Issue 13

Taking Rashida Home

 · Fiction

Wiley’s store is the last place you pass in Eutauba county, Alabama. I mean, it’s literally the last building because when Jeb Downey goes out the back of his store to put out the garbage, he’s putting it in Chocka County because that’s where the line is, about six feet out the back door. The funny thing is, Chocka is a dry county and Eutauba is a wet county, so you can buy your booze from Jeb and then walk out the back and go about fifteen feet to Jeb’s brother Carl’s place, the Icy Hot. It’s one of those “set-up” bars that doesn’t sell alcohol, just fruit juice and soft drinks that you can mix with your alcohol that you just bought not a spit’s worth of distance away.

Rashida comes to the Icy Hot at least three nights a week when she gets off the second shift at Gadsden Regional Medical Center where she works as an x-ray technician. She’s been coming there ever since she ran over a guy and killed him on Meighan Boulevard. It doesn’t matter that she wasn’t charged with anything; for two months now, killing that guy has been eating her up. Once she’s downed at least two beers, Rashida will start whining about how she’s a killer and how that guy, named Ike, will never sit in a bar and enjoy a beer with his friends, or have a Thanksgiving dinner with his family, or enjoy a nice day in a park watching kids play in the sunshine.

This is the point where I roll my eyes and remind her that Ike was never going to enjoy any of those things again anyway since the reason he ran out in front of her car was because the cops were chasing him after catching him molesting a thirteen-year-old boy. It also doesn’t help when I remind her that the coroner’s report said the tire of her Corolla had actually popped his head open like a melon, so he didn’t suffer. The report didn’t say that part about the melon — I added that — but it was the God’s honest truth about how he died. I heard from one of the firefighters who arrived on the scene that they had to use a hose to clean up the mess.

After it happened, people sent her congratulatory messages and lots of businesses sent her free stuff as a thank you for saving the taxpayers the cost of a trial and incarceration and whatnot. The firefighters even took up a collection and bought her a new tire even though the old one had plenty of tread left on it. I guess it was the principle of the thing.

Nobody could understand why she was still crying about it even after Pastor Rory came out to tell her that God forgave her because it was all a mistake, but she kept on crying about how she was an awful person. She’d broken up with her boyfriend, Dwight, the week before the accident, so I guess that was part of what was eating away at her. Some people said Dwight hit her, and it might have been true because about a month before she killed that guy somebody said they saw Dwight grab her by the hair while she was sitting in her car at a gas station and that it didn’t look like he was playing around.

Pastor Rory had his talk with her almost two weeks ago, and since then we’ve all been listening to her at the Icy Hot, or at least Carl and I have. Once she gets started, most everybody moves to another table or decides they have somewhere else to be. Carl has to listen because the Icy Hot is his place, and I listen because I’ve had a crush on Rashida since we graduated high school together eight years ago. I’d listen to her read gravy recipes aloud. I’ve always wanted to tell her how I feel, and I really thought she’d figure it out after I sat listening to her night after night while she’s half drunk, and because I make sure she gets home safe, even if it means driving her the half mile to her house in her car and going back to the Icy Hot on foot. The whole ordeal was beginning to get to me, just a little, and Carl was getting tired of the whining. He said it was bad for business.

“Why don’t you just tell her that you’re half in love with her and get it over with? Maybe she’ll drop that pity party and take you home with her for good,” said Carl, throwing a crushed Pepsi can into the recycling tub. He put a quarter in the jukebox, an antique even in his own high school days. Hardly anybody ever played it because the only songs on it were the ones he liked from the late 70’s. The Bee Gees filled the bar, but I couldn’t tell what it was because those guys sound like a bunch of excited squirrels no matter what they sing. I was about to start bitching about it when Rashida slouched through the door. Her shift didn’t end for another hour, but there she was in her green scrubs and those chunky clogs that hospital people wear, but Rashida made that green outfit look like a million bucks. Everything sat up high and tight, all muscles and curves. Even Carl’s eyebrows rose when he spotted her coming through the doorway, but then he looked away and sighed. If she was going to start in this early, she’d be running people out a full hour earlier than she usually did.

