By Attila Zønn
Daisy was having a hard time punching my order into the cash register. Big Barb stood beside her showing her how to do it. Her badge actually read Big Barb. It was obvious that Big Barb and Daisy, who was a chubby but pretty teen, were mother and daughter.
“I’m sorry,” Big Barb said. “She’s in training.”
There was a twist of consternation on Daisy’s face.
As mother taught daughter the complexities of a hamburger joint, it caused my mind to wander, and it was at that moment that I decided to kill Ludy.
Ludy was waiting in the car.
This was another Friday pissed away at Ludy’s behest. Ludy didn’t believe in my day off. Every other Friday was my day off, but as usual, he had a way of complicating my life. And my inability to say no to this guy was weighing on me.
He called me at 6 a.m. asking if I’d do him a favor. He had a few errands to run and wanted me to be his driver. “Like old times,” he said. “Then we’ll go for lunch.”
He was smoking a cigarette at the foot of the driveway when I pulled up around 9:30. He leaned in the passenger window. “Park it,” he said. “Let’s take my car.”
Off we went in his black Mercedes.
“So what do you want to do?” he said.
I braked hard. The tires squealed. “What?” I said. “I’m here because you asked for my help.”
“Oh, yeah. Right. Okay, take the Parkway and get off at Lawrence, go east.”
We got off at Lawrence and turned east. The road dipped then inclined. Ludy pointed at silos to our right. “That used to be a dairy,” he said. “My old man used to work out of there. I don’t know what it is now.”
We continued along Lawrence. “Make a right after the railway bridge,” he said.
I made a right and continued. The road sloped slightly downwards.
“I remember this road being steeper,” he said. “It isn’t steep at all.” We were on an unimpressive street with commercial businesses on one side, the backs of residences on the other. I drove to where it became a dead end in front of a highschool.
“Turn around,” he said.
“Stop, pull over,” he said. We stopped behind the backyards of houses.
“What’s this?” I said.
“I used to live here.”
He stared. “It looks so small now.” It was a red brick, two story semi-detached house.
“You see that window up there?” he said. “The one on the left? That was my room.”
“My room,” he said. “I lost me virginity in that room. Yeah. When my parents went back to the old country for the summer, I brought Rosa up there. Yeah. There was this girl in school. Her name was Rosa. At twelve, she already had big tits and a little fuzz over her upper lip. Everybody made fun of her. The girls especially. Probably because they didn’t have tits like Rosa. Girls are like that, you know—envy of the best tits? That’s status for them. I was always friendly with Rosa. I knew what it felt like to get picked on. I sympathized with her.” He turned to me. “It’s sympathize, right Einstein?”
“If you’re talking about feeling what she’s feeling, it’s empathize.”
“Okay, so I empathized with her. I wanted to befriend her. You know, because I was tired of jerking off to pictures in magazines. Holy fuck,” — he shook his head — “the wet dreams I had about Rosa.
“So I asked her out. Nothing special, just a hamburger joint in the neighborhood. There was this burger place on Vic Park. It was round, in the middle of a parking lot. I always thought of it as a spaceship.” He paused. “Holy fuck, that’s gone now.” He shook his head.
“I hate change,” he said, and sulked.
“What about Rosa?” I said.
“Oh, yeah. At first, she regarded me with suspicion. Maybe she sensed my motives. I’m sure she was wondering what sex was all about. After the burgers, walking home, I told her I had a puppy and I wanted her to see it.”
“Girls love puppies. That’s the only bait I could think of to get her to my place.”
“And what happened when she found out there wasn’t a puppy?”
“It didn’t matter because Rosa was no virgin. Jesus. She was on me like—No way she was a virgin.”
“So you fucked a twelve-year-old?”
He winced. “No. By that time we were well into high school.” He turned in his seat and stared at me. “You’ve always had trouble following what I say,” he said.
“It’s because your reminiscences are all over the place. I can’t read your mind. One minute you’re saying she’s twelve, the next minute you’re fucking her. What am I supposed to think?”
He grunted and waved a hand. “Okay, okay,” he said.
“So I guess today is another drive down memory lane,” I said.
“What’s that matter? You don’t like my company?”
I didn’t say anything.
“What great thing were you doing today?” he said.
“It’s not about me doing anything,” I said. “I wanted to relax—”
“This is relaxing. You don’t have to take customers’ bullshit. You’re with me, and I’m buying lunch. Like old times. What’s wrong with reminiscing anyway?”
“It’s pointless. Already you’re getting depressed because things aren’t how they used to be. So what? Life has never stood still, so what’s the point of moaning about what used to be or how things were?”
“Yeah. Spoken like a young guy who’s got dozens of years ahead of him. The world is your oyster, my friend. You can’t look back because you’ve got nothing to look back on. You’re just fresh out of a shitty diaper. Sometimes… I want to feel depressed. Yeah. Sometimes I like to wonder where I’d be if I’d taken a different road. When I think about old friends, old times, old places, it gets my heart thumping. You say memories don’t stand still. That we change them every time we remember.”
