Spring 2008, Volume 4

Fiction by Jeffrey Douglas

All Told and Sky Fire

Behind them is a pink sky over the highway they’d come from

In the backseat bags pile to the car roof

In the front seat they aren’t talking but they aren’t silent

Out before them darkness extends from the flat and green distance of Idaho

She holds the wheel wishing for something to say

He holds his knees wishing he hadn’t told her to marry him

She starts to say, It wouldn’t make sense, though stops and thinks, It just wouldn’t

He looks at the roadside gravel and focuses on a passing point that is so quickly gone

The engine hums and behind them the pink sky fades as the sun falls to the other side of the world and the car’s headlights meet with the dark rushing toward them  

She taps her right thumb on the top of the wheel

He picks up an empty cup from the center console and sucks from the straw that yields nothing and then puts the cup back 

Two hours ago they were at a truck stop in Wyoming

He had tried to avoid the faces of truckers shuffling the long halls of showers and arcades and fast food restaurants and internet cubicles

They had glared at him while he stood by the women’s bathroom, their suspenders and beards and glasses and unfamiliar hostile look at his black nails and collared shirt worn under his t-shirt,  and he felt as seedy there as anybody in that place

When she came out of the bathroom she had smiled at him but he didn’t smile back

Now she reaches into a Lay’s bag in the center console and crumbs of chips stick to her fingers and she licks them and tastes barbecue

She looks at him in the glare of passing highway lights and wants to say, Don’t you think?

He sits in the dark patting his knees and facing the window and staring into nothing

The tires thump road reflectors and she rights the car

In an hour at 7:36 they pull off the main highway at Twinfalls and drive a long road toward a floating city of lights surrounded by blackness  

In the motel room she sits on the bed holding an orange in her lap with both hands and though she wants to eat it, she doesn’t want to peel it

In the bathroom he drinks the whole bottle of mouth freshener and doesn’t swish it around before spitting it to the sink and leaving the empty bottle on the counter

She watches him come out and says, “Grey’s Anatomy’s on”

He replaces his black shirt with a black shirt and picks up her jingling car keys and goes to the door

She says, “We have to leave early”

In the car he can’t get her CD player to work so he rolls the windows down and lights a cigarette and in the rushing wind of an unfamiliar city he passes a Chili’s on his left and a TGI Friday’s on his right

In the bathroom she’s disappointed the mouthwash is used up and brushes her teeth then gets naked and gets in the shower and begins masturbating though loses interest and turns the shower off

He drives the same road for ten minutes, smoking 3 cigarettes in that time, then turns left into a Subway parking lot and three point turns back to the driveway he came in and flicks the right turn blinker

She comes out of the bathroom with her wet hair limp on her shoulder and sits on the edge of the bed and toes a fray in the maroon carpet and notices chipping in her purple toenails

While waiting for traffic to clear he sees across the street a small place with a pink neon sign of a palm tree with letters reading, ‘The Bud Oasis’

He drives straight through the street and into the small parking lot and parks

She’s still toeing the fray and can hear muffled voices in the room next door

She pictures their vocal chords tightening and flexing with their speech

He sits at an oval bar in the center of wide room scattered with people dressed like they are not from where he is and he watches a short chubby girl with blonde hair in a pony tail walk into the dais of alcohol and she looks at him and says, “Whattaya need?”

 In the motel room she looks at the clock and Grey’s Anatomy has started and looks at the remote on the nightstand and realizes she does not care so she puts on jeans and her Regis Medical School sweatshirt and searches through his backpack to find an unopened pack of cigarettes and puts on her sandals and goes out the door

He watches the bartender girl’s hip as she pushes back the tap handle and sets down the glass of beer in front of him and he holds out his ATM card but she looks at it and says, ‘Pay when you’re done sweety’

The motel hall is quiet and she goes down the steps and walks out a glass door to the orange lit parking lot and though the first match flares out before she can light the cigarette, the pop sounds beautiful   

She waits a long while before she tries to light another one

He watches a football game on a TV above the bar and drinks the beer fast and the bartender girl is a long time in coming back though when she does she does not ask but rather takes the empty glass and holds it under the tap until foam reaches the top then sets the glass back in front of him, ‘You’re at four bucks’

In the motel parking lot she moves toward the main street with cigarette smoke feeling full and abrupt in her lungs and she watches her breath leave as she hears the roll of skateboard wheels

