BIGGER THAN A CADILLAC Chapter 2 (read Chapter 1 here)
Walking beside Bruce is like walking beside a cranky horse: he’ll more or less go along but if I get careless, he’ll kick me square in the chest and run whinnying off into the night—or worse, stick around to stomp on me. So I’m staying attuned to his huffs, pauses, and changes of step.
Call me Retha for what it’s worth. Like a mix between the singers Aretha Franklin and Reba McEntire. My parents liked to think they were being soulful and a little bit country when they named me. That’s what I tell people, leastways. Though it’s not the worst name for a mutt like me: black, white, Creole, maybe a little Mexican, a hundred percent Americana chica anyhow. I like to say I’m from here, Lake Worth, because no one is. Sets me apart. In truth, I was raised outside Tucson. I remember spending a lot of hours in a mesh pen with a desert-dirt floor, tending to a flock of Andalusian hens. In retrospect, I think they were tending me while Moms and Pops got work done. She was a sex caller. Had one of those breathy voices born of 10,000 cigarettes. He had a truck with our phone number on the side and the words I DO ANYTHING spelled out in big block letters. When I was thirteen, someone spray painted FOR WEED after ANYTHING. I’m not sure who did it or if they knew much about Dad’s habits, but the message was pretty much spot on and he never bothered changing it.
We turn off Lucerne Street and head down South Lake Drive before reaching the Intracoastal. Pap’s got a bungalow on South 5th that opens onto the water, a three-story affair decked out in stucco and terracotta roof tiles. Beats the shit out of the shack I sleep at on North 4th and L Street. This whole hellish town is numbered and lettered like a damn chessboard. Not real creative thinkers, the founders of Lake Worth.
According to my phone, it’s three-seventeen in the morning when we amble up the walk and let ourselves into Pap’s. Pap always makes us turn off our phones when we come in. He’s paranoid about being recorded. He checks at random. If you got a phone still on, he breaks a finger. It’s a simple equation and because he enforces it universally and consistently, excepting only himself and the women he screws, we have come to accept and even expect it. Similar to how you’d expect to be mauled if you pulled out the whisker of a catamount. Once you get one finger broken, you tend not to foul up again. For me it was a left pinkie that now, when I start to close my fist, flops down like a dead worm. It is otherwise functional, however, and cosmetically no different than before.
The only lights on in the house are the recessed bulbs in the kitchen, which is an expansive, tiled space with bright orange granite counters and pink-painted walls. Pap is at the island in the center of the room, cutting up salumi, perspiring freely, and bringing the weight of his upper body down through the knife with each slice. He weighs a solid two-twenty, stands just over six feet, and all of it’s muscle. His real name is Amado Crespo. For the life of me, I can’t tell if his origins are Italian or Spanish. His hair is curly and cut uniformly short. With a razor, it has been shaved in a hard, manicured line at his temples, above his ears, and at the back of his neck, giving the appearance of a trim black beanie. I suspect that he spends so much time and money on his hair because the rest of his face is on the broad, uglyish side and would never be considered beautiful without radical cosmetic surgery. I have seen brochures for collagen injections, Rhinoplasty, and Botox strewn around his house. But I have also seen brochures for breast implants, and I don’t suspect Pap of wanting a gender change. No, his girl du jour Chelsea is the one who is, I believe, interested in self-improvement. Or at least in spending Pap’s money and having something to chitchat about with her girlfriends. The social culture surrounding plastic surgery terrifies me.
“Stale,” says Pap. “Chelsea let it get stale and now it’s particle-board meat. Just try eating it. You’ll lose a tooth. I’m breaking it up small. Then I’m going to sauté it in butter for an hour and add in tomatoes and make a Bolognese.”
“I’ll chop it if you want,” says Bruce.
“And slip and cut your hand and bleed all over my kitchen? I don’t think so. No. No, thank you.” Pap puts down the knife, rinses his hands in the sink, towels off, and walks over to us. He says, “Phones.”
We lay our phones on the counter. Mine is blank and stays that way. Bruce’s lights up with the picture of a mostly nude stripper. Bruce looks apologetically at Pap then glances at me as if to say, Why didn’t you remind me? As if I hadn’t done enough turning my phone off in front of him at the door. Poor Bruce is a little hard-up on the learning front. To date, Pap has broken his left pinkie and left ring finger. Now Bruce holds out his right hand. He’s a righty and I’m sure will hate losing any dexterity with one of the digits responsible for gun-holding, check-signing, and cock-spanking, but I guess his left is too banged up to take another loss. Pap looks thoughtfully at the photo of the girl. Her face is obscured by a shock of blonde hair. She’s got her ass up in the air. Her buttocks are a pale blur, and she has one finger under her G-string band, lifting it an inch.
Bruce’s eyes are as wide as a frightened Boston terrier’s.
Pap squeezes a fist around Bruce’s right pinkie and says, “Nice looking chickadee. Nice cheeks. You’ll have to introduce me.”
– Candice Cousins* Read Chapter 1 here