JAMIE IREDELL / THE FAT KID AND NICK TAKE TO THE DESERT, NICK SHARES HIS BOOK
The fat kid left the mountains and the lake for the desert with one of the Nicks. This Nick stood six feet tall, was broad-shouldered, with stringy shoulder-length black hair that usually fell over his eyes. You’d think again if you were drunk and you thought about fighting this Nick when he was drunk. He’d once pulled the saxophone player off his barstool and tossed him sprawling across the floor into the card table. Or maybe that was the other Nick.
Just east of the mountains sat the desert. What they did was they hopped into the fat kid’s pickup and drove out of the town by the lake on the two-lane highway that took them through the river’s valley until they reached the canyon that the river carved through the mountains. Pines lined the roadside. Sometimes things rushed out—deer, raccoons—usually at night and drivers had to watch it so not to smash up their truck bumpers and hoods with an antlered carcass like Curly did that time, though afterwards they all ate venison for two weeks. The road and the freeway twisted down the canyon out of the mountains into lesser mountains then the desert. Here few trees grew from the ground. The ground was sagebrush and rabbitbrush and what trees there were were piñon pines and junipers.
Vast inland lakes that the sun had sucked up and made into clouds left a fossilized seabed and shore. These dusty flat and weird playas played on the eyes. Mirages were real. The horizon curved like the actual Earth which itself was not a mirage, depending on who looked, Curly, or the fat kid, or Nick, but mostly none of them thought that much of anything was real.
And out into this desert, into these dry lake beds, were built towns scattered like dice across an enormous game board. Lawlessness. The allure outside of the mountains and the lake was the nothing. With nothing you could do anything. The fat kid and Nick emptied beer cans and whisky bottles and kept thinking about work at the bar as if they had to be in for a shift in a few hours, but that wasn’t true and they knew it. Still it nagged them—like Steve would nag them like that time when he caught the fat kid leaving through the kitchen entrance with a plastic dressing cup full of mayonnaise because he and Sheri had steamed artichokes in their old Victorian and Steve said, What’s up with that mayo, fat kid? And the fat kid had no recourse except the truth, which was what he told. Later, Steve took a paycheck draw for that mayo, and the fat kid asked, How much you want me to put down? Steve was slicing meat at the slicer and he looked up, out into the emptiness of the wintertime bar, with the fire smoldering in the fireplace, and he looked to be thinking of the afterlife, then said, Three dollars. The fat kid was about to mark it down, then he thought of the one-ounce cup of mayo he’d taken, thought of the boxes of gallon-sized plastic bags full of mayo that Steve purchased at bulk, and thought of how much Steve marked up the food in general, and how much he might be making off the fat kid in this one transgression. The fat kid said, I ain’t paying that.
Steve stopped slicing the slicer, and he looked at the fat kid, who stood at the register, with the employee draw clipboard in his hands.
Few if any employees had ever questioned Steve's judgment on things such as mayo payment, so he considered. Steve said, What’re you willing to pay then?
The fat kid said, I’ll give you fifty cents.
Steve balked at this. Fifty cents? He made fifty cents just standing there during this conversation. But the fat kid was resolute. Steve said, How bout seventy-five?
The fat kid thought a minute, though he was willing to take this bargain. It was after all mayo they were bargaining over. But the fat kid said, sixty.
Steve’s jaw set, and he began again to slice meat, vigorously, with a violence he had not previously displayed. He said, Sixty it is then.
The fat kid marked it, pressing the pencil so hard into the clipboard that the graphite broke through the paper into the paper beneath, and he let the clipboard crash and dangle from the twine that held it to the pillar that held up the bar’s ceiling.
Steve was that kind of boss, so Steve instilled in the fat kid and Nick the fear that they were missing work, though they both had the day off. Nick and the fat kid, though, couldn’t keep up with their own schedules for said schedules got mixed into the beer-soaked days and any semblance of schedule regular or not was machined into a moment, which was how the fat kid and Nick lived.