“Hey there, Rashida,” I said.

“Hmmm,” she said as she slid onto a stool at the bar.

“You’re early,” I said. Rashida gave me a glance that told me I ought to shut my mouth. I grabbed the four beers still attached to the plastic ring and took the stool next to her. Her eyes were a little glassy, like a person who was having trouble waking up from a particularly disturbing dream. “You’re early,” I repeated.

“Did I have an appointment?”

I made a point of pulling at my cuff and looking at my watch. “Your shift doesn’t end for another hour,” I said. “And you look sort of different.”

She squinted and drew back. “You been stalking me?”

“You do look pale,” said Carl, taking us both by surprise.

“Pale, huh?” Rashida turned her attention to Carl and let out a long belly laugh. “You’re funny as hell, you know that?”

Carl was too embarrassed to laugh, and I wasn’t sure if she was laughing because she genuinely thought what he said had been funny or because it was what she did just before she hauled off and socked somebody in the mouth for saying something stupid. Carl and I sat there with our mouths shut until she was shaking her head and smiling. “I’m running a fever, so they sent me home early. Happy?”

“I could drive you home if you’re not feeling well,” I offered.

“You reckon you could lend me one of those beers first? I don’t feel like walking over to Jeb’s.”

I slid a beer in front of her.

“What is that shit you got playing tonight?”

“I danced to that song at my high school prom,” said Carl, as the Bee Gee’s shouted, “Tragedy!”

“That don’t mean it’s not shit,” said Rashida.

“Come on, Rashida. If you’re going to be nasty then why don’t you let Roy here take you home?”

Rashida turned on her stool and gave me a look like she was going to shoot me between the eyes. “You just don’t know when to quit, do you?”

“I don’t mind. You look like you need to get in bed anyway. What I mean is,” I swallowed hard and tried to get my words back on track, “you look like you need to get some rest. You got a fever, you know?”

Rashida took a sip of her beer and surveyed me with cool eyes. They were wide and beautiful, almost hazel. I held my breath, waiting for her to say something. Finally, she reached for her bag next to her stool and jerked her head toward the door. “You want to take your life in your hands, that’s fine with me.”

Rashida said not one word on the three-minute ride to her apartment. I drove her Hyundai right up to her door and parked sideways so that she could step out of her car and walk the five steps to her front door. But she didn’t get out. She finished the beer she had begun and threw the empty can in the floorboard. She reached for another beer and took out a prescription bottle from her bag. She washed a pill down with more beer.

“Is it okay to drink that with medicine?” I asked.

“Don’t you mean, ‘Is it okay to take the medicine with beer?’” She held the bottle up between two fingers. I really didn’t see the difference, but somehow it seemed important to Rashida, because she said it very slowly and deliberately. I’d seen her annoyed and distracted plenty of times, but tonight, she was more intense. Her whole body seemed filled with sloshing rage. I was about to get out of the car to make my return walk when she slapped lightly at my arm.

“Come on. Follow me, and bring the beer.” She grabbed her bag and unlocked the door to her ground-floor apartment. She led me through her den and kitchen and out the back door. In the moonlight, I could barely make out the dirt path that led from her porch, across a grassy lot and into the dried stalks of a cotton field bookended by forest. The ground turned into powdery dirt under my shoes, and I had to take care walking down the edge of the field, lest I stumble in the dark.

Rashida’s clogs navigated the way easily. About twenty yards down the edge of the field she stopped and let herself down on a tree stump that provided a small seat. I looked around for a companion seat but there was none, so I bent down and felt around on the ground until I found a dry clump of grass. Rashida’s hazel eyes were focused on the blackened curtain of trees at the edge of the field. I had made up my mind. I was not going to talk anymore, not unless she said something first. It seemed as if every time I said what I was thinking she got irritated with me, as if she was just then noticing that I was there and didn’t much like it.

