Jennifer, of the Aryan Brotherhood Pt. 1
I squinted into the distance, fighting the blistering sunset, as I struggled to read the green sign off to the right. Tulsa, Oklahoma: 97 miles. Blinded for a moment as my eyes readjusted to the road, the Buick began to pull to the left. Dunkdunkdunkdunkdunkdunk, as the old tin can began to swerve into the rut. I aggressively cranked the wheel back to the right and the burning end of my cigarette nestled itself into the inside of my left index finger. "Fuck" I spit out through gritted teeth, "piece a' shit." Shaking out the pain in my left hand I punished my useless vehicle by putting out the cigarette on the foam covered dashboard, the leather interior was long gone.
I glanced into the rearview mirror. Little Violet was still passed out in her car seat; my angry cursing had not awoken her. Her mahogany curls were glued to her forehead with sweat because this dinosaur I can't afford to fix no longer has air conditioning. I looked at my own reflection in the mirror for a moment. The dark circles under my eyes were the same shade of black as my thick ruff of hair now. Maybe I should quit smoking…one thing at a time. Ninety-something miles left to go on this hell-of-a commute to the meth capital of the United States. The commute her cracked out mother couldn't ever make because she no longer had a license, thanks to a third DUI. So on the third Thursday of every month I drive six hours from Dalhart, Texas to the most horrific place in America to drop off the only thing I love in this life at her mother's trailer for the weekend. The one and only perk of the commute is off of the highway, about 82 miles before Tulsa, is Vi's favorite place in the whole world, Slum's Diner.
The old Buick clunked to a halt and I put it in park in front of Slum's. Violet was bouncing up and down in her car seat singing "yum yum Slum's yum yum Slum's." Bracing myself, I unbuckled her from her seat. She rocketed out of the car and made a b-line for the front door of the diner. Violent shot me a look of great urgency with her wide eyes, bouncing back and forth. "Dad! Dad! Daddy! Dad! Daaaadd!!" Violet begged, well aware that she is too small to open the door herself. I opened the door for her and she burned rubber en route to our usual booth in the back of the restaurant, only to be intercepted by Sasquatch.
She rebounded off the world's most deadly looking man's leg and summersaulted backwards onto the tile as the tray he was carrying crashed to the ground. This man was hardly a man though, possibly inbred with a Sequoia tree? He towered 6 feet, 7 inches and weighed no less than 300lbs. I was merely a stick in his presence, only being 5'9 and maybe 160lbs. His pale skin turned slightly red and he shot me a look with his murky blue eyes that put a pit in my stomach. Without breaking eye contact with me, he pushed up his sleeves and bent down to pick up the tray. Violet, who feared nothing and no one, studied him for a brief moment and then motivated by pancakes, shot back up and danced her way to our booth. I shook off the humiliation and fear and followed her to the table with my head hung low, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why anyone in their right mind would hire someone like him.
"Jennifer, your server, will be right with you, dear" croaked an old lady with the pink lipstick while she poured my coffee. Thank God, not the bear-waiter that my toddler almost just took out. The diner was true to its name. The black and white checked tiles had not been polished since the establishment was built and were now a grey and mildew yellow color. The place reeked of cigarette smoke and there was no doubt that vermin were living in the walls, but the pancakes are pretty damn good. I tried to get comfortable in the red plastic bench of the booth. As I studied the menu Violet peeped "Jennifer is a girl name."
"I know, love," I mumbled back. Hm, pancakes or the Slum burger?
"You aren't a girl," she giggled. Confused I looked up from my menu and came face to face with the tree's belt buckle. I shifted my eyes up to his meaty face and then down to his nametag. Jennifer was engraved into the plastic. "Is that your real name? Are you a girl? If you're a girl than why are you bald? Daddy he has a girl's name," she rattled off as she laughed to herself.
My face ignited crimson red. "Violet!" I hissed back at her. Jennifer threw another one of his spine-breaking looks at me. "Vi, baby, you can't say things like that to strangers" I stuttered out. Trying to at least sound like a good father.
"Sorryyy." Violet snickered as she covered her face with the ratty menu.
"Yes, my name is Jennifer. It's a family name. I am a man. Didn't your daddy teach you not to make rude comments, little girl?" He growled.
Anger welled within me and I had a potentially lethal moment of bravery. "Hey man she's just a kid so why don't you just fuck off?"
Looming over me he burned eternal regret into my brain as he looked into my eyes. "Because your kid is looking I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that." Jennifer snarled at me, pointing his jumbo sized finger at my face.
