"Stolen Thunder"


You’d race to your funeral even if you knew it was coming. And when your boyfriend goes out of town with his painting crew and tells you not to drive his pick-up, you ignore him and drive it like a street racer chasing her personal best, to the store on the corner, the ATM beside the bank, the restaurant where you work, taking corners on two wheels, idling outside of schoolyards and the courthouse before peeling out so passers-by double-take when they see you, so tiny that you can barely see over the wheel. It’s fun and it gets you to work.

You’re stopped at a light, running a little late for your shift when you see Jamie, one of the cooks, walking a half-block down the street. You can tell its him even though he’s got his navy blue hoodie pulled up over his bald head. The way he walks, almost collapsed in on himself so that his six feet two looks maybe five ten, gives him away. He literally jumps back when you throw the truck to a halt beside where he’s walking.

“Get in,” you tell him, and when he gets up on the bench seat beside you, he says, “You scared the shit out of me.” He buckles his seatbelt before you take a corner loud enough to make the tires squeal. It’s the most fun you’ll have today. After all, what can you expect, a slow Saturday night at the restaurant in the off-season. You like working with Jamie, even though he’ll never believe it. He never believes anything anyone says about him that’s nice. He only believes what people say that’s mean, so you tell him what he wants to hear, that he’s a scaredy-cat and that he’s always overcompensating by trying to freak out other people.

If he could just keep his mouth shut, Jamie might actually be as frightening as he wants to be. That’s why he tattooed the roman numeral 13 into the back of his neck in some spooky-type gothic script then shaved his head so that no one missed it. His lower lip has a stainless steel reich spike through it, and the gauge in his earrings is big enough to thread with a camel-sized needle. The lug wrench tattoo on his forearm is to scare the kind of people you aren’t, the people who are scared of shit that they don’t understand—“what kind of fucking weirdo tattoos a lug wrench on their forearm?” Jamie imagined them asking when he dreamed it up, and then them walking away rather than punching him square in his crooked, twice-broken nose. Jamie’s convinced the world’s got a million corners and if he can see around all of them, he’s got nothing to be scared of. He’ll tell strangers about it, told you about it the first day you met him.

 

Jamie and you are watching the news on the tv behind the bar after the dinner rush. Five hours of Jamie dropping portions of pasta in a bowl, fanning out five shrimp like a hand of poker and dusting them with cayenne. Or you, swabbing the noodles left over after someone ate all the shrimp, like untied shoelaces and into the trash they go, a squirt from the hose and straight through the Hobart. Boss is gone, last customers are gone. The kitchen’s closed. You and Jamie are having a drink and he’s dragging on a smoke and when you’re done with that, you’ll go back and break down the kitchen and get out of here.

The early local news is on the TV, and they come back from a commercial to the chyron, “Local athlete wins bronze,” and Jamie sits up straight on his stool. First the news shows a mug shot of this meatheaded mug and then some action shot, from too far to make out anything more than speed lines, of two figures falling onto a wrestling mat and getting up, falling again. The local athlete has gone to the Olympics and is bringing home a bronze medal. Jamie says, “I kicked that guy’s ass.” You wonder if Jamie would stop if you didn’t react, but why give him reason to fear you, too. “Oh yeah?” you say.

“I was walking through Carter Park, maybe a month ago, and someone starts rustling a bush at me. You know what that means, Carter Park, bush rustling and some guy wants to suck your dick, but I wasn’t interested. And then this guy,” and Jamie nods at the screen, “jumps out of the bushes. I thought he was going to rape me, and then instinct took over and I beat his ass.” Jamie’s step dad used to beat him and when he didn’t fight back, he packed him off to military school, where Jamie learned to fight and to hate the man. He finishes his drink and turns it over on the bar top. “You think if I didn’t beat his ass, he might have won silver or something?”

“I’m sure that’s what it was, and not like, some singlet wedgie that did him in.”

He walks off and leaves you with half a drink to finish. There’s no rush to finish your drink, since it’ll take Jamie a little time to break down enough to fill your Hobart. You’re not ready to go back to work, want to keep playing, so you sneak up behind him where he’s wiping his knives clean before he slides them back into their canvas case. “Hey, bitch,” you yell into his ear.

“What do you want?” he shrieks, and his hand closes over the blade of the knife he’s holding. “Fuck. That hurts!” He slumps onto the floor like an old building coming down.

“You’re gonna need me to take you to the hospital, you big puss,” you say when you’ve got him propped against one of the stainless steel cabinets at his cook station, his bleeding hand not really elevated so much as resting in your lap looking like a gutted fish.

“I’ve seen how you drive. I’d rather bleed out.” Jamie grimaces when you press hard against the meat on his palm, like you’re giving him a firm handshake.

“There’s a first aid kit in the women’s restroom. Come with me back there and we’ll bandage you up.”

You sit him on the toilet in the women’s room, the nice one, and you get the first aid kit, wrapping his hand first in gauze and then with white medical tape to hold the gauze in place. You hear it first, or maybe you both do, some sounds from the restaurant. Fucking idiots. You repack the stuff in the metal first aid can and Jamie goes out there to tell whoever it is that the place is closed.

It’s quiet when you get back out into the dining room, and Jamie’s standing there with his hands up around his ears, the one of them already bleeding through the gauze. Two wastoids in puffy jackets are pointing a gun at Jaime, what looks like an actual mountain dew bottle duct-taped to the action end. The other one’s holding what looks like, you can’t be sure, maybe an ice scraper. Could be a box cutter, but it looks like an ice scraper. Both of them, pointing them at Jamie, till one of them notices you and swings the pistol your way. “Sit up here,” he says, and pulls out a bar stool. You walk over to take a seat and see where this is going; Jamie could take both of them in a second if he weren’t so scared, but as it is, maybe he’ll get you both killed. “Nah, fuck that,” one of them says, “go behind the bar and make me a drink.”