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Story by Jason Shults (Read author interview) June 25, 2013

art by Karen Prosen

It was 11 o’clock on a Saturday night when Dodge first tried the public restrooms. He wasn’t sure what to do, really, but he’d seen it in a movie once, at least how to start it and how it might end, though in the movie it hadn’t ended well, not at all, and the trickier bits in the middle had been left out.

The restrooms were right there by the old jail along the town’s tourist strip, housed in a little flagstone building. Dodge hardly ever went into it, since his mom’s house was right up the hill. He tried not to think about his mom, though. His mom and her girlfriend Barb and their obsession with fix-up houses and podunk towns, shitholes like this one. Six months, they’d find a buyer and move on, but he’d be gone by then, back to Portland, where there were at least a few kids his own age, people like Zach and Hil, people who wouldn’t treat him like he was just in the way.

Inside the flagstone building, it was cool and dank and smelled sort of like those closed-up old mine shafts he sometimes explored, and it also smelled a little like Old Pete Hawley’s horse barn. Between the top of the walls and the roof of the building you could see a strip of night sky all around where a screen had been tacked up for ventilation. It made the whole thing more electric and dangerous, somehow, this small wedge of openness to the rest of the world.

It was Old Pete who told him there were ways for a young guy to make money, if he wanted it bad enough, say if a young guy needed a couple hundred dollars to buy a car. A car to get him the hell out of there. But Dodge didn’t want it bad enough, at least not from Old Pete.

Dodge took the first toilet of three, and closed and bolted the door. He closed the lid and sat and waited. He waited for fifteen minutes before the first man came in. He listened to the man urinating in the tin trough along the wall outside the cubby, and listened as the man zipped up again and left without washing his hands, which was pretty gross, Dodge thought, because now he was thinking about the mechanics of things, how it would actually be to do it—whatever it was, exactly—the skin and the meat and the sweat of it, and he was beginning to question the decision and if maybe it might be better to stick with what he knew, lifting wallets out of purses, loose cash from pockets, trailing along behind these ghost-town tourists like the kind of fish he’d seen in a book once that trailed along after sharks.

Five minutes more, and Dodge could hear the uneven steps of someone new, the door opening, the slap of the man’s hands on the walls as he stumbled and caught himself. The man was singing one of the songs Dodge had heard earlier coming from the open doors of Jimson’s Saloon—every little thing is gonna be all right —the man singing just that one phrase over and over, and humming the unremembered parts. The man rattled the door to Dodge’s cubby, tried to pull it open. Dodge sat there silent, trying to get up the nerve to say something. He couldn’t. The man moved on to the next toilet over, and Dodge could hear him undoing a belt buckle, and he could hear it when the buckle clanked to the floor, the heavy sigh as the man sat down. Another minute, maybe two, he heard snoring.

On the way back home, Dodge played with the heavy wedding ring. He stopped once and looked at it under the blue light of the crooked streetlamp in front of the town hall. Gold, it looked like, and square, with a bunch of diamonds on top. He wasn’t sure how he’d sell it, but the man’s wallet had been empty of anything but credit cards, which were too risky, and his pockets had been bare of anything but keys, and so this was what he’d got tonight, and Dodge figured it was plenty.

About the Author

Jason Shults’ stories have appeared or are scheduled to appear in The Adirondack Review, Jersey Devil Press and Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, among others, and have been published in several anthologies.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Forty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty

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