White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Hayes Moore
Hayes Greenwood Moore’s fiction can be found or is forthcoming in Foliate Oak, Slush Pile, Crash, and Withersin. His co-translation of “Clover,” by the late author Guo Songfen, is in the collection Running Mother and Other Stories from Columbia University Press. He recently earned a PhD from Columbia University and is currently teaching in Queens.

Featured Work
Loading...
Subscribe to RSS     Share

restless blue

Hayes Moore

 

After a fitful morning across the flatlands of western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, the monotony of the blaring sun has had the desired effect on Jenny’s kid. He’s passed out in the backseat. The caffeine that got me through the morning is burned up and I, too, would like to pass out. Piss first, then pass out. I’ve made a list for the next gas station, piss tops it, followed in no particular order by aspirin, cigarettes, water, and coffee. All of this in lieu of that wily panacea, sleep.

Jeff has a purpose and is functioning with an admirably unhungover efficiency. That’s why he’s driving, despite having his license lifted and with the rental on my card. He’s been making good time, revving our Suzuki Swift up until it starts to rattle. Early afternoon and we’re already in the no-man’s land between Amarillo and Albuquerque. The radio’s picking up nothing but commercials that fade in and out with blazing static. Jeff keeps it cranked.

Even with the AC at full blast I’ve been slow stewing in my own perspiration. I’m taking a break from the unchanging prairie unraveling out the passenger window to nod off into a swollen hypnagogic fantasy. It takes place in Jenny’s backyard, at one of the pool parties she used to throw when she was dating Jeff, still living with her mom, and we were all in college. Her mom, Matilda, has joined us and she’s prancing in a sky blue bikini over the cloud blue diving board, shaking swan hips and waving her arms like they’re wings as she sashays to the edge. She’s laughing these peels that resonate like the enchanted chimes of a mystical bird. That’s all memory-based, more or less, but my overtired, pre-sleep mind treks on to transform Matilda into a feathered hybrid, half-woman, half-bird, and she’s diving up, soaring in a bound off the diving board, breaking the crystal blue water above us.

I’m about to get drenched in her spray, which I’m dying for, when Jeff startles my dream away. “She just passed us,” he yells. He’s checking his mirrors with tense jerks of his neck. “Did you see it? My Mustang—Jennifer at the wheel.”


I obviously didn’t notice. I come to and manage groggy protests and a guarantee that there’s an exit ahead, but that doesn’t keep Jeff from barely slowing down enough to turn onto the median and 180˚ us in the direction we came from. “Comeoncomeoncomeoncomeon,” he says once we’re eastwardly, willing our cobalt Swift to power back up to a respectable speed.

 

The kid in the backseat, roused by Jeff’s shouts, is Jenny’s kid. We can’t remember his name. Jenny told us his name at dinner last night, when her arrival in town occasioned a get together with the old hometown crew. But a lot was said last night and a lot was drunk. Besides, everything has a kid now and I figure they all have names. I can’t keep track of the offspring.

The onus of recollecting the kid’s name should be on Jeff, anyway. She’s his ex. Jeff’s the one who let the kid sleep on his living room couch while he slept with Jenny in an adjoining bedroom. He’s the one who woke up to find his wallet and car keys gone, exchanged for the kid. He insisted that you

don’t call the cops on a friend, not even an ex, no matter how many times they leave you or what they leave you with. The kid won’t tell us his name. He says he’s a Pikachu and wants to know where his Pokémon cards are. He wants to know where all of his stuff is. We don’t know that either. He said he’s not supposed to speak to strangers.

“Neither am I, but I’m going to risk it with you,” I told him. “My name’s Buck, like Buck Rogers. See? So let’s both break some rules here.”

The kid said, “My name’s Superman. I’m a Pikachu. Where are my Pokémon cards? Where’s my stuff?” We don’t know his name.

We don’t know where his stuff is. And we don’t know how old he is. Because of his lip, I’m pinning him at 10, but Jeff swears 6. Jeff says I don’t know how clever a 6 year old can be. He’s right, I have no clue.

