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Part XIX of “Pivoting Right”

By Conrad IlesiaPublished 5 months ago 10 min read

Amber’s body had never felt so good, not even during our short-lived marriage, her hips resisting my exploring hands on this hot July night outside our bar, tastes of our last shots on our breath.

Her strategic resistance was melting, her hips giving way—almost. The moon was out and I went only this far—and no further. Her lips on mine—again. But she had a husband to go home to. We would soon part as exes. Again.

But before that, there was this:



We drank a little.

Then we drank a lot.

I tried to convince her to come home with me but I am certain the thought of being alone with me in a camper trailer 30 miles away was not appealing. Without enthusiasm, a slight grin on her face, her eyes remaining serious, she offered up her place to me, to us (already knowing my answer). I didn’t want to give her husband the chance to drop the dime on me. I declined the offer.

After a few more drinks—so many drinks—I ordered cucumber shots for us to cap the night, paid the tab, and off we went, almost hand in hand, out the front door of Haligan’s, just like old times as she laughed at the not particularly funny thing I said, cucumber scent in our aroma.

Outside, she gave a little give and take on the driver’s side of her husband’s truck for a few scant moments.

Maybe it was longer.

I drove 30 minutes to my trailer. Amber went home, one assumes, to considerably nicer digs.



I was tasting her last kiss, the scent of cucumber on our tongues, feeling the resistance of her hips against my palms, dreaming her body next to mine, when the phone sounded.

It was 9:30 a.m.

Lord, my time has not yet arrived.

My temples pounded as I picked up the phone, squinted at the screen, lit up like this: JUDGE.


“Barrios,” the voice boomed on the tiny speaker held to my ear. “You forget about Castillo?”

Wondering if Judge Johnson, emir of County Court at Law 3, would let me do a reset by phone

“Judge, I —“

“You’re my last case. You got 30 minutes.”

“I’m in Tivoli, Judge, and I was wondering if—“

“Fine,” the voice boomed again. I looked at the phone. How? On this tiny speaker? “Thirty-five.” I thought I heard laughter—snickering—in the background.

“Judge,” I said to a dead cell signal.

Breath mints, hair gel, shirt, tie, belt, he’s going to have to be OK with jeans today. Castillo, Castillo. Oh, yea. Beat up his wife. Allegedly. Set up, right? Or was that Miller? I’m behind the wheel now, cruising down Texas 239 West. Eighty miles an hour in my orange Colorado. Am I still drunk or is it just a wicked hangover? If I mention Judge Johnson, will the trooper let me go? I inch up to eighty five. Glance at my phone call history. 2:30 a.m. text from Amber: “Home,” it asked. Another life.



I hate security. There are bubbles in my brain and I’m hungry and, no, I’m not carrying a weapon. Past the inspection, I walk up the stairs to Judge Johnson’s courtroom on the second floor. As I walk in, they are all lounging around, gossiping, judge, clerk, court reporter. As I walk from the gallery area to the court area, the bailiff points at my hair and, grinning, under his breath, asks me, “Rough night last night?”

After a brief conference with the Assistant District Attorney, who has nicknamed me “Mayor,” I don’t know why, and a briefer conversation with my client, we reset. The judge, smiling at me for no known reason, announces the new court date to us and wishes us a happy Friday.

Heading out, I wish the deputies at the front a good weekend, walk two blocks to my office and make my entrance, Cecilia talking behind the front desk, as I sit in the chair in front of her. She gives me a “what the heck” gesture. I push my hair down, waiting for her call to end.

The call over, she says, “Did you enjoy my sister last night,” and I shake my head no—not, no I did not enjoy it but no, I do not want to talk about it, the pressure in my temples dissipating.

“I thought you were going to Galveston today,” she says. I was, I explain, but Judge Johnson called and I just got out of his court.

“You blew up the dress code,” she observes.

