It was about six-thirty in the morning by the time Dale finally fell asleep. His girlfriend Daisy had left for work at her bakery an hour or so earlier.
He slept until it was five o’clock the following afternoon. His head throbbed and immediately he leaned over and got a cigarette out of his blue jeans that were on the floor next to the bed. He lit it and lay there smoking in bed for a while. Then he got up, and walked naked to the kitchen to make coffee and toast.
Dale lived alone in a gutted-out building. Daisy slept over a lot because it was closer to her bakery than her bungalow across town was. Rent was cheap and he had tons of space. He had sequestered off his bedroom by hanging canvas drop cloths between old work ladders. These were left-behind items from a painting business that used to occupy the building. Besides this, the rest of the place was wide open. The side that faced the street was completely glass, and since it faced west, when Dale woke up in the late afternoons like this — as he almost always did — the entire space would fill with a very warm dusty natural light. Right along the exposed brick wall perpendicular to this glass was where he had jimmied together his makeshift kitchen, which consisted of a deep work sink, an old stovetop and a series of mini fridges. He kept his microwave and coffee pot on the floor.
Dale had one table in the whole place. It was a white door stacked on top of piles of cinder blocks. In the holes of the cinderblocks he had stuffed magazines and newspapers and all around the desk were stacked books and CD’s, and lines of records came out of the wall nearby. His old computer and turntable were on the desk, but besides those two items, an ashtray and some notes here and there, it was relatively clutter-free.
Dale reached into one of his refrigerators and fished a pickle out a jar with his thumb and forefinger. He ate it quickly, then grabbed another one and went and watched the street go by while he waited for his coffee to brew. It was the beginning of rush hour and traffic was sluggish. The power lines that hung above the cars appeared wavy through the building’s old glass. There were plenty of bikers and pedestrians about, as well. All of these commuters were ending their long days at the office, ready to go home and watch TV, eat dinner and maybe try to get laid. Lots of them would also likely end up at a bar.
Dale poured himself a cup of coffee and went and ate breakfast at his desk. He put the needle into the groove of a record and kept watching the outside. He lit another cigarette. He had gotten pretty used to this semi-nocturnal life, coming to terms with missing out on the world’s waking hours. His breakfast and the crooning of Hank Williams Sr. were interrupted when Daisy got home.
“Oh hey, good, you’re up,” Daisy said, almost yelled, from the far end of the giant room. “I brought you some day-old cupcakes.”
Dale trotted along the expanse of floor separating the two of them to greet her. He gave her a big kiss and ate one of the cupcakes in three bites. They walked towards the kitchen part of the building.
“Dale, I do wish you would put on some clothes, especially with the windows wide open like this. You’re going to cause a wreck someday.”
Dale came up behind Daisy as she was bent over putting the rest of the cupcakes in one of the mini fridges. He embraced her tenderly.
“Why don’t we show them something to really get in a wreck over?” His hands glided across the apron she was still wearing.
“Ugh, you smell like cigarettes,” Daisy said. “I’m going to take a nap, how long till you go in?”
“Not long,” Dale said, wandering back towards his table with a near full erection.
He sat down and flipped the record to side B, then lit his third cigarette of his askew version of morning. He nursed his coffee, making it last through the smoke. The sky was orange outside and the walls were red inside. Shadows were long. Dale finished his breakfast and took his dishes over and put them in the deep sink on top of some other ones. He went over to his bed, and put on his jeans. Daisy was in the shower. Dale’s bike was propped up against the wall farthest from the street and the big windows. He walked over to it and got on and rode in circles around the concrete floor of his huge room of a house. Faster and faster he went. His drop cloth walls fluttered as he sped by. The Hank Williams record skipped when his knee bumped the table going by. It was hot outside and inside. It would have cost a fortune to air condition the place, so Dale relied on a series of box fans. He had built up a little sweat when he saw Daisy emerge from the bathroom, the only actual room in the whole place. She was wearing two towels, one around her lithe and shapely body and one around her damp long brown hair. Dale rode slowly alongside her as she walked from the bathroom to the chest next to the bed where they both kept some clothes. The bike tires left behind a geometric pattern in the dust of the floor and her clean bare feet left behind prints of water.
He dismounted when they both reached the bed, and they both got dressed. She put on a pair of his boxers and one of his undershirts. She crawled into bed to take a nap, and he got ready to go to work.
