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Another Way to View a River

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Henry figured he’d jacked almost three hundred bucks from the convenience store as he raced across the parking lot jamming bills into his hoodie.  The store owner was ten yards behind him, arms flailing, when the girl Henry had passed earlier stuck out her foot.  The old guy took a header into a concrete bumper block.

Going up to the little place along the highway, ignoring his sweaty palms, Henry had noticed the sundress the teenager wore — a yellow thing he thought invited the sun to visit all the right places.  She’d been leaning back against a handicap parking sign, smoking, and staring him down under the mascara spackled over her eyes.

 

In the time it took Henry to hit the ignition and slam into first gear she’d jumped into his Pontiac.  He threw gravel gunning the car onto Route 9 as she shouted from the passenger side, “Shoulda parked closer to the door.  Better drive fast if you got any sense.”

The Pontiac had a full tank of gas and he had a roll of money.  Now, he could add this girl gripping the Jesus handle and laughing like a maniac.  He’d never quite seen a girl with this much energy.  It was Henry’s day, and his night as he drove most of it straight up the Thruway to Buffalo.  Damn, but that girl showed initiative, he marveled.

She told him her name was Angie and she chattered like a monkey all the way north, everything from her rotten family to the greaseball who almost made her pregnant to the tourists — she called them “bennies" — who vacationed in south Jersey every summer.

He thought it was kinda cute how hypnotized she was when the Niagara Falls came into view.  “All that water,” she said riding up Robert Moses Parkway.  “Where’s it all come from?  And don’t it ever empty those Great Lakes?”

“Maybe that’s the mystery of life,” he replied, slowing to let her take in the cataract.  He pulled the Pontiac into Big Mal’s driveway and turned to look at her.  “Niagara’s something more powerful’n you or me or all the stuff we got put together.”

“Just don’t give me any God crap,” she snorted.  “Haven’t got time when there’s places to go and stuff to do.”

Big Mal, Henry’s father, shook her hand from where he lay in the lounge chair.  In less than five minutes, he also informed her he was a tribal chief, a noble descendant of the Métis.

“What’s that?” she asked with her mouth open.

“I’m descended from the French coureurs de bois and Indian women in Manitoba,” he answered, sitting up straighter.  Henry had heard his father invite respect like this many times, but Angie thought it was hilarious and began calling him “chief.”

It didn’t take two days before Mal got downright pissed at having Henry’s new girlfriend around, leaving her dirty dishes in the sink and soda cans on the tables in his house.  There was a real set-to when Mal found she’d rinsed out her underwear in his bathroom and hung up bras and panties on his towel rack.

“Take it easy, Pops,” Henry said.  “It’s not forever.  We’ll hit the road pretty soon maybe.”  Mal had diabetes, a bad temper and little more than a Social Security check keeping his rent and utilities paid.  Well, there was Mal’s VA life insurance worth 25 thousand, Henry thought, but the chief was a long way from croaking.

Angie was a hot number, dancing in her panties at night while Henry played air guitar.  She also had some hare-brained ideas, like hitting a 7-Eleven south of the city.  He told her no, absolutely and positively.  “Appreciate your gumption, but it ain’t smart.”

“We need the money,” she insisted.

“They got cameras,” he explained.  She went ahead a couple days later, taking his Pontiac without asking, almost getting caught, and ending up with less than 60 bucks.  Her singing him to sleep after making love in the afternoon made it seem kind of okay.  He forgave her.  Kind of.

She was just impulsive, he thought as she suggested other ways to get cash.  Like a home invasion of a millionaire’s mansion.  Dust balls in her brain.  She didn’t think things through.  Henry wasn’t a crook.  Just borrowing a little cash till he got on his feet.  But, for a Jersey farm girl, Angie was manic about robbery.  Some Bonnie and Clyde problem in her head.

“Henry, that one’ll get you in trouble, honky-tonkin’ and talkin’ about ripping off convenience stores,” Mal warned.  “Next thing, she’ll wanta do a bank heist.  Your Ma, God rest her, taught you better.”

“You’re the trouble-maker,” Angie burst into the conversation, “laying around this shack makin’ everyone sick and tired.  If Henry would’ve come with me to do that 7-Eleven we would’ve done it proper and got some real money.  He probably could’ve gave me some happiness, too, if it weren’t for you.”

“You never did a lick of work in your life, little girl.”  Mal’s anger got the better of the pain in his legs, and he stood up to shake his cane.

“Chief, my ass.  We’re okay when I and him are alone.”  Then she slammed the door and went out to sit in Mal’s bass boat, looking at Canada across the river.

The Niagara enchanted her.  “Not like the Mullica River in Jersey that just lays there and does nothing,” she told Henry.  “See, I’m like those waterfalls and you’re like a little stream.”

If Angie wanted to hurt him, she was succeeding.

Hearing Angie and Mal bitching at each other finally motivated Henry out of the bungalow to go look for work.  Knocking over little stores wasn’t his career ambition.  Garage work as a mechanic would be fine, Henry told every car repair place on the strip, pointing to his ’73 Pontiac GTO with the 400 cube V8 he’d customized.

He was singing the song Angie had crooned in bed when he got home that night, happy that a shop on Hyde Park Boulevard agreed to take him on.  Probation, the big guy at the garage called it, like he was being tested.  That was okay.  Henry was good with cars.  Angie could learn to cook from Mal and they’d have a normal life.  A family.

First thing he saw when his eyes adjusted to the dim living room was Big Mal laying back in his chair with blood running down his forehead.  Mal’s cane — also bloody — was on the floor.

Henry turned on some lights, examined Mal by poking his finger into his father’s cold cheek, then saw the paper on the end table — a letter written by Angie.

“Henry,” she wrote in capital letters, “by the time you read this I will be outta here.  I know you don’t think much of me cuz of those things I done.

Well, goddammit to hell, I never said I was perfect.  You always called me predickable as a hog.  Okay.  I like easy money.  A girl’s gotta have some fun and all you and your old man ever do is bitch.

So you will see soon enough I hacked your checkbook and took half cuz you owe me all those weeks.  The chief is dead because he had no call to bitch at me when I was just tryin to get some sleep.  You were both on my case from the start.

I have borrowed your boat.  I will leave it on the Canada side of the river when I get done.  Don’t try to find me cuz I will never come back.  I have dreams to follow and some man will love me for who I am.  Not what they think I should be.

Goodbye forever, Angie.”

Henry read the letter three times, looking at his father lying cold in the lounger.  Oh, Angie, he thought, I could’ve told you the boat’s gas tank was emptyThere wasn’t enough to get you 50 feet out onto the Niagara River, half a mile above the falls.

The falls had a lesson to teach, Henry thought.  He didn’t know exactly what the lesson was, maybe something about forces bigger than an Indian chief or a woman crazy with ambition.  That was the tragic side.  Other hand, it would be okay having 25 thou and some time to think about it.

#  #  #

Bio: Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Corner Club Press, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Gumshoe Review, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Pif Magazine, r.kv.r.y, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, The Short Humour Site, The World of Myth and Written Word. He was 6th place winner of the 79th annual Writer’s Digest writing competition in October 2011. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child (www.wildchildpublishing.com).

 

 

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