Escargot


Compelled by the soft, haunting eyes and mysteriously whelked, immeasurably warm middle-thing of a recent acquaintance, Weed Hollis the trucker pulls his rig into a dimming lot. The rest area on Highway 99 outside of Turlock unfolds before him for the seventh time in a month, fluorescent and bricky.

He is in a nervous, cordate trance.

He is looking for Dreamer.

Bloodshot eyes hula-hoop in their sockets and sweep over the place for some sign. He’d found them here two out of the seven times but now there is no sign no sign no sign.

Damn. Fucking damn it.

Temporary people slip in and out of the restrooms while Weed cruises utterly slow. A man stretches and stares at his phone under a huge billboard, We Are Here For You, Whoever You Are. Shapes move in the greenbelt, just out of streetlamp’s reach. No shape resembles the specific torso bulk and rectangularity of Dreamer.

Okay.

Again. A plan must be made. Bee prepared Weed’s Dad would say and they’d all laugh at the buzzing on his pursed lips.

Later they would all cry.

Weed will find a spot and wait in his starched powder-blue coveralls, run thick fingers through thin hair, feel coiled snakes pulse and flicker hot in the veins of his right leg. His right leg is turning against him. His left leg remains thus far neutral.

Other thoughts:

  1. Bonnie, of course, six months in the ground
  2. Wedding ring glints useless in dashboard light
  3. Her pant-suited suffocation under yellowed packing tape on the sleeper wall
    1. Drilling holes into his subterranean thoughts
    2. Emerging unasked from photo

What would Bonnie think? Weed knows exactly. She would scowl and laugh. He remembers the open casket and how even dead her hands were balled up in fists.

He chews in big stains and curses himself and spits chew out the window in brown stretchy spurts looking for a space to park his rig. He dropped a trailer in Sacramento. He is bobtailing it. He pulls along a strip of empty curb near greenbelt trailhead marked Scenic View. All is usual.

A little slow for this time of night.

Slow. He checks his watch to verify everything is off.

Slow and adhesive or perhaps entirely still, with barely a pulse except fat June bugs, spitting and zooming in every light. There is no sign of Dreamer. He blinks and waits. He dozes off and under his eyelids, projected against the mucousy black screen, sees himself – a wild renegade with two fully functional legs and a thicket of scummy hair bursting from his scalp – attempt to explode an underground pig farm, the entrance to which is a black-hole mouth somewhere between a mountain and a river punched into the landscape like a death blow. He shrinks and stretches amorphously.

In this state Weed has thousands of microscopic teeth.

And there it is, the look in the eyes of the pig keeper, swinging an axe at his head, generic face contorted in rage. One of the hogs snarls at Weed in Dead Wife Bonnie’s high scratchy Midwestern tone. You are a sick, poisonous man.

A whooshing, scalding sound wakes him sweating in his seat.

Hhhhhhhhhhhhuh.

He flips his beams on someone coming out of the woods. It might be Dreamer but alas it is not. He returns the headlights to their own sleep and alas cracks his neck. There is alas disappointment, then there is DETERMINATION.

Then there is his watch, alas worrying.

Now listen.

For Weed, the Enoch Christoffersen Southbound Rest Area (which in his mind he now calls Dreamerland Ranch & Love Place) feels more and more like home with every visit. The nightly lights, high on their steel poles, preside over a theater of small, sticky dramas.

  1. People scuttling between bathrooms and trucks
  2. Dead memorized greetings between reptiles wearing cowboy hats or similar
  3. Scabby shapeshifters sideways-glancing into empty vehicles and jerking their heads at unexpected intervals
  4. Elderly couples pleading with their yorkies to shit so they can get out of the wind
  5. Sugar in all its variations flashing from the bellies of ready machines
  6. A nun serving free coffee out of a little booth
  7. The electric anticipation of waiting for Dreamer to appear out of the bushes or a bathroom stall or some other trucker’s rig and come to him
    TEETH FIRST

So isn’t that cute?

There is, nearby, it must be said, within Weed’s view, over a long chain link fence, a dead field with a dying hay barn and a rusted silo and a little collapsing shed. Also ascending woods. A trail slithering up 300 yards to a peak overlooking doublewides, alpaca pens in a valley through which runs a shallow, halting creek. Weed has been there with someone special indeed.

