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Kidnapped (Take Two)
By Kevin Culture
A single ceiling fan, programmed to its highest setting, made exhausted pirouette after pirouette, that, if paid attention to, it could be realized that each turn was slightly behind the other by two seconds. With each revolution, bits of dust, like cake fragments, could be seen falling off of the edges of the cheap fan, and landing into several chilled clam chowders, staled coffees, and frigid eggs over easy, of patrons who would not notice. They were all too busy focusing on the invisible things that sat in front of them. The wavy, sometimes cracked tiles of the diner were black and white like chess pieces. Ironically, or perhaps coincidentally, each of the men and women with vague-looking faces that made up the diner, sat separated as if they were the few remaining pawns, anticipating the concluding move on a chessboard. At close proximity, the deep imprints their bodies made in patent leather seats with exposed fluffing could be seen, and the effect added a personalization to their arrangement.
For every man with his cap pulled down to his eyebrows, staring into a cold coffee cup, was a woman with running makeup and lurid, fitted clothing that suggested a certain profession. Everyone was comfortable in this way, punished by the Kansas humidity, and too distanced from one another or from the world to have any sense of community. Everyone looked to one another without facing anyone, and smiling and laughter were the grossest form of unfamiliarity.
Gregory pulled a couple of crumpled dollars from a frayed wallet, and an older, mushroom-shaped woman with hair like an orange highlighter tossed eight quarters on the counter next to him. He feigned a smile and rubbed the spots on his head that were balding as he mumbled “thank you” to the waitress. Carefully enclosing the quarters into the fragile fingers of a wiry looking boy with a bleached Spider-Man tee shirt, Gregory said, “Now stay where I can see you.” The boy smiled and revealed missing teeth, and skated his muddied Converse sneakers across the uneven tiles of the diner over to an old but functioning pinball machine in the corner.
Gregory twisted the wedding band on his finger several times as he watched his son amuse himself with the game, and then turned to the highlighter haired waitress to order a small coffee. Gregory, turning pale while waiting for his coffee, ran his fingers across his forehead and down the arch of his head, where his fingers met with the deep concave of lines, then baldness, and then thin strands of hair. He brought up his other hand to his head, resting both elbows on the table, and the two rough hands worked about his head as if searching for a lost memory. He loosened the tie and unbuttoned the top button of the unruly white dress shirt, stained around the neck from days of sweat. He just about whispered “thank you” as the waitress brought the coffee before him without creamers or sugar.
On the outside, Mike’s fire-red six series BMW was pulling up next to, and almost collided with, Gregory’s ‘88 burgundy Camry. Mike entered the diner with a flourish, then stood peacock still, expectantly, twirling around his keys in his hand like a cowboy with a pistol. Deciding, as it seemed, to take matters into his own hands, he sat down next to Gregory, slamming the keys on the table and ordered a coffee, decaf, with light cream and Sweet N’ Low.
While waiting for what would be another black coffee–the same as Gregory's–Mike noticed how much younger he was than the patron next to him. Indeed, with Mike's taut muscular figure, the way he sat up straight and his jeans hugged him tightly about the thighs, and the unbothered facial features of his retained youth, he appeared to be ages away from Gregory. At a glance, Gregory may have been Mike, some time ago, but instead was a hunched over mirage of his former self.
After a passionate attempt to extort creamers and Sweet N' Low from the tired-looking, highlighter-haired waitress, Mike anxiously found the occasion to speak.
“And that's how you do it, am I right, man?” he said triumphantly, nudging into Gregory.
“I'm not sure I know what you mean,” responded Gregory, glancing over Mike's broad shoulders to his son who was still bouncing in front of the pinball machine. The boy's legs were like two thin lines in the shadows of the end of the diner, and Gregory fiddled around in his pockets as he thought to order some food.
“I’m talking about handling these women,” returned Mike, slamming down his cup for emphasis in a way that failed to wake the sleeping people of the diner. Without being asked, Mike elaborated the tale of his last relationship and all of what he considered to be the wrongs that had been done to him. Waving his hands about on occasion for emphasis, after what seemed like hours, Mike concluded with: “You don't stand for nothing, and you'll fall for everything. You see what I mean now?”
Gregory had by now navigated a wrinkled twenty dollar bill by out of what he thought was a hole in his pants pocket, and was careful to order the more affordable items on the menu from the new, younger-looking waitress who was grinning at Mike. Mike sat expectantly, looking to Gregory and then the waitress, and after some time, Gregory shared his own story of a failed romance.
Cutting him off, Mike interjected, “See, that's where you're all mixed up. You give these women too much rope and what do they do? They choke you,” he concluded, matter-of-factly.
