Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity

Les opened the door of his vintage Spartanette travel trailer, looked down, saw Frizanne staring up from the desert floor.

“Took me long enough to find you,” she said, pushing her bag and her sweet potato self past the screen door. “Quite the dump you got here.”

“Glad you like it,” Les said. “Maybe you’d like it more if you hadn’t tried so hard to track me down.”

“Glad I found you.”

“Christ, woman, I thought my note made it clear I didn’t want you to find me.”

Hands on hips, she scanned the wood paneling of the ceiling, the plywood cabinets and the two easy chairs.

“Looks like you’re planning to stay,” she said. “Who’s in charge of sanitation around here?”

She swiped a finger through the bacon fat congealed in the bottom of the cast iron frying pan on his stove. She bent down, unzipped her bag and pulled out two yellow dishwashing gloves and a bottle of Dawn.

“You just relax while I get this mess in shape.”

A part of him was happy to see her. She was hard-wired to scrub. The much bigger part of him was wondering how in the hell she found him. The note he stuck to the fridge the morning he fled toward Joshua Tree said she could keep the hacienda on the swamp. After twenty years of edicts and directives, he knew he would never figure her out. Wasn’t sure he wanted to.

“Maybe you’ll find yourself a nice ‘gator,” he wrote in his note.

No self-respecting gator would have her. All he wanted was his retirement checks and a continent between them.

He stepped outside, pulled a Camel from his pack. He inhaled deeply, blew smoke toward the park’s loop road. Friz had blocked his car with her panel van. He heard something thumping in the cargo space.

“What’s in the van?” he called inside.

“Got me a pet,” she said. “Name’s Brutus. He’s good company. Still a baby. Needed protection after my husband abandoned me.”

He felt himself sliding toward a discussion when LuBella pulled her Caddy to a stop at the end of his driveway. He walked over and leaned in the passenger window.

“Company?” she asked.

“My ex. All the way from Florida. Like a bounty hunter.”

She smiled, nodded. She had been a looker. She was still lookable, better than most half her age. On a scale of 11, she was a 10.

“She kicks you out, you can sleep at my place.”

“If she doesn’t?”

“You can sleep at my place.”

She winked. Her unit was on the far side of the park, near the pool. First driveway behind the Saguaro Eateria. They liked to joke that the prices were so good because it was “used food.” If it was a car dealership, it would be “pre-chewed.” She hit the gas and he turned towards home.

Friz gave him the evil eye when he stepped inside. “That your girlfriend?” she asked. “Figured you had a reason. How long you know each other?”

“Oh, we knew each other since kiddy garden,” he said. “Me and her, we used to fuck during nap time while the teacher slept. Then we’d–”

The soapy dish glove hit him smack in the face. He peeled it off, lobbed it back.

“Where you stayin’?” he asked.

“Here. You’re still my husband, best I can tell.”

He looked at his ring finger. His ring was still there. Why, he could not say. He slipped off the band, tossed it at her. She missed the catch and it rattled into the sink. “You can have the bed,” he said.

He turned and went back outside and down the steps and started walking toward LuBe’s. She was waiting on her steps, sipping a beer. “Kick you out?” she asked.

“Kicked myself out,” he said. They both knew different, laughed. She got him a beer and they sat there, listening to the trucks on the freeway and enjoying the desert air.

“There was a lot about her that I thought I liked when we got married,” he said. “Then she sobered up. Me, too.”

“Good in bed?” she asked.

“Good for nuthin’.”

“You eat?”

He followed her inside, and she pulled out another plate, put a couple of crispy taco shells on it and spooned in seasoned meat from the frying pan. He sat down, helped himself to grated cheese and lettuce. Afterward, he cleaned up while she ran the TV remote. They settled into her sofa and he reached for her hand. She wore denim shorts and an overloaded halter top.

In the morning, he went back to his own place. Friz had locked the door. He knocked. She made him wait. When she cracked the door, he pushed in and past her.

