The Falcon is caged into its lot by prickly pears and a queue of stunted palms. Beyond it sprawl the fallow rice fields, and beyond those the Buttes. The sun takes its time sinking into them. Based on its position, Brent knows the eight o’clock news will soon be on. Mom and Tim will watch it together. Mom will be pressing shirts, releasing the crisp smell of hot linen into the air. Tim will hunch too closely to her tennis shoes until she tells him to find someplace else to sit because he’s getting on her nerves.
Tim will have to go to bed at nine, but Brent might stay up until midnight or even later. One time Daddy was inside the Falcon until last call. Chuck had to bring him out to the parking lot himself, his arm around Daddy’s shoulders to keep him upright. While he buckled Daddy’s seat belt for him, Brent put the phonebook on the driver’s seat and started the engine.
“I’m not gonna get sick,” Daddy protested as Chuck rolled down his window. His T-shirt strained between his belt and his skin. “He drives like an old lady.”
Chuck ignored him and gave the window crank one last good twist. “You go as slow as you need to,” he told Brent, leaning on the window frame. “And tell your momma I said hello.” He slapped the side of the truck, like the flank of a quarter horse, as Brent pulled away.
It was three in the morning by the time Brent went to bed. He didn’t think Tim had ever been up that late, not even for New Year’s.
◊ ◊ ◊
Brent used to wait for Daddy outside the truck. While the sun was still up, he killed time by throwing gravel at squirrels or whittling at the shaft of pine he kept in the glove compartment. There were starlings to spook, and an ant colony in the corner of the lot to observe. A couple of times he had taken the cigarette lighter from the cab and held it, like a threat, over the ants that marched out from underground. Both times he had let them continue on in the direction of the Falcon’s front steps, wondering if they had even been aware of the danger.
But that had been last summer, the one before the third grade. This summer, Brent has decided he will stay in the cab for as long as Daddy is in the Falcon. This is because Marlon has started coming to the Falcon, too.
Brent hadn’t seen him for a long time when, a few weeks ago, Marlon came up behind him as he waited for Daddy in the parking lot. Balancing on a railroad tie so his feet wouldn’t crunch on the gravel, Brent hadn’t realized he was there until he felt the soft tip of Marlon’s index finger on the back of his neck. Brent leapt to his feet, dropping the lighter to the ground where the soil met the cylinder’s tip, and the circlet of heat disappeared in the loam.
“Whoa,” said Marlon, retracting his arm. He stepped down into the gravel as Brent edged away. Under their feet, the rocks shifted like static. “Just wondering if you want something from inside.” He raised his own lighter to his face, where a cigarette waited. “You might have a long shift tonight.”
Daddy and Marlon shared a grandfather. They had been close as children, spending long camping trips at Clear Lake with their pappy, and were often taken for brothers by those who didn’t know them. As adults they had become distant, no longer even resembling one another: Marlon was very thin, with that peculiar dent below his solar plexus that made his stomach appear to protrude, almost bulbous, like a child in a nature magazine. Daddy was taller and softer, with thick arms and a small, taut gut. Daddy had a thick auburn moustache, but Marlon kept his face and his chest smooth as a clean cue ball.
Brent had wanted something from inside. He had wanted a Coke in a glass mug, like the ones knuckled by the men who sat at the little wooden tables around the bar. If Chuck was working, he would bury maraschino syrup under the ice and stick in a straw. Brent didn’t get to go inside the Falcon often because Daddy didn’t like it. “I don’t need your mom bitching about the cigarette smoke,” he said.
But Brent wouldn’t ask Marlon, whose breath reeked of Red Man, for anything.
◊ ◊ ◊
The summer before third grade, Brent’s mother sent him into town for a new mop head. The public pool had been closed for cleaning, or he wouldn’t have been at home and vulnerable to the errand. “Make Tim come, too,” Brent had whined. Tim was colouring at the kitchen table.
“No can do. This boy is gonna take a nap,” Mom said, tilting her head toward his brother. Brent surveyed him with her: Tim’s face was too pale for the summertime, and his arms were too skinny. Brent knew he should feel bad for him, but when Mom turned away to open the fridge, he pinched the back of his arm. He used his fingernails. He was out the front door and halfway down the driveway, twisting the gears on his bike, before Mom even started to holler.
