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A Hard Day and a Cheeseburger
His knees ached, and his feet were throbbing standing on the dusty concrete floor of the body shop. He popped the top on the first Bud Light of the evening and stood in the frame of the open garage door, staring out at the sky as the light of the sun dimmed and cast shades of peach and purple across the clear sky. He hated to see the days grow shorter. Sanding cars and working in a 100-degree paint booth wasn’t exactly a walk in the park in the summer time, but it was better than the freezing cold of the oncoming winter that the arrival of fall signified. Not to mention, money was tight for an awful lot of folks around the holidays, and most people considered getting their car painted a luxury. Indeed – there was more darkness, more cold, and there probably wouldn’t be any big money jobs until folks started getting their tax refunds in the spring. The weight of it all, and the slight chill in the air, made him shudder.
It drew a grumble from his throat. “Time for a damn cheeseburger,” he said aloud to himself. With the radio off and no one else in the shop with him, ‘cheeseburger’ reverberated off of the walls and smacked him in the face. He wasn’t sure if it was the Bud Light or what, but he could’ve sworn it was just a little too strong to be the faint remnants of an echo. He shrugged. Hearing things. He slung the garage door shut, bolted the chain, flipped off the shop lights, and made way to his office to retrieve his keys. The sun had made its way further out of view, and he couldn’t help but groan at the realization that it was already much darker than it was what felt like just a second ago. He couldn’t have been standing at the garage door for longer than 10 minutes. He shrugged again and grabbed his keys. “Guess it’s just that time of the year.“
His thoughts ventured back to a big juicy cheeseburger. Greasy food that sits in your stomach like a brick is usually a valid cure for the aches and pain that accompany a hard day’s work. Times were tough, so Virginia was working a second job down at the local drug store selling men just like him their daily dose of medication in six-packs of cans. But, he didn’t know what Max was up to. It largely depended on what night of the week it was, and he couldn’t even remember at the moment. So, he decided he’d wait until he got home, got the animals fed, and checked in with his son before grabbing dinner.
By the time he got home, it was damn near dark outside. It was the first time of the season that he had to dig out the flashlight to get to the barn. The night air had grown brisk beyond a tolerable chill in the air. Since it was still that awkward time in between seasons when it was still warm during the day, but a tad bit nippy at night, he had to throw on a jacket to keep his sweaty shirt from causing him to catch a cold.
Four horses, two goats, a host of chickens, and geese – all were fed, and when he dropped that scoop back into the feed bucket, he could almost taste the melting cheese and grease dripping off a warm bun. He looked toward the house, about 50 yards away. The lights came on in the dining room, followed by the lights coming on in the kitchen. Sure enough, he saw Max walk through the room, poke his head in the fridge, turn, and walk out the way he came. Good – he and his son could grab a bite together. With work slowing down for the year, he was hoping to get a little more of that in.
And so, he made the 50-yard trek back to the house, his sore feet creaking and cracking along the way. He couldn’t tell if bones were popping or branches were snapping under the weight of an animal in the nearby woods. As common as coyote sightings had been lately, he figured they could’ve been getting a little braver. He made it to the back door, wiped the mud off his shoes, and ventured inside. Max had gone back to his room, so he made his way across the house to see if Max wanted to join him for a trip to the burger joint before he hopped into the truck and drove back to town.
He gently knocked, and cracked open the door. But, when he stuck his head in the bedroom, he found it to be vacant. He walked to the living room, but it was also empty. No noise coming from the bathroom. An unsettling silence permeated throughout the house as his heart began to race a bit. He had just seen his own son walk through the kitchen, but from the sound of that house, his gut was telling him he was alone.
Anxious, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “Hello,” Max answered. “Hey, son – where’d you run off to? I’m goin’ for burgers and wanted to see if you wanted to come.” Taken aback, Max replied with, “Dad, I’m still at Zach’s house. I told mom I wouldn’t be home until late tonight.“
The response put a golf ball in his throat and a pit in his stomach. “So, you haven’t even been home yet this evening?” Max seemed a tad concerned – “no, dad. I haven’t been home since I left for school this morning.” He ended the conversation, stared around the empty house for a few seconds as if he was waiting for something to jump out at him. “Fuck this – I’m going to Wendy’s.”
Image courtesy of Kenrick Mills on Unsplash!