Fiction by Stuart Watson

I had been walking not quite an hour when I came to the truck. It sat on blocks. Four drums, no wheels. Or tires. A plywood sign rose from its bed.


That, I did. Just one, not like the truck. But was the sign referring to the truck, or asking me if I needed tires? Or was it telling me the name of the owner of the shop that allegedly sold tires? As if his name was Need? Why not Need’s Tires?

My wife says I’m too analytical. I get that way when I’ve been hoofing three miles in 90/90 heat and humidity. I was hating everything about Iowa.

As for Need’s truck, I was certain of one thing. The truck was a rust bucket, also known as a piece of shit. Not a good sign, unless the sign said everything I needed to know: Whatever this junkyard sold, it would be used, maybe so used it was beyond any further use. But it would be cheap, discounted for whatever injury age had done to it. I was always down for a deal.

I went inside, because my wife and my car and its flat sat by the side of the highway three miles back, and I needed a tire. And a beer.

“No beer,” Need said. “Coke. No Twinkies neither.”

“Did I ask about Twinkies?”

“Most folks do. Coke then?”

I looked around, nodded. He snorted something significant back into his throat, then ejected it toward a five-gallon paint bucket. He missed, but the miss added to his record of success.

I told him about the shredded flat on my right front three miles back, the bunged-up rim and the pothole that did it. “No spare,” I said.

I didn’t bother sharing the compost that Luanne gave me when the pothole let the air out and I explained our situation.

“The walk won’t be so bad,” I said. “It’s early. The sign back there said three miles to Decatur.”

“It’s hotter than my– ,” she replied, letting me fill in the blank.

I had. I would. Just not then.

“I ain’t sittin’ here all day. Best get walkin.”

I told Need it was a ‘96 Sentra, and he showed me his “Jap selection.” I held my tongue. Luanne was half Korean, half Mexican, half something else.

He only took cash, but my timing for once was good. I had just unloaded a trunk full of weed I bought from a legal grow in Oregon and drove out to Luanne’s cousin in De Soto. He did custom hot rods, but his real money came from helping college kids elevate their game in Des Moines.

Luanne needed the cash to hire a new caregiver for her mom. Mom and her oversized load and busted knees lived in a single-wide outside Rawlins, Wyoming. Her husband arrived after Lu left. He had worked at the oil refinery east of town. Something he inhaled or touched or drank turned his body into a sack of tumors they buried two years back.

“You OK?” Luanne asked her mom on the phone.

She listened. Finally, “OK, I’ll get another one.”

She ended the call, turned to me.

“Brenda? She’s only changing mom’s diapers every other day.”

“Time to change Brenda,” I said.

Before we could take care of mom, we needed a tire. Need took me to a sagging rack in back, heavy with rubber on rims. A cardboard sign hung from a steel truss overhead: JAP. Need  pulled down a Hankook retread.

“Best I can do,” he said.

“Korean, huh?” I said.

“Jap rim.”

He cleared his throat again, and I stood back, fishing for my wallet.

“Three hundred,” he said.

“Funny guy.”

“Only funny guy in Decatur.”

I thought about shooting the motherfucker for having the gall to grind me at a tough moment. As I handed him fifteen twenties, I asked if he could give me and my new spare a lift back to my car.

“Truck’s out on a call,” he said.

Luanne got out of the car and sat on the hood when she saw me rolling the new wheel down the highway. Something told me it might not fit, but it was our lucky day.

“I need to pee,” she said, as I threw the jack in the trunk.

We were headed back to Decatur, so I stopped at Need’s. After she came back out, she told me about the eyeball behind the knothole behind the toilet. She stared at a point far beyond the windshield, thinking that she could see herself, under different circumstances, waking up next to old Need, whiskey on his breath, a grease stain on her cheek.

I could see none of that, of course, just my fiery overwhelming need to go back in and shoot him.

“Which eye?” I asked.

She shrugged, so I hit Need in both — left on left, right on right — to help start his nap.

Before I left his grimy lair, I reached into the cash box and took our money back. I handed it to Luanne as I slid behind the wheel.

“Peephole payback,” I said.

Then I put it in gear and aimed for Wyoming. I watched for tailing lights, listened for the wail, but it was all us, all alone, all the way.

<strong>Stuart Watson</strong>
Stuart Watson

For thirty years, Stuart Watson lined bird cages for a living (he was a newspaper journalist, a sarcastic and self-deprecating journalist, but maybe that’s a redundancy). He loves the writing, for just one stellar example, of Joy Williams. Damn, she can bring it. Watson’s own work has recently appeared (or will soon) in The Maine Review, Two Hawks Quarterly, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful, Wretched Creations, Flash Boulevard, Bending Genres, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hippocampus (books), Danse Macabre, Red Planet Magazine and Wanderlust Journal. He lives in Oregon with his lovely wife and their awesome dog.