None of us were too surprised when we heard about Frankie. I mean, he wasn’t exactly a Jeopardy contestant to start with, or even Wheel of Fortune, and that was before he got overcome by fumes in that silo up by Jasper, and that was before we found him passed out under the trailer’s front porch—well, with his head under there—his legs were sticking out, and that’s why we found him. He said later that the exterminators had sprayed down there, and he had wanted to look and make sure they had done a good job, and well, I reckon they had, because the doctors damn near lost him that time.
So, he had the shakes after that one, and it got him put on the draw, because even the County of Hamilton in the great state of Florida couldn’t argue that Frankie wasn’t well and truly fucked up. So he got his monthly check on his first try, which kept him in smokes and scratch-offs, and the folks at the trailer park let him stay in an old singlewide if he promised not to sue them over the whole exterminator thing. So with all that, and the cash he’d pick up doing handyman work for people didn’t give a shit about the job being too good, Frankie was doing okay, considering nobody ever figured he’d amount to much anyway.
And he was kind of fun to have around—good for a laugh anyway, when someone would hand him a carton of milk and say, “Can you hold this for five minutes, Frank? I’m out of butter.” And besides, it’s one thing to be stupid, and it’s another to be messed up, and he was both, and we didn’t get to see too much of that outside of some kind of home, so we kind of liked him. So we’d all just kind of keep an eye on him, if there wasn’t a game on or anything.
But I reckon he was still kind of lonely, which wasn’t too surprising, as even with a steady income he wasn’t exactly Ellaville’s most eligible bachelor, and he wasn’t helping himself any when every time a woman’d walk past him, he’d mumble “whore” or “slut.” Least I think he thought he was mumbling, but I thought you could hear him pretty good, seeing as the women’d get good and pissed at him. One or two might’ve started to whale on him, but most of them figured out he was about as close to a retard as you could be and still be allowed to live by yourself. And to be fair, the woman didn’t even actually have to be there. You could say, “Hey, Frankie! How’s your sister?” or it could be Kim Kardashian or Mother Teresa, but he was still gonna say “whore.”
So, when the McDonnells moved into the park a couple of lots down from me, we were kind of surprised to see Frankie circling the court on that old bicycle of his, passing their doublewide over and over. And then we saw the girl.
Now, she had to be more than 16, I guess, ‘cause you’d see her driving her daddy’s car to the Pik-a-Pak or the bowlarama from time to time, and I guess she was old enough to drop out of school, but I wouldn’t have thought she was much over that. Close enough, anyway, that wasn’t any of us gonna mess with her.
And we would have wanted to, otherwise. Her momma, Florence, wasn’t much to look at, or maybe too much to look at, if you get my meaning, but the girl—Sandy was her name—had filled out real nice for her age, so even if she didn’t necessarily have the best shelf life, she might’ve been good for the short run. She had long hair, the color of a light beer, and when you saw it, you kind of wanted to tangle your fingers in it, and admire the contrast of the tan line when her shorts slid down her hip a little.
Of course, her daddy also sort of worked against that. Mickey McConnell was about six-two, and about as broad through the shoulders as he was tall. He didn’t even have a neck—just delts and ears, and we had seen him tote three bundles of asphalt shingles around like they were a cup of coffee, so we all treated him real respectful, and we damn sure steered clear of his girl.
But whatever was left inside Frankie’s head didn’t get the same signal the rest of us had, so like I said, he’d ride his bike past their place twenty times a day. Now he was riding past everyone else’s place too—the park isn’t all that big—so you couldn’t say for sure that he was just riding past the McDonnells, but we didn’t much remember him doing this before they got there, so some of us just kinda figured.
And if Frankie had been smarter, he would’ve just kept on going when Sandy was in the yard and said, “Hey.” But instead, he pedaled backwards so the bike stopped—he might’ve had hand brakes once, but he could never remember which one to squeeze first, so I reckon he got tired of going over the handlebars and got one with a coaster brake.
“Hey, s—“ and I think he was getting ready to say “slut”, but he managed to change it to “Sandy” fast enough that it just kind of sounded like a stutter.
“Why do you ride around all day?” Now, he didn’t have an answer to that, or at least not one he could’ve told her, so he didn’t say anything, but kind of stood there wobbling, straddling his bike. “Don’t you get hot?”
