The hum of the dryer woke Junior.
“How many times do I have to tell you to keep that damn door closed when I’m doin’ laundry?”—said Brenda, puffing away on a menthol cigarette. She wore flip-flops and a hot-pink tank top that held her bare breasts close to her sweaty skin. They hung like soggy flap jacks from a wire coat hanger.
“You ain’t doing laundry woman,” Carl said. “I checked the dryer. It’s empty.”
Brenda sent her fingernails up her massive thigh and underneath her neon blue athletic shorts, scratching at something that hadn’t been touched for some time.
Carl lowered his head and slumped into the kitchen to get a beer. It was cold, not as cold as Brenda’s heart, but could enough to ease his aching head. He grabbed the day’s newspaper from the kitchen counter and sat down at the dining room table.
“What? You’re just gonna sit there and ignore me while Junior cries his little head off?” She lifted Junior from his swing, cigarette still ablaze, and rocked him in her flabby arms.
“You get paid today? Brenda continued with an inch of ash hanging from her mouth. “Monty down at the corner store said Travis don’t always pay his men on time.” She shifted Junior to her other shoulder. “And she also said the Acorns will be lucky to win four games this year! Ha! That Monty. She sure knows this town better than anyone.”
Carl removed a folded envelope from his breast pocket and slid it across the dining room table, never taking his eyes off the newspaper. EDLUND ACORNS ACQUIRE TOP HIGH SCHOOL PROSPECT— underneath that: COACH APOLOGIZES FOR BREAKING NCAA SANCTIONS. Carl shook his head and finished his beer in one gulp. It was going to be a long night, he could already tell by Brenda’s nagging, and if he was going to survive it, he’d better have a good buzz ready for when she got violent.
“How much it is for?”
Carl was determined to finish the article pertaining to his beloved Acorns getting the nation’s top quarterback. Brenda could simply trod on over to the table, pick up the envelope, and see for herself. But no, Brenda was too lazy for that. After all, the dishes from last night’s casserole that Carl made were still floating in dirty water. And judging by the pile of lottery tickets on the coffee table, Carl figured Brenda spent her afternoon trying to win the jack pot and was too tired late in this day to do any house chores, let alone walk her fat ass over to the table and open the Goddam envelope herself.
She loved her instants. Scratched them like she was in a hurry. Carl often dug them from the garbage can to study them closer. One time he found a $20 winner that she so carelessly overlooked. That went straight into his pocket, the same one where he kept his weekly paycheck that his boss at the mill, Travis, always signed. Fuck Monty. The Acorns were going to win the championship this year. Double fuck Monty.
“Are you gonna open it or sit there and read the doggone paper all night?”
Carl clenched his teeth and closed his fist, collapsing the beer can.
“You’re ruthless, incomprehensible, and irrational. You ruined my entire operation when you moved in. I had my buddies, had my music, had my paper.”
Brenda understood ruthless, but didn’t grasp the other two words and judging by his tone, she knew they were far from complimentary. She let one rip inside of her discounted athletic shorts and wafted the unpleasant air towards Carl.
“That’s what I think of you and your shitty words.”
“Me and my shitty words?” Carl said.
“Yeah. You and those big words you use because you think you’re smarter than me because you read. All’s you ever do when you come home from work is drink beer and stick your nose in that sports page.”
“Cause that’s all I WANT to do. That’s all I ever done. I wake up. Drink my coffee. Go to work. Work HARD. Say yes to my boss who does sign my paycheck every Friday, thank you very much. I eat a ham sandwich at lunch time, work HARD some more, come home, drink MY beer that I pay for, and (his voice almost a whisper) read my fucking sports page. That’s it! I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to see the world. That’s what cable TV’s for.”
“Well! Me and our Junior would like a little more respect around here is all. A little attention.”
Amused, Carl raced to the kitchen for another beer.
“Excuse me, did you say OUR Junior? No, no Brenda. You are sadly mistaken. That is not OUR Junior.” And pointing, “That is Dale’s son! I know it and you know it.” Carl scrunched his nose. “And that loud mouthed bitch Monty knows it. So does Dale. Look at his hair for Christ’s sake, it’s red and curly, just like Dale’s. Mine is black and straight, see?”
“Plus, Junior is hideous. I’ve never seen such an ugly monstrosity before. Now, let’s review our relationship. I slept with you one time, after you and Dale called it quits. You got pregnant and said it was mine. I believed you and wanted to do the right thing. But now my dear Brenda, upon further analysis, the jury has come to the conclusion that that baby is Dale’s, Ms. Benson. Not mine.”
