Discovering a Terrible Truth
by Jamie Iredell
At a cubicled desk he calculated, entered the numbers, filled the forms with his name, a name he would forget. His ties came with stripes and paisleys. His coffee smelled of strong earth. He’d come to this city for work after four years shoving his head in books on a quadrangled, cottonwood-lined campus. He was duded up in fine wool slacks, his teeth gleaming from the dentist, a ticking watch slipped into his vest pocket, led from a thin gold chain. This Friday was a good night for a restaurant dinner if he was going to do it, and he would, for his mama. He left work early, the sun still gleaming in skyscrapers’ windows. The city scuttled with horse-drawn carriages jingling harness bells, clattering on cobblestones. Taxis, buses, and cars honked around corners, ambulances and fire engines wailed, and police cruisers blooped drivers to stops. Exhaust blew from delivery trucks as they revved out of intersections, when they chugged up the insufferable hills like massive and metallic fat men.
When night fell the lamplighters pedaled the streets with their wicks and poles, lighting the gas lamps from pennyfarthings, the lights coming up under the sky peeling orange and in the east deep purple, disappearing to black. Maitre ds swept lint and dandruff from their suit lapels and stood tall on platforms behind their podiums. Heels clacked across the wood planked sidewalks. The happy hour bars filled with suits, jeans and work shirts, flowing skirts and dresses. Patrons’ bootheels rested on brass rails and knocked against spittoons, and drinks left damp rings in cardboard pads the barkeeps set upon the walnut bars.
He rarely mingled in this crowd. Worked overtime to pay his studio rent, the room that held his cot and a big metal basin for washing himself and which sufficed as a rudimentary kitchen. He hadn’t time for saloons, for chit-chat with colleagues who rounded cubicle walls, rolling desk chairs, tugging on their ties like they were proud to wear them.
He hadn’t friends. Going to and returning from his office he passed neighbors with nervous hellos. Weekends he pulled pull-ups from the bar in the doorway to his bathroom. Pushups, situps. He jogged miles up and down the city’s hills. When he’d first been hired a coworker coerced him out for an evening, and at the saloon he stood awkward against a wall, drink sweating, while he tried to look comfortable, and the women waltzed past on their way to the bathroom, their perfume surge crashing over him. His colleague talked to these night ladies and he introduced them to the thin man. But the thin man remained shy, nodding, smiling his hello to the bosoms pushed in front of him, the rouged cheeks, the fake moles drawn above cherry-red lips.
He found the metro stop amid a torrent of newspaper ripped to shreds and tossed by rushing taxis. Down the steps to the turnstiles he caught the familiar whiff of city: dust, exhaust, and oil. The rush of commuters pressed against him on the train, suit jackets that had lost the drycleaner’s starch and scent of chemical cleanliness, exchanged for the human reek of oils and sweat. Hands grasped holds as the train screeched against the rails and out the windows the advertisements for books, the summer’s anticipated theatrics, all passed in a rainbow blur. They came to Cordillera Station where the wolf pack kept its den and behind the legs of passing commuters a pair of pups snapped at their mother’s ears and rolled in play on the tiled subway floor.
He’d thought it was to be just him and his mama, but now here were these men. One was older, besuited in pinstriped wool, his hair dyed to hide grey, and the other was much younger, sporting a collared shirt and jeans. The younger man was not much junior to the thin man. These men rose when the hostess brought the thin man forward, and he stood in front of these other men, staring.
Then his mama appeared, returning from the watercloset. The thin man brushed his mama’s cheek with his lips. Glasses adorned the table, his mama’s white wine at his mama’s spot.
This is Jonathan, his mama said. The younger man put forward his hand and the thin man shook it.
His mama stood watching, an almost-smile on her lips. She fidgeted. Notice anything? she said.
Jonathan’s hands were downed with dark hairs, and he was built tall and wide-shouldered, like the thin man himself.
Take a seat, said his mama.
