Terry rooted through the pantry for kibble, but there wasn’t any. Beth hated the dog as an extension of him and she never bought it any food. He’d brought the puppy home the day before she came back from the hospital with their first born. He figured it was only fair. One for him, one for her.
Six months later, she’d given him the weekend to get his things out while she took the baby to visit her mother in Fayetteville. Layla whined and turned in circles as he pushed aside cans of corn and peas, green beans and Gerber bananas.
He’d collected his clothes from the front lawn and found her note nailed to the front door. Be gone by Monday. His stuff, consisting primarily of baseball cards, pocket knives and 8mm stag films, was pretty well picked over by the time he’d come home that afternoon and what was left had been damaged by the morning’s rain. He recovered a print or two that had sheltered under his clothes. Three Orifices of Eve and Bush-War had either been unpopular or undiscovered and would have to suffice for a while.
Ronald and Tink Hodge, the neighborhood moron twins, had a habit of going through houses during work hours and had absconded with the lion’s share of his things. The twelve year olds had pilfered his stash before and he’d made no fuss. He figured he was a lot of things, but not a hypocrite. Beth had complained for months about his disinterest in protecting their home and then she had a shit fit when he bought the puppy. The fuck did she think it was for anyway?
He grabbed the pistol from the closet and his Styx records, left the lava lamp and black light posters. Everything he grabbed would fit in the cab of his pickup. Then he’d got his easy chair lodged in the front door, unable or unwilling to maneuver it any further by himself. Now the dog was going apeshit for kibble and it was ten minutes past Miller time. So he settled on a personal favorite.
“Ready for a treat?” he asked the dog. The whir of the can opener sent her into hysterics until the click of her nails on the linoleum sounded like Gregory Hines on speed. Spaghetti-O’s always gave her diarrhea, but that wasn’t his problem any more. He set the bowl down in front of her and grabbed a longneck from the fridge.
In the front room he collapsed into his chair at an awkward angle, suspended some ten inches off the floor and it gave a couple back. He wrapped his lips around the beer and set to contemplating whether or not it was the sorriest day of his life. Had he misjudged his wife’s moral fiber and pushed her too hard or simply never cared about their union and prepared from the beginning for this inevitable outcome?
The chair creaked, then crashed onto the porch under his weight, leaving gashes in the door frame and tears in the vinyl, but he was out, officially and for good. Layla came scampering in to investigate the sound and leaped into his lap. She sniffed at his crotch and then his face and burped. A Chef-Boi-Ardee and dry cereal cloud hung level with his head. He fanned at it with his right hand.
“Good shit, huh?”
The Gulch was as dark as you’d ever want it to be even at three in the afternoon. Day and night passed unnoticed since there were no clocks or windows and the low-watt lighting above the bar acted as a beacon for those that could still walk, to make their way toward the goods, but it did not illuminate any of the surrounding area, a fact for which the Gulch’s patrons were grateful. “Hoah, lookie whose mommy let him out to play.” The greeting was too loud and woke up a pair of regulars dozing in the corners. Terry tipped his imaginary hat to Cal Dotson sitting at the bar and sidled up beside him. Cal wrinkled his nose. “Judas priest, you smell like Saigon snatch on Monday morning.”
“Don’t get any ideas, pervert. Buy me a drink.”
Cal threw a peace sign at the bartender and said “Hey, man, two.” He turned toward Terry and looked him over. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll catch a scolding?”
Terry grabbed his Bud and finished it without coming up for air. He shook his head. “I am single and all a-tingle.”
“None. Beth kicked my ass to the curb. I’m moved into my dad’s old place.” He dropped his wedding band into the community jar where it clinked against the many that had taken up permanent residence there. It was worth a free pitcher.
Cal clapped him hard on the back. “Congratu-fuckin-lations. Let’s celebrate.”
“I am broke, like flat.”
“S’okay. We’ll drive out to Springfield and make a withdrawal from 7-11, then pick up some honeys at the Salvation Army. Get your tootsie rolled.”
