Nothing comes easy when Dwayne Handy rides shotgun, and once he has schmoozed his way into a stranger’s motel room, a Good Samaritan with a Prius and the keycard displays behavior that trips Sparky into a corner. He acts fast. First this rashness proves detrimental, and then, paradoxically, it’s only quick responses that saves a life. But ditching their bloodied Good Samaritan does not free our pair. The gold rings force them back to the scene of the crime—Room 8. Getting into a motel room, with no keycard? Can Dwayne become a man he abandoned? Read on and find out.
Same as Sherlock Holmes or your classic bounty hunter who always delivers, I track Spark to where I know he’ll be. He’s a runner, I figure, not a double-back tricky friggin’ espionage agent. The burn victim’ll run for the woods, even at night, same as he tried to do when I sleuthed him to Connecticut, and he’ll go right on through ‘em. And just like any on-the-lam dude needs shoes (which Spark ain’t got), when I steer a bendy back road to nearby woods, there he is.
Hunkered under a streetlight. Hood high and hidin’ the unpleasant goods. Nightmare creature’a my sweetest goddamn dreams. My friggin’ charge.
“Spark,” I shout joyumphantly as I throw open the shotgun door. “Hop the fuck in!”
“This thing’s runnin’ shaky and might be almost outta gas…”
It’s crystal friggin’ clear that the kid’s got a hair across his sports-star-turned-French-fry-turned-road-warrior ass. A’course the clue ain’t in his face, which don’t tell me squat (even without the hood), but the kid’s stance, rigid, and his fists, balled—that’s the shit gives his bad mood away. And his bad don’t reflect my good.
I’m thinkin’ Jim Frye the AA Guy’s at the hospital, we’re not, and it’s best to leave the bad there with him. Which leaves plenty’a room for laughs. Or at least a sigh’a relief between buddies.
Plus, this time the stupidity wasn’t mine.
Blinded by the headlights, Spark turns his hood. “What car is that?” he goes, all mad-like.
“The one you’re lookin at, numb nuts. Get in.”
He paces a short line. “We need to fucking talk. We need—”
“In the car. We’ll talk till Clarence’s goddamn cows come home. C’mon.”
But a’course the kid can’t just let good luck be: “Where’d you get the car, Dwayne?”
“What, ya don’t like it? It ain’t burn victim enough for you?”
Even in the high beams I can see that Spark’s lack’a face’s like a gob’a chomped grape Bubble Yum. His fists’re burls and he’s shakin’.
“Spark. Buddy. It’s friggin’ over. Sun’s gonna rise on a hospital where surgeons’re busy bullet-extractin’ and patchin’ up Jim I shoulda had a AA meetin’ Frye before it rises on us, and I know this, Spark, ‘cause it’s simple math. One and one equals us leavin’ motel room bullshit behind us as we cruise-control west at 90 mph.”
Spark’s head’s maybe back to its regular original Bubble Yum color—though it’s hard to be sure with headlight-lit objects—but his frame’s definitely wiltin’ like a get well bouquet kept too long in a hospital room. He drops to sittin’ on road-shoulder rocks. His socks look torn and bloody.
Lights off, along with the jalopy I found and borrowed’s engine, I mosey over and set his holey boots at his hurt feet. I sit down near him. The streetlight gouges shadow holes that surround us, and we both’d prob’ly sink into ‘em if we could—at least to sleep.
“This is all too insane,” he says. “Too fucking insane.” He’s starin’ at a spot in the shadowy dirt. His open palms sweep away sticks and stones and then press down on the solid earth.
Since I figure he’s right about too insane, I keep clammed up so as not to rile him back up.
“I’m too fucking sick of cops, of feeling afraid, of always having to look over my shoulder…of being in stupid fucking situations. So I’m done. I’m not cut out for this.” Spark starts urpin’ and snots’re streamin’ over his lack’a lips and runny shit’s riverin’ right into his fuckin’ mouth! The kid’s cryin’ and what’s a guardian friggin’ angel gonna do about that? I don’t remember George Bailey blubberin’ in front’a Clarence. Plus George’s got Jimmy Stewart’s face, and havin’ any goddamn face makes everythin’ more normal and easy to figure out. All’s I got’s an urpin’ burn victim and thusly I’m wrackin’ my gray matter for a hopeful fuckin’ sayin’. But my brain stalled, which suddenly don’t matter ‘cause he’s barkin’ his laugh noise and wipin’ snot with his sweat shirt and goin’: “What in the hell are you wearing, Dwayne?”
