Authors: Kevin Hardcastle
The men sat there with their drinks and seemed to ponder it all to the bottom of those pint glasses. Another round came for them while they sat there, watching the
absently. Kayla downed her two drinks and ordered another set. She got change and went to the jukebox, charged it up and set herself in a chair beside it while the speaker rattled her eardrum.
Half an hour passed and she saw the one talker move out from his stool and hike up his jeans. The man moved near underwater slow as he shuffled away from the bar and stood down to the floor proper. He turned and went through the pool-room, smacked a loose cue ball on the table so that it rifled around by the banks. There were a few people playing darts and he waved at them but they didn't see him or didn't care. Tall, barrel-chested man of about thirty with a great block of a head built right into his shoulders. For all that, he had a boy's face.
Kayla followed him along a dim corridor until he turned and started down a set of shortstairs. The washrooms were below. She came in close as he was navigating the first step and there she wound up and booted him in the ass. He went over like he'd been fired from a cannon and his arms tried for the walls but he didn't touch anything until he landed face and chest first to old carpet and concrete below and carried on ass over teakettle through a line of spent kegs. Kayla ducked low to better see the bathrooms. Nobody came out. He was moving around in the kegs with his face-down and legs pumping slow, like a dog shifting dirt by its head.
She went through to the bar and sat. Nobody looked at her. She felt like she'd just come back from the moon. The bartender got her one more set of drinks and she sipped the first. The man hadn't returned yet and his fellow at the bar was checking the clock on his phone. Kayla paid the bartender. Stood and slugged back the second drink. She thanked him and took up her jacket. She left.
t find a job and she
couldn't find a job. Her unemployment insurance was set to expire before summer's end and the rooming house ate most of what she had left in the bank. Matthew had come around somewhat and she'd been able to talk to him on the phone and visit him a few times a week. He'd lost more weight but he'd gained something back by his eyes. When she looked at him he was actually there.
On a Friday afternoon Kayla cleaned herself up and put on a dress and pinned her hair up. She parcelled books for Matthew to read and some candy bars for him to hide in his drawers. She had very little money she could give him. She drove to the hospital in the truck, the windows wound down. Hot, humid air and not a breeze but what she made by driving. Trash bins cooking streetside as they waited for their hauling. By the time she got there her hair had gone crazy and her dress stuck to the middle of her back. She parked and brushed at her hair by the rear-view mirror. After awhile she gave up and got out.
She signed in at the front desk and there he met her. They kissed small and by the sides of their lips like old people. Then they went outside with different coloured tags strung around their necks. Matthew's hands were shaky yet and while they walked the grounds of the hospital he was bowed over slightly and took his steps too slow.
“There's an awful lot of young people in here,” she said.
“I know it.”
“I was told they get a kick outta you.”
He smiled crooked.
“I'm like the uncle that'll buy 'em beer.”
“I'm telling ya. Some of them got stories that'll curl your hair.”
Kayla nodded. She held his one hand in the both of hers as they went. There were few others out there with them on the grasses. Three old men sat smoking at a picnic table, the one a huge black man in an electric wheelchair, bag of breadcrumbs that he pitched out for the pigeons. A loose bird had alit to his knee and the man watched it close until it dropped again and went about its pecking.
“How are you?” Matthew said.
“What about the apartment?”
“It's fine,” she said.
He studied her long.
They sat right in the grass and Kayla crossed her legs and pulled her dress over them. He reached under to her ankle and held it gentle. Let go. He leaned back on the grass by both arms and made a sound. Pulled up again and rolled his right shoulder a couple times. She asked him if it was okay and he said it was. They sat quiet for some time.
“Were those fellas alright in the end?” he said.
“The ones that I got into it with that night. Those two men.”
“Sure,” Kayla said.
Out by the city limits she idled
at a turnoff and held one hand up against the setting sun. There were a few other cars and they were all in the other turning lane. The light changed and she took her turn and drove on. Not long down that road she saw farm fields and wood fences. Houses planted sparely in their plots. Hundred year willows tickled the truck roof as she passed by. Kayla knew that she'd gone out of the county inside of three minutes and she slowed the truck and then almost right away put her foot back to the pedal.
She ate a burger from a grilltruck in a gravel lot, sitting at a nearby picnic table with its western legs sunk into the ground some. Fruit stand in the lot-corner met by passing tourists. The attendant didn't seem to mind the customers one bit, even to help them pay him. Bugs bit at Kayla's legs by the shorts-line. Two ants cycled on her thigh and she watched them a second and then flicked them clear. From her dinner seat she saw thin smoke in the sky, followed it down to where it spun from the round chimneys of a great sheet metal building. Kayla took the last mouthfuls of her burger with her and left out.
The sign read about good men
needed and she stood there looking at it. She went back to the truck and climbed up to the benchseat. Unbuttoned her shorts and shuffled out of them. Went behind the seat for her pants. She put her hair back and walked the lot to the building's front doors.
There were men working the lines, inspecting sinkbasins. A few of the machines were being seen to by technicians with their toolbelts and soiled forearms. Almost all of them stopped a second to take a look at her before putting their heads back down to their work. Low, steady hum of ever-moving beltlines. Hiss and pop of pneumatic tools as they applied fasteners. Kayla found the site offices and moved along them until she saw the manager's nameplate. The door hung open and he was standing there with his hands on his hips, studying a wall-built corkboard. Stocky man of about fifty with almost pure grey hair, stubble at his chin. She knocked and he turned.