Dale was shorter than most men. This suited him well in his days as a star high school gymnast. He would still do whole routines in the expanse of his open house, flying from one end to the other in a series of flips and twirls. He used some of the forgotten painting equipment to set up a balance beam, and planned to hang poles and rings from the rafters of his ceiling soon. He had been out of high school for several years now, but was still rather adamant about practicing gymnastics from time to time. His body showed it. His olive skin wrapped around toned muscles. A patchy beard covered his strong face, and his short and wavy black hair was only just beginning to prematurely thin.
It was a short drive or decent bike ride to St. Nick’s Bar & Grill. Today Dale biked, weaving through traffic and navigating side streets until he pulled across the railroad tracks into the back parking lot right as streetlights were beginning to switch on. He chained up his bike and went inside. He always arrived in hopes of seeing a little red pickup truck in the parking lot. The truck belonged to Luz, the amazingly beautiful Spanish bartender who usually worked the dayshift. The truck wasn’t there and Dale guessed she had already left.
He went inside and did dishes. There was a very small tiny room in the back with a dish pit and a few sinks that became Dale’s domain, his prison essentially, for the duration of his nine or more hour shift. The edge of the sinks came up just to Dale’s waist, but they were deep, so he would spend most of this time bent over at mid-body, wreaking slow havoc on his back. The kinds of dishes that went back in there were dishes, yes, but included disgusting bits of masticated bar food and other drunk people stuff. Human garbage, what people don’t even think about. Loogies floating around in ketchup cups and bloody napkins swirled in with mashed potatoes.
Dale started on the pile that the dayshift left behind. After enough time had passed for Dale’s fingers to start to turn pruney from the water and chemicals, the cook showed up. His name was Dragon. Dragon said he came from Alaska. He wore black all the time and had hair down to the bottom of his ass. It was straight and stringy black hair, straight as an arrow, no volume. He tied all of it back with a black bandana. His black sneakers had wavy gray-tan stains on them from grease spills and sweat. There were bandages on each of his ears from where gauges had been. He had about thirty piercings and tattoos scattered across his hairy, pale body.
Dale and Dragon barely spoke there in the back even though it was usually just the two of them back there. This was mostly because Dale knew Dragon was a madman, and less talking allowed for less of a reason for Dragon to come at Dale with one of the many knives that lay around the place. Dragon was a deeply frustrated and mangled individual. He had failed out of many schools in his lifetime, the most recent of which was of the culinary variety. Dale had heard about a time when Dragon watched his gastronomic mentor irately stab his sous chef in the throat. Dale often played out the scenario where this psychopath Dragon would follow suit and pull one of the knives off the wall and lunge at him. Dale hated having his back to the guy, and was ready to go to battle in an instant. The anxiety helped him pass the time.
Before the throngs of patrons arrived, most of them underage from the nearby university, Dale enjoyed the silence. He finished the day dishes and did the dishes Dragon made while prepping, and then did some prepping himself. He stayed busy and time passed and the bar filled up. The night dishes began to pile up and Dale really got to work. His world became the dish pit, and he did his best to block out the outside human noise by blasting scratchy music to himself through a dirty boombox that he had found on the room’s top shelf his first day on the job. He figured it had been there long before that.
The floor buckled underneath him and the dishes started to rattle. It felt like the whole bar sat atop a motel bed that had just been fed a few quarters. Dale rushed from the dish room to go help out at the bar. Dragon did the same and so did some all of the other employees. When a train would pass on the tracks right behind St. Nick’s, the entire building shook like this. The trembling ruined pool games, broke bottles and caused fights. Also, during the passing of a train, every drink at the bar was half-price. Like ignited gunpowder, almost the entire cohort of customers rushed to the bar to cash in. The crowd was typically three to four people deep all around, and everyone ordered at least two drinks, usually more. There were no rules to stop them. True chaos endured until the last train car passed.
Had Dale gone to college, he would have studied geology. He grew up in Millington, Tennessee, a small town about an hour outside Memphis. His father was a junior officer at the naval base there, and his mother took care of Dale and his three older sisters. Dale grew up with a slow burning resentment for his father. He treated Dale’s sweet mother terribly and loathed the sisters for their not having turned out sons. The standards of masculinity for Dale were set very high since his birth as the only other man in the family. But he was a gymnast, not a football player. He was short, not tall. However he was strong, very strong. Dale made terrible grades even though he was extremely smart — much smarter than a lot of the imbeciles he sat in class with. Every report card that got mailed to their government-provided apartment just off the grounds of the base caused a raging argument between Dale and his father. His mother fruitlessly tried to mediate, often getting shoved out of the way by her husband. She and her daughters ended up in the bedroom holding each other while they held back tears and listened to the devastating din of the men of the house. These episodes progressively worsened.
