Dino Barton wasn’t really looking for this particular job, but it sort of found him, or at least that’s how he explained it to others who seemed curious as to why he would be doing it. The fact is, he needed a job. He no longer had an apartment and had worn out his welcome sleeping on the sofa of his friend, Tyler Limpkin.
He had known Tyler since childhood, but that goes only so far when you have nothing to contribute to the rent or food. To complicate things, Tyler had a girlfriend, Freda, who lived with Tyler from Thursday until Sunday night every week. Freda was still in college and frankly resented having Dino all sacked out on the sofa when she got up in the morning to make coffee. She actually gave Tyler an ultimatum — “It’s either me or him,” she told Tyler. So, it wasn’t much of a choice for Tyler, who knew that deep down Dino understood and would probably have done the same if the tables were turned.
Dino never thought that Freda was Tyler’s type of woman, but it wasn’t he who made this choice. Tyler was athletic, outgoing, and sociable. He knew a lot of people, but Dino always prided himself in that he knew Tyler more than anyone else. Freda, on the other hand, was not athletic and shorter than average. She was attractive with long dark hair and blue eyes, but seldom smiled. To Dino, she seemed controlling and rigid. But Dino believed that Tyler was “in love” and had a surge of serotonin in his brain and his neocortex was not activated. Dino figured that in a few months, Tyler would realize that Freda was not right for him and would call up and complain, bemoan being lonely again, and want to go to Cosmoe’s, their favorite beer-drinking bar. For now, Dino, who was of average build and looks, was content to work and occasionally go out bar hoping to meet women by himself.
These thoughts filled his head on this Saturday morning as he sat in Stateside U Grill, waiting for his breakfast. After Freda demanded that he find a place for himself, he contacted another college friend who rented a room in the upstairs of an old antebellum mansion three blocks from where he used to live as a student. There was a solarium room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows on three sides that was small and usually not rented because no one wanted a room with glass walls, but it was just the type of room that Dino was looking for. Dino hated curtains and liked to live in a space that connected to the outside. The room was on the back side of the house and could not be seen by neighbors on either side because of the trees, so he felt he had all the privacy he needed. There were no kitchen privileges, but he was used to this and ate almost all his meals at the Stateside U Grill. The upstairs portion of this old house had four rooms, two baths and the solarium room. Two of the rooms had double beds and the rest had single beds.
Stateside U Grill catered to students, although some locals in the area also frequented it. The grill took up one side of Morton’s Five & Dime establishment where you could purchase everything from camping gear to china, books, school supplies, groceries, health products — you name it, they had it. Morton’s was open from 5 o’clock a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and only closed on days that the university was officially closed. Morton’s was a family-owned business and not a chain, which gave it a familial atmosphere; but the old man, Morton, who wore his pants nearer his breasts than his navel, could be rather taciturn at times. Dino once wrote a check that bounced — what college student hasn’t? — but this prompted the “old Morton salt-shaker,” as he was referred to by students, to caution him that one more bad check and all transactions would have to be in cash. Old man Morton’s son, who was a tall balding man with a frozen scowl on his face and who walked with a limp from his days in the army, was even worse. He carried a loaded pistol on his belt that Dino worried might be used on some innocent student. The Mortons made almost all their money from students but didn’t seem to like or even respect them. This was an ethical problem as far as Dino thought. For the most part, Dino tried not to purchase items from the store, but hung out at the grill.
The grill was different. It was leased to two sisters, their husbands, and their brother. They were from the country and commuted about 50 miles to run the grill. The Mortons had nothing to do with the grill and that’s why Dino liked it. Miz was the sister who seemed to be in charge, her sister Beth seemed second in charge, and their husbands and brother seemed to not be very invested. Maybe the men couldn’t find a real job or just liked to hang out with college kids. For whatever reason, Dino liked them and to some strange degree they felt like a surrogate family. Miz’s husband, Charlie, was very quiet and talked very little. He had a drinking problem and at times failed to come in for work. He was a short, slim man but had a large protruding stomach. Perhaps this was one of the signs of alcohol abuse. Miz, with her stringy reddish hair looked older than her age of 50. Perhaps the stress of maintaining the family and trying to keep Charlie sober took a toll on her appearance. Miz, whose real name was Martha, got her name from her father who thought she was bossy even as a small child and used to call her this when he thought she was being bossy. Apparently, it stuck.
