Lizard by Mina Ivosev: Read the story that won 2nd prize in the 2019 OWT Short Fiction Competition 1

Sunday morning at a truck stop by Randy Heinitz

Katie was not much for similes but she once said to Darin that a man is like an appendix. They were in the shower when she said this, and she was holding him in her warm hand, or maybe it was just the shower that was warm. Darin doesn’t remember what he said back, and maybe because he can’t remember the next line the scene can’t move forward and so it replays in his mind over and over: the shower, the simile, and Katie’s laughter right after she said it. Darin remembers this scene around Kemptville and thinks of it all the way to Ottawa, where he pulls into the truck stop at about one in the morning and feels the nervousness (which is like anxiety, but not anxiety, because Darin doesn’t like that word) reach a level seven out of ten.

“Long day?” the fifty-something year-old waitress at the diner asks in a way that makes it sound as if she sees Darin everyday and knows him as well as a lover. She wears what Katie used to call (or still calls) “fish makeup” (blue eye shadow and red lipstick with mismatched liner that makes her mouth seem too big for her face). The waitress smiles at Darin a lot and gives him another beer on the house, which Darin takes back to his truck and drinks lying on the cot inside his sleeping bag. There are only three other trucks at the stop, two of which, Darin noticed, had basketball-sized stickers on their front doors featuring some image Darin couldn’t make out in the darkness but he could read the words printed underneath: NO LOT LIZARDS. By the time Darin finishes the beer his nervousness has dropped to a level four. He gargles some fluoride and spits the fluid into the empty bottle, closes his eyes, and thinks of the scene in the shower. Then he remembers that he hadn’t said anything at all, only glanced down at Katie’s wet body and looked at the thin scar on the right side of her stomach.

He hears the knocking but doesn’t move for another minute. Then Darin gets up, tosses aside the blanket, and pulls open the driver’s door. He sees the girl standing outside, plain-looking with dirty brown hair, wearing a red tank top she seems to feel too cold for as she has her arms crossed tightly around her body. Immediately after the door opens she uncrosses them and lets them hang awkwardly at her side for a moment before suddenly grabbing one hand with the other.

“Do you want company?” she asks.

A car drives up the road near the truck stop and the floodlights fill Darin’s eyes. “Go away,” he hears himself say. “I’m not lonely!” He slams the door shut and fumbles to find the lock switch. He lies back on the cot and pulls the blanket over his body and because he needs the noise he starts humming the first song that comes into his head, which he realizes is the theme to Indiana Jones. When he’s too tired to hum he thinks the melody until he feels his nervousness drop down to level three from the level seven it had reached when he opened the door. After a long time passes Darin falls asleep and when he wakes up the truck is filled with light and he can hear cars driving by and he remembers to be grateful for what is too often considered to be the oppressive march of time. He doesn’t go to the diner, doesn’t leave the truck at all. Just gets up, starts the engine, and drives.

#

Maybe because the mandatory three-day leave is called Hometime, Darin goes to Toronto and stays in a motel room with mustard walls and a queen-sized bed he can’t get used to. He spreads his sleeping bag on the floor between the bed and the patio doors and he sleeps there, wrapped in the hotel bedcovers. He wakes up later that night to the sound of knocking, not on his door but maybe the one next to it. Darin pulls the sheets up over his head and concentrates on the sound of his breathing.

Darin dreams that he let’s her in. He says, “Yes, I’m lonely, I want company,” and the girl climbs into the truck but once she’s sitting there on his cot with him she looks about ten years old. She still wears the red tank top but the straps keep falling down, and because the girl won’t move to fix them, Darin keeps reaching over to do it for her. He doesn’t want to touch her and feel her warm skin with his cold hands. The girl just looks at him. Darin keeps adjusting the straps that keep falling until he realizes he’s using the tips of his fingers to pull up the straps that have become so tiny because the girl is—shrinking. He feels the urge to cry out, say something, but doesn’t know what to say so he says nothing and just watches. When she’s shrunken to the size of a tennis ball Darin cups her in his hands and holds her there. He feels the girl get smaller and smaller in his palm but he doesn’t want to open his hands and look. When Darin wakes up his sleeping bag is sticking to his skin and the sun is beating on the thick curtains to his left, giving them an orange glow. He returns the blankets and pillows to the bed, ruffles them up so they look slept in, and stashes the sleeping bag in the bedside drawer.

During the day he walks up and down the streets and notices all the changes. Some old spots he used to visit are now closed down and others have sleek new signs and renovated interiors that have done away with any familiarity and so Darin considers those spots as good as gone too. The changes fill Darin with a deep melancholy and though he knows it’s stupid, illogical, to think a city would wait for him, he still wishes it did.

On his last night off, he lies in the motel bed and gets drunk off a mickey of Captain Morgan. It’s somewhere around midnight when he picks up his phone and clicks the Recently Dialed tab. His last phone call with Katie, nearly a month and a half ago, is fifth on the list. Darin clicks on her name and presses his phone to his ear so he can listen to the sweet pattern of the familiar numbers being dialed.