The seal bark’s like a balm to my chapped goddamn ears.
“Okay, Spark, you got questions,” I goes. “But luckily…again, luckily, Sparkola, you and me’re now on the upside. Which could’a easily not been the way the numeralies added up.” I blink my eyes like my eyelids’re addin’ figures. “I mean, you GSWed some guy and then instantaneously suspect the worst about me? As your guardian friggin’ angel I bring great fuckin’ tidin’s!”
“Sure that, plus the jalopy. But, Spark, here I’m referrencin’ times that ain’t arrived.” I see he’s gawkin’ at the getup I swiped from the hospital. “These duds I commandeered from some geezer on a breathin’ machine. Alert as a goddamn Easter egg. Since Easter eggs ain’t interest in suitin’ up in any duds, I figured, why leave a cluttered closet? And the car, well, I sorta bought it.”
“No. I’m saying your golden rings. Where are they?” This question locks-up my friggin’ brakes and sends my fingers divin’ into my empty pants pocket. “Dwayne. They’re back at the room.”
“The room we just friggin’ escaped from?”
“They’re under one of the beds. I thought I told you. I swallowed the third one.”
I got no words equal to this news.
Dwayne stops the rusted brown Cavalier at the curb a distance down the street from the Motel 6. From here we have an unobstructed view of room 8. The closed door. No cops. Streetlights and neon made hazy by thickening fog. Zero people. A surreal and creepy scene.
It’s just past midnight. And we don’t have a keycard to the room.
Luckily, Dwayne has Jim Frye’s wallet. Luckily because to be granted a new keycard we’ll need the right ID. The trick will be having the desk clerk believe Dwayne is Jim Frye. Tricky because Jim’s driver license shows a man with styled dark hair and killer eyebrows—Dwayne has only a crown of blonde nubs.
“No sweat. I got fine friggin’ eyebrows, Spark.”
Dwayne looks nothing like Jim.
“Hey. Sparky. Brad Pitt or what?” Dwayne makes his rendition of a Brad Pitt expression—he looks nothing like Brad Pitt.
Drizzle dots the windshield.
“Maybe if you keep the hood up.”
“Okay. George Clooney brows, then.”
“It’s Jim you’re trying to become.” I fight the urge to call him an imbecile, a fucking jackass, tell him that he resembles none of these people, that there exists no one in the world like him, no one who drags trouble behind them like a late afternoon shadow. And talks people to death. I long to hammer his nose until my fists bleed, kick him in the temples…but first we need those rings. To sell. Cash to escape Dwayne’s lunacy. “The night clerk’s never seen Jim so it should work. You have his credit cards…in case you’re asked for the one Jim used—”
“Yeah, Spark, got it.”
“And the rings—”
“Under the bed. To the right. I friggin’ know.”
The mist turns to drizzle turns to rain, all in my walk from El Cavalier to the motel office.
“Hey,” I say, when the bells attached to the lobby door stop tinklin’.
An I’m who Sparky woulda become college kid’s behind the check-in counter. Muscles showin’ through his friggin’ dress-up clothes. Textbooks spread-eagled on a side desk. I’m better than you blue eyes glintin’ outta his jock sockets. “Help you?”
“I need a new keycard.” I’m doin’ my best Jim Frye impersonation, one I never done before, and even if I had, cloaked in the burn victim’s grubbed-out spare hood I sound more like Darth Vader as an obscene phone caller than AA Jim. “Mine’s locked in the room.”
After blowin’ a breath that says You stupid fuck, he goes for a gawk up my super hood. Like it’s a Jap schoolgirl skirt and he’s hungry to sample the eye-candy he imaginates my puss to be. Like he’s got every goddamn right to taste others’ goods. He’s Hannibal Lecher with a football and a smirk’a shark teeth. When it’s clear I ain’t liftin’ my hood, asshole wolf goes: “Room…?” He’s clickin’ keys and starin’ at a screen I can’t see. Without a glance at me, he says. “The rooms are numbered, dude. That’s how we, like, keep track.” Got a mockin’ tone, this one does.
