THE TROUBLE WITH BOREDOM
By Melanie A. Doan
Marty looks at me over the rims of his aviators, which are held together by a piece of Scotch tape in the middle. “So, how exactly do you expect us to pull this little stunt off, Joe?” he asks.
I look at my twin with a smirk on my lips, and I know he sees the twinkle in my eye. I can feel it. Just like I always do when I come up with a great plan. “Exactly as we’d planned, bro. Clean sweep.”
Marty sighs. “We’re talking about grand theft auto here, not Good Housekeeping.”
“Do you want to get your car back or not?” I ask as I look at the sky. Grey clouds are sweeping in from the southwest, and with the increase in humidity, I’d bet my left nut that there will be tornado warnings this evening. My brother and I are sitting on the front porch of our mother’s house, and even though we aren’t moving, sweat is dripping off our foreheads and into our water-downed Bud Lights. I recall the first time I saw Pops drink it. He used to call it piss water.
Good ol’ Pops. He’d be proud of the plan I’ve devised.
See, Marty and I grew up in this little hick town in southern Alabama where crime is swept under the rug because there is only one sheriff in a town of just under five hundred people. The closest prison is two hours away, so the worst punishment most criminals get is a slap on the wrist and one night in lock-up, depending on the severity of the crime. The most anyone has ever stayed in lock-up was eight nights. Everyone knows the story of Old Lady Jane. She caught her husband cheating on her with her younger sister – who was way prettier, and everyone knew it – so she poisoned her husband with arsenic in his daily coffee. The poor ol’ bastard never saw his death comin’. Since this was the first time anyone had committed murder in our town, Jane got eight days in lock-up then moved up north to live with her daughter in Boston.
I don’t know why Marty is so worried about what we’re going to do. I mean, it was his car that was stolen, and it’s his car that we’re stealing back. The law will be on our side.
“Why can’t we just go and ask Tommy for the car back? It’d make things so much easier. It’s too darn hot to go runnin’ around and makin’ sure there’s no one on my tail ready to throw me into the cell.”
I take a swig of booze from the bottle, and peel off the sticker which is melting away from the glass. This side of Marty annoys me. I’m ready to just leave him out of this whole situation and get the car back myself. He’s too much of a goody-two-shoes for me anyway. We may be identical twins, but when it comes to our personalities, Marty’s got a pair of white angel wings stickin’ outta his damn back. And me? My halo’s bein’ held up by my pointy red horns.
“Marty, you gotta take some risks in your life. No risk, no reward. Tommy took a risk in stealing your car. His reward? He gets to drive around in a nice, air conditioned Ford Mustang until we go and take it back from him.”
Marty pulls his white Hanes t-shirt off his torso and tosses it over the banister into the yard. “Joe, you can’t make a livin’ bein’ a thief. It just ain’t worth it. Eventually Sheriff Thompson is goin’ to get tired of seein’ you and send you to the state penitentiary so he won’t have to deal with you no mo’. And what will Mama do if either one of us is taken away? She’ll die of heartbreak.”
Damn that Marty! He always has to rain on my parade by bringin’ our innocent Mama into the mix. Then again, what Mama don’t know won’t hurt her…
Marty uses the cue of the settin’ sun to go inside and make sure Mama takes her medication. I’m in the same wooden rockin’ chair I’ve been in all damn day. From sun up til sun down, this is where I stay. It’s where I do my best thinkin’ before I run off into the dead of night to do what I do best: steal from those who have been stolen from. It’s kind of a weird gig. I don’t get paid for it, and I don’t want to get paid. It’s just the right thing to do, ya know what I’m sayin’? And now that my own brother has fell victim to these crimes, I’ve gots to work extra hard to make sure justice is given to the sorry son of a bitch who decided to mess with him.
Marty sometimes joins me on my excursions around town, but usually he stays with Mama. She tends to sleep walk and has been known to escape the house in her white nightie that is way too big for her and falls farther down her front side than it needs to. I’ve tried giving her a new one every year at Christmas for the past seven years, and each year she says, “What the hell do I need this for? The one I have on is perfectly fine!”
Marty has a big mouth – a trait he picked up from Mama. And that is why I like to do my own work on my own terms. I promised him I’ll get his car back from Tommy, and lucky for me Tommy works nights over at The Salty Pig, the twenty-four hour BBQ pit and dive bar.
“Alright Marty. I’m headin’ out,” I say as I pull my John Deere ball cap over my balding head. “Mama had her glass of milk with her medicine, right?”
“Yes, Boss, she did. You act like I don’t know what to do with her,” Marty said, his voice clouded with disdain.
I ignore the dramatics; that’s another thing Marty is good for. He is such a passive aggressive brat when he doesn’t get his way. “I’ll be home after midnight, like usual.”
“You sure you don’t want me to go with you, Joe? I mean, you don’t have to steal the car back. We know Tommy; all we’ll have to do is ask him,” he explains as he our dad’s old bottle of JD from the back of the medicine cabinet and pours himself a shot.
