Something About Unconditional Love

Fiction by Steve Passey

Can you give Bevan a ride, she asks me?

Sure, why not, I say.

It’s the July long weekend, and hot even in the early evening shade. It’s the first holiday I have spent with her and her family and in the heat of the day, and over a few beers and some barbecue, I have made friends. I have only just met Bevan, her cousin. He’s in jeans, and booted up, his gingham shirt buttoned up to his neck. He has a crew cut and a bolo tie with a turquoise clasp and he has the bluest of blue eyes. He hasn’t said a thing all night. One of those quiet men, I guess. He came alone.

She gives me the keys to her car and Bevan and I walk out and leave the rest of them in the back yard.

Where to, I ask him.

Walmart, he says, I have my rig in the parking lot.

All I know about Bevan is that he used to be a rodeo clown. I have heard that that’s a rugged job.

When we get in the car, I ask him how he likes being a rodeo clown.

I’m a retired rodeo clown, he says.

He does not offer anything else, so I ask him how retirement is treating him.

I’m not retired he says. I am still a working man and imagine I always will be.

Again, he does not elaborate.

I ask him why he retired from the rodeo clown business.

Well, he said, I promised myself that once I hit five-hundred stitches I’d quit. So, I did.

Five hundred is a lot, I said.

Well, it may not have been five-hundred, he said. But it feels like it, or worse. Rodeo clowns age in dog years and it doesn’t pay well. Trenbolone and Oxycodone only take you so far.

Trenbolone, I asked?

A veterinary steroid, he said. It’s used to keep weight on cattle during shipping so they get to slaughter without losing weight. It helps rodeo clowns heal, and it makes them strong. But you are never as strong as the bulls, and it cuts into your wind. When you get slower than the bulls, that’s when you get the horns, and that’s when its time to quit. Mostly though, I just needed a real job, a job that paid steady money.

That makes sense to me, I said.

We’re at a stop-light, almost to Walmart, when he turns to me and holding my arm, asks me if I could do him a favor, and make one quick stop for him before we go to Walmart.

Five minutes, he says. Maybe ten.

Sure, I say.

He gives me an address.

We drive – a lot more than ten minutes – to a trailer park. The sun is almost down now, the first stars have come out and here and among the trailers the electric mosquito traps snap and pop with larger prey, killing every single thing that comes within their electric mouths. We got to the trailer he said we were going to and he told me to wait in the car.

There is a woman on the swing on the trailer’s porch. She’s wearing a summer dress of some sort. She stood up to take a better look at us and I saw the hem of her dress has frayed a little, and that she’s barefoot. The ragged hem of that summer dress and her bare feet make her beautiful, like an old picture from a happier time. A moment without self-consciousness has purity.

Bevan took out a piece of paper from his pocket then got out of the vehicle.

The woman mouthed the word fuck when he got out, then she went into the trailer and slammed the door behind her.

Bevan walked up and knocked on the door and waited.

I don’t think it’s the Book of Mormon on that paper in his hand. I have no idea what it is. I wonder if we were buying drugs. I wonder why I wonder we.

Two men come out the door then, two large men. They’re big. They’re fast. They’re pissed off. They’re wearing steel-toed boots but they must have just slipped them on for Bevan because the laces aren’t done up. They call Bevan a fucking asshole a couple of times, and with this familiarity over with, they begin to throw punches. Bevan, who can’t be more than five-feet six-inches tall, throws with them.

We are not buying drugs, apparently.

The fight does not go well for Bevan. They are two Goliaths, and he is not David. The one guy bounces an overhand right off of the top of Bevan’s head and quarters fly everywhere. He must have had a roll of quarters in his hand. That’s old school. Bevan, already a foot shorter than Old School and in an exaggerated crouch, manages an uppercut that temporarily gelds Old School and drops him in his tracks. Old School is on the ground throwing up when the other guy catches Bevan in the hip with a kick from one of those steel-toed boots. His form is less Bruce Lee than it is a half-dozen of Milwaukee’s Bestest but it pops like hail hitting the hood of a speeding truck and Bevan is down on the ground in the dirt among the quarters, and he has dropped his scrap of paper. I nudge the gas and drive between Bevan and the Boots of Wrath. I lean over and get the passenger door open and Bevan crawls in. Boots kicks the door of the car, hard. I wonder what my girlfriend’s deductible is. I back out of the driveway and we’re on the road again, with two angry men in the rear-view mirror and the porch-swing the woman was sitting in still moving back and forth in its own slow and particular rhythm, as if propelled by a ghost, but more a spirit possessed of leisure than wrath.

Back in the car and a few blocks of safety away I ask Bevan, who is she?

Carla, he says.

Who were those guys, I asked?

Family, he said.

I assume he means her family. God help us if they are his.

You used to love her, I asked?

I do love her, he said.

