by Bailey Sweatman
Lex Barrett was doing a hundred and forty-five down a highway that looked more like a farm road, thinking about the estate lawyer and her dead dad. He was recently dead – her dad, not the lawyer – and she was avoiding the appointment to hear his will get read.
You ever tried that? Drive fast, so your adrenaline kicks in and your mind tries to make your A.D.D. ass focus on the road for once, instead of thinking about your taxes or banging your wife or whatever?
Lex and her old man – he owned Barrett Auto Body over on West Plains, across from the H-E-B – they restored a ‘67 Shelby back when she was knee-high to a grasshopper and he was aiming to teach her about engines. Fool of a man, like she didn’t know her way around an engine already, when they lived in a mobile home behind the shop? The fuck else was she supposed to do but look at engines? Anyway, the car was a heap and now it’s a beauty, painted true Aspen Red like them old-school Fastbacks, with two Wimbledon White racing stripes, all showing off and shit. They changed out the hood so now it’s got twin-engine scoops, in case the loping sound didn’t clue you in that this was a monster. The windows got an illegal tint on ‘em, but that’s not so odd in these parts, which get hotter than the Devil’s dick, if you’ll pardon the saying.
You spent time driving around out there, yet? In all the heat and the nothing? I tell you, I never been any other place that makes you feel big and small all together, though it’s not like I been so many places, after all. There’s shrubs dotting the dirt, but they all look grey ‘cause the sun bleached the damn green out of them, and every couple yards there’s a century plant or Tula Ixtle spearing up at the sky, but mostly there’s just nothing. Wood-and-wire fences where one cattle rancher’s land ends and another one’s begin, but that’s just another kind of nothing really. There’s a smell, I guess, inside all that empty. Baked earth.
You ever smell that where you’re from? Baked earth? It’s a weird one, sort of metallic, but dirty…well, it smells like minerals, I guess, but that’s not a good explanation really, ‘cause if you asked me what minerals smell like, I wouldn’t know.
So, Lex’s dad just died and man, that’s a tragedy ‘cause old Walker was a good guy. He raised that little girl all on his own too. Her mama died when she was real little. Just a baby, I think. Fell down the stairs, can you believe it? I mean, Lex’s mama fell, not Lex. That’s when Walk bought the mobile home, you know? I don’t think he knew how to live in that house anymore, walking up and down the same stairs that killed his wife.
Lex ended up alright, and boy, was she loyal to that old man. I know her a good little bit ‘cause she was real hot-and-heavy with my baby brother Gauge for near a decade. I mean, they met in high school and I guess it’s easy to be hot-and-heavy in high school, but they stuck through it. Broke up a lot, sure, but they seemed to find their way back to one another.
She’s a pretty little thing, Lex, so I wasn’t surprised when my brother was a goner. Real tall and so thin you’d think a strong wind would carry her right off. Pretty eyes though. She looks kind of sad all the time – Gauge used to tease that she had resting sad-face – you know, like how some ladies have resting bitch-face? – though I think that’s just ‘cause her mouth kind of points down in the corners, all gloomy.
They broke up that last time when Gauge got a job offer down in Corpus Christi. He’s a welder, you know, and they always got shit needs welding down there, ‘cause everything in the town is metal and the sea air rusts it over and over and over. So, they need a lot of welders. He asked her to come along when he moved, and he cried like a bitch when she said no. The funny thing was, I swung by the shop for a brake job not two weeks later, and old Walk and I got to talking, and he said Lex had been crying too. And I said I couldn’t figure for the life of me why they should both be sad and Walk just shook his head and called me an idiot.
He used to do that, you know, call you an idiot or stupid or dumb. Thing is, I never got the sense he was being mean with it. I mean, it wasn’t an insult when he said it. It was funny too, ‘cause he’d always point at you when he called you dumb.
He spoke with his hands, old Walk. If his mouth was moving, his hands were moving right there alongside. He was a good-looking guy, even old and to the extent I’m qualified to make those kinds of judgments. You could tell he used to be real big when he was younger. Broad, I mean. He still had that size, or enough of it that you knew he used to. He had these real strong forehead wrinkles, and I do mean strong, not thick. They were thick too, big-ass crinkles right up from his eyebrows to his hair, but they were mostly just strong, the way they could happy-crinkle or angry-crinkle and everyone knew which was which.
