Bradleysburg (4)

Dwayne Hayes looked at the newspaper through reading glasses that sat at the end of his nose. The white porcelain cup in his hand held lukewarm coffee, but he sipped it anyway, out of habit.

“You want anything else, Dwayne?,” the waitress asked. He didn’t know her name, she was so new here, but obviously she knew him.

“Nah.”

She refilled his coffee just in case and then moved down the counter to talk to other customers. Dwayne stole a sidewise glance at her. Nice figure, busty, but he could tell that working in a restaurant was not going to be good for her–she was just on that line between thin and chubby.

There were two kinds of waitresses at Frank’s Diner. You had young girls like this one who were cute and smiled a lot. And then you had the ones who had stayed too long. Their faces were lined from fake-smiling, their backs were going bad from standing all day on a hard floor, and they looked worn, like a pencil you’ve been grinding away on until it’s nothing but a stub of what it used to be. Wasn’t their fault, usually. A lot of the young, pretty ones got pregnant to useless boys and then ended up supporting themselves, the kids, and the no-good men on this job.

A thin man in a plain black t-shirt and blue jeans slid into the seat next to him. The newcomer noticed the focus of Dwayne’s attention.

“Frank hired a new girl, huh?” The man nodded toward the waitress.

“Yeah.”

“She’s cute.”

“Too cute for you, Ike.”

The man laughed. “That’s true. But she’s younger than your grandkids, too.”

“Some of them.” Dwayne was 74, with thinning hair dyed dark brown and combed over the balding dome of his skull. This he covered in a baseball cap.

“You eat?,” Ike asked.

Dwayne nodded and opened the newspaper, hoping that Ike would take the hint. He was a good kid, Ike, but socially awkward.

“I heard one of your grandsons had a little trouble last week. Went to the hospital.” Ike could hang on you forever, like the smell of rotten potatoes. This was probably why he’d never had a serious girlfriend that Dwayne could remember. You can’t really trust someone who’s forty and unmarried.

“Frank’s boy, Andy. He and his cousin Jared was out climbing on Jim Marker’s hay bales, and I guess they took to horsin’ around and Andy fell off. Broke his damn ankle, beat his face up pretty good.”

“His face and his ankle?”

“I don’t know how they done it, but he must’ve got twisted up somehow.” He wanted to read his paper, but Ike had killed that possibility. he decided to leave, and he began seeking a polite opening to excuse himself.

The waitress came back their way. She put a wrapped set of silverware in front of Ike and smiled. She obviously didn’t know him.

“What can I get you, sweetie?” Oh, Christ, thought Dwayne, she really doesn’t know who she’s talking to.

“Honey,” Ike began, “What’s your name? I bet it’s something real pretty.” The man practically dripped charm like sweat from his overly large pores.

“Elle,” she responded, the joy in her eyes already fermenting into repulsion. “You want some coffee?”

Dwayne knew how this story played out. No need to stick around. He fished a few dollars out of his pocket for a tip and laid the money on the counter.

“He wants to put me on his check,” Ike said, smiling. “Don’t you, Dwayne?”

Elle shook her head, as one might to an obnoxious child. “He doesn’t have a check. He’s Frank’s dad.”

“This is Ike,” Dwayne told her. “I’m sorry to leave you alone with him, but if he gets too fresh I’m sure you can whoop his ass.” He walked out into the cool September air and climbed into his pickup.

Dwayne and his wife Donna lived on Route 20, about five minutes from the center of town. At one time, before the the government built the highway system, 20 had been a major road for east-west travel in this part of the country. Now, it was like any other two-lane Pennsylvania road–pockmarked with potholes as it wound through a hundred small and half-forgotten towns.

During the day, he was supposed to be running an antique store along that road, although he came and went when he felt like it. Sometimes, he forgot to lock the door to the shop, and he’d walk around trying to remember if everything was still where he’d left it. It was hard to tell, there was so much stuff. And his mind wasn’t what it had been.

He specialized in old local memorabilia: faded postcards of regional attractions, yellowed newspaper clippings, self-published amateur history books about Union County. Most of these were acquired at flea markets and estate sales, which accounted for his irregular business hours. Customers were pretty good about waiting if they needed anything like that. They knew Dwayne had done the legwork.

An old black truck waited for him in the driveway when he pulled in. A man in his thirties sat behind the wheel with his window rolled down, smoking a cigarette. Dwayne knew the guy, but he couldn’t remember the name.

“Hey, Dwayne,” the man said, sliding out of the cab. “Do you mind if I smoke?”

“Hell no. I ain’t the government.” What was this guy’s name?

“I’ve got something pretty specific I’m looking for,” he said. Dwayne turned the key, quietly relieved that the door had been locked this time.

“I might have it, unless you’re getting too specific.” The men entered the shop, which was packed to the rafters with seemingly random items–furniture, cast-iron cookware, knives, wooden toys. Dwayne loved local history, but he couldn’t turn down a deal, either.

Cassidy was his name, he remembered. Max Cassidy. He was in the volunteer fire department with Frank.

“We used to have fur trade in this area, right?”

“Go back far enough, sure. I don’t have any fur, though.”

“I don’t need fur,” Max said.

“That’s good. You’d have some animal rights asshole throwing paint on you.” Dwayne laughed and passed Cassidy a tin cup to use as an ashtray.

“I need some traps, the kind that snap on an animal’s leg. You have any of those?”

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About semiblind

Bringing you stark existentialism since 1981.
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