“What’s your plan?” he asked.

“Drag you back where you belong,” she said, so casual he was stunned.

“Why would I go back to that hellhole?”

“Be with your lovin’ wife?”

“You may be my wife, but you sure ain’t lovin’. You’re the meanest thing I ever seen. Hell, all my friends keep trying to take me camping. They want to do an intervention.”

“Intervention? For what?”

“Exorcism is what I meant. Give me a Drano enema to flush the devil out.”

“Devil? I told you you should go to church.”

“God ain’t never seen the likes of you,” he said.

She turned all red and started sputtering and walking in circles and then she picked up a pancake flipper from the counter and headed to the door.

“Where you goin’?” Les asked.

“Have me a talk with Miss TittyTop.”

“Get back in here. LuBe ain’t none of your business.”

“Just gotta remove a little obstacle to you and me patchin’ things up.”

Les called LuBe to warn her. Outside, he heard Friz get something from her van and slam the door. He looked out the door. Friz was walking fast as she could drag a midsize ‘gator down the loop road. He wasn’t worried. LuBe could take care of herself. She had worked in a topless joint until tips bought her retirement. She had slapped a few gators in her time.

Before long, he heard elevated voices off in the distance. He couldn’t make out who or what. Les had an idea. He started walking. Halfway there, he heard sirens. Somebody had called the law. The sirens beat him there. Lights flashed off LuBe’s place from the top of the patrol car. A cop stood in her doorway, another by the car.

“Get him away from me,” LuBe screamed from inside.

“He’s friendly, you stupid cunt,” Friz said. “Don’t shoot him, just pet him.”

“Pet him, my ass,” LuBe yelled. “I will shoot. Ain’t afraid to.”

“Put the weapon down, Ma’am,” the cop said.

“Not till she gets that beast outta my house. I got a right to defend myself.”

“He can’t hurt you, Titty-Bar,” Friz yelled. “Ain’t got no teeth. Pulled ‘em myself.”

“Just put the gun down,” the cop said. “Nobody gets hurt.”

Les heard LuBe scream.

Then the shotgun blast.

Then Friz screaming, “Take your head off, you murderin’ bitch!”

Then the cop firing once.

He wasn’t a very good shot. He had aimed for LuBe – the one with the gun – but he hit Friz in the butt.

Les hustled up the steps, stared into the shitshow. The cop was calling for medical.

“And animal control,” he said.

Les wondered if that was for Friz or Brutus. Ol’ gatemouth had his prehistoric yap clamped around LuBe’s upper thigh. No teeth, no blood.  Checkin’ that out, Les felt a tingle down low. He ran past his whining and squirming wannabe-ex spouse to LuBe. He held her face close to his and kissed her with a mixture of fear and anger and desire.

“Get him off me, please,” LuBe cried. “Like to gum me to death.”

Friz rolled around the floor, leaking butt blood on LuBe’s shag. “You killed my pet!” she wailed.

“Irreconcilable differences, looks to me,” Les said.

He turned and tried to pry the shotgunned gator’s jaw from around LuBe’s ankle. Brutus had an ironclad grip. Rigor mortis. Les went to LuBe’s tool shed and came back with an ax.

“If this don’t loosen them jaws,” he said, smiling at LuBe, “might have to take off your leg. Just be glad Friz ain’t bit you. Damnphibian like her, still got most of her teeth. And I ain’t never seen her floss. No tellin’ what we might have to do to detach you.”


About the Author

Stuart Watson wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. His writing is in yolk.literary, Barzakh, Two Hawks Quarterly, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bloom, Fewer than 500, Mystery Tribune, Bending Genres (Best Microfictions nominee), 433, Flash Boulevard, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful, Sledgehammer Lit, Five South, Shotgun Honey, The Writing Disorder, Grey Sparrow Journal, Reckon Review, Muleskinner Journal and Pulp Modern Flash, among others. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog.


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