By Justin S. Crouse
Jingle and I ate our lunch under a gigantic beech tree, watching the cars speed by. A couple of red squirrels skittered around gathering nuts, dodging the pebbles Jingle threw at their heads. Jingle and I would never be sent on the cushy residential jobs. He had rotten teeth, and I didn't say I'd quit after the first day working with him.
"You and the wife ever fight?" he asked me, flicking a glob of tuna fish off his knee.
"Yeah, sometimes." If you left him alone, it wasn't hard working with him. I heard him call me his friend once to his wife on the phone. It wasn't until then that I realized he didn't have any others.
"Ever hit her?"
He liked to rile me up, but his eyebrows were pressed together, so I knew he was serious. "No. That's not my way really. You get into some trouble?"
Jingle folded his hands in his lap, and stared at the squirrels screeching at each other over a nut. "Once, when he was little, my boy pissed right up into my face. It was the damndest thing, because just before he did it, he looked right into my eyes and I knew."
"That happens a lot. My brother once-"
Jingle snapped his head around. "My wife wants me to tell him to get some help."
"Sounds like he might need it." I looked away a couple times, but he kept staring at me. "well, maybe he'll listen to you."
"You know what I want to tell him? I want to tell him to get to hell out." He pulled a stark white handkerchief out of his greasy pocket and wiped the foam from the edge of his mouth. "He's too much like me to be with that girl. Ever since that day when he was little I've known he wasn't going to be any good. Can you imagine hearing that from your own father?"
I waited just in case he didn't really want an answer. He leaned toward me, his eyes pleaded with me to help, do something. "My dad taught science at a community college. Once, I had to build a working volcano for the science fair. I asked him to help, but he just kept saying I had to figure it out myself, only way to learn." I got up and brushed the chip dust off my fingers. "You think I'd be here mowing grass with the likes of you if that fucking volcano had worked?"
Jingle screwed the cover down on his thermos. One of the squirrels screeched at him, and he nodded at it. "Take me to the store, Don. I've got a call to make."
Justin Crouse lives in Mid-Coast Maine with his muse, Angie, and four-year-old Wild Thing, Max. Justin is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. His work has appeared, or is scheduled to appear, in Heat City Review, Foliate Oak, The Pedestal Magazine, Spillway Review, The Story Garden, Unspoken Dreams, Prose Toad, and 3711Atlantic. Reach Justin on his website at www.justincrouse.com
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
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