He watches three people at a table up against the wall pour shots into themselves then sour their faces and shout and cough and say something about Sean and about love and about resting in peace and then he watches two guys in the back play pool in a manner where they jam the cue forward and hop up so comically to him that he laughs out loud

She coughs out punches of cigarette smoke as three kids talking loudly slide toward her on skateboards under the city lights and beside the rush of passing cars and she inhales on the cigarette deeply and holds back a cough and the kids roll closer and one is wearing a black shirt with an enormous smiling skull on it

The bartender girl puts a basket of fries in front of him and takes his empty glass and a fry from the basket and says, “You’re at 8 bucks” then puts the fry in her mouth and glass under the beer tap

The kid with the skull shirt jerks his body and jumps and the board clicks up off the ground and spins and he lands back on the board and the board on its wheel and he looks at her and says, “Whattya think?”

5 hours ago at truck stop in Wyoming they had walked out to gray clouds hanging low over the hissing and motor humming of large diesel engines coming to life or idling among rows and rows of gas pumps

He had lit a cigarette

She had stepped in a puddle

He had laughed at her while she looked at where the shin of her jeans was darker than the rest

She had looked at his laughing face while he pinched the cigarette between his thumb and index finger and the smoke curling about him blended into the everywhere gray of a state they were both passing through

She had looked at him and smiled

He had dropped the cigarette in the puddle and put his arms around her and she put her face in his chest and they laughed there in the hissing and motor humming of diesel engines and the rain started falling harder

Now, he watches bartender girl fill his glass with beer and saying her shift is over in 20 minutes and he lowers his head and nods

She walks away from the street and toward the motel parking lot while the skateboard kids circle her and ask for cigarettes and what she’s doing out here by herself and she comes to a parking stone and sits and inhales deeply and looks away from their shadowy faces

In twenty minutes at 10:29, bartender girl is sitting on the stool next to him and asks an older bartender lady for a beer

The skateboard kids argue about a girl named Monica and she smiles at their voices when two of them have to leave and they skate away down the street though skull shirt stays and asks for a cigarette and asks her name and asks where she is from and asks where she is staying

At the bar he watches the two beers set down in front of them and the bartender girl says, “He’s got a tab” then turns to him and says: “You’re from L.A.? I’ve always wanted to move to L.A. and make it as an actress. I’m a poet and I read my stuff out loud all the time.”

He says: “Yeah?”
“Yeah. The best line I’ve ever written is, ‘Which face runs the human race’”


“Yeah and it’s neat cause the word run carries a sense of participation, like which faces are considered among the human race”


“Yeah but it also carries a sense of control, as in which face is orchestrating dominance over the human race?”


“Yeah, what do you think?”

“It’s horrible”


“It’s a horrible line”

“What do you know? What do you do?”

“I’m a waiter”

“What are you waiting for? Life?”

“Is that one of your poetic lines?”


“It should be”


“Oh yeah, it’s way better than faces and races and shit”


“Actually I couldn’t care less,” and he brings his beer to his mouth

The skull kid has his hands in his pockets and stands on the skateboard and glides along under the city lights and dark sky and he smiles and looks at her sitting on the parking stone and says, “Let’s go up to your place”

She lights another cigarette and says: “Yeah, sure”

“You smoke too much, you should stop”


“Seriously, smoker’s lungs are covered in orange and black moss stufff”


“Yeah, it’s fucked up stuff”

“See my sweatshirt?”

“Regis Medical School?”

“I’m in med school”


“Ha, but thanks, I should take your advice kid”

“Lady, I’m probly not much younger than you”

“I’m lady to you, that’s how young you are”

“Bitch, let’s go to your place, I’ll knock Jesus off your rosary”

“Ha, that’s such a bad line it’s actually good”

“I’ll show you a bad line I got”

“Ha, you’re persistent aren’t you”

“I’m pretty hung is what I am”

“Ha, I’m beginning to doubt it, but tell me and be true, how many adolescent girls have you been with”

“Is that a blue van?”

Skull kid is looking at the street where a blue van’s blinker ticks while cars rush past

The skateboard kid says, “You didn’t see me”


“Lady, please, you didn’t see me”

Skull kid scrambles behind the cars and the van turns into the parking lot

In the back of the bar the pool players rack another set and on the stool next to him bartender girl says: “Seriously though, think of the circumstances that brought you here”

“My sister’s itinerary planning mainly”

“Beyond that, there are universal forces at work here”

“And beer”

 “Just think, we’re all dying and going about daily lives when you’re brought right here to this stool and we talk”

“Driving your sister from Seattle to Denver isn’t really daily life”

“You said you were from L.A.”

