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Tail Lights

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A quick left off of Third Street and I'm right there.

An opening door surprises me, forcing a quick smile. The heavyset man wearing fruit of the loom underwear ratchets that shock up a notch, adding disgust. His beer-stained tank top is shriveled over his bubble stomach, exposing an unsightly amount of hair and skin. If the tip isn't at least three dollars, I think, I'll stop smiling and run him over with my Corolla.

"How are you," -- the dispatch sheet says -- "Jerry?"

"Fine," he says, lightly drumming against his junk like tito puente. "Just fine, my man. Jerry's my roomate. What do I need to sign for the card, guy?"

While passing the food and a pen, I avert eyes from the patch of hair jutting from his tighty-whities, appearing like a poorly picked afro. It's the kind of visual you only experience in nightmares and amateur or fetish pornographies. His tank top crinkles over his paunch like a faulty curtain, giving the afro room to breathe open air, room to soak in sunlight and grow.

"Would you like peppers and cheese, sir?"

How about a new pair of underwear in your size?

He drops a hand -- the one about to grasp my Ballpoint -- deep into his crotch, scratching, fondling his nuts, thinking it over.

He signs the receipt with that hand, leaving me a dollar.

"Peppers," he belatedly replies, releasing the pen from his grip, and swings the sweaty tips of that hand under a potato-shaped nose. "You were late, Boy. This pie shoulda been free. Why ain't it?"

"Call the store." I won't be the one picking up the phone. "You might get a free one." I sprinkle crushed red pepper and parmesan packets over the boxes in his fat arms. Making it rain, lightly. "The pen is yours."

"The penis yours?"

"No. Keep the pen. It's yours."

After rushing to the Corolla, I'm back on the road, fishing another Bic from the center console and dropping it in my khakis pocket. I'll have to watch a lot of good porn to rid my conscience of old fatty's nut-fro.

I avoid the highway like it has bird flu. That fifteen mile stretch of road remains a favorite hiding and lurching strip for the black and whites. You can get a ticket for being too ``unticketable'' on Highway 101. The yellow masking tape over my tail lights only adds to that hazard. One more ticket this month and I won't cover rent. Scares the living hell out of me, like that guy's nut-fro. Third Street, which parallels the highway, is the choice of an expert automobilist.

A police vehicle whips behind the Corolla, then swerves around and drives alongside. A window descends. It's a Volvo with a luggage rack. A teenager.

I press the switch for the automatic window on the passenger's side.

"Hey," the teen says. "Your trunk is up."

"No," I say, calming myself, and slowing my breaths. "It's attached with a bungee cord. It jumps. That's all."

"Oh. Sweet," the teen looks back at the trunk. "You might want to get that fixed. Looks illegal. Cops might ticket you."

"Yeah," I say, and nod once.

"Good looks," the teen probes the empty street ahead of his sparkling emerald Volvo, then punches the gas. It alternates between purrs and growls, speeding down the road and entirely disappearing, save the bright silver exhaust. Did I hear him call me a loser?

I take a right off Third Street onto Hydrangea and park the Corolla behind a blue Explorer at 1324. I hustle carrying forty dollars worth of pizza and wings up a three-staired porch and ring the doorbell.

I ring the doorbell a second time, after counting to twenty.

"Your pizza is here," I peer through the screen door. "Your pizza is here. Hello?"

I knock harder, which causes more sweat to well in my blood red polyester uniform, ruminating over my spiraling financial situation. My tickets. The trunk. The taillights. Money, money, more money.

I finger the doorbell over and over. I cup my hands and move in close.

"SIR! YOUR PIZZA HAS ARRIVED!" I shout, hands interlocked and lightly pressing the webbed screen.

He's not getting up. He's sunk like a ship into a tangeringe-orange sofa. I hope he capsizes on the floor.

I speed off Hydrangea and make the fifth right onto Third Street, swing a quick left onto Oceanview, park in front of the fourth dollhouse. A police officer on a horse trots toward my vehicle, yellow pad in hand. I hear purring and growling, and never felt so grateful for a spoiled teenager to suddenly whisk by. The emerald green Volvo seizes the officer's attention; he gallops past my busted fender yelling into a walkie-talkie.

The delivery to 842 Oceanview is only a single minute past its estimated time, but it's been "comped" or "freed out," a second check reveals.

"Naturally," I whisper, rolling my eyes.

I push the bell with my right index, again, restarting a count from twenty at forty. Thirty six, thirty five, thirty -- .

A brunette answers in a sopping two-piece swimsuit with a coral reef pattern.

"You made it!" she exclaims, water slipping down her sculpted abs and slender legs. "Wasn't sure if my girlies or I would hear the bell from the Jacuzzi."

"Oh," I say, breathing in a strong waft of raspberry perfume. "Glad you heard."

I unfold the Velcro flap of each hot bag, remove the pizzas, and pass three steaming boxes on to Maria, who sets the pies on the tiled floor. I linger at the open doorframe a moment in case something unexpected occurs. A nipple slip, a phone number exchange, or, surprisingly highest on my list of most wanted desires, a huge tip. Enough to get my tail lights covered before these cops force me into the street.

"There you go, Miss," I say to fill up the air, lollygagging until she confirms my suspicions.

To my surprise, she digs her canary-colored fingernails into her brown leather purse for a good second or two.

"You know what," she says, creating a small din with her search. "I don't have any cash left over. I gave everything to the previous driver."

"That's okay, Miss," I say, turning to leave with carbonating chagrin.

"But you know what," she says, setting the purse down on the tile and removing a small pad. "Would it be okay if I wrote you a personal check?"

I stall in thought and action.

"Well?" She waves the checkbook like a tiny tambourine. "I'd feel terrible if you got nothing for driving all the way out here!"

"Really?" I say. "Well. I mean. Do you think it would be too much to ask for eleven dollars?"

I nearly have a heart attack waiting for her response.

"Excuse me?"

"It's my break lights. These cops will keep ticketing my vehicle if I don't put red tape over them. I was rear ended a couple months ago - "

She looks at me, briefly. Shakes her cute, hamster-shaped head.

"No, no, that won't do Darling. You poor, poor thing."

She scribbles on the top check in her pad, tears it off, and hands it to me. "Good luck with your break lights," she says, leaning forward with her eyes squinting to the point where they look shut. "Marcus."

While the door closes, she pulls up a smile like she is decidedly happy to return into her home, which I imagine is a gorgeous two-story, replete with replicas of famous paintings, wall-sized flat screen televisions, glass figurines and avante garde furniture sets. I imagine a heated pool and a bubbling hot tub. Tropical sounding mixed drinks with fruit-colored umbrellas. I can only dream of owning a house with similar upscale furniture and luxurious amenities some far off day. For now, covering those lights will keep my optimism afloat. Like a balloon over a field of cacti.

Though her smiling salon-tanned, gerbil face vanishes, her sweet smelling perfume lingers with my steps, wafting in a heavenly scent of raspberry all the way to my smashed up car. The fragrance lodging in my nostrils. Exercising its squatter's rights.

Travels with me across Oceanview and on the drive down Third Street; completely overpowers my brain function, entrancing my thoughts. Tricks me into unknowingly hanging a right off Third Street onto Highway 101.

At the first intersection a police siren blares behind my Corolla.

 

Ryan Gregory Thomas was a film student, but after leaving school became a fiction writer. He will forever be a life-long resident of California, residing in San Diego mostly, and -- of recent -- Riverside, and plays in a band. He has been published at everydayfiction.com, short-story.me, firstwriter.com, and hopes to expand his writing resume with several more publications. Hope you enjoyed!

 

 

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