Three day weekends are great. It’s the third of July and tomorrow is Independence Day. This time it falls on a Monday, which is like a double treat, since everyone hates to go to work on Monday anyway. Over the rim of my coffee cup I see a line of truckers and wanna be truckers sitting at the counter. Gimme caps, cowboy hats, and one guy with a fishing cap, lures and all lined up, some of them showing off butt cracks. How disgusting. That’s the kind of thing that gives truckers a bad reputation. This is my normal place; Sunday mornings, this is where you can find me. I’ve been coming here for years and didn’t see any reason to change that today. I know most of those guys at the counter. They are friends of Macho Man, my husband. Truckers lead a weird life, but most of them are pretty good eggs. Trucker’s wives are a pretty interesting breed too. Some of them whine about their man being gone so much, others, like me, relish in it. More time to myself. I’ve already ordered my Sunday Breakfast Special. While I wait I look over the “for rents”. Gonna have to find a new place to live. Good thing I don’t have to work tomorrow. Work is a no-brainer, but still. I just sit in a cubicle and enter numbers in a computer. It doesn’t pay much, but hey, I’m not complaining. Jobs can be hard to come by and I appreciate the one I have.
I’m not too thrilled to be wasting my extra day off looking for new digs. There’s a big race on later today, I don’t want to miss it, it starts at two. Its at the Brickyard, one of my favorite ovals. I hope no one expects me to miss it because there’s been some “tragedy”.
“Pretty bad fire out there last night” The waitress says. I just nod. I really don’t feel like small talk today. The front page glares at me:
CITY LANDFILL IV GOES UP IN A BLAZE,
NEARBY TRAILER PARK BURNS TO THE GROUND!
I find my mind wandering back to the day before, and tuning out the rowdy truck stop around me.
A free Saturday, a nice summer day, all the windows open, airing out this crappy little trailer that always smells like fried cheese for some reason. A strange odor wafts in from outside, faint at first, then stronger. Smells like Daytona, burning rubber. Black, billowing smoke, the Dump? The city calls it “landfill IV” but they can’t fool me with some silly sign. It’s a dump. I knew that dump was gonna burn someday. I guess today is that day. I step outside to see if I can identify the exact location of the flames. From the front porch I see spikes of red and orange dancing towards the sky as the first sirens careen down the road. My big yellow dog barks and hides behind me. Chicken Dog. Where’s the cat? He’s my brave cat. He hunts mice and lizards and little snakes at the dump and leaves them on the doorstep. Offerings of love. Chicken dog hates snakes, loves the cat and adores me. I call anxiously “Here Sparky! Here Sparkplug! Here Kitty Kitty!” It would be rude to call him Brave Cat out loud. That is our private, secret name, just the cat and I. Macho Man stands inside the screen door. I saw him a few minutes ago sneaking around the trailer three spots down. I was expecting him to show up. He left his wallet in his dirty work clothes when he raced through here yesterday afternoon. I know where it is, it’s on top of the washing machine, just where I left it last night when I washed his clothes, but he’s too stupid to think of that. Let him flounder around a while I think to myself. I took all the money out of it anyway. He doesn‘t want anyone else to know he’s here. He promised Raul to help him with his brakes today. He’s always bragging that he knows everything about cars, but I know he really knows nothing; he just makes noise about it. He hollered at Juanita as he was headed out the door yesterday that he’d forgotten he promised to go fishing with Bill and he would help Raul with the brakes next time. He doesn’t want to be spotted here this morning. He doesn’t want anyone to know what a phony he is. Well, anyone but me I guess. I figure he doesn’t care what I think anymore. So, if he left yesterday and is spending the weekend out at some mysterious lake, how did he get here this morning, and how did he get there without his wallet and his fishing license? He’s lurking around like I won’t notice he’s even come home if he is quite enough, but I know he won’t find his wallet. I know he won’t look on the washing machine. I don’t think he even knows that we have a washing machine. Even he, Macho Man, who thinks nothing is tougher than he is, is momentarily fascinated by this fire. “What’s burning?” he asks. He stands inside the screen door, hidden by the dark wire mesh. My lack of surprise at his statement makes him realize he hasn’t been as sneaky as he thought. He answers himself “The landfill”. I want to tell him he is an idiot, that it’s a dump, but why waste breath?
“Where’s your truck? Fish not biting?” He knows I know, but he doesn’t care, and truthfully, neither do I.
“Exactly where I left it”. His “better than anybody attitude” sticks in my craw. I want to tell him how sick I am of him, but don’t want to make a scene in front of the neighbors. I have my standards, after all.
“Take the dog and go see” I tell him. He laughs and turns back to his frantic search.
“It’s no big deal, its just the landfill anyway, they’ll have it out in a minute”. He says it like he’s bored with it already, just like he’s bored with me and bored with life. I hear him stomping around through the thin tin walls. What a waste of a man, I think to myself. He acts like all of this humanity is beneath him. All the neighbors are outside now, lots of noise and confusion. The air is full of smoke, burning my eyes and my throat. Something in my gut tells me to worry about this. I start feeling a little anxious. Come on cat, where are you? I go back inside, grab my purse and my keys.
“I’m going over to my sister’s till this smoke clears up”. He grunts. I know that the grunt means he’s a Macho Man and no little bit of smoke is gonna send him running to my sister’s house, especially since she can’t stand him and says he’s a pig. I can see his mouth turn up at the corners, that stupid little quirky grin he gets when he thinks he’s getting away with something. When I first met him I thought that grin was endearing. Five years later, I know he thought he was getting away with something then too. Now he can spend the rest of the weekend with his slut and won’t even have to make excuses about not coming home.