I swallowed hard. "What makes you think you can treat people like this? What, you think you got bigger problems than everyone so you can just treat your customers like shit? She's a fuckin kid and you got a chick name what did you expe…."
Jennifer grabbed me by my collar with both hands and lifted me out of the booth up to his eye level, my feet dangling a foot off of the ground. The entire restaurant was petrified and no one moved a muscle because honestly, what could they do at this point? He was covered in tattoos but the two that were on each of his industrial sized hands particularly stood out, a red swastika and a green three-leaf clover. Great, I am about to be murdered in front of my three-year-old by a former member of a deadly prison gang…named Jennifer. His grip put the Jaws of Life to shame and black dots began to fill my vision. Violet let out a glass-breaking shriek, her face pale white, tears flooding her eyes. She pounded her tiny fist against his calf once and then took shelter under the table.
I was going to die and my last image would be Jennifer's furious red eyes. The man sure could hold eye contact. Suddenly Jennifer's expression jolted from indignation to stunned and I slipped from his death grip onto the tile, gasping for air. "No," he wheezed "no, no, no, it can't." Jennifer frantically snatched my wallet off of the table and torn it open. He held my driver's license with shaking hands and stared at it with the same baffled expression on his face for a solid 2 minutes. Nobody moved.
As I was sprawled on the floor trying to regain my vision Jennifer fell down on his knees in front of me, his expression frantic, frightened.
"Violet! Violet Santana!" He wailed at me.
"Don't you touch my daughter! I'll kill you! Do not hurt her!" I barked back. Adrenaline pulsed through me. I scooted backward and desperately tried to reach for Violet under the table.
He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked into my eyes but this time out of desperation, not anger. "No, please! Violet Santana. Her brother…you. No, I'm so sorry. My Violet. Please, is she your…?"
I was stunned, petrified, horrified, lost. And then a light went on in my head. "Violet," I whispered "My little sister? Wa-why? How?" Jennifer lifted me off of the ground again, but this time pulled me into his Sequoia tree arms. His tears soaked my shirt. The beast who a moment ago was holding me by my neck was now sobbing into my chest. "I'm so sorry," he would heave in between sobs "I loved her."
10 years ago Jennifer O'Connor, then called J.O. Connor, was accused of the brutal murder of his fiancé, Violet Santana, and thrown into prison. He was released from federal prison nine years later after being proven innocent, regardless of the fact that he had murdered several people within the prison walls.
My name is Michael Santana, older brother of Violet Santana. My precious daughter, Violet, was named after my beloved little sister, the only friend I ever had. I knew my sister was engaged, years and years ago, but I had never met the guy. I was too busy snorting cocaine and giving society and everyone in it my middle finger to bother. I had seen a photograph once before, their engagement announcement actually. He was still enormous, but he had rust colored, shoulder length hair and only one tattoo, Violet scrolled across his bicep. I was preparing a line of cocaine when I received the call, gone forever. I overdosed heavily that night.
My little Violet was a spitting image of my sister, same dark hair and wild spitfire personality. Only with brown eyes like her mother. But that is not what set off Jennifer's memory. As Jennifer was looking into my eyes, trying to think of the best way to end my life, he realized my tired eyes were an exact match to my sister's. He had spent so much time gazing into the eyes of his one love, chronically astounded by her beauty, that he could point them out in a crowd of thousands. In Slum's Diner he was reunited with those eyes in the most inconceivable way imaginable. And all powerless Jennifer could do in that moment was hold me tighter and sob, "I'm so sorry."
My brain was pounding inside of my skull, as if it were desperately trying to escape its bone matter prison. I don't blame it for wanting to disown me after what it was just asked to comprehend. I sat on the old red bench outside of Slum's nervously picking at the peeling paint chips. Violet was hunkered in lap, practically welded to my chest, a fist full of my shirt locked in her hand. As soon as Jennifer had come-to and flood gates of reality re-opened he released me from his giant grip. "Take Violet, go outside. Do not move," were his exact orders. Even though the beast's expression had softened, rays of vulnerability beaming through his blue eyes, I would have to be completely bat shit crazy to disobey. I starred out into the nothingness of the desert as I finger combed Violet's soft curls; something my mother used to do to calm my sister down when we were kids. I couldn't help but wonder what provoked Oscar Slum to build a diner in such a wasteland. Sand and only sand with the occasional guest appearance by tumbleweed for miles on end. The sun was beginning to wrap up its day behind Slum's diner, casting long shadows of the giant neon sign on the roof over me and Vi. The buzzing diner was struck silent.
