A vignette from the 70 hours collection
© 2016 Wayne Slater-Lunsford
The pickup that stopped in front of me was painted in turquoise house paint, showing brush marks and rust bleeding through, but the engine sounded smooth and strong. The miniature man who jumped from the passenger seat to the roadside had flames in his eyes, to match his tousled strawberry-blonde hair, and he shouted across the 15 feet between us “How much you wan’ fo’ dat guitar?” As he strode up to me, we were eye-to-eye, though I remained sitting on my back pack. His shabby, dusty clothes hung loose on a strong frame. I smelled some too-sweet wine on his breath.
I said, “It’s not for sale.”
He shouted over the whirr-buzz of the cicadas in the trees, “Everytang fo’ sale, hippie! How much you wan?”
“I make my living off this guitar, and it is NOT for sale!”
“Ain’t nobody make a livin’ off a guitar, onless you Johnny cash or Pete Fountain.”
“Well, I do, and besides, Pete Fountain plays clarinet, not guitar!”
“Tooshay, so I’ll l give you twennyfi dolla fo’ the guitar.” (opening a fat wallet and fingering bills)
The hulking driver watched intently from behind the wheel of the turquoise wreck, but did not move.
“Mister, this guitar is not for sale!”
His burning eyes settled on mine, and the wheels whirred, and the cicadas whirred too.
“Well, then I gotta fight ya fo’ it.”
“Man, that ain’t right! You a thief?”
“No, HELL no!,” the eyes flared, then narrowed, and I swear that burning hair stood up on end, and his lip quivered. “If you win, you get de truck. BOOdrow! (over his shoulder) Fetch dat pink slip from out de box!”
“Mister, I ain’t gonna fight you. All I want is a ride.”
“No choice! (reaching for the guitar) now, han’ it ovah!”
When his fingers reached the guitar’s neck, close to my own, I grabbed that hand and yanked hard, standing up. The tiny, wiry man stumbled several steps past me, arms flailing and hot head bobbing, into ankle-deep swamp water. Then he stood looking away into the swamp, waving like a cattail in the wind, long enough for me to wonder if I could get my precious guitar into its case before he came back at me again, perhaps with a weapon. He slowly turned a beaming grin toward me, and yelled, “BOOdrow! Git down from dis hippie’s truck, an’ leave de pink slip onna seat! (staggering up from the water, nodding at me) We walkin’ now!”
BOOdrow didn’t stir.
“Man, I am tryin’ to tell you I don’ want no damn pickup truck! All I want is a ride!”
“Well, you can give yosef a ride, now, Hippie (the sandy eyebrows lifted) an’ mebbe me an’ BOOdrow, too?”
I began putting my guitar into its case, muttering, “I just want a ride however far you goin’ up this road. I do NOT want a truck!”
The cicadas whirred louder as he contemplated the concept. His gait was steady and solid as he led me to the truck and held the passenger door for me, bowing low. I tossed my guitar and backpack into the bed, and took the middle seat. BOOdrow eased the purring Dodge up the two-lane, and the breeze was kind to our foreheads.
“You shore now? Dis a damn good truck.”
“Yes sir, I am. I don’t have money for gas to get me to Denver.”
“Well, can you swang a hammer and yank a saw? Me an’ BOOdrow just finished building a house, an’ got paid. We gonna lay out tomorrow, an’ start another house Monday.”
“I am a carpenter and cabinet maker, and I can even do some sheet metal, But I gotta meet my girl friend in Denver.”
“No you don’t! You can marry my sister. She cooks as good as she looks, an’ that is mighty fine! You can stay wit’ us until we build you a house.”
“No, I mean it – I’m going to Denver, no way else.”
We bantered happily up the two-lane until BOOdrow took a right turn onto a narrow road that burrowed eastward, into the Cypress and moss.
“Well, this is my stop.”
“No; dis’ a shortcut!” He and BOOdrow exchanged mischievous grins.
“This road goes East, and I know damned sure Denver is North and West of here! Let me down and on my way!”
“No; jus’ pause a little – you gotta eat! You taste my sister’s cookin’, you gonna think again about Denver.”
“Now, damnit, first you grab my guitar, and now you gonna kidnap me?”
I turned the ignition off and threw the key out the window, right past HotHead’s nose.
His grin broadened and he jumped out as the truck shushed to a stop. I jumped out too, and he said I had to help him find the keys. I didn’t mind. As we walked back to the keys he kept on about the fishing and the Crawdaddys and the Fay-Doh-Doh dance parties there, and I saw the keys first, and snatched them up quick. He chuckled and followed me back to the truck.
“You fas’ on de uptake, Hippie. You could do good in dis parish.”
I gave him the keys at the door, and went to haul my stuff from the truck bed, but just as I got my pack onto my shoulders, BOOdrow gunned the engine and threw the old heap into gear. I didn’t have hold of my guitar yet, so I jumped into the bed along with it. HotHead craned his little neck to look back, and burst out laughing to see me with my face against the window. He hollered, and BOOdrow pulled over, and then HotHead smilingly helped me and my guitar down from the truck.
“Damn, you fast, Hippie! Sure you don’ wanna meet my sister? Can’t blame a man for makin’ one last try, can you?”
“Hell, maybe not… (fighting a grin) but you best get outta here quick, before I think on it too much.”
They disappeared into the moss, and I dug out a can of vegetable soup, opened it and ate it cold, and it was pretty damned good.
I was afraid this would happen.