The third ring is interrupted with club music and Darin’s nervousness level leaps up to an eight. Darin hears a door close and then the music fades enough that he can hear a quiet sigh.

“Katie?”

“Obviously. What is it?”

Darin exhales slowly and pushes his head up to take a sip of Morgan. “I just wanted to hear you talk for a bit.”

“If you want to hear me talk you can come here. I usually charge for these things.”

“I thought you told Diego to kick me out if I ever came to the club again.”

“I did and he will.”

Darin smiles even though he knows Katie isn’t joking and Diego doesn’t joke, ever. Diego is an enormous Ecuadorian covered in thick black hair who never fails to make Darin feel like an imposter whenever they’re in the same room together. Darin listens to the two silences on either end of the line, the permanent one inside his motel room, and the temporary one inside wherever Katie has slipped away to answer his call, with only the sound of club music permeating through the walls and into the receiver.

“This isn’t about the Crosley, is it?” Katie begins warily. “Because I paid for that turntable myself and—”

“The private shows,” Darin starts. His voice sounds faraway, confused, but he hears Katie’s breath tighten.

No.”

“It’s the last time I’ll ask.”

“Last time was the last time.”

“Katie—”

“Darin.”

He holds his breath. What he’s missed most is the way Katie could (can) hold her whole personality in just the tone of her voice that charged (charges) her words and made (makes) them firecrackers bursting with excitement, lust, sexiness, and, in this case, finality. He pictures her standing in some backroom, soft light and multi-coloured bras draped over every surface, Katie herself wearing something lacey and covered in sparkles. He feels himself getting hard and angry and missing the time when he knew that as long as he was seeing that body, nobody else could.

“I’m going to warn you,” Katie says quietly. “You’re at a fork in the road right now. On the right is remembering and on the left is forgetting. Don’t say it, and you go left where—maybe—there is a you and I that forgets you came to the club and saw me that night. Say it, and not only will I always remember you as Mr. Fuck-Ass but I’ll tell Diego to shove a dildo down your throat if he ever sees you again, anywhere.”

But Katie’s hardly finished talking before Darin asks, “Did those guys pay you to fuck them?”

And then the line is dead.

Mr. Fuck-Ass, Darin thinks.

#

One night, when Darin was in the ninth grade, he asked a friend of his to send him a photo of herself. Like this, he said, and texted his friend a photo of a blonde model holding up her sports jersey and revealing the deep cleavage between her spherical breasts. The girl, to Darin’s surprise, sent back a selfie she took of herself in the mirror, imitating the model’s pose. But when fourteen year-old Darin looked at the photo instead of feeling excited he felt strangely sad, and he deleted the picture from his phone right away. He and the girl stopped being friends when she moved away to California. Eleven years later, as Darin lies in his truck looking at a photo of someone’s naked girlfriend that has doubtlessly been passed through countless other phones before reaching Darin’s, he realizes the reason they stopped being friends was not because the girl moved away, but because Darin had stopped talking to her.

Darin drives from Montreal to Sarnia and pulls into a truck stop sometime after eight in the evening. The sun is just setting and the lot has several trucks parked in it. He orders a chicken parm sandwich from the diner and on his way back to the truck he sees a woman wearing wedge heels and those long shorts that remind him of Girl Scouts uniforms standing outside the door of a truck, her fists on her hips. She could be a woman anywhere waiting for anything, Darin thinks, and a moment later he watches as she turns around and looks at him. They stand there for a while looking at each other because neither looks away for what seems like a whole minute, Darin’s nervousness rising steadily the entire time. Then somehow he knows, from the way her shoulders droop, that this woman standing twenty feet away from him lets out the tiniest of sighs. Then she turns back to the truck and knocks again. When someone knocks on his own door a little while later, he doesn’t answer.

That night is the second and last time Darin dreams about the girl. He keeps fixing the straps and the girl keeps shrinking until she’s about the size of a peanut shell. She lies between the folds of his palm, curled up like a fetus, her face too small for Darin to see its expression. She really does look like a peanut, he thinks in his dream. Darin claps his palm to his open mouth and swallows.

—–

Mina Ivosev
Mina Ivosev is a fourth-year English student at the University of Toronto. She has been writing fiction since junior school and has most recently studied the art under the instruction of David Gilmour, author of A Perfect Night To Go To China. In her spare time she loves to cook and read novels, a recent favourite being Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveller. She hopes to pursue a career in editing.

—–

The truck stop photo was taken by Randy Heinitz. It’s covered by a Creative Commons license, and you can find more of Randy’s work here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rheinitz/

One comment

  1. Incredible writing! I love this story. I really hope Ms. Ivosev keeps writing, as I would love to read more of her stories. I believe she has a bright future in front of her!

    Liked by 1 person

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