I’d been in town about a month – I pulled in off of the freeway and started drinking then just didn’t leave. I got a job working nights at the local roadhouse and moved in with a skinny, broken woman who looked like she’d breathed in a sigh and never let it out, and the sadness had just filled through her. After sex, she’d whisper stories between the slivers of streetlight, stories that made me wish I’d been there and I’d been someone better than I was.
She lived with her young son who watched TV and played quietly in his room and I moved in and stayed on the couch to keep up appearances. I’d fallen into this domestic routine where I’d sleep through the day, watch the last parts of the soap operas, then I’d go to the bar and drink out the last hours of daylight. Sometimes the woman would come to the bar, after she’d finished work, and she’d sit across the table and blow curls of smoke up through the fading sunlight, but most of the time I’d be there by myself, watching the TV with no sound, waiting for work to start.
As soon as I saw the man come in I knew he was going to be trouble. I knew he’d drag me into some sad, destructive episode that would leave me feeling worthless and hopeless. I could see it coming a mile off. He had dark eyes and a shaved head and he came over next to me and started talking.
‘Hey mate.’ He said. I didn’t respond, there was a commercial on TV that I wanted to watch (I’d seen the actor some place before and every time it came on I tried to place him in my memory but never could).
‘Hey.’ The man said and I looked to him. ‘How you goin’?’ He lifted his chin as he spoke. I didn’t respond, just watched him as he paid for his drinks and walked to a standing table near the entrance. I could tell he was eyeing me after that, caught his glance shift as I looked over and when he came over for his next drink he spoke to me again.
‘You’re working at the servo over there, hey?’ He pointed in the direction of the roadhouse. ‘Cause I seen you there is all.’ Then he waited for me to respond. I kept my eyes on the TV.
‘Are you staying in town?’ He asked. I nodded, tried to avoid eye contact. ‘Yeah.’ The man put a hand in his pocket, the other holding his drink. ‘Okay, well, I’ll see you later then.’ And he walked back through the bar, left his drink on a vacant table and went out the front door, into the night. I watched him pass the windows in the orange glow of the streetlights.
It was a few of night later when I saw him again. It was around 3am, when the night starts to drag and your body wants to shut down and I was at the counter, reading a magazine article about people who eat poisonous snakes and I noticed movement out the corner of my eye, out near the fuel pumps and I looked up and I could see the man out there. No car, he was just by himself, walking round the pumps like he was looking for something.
I came outside and walked over to him and the man stood up, put his hands in his pockets. His face shadowed beneath the buzzing tube lights.
‘Hey, how you doin’?’ The man said. ‘We met at the bar the other night, remember?’ I looked around, realising this could be a hold-up. But there was nothing else, no one around.
‘Hey, can I show you something?’ The man said and he quick-stepped past me, headed over to the side of the roadhouse, his truck parked in the darkness. How long he’d been parked there I have no idea, couldn’t recall seeing the truck pull in. The man went round to the tray part of the truck and unclipped the cover and dropped down the tail-gate. There was a dead dog in the back. A big dog, dark brown fur. Trails of blood were channelled into the metal ridges of the tray.
‘I killed this fucken dog.’ The man said, and he stepped back so he was side to side with me, so we could both take it in.
‘I shot the fucken thing. It was barking and making a noise and shit.’ We stood looking at the dead dog. A rush of wind rattled the petrol pumps across the way.
‘Yeah, I had to kill it, you know?’ The man told me, walked over to put the truck back together. ‘Fucken dogs.’ The man put the tray back together then leaned on his truck for a moment, waited. ‘Well I’ll see you later, hey?’ He said, and he got into his truck and drove away.
Two weeks later I saw him again. He came into the bar and he came straight over, stood right up by me, way too close.
‘You get up out of that fucken chair and come with me.’ The man growled. He had his hands in his pockets, talked low, so no one else could hear. He pushed something against my shoulder, something hard, metal. ‘Get up. Now.’ He told me. The man stayed right up at my back as we walked out of the bar and into the street, in the fading light of sunset. The man lead me round to the passenger side of his truck and opened the door and told me to get in and I hesitated and he pushed right up on me.
