Snakes in the Tall Grass

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Two men stood beneath a blazing Louisiana sun on the edge of Walmart parking lot, smoking cigarettes. A big brown dog walked around them. They stood on the strip of grass on the side of the store. A few feet behind them, the ground dipped and the grass grew tall and thick over a small swamp of murky water where the sewer pipe had broken and nobody had bothered to fix it.

“Don’t let your dog go down there,” said the older man. “There might be snakes in the tall grass.”

The younger man, who did not know how to talk around a smoke, pulled his out and called to his dog. “Here Reno, get out of there.”

The big brown dog ran to him and sniffed his leg.

“I don’t have anything for you,” the younger man said. “Don’t go begging for anything.”

The dog crouched beside him, smiled, and observed him through half-lidded eyes.

“How are things going on the homefront?” asked the younger man.

“Shit,” the older man said around his cigarette. “Last I checked, my old woman wanted a divorce, and before that, she was fucking a deacon.”

“Shit,” the younger man agreed. “You got any kids?”

The older man shook his head.

“That’s good. Divorce is always harder on the kids.”

“You read that in a book?”

“My parents divorced.”

“Well, it ain’t true for all. I couldn’t have cared less when my parents copped out. My stepfather was a dick, but I didn’t have to put up with that motherfucker for long.”

“Good choice of words, ” the younger man said, smiling.

“I guess it won’t be too bad,” the older man said. “Won’t be tied down as much. Back on the road again, like the song says.” He laughed, mirthlessly.

The younger man tossed his cigarette on the pavement and crushed it. “Where you headed next?” His eyes followed a woman across the parking lot.

“New Orleans. Apalachicola after that.” He spit out over the pavement. “Why would they name someplace in Florida after the Appalachians?”

“I don’t think that’s why,” said the younger man. “My route changes next month. A northern route, Washington, Oregon, all that stuff.”

“Huh. I always wanted to see Seattle.”

“I never did. Always thought it was a dreary place.” He checked the time. “Well, I’m off. See you some other time, yeah? Reno, say goodbye.”

The dog walked over to the older man and licked his hand. The older man scratched him behind the ears. The younger man and the dog walked off, and a few minutes later an eighteen-wheeler’s engine started up and they were gone.

The older man stood there for a while longer, inhaling and exhaling, watching a couple and their son walk across the parking lot. Then he dropped his cigarette onto the pavement, crushed it, and walked to his truck.

 

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