Storyglossia Issue 30, October 2008.

I Knew the Gods

by Heather Palmer


I knew the tasteless, fizzy yellow beer wouldn't give it to him. But neither did the Arrogant Bastard Ale he went around boasting his hoodie never clean but somehow always smelling of women's shampoo (minus the women). He wasn't trying to push, just the way he did things: heavy-handed couldn't ever slide silver fingers over glass rims, long hair, silk threads. His truck—Chevy—reminded Boss of a clump of earthworms, MV insisted it doubled for a panache: dark chocolate over hidden sweetness (but he was a cook and fruity with puffy rolls under an extra large T). I just said it needed a wash.

Tukie didn't know much on manners. Speaking in guttural stops some singers take years of lessons (my ex-girl at NYU: summary: scum city pushes country boy into gutter country boy don't bend she boots him right after he boots out of the goddam rat-hole), well, Tukie don't need lessons to grunt, growl, gaggle, gurgle, gargle, or grumble. Food satiates stomach acid only if it's fried but the boy's lean. Damn.

"Tukeman, how's the girls comin'?" shoulders slumped Tuke spins the stool to Boss who answers himself "Good." Then Boss to me buys another round, rich boy covers money like tomato juice on skunk but we all say "Thanks." MV loves hand-outs we lay it on him thick so he's allowed to be that gay. Me and Tuke been friends since both our pops decided tanned women don't live in the hicks and boys need bruises to grow. Tuke don't tell stories and I don't sit on 'um, so that's all to know about us, and I like it that way. I down the last of the beer look to Tuke who's ready to bail.

Now I don't mind a girl much thought but there's this block I drive by and smoking some cloves I see her every day not talking and I says to Tuke, let's talk to her, which is like saying we're gonna walk by without whistling. Like that Athena she's got dark hair, dark eyes saying knowing all in um and I want to know what's to know why she smokes palm out like moving herself away from herself. Athena seen me looking but doesn't wave. We pull over The Panache (what the hell, that damn MV) and Tukie before I know his two feet pound the ground he walks over to Athena.

"Names Tuke. What's yours?" "Tuke?" "Tuke, right. You?" "Hold on, hold it. You gotta name like that and you expect me to come out and give you my name. Not going." "Well, what does go?"

Tukie looks at me I know it's gonna be rock climbing and Arrogant Bastard later tonight, but for now I step in. I like her like I don't want Tuke taking those palms facing down, long fingers thin but not fragile. I slap Tuke on the back, pull him over sidewalk cracks and talk at him: "I like her. Get it?" He looks behind his back, I see the crack below our feet and sidestep any backs breaking. Tuke stares at me so I can't see anything then walks to truck the glare of the red streetlight while I turn back to her.

Athena smiles at me all-knowing wisdom smile sucks clove stuck between pout mouth. Nothing like hunger I know this girl smokes in whatever she blows out. She looks to Tuke in The Panache his car window down in driver's seat dirty hands on dirty wheel and I wonder how she heard a man without speech. But try to forget say, "Hey" she sends back "Hey."

She offers a smoke, I take, lean into her light. The red light turns green, yellow, moving up, up, red again. I watch it with smoke snug between fingers, but my hands don't shake so thank God for that. Closer still Athena's black eyes a brown chocolate milk. I ask her name. "Your friend asked that. Why you boys get a girl's name without knowing the girl?" "I'm trying to know." She looks at me some oracle firing: "Trying."

I know a whooping. Two years back Tukie done whooped me my arm into a fracture then bought two dozen cans of chicken soup, barrel-chest supporting brown paper bag nearly broke bottom with all those cans spilling out. Boss with him said "Tuke here thinks chicken heals bone." Tuke done pounded Boss now Boss saves comments for MV's wagging underarms like 8th grade English. But turns out my bones fed on chicken soup Tukie stopped every after-work he bounced dogs out of nightclubs after a day at the lumberyard, but always stopped in round midnight to see me. Stopping to see me or just be human. Like knowing my bone would heal quicker that way.

So when she deals like that givin' me the struggle I look to Tuke. He's started the car telling me pizzas on the regular tonight $2 bucks/ 2 slices and the man's hungry so I look to Athena pout hugging clove and risk: "Tuke's hungry you probably ain't and wanna stay this corner here since I been seeing you on it for some time. But you have two bucks or whatever and like pepperoni, we goin' for dinner." "Is that supposed to be an invitation?" I glance at Tuke who nods over Athena before she turns to me. "Okay."

Eating with Tuke never did much for conversation so when Boss and MV show up, morons carrying subs into the pizza shop, I'm a little relieved even after they offer Athena a bite and I cut "No man, she don't want a bite of your shitty slop" but Athena neither hearing not caring opens wide mouth and chumps. Tukie laughs. She nudges him and I know it's up. He don't offer her coke or nothing but she takes the straw all the same, none of this two straws in the same glass she wants everything, and he lets her. I never seen him let nobody, so I says I gotta roll and Boss and MV get your ass up you coming even though I need their help like I need a punch in the back.

Tuke with Athena let me go like not caring. But when I get in his truck he sees and without run but straight strut comes out. "I'm not taking it, Tuke, but to get MV home and Boss." Tuke don't give touch but to wash a tire so when he fist-pounds my shoulder I look him over and laugh and remember those gods back when Olympus had a mountain and we pretended Zeus really threw lightning bolts but we got struck too many times to care. Tuke rubs the worn away grit under beard and from the window Athena finishes the last of his $2 buck pizza.

Copyright©2008 Heather Palmer

Heather Palmer writes the thoughts that run. Her minimal syntax and guttural, succinct, dialogue inform character rather than explain. She studies for her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has published in Elimae, No Posit, Unlikely Stories, Lark Magazine, and Fiction at Work.