Serial Saturday: Road Trip, Part 2

The hat was getting more conspicuous the further east he traveled, not that it had ever really let him blend in. It sat on the table next to him, because he’d been raised not to wear a hat while eating, even though there hadn’t been as much call for hats back in Vermont where he’d grown up. Still, he liked it, and had started wearing it as soon as he’d been able to get hold of one, back in Wyoming.

He gave the hat an absent pat as he reached for his coffee. It was attracting attention just sitting there, apparently. A couple kids in the next booth were looking at him, one craning his head back to stare and grin. They didn’t look like proper corn-fed Indiana boys (was that right or was it just Iowa boys that were corn-fed?), which was probably why they weren’t more accepting of a nice cowboy hat. They looked more like the kind of kids who spent all day hanging out at a garage, or maybe outside a convenience store, now that they were out of high school and didn’t know what to do with themselves. All greasy denim and scraggly haircuts. Other than one man slumped over the counter of the all-night diner, they were the only ones there, in the wee hours of the morning.

One of the kids snickered and Israel bared his teeth in a smile. It was enough to make two of them abruptly become more serious, but the third didn’t get the message.

“You a rapper?” he asked, staring directly at Israel. He had to crane around in the booth to do it.

“Pardon?” Israel asked, thrown off for a moment.

“Them teardrop tattoos. That’s a rap thing, right?” So it wasn’t the hat. The kid was grinning, just a white boy all set to have a little fun with some other white-boy Midwestern rapper wanna-be, thanks to his friends being there to back him up.

“I’m guessing you aren’t exactly a connoisseur of hip-hop,” Israel said, leaning back and taking a sip of his coffee.

“No, I guess I ain’t,” the kid said. His two friends chuckled at that, getting back some confidence.

“It shows, son, it shows,” Israel replied.

“Who are you calling ‘son’?” the kid asked., with an indignant look that didn’t seem to fit his face. “You’re hardly any older than I am.”

“It’s not about the years, it’s about what you do with them,” Israel said. He took another sip of coffee. “Back in the day, a teardrop tattoo meant you’d lost a loved one. Somewhere along the line, it got to meaning you’d killed someone. Not much to do with any particular musical genre.”

“So which is it with you?” the kid asked with a petulant expression.

Israel said nothing for a long moment, then leaned forward. “It isn’t a teardrop, kid,” he said. “You need to pay closer attention.”

The kid obligingly squinted at Israel’s cheek. “What is it, then, a candle?” he asked.

Israel leaned back into his booth but said nothing. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that both the waitress and the guy behind the counter were watching them closely.

“So what does a candle mean?”

“Again, if I were in prison, it might mean I was someone who could snuff you out. That’s not what it means, though.”

“I think it means he’s a fag,” muttered one of the kid’s friends; they’d apparently gotten some of their sass back, with Israel’s attention on someone else.

“It would be nice if that was what it meant,” Israel said, barely audible over the laughter of the young men.

“Did you hear that?” one said, sounding incredulous.

Israel sighed, and stood up, throwing some money on the table and putting on his hat.

They’re going to follow you out, Lucien said. It had been a few days since he’d heard Lucien, and Israel had wondered if that meant he was getting better. Really, though, the silence had been making him nervous.

“Maybe they will,” he muttered. “What of it?” He heard the shuffling behind him that showed that Lucien was right. He generally was.

Are you going to just try to get in your car and drive away?

“Seems like the smart thing to do.”

They’ll follow, and you don’t need complications. Best deal with them now.

“Hey,” shouted one of the kids as he reached the old Pontiac. “We want to talk to you.”

Lucien wouldn’t steer him wrong. Lucien knew things. Israel opened the door of the car.

“Hey, where you going, man?”

He turned. The parking lot was empty, except for a Trans-Am with a mis-matched door panel and a pickup, lit by orangey sodium lights. He set his hat on the roof of the Pontiac. “Looks like I’m not going anywhere, just yet,” he said, and grinned.

Copyright © 2011 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on April 16, 2011.