Lowe Township, Part Four / by Raymond Belli

This is a new ongoing series from Potluck. Every Friday, Ray Belli will provide us with another piece in his puzzle. It's kinda like 'Serial' but not sponsored by MailChimp.


* * *

A Certain Kind of Man, Part One

Illustrations by Mariela Napolitano

Illustrations by Mariela Napolitano

Hank McDuffie slammed the door shut on his wife. It was a petty fight, but he couldn’t stand the sound of her voice and already had plans to meet up with the boys. He rode his Harley down the street to the local Dunkin’ Donuts and waited outside for the others to arrive.

Another motorcycle pulled into the lot. The rider dismounted and threw a single, sagging arm over Hank’s shoulder. Pink, plump, and pockmarked, they could have passed as brothers.

“What’s doin’ J.J.?” Hank asked. He traced the curves of J.J.’s motorcycle with his hand, nodding his head with approval. “Finally got her fixed, huh?”

J.J. beamed. “Rides like she’s new again.”

“Hit the highway yet?”

“Not yet. Just got her back from the shop. I took off of work tomorrow so you and me and Sammy could take a ride upstate.” J.J. took out a carton of cigarettes and flicked it open with his thumb. “Got a light?”

Hank struck two matches against a matchbook and lit the end of J.J.’s cigarette. Using the same flame, he lit another for himself. One of the things every man’s got to learn—to keep a match lit in the wind, Hank thought. They smoked wordlessly and watched the traffic crawl by.

“You hear back from Sammy?” Hank asked.

“No, but he’ll be here. I talked to him last night.” J.J. milked the smoke out of his cigarette and shook his head, partly chuckling, partly grunting. “Betty was bitching in the background the whole time.”  

“What else is new?”

“Mark my words, she’s gonna put him in the ground one of these days.”

When they finished smoking, they stomped out their cigarettes and climbed the steps to the door. At the top, they paused to cough and spit and catch their breaths before stepping inside.

* * *

“Six and a half,” J.J. whispered.

Hank shook his head and formed the outline of imaginary breasts with his hands. “Come on. At least an eight.”

J.J. feigned a stretch to get a good look at the teenage girl behind the counter. He stretched in the other direction to play it off, then turned back around in his seat.

“Too dark,” he said, suggesting her face.

The girl, whose nametag read “Pooja,” gasped soundlessly. She called in a foreign language to someone out of sight, and an older woman with similar features emerged from a door marked “Employees.” Her nametag read “Deepa,” and beneath it, “Dee.” Pooja grabbed Dee by the hand and whispered something into her ear. Dee listened closely, nodding after every few words. Her eyes, narrow and cautious, shifted toward the men.

A small bell jingled. Hank and J.J. turned at the sound of the open door and Sammy came storming inside, hands stuffed like contraband into his pockets.

“For Christ’s sake, Sammy,” Hank said.

Sammy’s blue cowboy boots click-clacked along the linoleum tile floor. He was a small, grumpy-looking man with a crooked posture that shucked an inch or two off his height. He set his elbows on the table and stuck his face into the notches of his fists. He moaned. His regularly curled mustache drooped with the look of drawn-on prison bars incarcerating his mouth, the innermost hairs stained yellow from coffee and smoke.  

“What’s doin’ Sammy?” J.J. asked.

“Don’t get me started,” Sammy said. He grabbed a donut from the box on the table and rolled his tongue around the icing.

“Jesus. You see what this poor man’s wife does to him, Pooja?” Hank shouted across the room. “He needs a wife like you that’ll do what he says.”

“Me?” Pooja choked. “The wife?”

“Yeah. You, the wife. Come on, we’ll arrange a marriage.”

Excuse me?” Dee said, stepping forward defensively.

Pooja’s mind blanked, then out of the darkness came the words to express herself in English. “You are … too old. You are old like … the father.”

Hank’s fist slammed down on the table.

Ooh, you hear that, Sammy?”

“Me and J.J. don’t look old like the father, do we?” J.J. asked.

