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Touch the Truck

by Gina King about a year ago in fact or fiction · updated 6 months ago
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How bad do you want it?

By late on the 3rd night of the MegaCarPlaza Touch the Truck competition, the original 20 competitors were down to 5 people in varying states of physical and psychological decay. They swayed on their feet in the dark parking lot under a sky just starting to show a hint of dawn to the east. Robert and Bethany standing at the hood had formed an alliance and were helping to keep each other conscious. They were young enough that their bodies were likely holding out better than those of their middle-aged rivals. Kelly laying hands along the truck bed at driver’s side rear had the advantage of being accustomed to working up to 10-hour shifts on her feet as a checker at the Red Apple, but staying awake for well over 60 hours was not a skill she had honed, and the line between reality and delirium was an undulating line curiously resembling the flared rear wheel fender of a sand dune metallic Chevrolet Colorado. Meanwhile, tall, stoic Carl stood unflappable as ever – perhaps even meditative – standing across from Kelly at passenger side rear, next to the loose cannon of the bunch: stout, white-bearded Mike. Mike wasn’t letting on that he was tired, but his silence betrayed him. He was taking a momentary break from his ongoing campaign to psyche out the competition by touting the grit and determination he had developed as a combat marine, and his desperate need to prevail in the competition for his beloved family.

Two fresh teenaged monitors arrived and Lot Manager Ernie briefed them quickly on the rules, issued them their bright orange vests and whistles, and sent them to their corners to watch the contestants.

Robert was attempting to keep up a conversation. “What about you, Kelly, would you keep the truck or take the $20,000?”

“I don’t know…. I could really use the cash, but my car is crap and my daughter, Claire, has always wanted to go camping. With this, we could just take off up into the mountains….”

“Yeah, I’d love to take this baby up fishing,” said Robert.

“Oh, fishing?!?” Mike interjected. “Fishing is reeeeeeeally important! Way more important than my grandmother’s surgery!”

“Oh, shut UP about your grandmother already!” shouted Robert.

“Hang on a minute, your grandmother?” said Kelly

“Yeah, I thought she was your aunt,” said Bethany.

“Yeah, which is it, Mike?” demanded Robert. “Your aunt or your grandmother?”

“Oh, maybe his aunt IS his grandmother!” Bethany said, eyes widening.

“Oh daaaaaaamn, Mike! Got some family skeletons in the closet?” Robert and Bethany fell into laughing and whispering together as Mike fumed.

“Very funny, Roberto! Shut your face!” he yelled. “It’s my goddamned aunt. I’m tired!”

Lot Manager Ernie scowled at them. “Would you people WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE already?!? For the thousandth time, this is a FAMILY EVENT!”

Mike looked slowly around the lot - cars and a few pigeons occupying the pools of light. “It’s the middle of the night, Ernie. No damn kids to teach some decent vocabulary anywhere near here!”

“You’re my friend, Mike, but Jesus Christ, I hope you lose.” Ernie nodded to the lads in vests at the front driver and rear passenger corners of the vehicle. “Boys, keep an eye on this lot. I gotta take a nap. Ten minute break at 4am, otherwise, ten fingers on at all times!”

The 4 am break came and went in a flash, with Mike’s wife Mary adding to the torture by bringing delicious-smelling freshly baked cookies to fortify her man. As he had at every break, Carl took a moment to quickly jot something down in the small black notebook he kept in his back pocket.

Carl fumbled to tuck his notebook away as Rear Passenger Monitor reached the end of the 10 minute countdown, planting his hands against the side right at “2…1…Break over!!”, but dropping the notebook in the process.

Mike looked at the notebook, up at Carl, back at the notebook, a sly smile spreading on his face.

“Hey darlin’!” called Mike, and Mary rocked out of her lawnchair and sauntered over. “Why don’t you have a little peek at my man Carl’s little Book of Mystery for us?”

Carl sputtered a protest, but watched powerless as Mary leaned over and slowly picked it up. “Judge! Monitor! Whatever!” he yelled, “She’s stealing my personal property!”

Mary said, “Oh no, sirs, I am merely retrieving this for my friend Carl. Just trying to help out.” She opened the notebook to where the pen was clipped inside.

“MONITORS!! Stop her!!” Carl bellowed.

Rear Passenger Monitor leaned back to see what Mary was up to. “Yeah, I don’t give a fuck.”

“Hey there, Billy,” Mary replied cheerfully, “You sure drew a suckass shift, son.” But her eyebrows furrowed as she scanned the page.

“So what the hell’s he writing in there?” demanded Mike.

“What a weirdo. He’s got, like, a table in here with notes on every damn thing he ate and drank and when and shit….” She flipped back through the pages, eyes widening. “Hold on…. What the fuck, man?!?” The rest of the contestants stretched to look, as if they could read the notebook contents from where they stood. “He’s got notes from a bunch of these contests, all over the place!! Walla Walla June 13, 2019, Portland August 21, 2019…. He’s like, some kind of professional!!”

“What the fuck, man! You some professional truck toucher?!?” Mike yelled.

“Is that even a thing?” asked Bethany.

Carl replied, “Well, some of them were cars….”

“Shit man, where do you even live?” Mike spewed.

“Arcata, California,” Carl answered. “Can I please have my notebook back now?”

Mary glared at him for a solid minute, then stuffed the notebook hard into Carl’s back pocket. “That just ain’t right, man!”

“Do you seriously travel around to these specific competitions?” asked Kelly.

“Yeah. I’m good at it, and I can make half of what I made in a whole year as an assistant carpenter in, like… 80 hours.”

