time. Sometimes the feigned headache worked. Today it hadn’t. So here I sat, surrounded by Larry’s family, his parents, and his three sisters their husbands and so many screaming kids I couldn’t count them. All dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meetin clothes and covered with the smell of fried chicken grease.
Bea hadn’t liked me since the day Larry and me run off to Tennessee and got married. She said we should have waited and had a church wedding with a preacher. She suspected I was pregnant, and then she was disappointed when I wasn’t. We got married because of a baby all right. But it weren’t mine. It was my mama, pregnant at thirty-eight with number six. Each one of us with a different daddy. I wasn’t hanging around as the live in baby sitter anymore. I convinced Larry to elope.
This Sunday we were the first to leave the in-laws house. We usually were if I had my way.
In the car on the way home, Larry said, “You sure are quiet. You pissed about something?”
“No,” I mumbled and lit a cigarette.
“You can’t let Mama get to you. She sure don’t mean no harm.” Larry reached over and squeezed my thigh. “She don’t know how bad we want a baby.”
“I don’t want to talk about it right now Larry. I’m tired, I just want to go home.” I lowered the window a crack to let the smoke out.
“Maybe its time we went to see one of them fertility doctors.” He swallowed deep and stared straight at the road. “After all we been married four years and…” He let his voice trail off without saying it. Without saying four years married and we didn’t have a baby.
“I ain’t ready to be poked and prodded,” I reached down to turn the radio on and Larry grabbed my hand.
“Kourtney, we…” I jerked my hand away and cut him off.
“I said not now.” I turned the radio on. Even though it was a commercial for a lawnmower, I cranked the volume up, loud enough to drown Larry out.
That night he gave up trying to talk to me and drank beer until he passed out in his recliner. I slept alone and pulled the covers over my head the next morning when he came in to get ready for work. He stood beside the bed for a minute. I pretended I was asleep. I didn’t want pick up where we left off the night before. He must have been too hung over to fuss because he left without saying anything.
After I heard his truck pull out of the drive, I got up and showered and got ready for work. It was my early day. I’d have to open and get my register drawer filled before turning on the lights and unlocking the Piggly Wiggly door. I didn’t mind early days. It meant I’d get to leave early and have two full hours of me time. Time I didn’t have to account for.
I fixed my coffee and added an extra splash of sweet Italian creamer. The living room reeked of beer and I started to pick up the empty cans that were strewn around Larry’s recliner. But I stopped myself. They weren’t my mess. I reached to the top shelf of the bookcase and pulled down my grandma’s old Bible. The zippered case was worn and cracked, so I was extra careful each morning when I took it down. I ran my fingers across the gold lettering, Ada Jenkins.
Sighing I tugged the zipper open and felt inside the back cover for the pale green compact. The pharmacist label read No-Ova, with Kourtney Hoskins underneath. I pushed a small pink pill from its bubble and popped it in my mouth. Then I tucked the compact back in the Bible and placed it carefully on the top shelf before swallowing the pill with a sip of coffee.
Kids, was all I ever heard from Larry and his mama. Like having a bunch of brats was the sole reason to live. I wanted to have fun, to dance and laugh and party. I wanted to fuck for fuck’s sake. I wanted to do all the things my mama and her brats cheated me out of.
On the way to work I punched numbers into my cell. I had them memorized because I couldn’t keep it stored in my phone. Dwayne answered on the third ring.
“Hey, guess what? It’s my early day,” I held the phone to my shoulder so I could downshift at the light.
“Ummm, I bet I might be able to sneak away,” Dwayne’s voice lowered to a growl.
“Where do you want to meet at?” I pulled into the Piggly Wiggly lot. Delma Peters was already waiting at the door. She glared at me as I ignored her and continued my conversation.
“We could meet at the creek over on county line…” Dwayne whined, “I’m kinda strapped for cash right now. Car sales are down, so my commission wasn’t much.”
“I don’t really fancy the idea of getting buck assed necked in broad daylight.” Dwayne wouldn’t ever take a prize for his smarts. “I got the cash, I’ll meet you out on the lake, at the Lodge. I’ll try to get a room around back.”
Dwayne chuckled, “That’s my girl. I love you Babe.”
“I’d better get my forty five dollars worth.”
“Oh trust me you will.”
I ended the call. “I guess I’d better get this store open so Delma can get her some Ex-Lax. Olé bitch is lookin kinda constipated.” I said to myself as I plastered my best customer service smile across my face.
Dwayne stared at the darkness in the direction of the ceiling. He didn’t want to move and wake up Kourtney. He could feel her there, sleeping on his arm, like she didn’t have a care in the world. Sleeping in his bed, in his bedroom, in his apartment. In her mind she believed she had a right to be there.
Soon as Dwayne got home from work, there she’d be, waiting. Waiting, like she had every evening for the last two months. At first it was nice, Kourtney waiting with his dinner ready. Waiting to drink some beer. Waiting to fire up a joint. Waiting, ready to fuck. But now, it had gotten to the point where her constant waiting turned him off. She was just too willing. Last night he’d just wanted to watch The Big Bang Theory. But then she’d rubbed his crotch and his soldier had betrayed him.
