By R.C. Savoie
It was a pretty big deal the first time the Honk for Peace woman got run over. This was eight years ago, when Lucius was ten, back in the days of tupperware cups and yellow linoleum and burnt sienna carpeting under twenty-six inches of flashing CNN, when cable was still cheap. He remembered his mother and her boyfriend Steve standing in their apartment discussing it with the TV. Steve was barely bigger than a ten year old Lucius and had a furry cone hanging off his bottom lip, which Lucius thought was a scab until it never healed and one day Steve tugged it while thinking. As for his mother, she was merely a healthier version of her present self, single mother wirey with eyes burning neurosis, but where she now she seemed beaten into shape by hammers and chisels back then she looked more grown that way, as a fruit ripened to form.
The TV said, “Local woman run down by car, details after these messages.”
“Oh fuck off,” spat Steve impatiently.
Steve was also a liberal.
Details were sketchy at first, but Steve bet it was a truck that’d run her down. It was probably a penis-compensating Ford F-250, Steve had said, with a chrome grill and an NRA sticker and an outsized confederate flag billowing off the back. He said right wing extremists always resort to violence while progressives stick to waving signs and dialogue. The TV showed the intersection where the woman had been hit. It was a small triangular island formed by Burke Street forking, then quickly stabbing Roosevelt Drive with both prongs. The back of the island had a short transition sidewalk and a thin young maple planted by the city. This left about four triangular feet of grass for the woman to hold up her sign, Honk for Peace. The TV didn’t know anything about her injuries, just that she was in stable condition and had been ambulanced to Vathy General ER. Steve demanded justice from the TV. The TV cautioned that details were still forthcoming. When they arrived the next day, the TV said that the woman had been hit by an electric smart car, suffered only minor injuries, and had been discharged from the hospital the same day. No charges were filed.
Steve’s face lost definition.
The room followed him into silence.
Lucius felt sort of disoriented and afraid, not because of Steve (please) but because it was like the world had become a pancake flipped upside down by an enormous spatula. He remembered the three of them standing before the TV, dumb, silent, gaping at the talking head like he’d just said nukes were speeding across the Atlantic or a horde of zombies were converging downtown. He remembered his mom looking at Steve with like these nervous eyes, full of existential doubt, desperate for him to say something that’d set the needle back on the vinyl of their singing world. It seems so ridiculous now, to react like that. It was those eyes that burned the memory deep though.
The total doubt in a mother’s eyes. They made this moment one of maybe a dozen such moments that we keep with us forever, this one linked intimately to the burnt sienna carpet in the tactile manner of many childhood memories, the softness of the fibers fused with the room’s aporia, and his Legos there before them on the floor built in dramatic reinactment of the incident using Steve’s now outdated details. He couldn’t remember who had spoken first. Maybe none of them had. Maybe they’d just wandered off to separate rooms to deal with the lack of noise in their own way. That part remained fuzzy.
Four years later, she was hit again.
This time it really was a truck.
There was no confederate flag, but a TV closeup of the cab showed a sticker of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes pissing on supine donkey. Lucius was fourteen then, three years into Dungeons & Dragons and six months away from gravity bongs and blistering acne. He thought the Calvin sticker was hilarious. Atticus did not. Atticus was mom’s new boyfriend, whom she’d xeroxed from Steve and stretched six inches taller. Atticus said he knew this would happen. He folded his thin hairless arms across his chest and sighed at the TV, as if disappointed with the TV, the world, and maybe even the Honk for Peace woman for letting herself get hit. The smart car had only left a few bruises and a sprained ankle, but this truck was a whole other monster dishing out a massive 12D10 damage. It left the woman in critical condition with three broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, and a severe concussion. She had to be nearing seventy then, with a bowed back and pale wisps of hair waving off her skull, like ghosts beckoning the beyond. People wondered if she’d pull through. Small tins appeared on gas station counters collecting money for her hospital stay. A few weeks later, when the TV finally talked to the driver of the truck, he’d broken down and cried. Just balled right there on the courthouse steps. Lucius remembers this because when he saw this big bellied hick in a bolo tie crying like a baby he had burst out laughing, and Mom hauled off and smacked him across the head.
Atticus said, “you shouldn’t hit him like that.”
