Short Story Sunday: Pretty Underwear

When we can get them, we’ve been posting short stories. Today, SoHumBorn, a community favorite who captured the imagination of so many locals with her tales a few years ago, has agreed to republish one of her older stories. (Go here to check her earlier stories out.) If you have a story you would like to submit, send it to mskymkemp@gmail.com.

Pretty Underwear

poundsHe called! That knower of men with large sacks of cash.

He called and said, “Bring me everything you can.” Her husband grinned as he told her the news, and she grinned back.

She’s been very realistic about sales this year. With the big vote for legalization in November – fearing this would be their last chance to turn a profit before the capitalist corporate world ran over the family farm like a rabbit under the tires of a Mack truck – a lot of people had planted enormous crops . She figured with all that extra product out there it was a bad idea to count on any sales before Christmas, but here he was, calling them.

They hurriedly rechecked the weight on the finished pounds making sure each was just a few grams over. Then they weighed up what she was currently trimming, and “Right frickin’ on!” another pound was added to the contractor bag. Digging through the places where they stashed things, they pulled out four more a buddy had dropped off pleading in his eyes.

“Just get me whatever you can for them. I’m down to two hundred bucks and I’ve got nothin’ for the kids’ Christmas.”

She knew it cost him forty dollars in gas just to bring them down the hill to her. She’d been there before, staring at the twinkling lights of a tree knowing there was no way she could put anything beneath it–in her heart feeling hollow and worthless.

She smiled as she tucked his in on top of her own. Wanting to call him with the good news, she checks herself. Buyers can be finicky folk and she doesn’t want to get his hopes up only to give him the mental gut kick of a buyer’s last minute refusal.

He’s putting on his coat while she pulls her boots on, both of them grinning like idiots. Nothing feels quite as good as paying bills… ya know?

Heading out the door into the cold damp of the winter morning, he stuffs the bulging plastic bag behind the seat of their old work truck on top of a pile of tools and the never-know-when-you’re-gonna-need-it-in-these-hills chainsaw.

Not liking the way it blocks the review mirror she shoves the bulky bag around re-positioning it.

Pungent odor fills the cab.

“Shit!”

He’s already in the driver’s seat.

“What?”

“I ripped it on the chainsaw. There’s a hole in the bottom turkey bag.”

He gets out and comes around, and they stand there staring at the torn sacks. Re-bagging would take only a few minutes, but in those minutes the buyer may be filling his order with some other seller who had made it there more promptly.

“He’s got bags down there. Grab the duct tape.”

Poking the product back in the damaged packaging she carefully places a piece of the handy fix-all over the clear plastic bag, then does the same for the black garbage bag.

“Ta-Da!” she smiles and lifts her eyebrows.

“Fucking hill-billy!” he grins and leans in for a quick soft kiss.

Problem solved, they hop back in the truck and head to the deal

They break the law all the time. They are in fact criminals. These runs, while sometimes nerve racking, are really a bit routine. She carries some form of contraband fairly often and follows little rules that she tells herself in her own mind keep her safe.

“Never break two laws at once.” If you’re making a clone run… don’t speed!

“Don’t advertise.” No Bob Marley, or “Legalize It!” stickers.

“Never smoke and drive.” Duh!

and last but not least…

“Always listen to country music.” Cops don’t pull you over if you’re listening to country. (But throw in a  “Camo Cowboys” CD and you’ll be scrambling to shut that shit off when the red light comes on.)

So true to form she switches his radio from KHUM to 92.3 Country. Ahhhh… safe.

“Can we swing through town and grab a latte?”

“Sure, babe. We should grab a lottery ticket too.” He smiles, “I think it’s our lucky day.”

They take the off ramp and pull into Garberville, and the Getti-Up coffee drive through.

“What do you want?” he asks just before their turn at the window.

“Large decaf nonfat latte.” He looks a little pained.

As they pull in the pretty young woman in the window says, “What can I get you folks?”

With one more pained look at his wife, he repeats her order in his rumbling bass voice.

