The Story of Ophelia’s Darling
Eddie was still in a snit with himself over his lack of life skills when his scanner squawked again. Having forgotten his outfit, he would be making a fool of himself by revisiting his monologue to add the missing information, so he bided his time for an opening.
“This is Tango Tyler, Gopher. What kinda rig you driving, Podner.”
“Got me a two box Kenny, Tango, hauling scrap metal bound for China. Why do you ask me that?”
“Cause you talk purdier than a ten-dollar whore.”
Though he might have broken up with laughter, Eddie was caught off guard. The people he was talking to may not have been well schooled, but they still had the mother wit to be a challenge for him. He needed a rejoinder fast, and he wasn’t sure he had one. Then he recalled the horror stories he’d heard in his A.C.O.A.meeting days. “That’s the way my pappy raised me,” Eddie said, after a pause. “That old bastard slapped me silly, I didn’t make him laugh.”
“I can relate to that,” Tango Tyler said. “What did you say that handle was?”
“Can’t say I’ve heard it none. You say he’s a living legend? Sounds like a legend in his own mind.”
Damn, Eddie said to himself. He’d never known his racetrack friends to give him any guff whenever he got into character and launched into one of his spiels. He’d livened up parties for years that way, and no one ever second guessed him. He’d always thought the whole point was making people believe the lies, even when they knew he was lying. But it did give him an opening.
“Is that a fact? Maybe you’d know Ophelia then…” Eddie paused a second, trying to picture Ophelia. He peered down his nose at the Hank Janson novel his songwriter buddy had given him before he’d left his homestead. The tawdry portrait of a near naked lady left a lasting impression of what lurked between the folds.
“Tell stories like that to the boys on the road, you’ll get along just fine,” his songwriting friend had said.
Not quite what I’m after, Eddie concluded, glancing again at the cover art. He looked around at the idling cars and there, next to him, in a red jalopy, fanning herself with a Playboy rag, was a woman as big as a boathouse. In front of her was a tractor trailer with a Denver address written on it.
“…used to be a truck stop waitress outside Tuscaloosa, plain as an old sow she was, wen coming out left side of her nose, eyes like flea-bit hound. Had the hots for this Denver boy, used to come in regular, making a run to Jacksonville. He always took Ophelia’s spot whenever he came through, and when she’d come to pour his coffee he’d start going on with her like she was a Playboy bunny or something. She’d be saying, you don’t mean it, stop giving me such sass, and stuff, but we knew she was pleased about it cause it always showed by the light in her eyes and how she primped when he come in -”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Hairless Harry. What the hell you talking about? You reading from a book or something?”
Eddie just went on talking. “Anyway, some of the local boys, they didn’t like that trucker much, and being the practical joking sort, they done wrote a letter up, addressed it to Ophelia, signed it lover boy, and mailed it down the road apiece. Said they’d go out dancing next time he comes through. That was always Thursday night, first and third week of each month, round about nine o’clock -”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Sultry Sue. What are you, Rip Van Winkle or something? Just woke up in sleepy holler? Folks don’t talk like that no more.”
“…Woman gets her big night off, wears that bright red dress she’d bought just for the occasion and goes to the stop to meet her man. He rolls in about eleven, stinking of a truck stop whore, sidles up to the service counter and takes his regular seat. Girl that took Ophelia’s place, she come over to pour his coffee. He says where’s Ophelia, and why ain’t she waiting on me, or did she go home already -”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Hairless Harry. I do believe this boy’s a Yankee, down here carpet bagging.”
“…Girl points out Ophelia to him, hair done up with bows and ringlets, wearing that bright red dress she’d bought just for the occasion, makes her look like a fire truck. Lover Boy, he’s sipping coffee, and just then the waitress says, ‘I do believe she’s waiting on you, seeing as how ya’ll had a date tonight.’ Lover Boy chokes and sprays his coffee all over that gal’s uniform, and then he says, the hell we did, and puts his dollar down and walks.”
“Breaker One Nine, Sheboygan Shorty. Take it private, you know there hey. This is the main channel, over.”
“…Woman sees him leave, of course, gets all teary-eyed and weepy, pumps that girl that waited on him for every word they’d said. Only makes her cry some more. Fellow hired to do the cooking, he comes over to sympathize, sees her dressed like a Christmas package waiting to be unwrapped, feeds her some of that pot roast chili, and makes a happy woman of her right there on the salad counter, never did unwrap his present -”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Sultry Sue. You some kind of woman hater?”
“Who you calling a woman hater? I’m just telling what happened is all. Ain’t gonna give it no sugar coating -”
“Sexist fucking pig.”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Sam I Am. He ain’t hurting anybody. Let him have his fun.”
“I appreciate that, Sam. Cain’t imagine I hate women half as much as she hates men, and I got plenty of reason to… But anyway, like I was saying, after that cook was done with her that Denver boy never crossed her mind. That cook, he saw where things was going, way she tried to make him over. He done hit the road again and took another job -”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Tango Tyler, you’re breaking up real bad there, Gopher, but you sure tell one hell of a yarn for a feller that might be lying. Tango Tyler over and out.”
“…and ever since then that cooking fellow’s been known as Ophelia’s Darling.”
Goddammit, Gofer, you got carried away again. Just give them the words from the sponsor, will you?
“You’d have known him if you’d seen him, always dressed in black, he was, un-pressed jeans, and a slub-silk shirt, red bandanna round his neck, belt made out of rubber with bottle caps around it, fastened with an old seat belt buckle from a General Motors car. I ain’t never seen the like. Boots with silver toe caps on them, initials done in lizard skin. Never wears nothing else that boy, except them cooking whites, that is.”
“Breaker One Nine, it’s Hairless Hairy. What the hell is a slub-silk shirt?”
“Breaker Breaker, Sheboygan Shorty, I think this guy’s a four-wheeler, smoking up a pipe dream, don’t ya know there, hey.”
Staggered by Sheboygan Shorty’s remark, Eddie sat there jamming until the roadway cleared, telling stories with no moral and no meaning whatsoever. He chattered on for another hour, pausing only at the realization that he was becoming a Striver – of all the boring, contemptible types – or even worse, a Wannabe. He was aghast at the horror of it. He’d started out life in overdrive, going at it freestyle, and here he was by the side of the road unable even to idle. He’d taken a dive, like a Kamikaze, from one leisure class to the other. But he’d go knocking on doors himself, and make his own opportunities, rather than depend on others to gain admittance for him. Thus determined, his mouth kept moving, barking out that yarn of his, like he was shilling a carnival. By the time he arrived in Pensacola, where he finally stopped to find some work, it was all about Ophelia’s chili and her hungry Darling was eating it.