Sunday, May 5, 2013

THE PICK-UP: A tale for #ShortStorySunday

Does every jukebox in America have this song on it?  I know Elvis is the king and all, but at 2:30 in the morning after driving for practically ten hours straight, the last thing a guy wants to hear is "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You".  Sure you can, Elvis.  It's a lot easier than you think.


Did I make a mistake going into this line of work?  I suppose there's something to be said for a regular nine to five type gig. A small house in some suburb, the little woman lying in my arms, Junior dreaming away in the room down the hall.

Who am I kidding?  Why do I always get these delusional fantasies at 2:30 in the morning in some generic bar off Route 66? It must be the damn song that does it to me.  Time for a reality check.  That stuff is best left for Norman Rockwell paintings.  Two mortgages on one house, Junior needs braces, the lawn needs mowing, and I just can't get it up for the little woman anymore.  Who needs it?  I'll stick with my 18-wheeler, the open road, and a cold beer on a hot night.

Well what have we here?  The other advantage to the life of a truck driver.  A new, anonymous, one time only, warm body on any given night.  I've always been partial to blondes.  It's probably a dye job, but if a woman can make her follicular wishes come true, who am I to judge?  She's got nice wide hips, just the way I like 'em.  Five pounds more would be too much.  Five pounds less and there wouldn't be enough to grab on to.  The breasts aren't bad either.  Always been a breast man, ever since my mama was nursing me.  A few years down the road they'll be sagging down to her waist.  But for now they're standing firm and proud, and now is all I'm interested in.      

"Mind if I buy you a drink?"

"It's your money," she says.

A woman with attitude.  I like that.  But even if I didn't, it makes no difference.  The game plan is the same either way.  An hour or so of small talk and alcohol, followed by a night of pleasure and then breakfast in bed tomorrow morning.  There's nothing like a home cooked meal before hitting the road.

"The name's Jack."
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"Hello, Jack.  I'm Lonette."

Here we go again.  I'm sure he's out looking for a quickie.  They always are.  Then once they're done using your body and unloading your refrigerator, you never hear from them again.  Haven't I had my fill of empty promises?  I had happiness once.  Fifteen years of it.  I'm not going to find another man like Bill in some roadside bar.  Men like him are too few and far between.  I was lucky to find Bill, and luck like that only comes along once in a lifetime.  So why am I here? 

For the same reason I show up every weekend.  Hoping luck might decide to be kind and strike twice.
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"Two more of the same, bartender.  That's a real shame, Lonette.  I bet you two had something special."

She's a widow.  I probably won't even need a full hour.  Widows are God's gift to the truck driver.  They're lonely, and horny, and desperate for someone to love.  They'd prefer a lifetime but will take whatever they can get.  I just have to appear sympathetic, which should be no problem, cause I suppose I am.  It must be pretty hard to lose someone you've been with for so long.  You base your motivation to wake up each morning on the idea of that person being there.  Then one day they're gone, and suddenly you have no life.  That's one pitfall I plan to avoid. I live for no one but myself. 

"Don't you get lonely driving around all the time?" she asks. "Don't you ever think about settling down?"

"I guess it has to do with temperament.  You're the type who couldn't stand always being on the move.  I hate sitting in one place."
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"I think meeting the right woman might ground you."

"Anything's possible," he says.

He has nice eyes.  They're honest and direct, like Bill's were.  When I looked into them I saw that I had nothing to fear. I recognized that before me stood a man who wanted the same thing as myself, to do right by someone. 

Bill was just passing through as well, but as soon as we caught sight of one another, somehow we both knew what was meant to be.  When two people connect like that, it's such a rare thing they'd be fools to ignore it. 

I sense something about this truck driver.  Maybe it's the beer, or the music, or my imaginative loneliness.  Or maybe it's what I've been waiting for.  The second strike.
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"Fifteen years is a long time to be with someone.  And five years alone must seem a whole lot longer.  Another round, bartender."

I feel kind of guilty, almost.  But that's silly.  I'm not doing anything wrong.  The worst anyone could say is that I'm using her.  Or I will be soon, anyway.  But she'll be using me too.  The way I see it, it's an even trade.

"Some days are longer than others," she says.  "So where are you headed to on this trip?"

"San Diego."

"Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to travel.  First see America, then Europe.  Bill and I just never had the time or the money.  I read a lot, so I have a head full of places I'd love to go.  But I'll probably never get to most of them.  I envy you that.  You must have seen a great deal."

