"NO SIR, CAN'T REALLY TELL IF A MAN'S LOSING HIS MIND. LOOK HIM SQUARE IN THE EYES -- STILL CAN'T TELL. JERRY TRIGG'S WIFE SAID HIS BRAINS WERE IN THE KITCHEN SINK." Cecil scooped the last of his poached egg. "That kid over in Litchville -- works at the feed store,” Cecil swallowed hard, “he's saying when they brought Triggs to county hospital his heart was still pumping." Cecil chewed on the end of a bacon strip. "But his brains were back home in the kitchen sink. How do you figure that?"
______Irvin reached into the top pocket of his bib overalls for a nicotine tablet then glanced at Cecil, "I guess he let something get the best of him." He placed one of the tablets under his tongue and made a sour face. Taking a deep breath, he scrunched up the visor of his cap and thought about that kitchen sink. Triggs could have been crazy for months. The man’s always to work on time, shoveling the sidewalks at home; no one noticed somewhere deep in his mind things got heavy. Now his wife keeps finding shiny slivers in the carpeting. Skull fragments.
______“Brains in the sink, heart still pumping forty miles away,” Cecil shook his head.
______Irvin shrugged. “There must be some other news, Cec?”
______Cecil fingered the paper on the counter next to his plate. “Says here there’s an insurrection in the Philippines. I had a few in-erections in the Philippines when I was stationed over there as a young buck.” Cecil brushed Irvin with his elbow smiling. “Weren’t you stationed there at one time, too?”
______“Not like that, already married to Betty by then.”
______“That’s right, you always toed the line.”
______At the far end of the counter, Betty muted her soap opera during the commercial and drifted down the counter to refill the old boys’ coffee cups, maybe dish them up some fresh pie. "Fellas hear the latest on Triggs? Guess the old priest at Saint Anthony's is having a fit. Says he's not burying Triggs in the church cemetery, being it's a suicide and all. Priest said, 'He ain't going to heaven and he ain't going to Saint Anthony's.’" Betty tapped a fresh pack of Pall Malls on the counter before opening them. Feeling under the counter for a book of matches she let out a little cackle, then catching her breath she repeated, "Ain't going to heaven…ain't going to Saint Anthony's."
______Irvin studied Betty's face: smooth skin, delicate cheekbones, pouty lips painted cinnamon-red. The first years after they were married she never wore lipstick. She wore the sun and wind on her face, a natural beauty. Looking down at the tile floor he scrunched his visor again, then popped his short legs off his stool and headed for the men's room.
______After Irvin was out of sight, Betty leaned over the counter allowing her blouse to sag open a bit, "Did I scare hubby off?" She flicked an ash absentmindedly on the floor, then took a long drag looking straight at Cecil.
______"The old fool still can't take looking at a cigarette without going loony,” her voice was coarser now, deeper. Cecil's leathery face lit up with a grin as he met her stare.
______"Last night he decides he needs those idiot tablets by the bed, ’case he gets a craving. Let me tell you Cecil, Irvin hasn't had a craving in bed in a long, long time." Betty sucked her cheeks in taking another long drag.
______Cecil nodded mockingly placing an invisible tablet under his tongue, screwing up his face and staring like a goof at the ceiling fan. Betty broke into her naughty giggle putting her hand over Cecil's mouth as if to say, you're too much. Her expression changed while walking her two fingers down Cecil's neck, giving a little squeeze by his shoulders. "What are we gonna do about all this tension?" She leaned closer lightly scraping her nails across his broad chest.
______She hadn't heard the men's room door creak as it always did, or her husband's familiar duck walk, but suddenly he was standing at the end of the counter. His face was expressionless, his eyes unblinking. Betty barely recognized him. He was so small. Frail, like the boy of many years ago waiting at the end of her driveway, the rain pelting his shaggy head of blond hair. She tried to say something, anything, but words did not come.
______Irvin padded back to his stool letting Betty check his temperature with the back of her hand. She kneaded his shoulders until his breath grew deeper. She mumbled something about her soap opera, kissed him on the forehead and left the two men with their coffee and pie.
______"So you think that old priest is gonna let Triggs dirt nap at Saint Anthony's?" Cecil blew on his hot coffee while keeping an eye on Irvin. Irvin's stubby fingers fished for another nicotine tablet in his work shirt. "Well,” Cecil started again, “leave it to the Catholics to figure out who's goin' to heaven and who's not." Cecil sipped the coffee still keeping Irvin in his eye line. "None of our goddamn business, right Irvin?"
______Irvin put the tablet under his tongue and placed his thumb and forefinger over his left wrist and began counting his pulse.
______"Irvin, you alright?"
______"Fine, Cec." Irvin finished taking his pulse and closed his eyes for a slow count of three. With his eyes still closed he asked Cecil, "You ready to hunt tomorrow?"
______"Never missed an opening weekend yet," Cecil dragged his pie front and center and stabbed it with the fork.
______"Well let's go together," Irvin's eyes opened, "my truck isn't running so good."
______"Ricky didn't fix it?"
______"Yeah, but it’s still not running right. Timing belt, I think."
______"No problem then. Just be ready early, ’cause I like to bag mine before those city boys start blasting holes in milk cattle and fence posts. Christ, it gets worse every year."
______Irvin got up and slowly ran a hand through his receding hair, "I'll be ready, Cec." Turning back to his coffee, he fished a floating ground out with his thumb. Before flicking the brown speck, he offered a look to Cecil who was busy forking the last of his pie into his mouth. "I guess my wife isn't as careful as she used to be." Irvin flicked the speck hard to the floor, turned and walked the length of the diner to Betty's stool under the television. Cecil watched him whisper something, kiss her on the forehead and head out the door.
______Three times Cecil called out to Betty for more coffee in the empty diner but she remained motionless, a statue at her phosphorescent alter. Before going out the door, Cecil caught Betty's reflection off the screen. She looked different somehow.
______Stepping outside he let his big frame lean against the door as it closed. The droning of the soap opera could still be heard while he turned up his collar against the biting north wind. The top of an old coffee can bounced across the gravel and somewhere way off in the distance a dog was barking. Cecil cranked up the old Ford and clapped his cold hands together. Winter's coming, he thought, and she’s an unforgiving bitch. Lighting a cigarette he slumped down behind the wheel, and while keeping an eye on the diner, he watched the last of the sun slip over the Rockies.