An excerpt from something I've been tinkering with since I finished THE NOVEL. Probably nothing. Doesn't even have a title yet.
It was late afternoon. The sky was bright blue with a few clouds over head. In the distance, out towards the coast, the storms were gathering strength. The rains would come soon.
The bus stopped about thirty yards from the dirt road entrance to Rambling Acres. Just beyond, the interstate buzzed and hummed in the heat as the unseen cars zoomed by the overpass.
Jaime walked along the side of the highway up towards the entrance, past the mail boxes and the faded pink flamingo, limping on one leg and leaning dangerously close to the ground. He'd played here as a kid, and in the woods just beyond. There was a neighborhood not far through the woods with a swimming pool that Jaime used to sneak into when he was younger.
He walked along the dirt road, dragging his heels in the dust, over the tire tracks, past the pink and yellow double-wides, the televisions blaring from open windows, the sound of a dog barking, joined by another, farther down. Faces, peering out of the cool shade, obscured by screens; judging faces, unsure of this new stranger moving through the heat outside.
The palm tree growing out of Mrs. Gleeson's lot: it grew over the dirt road and gave it some shade in the morning. But, not in the afternoon. Jaime walked under it and remembered a Christmas when he was seven or so and Mrs. Gleeson's son Ralph and his family had come down to visit her from Atlanta. They decorated the palm tree with Christmas lights. The lights were still on the tree.
Jaime rubbed the sweat off his slick forehead and stopped at the end of the road.
It looked like a giant, metal sausage. It was an old air-stream that was once blue and pink. A few spots of color still clung to the metal frame only they were now mostly white. The screen around the porch that Jaime had helped install forever ago was falling in places and had disappeared altogether in others.
There was a chair inside the screen with a table next to it. On the table was a heaping ashtray and a collection of empty cans. Seeing it flooded Jaime with memories of sitting on the porch, staring at the road while his father sat there, drinking and smoking with the sound of the interstate in the background. Jaime remembered the table the most. It had been in the hallway of the house. They kept pictures on it.
The door flew open. A pale white hand gripped out from the smoky abyss inside the trailer. Jaime stood straight and dug his thumbs into his pocket.
"Jaime?" A croak from inside, barely audible.
Jaime stepped forward, off the dirt road and onto the dirt yard.
Now the hand moved off the door and Jaime's father appeared. His hair was gone now. His back was hunched. He had no shirt on over his sweaty, fat body. The old man moved across the small porch towards the chair. When he moved, he wheezed. When he sat, he coughed. He pulled a cigarette from one of the packs on the table a lit it in a slow, methodical way. When he blew out the smoke the old man looked up at his son, who was still standing where the dirt from the road ended and the dirt in the yard began.
"You just gonna stand there?" The old man asked. The words started slow and quiet but by the time the last word came out, he was almost yelling.
Jaime stepped across the yard, the anthills and paltry brown runners of crab grass. He looked down most of the way towards the porch. There was a path there, from the front door to the road, worn thin in the dirt from feet shuffling by. Jaime stepped past it and up to the screen door. He gripped the handle and finally made eye contact with the old man. His mouth was hanging open slightly, almost in anticipation and he leaned forward in the chair, the slick fold of fat hanging over the loose waist of the swim trunks. His eyes were cloudy, gray. They sat back in his bare head, beady and surrounded by the glisten of perspiration.
Jaime pulled on the handle and felt the door swing open with no resistance, bringing with it the stale smell of a thousand days of smoke and beer and sweat. Jaime had to concentrate to hold back the gag he felt in his throat.
Inside the porch, the floor was still bare concrete. There was another chair in the far corner, folded and covered in cobwebs.
"Hi dad." Jaime said, still holding the door open behind him.
The old man took a drag on his cigarette and coughed.
"Jesus Christ." The old man sneered. "If you ain't a spitting image of my son."
"I am your son."
The old man lifted himself from the chair. "Naw. My son...*cough*...think he's smart enough to know he ain't welcome here."
The old man disappeared inside the trailer. Jaime heard a refrigerator open.
The heat. The heat was incredible, even on the porch. Jaime walked over to the chair folded in the corner. The picture of the palm tree Jaime had drawn with his fingernail in the dry-rotted hand railing was still there.
Jaime sat down with a heavy sigh. The old man shuffled back out onto the porch with a can of beer.
"Well. Make yourself right at home." He grumbled as he sat back down.
Jaime didn't say anything for a minute. He just watched the old man drink the beer. He watched the condensation drip down the sides of the aluminum can and drip onto the old man's stomach.
The old man looked out at the yard. He didn't turn to face Jamie. After the beer was done, he crunched the can and threw it into the corner with a loud crash that made Jaime jump.
"You wanna tell me..." The old man turned a bit. "Why you're here."
"I need help."
A loud, explosive cough.
"You need help?"
Jaime shook his head.
Another cough, less explosive this time.
"I cain't help you."
"I need money."
"Ain't got none."
"I need a job."
"Sure as hell ain't got one of them."
Jaime stood up and walked over to the front of the porch. He looked down at his father.
He was about to say something when the old man started laughing.
"That's why you came out here?"
Jaime looked away.
"I cain"t help you!" He was in hysterics now. "I cain't help myself. Even if I could, you think I would?"
His laugh began to subside, the ripples in his body slowed. He coughed and took the final drag from his cigarette. He then lit another.
"I don't know what to do." Jaime looked back at the old man.
"Always join the Army." With this, he started laughing again. "How's that...for fatherly advice?" He degenerated into a coughing fit.
"I have a girlfriend. She's in trouble and I can't help her."
"You gotch yerself a little girlfriend, huh? She pretty?"
Jaime looked away when the old man smiled. He didn't have many teeth left.
"She got...long blonde hair? She got herself some long legs? Huh?"
Jaime turned to face the road.
"You got a picture of her?" The old man started laughing again.
Jaime turned to leave. As he opened the door the old man stood up.
"Is that why you came out here? You think I can help you?"
"I don't know why I came out here." Jaime said walking away.
"If I could, you think I would?!" The old man yelled as Jaime walked away. "You think I would?!"
Jaime could hear him coughing, hear the coughing echoing across the trailer park as he walked back out to the highway.