The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 5

“I wanted to apologize for the other night… At the party,” Steel said. “I was way out of line with all that talk about gravy. It was stupid. Sorry about that.”

For Gravy

In the toiled tick-tock of a fat blue dusk, Steel Brandenburg III stood at the stove in the kitchen of his grossly overpriced apartment on the west side of Berlin, Wyoming.

He was frying two tombstone-shaped slabs of reduced-sodium SPAM in a heavy black iron skillet. He thought about life as the meat sizzled and popped and filled the room with the smoky smell of a cheap life of struggle. He wondered how bad the repercussions would be for pranking the evil chubster Carrie Gould with the trick gum. He suddenly didn’t care. He didn’t care if they fired him or if she had him arrested for assault… As long as she didn’t sit on him, he laughed. “I’m just not into that,” he said aloud to a pale-yellow wall slightly splattered with grease. He suddenly felt like a sad clown.

Steel turned off the burner and used a white plastic spatula to transfer the SPAM to a piece of waiting toast slathered with mayo that sat on a dark blue plate that was chipped in one spot. He topped the SPAM with a thick slice of tomato and a crisp piece of iceberg lettuce. He put down the top piece of toast and gently squashed the sandwich with his palm to connect all the parts.

He moved the plate to the table and set it down next to a tall glass of chocolate milk. He sat down, scooted his chair in, and began to eat and drink in silence. His mind was chugging with a revenge repertoire. He was set on paying that asshole Craig Nusmerg a visit. That very night.

Carrie Gould was sprawled out on her bed as much as her large body would allow it. She was slowly flipping through her diary and reading over all the entries she had made about Steel Brandenburg III. The inky red hearts she had drawn were now all deflated after she crossed through them with hard Xs that nearly tore the paper. The words her eyes traced again and again made her ache. Tears were falling down her face like slow, gentle rain in Africa. She put the tip of the pen to a blank page, sighed, and began to write:

Dear Diary,

Today was absolutely one of the worst days of my life. The worst. I can’t even describe the depth of my pain, the emotional torture I have suffered at the very hands of the only man I ever loved. Steel… Why are you like real steel? So cold, so metal, so heartless. Maybe if I had told him a long time ago how I felt, maybe things would have been different. He was so unbelievably cruel to me today. He played a prank on me with trick gum that tasted of mustard and made my mouth yellow. I was mortified. Absolutely mortified. And he laughed at me. He laughed out loud. I’m nothing but a joke to him. And the worst of it… He called me a “fat sack of shit.” Maybe he’s right. Maybe that’s all I am after all.

She lifted the pen from the tear-stained page and began to cry even harder. She began to wail like an injured whale in the ocean. Then there came the sound of feet on the stairs and a knock at the door of her bedroom. “Carrie? Is everything okay in there? Are you crying again?”

It was her mother. Carrie Gould still lived with her in the house she grew up in. Even though she was an adult, Carrie Gould had a hard time navigating the real world and her beloved mother was sympathetic about that and had agreed she could live with her as long as she wanted. “You’ll always be my child,” she often said. “Always.”

The door opened and the mother walked in. She looked upon her sobbing daughter with pained pity. “What is it, dear?” she asked as she went to sit on the small slice of space that remained on the bed. “What’s the matter?”

Carrie sniffed and closed her diary to keep her true feelings hidden from her mother. “It’s nothing,” she told her mother. “It’s nothing at all.”

Steel Brandenburg III blasted Oasis on the stereo in his white Toyota Tacoma as he drove the night streets of Berlin, Wyoming. The streetlights were gaseous and wet due to a rare rain that had come over the city. The wipers made a noise against the windshield as he drove. Droplets of water were frenzied in the headlight beams ahead of him.

Once he reached downtown, he pulled into the parking lot of the newspaper and used his key to get into the office. The reserve lights burned like yellow pollution in the dead of night dim as he strolled through. Computer screens glowed in places. Buttons on phones flashed with messages. He could hear the clambering of the pressmen as they worked in the back. He heard the obnoxious voice of Craig Nusmerg above all the others.

Steel made his way back to the press room just as they walked to the back dock for a smoke break. He followed them and listened to them make remarks about the weather.

When he emerged from the shadows, Craig Nusmerg turned and noticed him there. “What the hell are you doing here?” he said with a squinting eye of suspicion.

“I forgot something,” Steel lied. “Can I have one of those?”