The thin man pulled a napkin onto his lap. His fingers sweated. An itch tickled behind his ear.
This isn’t easy for me to tell you, his mama said. Jonathan is your younger brother, your half brother.
The older man still stood. He thrust a veined hand at the thin man’s face, which the thin man shook, unsure. And I am David, this man said. I’m Jonathan’s father.
Everyone was seated now. The thin man found his fork in his grip. The metal cool in his hot fingers. A sweating pitcher dropped before him and icewater clinked into his glass.
David sipped his martini.
The server asked the thin man what he wanted to drink, besides water.
The thin man glanced around. The hostess pulled a chair out for a gray-haired woman as she and her husband sat for their dinner. In the corner the piano player shoved his sleeve garters
higher up his biceps, cracked his knuckles, and settled into a tinny ragtime. The thin man’s mama sipped her Chardonnay. She said, You should get whatever you want.
What? the thin man said.
What else can I bring you to drink? the server asked again. The server’s shirt: bright white and stiff starched.
What do you mean, brother? the thin man said.
I’ll give you a minute, the server said.
It was time you should know, his mama said. She called to the disappearing server, waving her empty wine glass. I really don’t know what else to say. You see, I met David—oh what was it twenty, twenty-five years ago? And you know how your father is. I came into the city for work. It was when I worked with the bank. You remember when I worked at the bank. See. Those were good days. And, well.
What are you talking about? He used only the edge of his seat.
We’ve accepted this, said David. These things happen.
Who is this guy?
The adjacent old couple stared. The woman’s mouth hung like a cave beneath the twin moons that were her eyeglasses reflecting the overhanging lights. The server delivered the fresh Chardonnay and quickly turned to disappear again, but Jonathan stopped him to order another gin and tonic. David said to the thin man: You should get something, I think.
They ordered for him: A bourbon, neat.
The server faded away.
David said, I understand that this is not easy.
His mama itched her nose.
Go ahead, dear, said David.
Excuse me, said the thin man’s mama. She left the table.
Jonathan picked at his nails.
Jonathan, the thin man thought. What kind of name was Jonathan?
Jonathan drained his second gin and tonic. His ankle bounced atop his knee. He looked toward the bar where there were women.
We’re not asking anything of you, said David. His fingers stroked his martini glass stem.
The thin man had never heard anyone call his mama dear. He thought of ungulates. His daddy had always called her honey. When the thin man was a child his father had called her pie, too. Honey pie. He thought of pies filled with bees.
Silent minutes passed. Jonathan had his third gin and tonic delivered.
David said, You might as well drink your drink.
The thin man did, ordered another, a beer back.
A pittance of liquor heretofore in his life helped spread this alcohol-generated warmth across his stomach and his head lightened. For a moment he took in the piano. The player played along to Beethoven’s Eroica, which came from unseen speakers, and the thin man let his chin lift and fall to the trouncing music. The old couple had their wine delivered and they toasted, a clank when their glasses met.
When his mama returned from the bathroom he’d finished his beer. His stomach had lurched then settled and warmed again, and again his head lightened. He’d had time. His face flushed. The restaurant’s walls were yellow. The old couple shared an appetizer.
The men rose as his mama sat, and the thin man pointed at her. You are a harlot, you harlot.
I am your mom, said his mama. She sniffed and rubbed her nose, the rim of one nostril smeared with a white substance.
What does dad say?
Your father? You know your father.
Dear, said David, handing the thin man’s mama a handkerchief he’d withdrawn from his suit jacket’s breast pocket.
His mama wiped her nose then sipped from her Chardonnay. The old couple watched, rapt.
Jonathan said, I didn’t think this was a good idea either. He was getting up to leave.
Sit down, said David.
Don’t bother, said the thin man. I’m not staying.
He was gone before his mama could have protested, though she did not. The thin man did not see it, but David stayed her with his hand on her arm. The maitre’d smiled to the thin man as he left, opening the door and saying, Thank you for dining with us this evening, sir. The thin man replied, Thank you very much.
