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James Babbs

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Art by Bar Napkin Art 2015



By James Babbs


          When everything felt broken and I couldn’t dream anymore I left my parents’ house in the middle of the night and headed out into the world because I wanted to seek my fortune.  I was nineteen and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  But I’d convinced myself I needed to leave the house where I’d spent my boyhood because I couldn’t take any more of my father’s demands.  I wanted a clean break.  I wanted to make a fresh start.  I needed something I could call my own and I was ready to begin the next phase of my life.

          A few miles down the road I caught a ride with a trucker.  He was overweight and unshaven and when he shook my hand his palm was damp with sweat.  He told me he was headed south and I said that sounded good to me.  He tried asking me some questions but soon I fell asleep slumped against the door listening to the hum of the tractor as it moved down the road and the sound of country music spilling from the radio.

          The rig suddenly lurched forward and I awoke with morning light crashing through the windshield.  Where are we I asked rubbing the sleep from my eyes.  Truck stop said the driver, easing the semi into the parking lot.  They got showers he said and the coffee’s not bad.  Thanks I told him climbing down out of the cab carrying my gym bag with me into the restaurant. 

          I slid into one of the booths near the back wall and turned my cup over.  The waitress appeared, giving me some coffee along with her smile.  She didn’t look much older than I was and her uniform was tight in all the right places.  What you haulin’ she asked and I couldn’t help but grin.  I’m not a trucker I said.  Just hitched a ride with one.  So what are you she asked.  I’m not sure yet I said and I heard her giggle.

          I ordered bacon and eggs with wheat toast then went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face.  I heard a guy in one of the stalls talking to himself or to someone on his phone.  I wasn’t really sure.  I ran a hand through my hair and looked at myself in the mirror.  The guy in the stall grunted and I went back to my seat.  The waitress had taken my menu and given me some more coffee.  I sat down and checked my phone but there weren’t any messages.

          So where you headed the waitress asked when she brought me my food.  I don’t know I told her.  You need anything else she asked.  I looked at my food and shook my head.  I think I’m good for now I said.  She smiled and told me she’d be back to check on me in a few minutes.  Thanks I said and I started in on my food.  Everything tasted really good and I guess I was hungrier than I thought.

          You lookin’ for a job the waitress asked when she came back to give me some more coffee.  I was holding a strip of bacon and I tore it apart with my teeth and chewed on it.  Maybe I said.  I looked up at her.  Why?  You know of anything.  She shifted the coffee pot from her right to her left hand.  My brother has a construction company she said and he’s always looking for help.  I put the rest of the bacon in my mouth and washed it down with the coffee.

          The waitress lingered for another moment then went to help another customer.  I finished the rest of my food and drank the coffee until my cup was empty.  I thought about my parents and my sister.  I wondered if they’d discovered what I’d done.  I looked at my phone again.  It had only been a few hours but it felt like days.  Still too soon I thought.

          The waitress came back to my table and handed me a piece of paper.  Here she said.  My brother’s phone number.  I took the paper feeling my fingers brush the palm of her hand.  I didn’t look at it but just stuck it in the pocket of my shirt.  Thanks I said.  She smiled at me again.  You need some more coffee she asked.  Sure I said and I pushed my cup closer to her.  She filled it up and carried the pot back to where it belonged.  I looked around at some of the other customers.  They all looked the same to me.

          Even after all the coffee I still felt tired but I didn’t want to sleep.  I closed my eyes for a moment and thought about my sister.  I saw her fat face again.  I saw her coming toward me.  Getting up close to me the way she liked to do.  Her breath smelled like something sweet and chocolatey.  I took my hand and gave her a good hard shove.  She lost her balance and fell in a heap to the floor.  It made me laugh and when I looked up the waitress was there again.  What’s so funny she asked.  She put the check down on the table.  Oh I said nothing and I gave her another grin.  Be right back she said.  I picked up the check and looked at the total.  I pulled out some money and set it all down again.  When the waitress came back I handed it all to her and told her to keep the change.

          She said thanks without looking at it.  You need more coffee?  I touched the cup with my fingers.  Sure I said not looking at her.  Maybe one more.  Okay she said and she seemed to disappear and return in an instant.  I picked up the cup and felt the heat on my tongue.  Then I felt it sliding down my throat.  The waitress was there standing next to the table.  My shift’s over she said okay if I sit down?  I put the cup on the table and looked at the liquid.  It looked like a hole I could slip through if only I were small enough.  Sure I said have a seat.

          She sat down across from me.  Thanks she said and she smiled.  She leaned back and I saw the way her tits pushed against the fabric of her uniform.  Maybe she was doing it on purpose.  I wasn’t sure but girls always seemed to be doing things like that and then if they caught you staring at them they got all angry about it.  I’m Jill she said and there was another smile.  Gene I said and I touched her hand when she offered it to me but I didn’t shake it.  Just held it for a moment then let it drop.