"I've seen a lot of highways.  They all pretty much look the same."
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It's ridiculous pinning my hopes on some smooth talking vagabond, but hope is a mighty powerful force to contend with.  If I leave now, I can spare myself the disappointment.  But I might be missing out on something special.  It's all a crap shoot, life and love.  You have no chance of winning if you don't put your money down and toss the dice.

"Which is your favorite of the places you've been?"

"I'd have to say Texas," he answers.  "I've gone through four or five times, and I always seem to have a good time one way or another.  Maybe when I get tired of the road I'll settle down there."

"I suppose it's the only place big enough for you not to feel crowded in."
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"You might be right."
It's almost time for us to get off these hard bar stools and between some soft sheets.  Chivalry aside, I prefer when they make the suggestion.  I guess it's an ego thing.  But if she isn't so inclined, I'm certainly not opposed to bringing up the notion.  I can't wait to have her legs wrapped around me.  There's no better feeling in the world. 

Her eyes are starting to glaze over.  The beer must be taking effect.  Come to think of it, I'm getting sort of buzzed myself.  Wild, drunken sex with a beautiful woman I've never seen before and never will again.  I don't know why God makes nights like these, but I'm sure glad HE does.         

"Fill them up, bartender.  Keep the change."
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"Don't you just love this song, Jack?"

"Sure do," he replies.

I like his hands.  They're strong, but gentle.  He's probably a good lover.  If he knows what to say, he must know what to do.  I'm feeling dizzy from these beers he's been plying me with.  It feels good the way he's rubbing my arm.  It feels just right. 

Maybe he's not my Prince Charming.  Chances are he won't stick around for tomorrow.  So what?  At least I'll have tonight, and I owe myself that simple pleasure.  Perhaps the man I am fated to be with will come around some other day.  Or maybe waiting in vain for his arrival is my destiny.  If so, might as well have some fun while I'm at it.  Let me put self pity and hopeless daydreams aside for a few hours and just enjoy.  I deserve it.
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"Love me tender, love me true," croons Mr. Presley.  "All my dreams fulfilled.  For my darling, I love you.  And I always will."  Maybe Elvis does have the right idea.  To feel that way about somebody, to find the person who fulfills your dreams.  How can that be a bad thing?  I've been running from commitment for a long time now.  Ever since Charlene left.  That was over three years ago, but the wound has somehow managed to remain fresh.
My head is spinning.  Guess I went a little over my limit with the brews.  Lonette really is beautiful.  I can't wait to be in her embrace.  It hasn't felt right in any woman's arms since Charlene. There's something about this pretty small town widow.  It's like she understands me somehow, even though she hardly knows me.  Maybe this time will be different.  Perhaps this one will last.  I can't keep driving past life forever.  Sooner or later, I'm bound to hit a stop sign.  Could this be it?  Could this be what I've been looking for?  

"You truly are a remarkable woman, Lonette.  I didn't think I was ready to lay my heart on the line, but I guess it's not up to us to determine when the time is right.   How about we go over to your place to talk in private?  To talk about changing my travel plans, perhaps."

I know it sounds like a line, but I couldn't have been more sincere.  I can only hope she realizes this, or that I will eventually be able to convince her of my noble intentions.

"Whatever," she says in response, as if speaking her final word of resignation to the head of a firing squad.
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There they go.  I've met some interesting folks since I started bartending, but those two definitely take the prize. Last night they were an English professor and his star pupil.  The night before, he was a congressman and she was an intern.  Before that, he was a personal trainer and she was one of his clients.  My favorite was when Bill pretended to be a rock star and Charlene gave an Oscar caliber performance as a groupie.  I made good tip money that time, a lot more than tonight.  They try to be as realistic as possible, and it makes sense that a rock star would tip considerably more than a truck driver.

Every night is Halloween in their world.  Must be kind of nice.  For sure it takes a good deal of imagination and energy to do what they do.  But the alternative is going through the motions of a humdrum existence day after day.  I applaud any attempt to escape the mundane.  I suppose I'm doing the same thing through my job.

Oh, I don't mean bartending.  I'm really a writer.  I just do this to pay the bills and put myself in a perfect vantage point to observe people in their most open state, perhaps steal a story or two.

I guess everybody role plays to some extent.  We divvy up our psyches in order to present ourselves in different lights to different people, to accommodate their specific needs and expectations.  We're one person for our lovers, another for our friends, another for our co-workers, another for our parents, another yet for our children.  Most of us are just dabbling in the game as we deem it necessary.  Bill and Charlene raise the enterprise to the level of art.

My creative juices are beginning to flow, thanks in large part to the performance of my favorite couple.  Within the hour I'll have the old writer's cap on.  My imagination is most fertile just before dawn.  But there's an important piece of business I must take care of first.

"Last call!" 

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