The customers had withered, leaving the last drinkers and the late crowd that straggled in in pairs and small groups. The light came only from neon beer signs and the candles that bedecked the bar in rows of flame. The thin man spent all the money he had on whiskey and got to slobbering drunk, telling random strangers of his whore for a mother. These wary patrons picked up their bottles of beer and made way for the bar’s opposite end. The bartender asked if everything was okay. The thin man said, Why? The bartender held up his palms. Just asking, he said. Before the thin man left the saloon he removed his tie and threw it atop the wadded bath towels heaped like whipped cream overflowing the restroom’s wastebin.
When he emerged the streets shone with the receding gaslamplight in the dew, and dawn graying the sky to the east. Brakelights signaled the weekend escape from the city. The thin man found a bus stop and waited, what for he wasn’t sure for he had no money. He hoped perhaps the bus driver would take pity on his wrinkled more-than-a-day-worn suit, and let him ride for free. An old woman waited with him. She spat thin ropes of tobacco juice onto the sidewalk’s planks. A tall and slender man in a black leather duster and a black flatbrimmed hat in the Spanish Texcuco style, dark as the night the thin man had spent, clacked his boots into the covered bus stop and sat beside the woman. The old woman glanced at the man and made to get up, but the man in the hat stopped her with a gentle touch to her forearm, to say it was okay. The old woman ripped away the kerchief that covered her tightly kinked locks. She spat away her lug of chaw and screamed. She was off at a trot down the planks, leaving behind the wire and wheeled cart that contained her belongings. The man in the hat laughed, slapped his knee, said, Shit. He smiled at the thin man and said, Morning. The thin man vomited bubbling bile into the gutter.
Aint many can take to the morning, the man in the hat said.
The thin man did not respond but sat dreary with his hangover.
And you, the man in the hat said, obviously addressing the thin man, for no other human took up this space at the bus stop, now that the woman had vacated the premises. You seem to me a man keen on his own destruction. What has brought you to such a low, my brother?
Again, the thin man made no response, but hugged his retching abdomen, and kept his eyes averted from those of this curious stranger. Now, no longer drunk, and feeling the effects the alcohol had wrought on his body, the thin man had no desire to describe his recent news. Still, something about the man in the hat drew the thin man’s attention.
You don’t want to know, the thin man said.
The man in the hat chuckled. You’re probably right, friend, he said. But listen here: this is a vast country of new earth, ripe for men set on making new lives. It awaits yonder, west. No need for this hardscrabble scullering. Find yourself out there out where men have been finding themselves for generations. You’ve got every right.
The thin man considered this stranger’s speech. It was true that there was now nothing holding him to this side of the world. He could do what he wanted, go where he wanted, and as this city sat on the nation’s eastern coast there was little place else to go but west. He spat into the dust that made the division between the road and the planks of the sidewalk. He was about to retort, thinking of the job he’d forged in this city, of the easy life he anticipated. But when he looked up to say something, the man in the hat had gone off and was nowhere in sight.
When the bus arrived the thin man stepped on, the driver nodding at him, then the driver turned his eyes back to the road, then he looked again at the thin man. The thin man pointed his jacket at the driver. The bus driver’s eyes went wide and white against his black skin. His graying beard stubble jiggled as his mouth wobbled. The thin man held something under that jacket and the bus driver didn’t care what it was; he wasn’t paid enough to find out. He exited as instructed.
A few riders sat idle in seats, headphones dangling from ears, or reading newspapers. The thin man sat the driver’s seat, hissed closed the doors, and pulled the bus away from the curb. When the bell rang he pulled the bus to the curb again. The rider said, This ain’t the stop yet. The thin man opened the doors anyway. A warm breeze filtered in. He waited for the rider to get off the bus, tossing a train of obscenities at the thin man as he did so. The thin man swished the doors closed again and sighed the way bus drivers sigh when their work goes unappreciated. His head swam from his night spent drinking. He checked his mirrors and pulled back into traffic.
