Hillbilly Ennui in Three Movements
Upon release, Bug made his first stop at a diner three miles from the jail. The prison officials had given him six dollars and Bug intended to spend every cent on a decent meal. He ordered biscuits with sausage gravy, hamsteak, three fried eggs, and coffee. When his food arrived and the various plates were settled and steaming, the waitress offered him a newspaper. Bug took it and read letters to the editor about all the boys being cut loose from up the pen.
When it came down, his wasn’t the heaviest case overturned. Bigger guys, guys with multiple murders got turned loose. Jim Lubbock, the county coroner, was caught tampering with evidence and further investigation revealed that it hadn’t been his first time. If the cops told Lubbock they knew they had the right man, Lubbock made sure the charges stuck. Bug’s case was one of many that followed the initial reversals. Eventually, all of the coroner’s evidence and opinions had to be dismissed and a tide of freed men washed onto the streets.
Bug peered over the top of his paper to an adjacent booth, where a large rural family was breakfasting while they waited to send their eldest son off to college on the nine-thirty bus. The mother boohooed through the whole affair, over waffles and coffee, and eventually outside by the curb. Bug watched them through his reflection in the diner window, through glass streaked by rain and fogged by breath, the family at the bus stop, all crowded together under the little awning like a drizzly West Virginian manger scene. The bus arrived and the woman’s shoulders heaved.
Kids love the summer, all kids do, but it had worn off for Bug sometime in his early twenties. A season was noticed by little more than how its weather dictated the heaviness of the jacket he wore to work at Timmons’ Esso. But after prison, shit, after prison Bug would watch the sky with reverence. Bug had spent the better part of a decade incarcerated and he found his life was still governed by the code of the imprisoned. He liked to sit outside and watch sunsets, to compare hues of sequential evenings and wonder at the variations, but he would never admit it aloud. It would be a weakness, a vanity.
Jim Lubbock’s wife was part of an office pool that hit the lotto to the tune of twenty-nine million, after taxes. Eleven people worked in the office, eight who put in five dollars each, and three opting not to feed the kitty. So when the numbers hit, there were eight millionaires and three office employees who hadn’t thrown away five bucks. Three co-workers, forever bitching about how they should have just gone for it, blaming stingy husbands or inventing slights whereby the Eight had cheated them of the opportunity.
Back on the outside, Bug heard the phrase “Lubbock’s boys” fairly often. When he found an efficiency apartment and was filling out the paperwork for a background check, the landlord asked him, “So you’re one of Lubbock’s boys, eh?” Bug replied that his father’s name was Dale Roach. “I guess you’re right,” the landlord said. “Jim Lubbock’s got two boys of his own and they turned out just fine.” The ladies at the Baptist church who served dinner on Wednesdays and Sundays asked Bug if he was one of Lubbock’s boys and gave him overcooked pasta and the latest news about Jesus Christ. When Bug applied for a job at the Esso, old man Timmons kept his eyes on Bug’s hands, riddled with tattoos made by machines improvised out of old tape players and blue ballpoint pen ink, and asked what Bug intended to put under the section that asked if he’d ever been convicted of a felony.
Jim Lubbock strode into the supermarket and made straight for the canned goods. He was annoyed that his wife had sent him shopping hours before the turkey was supposed to hit the table, but glad to be out of the houseful of her relatives. Their ass-kissing oohs and aahs over Michelle’s meager culinary talents were wearing him out, even ruining Lubbock’s enjoyment of his brother’s displeasure at the change of holiday venue. Lubbock walked the length of aisle four and turned back at the end, realizing his ruminations had marched him past the gelatinous cranberry sauce he’d been sent after.
Bug saw him from the moment Lubbock paused to let the automated doors slide open and admit him. From where he stood considering two bags of dried stuffing, Bug watched the former county coroner walk purposefully to the center of the store. Bug looked to the rafters and located three closed-circuit cameras, then looked again to the mirrored offices on the second floor. He made his way to aisle four and paused by a pyramid of tin cans of lentil soup. Lubbock paced the aisle end to end, pinballing from pumpkin pie filling to chili and back. Bug waited, felt his heart beat twice and fell into Lubbock’s rhythm.
As Lubbock turned at the end of the aisle and began back, Bug paced in from his end. When their paths overlapped in the center, Bug swayed in closer to Lubbock and poked the former county official with his index finger, just extended his digit and jabbed it between the fourth and fifth rib on Lubbock’s left side. The older man cried out, first in surprise, next in reaction to Bug’s expressionless face so close to his own.
Bug walked away, stooped to abandon his basket, and continued toward the doors. Security guards were descending from the mirrored office. Lubbock had his jacket off, searching his ample side for injury. “Stop him,” he shouted. “I think, I think…” The first guard to reach Bug, a young man of nineteen who had been a celebrated wide receiver only a year before, got an elbow in the nose that fractured his vision. Bug broke into a full run and was tackled by the rest, their batons rising and falling like derricks. The automated doors sang bing bong bing bong, opening and closing as if to chew him.
Bio: Travis Dutchman
Travis Dutchman earned his MFA in Fiction at the University of Pittsburgh and his BA in English at West Virginia University. His work has been published in Short, Fast & Deadly, Exclusive Magazine, the Kinder Anthology, and Space Squid. He currently resides in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.