These old boys’ aches have taught them everything. They’re willing to share what they’ve come to know if you remind them of their daughters or their dead wives or any of the past lovers their faith keeps them from admitting. Even a scant similarity to their granddaughters, nieces, or, in Eustace’s case, great-grandaughter’ll do for a morsel.
It’s a lot to put up with, this is true. But so is what these fellas’ll tell you.
They’re craggy, skin like dead fields come summer. Limestone in their knuckles, dust breaking out every wrinkle. Imagine they shit red and white clay, swirled and precious like when we were kids and used to just dig holes all day. Stooped and hooked, bending low, thin whiskered chins near to right on the tabletop. Their stiff, scything arms float, like lifted by puppet strings up in heaven, clawsome hands popping creamer cups into their mugs. The sugar shakes itself out into their coffee. All they’ve got to do is hold the glass jar aloft and their God-given tremors’ll take care of it for them. They’ve not got teeth no more to worry over.
Only something higher than yourself’ll keep you stuck here so long—or an utterance to that general effect’s what they told Tammy once. They pinched her ripe ass, and she shushed them away, said, “Y’all’re so bad! Eustace!” batting at his wrist with her long-nailed hand. Then she turned, on her heel and quick, to the other. “Milton, you keep an eye on him now!”
Milton grinned all through it, “He ain’ left my sight none for thirty some-odd years, I’d bet.”
Then Eustace: “I’m sorry sugar… My Bethy had something similar following her around her whole life…”
And she took the plates up, stacked it all, and made to walk away.
This time Milton’s hand poked as flat as it could get against her stomach, little tummy brewing under the t-shirt. She bent to listen to what he’d stopped her to say.
Bryan saw the whole thing. The morning was slow and he’d, admittedly, been watching Tammy flit around, trying to remember what all she’d looked like the night he gave her his number.
Hell, remembering now, thought he’d really won the lottery with that one. Gone to Skinny’s on a bored, just drunk enough whim. Eight or so beers and the rest of his father’s birthday scotch, Daddy safely asleep, Bryan’d bounded quiet through the grass, gotten in the truck, and gunned it in the direction of the sign he half-remembered seeing on the long failure’s bus ride back home beginning of last winter.
Managed the drive without too much trouble and got in. Berated by music and bodies and well, his ones ran out and the ATM was broken. So, he sat and tried at smiles. Those girls with their legs and scars and tits didn’t want nothing to do with him. Seen how he looked like he smelled. Content in the haze, though, to just watch and imagine. Even when the tops came off the nipples stayed covered, tassels and stars, and though the bottoms weren’t nothing but string they still hid enough given the flashing light. There occasioned a peek, however, at the truer flesh, the sorts that sop, stiffen, drip, and spread. It was good, but his heart still bled.
Then, time enough passed and Skinny’s emptied and a golden woman named Missy Fairlight come and sat next to him. He must’ve looked real sad. She listened to every woe he had. Let him rest his head against her chest, body-glitter gritting his teary eyes. She smelled like imagined flowers. She tasted of salt, grease, and rubbing alcohol.
She told him don’t get any ideas he can’t pay for and to give her his number.
He wrote it three times on a piece of receipt paper, fudging the eights the first two times and forgetting a five on the last. She said she could figure it just fine.
Can’t say how he got home, but he did. The truck survived.
Woke early afternoon to his phone’s pealing ping. A gruff voice on the other side asked him his name:
“You make eggs?”
“I… Uhm… Yeah I can make—”
“Any way? Scrambled, over easy, medium, hard? Sunny-side?”
“I… Yeah… I”
Reckon that’s what he’s doing now, and that morning. Been a year at it, probably.
Tammy come into the kitchen with the plates, dropped them in the dish pit, giggling to herself.
Whatever they’d said, even if Tammy didn’t remember it right, must’ve been what set her up toward her end. Looking back she wasn’t never the same. Milton must’ve laid it on thicker than peanut-butter-fried pig shit.
She still comes by sometimes. Always with the baby on her hip and a smile that wants nothing. She’s got God or something greater in her eyes.
Could be God, but everyone’s got that. Must be something greater. Even though she’s smiling all the time whenever Bryan gets to see her, there’s a grief gleaming in the sapphire. That’s maybe only a type of smile you get when you’ve chosen to lose what you’ve lost…
Anyway. These old boys’ve been here. They know everything.
Right now, they’re talking about the weather. They say there’s gonna to be a big storm in three days, exactly three days. Eustace can feel it in his knees, the storm coming. Milton says it’s three days because a little pain behind his left eye is starting to bloom, it’ll blind him on one side just before the rain starts to pour and calm down once the mud dries. He’ll see just fine once there’s clear skies.
Bryan can hear them because he’s the one bringing them their coffees. Working the kitchen and floor most mornings nowadays. All the girls that used to work here have up and gone.