The sitcom cut to a commercial and Garth picked up the pipe and a lighter. While we watched a procession of former lard-asses tout the benefits of a new diet pill, he lit the underside of the pipe’s bowl and waited for the blessed, wisps of white smoke to swirl and rise. He sucked in the smoke once it appeared, held it a few moments then blew it all out. It was a massive hit; ash-white clouds filled the cramped camper. Feeling a wave of relaxation from the hit, he pondered just how many hits of equal punch the bowl had left. After all, hadn’t Blackie urged him to smoke all he wanted?
Unfortunately, he still needed to take a massive dump. No amount of tweak was going to camouflage the cramping in his bowels. He’d have to brave his way to the bathroom in the house where Rufus’s mother reigned. But first, he thought, one last hit! Garth crossed then re-crossed his legs to ease the discomfort ballooning inside him while he flicked the lighter and lined up the bowl. He scored another white cloudbank, blew it into the air. After that, he rose to his feet and ventured through the door.
Though he’d been inside less than ten minutes, already the night felt colder than when he’d arrived. He rubbed the arms of his sweater to warm his freezing hands and surveyed the landscape before him. Once again, he chided himself for under-dressing in this weather.
The shack seemed so far away. The pressure in his bowels had reached such an intensity, Garth somewhat doubted his ability to walk freely. He forced himself, however, to try. If he kept his legs squeezed together, walking like a duck, he could tolerate moving. He made his slow, slow trek across the raggedy field, breath appearing in clouds that were white as well as those from the pipe.
After two minutes of pitifully limited progress, he was close enough to the shack to discern shapes through the pink curtains. He noted even the flickering glow of a television. A large figure, likely the one he’d seen earlier, was seated some distance from the window. Garth wondered if this was the fabled mother whom to himself he called Big Mama, this woman he badly hoped to avoid.
A wooden door with chipped white paint was located a few feet down from the window. Garth hoped this led to the bathroom. He’d forgotten to ask Rufus how best to enter the house, but since the shack was so small, maybe there was just one entrance. Since it was, indeed, so small, the bathroom couldn’t be far away. In agony, he flopped against the door, felt the chipping paint scratch his face. After recovering, he turned the knob, praying the door wouldn’t squeak. Amazingly, it opened quietly; he pulled the door shut behind him. To his left, he noted a doorway and a television. He heard an announcer and saw the flickering light. Whoever was watching the set—obviously Big Mama, he thought—was tucked far inside the room. Garth turned in place, trying to orient himself, and found there was almost no room to move.
Cardboard boxes, some marked with handwritten words like Christmas and Halloween, sat stacked around him in towers either three or four units high. Atop the boxes rested layers of clothing, most on hangers. There was barely enough floor room for him to lie down—had he wanted to—and only if he didn’t stretch his limbs. Garth shrugged off the slovenliness and located another doorway. It led into a dark room. After a moment’s groping, he found a light switch and flicked it on.
The bathroom lay ahead.
Unfortunately, the path there was a makeshift one in which Garth would have to bypass a snow-blower, a rolling rack of dresses, multiple towers of folded newspapers as high as his chest. Random piles of soiled stuffed animals littered the whole room. Garth climbed over the obstacles, and a sharp, stabbing pain shot through his bowels each time his foot hit the floor. Finally, he reached the bathroom. Afraid of what might await him, he gulped and flicked on the light. There was a ceramic tub coated completely with flaking rust, an ironing board resting within it, and still more newspaper stacks. Garth reached the toilet and fearfully pulled up the lid. The bowl was rusted with sickly amber, only a swallow of water in it. Garth searched for toilet paper but found none and was afraid to further investigate. The newspaper would do.
He dropped his pants and sat on the pot. While he strained, he removed the top section from a stack and tore off a sheet. He noticed pellets or droppings dappled across the news stacks and what little remained of the floor. As if on cue, this revelation was followed by a high-pitched squeak. Of course there were rats; Garth was now their guest. He forced shit from his bowels, the loud plop of it landing in the shallow bowl. He thought no more humiliation could befall him but then heard from the living room a shrieking laughter followed by congested hacking. Worse yet, how the sound seemed to travel indicated that whoever made those noises was on the move.
