RD never stopped having big dreams. He had most of them sitting on a bar stool behind the counter at Skeeter’s Truck Stop where he had been a cashier for nine years.
A newspaper was sprawled out, opened to the Sports section. As usual, RD read every word and every statistic. Sometimes he’d reread articles and circle pertinent information, fix the grammar errors and typos.
When the door chime rang, RD looked up and got excited. It was Fred Pitre, a black man in his late 50s who passed through once a week for a hot shower. As usual, Fred had his tote bag hanging from his shoulder packed with clothes, towels, and toiletries.
“Mr. Pitre! How are you, sir?!”
RD’s greeting startled Fred.
“I’m okay. A little tired. Don’t smell too good. How are you, RD?”
“I just can’t believe Patterson dropped it in the fourth, twice! You called it again!”
“That boy always chokes in the fourth; I keep telling you. Say, hot water runnin’?”
RD stayed wide-eyed and smiled big. “You bet. Here, this one’s on the house.” RD picked up a stack of quarters he had ready and handed them to Fred. “Enjoy.”
“Nah, I can’t accept that!”
“Well, I’m also hopin’ you can give me this week’s picks before you leave.”
“Ha! You’re alright, RD. You’re alright.” Fred accepted the quarters and headed to the back room where the showers were.
Except for the humming from the freezer, the front of the store felt empty and quiet again. RD sat back and looked at the highway outside. He imagined driving away from Skeeter’s with a full tank of gas to join the sparse traffic with his wife and daughter in the passenger seats fast asleep. The inside and the top of the car would be packed with their most valuable belongings; they didn’t have many.
RD looked down at the sports section again and continued reading. Later that night, he would focus on a different message.
Even though Pappy was a widower, he was married to the only church in town, aptly named “Farms with Arms” or “FWA”. No, not “Church of Jesus”-something; that would have shown weakness.
It was made up of a large group of pissed off families who felt their country was “hijacked by minorities, Gays, and Jews.” Their organization and their sentiment incubated inside Heart City, a small East Texas town off the highway, most of which stayed hidden behind pine trees, and rusty warehouses that sold tractors, storage sheds, and junkyard scrap.
For a long time, the population surfed at a steady 500, but when the recession hit in ’08, it forced over 200 people to move away which chain-reacted further destruction to the strength of this non-inclusive community and the only world RD knew.
Next to RD at church sat his unusually sexy gun-rights-activist wife, Maylee, and their soft-spoken nine-year-old daughter, Caroline. Caroline’s birth put the kibosh on RD’s plans to turn his online Associate of Arts degree into a career as a sports writer. That bothered RD, but he kept it to himself because, in Heart, a surprise pregnancy was God’s way of quickly turning boys into men.
In front of everyone, Pappy often proudly ordained RD as his successor. This excited RD and, quite frankly, softened the blow of his failure to fulfill his original dream. He believed in Pappy’s message not realizing it was the only truth he had been receiving his entire life. Taking over FWA was an opportunity for him to become somebody, finally.
Before Sunday night service started, Pappy whispered into RD’s ear, “Tell Maylee I’ll drive you home tonight after church. Me, you and the boys need to have a meeting.” RD got nervous and coughed out “Okay” after choking on some spit he swallowed. Is Pappy finally handing him the reins? Will RD’s training begin with short practice sermons? These and other questions raced through RD’s noggin as he sat trying to contain his excitement.
All three of Pappy’s sons shared Pappy’s philosophies, but they weren’t as smart at RD, and they knew it. They didn’t mind, though; RD had become “like kin” when he said, “I do” to their little sister at the FWA altar. They ignored that he’d “done her” somewhere on Pappy’s land very early into their courtship according to one of Maylee’s so-called best friends, “Loose-Lipped Lisa”. Her nickname carried a double meaning in Heart, but that’s not relevant to the story.
What’s important to know is that Maylee’s brothers had RD’s back, and this mutual affection grew into a militia kind of brotherly love that involved quality time together shooting bottles and cans, hunting boars and dove, and playing poker every Friday night after church on Pappy’s farm.
Sometimes Pappy would buy-in, win all their money and crack himself up in the process. He had an old rustic contagious laugh that singed the hairs off their hides when they heard it. But they got over it quickly because they respected him and admired the fact that he was a legendary poker player written about in books before he began FWA.
Pappy donned black attire like Johnny Cash, strutted around in expensive ostrich boots and crowned his silver Cesar-style haircut with his collection of beautiful Stetson cowboy hats.
When the organ sounds of the first Negro spiritual faded into silence, he removed his hat and laid it on a bar stool next to his podium. It sat there looking like a hunting dog ready to fetch the kill.
He would grip his 30-year-old podium with his big farmers’ hands and deliver salvation with nail-driving platitudes, sometimes trailed with spit from the sides of his mouth, a baptism of holy saliva on a few lucky members.