Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On the Rodeo

So I took part in a writing exercise with my roommates Jeff and Paul tonight. We had roughly 45 minutes, the duration of an album, to write a story that included the following things: A conversation between a deceased female and a living male, another person (alive who cannot hear the deceased person), a character named Alex, a moving truck/van, and a fruit.

What follows is my first attempt at writing fiction in several years. It's not great by any means, but it seems worth posting simply because fiction is something I have made a concerted effort to avoid writing for some time--thinking about it as I write this it's been since a fiction workshop I took at Emory and Henry in 2000 that I wrote any kind of short story or fictional account in general. Enjoy.

On the Rodeo

“You’re going to have to explain to me one day how in the hell someone as OCD as you wound up working the rodeo circuit Fred,” George yelled from the back of a twenty foot trailer. The beer guzzling driver everyone knew as “Tiny” had unhitched the moving truck an hour ago, “I mean shit man, you’re the only one on this trip that has to group all his equipment in a descending order of size in the same damn corner of the trailer night after night.”

“Every time we pull into a new town and unload this damn thing you start talking the same mess. Just toss me out my damn gear and let’s get on with this fucking thing,” Fred said behind a cloud of Marlboro smoke billowing into the darkened trailer that was at least ten degrees hotter than the sun-caked landscape barely visible to George. Fred’s leathery skin still managed to reveal that he hadn’t slept well in weeks, and his tone of voice towards George further enforced anyone in ear-shot’s assumption of such.

“Well, you know what? Fuck you Fred. You’re the one who’s so picky about how your shit gets packed, how it gets loaded, how it gets unpacked, and I’m the one in here climbing over all this crap getting your gear. And then when I get finished with all this shit all you do is bitch and moan until everything is set up just right. You really need to get some sleep, or see a doctor about this compulsive shit partner.” George climbed out into the sunlight, spit next to Fred’s perfectly shined boots. “I’m going to get a goddamn apple. Have fun.”

Not one person associated with the rodeo knew what had happened to Fred in Chicago two weeks earlier. On a run from Kansas City up to Michigan there was trouble with Tiny’s truck and the whole rodeo had to stop in Chicago for two days while the transmission was replaced and parts were ordered. During those two days Fred had killed a retarded girl of about 11—her name, if he remembered correctly was Alex. At least that’s what he would always know her as because she kept mumbling “Alex” when he came upon her at an otherwise desolate street corner in an industrial section of south side. Since the incident Fred hadn’t slept or ate much, and for some reason kept hearing her slurred, barely coherent speech whenever he attempted to bed down for the night in his trailer. The oddest part in Fred’s mind was that Alex’s mumbles were becoming more coherent with each passing night. After finishing his cigarette in long, methodical pulls, he decided to wait on unloading his gear and go back to his trailer and lay down.

Home, while on the road, was an RV trailer pulled by his own F-150 he bought ten years earlier. It was commonly noted among the other members of the rodeo that it was the cleanest vehicle of the at least 30 trucks, vans, trailers and cars on the circuit. This was due to Fred’s necessity to wash, detail, and wax the truck on an almost daily basis. It was also common knowledge that Fred, a heavy smoker, forbade smoking in the F-150, and for this reason he generally remained sans-company on long drives between shows. The inside of his trailer-hitched abode reflected the same care and meticulousness that the outside of the truck did. Everything evenly distributed from one side to the other. His bed was always neatly hospital-cornered, and clothes hung in the small closet next to the bathroom according to color, sleeve length, and frequency of use. Fred headed straight for his bed—carefully placing his boots at the foot of the bed of course—and laid down facing the wall as he always did. It wasn’t long before Alex’s now incredibly audible and childlike voice spoke to him.

“Why did you push me into the street? There was a tow-truck coming,” Fred was almost more amazed at how articulate the voice had become than the fact that a dead, retarded girl was speaking to him.
“It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t trying to push you. I, I . . .” Fred trailed off.
“What do you mean?” Alex demanded.
“It’s just that the shirt you had on. I mean, the buttons on it.”
“The buttons on my shirt? What does that have to do with you pushing me into an intersection?”
“The buttons were all misaligned. You had them buttoned into the wrong holes and your shirt was all crooked. I can’t stand stuff like that.”
“So you knocked me into the road for it?”
“No. Not at all,” Fred was bewildered at how mature Alex’s voice had become, how assertive, “I was going to try and fix it for you. It was only a couple of the buttons, I just wanted to make it right.”
“But what about you pushing me? How was that fixing the button problem?”
“Look I didn’t push you already,” Fred was getting angry now, “I came up to you, you were obviously oblivious to everything that was going on. You just kept mumbling ‘Alex’ at me, drooled all over yourself, and stared at me. So I reached out to fix the buttons for you—no harm intended—and you lunged at me. I got startled and just instinctively kind of pushed you away from me. That’s all. Just pure gut reaction. If that damn tow-truck hadn’t have been coming down the road you’d still be alive.”
“The driver didn’t even stop. He never saw you either. Probably thought I had just wandered out into traffic and didn’t want to have to explain it to the police. But you, you ran off as soon as you saw the tow truck kept going.”
“I’m sorry all right. I don’t know what to say anymore. I’m just plain sorry,” Fred was sweating now. His mind slightly wandered to the fact that he’d have to change his pillowcase and thus the whole of his bed’s sheets—he couldn’t have mismatched colors on his bed at the same time.
“Why are you thinking about your sheets? You killed me and you’re thinking about changing your sheets because you’re sweating a little bit?” Alex’s voice was alarmingly angry to Fred’s ears.
“I’m sorry. It’s just the kind of thing I have to think about. I can’t help it. I mean for fuck’s sake, I felt compelled to adjust the buttons on a stranger’s shirt at a random intersection in the south side of Chicago. See what I’m getting at here? I’m clearly fucked up,” Fred was starting to tear up.
“One day you’re going to have move past this Fred. One day you’ll have to let all this petty, OCD stuff go. You know that. Seriously, I may have been retarded when I was alive, but an obsessive-compulsive rodeo cowboy? That’s just plain stupid.”
“Thanks Alex. As if I didn’t already know that.”

There was a knock at the trailer door, and Fred knew immediately that it was George coming to see where he’d gone, and why he left the trailer unattended.

“I have to go now, Alex. You there?” Fred’s question was left unanswered despite repeating it several times in varying degrees of volume.
“Who the fuck are you yelling at in there bud,” George’s voice cut through the thin walls of Fred’s trailer.
“No one. Absolutely no one. I think.” Fred’s voice was weak and somewhat trembling.

Pulling himself up out of bed he slowly edged his boots onto his feet; left foot first as always. Pulled his hat down over his silvering hair, and stepped out through the door, and punched George directly in the face for no reason in particular. Blood from George’s already jagged nose sprayed onto Fred’s white shirt before he fell to the ground.

Fred walked off towards Tiny’s trailer; there was a lot of work left to do before show time.



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