“One large decaf nonfat latte and a cup of coffee.”

“What size, sir?”

“Uh, Large.”

“And what kind, sir?”

“Huh?”

“What kind?”

“The hot kind?”

The young woman and his wife both break into giggles as his wife leans across the cab to answer.

“He likes French Roast.”

“Of course, that’ll be $5.50.” She’s still grinning as she starts the steaming process.

“You can wipe that look of your face anytime now,” He says to his wife giving her the stink eye, but she can see the twinkle of humor in those mahogany eyes, and knows he’s played the Big Dumb Guy role for the sheer fun of it.

Coffee in hand he tips the smiling girl and they pull ahead and wait their turn to pull back into traffic. Seeing the green and white sheriff’s car across the street at the Chevron makes her stomach roll and the latte she was so looking forward to begins to have a series of little waves in it’s surface.

“Are your headlights on? That new wiper law? ‘member?” she glances at him as she asks.

His eyes are locked on the same thing she’d been looking at, and there is no more humor in them.

“Yes, Dear.” Exasperation tinged with terror – an odd and unique tone.

With no other choice they begin to pull out into traffic. Both watching that green and white car without turning their heads or giving any indication that it is of interest to them. Their eyes slide to the mirrors, fixated. They don’t speak as Tim McGraw sings  “I’m gonna live where the green grass grows, watch my corn pop up in rows, every night be tucked in close to you…”

The sheriff slides out of the gas station through the meager downtown traffic and pulls in behind their truck.

She stops breathing as they drive through the town of her childhood. They pass the places her memories are made of- Browns Sporting Goods where she got her first fishing license- Garberville Theatre where her Mother  took her to see her first movie, The Sound of Music, but because she was so little she fell asleep and missed the end- The Blue Room where she’d had her first legal cocktail.

Sweating and shaking her voice is a bit thready she joins Tim in an attempt to calm herself.

“…where the Good Lord’s blessed, point our rocking chairs towards the west, plant our dreams where the peaceful river flows, where the green grass grows…”

Passing the Humboldt House Inn it happens, and when the lights come on the fear is joined by a profound grief. It’s over and she knows it. She’s always known this would happen, she just never knew when.

“He’s pulling me over.” Her husband’s voice is low and quiet.

“I know, babe.”

“He’s Pulling me over.”

She looks at him and realizes he isn’t really speaking to her at all.

He’s pulling me over.”

He repeats the phrase with a slightly different intonation each time as he signals and brings the old truck to a stop.

Parked he looks at her and she at him.

“We’re going to jail.” he says

She nods, “I know.”

He shakes his head slowly, “God, Baby, I’m sorry.”

She gives him a weak smile. “I love you.”

“You, too” he says and he turns to roll down the window as the officer approaches.

When he gets to the window she sees him – really sees him. The thin delicate skin that forms the bags under his eyes. The one small bottom front tooth that is slightly darker than the others. The way his side burns have grown a bit to long and flutter in the morning breeze. He looks a bit small, as though he’s been worn thin by life and she thinks.

Really, this sad worn little man? All the ridiculous dangerous shit I’ve gotten myself into – it’s not gonna be the DEA or gun wielding thugs. I’m going down at the hands of a damp Barney Fife. Christ!” and she can’t help but smile at him.

He smiles back.

“You folks know why I pulled you over today?” He’s still smiling. His tone is that glad-handing bullshit you only hear from real liars, like politicians and cops.

As she shakes her head, her husband replies, “No Sir.”

“Well, your right rear tail and brake light are out.”

They don’t have to fake surprise.

“Oh, I had no idea, sir.” Her husband’s tone is low; his speech is slow and ever so polite. She recognizes it. It’s the same way he talks when he is trying to sound sincere and reassuring when they have the occasional “discussion.”

“Well, if I could just get a look at your license, registration and proof of insurance.”