I want my response to knock his better-than crown to the lobby floor, want it to baseball bat his kneecaps. Headlock the fucker, make him cry uncle… Trouble is I can’t friggin’ remember. Is it 6 or 8? Is this Motel 6 or…? “Room 8,” I tell him.
I notice my reflection in the big window to my right. Blue hoodie, pink bit’a face. And it hits me: I could be him. Standin’ here, I am him. Spark’s double-gangbanger or whatever they call that one person who’s you in every way but ain’t. For laughs I flip the dude in the glass off, and he a’course offers me the same kindness.
“ID,” he barks. This self-important joker demands obedience.
I open Jimbo’s wallet. Get the AA guy’s license out.
“And the card you used to reserve the room.” Said like I’m an imbecile.
Why do these pricks always stand on that side’a the counter, collectin’ your info, money, and rulin’ the goddamn world? I slap the license down. But what credit card? Hatin’ to seem like a moron, I play it cool. “Gee whiz, boss. I can’t recall which card I used.”
He looks at the license and then at the visible slice’a my face. And ka-pow! Hannibal’s light bulb moment’s a nuclear flash that has every part’a him meltin’, shiftin’. “Ahh,” he says in a different tone. “Mr. Frye. It’s your MasterCard. That ends in 4242? Is that it…right there?” He points.
I surrender the MasterCard.
I don’t know what changed, but the asshole wolf’s gone. Replaced by a friend who’ll prob’ly be mayor one day. He passes the cards back, plus a new keycard. An electric friggin’ smile. If I met him now, he wouldn’t be a prick who’d swipe his granny’s dentures. Hannibal’s shape-shifted to a goddamn Boy Scout. But I’ve wrestled two-faced jocks so I ain’t duped. I do hate politicians.
I make to go.
Weird snickers Morse-code outta his mouth. “Mr. Frye,” he says, and I turn back. “Thing is, I read a lot.” His laser beam stare’s set on reverse, suckin’ me toward him. “So, I have to ask. Are you…well…you know. Him? A Million Little Pieces?”
“Listen, ah”—I discover his nametag—“Geoff…”
“No, no,” he says, with a forgivin’ snort, “not Gee-off. It’s pronounced Jeff.”
“So, Jeff. I got no time for talk, okay? You seen the fuckin’ ID, the MasterCard, and I’m tired—”
“So you did. You wrote it.” His nod says he knew whatever he thinks he knows the whole time.
“Hey, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Oprah’s a bitch.”
“She shouldn’t’ve reamed you over that fiction-nonfiction crap, because who cares? I mean—”
Those goddamn bells haven’t changed but they almost shock me onto my friggin’ knees. I slam the office door behind me and run into the rainy night.
The wait feels endless.
Between stares at the office window, through which I cannot see the front desk, only a beige wall with a mirror showing another beige wall, I conduct a search. Glove box: grimy documents, dog-eared maps, and something small and furry. Perhaps a dead mouse. Under the seats—but no. My imagination curtails that—any gruesome remnant could wait under these seats. I fiddle with the radio, which sucks. Poor reception. Lots of static. Preachers fade in and out of the white noise—
Dwayne bolts from the motel office like a kid who just sat on a beehive. Hood like a periscope, aiming this way, that way, and every other way—do I look like that?—he splashes through pools of fresh rain. He opens the door to room 8. Closes it.
A second long wait ensues. Becomes longer. And longer. Where is he? What could he be doing?
The passenger door of this rust bucket creaks when it opens. Not a problem unless you are where you shouldn’t be, doing what you shouldn’t be doing, which here and now in Tupelo, MS we are. Our shouldn’ts: assuming someone’s identity, breaking-entering. Sort of shooting a man. As it is, we run the risk of being apprehended by southern cops and being charged with a crime we’d be hard pressed to explain away. And this door doesn’t emit a soft creak, or a brief creak, or a creak subdued by the now heavy rain. This door screeches like a cat in sexual throes; it screams like a woman riding a rollercoaster; it scrapes and grinds as if the car were being crushed, compacted, demolished; and it leaves me with no choice but to leave the door open, and charge for the room that seems to have swallowed Dwayne Handy.
A room with a dark window.