The man was charged with a DUI and attempted vehicular manslaughter and did three years downstate.
Most people thought this would be the end of Honk for Peace. A few wreathes appeared on her little island, which Lucius thought weird considering she hadn’t died or anything. But then the next summer she was out there again, in the same spot, her cardboard sign now ziptied to the steel basket of the electric cart she now needed to get around. Almost no one honked. They were too afraid it’d distract the cars behind them. Many waved instead. A few gave a thumbs up. The rest treated her like a blinking hazard sign.
This is what Lucius was thinking about at work as he watched the woman from his station. It was late June. He was eighteen now and had just graduated from Vathy Senior High with honors. A decadent dorm room and a lifetime of student debt lay two months away at the University of Buffalo. Between then and now was that magic summer that so many teen movies try to capture, like American Pie, a peak transitionary moment in one’s life spread wide like a horizon for unhinged adventure. Rich kids backpacked across Europe and did psychodelics in hostels with Scandinavian goddesses. Lucius would spend it working at Dominos Pizza. He’d been there since sophomore year, spending his summers and school year weekends as a dispatch jockey taking telephone orders with a flimsy plastic headpiece, then entering them into an intranet that coordinated the cooks and drivers. This is where he was now, standing at Station #2 in the loud red, white, and blue Dominos front with his little headphone and mic clasped to his head.
Across the street was the Honk for Peace woman.
Vathy’s Dominos was nestled in a strip mall on Burke Street, flanked by a tanning salon and an insurance agency, and directly across from the woman’s little island. When the temperature sweltered into the high eighties, Manager Mitch would bring her a free unsweetened iced tea.
Everyone approved of this, even Stew.
“Every four years,” Ricky said from back at the prep table. “She gets hit every four years. Just watch.”
Ricky didn’t say this with any sadistic joy or gambler’s itch. He was just one of those people that believed in fate, taking a depressive yet triumphant comfort in moments of its evidence. He had extrapolated the years between the smart car and the truck and formed a set pattern, every four years, concluding that the woman was due for another wallop this summer. Lucius humored him with a smile, but truth was he didn’t go in for the schizophrenia of cosmic patterns. He felt the woman’s problem was simply where she stood, so small and exposed to traffic.
“Part of the problem is where she stands.”
“What?” asked Desireé, hovering over Station #3.
“The peace woman.” He threw his chin at the window.
“The crazy one out there on the curb?”
“I don’t know if she’s crazy.”
“Whateva.” Desireé rolled her eyes and hissed a little air, a gesture performed as fluidly as a dance move and quintessentially black, which Lucius knew because of way it made him feel awkwardly white.
“If she just stood somewhere else, maybe she wouldn’t be in so much danger.”
The phone rang and Desireé seemed all too eager to answer, pulling the mic to her mouth.
“Dominos can I take your order?”
The TV said, “Election season is now in full swing.”
They all hated that thing. Owner Bob had bolted the 32 inch flatscreen above the door three years ago and even ripped out the infrared receiver so they couldn’t turn it off. The only way to silence it was by dragging a ladder over to hit the power button. They would throw things at it when Manager Mitch wasn’t around, clumps of dough, pizza boxes flung like frisbees, always aiming for the power button. The current summer’s stats: Stew with three kills, Lucius with two, Ricky with one. Owner Bob thought it’d make walk-in customers forget the time while waiting. He kept it locked on CNN partly because he figured his young workers wouldn’t get distracted by politics (he was right) and also because he was a freaking nutjob about certain things. Like how he kept the TV locked on one channel and ripped out the infrared receiver. Or how he’d had this guy in a ginormous toolbelt rig the walk-in cooler so it could only be locked from the inside, even though they’d been complaining about the bathroom lock being busted for over two years. Or how he would show up once a month out of nowhere wearing one of their polyester Dominos polos and take over an ordering station for like twenty minutes, speaking like a robot into the mic, “THANK. YOU. FOR. OR-DER-ING. DOM-IN-OS,” frantically pressing buttons on the computer, wiping every surface with all-purpose cleaner then suddenly switching to the prep table to adorn a single pie with meticulous concentration before disappearing into the back and leaving without a word. Freaking rich people.