As her husband is fishing out the required documents she watches the officer’s eyes sweep around the truck’s interior and travel over the bulging sack of marijuana before landing on her own eyes. She smiles at him again thinking

“If he asks, I’ll say our washer broke and it’s laundry we’re taking to the laundromat.”

He doesn’t ask.

“Now if you folks wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to wait right here while I check these out.” The politician again. He strolls back to his waiting cruiser.

“A light! We are going to prison for a fucking light!” Her husband’s strangled whisper is angry and disbelieving.

“Maybe he didn’t notice it?” She says tipping her head back at the bag. She always was a glass is half full kind of girl.

“Seriously, babe?”

Her forced hope fades. He’s been back at his car too long now. Her shoulders slump and the personal earthquake that has engulfed her nervous system moves a notch up the Richter.

“He’s calling for the dog,” she says. She is thinking about being processed in Eureka – having her mugshot taken, and wishes she had put on a little mascara before they’d left. Then she remembers there’s a tube of lipstick right here in the glove box! With her shaking hands she retrieves it and applies a coat, oddly giddy that the mugshot won’t be quite so horrible. Then another thought hits her and she blurts it out.

“I wish I’d worn some pretty underwear!”

He swivels his head around his face incredulous at this unexpected non-sequitur.

“What?!”

“Well, if I’d have known I was going to have to change in front of other people, I would have worn some cute panties.” She explains the obvious in a tone that says as much.

He looks her into her eyes, and for a moment those mahogany eyes of his are rich with humor again.

Then his eye catches movement in the mirror

“Here he comes.”

Panties forgotten, they await their fate as one small damp man in uniform strolls toward them.

“Sorry it took so long.”

They practically trip over each other in their attempts to assure him that the wait was absolutely fine.

He hands the paperwork back to her husband and she watches it flutter as though the truck’s cab has a gale force blowing. He quickly tucks it in the visor and places both hands firmly on his thighs. She’s not the only earthquake in this truck.

” I got a little excited for a minute back there. I ran your license and it came back with a felony warrant.”

Her mind spins out of control then a scene from COPS plays back in her head.

The officer has two men pulled over on an inner state highway for some minor infraction – while talking to them he asks them”You got any guns, knives, drugs, bombs, or dead bodies in the car?” The young men with their most serious and sincere faces reply that they do not. As he walks back to the police cruiser the young officer explains to the camera that people with nothing to hide laugh at a question like that. He calls for back up (and the dog) and the young men are arrested for transporting a nearly respectable amount of marijuana.

Her brain did all this truly at lightening speed, and before she even really understands why, she laughs out loud at the officer… and so does her husband. Is it fear, nerves, the same exact thought? She has no idea but they are both laughing heartily at his suggestion that there could be a felony warrant here.

“Then I was looking at my computer and it had come back as an African American!” Barney says grinning with them.

“I put in the number wrong, but for just a second there, I was fired up!”

They all laughed together. It was what you might call a “real knee slapper”.

Then to their utter amazement, Barney says,“I’m not going to write you a ticket today, but take it in and get it taken care of.”

He slaps the door of the truck twice as he walks away.

“You folks have a nice day.”

…“What the fuck just happened there?” she whispers.

“I don’t know, Baby. I don’t know.”

“Drive!”

They pull back onto the road and drive to their dealer’s house in a state of shock, and absolutely giddy with the unexpected outcome. When the truck comes to a halt in their friend’s driveway she opens the door and steps out only to find that her legs won’t support her. They feel as though they are made of jello.

“Oh, God, my legs are weak.”

He laughs at her and opens his door. As he steps out his own legs give way, he clings to the door for support and his deep laughter rumbles through the little river valley.

“Shit, mine too!” They grin at each other through the truck’s open cab–holding on and laughing like mad men until they find the strength to walk the pretty little path to money.

On the way home as they pass the gas station still weak and exhausted from the Adrenalin dump, she asks, “Still want a lottery ticket?” Her brows are raised and she’s smiling.

He shoots her a sideways glance and a grin as they pass by.

“I think we used up our good luck today, baby. I really think we did.”

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