I beat wet asphalt with my increasingly soggy boots—boots holeyer than any savior I know of—and I’m calculating odds. Of Dwayne having fallen, been rendered unconscious. Of some person witnessing my dash through bum weather at a late hour. Of this same witness dialing 911 after seeing my madly flailing limbs. Of sirens sounding; red, blue, white lights flashing. Of someone being shot, dead, lying face-down in a mud puddle. Or in an oily puddle—there is no mud here.
My calculations do not cause elation. Rather, my dread grows.
I veer away from the motel rooms, my saturated boots slapping a path past the row of rooms. My energy-depleted body rounds one corner, and another, ducking between buildings until I’m behind the motel. In a trash littered alleyway. Counting small windows that are set too high for me to look into. Bathroom windows.
One, two, three.
Some are lit, others not.
Four, five, six.
What the hell is he doing?
Could he, as I creep down a dark alley, be back in the car wondering about me?
Would he drive off and leave me here? Leave me behind?
Would that be a bad thing?
Window number eight is lit.
Could Dwayne be in the bathroom? Taking a shit?
Maybe I counted wrong. Squinting through rain, I add up windows—no, this is room 8. I think. I may have counted backwards—starting with the last room.
Assessing surroundings illuminated by the few bright windows, as November pours its cold rain, I begin discovering odds, ends, useless refuse. And milk crates. That once held quart containers. Sturdy plastic crates. Perfect for holding books, record albums. Stackable crates.
It only takes a short stack and I’m up, staring at opaque glowing glass. Steamed. Condensation dripping inside the window. I rap with a sore knuckle (every inch of me is wounded in one way or another), and a hand, which is not mine, which is not out here, wipes away moisture. And lo, I am face-to-face with my guardian friggin’ angel. He’s wet too, but his is a warm, rosy-cheeked wet. Dwayne smiles.
“Sparky,” he yells through the glass.
I respond by putting my fist through the window.
Talk about your classic friggin’ shock. There I am, finally gettin’ the shower I deserve after all the road warrior bullcrap. Next there’s this hearty friggin’ knockin’ at the window over the toilet. I walk a puddle-path from the still showerin’ shower. A swipe reveals the kid’s hood on the other side’a the pane, outside in the downpour, and—KABOOM—the glass between guardian friggin’ angel and his charge explodes. To further shatter my serene moment, the motel room door loudly wallops the wall, and I, shakin’ shards’a sharp from my freshly razed head, hear not only Spark’s barks but also calls from the other side’a the cheapo bathroom door for me to come out.
Do I face Spark, who’s obviously pissed? Or do I face the fuckhead who’s musclin’ at the knob’a the locked bathroom door? Not a tough call.
I move quick.
I shove Spark’s head backwards—he squeals and crash-splashes with startlin’ violence—and I knuckle-knock a leftover fringe’a window glass out, and since the clothes I commandeered’re scattered on a bed I never wanna see again, I snake headfirst out the window, naked—on my back so’s I don’t do damage to my more-than-ample manhood (no easy task)—and freefall ten goddamn feet.
Spark’s set to duke it out, but I ain’t.
“Spark! The cops! They’re in the room! At the bathroom door! We gotta get gone! Now!”
A’course I don’t know if it’s actual cops, or if the front desk dick’s come for an autograph, but would you’ve played wait-n-see? Me and Spark? We run. Fast and for goddamn miles, accordin’ to my hypothermiated body and battered bare feet. Which’re about to quit, when Spark shoves me, tells me to climb in, and finally I’m shiverin’, tellin’ him: “We can’t stay here. I’m newborn naked and ripe for infections, or freeze to death.” Spark’s squattin’, hunched low, chin on knees. His left side’s squished against my right side and my left side’s touchin’ the garbage we pushed to the side of this dumpster. I’m in a squat, too—I ain’t keen on putrid juices seepin’ up my ass. Bad enough that my shoeless, torn-up feet got no choice but to sponge up whatever dieases’re brewin’ in this metal tomb. Which’s a coffin fit for a fatso. ‘Cause all this, I know it’s payback. Eke’s revenge. My thinkin’s the gargantuan Hawaiian got his wings and wasted no friggin’ time before givin’ Clarence an earful. Anyways, since Spark’s playin’ Harpo Marx minus the horn or the happy, my bet’s that he’s pissed. Add to the silent treatment his clamped-tight fuckin’ teeth and the hot blasts leavin’ his nose holes and it ain’t a tough code to crack. His fists, too—those hams ain’t sendin’ vibes’a brotherhood. But no way I’m mentionin’ Spark’s lack’a happy, since he’s the only heater in this box. Nude-runnin’ through the rain wrecked my body’s heatin’ coil.
