The place felt like the last station before oblivion, because it was. I hated walking in there yet I was always first, the small room baking hot like an incubator even at this early hour, stale with yesterday’s sweat, the walls scratched with graffiti, squared letters of first names as though the authors knew they sat on some precipice overlooking the end and wanted—somehow—to leave their modest legacies. We called it The Post. It had once been a small railroad station but the tracks had long been paved over. For the last few years it was used as an employment office, its structure as dilapidated and sad as its occupants. Days Work/Days Pay the hand-written cardboard sign under the window read. I’d been coming here for seven months.
The young kid, Lynard, had stopped showing up after being the only other constant regular, besides myself, for probably the last two months. Then gone. I’d known exactly three things about him: that his father had named him after the band Lynard Skynard, he was from Kentucky, and—if you were to believe what he told me—his hair hadn’t grown since his identical twin brother passed away two and a half years earlier.
Right away I’d known something was amiss. Never mind how young he was: no more than nineteen or twenty. Or that he was one of only a few white guys I’d see in here. He had that slouch, that hangdog look that said something wasn’t quite right with him. Not the look of a young, vibrant, has-his-whole-life-in-front-of-him whatever-you-call-it. That was missing.
I’d been hooked up with him a couple times before the big racetrack job in September. We hosed Dumpsters behind a food warehouse for a couple days, and then he was one of about a dozen guys on a job digging trenches for PVC piping at a new housing development: all older guys, forties and fifties, like myself. And one young kid running circles around us. It wasn’t until that racetrack job, high up on the roof, that I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. “Lloyd,” I said to him. “I’ve been seeing you around lately.”
He pushed his hand toward me without really looking my way. “Lyn,” he said.
“Yeah, Lyn. Lynard.”
“Lynard. Like Lynard Skynard.”
The racetrack was closed down while renovations were underway. Most of the horses had been shipped out somewhere. Our team worked up on the roof, pulling away layers of tar and whatever shit was underneath, rotted debris that crumbled into dust and blurred the air. By the end of the day my nose was clogged and it was in my ears and eyes. Not a fine dust but something chunkier, flakes and slivers of fiberglass or asbestos or who knew what. I left that afternoon hoping I hadn’t done any permanent damage, hoped that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning blind. The next day I brought a swim mask.
I was dragging up long peels of rotting tar paper and piling them into a wheelbarrow, which Lyn then shuttled over to a plastic chute at the very edge of the roof, directly above a large Dumpster. I didn’t know why he was moving so fast. I’d barely had time to draw a couple long breaths, hands on my hips, before he was back. Every so often I would accidentally breathe out my nose and fog my mask. Lyn never really spoke, but every time he set the barrow down he took a look at me. “Keeps the shit out of my eyes,” I told him, even though he hadn’t asked.
He nodded, then turned his head away from the direction of the breeze stirring up more fiberglass shards.
“You need some kind of eye wear doing this.” He shrugged this time, pushing his thumb and forefinger into the corner of his eyes. Our boss was a prick named Rison. Something-or-other Rison, just some cheap, lazy son-of-a-bitch who’d swing by The Post each morning and snatch up a crew for whatever God-awful shitshow job he needed done. Dirt cheap labor. No union. No benefits. Not even a pair of protective fucking eye wear. I looked over at him, watched him show a guy named Dave how to power wash the stripped rooftop. Rison’s shirt was off, bronzed, hard skin, one cigarette sticking from his lips, unlit, and another behind his ear. He wore a pair of plastic eyeglasses.
September is no time to spend up on a black roof. Not in Florida it ain’t. You could see the heat billowing off the rooftop, and if you made the mistake of kneeling on it, or touching your bare fingers to it, you could lose skin. The first day, I took my shirt off sometime during the morning and tied it around my waist, but the hard corners of jagged, torn material left me gashed and scratched by the end of the day. Now my T-shirt hung heavy on my shoulders, weighted with sweat and sticking to my skin.