Miz’s sister, Beth, was a large woman and was sometimes unkempt looking. Dino noticed frequent sweat circles on her clothes, particularly under her arm pits, and perspiration odor. That could be explained, however, by the large amount of orders every day except Saturday and Sunday. Weekends were dead around the campus because there was no football team and the basketball team sucked so bad few students stayed in town on weekends just to see them lose.
Beth’s husband, Bruce, was a stocky man who looked like a prizefighter. Dino thought he would make an excellent bouncer. There were a few times when students would get a little loud or occupy a booth too long after a meal and it was always Bruce who would intervene. It was almost like he was hoping to provoke someone so he would be justified in showing force.
But the real anthological study would be of Vern, Miz’s and Beth’s brother. He was tall and skinny and very effeminate. He was the cook and usually said nothing to customers. It was actually embarrassing the way he would look at male and female students who frequented the grill. He would stare at them when they weren’t looking, especially as they were leaving the grill as if he had a fascination for their figures. He never waited on customers or cleaned tables. He had to have a good memory because all the orders were called out. What interested Dino was the nomenclature for the orders. They were not the actual name of the food or even accepted restaurant lingo for the most part, but things they made up like “Gimme two tall blondes with pigs walking.” Dino was proud of himself that he figured out that was “two egg yokes with an order of bacon to go.” One day he asked Miz what “Flat greased momma with a beard” meant, but her reply was “trade secret” with a wink.
Miz always engaged Dino. Since he ate almost all his meals there during college and was still frequenting the place after graduating, he got to know the family really well, especially Miz. He was treated like family. He didn’t even have to order. They knew what he wanted and would just bring it to him. In the morning he always started with coffee and Miz would bring him a pot of coffee and he was only charged for one cup. No one else received this kind of special treatment.
Miz would sometimes just spill her guts about what was going on. The time that Charlie had to go to rehab was difficult. Liz admitted that they had no health insurance. The contract with the Mortons made them, in essence, a separate business. She said the lease was so high they were always scraping to get by. Since they were all equal partners in the grill it meant that the money was spread too thin. Charlie’s’ month-long stay in rehab was costly and ineffective because he still drank. He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and told that he would die unless he stopped drinking, but to no avail. She said that she would divorce him, but he had nothing else and would feel abandoned. In a way, Dino thought that she had already abandoned him, at least emotionally. Charlie was a sad-looking man. He never engaged anyone in conversation and often look disheveled and had red bloodshot eyes.
Beth and Bruce just seemed uneducated and dumb. They were all uneducated, but Dino thought that Miz was smart. She had insight and in a different set of circumstances she might be very successful in a leadership role for a business. She knew how to communicate and get people to accomplish things. But she was stuck in a job that was beneath her abilities and in a relationship that just took from her and never gave back.
On this day, Dino arrived for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. Without even taking his order he would hear Miz yell it out, “Two beat chicks, sitting flat, with a wrapped bloody pig.” That meant “two scramble eggs, pancakes, with bacon and tomato juice.” Although Dino had many friends, he usually ate breakfast alone. For some reason he was an early riser, could not sleep past daylight, and sometimes not at all, like the night he had just spent.
“Hey, you okay? You look tired,” said Miz as she cleaned the spot next to him at the counter.
Rubbing his eyes and yawning, “Yeah, you could say that.”
Miz went over to the brewed coffee and poured a pot and brought it to Dino.
“I bet it was some girl, wasn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Dino said with a laugh.
“That one yesterday morning?”
