Author’s Note: First, if you have missed the other episodes and want to read them, go to the Serials on Cereal menu tab above. Secondly, the following contains probable offensive language. Turn away if you don’t like that sort of thing.
That familiar ugly ache of an unwanted dawn fingered its way in through a thin slit in the motel room curtains and I knew it was time for Roy and I to move on.
Roy was moaning in the sheets because he was so hungover. I let him just be while I got up, showered and got dressed.
I started packing up some things and was loading them in the car, and that’s when weird Karl from Indiana suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in a pink bathrobe and a head of crazy hair that looked as if he had just stepped out of a tornado. He was sucking on a cigarette he had in one hand and sipping coffee from a paper motel cup he had in the other. He was strangely watching me as if he were scribbling notes in his head like a detective.
“Good morning, Sally,” he said in that gaseous, off-planet voice of his.
I gave him a quick nod of acknowledgement and slammed the trunk of the car shut.
“Hey there. Nice outfit,” I said, without really thinking.
He seemed to take offense.
“This robe happened to belong to my mother,” he sternly said, then sighed. “She was wearing it when I found her on the kitchen floor that day you don’t know anything about. She was dead. One of those eternally crippling heart attacks. So they said.”
“Aw holy hell. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s fine. I’m through it. I’ll never be over it, but I’m through it.” He suddenly lighted up. “Roy about?”
“He’s still in bed, but we’re about to hit the road. I’m hoping at least.”
“Where you all headed?”
I couldn’t really give him a straight answer because I didn’t really know myself. And I didn’t want to let him in on anything. I simply said, “East.”
“Hell, that opens up a lot of possibilities.”
“It sure does, but that’s how we like it.”
Karl laughed to himself and tossed his nub of a cigarette butt to the ground and threw back the last of his coffee.
“Okay. I get that you have to keep your plans under wrap, but your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell anyone.”
I glared at him, annoyed. “We don’t have any secrets. We’re just wandering. You know, having an adventure.”
“Right. The time of your lives, I suppose.”
“Something like that. And I don’t understand why you have to know where we’re going anyway. I’m not prying into your personal business.”
“And I don’t understand why you have to treat me like a disease. I’m doing nothin’ except trying to be friendly. Hell, in a world like this, why is that so awful?”
“It’s awful because the world is the way it is. You answered your own damn question,” I said to him. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to rouse Roy so we can get going.”
“Don’t let me stop you. Bitch.”
I didn’t reply to him calling me a bitch because in all honesty I was kind of being a bitch, but I didn’t care. It seemed like the right thing to be at the moment. I turned, walked back into Room #13 and locked the door behind me.
Roy was up and sitting on the edge of the bed without any clothes on. He was holding his head in his hands and mumbling something. I thought he was praying.
“Which one of them gods are you talking to, Roy?” I asked him.
He shook his head slowly.
“Whichever one is going to see me through this god damn life to the end and with the least amount of damage.”
He grudgingly got up off the bed and went into the bathroom to take a shower. When he came out, he got dressed in some fresh clothes and brewed us some coffee in the little coffee maker they had there.
We ate the chocolate donuts with our coffee and Roy had some more of his Lucky Charms.
“What the hell are we going to do with all this extra milk?” he wanted to know after he poured some in his cereal bowl. “Why’d you buy so much god damn milk, Sally? We can’t take it in the car with us. It’s 400 degrees outside.”
“I don’t know why you’re riding my ass about milk. I got it for you because you wanted cereal so bad.”
He sighed and shook his head at me.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“It’s okay. I know you’re not feeling so well.”
“I’ll just take it over to Karl. Poor guy looks like he could use some milk. Why don’t you come with me, and we can say goodbye. Together.”
“Do I have to?”
“It would be the right thing to do.”
Roy knocked on the door to Karl’s room and it quickly opened, and he halfway emerged, and it looked as if he had been crying.
“Well, hell, folks. I thought you two were already on your way.”
“We’ve been somewhat delayed, Karl. Damn hangover is kicking my ass,” Roy told him.
Roy held up the half-empty gallon of milk.
“You go on and take this milk. We can’t bring it with us.”
And I’ll tell you, I’ve never in my life seen a man light up so much over the stupidest things. He was grinning so wide I thought his face would crack apart and fall to pieces. Over milk. And not even a full gallon of milk. Holy hell.
Creepy Karl from Indiana reached out with two hands and took it. That strange fellow nearly hugged the damn thing.
“My, my,” he said with a gross smile. “I don’t believe anyone has ever given me milk as a parting gift before.” He suddenly looked at us with wide, curious eyes. “It is a gift, right? I get to keep it?”
Roy scoffed with a laugh. “Jesus Christ, Karl. It’s just milk.”
“But you thought about me. You must consider me a friend. I mean, at least you do, Roy,” and he shot me a scowl.
Roy looked at me and smirked, then he turned back to Karl.
“To be honest with you, Karl. It’s just we don’t know anyone else around here,” Roy teased with all seriousness.
Karl looked at us like we just kicked him in the everlasting heart.
Roy slapped him on the upper arm and laughed. “I’m just kidding, Karl. Sure, we’re friends.”
His face switched back over to a grin.
“Come on, Roy. We’ve got to get going,” I said impatiently.
Roy stuck out his hand to shake.
“Take care, Karl. Enjoy the milk.”
When we finally started pulling out of the Furnace Springs Motorlodge, I could see Karl in the rear-view mirror as I adjusted it. To me, that’s usually the best way to see people you don’t really like — as you’re moving away from them forever. That damn Karl though, he was madly waving one arm goodbye and in his other hand he had that milk jug tilted up and he was drinking, but he was being really messy about it, and I could see the milk pouring out of his mouth and running down the front of him. And the whole time his eyes were as big as plums, and they were aimed directly at us.
And then as I was waiting to turn into the road, he came running up behind the car and he took that milk jug he emptied, and he threw it at the car as hard as he could. It bounced off with a plastic doink, and then he was stomping around like crazy and yelling out, “I’ll get you milk fuckers! You won’t get away with this!”
I punched the accelerator, and we were off.
“I’ll tell you, Roy. That Karl is one of the strangest people I ever had the misfortune to meet. He gives me mile-high anxiety.”
“He sure as hell was a strange bird,” Roy agreed. “Like some sort of poor cuckoo soul tragically lost in the world.”