My soon to be published novella grew from the short story below. I wrote it never intending for it to be published, I just needed another item fill up a student portfolio and get a grade. This is why I’m always telling my kids to save all their work no matter how unimportant it might seem…
“You bitch! What d’ya do!”
“You’re just another deadbeat! I don’t know why I thought you’d be any different.”
“I ain’t no deadbeat; I’m an independent businessman. I’m in salvage.”
He was a junkman truth be told; had been for thirty years now. He drove around the county looking for discards left on the roadside and in culverts that might fetch a cent or two. You know scrap metal, old appliances and such. Then every few days, he’d carry a load over to ‘J.B’s Scrap and Salvage,’ and sell it for pennies on the pound. He even had a couple magnetic signs made up to slap on the sides of his old Ford pick-up: Dwight’s Refuse Recovery and Recycling.
“What’s happened?” Something definitely wasn’t right. It hadn’t been since earlier that evening when he’d found himself wandering barefoot on the Picks Crossing Bridge with no recollection of how he’d gotten there.
“Damn it Darla, what d’ya do to me!”
“Y’all heard the term ‘dead man walkin’? Well, now you’re ‘Dead Dwight’… um… walkin’. Welcome to the world of the dead but not so dead,” she crowed. “And soon y’all’s innards are gonna match your outards.”
“You’re raving Darlene.”
She hated when he called Darlene. She said it made her sound like white trash, so Dwight figured it was accurate. Because that’s exactly what she was: just another small town, Cosmo reading, doublewide living, bleach-blond wannabe with big hair he’d had known all her life. He’d grown up with her daddy, Ben McIntyre: a hotrod driving, Saturday night fighting, good old boy that even the trailer park trash looked down on. The both of them dropped out of high school their senior year to enlist in the Army. They were going to see the world; unfortunately, their travels started and ended with Viet Nam. Dwight came back; Ben didn’t.
Darla’s mama, Celeste, was the high school beauty queen and the sheriff’s only daughter. After one look at her, Ben didn’t stand a chance. Dwight always suspected she gone out with Ben just to tick the old man off. Joining the army had been her idea. She said he’d become an officer in no time, and while he was out doing his country proud, she’d dined at the fancy Officers’ club with the other officers’ wives. Regrettably, no one informed them high school dropouts weren’t considered officer material. And Dwight often wondered if she really believed the rosy picture of them traveling to exotic places, or if she was just getting Ben out of the way.
Dwight reckoned it was Celeste who’d filled Darla’s head with all sorts of nonsense and grand schemes; neither one of them had ever been content with what the fates dealt them. And once Darlene started filling out, that double wide just wasn’t wide enough; not when there was a younger, firmer version of you sashaying about. So when Darla had to go, survivors guilt, coupled with a pair of tits, made Dwight an easy mark.
“Look Darlene, I’m having a real bad day. Well, what little I can remember of it. I just finished trekkin’ across half the county. I don’t know where my truck’s at, or my shoes for that matter. I got a rippin’ headache and I’m hungry. Seein’ as ya ain’t fixin’ me somethin’ to eat, can ya give it a rest?”
As he brushed past her, crossing the scuffed linoleum, scarred from generations of work boots and demolition Tonka-truck derbies, he smelled something delicious. Pie? But a hopeful glance into an empty oven confirmed what his stomach already knew. The only things Darla ever baked came out of cardboard boxes wrapped in plastic and tinfoil.
He pulled out the milk, and took a big swig straight from the plastic jug, only to spit it back out into the sink. A quick glance at its date confirmed it should’ve been okay. So figuring Darla probably left it to spoil in the hot car while she was getting her nails done or something, he went back to rummaging through the refrigerator. Juggling bread (and, yes, like everyone else, he kept his bread in the fridge. You had to unless you wanted it green and moldy. Without air-conditioning, bread left out in the humid, Carolina summertime wouldn’t last a day,) bologna and the Velveeta cheese, he almost dropped the jar of mayo nestling in the crook of his arm before setting them on the old Formica table (another sore spot with Darla) his mama found years ago at the church thrift shop. So what if some of—okay all of his furniture had seen better days. The table still held up his dinner plate just fine, and if a couple of its legs needed shimming; well, that could be the floor’s fault just as much as the table’s.
