By Todd Covalcine
That night Jimmy Peaches blew out the ceiling of his trailer with a shotgun and called 911. Cheryl told me to let it go.
I said, “Jimmy’s cool, baby.”
She said, “In heat like this nobody’s cool.”
“You don’t get Jimmy and me,” I said.
She dropped on the couch next to Hickey, took the joint from his fingers. I started to say something else, but she was shaking her head, cheeks caved in behind a pucker.
I crossed the lot and pounded on Jimmy Peaches’ door. Already the sweat rolled down my back. I opened up and looked in. He stood in the shadows of the trailer, his eyes and teeth rising over the phone. Sweat dripped from his forehead as he lurched forward, the phone barking like a small animal trapped in his hand. The 911 operator had a voice like butter in a skillet asking for his name and address.
“What is the nature of your emergency?”
“I just shot out the ceiling of my trailer with a shotgun.”
“Why did you do that, sir?”
“I saw things.”
“What kinds of things, sir?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why do you want the police to come?”
“Because I just shot out the ceiling of my trailer!”
Ten minutes later two deputies arrived. Jimmy Peaches sat in a lawn chair; I leaned against a telephone pole; the shotgun was in my trailer. They pulled up slowly, stopped.
“Which one of you shot up his trailer?” the driver asked.
Jimmy raised his beer.
“What did you use?”
“Shotgun,” Jimmy said.
“Where’s the gun now?”
“I can’t remember.” Jimmy drank his beer.
“You can’t remember.”
“It’s been a crazy night.”
“Any other firearms?”
Jimmy took us inside. The floor was covered with magazines, Sports Illustrated. A garbage can in the center of the trailer overflowed with empty bottles.
The younger deputy pointed at the magazines.
“You like baseball?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “Football’s okay, too.”
“What, no swimsuit issues?”
The other deputy, the driver, stabbed his flashlight at the dark corners of the trailer.
“Is the shotgun in here?”
“I don’t know where the shotgun is,” Jimmy said.
“What about you?” the younger deputy said.
“I’m just the neighbor,” I said.
Jimmy took them to the back of the trailer. A jagged hole in the ceiling right over Jimmy’s bed let in the moonlight. The other deputy aimed his flashlight at it.
“Why did you shoot your ceiling?” the younger deputy said.
“It seemed like the thing to do.”
Jimmy was cool now. He lit a cigarette, looking up through the hole.
“If you wanted a spot for an air-conditioner just open a window,” the younger deputy said.
The other deputy flicked off his flashlight returning it to his belt. He began to write out a ticket. Jimmy held the cigarette, a firefly, in front of his face. It struggled against him, brighter and brighter.
The younger deputy was looking at the garbage can and the empty cartons.
“How long did it take you to drink all this?”
“Where did you say the shotgun was?” the other deputy said.
“I told you I don’t know where it is.”
Jimmy was firefly cool.
“You have a permit for the gun?” the deputy said.
“I could find it.” Jimmy cast his arm about the room. “Might take me a while.”
The deputy nodded his head, tore the ticket from the pad.
“This is for firing a weapon in the trailer park. You’ll need to show up for court. Bring the permit. I suggest you make that your last beer and call it a night.”
Jimmy pushed past me, following them out to the cruiser.
“What about my ceiling?”
“Call a fucking roofer,” the younger deputy said.
The cruiser pulled away. Jimmy gave the taillights a long-distance stare, pinched his cigarette and threw it in the weeds. Stuffing the ticket in one pocket, he pulled out a crumpled pack. He counted his smokes. Slipping one behind his ear, he nodded his head and it was done like that. Jimmy Peaches.
I opened the door to my trailer, air-conditioning and light spilling over gravel.
“What’d they do?” Cheryl called from inside.
“Gave Jimmy a ticket,” I said.
“Is that all?”
Jimmy entered the trailer first, headed for the refrigerator and pulled out a beer.
Cheryl gave me a look and I gave it back.
“You should lay off the bottle, man,” Hickey said. “No one ever saw anything smoking weed.”
Jimmy sat in my chair. I sat next to Hickey on the sofa; Cheryl on the sofa arm. Hickey drew on a joint, passed it over.
“What’s your point?” Jimmy slurped the beer.
“No point, man. Just what did you think the cops would do?” Hickey said.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m just saying all the cops do is give out tickets. You’re lucky they didn’t take you away.”
Cheryl held in a long breath, squeaked and exhaled. She offered the joint to Jimmy. He snatched it from her, threw it at Hickey slouched on the sofa.
“What the fuck, man?”
“Take your fucking weed, Hickey. If you didn’t think it was a good idea, why didn’t you say something?”
