I'll write short stories for my family and give those out as gifts.
Stories inspired by the recipient.
I think it will say more than something apathetically selected from Target that I can't even afford.
My cousin Josh was raised on a farm in Iowa.
For the time being, he sells cars in Muscatine.
He could tell they weren’t going to buy anything. Especially a car. They already seemed to have one. A late model Kia. And they were using it to cut through the dealership lot.
Where were they going? And why were they in such a hurry? Muscatine was a bigger town. But not big enough to be in that much of a hurry. The music blaring from within suggested they were in their teens. Some sort of hip hop. Not his thing.
He stood up. It was what he was supposed to do when a potential customer approached. Also, he just wanted to stand up. He had been sitting on his ass all day. It didn’t feel like work. But it made him tired nonetheless.
They weren’t teenagers. They weren’t even a they. It was a man in his forties. Driving a Kia. A Kia Soul. Weird. He smiled and tried to make eye contact with the man, but the man was wearing sunglasses. They looked expensive. If you’re into that kind of thing.
To his surprise, the man slowed to a stop in front of him. Time to do his job.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
The man in the sunglasses wouldn’t turn down the music.
“Do you guys…” The rest was inaudible.
He had to crouch down closer in order to hear the man in the sunglasses. But it also made the music louder.
The man used his sunglasses to look around.
“I thought this was a gas station.”
“No. It’s a car dealership.”
The man in the sunglasses turned the music down a fraction.
“Do you know where I can get some tacos around here?”
A purse and its contents were scattered across the interior of the Kia. Credit cards, lipstick, some jewelry.
“Well, there’s Taco John’s down on Grandview.” He noticed a few fresh scratches strewn across the man’s face. “But if you want to have a good sit down dinner, then go to Mami’s.” He memorized the man’s features. “That’s the real deal.” White guy. Dark hair, going grey, long on the sides. “It’s on 2nd Street downtown.” Moustache, goatee. “They’ve got killer margaritas, too.” Masculine nose. Kind of big lips. “Do you want directions?”
He didn’t mean to use the term “killer margaritas”. The man in the sunglasses turned up the music louder than it was before.
“No. Do you have any air fresheners?”
Medium build. Black trench coat.
“Let me check. I think we do.”
They didn’t. He knew they didn’t. In the lobby, he pretended to futz around for air fresheners. Red Kia Soul. Mid to late 40’s. He scrambled for a pen. The muffled hip hop pulsed against the lobby windows. The man in the sunglasses suddenly sped off. South Dakota plates.
“6RC..” But he missed the rest of it. He called the police.
“Red Kia Soul. White. Mid to late 40’s. Dark hair. Moustache. South Dakota plates. 6RC…”
It felt good to work.
As an only child, I played by myself a lot.
And making lots of gnawing, beastmaster noises.
Football entailed tackling linebacker pillows.
Baseball meant tossing a wiffle ball at the batter (my bicycle tire), and throwing the ball to first base (the wall to my left).
All the while announcing the plays in an excited Al Michaels head voice.
Everything was highlight reel worthy.
Adventure also occurred.
The hallway in our apartment became the mausoleum corridor in Dragon's Lair.
The space between the bed and the wall became the junkyard where The Incredible Hulk wasted a punk.
So when we visited my aunt and uncle's farm one blustery winter in the early 80's, I was delighted to find their yard piled high with mountains of well packed snow. I played GI Joe and Automan all day in blissful solitude, taking dramatic death plummets into the forgiving, white trenches.
Also, my most recent forays into self-absorbed patheticism helped influence this story for my farming aunt and uncle.
He had pulled the trampoline out of storage and placed it next to the twenty-foot tall snowdrift. It was probably more like eleven feet. But it had become known as the twenty feet of snow.
From the bedroom she watched him bounce up and down, building momentum. He had almost retained the confident posture of the athlete she once knew. But forty new pounds and a tattered pair of pajamas had removed the notion of professionalism. Nevertheless, it was the happiest she had seen him in months.
He was getting up there. Almost as high as the bedroom window. She hoped he would snap out of his doldrums. Lately he remained a fixture of the couch, obsessively watching ESPN. The network had rejected him as a commentator. They were polite about it. Said they were going in another direction. Yet every day on the screen sat a thinner, younger version of him. Analyzing statistics. Making observations. Joking around with the guys.
He wanted to stop brooding about it, too. Hence the trampoline. It reminded him of summers at his aunt’s house. It was a simpler time. He was eight. Football was still a dream waiting to come true. So was drawing cartoons. He had almost forgotten that he used to draw. And was actually quite good at it. Could have gone on to be a professional if the lure of football hadn’t been so shiny. While bobbing through the prairie air, he finally smiled.
Just then a gust of wind shoved across the plains. He lost balance in mid air, and lost his footing back down on the cold mat. His once mighty body sprang wayward, and plopped awkwardly atop the twenty feet of snow.
She rushed to the backyard.
“Honey! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said calmly while writhing in pain. He had broken his ankle again. The same broken ankle that had cut his career short on a Monday night two years ago. “Go back inside,” he tried.
“Can you get down?” Her bare feet danced on the uncompromising cement deck.
He didn’t want to get down. He welcomed the pain like an old friend. He wanted to stay there all day and rehash old war stories. But he knew this was an impractical tactic.
“Call an ambulance,” he managed.
They were new to this rural expanse of Iowa farmland. They hadn’t gotten to know any of its residents yet, and hadn’t really tried. So they didn’t know that they shared their gravel road with the head of the volunteer fire department.
“It’s gonna take forever for an ambulance to get out here!” she protested.
“Then start building a casket, I suppose.”
She ran into the house frantically and called the fire department. She told them her husband fell on twenty feet of snow and couldn’t get down. “He used to play for the Vikings!” she added, hoping that would speed things up.
He stared paralyzed at the grey sky as the snow began to soak through his pajamas. The clouds ran flush against the blankness like hospital sheets. He drew cartoons on them. A group of guys joking around the water cooler about the football player that broke his ankle on a trampoline. He chuckled to himself between bursts of excruciating pain. It seemed he would soon be seeing his face on ESPN after all. Albeit from the hospital.
A familiar looking pick-up truck pulled into the driveway. It was the guy who lived down the road.
I worked at the bar tonight.
It was dead enough for me to start on another story for my cousin Melissa.