Contest: The Sunshine State

The head and only instructor at the driving range straightens his back and sighs. This late in October and it’s still hotter’n the devil’s asshole… Ain’t that right? he says to no one in particular. The “business” of his mullet puffs out from a backwards Titleist hat; the “ party” hangs sweaty at the collar of his shirt. He pats the belly of a smiling plastic gator propped by the office door. It makes a hollow sound.

He paces back toward his student and stands behind her, resting his hand on her left hip, placing the shiny hook apparatus covering the elbow of his right arm underneath the peeling grip of her club. He pulls her closer. To better adjust her swing.

She inhales, her body now tensed; his gold belt buckle feels warm against her shoulder blades even through her shirt. She always wonders about the hook. Does it ever get hot? Like, enough to brand someone, maybe? Does he always wear it? Even in bed?

The girl’s dad picks her up from the lesson, asks her a bunch of questions about school. Usually their rides are silent. Honey, I’m just going to be honest now. I’m afraid to have to tell you this, he says . She’s heard it before. Tiffany left me, or, well, us this morning. Took everything. I mean… everything.

Tiffany shoos her soon-­to­-be­-ex-­husband’s white cat out from underneath the brake pedal. He hisses and slinks under the chair, then swats again at the Pisces tattoo on her ankle. For fuck’s sake! She leans on the horn. Next exit and I’m leaving your demon ass, I swear to God.

The sun is straight ahead, and she forgot her fucking sunglasses. She exits the highway, parks by 7/11 and opens the door. A bunch of fast food napkins that she’s been hoarding in the pocket next to the seat cascade to the ground. She goes inside to get new shades and a Red Bull. The cat bolts and hides in a bush behind a trashcan.

Two hours later, an old man lures the cat out with a Slim Jim. The man’s blue truck smells like low tide, and he spits spent chewing tobacco into a mostly empty Hellman’s jar the whole ride to Gibsonton. You drink, kitty? he says as they pull up in front of a brick building painted neon purple. He laughs and expels an ochre loogie onto the sidewalk. Course you do.

There are about ten people in the bar. In the corner, there’s a fortune­teller machine. All the lights are burned out except the small lavender one inside the plastic crystal ball. Approximately once an hour, the turbaned man inside cackles in a deep voice and throws his hands onto the ball as if to scry. The few regulars, retired carnies, sit in uniform silence with their backs to the entrance, their faces glowing yellow from the screenprinted Yuengling lampshades above.

A couple college kids drink tall boys of PBR and talk loudly. You hear about that dude from New College who like fucked those dolphins? So, he wrote a memoir about it apparently…,one says. Oh snap, I didn’t know that was like possible, the other one says.

One of the regulars, an ex­-firebreather, gets up and walks to the doorless bathroom. He stares at the pastel print of pink dolphins hopping out of water on the wall above the urinal. Possible, he thinks. He shakes the piss off his dick and goes back to his place at the bar.

Three seats over, the cat, planted on a vermillion bar stool, blinks slowly at the old man, who is now many shots deep. Gotta get out of here, he says to the bartender. Get me two more shots of Jameson, and I’ll close out. He pays, takes one of the shots, and leaves the other one on the bar for the cat. North, he says, tipping his imaginary hat as he trips out the tinted front door…

He drives, drunk and catless, up the highway. His headlights barely penetrate the night sky, thick with humidity. From the road, he sees infinite palm trees disrupted only occasionally by Judgement Day billboards or a festering beach city. He exits for gas near Tampa and hits a concrete pole beside pump 12. He cuts the engine off and decides to sleep there.

The gas station attendant/cashier inside hears the crash but closes up anyway. It was a numbing day and she needs a long drive. Don’t get paid enough to deal with that shit, she says, seeing the old man’s truck. She opens a pack of Newports, lights one, and starts her car.

Once she gets to Land O’ Lakes, she decides that she should probably turn around, and exits. At the stop sign, she notices on handpainted poster board: MOONSHINE→. I mean… why not? she says and turns. Another sign leads her less than a mile away to a lime green trailer. The light is on, so she pulls over. There’s a tiny cactus and a rock garden near the stairs. Kinda cute, she says. She knocks.

Name’s Wayne but they call me Tuna, the thin white man slurs at the gas station attendant through the screen door. She feels droplets of his spittle land on her left eyebrow. A dog barks; Tuna beats on the wall with his prosthetic hook. Shut up you motherfucker! He laughs. Don’t worry, darling. That’s just my dog, Zack. He really is friendly as hell. You wanna know his full name? Ball­-Zack! He laughs, then coughs for a good minute. Listen, come on in. She does.

On a beige couch under the back window, a teenage girl sits expressionless, her pocked face anesthetized by the milky blue glow of a muted television. Tori, why don’t you go and get me one of them jars from the bedroom. With the fancy silver lid. He winks and closes the blinds.

Tori looks first at this woman by the door, standing quiet squeezing her keys, then at the sliver of the handle of the knife emerging from her father’s pocket, the eager beads of sweat clutching his temples, his flesh hand reaching out to touch the woman’s arm. Tori walks toward the back room, envisioning the next morning:

this woman, gone, a mountain of pinkened Clorox wipes in a tied up Publix bag under the kitchen sink, the gaping blinds imprisoning her with their inch­wide bars of sunlight cast over the blanket television, over an anole basking on top of the gilded Bible on the coffee table, over the woman’s clothes folded in a row on the arm of the couch, over the bikinied bodies of the women posing on the wall calendar, over her own body…

She shuts the bedroom door behind her and lies down on the bed, gazing at the sparkling rings and bracelets bedecking the various dehydrated arms dangling by ribbons from the ceiling fan.

Better her than me, she says, reaching up.

Sally Burnette once got stuck in a claw machine at a roller rink trying to get a keychain with a pig on it. Her fiction is out in theEEEL and the National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed, and is forthcoming in Spectator & Spooks. She reads poetry for Redivider. Yell at her on twitter @dunebuggy12.

Submit a comment