Marlon pulled up in front of the hardware store as Brent was unlocking his bike, announcing himself with a single sharp honk. He held a plastic container out the window for Brent’s inspection.
“I need more dip,” he said, flipping it upside down and shaking it to demonstrate its emptiness. “Trying to quit smoking. Come on, I can give you a ride home.”
Brent threw the mop head and his bike in the back and got in. He hoped he’d get Hershey’s out of it. He liked Marlon because he would usually buy him candy and he didn’t say anything when Brent didn’t put on his seat belt.
Marlon shifted out of neutral and eyed the road through the rear-view. He reached down for the plastic cup, half-full of brown liquid, that was wedged in the ashtray and put his upper lip over its rim. Brent could smell his saliva, thick and sweet as cologne. “Look under the seat,” he said as he cranked the wheel and pulled back out onto the road. “There might be change for some candy.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Brent knelt to pick the lighter back up from the ground. He stood back up and took a step backwards. The Falcon’s black glass framed Marlon’s face like a pinhole through dark paper. Brent shook his head.
“Aw,” Marlon’s mouth said. His lips were flat and smooth, like stone worn away by water. He pivoted in the gravel and started towards the Falcon, its eaves looming over the burnt horizon. Mr. Menendez, planted like a paperweight on a stool by the front door, lifted his bottle in greeting. After they exchanged a few words, the men put their cigarettes into the ashtray pillar by the stool and went inside.
◊ ◊ ◊
The kind of Falcon night that Brent likes best can’t happen on Daddy’s first night off, because that’s when he goes on a bender. It can’t happen on the night before a shift, because that’s when he gets in his last drunk before four or five days in the rig. The good night has to happen mid-week, on a Wednesday or a Thursday, when Daddy isn’t looking to get shitfaced. That’s when he forgets about the cigarette smoke and brings Brent inside to say hello to everybody. Chuck pours him a Coke with the cherry syrup and the straw, and he can drink it at the bar while Daddy talks about baseball with Carlos and Frank and Luann, who only orders mineral water but keeps a flask in her brown leather purse. It’s after only six or seven beers that Daddy closes his tab, but all the same he walks to the passenger side of the pickup when it’s time to go home. As Brent puts the phonebook on the seat and gets into gear, Daddy fiddles with the radio knob until he finds some Patsy or Loretta, and then, as they pull out onto the highway, he talks. Sometimes he talks to Brent. His elbow out the window, Brent can put it in third and just cruise and listen to Daddy’s opinions about the weather and the president until the turnoff to County Road 73. On a good night, he doesn’t even complain about how slowly Brent drives.
◊ ◊ ◊
Brent can’t turn on the radio or he’ll drain the battery. He left his pack of Bicycles on the front stoop so he can’t play solitaire. He wishes he could go outside. It is hot and stuffy in the cab, though he keeps the passenger window—the one farthest away from the Falcon—rolled down. To kill time, he examines the small plastic caves of the air conditioner for ingrained grime, dust deposits, dead mosquitoes that have not yet disintegrated and blown away.
It is almost dark now, but by habit Brent keeps his bare legs off the seat. All of his summers have been spent freckling in the reflection of sun on the steel refineries and the drowned paddies that feed them, and in the water in the public pool, as oily as the burning asphalt of the Five. He has been conditioned to be cautious of most surfaces, and this instinct lasts well into the nighttime, though the reflections have gone away and the world has cooled considerably. A Mexican blanket, caked with crumbs and sunflower husks and scattered with grease pencils and old receipts, covers most of the vinyl seats. Marlon’s truck had been clean, although there was a blanket spread over its seat, too, its fibres starred with burrs like miniature brooches.
Brent leans back into the seat and sings to himself. He tries to make his voice wiggle like Patsy’s when she does “Back in Baby’s Arms.” In the space above the dashboard there is a red star, encircled by the dried remnants of an insect on the windshield.
◊ ◊ ◊
Daddy is in the cab with him when Brent wakes up. He is lying across the passenger seat, his head on Brent’s thigh. The passenger door is open and his legs are hanging outside, one on top of the other.