“Yes, but not what…”
“I didn’t think she was your type. Kind of…”
“…a slut-type, I’d say. She really seemed interested in you. I thought I’d need the meat slicer to get you two apart.”
“Looks can be deceiving.”
“What was she? A call girl?”
“No. She was looking for a job.”
“I think she might do better standing on the street corner.”
Charlie seemed all frustrated and confused at the other end of the counter and yelled, “Miz, you have a customer down here!”
Hurrying to the other end of the counter, Miz says, “Wait, I have something to tell you.”
Lola, the girl from yesterday, standing on the street corner — not a bad description, thought Dino. He had met Lola yesterday morning here at the counter. She was reading the want ads in the morning newspaper when he sat down by her at the counter. She was thin but well proportioned, blond hair that he thought might be a wig, blue eyes, and dark rimmed glasses. He couldn’t help checking her out because she was so striking. She was wearing a tank top with spaghetti straps exposing most of her over-endowed boobs. Dino could see that out of the corner of her eyes she was checking him out, too.
“Hi, I’m Lola. Just got here from Dallas. You live here?”
“For now. I just graduated from Stateside University. Don’t want to go home to my parents, so I got a job.”
“How cool. I’m looking for one. Doctor, lawyer?”
“Hardly, I just graduated from college.”
“You ought to be. You look so professional. So, what do you do?”
“Promise you want laugh.”
“The only thing I would laugh at is if you were a circus clown.”
“Alright, but that comes pretty close. I work on a psychiatric ward of a hospital.”
“You mean you work at the looney bin?”
“Wow, that must be scary.”
“No, not usually. What kind of job are you looking for?”
“Waitress, hostess, dancer. I last worked in Dallas at a gentlemen’s club as a dancer.”
“Yeah, I can see that. You’re attractive, good personality, entertainment must come easy for you.”
“Well, it’s good money. If you’re good, you get paid good money.”
Miz brought over his breakfast and gave Dino a wink. He didn’t want to be distracted by Miz, but he knew what she was thinking. Dino wanted to say more but couldn’t think of anything to say. He had the feeling that Lola was staring at him.
Dino glanced at Lola, who smiled.
“I don’t think anyone could look better than you. I’ll bet you are told that a lot.”
Dino laughed, “I don’t think I’ve ever been told that.”
“Well, you should have. ” She looks at Dino in the eyes and grabs his arm, leans close to him. “Hey, I’ve to catch a bus to get to the Mansion Club. Are you familiar with it?”
“Yeah, I’ve been there a few times. It’s small, but very classy. You will like it.”
“I don’t have a new phone. Lost it somewhere between here and Dallas. Don’t even have a place to stay. Can I call you?”
“Of course. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” Dino takes a clean napkin and writes down his cell phone number.
They both giggle. Dino was a little surprised how easy it was. She was a 10+ on his scale of 10 and his batting average was not that high with a girl this attractive. She got up from her seat put the newspaper in a large tote bag, put on sunglasses and started to walk out, then turned and said, “I’ll see YOU later.”
Deep in thought, Dino shakes his head slowly as he thinks about meeting Lola. Miz comes back angry and frustrated. “That pompous ass! Calling me to come clean his tables! Did you know that he practically does nothing all day long? It takes him forever to clean one booth. He’s more of a problem than a help!”
“Maybe he’s doing the best he can do.”
“The best he can do?! The best he can do?! No, I don’t think so!”
“You sound like you’ve had enough.”
Miz begins rubbing her eyes and her temples with her fingers. “It’s so frustrating! You just wouldn’t believe what I have to put up with.”
“How long has it been like this?”
“We’ve been married 32 years and probably 31 have been bad.”
“If it’s been so bad for so long, why have you stayed with him?”
“I often ask myself that question. Look at him.” They both look at Charlie who seems to be standing and just staring into space. “He’s not really here. I don’t know what goes on in his head. Maybe it’s the alcohol.”
“What was he like for that one good year?”