“That’s not the point of my operation, little brother,” I say as I grab the bottle of whiskey from him and take a sip straight from the bottle. “And besides, this isn’t a typical Robin Hood excursion.” A few drops of liquid jump out from the bottle as I set it on the counter.
Marty turned his head towards me after throwing back his shot. “It’s not?”
“No. This time, the thief messed with my family.” I enjoy another swig of liquor. “So I’m going to mess with his.”
“No!” Marty yells as I open the screen door and step onto the front porch. “Just go get my car back, Joe. Please? I beg you! Don’t make this a bigger deal than it already is.”
I look at my chest when I realize Marty’s fists are grasping onto my shirt collar. His eyes are wide with panic at the thought of anything violent taking place in our peaceful little town. I am still deciding whether I’m going to listen to him or not when he says,
“I’ll tell Mama.”
I shove him against the door frame. “The hell you will! We made a pact, Marty James. A blood pact which clearly states that Mama is to never know about my hobby as a vigilante.”
“Then I go with you.”
A deep groan escaped my chest and I hung my head, still keeping a grip on Marty’s shoulders. I don’t want to risk our Mama’s safety by having us both out of the house; but on the same token, I can’t risk Mama’s sanity if she knew her firstborn son wasn’t the blessed child she always makes me out to be. My heart pounds against my rib cage as guilt flows through my veins. “You sad, son of a bitch.”
“Alright!” Marty yells with a bit too much enthusiasm.
“Shh! Don’t wake Mama!”
“Oh! Right,” he whispers. “Let me go grab my shoes, then we’ll be good to go.” His face is lit up like a five year old’s on Christmas mornin’. Jesus Christ.
About an hour later, I finally pull into a parking spot at the rear of The Salty Pig. It’s one of a handful of restaurants in town, and it’s the best one. Pops used to own the place back in its prime, and the recipes used by the chefs today are from his own imagination. It’s a shame to see the outside of the place looking like it’s gone to shit, but it has. When Tommy’s mother bought the place from Pops when he was sick, her focus was solely on bringing in the dough. And the best BBQ in the south is cooked up day and night – for the tourists as well as for the town drunks.
The place was built inside two mobile homes that were settled right next to each other; the one on the left – with its cracked aluminum siding – is the giant kitchen where the meat’s cut and smoked. It’s where the magic happens, as Pops used to say. The buildin’ on the right is the seating area for the guests and it also houses the bar at the far end of the trailer. About thirty people can enjoy some food and booze at any given time, which is why it’s kept open all day and all night. Let’s just say Wendy is going to enjoy her retirement when she finally leaves this place.
“Alright Joe, what do we do first?” Marty asks in a whisper as we wait for the hostess to seat us.
I put my hand up to shush him. “Hold on a minute, Little Brother. I’m scopin’ the place out.”
Marty smiles, as if he just had a lightbulb moment – something he doesn’t have very often. “Ah! You’re doing recon first. That makes sense!”
“Howdy, boys! What brings you over to these parts?”
Marty and I turn around and see Wendy MacBride walking towards us, her arms open and a big smile on her face. “I haven’t ya’ll in years! How is your Mama doing?” she asks as she gives us each a hug.
“Mama is Mama. You know how she is,” I say.
“Please tell her I say hello. I really should stop over and see her some time!”
“She would really like that, Ma’am,” Marty says. I have to stifle a laugh because his cheeks are all pink; he’s had a crush on Mrs. MacBride since we were teenagers.
Wendy extends her elbows to link arms with us as she takes us to a pair of open seats at the bar. Even though it has been a while since we’ve seen her, I gotta admit that she still looks good for her age. She hasn’t had any cosmetic work done, but she wears a lot of make-up, and it’s obvious she uses an anti-wrinkle cream. But that smile of hers is infectious. Too bad Tommy didn’t inherit any of her looks.
“So, what can I get you boys?”
“I’ll take a barbecue chicken pizza and a Bud Light please, Ma’am.”
“Marty, please, call me Wendy! You’re an adult too now; there’s no need for the formalities,” she said as she patted his arm. “And what can I get for you, sweetie?”
“Just an ice water for now. I’m drivin’.”
Wendy lets out a laugh so obnoxious, I can feel the eyes of other customers on our backs. I shift on the barstool and keep my head turned from them. I don’t need more people than necessary paying attention to me.
“An ice water!? Oh, Joseph. You silly, silly boy. Tell me what you really want.” Wendy’s hands are on top of mine. She wants the truth? Well, then that’s what I’m gonna give her.
I suck in a deep breath of air, and let it out slow before I respond. I want to keep this woman on her toes. “Where is Thomas.” It’s not a question; more of a demand.
Wendy’s eyes grow to the size of fifty-cent pieces. That means she’s scared. Good. “Now Joseph, you know Tommy doesn’t want to see you no more. Not after what happened when you stole his woman away.”
