by Shome Dasgupta
Greg sat at a booth inside the Cottage – a poorly ventilated bar and coffee shop, where one puff of a cigarette can make your eyes water, your hair smell like ash, and your skin wrinkle. Nonetheless, it was one of the few places in Lafayette, where people can smoke inside an establishment.
He sat with his elbows resting on the table and his head between his hands. He looked at the glass ashtray, full of yellow cigarette butts. He looked up and saw Circus standing at the bar, in front of the video poker screen, unbuckling his belt and unzipping his pants.
“No, Circus,” Greg said. “Don’t.”
He didn’t hear Greg and started to pull down the front of his boxers. Greg shouted his name and walked towards him, putting his hand on Circus’ shoulder, who was, at 6 feet, a few inches taller than Greg. They were both slim guys, but Circus had a bit more muscle than Greg. Circus was one of those guys who could eat plate after plate of foods full of fat and never gain a pound. Greg had gained some pounds since his freshman year of college and just recently was able to rid some of his extra skin, due to cholesterol problems. Since the doctor put him on Lipitor and told him, “I’m glad we caught this now, otherwise you could have a heart attack real soon,” Greg watched what he ate. While Circus would eat steaks, burgers, etouffee, gumbo, and boudin, Greg had to cut all of that out, and ate things with turkey in it. Either that or tofu, which Circus would always forget what it was called (“What’s that you’re eating? Sofa? Golpher?”).
“You don’t do that here,” Greg said.
“This isn’t the restroom. This is the bar. The restroom is around the back – urinate there.”
Greg went back to the table and slouched in his seat. Circus followed him, with his belt still unbuckled and his zipper was still undone.
“Tired,” Greg said.
“I think Candice is finally going to put out tonight.”
Circus lit a cigarette, took two puffs, and squished it against the side of the table.
“You don’t get tired?” Greg asked.
Circus looked at him as he used to look at his Intro To Math college teacher at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He scratched his nose and wrinkled his forehead – his eyebrows turned downwards. Specks of ashes flittered around in his short brown hair, looking like large flakes of dandruff.
“Yes, Thomas (Circus)?” the professor asked.
“I don’t understand,” Circus (Thomas) said.
“Math,” Circus (Thomas) said.
“Can you be more specific?”
“Rooting the squares. Do you think I can make it through life without rooting the squares?”
“I hope so,” the professor said.
Circus raised his hand.
“Yes, Circus,” Greg said.
“I’m not understanding the question.”
“You don’t get tired of doing the same thing over and over again?”
“Tonight is different! I think Candice is going to give me some of her sweet, sweet, sweetness.”
“I’m not talking about that,” Greg said. “I mean in a more universal way.”
Greg ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his forehead.
“All we do is nothing,” Greg continued. “I’m craving something more. I need some stimulation.”
“If you want, you can try to pick up Candice tonight, but it may take a while. I’ve been working at it for two weeks now.”
“You’re a good friend,” Greg said.
“I got to piss,” Circus said.
“I’m going to the cane fields. Feeling like St. Martinville tonight. You feel like coming?”
“I got to see how it goes with Candice. She said she’ll come up to the roof with me. Candice is about to go to the circus!”
Circus tapped Greg on the head and walked to the back to the restroom. Greg looked around the room one last time and went outside.
He walked through the sugar cane fields with his eyes closed, keeping his hands to his side. He let the leaves brush his face and his body, like it was wiping away all the air that had stuck to his skin from the humidity. Before the harvesting season, he liked to go through the fields at least once.
Normally, Greg would go out to the sugar cane fields with his friends – once the stalks had fully grown – and smoke weed and drink liquor. There was never a dull time when Circus was around. Whether it was accidentally starting a small fire or using sugar canes to have sword fights or playing hide and seek and finding him naked in the car, Circus would always make the moment happen. This time, Greg didn’t want any moments. He just wanted to think. He wanted to clear his head out and wonder about his future. He walked through the cane fields, causing a rustle, startling any surrounding creatures – skunks, raccoons, rabbits, or possums. He took in deep breaths as he made his way through the cane fields, smelling the dead carcass of a possum coming from the road. The smell filled his nostrils with a rotten stench, but Greg kept on taking deep breaths.
He kept his eyes closed and walked until he bumped into the back of a Buick LeSabre. He opened his eyes:
It was dark, but he could still make out the color of the car – light green. Greg looked around, but he didn’t see anyone. The trunk was closed, but smashed in, and the brake lights were all cracked. The car’s engine started and then it made a whirring noise, before it turned off again. The Buick shook, and then the door opened.
“Sorry,” Greg said. “I didn’t see the car in the dark. Didn’t mean to bother you.”
The driver got out of the car – he wore a white tank-top and tight blue denim jeans. Greg couldn’t see his facial features, but noticed his thin mustache, and his short hair was combed down, making it look like someone put a bowl on top of his head and cut around the edges.
