The Monday before Thanksgiving, my car disappeared. Or it might have been
late Sunday night. The day was half over before I even looked outside.
Instead I focused on an ugly painting until I realized I was hungry. I was out
of bread and low on groceries in general. I cleaned my brushes, grabbed my
keys, opened the front door, and stared at gray asphalt where my Mazda used to
be. A few dead cottonwood leaves swirled there before the wind swept them off.
I didn’t bother calling the police. My car hadn’t been stolen,
it had been repossessed.
My cell phone buzzed. It was my brother, Bart. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey, Bro. How’s life in the Big City?” Bart wasn’t being
ironic. Compared to our hometown of Jersey, Cheyenne was enormous.
“It’s good!” I stepped back into Sam’s Café and tried to think
of something else to say. Something that would back up my lie.
“Great. When are you coming for Thanksgiving?” Bart asked.
My brain scrambled, too busy to pay attention. I didn’t need a
car. The abandoned café was a great studio, with north-facing windows and
indirect natural light. My work happened right at home.
My work was also stacked against the walls, waiting for a
gallery to accept it. The art that was already in a gallery had hung there for
months. I needed a day job. A car would help.
“What about Thanksgiving?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Whaddaya mean? I thought you were your own boss.”
“Yeah, but I’m pretty …” I glanced out at the empty parking
place. “It’s hard to get away right now.”
Bart was quiet, and when he spoke again he sounded unusually
hesitant. “So how are you really?”
“Fine. I’m doing great.”
“Yeah, okay. You know what you need? A night out.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. I can tell you’re depressed.”
“I’m not depressed.”
“C’mon, Tony. Think of everything we could learn about the
beautiful women of Cheyenne.” Bart could afford to be fascinated by my new
ability. He didn’t have to live with it.
“I’ve got to go get some groceries,” I said.
“Fine.” Bart sounded annoyed, but he didn’t argue. “Fine, I’ll
talk to you later.”
I turned away from the café window and walked to my bedroom,
which was actually a converted storage area in the back of the café. A walk-in
cooler had once taken up most of the space, but it had been ripped out and sold
the last time the place went out of business. There was room for a twin bed and
a battered dresser from Goodwill Industries. I pulled my wallet from the top
drawer and retrieved my old bike from the back of the building.
It was a cold ride to the store. Cheyenne’s legendary wind
pushed against my side and cut across my hands. I’d forgotten my gloves. I
zipped my jacket all the way up, stuffed my hands in my pockets, and kept
pedaling, glad I had at least one useful talent. God gave me excellent balance.
My mind whirled as fast as my bike wheels, tallying my other
useful abilities. I was decent at hanging Sheetrock, and I could tape and
texture as long as the customer didn’t mind it a little antique and heavy. As
for roofs, I’d done it all—patch, replace, steel, asphalt. If I had a truck I
could rent myself out as a handyman. I could work in blissful isolation most of
A gust of wind broadsided me. I went down in slow motion,
shifted my weight, scuffed on the pavement with my feet. In the end my shoulder
hit the road before I could pull my hands out of my pockets. The car behind me
screeched to a stop and a woman got out. “Are you all right?” she asked.
“Fine,” I said. The front bike wheel spun uselessly. My arm
hurt. I scrambled out from under the bike, trying to place the woman’s voice.
Recognition registered in my gut as much as my ears. I knew that
voice. The last time I had heard it, its tone had been much angrier. “Hi,
Heather,” I said.
“What are you doing out here in the cold on a bike? I heard you
drove a hot Mazda.”
“Not today,” I said.
“I heard you got fired, too. Twice.”
Technically I only got fired once. The other time I quit before
the ax fell.
Heather wasn’t in my fan club, but she wasn’t being rude,
either. She was just under my influence. After thirty seconds in close
proximity, people began confessing to me. I didn’t know why this began
happening. For the first year or so, I didn’t realize it was happening at all.
But as soon as my “gift” began manifesting itself, my life started rolling down
a rocky slope.
“I almost drove by when you fell.” She brushed dirt from my
sleeve. “I knew it was you and I don’t want to talk to you, but it looked bad.”
“It’s all right.” I stepped away from her brushing hand.
She didn’t leave. “Can I give you a ride? Please say no. I don’t
want to be in a car alone with you, pretending I don’t remember how you—”
“No thanks.” I gripped the handlebars and pressed my weight on
them a little.
She nodded. “You wouldn’t accept help from me anyway. Bart,
maybe, but not me.”
“I don’t need it. I’ll see you later, okay?”
I rode the rest of the way to Safeway with my hands on the
handlebars. My fingers numbed in the wind. The pain in my arm faded to a dull
ache, and I shook off the encounter with my ex. In the store parking lot, the
lights shone in the murky daylight. It was early afternoon, but the thick
clouds fooled the light sensors into thinking it was dusk. I went inside the
store and found some sandwich meat on sale and a package of rubbery cheese
slices. I picked up some day-old wheat bread and waited in line behind a thin,
fortyish man with a few days’ beard. He wore dirty jeans and a sweatshirt
stained with what looked like motor oil. After thirty seconds, he turned to me.
“My wife left me this morning,” he said.
I nodded. If I didn’t acknowledge him, he would only repeat
“She put her ring in my hand and said, ‘I’ve got to go to work.’
I said, ‘Can we talk about this?’ and she said, ‘It’s too late.’”
I nodded again.
“How can it be too late? Twelve years, and she can’t even talk
about it? Isn’t twelve years worth a little discussion before you throw your
husband in the garbage?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I know I didn’t pay attention before. I mean, when she was
going around all mopey and resentful. I just figured she’d work it out. And
sometimes she tried to tell me something and I’d change the subject, ’cause I
could only hear that her life sucked so many times—”
“They’re ready to ring you up,” I said, nodding to the sales
The man stepped forward. I stepped back. So far, ten feet looked
like the magic distance. More than that, and most people were out of the range
of my gift. Less than that and I was in the confessor’s bubble.
“Are you in line?” a young mother asked behind me.
“Yeah. I’m just, uh …” I glanced at the man, who was now deep
into an emotional conversation with the salesclerk. Apparently I wasn’t far
enough away yet. I took another step back. “That guy needs a little space.”
The mother peered at him. “Is he crying?”
“I think so.”
She shrugged. “It figures. I get it all day from these two.” She
nodded to her cart. A baby in the front clung to the push bar and gummed it
with a slobbery mouth. A curly-haired toddler sat in the main basket, his fist
buried in a box of cereal. “Maybe they never get over it. ‘I need this,’ ‘I
“And then their dad comes home and he needs dinner and he wants
sex. Everybody’s gotta have something.”
I took a step forward.
“Can’t anybody see that I’m tired? Look at me. I haven’t had a
shower in three days, and I’m supposed to be a sex goddess?”
I glanced at her. She was frumpy. “Looks like it’s my turn.” I
stepped up to the counter the crying man had just left.
She followed me, closing the space I had opened between us. “I
mean, I’m doing good to be conscious at the end of the day.”
“Maybe you should tell this to your mom.” I hoped to deflect her.
I didn’t want to hear any more—not today.
“She’s in Alabama,” the young mother said. “Everybody I know has
a mom who acts like a built-in babysitter, but I’m stuck here alone in the
“Ten fifty-four,” the salesclerk said in front of me. I dug my
wallet out of my jacket pocket and handed some bills to her.
“You have the most amazing blue eyes.” The clerk leaned forward.
This might have been interesting, if she were not sixtyish, wrinkled, and
stinking of cigarettes.
I held out my hand. “Can I have my change?”