“I was 18, first love. I guess I thought he was kind of exciting. He had a hot car and liked to drag race it. Other girls were after him and I thought I had made a good catch when he chose me.”
“Did he drink then?”
“Oh yeah, but I thought his hangovers were cute. I had never been around alcohol because my parents didn’t drink. He was just cool to me.”
“It didn’t seem to last long.”
“These other girls, he started seeing them behind my back. But look at him now. You wouldn’t think anybody would want him.”
“From what you say, I’ve got this theory…actually I’ve thought it for a long time and… ”
“Theory? I don’t put much faith in theories. ”
“Well, I don’t… ”
“No, go ahead. Let’s hear it. ”
“I think that many people unfortunately get married when they should break up. ”
“I don’t follow. ”
“You were in competition with other girls and you wanted to win. If you had waited you would have discovered the kind of person he was. So, you married when in the long run the relationship should never have happened. ”
Miz didn’t respond immediately to this statement. She pursed her lips and rubbed her chin oddly with the palm of her hands and shifted her weight, which had been on her elbows as she leaned forward on the counter. Her eyes followed a couple who had just walked in and took a booth near the back. “I’ll have to get back with you. Got to wait on this couple. ”
Dino began to eat much faster because he had to get to work. Lola crept back into his mind and he thought about this sleepless night, which she had caused. He was surprised when Lola called at about 10 o’clock p.m. last night. She had found a job as a dancer at an exclusive gentlemen’s club. Dino thought that she must be a very good dancer because she was hired at the Hip Gentlemen’s Bar and Grill. Dino had never been there because he didn’t frequent this type of bar and, plus, it was too expensive. Dino couldn’t get it out of his mind how excited Lola sounded on the phone. It was as if they were already in a relationship and she was just filling him in on her daily activities.
She called him cutie which he took as a kind of intimacy.
“Hi cutie! I told you that I would call. ”
“Yes, you did, and I assume that you got a job? ”
“Sure thing! The Hip! You been there? It’s a bunch of old rich men who have lots of money, that’s what! ”
Lola was so excited that she just kept talking before Dino could respond. “I found a place to live but it won’t be ready for a couple of days. You think you could put me up for a couple of days? ” She asked that in a very enticing way and Dino thought it didn’t just mean for a couple of days, but that she was asking to move in with him.
Well, there it was and Dino was not prepared for it. “I’m afraid it’s against house rules. I rent an upstairs room in this old mansion. There are four other rooms on the second floor and six other guys. The old woman that owns the house lives downstairs. She doesn’t allow us to have house guests. ”
Dino didn’t know why he said this because all of the guys including him had brought girls into their rooms for the night. The old lady was hard of hearing and her downstairs bedroom was on the front side of the house. The guys had an outside stairwell on the back of the house that allowed them to bypass going through her downstairs living space. Dino could feel the air go out of the conversation and the enthusiasm in Lola’s voice dampen.
“No problem. I can stay in a motel. Can you pick me up around 2:00? ”
“You bet! ”
“If you come early, I’ll let them know at the door. You won’t have to pay the cover and you can see my last set. ”
“Perfect! Later. ”
Dino kept running the conversations with Lola in his mind. He also remembered that Jimmy Johnson had asked him about getting a beer or just hanging out last night. Jimmy worked on the psychiatric unit with him and Dino thought that he seemed to be very needy and perhaps in need of psychiatric care himself. Dino reminded himself that there was nothing definite with Jimmy and he wasn’t obligated to just sit and wait for him to call. As far as Dino knew, Jimmy wasn’t dating anyone, or at least this is what he heard through the grapevine. Jimmy was the object of gossip on the unit and nobody liked him. Dino hadn’t formed a strong opinion one way or another. He understood that Jimmy’s family had rejected him and that must be very hard, but he also thought that Jimmy seemed arrogant and argumentative at times with other staff on the unit. People felt put down by him at times which further led to him being ostracized. Dino wanted to be supportive and even identified with Jimmy’s lost state, which he somewhat shared, but also felt that, unlike Jimmy, he was moving forward and even enjoying the present sense of being unstable.
