Wilson Koewing ~ Seven Shorts

Truck Stop

We were dri­ving across coun­try back to Denver and lost Odie’s leash. He need­ed to go for a walk and was young then and would run off. I pulled over at a Love’s Truck Stop in the mid­dle of nowhere Kansas think­ing they might sell leash­es. They didn’t. I asked at the reg­is­ter, and they con­firmed what I already knew. There was a truck­er behind me in line, who said, “Hey, man, I’ve got you.” I fol­lowed him out­side and wait­ed a few yards from his big rig. He looked around inside and pro­duced a leash. There was no dog. He held the leash and pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and showed me a tat­too. It was fad­ed, like he’d got­ten it when he was young. It looked like an eagle. He said some­thing I couldn’t make out, like a mantra, a say­ing for a group he must have once been a part of, then he slapped his arm and hand­ed me the leash. I thanked him and he smacked me on the shoul­der. It was a good blow, but I was younger and stronger then, too, and didn’t waver much, but the force behind it was clear­ly meant to express some­thing. What? I can’t say. He stared me down and climbed in his big rig, start­ed it, and drove away. I walked through the Love’s, got Odie, and took him for a walk on the out­skirts of the truck stop. There was noth­ing but a thou­sand trucks pass­ing on the high­way, end­less sky and Kansas out there.


On Oak island

There was a haze that fell upon the beach in the late after­noon in mid-June if the water was rough and the tide was com­ing in. The haze was resid­ual froth off the waves, and it was humid, and the haze was, real­ly, just more water. That was Oak Island in the sum­mer. Hot and wet and south­ern. Like every woman I’ve tru­ly loved. People sit by the beach, not because it’s peace­ful, but because peo­ple like to sit close to that which has the pow­er to destroy them. This is why peo­ple walk up as close as they can to lava and climb moun­tains. Drive vans into the mid­dle of Kansas and wait for tor­na­dos. People don’t sit and watch things that can’t kill them. Unless they’re very dumb. Which many peo­ple are. So maybe many do. There’s a mag­ic to know­ing some­thing as sim­ple as how beau­ti­ful it is to walk where the waves crash against your ankles on the Carolina coast. Death close. Full moon. Clouds fly­ing in front of it. To walk out on the Ocean Crest Pier and see the curve of the Earth. The deaf­en­ing silence of the wind. To know you could scream and not be heard. To scream into the wind is to speak direct­ly to the Earth. Maybe one day, if lucky, every­one will dis­cov­er this blan­ket truth. Blanket like how thick the air becomes as the humid­i­ty and the ocean become one. There is no humid­i­ty like the humid­i­ty on the Carolina coast. Well, per­haps there is, but that would be in oth­er places that are sim­i­lar but dif­fer­ent and have their own things that I know noth­ing about. What I do know is you can’t feel pain out there. Out past the break­ers. Not late at night. Not if you sprint into the water and swim. Find the place behind the break­ers where calm­ness lives. Then you’ve found some­thing big­ger than your­self. I’ve found it in many places. Outside Lisbon, the south­ern coast of France, Tamarindo, the gulf coast of Florida. But nev­er have I found any­thing pur­er than the 12:30 at night walk down the beach on Oak Island. More drinks in than I care to count. Maybe walk­ing with my broth­er when we were kids, booze stolen, or hand in hand with one of so many lovers, once so close that I can hard­ly believe they’re as far away now as they’ve become.



My dad had a friend from the post office, a fel­low let­ter car­ri­er, named Steve. He would go out on the boat with us when I was a kid. My dad loved noth­ing more than his 15’ ski boat and the 85 HP Yamaha he’d got­ten a deal on. That motor gave him end­less prob­lems and more than a few times I thought we’d be strand­ed in the mid­dle of the lake because of it, but some­how, he always found a way to get it work­ing again. Steve was qui­et and ami­able. A gen­uine­ly nice guy. He’d watch me and my broth­er when we tubed and let my dad know when we fell off. Help us in the boat. He drank Bud Lights with my dad and nev­er said much. To this day I have no idea if he had a wife or a fam­i­ly. One thing I did real­ize, even as a child, is that he didn’t have, to me, what I’d seen in oth­er adults, which was, I guess, what is called matu­ri­ty or being an adult. He had child­like eyes, but not like he was curi­ous about every­thing he might see, more like he’d been con­tin­u­ous­ly float­ing away from child­hood for so long that his eyes gave away how scared he was to be where he’d arrived. It must have been four or five sum­mers Steve went out on the boat with us. Maybe twen­ty times all told. I got old­er and time moved on and nobody went out on the boat any­more. It’s still rot­ting in my dad’s dri­ve­way. I doubt it would even run. I was prob­a­bly late 20s when I heard. My dad had retired ear­ly, an option giv­en because the post office was broke. I felt like he was hav­ing trou­ble adjust­ing. He was a man who thrived under a rou­tine. Steve had retired about the same time. I hadn’t seen Steve in years. He nev­er came over to see my dad. My dad had no idea what he was doing. One after­noon, as plain as any oth­er, Steve went back to the post office where he and my dad worked, walked into the break room, and shot him­self in the head. My dad was sto­ic when I asked why he thought Steve might have done it, “well, you know, if I didn’t have you kids and your moth­er, I’m not sure what I might be capa­ble of either,” he said, tak­ing a long swal­low of his Bud Light.