“Did I? My sister’s from Seattle”

“You’re not very smart are you?”

“I’m not smart enough to figure either way”


The van squeaks through the parking lot and slows to stop in front of her and the man inside has this jutting chin and a rich smell of cigarettes comes from the window and the assortment of crosses hanging from the rearview mirror dangle and sway

The man looks angry though mostly confused and says, “Have you seen a boy on a skateboard?”


You wouldn’t lie to me would you?


What are you doing out here by yourself?

Having a cigarette

You wouldn’t lie to me would you?

Look, I’m holding a cigarette.

You know what the trouble with kids is?

Ineffectual parenting?

Confused man purses his lips above that jutting chin and shakes his head then lights a cigarette and exhales and says, Lack of faith in the Lord


I know he’s round here, so tell him he better get home before the Lord finds him first


I’m serious now


The confused man puts the van in drive and pulls away

In the bar he drinks the last of the beer and says to bartender girl: “Where’s the bathroom?”

“In the back, down the green hall”

“Show me”

“You can find it”

“But I want you to show me”

“Okay, c’mon”

“Cool. Food any good here?”

“No, It’s down this hall”

“This sure is a green hall”

“I didn’t lie, right?”


“Here it is”

“Okay thanks”

“Come in with me”

“What? What are you doing?”

“Come on”

She pulls away and says, “I think you better go by yourself,” then leaves him and walks back down the green hall with out looking back and he leans against the wall staring up at the ceiling  

Skull kid is still behind the car sitting on the skateboard holding both ends and sliding back and forth lightly

He asks her for a cigarette and she tells him to go home


In the bar bathroom he looks at himself in the dirty mirror with the handprint of some self reflected person before him

He looks at himself and smiles into his own eyes and feels drunk


Skateboard kid asks if he can come up and she puts out her fifth cigarette and tells him again to go home and he says he can’t and he says his dad is crazy and he says he has nowhere else to go

By then the door of the motel is closing behind her


In the bathroom he takes the paper towel roll off the rack and puts it in the toilet then takes the toilet paper rolls and puts them in the toilet and takes the tissue paper toilet seat covers and puts them in the toilet and shoves it all down with his foot

He steps back and feels bad about having done that

In the motel room she tries washing the smell of cigarettes from her hands without success and she looks at the empty mouthwash bottle and shakes her head then gets into bed and the sheets are stiff and the mattress is hard and she watches the red digits of the digital clock go from 11:27 to 11:28

He goes back down the green hall and bartender girl isn’t at the stools any more so he walks out of the bar as the pool player thrusts the cue and hops and pool balls clack and back in the car he drives with the window open and the CD player off and in the motel parking lot parks next to a boy is sitting on a skateboard

He gets out and the boy says: “Can I have a cigarette?”



“No problem”

“Hey, gotta light?”

“Go home kid”

Laying in the dark she knows the footsteps down the hall are his and she listens to the door open and watches a square of light expand in the dark and his form comes through the door then the light recedes to nothing and the door clicks shut

In the bathroom he pees loudly and the sound is comforting to her 

He comes back in the dark room and sits on the opposite bed and rubs his eyes

She can barely make out his shoulders and he seems to be a form inseparable from the surrounding dark

He gets up and into the bed with her and she feels his warm hand slide on her ribs and she moves closer

He smells like beer

She smells like cigarettes

She says, ‘It wouldn’t have made sense’

He says, ‘I know’

She says, ‘I don’t love you anymore

He says, ‘I know’

And 7 hours ago leaving a truck stop in Wyoming they drove onto the highway with unopened bags of chips and full soda cups while holding hands across the center console and the gray high above them had melded away to a sky as clear as the horizons were endless

And in all that he turned to her and said, ‘Janine, marry me’

She became very quiet

While behind them the falling sun burned the clear blue sky to a pink darkening toward blackness and nothing

BIO:  Jeffrey Douglas was born and raised in Long Beach, California. In this city he can be seen walking with a back pack and head phones. It is also where he is a first year MFA: Fiction student at Cal State Long Beach. His short stories have appeared in multiple issues of Vulcan: A Literary Dis-Allusion, 14 Hills Literary Journal, The Main Street Rag, and the 2nd volume of Verdad. When not walking around the city and noting the more hilarious and enduring scenes of life around Long Beach, he will respond to E-mails sent to, Metalwrecker1@aol.com.