She emptied the next beer can, and instead of throwing it down in the field the way most people would, Rashida stood up and crushed it flat. Then she picked it up and slipped it into the pocket of her scrubs before retaking her seat. “I don’t like to see litter out here,” she said.

I nodded. “It’s a nice place to sit.”

“This is where I tell my truth.” She was still looking at those woods, still acting almost as if I wasn’t there at all. “Would you like to kiss me?”

I wasn’t sure if the words were real because her eyes never moved off the woods when she asked me that question, and for a moment I wondered if the question wasn’t directed at someone in her mind. She turned to face me. “Would you?”

“Only if you want me to,” I said.

“Now, aren’t you the gentleman?” Rashida looked back into the woods and made a hateful little hissing sound that was trying to pass as a laugh.

“Well, yes, I am,” I replied.

The sound died away quickly. “I know.” A bird sounded in the woods, or I thought it was a bird. I was never any good at identifying animal sounds. We listened to the cooing that, for a few seconds, provided a welcome respite. “You can’t ever be anything to me,” she said. “I can’t go there ever again.” The night sounds filled another minute of time. “Do you know what a man’s head looks like when he’s been run over by a car? You look at it, and you want to see that it was once a head, but there’s not even a circle anymore. Can you imagine that?”

“It was an accident. Everybody knows that.”

“No, no, no.”

“Sure, it was. Nobody blames you. Hell, his own mother said in the news that she couldn’t do nothing with him and it was God’s will that it happened the way it did.”

The hissing laugh came again, and she shook her head. “God’s will. Why do people say the most terrible things are God’s will?” Her words were slurred.

I wanted to kiss her at that moment. I don’t have the slightest idea why, but at that moment I wanted to stand up and take her in my arms and kiss her so she wouldn’t talk anymore about the accident. I started to make that very suggestion, since she had brought it up in the first place. I swallowed hard and said, “I think I’d like to kiss you now.”

“You would now.” Rashida looked down at me as if she had completely forgotten that she had made the offer, but then she cocked her head and looked at me funny, like she was staring at a junior science project that had just fallen apart. Then she leaned down close to my face, and I thought that she was really going to let me kiss her. “Look at this.” She pulled her three tight braids aside at her left temple and showed a faint purplish scar. “Dwight did this to me on my birthday. I asked for a clean plate to put a piece of cake on, and he did this.” She jabbed a finger at her hairline. “All he had to do was reach into the cabinet not two feet behind him and hand me a plate, but he acts like I’m asking him to go to the moon, and he grabs a knife off the counter and throws it at my head. I was lucky it just grazed me.”

“He hurt you,” I said. I wanted to kill that son-of-a-bitch Dwight.

“How many times did that man hit me? How many times did I tell myself I was going to leave him?”

“You didn’t… Why didn’t you tell somebody?”

“But you see, I did better than that.” She held my eyes, flicking her gaze around my face before she spoke again. “I killed him,” she said. “I took him down, but he doesn’t even know it. Nobody knows it but you and me now. That’s why you can never be anything. To me.” Her finger that had been pointing at her head was now pointed down at me.

I knew that Dwight was still alive and walking around, and knowing that made me want to go and kill him myself. Rashida was nodding her head and wobbling on her tree stump. “What are you talking about?” I asked.

“That guy? Ike? I saw him coming. I saw him up ahead, running on that street and I thought… I was so sure, from behind, the way he was running, the way his arms moved and the way his head was turned, I was looking at Dwight. And when he crossed right in front of me, I didn’t try to stop. I turned my wheel, and I made sure I ran him down dead because I was killing Dwight. It just turned out to be the wrong man.”

There was no sound in the woods at all. The bird that had cooed earlier was long gone. The night was swallowed up in Rashida’s awful words, and I had to remind myself to breathe.

She whispered, “You don’t want to kiss me.”

In fact, I was becoming sure that I did.

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