They had gotten a few drinks at Cosmos once before, but somehow Dino thought that Jimmy saw him as a friend and he may have been his closest thing to a friend given that Jimmy was so isolated. Jimmy confided in him that his parents had kicked him out of the house a few weeks before taking the job on the psychiatric unit and he had lived with his grandmother until he could find a room. In the eyes of his family, Jimmy was an embarrassment. Jimmy’s father and two brothers were very successful businessmen and Jimmy was expected to succeed in business as well. Instead of majoring in business in college, Jimmy was a philosophy major with a minor in psychology. His father had lectured Jimmy numerous times about needing to be productive and make all the money he could make so that he could have all the finer things in life. He said “Psychologists, even if you get a PhD, are a dime a dozen. Do you really want to carry around other people’s arm pits on your shoulders? The world is full of winners and losers. Do you want to be a loser? ”
Jimmy’s ability to defend himself with his father lacked potency and he would leave the house feeling beaten down. All this Dino knew from the one time they had gone out for a beer. Dino thought that Jimmy’s inability to relate to the rest of the staff on the psychiatric unit stemmed from his family relationships and so he gave him a pass as much as possible. Dino wanted to be helpful, but at the same time he didn’t like to relate to a friend who was so focused on himself and could give nothing back. He didn’t mind having friends that had flaws, since everybody has them, he just didn’t want to be a therapist for a coworker or friend.
If there was a choice between being there last evening for Jimmy or being there for Lola, Dino couldn’t turn down a chance to get something going with Lola. The fact that she seemed interested in him was beyond his imagination. She was a glamour girl, one that is usually more visible to him on the pages of some magazine. But there she was in living color, in flesh and blood, and apparently as interested in him as he was in her.
After the phone call from her, Dino had trouble settling down to do anything. Dino didn’t have a current girlfriend, so trying to meet girls was the weekend ritual. Last night was a kind of respite for him. He could just wait until 2:00 a.m. — not such a bad time to start a date, he thought as he plopped down on his bed to read. There was no one around, which was strange. There was always someone to hang out with, so he thought it odd that he had the whole upstairs of the house all to himself.
He read for a bit but couldn’t concentrate. Having to re-read sections of the book got old, so he put it down. He began to think that his lack of recent dates would interfere with him interacting with Lola. He tried to reassure himself but that didn’t work either.
Eleven o’clock came and went and he lay down on his bed. The room was very small and was not intended for a bedroom. He liked to have some windows open so he could hear the night sounds. As he lay on his bed listening to crickets, he drifted off into a restless slumber. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was in a room of some kind where a performance was taking place. He was seated nearest to a stage where a beautiful girl was singing. He was sitting at a round table nearest the stage. Then he realized that the singer was Lola. She was wearing a white dress that could have doubled for a wedding dress and white high heel shoes. Dino was glad to see her and kind of surprised that she was performing a song. He thought to himself that he did not know that she was a singer. When her song ended, she walked off the stage and seemed to be looking directly at Dino. He smiled back and straightened up as she came next to him at the table. He anticipated that she would sit down in the empty seat next to him. But, to his surprise, she passed right by and he could tell that she was smiling and looking at someone behind him at another table. At that same moment, someone touched both arms from behind him. His heart leaped as he thought it was Lola. He tried to look behind him by turning his head up rather than around and saw an upside-down female face that was not Lola. The middle-aged woman had very curly grey hair and ruby red lipstick. She was leaning over and whispering in his ear like she only wanted him to hear what she had to say. He couldn’t understand what she was trying to say, but thought it had something to do with giving him some advice. Dino woke up startled from this dream. It was almost 12:00 a.m. and he thought he should get dressed and go to the bar.
The dream made no sense to Dino and he spent no time thinking about it. He had slept too long and now had to hurry to have enough time to get to the club to see Lola’s last set. As he got dressed, he thought of how happy he would be to have a girlfriend like Lola.
