awkwardly

Sunday

Truckin

IN GEAR

 Conrad was drifting off to sleep when the 
first five blobs of lead punched through his trailer.  
Another three bullets ripped through the gas tank on 
the left side of his rig.  He wasn't sure where the 
sound was coming from, so he jammed on the airbrakes.  
Only one bullet passed through his cab, but one was 
all he needed.  The bullet came in from the upper 
right corner of the windshield, right where the glass 
met steel, and popped straight through Conrad's 
forehead.
 Eventually he was able to bring the sixteen 
wheeler to a stop.  Conrad left it idling while he 
threw open the door and hopped down to check the 
pigs.  Sports cars and hatchbacks and semis blurred 
past him an armlength away.  He ran back along the 
side and peered through the slats into the trailer.  
The waves of pigshit stink came to him, but he was 
beyond the point of noticing it.  All twenty-three 
of his bustling and snorting units of cargo seemed 
intact.  He would find out later that one of them 
had been hit, but the bullet had only broken off a 
chunk of the pig's hoof.
 Blowing a giant sigh of relief, Conrad stepped 
back from the side of the trailer.  He noticed a smear 
of blood along one of the dull metal slats of the 
trailer's wall.
 He yelled, "Christ!"  To spray pig blood that 
high up the wall, about as high as his head, he 
thought it must have ricocheted off somewhere, maybe 
the bottom of the trailer, before running through the 
pig.  Conrad leaned against the slats again to look for 
an injured pig, cupping his hands around his eyes to see 
in better.
 He didn't worry much when he felt the blood on 
his hands.  But when he felt the hole in his head, a 
little high and forward of his left temple, Conrad began 
to wonder.  He stepped back from the rig again, and 
looked at the blood on the trailer as he gingerly fingered 
the new hole in his head.  When he saw the smear on the 
metal slat again, it immediately occurred to him that 
his own bleeding head had caused it.  
 "Damn," he said quietly.  He used his index and 
middle fingers to explore the ragged exit-wound on the 
left side of his head.  Conrad frowned and jogged back to 
the cab.  He yanked the door open so he could see himself 
in the side mirror.  Sure enough, a little hole up on the 
right side of his forehead, a bigger hole of the left side 
and back more.  Quite a bit of blood was trickling out 
of the right hole.  Conrad had gotten chicken pox when 
he was five and still had a few scars, three of them 
across the back of his head.  Whenever he got a crewcut, 
the scars showed emphatically because the hair didn't 
grow over them.  This damn thing would leave another scar 
just into his hairline.
 "Can you believe this shit?"  Conrad pulled 
himself into the truck and swore again when he noticed a 
dark spot on the upholstery.  He could feel something 
give way in his forehead, and suddenly everything looked 
much brighter than before.  The silver trim along the 
hood of his cab shone white, and all the cars cruising 
past looked yellow or red.  They weren't moving too fast, 
so Conrad was able to pull into traffic soon.
 Within nine miles, he saw signs for a rest area 
ahead.  He guided his truck along the ramp, and left it 
in the handicapped spot closest to the brown, A-frame 
building.
 