All this is dark now but its presence is heavy and magnetic. It is, in general, a primordial place. The little rest area is a bright jewel in a crown made of wilderness and collapse.

A place in which he has managed to feel a small, strange, dirty-feeling love.

This is out of character. Never mind that, he needs it and will receive it whenever he can figure out a way to open his mouth in the right place at the right time. He’s trying.

There is the lull except for a chill arhythmic breeze just cold enough to raise the hairs on his forearm. He is a man driven by desire. At night, right? There is no sign. He turns on talk radio and finds global disease, high alert, rioting. Fuck yeah.

Some bad luck.

Hap Hutchison pulls in, sees Weed’s cab and finds a spot nearby. He swings stubby legs out, jerks his pot-bellied carcass down and walks over. There is a blanket over his mind and only the smallest thoughts make it through to dart empty-eyed from the thick, wet mouth of Hap.

Words like cold and sleep and why.

Weed responds evasively.

Hap stands there outside Weed’s truck, chin up, sputtering unshaven for half an hour.

I got to unload in Turlock first thing tomorrow but you never know when a dock’s gonna come open at Grocery Panther cuz their warehouse manager just sits in his office all day . . . he makes a motion like he’s masturbating.

He wants to know why Weed is here when he could be back watching game shows, passing out in a Lazy-Boy. In fact this place is totally out of his way. Was he moonlighting? What are you doing here?

Why do these truckers have to know everybody’s business?

Both truckers look down.

Then Hap does something unexpected. He starts to cry. Tears! Weed remembers his wife died the same week as Bonnie, there was an email from dispatch. Oh boy.

Weed regards the half-lit trucker, small rimmed-red eyes staring out into the greenbelt like his wife was there waving goodbye. His cheeks are taut and puffed out like a toddler.

Hap, I heard about Leanne. I’m sorry, buddy, you know I lost Bonnie same week. It’s hard. Weed jumps out of his cab and puts a hand on Hap’s shoulder (they are the same height and width).

It just hits me out of nowhere, how she’s gone. I don’t know what triggers it.

How’d she go, now?

Heart attack. No warning. Happened at Wal-Mart. I was running a load of cantaloupe to Memphis and dispatch says turn it around, Hap, there’s a situation with your wife. Turn it around.

Damn. That’s rough.

It’s hard.

Yeah, I bet it is.

Yah.

Weed looks around the lot, still no sign of Dreamer.

Weed nods in the direction of the trailhead. Why don’t you go for a walk, stretch your legs. It’s pretty up there. Bring a flashlight. Sometimes there’s tweakers.

You go, too.

Hap Hutchison looks into Weed’s eyes. Lamplight splashes off his forehead, rejected.

Weed shakes his head. Some other time.

Hap mute-walks back to his rig.

Weed watches him climb in, sees a light come on inside. He looks at his watch and sees the hours are slipping away.

Dreamer! He calls out, the words bouncing off curbs and outbuildings a little crazy-sounding probably.

Dreamer!!

Some ten yards away, a little girl in pajamas pokes her head out of a Toyota and frowns. She motions for him to come over but quietly. Her forefinger breaks her lips into quarters. Weed approaches cautiously, unevenly, the bad leg.

She whispers. I’m Brenda.

Well, Brenda, I’m sorry I woke you up. I’m looking for my friend. Weed rubs the knee on his bad leg. The girl has blonde hair cut in the shape of a bicycle helmet. She is clean. She has a Raggedy Ann. He peers in the Toyota, sees a man curled up in the back seat, asleep.

You shouldn’t be out here. You’re supposed to be asleep.

Well I’d say the same about you and more, Brenda. How old are you?

The man in the back seat is youngish and brittle. He is asleep, has not eaten for some time.

I am a number between seven and fourteen. Pick a card.

Weed walks backward. He thinks he gets it or will get it sooner or later. The girl nods in agreement and says now shoosh.

It is too late. There is no sign no sign no sign.

Having been coaxed bit by bit out of his shell, Weed knows it’s time to pull himself back in before it is too late. Before he is swallowed whole and spit back out like a botulism spore. He climbs into his rig. He imagines Dreamer in the seat over, a living balm. A trailer full of butter and garlic waits for him in a concrete building next to a Taco Bell someone just robbed with a screwdriver.

He bobtails it.  

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