At the truck-stop on Halloween
After taking a piss I walk outside to stretch my calves on the curb. Lady who tends the buffet is sitting at a circular stone table having a cigarette. I sit down across from her. Old as my grandmother, but she’s painted her face like a cat. Even has a fake pair of cat ears on her head.
“Nice day,” I say, rolling up the sleeves of my shirt to let the sun on my forearms.
“Very nice,” she says. She’s holding her lighter and cigarettes in one hand. There are two fun size snickers bars in front of her.
“For a while there I thought we’d skipped fall and gone straight for winter,” I say.
Her fingernails are half covered in chipped, dark purple nail polish. Beds of her nails are salmon pink. They’re sunken very deep around the nails.
“Live here in Des Moines?” She asks.
I tell her I live in Des Moines. She hands me one of the candy bars. I thank her for it. We sit silent. Behind us hundreds of big rigs are refueling. She laughs to herself. Her teeth are worn very low. I can see the roots. She tells me about putting her cat face on that morning. Her boxer ‘Mei Mei’ got scared. Started barking at her.
“I told her ‘Mei Mei it’s just momma’ but she wouldn’t get within ten feet of me. I started with a tail too, but Mei Mei snuck up, nipped it off and tore it to shreds.
“You get many trick or treaters last night?” She asks.
(Today is Halloween, but we had trick or treating last night.) I tell her I work third shift and was asleep while it was going on.
“We used to get a-lot of trick or treaters at the house. We live in an apartment now. Didn’t get a single one. Just my granddaughter down from Ankeny after she got done over there,” she says, slowly blowing smoke up into the air.
She scratches nail polish off one thumbnail with the other thumbnail and tells me when they had the house they put on quite a show. She dressed up as a witch, even had a broom. Her husband had a Frankenstein costume. The yard was full of pumpkins. She carved them all herself.
“Back at the house we had plenty trick or treaters. But it couldn’t be helped. Wasn’t Carl’s fault.”
“Your husband?” I ask.
“Poor devil,” she says.
Tells me Carl lost his left arm because of diabetes. Lost his job driving a Wonder bread route along with it.
“We get by alright on his disability and my check from here, but we couldn’t make the mortgage. The apartment’s fine, we get along just fine at the apartment,” she says, smiling.
I ask her what they did with the house.
“Bank had a foreclosure auction,” she says, taking off her cat ears and setting them down on the table. “I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Had it right there in the backyard. Carl says I’m sentimental. Well, we lived there twenty-two years, raised our daughter there. Figured I had a right to see who was gonna buy our house. That doesn’t sound crazy does it?”
“Not crazy at all,” I say.
“Well, all that showed up was this big family of Asians. Didn’t even have an auction. But the Asians bought it. Carl says I’m sentimental, just cause myself heartache, but I go by there every now and again, just to see what they’ve done with the place. Sentimental, I don’t know, but it’s not crazy is it?”
“I wouldn’t call it crazy, like you say, you lived there twenty-two years.”
“And raised our only daughter there. Well, sometimes I get off the number seven at Merle hay and walk through the neighborhood. Like I say, just to see what they’ve done. Well, they don’t’ put no lights up for any of the holidays. Far as I can tell they don’t mow the grass ever.
“But here’s what gets me,” she says, leaning in close. “Every time I walk by the place it’s the same one. He’s barefoot, smoking a pipe, squatting down at the edge of the driveway like some stray dog. I timed it once. He just sat there squatting barefoot, right there where my daughter had a lemonade stand. Twenty minutes he was squatting there. It’s obscene, just obscene,” she says and lights another cigarette.