OVERDRIVE

 Conrad pushed open the easy-swing glass door and 
stepped into the Visitor Information Center lobby.  
There was a line of tourists stretching along two walls 
of the room.  The lady in front of Conrad wore a sheer 
black kimono, and had a Chihuahua draped over her 
shoulder.  In the middle of the line was a young father 
and his precocious son.  The young father had a huge 
video camera on his shoulder like a second head, slowly 
turning to film every detail of the lobby.  The 
precocious boy spotted Conrad and said, "Daddy, look!  
That man is bleeding!"
 Daddy spun to aim the camera where his son was 
pointing.  "Oh, yes.  He's been shot, Billy.  Look at 
the big hole in that side of his head: can you see how 
the blood is coming out in little spurts?  That's 
called a 'pulse.'"
 The dapper-looking youth behind the counter 
cleared his throat in an attempt to stifle the talking.  
As he was looking up at the delinquents, he noticed 
something even more disturbing.  "Excuse me, you two at 
the back of the line?  Please clean up after yourselves 
if you're going to make a mess like that."
 Conrad was still the last in line, looking 
around to see what kind of "mess" he was making.  At 
his feet, small puddles of blood were spreading across 
the beige tile.  He pulled a bandana from his back jeans 
pocket and mopped up the worst of the blood.  It was 
soaked and dripping a little, but he held it under his 
chin to catch any further spillage.
 The woman in front of him turned to him and 
smiled.  She had one thick, black eyebrow, glistening 
with facial grease so it matched the shine of her kimono.  
"Could I borrow your handkerchief, sir?"  The Chihuahua 
on her shoulder had left a slippery streak of drool down 
the front of her kimono, and a puddle of drool spread 
away from her bare feet to a drain in the center of the 
floor.
 "Uh, sure," Conrad mumbled.  "I don't know 
that it'll be much help to you, though."  He set the 
dripping bandana across her outstretched hand, then 
flicked the blood off his fingers.
 She knelt and began to scrub at the drool-covered 
tiles in slow, circular motions.
 A half hour later, Conrad finally lost his 
patience after the old man at the counter spent the 
whole time trying to get directions to Wright River.  
The Visitor Information attendant had taken twenty 
minutes to confirm which was the right Wright River, 
since there were four Wright Rivers in the county.  He 
spent another ten trying to make the senior citizen 
realize that he could get there by taking the next turn 
on the right when he left.  Right?
 Conrad stepped out of line and walked to the 
front, causing all the other visitors to gasp and begin 
muttering behind him.  "Hey," he said, bleeding over 
the counter, "Can you just tell me where the nearest 
hospital is?"
 The youth behind the counter shifted his 
shoulders forward menacingly within the burgundy suit 
coat.  His face was going brick red and bits of his 
teeth were gritting off.  The old man with the map open 
said, "Sure!  You take the next exit so you can loop 
around and get to the other direction, then it's about 
thirteen miles.  You wanna get in the left lane before 
then, head off at the Shulberg exit, not the Schulburg 
exit which comes later, and follow the signs over to 
St. Christopher's.  Can't be more than twenty minutes 
north on Shulberg."
 "Oh, don't go there," the Visitor Information 
attendant said, "My grandmother stayed there for the 
last six months before she died, and she never stopped 
bitching about it.  The food was all gooey baby food 
and the TV didn't get more than two cable channels and 
the whole place stunk like rubbing alcohol!"
 Conrad pressed his palm against the hole on the 
right side of his forehead to minimize the mess.  The 
left hole was too big to cover, so he had stopped 
trying.  "Where else can I go?"
 The dapper youth looked back at the line and 
waved his hand for Conrad to lean closer.  When he did, 
the youth said, "You didn't hear it from me, but out 
back of the men's restroom building there's a paramedic 
on break.  He works on all the sniper victims that come 
through.  Slip him a twenty and he'll fix you up fine, 
be outta here in no time."  He cleared his voice again 
and said loudly, "Now if you'll excuse me."  The youth 
continued telling the old man to take the next right 
when he left to get to the right Wright River.
 

DOWNSHIFT

 Conrad stumbled backwards from the counter.  
His boot slipped in the puddle of bloody Chihuahua drool 
in the middle of the floor, and Conrad wafted into the 
air.  He landed hard on the tiles and, naturally, cracked 
his head open.
 The woman with the cyclopean eyebrow loomed over 
Conrad and held out the slimy bandana.  It had 
originally been red with white outlines of swirly 
paisley patterns.  Now it was just red.  "Thank you for 
letting me borrow your handkerchief," she said.  A thick 
drop of something red threatened to fall from the bottom 
corner of the bandana into Conrad's eye.
 "Uh, that's okay," Conrad said, rolling to the 
side as he held his skull together with both hands.  
"You can keep it."
 "Why, how kind of you," the woman said with her 
tight smile.  She slid the mushy gob of red into her 
kimono, where there may or may not have been an inside 
pocket.
 Conrad walked carefully to the door and 
shouldered it open, plodded out towards the men's 
restroom building.  His hands were still pressing his 
skull together, gut he thought it might stay there all 
right if he let go.  He gently lifted his hands away, 
felt the two halves of his skull settle a little, then 
stop.  If he didn't walk too enthusiastically - that is, 
if he didn't "romp" - then it would probably stay together.