 

Amarillo doesn’t look any better from the west. As we approach it, I tell Jeff I need to stop. He nods, slaloming through the growing traffic. He’s still


speeding, reluctant to delay our search. Each off-ramp we pass is vast with potential. Jenny might be there, fueling up or stretching her short, skinny legs.

I really do need to stop. I’m thinking that with cigarettes, coffee, and water and I might, just might, be average by evening. That, and I can smell the urine seeping through my skin. It stinks in a resigned, that’s-life way that present company is apparently accustomed to.

After a night out these days, I wake up feeling like an ashtray swirled in ass, and I want to enact a major life change. It’d have to be all or nothing, a complete conversion to 9 to 5, gym-going, shake-drinking, health. I’d shimmy like a monkey up the rungs of the regional call center where I work, a charming asshole with dry-cleaned suits and too much sleep. I’d reek of aftershave. Then what happens is that sometime in the afternoon—right about now—I reason it out that wherever I am, at this point it’d be a shame to turn back. I figure out that all I need’s a cigarette and the fog’ll start to lift and I’ll go a little further to see what’s next in the direction I’ve been going.

There’s a towering gas station sign blighting the horizon. I tell Jeff to exit toward that beacon and, while changing lanes, he asks if I saw his old Mustang. He’s second-guessing himself, which is easy to do with so many exits brimming with potential. I tell him that I didn’t notice.

“Damn Buck,” Jeff says, “there were no other cars around, how could you’ve missed it?”

I shrug. I honestly don’t know which of many sound reasons to offer. I say, “Nodding off, I suppose.”

Seeing that we’re about to stop, the kid leans up from the backseat and says he’s hungry. I scoop up the change for tolls from a cup-holder under the radio and reach back to dump it in his palm. It’s great booty for a six-to-ten year old.

I turn back to Jeff and broach the topic for him, “Are you sure you saw it? Are you sure it was your car that she was driving?”

“How can I be sure, man—we were going 90 on the interstate.” That’s Jeff—uncertain and relentless.


He slows down to turn into a sprawl of a gas station that should satisfy all immediate needs. It’s one of those long, squat stations, cream with pastel green stripes, a crisscross of bright horizontal beams and vertical posts, with an extended, flat parking lot that blends into a horizon studded with sixteen-wheelers. The store-front windows shimmer like sheer, varicolored ice in the hammering sunshine.

I swipe my credit card to get the process started, then let Jeff pump the Swift full while I go inside. As expected, this gas station’s got everything a man like me could possibly want and it’s all shining with a clean, waxy gleam. I ignore it all and head straight for the men’s room. Unzipped at the urinal I flex, relax, coax, massage, will the urine out. When that doesn’t work I let my thoughts drift, trying to distract myself.

They drift to Matilda. We’re at the hay wagon ride that her daughter, Jenny, threw to celebrate the end of sixth grade. Matilda and I are sitting next to each other at the rear of the wagon, next to the gate. Her bare arm is slung protectively around my shoulder. Here at the urinal I can still feel the tug of

that tan and glimpse the white streak of deodorant in her tender armpit. Her nails are painted bright cherry red and one set of cherries rests on my upper-arm while the other is splayed across her cold knees. I know they were cold because I grazed them many times, I even gripped one to steady myself, letting each bounce of the wagon toss me into the bony flesh that blossomed out from under her khaki shorts. Her hair, as honey gold as the hay bales we sat on and redolent of freshly mowed lawns, would tickle my face in the wind like feathered rain. We talked the whole time, her long neck thrown back in laughter at my pubescent wit, her pink lips puckering in thoughtful delight. We hit it off super well.

All I get for my efforts at the urinal is one timid drop like a ladybug on the tip of my dick. Before leaving I make use of the sink to soap up and wash my face.

The kid’s in front of me in the line. He’s buying jerky and a pack of Pokémon cards. The cashier rings him up, and then me, in a perfunctory daze. They don’t have my usual cigarettes but I make do.

 


I try to release my bladder while I sign my receipt. Nothing.