“Fucking hot,” Lyn muttered during one of his wheelbarrow stops. He hadn’t spoken in what had to be hours. I was taken by surprise.
“Nothing.” He pulled the bottom of his shirt away from his body and bent to wipe his face with it. “It’s hot.”
I kept tossing shit into his wheelbarrow. “No fuck it’s hot. I keep telling you to go slow.”
He shrugged and dug a Chap Stick out of his pocket.
We went downstairs to eat lunch because it was just too hot to sit on the roof with no hope of shade. I leaned my back against the cool brick of a wall, away from the sun, and flipped open a small cooler: ham sandwich, a bit soggy, a pickle wrapped in foil, a bag of goldfish crackers. I packed my own lunch these days. Lyn crouched next to me, like he usually did, but wouldn’t quite sit all the way down. He unwrapped some kind of health bar. Above, Rison kept working, just to send a message that his body didn’t need rest, or fuel. I guess we were supposed to feel too guilty to stop for lunch. The new guy was still up there too.
I ate quietly for a while and kept looking at Lyn: squatted, staring off somewhere, his nut and raisin bar wrapper rustling. That’s when I asked him if he got any siblings, just because of the quiet and because with a kid named after Lynard Skynard there might be more where that came from.
“Brother,” he said, the pocket of his cheek full.
He nodded. “Identical twin.”
“Identical twin, no shit.” I took a bite of my sandwich. “What’s his name?”
Lyn, I noticed, wasn’t looking off into space after all, but at a row of stables adjacent to us. They were all empty save one. In the shadows a long equine head flicked its ears and then backed into darkness. Lyn balled the wrapper in his fist. “Seger,” he told me.
I caught on right away. “You mean like Bob Seger?”
Lyn nodded. “Yep.”
“Lyn and Seger, the twins. Unreal.” I shook my head. He wasn’t looking. “Coolest twins in town, I bet. Either of you guys musicians?”
He stood back up and pushed the wrapper into his back pocket. “No.” Then he walked away, toward the stables, and that was that.
Often on jobs like this there are enough bigmouths around that all I have to do is listen and be entertained and speak up when I want to speak up. Not this gig, though. Dave continued to puppy-dog the boss around, trying to please. Lyn hardly spoke. The days drew long, no diversion from the heat and sweat and floating debris. I needed a surgical mask, something for my mouth. A bandana at the very least. I was going home with a sore throat every night, coughing clumps into the toilet, always thirsty.
“You see that game last night?”
Lyn put the wheelbarrow down while I underhanded tar chunks into it. “What game?” he asked, his thin chest heaving.
I’d been bent like this for hours now, my back screaming at me. Lyn waited for an answer, hands on his hips. I tossed two more pieces into the wheelbarrow. “I don’t know,” I said.
The tedious hours bore on. At lunch, down on the grass in the shade, I tried again. “So this twin brother of yours. Seger,” I began. Today I packed half of a leftover cheese steak grinder, warm and melted from the sun. “You two have one of those psychic connections I read about? You know, that identical twin stuff?”
Lyn crouched against the wall with his slim shoulders folded inward, hands clasped between his knees, balanced on the balls of hid feet. No lunch today. He plucked blades of grass and stared off in the direction of the stables. He shrugged.
I took a bite of my sandwich. Looked at him. Looked at the stables and the one horse over there. Took another bite.
“Is that a no?” I asked.
He shrugged again, still not looking at me. I noticed tiny flies pasted to the slick, sun-burnt skin of the back of his neck, little specks that I thought at first was dirt. “Naw,” he said finally. “No. He’s dead, he died.”
I stopped chewing. “Oh. He did?”
I finished chewing and swallowed. “Oh.”
He shrugged again. Still looking off at the stable.
I almost told him sorry, but didn’t. I also almost asked him what happened, but decided not to. Instead I picked my grinder up and took a small bite, chewing deliberately, watching him sidelong. The horse across the way came to the stable opening and poked its head into the sun, blinking. Then, uninterested, retreated.