San Ramon

San Ramon, Costa Rica is a mod­est city, forty-five min­utes from San Jose, fam­i­ly ori­ent­ed and struc­tured, like most Costa Rican towns, around two large church­es on oppo­site ends of the city’s rec­tan­gu­lar grid. The town rests in a val­ley sur­round­ed by moun­tains and rain­for­est but is in and of itself dirty and plain. The restau­rants, bars and busi­ness­es are unspec­tac­u­lar. The young peo­ple want out, though fam­i­ly ties are strong, and it is a good place to raise a fam­i­ly. The many stray dogs that run free in the city move amongst the peo­ple with strange nor­mal­i­ty. I like to think they have fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries. One evening, while out for a stroll I passed a half-dozen peo­ple walk­ing sin­gle file in the oppo­site direc­tion. Amongst them was a ter­ri­er mix with a gray beard that lent him the appear­ance of an old man. He remind­ed me of a hag­gard street bum, world weary, head down, ful­ly capa­ble; the vic­tim of a few bad breaks off in a fog­gy past. I won­dered where he was going and then he was gone. It was the rainy sea­son and the sky opened. I raised my umbrel­la and con­tin­ued walking.



When dark­ness falls in Jaco, Costa Rica, the women of the night pour into the streets and all sem­blance of tra­di­tion­al courtship rit­u­als fol­low the sun’s lead and vanish.



Scott was a wiry, white guy in his mid-for­ties who used to be an Army cook. He got into it with every­body at the New Orleans Country Club.

One night the line was in the weeds and Scott start­ed talk­ing shit.

Am I the only son of a bitch around here who does any work?”

You’re the only son of a bitch,” anoth­er cook named Big T said.

Don’t test me T, you know I’ve got PTSD,” Scott said.  “I’ll go off.”

Well go off then, Lil Daddy,” Big T said, try­ing to keep up with entrees cook­ing in eight pans.

Scott began his cook­ing career in the Army dur­ing Desert Storm. He loved to rem­i­nisce about rid­ing in armed con­voys, heat­ing tur­tle soup in the back on a gas-pow­ered hot­plate. He claimed a truck he was in was hit by a land mine once, but he saved the tur­tle soup.

Scott aver­aged 65 to 80 hours a week. Sick uncle, wife on dis­abil­i­ty. He took numer­ous smoke breaks and told any­one around about his arse­nal. His favorite home inva­sion defense weapon was a mod­i­fied shot­gun. He decid­ed it was his favorite while liv­ing in New Orleans East after Katrina, wait­ing up nights alone in a dark liv­ing room sur­round­ed by can­dles lis­ten­ing to Procol Harum and pray­ing silent­ly some­one might intrude.

He also had a mod­i­fied sniper rifle.

I can sit in my liv­ing room, set the sights, watch the Family Feud, lean over and pull the trig­ger with­out look­ing, and hit a tar­get 750 yards away,” he’d say, smok­ing half a Marlboro light down to the fil­ter in one drag.

If Scott wasn’t smok­ing, he could be found stalk­ing the kitchen with a pot on fire say­ing things like, “I’ve got twen­ty hours of over­time so far this week, I get here an hour ear­li­er, and they let god damn Lester go home an hour before me. That’s why I’m pissed off.”

Lester is Scott’s rival. What piss­es Scott off most is that Lester has won employ­ee of the month twice and Scott has nev­er won.

Scott and Lester start­ed at the same time. The career tra­jec­to­ries of both plateaued the day they signed on. Lester is a hulk­ing black man who drags his feet and doesn’t swing his arms when he walks. He used to be a body builder. His move­ments give the impres­sion of an indif­fer­ent man ice-skat­ing. The look on his face is always men­ac­ing. A wry smile often fol­lows antag­o­niz­ing remarks to Scott that result in charged argu­ments which Scott takes seri­ous­ly, and Lester par­tic­i­pates in for his own amusement.

In only his third month of employ­ment, a prep cook won Employee of The Month. Someone men­tioned to him Scott had nev­er won and the next day he stopped Scott in the upstairs kitchen.

I hear you’ve been here nine years and nev­er won employ­ee of the month?” the prep cook said. “That must be some kind of record.”

Yeah?” Scott said, “Well, go fuck yourself.”

Scott spent the next hour try­ing to fig­ure out who’d told the prep cook, as if it wasn’t obvious.

I wan­dered around the kitchen avoid­ing Scott because I couldn’t stop laugh­ing. I found Lester in the ket­tle room hid­ing behind a wall, lis­ten­ing to Scott rant­i­ng, cack­ling like a bas­tard and we hid there together.



On Saturday morn­ing, I woke before the oth­ers. The sun burnt orange lines onto the tree­tops and mist rose from the jun­gle. I wan­dered down to the road and caught a ride with an ex-pat in a golf cart.

Down in Montezuma, I spot­ted a sign for a day trip to the remote island of Tortuga. I paid and sprint­ed to the beach. The boat was push­ing off. I wad­ed in and a crew mem­ber yanked me aboard.

We reached the island and snorkeled of its coast. Afterwards, we explored the island at our leisure.

I leaned against a piece of drift­wood and lit a joint.

The rhythms of a drum-heavy Costa Rican band entwined with the island´s move­ments. A trop­i­cal bird flew by; a jet-black igua­na side-slid across the beach. Two French girls began an impromp­tu pho­to shoot on the jagged rocks to my left. I watched a while then gazed across the bay where waves crashed against the wall of anoth­er sol­id green island and sprayed white foam along its dark edge before return­ing to the sea.


Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His short sto­ry col­lec­tion “Jaded” is forth­com­ing. He cur­rent­ly resides in Asheville, NC.