NIGHT OF THE SIDEWINDER - MICHAEL FONTANA
Ignazio lit a cigarette and took it down in long deep stokes, his face collapsing with the suction, pupils dilated, skin clammy, hair kicking up in a breeze, the spotlights of the Sidewinder Hotel shattering the night, its white stucco rising out of the gravel like Stonehenge. He already had the engine running, the Nova throwing off black fumes, stink of oil and sweat in air, truckers with their long rigs standing like metallic birds at the rear of the hotel, half the drivers up in rooms with hookers who hung around the parking lot like tumbleweeds, everyone burning with speed and lack of sleep, to the point where the sky took on an orange hue and out of it emerged apparitions of bison skulls moving across the heavens.
Ignazio had just learned that certain rooms had a peephole cut into the mirror, that anyone could slide into the crawl space in the walls and locate one of these rooms and simply spy or else capture the action on film. He had been captured with his girlfriend Samantha, she so much taller and darker skinned than he, the way their bodies blended together on the bare hotel bed, the light on because Ignazio was afraid of the dark, a shotgun broken down on the other double bed for the liquor store knock-over scheduled afterward.
The heist went like a conveyer belt, one action rolling forward into the next until they all fused together into one huge image, namely him with the shotgun aimed at the owner’s head, the owner whinnying in fear, her red hair crackling with static, the bottles on the shelves refracting everything like a funhouse mirror, except there was no fun there, only the bag of money that Ignazio fled the store with. He broke down the shotgun again inside the Nova and peeled out of there in a black cloud.
Somewhere along the way Samantha caught the video, said the desk clerk at the Sidewinder had played it for her on his VCR, the film grainy but identifiably Ignazio’s face in the moments before their bodies merged together, the desk clerk having heard about the heist and knowing who was the likely candidate, remembering the dissembled shotgun lying on the extra bed as he taped their sex, threatening to take it to the cops if Samantha didn’t do him too. She didn’t because she couldn’t stand the pudgy boy. Plus she figured that one video would lead to another and suddenly she’d be tied down in pornography instead of selecting which of the truckers and transients she elected to spend time with.
The same clerk was on duty when Ignazio stood outside smoking his cigarette. When he killed the butt beneath the toe of his boot he pulled the shotgun out from the backseat and leaned over the car’s roof with it, his eyes like telescopes beading in on pudgy boy’s brain, but he didn’t immediately open fire, he wanted to play filmmaker himself, only this film would be recorded strictly in his head, reel to reel like in the old days, the grainy frame by frame cognition of military hygiene films.
Ignazio had done his time in Nam, remembering the helicopter landing with him and his buddies, its loud whimpering against the clouds, same stink of petrol as the hotel parking lot, only this was a landing in a clearing and the clearing threw off veils of dust that caught in the eyes and throat and choked a man near to death, weapon heavy in his hand, battering his arm and shoulder as he fired into bodies that might have well been apparitions undulating from smoke after rounds were spent, none of the bodies falling, all appearing and disappearing like some psychotic dance, enough to rake like claws against the skull, the Sidewinder parking lot little different, the same enterings and leavings, the gears of the trucks shrieking, the whipping past of cars in golden lines of heat and asphalt.
For some reason he just couldn’t pull the trigger there. A single blast would have ended the blackmail, would have liberated him and Samantha both, but the finger sat like stone against the trigger, sweat skittered like insects on his forehead and through his hair. Samantha finally arrived and touched the barrel of the shotgun, lowering it away from the hotel window and toward the earth, baby baby baby she said this is no way to react.
But he knew no other way to react, he had been trained by war that this was the way to be, that an enemy seen was an enemy designed to murder him, kill or be killed, all the traps dug in the earth with bamboo spikes at bottom, all the grenades slipped into gas tanks, all the villages on fire. How he wished for something peaceful but the only peace seemed to exist at the end of a field where the bodies of friends and foes lay silent with same sad red emerging from their skin, soaking the beautiful green grass. Such a field had driven Ignazio to his knees at one point and set him weeping, pulling at his hair, screams of mortars in background, flies an unholy black with wings tinted blue, swarming and rapacious, their whirring like tiny drills on an invisible machine.
Samantha took the shotgun away from him entirely but he remained braced against the Nova like he still had business there instead of the highway passing him by, the hotel still in the background, its white relief like an ornate crucifix.
BIO: Bio? Michael Fontana don’t need no stinkin’ bio.
One to Watch: THE MELODY by Jim Crace
3 hours ago