One day a letter arrived at the apartment declaring that Dale would not be eligible to graduate from his high school, already one of the worst ranked in the state. The sheer fury and disappointment that Dale’s father let loose on him was the culmination of his warped, frustrated paternity — about how embarrassing he was to the family, about how he would never go to college, never grow up, and most importantly, about how he would be enlisting in the Navy first chance that arose. Then, Dale and his father really fought, and they fought for a long time. Punches. Kicks. Words. Howls. Broken picture frames. Sadistic threats. Dale got his father in a headlock, and smashed his head through the living room’s glass coffee table. His father spent a few days in the hospital, Dale fled down the county road to Memphis, and no matter how many times she vacuumed, his mother still found miniscule shards of glass buried deep in the cheap carpet.
Dale was still learning how to block out his past, but he was getting better and better at it. Daisy knew by now not to ask Dale about his family. Sometimes she would snoop around his desk trying to find any evidence of his past — thumbing through the little mail that he got, crouching down to sift through the contents of the holes in the desk’s cinderblock support system — but she never found anything. Dale entertained the thought of letting her in on his past, but he wanted to give himself a chance to reconcile with it first before he brought in any partners to help.
In this mental haze of quarantining the past, Dale allowed one morsel of it to stick with him. He had had a unit on geology in one of his science classes, and became infatuated with the New Madrid Fault Line. He and everyone around him lived on top of it. It was a seismic zone that stretched from southern Missouri to southern Arkansas. He read up on earthquakes that had come from it. He was fascinated by reports of a series of tremors that struck around Christmas of 1811. They were so strong they upheaved the monster soil beneath the Mississippi River and shook its waters so hard that it was made to look as if it were flowing backwards. Whenever Dale felt the train coming behind the bar, he allowed himself to close his eyes for a moment there in the dish room and imagine himself standing on the bank of North America’s biggest river, watching it flow backwards.
After the passing of the train brought the half-price frenzy to a close, the bar went back to normal, but it seemed that more was at stake all of a sudden. Most of the patrons had at least three drinks in front of them. The traffic of drink-buyers had thinned, but there was one guy still at the end of the bar with a two-dollar bill in his hand. Dale was in no hurry to get back to the dish room, so he served him.
“Hey, what’ll it be?” Dale asked.
“What can I get for this?” The guy asked Dale, flapping the two-dollar bill.
“Um, nothing actually. Our cheapest is two-fifty.”
“But I thought everything was half off.”
“Train’s gone, cowboy. Sorry.”
Dale felt bad for this guy, seemingly alone, and not a frequenter of bars.
“What?” The guy said. He was wearing glasses and a short sleeve light blue button down shirt that grew tight around his belly, tucked into a pair of starchy khaki shorts.
“Drinks are only half-price when the train is going by. You felt this joint shaking like hell, right?” said Dale to the loser.
“Oh, I see. Well never mind then.” The guy walked off.
As he did, Dale yelled back to him, “Hey buddy! There’s another one that usually comes by around last call. Come see me then and we’ll get you taken care of.”
The guy nodded without turning around.
Dale still felt bad for the guy and did not care at all about the fifty-cent difference, but his boss was nearby and he didn’t want to get in trouble. The guy walked over to the corner booth in his white tennis shoes. His crew socks were too big for his feet and the gray part that was meant to cup his heel was left to dangle over the back lip of his shoe. He sat down at the booth and stared down at Thomas Jefferson on the face of his two-dollar bill.
It was pretty late now, and the bar was near capacity. Orders were coming in faster than Dragon could fill them. Dale did his best to make sure that the chef was never without a clean spatula or mixing bowl or whatever. Whenever he could, Dale helped flip patties and dump fries, but could only do so much outside of his dishwashing duties. St. Nick’s was severely understaffed. There should have been some other trolls in there helping Dragon, but there was just him.
“Dragon, baby, they asked for no jalapeños on these nachos. Can you whip up some new ones?” A waitress asked through the little order window.