“I can’t believe you’d say such a thing,” Brenda said, covering Junior’s ears.
“Well, I did, and I meant it. I can’t go on living this lie anymore Brenda, I just can’t.”
“What are you gonna do?” Brenda said, tears welling up in her eyes. “Kick us out?”
“Yup. Get your shit and roll honey!”
“You limp dick mother…”
“Watch it sister,” Carl said, now pointing his finger up. “Watch what you say. I never called you ‘The Name’. His eyebrows lowered, as if he just discovered an ancient artifact. “And you know what name I’m talking about.”
Brenda had a nick-name around town. Bahama Momma. They called her this because when she would get mad (which was often) her face would turn a deep red, much like a red-hot pickled sausage, and if a red-hot pickled sausage ever had a face, it would definitely look just like Brenda’s.
“Say it,” she dared.
“Just get your shit and get gone.”
“I knew it. You’re a chicken shit, pencil dick, son of a bitch, Carl Finch!”
Junior now had a horseshoe frown, a perfect sad face, and was moments away from pitching an agonizing ringer.
Carl grabbed his keys and a beer for the road. Brenda stomped in the bedroom but before she could get there, Carl peeked his head around the corner.
The screen door rattled behind him.
The tavern was hopping as it usually was on any given week night. This town liked to party baby! Billy Squire’s greatest hits pumped from the juke box. Middle aged single women were dancing between the pool tables to “In the Dark”. Carl immediately saw the back of Dale’s mullet, a red mane combed in an epic fountain of fire.
“Dale Washburn,” Carl announced. “Outside!”
Dale turned around and slid off his barstool, warm and fuzzy from sweet Tequila Rose. “You callin’ me out Carl?”
Carl raised his arms in peace. “Just wanna talk man.”
“Just wanna talk man” usually meant “say hello to my fist” and Dale knew the time would come when Carl had enough of Brenda’s shit. He just didn’t expect it would come as an epic showdown in the tavern parking lot, but then again, most things in this town did.
Dale flicked a match and lit a cigarette—you’d think he would’ve just pulled one of his orange curly locks over the cigarette to light it—and stood ground below the crescent moon.
“Right now, at this very moment, Brenda and YOUR son are moving out of my place. I don’t care where they go, with you or wherever, but they don’t stay with me anymore. Thought you might like to know that.”
Dale sucked from his cigarette, smoke poured from his nostrils.
“I guess I’ll go home now and drink my beer on the front porch,” Carl said. “That’s it.”
Carl turned around. “Christ Dale, c’mon. It doesn’t take Maury’s studio audience to see that he’s yours. He’s got your hair and freckles and everything. Besides, we slept with Brenda around the same time. I did after ya’ll split, mind you. Whole town knows it yours.”
“Did Monty say it was mine?”
“Well shit balls!” Dale said and tossed his cigarette onto the gravel parking lot. “I gotta hand it to ya, I thought you were coming out here with your dukes up.”
“Nope. I may not be an educated man Dale, but I know living a lie ain’t a life worth living.”
Dale thought for a moment. “Okay then. I guess I’ll follow you home and help her pack I guess?”
Carl gave Dale a wink and a tip of his ball cap.
Carl and Dale walked in to an overturned couch and a busted coffee table. Long brown hairs were dominant in the living room, scattered in random places like kindling. There was a bellow, a scream, and a crash. Through the hallway came a seven foot tall creature with Junior his arms. It made eye contact with Carl and Dale, howled, and took off out the back door into the woods behind Carl’s home.
Brenda emerged from the bedroom, distraught. Her hair was in disarray. Long red scratches covered her arms. “I was drunk at the tavern’s Halloween party when we hooked up Carl. I went to the woods to pee ‘cause there was a line out both bathrooms. I thought Dale followed me. Remember your costume Dale?”
“You was. Before I knew it I was on my back. This big hairy man pinned my hands behind my head and had his way with me. I thought it was you Dale, I really did.”
Carl didn’t give two shits if Brenda thought Dale was banging her after they started dating. He was still trying to come to grips with what he just saw.
“And to be honest, it felt good to be taken advantage of for once,” Brenda said, rubbing her dirty toes together. “I colored Junior’s hair red, Carl. You were too busy with the sports page to notice. But I wanted to live with you, Dale. You have the better job. You could’ve took better care of us.”
“I’m gettin’ my shotgun,” Dale said. “I’m gonna shoot that thing and get Junior back!”
“You don’t understand,” Brenda said. “Junior is with his real father now.”