Stephen Spotte, a retired marine scientist, lives on Longboat Key, Florida. He is author of 23 books including volumes of fiction, nonfiction, and creative nonfiction. His fifth novel Animal Wrongs is scheduled for publication October 19, 2021 by Three Rooms Press.
DISPATCH FROM THE JUNKYARD ROAD
I was setting atop a middle barstool surrounded by emptiness when they come through the door, two silhouettes blacked against the afternoon glare and climbed stools on either side of me, which seemed peculiar. Usually friends and relatives prefers to set by theirself without strangers amongst them. The shades had been pulled down and they seemed glowing in the dim bar light, perfume trailing behind the close-shaved one like a felled lilac blossom too long on the ground. Whew! that one said. She sure is a hot one out there. For emphasis he drug the back of one hand acrost his brow and looked at me direct. I couldn’t tell if the look was friendly or not. He wore two dangled earrings and his head-hair stood up shiny and hopeful in a kind of poem. Both was portly, the other slovenly with long greasy head-hair and wearing a red beard that reminisced me of a roadkill fox pasted against his face. He didn’t say squat except to expel a grunt when he set down, as if maybe hitting the seat too hard had depressed his hemorrhoids. I’d just showed up myself. The woman tending bar said what’ll it be there, pilgrim. I figured she meant me ‘cause she was already lining up the other two with draft beers as if they was regulars. I asked did she have a drink menu. Not printed up, but I got it memorized. We have beer and whiskey. What about mixed drinks? I can pour a shot of whiskey in your beer, or if you want fancy I can level out the whiskey in a shot glass and drop the whole motherfucker direct into the beer. That’s called a depth charge and the price is the same as if I offer them separate. Depends on how thirsty for adventure you feel. Then she said I ain’t seen you before. I reckon it’s ‘cause I ain’t been here before, but don’t take that to mean I wasn’t somewheres in the meantime. In fact, what it means is I was somewheres else except here. And that’s where I was until the exact minute I walked in the door. Now, I wouldn’t mind at all if you keep me set up, ‘cause I aim to stay planted a spell. I’ll take them separate. That cheap whiskey you carry needs icy beer to back it up. The bar lady looked at the hairy one. He’s funny, ain’t he. Yeah, said hairy. He could be on teevee. I’m headed south, I said, into Kentucky. Well, said the bartender, Kentucky is about three mile over the mountain yonder after a dozen or so hairpin turns. I was there once myself, but it’s better right here in West Virginia. We’re twins from Ohio, said the hairy one, meaning he was probably half of a set including the person to the other side of me who had took hisself to pressing against me kind of close. Cleveland to be exact, said hairy. Also known as The Mistake By The Lake, said smooth-face. We’re on the way to Louisville, hairy continued. Been stuck here a week waiting on a phone call from surgeons over there. Sis and me, we need better than just popping hormones. We’re at the roach motel across the road. Goddamn surgeons. He dug a elbow into my ribs and said, and you? Working off-label. I’m a traveling salesman, but not by trade. I go around signing up junkyards to list their parts online. My company then sells them through a computer program and takes a cut. I teach the junkyard owners how to list their stuff and get a commission for each yard I sign up. Well ain’t that something, said the bartender. Her name’s Millie and I’m Geraldine, said the clean- shaved one, and that’s my twin brother Gerald. Howdy y’all, I said. I wished they’d shut up so I could think a little in peace and get numb. With nothing keeping me home it was a relief to drive acrost the Logan County line headed south, but I wasn’t feeling sociable. I was still licking my wounds from the pain Warneeta had laid on me three months back in the spring. Same as any educated man my feelings is more sensitive than most, and the wreckage she left of my life has been considerable. I’ve had a year of junior college where I studied how to make Excel spreadsheets, but my overall knowledge is broader. Hell, I read the immortal lines of the English poet William Faulkner a million times and even quoted them to Warneeta trying to be romantic, but she only throwed me a glance like I’m retarded. The breakup happened faster than you would believe. Warneeta looked me in the eye, squeezed my hand, and announced that her and me