1. A tower without the wedding bells
Evan stood below the chandelier in the center of a room full of ball gowns and black ties — a room full of razored glances and practiced smiles.
His fiancée knitted her perfectly plucked eyebrows in a fleeting micro-frown and tilted her head.
Some aunt whose ass she wanted him to kiss.
Lexi narrowed her eyes.
“Screw it,” Evan said.
Then he was out the door, down the steps, and in his truck.
He ditched his tie at the end of the driveway and turned right onto the dirt road heading for the dog track, friends, and freedom.
2. A slow tattoo on the grandstand
“Guard My Bed,” Evan said. “All of it on Guard My Bed.”
Phillip sipped bourbon from a flask. “Five hundred bucks?”
“I’ve got a feeling.”
Phillip took the cash. Rubbed it. “Thirty minutes ago you had feelings for Lexi.”
Evan frowned. “What’s Lexi have to do with it?”
Phillip shook his head and placed the bet.
They stood and waited. Rain beat a slow tattoo on the grandstand roof.
Evan handed Phillip the ticket. “It’s her Dad’s money. I want to be rid of it.”
“Why not just give me the cash then?”
“No style doin’ that. I gotta go.”
3. A barrage of gems
Evan walks downstream, his mind as empty as his wallet.
Rain runs down the gutters of his corduroy suit, joins the puddle at his feet, drains to the river.
At the footbridge, raindrops glitter on the underside of the handrail. Evan’s footsteps on the worn planks shake loose a barrage of gems. He stops mid-river to listen to the rustle of batwings among the oaks.
A trio of bats crosses the face of the moon above the muddy river. The bats swirl in perfect unison, disappear into a wisp of mist.
Unexpected beauty is always a good omen.
4. Smoky was a friend of a friend
Evan carried a cardboard box up the creaking stairs to the apartment above Smoky’s Bar.
The apartment was empty, save a cracked pint glass on the windowsill.
And now the box.
“Evan?” Lexi stood just outside the door. “I thought maybe we could — “
“You know — “
“Give it one last try.” Evan resisted air quotes. Barely.
“How often does that work? In life. Not a movie.”
“You know, that was my problem the whole time. Our relationship felt like a movie, not like part of my life.”
“Yeah. It was a movie, and I was an extra.”
5. The right to remain silent
Lexi looked at Evan, at the box of books on the grimy floorboards, at the cracked pint glass on the dusty window sill.
“It was that bad?” she asked. “This is better?”
Evan shrugged. “It’ll take an hour to clean up. It’s cheap. Somewhere to be while I figure out what’s next.”
“Who’s next, more like.”
Evan sighed, then looked at Lexi. “I’m next. And the projects I’ve been putting off.”
Lexi scoffed. “Your dream book. Backpacking, travel writing, and food.”
“Yes,” Evan said. “Exactly.” He took a deep breath.
Lexi looked at him, expecting more, but Evan remained silent.
6. PBRs and popcorn poppers
There’s no such thing as one beer,” Phillip said. “I’ll see ya at Smoky’s anyway.”
Evan hung up and walked downstairs.
“When I was in my mid-twenties,” the guy next to Evan said, “I was living in Dallas. I bought an air-powered popcorn popper’n felt like I’d made it in life.”
“Dallas,” Phillip said, “a billion steers and buildings made of mirrors.”
“What’re you, a writer?”
“No, but he is,” Phillip said, pointing at Evan.
“Yeah. Make him buy you a beer now. He’ll be broke soon.”
“I’m drinking PBR,” Evan said.
The guy shrugged. “It’ll do the job.”
7. The feeling fades away and you wish it woulda stayed
Without the rain and the bats, the bridge was bereft of omens. Even the moon was absent.
“Shoulda known better,” Evan muttered to himself.
“We never do, do we?” Evan jumped and the old man rasped a laugh. “You out here looking for a sign?”
“Why you say that?”
“You’ve got the look.”
Evan shrugged. “Yeah, actually.” He told the old guy about the trio of bats, the water droplets cascading into the river in cadence with his footsteps.
“Sounds like you got needy.”
“You want reassurance. Another sign.” The old man spat downstream. “Just get to work.”
8. Welfare check
A fist slammed into Evan’s door, the door rattled in its frame, and Evan startled so hard he landed on the floor.
Phillip yelled through the door. “You in there?”
Phillip stood in the doorway. Dust motes riding the wild gyres of two oscillating fans going full blast danced in cool moonlight flooding through the leaded-glass windows.
“You ever think about answering your phone?”
“For three days?”
Evan rubbed his stubble. “Guess so. Sleeping some, too.”
“Guess I better let you get back to it then.”
Evan grinned. “You better run. I got work to do.”
9. Dame fortune
“Gotta say, Ev, you look good, but you look like shit at the same time.” Phillip fiddled with a toothpick.
Evan swallowed a mouthful of peanuts. “Been dreaming all day and writing all night for a couple weeks now.”
Phillip kept fiddling.
“You got something to tell me?”
“Guard My Bed.”
“Yeah. She won. I was gonna tell ya, but with everything — ”
Evan ate another peanut.
“Did you look at the odds or just like her name?”
“Liked her name.”
Phillip shook his head.“You know the payout on thirty-to-one?”
“You’re not serious.”
“It’s fifteen grand.”
10. The spread of the plant
Evan shouldered his backpack and grinned.
“I can’t believe it,” Phillip said.
“Me either. I’ve dreamed this so hard.”
“What’s your plan?”
“Start in southeastern Bolivia, where peanuts were domesticated. Travel through Peru and Ecuador and keep working my way north, tracing the spread of the plant and learning local recipes. Blog about travel and food.”
“That’s it. That’s your plan?”
“In a nutshell.”
Phillip groaned and pulled Evan into a hug. “Take care of yourself, little brother.”
“I will.” Evan walked into the airport.
Phillip turned to Guard My Bed. She wagged her tail.
“Ready to go home, girl?”
Thanks once again to Al Zachry. I never would have heard David Berman without him.
Stephanie Husted graciously allowed me to use something she told me in PBRs and Popcorn Poppers.
I wrote The Leaning Cabin early in this project before I realized that Evan’s story had more than 100 words in it.
Thanks for reading.