 

Jeff can be a thoughtful guy, but not this thoughtful. He’s normally got a healthy sense of ownership and isn’t the type to let someone steal his car, or his wallet, with no reprisal; at the very least he’d cancel his card. Piecing together the clues, I’d say he’s still lovelorn. Earlier in the day we were able to use expenses charged to his credit card to track Jenny, calling in to find out from an automated teller where it was used last—that’s why we think she headed west on I-40. Jeff called obsessively, killing his cell battery early on. Whenever I try, either Jenny hasn’t been using the card, the charge is taking longer to go through, or the automated teller is lying to us.

We toyed with the notion that the kid’s Jeff’s. By my reckoning, pinning him at 10ish, the timetable would be awfully accurate. Of course, Jeff thinks 10 is way off and, besides, he swears he’d know instinctually, would’ve already known. Jennifer might’ve gone off for a summer internship after

college and never returned, might’ve not deigned to call him, not even an email. But there’s no way, he says, that she wouldn’t have told him if they’d spawned a kid together. What they had was way too special for that.

It’s true that the kid, pale and delicate and blond, a replica of both his mother and grandmother, doesn’t look an iota like Jeff.

We’ve been calling Jenny’s phone all day, but all we get is voice mail. Before leaving town we called around to check in with Jenny’s old friends. The few that answered thought that she’d gone home last night with Jeff. They were right. I called her mom. That phone call marks the highpoint of my year. Hell, it marks the highpoint of my 30s. Back when he realized Jenny’d never return from the west coast, it was horrible to watch my buddy go through the heartache she’d left him with. But on a personal level, what tore me up the most was that their separation further frayed my already weak ties to Matilda. My heart’s been apeshit for Jenny’s mom since I first sat next to her on the hay wagon ride.


When I called her yesterday to see if she’d heard from Jenny, I didn’t tell her why I was asking. She was thrilled to hear from me. That’s what she said, in a southern drawl, “Buck! I’m just thrilled to hear from you!”

She asked what I was doing and I told her the truth, that I’ve been working at a call center, doing customer service. “It’s just to make ends meet,” I said. “Until I can find my passion.”

Matilda got excited by that, passion, like I knew she would. She said that I should take all the time in the world, that there’s no rush, that the passions of life have a way of coming unannounced, and that it was a real thrill to hear from me. She told me not to be a stranger and that if she heard from Jenny, she’d be sure to let her know I called.

 

Outside of the superstation, the kid and I sit in the sun on the hood of the Swift, waiting for Jeff to do his business inside. I told Jeff to get himself something nice and handed him my credit card, so I’m feeling mature and generous. I’ve taken the aspirin, gulped down with a bottle of cold water. I’m

working on the caffeine with a coffee in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. My mood’s lifting.

The kid’s flipping through his new Pokémon cards. Itell him that his mom and I go way back, back since we were his age. “Probably that long,” I add to hedge the potential falsehood. Then I ask him again how old is he anyway and he responds with, “Let’s play.”

“OK,” I say, more or less up to it now. “What do you want to play?”

He shrugs, thinks, brightens, “Let’s play lasers.”

I rest my coffee on the Swift hood and drop my smoke and grind it out. I tap my hands against my hips, like I’m drawing, and start finger-pistol shooting at the kid. My stab at the sound of a laser is spot on. I impress myself sometimes.

The kid’s good too. He steadily advances while dodging my laser beams. He’s got his fingers pistoling at me, a menacing grip of jerky-ammo dangling from his right fist.

I let out a stream of lasers and one gets him square on the chest. I tell him so.


The kid shakes his head, still firing as he approaches. “I’m Superman. I’m not hurt by lasers.” When he’s point-blank he raises his arms up and shrieks a laser blast right at my heart. I stumble back to register the impact but then I continue to advance toward him. He takes a step back.

“I shot you,” he says.

I pause our charade to explain. “Last summer I had a laser proof shield surgically implanted under my skin, a second skeleton. Laser beams are like flies to me. Flies are annoying. I kill flies.”

 

For a second the kid can’t decide whether he should be in awe or scared. Then he does a strange thing. He throws up his hands and shouts, “I call on you, Pikachu!” Then he hops to one side, crouches down and shouts “Thunder!” while leaping up and punching me in the stomach with both fists.

