You are reading Fiddleblack #12
He knew this was the last time he’d do this trip. Lucy slept most of the way but he made sure to stop every few hours and help her out of the passenger seat to pee. She was quick about it, squatting as much as her fat belly and arthritic bones would allow on small patches of grass, weeds, and just beyond the lights of the gas station parking lot, her bladder wasn’t what it used to be. But hell, his own bladder wasn’t what it used to be. He’d awoken on the pull-out couch at Mitch’s a few nights before to find a warm wet spot seeping through the front of his pajama pants and onto the sheets. Fitz put them in the wash before anyone awoke, told his son and his pretty wife that Lucy must have eaten too much of that Iowa sweetgrass and thrown up in the night.
Fitz looked at the map under the dome light in his truck. He was three-hundred miles from Reno, only fifty miles from Elko. It was nearing ten and he was tired. There was nothing on this stretch of the highway but gutted animals and roaring tractor trailers. There were some stretches of the trip that he couldn’t remember at all and he wondered if his mind was going the way Margaret’s had. She didn’t recognize him in those last months and kept asking where her husband and baby were.
He was five-years retired when Margaret died and already had a plot of land in western Nevada with a mobile home on it, paid for sight unseen. Mitch thought it was risky, said someone was scamming him and the place didn’t exist, but Fitz met the realtor in Elko, signed the paperwork, got directions and found his new home—a one bedroom trailer sitting off a stretch of road right where the realtor said it would be. Fitz adopted Lucy from the pound that same year. A shaggy stray with six shriveled teats, the shelter staff said she’d been found in the desert with a bloody mouth and cactus needles in her coat.
Fitz put the truck near the edge of the parking lot and lifted Lucy out. She stood unsteadily then walked behind a large bush. The desert lay before them, flat and unwelcoming. There were a few lights in the distance that Fitz had to squint hard behind his glasses to see. It was colder than he’d expected and he crossed his arms to his body against the night air. Two tractor trailers were parked nearby, the only other cars in the lot. Fitz couldn’t make Lucy out in the weedy overgrowth. He called to her and realized he could no longer hear the jingle of her tags. He walked further into the brush, thought how he should have kept her on a leash. He knew better. Fitz looked up and saw something dark pass overhead. It had the wingspan of a vulture, but at this hour? He called again and again for her and when he turned around he saw a man walking under the glow of the parking lot light, holding Lucy by the collar and leading her toward a big rig in a parking space.
“This your dog?” The man was still holding Lucy tight and she was straining against his grasp in the direction of Fitz’s voice.
“Yes, thank you.” And then, “You can let her go.”
The man looked down and appeared to tighten his grasp for a moment before finally releasing her. Lucy went to Fitz, sat down beside him. “You should keep her on a lead.”
“Of course, yes. She’s never done that before. Don’t know what’s gotten into her,” Fitz said. He patted Lucy’s head, pulled her to his leg with his palm.
“Desert does funny things,” the man said. “Name’s Glen.”
“Gene Fitzsimmons. They call me Fitz. And this here’s Lucy.”
“Fitz,” the man licked his tongue against his straight teeth like he had something stuck between them, “where you headed?”
“Reno. You driving one of those?” Fitz said, looking towards the big rig.
“Yep, that’s my girl. I’m heading to Reno, too.”
Fitz scratched his forehead, eyed the man. He couldn’t have been older than forty. Fitz had heard about homosexuals who wandered parking lots and parks at night looking for other men, secret codes that were given like tapping a foot under the bathroom stall or flashing the headlights of the car in a certain pattern. Fitz didn’t think this man was a homosexual though, and even so, Fitz was too old to be picked up by anyone.
His memory had been changing, rearranging facts and names and places lately. During the trip he’d called Mitch “Bobby,” his brother’s name. Mitch had looked so much like him for a moment and Fitz had to shake his head back and forth to right himself. He smiled like it was a joke. But then for more than a day, he couldn’t remember his daughter-in-law’s name and had to look at a stack of mail on the counter to jolt his brain. A blankness came into his mind sometimes and the words got mixed around and sometimes went missing. But he could still take care of himself. When Mitch had questioned him about it, asked if he’d gone to see the doctor lately, he’d snapped, “I’m not your mother, goddamnit.”
A young woman helped him get gas earlier in the day. She had a tattoo across her chest, some lettering that Fitz couldn’t read completely between her collarbones. The gas pump wouldn’t take his credit card. He kept holding it under the scanner but the display still showed the previous customer’s balance. Fitz fumbled for a few minutes, tried flashing other cards but the handle still wouldn’t unlock. The girl with the tattoo peeked around the other side of the pump, “Need some help?” she asked.
“This thing won’t take my cards,” Fitz said.
“Here,” she said, taking the card from his hand and sliding it into a slot Fitz hadn’t seen.
Fitz shook his head. “You’d think I’d never gotten gas before.”
