The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Trash by Markus Jones


dead mule school

It was one of those South Carolina summers digging its heels into the bloodied dirt of October, refusing a new season take its place. Everyone hoarded the sun now that humidity migrated south for the upcoming winter.

Divorced mothers practice their concealed weapons license. They pose next to the shot up poster of masked gunmen. These pictures post to their web pages, maybe to scare off ex-husbands or maybe just the folks living off of White Horse Road – in Taco Town.

Girls looking to get jobs at local strip clubs spend extra hours laying out. Truckers appreciate this attention to detail, even if some of the locals don’t care to notice.

Gas station attendants take their time with the morning garbage. Black hefty bags dribble a trail across the pavement. Lot rats follow these trails. The kids sift through dumpsters. They drink left over coffee mate creamers thrown away after the morning rush. They lick the small plastic cups clean. Sometimes the curl of a girl’s pink tongue catches the eye of a businessman stopping for the day’s paper. These men think these girls will do anything. Keith Ray knows they will do anything.

Keith Ray left the house early.

After the trailer fire social services got in the way. He might see Cindy again tonight though. They shared secrets. That he missed most.

His pickup pulled a short trailer strapped with weed eaters and blowers and yard tools. He earned two hundred dollars a week.

Before blowing the lot, he cleaned with a bucket in one hand and a clawed pick-up tool in the other. Now and again he reached down to put something in his pocket.

A tall kid shot gunned a forty. He leaned at the back wall. “I needed that.” A plastic bag with two unopened cans leaned at his feet.

“Good for you, fellow,” said Keith Ray. It went something like this every Saturday.

After weed whacking the late summer weeds, the girl propositioned him again while he changed out of his cover pants. He pulled them over his shorts, to shield from flying grit.
“Mmm, man, I wish I come by here a minute sooner,” she said. Her skinny legs long and brown.

“You would have been disappointed.”

“I don’t think so.” She stood straight. “I don’t think so,” she said again.

“I do.”

“For that twenty you found we could find out.”

Keith Ray laced his boots. The girl turned back to the station. He took a sip from a pint and slid it back under child’s seat strapped into the cab.
She had been working up the nerve all summer. Keith Ray lifted his gas powered blower from the trailer.

The girl reached under the vending machines. She found a few sticky quarters because she returned from the front with a gas station sausage peeking out of the wrapper in one hand, so red nitrate was the first ingredient.

“Watch it,” said Keith Ray, “that’s going to slip out.”

An old white lady at the pump, probably from Augusta Road, held her purse tight.

The girl opened the aluminum wrapper. She pushed the sausage a bit too hard, and it slipped onto the pavement.

“Oh, man,” she said.

The kid next to her picked it out of the sand. He held the dog dangling from his fingers.

“No, man,” said Keith Ray.

The kid blew off the hot dog and took a bite.

“Here,” Keith Ray said, “get another.” He pulled out a single from his pocket. The bill shivered at the end of his out stretched fingers.

The young kid licked his fingers. “You bad. With your dollar bill you bad, ain’t you?”

Keith Ray held it out until the kid took it.

“Cindy told us what you do. This one dollar ain’t going to save you.”

“What do I do?”

“Did she get you this outside job, or did you get her that inside job?”

“What job?”

“You cleaning these lots after a week of drunks, and your little girl come in behind you and clean the inside out of drunks.”

After blowing the parking lot free of sand and cigarette trash, Keith Ray strapped his blower to the side of the truck.

The girl walked toward the truck. Keith Ray didn’t light his cigarette. He shoved his bottle of whisky between his thighs. She shook her head, barely.

At the passenger side window the young kid appeared. “Hey, man.”

“What is it?” Keith Ray looked away from the girl.

“You got another dollar?”

“I got nothing.”

“I know you got another dollar, man. I seen you pick shit out of that trash.”

“Look, kid, I got nothing.”

“You don’t want mess with me.”

“I ain’t interested in you.” Keith Ray said.

“She’ll be earning at that bathroom tonight. That interests you.”

“Who’s that?”

“Don’t matter? It’s always somebody’s little girl, ain’t it. Either way, you the perv.”

Long legs stretched in his rearview. He pulled onto the highway. The metal trailer clattered. A wheel dropped off the curb. An empty glass pint slipped to the floorboards. Keith Ray reached into his pocket and pulled the dirty twenty he found crumpled on the pavement. He lifted it to his nose. It smelled of sweat and gasoline. Down the road sirens cried, answering each other, lamenting. Too late . . . too late . . . too late.