“I was over here when you made the call, man.” Hickey pulled the joint out of his lap. “Chill out, man.”
“Fuck you, Hickey, you’re so smart. What are you saying?”
“I’m not saying anything, man.”
“Yeah, you are, Hickey. Fuck you. Just say it.”
“I’m not, man. I’m just saying…”
“Fucking say it. What are you saying?”
I said, “C’mon, Jimmy, he doesn’t mean anything.”
“Fuck you. He knows what he’s doing.”
Jimmy drained off the beer and crushed the can. He lit a cigarette with Cheryl’s lighter from the table.
“What’s your fucking point, Hickey?”
“No point, man. God, I was just saying…”
“Yeah, you were fucking saying something, Hickey.”
“Jimmy, Hickey’s cool.” Cheryl said.
“Where’s my fucking shotgun?”
Cheryl looked from Jimmy to me.
“Where is my gun?”
“I put it in the bedroom,” Cheryl said.
“C’mon, Jimmy….” Hickey’s arms and hands moved in a slow, wide gesture.
Jimmy turned his head on his neck like an insect.
“Do I have to fucking get it or what?”
Cheryl looked to me. “Say something.”
I said, “C’mon, Jimmy, Hickey don’t mean nothing.”
“Shut the fuck up. Hickey can speak for himself.” Smoke blew out his nostrils. “My shotgun.”
Cheryl shook her head, made a sound in the back of her throat, headed for the bedroom.
“I’m just saying, Jimmy, is all that cops do is give out tickets,” Hickey said. Cheryl returned, standing behind Jimmy with the shotgun. “They don’t do anything else, man. You know that. They don’t fucking help. All they want is to bust you or give you tickets. They got quotas to fill, man. It’s just a fucking scam to take your money. You’re lucky, man. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
Jimmy’s hands twitched.
“Hickey didn’t mean anything, Jimmy, he’s sorry,” I said.
“Jimmy…” Hickey said.
“Come on, Jimmy,” I said.
“So you’re saying I’m lucky?”
“Yeah, man, you’re the luckiest cat in town,” Hickey said.
“You saying I’m lucky?”
“Sure, Jimmy. You’re lucky,” I said.
Jimmy talked over his shoulder to Cheryl, “What do you say? Am I lucky?”
Cheryl had neon eyes.
“No Jimmy, you’re not lucky. You just got a little more man in you than others.”
She laid the shotgun in Jimmy’s hands. He looked up at her standing beside him and dropped his eyes down the length of her.
“Cherry,” he said.
I said, “Hey, Jimmy…” and Hickey said, “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I’m just saying you’re lucky is all.”
“Why don’t the two of you stop talking?”
Jimmy and the shotgun sat across from Hickey and me. The hum of the air-conditioner filled the space between. Cheryl sat on the arm of the chair. After a moment Hickey fixed a pair of tweezers to the roach. The floor of the trailer felt thin under the flat light. Cheryl’s fingers tapped the back of the chair close to Jimmy’s shoulder. The last of Jimmy’s cigarette flared, and he crushed it in the tray.
“Don’t you have any fucking music or what?”
Cheryl stood up and turned on the radio.
“Any more fucking beer?” Jimmy said.
“You took the last one,” I said.
“Did you check the crisper?” Cheryl said.
“There’s no more fucking beer.”
“Calm down, man,” Jimmy said. “Go to the store.”
“He doesn’t have any money.” Cheryl tapped Jimmy’s shoulder.
Jimmy pulled some bills from his pocket and peeled off a fifty. “Get us a couple twelve packs, and I need some smokes.”
Cheryl gave me the bill with her neon eyes and red fingernails.
“I buy, you fly, man,” Jimmy Peaches said.
“You know, I’m really starting to get you, Jimmy,” Cheryl said.
Hickey’s eyes looked like they could bleed. The shotgun lay like a dog at Jimmy’s feet.
Outside my trailer I lit a cigarette and rolled the fifty into a tight cylinder while inside the music grew louder. The night was still hot but there was a good moon for walking. The tail-end of a train was banging off in the dark and the smell of cattle hung in the air. Small animals rustled in the field. The glow from the gas station crowded the night sky. An SUV was parked at one of the pumps.
I stopped just inside the entrance of the store underneath a vent blowing cold air. The clerk stood at the counter and a blonde was at the coffee stand. I headed for the back and pulled two twelve-packs from the cooler. At the rack I looked over the car magazines. She stood on long legs and wore smart glasses over little puckered lips. Blonde hair fell across her shoulders like sunlight. Sleeping with her would be like lying on a beach.