She smiled and Fitz saw it was a look of pity. He looked at the screen and entered his zip code. The numbers came to him with ease. He didn’t know what had come over him before. The gas station snapped into focus and Fitz steadied himself against the truck, waved to the girl as she went back to her car.
It was worse in the morning and at night, he’d noticed. Memories came and went, floated into the room so clear Fitz felt just like he could reach out and touch them, then they were gone. Often he was filled with a need to get to Margaret. He made his way to the supermarket, asked the clerk when they’d last seen her. Was she just here? She wasn’t at home. The clerk didn’t know, kept asking him if he was okay. He looked down at himself, pajama pants and slippers under the fluorescent lights. He drove home with the window of the truck rolled down and the Nevada dust making him cough. When he was back in his trailer he shook sand from his slippers and wondered where it had come from. Lucy studied him, tilted her head as though he’d just spoken aloud.
Fitz missed Margaret most in the autumn when the sun set sooner and the nights were cool. Sometimes he wondered if he didn’t miss her at all but just the company, the help, the familiarity. He found a certain relief after she died—he was free from trips to the home, visits with nurses and doctors, the hours spent sitting in Margaret’s little room when she hardly knew he was there. Her hair got thinner in those last months, her skin almost translucent, and she often smelled unpleasant—like oil and cheap laundry detergent. The doctor had showed Fitz a model of what the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s disease looked like. It was shriveled and decayed and resembled a rotten piece of meat. He wished he’d never seen it. Fitz refused to be one of those sad widows who carried around a wedding photo, fingering the creases and handing it to waitresses and other strangers to look at, calling their dead wives “sweetheart.” Fitz felt it kinder to let her be dead. It all worked out in the end was how he liked to think about it. Things happen to you and then more things happen but one way or another everything finds a way. Fitz felt a satisfaction in looking at the neatness of life.
The blankness was coming to him again, unrolling itself like canvas and covering Fitz’s mind. “Salt Lake’s a nice city,” Fitz said. “I always like to stop here for the night.”
“I reckon you don’t want to backtrack,” the man said.
Fitz looked around the parking lot for some sign of where he was. He remembered the exit for Salt Lake City so clearly. Had he not pulled off there? The light from the white and red gas station sign was too bright, was glaring right in to Fitz’s eyes and he held his hand up to block it. “I can’t seem to make sense of my map,” he said finally. He realized how foolish he sounded so he added, “I think I oughta get me one of them GPS things.”
The man smiled, showed those white teeth again. “I got one of ‘em,” he said. “They’re not all they’re cracked up to be.”
Fitz patted Lucy’s head. “Well,” he said.
“You could follow me. No sense in looking at maps when we’re heading to the same place.”
Fitz nodded and extended his hand.
He drove on. It had been hours, it must have been. Lucy was getting restless, whining and standing and panting. He was following that guy, he said to himself. The big rig pulled off an unlighted exit and stopped. Fitz followed and parked off the road in some brush. The man came from behind him, pulled him out of the truck so quickly that he didn’t have a moment to get his footing and Fitz fell as the man hit him between the eyes. His glasses broke and Lucy growled and jumped from the open door. The man kicked her in the chest and she yelped, the headlights illuminating her stout frame while Fitz held his aching his face.
“I have money,” Fitz said.
They weren’t far off of the interstate and Fitz could hear cars going by, less now at this time of night but a few. The man had a gun and he pointed it at Fitz as he reached into the truck and pulled the keys from ignition. The lights died down and it looked much darker than Fitz had expected. “Get in,” the man said. Fitz had to get on all fours to push himself up and when he climbed up in the cab, it was more laborious than he thought it would be and the man had to push him in. “I have money,” he said, again. Lucy was standing nearby. She’d followed them and Fitz could see her shape waiting near the guardrail. He looked out at her as the man came around in the headlights, climbed in and put the truck into gear.
Someone would be looking for him, would recognize his nice dog or abandoned truck. It made him feel warm to think someone missed him. For a moment he pictured his mother, young and pretty. She surely missed him, had probably already sent Bobby to search for him. But then the image was gone and Fitz looked down at the man’s hand holding a gun. “What’s this all about,” he said aloud. The man drove on, farther off the exit, farther from the lone car they had passed, farther from Lucy, alone on the side of the road, sitting vigil at the empty car. Fitz started to shiver. The blood from his nose had dried and his face felt stiff. The land was empty and flat and unkind. They turned off suddenly, onto a bumpy access road and a hot stream of urine came out of Fitz, he felt it dampening his hand but he didn’t look down. The cab’s brightly lit dashboard allowed Fitz to see his reflection in the glass and he squinted without his glasses to make out the expanse of unfolding darkness they approached. The wetness in his lap grew cold after a few minutes and he wondered where it had come from. He wanted to shift in the seat, pull the fabric away from his skin, but he stilled himself and he waited, staring out like he had been on this road before and knew the stop was right ahead.
Gillian Morrison is a native of New England now living in the Midwest with her two black cats.