I have no idea how powerful thunder is in this context, but I know it hurts. I don’t want to die, so I fall down and twitch on the concrete in front of the store like a cross-wired robot. “You-may-have-

defeated-me-this-ti—” I say, monotone staccato, before going lights out.

I play defeated maybe three seconds, five tops; three seconds is a long time to fake a short-circuit.

When I get up the kid’s gone.

 

Jeff comes out chugging soda and hands my card back to me. I tell him I don’t know where the kid is and he says that he wasn’t inside. We scan the parking lot. The trucker area is a glare, dwarfed by the dome of cloudless pale blue overhead. Waves of heat shimmer like white noise off the distant interstate. After Jeff curses he goes clockwise and I go counter around the superstation. I glance under a few cars, the ones I’d duck under instinctually were I trying to evade captors, and sing out, “Superman…. Pokémon….”

This whole thing reminds me of this kid, Josh, who hid in the back of the wagon, under some loose straw, on the final leg of the hay wagon ride. Josh had huge buck teeth, brown eyes that bulged out like a frog’s, a bowl cut. He was a big kid but all of


his clothes were two sizes bigger; according to school gossips, the raggedy old flannels and rolled up jeans he wore were hand-me-downs from his father. He was the butt of all jokes. Even nice guys like me became jackasses around Josh.

He was there on the hay wagon ride and it must have been the only time that he’d ever been invited to a party. When the party started he was doing dumb shit, like eating his boogers and trying to wipe his hands off on girls’ hair—stuff that he must’ve known only a freak would do but at least got people to pay attention to him.

The way the party went was that once everyone arrived out by the trails, we all piled into the back of a hay wagon, which jounced us out to a picnic site. We unloaded, ate and played some games, then got herded back onto the hay wagon bed and taxied to the starting point.

When the picnic was winding down, I helped Matilda round up the kids to load them onto the hay wagon. Josh was sitting alone with cake smeared over his face like a clown; he was sticking his tongue out and trying to lick his own face clean. He was the

first kid to get back on the wagon. What he did was he hopped up into the bed, walked to the front of the wagon, near the cab, and without missing a beat he lay down and buried himself in loose straws of hay.

 

Jeff and I run into each other on the far side of the store, next to a dumpster. Back here the lot is a strand of granulated concrete that sparkles like diamonds as it stretches out into a grove of unkempt weeds and trees that hide the interstate. We light up and shout for Superman and Pokémon between drags. No response, just smoke building up in the heat-heavy air around us.

We finish our circles and meet at the front. Jeff asks the afternoon, “What the fuck?” Nothing.

Then I see him. “I see him,” I say and point towards the distant ramp to the interstate. He’s there, a good football field away, standing with his back to the traffic.

Jeff flicks his cigarette under a car and runs. His out of shape ass sprints through the panhandle


brimstone. By the time he makes the bend out of the parking lot and is on the road that leads to the exit ramp, he’s puffing like a steam engine, almost doubled-over. Jeff’s clearly fatigued just halfway to the kid, but he lumbers on, arms pumping and his jaw dropped open, wheezing. I’m almost doubled-over myself with laughter and my eyes are watering tears that catch the sunlight in a way that makes it seem like I’m looking through a lens, that I’m watching something played back in slow-motion, as if we’re underwater—Jeff plodding on despite the weight of oceans, the kid, losing steam himself, a minnow lost in the deep, and the audacious, gleaming gas pumps, the patches of seared yellow grass, the dazzling grey pavement, just more sluggish absurdities hidden below the surface of the shimmering, full tide sky.

Finally Jeff reaches the kid and, bent over, his hands clutching his knees for support, they make two cut-out figures against the blurry horizon. Whatever Jeff says to him works and the kid follows him down the ramp.

I go back into the store and get three water bottles. By the time I get through the line and sign

my receipt, Jeff and the kid have almost made it back to the car. The kid has a healthy, defiant flush that makes him look more like his grandmother than ever. Jeff is flushed too, but his is the peculiar shade of pink that only pasty drunks acquire after a binge on the beach—or, apparently, a Texas summer. His thinning hair is plastered with sweat and his shirt’s soaked with a V that outlines his neglected pectorals.