My eyes roll so far to the back of my head I saw darkness for a moment. “Wendy, we all know that Sarah was leaving Tommy’s dumb ass because of his drinkin’. She’d wanted me anyway. From the beginning.” I pause to let her think about the facts for a moment. “Tommy stole Marty’s car earlier this mornin’, when we were still asleep. I’m here to get it back. Where is he?”
Wendy let out a defeated sigh. “He’s over in the other buildin’ cuttin’ up meats.”
I nod my head politely as I get up from my seat. “Thank you. We really appreciate this.”
“Do you need me to go with ya, Joe?” Marty asks as Wendy cracks open a bottle of Bud Light for him.
“No.” I look at our old friend’s mother. “Make sure he stays right there,” I say as I point to my brother.”
“I’ll do my best.” The enthusiasm was gone from her voice.
It may have been close to midnight, but that did nothing to save me from turning into a sweaty pig as I crossed the patio that connected the restaurant to the kitchen. Before I stepped into the Roaster (that’s what all the chefs called it, because the temperature in there was probably close to one hundred damn degrees), I took my cap off and rubbed the excess moisture from my head. I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding, and charged through the door to make sure I got Tommy’s attention right quick.
“Hey now, you can’t be in here!” Ron, the kitchen manager, stormed up to me and tried to push me back out the door. I grabbed his wrists and held him in place.
“Where is Tommy?” I asked as my eyes bore into his.
The poor idiot realized who I was and stammered through his rebuttal. “He-he’s-he’s, n-n-not here right. Now.”
A belly laugh followed suit. “Oh, come on now, Ronnie. I’m a big boy! I can handle Mighty Joe all by myself.” Tommie’s southern drawl was heavier than everyone else’s. Even his laughing carried an accent with it. He took of his plastic gloves as he approached us. “How ya doin’, Old Timer?” He gave me a strong pat on the back.
I let go of Ron and turned my attention to Tommy. “Whaddaya doin’ with my baby brother’s car, ya dirtbag?” I hadn’t intended to spit in his face as I spoke, but I was so damn mad I figured it was a nice special effect.
“I don’ know what yer talkin’ about. I ain’t come around to your place since before Sarah and me split.”
I don’t like to be violent. It’s just when I have to deal with little pricks like Tommy – who know they’ve something wrong, yet try to lie about it anyway – that my blood just boils. And it had nothin’ to do with us being in the Roaster, either. “Let’s be smart about this, shall we, Tommy? You tell me the truth, and I won’t hurt ya. Got it?”
“Honest to God, Joey. I ain’t touched yer brother’s piece of shit Ford!”
At that moment, Ron came running in through the door, pointing to the parking lot. Red and blue lights were flashing. “Tom, the cops are here. They want to talk to ya.”
“Aw shit. What did Mother do now?” Tommy said as he pushed me away from him and ran outside.
“Wendy?” I asked out loud. Why would the cops be here for her? She’s the sweetest woman in the world. But not sweeter than Mama, of course.
When I walked into the humid night, I saw Marty standing next to Officer Tompkins, who was in the process of cuffing him. “What the hell, Marty!? I was gone not even ten minutes and you bring the cops here?”
Tears flooded my brother’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, Joe. I had to do somethin’! You were takin’ too long with Tommy and I just wanted to get my damn car back.”
Officer Wade helped Marty protect his head as he got him into the backseat of the cruiser and slammed the door. “A patron over in the restaurant saw your brother hotwiring the car. They thought it was suspicious so they called us.”
“Yea but, it’s his car! Tommy stole it yesterday mornin’ and we was here tryin’ to get it back. C’mon, Wade. You know Marty’s a good guy! He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
The cop shrugged. “Show’s how little you know about your brother.”
What? Okay, now I’m confused. “What do you mean?”
“He’s admitted to being the town’s Robin Hood guy we’ve been tracking down the last six months. While his intentions were noble, stealin’ is stealin’. So he’s gonna do some time in lock-up.”
I had to keep myself from laughin’. That son of a bitch! For once in my life, he actually listened to me! No risk, no reward. Well, he took a risk, and this isn’t the reward that most people would be proud of. But let’s be honest: in a town like this, you’re a celebrity if you spend even one night in lock-up. It’ll also give me a break from all the vigilante shit.
And little does Marty know that this stunt he pulled will put me back on the pedestal of being Mama’s favorite son. And that’s all the reward that I’ll ever need.
About the Author:
Melanie A. Doan is an adjunct faculty member at South University in Cleveland, Ohio where she teaches English composition. Melanie achieved her MA from Southern New Hampshire University in May 2015, and earned BFA from Bowling Green State University in December 2011. Her work has appeared in Prairie Margins, where it won the Howard McCord Poetry Award. Mrs. Doan lives in the Cleveland area with her husband and their two cats, Pique and Ember.