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Fiction #94
(published August 8, 2002)
Tart, part 2 of 4
by Roy Johnson

"Yeah yeah," she said.

"Oh come on."

"Where's your phone? I'm going to call Steve."

"On the seat."

She jumped up without getting dressed and got the phone and dialed Steve. As I pulled my t-shirt down over my head I felt something stiff inside the pocket. It was a square of doubled-over pink paper. I unfolded it and it said: I LOVE YOU! She must have put the note in there when I was taking a shower and she was picking out my clothes earlier that morning after spending the night at my house. She was always putting little notes for me in unsuspecting places and it drove me wild—my pockets, the bathroom mirror, the nailbag I wore at work. I slinked up behind her while she was talking to Steve and put my arms around her waist. She explained to him exactly where we were and he said he knew the place because they all used to hang out under the solitary oak when they were seniors.

"Yeah the tree," Jenny said into the phone. She nodded her head and pushed one of the tiny buttons to turn it off.

"He knows this place?" I said as I rested my chin on the top of her head.

"Yeah. We all used to come here and hang out last year."


She tilted her head and shoved my hands down from around her and went and carefully put on her clothes in a delicate routine that was almost as captivating as the one she went through when she took them off. I thumbed the note in half and stuck it back in my shirt.

"He'll be here in a couple minutes," she said.

I walked over to the air mattress and she headed to the cooler and took out another beer. I flipped open the valve and walked a couple circles around on the plastic while I stared at the shrinking square like it was interesting.

"Wow. That was quick," she said.

"Huh?" I looked back at the tailgate and a quarter mile off I saw a cloud of dust looming behind the glass and chrome of Steve's monster-truck that reflected the sunlight like a chunk of mirror slicing through the sand. A few seconds later the grumble of his exhaust crossed over some invisible threshold and was all we could hear until he pulled up next to us and killed the motor.

He swung open his door and studied the corner of my back bumper that wasn't covered by the tailgate Jenny was sitting on. "Damn. All the way to the bumper."

"Uh huh," I said.

He hung his left leg out the door and looked down at the brown sand. He gripped the open door with both hands and scooted toward the edge of the seat and with a quick pull he dropped to the ground where his five-and-a-half foot frame put his eyes level with the black leather seat inside. He walked around to the tailgate and curled his index finger under the latch and yanked upward and when the gate came falling open he caught it with his free palm. He reached in and pulled lengths of greasy chain to the ground one armful at a time. I picked up the hook and walked to my bumper. Jenny got up and slammed the tailgate shut and I looped the chain two times around the trailer hitch and set the hook on one of the links. Steve grabbed a towel from the back of his truck and wiped clean the last couple feet of his end of the chain and wrapped it around his chrome trailer hitch. He checked out both connections and frowned and nodded his head.

"You think you'll get it out?" Jenny said.

"Oh I'll get it out."

"Let me put it in neutral," I said.

"Yeah. And get inside and keep the wheels straight."


Steve raised his cowboy boot up past his knee and stuck it in the bottom rung of the chrome ladder bolted under his door and grabbed the matching handpull on the side of the cab and grunted and pulled himself up. He stood straight up on the ladder and took hold of the steering wheel and grunted again and pulled himself inside. He turned his key and the masterpiece under the black hood before him came roaring to life. He pushed in the clutch and the transmission clunked when he stuck it in low.

"Ya'll ready?" Steve said.

Jenny walked over to my door and looked at me. I turned the key forward and my ignition-breathalyzer beeped five times like it always did before starting, reminding me I had to pass another breath test before it would turn over. I dropped the shifter in neutral and nodded at her.

"Yeah!" she yelled.

He let out his clutch and the sagging chain snapped into a greasy straight line between the two trucks. Jenny stepped back a couple feet. He gave it some gas and all four tires paused at one quick rotation when he let off, and he nailed it and four triangles of sand fanned up from his fender wells as the gloss-black machine mowed forward and pulled me out of the holes my tires had sunk into. His truck growled again and the chain drew taut and pulled me an extra ten feet for good measure. Steve raised his eyebrows in the rearview mirror as the watched the chain. I stuck my hand out the window and waved. When he bailed out of his cab to disconnect the chain from our bumpers I bent down in my seat out of view and put the black hose to my lips and blew into the ignition-breathalyzer so I could start the engine. I eyed the LED readout as it counted down the thirty seconds I had to blow in order for the contraption to measure my blood-alcohol content and when I had ten seconds left Steve appeared outside the window of my door. I turned my head up from the hunched-over position I was in and looked in his eyes as I finished the test.

"What the hell is that thing?"

Jenny looked at him and then to me without saying a word. I straightened up in the seat and started the engine and stepped out on the beach while my truck idled.

"Remember when he got arrested?" Jenny said.

"Yeah," Steve said.

"Well, now I'm on probation and the judge made me put that on my truck or else I can't have my license," I said.

"Oh. That thing's weird man."

Jenny looked away.

"Well, do I owe you anything?"

"Nah. It's cool." He was still eyeing the black hose on my seat.

"Thanks Steve," Jenny said.

"Yeah thanks," I said.

"No problemo. So, what're'yall doing tonight?"

"Not sure. I'll give you a call," she said and walked around to the passenger door with her clogs swinging from her hand.

"Cool then." His eyes locked on her hips that turned corners and corrected themselves with every step she took in her tight red shorts.

"Thanks Steve," I said.

"Yeah. And be careful there mister." He broke his stare and banged the side of my tailgate two times with his open hand and headed back to his truck.

We followed him back to the pavement and I reached out and gave him a wave when we took the turn to my house and he went straight. Her station was playing on the radio. Part of me wanted to tell her I found the note in my pocket but another part saw this awkward silence as a angry wedge I could nurture and drive between us. I needed to be upset with her to end it right, and if I didn't end it in the proper mood I would forever remember it in a way that stung my pride when she eventually dumped me for someone her own age.

"I just need to get my things, then take me home. That way you won't have to worry about me getting you in trouble anymore."


She turned the radio up a little louder as the mud tires on my truck hammered the white reflector buttons on the Corpus Christi Bridge and she stared down at a yellow tugboat pushing an oil taker as long as a football field below us. A cloud of seagulls circled and dived at the starboard side of the grimy vessel. I veered the truck back into the middle of my lane.

"Wow, that thing's huge," I said.

She slipped her clogs on.

We got to my house and she was opening her door before I turned off the key. I shut down the motor and followed her to the front door. After I unlocked it she flew over the threshold and down the hallway to the bedroom where I could hear her walking around on the shag carpet collecting her things. I went down the hall and leaned in the door and looked side to side.

"You want me to do anything?" I said.

She popped a plastic shopping bag open in the air above her head and filled it with her things before the air inside had a chance to escape.

"Why are we fighting?" I said lamely.

She moved past me in the door and across the hall into the bathroom and swished the door shut behind her. I walked down the hall back to the living room and plopped down on the couch where I had to turn on the television because it became so quiet in my house that I felt the universe was conspiring against me. I sat there with the remote in my hand, and the bathroom door opened and she hustled down the hall and I could feel a breeze tickle my neck as she passed me on the backside of the couch. She went out to the garage. I clicked through the channels and wondered what she was doing out there until she came back in with her bikini dangling from her left hand. She exited out the front without shutting the door behind her. I watched the CNN ticker and switched over to ESPN before I realized that she was probably sitting out in my truck waiting for me to take her home.

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