Verdad Magazine Volume 4
Spring 2008, Volume 4
Fiction by Cathy Warner
I thought the price on Dr. D’s Weed Death sounded too good to be true, but at Customer Warehouse, once you throw in a couple cases of Coors and Marlboros along with those mountain climber bars and diet iced teas, the bargains get fuzzy. Plus I bought Vera a pool raft, high-density foam guaranteed to withstand the elements.
“Boy is that yellow,” she said when I tossed it onto the gravel next to the trailer. “Looks like hazard tape, don’t it?”
“You bet.” I hefted the beer under my arm, held open the screen door, then let it slap closed on her butt.
“Watch it, Mister.”
“I was. Watching the caboose.”
Once we got everything put away I heated up a can of clam chowder.
Vera looked over the receipt. “Crab, why in the world did you spend a hundred bucks on weed killer?”
“Nine ninety-eight,” I said. “For a gallon of concentrate.”
“Ninety-nine ninety-eight,” she said. “You left your glasses in the glove compartment, didn’t you?” She pushed the receipt toward me. “You can take it back tomorrow.”
I squinted at the receipt. “But we got weeds everywhere. Thistles and those nasty burrs that stick to your socks and shoelaces.”
“Just pull ‘em up.”
“They’ll grow back next week.” I opened the window above the sink, lit a Marlboro, took a drag and blew my smoke outside.
Vera tapped a cig out of the pack on the counter, rolled it between her fingers, peeled back the white paper and let the tobacco fall, like pencil shavings, into the sink. “But a gallon of concentrate?” she said. “That crap’ll sit in the shed until you die.”
The next morning Vera shoved me out the door with a commuter mug full of decaf, the weed killer and the receipt, so she could watch The New Price is Right without me complaining about how much they jacked up prices.
As I drove out of the trailer park I saw three-foot tall thistles and other prickery stuff I didn’t know the names of, choking out daisies and such all around the court. Like they grew over night, just to show me. They stood fat and stiff in the morning sun, refusing to bend in the breeze. Damn weeds.
I went east on Elm for a mile, turned onto Main, and headed through town toward the Customer Warehouse way out past the Welch’s plant near the freeway. I drove past the dingy white Dairy Queen, the Cinderella Motel with its empty pool of cracked blue cement out front, past Woodhaven lanes with its big glass windows boarded up and graffitied. Two blocks later, DeLucca’s Jewelers stood empty on the corner of Broadway in a three-story brick building. A big sign screwed to the brick wall read, Future Home of Central Valley Cinemas. Next door, a banner hung across the window of Cranston’s Hardware. Going Out of Business.
When the signal turned green, I turned right, parked out back and walked in the narrow wooden door. A bell jangled behind me. The store smelled like dust and pine freshener. I walked across the chipped linoleum, past half-empty shelves of house paint, thinner and caulk, and bins of nails, screws and washers. I looked at the yellowed business cards of handymen and contractors tacked to the wall above the cash register while Ray Cranston finished arranging bills.
I cleared my throat. “I got me a gallon of Dr. D’s Weed Death, and I need a sprayer.”
“That’s some serious shit, Crab. Sure you don’t want to try the Naturweed granules first?”
“I’ve got an invasion out there and I’m tired of dicking around.”
“Okay, then.” Ray guided me to a row with a half dozen garden sprayers. “Check out this baby.” He rolled one off the shelf. “You’ve got your two and a half gallon translucent high-density poly tank, pneumatic tires and guaranteed kink-free dura-flex hose with adjustable wand. Top of the line.” He showed me the price tag. The $60 was crossed out in red pen and replaced by $30. “You won’t find a bargain like this anywhere else. Hell, it cost me more than that.”
I tapped the tire with the tip of my boot and ran a hand across the tank. “Sold.” I wheeled the sprayer up front and pinched my wallet from my back pocket.
