JOHN OLIVER HODGES

The Two Trailers

 

            The two trailers were side by side, longwise in the weeds of the shoulder of the state road. Their roofs sagged in the middle and they appeared as twins pushed flat against the tangled mess of dense forest. The two trailers nearly touched, and were separated only by what space a man might walk through. The sporadic cars that passed by were the only evidence of motion in the world, for on these hot July days, crickets sounded not. No ants moved. Silence caromed, yet in the trailer to the left a man slept. In the trailer to the right slept a woman. When the man woke in his pile of rags and trash, he grabbed his Generics, knocked one out, set it to lips amidst a mustache and beard no less tangled than the forest, and lit it. The man inhaled so deep, and thought of the woman still asleep, no doubt, the lazy snake. The man stretched his neck, stood.  He looked out the window and saw the woman through the other window, the window of her own private trailer. “Get up,” he said.

            The woman did not move.

            “You dead?” he shouted. He doubled over coughing.

            Her light laughter rose to a cackle.

            When the man regained himself, the woman was at her window. “Good morning,” she said, pressing her hands against the glass, fingers outspread like whitewashed tarantulas, pale, slimy, greasy like the gaunt face whose flesh poured as if wet over forehead and cheekbone, a thin translucent film through which stared bright blue twinkling eyes loaded with what? Life? In her black sleeveless dress she bore the angles of some ancient murdered virgin lifted from the grave. She was twenty-eight. Anybody looking at her, as the man was now, would peg her at forty.

            “Morning,” the man said.

            “I heard you snore,” the woman said.

            “I’m hungry,” the man said.

            “That’s what you said last night.”

            “Ain’t you?”

            The woman’s bulbous eyes of sag and the wrinkled sunburned breastbone bugged the man. Truth told he couldn’t stand her anymore. She could barely tolerate him, but they were, for each other, two halves of a thing. He’d known her at twelve, she the wild monkey-child to climb trees higher than him. She lived in a trailer with her parents. He lived in one with his. Their trailers were side by side, separated only by what space a man might walk through in Waynesboro, Mississippi. She would come over, knock, say, “Can Dave play?”

            “I can’t stand it,” the man said.

            “I read that you can live three days without a drop,” the woman said, and smiled winsomely, the rotted teeth on fine display.

            The man blew her a kiss.

            The woman caught it, ate it, and they stood a minute longer, face to face in their respective trailers, what they’d come across yesterday as the Mississippi sun, that huge ball that is more orange than the sun in other states, dropped into the forest like to suffocate. They had walked all day along the state road. When the trailers popped up, as if pulled by magnetic forces the man veered to the left trailer. The woman veered to the right trailer. It was morning once more. They were beginning to starve.

            “We’d best to get moving,” the man said, dragged his butt, looked at it, tossed it out the window into the space between the trailers. The woman lifted her tarantulas from the dusty glass. A moment later the two travelers exited the trailers at the same instant, just as they had entered them the evening before.

            They continued on along the state road, the sun slung above the pines blaring in their faces. A pickup appeared. They held out their thumbs, trying to look young and purposeful. The man driving slowed a bit to get a look.

            “You weren’t so fucking ugly,” the man said.

            “Want me hide in the trees?”

            “Keep it up, bitch.”

            “I need water.” She collapsed in the high grass.

            The man walked on. When he looked back for the woman, he saw the high grass. He looked up at the sky. Later he heard a car, turned, stuck out his thumb. The car slowed, pulled over. The man went up, opened the door and climbed in. “Much obliged,” he said. The car, a red modern Honda, continued along the state road.

            “Dave,” the driver said.

            “Dave,” the man said.

            “Cool,” the driver said. A daddy’s boy, likely owned a house in the burbs. Tidy of hair and pimply of chin, he looked to the man like a ice-cream gone bad, a smashed overturned sugar cone with some kind of raspberry vanilla bullshit in it. “Gotny water?”

            “I do,” Dave said, reached behind him, brought a gallon jug out. Niagara, the jug said on it, and the man screwed off the plastic cap, chug-a-lugged. The man drank near a quarter gallon, then screwed the cap back.

            “So,” the driver said.

            The man looked at the boy, the smug sonofabitch, eyed him as if to say, What, just what is it you want from me?  The boy’s voice was high-pitched, on the faggoty end of the vocal spectrum.

            “I’m just, I mean, I mean, where are you headed, Dave?”

            “Where my headed?” the man said.

            The daddy boy laughed. “You must be headed somewhere,” he said.

            The man licked his lips, high on the feeling of the water inside. The water reached out through his arms, his legs, filling his heart with new hope, fortifying his brain. The dryness of his eyes loosened, becoming wetter as were the sore spots in his joints and bones. What a quart of water did for a thirsty man was purified crazy. Feeling strong now, he told the boy to pull over.

            “What?”

            “Pull over, Dave,” the man said. “I need to take a leak. All that water done filled my bladder, baby!”

            “I get it,” the turd said, and pulled over.

            “Get your ass the fuck out my car!” the man said.

            “What?”

            The man raised his boot up to kick the sonofabitch back to his daddy.

            The turd got out of the car. The man scooted over into the driver’s seat, drove back the other way to collect the woman.

            Funny, he thought. A moment ago I was moving toward the sun. Now I am moving away from the sun. The man pulled a Generic from his shirt pocket and lit it, moving in the direction of the twelve-year-old girl who told him, back when he was twelve, that in life there weren’t but two roads. One went to the sun, the other went to the bottom of the sea. She had been reading a book, and shared that rich nugget with him. A load of crapamoly! Only road took a man to a cliff he fell off into the pile of shit he’d been shitting since he was born. All roads left you inside your own ugly heart. When she was twelve, she mentioned that he had a nice pair of toes. Ever since then he’d always looked fondly upon his toes. As far as he knew, it was the only compliment he’d ever received.

            The man passed the twin trailers of sag. He knew he’d gone too far, so backtracked and parked in the shoulder and found the woman in the grass. He slid her into the backseat, and drove back to the abandoned trailers. The man carried her inside and set her down in the place she’d slept the night before.

            “Comfortable?” he asked.

            The man knocked a Generic from his pack, lit it, smoked it, watched her. He drove the car behind the trailer where it would not be seen from the road. Hungry, just hungry as a dead alligator sonofabitch, he returned to the trailer, his trailer, not the trailer he’d set the woman down in. The man laid down in the old rags of his trailer and imagined he was asleep. In the morning he would wake, the woman would put her hands on the glass of her trailer, twin tarantulas. Together they would continue their journey, walking along the state road in the direction of the sun.

John Oliver Hodges lives in Brooklyn. His collection of short stories, The Love Box won the Tartt First Fiction Award and was published in 2013. His short stories have appeared in about 90 journals, including SNReview, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Apple Valley Review, Gravel and The Great American Literary Magazine. He teaches writing at Montclair State University.