“You’re old enough to be her grandfather,” Dee snapped.

Hank waved his hand dismissively. “All right, all right. What? I hear that Indians make good wives, anyhow.”

Using the arms of his seat for support, he laboriously lifted himself up and waddled to the counter. Pooja’s feet unconsciously pulled her in the opposite direction.

“I’ll take another coffee. Medium, lots of sugar,” Hank said, punctuating sugar with a wink. An uncontainable smirk burned on his face.

Dee’s emotions seethed silently, held behind a wall of clenched teeth. Hank hovered over the counter, breathing heavily, staring cruelly. She could feel the stare undressing her, probing her.

“Well I haven’t got all day,” Hank said.

The seething emotions spilled out of Dee in a foreign, nasal dialect. She slammed down on the coffee spigot and stuck her finger accusingly in Hank’s face. She tore the money out of his hands and thrust the coffee cup over the counter. “Just … leave,” she said.

“Yeah, okay,” Hank said. He squeezed his body back into his seat and reached for the last donut. “So really, Sammy, what’d your wife throw a fit over this time?” he mumbled, churning a mouthful of chocolaty mud.

Sammy flung his thin arms into the air and squeaked. “She was talking about moving again. I said to her, ‘Look, Betty, we’ve been in this town for all our lives, all our friends are here, we’ve got everything in the world we could ask for.’ She goes, ‘Well I don’t like it here anymore. I’m bored.’ And I tell her, ‘If you’re bored here, you’ll be bored everywhere, there’s something wrong with you, not the town,’ and then somehow there’s something wrong with me, and I’m the biggest asshole in the world, and a-this, and a-that, and a … ah, Jesus.”

His knobby fingers anxiously twirled the end of his mustache. The others shook their heads and made wet, clicking sounds with their mouths.

“You know,” Sammy continued, “I said, ‘Maybe if you wanted to move out to the country where we could have acres and acres of land to ourselves, then I could see what you’re saying, but Betty wants to go through the whole process of buying and selling a house just so she could be close to a nice park. She wants to start jogging every morning. Can you believe it? Now, come on, she could just drive to the park if she wants!”

“Aw, to hell with her, Sam!” Hank said.

Sammy sighed. Hank raised a half-eaten donut, and they all clinked their donuts together in cheers.

The bell on the door jingled again and a young man wearing a black suit and dress shoes came inside. He ordered two large coffees in a low, beaten voice. He paid and left without lifting his eyes from the ground.

“That’s Petrillo’s grandkid,” J.J. whispered.

“I think the old man’s getting laid out tonight,” J.J. said. “You read this morning’s obituaries?”

“The whole town’ll be there,” Sammy said.

Hank stroked his beard meditatively. “Wanna go?”

“You’re kidding,” J.J. said. “You hate the Petrillos.”

A clump of half-chewed mush came flying out of Hank’s mouth. “Of course I do!” he laughed. “But I want to get a look at the old man’s granddaughter. Haven’t seen her in years. Hear she’s got a body to die for.” Still running his fingers through his beard, his eyes grew narrow as if contemplating something serious. “Betcha she’s a whore. Her mother was a whore. Being a whore runs in the family, I say.” He nodded and spat a brownish fluid into a napkin, then scooped up the mush from the table. He called himself a man of intuition, a certain kind of man that’s always right.

Behind the counter, Deepa pulled Pooja close and murmured something into her ear.

“We’ll have to go home and get changed,” J.J. said, and they all nodded and agreed to meet back here in about fifteen minutes.

They got up, leaving zigzagging crumbs all over the table. Outside, Sammy blew a kiss to Pooja through the window. She shook her head frantically. Her eyes begged them to go, please go, and Deepa shouted something that went unheard through the glass.

The men laughed as they mounted their bikes. They revved their engines to life, loud enough to disturb the dead.

Raymond Belli is a professional drummer and writer originally from New Jersey. You can email him at ray1018belli@gmail.com.