That one he could answer, so he nodded, and she said, “You want some lemonade? It’s sugar free, but it’s in the fridge.” And he nodded again, so she went in and brought out a glass with a picture of Bugs Bunny on the side, and she didn’t fill it too full so it didn’t slop out when he held it. So he drank it, and said thank you, and still didn’t call her a whore or anything, and he rode back home and did the same thing the next day.
And it got to be a habit, Frankie riding in circles, and Sandy giving him some kind of kool-aid each day, and then Frankie going home. Now even Frankie should have known enough to wonder why a girl like that would be nice to a guy like him, but I guess he kind of got used to things like that. Other folks had pulled him out of the silo, after all, and out from under the porch, and got him out of that fence row the time he got tangled up, so maybe he got to where he expected it out of people. And everybody knew Frank wasn’t a threat to Sandy—like Jake down to the Ace Hardware said, with his shakes Frank couldn’t put on a rubber without finishing himself. Twice.
Now as for the girl, we just kinda figured she got bored hanging around the park with only the occasional Pik-a-Pak trip for variety, and like I said, it ain’t like the rest of us were gonna do more than tip our hats and say hello, because however much fun it might’ve been to do more, her daddy would have made it damn sure that those pleasures were fleeting. And besides, maybe she was just tenderhearted, we thought, one of those girls who takes in strays.
Course sometimes you give somebody a rabbit and they raise it as a pet, and other times you give it to them and they feed it to their pet snake. And I guess some folks’ll do both with the same damn rabbit.
So, I reckon we shouldn’t have been too surprised when Frankie started running little errands, going to Pik-a-Pak and bringing her back Marlboro Reds or some scratch-offs, or at least sharing the ones he used to buy for himself. Seemed to us to be kind of a high trade for a half a glass of lemonade a day, but Frank did it anyway, and he kept doing it even after Dale Oppel started coming round.
Now, everybody knew Dale wasn’t gonna amount to much more than Frankie, but where Frank was just addled, Dale was more shiftless, and maybe more than a little mean. He’d roll into the park in a Honda Accord with a spoiler he’d put on the back, with his music so damn loud you could hear it all the way back to Jasper. Sometimes it was that rap stuff, and sometimes it was the shit that passes for country these days, but most days, it was “Slow Ride” by Foghat. He had a decal on the back of Calvin—you know, from the comics?—of Calvin pissing on the U of Miami logo. Me, I’m a Gator fan, but you gotta have a little class.
So anyhow, Dale Oppel started swingin’ by the trailer park when Sandy’s momma and daddy wasn’t around—Dale was lazy and mean, but he wasn’t stupid. And well, he was nice looking, kind of like Elvis with a mean streak, and after a while, he and Sandy’d go into the trailer, and I reckon Foghat wasn’t the only slow riding going on, if you get my drift.
Wasn’t too long after that that Sandy started losing her shape some—not blowing up like her momma, but getting all sharp and angleish, and jittery. Well, some of us knew what was up pretty quick, and when we saw Sandy and Dale running around with cans of air freshener and throwing away old bottles of Mountain Dew that they had used for shake and bake, most of the rest of us caught on, but we weren’t telling Mickey McConnell, seeing as we all got our crosses to bear, and even if Mickey wasn’t a “kill the messenger” type, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t stomp the shit out of the messenger before he got pointed in the right direction for some killing.
But Frankie? Sandy didn’t seem to have much time for Frankie these days, but he kept riding by, like a cat running around a house after the owners left him behind, and I guess that’s kind of what it was. Finally, one day he coasted to a stop in front of her trailer, where she was helping Dale wash that tricked-up Honda. “How about some lemonade, Sandy?”
Dale shook his head, and Sandy said, “I don’t have any, Frank. Why don’t you go home now?”
And Frank said, “But I’m thirrrsty,” and he sounded like a little kid, and I reckon old Dale wasn’t in the mood, cause he just came over and slapped him right off that bike. Even with the shakes, Frank wasn’t too much on bobbing and weaving, and between the back of Dale’s hand and the asphalt and gravel on the street, he was pretty well scuffed up by the time he wobbled his ass back to his trailer. He didn’t even take his bike, and Dale ran over it out there in the street when he left a while later.