“Um, ok. I’m sorry you had to wait so long last time,” Desireé was saying to the mic. “Yes. I’m sure we’ll get there as soon as possible. Yes. Yes, sir. Ex-Cuse me? Um, no, ok, no, I just didn’t hear what you said. Yes. Of course. That’s one medium with black olives, pepperoni, and banana peppers.
Thank-you for calling Dominos.” Lucius watched as she clicked the END button, let out a sharp exhaust of air, then entered “asshole” into the order’s Notes field. This indicated that Ricky should reach behind the seasonings for their secret jar of powdered laxatives. Desireé gave Lucius a conspiratorial half-smile. He returned it as best he could while ignoring the rampage of electricity it sent up his nerves.
Desireé was hot.
Like unreal hot.
She wasn’t just pretty, like Stacy Shelling, that cute girl at Vathy High who bloomed orbits of crushes with her strawberry smile. No. Desireé was crazy hot. MTV hot. She had brilliant teeth, hypnotic round eyes, a smooth caramel face shaped like an inverted tear drop, and a damn near perfect everything. Lucius dreamt of having sex with her the way teenage boys will dream of sex, sweatless, scentless, porn-stilted, a chorus of happy screams filling the absence of narrative. They all did. It took them just two days of her working there before an impromtu group therapy session erupted in the backroom. Stew started it by declaring that he’d “fuck the living shit out of her.”
Ricky nerviously peaked around the corner to make sure Desireé was busy with an order.
Manager Mitch confessed that he’d “tap dat ass,” sounding so incredibly lame and white and kinda racist.
Lewis, the creepy old driver who had once been a middle school math teacher but strongly intimated that he’d been fired for inappropriate (read: sexual) conduct, said he would love to “diddle her.”
They all felt queasy and looked away.
Ricky finally broke the silence by confessing that he’d “show her a good time.”
Lucius nodded assent.
Desireé was Dominos’ alien. At first none of them understood why she worked there. It wasn’t because she was black and the only woman at Dominos. Lucius guessed that was part of it, but it was more because she was rich hot, posh hot, one percent hot, always appearing at the start of her shift meticulously made up in high end cosmetics and wrapped like Chistmas in thousand dollar fashion. She’d enter the place like stage curtains were parting at the door, stroll past the obnoxius red, white, and blue front with a world-weary expression, then change into her work clothes in the back. She even coordinated her eye color with contacts to match her silky outfits, purple today, golden tomorrow, always a rich indigo at work to match the shitty cobolt and red polyster polo that Dominos made her wear. Everyone wanted to sleep with her, yes, but no one had really talked to her. Not talked-talked anyway. Oh they tried. She would humor them with small talk about work, annoying customers, Owner Bob’s quirks, etc., but anything beyond that was like entering a foreign language. She’d turn them into insects. Stop. Freeze. Scurry away.
It was Stew who got her story out of Manager Mitch.
“Mitch says her parents are friends with Owner Bob,” Stew told Ricky and Lucius. “They make her work here as like a way to teach responsibility or struggle or some shit before she goes off to NYU to blow lines of molly and lick pussy.”
Lucius nodded, ignoring the later part, thinking how stupid it was to think struggle was something you could learn by asking people what they wanted on their pizza.
The TV said, “Democratic candidate —– is making waves with her new hairstyle.”
It was a Tuesday afternoon in early July. Slowest day of the week. Lucius had just started at Station #2. Ricky was at the prep table putting together two large Hawaiians. Stew was scrubbing one of the pizza ovens with a wire brush. Mitch was in the back doing paperwork. Desireé was five minutes late.
A car on Burke Street honked. The old woman waved.
The TV said, “Republican presidental candidate —— is under indictment for defrauding thousands of college students of tuition money.”
Lucius wondered if Desireé was on a lunch date. No one knew if she had a boyfriend, but over the past month no less than three different guys had come talk to her, each of them fit, tall, handsome, black, driving a BMW or Mercedes. Most of Dominos tried to ignore these encounters, infringing as they did on their fantasies, but Lucius was both too close at his station up front and too curious for petite jealousy. He observed their encounters carefully, trying not to feel like a creeper or racial anthropologist. After the third one’s visit he was convinced these guys were more like her clothes than actual people. She would laugh at their jokes and smile at their cars, but ultimately she’d do the same thing to them that she did to the Dominos guys, just with more care and social panache: turn them into insects. Stop. Freeze. Scurry away. They’d leave in an unaccustomed state of uncertainty, perfect faces a little bewildered, like suspecting they’d just been insulted by someone vastly more intelligent but lacking the vocabulary to be sure. Hope and beauty kept them blind to what was so obvious to Lucius: Desireé had no real interest in any of them. They were accessories, on the same level as her colored contact lenses. Freaking rich people.
