We are proud to present some new flash fiction from new contributor Duke Sandefur.
Pokey Joe stood at a forkroads. Physically, there were three ways to go, but Joe knew there were more choices and none at all. Primordial forces and base instincts drove his life and all that unseen gravity was strong here. Very strong.
Left, right, up, down, forward or back – Pokey Joe thought in six dimensions at once, the way a bull bucked with a tightened flank strap. Bounced around like an atom in a lead box, Joe went where the sun was warmest, the way smoothest, or the bridges unburned. This day it had brought him to Haskell, Texas.
All Joe knew about Haskell was what he read on the marker: Haskell was the County Seat of the County of Haskell, Texas, named after Charles Ready Haskell, a Tennessean shot down with Colonel James Fannin in the Goliad Massacre of 1836. Joe didn’t know by whom. He’d been through Fannin and Goliad and they were half a planet from this place. This street. This fork in Joe’s road.
“It was early in the morning when he rode into the town. He came riding from the south side, slowly lookin’ all around…”
“Big Iron” by Marty Robbins peened off the smooth but rusted metal of a 1955 GMC pick‘em up truck that was already well hammered. The sheet metal was thick as a nickel – and beaten like a Turkish cymbal. Joe remembered the golf ball recovery cart he had piloted for a short spell at a driving range in Kansas. Hail damage, Joe figured. Probably a Panhandle vehicle. Joe actually knew very little, but at least he knew that much. Among the little he knew was that there were two models of GMC truck in 1955. This was the more bulbous of the two, sporting the then new 283 V-8 and a single side-mount spare tire.
At the wheel was a girl with red hair, pale skin and about a quadzillion freckles – all the constellations on a universe of smooth flesh. Though Pokey Joe had only glanced, they made eye contact for a nanosecond. She turned down the AM radio. That was a sure sign that held danger, hope and adventure. A girl, traveling alone, muting Marty Robbins – to share a word with him.
“You gonna stand there all day…?”
Joe was slow. Not a limbic retard, just physically slow. He’d been standing at the forkroads for what seemed like weeks. It was probably more like hours, but it had been months since he could readily afford the medication that allowed him the luxury of reasonably accurate time perception. Rodeo didn’t pay what it use to and Joe wasn’t always in the money. He had found a way to make regular money, if he could get there.
“Don’t mind me sayin’, you look lost. You fixin’ to get in..?”
There were few rules Pokey Joe followed. Among them: “Never cross a Gypsy or a three-legged dog.” At the front of his mind in this critical moment was another: “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear…or a flamethrower of a girl with a Winchester .44-40 lever action in the headache rack of her pick’em up truck.”
Unless you’re invited.
There are always exceptions. This was one. Quantum entanglement required one to serve those higher, seemingly random impulses that superseded all truisms and cautionary proverbs.
Joe tossed his bedroll in the box of the truck and swung up into the cab. The scent hit him sideways like a whiffle bat upside the temple. This girl used lotions he remembered from somewhere. Strong soap. No perfume. Just that lotion. What was it…?
From the smell of her lotioned, freckled, sunless skin, Joe knew she hadn’t had a hot shower in two days. A hose rinse in a hayfield, maybe, but not a hot shower. Perfect sticky sweet.
“I’m going to San Antonio,” blurted Joe, before he could access the self-editing reflex. “I’m going to be a rodeo clown.”
“Well, ain’t that a thing. I’m fixin’ to head that way myself.” She gave Joe a quick, appraising look, then spoke. A paintbrush of red hair stuck to her lip gloss. “You ever done any rodeo clownin’?”
“Not so’s you’d know it.”
“Hmm… The name’s Netty. Want a beer?”
Thus it began, for as farfetched as it would seem, Joe had never had a beer before. Brother, it wouldn’t be the last…or the next to the last. Whiskey, yes, a time or two when pressed. Tequila, a few and he liked that. But never the slow, cold roll of a frosty Shiner. Seated next to the High Priestess of sweating Styrofoam coolers, Pokey Joe had just found a new religion.
A threadbare Mexican serape covered the springs that might otherwise have poked through the horsehair and vinyl of the seat, but it was comfortable enough for a proper introduction. Reclined, Netty released mentholated smoke like a locomotive on a long, slow grade. Pokey Joe noted that a couple of times, when he pushed hard, smoke rings spontaneously rose from her lips. Swollen lips like she’d been in a fight, but she hadn’t. Gritty kisses from the red clay dust that stuck to everything, most notably her ChapStick. This was a good get-to-know-ya.
Joe had thought it odd at first that she hadn’t extinguished all smoking materials before this spontaneous flight of passion at a turn-out on a little travelled Farm-to-Market road. He didn’t mind. In fact, he liked it some. Then she coughed. A good, deep cough. And he suddenly loved it. If he’d had less of “the will,” the cough would have pushed him clean out. Instead, her cough gripped him hard. She felt it too and released a sharp gasp, almost a scream, lost to the Texas wind.
“You want a cigarette?” Netty asked, breathlessly.
“You don’t smoke after sex?
In typical Pokey Joe fashion, he hesitated, then: “I ain’t done.”
“You ain’t done what…? Oh.”
Netty struck a match and tried to spark herself another Newport but didn’t get a cherry. Joe drove the air out of her. She could feel him up in her diaphragm and coughed again. To her rapt surprise, she felt it as much as he did. Then again. This had never happened to Netty. She didn’t read Cosmo, she didn’t watch Oprah. She didn’t even know she was allowed to peak more than once. The men she’d known had never – and she was no better, no worse than any man. One climax had been the rule, if that. But Joe was dealin’ two for the price of one.
And cheaper by the dozen, it seemed. Joe had the will. Joe had the will good and strong. If it hadn’t been so Godawful hot, he might have carried on a good while longer. The better portion of an hour and a quarter pack of Newports later, the cab of the GMC was thick with passion, mentholated smoke, sweet sweat, Zippo fluid, beer and red dust. Joe’s weight lay on her at about twice earth’s gravity.
She took a moment to assess the situation, largely of her making. Running her fingers over a number of keloid scars, she otherwise found him a fit specimen and more than good company. She didn’t know his name. Weighing the consequences, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Enduring attraction, much less a relationship, was something she had done without and it was a comfortable groove. This was dangerous.
“You want that cigarette now, fella?”
“Right.” Joe eased his weight off of her and smiled. “What’s it short for?”
“It’s short for I’ll kick your dusty everlovin’ ass if you call me Annette.”
“Yep. Netty’s a real good name. Netty…?” He had her attention. “You think I might have another of those beers?”
Hours passed quickly between Netty and Joe on State Highway 83 South. The old GMC didn’t ride half as bad as it looked. The slow, cold roll of the beers created a good space. Wind wings fully folded in caught enough air to keep them dry so long as they were moving.
Netty was a great listener and Pokey Joe didn’t waste a lot of words. The radio reception was spotty as they covered ground, but they caught some good music. Some songs Joe knew, some he didn’t. It was the soundtrack to his life now. At least this part of it. At least until San Antonio.
Netty broke the easy silence between them. “I heard the only reason to rodeo is to meet nurses.”
“That’s a true story, there.” Joe laughed for the first time in her company.
“You ride buckin’ horses and such?”
“Bulls mostly. Or I did. I met a lot of nurses.”
Netty laughed this time and it tickled Joe. He wanted more.
“You know why the chicken crossed the road?”
From her look, she already did, or she didn’t want to know.
“Armadillo owed him money.”
Netty laughed. Joe laughed. They sipped. They smoked. They rolled South.