Authors: Kevin Hardcastle
“Wait,” he said.
“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” she said.
He started trying to talk her out of it but she put her one hand to his chest and pushed him back down. She sat in the bed beside him and leaned low and stuck him.
Two days later he was back
at triage. The red-haired nurse passed by while he was filling in his forms. She came over and sat in the chair beside him.
“Hey Sarah,” he said.
The nurse read his forms and his chickenscratch. His address in a city some two hours' drive from there. She looked him over.
“My foot hurts,” he said.
She tried not to smile but she did.
He kept coming back with his
complaints and traumas until Sarah let him wait out her shift and follow her to eat. They went to a diner with Formica everything and broken neons outside that had long gone dark. They ordered eggs and bacon and sausages each and she ordered a beer. He asked for a Diet Coke.
“I'm not drinking beer alone,” she said.
Daniel switched to beer.
“Not much of a drinker,” he said. “Plus I got to drive.”
“Well, we'll see,” she said.
“How far you got to drive.”
They ate plenty and Daniel wolfed it down. The nurse didn't lag too far behind and Daniel could barely believe it. He had her by about eight inches and eighty pounds. She'd tied her hair back and a draft tickled at it from the poorly sealed windows. Outside on the plain there were no lights and no lights and then a blinking radio tower firing once every three seconds or so. There were only two other people in the place and they were cops. The one drank a coffee and the other had his head buried in his arms at the tabletop, patrolman's hat listed to his shoulder and propped up straight to his temple. He seemed to be asleep.
They drank a few more beers and talked. She was from the Maritimes and her folks were still out there. Daniel told her where he was from and that he had a half-brother somewhere. Didn't know him. That was all. She ordered another round of beers and asked for the bill.
“You make any money at what you do?” she said.
“I did lately.”
She slid him the bill and he put his huge, ruined palm over the paper. He went for his wallet.
“Hang on,” she said.
A few minutes later the cops mustered and the one put his hat on right and stretched. They walked out without paying a dime and got in their cruiser and took off down the roadway. Sarah touched the back of Daniel's hand over the bill and got up. She went to the waitress and handed her some money. The waitress pushed through a swinging door to the kitchen and came back a minute later with a crate of beer and set it on the counter. Daniel stood and brought the check over. He paid it and then he took up the crate.
He had a licensed fight in surrey
against the only man who'd ever beat him. Daniel's legal record was twelve and one but the other fights were so many that he had trouble remembering them all. The where of them. How they ended or how bad. The cage had been set up in a hockey arena and there were fighters on the card being groomed for the big show. Daniel and his old buddy were the top fight on the undercard.
In the fight he got hit so hard that his molars sang. He managed to tie the other fighter up and tried to shove him into the cage fencing. The man was older than him and the stronger man by far. Daniel lost the first round but wore little of it on his face. He was losing the second round right to the last minute and there he put a one-two through the other man's guard and sat him down. People stood at ringside. The other fighter scrambled up and Daniel got him to brawl in the middle of the cage. They were each blasting the other until the man's knee hit the mat and he got up again and started to back up. Daniel threw off-time hooks that split the man around the eyes and he beat him limp where the fence met the mat. The ref was slow to get there and Daniel did not quit until he did.
He took the hotel room that night and filled the bathtub with water and bucket after bucket from the ice machine. When he got in with his contusions and knotted shins and shrunk dick he could not catch his breath enough to howl.
Through foothill lanes he
drove with monstrous trees either side of the road. The engine struggled some on the grade as Daniel went deeper and deeper in-country and he talked to it until they hit the flats near his hometown. There were stoplights there from the seventies and rusted filling station signs that spun atop their pillars or didn't spin anymore. A lot of storefronts were empty and some were boarded over with plywood. One had a picnic table through it and actually balanced mid-window in the glass somehow. Daniel passed a lot of kids he didn't recognize and liked that very much. He even waved to some. One set of girls gave him the finger.
The little house sat plumb in wild thatch as tall as the truck. The gravel driveway was all but gone and there were holes under the lip of the roof where critters made their beds. Somebody had tagged the entire side of the house with a fucked up pentagram, drawn as if by a child on a lot of glue. Daniel took up a rock from the end of the clay trail where he'd parked and pitched it through the empty front doorframe. Hollow banging where the stone travelled. A squirrel blew out from under the eavestrough and went sideways into the trees. Daniel waited a minute and then he trod the brush and went inside.
The living room had holes in the floorboards and there were little bodies huddled in there, eyes aglow and one animal hissed at him. He told it to shut up. Not a scrap of furniture or carpeting left in the place. All the metals had been pulled and there were striplines in the wall where the wiring got torn out. The plumbing was likewise gone by the looks of it, all but a tub of infinite weight planted there in the bathroom, no walls left to close it in. When he got to his parents room there was a door still hung and he went cold. He stared at it awhile and then he toed it with his boot and it drifted open on its hinges. The ceilings and floor were still there and hadn't rotted through. The window in that room had no coverings nor glass and light shone weird to the hardwood. A bedframe alone and flush to the wall. Daniel leaned in for the door and pulled it shut.
He got to the other bedroom and it just wasn't there. The joists were exposed with rusted nails stuck in them and crooked toward the yard. Down three feet from the hole lay bits of wood and stuffing and some plastics that he couldn't identify. Daniel scoped the wildgrass clearing and the woods beyond and the treeline was nearer than he thought it would be. He turned and went back through the place and then he left.
