Dark thunderheads loomed menacingly on the horizon throughout the afternoon and upon Luke's arrival at Abby’s house made good on their threat delivering well spaced dime size drops of rain that sent him dashing for her porch. Abby had prepared herself to endure dinner, perhaps a movie, whatever it took to appease her mother and possibly curtail any future efforts towards resurrecting her love life. It had been 18 months since she and Jack split up and her mother had decided it was high time she, get back out there. When her mom’s friend Trudy mentioned that her nephew was home from Iraq, her fate and this date were sealed. Her new suitor barely stood a chance.
"You must be Luke," she offered in greeting.
"And you must be Abby. Y’all ready?” Luke asked.
“As I’ll ever be, I reckon,” Abby shrugged.
Luke grinned and opened his jacket wide for her to duck under.
“My aunt tells me you’re a singer,” Luke was first to break the silence of the ride. He thought he detected a slight blush in Abby’s fair complexion. His aunt had not exaggerated when promoting her as pretty. Her hair was too red to be called auburn but was not that orangey hair that’s often called red. Her eyes were a deep shade of green and so far had not met his own. He did not know that she wasn’t wearing underwear or that the blush that rouged the tops of her ears was not out of shyness but of anger at her mother’s meddling. “I just sing in the Midbrook Presbyterian choir on Sundays,” she said modestly. But in fact she had a beautiful voice and had often dreamed of singing professionally.
“Where are we going?” she asked hoping to steer the conversation away from herself. They'd turned left onto State Road 16 from the graded road that led away from her house. A right would have taken them into Midbrook. It wasn’t much but it passed for civilization in these parts. Scratch the movie she figured, they were heading towards Burnett where their choices would be between the Dairy Queen and Lulu’s Bar and Grill. It should really be renamed Lulu’s Bar and Microwave since a grease fire had closed the kitchen 6 years before. Abby was resigned to an evening of Slim Jims, Beernuts and remaining unimpressed.
"I was thinkin’ if it’s okay with you, we could ride on over to Weaver and have a look around.” Weaver was the county seat and 17 miles beyond the turnoff for Burnett. Abby only visited Weaver to re-stock household staples at the warehouse grocer or when she needed something from the new Home Depot. Weaver also had a variety of restaurants, a new mall with a multiplex theater, and a night life that wouldn’t have to include shuffleboard or darts. A trip to Weaver with no attached errand held promise. “Sounds like fun,” she said relaxing a bit. Luke’s quick smile loosened her resistance another notch.
Luke reached down and switched on the pickup’s radio...erectile dysfunction effects one in...cringing, he gave the knob a twist...MY MONEY,MY BITCHES,MY...then one more again half-spin...take another little piece of my heart now Bay-bee...finally. Janis worked for him, he gave a sideways glance and detecting no objection thumbed the volume up a touch. Returning his attention to the road, Luke was dumbfounded to see illuminated in his headlights what appeared to be an Indian brave dressed in buckskin and war-paint, clutching the reins of his rearing pinto in one fist and thrusting his be-feathered lance into the night with the other. The truck bore down fast. In the time it took Luke to move his foot from the accelerator to the brake they were nearly upon the wayward warrior. Lightning flashed and Luke braked hard yanking the wheel right, avoiding a collision so narrowly he made eye contact with the now electric brave. Even as he fought for control of the careening vehicle, Luke’s mind etched a surreal image of the warrior on horseback, his lips peeled back in the gaping grimace of his war-cry, “Whaa-Hah uh TAKE IT!”
Luke forced the wheel back hard to the left avoiding a run of fence and sending the already fish-tailing pickup into a broadside slide along the shoulder that shot a wave of black mud into the air for forty feet before coming to rest hard against a speed limit sign.
“What in the hell..?” Abby fairly screamed.
“Are...are you okay?” Luke asked, close to losing it himself.
“Are you trying to kill us?” Abby’s fear was giving way to anger.
Luke, still gripping the steering wheel was trying to make sense of what had just transpired. “Jesus Christ, what happened?” Abby demanded.