was through, and that we’d now be going separate ways, as a couple. She said this while we set atop a stone wall dining on RC Colas and Moon Pies (hers chocolate, mine vanilla), and quicker than spit I was girlfriendless and alone on a wide wide sea, as Mr. Faulkner wrote. She reminded me of our goal to rise above white trash saying that in my case there would always be too much dirt beneath my fingernails. For weeks afterward I staggered in hurtful mourning from bar to bar following tough days at the shop fighting trannies and mourning after the manner of the young, envisioning myself to be a errand knight in rusty armor unhorsed and unwanted. Without a woman my days and nights had turned fluid, a benefit some wise men say, but sadly I was a permanent situation. It had a feeling alongside that roar of a migraine shrinking you to infinitesimal size yet sneaky, like a speck of fly shit in a pepper shaker. Let me say it to you straight: I ain’t had as much as you might think, of pussy. Sure, it’s all around, but not like some woman ever pinned me to the floor and had her way with me in the biblical sense, much as I’ve dreamed about that happening. Not until I met Warneeta when it almost did. Okay, I’ll give you the green hair all spikey and enough piercings to attract any industrial-size magnet. I’ll rightly admit that Warneeta is no Playmate of the Month, not with chronic rhinorrhea and a club foot, but she makes up for it through enthusiasm and aggression. She was studying folk music one-oh-two up to the junior college and learning to play the dulcimer. Her teacher was Adjunct Professor Meirsbaum who is not a certified hillbilly, just some wannabe from the flatlands of Kansas who thought hillbillies, like white rats, was something needed studying. As I’ll tell you soon, Cousin Clement used to make them things, and he played a mean dulcimer. So there we was setting on that stone wall by the college entrance and talking between bites of Moon Pie and sips of RC Cola, Warneeta telling me once again how she had trailer aspirations of the double-wide sort while my own would forever wallow in single-wide. No matter how hard I tried I would always be white trash. She’d made the effort, she reminded me, oh Lord knows she did, to pull me up to her level, but now she no longer had the strength of endurance. It was time to move on, she said, specifically to bald bespectacled Adjunct Professor Meirsbaum, who was soon to be in line for a pay raise at the junior college and maybe even assistant professor, which meant a full-time job. The two of them was already “doing it,” she added with a smirk that peeked through to a mouthful of partly masticated Moon Pie. What I’m saying, my little papoose, is me and you is through, kapoof. You are dead to me. She tried to slide off and depart but caught her club in a wall crack and done a direct face-plant, skinning a knee. I’ll be a fucked if that don’t hurt, she said, brushing off the sidewalk dirt. At that moment my own mouthful of Moon Pie lodged in the throat where it kicked like a live mouse with little pink feet and naked tail, furred body stuck in a ferocious mix of grief and repentance to the mucous membranes all around. No, I won’t go down! It shouted. I will not accept this! So I started going everywhere loaded full by a heavy case of the sorries and tormenting my liver in various drinking establishments until a relative caught up with me. And if he didn’t exactly set me on a path to godliness it was at least a path to somewheres else besides Purgatory, and when school ended I switched careers and took up sales. This would be Uncle Isaac. He’s actually younger than me, our family lineage being stretched out within the context of birthing intervals. He was a few years behind me at school, but has always seemed the wiser and more mature of us two. After Warneeta dumped me for the professor, Uncle Isaac and me found ourself drinking together of an evening in a juke joint. I remember ‘cause every other song was the Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody. Nobody yodels in falsetto like Bobby Lee Hatfield, and he rung a sorrowful echo in my past memories. But Uncle Isaac, he brung me back. Open your eyes, old son, said he. Awaken to the fragrance of the roadside burdock in bloom and raise up the limbo bar of your expectations. Put your feet on the porch rail, lean back your chair onto its hind legs, and sip a cup of hot pokeweed tea while thinking vile lustful thoughts. Warneeta wasn’t ever going to slip into silky pantyhose and high heels, not with that club foot. Find yourself a new woman