“You got him,” I say, handing Jeff a bottle of water.

He nods glumly. “The kid says he saw her.”

The kid responds to my look with a nod. “She drove right past here.” He refuses my offer of water.

I shoot Jeff a skeptical look, but he’s chugging water and doesn’t notice.

 

Jeff drives us in circles around Amarillo. Exit ramps sparkle with hope. We slow down as we pass them or take them at random to cruise by the generic cluster of crap—gas stations, restaurant chains, hotels, shopping center lots. Occasionally


we exit back onto the highway in the opposite direction and take the next exit to survey the same cluster of crap from the other side. We make quick, shallow excursions into Amarillo, find highways to cruise.

I try Jenny’s cell again and, as I’m directed immediately to voice mail, my battery goes dead.

The kid starts whining that he wants to go home. I tell the little fellow that we don’t know where that is, that that’s what we’re trying to find. Since our shoot-out and his escape attempt, I feel closer to him.

When we’ve nearly burned up another tank of gas, Jeff’s ready to call it a day. We refuel and I get a two liter of soda for the kid and a twelve pack of beer, on special, for Jeff and me. We make a stop at a drive through for dinner and then head to the most rundown motel that we spotted during our patrol, assuming that it should be the cheapest. It’s overpriced but we take it anyway. With hardly another car in the lot, we park in a spot right outside our door.

In the motel room we charge our phones and catch a bit of news over dinner. Then Jeff and I let the kid take over the remote while we take beers down to the roadside pool, where we can smoke in good conscience.

We’ve got the pool to ourselves and situate the poolside chairs to face our room door, in case the kid gets restless and tries to make another break for it. There’s a welcome breeze coming off the highway and, with the sun setting, it’d actually be pleasant were it not for that strain of mosquitoes that thrive at twilight and nest in filthy swimming pools. After I down a couple of beers I’m able to relax, despite the blood suckers harassing me.

Jeff looks as exhausted as I felt earlier in the day. He’s drowning beers and chain smoking my cigarettes. I recognize the desire to revive. There’s a sky-wide gray-blue vacantly inching its way over us.

I tell him I think we’re through and when I see his reflex is to argue the point, I rush on, “We don’t have to call the police or anything,” I say, “just


hand the kid over to Matilda and let her sort it out. You’ll just have to bike to work like I do, that’s all.”

Jeff nods to affirm that what I just said is sound, but he’s going to argue it anyway. “It’s not rational,” he starts, “and I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but I can’t let it go, not yet.” He takes a long pull on his beer can, thinking. “You know how sometimes you’ll be thinking about someone and you can’t get them out of your mind and then, totally out of the blue, they’ll give you a call or you’ll run into them at the supermarket or something?”

Yeah, I nod, I know that happens.

“Well,” he says, “have you noticed that it has a feeling? I don’t know what the word for it is. It’s there, though, hidden under all these other layers, like when to leave and what to have for dinner. Under all that, it’s there. It’s like that feeling you get, that whatever you’re doing right at that exact moment will be more than just a memory someday. It’ll be, like, the epitome, the, the quintessence of all other memories. You know what I mean?”

“No, Jeff,” I say, “I don’t think I do.”

Jeff nods, cracks open another beer. “Forget it, it’s not important. The thing is, I’ve got that feeling right now. Strong. Real strong. We’re going to randomly run into Jenny, we’ll find her, trust me.”

“Maybe,” I say slowly, “maybe we’ll randomly run into her on the way home.”

He gives me a skeptic’s laugh. “Yeah, maybe,” he says. “But it doesn’t really work that way. You have to make yourself ready—you can’t plan it.”

I tell Jeff about how little sense he’s making and then, switching gears, I get practical. I can hardly afford the rental for another day and I certainly can’t afford to skip out on work. “We’ll keep our eyes peeled on the road home,” I say. In an attempt to be diplomatic I don’t add that it’s taken over a decade for Jenny to randomly appear, despite the amount he’s been thinking of her.

The subject drifts and doesn’t return. If nothing else, Jeff is a man of his word and I can’t help but notice that he hasn’t given it on heading back tomorrow. I’ll be sure to drive.

