This is a short story I wrote a couple years back. It is interesting what one feels necessary to do in times of emotional strife. Well here is the work for your enjoyment.
At least there is Racing
A short story by J. Ian Garner(That's me.)
The game is played by two players. It is played on a board 1320 ft. long. It usually lasts no longer than fourteen seconds. It can also cause death. It is a useful metaphor for many things.
* * *
"How ‘ya doing?" the man asked.
Horrible was the only word that passed through Frank’s mind but he was able to force the words "Fine, and you?" through his mouth as he had done so often throughout the course of that long day working at the gas station. He had arrived at nine that morning, it was now seven. Ten long hours he had been waiting on people who didn’t give a damn how he felt, this man didn’t either and he was still trying to make idle chit chat while he paid for his ten dollars and twenty-one cents worth of gas. Frank listened and responded blandly because the conversation with this stranger and the task of taking his money were only remote concerns to his mind at that moment. However he had bills to pay so he stayed there working with as much of his mind as he could after those ten long hours.
Finally the man said something to him and left. Frank may have told him to "Have a nice day!". He wasn’t quite sure. The only thing he was sure of was that if he did he didn’t mean it. What he was really thinking about was the girl he had met the other night. He didn’t know much about her. He did know a few things about her though. Her name was Amanda, she was extremely beautiful, and she had expressed an interest in him. Last night’s encounter kept on replaying itself in Frank’s mind.
That night, around eleven, Frank’s friend Jay was having what Frank thought was going to be a little party between a few people that he knew well. You see Frank doesn’t really care for large parties he finds them counter-productive. This may seem a little strange but when you think about it large parties are usually loud and difficult to communicate during. Frank likes communicating and dislikes not being able to. His friend Jay on the other hand had arranged a rather large party some twenty to fifty people showed up. When Frank had gotten there after closing up the gas station he was pleasantly upset by everything he hated about these kinds of things. Loud music you have to shout to be heard over, people don’t know you trying to act like they know you, and people who do know you acting like they don’t.
However shortly after he had arrived he saw her. She was amazing, short black hair, deep brown eyes, high cheek bones, luscious full lips and things kept getting better on the way down. A very tight fitting t-shirt and jeans didn’t leave much to Franks imagination. She looked like she was yelling at another guy, a stranger to Frank. She slapped the stranger and started running in Frank’s direction. The stranger in turn threw his hands into the air and walked off in the other direction. Before he could think the girl ended up essentially body-checking Frank.
"I’m sorry," she said, tears forming in her eyes.
"That’s okay," Frank replied "You want to talk about it?"
"I suppose," the girl answered after glancing back over her shoulder.
"Let’s go somewhere that we can hear each other at least," Frank said. And the girl nodded in agreement and they headed for the front door.
Outside they sat on the front porch and started talking to each other. She introduced herself as Amanda and he reciprocated by introducing himself. After that she started telling him how her boyfriend had been was a huge dick head and how they just had a big argument and that’s where they were. After Frank heard the name of the stranger he did remember the man from his grade school days. It ended up that he was the bully of Frank’s grade school class. Frank was starting to get mixed emotions at this point, he was sorry for her situation, he was a little disconcerted at the discovery of the boyfriend but somewhat happy that the relationship was apparently a little unstable. They ended up talking for a long time about various things on that porch and eventually people started to slowly leave the parties and head off to their various homes so Frank ended up looking at his watch and noticed the time two in the morning. He was going to regret that tomorrow seeing as how he had to get to work at nine, but he didn’t really care, he felt elated. He told Amanda he had to go and she gave him a peck on the cheek and said good-bye to him with a somewhat sultry smile on her face. Frank went home to sleep. He never did say hi to Jay.
* * *
Finally seven-thirty came around. That last half-hour had seemed like an eternity to Frank. But now that Mike was here so he could go call Jay and see what he could tell him about Amanda.
