Don't Sit Still—a short story
"It was comforting, I have to admit."
CONTENT WARNING: This short story contains explicit language. Please be advised.
0 miles – Sterling Heights, Michigan
Winona would do this.
266 miles – Gary, Indiana
I nodded. I watched the waitress pour too much. The cup overflowed. A brown puddle rippled across the saucer beneath.
“East or west?”
“Alone?” I didn’t appreciate the tone she took when asking, some strange blend of surprise and jealousy, that I wasn’t settling, that she hadn’t done something similar, that my journey, unlike hers, wouldn’t start and end in Gary.
“How old are you?”
“Would’ve guessed sixteen.”
Thanks. Before I could say anything else, she’d hurried to a man seated in one corner of the restaurant, also alone. He wore a pressed blue button-up and a baseball cap as black as his beard. While speaking with me, she’d appeared to have had her youth beaten from her bones like dust from a rug; for this man, though, she was more than capable of sashaying through the restaurant as if she were twenty-five. I watched her giddily take his order and half-pirouette away from his table and back toward me.
“Be with you in a second, hun,” she told me as she passed by, on the way to the server station. She even touched my shoulder, like we’d known each other for longer than sixty seconds.
It was comforting, I have to admit.
I took a moment to study the man. He had short legs, stood five-six, maybe five-seven, with a strong neck and triceps that stretched his shirt taut. For a moment, I imagined him setting several records at his small high school, crowdsurfing down a long hallway with one exit, this top dog in assists and touchdowns or pins and pussy. But he had few victories now, if any. There was no winning shot anymore, no skirt to lift up, no panties to nervously pull aside, no bra to unclasp. His sad stare out the front window said so. A life of nostalgia, constant reminders of his peak.
The waitress clicked her pen. “What can I get ya?”
“Two eggs over easy, links, wheat toast. Side of pancakes.”
The waitress scurried to the man once more and giggled like a cheerleader that had botched the squad’s routine with an unsynchronized kick. It made me wonder if she’d always wanted to belong to him, if they’d been classmates, if he’d charmingly cheated off of her C- exams. But, even as he spoke, the man kept looking out the window, as if he were some bird no longer satisfied scouring frosted dirt for worms.
444 miles – Davenport, Iowa
Winona may have always been a mirage. Glowing in doorways of movie theaters, on the trodden grass of our Dodge Park, Lake Huron’s shore, on this motel room’s dark blue ceiling. Skin the shade of coconut. Stunning. Radiant.
San Diego now. With Francis.
Francis. Francis. I’d never vomited over a name before. But there she was, ankle deep in the Pacific, skin clear as ever, smooth, sun-bleached hair. Appearing free in uploaded mirages. 129 likes.
Uploads do nothing at all to kill love; eleven months of them can’t kill that. Mere scabs picked at. Dead skin balled beneath fingernails.
802 miles – Lincoln, Nebraska
Mom called today and wanted to have a conversation for once. She asked how I was and I told her fine. She asked how the car was holding up and I said fine.
“I’m fine. Going through a drive-thru (I’ll take a number four with Sprite, please).”
“We miss you already, that smile of yours.”
That wasn’t true. I wouldn’t actually be missed for months, not until the holidays, the only time her actions mirror her intent. But I told her I miss them too, even Maggie, our bloodhound, which wasn’t true either. I miss you should have more weight, but it doesn’t, not from her. From Winona, sure; I miss you would’ve meant more than something then.
“I heard a squeak—are the breaks okay? I can wire you some money.”
“They’re fine, Mom. Everything’s fine (thanks).”
“Yes. I’m going to eat now.”
“Ok. Be safe, I love you.”
“Tell Winona I say hello.”
1,071 miles – Ogallala, Nebraska
Winona II because she looked like Winona. Long neck, thick hips, wandering eyes everyone near her knew could never be satisfied by half-filled silos.
“Her?” Winona II said.
I bet Winona II kept a journal to record her dreams, to speculate about what’s out there, spinning the wheel but always landing on: Prince Charming and a view of the ocean from atop a skyscraper. Maybe Winona II wrote about me later, something about the guy sitting nearby that wouldn’t/couldn’t stop glancing at her, wondering if I was leaving or staying, what role I played in any of this. Maybe Winona still writes about us. I hope she does. I hope there are times that I evolve into Francis on the page.