who shaves and is a devotee of dental hygiene. This way when you kiss her your tongue will not be rooting past a moustache only to confront a jumbled picket fence of brown teeth and a chaw of Mail Pouch. Pick one with a tight butt, a lengthy stride, and long swingy head-hair, that tends to lean into your ear regular and shout, I want it all the time! I’m still looking for her. She’s out there someplace standing and waiting for me to appear courageous in her spike heels and modest dress that presents two more cheeks to powder. I should take heart, I suppose, and look to the bright side of lacking sex with Warneeta. While locked in the missionary position her leg with the club foot at the end was bent inward permanent so it curved over my back, and in her throes Warneeta beat that foot up and down on my spinal bones till they was hammered black and blue. The chiropractor asked many times was I a coal miner suffering a box of roof bolts falling on me or maybe I smashed the pickup into the stone wall surrounding Stonewall Jackson’s statue over to the park, that he’d never in his life saw spinal bumps so threatened. When I said I keep falling down the stairs he told me horseshit, a single-wide don’t have enough stairs. I can’t deny that my back is lots better these days, and almost feel sorry for Adjunct Professor Meirsbaum, he’s so slight and all. I reckon they don’t call them things a club foot for no reason. Later that same evening Melvin Quirts set down beside us. Melvin’s head don’t have many hairs but those it does seems electrified. They won’t stay combed in place though Melvin tries his mightiest to keep them laying flat with Brylcreem and Vaseline. However, the same ones always pops up, the reason being a mystery to Melvin and his barber both. Daddy has a theory. Him and Melvin growed up together and according to Daddy Melvin has suffered a life-long infestation of head lice. His mama tried every known cure, even one where each morning she doused his hair with gasoline and taped a plastic bag over his head leaving nose and mouth holes and holding it in place with duct tape atop the ears and underneath the chin before taking away his cigarette lighter and sending him off to grade school. Melvin’s lice stuck around but the treatment made him fail third grade twice ‘cause the teacher thought he was deaf and blind when the reason all along was that bag taped over his head. When I was little I remember watching movies where the hero made spring-traps out of saplings, bending them over with a loop of rope tied at the tip, the hero trying to survive in the wilderness. When a rabbit stepped inside the loop it sprung the sapling and the rabbit was left dangled upside-down in the air making rabbit noises. That night I’m telling you about I went to sleep drunk wondering if Melvin maybe could do the same thing with his head-hairs, bending them over and fastening tiny loops of thread to the ends, trapping the lice by their spikey feet and later standing in front of a mirror combing them out as they hung sneering in the splendor of their terrible grotesqueness. I also needed time by myself to remember pleasant memories. My cousin Clement Imentioned already is of course a actual hillbilly, and at one time made dulcimers and sold them to unwitting hillbilly pretenders like Adjunct Professor Meirsbaum. That was back in the days before he decided to grow up. When Cousin Clement graduated college with a degree in the fine arts he was amazed to discover that this exquisite scrap of paper did not entitle him to a parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City and a high-paying job with a corner office on Wall Street. Thusly disillusioned he stole some family money and went on a three-month art appreciation tour of western Europe to visit sculptures of naked people and in the thinning crowds of late afternoon rub and groan against those of historical women, the jail-bait Joan of Arc and her horse in particular. This was during the 1960s, and true to his eastern religious yearnings he donned his swami robe, turban, and sandals, rented a dented Volkswagen with queasy brakes and the headlights busted out, and set forth. In Holland during a thunderstorm a roadside object that resembled a sodden muskrat jumped in front of him waving a thumb-like appendage. Recognizing by the thumb a higher primate in some mortal distress, he fishtailed to a stop and opened the passenger door. Cousin Clement has always been a curious sort eager to investigate the strange and unknown. The object jumped onto the seat beside him, said thank-you