Shannon shifted the car into reverse, looked at Max, and said, “Hang on.”
The little blue Honda squealed out of the parking lot, fishtailing as it ran through the gravel patch before hitting the highway. Shannon knocked it up to about 80 and drove toward “anywhere but here.” Her phone rang. It was Steve.
What Max heard was garbled barking coming from the telephone and Shannon saying: “HE attacked ME!…No, I didn’t lay him out…yeah, some old guy, never saw him before…” she looked at Max and shrugged.
“Don’t lie on my account,” he said, shaking his head, and looking away toward the dark fields reaching toward the horizon. He couldn’t shake the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach after seeing that kid’s tongue going in and out of his mouth, like he was some bad kind of broken.
Shannon continued talking to Steve, “Ambulance, really? That fucker was threatening ME, Steve. Said he was gonna ride me like a Mexican donkey. I kept pressing the emergency button, but no one came! I’d probably be stuffed in his trunk by now if hadn’t been for the old guy. That asshole deserved it.”
Max blinked at her words. Cussing like a sailor, like the kid he just laid out. Patsy wasn’t a puritanical woman, for sure, but being that she was one of those good-mood-all-the-time people, he’d never heard her say anything more severe than “hell” or “damn.”
“Fine. I quit, anyway, jerk!” She threw the phone in the backseat, knuckled down on the steering wheel and drove faster.
Max obliged the girl her drive, assuming that he, as the person who had just assaulted a stranger, ought to be thankful he had a get away driver. He looked down at his left hand and realized he might have broken a bone or something, the way it was swelling up. He’d worry about it when morning came. Then he realized, Shannon was crying.
“It’s just a job,” he said. “You can get another one.”
She nodded. “I know. I should. It’s just good money. Easy, you know?” The tears shone on her cheeks in the light of the dashboard.
“Easy come, easy go,” he said.
She smiled then. “That’s what I always say.”
“You ought not to be working in a place like that. A place like…” His voice trailed off. He tried to explain how guilty he felt in the morning times when he was waiting for Patsy’s ghost to make him coffee. Like he had swallowed a stone and it was stuck in his throat.
“A place that’s going to use you up and spit you out the minute you cause any “trouble?” Like a dog. Worse than a dog…”
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you working at a place like that?” Max went back to looking at the fields, swallowing down a watery mouth that usually preceded vomiting.
“That’s a good question,” she said. She began to slow down as they came to a fork in the road. A wooden sign pointed toward Lake Sanborn to the right. “Want to go to the lake?”
“Sure,” he nodded, thinking back vaguely of that first time he saw her. The time he remembered Patsy in the lake.
In the light of the headlights, the water looked black and glassy. But when Shannon turned the lights off, the moon shining on the water became visible, and everything looked like it was glowing. She got out of the car and walked toward the shore, unafraid. Max followed after her, more slowly, watching for holes and snakes. She kicked off her flip flops and waded into the water to her knees. Max found a seat at a picnic table, leaning his forearms on his knees. The little beach was made of pea gravel, each little pebble shining like a pearl in the moonlight.
“I mean, what did I ever do to deserve this?” Shannon asked out to the still water.
Max wondered the same. He sometimes thought about why he hung around at all. But as a man of faith, he wasn’t going to cut his own time short. That was for the Lord to decide. How he found himself here, at edge of a lake in the middle of the night with a stripper after he just did serious injury to a young man, however justified the action was…How the hell had this happened?
He thought he was probably going to leave. Figured he was going to throw it all in the van and head west and not come back to this town. At least not to live. He’d make a point to come visit Patsy’s grave on her birthday, June 2nd. On their anniversary, October 25th. On Christmas. Seemed like Flagstaff might be nice. Maybe Buena Vista up in Colorado. Maybe he’d just bounce around. He tried to swallow down that stone in his throat.
“Did you hear me?” Shannon interrupted his thoughts.
“No, ma’am, sorry, I did not.” he said.