“Actually, my hair stopped growing.” He said this so matter-of-factly, with such monotone, that I didn’t know what he was referring to. I looked across at the horse but found no answer over there.
“You what now?”
“The twin thing,” he said. “You asked me about the identical twin thing. My hair.” He sort of lowered his head a little and blew up at his bangs. “It hasn’t grown in two and a half years.”
The good news was, this got him to talk some more. The days weren’t quite as dead-silent. Still pretty quiet, but not so painful. I wasn’t sure if I believed his story, about the hair. I kept looking at it, trying to somehow gauge it. It was a little shabby-looking, but maybe that was the style these days with the young guys. Still, it wasn’t two and a half years shabby. I kept wanting to ask him if he was bullshitting me, or delusional. Kept wanting to ask how his brother died, but I didn’t. I wanted to know why a strong, smart kid like him was hanging around at The Post waiting for Rison to pick him up each morning, working for a day’s pay like a shmuck. Low wage, no benefits, no security of any kind. I’d been working steadily with Rison for a while now, but this timeframe was unusual. For every job I picked up that lasted two or three or four weeks straight, there were half a dozen jobs that were for a single day’s work only, and often might have one or two days in between where I’d sit at The Post for an hour or sometimes two and not get assigned anything at all. On those days I would get a coffee and doughnut and sometimes a newspaper and walk back to the motel I was living at, The Nightingale, to spend the day waiting for the next day.
Lyn stopped crouching next to me at lunch. He started to eat standing, downing his raisin bars in just a few quick bites, distracted by the horse stalls. One afternoon he noticed someone working in the stables, and so he wandered over. After that, he spent most lunches on that side.
“What’s the deal with that horse?” I asked him one late afternoon, on the roof, the heat weighing down on us, sun blinding-white. For two full weeks now I’d been bent over, tearing up this roof into long, heavy shreds, piling them onto the wheelbarrow so Lyn could dump it all into the chute. Felt like purgatory.
Lyn put the wheelbarrow down for me. His shirt was off, torso etched with thin scratches from the roof scraps, some dark brown and dried, others a hot, raw orange. His whole body shiny with sweat, making him almost too bright to look at. I tugged at a long, stubborn twist of roof tar, my back blaring at me to stop.
“Name’s Banner,” he told me, licking his chapped, shriveled lips. “Handsome horse, huh? Retired from the races.”
I slapped a piece of roof tar into his wheelbarrow, where it let out a loud ring. “Oh.” From what little I ever saw of it, I suppose it was handsome. Had two distinct colors to it, in patches, like a cow or something—brown and white. “Looks like it’s the only one left here.”
“Yeah. The guy said that most the other horses are racing at different tracks for a couple months. This one’s retired, though, like I said. Supposed to be euthanized.”
“Youth and what?”
“Euthanized. Put down.” He lifted the wheelbarrow handles and turned away. I had exactly fifty seconds to catch my breath, stretch my back, take a drink, whatever. We’d been working as a team for long enough now that I had it ingrained. Sometimes I’d just place my fists on my hips, lean back and close my eyes, arching my back to loosen it. And then open them again and reach for another strip of tar just as Lyn returned.
Behind me I could hear Rison barking at the new guy, Dave. The delivery truck had arrived with its heavy-duty conveyor belt rising from the ground to the roof like a fire department ladder truck. From below two men loaded the belt with heavy bags of roofing. Dave was catching and stacking them here at the top. It was a bitch of a job—one I’d done a few times before—and I was glad the new guy was put on it. The math, of course, didn’t add up. If two guys were loading it from the bottom, and only one shmuck was catching them at the other end, something had to give. I looked around for Rison and found him near the stairs, pulling violently on a cigarette with a cell phone up near his face.
“Let’s go, man, let’s finish this.” I threw my head back around. This was Lyn, standing behind the wheelbarrow and pushing his sweaty hair off his forehead. I’d just miscalculated the fifty-second window.
