Bruce Henricksen

I pulled into this country store for gas, but then the engine wouldn't start. It's an old Impala, and sometimes it just needs a rest, time to cool down. Karin used to say it's chillin'. But it's no fun taking a whiz in a gas station in the middle of effing Nowhere Minnesota and then your car won't start. It's unsettling. I decided to take a walk, but first I went back in the store and bought a Snickers.
          There was this picnic table about a quarter mile down the road. It was all crusty green paint and bird shit, like an action painting, and it was chained to a block of cement in the ground. An overflowing trash barrel was topped off by a couple of crows pigging out. They flapped away when I hoisted my butt onto the table and put my feet on the bench. Across the road a cross stuck up from the ground between two trees. Their branches came together like fingers when you fold your hands. It was weird, like the trees were religious or something. Anyway, behind the trees a couple of cows poked around in a field. One of them looked up and stared at me like I was something suspicious. The lookout cow. I tore the wrapper on the Snickers, but then decided to save it for later. I walked over to check out the cross. There were flowers on the ground, but I didn't know their names. A handwritten sign was nailed to the cross.

In Loving Memory
Rhonda Age 11

I went back to hunch on the table and think about Karin. I probably looked like that statue of the man thinking, only I had my clothes on. And a Snickers. Anyway, me and Karin had been together three years. Pendulum years, I called them. On the good side, Karin would sober up. We'd throw out the empties and clean the ash trays. She'd get a pen and a pad of paper and we'd make plans, her pen always tapping as we talked. In those good periods, she was all crucifixes and rosaries. We'd go to mass, and she'd say God would help. Maybe He'd help us open that bike shop we'd talked about. Karin could fix a bike like no one else. Maybe we'd even have a kid.
          But the cleaned up days—the rebooting days—never lasted. The pendulum always swung. When I said that once, she yelled at me for going down that road. She said I was all dark roads and bad weather. I said life is just another kind of weather, and we don't live intended lives. So we had issues. Everyone has "issues" these days, even when it's just the same old trash barrel of drunkenness and lies.
          So the pendulum always swung. Maybe we'd drink quietly on the porch and watch the evening rise like water between houses and down the street. Or maybe she'd stumble off alone, yelling after a fight, and later, with everything drifting, I'd wander too, wander off and wake up the next morning with someone whose name I'd forgotten. Wake up hearing rain on a strange roof and watching the darkness leak away, leaving the morning behind like something drowned. Eventually, me and Karin would find our separate ways home, with a blade of early light slicing through the trees and under the shade in the kitchen. She'd make coffee, and we'd say a few words—You okay?—Yeah, I'll survive.
          And Pete, Karin's dad, would come around with his face like a headlight shouting about how I was ruining his daughter's life. He'd always bring up how I'd been in jail, even though it was his own son's idea. Me and Karin's brother had taken a trip to New Orleans and bought a boat and went to Mexico for weed. I can't swim, but I figured what the hell. To hear Pete, you'd think we were the effing Taliban. One day, with Karin yelling her face off, I chased Pete's fat ass away with my gun. After that I left. I left in the old blue Chevy with the starting issues. I'd bought it for Karin. It had some rust, so the price was good.
          So I was sitting there on that picnic table with the bird shit and my fist under my chin like in that statue, except that I was also munching my Snickers now. That same cow was looking at me while the other one ate. Suspicious cow and hungry cow. Pretty soon they'd haul their milk bags back to the barn and evening would flow in like water. It was time to wonder if the car would start. You don't want to be out on a strange road at night in a car that won't start. You want to be in a bar someplace, or a motel. I tossed the candy wrapper at the trash barrel.
          The cross by the pasture was in shadows now, and darkness was, like, flowing out of the tangled trees above the cross. I thought how the sign on the cross might as well say Bill and Karin, but it didn't. It said Rhonda.