Tobar Hicks and Molly Sellers'd led a life fueled by blistered hands of bad luck and the greasy-boned labor of living below the poverty line, scrapping everything from spent trailers, fridges, washing machines and A/C units to barter an existence from salvage yards in and around southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. With the windows down and the 10 a.m. sun bringing the burn of another thick day, sweat bucketed down Tobar's forehead as he wheeled the '88 Ford Ranger with four slick treads from Freedom Metals' tin-sided exit. Chris Knight blared from the CD player singing "Jack Blue."
The truck coughed, jerked and lost power.
Tobar ran the STOP. Rolled left onto mud-holed 13th Street in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky. A maroon Caprice's car horn blared as it swerved and kept on driving down the street. Tobar stomped the brake, turned the music off and shook his head.
From the passenger's side, Molly, his girl for the past seven years and the mother of their two-year-old daughter Kitty (named after the queen of country music, Kitty Wells) who sat crammed between them pale and diaper-clad, working a pacifier between her stained lips, listening to her mother chaff Tobar's temperament with her words. "Figures, we get us a good hall of scrap tin and aluminum, 'nough to cover the rent and truck payment, and the damn heap rolls over on us. You would pick the one that don't run fur shit."
Rage tangled within Tobar's body. He hammered his left fist down on the steering. His right cranked the engine while his foot pumped the gas pedal. The starter ticked but would not fire from the plugs beneath the hand-brushed blue hood.
Tobar was twenty-five, the youngest of four brothers from Palmyra. Two of which were convicted felons, tried and sentenced up north in the Michigan City state pen after getting nabbed for an armed robbery. The third had left this realm after a drunken dispute with his ole lady who'd a heavy hand. Slapped him to the gravel of their drive, where he laid in hysterics, not paying any mind to the rumble of his '68 Chevelle that she backed over him. Crushed his cage for breathing. Left him to suffocate. While Molly was branded and raised as an only child in a rusted trailer, nestled into the hillside up on an Orange County farm that her daddy and mother worked, sometimes fixing the tractors, combines and bush hogs. Other times helping with the harvest of corn, wheat, and soybeans. On any given day chickens, pet rabbits, pigs, and goats would run in and out of their metal-sided nest. Leaving a stench of life that others foreseen as trailer trash. But her parents called it a way of life.
Tobar's bourbon-burnt eyes turned to Molly. "Your lip ain't mappin' me no solutions jus' yet, so, can your salty words."
Shaking her head she told him, "Charlie's ain't gonna take this truck back after you done gone and stained her the color of them Cats. He did you a deal when he found this'n on the cheap."
Tobar'd purchased the truck not more than two weeks ago from Charlie's Used Cars off Highway 62 in Corydon, Indiana, on a weekly recompense plan. Had driven straight to Limeberry Lumber off 337. Bought a bucket of blue Porter Paint, a wide brush, and made his way back down Highway 62 to Molly and his sand-shingle-sided rental off Third Street in old Leavenworth. Not more than a good walk down Nelson Street from the Ohio River where he freezer-taped the windows, lights and bumpers. Pigmented the vehicle into the hue of his favorite college basketball team: the Kentucky Wildcats.
There was that heathen side of Tobar that wanted to ball Molly's strands between his digits. Violently swivel her in odd directions or plant a palm into her tangy orifice till he willed in her the obedience he sometimes desired. Do as his father, a shade-tree mechanic by trade, had done to his mother countless times when Tobar was developing his learning curve of how men who come from the life of salvage sometimes treat the women who sacrifice their whole beings away for the love of their offspring and providers.
But Tobar did not. He instead uncapped a pint of Early Times from his back pocket. Swallowed a healthy spill. Recapped it. Tucked the bottle back in his rear pocket and reached for the hood's release handle. Popped it open. Stepped caustic from the driver's side donning a faded and sleeveless Wildcats T-shirt hanging over a pair of ragged jeans cut off above his boney knees. Staggered around the front of the truck. Thumbed the latch and lifted the hood. Checked the chalky battery connections. Wiggled the plug wires. Reassured himself that things weren't loose but secure. Went to the passenger's side and told Molly, "Try crankin' the engine again."
Behind him, mufflerless vehicles with tinted windows, busted lights, dented doors, and booming bass raced up and down 13th Street. Dust twirled and matted everything in sight. All traveling past Molly and him as though they were pieces of unrecyclable refuse.
Smoke came like beads of food dye dropped into clear water from a Marlboro menthol that dangled at Molly's chapped lips, causing her one eye to bat and tear. "Why, so's you can burn up the starter or drain the alternator?"
Anger purged through Tobar's tempered-glass limbs that'd been inked countless times over swigs of Falls City beer and Jim Beam whiskey by Carbon Feller in a meth cook's kitchen with a concoction of ground plastic, cigarette ashes, and alcohol buzzing through an electric motor. While a Bic pen and guitar string carved and plotted stars, skulls and UK symbols about his biceps, triceps, shoulders, and forearms.
"Jus' do as I say."
Two-fingering the cigarette from her lips, Molly flicked it out the window and to the ground. Then billowed an arrow of smoke into Tobar's patchy face. "You ain't the boss of me."
"Be damned woman, don't start that horse shit."
Tobar walked back around to the driver's side. Opened the door. Got in and gave the engine another twist. Bounced up and down on the seat as though stung by a swarm of jackets. Sweat creased his face and he said, "Ain't this some spoiled meat."
Steaming, Tobar got back out. Slammed the hood down. Shouted, "Help me push this piece of junk."
"On out of the damn street, back past the STOP sign. I go see 'bout usin' Freedom's phone, get us a tow."
"Naw, down to Tennessee. Hell, yes, Leavenworth."
"Do it your damn self."
