The little hula girl danced on the dashboard as the pickup truck bounced down the dirt track. The girls gleaming white smile and green grass dress appealed to John’s sense of whimsy. As the pickup hit a rut, the adhesive loosened and the girl went tumbling down between his legs. He laughed as he reached down, then threw her out the window; the girl hit the ground and broke in two, her torso bouncing off into the bushes.
John reached the end of the track that demarcated his property and stopped – the hood jutting out onto the tarmacked road. Looking left, in the distance he could just make out the wooden hoarding that blocked his view of the Interstate. He wound down the window to listen to the sounds of the engines rushing by; the passengers almost oblivious to the once thriving town – just off the Exit ramp. Almost, but not entirely oblivious, because the hoarding boldly proclaimed in giant red writing – ‘Last Gas for 100 Miles’.
He smiled to himself and put the truck back in to first gear and headed right, towards town. Crow Rock was a couple of miles down the road and he no longer noticed the empty fields; the dilapidated houses were just another blot of history – a remnant of a time before the Interstate. He glanced up at the rear-view mirror to make sure the coverings were still secured on the flatbed. He knew he’d tied it all down and put concrete bricks on the corners, but it was a habit that he’d picked up along the way and didn’t feel like it was one he cared to break.
Up ahead on the right he saw the big neon sign that read Eddies Diner & Gas Station and took his foot off the gas to gently slow his speed, so as not to wear the brake pads. Just behind the diner was Eddies Wrecking Yard, stacked with the carcasses of cars, trucks, RVs, and motorbikes, in various states of rust. John pulled into his usual spot next to the Sheriffs cruiser and admired the sign that was in the window of the diner – ‘We sell fuel and fuel’.
Don’t need no college education to be clever with words, he’d proudly told Eddie as he’d handed him the hand painted sign a few years back. As he walked up to the door of the diner, he paid closer attention to it and noticed the sun had bleached some of the colour. A fly was buzzing between the glass and the sign, bouncing back and forth in a desperate attempt to find freedom. Lured into the diner by the promise of meat, it would eventually join the others on the windowsill covered by dust and grease.
John opened the door and was met by the smell of freshly baked pie. The sheriff sitting on a stool at the counter nursing a coffee, a piece of pie placed next to him – untouched. He slowly turned his head as John walked over to join him, ‘Morning, John’ the sheriff said quietly.
‘Rough night?’ John replied, picking up the fork that sat next to the pie and helping himself to a chunk. The sheriff stared at him, then pulled the plate away, snatched the fork from his hand and started eating it himself.
‘Huntin’ was the sheriffs reply, mumbling through a mouthful, crumbs dropping around him like dead flies. ‘Eddie left you some fresh feed out back, he’s breaking a car, so I’ll help you load’ he said before draining his coffee and standing up.
‘Actually, I’ve got some pigs in the truck to unload’ John said. The sheriff started walking towards the door and John took another chunk of pie before following him out.
They walked out of the diner to find a murder of crows fighting around the truck, a trotter had been pried out from the coverings and was being fought over on the ground. John kicked dirt at the birds, and they flew away; he left the trotter lying in the dirt as he lifted out the concrete slabs from the flatbed and unfurled the covering to reveal two pig carcases. They each hoisted a carcass on to their shoulders and John crouched down to pick up the trotter before following the sheriff around the side of the diner to the cool house out back.
They unlatched the door to the cool house and batted away the black cloud of flies that were circling the bags.
‘They get heavier every year’ John said after helping the sheriff load two big bags and a few smaller ones on to the back of the pickup.
‘You’re just getting older John’ the sheriff said as John climbed back into the pickup to leave.
‘Any reports?’ John asked before he closed the door.
The sheriff shook his head and walked back towards the diner.
The trip back to the farm was quicker, John drove faster as the pigs had missed breakfast and would be stirring up some mischief. The sun was high in the sky now, so he reached for his cap and pulled it low. He turned left down the dirt track to the farm and soon he was reversing the truck up the incline that led right up to the pen fencing. As he thought, the squealing and hollering of the pigs could be heard for miles around.
There was no point unwrapping the feed as the pigs would eat clean through anything, so he unlatched the tailgate and rolled the plastic bags into the pen. He watched them devour the contents with a smile on his face, but then frowned and jumped down off the truck. He reached down into the dirt and removed the gold ring off a finger, before throwing the hand back in.
Satisfied, he strolled into the house and opened the jar that sat next to the door; he threw the ring in with the other pieces of gold and silver – then went into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and a slice of pie.
“When I was in nursery school and the teachers got tired, they’d sit me in front of the class and I’d make up stories – I’ve never stopped.”—Stuart Christianson