“I don’t say that. That’s how it is.”
“I don’t agree.”
“A memory can be influenced by how you’re feeling the moment you remember it. It becomes a fantasy. Wishful thinking. You might as well sing Those Were The Days now. Go ahead. Sing it.”
“That’s what I like about you,” he said. “The way you can suck all the romanticism out of a memory.”
“I’m just pragmatic.”
“Boring is what you are. Fantasy keeps life interesting.”
“If you say so.”
“It’s true. Without fantasies and wishful thinking’s, life just sucks. And the older you get, the suckier it gets. I wish I had your years — but knowing what I know now.”
“What?” he said.
“You say that all the time,” I said. “But have you really thought about what that would be like if it could happen?”
“Yeah, I’d be twenty with the life experience of a forty-five year old. That’s gold. I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.”
“Okay, you wouldn’t make the same mistakes because you’ve got the life experience. Good. Who are you going to socialize with?”
“What I’m asking is…you’re in the body of a twenty year old, but your mind is forty-five. Are you going to have the patience to socialize with twenty year olds? How can you put up with twenty year old views and behavior? Their immaturity will drive you nuts.”
“So then I’d hang out with people who have a forty-five year old mentality.”
“Will forty five year old people want a twenty year old body in their midst? You’re trapped, man. You’re all alone. A wonderful young body with a wise mind, but you’re all alone. What good is that?”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Don’t worry about it. It isn’t possible anyway.”
It wasn’t enough to see the back of the house he used to live in, Ludy wanted to see the front of it as well. So we drove to the front and sat like two cops on a stake out.
An Asian guy came out of the house, saw us, stared at us, then got into his red car and backed out down the driveway onto the street, paused, looked back at us then drove off. A little while later he was back, pulled alongside us and stared. Ludy waved and gave him an okay with his hand. The guy nodded and drove off.
Next stop was Ludy’s elementary school.
“Look at all the good things these kids get in that yard,” he said. “I mean, where’s your sense of accomplishment when you get everything handed to you? We didn’t have that. We had an asphalt yard and the school wall to slap a ball against. And that was fine. It really was fine. But then in my last year they put in a pole with a ball on a rope hanging from it. It was the stupidest thing – that fucking ball on a rope. Then they had to take it down because the crazy kids were slapping the ball and got slap happy, and ended up slapping the kids waiting their turn. Crazy people always fuck things up for us sane ones.
“All right. Enough of this,” he said. “Let’s get something to eat.”
“What the fuck?” Ludy stared agape at the sign. “What the fuck? No more Dairy Queen? This place was the cat’s ass.”
The Dairy Queen was gone, replaced by another Queen—the Shawarma Queen.
We got out of the car.
“I don’t know,” he said and stared at the building.
“We’re here. Might as well go in,” I said. “This stuff’s all right. Don’t you like discovering new flavors?”
“New flavors can be a disappointment.” We went in and looked up at the menu. Ludy gave the place a once over. “Naw, I don’t think so.”
He didn’t like the decor. He didn’t like the menu. He didn’t like the “smarmy brown guy” behind the counter with his “phony smiling face.”
“Fuck this,” he said. “I know where we’re going.”
We went back to the car. “Go to the highway and turn east,” he said.
“Where we going?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m paying for the gas.”
We were well on our way to this place I wasn’t supposed to worry about when Ludy said, “I went to visit my old high school once. When I got there, the place was boarded up, with a big sign out front that had a picture of a condo, and it said, Coming Soon. And you know how that made me feel? It was like my high school days never existed. It was like I never existed. That that great institution was going to be gone and the foundation to that time would be demolished, and my high school days, the best years of my life, never mattered. It depressed the shit out of me for a long time. How can somebody do that? Erase somebody’s history like that?”
The burger place was a white siding shack with storefront glass, in the middle of nowhere. There was a painted sign attached to the roof with lettering in bold italics — BIG BARB’S BIG BURGERS . By now it was 12:30 but there were no cars in the parking lot. There was a house some distance behind the shack, and across the road a silent race track. I wondered how Ludy knew about this place.
He said, “I want the Biggies — Biggy onion rings, biggy chocolate shake, the biggy mama with the biggy cheese—onions, pickle, tomato, hot peppers, mustard and ketchup…and you get whatever you want.” He handed me two 20’s.
“Not too busy?” I said to Big Barb as she flipped the burgers. Daisy loitered around the cash register.
“A few people now and again during the week,” Big Barb said. “But it really picks up when they run the demolition derby on the weekends.” I nodded.
I got back to the car and opened the bag.
“No,” Ludy said and grabbed the bag. “Let’s go to this place I know. It’s real peaceful there. Back out and make a right.”
“Now make a left,” he said. “Don’t drive fast there’s deer around here. Just ahead here…
Copyright©Attila Zønn 2019