“We get paid by the hour. Not the wheelbarrow.” I reached for some crumbling chunks of tar, my back groaning in protest. By the sun it had to be around four. One more hour of this shit. And then Lyn about-faced and ran off with his back curved and taut and his arms strained. I wiped a gloved hand across my swim mask, cutting a clear streak through the asbestos dust, or whatever it was. Lyn dumped the load into the shoot, but now stood with the handles sitting forgotten from the tips of his fingers. I watched him staring off somewhere over the edge, down toward the dirt track. Hot and cold, this guy—from darting back and forth like a piston to standing there lost.
Then he looked back at me. “There he goes,” he said.
I could hear Rison somewhere behind me on his phone, his voice gravelly, carved with its usual stress. And Dave’s grunts, punctuated with the slap of fifty-pound roofing bags. “There who?” I said. “There what?”
Next thing I knew the wheelbarrow was sitting there abandoned and Lyn was cutting across the roof, legs scissoring briskly, leaving a wake of debris cloud. “Banner,” I thought I heard him say. He picked up an empty water jug and headed for the stairs. “We need water,” he said before disappearing.
I watched the steel door drift shut after him, then looked at Rison, who was oblivious, then toward the edge of the roof. I walked a few steps closer, even though I hated the edges, so I could see down into the lot below. Sure enough, a trainer or grounds worker or someone was leading the horse by the reigns in the direction of a small horse trailer with an aluminum ramp rolled out. The horse followed with an obedience and slow grace, its head sulked low, ears twitching. Lyn was right about one thing—this was a good-looking horse, patched white and brown, still muscular and strong. Would have been even better-looking, more majestic and impressive, had it been standing tall, head high and ears pricked. The horse stepped cautiously onto the ramp, hesitating only for a moment before slipping away into the dark of the trailer with a final sweep of its tail.
“What’s this about?” Rison put his phone down and lifted his arms, questioning, his chest puffed for emphasis. “You guys on break?”
“Lyn went down to, uh, get water.” I backed away from the edge, returning to center. Because I’d stopped working for a moment, I couldn’t help but focus on how hot it was, the late afternoon sun low over the trees, the sky singed orange. Beneath my feet I could feel the give of the warm tar, like a cushion.
“For Christ sake,” he said through gnashed teeth, “Dave get over here will ya!”
Dave looked more than happy to abandon his post at the conveyor belt, wiping the back of a gloved hand across his wet, red face and coming toward us like a magnet. His bare torso was lean and sinewy, a shadow of a bruise below his ribs where he had been catching sacks of roofing material. Behind him, bags began tumbling off the end of the conveyor belt, hitting the roof with a flat and repetitive thump. Rison holstered his phone at his belt and jacked a thumb toward me. “Step in for Len, grab that wheelbarrow.”
Then Rison stepped to the conveyor belt, snatching the bags and heaving them into a surprisingly neat and orderly stack, moving with a speed and fluidity Dave had surely been lacking. I gave Dave a nod hello as he bent for the wheelbarrow handles. “I think his name’s Lyn,” I called over to Rison, who either couldn’t hear me or was choosing not to.
I loaded the wheelbarrow and watched Dave steer it away, taking the free seconds to wander over a few feet to take another peek to the ground, anticipating some kind of demonstration, a one-man protest, Lyn standing in front of the trailer with his hands up in a halt like that infamous Tiananmen Square protest. But that’s not what I saw. Instead, the truck was pulling away, slowly, a brown puff of dry dirt rising from the ground behind it. I could see Lyn’s head, and an arm and leg, blocked partially by a dead tree, watching the trailer leave in quiet defeat. The empty water jug hung forgotten in his fingers. I couldn’t see any expression on his face, not from up here, but he looked somehow stuck, or lost, not sure what to do and probably not having the energy to do it anyway.
