The Phantom Truck by strannikov
Glissendra Tovine was minding her own business as much as the dirt road’s scarce traffic would allow. Just after noon, she unbuttoned her yellow cotton blouse and fanned her torso with both flaps. Heat and humidity vied for first place, but her effort was not in vain, as she dallied only innocuously and ineffectually at exhibitionism. Having fanned herself, she promptly rebuttoned her sleeveless blouse.
Cicadas buzzed in the midday heat. On the pitted red clay road behind, Glissendra heard but did not see a pick-up rattling along. As she turned on her naked heels, the rattle of the speeding truck instantly evaporated. Only the rising and falling drone of the cicadas could she hear now, and Glissendra wondered just where that truck had gotten to, since there were no available roads to turn off on or on to the road she walked along. She knew it’d been a truck she’d just heard, as it exactly mimicked the rattle of her grampa’s pick-up. Her grampa and his old pick-up were both long since gone, though. Maybe she might should’ve wore her hat this hot day. Maybe she should sit for a spell.
The unrelenting heat bore down, and the high humidity enveloped her. A shady oak beckoned close by, a thin layer of coolish air hovering over its roots; but before Glissendra could reach the relative comfort of the shade, the rising chorus of the cicadas morphed into a very loud rattle. Inexplicably, a hot plow blade of grief tore right into her. Glissendra gulped, fainted, and plopped into the red dust at her feet.
This was the same Glissendra Tovine who, only a year earlier, had charmed all the crocodiles populating the coast, who ever since had made a point of toasting her health every day at sunset. “Well we know,” they often mused at their reptilian convocations, “if Glissendra were more enterprising, we’d all be boot leather by now!” (These were by and large the same crocodiles whose common conjecture was that, by weight and volume, mosquitos were more nutritious than beetles—yes, especially and including dung beetles, no matter what neighborhood they occupied.)
Cledge Murpho, crocodile impresario from the Everglades, now ran the “Weeping & Gnashing” bar in Mobile. Cledge’s respect for Glissendra was sincere, since he knew the Tovines to be leather workers from way back. Cledge insisted that each day’s sunset toasts to Glissendra were on the house. Crocodiles near and far would thus slither and crawl in towards sunset each day, some for the free drinks, some more earnestly to toast Glissendra’s health. A one-eyed croc from Pensacola wept copiously each day as he toasted, Glissendra had once flossed his teeth. (His charitable disposition mocked his poor memory: Glissendra had actually once taped his snout shut with duct tape.)
Another croc from Tampa regaled his cronies with his tale: Glissendra had once injured the big toe on her left foot upon kicking him in the side, trying to get him to relocate off of the Tovine property after he devoured four of the Tovines’ poodles. The kick had set Glissendra’s toe to throbbing violently, she’d thought the croc’s ribs would’ve had more give to them but hadn’t quite counted on the thickness of his reptilian hide. Subsequent to her effort, he retired to the Everglades before relocating again to Tampa, and thence to Mobile.
For their parts the lions were still migrating to Mobile, where they’d all but monopolized the water taxi service. (Customers never complained about their virtual monopoly. More to the point, unless they were of the crocodilian variety, their customers routinely failed to arrive at their requested destinations.) One leonine cabbie, already drunk by the end of his shift, showed up at “Weeping & Gnashing” this very day brandishing an alligator-skin wallet; Cledge demanded that it be kept in the dropsafe behind the bar for safekeeping, while keeping the lion’s ID handy. The garrulous drunken lion mouthed off that the business of keeping the bar running meant that Cledge must be “a busy lizard” (some of the crocs at the bar took this as a slur, but Cledge’s hide was too thick and his teeth too sharp for him to take umbrage; still, Cledge expressed no outrage when, later that evening, nine crocs took the pifficated lion out back and knocked three of his incisors and two of his bicuspids loose. Cledge alluded to this incident while typing Chapter 13 of his memoirs on his trusty Underwood).