Reaching around Darla to get a chipped plate from the cabinet, Dwight got another sweet-scented whiff. Mmmm… Pie. “Ya do some bakin’ today?”
He dragged out one of the kitchen chairs; settling on its vinyl, duct-tape patched seat to make himself a sandwich. But when he pealed back the bologna’s yellow plastic cover, he got a whiff of tainted meat. “Did the power go off recently; first the milk’s sour, now the bologna’s off?”
“Ya ain’t gettin’ it Dwight. You’re dead! D.E.A.D.” She was talking to him like he was a foreigner, or something, her thick country twang adding extra syllables to each drawn out letter. As if just by speaking louder and slower, she’d make more sense. “The dead don’t eat, they ROT.”
“Can it Darla.” Dwight rolled his eyes heavenward, silently asking for enlightenment as to what had ever possessed him to open his home to this shrew. Heaven answered when she leaned forward, placing both hands on the table (Oh right, horniness and moonshine, the sources behind almost every bad decision he’d ever made,) giving him a nice view of a brightly patterned bra from one of many mail-order catalogs she was addicted to. Order one thing by mail, and the next thing you knew, catalogs were breeding in your mailbox like boomers.
“Ask me again what I done. Go on, ask. You’re gonna love this.” Darla smirked.
“Okay Darla, what’d ya do?”
“You know Old Hannah, what lives behind the Gas-n-Go?”
He nodded, not liking the direction this was going.
“Well, I told her what a deadbeat ya was, an’ how y’all never take me any place nice—”
“Ain’t no one forcin’ ya to stay here; y’all can go back to your mama’s doublewide any time you want,” Dwight said. “Hell, I just got a fresh box of Hefties from the Walmart; I’ll help ya pack.”
“I ain’t never going back ‘cause you’re dead. So that makes this my place now,” Darla snarled. “Y’all’s been zombified! Soon you’ll be all squishy an’ smelly. An’ when things start fallin’ off, I’m gonna laugh.”
Dancing across the kitchen, she grabbed a Bud out of the fridge (she always bought Bud, even though she knew it gave him a headache.) Then pretending it was a microphone, she belted out a nasally, barfly chorus of Shania’s “I Feel Like a Women” that was somehow both sharp and flat; finishing off by taking a large swallow of beer, and punctuating it with a belch that would have been a blue ribbon winner at the county fair.
“Once you’re gone, I’m gonna sell all your stuff: that ratty old truck, and this run down old shack of a house—I ain’t spending rest of my life in this shit town. And you know what else? Cody Billings is carryin’ me to Nashville. He’s gonna be my manager. He’s got it all planned out. Says he knows people who can make me a star.” Narrowing her eyes, she leaned across the table. “He believes in me.”
Dwight turned his head sideways, choking back a snicker. He was trying so hard to stifle his gut busting laughter, that his eyes teared up… Really… Alas, he failed.
Because of Darla, he, and the rest of the beer drinking population in Coalhaven, rue the day ‘Bubba’s Barbecue-Pit‘N Lounge’ started having karaoke three nights a week. It turns out, karaoke was Darla’s crack. One time at the mike singing Faith Hill’s “This Kiss,” and she was hooked. Her banshee like renditions of country pop songs could empty a bar faster than a deacon at a whorehouse, and should’ve come with a Surgeon General’s warning: Known to cause sudden and severe nicotine cravings. Even non-smokers fled to the parking lot whenever she took to the stage.
Dwight grabbed her wrist without thinking, jerking her onto the table. Damn if she didn’t smell… delicious.
“Whatcha gonna do Dwight? Hit me?” she sneered. “You ain’t gonna do nothin’. You never do nothin’.”
He knew she wanted him to release her, what with her twistin’ this way and that. And he meant to let go—he did. And although he’d never laid hands on a woman except in fun, his body seemed to have a mind of its own. Because the more she struggled, the tighter he grabbed.
“D…Dwight?” she stammered as he looked down at her laid out like a Sunday supper after church. “D…Do nothin’ Dead Dwight, that’s you… So… so just go rot somewheres else.”
And that smell… that heavenly smell… Pie.