          So Gene Jill said you thinking about staying around here for awhile?  I drank the last of my coffee then gently set the cup down on the table.  I don’t know I said.  Well, I wasn’t kidding about my brother she said.  Call that number I gave you.  I touched the pocket of my shirt and felt the piece of paper.  Maybe was all I said.  She pushed a stray piece of hair back behind her ear.  Well, look said Jill I was wondering if you wanted to come to my place.  You could use my shower.  Maybe sleep for awhile. 

          I thought about her tits again.  Imagined my hands pulling off her uniform and touching her skin.  I felt her kissing me.  Hey she said.  I reached out and grabbed her arm but it must have been too rough because she quickly pulled away and I heard her moan.  What I said.  She was looking at me.  I gave her a grin and told her I was sorry.  I gently touched her arm.  She flinched but didn’t pull away.  Her skin felt nice and soft.  You ready to go I asked.

          Jill lived closer to the truck stop than I expected.  We rode to her apartment in her little blue car.  It had two doors and a small crack in the windshield.  But I noticed how clean it was inside.  She must have seen me looking because she said I don’t like to eat in the car.  I guess it’s easy when you don’t have any kids.  I chuckled and nodded my head.  Damn she said and I looked at her.  What did I do wrong I asked.  She laughed.  No she said I keep forgetting to get the oil changed.  I rubbed the side of my face.  Well I said better not let it go too long.  It’s cheaper than paying for a new engine.   

          Jill’s apartment was just a tiny one-bedroom place on the ground floor of a two-story building.  We got there by going down an alley and parking in the back instead of out on the street.  Like the inside of her car the apartment was neatly kept.  I put my gym bag on the floor next to the couch.  I need to use the bathroom I said.  Too much coffee I guess and I flashed her my grin.  She pointed me in the right direction.  I pissed and flushed the toilet then took a quick survey of the room while washing my hands.  She had a full-size tub and not just a shower stall.  Good I thought.  I like that.

          When I came out of the bathroom Jill was still standing in the living room looking through her mail.  Find everything okay she asked and I laughed. Yep I said it’s all still there and then she laughed too.  She put the mail back together and held it in her hand.  Okay she said I’m going to get out of this uniform and take a quick shower.  Make yourself at home.  I watched her disappear into the bedroom.  When she went into the bathroom and closed the door I headed to the kitchen and looked around.  I was sitting on the couch when she returned wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt.

          You wanna take a shower Jill said and I noticed she wasn’t wearing a bra.  She sat down next to me.  No I said not right now.  I leaned toward her and kissed her hard on the mouth.  Hey she said pulling away from me.  I thought that’s what you wanted I said.  She bit her lower lip and touched her hair then let her hands fall into her lap.  Well she said you just surprised me, that’s all.  I said oh and flashed her my grin.  I saw the way it made her smile.

          I grabbed the back of her head trying to get as much of her damp hair in my grasp as I could.  When I yanked on it I saw the way her face changed and I couldn’t help but laugh.  Hey she said and the tears started welling up in her eyes.  You’re hurting me she gasped and her hands started pushing at me but she wasn’t very strong.  I took the knife I had found earlier in the kitchen and used it to slice open her throat.  I watched the blood and I thought it was funny the way her hands started beating on me because I knew by then it was too late.  I gave her one last grin but whether or not she saw it I don’t really know.  When I finally let her go she fell back onto the couch with her empty eyes wide open staring up at the ceiling.

          It was messier than I wanted it to be and I should’ve been more careful.  There was blood on the couch cushions and some on the floor.  I found a blanket in the bedroom and wrapped her in it.  I carried her to the bathroom and gently laid her in the tub pulling the shower curtain closed before I went back to the living room.  I started cleaning things up.  It seemed like I was at it for a long time.  I felt tired when I stood up.  I didn’t think it looked too bad.  I went to the bathroom and got washed up.

          I took all the cash I could find which amounted to about thirty-five dollars.  From the fridge I took a couple cans of soda and some packages of string cheese.  I looked in the cupboard and found some peanut butter and crackers.  I put everything in my gym bag then I shut off all the lights and locked the door behind me.  The sun was warm on my face and much brighter than I expected.  I walked back to the truck stop hoping for another ride.  Maybe I should’ve waited until it was dark but I didn’t want to hang around that long.

          I guess I had some luck or something on my side when I got back to the truck stop because the first trucker I asked for a ride said he was headed all the way to the coast.  I started thinking about the beach and sleeping next to the ocean.  I thought about sun-tanned bodies wearing bikinis while trying not to think about those other bodies lying in the dark.  Sounds good I said.  For a truck driver the guy looked like he was in pretty good shape.  I climbed up into the cab and threw my bag in the space behind me.  The driver turned and looked at me.  Alright good buddy he said let’s hit the road. 



James Babbs continues to live and write from the same small Illinois town where he grew up. He has published hundreds of poems over the past thirty years and, recently, a few short stories. James is the author of Disturbing the Light (2013) and The Weight of Invisible Things (2013).

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