Monday, December 28, 2009

Charlene's armadillo

Just today's freewriting exercise . . . don't ask me to explain what goes on inside my head.

December 28, 2009 Roy Parvin—Betty Hutton (from Best American Short Stories, 2001), p. 205.

“He was a big man who looked like trouble, even with his glasses.”

The judge pounded the gavel, warning her against further outbursts, and she became increasingly concerned that Job would win custody of the armadillo and the set of coffee mugs from the OK Café in Ashtabula, Ohio—such an injustice because Job was not the one who nursed her beloved armadillo back to health and Job had never even been to the OK Café in Ashtabula, Ohio. Charlene was what the guys at the truck stop used to call a “knock out”—a buxom blonde former Texas beauty queen. Job wasn’t her type—a nerdy little weasel of a man who didn’t even own a hat. Charlene knew the judge didn’t like her from the start and she started to weep profusely even before he reached for his gavel. Let’s be honest about this—any fool could see that Job was an asshole and an unfit parent for Artemis the armadillo. When asked by Charlene’s attorney to describe the armadillo’s feeding regime, Job responded that she ate seeds and grass. Wrong—Charlene had gone to considerable expense to get organically raised grubs and beetles for the creature and often hand-fed Artemis when her appetite was poor. Job never once fed her and Artemis didn’t ever respond to Job’s voice like she did to Charlene’s soft cooing. Job was just using the custody issue to annoy Charlene and he knew ever so well how to annoy her. Charlene said Job could have the baby grand piano and the Jaguar XKE roadster and the condo in Maui, but Job would not yield his negotiating position—he would give Charlene all the real estate and the cars and $10,000 a month in alimony for life. All he wanted was the armadillo and the OK Café coffee mugs. “Damn you, Job,” she shouted, “you don’t give a rat’s ass about those coffee mugs,” at which point the judge pounded his gavel again. He looked down at Charlene over his glasses and pointed the gavel at her, saying, “Ma’am, I have given you your final warning. If your disrespectful decorum continues I will have you removed from this courtroom and hold you in contempt of court.” Even though she wasn’t quite sure what decorum was, she knew at that moment that she was in danger of losing the only things she truly loved. For when the judge looked at her that way, pointing the gavel in her direction, she recognized him. He was the creepy guy she met in that bar in Amarillo when she was still in high school. He was the one buying her drinks and telling her how beautiful she was. Then he got fresh with her and she poured an entire bottle of Lone Star in his lap and sauntered off, leaving him cursing and sputtering. He was a big man who looked like trouble, even with his glasses.

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