 


I’m startled awake by someone knocking and it takes me a moment to remember where I am and why. As I shamble to the motel door Jeff calls out from the other side, “Wake up Buck-aroo!” Followed by more knocking.

The bed-side clock says it’s not even seven yet. Nevertheless, a wave of mind-melting heat floods the room when I open the door. Jeff, in the same clothes he wore yesterday, has two coffees and there are bananas sticking out of his pockets.

“Forgot my key,” he says, as I retreat back to the bed.

He puts a coffee and a banana on the nightstand next to me and says that time’s a-wasting then goes over to wake the kid up.

I sit up and after a sip of scalding water with only the faintest trace of coffee grounds, I tell him that there’s no rush, that we’re going back today.

Jeff grins in a way I’m not familiar with and that I’m afraid is his attempt at charm. “I called my credit card and a new charge registered, ten-o-five last night, just on this side of Albuquerque. You

know she’s going to sleep in—so we can catch her! Just six hours. If we haven’t found her in six hours, we turn around and go home. I swear.”

I shrug to convey that he has no hope in convincing me. I say no.

“Okay,” he says, “How about this. You shower and then we’ll call my bank and see if she bought breakfast somewhere and if she has, then we’ll see where she is, where she’s headed, and then take it from there. You just take it slow, shower, take it easy.”

I shake my head and go into the bathroom, where I manage a long, golden blast of urine. I take my time in the shower, getting a thick lather and thorough rinse. I get in a good, rejuvenating scrub, ready to get back, to get home and take off, maybe, do my own disappearing routine in a cubicle for a while. Visions of a promotion, new suits, and a healthy bladder dance in the steam while I shave. I even lotion up my raw face with moisturizer provided gratis by the motel. It smells like cinnamon and mud.


I exit the bathroom, white towel secured around my waist, and walk around the empty room, surveying, as if I expect them to be hidden somewhere, waiting for them to jump out at me like that kid Josh did at the hay wagon ride. Halfway back to the starting point, Josh sprang out of his cover of loose straw, vanilla icing all over his face and howling like a werewolf with his arms raised and his hands in a contorted talon grip. I’ve got to say that even for me, knowing he was there, it was pretty surprising. The kids down by him jumped and screamed and then there was a long, heavy silence until Matilda started laughing. She laughed so uncontrollably hard that she started coughing but she still couldn’t stop. It was infectious and it spread to her daughter, to Jenny, and Jenny’s high-pitched girl’s giggle broke me up so that I was soon heaving with laughter too and soon enough everyone on the wagon was roaring, sides splitting, our heads about fall off we were laughing so hard.

I realize, as I peek through the blinds and see that the Swift is gone, that I misled Jeff. Maybe I did know what he meant, the feeling of a memory that’ll be the reference point for all other memories.

Because right then, on the back of the hay wagon, while Matilda and I were thrown together with an unstoppable sense of hilarity, with Jenny and all those other kids who’re strangers to me now, that moment was the pinnacle of joy. I knew it immediately, before it had even happened. I knew that afterwards happiness would only been able to refer to that moment, like shadows to the sun.

No one jumps out at me this morning. I check my jeans and, sure enough, the keys to the rental are missing. My wallet’s there, but the credit card’s gone.

After I finish the coffee and banana I figure it’s still too early to call Matilda, to tell her the situation and see if she’ll pick me up. Instead I slip on my boxers and head out to the pool, trying Jeff on my cell. One ring and I’m directed to voice mail.

Crap has accumulated at the pool edges and there’s a film of oily rainbow mottling its surface. I dive in and stay under until I reach the other side. When I break the surface, chlorine has scorched my eyes. But I keep them open for the next lap. And the next. I go back and forth beneath the water until my


heart’s about to burst and then I just stretch out on my back at the center of the pool and float on the surface. Above and below I’m bounded by the same Sunday morning hue of baby blue. It’s vague and insistent, like a half-formed answer to a problem no one knew to ask, that just drifts there like smoke for me to ponder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Hayes Moore. White Whale Review, issue 2.1


Previous Author Prev Next Author