The door flew open and slammed into the wall. The TV rattled above.
They all looked up.
Desireé blustered in nervously aware of her lateness, eyes wrongly golden, hips alive, Versace purse attacking the air like a side-armed sling. She marched directly into the back, heels machine gunning the tile.
Lucius looked at Ricky.
Ricky looked at Lucius.
Stew said, “look who’s got her fucking period,“ then guffawed like Lucius imagined a walrus might after a couple bong hits.
They went back to their duties. Ricky started prepping the second Hawaiian. Stew removed the aluminum safety cover from the oven and began scubbing its guts. Lucius zoned out on the Honk for Peace woman. The phone lines were dead.
The TV said, “Democratic nominee —– is currently under FBI investigation for mishandling classified information.”
“Low on cheese,” said Ricky.
Lucius locked his terminal and headed to the cooler.
He flung open the heavy stainless steel door, thinking how Owner Bob should get rid of that damn TV, then stepped in and shut it to look up and find Desireé standing there in her underwear. Wow. She was holding her Dominos polo in her hand and was wearing a matching lacy black bra and panties. Her nipples were erect and struggling against the bra’s semi-transparent weave
and her cheeks were wet.
Weirdly enough, the first thought that went through Lucius’ mind was why isn’t she shivering? It’s 38 freaking degrees in here. She didn’t even seem shocked though.
Lucius was suddenly aware that they’d been staring at each other for far too long.
Desireé’s face hardened. She started walking toward him.
He tried speaking, to justify this accidential invasion of her private space, but
all language was oblong in his mouth. Crude. Ugly. This ugliness only worsened as she diminished him with her approach, owning the cold confined space around them with her confidence and beauty. She came to a stop just before him, almost nose to nose, just staring into his eyes, not longingly, not searchingly, not angrily, but blankly, as if her golden contacts were caps prevented all emotion from escaping. He could see the lines of moisture running down her cheeks. He could smell spicy vanilla on her, a perfume or body lotion, it snaked up his nose and down his body to jumpstart his penis into reacting the way it should have twenty seconds ago.
She reached around him and locked the door.
Then she dropped to her knees.
Isn’t that cold on your bare knees, he thought, feeling stupid for thinking it, then feeling grateful for not actually vocalizing this as she undid his pants and oh my god holy shit.
This was Lucius’ first ever blowjob.
As he sped to climax he remembered a soft core porn flick he’d seen on Cinemax where this long haired Fabio of a man had looked down compassionately at the woman and tapped her shoulder to inform her he was about to come. This seemed the right thing to do. So Lucius reached out blindly with his hand to try to find her shoulder, his head tilted back, his eyes pinched shut, his madness racing toward its finish line while his hand flopped about like a seal flipper on novacain. After a few swipes he found her bony shoulder and gave it a gentle tap. She responded by latching on even harder, faster, and angrier? What is that about and oh my god holy shit…
When he was done she stood up, wiped her mouth carefully, pulled on her yoga pants, slipped her Dominoes polo over her head, then walked out without saying a word, her face a block of uncut stone.
Lucius just stood there, jeans at his ankles. He thought he should wait a moment in case anyone walked by. He tried to process the last couple minutes. He pulled up his pants. He felt sort of guilty about the whole thing. He didn’t know why. It felt like he’d just wacked off in the cooler and as soon as someone saw him they’d totally know. He fastened his belt. As he struggled with the buckle (his hands were growing numb) he noticed that all the sauce cans in the back had been turned around, labels away, so the rows of shiny metal formed a rough reflective surface.
When he went back up front Ricky said, “Dude, where’s the cheese?”
They didn’t say a word to each other the rest of the shift.
He hoped to catch her after closing but by the time he’d finished cleaning she was already out in her silver Acura, driving away.