“A fucking shower,” he scoffs.
“Ah, Spark. I get it. You’re a little jealous.”
“You’re naked and cold.”
“Spark. You wouldn’t’ve done the same?”
“I’m outta here.” He stands, raises the lid, and shimmies outta the dumpster.
Quick steps on alley asphalt wake me up. My eyes stay shut. Playin’ possum. I hear the door fly open, feel the burst’a cold rain—and wet rags slap my face.
“Get dressed asshole. We have to get that car.”
The clothes are wet rags—someone’s from somewheres—but I don’t hesitate to put ‘em on.
The carnival of pulsating police lights do not interfere with us reaching the Cavalier, although Dwayne’s cut and swill-saturated bare feet, and the rain, did slow us down. Now he’s his usual bossy self.
“No. I’m driving.”
“Alright. Christ, Spark. No sense in yellin’ when the cops—”
We pull the doors shut slowly to minimize the metal-to-metal squeal and I fire the old car to life. First try. Not bad is what I think, but, once we’re a good half hour out of Tupelo, headed toward Little Rock, what I say is, “Lucky I didn’t kill you.”
“Says a lot that you didn’t—”
Miles pass. I scan exit signs for coffee joints. I’ll drive all night to get Mississippi behind us.
“Spark, I don’t recall ever welcomin’ you to our friggin’ cruise ship. Rusty, but runnin’. A steal for only four hundred bucks.”
I have nothing to say, which of course doesn’t stop Dwayne.
“Took what was left from payin’ them train-stoppin’ kids. But I don’t regret it. A’course it ain’t got the whammafied glamour’a Clitoris and the rest’a Jim’s shrimp-boat Prius, but it’s roomy.”
Apparently satisfied that he has officially introduced me to the car, and pleased with his disclosure of the details of his buying experience, though only a fool believes a story Dwayne Handy tells, my guardian angel promptly falls asleep.
I drive. And drive. No valid license in Randy Prescott’s name, but Randy’s dead. I, the phoenix, have a valid driver’s license, and so I drive. The rain eases and then stops, and I drive.
Until the Cavalier stalls in a McDonald’s parking lot.
“Huh? Spark. Where are we?”
Looking around I realize don’t know the town or state. “McDonald’s,” I say. “Open 24 hours.”
Dwayne stretches himself awake. “Cool. Hungry?”
“Do we have money?”
“Ah.” Dwayne holds up a finger, as if he’s pointing at his Clarence. “The thing’a that is, though most’a the ring moolah went towards El Cavalier and its fuel, and though I did find a cash stash in AA Jimbo’s car and a few bucks in the old dude’s clothes, all that’s back at the room. Which we ain’t re-friggin’-visitin’. But—”
“So you left the other two rings in that room.”
“I’m gettin’ to that.” Dwayne grins like he’s high on some wonder drug I never ingested. “Now you, Sparkola, might think I’m a fuckoff, and bein’ honest, I can’t blame ya, ‘cause a lotta the time I think I’m a fuckoff. Till I seen you in action back in Jimbo’s short-stay digs. Talk about your classic boneheaded…anyways. Point is, an old fuckoff but I can still learn new tricks—”
“And I learned from the best. You.” He blinks his eyes at me.
“I’m lost. You mean shooting Jim? Or are you saying that I somehow taught you to steal money from incapacitated people?” I scowl at McDonald’s lights, yellows and reds reflected in parking lot rainwater.
“I swallowed ‘em,” he says. “So they couldn’t get lost. Now we both just gotta poop ‘em out.”
“The fun just never ends.”
“Thought you’d be proud.”
“What’re you, five years old?”
“Spark. We’re stupid fuckin’ boats. And the end’s always the same.”
“Yeah, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
“Today we’re alive. Anyways. To get those rings out, I knew I had to eat. So, back in Jimbo’s room, after I swallowed the rings, I collected every bit’a food I could find. Turns out the guy had all kinds’a hidden munchies. Half’a which I saved for you, Spark. ‘Cause I ain’t always the self-preservatin’ bastard you think. Anyways, before the shower I ate. I drank a gallon’a friggin’ tap water.” He grins. “And now…there’s a rumbly in my friggin’ tumbly.” He grabs the door handle.