Dave wasn’t the efficient worker Lyn was. He moved slower, which was fine by me, but he also looked weaker, slim shoulders lifting almost to his ears and elbows locked straight each time he tried to move the loaded wheelbarrow. He had a hard time balancing it too, sometimes taking a sudden step to the side to compensate for this lack of equilibrium. When he came back toward me, pushing the empty wheelbarrow, his face looked long, his eyes sunken. “You all right?” I asked.
He licked his lower lip and blinked. “Yeah.” Behind me I could hear the steady smack of Rison stacking bags, and further away the crackle of tires driving over the rocky, dirt road. I looked to the stairwell, anticipating Lyn’s return. Not yet.
Dave circled away with the wheelbarrow. I put my hands on my hips, tired and sore. The back of my neck felt sunburned. I must’ve missed it with the sunscreen. Dave had a hard time keeping a straight line, stumbling in an S, which only made more work for himself, traveling a total of about twenty feet in what should’ve been fifteen, extra strain on his muscles fighting to keep the wheelbarrow upright. If it dumped over sideways I decided I wasn’t going to help him pick it up. Maybe I would have anyway, I don’t know.
At the lip of the roof he lifted the handles up with great difficulty, trying to use his thin legs, losing traction. He had no calf muscles whatsoever. The load slid from the wheelbarrow, and then he gave it a small side-to-side shake to make sure everything was out, pushing it up a little higher. Then, with two uneasy stumbles, once to the left, once to the right, he suddenly took a heavy step forward and the wheelbarrow went over end and somersaulted off the roof. Dave, almost comically, pin wheeled his right arm and followed it. Both were gone, the roof empty, like a magic trick. I blinked once, then heard a loud, echoing boom, as if the whole Dumpster below had exploded.
For some reason I looked back over my shoulder at Rison. He stacked a bag and glanced up at me, a cigarette butt poking from the corner of his mouth. “What?” he said.
I kept looking at him, blinking. I couldn’t stop blinking.
“What?” Then he seemed to look past me. “Where’d he go?” He shifted his focus back onto me. “Where’d that little fuck go?”
He started taking steps toward me, a roofing bag toppling off the end of the conveyor and punching the roof. I was stuck, like molasses was now flowing through my veins and was having trouble fighting through gravity to get to my brain. I felt slow, unable to find speech.
Now Rison was passing me. I tried to follow him with my eyes but he was a blur. “Fuck me,” he kept saying, moving even faster. “Fuck me!” More bags flopped to the roof behind us.
By the time I was able to mutter, “The kid fell,” Rison passed me again and disappeared into the stairwell.
I took the longest shower of my life that afternoon, letting the hard jets pound the top of my skull long after the hot water was gone. I kept my eyes open and blinked against the clinging drops of water. Every time I closed my eyes, even for a moment, I saw that kid fall all over again. I saw Rison and Lyn frantic and jittery with panic. I had run down the dark stairwell behind Rison, turning and turning with each new floor and hoping that it wouldn’t end, that I’d never reach the bottom. But then I was on the ground floor and there wasn’t another turn to be made. The steel door to the bright outside was drifting closed, almost warning me to stay right where I was, but I pushed through, numb and buzzed.
Rison stood on a shelf of footing protruding from the Dumpster, his hands clipped to the lip and his head leaning in. I could hear Lyn’s voice coming from inside, pleading and amplified. I looked across the way at the empty stable, a black and gray bucket next to the door, gecko lizards planted still on its side, a dirty convenience store soda cup rolling in a semicircle from a subtle breeze I couldn’t feel. “Okay,” I heard Lyn say from inside the Dumpster. “Okay, okay.” I didn’t know why he kept saying it. “Okay.” Rison stood there as motionless as the lizards. Behind him, the bottom of the yellow chute fluttered, and I traced it with my eyes back up to the roof some fifty feet.
“He all right?” Rison finally asked. I stopped behind him and, realizing the swim mask was still on my face, lifted it. Without it I felt naked and unprotected and suddenly it all felt real. “He all right?” The question felt stupid as soon as it left my lips.