After punching out Frank left and started the walk to his car. And what a car it was. Frank always liked the walk to his car, the 1970 ‘Cuda. He was able to admire it’s sub-lime green paint job, the ten inch wide rear tires he had put on it, it’s modified stance, and a million other details that only Frank knew about that car and only he could understand. You see Frank wasn't really any sort of artist in the conventional sense; he couldn't draw or paint, nor could he sing or play musical instruments very well. However he made the note of the 'Cuda's 426 cid. Hemi engine sound sweeter than anything Beethoven or Bach could have ever dreamt of. Looking at the car it was a creation De Vinci or Monet would have been envious of. Frank loved his car the way a musician loves his songs or a painter loves his paintings.
He got in and started driving home. On the way his right foot might have pressed a little too far on the accelerator than the local law-enforcers would have liked, but none of them spotted the green 'Cuda so Frank was in the clear.
When Frank got home he first went to the shower to clean up. That was another drawback of working at a gas station, you leave work each day smelling like petrol. Frank didn’t mind though, the daily smell removal process gave him a relaxing time and place to sort through his thoughts. Today he wondered if he had a shot in hell with Amanda, and even if he did should he take it? He searched for the answer throughout the length of his shower but didn’t find it, and to be honest with himself he wasn’t even sure he would ever see her again. With that thought he turned off the shower and got out, dried himself and went to put some clothes on.
"Hey Jay, I must have missed you last night," Frank said over the phone.
"Wha? Huh?" a confused voice replied on the other side of the line.
"You sound pretty out of it, how long did your party last?"
"I only remember the sun finally started to come up when everyone left," the very tired voice said.
"Well, you up yet?" Frank asked; a length of silence followed the question.
"Yea, I guess so, what do you want to do?"
"I was thinking about heading down to the track today, you wanna come?"
"Sure you gonna pick me up?"
"Yea see you in a bit. It sounds like while your waiting you might wanna inject a little caffeine."
With that he combed his hair and was out the door.
* * *
After Frank picked up Jay they headed to the track. This wasn’t Jay’s favorite activity but he didn’t have anything better to do that evening so he went along. Frank however lived for this. When Frank was racing he was truly alive. When Frank bled he bled 100 octane race fuel. Frank liked racing. He wasn’t that bad at it either. As Frank headed down that quarter mile stretch of concrete his right foot was planted against the floorboard. His right arm and left leg moved like lightning, as he would power-shift like a god three times in those sparse ten seconds.
That night Frank was elated. With the thoughts of Amanda pounding through his mind as he raced he posted a personal best elapsed time of 10.21 seconds. Frank was on fire, no one could touch him. In between runs he tried to ask Jay about Amanda but the information he was able to pull from was limited to her last name. What this did allow was for Jay to figure out what to do that night. He decided that night he was going to find Amanda for Frank. Besides Jay was bored and he always thought that the track was a little loud.
"Lets get out of here," Jay said to Frank.
"You got something better to do?" asked Frank.
"Yea, I do. How ‘bout we find Amanda?"
"That actually sounds like a plan. Any idea where she is?"
"Well she isn’t here is she?"
"Point taken, lets go," said Frank and with that they left the track
* * *
They left the track early so it was around eleven as they headed back towards the town. It was a small town full of ignorant people who had no particular reason for living. They whined and bitched every time they didn’t get their way. When their taxes were raised to help schools out they would complain; when the quality of their children’s education went down they complained. If they couldn’t find a way to get something for three cents cheaper they would scream irately at the nearest person. If they could find a way to screw someone over to make a profit they would do it. So to Frank it did seem they had a reason for living, to make his life miserable.
It took them fifteen minutes to get back to town so once they did they started driving past bars and such because Jay claimed to know what Amanda’s car looked like. Eventually they found it. It was at a restaurant where people would sometimes gather to drink coffee. Something that Frank didn’t quite understand but they decided to go in and say hi. She was there and looked to be alone which was strange to Frank because it was to his understanding that people usually did things like this in groups.