Luke looked back to where the Indian should have been and saw nothing. He reached over and popped the glove box open, retrieved a small flask of whiskey, unscrewed the top and took a generous pull before offering the bottle to Abby. “Are you drunk, just what the hell was that all about?” she fumed...but she took the drink. Luke didn’t answer, he opened the door, stepped out of the pickup and saw the black swath the truck had cut leading all the way back to the pavement. He saw no horse. He saw no Indian.
Abby was out of the truck. The liquor might have calmed her nerves a bit but it had not quelled her anger. “Hold up there,” she demanded squaring herself in front of him. Luke knew this time she expected an answer, trouble was he had no idea what the answer might be.
“Didn’t you see?” he probed.
“See fucking WHAT ?”
Abby fed up, wound up, and hurled the flask. Luke fielded the silver projectile inches from his face and with cool he did not truly possess, calmly took another belt to buy time. She hadn’t seen it and Luke was beginning to doubt what he'd seen himself when the warrior’s image flashed again in his mind. Whaaaaa-hah-uh-TAKE IT!
“I don’t know, a dog, coyote maybe,” he lied. If she didn’t see it, and he couldn’t prove it, he wasn’t willing to be judged crazy as well as incompetent. “Damn I’m sorry, you okay?” he asked a second time.
Abby eased a little and took the flask from his hand. “I never even saw it... we missed it?” she asked before taking a sip.
“Yeah, that one got away,” Luke said reinforcing his fabrication.
“Well that’s good I...I guess. Listen, I’m sorry about freaking out on you there, I was a little scared.”
“You and me both,” he agreed.
“Are we stuck?”
“Naw, I’ve been in deeper than this. I’m afraid to look at the other side of my truck though.”
They piled in on the driver’s side, Luke would hold off surveying the passenger side damage until daylight. He started the engine and dropped the pickup in gear, the ground was soft and they showered another blast of the black earth but easily pulled away from the sign and back onto the blacktop.
“You sure you’re okay?" he asked a third time genuinely concerned.
“I’m OK. To tell you the truth I think I was over-due for a little excitement.” Abby did feel good too; alcohol and adrenalin seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
“Well then, look out Weaver, we’re on our way and powerful thirsty,” Luke joked.
“Woo-Hoo!” Abby cheered surprising them both. Luke broke his fix on the rearview mirror and eased the clutch out sending the pickup Weaver-ward.
Jack Thacker locked the doors of Thacker Hardware at 6:00 pm. The store hours were from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday through Saturday but Jack knew there would be no more customers. Even if there were it would only be Mrs. Perkins for another tube of Superglue, or Jedidiah from Eli’s Fixit needing a washer or a screw. Since the Home Depot had opened in Weaver, Jack couldn’t sell a faucet or a lockset or a power drill. If folks would rather drive thirty minutes each way and hand their money over to those evil bastards in their orange vests then fuck ‘em. He’d turn off the lights and save the electric bill. Mrs. Perkins could wait until tomorrow if she needed any Goddamn Superglue. What on God’s green earth did she do with it all anyway?
It was still happy hour when Jack walked into Nadine’s. “Happy” he whispered, the word foreign in his mouth, the emotion attached to it only a vague recollection. He caught the barmaid Jenny’s eye and she began drawing him a pitcher as he collapsed into his usual booth, lit a cigarette and began stewing over the long list of hardships and injustices he felt kept him from the life to which he was entitled. His list always began with the hardware store his granddaddy had built when there were more horses than cars in Midbrook. Thacker hardware had a hand in the squaring and plumbing of nearly every structure in town. It had thrived since before the First World War and had weathered the great depression and every subsequent recession. His father Zachery kept it going while raising four kids after granddaddy retired and now it would be on his watch that the family business, after surviving every adversity for three generations, failed. Jack Thacker took no notice of the happy hour that swirled around him, the sharp crack of pool balls, the tinkling of ice against glass, the jukebox spewing out "Freebird" for the millionth time, or the carefree laughter of labor unburdened. He just drank and quietly reviewed his list, which always ended with Abigail Deautrive.