“Have you seen my wallet”? I pretend I don’t hear him and race out the door. Back outside, I open the car, Chicken Dog jumps in the back. Where is that cat? Chicken Dog and Brave Cat always love to ride in the car, even if I am just going to the grocery store. I leave the car door open and walk around the single-wide trailer, calling “Here Kitty” through the deepening smoke. Stupid Cat. I’m starting to feel a little heat now. Is it from the fire or is it that panic button deep inside me going off?
Can’t panic. Not yet. Need the cat. “Here Sparky, Here Sparky, Here Sparkplug!” Now it really smells like burning rubber, like pit-side on race day. The dog lets out a little yelp. I know that yelp. It is the way she says hello to her baby; the cat. From under the morning glory vine I see one gray paw, then another. He stretches and blinks and the lizard he has caught tries to squirm away, but he paws it back. Brave Cat. Ash is falling down now, so I grab the cat and throw him in the car.
“Leaving NOW!” I’m not sure who I’m yelling this to, since no one is paying me any attention, but I feel the event deserves an announcement, so I make it. I maneuver past a fire truck that has pulled into the narrow lane between the rows and rows of trailers. “Evacuate, Evacuate” a fireman with a loud speaker is saying this over and over again. “Evacuate, Evacuate.” I get in line behind the other pilgrims exiting from the tin forest. A policeman at the corner signals to each car as they pass to roll the window down. “Everyone out at your place?” he shouts, never looking at me, his eyes on the queue of cars building up behind me. He doesn’t expect an answer; he just keeps waving me on, waving everyone on. I never come to a complete stop, just hit the window down button long enough to acknowledge him; “My husband’s gone fishing” and then window up again. There is a lot of smoke now. It’s best to hurry. Don’t think about it. Chicken dog is safe, Brave cat is safe. I’m calmer now. In the rearview mirror I see smoke and flames. I can’t see the trailer, or the trailer next to it or the one next to it. I can’t see Macho Man. Too bad he came home so unexpectedly. He left so fast yesterday I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he had plans for the long weekend. He had been on the road for three days, and I had been thinking. I was thinking that is was about time to end this charade of a marriage. He never stayed home long enough to discuss it, but this time I was going to make him. I swore to myself that I would not let this go on another week. It had to end, here and now. I hadn’t talked to anyone about it. I didn‘t want to hear all the “I told you so’s.” Sometimes I wonder why I’m such an idiot. I should have confronted him while he was in the shower yesterday, but I didn’t. I hate confrontation. I wanted to have a few minutes to collect myself before the shouting began. I was standing in the kitchen, thinking about the three day weekend and the impending fight when he walked past twirling his keys on his finger. “I’m going fishing”. He didn’t even stop to say hello. I know what “going fishing” means. I’m not as stupid as he thinks I am. He’s the stupid one. He rushed out of the place to go meet his little secret “fish” who lives on the other side of the trailer park so fast he forgot to get his wallet out of his dirty clothes. I wonder if he suspects that I have had enough. Hah! He had to come back this morning to get the wallet. I wonder to myself if he needs money for the “fish”?
“You want a refill on that? Cook says you lost your place in the fire yesterday. Sorry about that. Anything I can do for you?”
“Thanks, I’m sure I’m gonna be fine. Hey Bill, did my man come back with you this morning? I wasn’t expecting you guys back till tomorrow.” Bill, the trucker in the fishing cap, who has been eyeing me in the mirror since I walked in but has not acknowledged me, turns around. “Nuh, I came back early. . .uh, actually late last night, had a headache. Don’t know when the others will be back.” He throws some money down as he speaks, already headed out the door. I know he knows that he is always Macho Man’s alibi. It’s funny how Bill always comes back from these fishing trips early and no one ever brings home any fish.
“What a way to ruin a fishing trip. I bet you wish you had gone with him now. He ain’t got his cell phone with him?” the waitress says. She sure seems curious and maybe a little worried. For a second it makes me wonder if she knows him.
“He doesn’t have one, says he doesn’t want to be tethered to a leash.” We both laugh.
“If he hears it on the news he’s bound to come looking for me, and I don’t want him to worry. If I leave before he gets here, will you let him know I’m alright?” She nods her head as she turns to answer someone’s call for fresh coffee. I try hard to maintain a look of mild worry and blank innocence. I grab the classifieds and return to the “For Rent” section just as two policemen walk through the front door. I hear my name and the waitress points my way. From the look on the policemen’s faces I think I know what they are going to say, but I am prepared to be surprised. “Ma’am, I’m sorry to say we’ve got some bad news. We need you to come down to the morgue with us”. The morgue? Ok, this does surprise me. How stupid could the man have been to have stayed in a burning building? I was expecting him to be hospitalized and have lost all his hair or something. I was figuring he deserved that, but not the morgue. I ask the right questions, they answer with adequate remorse. I did have a few real tears. Not necessarily for him, but for the situation. No one deserves to die in a fire. I try to conjure up more tears in order to show real grief, so I think about how I felt last night, washing all the ash out of the dog’s fur and trying to do the same with the cat. I don’t know what I would do if I lost them. It’s a good thing my sister lives close, but not too close. I sit in the back of the squad car and think about my grandmother’s vase and the pictures of my father. Gone forever I guess. I think about the insurance papers and his mother’s good jewelry, all in a fireproof safe under the floorboards in the dining room. I wonder how long all of this is going to take and if I’m going to miss the race after all. I look at the classifieds crunched up in my hands. I realize two things. One, I can stay with my sister for a while, it won’t look right to rush out and get a new place with my husband just dead, and two, I really do like Independence Day.