“How does laying golden rings buy us dinner? Aren’t you hungry? Because what I’m thinking is that we’ll be hard pressed to find a pawnshop or whatever open now. At three in the morning.”
“Spark. C’mon. You’re like an old fuckin’ woman.” His pause stops time and yet makes me feel older. More tired and hungry. It accentuates my bodily pain. “Okay. You still got that ten bucks I gave you? Back in…well, before those pint-size delinquents burned the chick on the tracks?”
“That’s for emergencies. Coffee.”
“Here’s your emergency. Ten bucks’ll feed us. Since El Cavalier’s kaput, we don’t need to stay awake. Tonight we eat and then we pinch a pair’a golden goddamn loaves. We sleep. Tomorrow we’ll sell the gold, we buy big old coffees, get the ride up and runnin’. And a room. No Jim. No guns. Tomorrow we rent a room, just you and me. To heal. Sleep. Alright? Now c’mon. Time for chow. Get those rings out into the open goddamn air!”
Maybe to some classy clowns McDonald’s ain’t no one’s kinda place, but latter day Mad Maxes like me and my charge ain’t complainin’. Once upon a scoreboard clock Sparkola mighta nixed a Quarter Pounder with cheese and he’d definitely’ve balked at sharin’ fries with the likes’a yours truly, but those days’re gone. And the Mickey D’s food’s gone too fast to consider social class or times that died a fiery death. Funny thing’s it feels like I scarf three times the grub I do. Must be due to a shrunk stomach.
Sleepin’ in the car makes us feel like we’ve reached some hobo height…only I guess hobos don’t got wheels. Either which way Spark don’t hear nothin’ from me (‘cept maybe some snorin’) till my lids lift to a sunshiny day. He misses me sayin’ Good mornin’, buddy!—‘cause old Spark, he ain’t in the backseat. He ain’t sittin’ on El Cavalier’s hood, osmosissin’ vitamin D and the other heal-what-ails-ya properties’a midmornin’ sun. As a matter’a friggin’ fact the kid’s nowhere to be seen.
You can prob’ly imaginate my alarm. Electrified awake in a heated goddamn hurry and scannin’ the fast food surroundin’s. Not ‘cause’a me needin’ him to bodyguard me, or ‘cause I’m scared’a bein’ by my lonesome. The reason alarm jolts me alert and checkin’ for sign’a grungy blue hood life between those business buildin’s my devotion to duty. The longer this road gets, the more I know I gotta stay glued to the kid’s side—‘cause this guardian friggin’ angel gig, it ain’t no joke.
So there I was fabriculatin’ my next move when the sound’a knuckle against glass nearly had me crappin’ those rings right into the friggin’ seat’a my still-damp, hobo free-box slacks (last night’s attempts resulted only in passed gas). Nearly but not quite ‘cause after last night I know that burn victim knock when it rattles my jolly. I roll the car’s window down.
“You shit yet?”
“Almost. When you snuck up on me just now.”
“I found a pawnshop.”
“You talk to ‘em?”
“And rob you of the joy of talking?”
Spark’s got a bit’a the salt-in-my-wounds tone’a that front desk dick prior to him discoverin’ my true rock-star book-writer identity. But figurin’ that playin’ the Oprah-bashed author ain’t gonna help the Sparkola situation (‘cause there’s definitely a situation brewin’), I keep my trap shut.
“So, did you?” Spark’s rugged tone’s due to the factoid that he pooped his gold egg last night in one’a Ronald McDonald’s shitters.
“What I did, Spark, was just wake the fuck up.”
“So try again. We can’t stay in this parking lot. Do you even have papers for this car?”
“A handshake deal involves no paper.”
“And that’s why I’m out here. Where I’m staying until I see the rings. Or better, cash. Really, whatever you have in your fucking hand, I’m done with this clunker. It’s a free ticket to jail.”
I screech my way outta El Cavalier, which ain’t a clunker and still may aid us in our travels. The door’s closin’ sounds worse than it did openin’. “You be around when I get back?”
“You’ll see me.”
Anyways. When the gold’s in my hand and I’ve talked my way to six hundred and fifty bucks, we finally get a room at a walkin’-distance Marriott.
And now, we’re showered and full’a room service food. Spark remote-trolls through channels.