That might’ve been the end of it, if Marty from the car wash hadn’t been over to my place and watched it go down from our porch. Now Marty, well, he’s just kind of an asshole, but we’ve all known him since grade school, and he’s our asshole, so we put up with him. But looking back, I probably should have stopped him when he went over to Frank’s trailer to rag him some. He had to beat on the door for a couple of minutes before we saw Frank peep out the window, and since he didn’t see Dale, he went ahead and let us in.
Well, Marty starts in on old Frank about getting smacked around like a little bitch right there in front of us, Sandy, God, and everybody, how he couldn’t be too damn much of a man letting himself get whomped like that and not doing anything about it. Pissed me off a little bit, to tell you the truth. I mean, it wasn’t like squeegeeing windshields for tips made Marty the fucking Rock, and honestly, it’s not like there had ever been too much to Frank to begin with. So I said to Marty, “Shit, man, what the hell’s someone like Frank supposed to do to someone like that?”
“He ought to shoot his ass, is what he ought to do.” And then he caught himself, and said, “Now you know I don’t mean that, Frank, but maybe just face him with a gun and scare him with it.”
“Gun better have a chocolate barrel,” I said, “cause Dale’d make him eat it.” I turned back to Frankie and said, “Don’t pay him any mind. Tell you what—get yourself cleaned up, and tomorrow we’ll see about finding you a new bike.”
And we did, but I guess that dumbass Marty’s words had stuck in the bugzapper that passed for Frank’s brain, because it wasn’t three days later that I look out my bay window to see Frankie, pedaling on up to the McConnell’s trailer with a bulge in the waistband of his shorts. God damn it. I stand up, and sure enough, there’s Dale’s car, but I kind of already knew that, on account of I had heard “Stoned Blue” about 45 minutes before. And I see the fool girl had left their front door a little open.
I got to my porch about the time Frankie got to Sandy’s, and as he was pushing their door the rest of the way open, here comes Dale. He’s kind of grinning, but he backs off when Frankie pulls the gun out.
I was starting to think maybe Marty had been right for once, but then I saw the gun was funny looking, with a bright red barrel about the size of a 12-gauge. Dale saw it too, and he said, “You fuckin’ retard, that’s a flare gun. I’m gonna beat your—” and I’m guessing the next word was gonna be ass, but we’ll never know, because either Frankie got nervous or his shakes kicked in and he pulled the trigger.
Well, you know all that stuff they say on TV about how making meth is dangerous and how the shit can blow up? Turns out that’s true, and a flare into a trailer full of meth fumes doesn’t help the situation even a little bit. I think the flare went past Dale’s head, but the trailer went up like a Roman candle, strong enough to knock mine askew on its slab. The cops said later that poor old Sandy never knew what hit her, and maybe that’s just as well, cause I can’t imagine Mickey would have gone easy on her.
Dale did know, but not for long, because it blew him out the door and as best we can tell he knocked Frankie off the porch and kept him from getting blown up too. But Dale was dead by the time I got there, and Frankie was wiggling out from under Dale’s body like a bug from under a rock.
I tried to stop Frankie from going anywhere, but if he said anything to me, I couldn’t hear it too well and he staggered to the bike and rode away, and the cops said someone saw him pedaling toward I-75 North, but they didn’t find him for a couple of days, and when they did, he was burned pretty bad and had passed out, and died of an infection without waking up.
The McConnell lot is cleaned up now—Mickey and Florence went somewhere else, to start over, I guess, but nobody’s put a new trailer on the pad—it’s like it’s got a curse on it or something. But Frankie’s trailer is still there, and I bet they’d rent it to you cheap, if you wanted.
Born in Nashville and raised in the burbs of Nashville and Cincinnati, Warren Moore is Professor of English at Newberry College in Newberry, SC. Along the way, he has been a journalist, tire salesman, stand-up comic, advertising copywriter, magazine editor, and drummer in a variety of unsuccessful bands. He finished tied for 105th in the 1979 National Spelling Bee.
Moore holds a Ph.D. in English from Ball State University, with a specialty in medieval literature, and has taught courses covering topics from the Seven Deadly Sins to film noir. Broken Glass Waltezes, his first novel, is available from Down & Out Books, and he has published short stories in print and online venues since then, including Dark City Lights (2015), In Sunlight or In Shadow (2016), and Alive in Shape and Color (2017), all edited by Lawrence Block. Moore lives in Newberry with his wife and daughter.