“Daddy,” says Brent. The breeze causes the small hairs around Daddy’s hairline to vibrate with something like sentience. “Daddy, what time is it?” He wipes away the crumbs of saliva that have dried on his chin and looks out the window.
The sun is gone and the stool in front of the Falcon is empty. The light above it multiplies its legs, casting a web of black bones on the gravel. Brent leans over to examine Daddy’s face. His chin has stubble on it, sharp as a cat’s tongue. His own chin is above Daddy’s forehead. It is deeply lined but relaxed, and cool when Brent touches it with his finger. There is no vomit around his mouth, but he can’t tell if his chest is moving, and he knows this isn’t a good sign: Brent has been a member of the junior lifeguard program at the public pool since age five.
“Daddy,” Brent says.
In the third grade, Rosanna Barber’s mother died of a stroke. For months after, until she and her daddy moved to Orland to live with her grandma, it had been Rosanna’s preferred pastime to describe her death to anyone who would listen.
“Her skin was all cold,” Rosanna would say, reaching to touch Brent’s arm. “And her mouth was hanging open. And she crapped herself. That’s what happens when you have a stroke.” She hadn’t seemed sad to Brent, who knew he would cry if his mother died.
Brent pulls back his hand. “Daddy,” he says again.
The cab feels stuffy, though the door is open. Daddy’s body is stacked on itself, the parts above crushing the parts below, as if he were more than one person. His torso rests heavily on his left arm, his head pinning his ear to Brent’s jeans. This is how Tim sleeps, how he is probably sleeping right now: on his left side, facing the wall of their humid bedroom, the sheet pulled around him like a shroud.
Brent doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t have any change for the phone booth in front of the Falcon. It’s very dark, and he can’t tell if he recognizes the other truck in the lot. He gets out of the driver’s seat and circles around the back of the truck, his fingers limning the fender as he makes his way around to the passenger side. The red star is gone from the sky.
The shape rises up from the ground in pure silence. It is not until the body cuts through the light from the Falcon that Brent notices it. At his full height, Marlon’s head is higher than the roof of the cab.
“Brent,” he says.
The scent of his chew seeks Brent out. It undermines the flavours of ripe prickly pears and the good familiar burn of diesel. He wants to turn around and go back to the driver’s side, but his body won’t do it.
“Just wanted to check on you,” Marlon says.
“I’m fine,” says Brent. He is standing between the fender and a cactus spear as thick as a leather needle. “But Daddy—” he begins.
“He’s all right,” says Marlon. “Just passed out.”
Brent turns his head toward the cab, but his eyes don’t follow. They stay riveted on Marlon. “He looks funny,” he says.
“He’s all right,” Marlon says again. He reaches out a hand. “Come here.”
There is a voice, and for a moment Brent thinks that it is he, himself, who is talking again. But the voice isn’t his own. It’s Daddy’s, coming from the cab. He is saying Tim’s name.
Marlon stops, his hand outstretched. Only a muscle in his throat, coming into and then leaving the wedging cells of the truck’s dome light, is moving. Abruptly, Brent begins to circle the pickup again, going in the same direction. He must pass within inches of Marlon to skirt the fender and the tire well, but he doesn’t stop moving. He comes close enough to see the stubble on Marlon’s jawline and on the inverted meniscus of his collarbone. When he finally reaches the passenger door, Brent squeezes his body between it and Daddy’s legs, dead as two pieces of plywood.
Daddy is still talking. He doesn’t make any sense. He is saying Tim’s name, and Brent’s, and Mom’s, and there are other things that are slurred and unclear, dashing against each other and then sinking back into his throat. He suddenly begins to cough, and the wet noises of excess splatter the rubber mat under the dashboard. Brent stands on his toes to look: Daddy’s eyes aren’t open. He reaches out a finger to touch his denim knee, then pulls his hand back to his side.
Marlon is tense now. “You gotta learn how to pace yourself, bud,” he says, leaning heavily against the door frame. Brent can’t tell if he is drunk, too; Marlon is one of those men whose voices stay the same, no matter how much they’ve had. It sounds the same as it did when he drove Brent home from the hardware store, the pickup nosing outwards in the road under the large, complacent sun.