POP THE CLUTCH

 In the neatly mown lawn behind the men's restroom 
building, Conrad found the paramedic and his clients.  
There were only two in line, waiting for the man to 
rejuvenate a gerbil who was a victim of the road.  Conrad 
got in line and began his wait.
 It didn't take long for the health-care provider 
to get the gerbil back to shape: he simply blew into the 
rodent's head through an eye socket to puff the tiny 
creature whole again, then gently returned his entrails 
to their proper place through its mouth.  It didn't even 
take more than twenty minutes to sew up the ripped stomach, 
no more than a half hour to set all the creatures bones 
and construct a full-body cast.  What took the biggest 
chuck of time was performing micro-CPR on the critter.
 Conrad had long since fashioned a turban out of 
his denim shirt.  The turban functioned as a bandage to 
stop the blood loss, and as a temporary measure to hold his 
skull together.  He was beginning to feel woozy, and 
getting a chill with his shirt off, so he set fire to the 
restroom building.  The building was conveniently 
constructed of mesquite, which provided just a soupcon of 
low background aroma to the full, heady fragance of the 
fire.  Sadly, the burning feces spoiled the scent somewhat.
 When the gerbil finally sprang to life and bit the 
paramedic, who promptly cut off all its limbs and laughed 
with satisfaction at the quadriplegic rodent, the line 
advanced.  Next was a chubby woman with her Siamese twin 
nieces joined at the knees.  The only one left in line in 
front of Conrad was a short Black man with a chest wound, 
another victim of a sniper.  Conrad tried to strike up a 
conversation with the man, since they had at least one 
thing in common, but the man ignored him.
 During the wait, Conrad became a "foxhole 
convert," believing with all his heart that the universe 
must have been created by a benevolent being.  Conrad 
loved God and knew he would pull through, or maybe he 
would die and go on to the next life, but either way it 
would be God's plan and God was right and God would love 
him and he would love God.
 That idea eventually trickled out the side of 
his head like everything else.  When he was only the 
second in line, Conrad's faith had been strengthened by 
a feeling of hope.  The paramedic's successful separation 
of the teenaged twins using only a sharp soup-can lid was 
nothing short of inspirational.  But when it came turn 
for the Black man with the chest wound, and the man 
revealed that he also had a ruptured cornea which would 
require hours of delicate surgery, plus testicular cancer 
and tennis elbow, and the man said that he was holding 
place in line for a bus-load of expiring nuns (this point 
naturally came to a large dispute, but the paramedic 
allowed it); it was then that Conrad lost faith and began 
to despair.  It was one thing if God would fix him up and 
let him be His eternal servant, or if God would let him 
die and get it over with.  But God wasn't doing anything.  
The Almighty was letting Conrad suffer for days and weeks 
with his head punctured and on the verge of splitting in 
half, while some other clown got fixed.  And, he decided, 
any world where you can hold places in line for people 
well, there's no justice in a world like that.
 Conrad left in a huff, saying, "Well, fuck you."
 "He pulled his rig around, made his way to St. 
Christopher's, and began to die.  The surgeons clamped 
his head shut and filled the hole with gauze.  They 
accidentally left a fingernail clipping in the left lobe 
of his brain, which brought him within an arm's length 
from death.  A nurse saved him, married him, had a boy 
child by him.  They lived happily ever after until they 
were both sixty-three and killed themselves.

THE END.

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