The three old-timers shared a bench outside Mary Dee’s café, their heads tracking the occasional lone car, and sometimes two, pass through the one-highway town. Inside, Patsy Cline crooned she was crazy for trying, knowing he’d leave her for somebody new. It was the year Camelot cast a Disneyland spell over the nation, but the chalkboard above the bench still listed Eisenhower era prices for burgers and fries, meatloaf, chicken dinners, gravy laid biscuits, and boysenberry pie. “The last thing you want is an overcharged vagus nerve,” one old-timer explained to the others. “Your wiring gets all messed up, your heart rate shoots up to 180, then drops into the 30s. Your wife gets naked in bed, and you can’t get your pants off before you’ve shot your wad.”
“When’s the last time you shot a wad, Harold? I mean, put aside being trigger happy. Let’s just focus on whether the gun was even loaded.” The two of them laughed. “Got 12 children, 27 grandchildren, two dead wives, and now third one at home half my age at so sore some mornings she just stays in bed ‘till noon,” Harold informed them.
“You prevaricating old son-of-a-bitch,” the two of them laughed.
Inside, the waitress passed her boy another package of Twinkies out the back door. “Stay away from the tavern, hear me,” she said. But the boy, wiping the last of the white fluffy sugar from his lips, pushed open the tavern door, letting in a fleeting shaft of hot summer light, and found his father slumped over the bar, his hands folded under his face, and the back of his work shirt crisscrossed with dried rivulets of sweat. The boy pulled at his father’s shirt. “Wake up daddy,” he whispered, trying to look even smaller than he was.
“Come here, boy. Got something to show you.” The man was clean, sober, shaved, and spoke softly. “Got something here I think you’d like to see.” He pulled a dollar from his pocket and held it for the boy to see. The boy studied his father’s face a few seconds, pulled again on the shirt again, then walked over to the man who placed the dollar inside a thin wooden case. “See it boy. Any question you see it here? Now watch it disappear.” He closed the case, then opened it, and the dollar was gone. The boy smiled, and the man smiled back. “Would you like that dollar?” the man asked. The boy nodded. The man opened the case again, and there, mysteriously, the dollar reappeared. “Take it, boy,” he said, “and go home.” The boy glanced over at his father. “It’s okay son. I’ll see nothing happens to him. I’ll see he gets home. Now go.”
That night, he crawled from his bed. Voices were coming from the kitchen. From the dark of his room, he opened the door just enough to peer into the light of the kitchen. The magic man with the disappearing dollar was there holding his mother in his arms. He watched her raise her face to find the man’s lips. “He won’t be coming home. He’ll never raise a hand against you again,” the magic man was saying to her.
The boy tried to understand. He walked into his father’s room and looked into the empty bed. He buried his face in the pillow and breathed in his scent. Then he walked back to the kitchen door, opened it wide, stepped into the light, and said, “Bring my daddy back. Bring him back like you did the dollar.”
His mother pulled away from the magic man’s embrace, walked to the cupboard, pulled a package from an upper shelf, crouched down, and extended her arms to the boy, Twinkies in her open palm. “Take these, and go back to bed,” she told him. The boy took the package, but his eyes did not leave the magic man.
“You made him disappear. Now bring him back,” he said, his feet planted, spine straight. “Bring him home now.”
“Your father’s gone. He won’t be coming home,” his mother said. “He left us. He doesn’t love us.”
“Liars,” the boy said, looking at one, and then the other.
His mother reached for him, but he moved away. When the man moved towards him, he ran out the door into the night. He heard his mother calling after him. He could hear her steps behind him, but he ran all the faster until he reached the highway at the center of town. Just then, a teenage boy, his eyes closed as his girlfriend fondled him to ejaculation, blew the town’s only stop sign. There was a thud. The kid opened his eyes in time to see the boy careen off the hood, flip over the windshield, and disappear into the dark behind them. When his mother reached him, the boy lifted the crushed package still held tightly in his fingers. He tried to speak, then the fingers opened, and the prize dropped at her feet.
Inside Mary Dee’s, Patsy Kline was singing the last song of the night.