It was now approaching 1 o’clock and he had at least a 20-minute drive. This would give him ample time to get there, park, and get in the club to see Lola’s last set. When he pulled out on Marty Street, he knew that there was a problem. He drove about 1,000 feet when the traffic stopped and it was red tail lights for as far ahead as he could see. The traffic was completely stopped and there was no traffic in the opposite direction at all. He quickly scanned the radio channels but couldn’t find a news break. He thought he had maybe a 30-minute stop and that would mean he would not get to the club on time to pick up Lola. While he fretted about this, he also knew that there was nothing he could do. Realizing that he was stuck, he cut the engine off and got out of the car. He turned on his cell phone to call the club, but the battery had died. Now he felt frantic and sick.
It was a cool night, but it felt good to Dino. Dino didn’t smoke, but he thought that if he did it would be a good time for a cigar. He leaned against his old car, a 1985 T-top Chevy Camaro. It wasn’t much to look at, needing a new paint job and other cosmetic work, like the ruste-out floorboard, but it was a classic and the engine was rebuilt. He got the car dirt cheap, a salvage car from flooding in New Orleans. Suddenly, he heard from behind a familiar voice.
“Did you cause all this commotion, boy? ”
Dino thought he was hearing a ghost at first, but there was no mistaking who belonged to that voice. It was Tyler!
“Well, shut my mouth! Why in the hell are you here? You should be home in bed with Freda on a Friday night.
“Yeah, you’d think. ”
“She kick you out? ”
“Uh, no. More mutual than anything. ”
“Really? Well, welcome back to reality! ”
Tyler shook his head and looked dejected.
“I tried. ”
“Hey man, can I borrow your cell phone? My battery is dead. ”
“I don’t have it. I think Freda packed it by mistake and now she won’t talk to me. ”
“What happened? ”
Tyler takes a pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and slowly takes one and lights it. He takes a long draw and spits on the ground. In the distance the slight sound of a siren becomes stronger and stronger.
“I thought you quit smoking the cancer sticks. ”
“I did, but I’m back two days ago. ”
“You gave up one addiction, forced I might add, for another. ”
“Don’t psychoanalyze me. I really don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, I couldn’t do anything to please her. It was hell. Just pure hell! The funny thing about it is I thought I loved her and was bending over backward to make it work. And, you won’t believe this, but I miss her and would take her back. ”
“You gluten for punishment! ”
“Yeah, I guess so. ”
“So, she leaves you over being dissatisfied and you feel abandoned and in a state of withdrawal. ”
“Withdrawal? No, I think you could say that I was really in love for the first time in my life. I’ve never connected sex and love before. With her it all clicked. I felt whole and then something from left field came out of nowhere. I was totally blindsided. I still don’t know what happened and she refuses to even talk with me. ”
The siren had gotten very loud and drowned out their voices. An ambulance moved slowly past them on the shoulder in the right lane.
Dino grimaced and said, “Somebody must be bad hurt that’s holding us up. Think it’s a car accident? ”
“No, a guy in a car next to me over there said he heard on the police scanner that there was a body found across from Morton’s in that wooded area on the edge of Stateside campus. They’re trying to figure out if it was foul play or a self-inflicted gunshot wound. ”
Dino stretched on his tiptoes to see the ambulance come to a stop about a quarter mile away in front of Morton’s. Dino’s heart sank. Could it be, he wondered. Could it be him? He never called. Oh, hell, maybe he did. Dino said over and over to himself, “I didn’t know he might do this. ” He felt really dejected and almost responsible for not being available.
“If it was self-inflicted, why do you think someone would do that? ” asked Dino.
“Simple. A person gets to the point that they no longer want to live. ”
“Despondent? Hopeless? ”
“Do you think there might be a more sinister reason? ” asked Dino.
