In the Wyoming wilds of tumbling grief, out beyond the city of no fame or purpose, just broken lives in boxes and a withering menagerie of amenities, the man in the white truck parked on a lonely hill would drink golden juice and look out upon the vast emptiness of his kingdom.
He would sit there nearly all day, the windows down, the western wind rolling in, the radio weeping some sad song about love and life and all the loss ever involved. He would sigh. He would drive back to town a wounded man.
He lived in an overly expensive apartment that was really a dump. The world takes advantage when it can. He got home in the late afternoon to take a shower. He needed to make gravy for a dinner party with the clowns. Brown gravy. Smooth gravy. Gravy like a silently still and unmuddied lake in a faraway place in the galactic Italian Dolomites.
The party was to be held at the home of the mysterious Veronica Eyes. She had eyes that didn’t look human. They were orange, almost. He wondered what she thought of him. He was not much for speaking clearly, but he was planning to discuss noise at the library with everyone and how much he hated it and was going to lodge a formal complaint with the library board of trustees. He’d try to throw in a joke or two if he could.
Fascinating enough? he wondered. He hoped the gravy would be a big hit as well. His nervous condition negated most friendships. He was known as Steel because he was cold and heartless… And the fact that his name was in fact Steel. Steel Brandenburg III. He was from Utica, NY and somehow ended up in the barren den of loneliness in Wyoming. Berlin, Wyoming is what the nowhere and isolated town was called. The population was 8,888 people and most of them hated life or people or both. The town sat in a narrow valley. High sandy rock cliffs the color of spice cake bordered the northern edge. An interstate bordered the southern side. Further south were the wildlands and the hills and the cold waters, places where he would play and meditate and recharge his cellophane heart.
Steel stirred the bubbling gravy in the pot to keep it smooth. He bent his head down to take a smell of it and his glasses slipped off and fell into the pot.
“Holy hell mother of piss!” he yelled out loud, loud enough to shake the windows and walls and some of the limbs in a tree that grew tall and crooked outside his second-story apartment. He took the pot by the handle and tossed it. It hit a wall, splattered, made a mess, his head confessed the short fuse of his dynamite soul.
He paused to catch his breath, regain some sense of exposure. He almost cried, then he laughed. His cell phone rang, and he trembled as he answered.
“Hi Steel, it’s Veronica.”
“Yes. What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if you were still planning on bringing that yummy brown gravy to the dinner party.”
“I’m making mashed potatoes and thought how wonderful it would be for people to have gravy with them. It would be ever so delicious.”
Steel looked across the apartment to where the upturned pot rested in the carpet beneath a Picasso wall of gravy in liquid motion. “Oh. I’m afraid I’ve had a bit of an accident in my kitchen. I’ve lost the gravy. I mean, I didn’t lose it… It’s just not going to happen. I’m sorry.”
Veronica’s pause indicated disappointment. “Oh. That’s too bad. I was really looking forward to it.”
“I’m sure you were… If you’d like, I could pick up a jar or two of gravy at the store on my way over?”
“Gravy from a jar?”
“Sure. It’s not as good as my scratch work, but it will do in a pinch.”
She didn’t answer him at first because she was whispering to someone in the background, something about gravy, he thought. “You know what, Steel… I’m suddenly not feeling very well and I think I have to cancel the party.”
“Cancel the party?”
“But I was really looking forward to it and seeing you and…”
Veronica faked a cough, groaned a little. “I’m sorry. Maybe another time.” She suddenly ended the call and was gone, lost in the vibrations of Berlin, Wyoming airwaves.
“Huh?” Steel thought out loud. “She’s lying. She must be lying. Of course, she’s lying.”
Steel bent down with a bucket and a sponge for the arduous task of cleaning gravy out of the carpet and from the wall. He washed the pot and put it back into a cabinet. He rinsed his glasses off and put them back on. They hadn’t been damaged, thank God. The world was clear again. People hated him. He knew it. Veronica had never wanted him at the party in the first place. Why didn’t she just say so, he thought. Why put him through the agony of more social disgrace and disappointment. But then he had an idea. He was going to go to the party after all. He was going to call her out on her lie, her Billy goat bluff.
He drove to the one and only grocery store in town. He plucked two jars of brown gravy from the shelf and then went to stand in the long, agonizingly slow checkout lane. “One cashier again,” Steel muttered out loud. Some people turned to look at him.
When it came his turn, he carefully set the two jars of gravy down on the black belt that moved the groceries forward so the cahier could scan them. It was dirty. It was wet with milk in some places. “Ugh. Don’t you guys ever clean this thing off?” Steel said as he glared at the cashier, an older woman with fuzzy orange hair and a very pale face. She was smacking gum.
“Just two jars of gravy?” she asked with a gravelly voice, a voice the victim of repetitive cigarette assault. She ignored his complaint.
“Yeah, two jars of gravy… But what about the belt? You didn’t give me a satisfactory reply. You don’t seem very concerned about it at all.”
She rolled her eyes at him.
“I’m serious,” Steel plodded on. “I don’t want to set my groceries down on this gross thing,” he said. He turned to look at the people behind him in line. “I’m sure no one does.”
The cashier sighed. She hated her job. She hated dealing with jerks like Steel Brandenburg III. She wanted to stab him. She retrieved a spray bottle of blue cleaner from some hidden space below. She reached somewhere else for a couple of sheets of paper towels. “Can you pick the jars up please,” she said to Steel. He picked them up. She sprayed the belt down with the cleaner and wiped it up with the paper towels. “Better?”
“Yes,” Steel said with a smile as he put the jars of gravy back down on the belt. “Thank you. I’d suggest you do that after every customer.”
She gave him a dirty look. She ran the jars of gravy over the scanner and bagged them. “$5.18.”
Steel inserted his bank card into the pay pad and waited. He pressed some numbers. “You know, this thing could use some cleaning, too. Ugh. Makes my stomach turn thinking of all the nasty fingers touching this thing.” Once his card was approved he removed it and filed it back into its proper place in his brown wallet. He reached for his bag. “Thanks,” he said to her, and out the doors he went.
Veronica Eyes lived in a nothing fancy house in a nothing fancy neighborhood on the southwest side of Berlin, Wyoming. The houses were small, basic, boring mostly. They were yellow, baby blue, dirty white.
Steel stopped his white pickup at the end of the block and looked up the street. There was a pile of cars in front of her house. “I knew it,” he said out loud. “She’s a liar and a phony.”
He parked the truck out of view of the front windows and went to the door. He heard laughing and talking beyond it. He rang the doorbell and waited. Someone was coming to answer. Veronica had a look of shock on her face when she saw him there. “Steel…” she nervously squeaked. “What are you doing?”
He grinned at her. She looked at the grocery bag he was holding. “I knew you were pulling my leg about being sick, so I came to the party after all. Nice trick. You almost got me.” He laughed oddly and peered over her shoulder. “Can I come in?”
Veronica reluctantly pulled the door wider. The other guests got quiet when they turned to look at him with surprised wonder.
Steel raised the grocery bag in the air. “Hi everyone! No need to fear. I brought gravy!”
TO BE CONTINUED