“Yeah, her.” Baby Fat looked at me as if I were intruding so I shoved around my eggs.
Baby Fat because his cheeks still looked like they needed to be stretched a bit. Other than that, he was skinny, some stubble, messy hair. Curious eyes, but not for exploration or ocean air or art school. Just her, Winona II, and it was clear that here was where he hoped he could anchor her heart—in Ogallala.
“Yeah, she’s a dyke.” There was no immediate response. “What? It’s a word—that’s what she is.”
Winona II sighed. “What about her?”
Winona II stared at a woman across the restaurant reading a magazine and eating what looked to be a tuna sandwich.
“What do you see?”
“I see the tuna. I see the Cosmo. She’s alone. Her hair is done real nice, layered, like she just came from the salon. Cute purse. Coach, maybe. Kate Spade. Am I missing anything?”
Baby Fat shook his head. “You’re not seeing it. Switch sides.”
When they switched sides I caught a whiff of Winona II’s shampoo. She even smelled like her, like that first time we had sex and I was on top and didn’t know what to do with my hands so I kept them in her hair and the Melon clung for hours.
“See anything different?”
“Look at her upper lip, at the peach fuzz. You probably think that green tanktop she’s wearing is cute—perfect for a hot day, right? The next time she moves, look at her armpits.”
“Are there sweat stains?”
“No, the hair.”
“That doesn’t make her a lesbian.”
“Here’s the kicker. You’d think that with that tanktop she’d be wearing pants that hug her ass, or a skirt, and some shoes that match, right? She isn’t, though. She has baggy carpenter jeans on and she’s wearing blue basketball shoes. Fucking Nikes.” Baby Fat settled into the booth as if deeming himself victorious. “She’s looking at the Cosmo because it’s one of the closest things she can get to being a real woman.”
I hung my head.
I wish I would’ve said something to Baby Fat. Winona would, like that one time at Arby’s when a punk ass teenager made fun of an old woman struggling to put Horsey sauce on her tray and Winona threw an uncapped cup of ketchup that splattered on the flat bill of Punk Ass’s hat. Winona’s actions and the old woman’s “Thank you” spoke much louder than Punk Ass’s “Fuck you, bitch” and exit.
“All right, I’m out,” Winona II said. She forced Baby Fat to move so she could grab her purse and light jacket.
“Good luck,” Winona II said. She stayed by the table for a second before taking off toward the door. “Good luck, with everything. I mean it.”
Baby Fat eventually sat back down at the table, his curious eyes unsatisfied with the certainty of what his greasy coffee cup reflected back under the dim light: a distorted boy, alone.
1,460 miles – Rifle, Colorado
Jake called me earlier and said Winona put more pictures of her and Francis online. Without me asking, he said they were taken at some concert and both of them were dripping with sweat, like in that dream I told him about a while ago where I see Winona getting railed by some dude on a beach that can throw her around in a way she likes. A way that scrawny me couldn’t. The one that ends with her struggling for breath, fingernails hidden in what specks of fat the dude has on his back, her knuckles white.
“You were right,” Jake said. “He is a big guy.”
Then he told me they’d miss me at the car wash and he was pissed he’d have to work with dipshit Arthur all summer. I faked a laugh and told him I wasn’t sorry. Then he asked if I’d told Winona I was coming. I told him no, that it’s a surprise and that it could change things. He called me an idiot and said it wasn’t going to change a goddamn thing and to come home so I hung up.
1,733 miles – Aurora, Utah
Lots of chatter in the restaurant, which made me think of Coney, of Dad and where he could be now, of Stevenson High School’s cafeteria, of Mom watching Ellen, then Maury, then Montel.
“Royce Crosaci, you ginger fuck.”
They shook hands next to their table. Bronco reminded me of a fat Patrick Bateman, slicked hair and three-piece suit rare to Aurora. Royce was a weathered redhead with coffee splatters on his t-shirt from what I took to be a carpal-tunneled wrist.
“How are the kids?”