"Hey, how have you been?" Frank asked as he walked up to Amanda.
"Oh, hi there cutie. Pretty good and you?" replied Amanda in the beautiful voice that Frank had instantly become enamored with the night before.
"I haven’t felt this good in a while," Frank said.
"And Jay nice party last night."
"Thank you," Jay said. He had been grinning ear to ear he was quite pleased with himself and it showed.
They had been talking for a few minutes when Amanda’s cellular phone rang. There were a few yeas and uh-hus mixed in with a few frowns and okays. When questioned about the perpetrator of the call Amanda returned that it was her boyfriend and he wouldn’t be able to meet her that night. When Frank heard this his heart sank to his feet. He was truly devastated. They stayed and spoke for a while and Frank’s mood did become a bit more stable as Amanda started flirting with him more and more. After about three hours had passed they decided it was time to go home.
Frank had been on the receiving end of some real mixed messages. He wasn’t really quite sure how to interpret them, but he wasn’t really in a position to find answers right then and there so he would have to worry about it until he was.
* * *
The next day at work Frank had a rather easy shift at the service station one to seven. But that didn’t prevent him from being bothered by idiots and jackasses. In fact there was one guy who had the audacity to come in and complain to Frank because they didn’t carry leaded gasoline. Never mind the fact that no gas stations except those for airplanes and race cars sell leaded gasoline any more, but the car the man was driving had a catalytic converter and oxygen sensor anyway so it would have ruined his car if he would have put it in. Frank explained these facts to this man in a polite manner but the man was irate and not in his right mind so he demanded Frank do something to rectify the situation before tomorrow and promptly left. That was the kind of shift Frank ended up having.
Well Jay was busy at work until ten so Frank decided to go to the track to relax after work. However after he got there something was wrong. Frank couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was but something was wrong. Not catastrophically so, but wrong none the less. Frank got rather upset at the performance his car was putting out that night and it was getting close to ten so he decided to head into town and stop at O’Burgers the fast-food restaurant at which Jay worked.
* * *
It was only a few minutes to closing time when Frank entered O’Burgers. Jay greeted Frank and told him he had some news. Frank waited patiently reading the bulletin board they had there while the place was being closed down.
"Well what’s the big news, good or bad?" Frank asked.
"It sort of leans toward bad," Jay answered somewhat reluctantly. "Amanda stopped in today and I got a chance to talk to her for you."
"And..." Frank said almost fearfully.
"Well she does like you," Jay said followed by a freight train sized pause he used to try to find words that wouldn’t hit Frank with the weight of the same train. "But, she doesn’t like you enough to break up with her boyfriend."
Jay hadn’t found those words.
"What, that jackass?!?!" Frank asked irately.
"Hey, don’t yell at me I’m not the one going out with her," Jay said defensively "But, I reminded her of that and she said he wasn’t really that bad and I didn’t know him. Even though he was the biggest jerk in our class."
This set the tone for the night. Frank found out the only thing to do that night was another huge party but he decided he might as well go anyway, to take his mind off things. However on his way there Frank was a little angry behind the wheel and he stomped on the accelerator a little too hard for the likeings of the local law enforcement agents.
He was going 85mph and flashing red lights started to chase him. "Damn it!" he thought to himself. He slowed down and pulled off to the curb of a side street. Those flashing red lights followed him. He stopped and so did the red lights. He waited and a man got out of the car that was attached to those ever so bright red lights. The man walked up to his car and Frank rolled down the window. The man asked for his license and registration. Frank gave it to him. The man asked Frank if he knew how fast he was going. Frank replied honestly. The man asked if Frank knew how fast he should have been going. Once again, head bowed in shame Frank answered truthfully. The man asked Frank why he was willfully and knowingly exceeding the posted speed limit so excessively. Frank had no response for this. The man then went back to his vehicle, which was attached to those menacing bright red lights, and took what seemed to be an eternity to fill out Frank’s speeding ticket. That was how Frank’s night went
* * *
The next day Frank was exhausted after his ticket and the party, which turned out to be a dud. He was ready for his day off. Unfortunately for him, Mike, one of Frank’s co-workers, wasn’t. Mike had called in sick as he had done so many times in the past so Frank reluctantly agreed to come in and work for him. Frank could tell today was going to be a great sequel to yesterday.