Dragon’s dark gaze was fixed on the nachos for a long moment, and then he picked them up and threw them clear across the kitchen into the wall.
“FUUUCK!” He yelled as loud as he possibly could. The exclamation endured for several seconds.
They splattered everywhere. Some chips clung to the cinderblock wall, liquid cheese as their adhesive, and some jalapeños slipped slowly to the floor. Clean up was Dale’s job.
The beeper on the deep fryer went off for an order of mozzarella sticks. Dragon, in such a fury, reached into the hot grease with his bare hand and pulled them out and threw them onto a plate. He let out another guttural bellow. Then he got down on all fours on the disgusting floor and crawled over to the prep table and started to violently bang his head into its metal door.
“GOD FUCKING HATES ME! I’M A FUCK! FUCK THE WORLD! FUCK THIS! FUCK ME!”
Dale mopped up the nachos, and watched Dragon, astonished. He found his tantrum frightening and slightly hilarious. Had it been the first time Dale had seen Dragon do something like this, he would have been more surprised. He did his best not to laugh and kept mopping. More orders kept coming in. Nobody up at the bar noticed or cared what was going on in the back. Dragon got up, his pale face cherry red. He walked over to Dale, who stopped mopping.
“FUCK YOU, TOO, YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT! I FUCKING HATE YOU! AHHH!”
Putrid drops of Dragon spit landed of Dale’s face. Dale was ready to fight if he had to, but he didn’t have to. Dragon let out a deep breath. He went over to the fridge and pulled out a little plastic cup of marinara sauce and put it on the plate next to the mozzarella sticks. He took the food over the order window.
“Order up!” He yelled.
A waitress came over and got them. “Thanks, D. Now hurry up on those nachos! They’re getting bitchy out here.”
Dale had seen this cycle a few times. Dragon had his shift rush freak-outs, would calm down a bit, and then by closing he would get wasted and be the nicest, most considerate guy in the world. He lived on both ends of the spectrum, and it haunted him. Before Dragon made the new order of nachos, he went out to the bar and stuck his burnt hand in the ice pit. He left it there for about half a minute, then came back to the kitchen and wrapped it up in a dishtowel, insisting he didn’t need medical attention.
Dale got home after his shift very late at night to find Daisy shuffling around his house looking for enough articles of clothing, his or hers, that she could fashion for an outfit good enough to bake and sell cupcakes in. Dale loved the sight of her in his ratty band t-shirts and flannels. He had lost many pairs of boxers to her, but didn’t care.
The morning light outside was just being born. Dale was so tired, and Daisy was running late. These minutes they spent together should have been prized, but they were stifling and troublesome. Dale tried to muster the energy to feed some real love into her, but only came up with a little. Her hands were full anyway, and she was out the door before he could even get in a kiss.
Dale went into the bathroom and took a shower. When he was done bathing, he leaned down and turned the cold-water faucet completely off, leaving just the hot water flowing. He stayed bent over for a few seconds and let the scalding water hit his back. An attempt at catharsis. He got out, and splashed his face several times with some cold water. He automatically looked up to try to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror, but there was no mirror. Perhaps Daisy broke it or something. This made Dale feel odd and woozy, so he went to bed.
He was still getting used to having what he could call his own home. This warehouse place was a pretty new thing for him, several months spent here. After he got to Memphis from Millington, he was living on a friend’s couch and working at a coffee shop next to Daisy’s bakery. The two of them started dating and eventually Dale spent all his nights at Daisy’s. He eventually got fired from the coffee shop because he was late too much. He spent a long time doing nothing — just hanging out at Daisy’s, spending a lot of time with her roommate. The two of them would go to St. Nick’s together sometimes, and that’s how he ended up working there. A little while later, he had enough money saved up to eventually able to afford this weird place.
One of those nights before Dale moved into the gutted-out building, back when he was living at Daisy’s, he got home real late after one of his first nights working at St. Nick’s and found Daisy lying on the hardwood floor of her bedroom with her back to him. There were clothes and stuff strewn about, but it wasn’t dirty in there. It actually felt really clean, and smelled fresh. Without getting up or turning to look at him, Daisy greeted Dale.
“Oh hey babe. How was your night?”
“Um, yeah it was good. It was okay. What are you doing up so late?”
“I don’t know. Couldn’t sleep.”