“Damn Warehouse,” Ray said. “Eighty-three years in the hardware business.” He punched the cash register keys with his knobby fingers. “My Granddaddy’s spittin’ nails in his grave. He’ll be haunting the fancy pants theater. You count on it.”
“I’ll keep a look out.”
I wheeled the empty sprayer to my truck and thought I might take Vera to a movie if they put in high back seats and drink holders like over in Bakersfield.
After I parked in the gravel next to our trailer I found Vera floating in the Doughboy on the new raft. She was lying down, eyes closed, trailing a hand in the water and humming a tune.
I listened for a minute. You Are So Beautiful. Vera was crazy about Joe Cocker. She always said he looked like me. I said he looked like he was passing kidney stones when he sang.
“Boo there.” I poked my head through a gap in the Oleander hedge we’d planted a few years back.
Vera jerked up and clamped her hands over her coconut brown chest. “Jesus, Crab. You like to scare me to death.” She whipped her bony arm through the water and tried to splash me.
“That thing looks real stable,” I said.
“Yeah.” She leaned over to one side and dipped her hair in the water, then squeezed out the ends.
“You almost got enough for a ponytail again,” I said.
“Almost. Get me another Snapple?”
I walked in the gate and reached for the little cooler under the lounge chair. “Peach alright?”
“Sure.” She paddled toward the ladder.
I twisted open the tea, leaned over the Doughboy, pulled a corner of the raft toward me and wedged the glass between her thighs.
“Wait.” She moved the glass. “This thing’s got a drink holder.”
“The Cadillac of rafts.” I squeezed her ankle. “I’m gonna be busy for a while.”
I mixed the Dr. D’s at the hose near the trailer. I splashed two capfuls of concentrate into the tank, then dropped in the hose and watched the mix go from yellow to clear. I wheeled the sprayer toward the pool and started at the grass poking up through the gravel.
Vera opened her eyes when she heard the whizzing sound. She looked at the tank on wheels, the flex hose wrapped around my arm, the adjustable nozzle in my hand. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Killing weeds, for god sakes.”
“I thought you were taking that poison back.”
“You want me to pull one damn weed at a time while they take over the whole damn yard, the whole damn trailer court? Forget it.”
“Fine. Then I’ll pull them.” She gave me a hard look and started to slip off the raft.”
“Let me do this, Vera, and put on your top. You’re gettin’ a sunburn.” I pulled the sprayer into the street.
I went next door first. Little Ethan answered.
“Mommy,” he said. “Mr. Crab’s here.”
Laura snapped off the TV and came to the screen door. She put her hand on the knob but didn’t open it. “Sorry, about that, Mr. Halliday. I’m trying to teach him some manners.”
“Crab’s fine. Crab’s good.” I said. “Might just suit my personality too. Course it’s on account of the missing fingers. Happened in Nam. You knew that?”
“No. I didn’t. I’m sorry.”
“I seen worse.”
“Any word from Marty lately?” I said.
She glanced behind her. The TV was on again. “Ethan, change the channel to cartoons.” She looked at me. “He’s on active duty. He can’t say where, but there’s been some…” She paused and looked toward Ethan. “Trouble. We’re just praying that this is all over soon and that he comes back safe. Is there something I can do for you?”
“It seems I got me a hell of a lot of weed killer. Thought I could take care of yours, if you don’t mind.”
“I’m not sure.” She pushed up the bra strap sliding off her shoulder. “Pesticides, you know.”
“Hell, it ain’t Agent Orange.”
“Well, things are a bit rangy around here.” She tried not to look at my hand. “I suppose so. Just not in my vegetable patch.”
“That’s great,” I said.
“Great, she’s great. She’s in that pool every day until three. Then it’s Oprah. You bring Ethan over then, after three. Teach him how to swim. Surprise his daddy when he gets home.”
“I just might do that. Thank you now.” She closed the door.
I pumped up my sprayer and let fire ‘til the weeds glistened. Of course nothing happened that you could see. Like the instructions said, you have to wait a week or so while everything shrivels. I just hoped I’d sprayed enough to kill it down at the roots, so it wouldn’t grow back next season.
