Storyglossia Issue 25, December 2007.

It's Like Waffle Houses

by Brendan O'Brien


My former best friend's mother speaks for the first time since brunch. She's older and beautiful, up from Atlanta for the weekend. She's never seen anything like this. It's really quite sad, she says.

I've lived here all my life and no longer notice them. Like a car's wipers forgotten on after a rain has stopped. She points and I spot the one she sees. It's bubble gum-colored tongue dangles from its jaw, a black knot of flies buzzing into its decaying underbelly. For some reason it reminds me of the Star Wars where Luke Skywalker slept inside a tauntaun to keep from freezing.

Pay attention, we'll see one every couple miles, I tell her. She watches patiently out the window for the next carcass. Uses a middle finger to tuck hair behind a tan ear. I watch as she folds her hands and rests them near her crotch. Beads of sweat soon begin to drip in the area that's not really her neck, but not quite breasts.

Soon I will have my mouth there. I am not a good person.

Inside the old Chevy it is stale and hot. The air conditioner is shit. Unfixable because I am nineteen and in college with no cash. We drive in silence, the windows down, the country breeze barely moving the patterned lace of her black funeral dress. I'm nervous with my fingers and when I turn the radio knob I blare the static of a station that does not exist.

She looks at me like a child.

Seeing this, the way she regards me—with ambivalence, disgust—lights a tiny fire in the base of my belly. I lean on the gas, putting the skinny black pedal all the way to the floor.

Soon I've got us flying down hilly back roads, leaping over concrete bumps. Bugs hit the windshield and explode. My stomach flips the way one's does on a roller coaster. She grabs my shoulder and yells. I look over and watch while she tries to keep the wind out of her dress. It rides up and dances around her face. She is giggling and blowing me kisses. Marilyn Monroe in a Chevy.

Soon, however, we hit a straightaway and she's back to fanning herself with the church bulletin.

It's like waffle houses, she says after a few minutes. Her eyes are closed. Her head resting against the maroon padding of the headrest. In Georgia you can't go two miles without seeing a Waffle House. Here it's dead deer.

I count seven by the time we reach her hotel. I figured there'd be more. Soon it will be fall and the deer are getting horny. That's what causes them to dart across highways in front of speeding cars. They're looking to get laid. The last one we see is a fresh buck, a red pool of blood leaking from his skull.

Do you think anyone tried to stop him?

And briefly, before I realize she is asking me about her dead son, I think she is talking about the giant buck slumped on the side of the road.

Four nights ago I drank warm Jim Beam with him. Smoked a joint on the roof of our apartment building and watched as he danced across the thin concrete ledge, cars whistling below, the song of the city wafting up from the street. I watched as he began to lurch, forward then back, spinning awkwardly, like a ballerina that was brutal.

I don't know, I tell her.

It is, of course, a lie. I didn't do a thing as his walk gave way to a wobble. I sucked whiskey and watched the stars twinkle and dance around his head.

Copyright©2007 Brendan O'Brien