◊ ◊ ◊
“Your Daddy told me he’d be on the road this week,” Marlon said. He wasn’t wearing his seat belt either.
“Yeah,” said Brent. “Till Monday.”
Daddy had left early, before the cool black over the rice fields began to grow misty. Brent found himself on the couch again, awoken by the ringing of Daddy’s spoon. Somewhere nearby, a cricket whined. Coffee vocalized from its perch in the kitchen.
Brent got up and went to the dining table, rubbing his eyes. “Walking in your sleep again,” Daddy said over his shoulder. He sat with his back to him, his coffee mug abutting the plastic bowl full to its brim with pale blue milk and corn flakes. They only got the paper on weekends.
“Go back to bed,” said Daddy. He didn’t look up from his food.
Tim turned away when Brent opened the door to their room. The bed that Daddy had made them was against the wall, pushed neatly into the corner. Before this summer, they used to fight over who got to sleep on that side because neither wanted to be on the edge, nearest to the abyss between the mattress and the carpet, which sometimes, when it rained overnight, sprouted delicate white mushrooms. Brent almost always won, of course: he was the big brother. Despite what their mother said, neither of them had entirely trusted that the mushrooms were the only things living beneath the bed frame.
That changed when Daddy started coming to their room at night. Brent began to let Tim sleep on the inside, against the wall. The first time, he did it without comment, shoving Tim over and then turning around so that he could keep an eye on the edge of the bed. He had not been able to fall asleep for a long time. He wondered if Daddy would lie down next to him instead of Tim. But Daddy hadn’t, and that was when Brent started to sleepwalk.
◊ ◊ ◊
Marlon turned off too early. “My house is further up,” Brent said, craning his neck around to look behind them.
“Yeah,” said Marlon, putting it in a lower gear.
The access road ran parallel to a dry channel. In the winter, Brent and Tim went fishing for bottom feeders in channels like these, their catches eyeless and inedible. Brent taught Tim how to bait the hook, just like Daddy showed him. “You’re a natural,” Daddy had said, and his smile had the same shine as the sun on the water. “You’re a natural,” Brent said when Tim, his eyes huge, had examined his very first catch.
Marlon slowed the truck to a crawl at a host of blackberry bushes. There were a few small turnouts interspersed among the vines and he pulled into one of them, killing the engine. The blackberries came right up against the truck, the vines clawing at the window. Brent didn’t think his door could open wide enough to let him out.
Marlon pulled down the sun visor, under which was clipped a pack of cigarettes. He took the box down, shook it, and unwrapped it. He withdrew a cigarette with his teeth.
“What are we doing?” asked Brent.
“I have to check something,” Marlon said. He dropped his nose so that he could look at Brent over his aviators and held out a cigarette. The crescent moon, pale as cement, cupped an ascendant blackberry branch like a bow crossing an arrow. Brent had the feeling that the pickup was sinking into the bushes. He felt like he was sinking, too, weighed down by the truck, or perhaps by something else. He thought of the bed he shared with Tim, the nighttime drywall looming above them, how they waited for Daddy together, both awake but pretending to be asleep.
“You said you were quitting,” Brent said, taking the cigarette. He didn’t like the way chew made his mouth and breath smell like sweet underside of manure, but he liked cigarettes just fine. He put it in his mouth. Marlon leaned over the seat to light it for him, the space between his glasses and his forehead full of his eyes.
◊ ◊ ◊
Daddy always moved Brent to the couch before he went back to their bedroom to lie down next to Tim. The way he did it reminded Brent of how movie monsters carried swooning ladies back to their lairs and lagoons. In Daddy’s arms he went limp, his legs dangling, his head hanging backwards over his elbow. As Daddy lowered him down onto the cushions, he tried to make himself as motionless as a beautiful fainted actress, though he wasn’t sure why he did this: he and Daddy both knew that he was not asleep.
Somehow, this knowing just made it all the more confusing. How did he know to do or not do certain things? How did he know to stay asleep when Daddy moved him? And that he should not talk to Tim when he got back into bed in the early morning, should only touch him with the tips of his toes, his toes on Tim’s calf, because anything more than that would be as bad as asking about it? How was it that he knew that the asking would bring something down on them, some weight that they couldn’t bear, from some obscure place that was nevertheless nearby, like the space below the bed?
