A ROYAL PAIN

Love your tourblogs, I demand, write some short stories NOW, deadline is the death of a cat kissing the electric wire before a drunk comes first.

– E-mail from Thomas H. Hansen

Herbert landed on his hands and knees in the gravel. He heard laughter behind him. Then the door slammed shut, and all he heard was the pounding rhythm and caterwauling slide guitars muffled by the walls of the club.

He stumbled to his feet. It was no use looking for his car. He’d ridden here with Cathy. That nasty little – well, maybe it had been a mistake to follow her into the ladies room, but it had seemed important at the time. Now this.

He fished for his phone to call a cab. But first he needed to get away from this juke joint. No way he wanted to wait around in this neon-blinking parking lot. There was an all-night drugstore down the road. He could buy some Band-Aids and call from there.

Walking turned out to be a project. The asphalt glistened in the moonlight. Over and over, Herbert tried to pick out a particular spot and set his foot on it, but the foot always landed off to one side or the other. The left foot seemed to do worse than the right. No, the right foot was not so good either.

Where was that drugstore? He should have got there by now. There were no lights ahead, no lights behind. It struck Herbert that maybe he had stepped out of reality into a parallel world where there were no all-night drugstores, no juke joints, maybe nobody else at all.

Herbert stepped into the tall grass beside the road to pee. In a field beyond he could make out some large black shapes. It was dark, and he was no farm boy. Were they cows? Horses? Yaks? There was a metal wire running between the fence posts. He shone his phone light on it and saw a ceramic insulator on the post. An electric fence. Don’t pee on that.

A car pulled to a stop behind him. A window rolled down. “Herbert?”

“Jeeze, Cathy. Can’t a man take a leak in peace?”

“Get in the car. I’ll take you home.”

A plan came to Herbert all at once. If he could get Cathy out in the moonlight, ask her forgiveness, maybe he could get his arms around her. Then it would all be over very quickly. At her height, that wire was just about butt-high.

“Come out here and look at these animals.”

“I ain’t getting down in the ditch with you and them yaks.”

Yaks? Did she say yaks? How did she know?

“Aw, come on, Cat. I’m sorry about what happened and everything.”

“Herbert, get in this car now.”

“No, I –“ He stepped backwards.

The jolt hit him like a baseball bat. The next thing Herbert knew he was sprawled in the road with his face pressed against the car door.

“You don’t have to make such a production about it. Just get in.”

Herbert got in. “I think one of them yaks bit me.”

Cathy started the car. “You know, Herbert,” she said, “sometimes you can be a royal pain in the ass.”

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