The next time they worked together was Friday, three days later. She was on time this time and when she went in the back to change Lucius thought of checking the cooler.
He didn’t. The thought of it evoked Lewis for some reason, the old man salivating by the door while rubbing his crotch and cheering, “Diddle her! Diddle her! Diddle her!”
This was enough to keep Lucius right where he was.
She appeared beside him as quickly as usual, no extra time indicating that she’d been waiting for him in the cooler. She logged on to Station #3.
“Hey,” he said.
She paused a breath, then said “hi” to the computer screen.
Stop. Freeze. Scurry away.
He didn’t attempt another word.
The TV said, “Democractic candidate —— refused to answer questions about her alleged connection to a pedophile sex ring.”
Much of the summer proceeded this way. Lucius counted all of seven times they’d had a vocal exchange. Always cold and functional. Do you want to go on break first? Do you want to fold boxes or should I? Things like this.
It was Saturday night in mid-August and Dominos was insane. Mitch was helping Ricky work through a queue of nine orders, several for multiple pies. Rivulets of sweat leaked out his puffy Dominos hat. Stew was feeding the oven and boxing cooked pies as they came out. Lucius and Desireé were fielding orders on the phones. Drivers were shuffling in only to turnstile right back out. The oven had been running nonstop for over four hours and everyone was sweating. It was nearing 11pm.
Closing wasn’t for another two hours, but thankfully the phones were starting to die down. Mitch told Lucius to close his station and start assembling pizza boxes. They’d nearly burned through their entire supply.
“Sauce first?” asked Lucius.
“Yea,” said Mitch, waving an absent hand over his shoulder.
The TV said, “Each candidate’s net worth exceeds thirty million dollars.”
Lucius entered the cooler and headed to the back for the sauce. The cold was relieving on his face. He stopped when he noticed that two rows of cans had been turned around again, labels away, the shiny aluminum surfaces forming a rough mirror. He bent down and framed his face in them, seeing a blurry semblance of acne-scarred skin, Pinocchino nose, and tiny dark eyes like drill holes in the metal. He struggled to like what he saw.
He stood up and stripped off his shirt. He stared at the way the cans depicted his naked torso, the etiolate love handles, the stippling trail of hair up his belly. He turned right. He turned left. He scratched his armpit. He dropped his arms and continued to stare, searching for breadcrumbs of desire.
The door opened.
It was Desireé.
She stopped in the entrance when she saw him, her mouth falling open a little.
He didn’t try to cover himself. He just turned and looked at her, feeling like a failed genetic experiment presenting itself for condemnation.
“Um, Mitch sent me to see what you were doing.”
She looked down and away, then closed the door with a deliberate softness that he wished was about longing rather than regret.
He did not dress right away. Instead he took a deep breath and turned the cans back around.
Mitch called in the reserves for election night in early November. “If it’s anything like the last one,” Mitch said on the phone, “it’ll be like Superbowl Sunday. These people have election parties.
Last time one guy ordered ten pies alone. Bob authorized me to give you double time and a half if you come back for the night. What do you say?”
“Sure,” said Lucius. He didn’t think twice. It wasn’t because he needed the money. He was doing fine on his Dominos savings, student loan check, and the twelve hours a week he slung coffee at the UB campus Starbucks. He more needed to escape the boredom. His dorm room turned out to be not so decadent. His roommate was a Chinese engineering major named Wu who did nothing but study. All the time. He even had his iphone play an audio version of his calculus textbook at night, after reading a study from Northwestern proving you could learn while sleeping. He was a nice enough guy, a considerate roommate (he used clip-on headphones at night while listening to his calc book), but his neurosis could power the eastern seaboard. Lucius had gone out a few times with the people at Starbucks, but nothing clicked. So he was feeling the need for change (or return). This is what he told himself. But what he really wanted, of course, was to see her. To see what had become of her, how NYU had gone, in what ways it had altered her, hoping for the better. He doubted she’d come back (why would she), but still. What if NYU had chilled her out? Made her more approachable?
He took the bus down that Tuesday morning, watching the first snowfall of the season blur past the window.
