Idabel Blues

Idabel Blues

The dark blue sedan sat in the far corner of the empty parking lot. Inside the car, Kenny Stone finished his last cigarette and flicked the butt out the window. He’d smoked the entire pack in the previous 30 minutes. Emily would be sure to mention it when he got home. The scent would be terrible, and he’d told her he quit. He’d just have to make her understand.

His thoughts turned to the duffle bags in his trunk. He felt an irrational need to climb out of the car and make sure they were still there, but he managed to resist. No need to be any more conspicuous than he already felt. He just wanted to get this part over with and get home to Emily.

As though summoned by his thoughts, his cell phone buzzed. He fished it from his pocket and saw her name on the caller ID.

“Hey, what’s going on?” he said.

“Just wondered when you were going to be home,” she said. “Thought you’d be here by now.”

“Yeah, sorry,” he said. “I’m just running a couple of errands and then I’ll be there. It might be late though.”

“What kind of errands?” she asked.

“Just doing a favor for a friend,” he said.

“Okay,” she said. “Is there a reason you won’t tell me exactly what you’re doing?”

“No, not at all,” Kenny said. “It’s…really, it’s nothing honey. I wanted to make us a little extra money, so I signed up as a driver for Uber.”

Emily was silent for a moment, and Kenny felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach. He hated lying to her, but the truth would make things worse. Peter, a friend he met at the Hochatown Saloon, offered him the job. Simple work for easy money. Show up with the bags. Hand them over. Get paid and then go home. Don’t ask too many questions. If things worked out, he could do it again as needed.

“You don’t need to take extra work,” Emily said. “We’ve got everything we need. I’ve told you that before.”

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “Living in a shitty apartment, scraping together groceries from Dollar Tree, and putting stuff in hock to make sure we can pay the bills. We’re doing great.”

“I think we are,” Emily said.

“You deserve better than that,” Kenny said. “Honestly, you deserve better than me.”

“Stop it,” Emily said.

“It’s true,” Kenny said. “And you know it’s true. Your family sure as hell knows it’s true. They’ve always thought so. You can see it on your dad’s face every time he asks about work. He thinks I’m pathetic. Your brother too.”

At the moment, he had a job doing maintenance for the local branch of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. During the school year, that meant doing basic janitorial work, things like vacuuming classrooms, scrubbing toilets, and emptying trash cans. In the summer, he’d be stripping and waxing floors, and steam cleaning the carpets. It was the sort of invisible work that the world needed to function but rarely deemed fit to acknowledge.

Emily’s father seemed particularly annoyed by the fact that his daughter was married to a janitor. He loved to ask Kenny when he planned to “get a real job.” He even pulled him aside before the wedding and informed him that if he truly cared for Emily, he would break things off and let her find someone who could properly take care of her.

There was an unspoken understanding that their disapproval was also tied to his record. He’d been arrested a few times. Once for a drunken brawl and a handful of arrests for DUI, one aggravated and one felony that landed him a brief stay in jail. He’d also been required to enter an inpatient treatment program as a part of his probation. The judge warned him that any future trouble would land him back in prison. It was something Emily’s brother liked to bring up from time to time.

“You know what?” Emily said. “To hell with them. I love you, and I’m happy with you. That’s all that matters to me. Besides, it’s not like they’re working big, important jobs. Just office bullshit.”

He felt the sting of tears welling up and squeezed his eyes shut, willing them to remain dry. Despite his best effort, a few escaped and trickled down his cheek. He irritably wiped them away and took a deep breath to regain his composure.

“I made a promise, remember?” he said.

The pair met in high school, back when Kenny still believed that anything was possible and that someday they’d shake the Oklahoma dust from their feet and never look back. Back before his mother got sick and had to quit her job. Back before he dropped out of school to start working to pay her medical bills. Back before everything went to shit.

One night they’d gone out to Beavers Bend. They built a bonfire on the shore and drank cheap beer until early in the morning. At some point, they started talking about the future.

“I’m gonna get us out of Idabel,” he said. “I’ll take you around the world and let you see it all. That’s a promise. You wanna drink wine in Paris? Lounge on the beach in Mexico? Go snorkeling in Hawaii? We’ll do it all.”

“I don’t care where we are, as long as we’re together,” Emily said.

“You’re just saying that because you’ve never thought you could go anywhere else,” he said. “But I swear I’m gonna take you everywhere. Maybe we’ll even buy a little place on some Caribbean island. You can drink out of pineapples and lounge in a hammock every day.”

All these years later and the furthest they’d ever traveled was on their honeymoon. They’d been married at the courthouse, just the two of them. Emily’s family refused to attend. Kenny’s mother had passed away, and he hadn’t seen his father in 20 years. Besides, Emily insisted that she didn’t need a big wedding, though he always suspected she’d wanted something better. Just another area he’d let her down. When the ceremony was over they went to Shreveport for the weekend, blowing a little money on the penny slot machines and dancing to the house bands that played the local bars.

That was all about to change. After this job, he’d put a little money in the bank, pay off their debts, and maybe even have a little left over to take her out for a nice dinner. A few more jobs like this and maybe they’d be able to get away for a weekend, go down to Galveston and see the ocean, or explore the River Walk in San Antonio.

Thinking about it now, he felt a faint twinge of excitement, a flicker of that old hope that had been smothered for so long. Which is when he noticed the car pulling into the parking lot and driving toward him.

“Hey, honey, I’ve gotta go,” he said. “I’m about to pick my passenger up.”

“Okay,” Emily said. “I hope you’ll be home soon.”

“I will,” Kenny said. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

He hung up the phone and glanced back at the approaching vehicle. In the distance, two more pulled into the parking lot. Red and blue lights began flashing as two officers stepped out with guns drawn.

“Get out of the vehicle with your hands in the air,” an officer barked.

Kenny closed his eyes and began to laugh.


About the Author

Shaun Jex is a writer living in the Oklahoma City area.  The former editor and publisher of the Citizens' Advocate newspaper, his work has appeared in publications like Texas Heritage Magazine, Cowboy Jamboree, and others. 


Image by Military_Material from Pixabay