“I don't see it that way,” began Gregory, aware that Mike was being purposefully loud in order to gain the attention of the waitress, on whom Mike was almost completely focused. In a slow, whisper of a voice, Gregory said, “I believe in things like love and romance. I gambled and I lost. Somewhat. I got my son out of the whole deal. Don't you love your kid? Isn't that why you took your daughter, too, and brought her with you? The way I see it is, in the end, we’re still fathers, and just because love is over, it doesn't mean life stops. We have to keep on being dads, right?”
“Wrong!” spat Mike. “What about your dignity, man? Yes, I love my daughter, but you know what I love most? Myself. No, don't look at me like that, it’s true. This world revolves around the individual. If you don't take care of yourself, then how can you take care of anyone else? Huh? Answer me that!” said Mike.
“You have a point there,” said Gregory, noticing that Mike had no food and instead ordered doubles of White Horse whiskey, which came in ahead of the order he had placed minutes ago. Gregory also noticed the effect Mike was having on the waitress, causing her to giggle girlishly and bring Mike his drinks two at a time. All of this made Gregory grimace slightly.
“I know I need to take care of myself, and I believe I do that, and I think that’s exactly what I'm doing. We both have taken our children out of situations we believed to be bad, did we not? Is that not taking a stand?” asked Gregory
“It's not enough of a stand,” blurted out Mike, beginning to weave to and fro. “We might have did similar things, but in no way are we the same. I have a girl and you have a boy. I’m always reminded of my past but not you. In your boy there’s you there, look at him! No. It’s completely different.” Mike was wavering even more now. Ordering water and trying to sit up straight he began again, “You took your child because the situation was bad. Fact. I took my child because I know that I'm better. There's a difference.”
“How do you decide that you’re better, Mike? From the way you tell it, you guys both held steady jobs, and were both on the right track to solid careers. I don't see why you guys broke up. Facts. So, how did you come to the conclusion that you were better?” asked Gregory.
“Because I say so! Wh-what am I supposed to do, Greg? Sit there and let some doped-up broad just slap my kid around all day? Slap me around? Who am I supposed to be? You, Greg?” said Mike clumsily.
“No, you're not. And I'm not judging you. I told you before that I don’t hit women, but you made your choice. Luckily, you didn't get caught. It's just not in me to do that sorta thing. My mind just won't let me get that far. I may not be right in letting her hit me, or my son. I accept that. I may be wrong for putting my kid around someone who does drugs. We are both wrong in taking our children without the consent of the courts. All of these things I accept,” said Gregory.
“See? That's your problem! You accept too many things!” screamed Mike, as if his point was made blindly obvious.
“Maybe your problem is you don't accept enough,” said Gregory in a very hushed, passive tone.
The waitress had now brought out Gregory's order, which was already starting to chill, and a beer for Mike, that had her phone number and address written underneath in lipstick. Gregory called to his thin son who reluctantly scurried over from the pinball machine, finished his meal in a single swallow, and went back to the game after receiving two more quarters from Gregory. Mike jabbed in the woman’s phone number on his smartphone, while Gregory plucked his pockets for tip money. They both were wondering which of them had lost more in the seemingly singular route they had taken.
“Well, you know,” said Gregory, breaking the silence, “what we've done is legally kidnapping. Sooner or later, we're gonna have to face the police. What are you gonna do when that happens?” said Gregory, imagining a fate coming upon him a lot sooner than he would have wanted it.
“I don't know. I guess I'll run. I don't know,” responded Mike, sounding, perhaps for the first time, unsure.
“Run? Wow. Am I talking to the same person? What happened to taking a stance?” said Gregory, sarcastically.
“Things change,” said Mike. “Circumstances change. Besides, running is technically a protest and a protest is a stance, is it not? What will you do?” asked Mike nervously.
“You know, I've given that a lot of thought these days, and I still don't know. Turn myself in I guess, or plead my case. You never know with these things,” said Gregory.
Gregory collected his son, while Mike collected himself, and they both told each other the same lie that they wished to be true: See you again. Mike gave Gregory’s car a jump and the Camry coughed and gurgled down the open road and into the sunset. After having a few more double-shots, Mike would jump back into his fire-red BMW and slightly swerve down the empty highway.
When the police caught up with Gregory, it would be months down the line, and the courts would decide against him, deciding that were it not for this one incident, overall he would have been the better caretaker. When the police stopped Mike, it would be later that night on the side of the interstate. He would be in the backseat of his car, holding his limp daughter with both arms. Despite his newfound intent, his hot tears and warm kisses would not send life into the body of the girl, who had been cold for weeks.
“I'm sorry,” cried Mike, pleading to the officer, the lights of the flashlight outside, blinding him on the inside.
#Unreal #Fiction #KidnappedTakeTwo
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