They took Terry’s truck and made their way along 71 toward Springfield. Terry chose a spot he’d not hit before and coasted around the back of the convenience store. It was the main attraction of a mini strip mall also home to a beauty supply and a pawnshop, neither of which looked to be doing business. Cal made fat lines of speed on the dash and cut into a Hardees straw, giving half to his partner.
They burst through the front door with grocery bags over their heads, unable to see clearly unless they used one hand to hold the eyeholes gouged in their plastic masks flush to their faces. To compensate for limited vision, they turned their torsos continually in severe arcs with pistols drawn to cover the whole store.
“What’s good here?” shouted Cal as he grabbed the lone clerk by his shirt and planted the barrel of his gun under the young man’s chin. “Down on your fuckin’ knees, now.” Terry covered the store, rounding up a heavy set woman with a teenage daughter in tow and a swell-gutted man of about thirty with a camouflage ball cap on his dome.
“You, you and you, over there.” He instructed them to the back corner of the store nearest the restrooms and the office. The three trudged backward with their hands up ‘till they were against the wall. Terry turned his head slightly and yelled for his partner. “Clear.”
Cal hopped over the counter and instructed the clerk to empty the cash drawer while he scanned the shelves for high-end swag.
The heavy woman was trying to hide her cut-off wearing, poky-tittied, piece of jailbait daughter from Terry. “What’s on that t-shirt?” He asked.
The girl stepped around her mother. She sported bangs high over her forehead and braces gleaming off her teeth. On her face, her natural irritation with old people was losing a battle against fascination with his disregard of the law and snub-nosed phallus cradled confidently in his hand. The t-shirt in question was for the Silver Bullet Band and she let him read it rather than say. “You like Seeger, Lil’ Bits?” She nodded, defying him to say something evil about her tastes. “Yeah, he’s not bad, I guess. I thought it was Floyd at first, though. You like Floyd?”
“That’s right, you’re a little young for them. How old are you anyway?”
“Fourteen and a half.”
Fourteen. Sweet mother, he felt old. “You get your period yet?” She blushed and got back to the shady side of her momma, who spoke through clinched teeth to Terry.
“You say one more thing to her, asshole and I’ll rip your dick off and roast it on a spit.”
“Yeah, okay. You do that now.”
“Hoah, man, lookiddit. Videos.” Terry turned around and followed Cal’s pointing finger across the store toward the video section. “Awwright.”
Finished clearing the register, Cal grabbed another sack for videocassettes and started scooping the shelves clean into the bag. He enlisted the clerk’s help with the task. “Hey man” Cal nudged him with his pistol from behind, “you got a nudie section?”
“How ‘bout one of those machines? You rent machines?” The clerk nodded his head. “Well let’s have one of them too.” The clerk came out from behind the counter carrying a V.C.R. the size and shape of a small suitcase. “Awesome. Give it to my partner.”
Terry took the machine by its handle. He guessed it weighed thirty pounds. He watched the customers and they watched Cal and the clerk gather videocassettes into plastic bags. Each one held roughly the contents of a single shelf and as soon as it was filled, it was placed on the floor with the others. Then Cal or the clerk would run back to the counter for another sack. After three trips, Cal just brought a bunch of bags back to the video section with him. Pleased with himself for this innovation, he stood back and let the clerk bag the rest.
The sheer volume of their haul threatened to overwhelm his pickup, but infused with crank confidence, and with his eyes bulging, Terry vowed to watch every one of the tapes they took.
When they were finished, Terry locked the clerk and the customers in the manager’s office and cut the phone line. The plastic bags were bulging and spilling their contents in the parking lot. He and Cal each took four and left more behind as they ran out the front door. The sight of so many movie cassettes made them giddy and they laughed all the way to Springfield.
“Hoah, shit. Next time we’ll have to hit a spot with a porno section. I can’t believe I never thought of it.”
“Swear to me, man, we’re gonna watch every one.”
“What’d we get? Tell me you got the bag with Firewalker.” They found a cheap room and paid for two days, then hid their haul inside before seeking company.
