SmokeLong Quarterly

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No One Left to Care About the Fat Man

Story by Rusty Barnes (Read author interview) December 16, 2005

Art by Marty D. Ison

The sky is poison, winter-blue. I can see my breath. Jackie is at the end of the road, and the music from the radio—classic rock, of course, where the 70s and 80s never end, like an IHOP for chrissakes—is going to take me wherever she is on one long brutish chord. I want somewhere quiet, where we can sit on someone’s porch and drink bitter iced tea and wait for the world to stop. But it won’t happen. The vision blurs as I think about finding her. I left my last check on the table in case she comes back; since she’s gone I’d have no way to cash it anyway. I can get a job in Peeburgh and save enough to get the rest of the way.

The Peter Pan terminal in Buxton isn’t even a terminal, more the side of a building with a plastic awning and a small alcove where there’s a single yawning-old-lady ticket-taker who doubles as the receptionist at the unemployment office around the corner. My father’s probably in there signing up for the winter, where I ought to be. As the weather changes, my job and his disappear. Can’t work outside in the snow. I can’t stand this place. I feel like soon I’ll be someone like him, or Velma, who’s been there forever. She’s got thin red-dyed hair and curly nails, and she says 90 bucks will get me to Pittsburgh, sure enough, which is nearer to Kentucky and Jackie than I am now, so it’ll work. She pats my hand and I can see the loose skin shake on her upper arm.


Jackie said she’d leave, but I wasn’t smart enough to listen. She said stay home Buddy. Stay home and be with me. I came home last night dogging it from work, and I stopped to pick up some strawberry wine for her, so we could have a nice dinner, I got behind a wreck, and things just progressed, and I was late. Not fucking up.

“Buddy you son-of-a-bitch.” She’s curled up on the couch, her feet underneath her, a pile of butts in the tray already. It’s only been two hours. There’s a suitcase beside her.

“I got behind a wreck. Two cars. Blood everywhere. What’s that?” It’s the scene she wants. For me to pay more attention. It’s not as if I haven’t been here before.

“You work so late, Buddy. I don’t know what you want.” I can see her hand trembling. I want to punch her, leaving me like this. For nothing. It’s supposed to be about something.

“I brought some strawberry wine for your leaving me.” I kick my boots off against the door.

“Do you want me?” There’s the million-dollar question, so I hand her the bottle of wine. She throws it against the wall where it thumps once and rolls around on the tile, comes to rest near the cat food bowl. “Do you fucking want me?”

“Yes.” I haven’t even gotten my coat off yet.

“No you don’t.” Jackie walks into the bedroom and throws the door open behind her, where it bangs against the wall and leaves a hole I’ll have to patch again this weekend. “If you want me, come in and fucking take me.”

When I go in after her, she’s already naked from the waist down. “I don’t want to do this, Jackie.” Truth is she’s turning me on and I don’t want to be turned on. I want to hold onto this mad for a while, see where it takes me. I want to know if this is the moment we both need, where we can both say fuck it safely, without conscience, be done with this wreck of a marriage.

“Look at me,” she says, voice shaking with hurt.” I shaved the way you wanted me to.” Her bush is gone, just a little strip of hair like an eyebrow. I mean, I might have mentioned it’d be hot once. I didn’t want this. Her face is a crisis. I am a crisis.

“Jackie. Just don’t.” Soon as my mouth opens I regret saying it, and as I know it will her face collapses. I go in to take a leak, to let her calm down, and I hear the door slam before I can shake it off. As I stand there, I decide to wait the night out—she’s done this before, and so have I—I can feel this one might be different, but I’ve decided to pretend not to care. The night is dark, and Jackie is a light somewhere in it, fading soon. But still a light.


I know now she’s gone to Kentucky, to Louisville, to her people that she’s always talking about that I would never understand. Good suburban RV-driving folks. Dad wasn’t home when I called for a ride, so it took me two hours to walk to the Buxton bus station. I wonder how far she’s gotten since last night. Down by the corner of the awning, a fat man’s pants are down, and he’s pissing against the wall. Velma must be back at the unemployment office. There’s no one left to care about the fat man as the bus rumbles up.

I don’t know what I’ll find in Louisville, but I have to go. Before that I’ll be stranded in Pittsburgh. Pissburg. There’s just Jackie somewhere down the road, this woman I may or may not love, and I’m following the Appalachian Mountains down to find her. I mean, with absolutely dick to show, and no one to tell about it anyway.

About the Author

Rusty Barnes co-founded and oversees Night Train, a twice-yearly fiction journal.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

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

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