Garth wasn’t done using the toilet. There’d been no door to close, so there he was with his pants down, fully visible to whoever walked past. A shadow passed over all the junk, its owner treading closer. Garth was about to be discovered.
He did the only thing he could think to do. He called out, “Hello?”
The rats’ high-pitched squeaks had grown more persistent, but no one answered. Still, Big Mama hovered outside, and Garth would meet her very soon. He called out again, “Hello?”
“Who’s that in my goddamn house?” she answered, her voice hoarse and strident.
“Ma’am,” Garth said, furiously wiping his ass with a shred of newspaper, flinching in pain at the paper’s roughness. “I’m your son’s friend. He said I could use the bathroom…”
“Where the hell is Rufus?” Big Mama said. “He has my TV Guide.”
“Ma’am, I don’t know.” For a moment, neither of them spoke. Garth heard footsteps drawing nearer. He was almost done wiping; he just needed a few more moments. “Ma’am…or Miss…if you could just stay there a moment, please. I’m not decent right now!”
Seconds later, a massive middle-aged woman in a floral housedress and terrycloth slippers appeared in the doorway. Garth guessed her to be around four hundred pounds. She carried a half-empty bag of Ruffles wadded beneath her armpit. She glared at Garth on the toilet with his pants down as if she saw such things every day.
“Are you Rufus’s mother?” he asked weakly. He thought it might show good graces to address her by her married name, but he and Rufus had never exchanged last names.
“Where’s my boy?” she asked. “Who the hell are you?”
“Ma’am, if you could just give me a second to get off the toilet, I’d—”
“Shit, boy, you wanna get up off the pot, then get up off the pot. You ain’t got nothin’ I ain’t seen before.”
Mortified, Garth finally lifted his ass off the pot and tried to pull up his pants without fully standing, but he couldn’t yank them all the way up his thighs. He kept hedging his bets, rising inch by inch from the pot. The woman glared at him, no emotion. When his genitals finally made their appearance, Garth wanted to die. He was now standing fully erect and able to fasten his pants. After he was done, he stood frozen while Big Mama glared at him.
“I’m Garth Wainwright,” he muttered. “I’m friends with your son.”
“Where the hell is Rufus?” she repeated. “He has my TV Guide.”
“Ma’am, he had to run an errand. He’s not here.”
“Who the fuck are you?” she cried, this time stepping closer. Her breath reeked of cheap wine. Garth suddenly feared for his safety.
“I’m Garth,” he repeated. “I just need to get back to the camper.”
“That’s where my son lives,” she said. “Why ain’t he there?”
“Like I said, he’s—”
The jangly ringtone from his jeans pocket startled him. It had felt, for a moment at least, that he and Big Mama were the only people left on earth. Garth dove for his phone, praying it was Rufus. He flipped open the phone.
“How much longer now?” Josh whined.
“Josh, baby, I can’t talk right now.”
“It’s almost nine. I can’t still be fucked up in the morning.”
“Who’s that?” Big Mama demanded, unrolling her bag of chips. “Is that my Rufus?”
“Where the fuck are you?” Josh asked.
“It would take too long to explain,” Garth sighed.
“Dude, do you even have the stuff?”
“It’s on its way, believe me.”
“Can I use your computer?”
The fat woman jammed her fist into the chips and yanked out a handful of crumbs. She tilted back her head, opened her mouth wide and dumped the pile of crumbs down the hatch. Crumbs fluttered down her cheeks as she chewed.
“Why do you wanna use the computer?” There was hysteria in Garth’s his voice.
“So I can find someone online.”
“No!” Garth shouted. His whole night had collapsed—and so quickly! “I will be there, Josh. Please believe me.” Over the line, he heard a pair of loud clicks. “What are you doing? What was that noise?”