When he missed a turn a rider said, Where you going?
The riders directed him through the streets. The thin man said he’d take them where they wanted to go. He maneuvered around other vehicles. He hit only four. He cut a corner and flattened a Postal Service mailbox. He clipped a signal light post. By the time he let out his last rider, the bus had attracted the rollers and sirens of three police vehicles, like crows driving away a hawk.
He did not pass thirty miles per hour up the hills then down them. He stopped in front of his apartment building. He was inside before the police reached him, but they broke through the door. On his stomach, a cop’s knee in his back, the thin man looked at his suit jacket crumpled on the floor. He would not wear that suit jacket—nor any other like it—ever again.
The police sat him, still cuffed, in a chair beside a desk where a fat and old officer clacked a typewriter’s keys. The walls fluttered with sheets of paper pinned and stapled to them, blown by the wind through the open window, and by the fans that ran on many a desk. The fat officer had the thin man’s wallet open in front of him. He said, Name? The thin man told him. The officer said, Address? and the thin man said it.
They led him down a white hall at the end of which was a barred gate. One of the officers escorting him did some things to open the gate. After the first officer went through, the other pushed the thin man in and followed him.
The officers were polite, though the thin man couldn’t keep their names straight. They laughed at his attempts to address them, as he succumbed to simply officer. The thin man said he would cooperate; he would do what they asked. The arresting officers had not been so pleasant. They yanked him from his apartment’s floor and shoved him out of doors then pushed him into a squad car, banging his head twice against the car’s frame, though the thin man always thought that the cops politely pushed your head down for you. They said things in the car: You fuckin piece a shit, running down cripples and dogs. You gonna burn for this one boy. You in trouble. But after they reached the jail he was left in other officers’ hands and those were officers whose names the thin man knew but did not know and these were those who were nice.
No priors. Fulltime job. Nice place in a decent neighborhood. Why’d you do it?
The thin man wouldn’t answer, except to say, It doesn’t matter much why.
The cops shrugged.
In the holding cell sat a drunk Mexican, caught stealing horses. There was enough room on the bench for the two of them. In the Mexican’s eyes all white had been replaced by red and he kept singing, Solo falta un milion de primaveras! The thin man did not know what that meant. The Mexican smiled his bright smile, the one gold incisor, and his missing right canine.
By morning the Mexican was deported, the Border Patrol in starched khaki uniforms and mirror sunglasses hauling him off. After a few hours an enormous black man who wore a tight tank top and baggy jeans replaced the Mexican. The black man’s muscles moved like independently living things. He said, Ain’t this some fuckin bullshit. The thin man said nothing at all. The black man said, Ima get the fuck out of here and when I do Ima kill that fuckin pig pulled at me the way he did, you hear me white boy? The thin man sat as before on the one bunk the cell afforded. The black man paced the cell’s seven feet, to the bars and back to the wall, and back again. He gripped the cell bars, stood for a moment looking at nothing: the blank white wall opposite the hall side of the cell. The black man looked at the thin man, eyes like bubbles ready to burst, bubbles with tadpoles for pupils swimming in them. He hollered, You hear me white boy!
The thin man nodded and held up his hands, palms forward, a peaceful gesture. I hear you, he said.
The officers came for the thin man. They said, Now’s the time to make your calls, your family, your lawyer.
He made no calls. The cops said, Ain’t you got nobody?
No one I want to talk to.
The officers shrugged.
Back in the holding cell the angry black man was led away, and the thin man sat alone. A cop brought a tray that held a single peanut butter sandwich and a paper cup full of water. He ate and drank, realizing only after the bland food hit his mouth how famished he actually was, having gone a night and day without eating.
He lay back on the cushion-less bench. He woke briefly when an old man pushing what looked like a heavy cart stooped to retrieve the crumb-dusted tray. The old man’s face was canyoned with wrinkles, and his hair, long and swept over his head with pomade, looked as if combed through with bacon grease. The old man smiled as he bent and leaned into the cell. The old man winked at the thin man. The thin man fell back asleep.