So now here he laid, a prisoner in his own bed. Back when he first met her down at the Two Step, he was flattered when she bought him a beer. She was good looking and for an old married chick she had a body that made him stand to attention.
They’d been slow dancing to Josh Turner growl out Your Man. Kourtney whispered in his ear, “Show me your truck.”
In the parking lot, unlike most girls he hadn’t had to coax her into anything. She didn’t object when he rubbed his hands over her ass as he picked her up and set her in his truck. She’d pulled her jeans off and tugged his down before he had time to even feel guilty cause she was married. She didn’t even bother to take her ring off.
It had got to be a regular thing. She’d call him when she could sneak out. It was fun and he was free to live like he had, see who he wanted. All with the side benefit of a steady piece.
But, then two months ago, at three in the morning, she’d knocked on his door. “I did it,” she said like she’d won a prize. “I left Larry.”
She threw her arms around him. He pushed her back. “What the fuck did you do that for?”
She looked like she was going to cry, “So we could be together,” she touched his face. “Like we talked about.”
Dwayne tried to remember back. Lots of times she’d talk about leaving olé Larry, about what an asshole Larry was. Dwayne would grunt agreement and try to grab one of her big olé titties. He didn’t care if she left Larry. That didn’t confront him none. But he didn’t want a wife, Larry’s, somebody else, or his own. Now he guessed was too late to tell her.
Every Saturday night she still wanted to go to the Two Step and dance. She could dance with whichever good olé boy caught her eye. But, if he so much as tipped his hat at a girl, they’d be hell to pay. She wouldn’t even wait until they left the bar. She’d cuss him right there in front of God and everybody. Then she’d tie in on the girl, threaten to scratch her eyes out. Dwayne knew he was fast becoming the laughing stock of the county. Pussy whipped was what they said.
Here he was lying with a whole woman snoring on his arm, when he’d only wanted a little part of her. He carefully slid his arm from under her head. She mumbled something and smacked her lips a couple times. He flexed his fingers to get the circulation back. If only she’d stayed with Larry. Now olé Larry had wanted her. He’d heard down at the garage that Larry was still moaning the Kourtney left me blues. Dwayne slid his leg off the edge of the bed. Maybe if he could convince Larry that Kourtney saw her mistake, olé Larry might take her back.
Dwayne shifted his weight to the edge of the bed. Kourtney flung her arm out and slapped him across the chest. Dwayne froze until she rolled over and her breathing got even and deep. He’d go talk to Larry tonight. Right now.
Slowly he crept out of bed and to the living room, slid into yesterday’s jeans and carried his boots to the stoop to put them on. Once dressed, he put his truck in neutral and let it roll down the hill before starting it. He felt good. He was gonna be a free man again. Dwayne laughed out loud.
As he drove he practiced what he’d say to Larry. First off he have to say he was sorry. He wouldn’t have to lie. He was truly sorry. Then he’d have to tell Larry how sorry Kourtney was and how much she regretted leaving. This was where lying would come in handy. He’d have make Larry believe that Kourtney was just pining away.
He’d pull up and knock on the door, real respectful. When Larry opened the door he’d stick out his hand and say, ‘Man I want to apologize for any hurt I’ve caused you and I’m here to try to make it right.’ Yeah, that was a good start. They’d shake hands and he’d wing it from there.
Dwayne swung a right off the highway and onto Larry’s road. He sung along with the radio, “And this bird you cannot change.” He down shifted and let his diesel stacks cackle. “Lord knows, I can't change.”
He saw Larry’s house just ahead. He lowered the radio volume and slowed down. Just as he was getting ready to turn in the drive, he saw Larry. The Dodge’s headlights lit him up, standing on the edge of the porch with a Bud in his hand. Behind him was a recliner, a box fan, a table with a boom box and a Coleman cooler. A party on the porch.
Dwayne pulled his eyes back to Larry. Larry looked surprised, but he didn’t look heartbroken. His jaw was tight, but he didn’t look like a man who wanted his wife to come home. He looked like a man who was free to party all night long. All night on his front porch if he wanted to. One thing he sure as hell didn’t look like. He sure didn’t look like he wanted Kourtney back.
All the hope Dwayne had felt just before came rushing out, like air from balloon. Larry wouldn’t gonna take Kourtney back. He was stuck with her. Here Larry stood with Dwayne’s freedom, while Dwayne was sentenced to life with Kourtney. “Fly high, free bird, yeah,” played softly.
Slowly Dwayne raised his middle finger.
Cecile Dixon is a retired ED nurse who, after a thirty-year sojourn to Ohio, has returned to her beloved Kentucky hills to write and raise goats and geese. Cecile holds and MFA from Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her work has been published in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Still the Journal, Women of Appalachia, Of A Certain Age, KY Herstory and other anthologies.