Another guy came out from the passenger side. He was dressed in the same way, and he looked like the driver, except that he didn’t have a mustache, but a goatee. Greg smacked his own left arm to kill a mosquito.
“You got a jumper cable?” the driver asked.
The goatee guy lit a cigarette. The driver pulled out a small bottle of Jim Beam from his pocket and sipped it. Greg looked around, grazing his hands against the leaves of the sugar canes. He checked his pockets for his cell phone, but he didn’t feel any bumps.
“I don’t think I have any jumper cables.”
“Where you coming from?” the goatee guy asked.
“I’m from here.”
“Where your car at?” he asked.
The mustache guy spat. The goatee guy scratched his groin.
“It’s not here.”
“Give us a ride,” the mustache guy said.
“I’ve got to go home.”
“It’s on the way home,” the mustache guy said. “We on your way home. Not too far from here.”
“We need help” the goatee guy said. “You give us some of that southern hospitality.”
He turned around and started walking. The two guys followed him.
“You want a smoke?” the mustache guy asked. “Give that guy a smoke.”
Greg pulled out his own pack and lit one. He picked up his pace, hoping that the two guys would magically disappear. He kept turning around and they were there, right behind him.
They reached the road, and Greg looked left and right. The two guys turned left and started walking – they had spotted the car before Greg could locate it. The two guys took the lead, and Greg was the one following them. He looked ahead and saw a four-way intersection.
“All you got to do is take us to the nearest gas station. It’s on the way to your house. It’s got to be. We just need to pick up some stuff and use the payphone.”
Greg took his cell phone from the console and placed it in his sock before the two guys could notice.
“This shit is nice,” the mustache guy said.
He sat in the front.
“What kind of car is this?”
“Could you all please put on your seatbelts,” Greg said. “It’s a hatchback.”
Greg arrived at the four-way intersection. He looked at the time.
He stopped, but before he could go straight, the mustache guy told him to take a right. The two guys filled the car with the stench of sweat and cigarettes and dried mud.
“There’s a gas station up front,” Greg said.
He put down the window a bit and looked at the moon. There weren’t any clouds – it shone, full and round.
“That’s not the one though,” the mustache guy said. “We know the guy at the gas station over here. Look.”
The guy pointed, and Greg could see the flickering lights of a rundown gas station.
He took a right instead of going straight and drove for 14 seconds at 50 miles per hour. He thought about Circus.
Question 1 (For Five Points)
If Greg takes a right and drives toward the gas station at 50 miles per hour for 14 seconds, how long will it take for him to realize that he is in a situation he would not like to be in? Please show all of your work to receive full credit.
Circus raises his hand. “Sir Professor? Sir Professor, I’m not understanding the question. When will I have to use the rooting square method?”
The gas station was empty, and the inside was barely lit.
“Come inside with us, man,” the goatee guy said. “We need some help carrying all the stuff we need.”
“I got to go home,” Greg said.
“Just a few more minutes,” the mustache guy said.
The guys got out the car before Greg did – he could have easily taken off. He could have gunned it and gone straight back to Lafayette – back to the Cottage, to Circus’ apartment, or to his own home.
Greg got out of the car and followed the two guys into the gas station. The guy behind the counter didn’t look at Greg, the mustache guy, or the goatee guy, as they walked in. The radio played in the background – Greg recognized the song.
“Escape Club,” Greg whispered.
The two guys walked to the back of the store, where the beverages were located. Greg stayed in the front and stared at the candy in front of the counter.
“Thanks for the ride,” the mustache guy said.
Greg turned around and saw the mustache guy’s knuckles coming towards him. The guy’s fist landed on the side of Greg’s forehead. He closed his eyes and a carton of mint-chocolate chip ice cream flashed in his head. Right before he fell to the floor, he heard a gunshot.
Greg became conscious around six in the morning, as the sun rose. The crows of a nearby rooster woke him up. He rubbed his hand over his head and felt the large knot on the side of his head. He moaned and looked around and saw that he was back in the cane fields. He was next to the Buick LeSabre. The leaves from the cane stalks still had dew, and Greg pulled off a leaf and wiped his face. It was humid, even in the mornings the air was still relentless with its stickiness. He looked inside the car – it was cleaned out. The front driver side window was bashed in, and he put his arm through and unlocked the door, so he could pull the lever to open the trunk. Two blue jumper suits, covered in mud, were in the trunk, as well as empty bottles of liquor.
He breathed in the morning and smelled the traces of the dead possum nearby and walked toward the road. He still had his cell phone, but his car keys were gone. Damn, he thought, they took my cholesterol medicine.
As soon as he reached the road, he checked his phone for reception. All of the signal bars were up. He called Circus.
“Dude, I’m having sex with Candice right now! How’s it going?”
