Morrison Park’s empty this time of day and the clouds bear down like a secret. Jeraldine pulls into the first lot inside the entrance, where a March breeze trembles an unsteady clang from the flag pole like a metronome ticking against rhythm. She turns off the engine and shifts in her seat—a little buzzed, a little brazen. She’d emptied the last of her Beam that morning. Behind her, the whine of worn bearings squeal, and she catches the white truck he described in her rearview. He slows to a stop and leaves it running, leans over and pumps down the passenger window.
“Wasn’t expectin’ you to be good lookin’,” he grins. He’s clean-cut but gruff, with a cigarette between shaky fingers and a thin jacket over flannel. “You a cop?”
“No.” She works to steady her voice. She regrets her dress, a little black one, and the black-to-the-knee boots Carl bought her years ago when he stood behind her in the shoe section and told her not to worry about the splurge. He said he liked the way her legs looked in them as she turned each boot, this way and that, in the low-to-the-floor mirror. That was five years before he walked out on her and her drinking, before he left his work boots in the closet. She put them in a box. Taped them up.
“Why don’t you get in,” the man in the truck urges. Clang. “We should get a bit further into the park.” Clang. “I’ll bring you back.”
Jeraldine steps out of her Escape, slams the door behind her, and presses the button to lock. Her boots click against the cement.
“You might want to close that,” he tells her, blowing smoke through the crack in his window and pointing to hers. She grips the crank and struggles to seal it shut, notes the thin layer of dust on the dash. She can smell it. Starting through the curving roads of the park, the man keeps the odometer under fifteen as if they’ve come here to see the flower beds and the fountains. She stays quiet, hugs her purse and its frayed handle to her chest. Months from now, she’ll shudder to imagine what he might have done to her. She’ll picture a park ranger shining a flashlight in the dark windows of her abandoned Escape.
When Jeraldine gets too much Beam in her, she fumbles through her closet to find the box with Carl’s boots. Knifes it open. She sits on the edge of her narrow bed and wiggles her toes into them. The grit of cement dust against her bare feet makes her think about the scratch of Carl’s beard, how he called her Jerry. After a long while and a little more whiskey, she wobbles to the cracked linoleum of her kitchen and steps a maze. Charts a little gray-dust map of her missing. The next morning, she sweeps up the siftings and spills them into the trash. Someday, she thinks, all this dust will be gone.
The man, the one with an e-mail address that didn’t hint at a name, nudges the gear to park and turns toward her. “Back okay?” He cuts the engine. “Just want you to know—me and my lady? She won’t let me do it to her. I’m not trying to scare ya. Am I scaring ya?”
She shakes her head. “No, you’re not scaring me.”
“I just want you to know why I do this. I never did it with one as pretty as you though.”
“She know you do it?”
“Hell, no. She’d kill me sure as I’m sitting here.”
“Well.” She clears her throat and smoothes her skirt a little. A bright couple glides by on bikes. “I want the money first.”
He nods, reaches under the seat then fingers two twenties from a bank envelope. Hands them to her.
“Now put that away,” his words a threat as he pushes his burning cigarette out the window. She stuffs the bills into her purse. They stick out a little.
A blanket’s thrown over the ruts of the camper in back, and his eyes follow her, anxious. The wind picks up as she settles down and pulls her skirt up. Didn’t bother with panties. He kneels, and she turns her head.
In seconds, she feels the climb of a roller coaster, waits out those long pauses between loud clicks on the cars dragging themselves to the top. She’s writhing and moaning, those cars shaking with speed as they fall from the steep. She slaps one hand against the truck and twists the blanket in the other. He’s got all of her in his mouth, his tongue insistent, a wild distraction. Again, and again. She’s pulled fast up another hill and dropped down, near-to-ragged. Clang-clang. Before she knows it, he’s sitting up and wiping his mouth with the edge of his flannel. She wants to say something about hiding things, about knowing what it’s like to need what you can’t get. Thinks better of it.
“That’ll do it for me,” he mumbles, climbing back to his seat. The back of her knees a sweat.
At the park’s exit, she turns on her blinker and checks her rearview to see the flags folded against the pole. The breeze gone. The man’s still there, holding a lit match to a cigarette. She turns toward the liquor store that’s a little more than a mile from here.
With a sigh, she steps a boot down onto the faded yellow line of the parking space and grabs her purse. Just then, the two twenties rush into the wind, and she hurries after them. The door to her Escape left open behind her. She catches one bill but loses the other. No matter, she thinks, I only need a little.
Inside, the heels of her boots scuff against the dust of the store’s tile.
About the Author: Jill Talbot's work has appeared in Brevity, DIAGRAM, Fifth Wednesday, The Normal School, Passages North, Sundog Lit and more. The Way We Weren't: A Memoir was published by Soft Skull Press in 2015. She loves roads and stormclouds and pay phones. Her website is jilltalbot.net.
Story Song: "Walk On Out Of My Mind" by Waylon Jennings
Photo Credit: Leesa Cross-Smith