"Woman, leasts you could do is slide into the driver's side, put her in neutral, steer fur me."
Molly looked down at the sucking sounds that slithered from Kitty's mouth as she worked the rubber nipple. She grunted and scooped Kitty's weight up with one arm as though she were a two liter of pop. Her other unlatched the door that barked while the suspension creaked. Out came Molly, one thick log-leg at a time, panting and stepping to the street lugging Kitty's hand in her grip as though it were a leash for a dog. Kitty stood without shoes. Juice stained about the mouth and chest. Hair teased and gnarled like a bonfire.
"Ain't you a stump full of rotten luck. Think a lady should be out in this dirty strip of town, totin' her child. Kind of man is you, Tobar Hicks? I cain't jus' slide cross that tiny seat like your narrow ass."
Built like a dump truck of cinnamon-candy flea bites and curd skin, Molly's 135 Auto Parts T-shirt was rubber-banding every curve it covered. Cutting into the ham of her arms and the pleats of her neck where her double chin lay moist with sweat.
Wiping the damp that laced his brows and itched his eyes, Tobar told Molly, "Well I cain't jus' push this heap without no help. I oughta drag a beatin' up and down your sour mouth."
"Like tuh see you try."
Holding up a crooked fist, Tobar warned Molly, "Don't tempt me, woman."
Molly's lard-colored arm raised. Her other released Kitty's arm. The child stood still, working the pacifier while listening to her mother and father use words like instruments for skinning a fresh kill out of season. Quickly paring one another's meat from the bone so they'd not get caught by a game warden.
"I oughta unfasten that disrespect from your tongue. Talkin' me down in front of our daughter," Molly warned.
"Go 'head, woman. See whut you get."
"Know whut I get-some damn respect."
"Oh, I know so."
Behind Molly, raven-colored smoke plumed from chrome stacks and fumes poisoned the air with the screams and siren blast of a Dodge Diesel's horn. Molly glanced down at what she was no longer restraining. At what was no longer next to her. Kitty.
Tobar huffed past Molly. His shoulder hitting her shoulder. Nearly spinning her girth around as he ran toward the Cummins that was jacked up to the heavens. The engine had killed. A barnacled man jumped down from the truck with a red bandana seared around his skull and a pair of mirrored shades. He wore a black Louisville Cardinals T-shirt and a holstered pistol on his right side. He bent down on one knee. Looked beneath his rig of a 4x4. Tobar hollered, "Stew-pid. Stew-pid. Stew-pid. Stew-pid."
Molly came like a wheelbarrow of crushed stone, weighted and hard to navigate. "My baby, my baby."
Beneath the truck lay Kitty, her face caked by soil and grit. Her tiny body had dropped down into a pothole that looked as though it'd been carved out for her frame. Tobar grunted and shivered. Came on all fours beneath the truck. Grabbed her by her tiny neck same as a feline does its young and reared her out of the hole. Dragged her crying from beneath the suspension, and worked his way to standing.
The man who'd run over top of her stood speechless. Stared at the child who now strung her arms around her daddy's neck, grime-faced and wailing with fear.
Tobar clutched Kitty and told the man, "Take a picture, it'd last a lot longer. Cruisin' round here like you's some stud at a damn fast-food lot on a Friday night."
The man wrinkled his rusty complexion with confusion. "Hold on now, she came from no damn where. This ain't no playground. Maybe you need tuh put a leash on that thang. I came tuh see if you all needed help."
Molly stepped forward, ripped Kitty from Tobar's hands. Told the man, "She ain't no thang. She's 'r daughter."
The man dug at his nose with his right index finger, looked at it and flicked something off into the air. Chuckled and said, "Look, I got a chain in back my pickup if you all wanna use it."
Tobar swelled up in his chest, shoulders and arms. Flexing. Said, "That's a heck of a thing tuh say 'bout our baby."
The man rested his right hand down on his holstered pistol. Steel-eyed Tobar, and said, "Boy, I got two means of speakin'; I done used one. Don't tempt me tuh raise my voice."
Tobar swallowed the itch in his throat as Molly cradled and patted Kitty and told the man, "Any person drive a truck that big and pack a pistol is tryin' tuh make up for somethin' he ain't got."
"Lady, only thing I ain't got is patience. I's makin' my way out the exit gate 'cause someone called, said they 'bout run into a truck comin' from our road that looked to have maybe broke down. I come to see what the fuss was about."
Tobar rested his scarred and oil-stained hands upon his hips. Stared at the man's T-shirt, blew heated air from his nostrils, told the man, "That fuss would be us. Damn Ford seems tuh have give out. But we don't want no help from some black-bird supporter that near run over our pride and joy." Tobar turned to Molly, said, "It's a bit of a haul, baby, but we walk 13th to Oak Street then follow 12th up to Micky D's; they should be a pay phone somewhere's on Broadway."
Kitty whined and sucked mucus. Molly ran her hand repeatedly over Kitty's head of tangerine hair, glanced and snarled at the man, told him, "Yeah, don't need no handouts from the likes of you."
The man stood watching Tobar and Molly turn away, walk toward their truck, then to 13th Street as he mumbled to himself, "Suit yourself. Two of you are 'bout as crazy as a shithouse rat." Then he waved a hand at the air and walked back to his truck.
Copyright © 2014 Frank Bill. "Life of Salvage" appeared in the October 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine.
Work in Progress, New Haven Review, Talking River Review, Plots With Guns, Thuglit, BEAT to a PULP and many other outlets. His first book, Crimes in Southern Indiana was released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in September 2011 and his first novel, Donnybrook, hit March of 2013. He is currently at work on the follow up, The Salvaged & The Savage and his reboot of James O'Barr's The Crow hits comic book stores in March 2014.
Frank Bill has been published in Granta, Playboy, Oxford American, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, PANK, FSG