‘You fucking get in, right now, or I will cut you open.’ And he pulled a hunting knife out from his pocket, showed it to me. He pushed the tip into my shirt. ‘You get in.’ His lips at my ear, crackling with anger. He flicked the child safety lock then closed the door behind me then rushed over to his side of the truck and got in and started it and pulled out, accelerated away from the main street.
The man mumbled as we drove, made clicking noises with his tongue every now and then and he pulled off onto a side road that ran out of bitumen and became a dirt track into a forested area. The truck bounced and shook over potholes and tree roots and we came into a clearing, a section where the trees had been cut down. Grey bark and dead branches littered across. Looked like a part of the forest had been shaved, a cancerous section removed and left with just a stubble of severed trunks. Smoke drifted up from the larger stumps, black and simmering in the last of the daylight.
The man pulled up and ripped up the hand brake and pulled out a rifle from beside his seat then he got out of the truck and walked round to the front and stood there in the blue-grey light, like a soldier, watching.
‘Get out of the car.’ He yelled. I stayed still, frozen. ‘Get out.’ He yelled louder and I went to open the door but I couldn’t, the child lock was on.
‘Get out now.’ He screamed.
‘I can’t, you put the child lock on.’
‘Fuck it.’ The man roared and he stomped over and opened the door then went back to the front of the truck, stood waiting. I got out slowly, stayed up behind the open door.
‘Get away from the truck.’ He said.
‘What’s this about?’
‘It’s about you, getting away from the truck, get away from the truck.’
‘Wait, I don’t know what I’ve done.’ The man dropped his head and looked away and I thought I might be able to run but I couldn’t, my feet stuck like anchors. I could feel my body trembling, my teeth.
‘Come out, away from the truck.’ The man said.
‘But I don’t…’
‘Just fucking, get away.’ And the man lifted the rifle and pointed it at me and started moving round to get a better shot and I came out, my hands up beside head. The man was puffing, fingers gripped round the gun barrel. He pulled and slid something at the side of the rifle, it clicked into place.
‘Please.’ I said. ‘I don’t know why you’re doing this.’ I could feel the tears building, about to overflow.
‘That’s my son.’ The man said. ‘You’re in my town with my girl and my son and you are fucking everything up.’ He stopped a moment, panting. ‘You need to go.’ And all the stories of hurt she’d told me connected in my brain. This man, I thought, he was it. Her tired, sad face.
‘I don’t want to kill you, but you have to go.’ The man lowered the rifle, maybe to my chest. ‘You need to get away and you never speak to her ever again. Yes?’ I nodded. ‘Yes?’ he yelled, couldn’t see me in the dark.
‘Yep, okay, no problem, I’m gone.’
‘Because I will fucking do it. You fuck with my family and I will kill you.’ And he raised the rifle again and took a step forward, spoke through clenched teeth. ‘I will put a bullet in your fucking brain.’ The barrel so close. I thought of the dog, the thin red trails of it’s blood on the white metal. The man sucked in quick breaths, like he was crying, but his face was hidden in the darkness. ‘That’s my family.’
When I got back to the woman’s house I packed what I had – my entire worldly possessions could fit into one gym bag – and she came home and she asked what I was doing and why I was leaving and I let her have it.
I told her this was her fault, that she dragged me into some mess I should never have been involved with and how her boyfriend was going to kill me and I could’ve been killed all because she was too stupid and selfish.
I could see the hurt, my words like body blows. I wanted to hurt her.
I told her she was stupid and damaged and broken. I told her this was no way to be raising that boy and the woman crumbled to the carpet, curled over, crying behind her long, dried out hair. She was choking on her tears, coughing, shrinking smaller and smaller into the corner of the room and I finished packing and walked out, the sounds of her sobbing carrying out into the night.
And as I got into the car I looked back and saw the boy up at his bedroom window. The light from inside outlining his small body like an aura. I drove out and I thought one day that boy might remember me. One day he might grow up with his insides all twisted from a life of torment and he might come find me. He might remember this time, when I destroyed his mother, and he might find me, with a bat in his fist, and give me what I fucking deserve.