His mother was waiting for him at the terminal, her face all made up like she was going to a funeral or graduation. She hugged him tight, told him she was proud of him, asked if he had a girlfriend yet, then dropped him at work. He couldn’t believe what he saw on their way in: the Honk For Peace woman was still out there on her island, snug in her electric cart all wrapped up in thick blankets and a grey knit toque. She smiled at cars as they passed. His mom waved as they turned into the Dominos parking lot. The woman nodded, not wanting to remove her arm from the blankets.
Ricky met him at the door with a stiff slap to the back. “Good to see you, man.”
Stew came out from behind the oven. “So how tasty is all that college pussy?”
Mitch gave him a Dominos shirt and told him he was glad to have him back.
He slipped it on over his t-shirt, fastened on a headpiece, and logged on to Station #2.
The TV said, “Early returns will be coming in around 5pm.”
Station #3 was unoccupied.
“So am I riding solo tonight or what?” he asked no one in particular.
“Des is supposed to be coming in,” Ricky said over his shoulder.
“Yea, her daddy ordered to work,” Stew laughed, “which is fine with me. Been missing that view.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Mitch said, staring at his smartphone. “A winter storm warning just went into effect from here down to the five bouroughs.” He looked up at Lucius. “I’ll jump on Station #3 if need be.”
The snow continued to build in weight and frequency as they worked. Outside the window the Honk for Peace woman looked like a sad yuletide scene in a shaken snowglobe.
The TV said, “Republican candidate —- is quoted as saying laziness is a trait of black people.”
The hours plodded on. Business was no where near the volume expected, Mitch guessed because of the storm, and Lucius found himself alternating between staring out the window and folding pizza boxes, boredom giving free license to wandering thought.
There was still no word from Desireé. Not a call saying she was coming, not a call saying she wasn’t coming. Lucius was a little worried for her, seeing her shivering inside her silver Acura in a snowy ditch, but he didn’t want to ask Mitch to call.
Lucius ran out of boxes to fold.
He went back to the counter, slumped over his terminal, and drifted with the snow.
Who was he kidding. She was sitting in some warm Manhattan sorority house right now, drinking merlot and laughing with her sisters about those gross townies up at Vathy, maybe telling them about this time she sucked off an ugly white guy for laughs and detailing the pathetic way he puppied around her all summer like a homeless mongrel.
The TV said, “A group of female performance artists are protesting outside Republican candidate ——’s home by displaying quotes on their bodies that the presidential hopeful has made about women.”
Lucius looked up at the TV.
He saw the back of a skinny white woman in a bikini top with the words You have to treat them like shit —– written on her shoulder blade.
“Oh that reminds me,” Mitch said from the office door, “legally we have to let you go vote if you want. Just try to go in shifts, alright? No more than one at a time. It looks like we can get away with that,” he added, looking into the snow with some dismay.
Lucius, Stew, and Ricky all just looked at him.
Mitch went back into the office.
“You voting?” Stew asked Ricky.
“Millionaire criminal number one or millionaire criminal number two?”
“Well I know I am,” he said with some defiance. He looked to Lucius. “Cool if I go first?”
Lucius looked at Stew. He looked at Ricky. He looked out at Burke Street where he thought he saw a silver Acura waiting at the intersection, but he was probably just imagining things. It could be any car in the blurry wash of snowfall. Hope and beauty. The Honk for Peace woman was still out there, her body covered in a thickening coat of snow, her sign now mostly unreadable.
He turned and headed to the back.
“Guess that’s a yes,” snorted Stew behind him.
Lucius opened the cooler and entered.
He locked the door behind him.
He stood there a moment, not exactly certain what he was doing, but full of a need to do something, probably something stupid, but something.
He walked over to the thermostat and turned it all the way down.
He exhaled hard and watched the faint steam of breath.
He sat down on a stack of cheese boxes.
Some time passed.
He pushed out a long hard exhale, watching it billow like thick cigarette smoke.
More time passed.
He decided to take off his shirt. He stood up and took off his pants. He stood there a moment, wondering what to do, then he wiggled out of his underwear. The cold zinged his body. Then he laid down on the metal floor and decided to count the seconds between shivers, seven, twelve, seventeen, twenty-eight, trying by sheer will to lengthen it to oblivion so he might finally accept the cold.
About the Author:
R.C. Savoie is a graduate of both Binghamton University and CalArts. He lives in Ithaca, NY.