The arraignment judge looked at him and removed his glasses. The judge’s moustache quivered above his tie, cinched as it was against the rolls of his neck. Son, you understand that you have refused a court-appointed defense, you understand that?
He said defense like DEE-fence. The bailiffs stood either side the bench looking bored in their County Sheriff uniforms. Upon the judge’s dress shirt were clear barbecue sauce stains.
When he had reached the County jail the guards ushered the thin man in with a small vanload of other prisoners, all Mexicans, all of them cuffed at the ankle, with chains that led to hand braces, so that together all of them shuffled with musical jingling from the van to the corridor that led inside the jail. The building itself was tall and gray and dead, like the sky above it.
A scanner ran over the thin man’s eyes when they processed him. A burly older sheriff with a beer paunch and mutton chops handled the thin man’s hands like steaks on a hot grill as he took fingerprints. The cop had a drawl and kept saying, Relax your goddamn hands you son bitch.
There were no cells at County. Instead the prisoners lived in a large room lined with bunks—thirty to a dormitory. With cartoonishly enormous keys the doors hissed electronically open and closed and with equally oversized keys the guards unlocked the cuffs encumbering the thin man’s wrists and ankles, and he passed inside, taking with him his bedding. They led him to his bunk and the Mexican leadership therein set upon him.
What’s up, pendejo, said a bald man who would not be bald if he did not shave his head. This man’s face, neck, and arms were covered in tattoos. Under each eye were inked greenish-blue teardrops. The bald man said, In here you got to take sides. Who’s side you on?
The thin man was setting his flimsy mattress and pillow and blanket onto the wire mesh of his bunk. He said, I’m not on anyone’s side.
The bald man smiled a smile that the man knew was practiced and reserved for men like the thin man. That ain’t how this works, the bald man said.
The thin man sat upon his bunk in front of the bald Mexican, who still stood, though he was not very tall, and while standing as the thin man sat the bald man was merely a head over him. The Mexican looked down at the thin man, one hand hanging from the rail of the bunk above. The thin man, looking up, said, Whose side should I be on?
That’s a good question, pendejo, said the Mexican, then he stalked off, leaving the thin man at his bunk to consider the possibilities.
After that he was left alone and he kept to himself.
The walls were white, the floors polished concrete, the bars that made up the bunks hard steel. Mealtimes the men filed out of the cell block down a long, gray, and bare hall and into a cafeteria lined with tables with benches affixed to them. Along one wall was the kitchen in which inmates in shower caps and latex gloves dished the food onto tin plates that the men picked up from a stack and set on the tray they had also picked up at the head of the line when entering the cafeteria. The prisoners working the line said nothing as they doled out the helpings with ladles. The food was simple and bland: plain oatmeal, baloney sandwiches, mashed potatoes, collard greens. There was rarely any meat. No salt and pepper, no ketchup or mustard. The thin man sat at a table surrounded by the men of his cell, and he ate without talking. When finished, the men stood from the table together as if choreographed, gathered their trays, and delivered them to the dishwashing station before they filed out from the cafeteria in the same fashion as they had entered.
The men spent two hours a week in the yard, which contained exercise machines enclosed in chain link fencing to protect the exercising inmate from potential attackers; a basketball court with a solitary hoop—no basket; and a patchy field, around which inmates jogged. The thin man found a corner where he kicked his heel against the fence and watched the other men exercise and socialize. The men spoke mostly in Spanish. A man with a thick scar that ran down the left side of his face from just underneath the eye to his clavicle stepped to the thin man one day and said, We need a fifth. The man gestured at the basketball court where eight other men stood, shirtless, muscles straining in the sunlight. The thin man shrugged and wordlessly joined, his awkward motions around the court cause for the Mexicans’ laughter. The men passed the thin man the ball twice and he took one shot at the basket, a brick.