I stepped onto a foothold and, grabbing the edge of the Dumpster, pulled myself up and looked in. The Dumpster was half full, maybe less than half, black chunks of crumbled tar, bent sheaths of torn tar paper, Dave lying broken and twisted on top of it all. The heat inside was suffocating, as if all these chunks of tar were coal embers. Lyn knelt next to him, Lyn’s knees bloody and raw, his shaggy, uncut hair wet and sweaty and sticking to his scalp. At first glance I thought that Lyn had tried to stabilize Dave by sliding a sheet of plywood underneath him, but when Dave suddenly groaned and winced and made an attempt to turn onto his side, I saw the plywood lift too, attached, and then I recognized the plywood because I had tossed it off the roof myself, holding it carefully along its two edges since it had been loaded with nails.
Rison asked again, “He all right?” and I looked over to him. Lyn made a feeble attempt to leverage the plywood off Dave’s back but it wouldn’t obey. Dave made a strange noise that sounded a little like a gurgle and a little like a squeaking door.
“Call an ambulance,” I said, glancing to Rison’s phone holster.
“Len, he all right?”
“Hey. Boss. Call for an ambulance.”
I put on my one sports jacket after that shower and took the bus to Northwood University in West Palm Beach. Sadie knew I was coming, but she’d only had an hour or so notice, which I’d learned is the only way to get to see her. You had to corner her.
“Look at you,” she said, “all clean and shiny.” We sat at a small table in a student common area, paper coffee cups in front of us.
I made my mouth laugh, though it nearly pained me to do it. Pressure behind my eye sockets. Throat tight and constricted. My chest felt hollow. I didn’t know the reason I was here aside from the fact that I wanted to look at her, wanted to sit in front of her and take in her pretty face and listen to her talk and to breathe in this coffee, please, please, please anything to push away the picture of that man—that kid—moaning and writhing in the Dumpster, wheezing his last breaths.
I couldn’t remember if I had come here to tell her about it. Maybe not. Maybe just to see her face. I don’t know. Either way, looking at her now, I knew I wasn’t going to say anything about it.
“So what brings you here, Pop? Kind of a long ride.” She blew gently onto the surface of her coffee. I watched its ripples bounce off the wall of the cup and come back to center.
I shrugged and swallowed. “Haven’t seen you since, what, before the summer? Missed my little girl.”
“Easter,” she said.
I tried to sip my coffee but it was too hot. I put it back down. “Easter what?”
“You haven’t seen me since Easter.” She looked down, checking her phone.
“Well wait a minute, that’s not true…”
I detected a slight eye roll. She slid her phone aside and looked off toward a group of students walking past the window. “No, you’re right, I guess I’m making it up.”
She was probably right. Maybe I hadn’t seen her since that Easter Sunday when I’d picked her up in front of her mother’s house and gone to mass. It’d been her second time that day but she’d gone with me anyway. Chuck’s motorcycle had been in the driveway, which had soured my mood pretty quick. I don’t think I spoke to Sadie the whole time she’d been with me.
“How’s your mom?”
“Mom’s good. Busy.”
I lifted my cup and then tried to put it back directly aligned with the ring it had left. “Chuck’s still there I take it?”
Sadie frowned, looked away again. “I’m not talking to you about him.”
Good, I thought. I didn’t want to talk about any of that either, truth be told. I didn’t want to talk about Diana or Chuck or the divorce after I’d been laid off from the factory. And I didn’t want to talk about how I’d blown it, how I’d been coming home late and coming home pretty lit, growing quiet and mean in those months, how I’d known for a long time that the layoffs were coming but never said anything. Just prayed that it all got better, but instead it only got worse. Or how I’d borrowed that money from Sadie so I could pay off some of those gambling debts. Or the night when Diana found out about the loan and cried, how the two stood there, embracing, they on one side of the kitchen and me on the other, then both of them crying, then me leaving. I didn’t want to talk about any of that.