Sarah had been in and out of bed
in the mornings while he lay there knackered. She'd come back to him and put her head by his chest and her breath came too fast where it tickled his skin.
“Are you okay?” he'd ask.
“I'm just out of whack from working nights. It'll pass,” she'd say.
If he pressed her about it she climbed him or she kicked him out. Daniel had a week there and then he had to go back north to train for a fight he'd taken on too soon but needed bad. When he left her on her driveway that last day she held on to him too long and he started to hug her all over again. He backed out slow and she was barefoot on the gravel with her eyes hard on him. Daniel waited in the road until she waved and when he drove off he went very slow and his guts were in knots that didn't loose for hours.
He drove across the montana border
with the sun risen pale behind a grey sky. There were rains that had travelled ahead of him and left the asphalt black and slick. Not far into the state he caught a pool of water and hydroplaned, felt the truck go weightless and drift sideways. When the tires touched dry road the truck bucked hard and fishtailed the other way. Daniel swore shit he'd never heard of and then had the truck straight in the lane again. Nobody else was out there with him and there were no towns nor filling stations for miles ahead or miles behind. He slowed to the speed limit and turned the radio loud. He knew the song and even sang it in a piss-poor tenor, let the words of it rattle in his brain and take up room.
His motel room was the corner unit of a one-level shithole just outside the town of Boulder. Daniel had driven long and checked in but didn't unpack anything. He slept shallow and woke early. They did the weigh-ins at noon and they were meaningless. In bouts where the fighters were coming in heavy they were switched to catch-weight fights before anyone ever got on a scale. Two fighters refused and they were cut out of the card and their opponents paired up instead.
Near midnight Daniel made his walk in suffocating humidity. He had no shirt on and no socks either and sweat pooled in his shoes. They were outdoors except for a kind of pavilion that country bands usually played under. Mosquitoes ate his shoulders and a cloud of gnats turned itself inside out near to where the fighters stood to have their cups and mouthguards checked. Daniel poured water over his head and his chest and when he got to the staging area they wiped him dry again with towels.
Early in the first round Daniel caught the other fighter in an armbar, the man chest-down to the mat with his shoulder trapped. Daniel had the arm fully extended and felt the elbow joint pop between his cup and the canvas. The man didn't tap but he couldn't fight anymore and they called it. There were people in the crowd who knew Daniel's name and when he went back up the makeshift corridor he signed a drunk guy's ball cap and the shirt of a twenty-something girl with both her arms sleeved in tattoos. She said something in Daniel's ear but he didn't hear it.
In the side lot to the place, he met his bookie. The man was tall and had a nasty kind of skinniness about him. He gave Daniel his winnings and they were plenty. Not a dollar had been skimmed.
“That fella's brothers are lookin' for you,” the bookie said. “I'd clear outta town.”
Daniel nodded and the man put out his hand. Knobbled joints there and the digits far too long. Daniel shook it quick and left the lot. Twenty feet from his truck he turned and there were three bikers trailing him in their leather cuts.
He drove back into lethbridge not
twelve hours later and he'd done it with only his left hand. He couldn't make a fist with the other. Part of an incisor buried in the meat between his first two knuckles. There were scratch marks by his eyes and left cheek as if he'd gone through a hedgerow blind. Otherwise Daniel was whole and bang awake when he pulled into Sarah's drive. He didn't see her car and he didn't know what shift she might be on. He got out and went up the steps.
The apartment had been emptied. Everything but a milk crate filled with trinkets, pop bottles from the fifties, a license plate. Daniel stood in the entryway and had to lean against the framing for a second. He went through the place room by room and then came back into the living room and stared at the milk crate. After a minute he picked it up and flung the contents toward the corner. A bottle broke. He flipped it and set it on the floor. There he sat on the upturned crate and studied the pale walls. He went into his pockets for his phone. He didn't have it.
At the hospital the triage nurse
wouldn't tell him anything at first.
“You want me to admit you?”
“No,” he said. “I just need to know where she's got to.”
The nurse just looked at him.
“She's pregnant,” he said.
The nurse looked around the place. There was not another soul in earshot.
“She'll likely have gone to her folks,” she said. “That's all I can say.”
“No,” he said. “I don't know.”
Daniel waited at the counter and leaned on it with his forearms. He didn't have a plan about what to do next but the nurse wouldn't shoo him. He had blood dribbling out of his one nostril and she handed him a tissue.
“Well, I guess can someone at least dig this tooth out of me?” he said, and stuck his right fist under the Plexiglas for the nurse to see. She covered her mouth and just stared at the hand. She told him to have a seat.
There were choppers running the
main street by early evening and they were too many to be from the local chapters. They were doing parallels in the roads and circling each neighbourhood. Two or three bikes parked in front of every tavern and motel office. Daniel got back to Sarah's apartment at dusk and drove the truck through the gap between that building and the one beside it, the side mirrors folded back and just an inch or two clear on either side of the vehicle. He wheeled into the courtyard behind and parked in the middle of it where he could not find a sightline from any of the outlying streets.
He lay in the corner of the room on a sleeping bag and used his dirtied clothes for a pillow. The drapes were gone and silver moonlight showed the floor but none of him. He dared not sleep but he was bone-tired and weak with it and soon his head bobbed and went cheek-down to the makeshift bedding. Next he woke and heard scratching at the front door, metal working the keyhole. Daniel slid out from the bed and crawled the room face-down until he passed the door. He stood up slow and waited there.