Flash-image news station.
And…nothin’. A black screen.
“The fuck?” I say.
“It’s time to talk, Dwayne. Really talk.” Sparky sounds like a dad I can’t imagine havin’ and he looks worse than any dad I ever seen, but I can tell he means business.
“I’m not joking.”
“But, Spark, the look on your lack’a face…”
“No, no. I mean, it’s real friggin’ cool. All this time you and me been ramblin’ bros and finally I’m gettin’ tuned-in to the expressions’a your scar tissue.”
Frustrated, I flop flat on my queen-size bed. Mattress supporting my skull, spine, ass, and heels. Its firmness is reassuring. As is the ceiling. Plaster textured like gentle meringue. Faces rise from the white waves. Cartoon characters. Caricatures of my parents. Coach. The kid I was. Be nice if it wasn’t only fruit of my sleep-deprived imagination. I want to sleep, but I need to tell Dwayne, my mirror image, lying on his bed, my plans. “Dwayne. It’s over. I’m leaving in the morning.”
“Who’s friggin’ what?” he says, but he doesn’t take me seriously. He aims the remote this way and that, in every direction except at the TV, fingering buttons as if he’s turning on and off parts of the room, muting reality so that his version can be true.
I’m on my feet, pacing on the rug between the TV and the beds. “It’s gone too far. Way too far. Someone’s gonna die,” I say. “Again.”
“Oh fuck. I totally forgot.” He bolts upright, clicks the screen to life. “Think old Jimbo made the news?” Channels flash.
“We’re in another fucking state, stupid.”
Dwayne mutes the sound but a news station continues to run its tickers and video clips. “Damn, Spark. That fuckin’ hurts. You know I been called that my whole miserable life?”
I take a deep breath and exhale words: “Listen. I know you and me are tangled together in this. All the shit that’s gone down. The craziness since you found me in Connecticut.” My steps stop and recall the last month. Or five weeks. Three or twenty. I don’t even know the date. “No one’s to blame, okay? It’s just…happened. And this life, well, it’s tough.”
“I tried to get you to come back to the pad.”
“And here we are. In Arkansas. I think.” I resume my march. The plush rug soothes my torn up feet. Each step a salve. “This trip started because I wanted to, I don’t know, sort things out. Find something. I had to leave Anderson. But, Dwayne, I’ve found what I was looking for.”
“Yeah? Thought you didn’t even know what it was.”
“Or it found me. Whichever, I’m there. Here. Done.”
“What, so now you wanna go home?”
“I don’t need a guardian angel is my point.”
“Guardian friggin’ angel.”
“Point being you can go home. You have money now. I saw a bus station.”
“No disrespect, Spark, but fuck that. What? You givin’ me the boot right before Thanksgiving? Where’m I s’pose to go? Sis’s? After borrowin’ and spontaneously torchin’ her El Torpedo? By no fault’a mine. All to rescue your barbecued ass? Think she’ll be all open arms and shit?”
“I didn’t need resc—”
“And right when it’s gettin’ witch’s tit cold? You’re just sayin’ fuck you very much and trekkin’ off into the sunset? No, Spark.”
“It’s what needs—”
“Argh! What a fucking pigheaded…” I snatch a pillow off my bed and bounce it off him.
I pick up the heavy lamp that sits beside the flat screen on the set of draws…I set it down. We’ve been hurt enough. And I don’t hate the guy. Maybe I should, but I don’t. I sit on my bed. “Okay, Dwayne, you want to stay with me? I need an honest answer. Why can’t you let me go? Why is it so hard for you? To just let it all go? That night, the accident, you retell it like you’re reliving it. But the past, Dwayne, it’s fucking dead.”
“Well, Sparkiola, it may be difficult for a guy like you, faithless, stubborn, but I got a duty that don’t finish till the friggin’ cows come home. Literal-like. And, you see a home? Any cows?”
“Aw, Dwayne, you’ve fulfilled your duty.”
“I’m like bound by some friggin’ whaddaya call it, iron-clad contract. The long haul.”
“Dwayne. It’s all in your mind.”
“Sorry if you don’t agree, but this discussion’s over. Now I’m weeks past fuckin’ tired and you look worse. So… .” Dwayne draws the heavy drapes. He kills the TV and the room is dark.
Words exhausted, we climb in our individual beds, turn out the lights and