in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian and accepted the smoldering joint he held out. I am the truth, he said. They navigated to a youth hostel and shared a bed where this specific primate became, once showered and blow-dried and combed over, a beautiful blonde nineteen-year-old girl named Ursula from Switzerland with killer legs and hellacious knockers. Cousin Clement, being in person large and hairy and horny and wearing thick glasses that magnify things, this last explaining why he has seldom met a flat-chested woman, fell in love. He brought her back to America and married her. I was best man and later participated in stabbing their waterbed until it turned flaccid as a nun’s nipple. His new bride had always hated that bed ‘cause when Cousin Clement rolled over in his sleep he propagated a seismic wave that seconds later dumped her onto the floor. Once enveloped in the family fold we named her Cousin Ushie. When Cousin Clement and me set one time sipping white liquor with cheap beer backups to douse the heat on my tattered couch while watching football on the teevee, Cousin Ushie plopped down between us, crossed her elegant legs, and said, uh, Cousin Steve, how do you, uh, how do you tell the rednecks from the no-necks of this game you call football? But that’s another story entire, and I ain’t got time to repeat it. The happy couple eventually moved to Zurich where Cousin Clement learned the German language, became a maker of jewelry, and together they propagated the specie. The result would be Cousin Andre. When the three of them come to visit in the 1970s me and Cousin Clement again found ourself drinking moonshine with a beer backing on the same tattered couch (now with many more lies to tell) while watching the teevee, and Cousin Clement confessed that what really pissed him off was that Cousin Andre, who was then about eight years old, spoke English with a German accent. And I also needed privacy to figure how to make more money, maybe win Warneeta back. Last time I asked the sales manager for a raise I got a lecture about cutting costs. He said now listen old son, I myself don’t have near the perks I once did. Why, just last Tuesday I had to buy my own lunch, and we’re talking here two glasses of imported wine, a large Caesar, a sixteen-ounce sirloin with a baked potato suffocating under all the sour cream, two slabs of ice-cream cake, and ending with coffee and a double dry sherry. You want hardship? That’s hardship. And the gas per diem? Why, that’s went all to hell too, and my wife in need of bunion surgery, the kid with scabies, and me having to carry them back and forth to the doctor ten mile each way in a Bentley of last year’s model. Think that sumbitch don’t eat gas? These is lean times, friend. I’m down considerable in personal weight from worry and starvation and only this morning found myself gaining on two belt-holes I never knowed was there. Folks say I’m near hide laid on bone. . . .Did you see it? Did. . .you. . .see. . .it? That old boy Gerald just whupped me on the ear, slud off his bar stool, and snuck off to the men’s room without so much as a friendly middle-finger salute. You mean to say that old girl went and did. What say? Looks plain male to me, the beard and all. . . .Not yet, Millie says, and it ain’t me thinks up these septual categories, it’s them that does, planning on flip-flopping respectable God-gived septual organs and become what The Almighty already done told them they ain’t, as she glared direct at Geraldine still perched beside me looking sort of like a girl while giving me the sheep-eye and rubbing the inside of my thigh in a shy fetching manner and Gerald’s back shuffling away toward the men’s room. When the door slammed shut Millie said, I stand behind this bar and could whimper clear down to my toes and not gain the distinction, ripe though them two tells me it is. Hell, all I said when the subject of trannies was brought up is I been intimate with hundreds and never met a goddamn one I liked and he went and smacked me anyhow. She smacked you. Well, whoever done it the sumbitch like to rung my bell good. I hear a beehive in there. I was only telling him. . .telling her, Millie corrected. . . how before I started out college and my career of signing up junkyards to sell parts online I was a regular kid. Right out of the new boss’ mouth my first work day was, back of the building, sport, you’ll see a covey of trannies laying random and wretched on the cold bare concrete eager to feel your caresses. What kind of job is this? And he says the kind where they ain’t no backtalk. We don’t