The whisky was golden and stung down their throats for the first three swigs. Then the warmth and smooth overtook and each brass drag brought them a little closer to god. Nick said, Let’s get out of this desert and head for a town.
The fat kid said, Well, all right, but we’re fucked up.
Nick said, I don’t give a damn and there’s nothing out here to hit anyway.
All true: nothing but empty lakebed spread out and curing like new paper. In the distance the town’s wood-façaded buildings etched against the gray-blue sky. The fat kid said, You’re right; let’s do it.
Nick drove, swerving along the two-lane highway off the lakebed. The few cars that came opposite them Nick missed deftly, his senses catching them at the last moment as they shimmered insect-like into his frame of shrinking vision. The town reared up to them so that the fat kid did not think of himself and Nick as moving, but stationary, and the town came wiggling across the flatlands.
The car-talk minimized: Watch out for that rattlesnake, watch out for that truck, watch out for that cow. Cows did live in the desert for there were ranches crisscrossing the empty and with no need for fenced pastureland they wandered where the water and what little vegetation took them.
A curve curved ahead. The fat kid said, You wanna go straight here. The fat kid didn’t know why he might’ve said that, since he’d never been to this town and had no idea how exactly to get where they were headed. But the curve curved to the right, and Nick, listening to the fat kid, forked to the left and to the left the town looked more interesting for here the wood slat façades lined into the sky and up near their roofs the buildings spelled words like Cutlery and Saloon.
Nick fendered away a luxury sedan that honked him gone, a wreck avoided only by that driver’s diligence. Said driver, a businessman with the gasoline companies that filled the mostly empty tanks out here where the world barely knew that humans inhabited it, fingered and honked Nick and the fat kid off with a relief sigh that damage to his rental had not come for the full insurance he had not purchased wouldn’t cover such a calamity.
Nick and the fat kid rode across the open desert now, now coming up to bars, hotels, a general store. The buildings receded, their façades dissipating into the oblivion of the sky. Nick turned into the grounds of an amusement park and kept driving. The fat kid reared up on the bench seat. He said, What the hell you doing? Stop the goddamn truck! But Nick kept the pedal floored. He muttered, Don’t worry goddamnit.
A narrow lane between a fenced lawn and an alleyway hemmed them in but Nick made it without a scrape. Circus carnies milled about, clown faces. Nick seemed unconcerned, but the fat kid worried. We’re drunk as shit, he said, and not supposed to be here. He saw security forces, blue uniformed. Soon as they pull us over, he said, we’re going to jail. But the security guards remained unconcerned.
A mini train pulled along carts of overweight humans around the circus. Meantime a full-sized train did the same through the desert.
Nick gave to the fat kid a book that he withdrew from behind the bench seat. He said, Read my work. The book was a strange book, for some of it was plastic bubble wrap and some of it was pages, paper, like any book. The fat kid read the words:
I went to a club the other night. The club itself was shit, bad bricks, and worse lines. The drinks were watered down and even the pussy didn’t giggle or wave like it should at a place with prices like that. I didn’t even like this place’s name cause it was like Steel, or something, which is what all clubs are named: Water, Air, Earth, Element. But the DJ, the DJ was okay. I think. Maybe not. Maybe the DJ blew balls also. In fact I’m sure that the DJ also sucked, and so there was nothing about this club that was good.
This was the end of the prose written by Nick in Nick’s book. The rest of the pages consisted of plastic-encased jalapeños and sliced green onions, like the kind of casing that covers the six screws the fat kid might buy at the hardware store. But the fat kid read them. He said, One jalapeño and a few onions, three jalapeños and one onion, no jalapeños and green onions.
Nick said, Why don’t you just read that as green onions and don’t say shit about jalapeños since there aren’t any.
The fat kid said, Shut the fuck up, I’m reading here. He continued: Three jalapeños and a whole shitload of green onions.
Jamie Iredell lives in Atlanta, where he teaches college students. He's published four books. His fifth book, The Fat Kid, comes out this October.