Fiction, Vol. 8.1, March 2014
Ellen knew the guys she brought home weren’t exactly rocket scientists—there weren’t many rocket scientists in, or even passing through, Elk City, Oklahoma—but this guy was different. He sounded dumb, alright, but he was sweet as pie.
She remembered what her friend Cindy had whispered last night at The Long Shot:
“Girl, you landed yourself a big one.”
A popular band from Wichita Falls was playing and the place was packed with freshly-scrubbed cowboys and roughnecks in weekend clothes. Ellen stood by the bar with a vodka and tonic in her hand. Somebody tapped her shoulder.
“Wanna dance?” said a tall, almost-fat man.
For someone so large, Ray could really dance. He didn’t have a lot of different moves, but he sure could twirl. Ray told her he was from Houston. Ellen said she used to live in Austin.
“Well, damn,” said Ray, “we was practically neighbors.”
“If you live in Houston,” said Ellen, “what are you doing way out here in the middle of the prairie on a Saturday night?”
“I’m a trucker. Headed up to Provo. Seen this place all lit up and I got thirsty. Then I seen you.”
She couldn’t be sure, because of the dim lighting, and because she was a little drunk, but Ellen thought Ray was blushing. She grabbed his arm and pulled him back onto the dance floor.
When the band finished playing, Ellen and Ray walked out to the parking lot. She opened the door of her Nissan and told Ray to get in his truck and follow her home.
Once she got out on the county road and didn’t have to watch out for stop signs or police cars, Ellen started wondering what kind of penis Ray had. Wouldn’t it be funny if he had a tiny little thing, like that handsome dentist from Enid? Or that baseball kid, the one who kept bragging about how he was being scouted by the Minnesota Twins. He was a big guy, too, but his pecker looked like a vienna sausage.
Ellen heard Ray banging around in the shower stall of her tiny bathroom. She sat up against the headboard and smiled, thinking about last night, how she’d asked him, afterwards, wasn’t he going to offer her a post-coital cigarette?
“Jeez,” he’d said, “all I got is Winstons.”
Usually Ellen couldn’t wait for the men to leave, often pretended to be asleep until they got dressed and left, but there was something about this one. She wouldn’t mind if Ray stuck around for a while.
The pipes shuddered and the water quit. Ray came into the bedroom and stood at the foot of Ellen’s bed, a towel cinched around his waist. He was grinning from ear to ear. Beads of water rolled down his huge belly.
“That’s some shower you got in there. I squeezed myself in okay, but I couldn’t hardly turn round to soap my caboose.”
“Everything’s too small in this darn trailer,” said Ellen. “I’m going to move into town, into a real house. I thought I’d love it out here, but it’s just brown scrub and flat as a pan as far as you can see.”
“Well, that’s Oklahoma. The scenery don’t start till Colorado.”
“I’ll make us some coffee. And how about breakfast?”
“Now, that sounds real good.”
Ellen got out of bed. She could feel Ray looking at her, getting an eyeful. She took her sweet time putting on her bathrobe, then squeezed past Ray and walked down the narrow hallway to the kitchen. She looked out the window above the sink. Ray’s sixteen wheeler was pulled off the road and up onto her lawn. Well, it had been a lawn, almost, back in springtime. Now it was just a dusty patch of weeds.
“What’s in your truck?”
“I ain’t supposed to say. Can you keep a secret?”
“You don’t have a bunch of illegals in there, or drugs, do you?”
“Nah, it’s radioactive stuff, scrap metal from a nuculer plant in Louisiana. It’s all sealed up in special containers, but still… I ain’t bright green yet, am I?”
“Not yet. You’re still nice and pink.”
Ellen opened the refrigerator and took out two eggs. “How do you like your eggs?”
“Any old way’s fine by me, I ain’t Picky Dicky when it comes to food.” Ray laughed and patted his stomach. “While you’re cookin’ them eggs, I’ll put on some clothes.”
Ellen heated butter in a frying pan and cracked the eggs into it. She stuck two slices of bread in the toaster. She looked out the window again at Ray’s truck. She wondered if Ray, from driving the truck, was radioactive. Hold on, maybe after last night she was radioactive! Ellen remembered what you should do if you were exposed to radiation was take a really hot shower and scrub yourself all over with a brush. She’d seen that on a TV documentary about the big earthquake in Japan.