“Getting to the age where they’re out there searching for love.”
I wondered at what age I began, when anyone does. I waited for Bronco to tell me there was such a thing to be found in San Diego—the tone in his voice said he knew, the confidence sliding off the back of his tongue, not leaping off the tip—but Royce, Royce needed answers, too.
“I don’t know where Becky goes,” Royce said moments later, after the coffee came.
“How do you not know?” Again, that slide.
“She told me a while back that she wanted to get a gym membership, but I haven’t seen any change in the bank account. She’s not paying any sort of fees. I’d see that, right?”
“Does she have her own credit card or something?”
“No. We share everything.”
“You sure about that?” Bronco asked. Then: “What does she look like when she gets home?”
“She’s still in her office clothes but she, she—” Royce leaned in and whispered the rest, “—she doesn’t look like she just got fucked or anything.”
I pictured Becky as a woman who was easily ignored in her day to day. Average height, average weight, average stride, average hair, the consequences of such averageness taking its toll when stacked year over year. Not ever truly seen, no matter how many different patterns of pantsuits she’d worn to the office. Not ever truly heard, in meetings, at the water cooler, in her own bedroom, no matter the volume or tone.
“I can’t just accuse her of cheating. She’d avoid the question. Flip the situation on its head and make me feel guilty for even considering it.”
“You still love her?”
“Of course.” Royce’s response time couldn’t have been gauged by seconds.
“My advice: don’t let her out of your sight. Always put a GPS on your bitch. I did. I see where Marie goes at all times now. Home, school, supermarket. Home, school, supermarket. Home, school, supermarket. Get it?”
I pictured this Marie, in retaliation, bringing a world Bronco was ignorant of into their home while he was gone. Banana Republic boxer briefs on the floor, warmed by afternoon sun for the grocery bagger tugging them on before Bronco could open the garage door. Drops of sperm drying on Bronco’s edge of the quilt.
I felt my appetite wane.
“Yeah,” Royce said. “I get it. You’re right. You’re probably right.”
1,936 miles – Littlefield, Arizona
Sick of driving. Stopped for the night in another scummy motel. First time I’ve thought about turning back. Can hear people fucking next door and whoever’s on top keeps slapping the walls like it proves a point and I’m afraid to fall asleep because of that beach dream. I don’t want to see it anymore, Winona’s lips, the flushed knuckles, the wet, tan-lined thighs. She kisses him when she’s done, always kisses him not just on the lips, but the forehead. And then they trace each other’s interstates on their palms beneath moonlight, waves not crashing like my conscious mind would hope but gently lapping, filling footprints.
1,945 miles – Mesquite, Nevada
He had an Oklahoman drawl when he said, “Willie.”
Willie was a handsome guy—old but fit, with tattoos. He showed me one of a bulldog. Its jaws were no longer fierce but sloppily drooling over his blistered right hand. Mauled by Nevada sun, and age.
“Got that after Basic. Hottest summer of my life. Where you headed?”
“Girl then. We do dumb things for love, don’t we.” Willie phrased this not as a question, but a statement. The correct punctuation. “What’s her name?”
“That’s pretty.” Despite Willie’s exterior, pretty was not a hard word for him to say.
“Was? Not often a name just up and stops being pretty. What’s your story, Trevor?”
“Don’t have a story.”
“Gonna start one then?”
After that he told me if I loved Winona like he loved his wife to not let her die and I think I was listening because the way the bulldog shivered when Willie spoke of bedpans and IVs and oxygen tanks seemed to wake me up. Those hands, that bulldog could’ve built many things, destroyed just as much, wandered many bodies. But they were capable of love. And one room, one person had scarred its poor soul still.
0 miles – Mesquite, Nevada
I don’t know when I’ll see an ocean.
An earlier version of “Don’t Sit Still” was published in WhiskeyPaper.
Cover image of “Don’t Sit Still” is by Ezra Jeffrey-Comeau, via Unsplash.
"Those hands, that bulldog could’ve built many things, destroyed just as much, wandered many bodies. But they were capable of love." - If that's not love, I don't know what is. Powerfully stated. I also love the last phrase; it gives me shivers.