Upon closer investigation, Dale realized that Daisy was soaking her ear in a little saucer of water. “I just found this random earring in the bathroom today, and stuck it in my ear. I don’t know what came over me, but I just wanted it in there. I know I’ve got the other few piercings, but this one was just so pretty that I wanted it, too. It hurt and it still hurts pretty bad, but as long as I keep it clean like this in warm salt water it will get better. Hey, come on get down here, why don’t you?”
He did. He felt heavy as he laid the various parts of his body to rest on the ground. It wasn’t very comfortable, but an overwhelming sense of relief and pleasure overtook him as he gathered her in his arms. They just lay there for a while together. He began to kiss the side of her neck and her shoulder. Her body felt good through his worn thin white t-shirt. She responded and started to breath heavier. They writhed around on the hardwood. They got naked and their skin skidded against the floor, with much resistance at first, but with time came sweat, and they glided so nicely. He licked her newly pierced ear and it was salty and wet. They carried on, and Dale’s knee bones grew sore from the pressure placed on them, but he didn’t care. The saucer of water got knocked over, and they got tangled in clothes and papers that were on the floor. They kept on till they were finished, and then afterwards, he went and retrieved a big glass of tap water from the kitchen. They drank the whole thing together, and then fell asleep in each other’s branches.
One afternoon a month after Dragon’s nacho outburst, Dale got home from the corner store on his day off to find an eviction notice taped to his door. His stomach sank. He immediately called his landlord who explained that neighborhood businesspeople were complaining about Dale’s consistent afternoon nudity. Apparently his window display had caused hiccups in more than a few deals. His landlord was sympathetic to Dale and told him he would try to find him a new place, but he had to get out of there before the police got involved.
Dale didn’t know where else to go, so he went to St. Nick’s. The little red pickup truck was in the parking lot, and Dale let himself smile a little smile. He went inside and ordered a beer from Luz. He lit a cigarette while he waited. She brought him the beer.
“Well, here’s to feelin’ good all the time.” Dale nodded and chugged the whole beer, cigarette in mouth.
Luz laughed, “I love that episode!”
“You love that episode of…” Dale said.
“Of Seinfeld!” she proclaimed.
“You love Seinfeld?” he asked.
“So much!” she said.
“I love Seinfeld,” Dale said.
“No way! We should have a marathon some time.”
The mere thought of going over to Luz’s house and sitting on her couch and watching Seinfeld made him flush. They would drink some beers and smoke some pot. Only so many episodes would pass before Dale had her clothes off, bent over the couch. She was gorgeous and untouchable. Everyone in the bar wanted her, but no one could ever have her. Dale was convinced that she was into him. This hunch was based on nothing substantial, but the simple fact that he had never made a pass at her in all his days working at St. Nick’s made him cool, and in his mind an eligible candidate to take her. They didn’t even see each other that much, so they knew little about each other. For example, Luz had no idea who Daisy even was. She also had no idea that Dale was about nine years younger than she was. Dale was on his third beer now, and obsessed with the idea of having Luz. The early morning and late afternoon brief encounters with Daisy were starting to feel less and less like a relationship to him, and more like a burden. The whole thing was beginning to feel less real.
“Hey Luz, when you get a second I wanna show you something in the back.”
“Alright! One sec. It’s just a bunch of crazy old men out here anyway.”
And she was right. The daytime at St. Nick’s was completely different from nighttime there. At night it was college rock ‘n’ roll bar fights drugs in the back and in the front hooking up with girls brawling wasted shit show, and during the day it was a bunch of crazy old drunk regulars. It was an incredible difference, and Dale rarely got to see the place in the day. There was one guy, though, named Chopper who came during the day and at night who Dale had buddied up to a little bit. Some nights after his shift, Dale would go across the tracks to Chopper’s house and sit on his porch and smoke bad weed and listen to jazz. He was as crazy and as alcoholic as the rest of the crazy alcoholic old men, but there was yet an air of sophistication to him. There was a time in Chopper’s life when he was elegant.
A few minutes later the pair went back to the kitchen, and Dale had no idea what to show her. In his mind, he put one of his hands on the small of her back and the other ran through her lush black Iberian hair and kissed her and she kissed him back. He wanted her to kneel on the greasy floor and suck him off. He wanted to splay her beautiful untouchable body across the prep table’s disgusting metal and go to town on her, and have her love it. In his mind, at this moment, he was completely capable of such things. He imagined her face in the throes of it. He wanted it so bad, but he didn’t do it.