Next I went to the Lucero’s. Lupe’s white haired mother answered the door, with the oxygen tubes in her nose, the tank at her side.
“Buenos Dias, Señor Crab,” she said.
I pantomimed using the sprayer and said, “Aqui?”
“Aqui!” She pointed at her tank on wheels and then at mine, slapped her thigh through her housecoat and laughed so hard she started to cough.
Lupe came to the door and invited me in. She helped her mother to the kitchen table and poured us all lemonade.
Sure, I could spray the weeds, Lupe said, and hopefully it would kill the mice that kept getting up under the trailer and chewing through the insulation. “They’re eating Mama’s queso right out of the trap.”
My tank was near empty by the time I got to Old Man Dalton’s. I didn’t knock. Ever since his wife passed on he just ignored folks, even when we were standing right next to him at the mailbox. I stood at the window, waved the nozzle, and made like I was gunning down weeds. The curtain closed. I didn’t get too far, not far at all before I had to wheel the tank home and mix up another batch. I cut round back, so I wouldn’t bother Vera. I was thinking it felt good, doing something nice for the neighbors. I thought about Old Man Dalton. His place could take all day, especially if I tackled all the grass in the cracks in his patio. Hell, when I was finished, I might just mix him up a batch of Dr. D’s.
I was filling the tank when I heard the crunch of tires in the gravel, then boots, then the latch of the pool gate. I turned off the hose and heard a splash followed by Vera’s voice.
“Jesus, Wayne. Don’t you ever knock?”
“Can’t knock on chain link, Vera. I got that new filter to install.”
“It can’t be three already.”
“Nope. I’m early, last job cancelled.”
“I’m not dressed. Go away.”
“Nothing I haven’t seen before. Man, those were the good old days, before you took up with Crab.”
“They weren’t good. Just old. Now turn around and hand me a towel.”
I dragged the sprayer across a patch of grass toward the oleander hedge, crouched down and peered through. Wayne leaned on the pool ladder, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. Vera huddled in the doughboy, back to the wall, clutching the yellow raft in front of her.
“Since when did you get so uptight?”
“Hand me the towel, Wayne.” She sounded like she does when Oprah gets to her.
“Okay. Cool your jets.” Wayne picked up the towel from the lounge and backed toward the pool ladder with it.
Vera climbed the ladder, eased herself over the top and reached for the towel.
Wayne turned toward her. “Well Darlin’, let’s see what I’ve been missing.”
In the instant before she sat on the ladder and hugged her knees, I knew what he’d seen. The flash of her chest, hard and brown and scarred like the dirt behind the trailer.
“Jesus H. Christ.” He dropped the towel.
“Go home you bastard,” she said. The skin across her back stretched tight and water dripped from her hair down the knobs of her back, glistening like wet weeds.
Wayne picked up the towel heaped at his feet and shoved it toward Vera. He crushed out his cigarette and clacked the gate behind him. I heard his engine sputter and the grind of his tires spraying gravel in the street.
Vera dabbed at her eyes with the towel, then wrapped herself in it, hooking a corner over her shoulder so it looked like she was wearing one of those tropical dresses. She squeezed the ends of her hair, sat on the lounge, and fished around the ice chest for another iced tea. I could hear her snuffling.
I wiped the sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. I looked at my watch. In another fifteen minutes Vera would be settled on the couch tuned to Oprah. She’d be okay. And me, I still had the nozzle in my hand and two and half gallons in the sprayer.
BIO: Warner’s writing has appeared in Not What I Expected (anthology), Amoskeag, PoemMemoirStory (Puschcart Prize nominee), So to Speak and other literary journals. She is a recipient of the SuRaa and Steinbeck fiction awards. Cathy is a wife, mother, pastor, and Amherst Writers and Artists certified writing workshop leader in Boulder Creek, California. She blogs at: http://holyink.blogspot.com.