Craig Nusmerg scoffed. “No. Cigarettes cost money and I can’t just hand them out to everyone.” He turned to one of the others. “Ricky. You got money coming out of your ass. I don’t even know why the hell you even work. Give Steel a cigarette.”

Ricky was skinny and dirty and was missing a few teeth. “To get out of the house and away from that nag of a wife of mine and them damn screaming kids. God, I swear. All they do is scream. I don’t care how much money I have; I’ll always be looking to get out of there.” He reached into his pack and handed Steel a cigarette and the use of his pink Bic lighter.

Craig Nusmerg laughed out loud. “You need to get yourself fixed and quit knocking her up… Damn baby maker. The damn world is already too crowded.”

Steel lit the cigarette and exhaled his first drag from the edge of the dock and into the rain that was more like mist.

Craig Nusmerg redirected his attention back to Steel. “So, just what the hell are you doing here so late. I thought you were a 9 to 5 man like all the rest of them fools,” and he gestured his head toward the main office.

“I just had something to work on that couldn’t wait… And I wanted to talk to you.”

“Talk to me? What the hell for?”

The other pressman tossed their smokes and moved around Steel and Craig Nusmerg as they returned to work.

“I wanted to apologize for the other night… At the party,” Steel said. “I was way out of line with all that talk about gravy. It was stupid. Sorry about that.”

Craig Nusmerg shifted nervously. He looked at Steel as if he were the strangest person alive. “Whatever, dude.”

“No. Seriously, Craig. I’m sorry. I thought maybe we could be friends. Maybe we could hang out some time, go grab a few beers at the pub.”

Craig Nusmerg let out a laugh. “Friends? I don’t think so. I’ve got plenty of friends. Hang out? No way.” He took one last drag of his smoke and tossed it into the darkness before walking away.

Steel feigned disappointment. “Wait,” he said. “All right. I guess I’ll just let you get back to work then.” But before Craig Nusmerg completely walked away, Steel moved after him. He quickly pulled something out of his pocket. “Hey. Do you want a piece of gum, Craig?”


“Yeah. Gum.”

Craig Nusmerg looked around to make sure no one was watching before reaching out and taking the piece. He didn’t want anyone to think he was gay. “Okay, I guess so.”

“See you later, man,” Steel said, and he walked off. He paused alone in the editorial department and waited for it. Then it came. The angry wail was like a dinosaur’s and the solo stampede coming after him even greater.

“You son of a bitch!” Craig Nusmerg cried out, his mouth stained green and spitting as he burst into the room. “I’ll fucking kill you for making me eat shit gum!”

A light suddenly illuminated on someone’s desk in the corner. Veronica Eyes was suddenly aglow like a fox angel. “What’s going on, boys?” she wanted to know. “Fighting again?”

“This son of a bitch gave me gum that tasted like shit,” Craig Nusmerg loudly complained.

Veronica Eyes giggled. “And you should look at yourself in a mirror.”

“What?” Craig Nusmerg said, pawing at his own mouth and tongue.

“You’re all green,” Veronica said. “But it serves you right, don’t you think. You did pour gravy all over his head at my party.”

Craig Nusmerg steamed as he looked at them both. He pointed at Steel. “This isn’t the end of it,” he growled. “I’ve got my eye on you, mother fucker. You better watch yourself… And you better watch out for me.” He turned and stomped off.

For some odd reason, Steel wanted to give Veronica a hug. Then he thought it not so odd and moved on her. She felt good in his arms. She smelled good. He wanted to kiss her, but he was so caught up in the moment that he didn’t clearly realize she was forcefully pushing him away.

“Whoa pal. You can thank me for saving your life from over there,” she said.

Steel took a few steps back. He was horribly embarrassed. “Sorry about that… How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Veronica wondered.

“Make him back off like that. I was sure he was going to beat the hell out of me.”

“Women have a way,” she began. “We’re smarter and stronger than men. We don’t resort to violence at the drop of a hat… And we’re sleeping together. He knows he needs to keep himself in line and not ruffle my feathers if he still wants to get some.”

Steel was shocked. “What? You and Craig Nusmerg?”

“It’s not exclusive, or a relationship. It’s just back-alley lust. It’s completely selfish on both our parts and that’s fine.”

Steel thought about it for a moment and wondered if she could be selfish with him as well. “Do you want to go get a drink?” he suddenly asked her.

He was delightfully surprised when she said, “Yes.”


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