Greasy Body Redux
I am staring at a rest stop wall map somewhere in Ohio. I have been traveling I-80 back and forth for months now and it remains anonymous and inscrutable, an abstract scale with hash marks that relate more to time than place. I cannot force myself to care enough to learn them. I am squinting at Elyria through sticky bloodshot when I gradually realize that a voice over my shoulder is speaking to me. I didnt catch it. Something about being able to tell the size of the city from the size of the dot.
Yeah, we just moved to Cleveland today.
Oh yeah? My interest is genuine for the first time in weeks and I look at him. He is a fat young black boy, friendly and excited and obviously large for his age. Whered you come from?
Toledo. We lived in Toledo, but we just moved to Cleveland.
Its 1:00am and I think were both still west of Cleveland. I peer at the map but I still cant tell where we are. This kid hasnt been to Cleveland yet. The Ryder outside is probably theirs, though. I guess that counts.
I really like Cleveland, Im really looking forward to it. His hope is contagious and I remember the sense of adventure that consumes him. He is twelve at the most, leaving his world and moving to a brand new city, talking to strangers at a highway rest stop in the middle of the night with a hundred miles left to go. It is a true ordeal, a Heros Journey that he will remember for the rest of his life.
Hes a sweet kid and I want things to work out for him. But he is too funny-looking. Too fat. Too good-natured. Talks to anybody. He is wrong, they will eat him alive. Just like they did in Toledo. He points excitedly at the map again but hes speaking too fast and Im listening too damn slow. I wait for him to finish.
He can tell. He continues as if we were conversing anyway and walks away to look at a video game. At least hes self-sufficient. I give up on the map and walk across to McDonalds.
I worked at one when I was fifteen. As a vegetarian, the only thing I could eat on my break was super-size fries and a Dr. Pepper. The job didnt last long. One day I was mopping the floor humming Murder by Numbers when a bright and shiny manager walked by singing You are my Sunshine. That was it. Then a few years later they came clean about beef extract in the fries. My one safe dish for the last twenty-five years had been compromised. I havent eaten fries since. And I havent been back to McDonalds. But coffee is coffee.
Greasy Body is already there. He stands back and stares at the menu as I did the map. Both are curiously overpowering at this time of night.
You getting anything?
Something drips from his brow and he says nothing.
What the hell did you die of, anyway?
Shut up, he says. Get me a coffee.
You dont think they put beef in the coffee, do you?
He actually turns his head to look at me. What?
Nothing. Two large black coffees, please.
The lazy-eye register kid is giving Greasy Body a lazy hairy eyeball.
Are you looking at me? Drip.
Greasy Bodys plastic eye inserts arent aimed at anything in particular either, so the kid doesnt answer right away. He glances nervously around, maybe from Body to me and back, maybe not. It really is hard to tell. The three of us stand there, not really looking at anybody.
Uh no sir. The kid looks at the floor and hands us the coffee.
Yeah, thats what I thought. Greasy Body wraps his hand in his sleeve for traction and grabs the coffee. Sometimes he forgets. They usually give him another cup for free. Fucking stare at me, you little fucking freak He wanders off towards the door.
The kid is clearly shaken. Sorry about him. Its been a long day, weve been on the road for a while. He nods. I still cant tell if hes avoiding my gaze or not. You might want to get a mop out here. He nods again, definitely looking at the floor. I tip him fifty cents for the emotional trauma and head for the van.
Are you even going to drink that?
No. Greasy Body smells his coffee, breathes deep. Steam rises and fluids fall in a sort of equilibrium. Coffee makes me nauseous this late at night.
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