She carried her coffee over to pay. I came up behind her and set the twelve-packs on the counter. I unrolled the fifty, pinched it at both ends and laid it on top of the beer.
She took a moment putting her change in her purse. I asked for a pack of Marlboros.
“Feel like a party?” I said.
She closed up her purse, slowly turned her head, looking at the beer and cigarettes. U.S. Grant looked sick on paper.
“No,” she said, her mouth a tight flower.
I saw two of me, small in her glasses, and her eyes were dead pools behind me.
She walked out slow and easy on her legs, sipping coffee. The SUV beeped and winked when she approached it.
The clerk set the change on the counter. He wore a ring through his lip and a smirk.
“You from the trailer park?” he said.
I nodded, pocketing the money.
“You know Jimmy Peaches?”
“Tell him to go fuck himself, for me.”
I stuffed the cigarettes in my pocket. The clerk’s hands were on the counter. His eyes shifted in his head like he didn’t know which one of my eyes he should be looking at.
Outside, the cattle smell had dissipated. I was alone in the field. The trailer park was dark like oily water.
The music was loud outside the trailer and Hickey was alone on the couch. His head nodded like a beach ball in water.
At the refrigerator I lifted a beer to Hickey. He waved his fingers at it.
“Jimmy said he had something in his trailer.”
I sat in my chair, popped open a beer. My foot kicked the shotgun.
Hickey stared vacantly for a long time. I raised the beer to my lips and eventually lit a cigarette. After a while, Hickey’s arms reached out like they just got new hands. He pulled himself up.
“Fuck me, man,” he said.
He patted his pockets till he found the keys to his trailer. They dangled from his fingers like a spider’s web.
After Hickey left, I drank another beer and smoked another cigarette. The air-conditioner droned, cool air drying the sweat on my arms. The AC fit right in a window. I ground out the cigarette, reached down and picked up the shotgun.
Jimmy Peaches’ trailer was dark, the door locked. Someone was banging on something inside. I tried to force the door. The banging stopped. I stepped away from the trailer, leveled the shotgun. The lock turned and Cheryl stood in the doorway reeking of perfume.
“Jimmy locked himself in the bathroom.”
She had combed her hair and put glitter on her cheeks. I forced the muzzle of the shotgun into her belly, pushing her back into the dark of the trailer.
Light leaked round the edges of the bathroom door. I put my ear to it, tried the handle. Kicking magazines out of the way, I threw my weight against the lock. It broke easily, but something inside jammed the door. Wrestling with it, I could see Jimmy’s boots on the other side. I put my back against the closet door, opposite the bathroom, and used both my feet. Eventually, something shifted and the door opened just enough.
Cheryl moved in a cloud. I swung the shotgun round and stopped her.
Jimmy Peaches must have been on the toilet when it happened. He slid forward, blocking the door and I had forced him back along the wall. His face was buried in the corner behind the toilet. I turned him slightly, his open eye a marble in his head.
“What’s wrong with him?” Cheryl said over my shoulder.
A crack pipe and Cheryl’s lighter lay on the floor. One of his shoes was untied. Bending over, I patted down Jimmy’s pockets. His hair was wet, and he’d messed himself. I found the wad of bills and left the ticket in his pants. Jimmy didn’t wear any rings or a necklace.
“How much did he have on him?” she said from the doorway.
Cheryl took a step forward. She’d put lipstick on a smile like stapled paper. I poked her with the barrel of the shotgun.
“Check the crisper?” I said.
“Come one, John,” she said, reaching for me and I poked her again.
“You tell him I don’t have any money?”
“At least I have an air-conditioner!” and poked her once more.
“Is that thing even loaded?”
“You want to find out?”
“Oh, now you think you’re cool!” she said.
I grabbed her by the throat and rammed the muzzle in her belly.
“Oh, I’m cool!”
Her skin was hot. I smelled sweat and our faces dripped. She snatched at my hands, struggled against me, brighter and brighter.
“Now you’re cool like Jimmy?”
“You know it!”
“Are you lucky?”
“I’m all man.”
I slammed her into the trailer wall and slapped her. She made for the door, tripping over the garbage can. Empty bottles spilled and she slipped on the magazines. I grabbed her arm, yanked her back into Jimmy’s bedroom under the hole in the ceiling. The shotgun fell, thick and loaded on the bed. Cheryl sprawled across the sports magazines and I tugged at her shorts. Her hands pulled on my hair. Our breath came like beating wings.
I was out, and she was around me.
I was a lion. I was an eagle.
Then, “Oh, baby,” and neon.
I had Jimmy Peaches’ shotgun and his money and the hole in his ceiling. I was a rhino.
Todd Covalcine is an MFA student at George Mason University