I just wanted her to talk to me. To tell me something. Anything. Tell me about school. About her friends. About an essay she had to write. Something. She was still looking sidelong, people-watching, her lips pursed. She looked like her mother, always had but more so now. Diana had been about Sadie’s age when we’d met. I remember trying to ask her out, always trying to talk to her. Diana pursing her lips, looking away sidelong.
“What do you want me to report when I see Mom?” Still not looking at me. Back to fingering her phone. “Want me tell her how put-together you look? Tell her about the suit jacket or whatever it is?”
“What? No. What’re you talking about?”
She shrugged, indifferent. “I dunno. You find any work? What do you want me to tell her?”
“I don’t know. You don’t have to tell her anything…Yeah, I’m working. I’m busy.” I looked across at her. Sipped my coffee. “How’s school?”
“Where you living?”
She wanted me to stumble. Wanted me to fall short, maybe so she could justify her hatred of me. Something to go tell Diana. “I got a place,” I said.
She frowned at this, but I couldn’t read it. Maybe she didn’t believe me. I guess, technically, she would’ve been right not to. I opened my mouth, ready to say more, ready to elaborate, to tell her how it really was for me these days, to not sugarcoat anything and just go ahead and tell her, about the work and the motel, about all of it. Wanted to tell her how much I missed her and how sorry I was and that I saw a kid get killed today and I didn’t want to lose her the way I felt like I was losing her. But she was pursing her lips again, looking down at her coffee, sighing through her nose, and I could do nothing but watch her and marvel at how much she looked like Diana, how grown up she looked, how far away she felt to me.
The early sun climbing from the earth glinted off the broken glass like it usually did when the clouds were away. Even though the railroad tracks had been paved over, I still made a habit of stepping over them as though they were still there. For good luck, I guess. On the other side was The Post.
I was the first one to sign in with the old timer, Paul. We mumbled hello. I yawned, poured a coffee, and stepped to the window to watch the morning traffic through the grimy glass. I’d sold my car a couple months ago to a woman who lived around here somewhere. Sometimes I’d see her drive by. The Post filled in over the next twenty minutes or so, three guys, then seven, and then nine of us, all familiar faces, some whose names I even knew. But, for the first time in weeks, no Lynard.
Back outside, I stood among the smokers and watched the streets, down Palmetto toward the Nightingale Motel, across the way to Bay Drive and the bus stop Lyn sometimes used. Didn’t see him. From the west I saw Rison’s truck, its notable fog lights staring askew from the roof and C.B. antennas standing like needles, catching the sun. I ducked back inside and picked up my lunch cooler. “Check me off with Rison,” I said toward Paul.
I climbed into the bed of the truck and sat myself on the bubble of the wheel well. Rison slunk out the truck and went inside, a cigarette stuck to his lower lip curling with forgotten ash. He returned a couple minutes later with two men, older than me but not by much, both with those broken, crooked bodies that I also shared. Crumpled by work and defeat. They sat on the floor of the bed. One immediately put his head between his propped knees and seemed to go straight to sleep. The other looked at me, perhaps recognizing himself, then down at the rusted bed.
Good, I thought. Then, for some reason, out loud: “Good.”
Lyn. Lynard—Lynard who said his hair hadn’t grown for two and a half years. Good for him. Left this shit for the old, broken guys like us. Maybe he was off tracking down Banner, trying to save him so he could save himself. Maybe he’d just gone north, back home to Kentucky. Either way, I was glad he was gone.
The guy who had been looking at me, I noticed, was staring at me again, or, more accurately, at the dusty swim mask that hung from my neck. He seemed puzzled. “You going swimmin’?” he asked, grinning at me. He was missing both front teeth.
I pulled the mask up and snapped it into place over my eyes, wiping my fingers across the dusty plastic so I could see. “I wish,” I said.
BIO: Sean earned an MFA in Creative Writing in Montpellier, France and Madrid, Spain from the University of New Orleans and lives near Boston, where he is currently at work on a novel, and teaches writing, literature, and film at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.