“Oh bullSHIT, 80 hours!!” Mike yelled. “Think you can psyche us out with that bullshit. No fucking way you could go another 22 hours!”

“That’s 12 hours,” offered Robert helpfully.

“WhatthefuckEVER, Roberto! He’s got no right coming in here and trying to take this away from us!” Mike’s face was reaching an unprecedented shade of red. “You really think it’s OK for you to come all the way up here to try to take this, when Bethany here needs money for college? When Kelly has a kid to raise on a grocery checker’s pay? This is for OUR COMMUNITY!”

“There’s nothing in the rules that says you have to be from here,” said Carl, at which Mike glared hard at Rear Passenger Monitor Billy.

“I don’t think there’s a rule about that,” Billy confirmed.

“Well there damned well oughta be!!” Mike fumed. He fell into what looked to be a concerted attempt to push Carl clear of the vehicle with the sheer focused malevolence of his glare. Carl stared down into the bed of the truck, then glanced over.

“Yeah, I’ve won a few of these. A Toyota Tundra in Walla Walla – kept that one. A Subaru Crosstrek in Kirkland – took the $30,000 on that one. A sweet, sweet Hummer in Bend – that one just sits in my driveway, looking-“

The truck abruptly lurched as Mike launched himself at Carl, and they fell as a flailing tangle of limbs, narrowly missing Rear Passenger Monitor Billy on their way down. “You sumbitchin’ nutsack!” Mike grunted as they struggled.

Bethany ran over and tried to get a grip on Mike’s shirt while dodging his wildly flying fists, yelling at him to get off of Carl. Front Driver Monitor jogged around the front to watch, blowing his whistle and shouting gleefully, “Hands are off! Hands are off!” Rear Passenger Monitor Billy raised his arms up and took up the call, punctuated by whistle blasts. It fell to a couple of guys in blue MegaCarPlaza polo shirts, just arriving to begin their shift on the car lot, to pull Mike to his feet and restrain him while he sputtered out the last of his rage.

Manager Ernie charged angrily from the building, sloshing his coffee on the pavement and his tan pants as he went. “Boys!!” he yelled at the Monitors. “You just had to stand there and keep shit together for a few hours!”

Front Driver Monitor snapped to attention, saluted, and reported, “Manager Dad, Sir! Six hands off of the vehicle, SIR!”

“Rear Passenger Monitor confirms!” the other one barked with a salute.

“Um, so… are they out, or what?” asked Kelly.

Carl and Mike brushed themselves off as the manager conferred with the boys about the sequence of events and made his decision. “OK, the guy who got tackled –“

Carl raised his hand. “It’s Carl.”

“Yeah, Carl can stay. Mike and Bethany are out.” There were cries of protest from Bethany, Kelly, and Robert, but he remained unmoved. “Hey, she didn’t have to let go! She’s out! Let’s get this damned thing over with.” He turned and headed back toward the building, muttering, “Jesus, never again!”

Carl resumed his position as Mike stormed off with Mary, spewing a continuous stream of profanity as his wife scrambled to grab all of their things. Bethany slowly walked over to her folding chair and gathered up her water bottle and jacket and waved a sad goodbye. “Good luck, Robert!”

Robert watched her walking away through the cars. “Aw, screw this!” He gave the hood a shove and jogged off after her. “Hey Bethany, wanna get breakfast?” The Monitors blew a few “Hands off” blasts on their whistles as the couple had a quick conferral and walked off, her arm draped through his.

Carl laughed. His arm was a little scraped but otherwise he looked no worse for wear. “Imagine them years from now, telling their kids how they met.”

“Just you and me now, huh?” said Kelly. “Nicely done.”

“I didn’t anticipate the 3 for 1 deal, but yeah, that worked out nicely. Listen to that…. Sweet, sweet silence!”

Being rid of Mike was indeed sweet, as was the steadily lightening sky above. It seemed to be fighting to dispel the brain fog and revive Kelly’s energy, but with every minute that dragged by, the need to sleep wrapped her in a thickening wooly cocoon. More and more people arrived as the morning wore on, and she was peripherally aware of several calling her name. She was spending more time drifting in and out of half-waking dreams now, and only the pain in her legs, back and shoulders were anchoring her to some semblance of consciousness.

“You don’t have to keep doing this,” said Carl. Pulling him into focus across the truck bed, he remained as always the picture of unruffled calm. “You can’t outlast me, Kelly.”

Kelly sighed. “Goddammit, Carl. You’re right.” Her shoulders slumped as she stepped back from the truck.

Carl’s face slowly lit up. He whooped and threw his fists in the air. “YESSSSSS! I am the champiooooooooon!!”

The Monitors blew their whistles, jumping, laughing, and yelling, “Hands are off! Hands are off!!”

They were looking at Carl. Carl looked utterly perplexed. “What? I won!”

Front Driver Monitor gestured for him to come around the truck with a huge grin. “Viola, my friend, 10 fingers still touching.”

Carl walked slowly around to see that indeed, Kelly had stepped back but maintained contact with the rear wheel’s fender flare.

The small crowd was going absolutely wild. Kelly lurched as small arms flung around her waist. “You won, Mama! You won!!” Claire shouted, her head buried against her mother’s stomach. Kelly smoothed Claire’s hair.

“We’re going camping, baby!” She squinted in the too-bright sun. “After mama has a nice long shower and a nap.”

fact or fiction

About the author

Gina King

Wildlife biologist, Northwesterner, reluctant passenger in this wild 21st century ride.

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