“Grassy Tracks” by Penelope Breen
Ben had to ask a favor. He needed one of Big Ed’s guys for some roll-off job, but when he stopped by Big’s, things seemed none too happy.
“He’s out in the warehouse.” The office girl’s head made tiny shakes and she kept it down in her screen. “Big’s moving boxes around.”
She swiveled to turn on the radio behind her, some droning medical show, and said to the world, “Tell him: no drums.”
When Big uses the forklift, drums wind up where crates should be. Foreman can’t locate orders for a week.
Big’s phone went straight to message. Ben followed forklift sounds and finally yelled, “Yo, Big Ed! Stop jerkin’ off!”
Big, in his bucket hat and Giants windbreaker, turned to look at Ben, then lowered the fork with a heavy sigh.
“How can you listen to that racket?”
Big stayed up in the seat looking down. He accepted a cigarette Ben offered and hit the off switch. “Thanks, Cuz.” Big took a puff and blew out smoke through his lips, his tinny voice followed it to the sodium light. “You know my nephew, that one that’s always asking for money?”
“Yeah. Nicky Cash? He was with you yesterday.”
“He didn’t show this morning. Found him dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm.” Big hooked his arm on the seatback, shrugged his shoulders, and faced Ben. “It can hook you. Coke got me.”
Ben, nothing to say, counted boxes.
Big Ed lost his nose to coke. He had a rubber one for a while, some putty-looking fabrication. Docs did that thing where they grew a new nose on his forehead. He was hard to look at for a year or two. His warehouse called him The Fucking Nose. But his sea-monkey-growing nose finally got big enough that the docs carved it out, left a hinge, and flipped it down. It’s still not right. His one leg dangled off the side of the lift. He was wearing old man Velcros. Big was quiet. Ben let him smoke in peace.
Big offered, “What’s going on?”
Ben put the favor on the back burner, put his foot up on the wheel. “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Ben leaned forward on his arm. “It’s the doctors. Remember when I had a backache? I was up to three Tylenols for breakfast and three for lunch. Va fanacul, my back was bothering me. You remember that? Right around when you bought out Garcia. You had me keeping an eye on that new fucking guy.” Ben snapped his fingers thinking. “What was his name? Eyebrows?”
“Yeah. I remember Eyebrows.” Big closed his eyes.
“So I went to my doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a pain.’ He says, ‘Take these.’ So I took them. They were okay. I was feeling good. And then I ran out of pills and my scrip was done. I got some kinda flu. I couldn’t get out of bed. I told Lisa not to leave the house I was afraid I was dying.”
“Fucking flu,” Big Ed said.
“Here’s the thing. The fucking thing is, it wasn’t the flu. I went to the doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a flu and my back hurts again.’ He said ‘You’re addicted to those pills. When’s the last time you had one? I can give you something else to get you off the opioids.’ I said, ‘I’m addicted?’ So I jacked him up.” Big Ed opened one eye. “I grabbed him by the throat and jacked him up on the wall and said ‘Do you mean you turned me into a fucking junkie? I’m a fucking junkie now?’”
“Fucking docs,” Big Ed closed his eye.
“No more pills for me.” Ben pushed off the tire and stood up straight, offered the rest of the pack to Big Ed. “I’m sorry about Nicky. How’s your sister doing?”
“It’s a big weight. A child is a heavy thing.” He ground out the cigarette under the ball of his foot, pressed the button. The beeping resumed. Big lifted a drum.
A.E. Weisgerber’s work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong Quarterly, Structo Magazine, The Collapsar, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska Star, Alternating Current, The Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit http://anneweisgerber.com.