“So what did you want to show me back here?” Dale looked around and fumbled with some stuff. “Hmm, can’t seem to find it. Nevermind.”
“Yeah yeah, another time.” Dale said, horny, frustrated and embarrassed.
“Okay just let me know.”
Luz shot Dale a wink and went back to the bar. Dale stayed in the kitchen for a while. Some other employees cycled in and out, asking him what he was doing in there on his day off. He had no explanation. Dale thought he heard his name from inside the bar and went in to check. Nobody had summoned him. Dale looked around the room, and noticed that everyone in there was talking, but that none of them were talking to each other. All the old men were lined up at the bar clutching their drinks, just mumbling loudly to themselves. It was one of the most peculiar things Dale had ever witnessed. He looked to Luz, but she didn’t see him, and just went on working.
After several more beers, Dale went home to what wouldn’t be his home for much longer. His head was all clogged up. Daisy was reading in bed. Drunk, Dale sauntered over to her. He knelt on the floor at the bottom of the bed. Without speaking, he burrowed under the covers up onto the bed and spread Daisy’s legs. She was naked from the waist down. He picked up her smooth ass, a cheek in each hand, and buried his face in her. He had had the idea to do this for a while, and thought she would love it, but after a moment of Dale’s beer soaked tongue and lips eating her pussy, Daisy objected.
“Dale! What the fuck are you doing?”
“What the fuck do you think I’m doing?”
“C’mon, I’m almost asleep. Anyway you gotta warm me up first, can’t just go straight for the prize.” Dale knew all of this, but he was lecherous and red hot with anger at her noncompliance.
He went back down on her, more aggressive this time, and she recoiled. He hadn’t even told her about the eviction yet.
“Jesus Dale, chill out.”
“Fuck you I’ll chill out! Where the fuck do you get off? Chill out, fuck you.”
Daisy was floored and silent. Her face was bloodless in the dark and her eyes unblinking.
“God dammit.” Dale muttered sharply, and headed for the bathroom.
For the first and last time, Dale plugged up his shower drain, and drew himself a hot bath. While it filled up, he drank water from the sink with his cupped hands. Still waiting, he sat naked on the toilet. Its seat down was cold on his bare ass. When the tub was almost overflowing, he got in. He tried to think back to the last time he took a bath, but could not. Must’ve been when he was a child. He didn’t bother with soap or shampoo, but just rested there, soaking.
Time passed, and relaxation turned to staleness, so he got out. He felt weighty outside of the water. He began to dry off, and in doing so recalled the outside world beyond the bathroom door. To delay reentering it, he reached down and began stroking himself. Mental slides of Luz projected onto the backs of his eyelids, mostly images of how he imagined the faces she would make. He also conjured up the sounds he felt she would emit, how she would squeal his name with her twinge of an accent. In almost no time, he came into the full bathtub. Little ghosts filled the water. The initial load slowly sank to the bottom. It looked like a white dusty bunny, hanging out near the drain. The smaller, second and third ones were held suspended like cobwebs at different depths. Dale took a deep breath, and unplugged the tub. He watched the fertile water drain, and then, wrapped in a towel at the waist, turned off the bathroom light and walked out back to the night.
There was no vent in the bathroom, and it had grown quite humid in there during this episode, rendering the towel almost useless in such moist air. As he sometimes did after bathing, Dale staggered over to the box fan next to his desk. He undid the towel and tossed it over the back of his chair. A dull, cloud-shielded moonlight coated the foreground of the room, finely elucidating the navy tone the night had given to everything. Dale stood at his desk and looked at the nothingness through his windows. He turned to look at Daisy asleep in his bed, but the light wasn’t strong enough to make it back there. A little pool was beginning to form at his feet on the dusty concrete floor, water dripping from his hair and off the tip of his nose. Miniature streams clung to his torso and extremities, forming systems, then puttered off when the beads got too heavy to hold on.
Dale sat down on the chair, and reached back to grab the towel. He splayed it across his lap, then lurched a foot up on to a knee so that his legs were crossed. He bunched up the towel at one end and dabbed his foot dry, sure to get between the toes. He repeated the process for the other foot. The rough fabric of the chair was itchy on his wet, naked body.