Ellen put the eggs and pieces of buttered toast on a plate. She poured coffee into two mugs, her own blue one and one with a Santa on it for Ray.
Ray came into the kitchen and sat down at the counter.
“Ain’t you gonna eat nothin’?”
“I might have some yogurt later on,” said Ellen.
Ray looked at his coffee mug. He chuckled and raised it in a toast.
“Well, Merry Christmas!” he said.
They both laughed. Ellen thought how normal the morning felt. Nobody rushing to leave, nobody wishing they could undo last night. How good it tasted to drink coffee across the table from somebody nice.
Ray went on about the eggs. Best damn fried eggs he ever ate, he told her. He asked what kind of job Ellen had and she told him about being a loan officer at the credit union, but there wasn’t much to tell about something so boring. Ray sounded interested, though. And he let her talk; he didn’t interrupt her all the time like her ex-husband back in Austin. When she’d been with Roger she couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Roger had all the answers, except the ones that mattered.
Ellen and Ray talked about the weather, how hot it was, and how Ellen wished she had a place to swim. She asked Ray if he liked to swim.
“Never learnt how,” he said. “Swallowed lots of water tryin’ to get the hang of it, though. Mama give up on me. She said, ‘Ray, honey, maybe you’re just too fat to float.’”
That made Ellen laugh. Ray asked her what about lakes, wasn’t there no lakes in Oklahoma? There was a lake up in Cherokee, she told him, but on a day like this it’d be packed with families and tons of screaming kids, and it just wasn’t worth the trouble driving up there and back. By the time she got home she’d be hot and sweaty all over again.
“What you need,” said Ray, “is one of them kiddie pools. Fill it up and paddle around in there. Pretend you’re in Acapulco.”
Ellen thought maybe later on she’d drive over to Sam’s Club and get one of those pools and put it out behind her trailer.
Ray took his plate to the sink. Ellen watched him as he rinsed his plate and knife and fork and put them in the dish rack.
“Ray, can I ask you something?”
“Have you got a wife down there in Houston?”
“Used to, but she flew the coop.”
He sounded cheerful, but his eyes were sad and pinched. Ellen put her hand on Ray’s arm. Even after last night, it seemed too intimate a thing, here in the daylight, so she patted Ray’s arm and moved her hand away.
“Yeah,” said Ray, “she got herself a better offer.”
Ellen hoped the big guy wasn’t going to start crying. He looked at the floor. He looked out the window. He looked at his watch.
“I better hit the road. Thanks. For everything.”
The way Ray said everything was nice. She could tell he really meant everything: the eggs, toast and coffee, the conversation, and the sex. But not just the sex.
“Ray, can I ask you something else?”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to, but if I asked you, would you take me to Utah with you?”
“Well, normally I would, but this here’s a government deal—they don’t allow nobody in the truck ‘cept me. Them’s the rules. Ain’t nothin’ I can do about it, neither.”
“But, you’d like it if I rode up there with you?”
“Who the heck wouldn’t?”
“Ray, how about if you just said, ‘Ellen, I’d love that.’ Could you say that to me?”
Ray shuffled his feet back and forth. Ellen could see he was confused. He was worrying, maybe, about what he’d gotten himself into. But then he smiled and scratched at his neck.
“Ellen, I’d love that, I surely would.”
Ray was blushing. He bent down and kissed Ellen in the middle of her forehead. It was how somebody’d kiss their sister, or a little kid.
They walked outside, into a hot wind. Down the highway, a tumbleweed blew across the asphalt.
Ellen stood next to the trailer as Ray climbed up into his truck. He put on a baseball cap and lit a cigarette. The engine roared and she caught a whiff of diesel fuel. Ray rolled down the window and waved to Ellen. The truck pulled away and Ellen watched it disappear. She thought about Provo. Was it anything like Elk City up there? Was it like Austin?
Ellen looked out across the prairie. She could see, in the distance, a couple of oil rigs and, farther out, the dim shape of a cement plant. White smoke curled up from its stack and drifted toward Colorado. Ellen turned and went into the trailer to take a long, hot shower.