They pulled in to the lot that the Salvation Army shared with the thrift store and the grocery. Pockets bulging with quarters destined for the Shop 4 Less’ arcade, they walked into the sunlight and strode coolly past the Army’s offices, scanning the front windows for potential party girls. They ambled on toward the thrift store and the pop machine on the corner. Shastas uncorked, the delicious sound of the fizzy drinks mirrored their insides perfectly and as mating calls go, there are less effective ones used in the summer heat.
The crank had soured in their guts five hours earlier and their teenage dates had split ten minutes later. As orgies go, it hadn’t been much. Cal and the skinny blond had kept to themselves leaving her chubby friend alone with Terry. She had no technique, but was mercifully unselfconscious and up for whatever.
Cal kept feeding tapes into the machine, each time illiciting giggles from the girls. The four of them had watched six movies in one night. There were strong feelings for both Ghoulies and Police Academy expressed between the quartet, but nothing matched the response to American Ninja, hands down, the hit of the evening.
Cal said he was going to get himself a tape machine soon and the skinny blond said she’d had one all to herself back when she’d lived with her parents. “No way.” Said Cal. “Why’d you ever run away then?”
“My dad kinda freaked out when he caught me blowing his best friend.”
“Yeah, things were a little too weird around the house after that.” Terry turned that scenario over in his head for hours after they’d left.
Cal wasn’t puking anything up anymore, just flexing his throat muscles and making noise. “Use some aerosol, please, man.” Cal went on wretching. Terry tossed a can at the toilet from across the room.
“This is hairspray, asshole.”
“Like I care. Use it.”
“Being married sure made your smell holes delicate.” Cal walked back to his twin bed and Terry tossed him a 12 oz. Apology. He settled in and wiped his mouth with the bed sheet. “What’s this one called again.”
“Is it just me, or isn’t that the little dude from Brady Bunch?” On screen there were two sororities who had issues between them, settling accounts with a game of strip-football. It was a pretty decent contest. “Shit. You got a kid now, too, huh?”
“Fucks you up a bit, I bet.”
Terry’d had to rip a plastic shield off the back of the motel’s T.V. to hook up the video machine and he was leaning toward leaving the damn thing attached when they checked out. He was getting sick of movies. “Yeah. Looks like me even.”
Cal was unconscious.
Terry and Cal braced each other for the stroll from his truck to the front door of his dead father’s house. The grocery bag of cash was near empty and Beth had left his dog tethered to the front porch. Layla was cheering them on like a coach at the special Olympics. Terry reached her first and had six layers of sweat replaced on his face by extra strength dog gob. The puppy’s tongue flicked excitedly and tickled the roof of his mouth and back of his teeth.
He was happy he’d traded one bitch for the other.
The sound of the front porch creaking woke him up and he gripped the snub-nose underneath the couch cushion. There was no knock. Beth came in carrying little Wendell who was dressed only in a suspicious looking diaper. His hair was already too long and his nose was runny, though he didn’t look like he’d been crying.
“Had the locks changed, Terry. Had to. Just wanted you to know, your key won’t work anymore. You got your truck and your chair and your dog. Anything else you want, you’re gonna have to break a window. Here.” She handed the infant to him and went to inspect the contents of his refrigerator. “Judas priest, Terry. What are you going to feed Wendell?” I sure as hell don’t see anything here. I’d have brought some canned Italian, only some asshole fed it all to the dog. Plus all the Cheerios. Which then got shit-sprayed all over my rug.”
Terry smiled involuntarily, but caught himself when he felt tiny fingers grab his nose. He looked into his son’s face and instantly recognized himself. Freaked him out. He put Wendell on the floor and tried to stand up with some authority. “What are you doing in my house?”
Beth faced him with her fists resting on her hips. “I have still got a job. I didn’t spend the first half of the week sleeping off the weekend. Mrs. Edwards can’t take him today, so you’ve got to. The plant called and fired you official yesterday, so I knew you’d be available.” She walked past him and picked up their baby. She kissed Wendell fiercely and set him back on the floor. On her way out the door she said, “I’ll be back by six.”
Layla was sniffing at the baby and then they were both looking up at him.