“Okay, Circus,” Greg said. “I’ll call you later.”
He reached the intersection with the four way stop sign. He didn’t look right and kept walking straight, to the gas station he had originally wanted to visit the night before.
ADULT MAGAZINES $6.00-$11.00
ASSORTMENT OF HATS $7.75
SINGING FISH $24.00
TRY THE LOTTO
COME GET YA SOME OF THAT
WE SELL CEREAL, MILK,
POGO STICKS, HULA HOOPS,
Greg walked into the gas station and saw a lady behind the counter.“Good morning,” the lady said. “Looks like you had a rough one last night.”
“I lost my wallet. Is there any, any way you can spot me for a drink. I’ll promise I’ll come back and pay you. I’m good for it.”
“Take whatever you need, babe.”
Greg got his drink and went back to the counter.
“You okay?” the lady asked.
“I think so.”
“Put some ice on that bump on your head.”
“I’ll see you in a bit,” Greg said. “Thanks so much.”
“Did you hear anything about the shooting at that other gas station?” the lady asked. “These guys shot the guy and took all the money.”
“Didn’t hear anything,” Greg said. “Strange. Nothing usually ever happens here.”
“I like it that way,” she said.
“Be careful,” Greg said.
He looked at the small shelf, containing the Daily Advertiser, and read the front page headline.
TWO PRISON INMATES FROM FLORIDA ARE ON THE LOOSE
Then there was the sub-headline.
They were last seen driving through Mississippi, possibly making their way to Texas.
“No kidding,” Greg said.
The headline for the second article on the front page read:
ILLEGAL TO FIGHT COCKS
Greg stood outside the gas station and pulled out his cell phone.
“I would like to report an incident, taking place last night. I think it involves the guys who escaped from the prison in Florida, as well as the shooting at the gas station in St. Martinville.”
He heard the whirring of loud machines coming from nearby. He looked around but he couldn’t see anything. Two sugar cane trucks drove by, with those large see through metal, crane-like baskets used to hold harvested sugar canes. They looked like they would be in one of those futuristic movies made in the Seventies or Eighties. The trucks passed, but the whirring noise was still there. A black flake fell onto Greg’s shoulder. Then another. And another. Greg looked up and saw the sky full of black ashes, wavering in the air, slowly making their way to the ground. They were dark black, almost banana shaped. The air was smoky, and it made Greg’s eyes water. It was the closest thing Louisiana would see to snow that particular winter. Soon the sugar cane fields would be naked, exposing a beat up Buick LeSabre and some bottles of whiskey.
Circus was urinating in front of the video poker game and looked over his own shoulder to where Greg sat – he was smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer with Candice.
He zipped his pants and sat with them.
“Why don’t you use the damn restroom in the back?” Greg asked.
“I keep on forgetting, man. Dude, me and Candice had sex so many times this weekend.”
Candice slapped Circus on the back of his head.
“You know you liked it,” Circus said.
She kissed him on the cheek.
“Dude, you have a tumor on your head.”
“What’s going on tonight?” Greg asked. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
“Cane fields,” Circus said.
“They just started burning them,” Greg said. “What about bowling?”
“Pins and hot dogs!”
“Can I ride with you all?” Greg asked.
“Shotgun!” Circus said.
“You’re the one driving,” Candice said.
They finished their beers and left the Cottage. On the way to Lafayette Lanes, Greg told them about the night before. He told them about the Buick in the cane fields, about the two guys, and the gas station, and his day spent at the police station on Saturday. Circus loved it. He raised his hand every two minutes, asking Greg question after question.
“Did you ever see the dead possum?” Circus asked.
“Never did,” Greg said.
Circus put his hand out the window and let the rushing air push it back.
“One time I was driving and I saw a dead squirrel on the road. It was run over by a car. The whole body and head was flattened, but its little tail was still wavering in the air, all puffy and cute.”
“Nice,” Greg said.
“It was the sweetest dead thing I ever saw.”
Circus went on to bowl a 300 that night, but he was happier about getting a hot dog with chili and cheese and jalapeños, and Candice fell in love with him, as he ate his food and twirled around in the swivel chair at the bowling alley bar. Greg was happy too, sitting next to his closest friends. He pushed Circus and Candice off of their chairs and ran back to the bowling lane.
“One more game!”
They chased him, both covered in chili and cheese and beer.
“Dude!” Circus said. “Can we use the bumpers this time?”
Before the night ended, Greg had to remind Circus to urinate in the restroom and not into the gutters of the bowling lane.
Shome Dasgupta is the author of “i am here And You Are Gone” (winner of the 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest). He lives in Lafayette, Louisiana, and teaches at South Louisiana Community College. His writing has appeared or will appear in Mad Hatters’ Review, Drunken Boat, Magma Poetry, The Dead Mule, H_NGM_N and elsewhere. Find out more at www.shomedome.com.