Daisy was a deep sleeper, and he was unafraid that he would wake her when he switched on the box fan. He turned the knob to HI and after a start the blades began to whoosh. The towel had helped to get the excess water off his feet, but they were still clammy. Dale dragged the fan over to his chair as long as the power cord would allow, then made up the difference by moving the chair, positioning it right in the middle of the airstream. The fan stirred the dust and water on the ground. Dale turned and looked again to the bed, making sure he hadn’t woken up Daisy. He squinted, allowing his eyes to adjust, and saw no signs of movement. He then shifted back his focus, and sat there, alternating rubbing each foot in the wind until they were completely dry, resisting the urge to pull of the scabbing dead skin around his athlete’s foot because he knew it was attached to his living cells. Sticky wounds emerged where he had failed to resist that urge in the preceding months. He hadn’t thought the fungus would have lasted this long on, but here it was.
Dale reached to the back of his desk and grabbed a plastic Walgreens bag, so that when lifted with a finger in each loop handle, it looked like a spectral pair of empty overalls. Inside it was the nine-dollar can of ointment spray he had bought a while back. The receipt was curled around the canister. He took it out of the bag, popped the nozzle into place, and let loose on his feet. The powder spray was frigid and wet. Dale bore down on the button for a long time, sweeping the medicine across his toes and in between them from angles both wide and precise. A blizzard-like build up developed on his feet, making the knuckles of his toes look like little mountain ranges. He let up and dangled them in front of the fan to dry. The sensation stung slightly. When he deemed them and rest of himself dry enough, he walked into the darkness towards his bed, and slipped into bed next to Daisy without disturbing her slumber.
Dale stayed there and slept through that night and then most of the next day until he woke up with the sunset like he always did. He went to work and washed his dishes and served his half- price earthquake drinks and watched Dragon straddle the line between manic and kind.
The second train passed around four-thirty in the morning, nearing closing time. When they heard it, Dale and Dragon took out a pail of past-their-prime vegetables to the back parking lot, and threw them at the train. They did this from time to time. Dale hurled near-rotten red onions at coal cars and watched their layers unravel in transit and explode on contact. It was starting to get cold out, and it felt good to move their bodies after a night of standing and working. Their breath showed in the cool southern air as they chunked the veggies at the speeding locomotive. They didn’t say anything to each other until the pail was empty. They watched the rest of the train pass, and then stood in the ensuing silence. The buzzing of the light behind them was the only audible sound. Dragon broke the stillness.
“You know last night I was back here taking out the trash right before closing, your night off I guess, and right before this second train comes by and I heard a weird sound coming from up there. I got a little closer and looked and it was some guy with his fuckin’ head laid down on the tracks, moanin’ and cryin’ and shit. He was biting the steel like it was a Granny Smith apple. I hollered at him to get the fuck down, but either he didn’t hear me or didn’t give a shit, but he didn’t budge. The train was coming, and shit it came fast, and it came it and it ran his ass over. His skull exploded into a million pieces, and his body just flopped around there for a second and twitched and then was still. I went up to it. There was blood all over those gray rocks and I got to see what skull bone looked like. I kicked this poor sucker’s white ass tennis shoes, and it was like kicking a bag of sand. Nothing.”
Dale stood there in shock, knots in his stomach.
“Jesus Christ,” Dale’s voice trembled, “that happened last night? How come nobody told me?”
“Shit no one in there wants to talk about it, they got enough shit to worry about already. The waitresses were cryin’ their eyes out. You shoulda seen it, this whole lot fucking covered with pigs, blue lights flashin’ all night long.”
Dale contemplated the scene for a minute.
“You said the guy had white tennis shoes?”
“Yeah, white as shit. White socks, too.”
“Shit,” Dale said through closed teeth.
Dragon lit a cigarette. He offered one to Dale, but he refused it. Halfway through the smoke Dragon broke the silence.
“Shit, you know you see something happen like that, and your natural reaction is, ‘Oh my God, poor me. I just saw that.’ And your next reaction is, ‘Oh my God poor him, that motherfucker just died.’ But really, you have to stop and think about the fact that he was in your bar just a few minutes earlier, and he was just a regular guy — another face in the crowd. Any person sitting next to you can have a mountain of problems so big that they go put their head on some train tracks. So be nice, right?”
“Right,” Dale said, and picked up the light, empty pail and went back inside.
— Connor Crawford attended Tulane University, which awarded him the Senior Achievement in Creative Writing Prize, as well as a fellowship to A Studio In The Woods. He was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and now resides in New Orleans. This is his first story.