He cried then, a little, sitting in the passenger seat, looking out the window into the darkness, resting his bruised head against the glass.

We got to the Walmart and sure enough, his truck and trailer were parked there. Bevan Evans, Rodeo Renovations it said on the decaling on the truck.

He got out and limped over to the truck.

We should get you to a hospital I said, and get that hip looked at.

He waved me off.

I’ve had worse he said. Five hundred stitches, remember. This is nothing. I hoped it would go better this time.

What do you mean, this time, I asked?

He pointed at the hood of my borrowed car. There was a quarter on it, dead center of the hood. It had survived the trip in place.

Thank you for what you did for me, he said. Thank you for your kindness.

He got into his truck and pulled away slowly.

I watched him drive away and then I went back to the trailer where he had sought Carla and fought her brothers. I drove under the speed limit the whole way. If I had seen a police cruiser I would have gone back to my girlfriend and her family and the warmth of their company and their meat and their beer, but I didn’t see any police. When I got back into the driveway Old School and the Boots of Wrath were nowhere to be seen, but Carla was back in the swing on the porch, sitting there in the darkness with the light off. I saw that at intervals on the porch railing were baskets of flowers, peonies and marigolds, velvety soft in the darkness. A Japanese honeysuckle clustered on the railing, and its cluster of yellow blossoms was all that I could smell. That is a woman’s touch, I thought. I couldn’t see those other two goons hanging baskets of flowers out. Somewhere one of those electric bug zappers roared as if it warred with some creature of the Pleistocene and I got out of the car and searched the dirt for Bevan’s scrap of paper. There, trod into the dirt, I found it and another quarter. Carla didn’t speak so much as a word, or even give any sign that she’d seen me, but of course she’d seen me. She just watched me without comment, her bare feet up on the porch rail, her arms folded across her chest. I could see that what I had at first thought was the ragged hem of an old summer dress, worn by a woman dressing for no one but her own comfort, was actually some sort of trim. It made her less ethereal, beautiful in a different way than I had first thought, my judgement now reframed by understanding my own error in perception. I felt that I had wronged her by my presence in my previous company, and I could not look her in the eye. She waited upon me with something akin to indifference, or impatience, or both.  I wanted to say that I did not know Bevan, that I had only just met him, and that I had no idea what the hell had just happened, but I said nothing, thinking silence wiser than apology, and apology too much like confession. That she was tired of a man’s shit – of men’s shit – this I understood.

I don’t know what I thought would be on the paper. Something Bevan had prepared and rehearsed I imagined. A proposal possibly, an accusation even, maybe a cowboy poem about a moonlit trail and coyote songs and a woman in a summer dress with a ragged hem waiting at the end. But all he had written on it was say something about unconditional love. The phrase unconditional love felt heavy in my hands, too great a weight to bear, and much to great to lay upon someone else, like Carla. It was an imposition. It was a prompt for himself for words he hopes would come in the inspiration of a moment but rendered unsaid by circumstance. I had no idea what he would have actually said. He probably just hoped something would come. She stood up then, and leaned on her hands on the railing, her right foot a little in front of her left, and I understood that I should leave. I left the rodeo clown’s paper with the quarter where I found it and got back in the car and went back to my girlfriend’s family.

What took you so long, she asked me, when I walked back into their yard?

Who is Carla, I asked in return?

Shit, she said. What happened?

I told her, about Bevan, the quarters, the boots, the damage to her car, and Old School lying on the ground crying and cupping his crushed testicles. I didn’t tell her about Bevan’s note or about me going back for it.

Did anyone call the cops, she asked?

No idea, I said. We didn’t stick around, and now Bevan Evans Rodeo Renovations is on the road.

Well, that’s better than last time, she said.

Last time, I asked?

She looked at the rest of them.

She has a restraining order, she said. Bevan could go to jail, again.

I asked them all to please raise your hand if you’ve ever driven Bevan to Carla’s.

One by one they all raised their hands, except for her grandfather, who was in a wheelchair and only mostly continent.

What’s your excuse, I asked him?

He didn’t – or couldn’t – hear me.

How long were they together, I asked?

Three months, maybe four, someone said.

How long have they been broken up, I asked?

A couple of years, said another.

Jesus, I said. Jesus Effing Christ. And you let me drive that guy to that? Good-bye and good luck, try not to get the shit kicked out of you with steel toed boots. Don’t y’all go get arrested, now. Is that it?

No one said anything.

On the ride home, in her dented car with her driving and the radio playing three-minute songs about love and youth, neither of which deserve the other, I asked her: Do you think he loves her?

Oh yeah, she said. He loves her. Totally, and without reservation.

Is that a good thing, I asked?

No, she said, It’s not a good thing. Not at all.

Steve Passey

Steve Passey is from Southern Alberta.  He is the author of the collection “Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock” (Tortoise Books) and many other, individual things.

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