“Like what? ”
“Do you think there may be anger? ”
“I don’t know. Maybe. ”
“Maybe it’s just the most passive-aggressive act possible, and maybe it puts others in a catch-22. ” Dino didn’t know if he was having a profound thought or just trying to assuage his own feelings of guilt.
Dino was startled by Miz’s sudden reappearance at the counter. He was unable to get this out of his mind.
“Boy, you look out of it today. You should take a sick day and go back to bed. You’ve hardly touched your breakfast. Cheer up, that girl wasn’t worth it! ”
“It’s really not about that. ”
“Oh, I almost forgot, what I was going to tell is that they found a body across the street in the woods there on campus. Somebody said he was from a wealthy family in town. ”
“Do you know who? ”
“I heard the name, but I swear I can’t remember. John?…Johnny?… ”
“Jimmy Johnson? ”
“Yeah, that’s it, I think. How’d you know that?
“Oh, don’t know. Lucky guess. ”
“Wait, somebody just came in. ” Miz yelled at the patrons, “Y’all just sit down any place. I’ll be right with you. ”
Miz went to get menus and water for the new customers and Dino felt a sigh of relief. He would not tell her that Jimmy worked with him on the psychiatric unit, at least not now, and that they were supposed to get a drink together the night before. Nor would he tell her that the reason they didn’t get together was that his cell phone battery was dead and he didn’t know at the time if Jimmy had called him.
The traffic jam held Dino up for over two hours. He got back to his room a little after 3:30 a.m. and charged his phone. There was a message from Lola. She said “Don’t bother yourself, you son-of-a-bitch. What? Am I just not good enough for you? You fucking college boy! Well, for your information Ernie is much nicer than you and he gave me a ride to my motel and is still here with me. So, go fuck yourself! ”
The strange thing about it is that Dino was sorry he had missed picking up Lola. No doubt she is unrefined and didn’t share his values, but he still wanted to be with her. “That’s crazy. I must be really crazy, ” he thought.
He would not tell this to Miz. He knew that she would spend hours trying to be helpful, trying to comfort him or absolve him of any guilt in Jimmy’s decision to kill himself, which would be more depressing and just make him feel worse.
As he sat there, he knew that he could not go to work either. He couldn’t stand seeing the long faces and the fake sympathy for Jimmy when nobody liked him and always talked about him behind his back. He could see it now. They would all say nonsensical things like, “I knew there was something not right. ” “He was the black sheep in his family. ” “It’s too bad, what potential he had. ”
For Dino, a flood of thoughts kept intruding into his conscious mind. He thought that suicide is such a pitiful way to die, but does a person have a right, almost an obligation, to be true to oneself? Everyone dies and no one knows what those circumstances will be. No one but the person who decides to kill him/herself. On the other hand, in a way he thought that suicide must be the ultimate passive/aggressive violent act. It takes a very angry and hostile person to kill oneself and not a desperate or depressed person. He thought that, for Jimmy, it was clear that he despised his family who rejected him for the wrong reason — he just wanted to be himself. Jimmy relived this rejecting relationship in all of his other relationships including with those at work. His hatred of his family was taken out on himself; his way out was to strike back at the nonperson he had become.
As Dino had these thoughts he was overwhelmed with some self-incriminating thoughts. Maybe he had just let Jimmy down by not being available. Maybe Jimmy’s thoughts of suicide would have passed. Maybe suicidal thoughts are fairly common with most people — even he had had thoughts about suicide before and most people don’t act on them because they have some support at that moment to get through it.
He pushed his half-eaten food over to the edge of the counter and got up to leave. He would head to his room and try to regroup. He turned to wave at Miz as he walked toward the door.
“You get some rest, now. ” Miz yelled as he leaves. It was the end of the month and he didn’t have the money to pay for breakfast, but Miz knew it and knew that he would pay later.
As he got to the door, he heard Miz yell out an order.