And how was it that he knew to tell Mom he was sleepwalking, just like Daddy said? He even let her believe that he was having nightmares, but the truth was that Brent rarely dreamed. “Must be contagious,” she said, running her hand over Tim’s head. “He’s not sleeping well, either.” Tim let her touch him, not averting his eyes from the Chinese finger trap, red and blue paper woven into a tube, on the kitchen table. The lie made Brent feel bad, in an inexplicable and distant way, one that circled him, sometimes closer, sometimes farther, an ellipse of guilt on a trajectory he couldn’t predict.
“Hey, Lorelei,” said Marlon. He tossed her the mop head underhanded, like a softball. When the pickup pulled up in front of the house, Mom had flopped the hose on the ground and gone to twist the spigot. Smiling broadly, she wiped her hands on her jeans, then reached behind her head to tighten her ponytail.
Brent went to Mom, then circled behind her. With her body between him and Marlon, it felt okay to turn his back. He faced the house and the camellia tree by the front porch. Beneath it squatted Tim, enthralled with the earth’s innards, fresh as coffee grounds, beneath a series of overturned stones. His hands were dirty but his jeans and T-shirt were spotless. Brent wanted to go to him and tip him over, face first, with his sneaker. Force him to lie down on the ground in the dirt. Get it on his clothes and in his eyes. Tim was examining something in his palm, his face in the repose of concentration.
“… him,” and suddenly Mom had turned around to pull Brent to her, hooking her arm around his neck like the sleeper hold. “Getting bigger every day,” she said, and Marlon agreed with her. When Brent pulled away, she reached out, to pull her to him again, he feared, but she only picked a burr from his collar with a thumb and forefinger, like a tick off a dog.
“Thanks again for driving him home,” she said. “Brent, go grab your bike before Marlon drives off with it.”
◊ ◊ ◊
Daddy’s body suddenly jerked. His eyes blinked and then opened. He lifted himself by his elbow, and his right hand went to the vomit on his chin.
“Daddy!” said Brent. He didn’t think he had ever felt such relief in his life.
“Bud!” said Marlon. For the first time, his voice changed. It had lifted, its pitch sweetened. He was surprised.
Daddy’s eyes were heavy over his cheekbones and his mouth hung open, but he was awake. Brent wanted to climb into the cab and hug him. He and Marlon were staring and Daddy was staring back at them over the expanse of the seat and the bulk of his body. “Where’s Tim?” he finally said, shifting his weight as if to push himself up further.
“Now, don’t try to—” began Marlon.
“Don’t touch him!” hollered Brent. Marlon’s shoulders were bent into the cab, his hand extended as if to dissuade Daddy from lifting himself any further. Brent braced his body against the door frame with one arm and shoved Marlon away with the other. Marlon took an unsteady step backwards. The ash from his cigarette fell in a solid piece, then burst open on the Mexican blanket.
Brent didn’t care if Daddy remembered how he shoved his legs off the driver’s seat, or how he peeled out of the parking lot of the Falcon without looking for oncoming traffic. In the rear-view stood Marlon, his fingers spread at his side, his weight on his back leg, as if he was still in the process of regaining his balance.
Tim’s back was to the wall when he opened the bedroom door. As Brent took off his jeans and his shirt, he heard his brother shifting on the mattress. He got into bed and tapped Tim’s shoulder; he knew he was awake. Lying on their sides, face to face, Brent felt the question Tim wouldn’t ask. He thought of the knowing that he didn’t understand but that he had anyway.
“He’s out in the truck,” Brent said. “He’s not gonna come inside tonight.”
Davey Davis is a writer, blogger, and editor. Their short story
“Difficult Women” received Honorable Mention for Glimmer Train’s 2014
Short Story Award for New Writers, and their fiction has previously
been published at the Circa Review, Wilde Magazine, the alice blue
review, and A Few Lines magazine. Their non-fiction has been published
At the moment Davey, currently an MFA candidate in fiction at Mills
College, is obsessed with body horror, power exchange, and
trans/genderqueer identities. They live in Oakland, CA, and can be
contacted at daveyrdavis [at] gmail [dot] com.