Walk got diagnosed some six months before all this went down, though I don’t expect he told Lex straight away. He was an “O.G.” about it though, if I’m using that term right, ‘cause instead of getting sad he just decided to start living life like he was about to die, ‘cause, hell, he was. So, he starts drinking that good bourbon he was usually too cheap for, and smoking cigarettes. Well he always did that, but he used to seem sort of embarrassed by it.
Mostly, he started driving real fast.
Eventually Lex gets her shit together and goes to see Mr. Frederick.
Did I mention Mr. Frederick was Walk’s attorney?
She goes to see him and from what I hear the poor thing was a mess, chewing on her nails and so lost in her own head that Barbie, the receptionist, said she had to call Lex’s name three times before Lex heard her.
So, Lex goes into this appointment expecting the shop would go to her, ‘cause it’s Barrett Auto Body and she’s the only Barrett left. And what does Mr. Franklin tell her? Why, old Walk sold the damn garage to some auto group out in Austin six weeks prior.
Naturally, Lex is sort of in shock about the whole situation, so Mr. Frederick hands her a letter Walk left with his will. The way Mr. Frederick tells it, he knew enough of the situation to guess what the letter said, so he wasn’t surprised when Lex turned white as a sheet and said, “What?,” sounding so broken he only knew what she said ‘cause, well, what the hell else would she be saying? So, he explains about old Walk selling the shop and how Lex is set up with cash now, because Walker was nobody’s fool. And when I say setup, I mean setup for life, if she’s smart about it, and Lex isn’t dumb, generally speaking.
Then Mr. Frederick goes through all the forms she needs to sign and whatnot – and he smiled all sad when he told me about it cause he knew she didn’t hear a damn thing he was saying the whole time – but she wouldn’t cry, ‘cause Walker Barrett’s daughter is nobody’s chickenshit.
Mr. Frederick and old Walk used to pal around over at Vic’s bar on Stetson now and then, I tell you that?
Keep in mind, I didn’t know about any of this at the time. Except for Walker’s death, obviously. All Apache knew that crazy bastard had given up the ghost and I don’t think there was a single decent person in this town who didn’t have a drink that night and think about Walk calling everyone an idiot and talking with his hands.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit now, ‘cause not a lot happens in the next few hours.
Now it’s almost midnight and I should’ve been in bed but Gone in 60 Seconds was on the television and I never can bring myself to turn that movie off when it comes on. I don’t know if I believe in signs but maybe that was a sign, ‘cause my phone starts ringing and it’s my brother.
Now, I know how worried he’s been over Lex ever since I passed along the news of Walker’s death. He’s been a fool for that girl since high-school shop class when he saw her rebuild a transmission in one class period. Lex will tell you that never happened, but he swears it did.
Anyway, I picked up my phone, and Gauge tells me he’s locked in his own bathroom ‘cause Lex is there.
“What the hell are you talking about, little Gay one,” I said, ‘cause I think it’s funny to call him that.
And he says, “She showed up about an hour ago, saying she still loves me and wanting to try it out, here with me, in Corpus.”
I was confused by all this, as you can likely imagine.
Not confused by his story, that was pretty clear cut, but by what the hell he’s doing on the phone with me when the girl he loves shows up at his house looking to make him a commitment.
So, I said, “Gauge, what the hell are you doing on the phone with me when the girl you love is at your house, looking to make you a commitment?”
Well, not even my dumb brother could argue that logic, so he hangs up and a few days go by before he texts me that she’s staying with him.
They’ve been together for a while now, and I think that’ll work out just fine.
You know, I asked Lex once, what Walker’s letter said.
I was down there visiting, and we’d all been drinking a bit more than usual or I never would’ve asked. I know my place and nosing around the last words of a dead man to his only child isn’t it, but she told me anyway.
She laughed – she has this kind of barking way of laughing – and she said, “I’ve lived my life, kid. Go get your own.”
And if her eyes were a little wet looking after, I certainly didn’t comment.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story