At the end of the first week the bald man who had first approached him—whom the thin man had since learned was called Joker—returned. Gringo, he said. The boys are talking shit. You need to take a shower. The thin man had avoided the showers, where he feared rape. He hoped that by not getting involved with the gangsters, and by staying out of trouble, he’d get out early for good behavior, his ass still virgin. He said to Joker, Okay. But he was wary. Joker looked at him down his nose, frowning. Joker said, You fucking stink.
The showers consisted of a stainless steel pillar from which sprouted four shower heads. Knobs surrounded the pillar at waist level, and turning these adjusted the water’s temperature as it exited the showerhead above. There was no separation of bathers. The pillar stood in a tiled alcove, unveiled for the watching guards. The thin man was too aware of his naked body and his fellow bathers, all of whom seemed not to notice him. He scrubbed with soap, rinsed, dried, dressed again.
The guards ordered the men single file and marched them out of the barracks and down the corridor. In a room they were given new clothing: bright orange jumpsuits stenciled “PRISONER” across the back. The thin man slipped into this garb then the guards marched the troop down another corridor and with their large keys the guards hissed open doors until eventually the men stood out of doors in the sunlight. Across the valley the oaks lined the river and beyond opposite banks the golden foothills led into the red-topped mountains. Two guards held shotguns across their chests and stood on opposite sides of the doors to the van as the men loaded into it.
They carted the men into fields where the wind swayed the wheat so that it resembled waves on a golden sea. They stopped at the head of a desolate dirt road. Pulling up behind the van was the detail truck and the guards ordered the men alongside it then issued shovels and buckets. The men took these and filled the buckets from a pile heaped near the roadside drainage, and they followed the truck as it laid bitumen. The prisoners shoveled out the aggregate and spread it.
The men worked steadily under the sun. The guards stood by and their sunglasses’ lens reflected the fields and the men in their sweaty orange jumpsuits. The thin man saw a lizard. The men seemed to pave a road to no place that men inhabited. Every two hours a prisoner came along with a bucket full of water and a dipper. A guard rode a horse beside the men, the horse’s tail twitching away flies, the shotgun laid crosswise on the guard’s lap, resting against the saddle’s pommel.
At the end of the first month two guards entered the barracks and called the thin man forward. Visitor, they said. He followed the guards out the electric doors into the tiny hall. The guards were quiet, though the thin man had by this time gotten to know them. The guard to his left had just been married. They led him through two more doors, into a room lined with tables where other prisoners sat conversing with their visitors, and in a far corner sat the thin man’s mama. He turned to make his way back to the doors, but the guards pushed him back around. That’s your goddamned mama, they said.
He sat across the table from her. Her eyes had moistened at this sight of her son in the orange and white striped jumpsuit of the nonviolent offender. Son, she said. She began crying. Don’t, he said. She asked, Why didn’t you call? The thin man did not answer. They sat without talking for the fifteen-minute visit, with his mama wiping her eyes and sniffling. When the fifteen minutes were up a guard came and poked at him from behind with his nightstick. He rose silently and turned, stepped in front of the guard. His mama let out a wail, but the guard marched him forward and he stepped as he was pushed.
When Joker pressured him to participate in the blanket party, the thin man conceded. It was another Mexican, a new kid, a member of a gang that rivaled Joker’s. This boy’s gang had different symbols and these symbols were inked all over this boy’s body. He was an encyclopedia of defiance to Joker’s rule. Maybe it was Joker’s smile when the thin man had first entered the jail, or perhaps that he had talked him into showering, which by this time the thin man had grown accustomed to. Whatever it was, Joker thought he had broken the thin man, that the thin man would do whatever Joker ordered, and the thin man wanted Joker to believe this. So, he said, Yes. He’d be ready.
