Cape Girardeau

Inside the pickup it was silent. The two men did not say a word as they drove through Cape Girardeau on 55. They were heading south, back to Memphis. It’d been a long twenty-four hours.

It was two in the morning when he called the police station. He hadn’t heard from the old man all day. Figured he was home, drinking beer, watching television, yelling about things. The bar was closing. Boy took his last shot with a chaser. Tried to call the old man. All day long and into the night he tried. No answer. One of two things had happened the boy thought. Either he’s dead, or, he took off again. Boy wished he was dead.

He sat in the booth at the truck stop, watching big rigs come and go. Drank his coffee and ate cherry pie. Told the waitress he’d have a refill. His bag laid beside him, filled with underwear and socks. He always said you could never have enough underwear and socks. Some of them matched. A few had holes in the toes and heels. It’d been awhile since he bought any. The old man had a way of keeping things.

I’ve checked everywhere, the boy told the dispatcher. Truth was, he didn’t look to hard. He’s about five-ten. Weighs about a buck fifty. Skinny man with gray hair and glasses, he said. Could you just drive over to the trailer and knock on the door? I’ll meet you over there, he told the police. I’ll get over there as fast as I can, boy said. Just give me a few.

Where you heading? the trucker asked the old man. He told the trucker St. Louis. Said he had to meet a woman up there. Old man said it was his high school sweetheart. Asked the driver if he was heading that way. Yeah, I’m going up to Chicago. I could drop you off. Be good to have someone to talk to, he said.

The squad cars lights were swirling red and blue. Boy didn’t know why they sent two of them. The son pulled up next to the trailer. Stumbled out of the car. We’ve been knocking, the officer said. No answer. You got a key? Boy flashed his chain. Excuse me, but, have you been drinking tonight? the cop asked. Boy shook his head no. You kind of smell like you have, he said. Boy just focused on opening the door.

You ever been out on the road in a semi? the trucker asked. Old man said no. Told the driver how excited he was. Driving at night. Straight up north. The old man hadn’t been to St. Louis since his school days. Drove up there in his daddy’s Ford. Then drove right back to Memphis. He was proud of that accomplishment. The radio was turned to a country station. Merle Haggard was singing about heart ache. Both men agreed, they’d seen their share.

Boy looked all over the trailer. Took a gander at the bedrooms and the bathroom. There was no sign of him. Then one of the policemen found a note on the floor. It said, gone to St. Louis to meet my new bride. A silver alert was put out. Boy slept for a couple of hours. Laughing to himself. Dreams about the old man. What a pain in the ass he was. He’d had enough. Boy thought about letting him go. Just let him die out there, he said. He knew he couldn’t do that.

The sun was coming up as the trucker continued his trip. Old man never asked what he was hauling. Could’ve been a truck load of Mexicans making their way north as well. Going to the promised land to seek out jobs in restaurants and lawn services. The old man had an active imagination. The trucker pulled into another truck stop in Cape Girardeau. Told the old man he ran a tight schedule. Said to meet him back at the truck in twenty minutes. He had business to attend to of the physical kind.

Boy made his way to 55. Drove through Arkansas and on into Missouri. Listening to talk radio. More call-ins about the president and socialism. How the buck doesn’t stretch as far as it used to. He wished he could add his two cents to the conversation. He drove all night and pulled into the truck stop at Cape Girardeau.

It had been thirty minutes. The old man lost track of time. He tried to find the truck, but, they all looked the same to him. Just big pieces of steel and metal on tires. Decided to go back inside, cursing the day he was born. Saying out loud how unfair life was. Expressing his anger in God for ruining his life. He ordered another coffee and more pie.

He saw him in the window. There was his old man talking to himself. Boy went inside. Walked up to his table and sat across from him. The two men looked at each other. The old man knew he was in trouble. Come on dad, the boy said. Let’s go home. The old man paid his bill and left a quarter tip.

Inside the pickup it was silent. The two men did not say a word as they drove through Cape Girardeau on 55.

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