“I hate it when your mascara smears,” she continues, shoving items in her purse and, standing, says, “Come on, let’s go to lunch. Hurry, Macy is waiting for us.” Again, I shake my head no as in I’d love to but I can’t , I have a 10k in Galveston tomorrow, and, in the middle of thinking "no," I offer her a ride.

“Of course, stupid,” she says, “my A.C’s out.”


We meet Macy at the Riverside Pumphouse Grill, just off the Guadalupe, and she is indeed waiting, two Deep Eddys in, water on the side, no ice, two lemon slices on the edge.

“Service here sucks,” Macy offers. The bartender gives a look. Macy is in full Puerto Rican mode.

We eat.

And we drink. And drink, headache gone after that first drink.

After lunch, after dropping Cecilia off at the office, I get back on the 239 drive to my home.


Arriving at the camper, I’m thinking if I don’t hit a cow or otherwise flip the truck, I can still be in Galveston by dark. Fifteen minute nap.

Or two hours.


I hurriedly pack my gym bag, close the door behind me and start walking to my truck to put some more miles on her.

I click-click the driver’s door open and gasp. Did I lock the front door? I have a gun in the trailer and some cash stashed away.

I walked back to the front door and heard what sounded like my coffee machine falling over. I opened the (brilliantly) unlocked door, stepped inside and looked around. Ain’t nothing happening here. I turned around to re-exit my rathole and someone behind me said, “Yes.” Chills shot up my spine. Two simultaneous thoughts ran through my head. One: you JUST looked around to nothing. Two: you are too far away from your (brilliantly) unloaded weapon. I found the flashlight on my phone, turned back around and looked the place over again, this time illuminated. Of course, I’m alone. Alcohol all day and half deaf in one ear, I’m feeling drizzly.

I get outside, lock the trailer door, and say out loud, “Sammy, you locked the door.” Then, softer, “you’re paranoid.”

On my walk back to the truck, I am thinking I’ll just hug the Gulf Coast along Texas 35 for the next four hours, check in late, no harm, no foul. Behind the wheel, time passes.


Now, right now, I’m driving. Cecilia had offered me her vape pen over lunch at Riverside (I accepted.) and now time starts to slow down. Eric Clapton is singing about his affair with his best friend’s wife (the electric version) and my stomach is growling . Too much salad at noon, not enough meat. I’m halfway there. “Hey Siri,” I say, “are there any good places to eat in Lake Jackson?” I imagine her saying “No. No, sir. None,” but instead she rattles off a bunch of restaurants. I ask directions to the first one on the list, 45 minutes away. She obliges me.

The place is called “The Great Taste Restaurant.” How bad can it be?

It is as bad as it can be: the floorboards are rotting and it reeks of yesterday’s chicken fried steak but Holy God is that a jukebox in the corner? I can almost hear the 45’s dropping, the needle digging into the grooves. I walk over. One dollar will get me four songs. I’m in a Bryan Adams kind of mood. I slide a dollar in. Heaven. Cuts Like a Knife. Run to You. Summer of 69. I sit in the booth, red seats and all, next to the juke. The better to hear you, my dear.

Halfway through Cuts Like A Knife, the waiter comes up to me. I ask for a Hopadillo, draft. You can have Coors or Michelob, bottle only. I take the Michelob.

Menu, he exhales, looking at the waitress across the room, maybe his girlfriend. He frowns.

Nah, I’ll take the chicken fried steak, no gravy.

Anything else, he asks, glancing back at the girl.

A voice from across the booth from me says, “yeesss.”

I see the waiter’s eyes widen as we both look in that direction. Not to verify that no one is there. We both know no one is there. We stare at the blank space together for a moment. He loses his apathetic affectation and nervously says “Yes, sir,” and walks away to put my order in. He looks like a German soldier in his solid march away from me and my invisible dinner companion. I look at the emptiness across from me and my stomach tightens. A grown man afraid of dead air. Ridiculous. Yes, indeed.

The chicken fried steak is as bad as I thought it would be but I leave 20% regardless. Wasn’t the waiter’s fault.