“What can I help you with, miss?” he said.
“I see you might be lookin' for good people.”
“Your boyfriend got any experience in an outfit like this?”
“Your husband got any experience in an outfit like this?”
“He's in the hospital right now,” she said.
The man turned back to the corkboard and shook his head.
“You lookin' for somethin' for him when he's well?”
“Maybe. But I'm well enough to work right now.”
The man looked at her and out at the factory floor. He reached out his hand and Kayla shook it firm. He went to his desk and sat, waved a hand at a chair on the opposite side.
“Well, have a seat,” he said.
So she did.
A week in and she
a shaded swath of parking lot where she could stow the truck of a night. She ran a hundred-foot electrical cord to the truck from one of the chip wagon outlets and it powered her alarm clock and her phone charger and a small house fan that she laid on the floor sideways by the pedals. She found patches of screen at the hardware store with magnetted ends and fixed them to the window frames but she'd not lived in the country since she was young and after sundown there were either too many sounds or too few and she had to wind the windows up and lock the doors. Sleep didn't come easy and she had weird dreams in the shallows of it and often she dreamt of him.
Her second Thursday at work she punched out and ate chicken fingers in the lot, waited for the sun to go. Crickets had already begun their fiddling. At dusk she drove off, down the narrow county lane to a fieldroad walled in by cornstalks. She parked and walked the rows until she came to a wire fence. The field backed up against somebody's yard and in that yard they had an above-ground pool with the tarp drawn over it. Kayla forced the fencelines and went through. No dogs to declare her. She stripped to her skin and piled her clothes neatly by on a little wooden table. Went up the ladder with a bottle of shampoo in the one hand. She unhitched a corner of the tarp and folded it back. Over she went into the cool waters, let the bottle float the surface as she sunk down and sat on the container floor.
Long after dark she was laying
down in the truck with a tiny nightlight plugged into the power cable. It shone dimly from the passenger floormat. She'd drifted some and forgot to take the screens down. Out in the black there were warm winds travelling by and scenting the inside of the cab. Trace of skunkmist that twitched her nostrils. Whatever the trees and grasses and bracken let loose in the heat. She started to sleep again and then woke up full.
Somewhere in the lot there were feet dancing the gravel, a low throat-bound growl that had to be dog but she'd never heard its like. Kayla sat up to better see and regretted it right away. She could not see a goddamn thing through the screenwork but knew it in her guts that she could be seen clear by the meagre interior bulblight. She lay back down and pulled the light from the socket. She heard her heart like a kickdrum and thought up all the animals she'd come across or even just ever heard of.
She pushed the screen out on the passenger side and wound the window shut, turning the lever slow. Loud snuffling right there below the driver door. The truck shifted slight and she could just stare down at her feet and let her brain take it. Black nothing of the world outside the driver window and the odd scent of damp hair. Kayla had not made a sound but she'd tears at her cheeks and she tasted one where it trailed and then she'd had enough. The truck kept moving small on its suspension by whatever pushed at the sidepanels and she sat up and punched the screen clear. She wound the lever so hard that the knob bent on its screw. With the window pinned she dropped prone again and waited. The truck was still and it was still and then she felt it move but once. Kayla lifted a leg and put her bare heel to the horn and kept at it.
In the morning she came to work haggard and went right past her station to the boss' office. He had just about sat with his morning coffee and he stopped halfway and got back up.
“I hear you got a trailer for rent,” she said.
He waved at the seat across his desk.
She drove the highways toward
the city proper, on new tires and brake pads that she'd paid for outright. Kayla had put the pads on herself with the help of a hydraulic pumpjack from the factory. One of the fellas had talked her through it but she'd done the work. The bed of the truck had been cleared and cleaned. Tool containers mounted on the frame, below the back windows of the cab. Kayla had the windows down as she drove and her dress danced by her legs and her hair blew at her shoulders but she didn't mind. The county roads were thick with fallen leaves. The fields all about her had been harvested and tilled black. There were cool winds supposed to come early from somewhere out on the prairies. Not yet.
When she pulled into the visitor lot he was sitting there on a bench with a duffle bag full with his clothes. A box of his books and other necessaries sat on the pavestones by his feet. Kayla all but stopped breathing a minute and parked crooked in the spot. Her cheeks had gone red. She didn't know why. She got out of the truck, stood behind the open door and smoothed her dress against her legs. Matthew stood up full and slung the duffle over his shoulder, took the box up under one arm and walked the asphalt to meet her.
They drove a winding dirt lane
to where the trailer sat. Half-naked tree branches stropped the sides of the vehicle as they went. Matthew had his forearm outside the passenger window and it took its lashings. Kayla studied him sidelong. He'd gotten a little fatter by the hips and through his neck and cheeks. He'd smiled more than once on the ride. She carried them on by the busted laneway until they reached the clearing.
Just packed clay for a front yard and the thin woods in back. Wildgrass aside the trailer and a dig-crater turned frogpond in the far west corner of the property. Matthew walked the site and puzzled over the cables that ran from the trailer to a thick wood post, industrial outlets built into the top part of it somehow. Kayla waited for him by the trailer steps. He came back eventually.
“We gonna be country folk?” he said.
“Looks that way.”