“I had to turn on the hard drive,” Josh replied dully.
“Baby, can’t you wait just a few minutes?” Garth pleaded.
“Time to rub the lotion on Mama’s feet,” the fat woman announced.
Garth didn’t notice his host’s command. To grab his attention, she slapped Garth’s shoulder with her meaty paw. The young man shrieked and spun around, just inches from her blotchy face.
“It’s time to rub the lotion on Mama’s feet! Then it’s time for The Bachelor.”
Still holding the cell phone to his ear, Garth had no idea what to say. His jaw just flexed and retracted as if hinged. The fat woman dug in the deep pocket of her housedress and produced a vanity-sized lotion bottle. The squeeze-cap was crusty with dried white gunk. She tossed the bottle to Garth who caught it with his free hand as if it were his reflex.
“Let’s go, boy. Time to rub the lotion on Mama’s feet!”
Garth was so transfixed that he’d forgotten Josh waited on the line. He raised the phone back to his face. “Josh, you there? Josh? Baby?” He was shocked to feel the tears streaming down his cheeks. Josh never answered.
He’d wanted only wet, nasty sex with his young friend back in Tyler. He gazed at his cell phone in one hand and the lotion bottle in the other. Miraculously, Big Mama started to waddle back into the living room. Garth took a deep breath. All he could think about was the remaining tweak in the pipe at Rufus’s camper.
He heard Big Mama’s voice rumble from the other room. “Get your ass in here and rub the lotion on Mama’s feet!” Garth’s shoulders slumped, and he fell back onto the closed toilet. His heart pounded with fear, but he wasn’t sure what scared him so much. Losing Josh, who was never his? Getting cheated, which wasn’t likely? (Rufus had to return home at some point.) Angering a scary woman whom he’d never see again? He gathered his courage like firewood and left the bathroom.
“You damn sure took long enough, boy!”
Garth smiled sweetly. “I’m sorry, Missus…?”
“You don’t have to call me a damn thing. Just rub that lotion on my feet.”
The living room was a collection of forgotten and unappealing objects, most of them stuffed into boxes, but not all. A stuffed raccoon leered at Garth from atop the television set. An open lunch pail sat with rotten fruit festering inside. He knelt before Big Mama’s feet after she flung them upon a cushioned stool. She glared at the tan, toned bachelorettes on television, seeming to look straight through her unexpected guest. Garth was relieved and slathered the lotion in his hands.
“Dumb little shit, take my slippers off first.”
As he removed the shoes, he noticed from the corner of his eye Big Mama fetch a glass pipe and place it between her lips. Garth couldn’t believe it. He felt stupid for letting his hope falter. He forgot about Josh, he forgot about Rufus. The smoke swirled around the bowl a few moments after she flicked her lighter. He didn’t want her to catch him staring.
She lazily exhaled white smoke. “I know why you’re here, dumb shit. Same reason anyone come see Rufus.”
“Do you have enough for me, too?”
Big Mama grinned and wiggled her toes. “Do a good enough job and we’ll just see.”
Garth’s cell rang. He barely heard it stuffed in his pocket. He thought about answering. It could be Josh; it could be Rufus. It could even be his mother. She was not big, and he did not call her mama. Instead, he let the call go to voicemail. What he had with Big Mama was a sure thing. After all the shit he’d been though that night, it was the least he deserved.
Thomas Kearnes holds an MA in Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. His two collections are “Pretend I’m Not Here” (Musa Publishing) and “Promiscuous” (JMS Publishing). His fiction has appeared in Litro, The Adroit Journal, The Ampersand Review, PANK, Word Riot, Eclectica, SmokeLong Quarterly, Johnny America, Five Quarterly, wigleaf, Storyglossia, Sundog Lit, A cappella Zoo, Spork, The Pedestal, Digital Americana Magazine and elsewhere. His work has also appeared in several LGBT venues. He is studying to become a drug dependency counselor. He lives near Houston.