“Them weeds growin out them cracks must live off coolant or some shit.”
“You reckon? Oil just as good a juice as any.”
“Ain’t no way, thicker than sorghum and slick as a good time, ain’t no way nothin’ll catch hold in that.”
“Well either that or we got ourselves a new breed done come loose.”
“Coolant at least got some water innit.”
“That’s true now Marty, that’s true. But I still got my doubts.”
“Like hell you do. Pass me another one a them suds hey Cole?”
Normally there wouldn’t be no drinking this early in the day or ever for that matter but today there was no bosses to swing nothing so there stood Marty and Cole having a couple in the late morning sun. It was that pale kind of light that starts to fall when September moves into its later parts and leaves are all in a rush to lose their luster, just the right amount of breeze and the early-to-deathers falling in slants across the sky and spinning as if whisked wherever the wind catch. It was the type of day where folks feel genuinely thrilled to be alive and waking. But leaves, trash, and the occasional scavenger aside, Muscle Mike’s Used Cars and Garage was without patronage.
Marty coughed and swirled the last contents of his Schlitz before knocking it back. Clearing his throat he pressed a loose fist to his mouth and turned to Cole.
“You bring that radio again?”
“How’s bout fixin it so we can hear some music?”
“I reckon that can be arranged. But don’t go funny on me.”
Cole rose from a squat and sauntered to his truck, knees popping and cracking with each step. Marty doubled back into the open hatch of the garage towards the fridge and swung back the door, removing two more bottles from the breath cloud of cold air.
“Hey we may need to make a run here in a minute if this here don’t pick up,” Marty shouted from the back of the garage as Cole fitted the radio’s plug into the orange extension cord usually reserved for the shopvac.
“Well I brought the last sixer so you gon have to do somethin bout them next few,” Cole said, as he adjusted the frequency knob with hands coated in yesterday’s grease. Marty came up beside and leaned over Cole’s shoulder to read the numbers on the dial, then shifted his weight and motioned towards the cigarette pack in his front left shirt pocket. Extracting one and placing the filter to his lips, he lit the tip against the wind as Cole centered in on a station. Drums and guitar cut the silence.
“You ain’t still smokin, are ya?”
“Only when I’m drinkin.”
“But you always drinkin.”
“You sure got a keen set on you. How ya say bout once this place tucks in we head on up 18 to…”
Just then tires rolled in onto the gravel, cutting Marty short and shaking dust over the lot, then lulled to a stop. Marty took a long drag and exhaled into the coming cloud and placed the butt filter and half the white on the edge of Cole’s radio. The opening riff of ZZ Top’s “I Need You Tonight” came through as the engine noises faded and Marty winced and Cole stood up and removed his cap to rub the sweat away from his receding hairline with a worn blue hankie. A V of geese passed over heading southeast as a man walked out from the dust haze and caught sunlight.
“Mornin fellas. Hope I’m not interrupting nothin here but there’s an awful funny sound I’d sure appreciate for one of y’all to take a look at, if it’s not putting you out none,” the man said, removing his sunglasses and tucking them into the front of his denim shirt, pulling his beard aside to do so.
“Not at all mister, Cole here wouldn’t be put out none to see what’s the matter with your vehicle, ain’t nothin getting past him today.”
“Pull ‘er on in and let’s get ‘er up,” Cole said, casting a sideways glance as he placed his cap back on to hide his eyes.
Marty crouched and fit the filter tip back into his mouth as the bearded man got back into his truck. Engine noise filled the air again and the tires moved into the empty bay and came to a halt. Marty exhaled a plume and moved a coarse hand through his thinning hair. The radio played on in the background. The bearded man slammed the door shut and exited the garage towards Marty. The radio played as they stood.
“The darndest thing, I was out at Mel’s yesterday, having a few and visiting my girl Evelyn and this same song came on all ghostly like out of that jukebox. Can’t say I’d heard it before since who knows when.”
“What you mean ghostly?”
“Like I says. Like it don’t need money to play no music. It just plays what it will.”
Marty shifted his weight, holding the smoke in the right corner of his mouth, palms suddenly wet.
“You never been out by Mel’s off highway 18 near the Citgo? With the haunted jukebox?” the bearded man asked Marty as he moved his hands to his back pockets.
“Well sure. Cole and I have been known to take up residence there from time to time.” He didn’t recall no haunted jukebox.
“Mostly a haunt for drifters and such, but helluva fine establishment.”
“Well I’ll be. But now you says you know Evelyn?”
“I should say I know her, she’s fixin to be my wife here before winter. She said she’d always fancied herself an autumn bride.”
“You don’t say,” Marty stooped low and stubbed his cigarette out amongst the loose bits of gravel. He rose slowly, placing a hand on the weatherproof siding of the garage in an effort to keep his balance. He felt faint suddenly.
Truthfully it had been a long while since Marty and Cole had been out to Mel’s on account of the last time they’d all been in. On account of how Marty’d composed himself. He had had more than a few, this is without debate, and it had been that type of day where neither Marty’s mood nor drinks was sitting well with him. It had also been after Evelyn had said she’d rather not go round with Marty no more.
They’d come through Mel’s on Marty’s insistence. Approaching the empty bar, Marty craned his neck back to where a 40-watt bulb hung illuminating the storeroom and right then Cole knew he should’ve steered Marty elsewhere. A caged ceiling fan spun overhead filtering the traces of cigarette smoke curing in the air above them. Marty lit up and put his wallet on the bar. From the back came some rustling and soon enough Evelyn strode elegantly into the afternoon light. Her steps tapered as she recognized the patrons. Cole braced himself. A few loners drank in silence.
“Hi Cole. Marty. What can I do for you boys?”
“Evelyn! After looking at this asshole all day you my dear are a welcomed sight!”
“Easy yourself! How ya been sweetheart? You always look better than I picture you. That dress holds you like I used to.”
“Marty, look, maybe we should…”
“A beer for my friend here and a taste of something special for us. What’s your poison, Evelyn?”
“Marty easy, stop yelling.”
“I’m not Cole I’m not! Can’t a guy buy a pretty lady a drink? What’ll it be? Huh, Evelyn? Huh?” Marty stood abruptly and caught his foot funny on the barstool to his left and went down hard. The few day drinkers paused and looked towards the noise. Sprawled and screaming, Marty cursed high and low. Across the way a light flicked on in the old Jukebox and CD’s shifted and “I Need You Tonight” came blasting through at full volume.
“Get him outta here Cole!”
“Marty, come, let’s get.”
“Fuck off me, Cole! Our song, Evelyn! It’s our song!”
ZZ Top finished up and gave way to a commercial about fabric softener. A car sped past on the interstate blasting the same advertisement, yellowed leaves trailing in its wake. Back in the garage the hydraulic lift kicked on, lowering the car back to ground level and Cole stepped into the now high sun.
“Just some loose bolts. Nothin a couple turns couldn’t fix.”
“You’re shittin me? Well if I’d a known I wouldn’t a troubled ya. What’s the damage?” the beard said, sliding his fingers along his wallet chain until they found purchase. Marty took out and lit another cigarette, turning away from Cole and the beard towards the road.
“Well with time and labor should be bout…”
“Don’t worry about the bolts mister,” Marty interrupted, staring into the distance where the long-passed car glimmered faintly beyond the county line. “It’s on Mike.”