“Give me one mixed up dog walking! ”
Dino couldn’t remember what that meant, although he had heard it often. It had something to do with a corn dog. It was beginning to get light outside and the air was cool. Dino’s car was parked behind the building in a small space that was always open. Miz had told him about this space and it came in handy. He had parked there instead of getting a parking pass on campus, so it almost had his name on it. He got in the car and felt deflated. A real feeling of being let down, like he had been whipped and defeated. So, where to now? He had no answer for that. The job at the psychiatric ward was always meant to be temporary. It was a stopgap until he could decide about graduate school. He thought maybe he wasn’t cut out for working with others. Maybe he really lacked empathy. Maybe his indifference was related to Jimmy’s decision to kill himself. Maybe he really didn’t care for Lola as a person. She was just an object — more precisely, a sex object. She was not the kind of person he could even trust, but maybe he wasn’t either. Finally, he started the engine. He could smell an odor in his car and thought this was strange. The seats were old and stained. Maybe it always smelled. Maybe he should get better transportation. Lola probably would have rejected him after she rode in his car.
The short drive back to his room seemed longer for some reason. Then he realized that he was driving very slowly. Why? Maybe there was no good reason to really get back. Maybe he should keep driving and some destination would just jump out at him. The lines in a Neil Diamond song begin repeating itself in his brain. “And so it was that I came to travel upon a road that was throned and narrow, another place, another grace would save me. ”
He turned into the drive and slowly drove to the back of the house and parked under the tall trees. He slowly got out of the car and walked up the wooden steps on the back side of the house, turned left down a hallway and left into his room. There was still no one on the second floor. He went into his room and took off his clothes; putting back on his pajamas, he called his job to say he was sick, and went down the hall to the bathroom he shares with two other guys. As he splashed water on his face, he heard a commotion in the parking area, loud muffled talking. The guys have returned in a boisterous mood. Dino came out to the bathroom to see James, Erick, and Earnest drunk and staggering down the hall singing an Irish drinking song.
Earnest yelled, “Hey man. Where you been? We called and called but it all went to voicemail. ”
“I don’t know, my phone’s been dead. ”
“Man do we have something to tell you, ” said Erick.
“We met one hell of a beautiful stripper who just blew into town! You should have been there man! ” said Earnest. “She called me Ernie. Said I was the best-looking man she ever saw and I got to drive her back to her motel! ”
“I’ll be damned! I have all the luck! ” The friends were too drunk to catch Dino’s sarcasm. “You guys excuse me. I’m sick and going to bed. ”
Dino went to his room more resolved and purposeful than before and sat on the side of his bed. He reached towards his desk for a pencil and paper, but quickly returned them to the desk. He reached again to the desk and opened the top drawer and removed his .357 magnum revolver. He opened the chamber and saw that it was still loaded. He thought that he had not been to target practice in some time, but wouldn’t need it for this. Just as he put the gun to his temple, his cell phone rang but he did not answer. Had he done so, he would have heard Lola say, “Boy am I glad those geeks are gone! I said what I did because I was mad that you didn’t show up. I’m not interested in that guy — what was his name? Ernie, yes it was Ernie — at all. Anyway, please call. My number is 576-3453 ext 301. Bye for now. ”
There was a loud bang followed by what sounded like a sack of potatoes hitting the floor. Ernie and Erick who shared the room across the hall both sat up in their beds. The room was dark except for a streetlight shining in the window.
“What the hell was that? Did you hear that? ” said Ernie.
“Yeah, you know that kid next door who has that old jalopy that backfires all the time. It’s probably him coming home from a football game or something. We have to complain about that, ” said Erick. They both laid back down in their beds and were soon asleep.
All was quiet for a time, but the silence was soon interrupted by Dino’s cell phone receiving a message. The message said, “Hi Dino, Jimmy here. Sorry for standing you up last night. I ran into my ex-girlfriend and we got back together. Let’s take a raincheck. ”
Mott Windal enjoys writing short stories about real life issues and is currently working on a collection for publication. He has also written several screenplays. When he’s not writing, he’s on the golf course, kayaking, hiking in the mountains, sailing, or painting.