With the day being off to such a tremendous start how could things get worse Frank thought while he charged people for their gasoline and convenience store goods. With that thought entered the leaded gasoline customer from yesterday, yelling at the top of his lungs at Frank for not getting him his leaded gasoline. Frank couldn’t take it. All of the sudden Frank’s hand grabbed a fistful of air, air filled with hate and anger that had been building up inside him ever since he had to deal with bullshit. All the bullshit customers that would come through the station, all the bullshit beaurocracy with which his town, state and country were run, and all the bullshit that women put him through. This was the stuff that filled Frank’s fist. Frank took that fist of hatred and swung it with the force of a freight train at the face of this irate piece of flesh that had come to embody all that Frank despised.
After that things went blank in Frank’s mind for a while. For a few minutes he wasn’t quite sure what he had done. He wasn’t quite sure where he was. Then it hit him almost as hard as he had hit the man, he realized he had broken this man’s nose. The man was holding his face screaming something about suing him and the gas station for everything they were worth. Frank was a little phased still. The man then asked for Frank’s manager’s name and number. Frank in his state of confusion answered him. Then things just sort of went blank. Frank hadn’t fainted, but he couldn’t remember what had happened during the last fifteen minutes.
When reality started to settle back in Frank realized that his manager was right in front of him chewing him out. Finally his manager yelled you’re fired at Frank with the force of a thousand bricks falling a thousand feet. With that Frank got up and walked out. He hadn’t told his legs to stand up and walk out they just sort of did. It was sort of like watching a movie, he didn’t really seem to have control.
After that he went home and paced back and forth trying to decide when his life became totally fucked up. Was it when he met Amanda, was it when the crappy customer came to the gas station, was it when he took the job at the gas station, was it when he bought his car that made him need the job, or was it when he was born? What am I going to do, he thought. Surely he was going to get sued, he didn’t know where he stood with Amanda, he had a speeding ticket to pay and no job to get the money to pay it with. Could thing possibly get any worse.
Frank decided that maybe if he went racing it would cheer him up. So he headed down to the track. The trip was uneventful but still movie like. Frank had made a few runs down the track everything on the car seemed to be working fine but the same couldn’t be said about reality.
Frank got ready to make his fourth pass. He pulled into the waterbox to do his burnout. Everything was working fine. He pulled up to the staging line. Everything was working fine. The tree did its countdown sequence of flashing lights. Everything was working fine. Frank launched and had a perfect reaction time. Everything was working fine. Frank hit the sixty-foot mark in record time. Everything was working fine. He hit the eighth mile mark. Something was devastatingly wrong. The tail end of the car was starting to drift to the left on him. Frank started to countersteer. The tail whipped to the right and caught on the guardrail. The thought "Oh shit, what the hell is happening?" ran through Frank’s mind at the speed of light. But he was unable to do anything about the current situation. The car was starting to roll sideways down the track. The situation was truly terrifying from the cockpit of that 1970 lime green road rocket, and the worst thing was Frank couldn’t do one thing about it. Very quickly the car had started to catch fire. Not quite sure why or what to do about the quickly worsening situation, that seemed to be happening in slow motion, all Frank could do was hang on and wait. You see that was also all Frank would ever be able to do. The ‘Cuda soon came to a stop upside down, but was completely engulfed in menacing bright red flames. The fire crew was unable to put out the inferno in time to rescue Frank and even if they had put them out sooner, it is subject to speculation as to whether or not the roll would have killed him.