Long after lights out, in the dark of early morning, fourteen men plus the thin man rose from their bunks. The men retrieved socks stuffed with heavy weights made from compressed lead paint chips, peeled from the jail’s decrepit walls. They crept to the new boy’s bunk, where he lay sleeping. But when four men knelt to pin the boy by holding him under his blanket, the new inmate leapt, revealing a plastic shank, some piece of blackened and melted plastic, sharpened and glinting in what little light streamed in from the door’s tiny window. Where or how the boy had acquired the shiv in such short time would remain a mystery.
The men circled the boy and dove in, socks swinging. In the confusion and dark, the thin man caught the new Mexican boy’s eyes, alight with a smile, and the boy looked at the thin man in the timid light and mouthed something, and the thin man heard Morning. With the inmates shouting in the attack, the boy’s words were some dark incantation of a mere half-second. The thin man made out Joker’s bald head, his tattoos dripping down his cheeks. He did not think before he swung. The crack was both hard and soft like the crack of a wooden bat to ball. The pleasure of such contact the thin man had once experienced swinging bats years ago as a boy, with his daddy, the daddy he’d never see again. The thin man swung again and again then retreated to his bunk as the melee ended and the lights came up and the guards funneled inside. Joker lay in a growing puddle of his own blood.
The sheriffs returned his clothing: his suit pants and dress shirt, his dress shoes and socks. They returned his wallet, which held his now-revoked driver’s license, and still contained a credit card and seventeen dollars cash. He could fit the width of two fingers between his neck and his shirt’s collar. He cinched his belt to the last hole. By the time he’d walked five miles the blisters on his feet had opened, and the raw skin stung against the leather interiors.
He found a thrift store where he scavenged a backpack selling for two dollars. He bought a pair of what appeared to be only slightly used tennis shoes, and an old but unopened first aid kit, and with the bandages from inside he patched his wounded feet. He bought a wool blanket, and a few pairs of new socks and boxer shorts. At the taquería next door the thin man ate his tacos de pollo slowly, adding salsa, lime, and a dash of salt in that order with each bite. He sipped a carbonated fruit drink. At the corner on the sidewalk sat an iron waste basket and he took his remaining bills from his wallet and pocketed them then tossed his wallet in, credit card and revoked driver’s license and all.
He walked west, lost to his past. He found the highway and looking back at the city skyline he waited as cars and trucks passed, blowing wrinkled scraps of paper against his slacks. Finally a semi pulled to a stop and the thin man clambered after it.
I’m only going to Cedarville, the driver said.
That’s good for me, the thin man replied.
The driver rumbled through the gears, thundering up to speed. They passed the city outskirts below the highway, rows of houses painted pink and blue against the green of the pines and cedars surrounding them. In alleys in the shade of tin roof shacks huddled the poor. Their fires’ smoke hung over the land in a pall. Soon the thin man and the truck driver had driven beyond the suburbs and the manicured lawns gave way to open fields. They passed cabins rotting along the highway. Useless fuel pumps rusted in the shade of awnings succumbing to gravity. A checkerboard of broken windows.
The driver let the thin man out on Cedarville’s main street before turning north toward wherever the trucker’s load was taking him. There were no cedars in Cedarville. The houses lined next to one another and veered off the main street in a grid of sixteen square blocks. The houses were Craftsman bungalows, Ranch Styles, Adirondacks, Foursquares, Cape Cods, Colonial Revivals, Prairie Style, a few Victorians. The thin man walked past primped hedges and lawns, and stopped for a sandwich at the gas station on the western end, and there he waited to hail another ride.
Jamie Iredell is the author of four books: Last Mass (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015); I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac (Future Tense Books, 2013); The Book of Freaks (Future Tense Books, 2011); and Prose. Poems. a Novel. (Orange Alert Press, 2009). His debut novel, The Fat Kid, releases in October 2018 from Civil Coping Mechanisms. His stories, poems, and essays have appeared in many journals and magazines, among them The Literary Review, The Rumpus, and Hobart. He lives in Atlanta, where he works as a college professor and as an editor. jamieiredell.com
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