Twenty minutes passed. Violet was snoozing away in my arms and I felt my own eye lids become heavier as the seconds ticked on. The front door swung open and the gust of wind re-alerted me. Jennifer marched straight to the Buick without looking at me, lumbered himself into the passenger seat, and slammed the door shut staring straight ahead. Does he even know how to blink? His bald head skimmed the roof of the old sedan and it sunk a little closer to the ground. I stood up hesitantly holding sleeping Violet on my hip, unsure of what my thoughts were on this killer inviting himself on our journey. But without a word I settled Violet into her car seat and then slid into the drivers side. I hadn't noticed at first but there was a Styrofoam to-go box sitting in Jennifer's lap and a plastic grocery bag stuffed with stained clothing at his feet. Without breaking eye contact with the desert ahead of him he picked up the Styrofoam box and tossed it into my lap. I stared at him but he would not budge. I peeked into the box. Four pancakes and a few strips of bacon were crammed inside. I opened my mouth to thank him but before I made any sound he grunted, "drive."
We clunked down the highway, both of us were mute but the silence screamed at the top of its lung. The sun was almost completely submerged under the desert horizon. The sky was a brilliant blue-orange-red ombre color. A steady cloud of dust swirled behind the car as we drifted down the asphalt. A green sign arose in the distance. Tulsa, Oklahoma: 62 miles. My breathing was uneasy and my hands shook a little as I gripped the steering wheel. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a cigarette. Steering the car with my knees I lit the cigarette and practically inhaled the whole thing in one breath. Much better. A giant fist abruptly came hurdling at my face. Jennifer grabbed the entire burning cigarette out from between my teeth with in his baseball mitt hand and crushed it in his fist. He cranked the window down and stretched his arm out. His hand relaxed and the still burning ashes fluttered out into the wind. He wound the window back up. All without breaking that inert stare. My mouth was open so wide in disbelief I thought my jaw might unhinge. Again I tried to say something and again he cut me off. Except this time he simply turned around in his seat and beamed at Violet who was still conked out in her car seat. He turned back around and faced me for a moment. Eyes burning me like I'm sure the cigarette burned him and mouth pressed into a perfectly straight line across his face. Point taken.
Tulsa, Oklahoma: 27 miles. Still not one word had been exchanged. We were two hours behind schedule. Vanessa, if she wasn't belligerently drunk already, will be pissed. Especially since Violet had been sleeping almost all day and will surely not go to bed without a fight tonight. But a pissy baby momma was the absolute least of my worries. Jennifer had no idea what my plans for the rest of the day were and yet he hopped right into the picture as if he had been there all along. I fidgeted in my seat and cleared my throat. "Eh, ehhemm…uh. So. Uh, okay look, man. This was weird. Like, the most mind blowing thing that has ever happened to me. I'm, uh, sure it was for you too…but look wh…" I have such a way with words.
"I need you to cooperate with me," Jennifer mumbled, "I am not going to hurt you or Violet."
"Um, okay. That's…I'm glad, okay. But J…Jennifer…"
"Jay, pleased," he huffed.
"Jay. Okay, well look Jay we aren't from around here. I'm taking Vi to her mom's trailer in Tulsa. Then I stay in a motel across town until Sunday and we go back to Texas. Like, I…you can't stay." My palms were clammy and I felt beads of sweat form on the bridge of my nose. God damn I needed that cigarette. Four and a half minutes more of excruciating silence slugged by and then a, "that's fine," was bellowed from the passenger seat.
The moon had traded places with the sun and the sky was somber as we rolled into town. Besides the glow from neon signs and flickering traffic lights, Tulsa was as dark as its cold soul. The smell of sewer water and deteriorating lives seeped through the windows and flooded the car. I came to a stop at a red light. A group of male trailer trashers were situated on a concrete bench on the right side of the road under the glow of dim street lamp. I stared straight ahead knowing even the slightest acknowledgment of them would be asking for a fight. A scrawny white male in a wifebeater tanktop and a sideways Chicago bulls snap back smiled as he flicked his wrist at his bigger pal's shoulder and pointed directly at my vehicle. The man stood up and jerked his neck side to side, pounding his right fist into his left palm. My hands began to convulse. C'mon light turn fucking green. The man took a step forward, his chin raised, squinting down at me. His friend snickered behind him, passing around a joint. Jay, staring dead ahead as usual, raised his tree branch arm from his lap and gripped the handle just above the door. The red swastika on his hand practically glowed in the dark. The hoodlum spotted it and stopped dead in his tracks. He turned around and muttered something to his buddies and they scampered off with their tails between their legs. The traffic light blinked green. The left corner of Jay's lip twitched upward for half a second. A smile.