do shit around here by vote. I give the order, and you go and do it. Now get your sorrowful ass out there and start humping trannies till they scream for they mamas. Sumbitching trannies is mean and persnickety, as you’ll find out. They won’t set still forever. And don’t never touch one in a delicate place when she’s up and eager to perform or she’ll nip off a finger then whistle Dixie up your asshole. Trannies is good with being revved, but not manhandled, got it? At that moment we become aware of his drinking buddies outside laying a heavy hand on the horn, and he winked at me and went out the door, from inside a beater Toyota. So I went back to the back, and it was the same as he said. Christ what a mess. You can always count on a tranny with hard miles on her being greasy and toting a nasty disposition no matter her size, age, or shape, and their stuff gets all over you, even under your fingernails, and after you been with a tranny I guaran-damn-tee the bed will be different in both the look and the smell. If you live with a woman who tidies the sheets, whether a mama, girlfriend, wife, or some combination pretty soon she’ll be barking at you to find another job, one where you don’t come home nights smelling like. . .well, you know. So I humped them trannies alright them first days, and the next week the boss has me laying on my back with a prime example of the aforementioned disrespectful specie inches right above my face dripping juices down practically into my eye, and I’m busting knuckles trying to jam her various parts into place. Some of this was no doubt painful to the both of us, but that can’t be helped. Everything has to fit nice and snug and be lubed up perfect or a tranny bitches and squeals like a little girl when you stick the shaft to her. Pardon the French, but that last is a crude inside expression amongst us in the tranny trade. Evidently Gerald somehow took it personal. Anyhow that’s the story I was telling Gerald when he—‘scuse me she— seen fit to pop me one upside the ear. It was actually Geraldine, pilgrim. Well, shit, okay, Geraldine, the twin with the beard? That’s right, pilgrim, you getting it now, but them two decided to switch names prior to their “conversion” surgery, which they been waiting for. Seems peculiar I reckon, but I refuse to accept it and call them by their right names. Hey, ’scuse me a sec. Millie dashed out from behind the bar and yanked the door open of the men’s room. She shouted inside, Goddammit Geraldine I won’t have you standing at the urinal trying to piss! Now, come on out of there, fool! It’s Gerald, he shouted back. I’m Geraldine, yelled Gerald practically into my only ear not yet half deaf from abuse. Millie then said to Gerald (or Geraldine), standing at the urinal, all it does is run down your leg for chrissakes, then I need to pull out the mop bucket and clean the floor after closing. The sign says plain enough, We Aim to Please You Aim Too Please, but them words don’t apply to you in particular ‘cause you lack a pee-pee for which to aim with. That hose you got reserved over to Louisville is still backordered so meantime straddle the fucking porcelain pooper after the manner of the lady which you still are. She shut the door and resumed her station of power across from me, but not without first shaking her head as if majorly misinformed about something and rolling her eyes. I perceive you in need of another lineup, pilgrim, and I sure as hell could stand one my own self, and she poured two perfect shots, mine so full up to the rim I had to drop down my head and soak tippy-tongue in it a few seconds and absorb some of the whiskey that way so as to lower the level whereupon I could lift the glass spill-free. And then she pulled two new fresh and frosty ones to quench the agony. I was riding the buzz about now. Lucky there was the Sunrise Surprise Motel setting across the road where I could toddle over later and rent me a space on the expense account. Just then Gerald come out of the men’s room with fire in his eyes that a body could barely see all squinty betwixt the beard and eyebrows, but Geraldine beside me done said to hold it bro, this dude is okay, he didn’t mean anything, and maybe he and ’ll get lucky tonight. Don’t forget I’ve still got my manly equipment, and there’s always a way. Whoa said I, becoming somewhat wary and uncertain like a lone Israelite amongst the Philistines. I felt Gerald’s heavy hand on my shoulder and Geraldine’s equal grip on my thigh or maybe it was the other way around, and I heard Gerald saying, sis, you know how I was the twin always liking