Leaving Lake Jackson on Farm to Market 2004 North, heading to Richwood, the remnants of Cecilia’s vape hit me again. Maybe it was the beers from Riverside, the beers from Great Taste, I don’t know, but my eyes are heavy and I am getting sleepy. I’m an hour away from Galveston. I can do this. But then I nodded off and then snapped alert driving on the left side of the road. I corrected, drove a few more miles, then pulled off the road to the shoulder. The right shoulder.

I got out of my truck, stretched. When I got back in, I put on some music, loud. Early Kid Rock always keeps me awake. (What the fuck happened after the third album?) Set up shop at the top of Four Seasons for all the right reasons.

I made it to Richwood, population 3,949, scouted the first hotel I could see, Five Bridges, according to the sign, and slid into the first parking spot I could find. The first. It would be a walk to the hotel’s front door but I thought the walk would be better than the ride. I grabbed my stuff and trekked to the front door. Even though it looked like it had not been updated since 1818, the clerk gave me a magnetic card to room 202, after taking my credit card and driver’s license information. He recorded the information and handed the three cards to me, wishing me a good evening.

Hauling my accoutrements up the stairs (I don't like elevators.), I approached the room. I waved the magnetic card in front of the electronic blob above the door knob. Nothing. Reflexively, I tried again. Nothing. I took my gym bag off my right shoulder, the backpack off my left shoulder, set both down on the second story floor and, High Noon style, confronted the door with the hotel card in my right hand, aiming at the magnetic receptor. With my left hand, I grabbed the door handle and, holding the entry card key with my right, closing in, the door jerked into the room out of my left hand. I recovered from the surprise, glanced at my bruising fingers from the door handle being rudely taken away from me and then sheepishly nudged the door open a bit more with my left foot. "Hello,” I asked into the darkness.


"Is this your room," I persisted, taking a tentative right step forward.


I was tired and not in the mood to confront this moron.

I backed off, re-grouped my gypsy belongings and took the stairs back down to the ground floor.

Arriving at the front desk like a rejected school boy, I told the clerk that there was someone in Room 202 and could I maybe get another room. He ruminated on that possibility for a moment, ultimately deciding that wasn't possible. He looked at my check-in on the mostly blank sheet in front of him. Nope, not possible. He put the wired hotel phone on the counter between us, lit up the first white speaker button (next to the red one on the left) and elicited a dial tone, officiously punching in 2-0-2. Beep beep beep. The phone rang and picked up. The clerk, Danny, according to his name tag, said hello into the speaker and was met with a short burst of static followed by quiet. He pulled the phone away from his ear. In the ensuing silence, we looked at each other and then we both jumped at the sound of a door slamming upstairs. Odd, he said, which appeared to be the understatement of the year. Odd. Look, I started, can you just reverse the charges and I can--

He picked up the phone and slammed it on the counter.


He smiled at me unpleasantly.

---somewhere else.

Let's try this again, he said. No, my brain said but my traitorous mouth said "sure" through a tight smile.

He pushed up the black frame glasses on his pudgy face, lit up the speaker button again and punched 2-0-2. Beep beep beep. We heard the phone ring then stop abruptly in an awkward silence. Hello, the clerk said to the stillness at the end of the line. We waited. Yyyeeesss, a disembodied voice slowly said. Look, the clerk said, I'm trying to check in a guest--

Another blast of static, then the line went dead in one monotonous tone.

And--I'm done.

I picked up my things while the clerk stared at the phone, slightly shaking his head no, and I walked to the exit, instructing him to reverse my charges.

I drove a little over 3 miles to a rest area on Highway 288B and slept in my car. In my sleep, I wrote a scorchy Yelp review. Just the worst.


The following morning, while Lurch and Danny slept in at Five Bridges, Amber texted me: “How is was the run?”

I responded:

“I crushed it.”


About the Creator

Conrad Ilesia

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