girls but lacked the manly equipment to carry through, and you were born with said equipment but liked men. Let’s listen to this fellow’s story because maybe he can help us. Hearing that relieved my heart somewhat. I started clear at the bottom, I said, emptying oil pans and separating the useless junk from what could be recycled. Ah, said Gerald looking past me at Geraldine, he means bed pans and saving organs for transplant patients, both noble undertakings, just as Geraldine whispered in my ear could I hold your brave member in my sweaty hand a minute? I’ve raised a woodrow that will not subside. So you’re a specialist? That would be Gerald again. Yessir, ma’am, consider me as sort of a brain surgeon, except I don’t work on the brain. Wasn’t a tranny ever existed no matter how busted up I couldn’t resuscitate good enough to harmonize with the Sistine Chapel Choir. You might call me a tranny whisperer. Gerald leaned back and looked at me respectful, beard bristling up in awe. I was feeling full of myself. Meanwhile I felt Geraldine’s fingers presently migrating like a spider toward my ever puzzled fly. Well, Gerald says, well sis, maybe we don’t need Louisville after all. They can pack a pickled pecker of their choosing in dry ice and UPS it right here. Gerald then looked my way. You charge much? The going rate, no more, no less. But, says Geraldine, what about my new vagina and clit? She started to cry, and the hand that stopped just short of zipper distance now sounded anguished and confused. Geraldine looked at Gerald around my presence. We were going to do that reverse brother-sister thingy together as a family, she snuffled. Maybe we could save money if this surgeon was to nail my wiener onto your twat. Don’t drag me into this, I said. Why, I have half a mind to slap that pussy right off’n whosoever’s wearing it. This put Gerald deep in thought. I could tell I needed to jump in. Suppose I show you around the O.R. so to speak. I was liking this analogy to surgery. Analogy is a word I learned at junior college that I have found useful in complicated conversations. The procedure works this way, I said. After we get the patient isolated and comfortable on the operating table it’s a matter of disassembly, refitting, and reassembly. The job is to rebuild her, getting rid of unwanted parts and adding replacements, maybe repurposing here or there, right? I leaned back so I could see Geraldine and also Gerald. They nodded. I said the first thing we do in the O.R. is the dismount, and they looked sort of surprised. In most trannies, I continued, but Geraldine interrupted and said, you mean male to female? Now it’s me that was surprised. I reckon you could put it that way, not wanting to kick Geraldine’s own analogy in the head, although truthfully I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about. I went on. First step is we take off what’s called in the trade the shifter knob, at which point Geraldine tossed Gerald a knowing look that I let zip on past. Next is to step on the clutch cable to squeeze out the remaining juice of which there’s always some still laying in the tube, and this procedure is followed by excising (a word I love ‘cause it sounds so surgical) out the clutch slave cylinder assembly, which can be a real bitch if the poor dear is truly wore out, I mean like used, abused, bruised, and fused way longer than what’s moral. It’s commonly reported how some treat trannies like whores and totally disrespect them. So to summarize we basically undertake to separate from the chassis, discard the unwanted parts, then rebuild and lube her up so she’s good for extra mileage. When she hits her stride in the heat of the moment you want them gears shifting smooth, all the movements melting together like butter softening on hot cornbread. God-damn that’s poetic said Millie. I never knew surgery could be so motherfucking beautiful, and here I thought it was all blood and slime, same as on that teevee show Criminal Minds. Before anything happens I need to inspect the merchandize, I said, whereupon Geraldine and Gerald hopped off their stools and dropped their drawers. Neither was wearing skivvies. Millie immediately become overly alarmed and started fluttering her hands. Not here you ain’t doing that! I won’t tolerate customers esposing their septual organs! When I myself had recovered from the shock I asked where was their car and can I take a look. We don’t own a car, said Geraldine. We have tickets to ride a Grey Dog. Well, said I, that settles things clear and proper. You see, I ain’t licensed to operate on bus transmissions.