Blast from the past, redux

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Okay, I finally took care of my taxes (the latest ever!!!), and my brain is taking a break, so I’ll inflict my readers with one of my favorite short stories I wrote several years back.
Without further ado, here’s Jitter Lee!

********

Slow dance with a greased pig

She smells like old hamburgers, Dallas thought as he watched Loretta restock the minnow barrel. Dub’s Bait Shop held many attractions for the denizens of Hogsnort, and Loretta Bowden brought many a moneyed redneck through its ragged screen door.

From his vantage point behind a shelf of lures and fishing reels, Dallas admired the line of her legs and curve of her back as she hoisted the battered and rusted metal bucket onto her freckled shoulder and turned it over, squinting her eyes as the silvery fish poured into the barrel in a stream of green-tinged water. The bucket empty, she placed it back on the floor, then wiped a few drops of the brackish water from her cheek. Loretta bent over and picked the bucket up again, unaware of her admirer’s wanton stare, and sauntered back into the storage room.

“You ain’t thinkin’ of askin’ my sister out, are ya, Dallas?”

Dallas turned around to see Jitter Lee Bowden staring hard at him with his good eye, the other one floating aimlessly in its socket. Jitter wiped at the grease on his face with a tattered red shop rag, succeeding only in smearing it around more into the creases and crags on his weathered mug. “So, are ya?” he asked again.

Dallas stepped back to get a little downwind of Jitter’s funk, a stench so powerful that the normal fishy scent of the shop was a distant memory — it seemed to be a mixture of sweat, motor oil and the fried liver and onion plate from The Dixie Belle Cafe. “What makes you think that, Jitter Lee?” he asked, hoping that the man wouldn’t notice the strain in his voice or the tears gathering in his eyes from the stench. “I’m just here pickin’ up some bait for my fishin’ trip with Jay-Bob.”

“Jitter Lee, are you botherin’ my customers again?” Loretta called as she came back from the storage room. Dallas inhaled sharply as he saw her round the counter, her honey blonde hair streaming behind her. There was a good reason she was named Possum Queen three years running, and the years had been extraordinarily kind to her. Her almost constant diet of double-bacon cheeseburgers from the Dew Drop Drive-In didn’t show on her body — well, except for the smell, but hell, those burgers were the best in the county, so who could blame her?

“Dallas Clodfelter, I didn’t even know you were here!” she exclaimed, a smile crossing those pretty pink lips of hers. “I guess you’ll be wantin’ some minners, woncha — I heard you and Jay-Bob were gonna be goin’ up to Tenkiller. Practicin’ for the big bass tournament?” she asked, stepping back behind the counter to get a styrofoam pail for Dallas’ bait.

Dallas sauntered up to the counter with what he hoped was an attractive swagger. “Yeah, we’re leaving tomorrow mornin’ at 4:30. That storm this mornin’ probably riled the fish up good, so they should be bitin’.” Dallas watched as Loretta tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear before grabbing a scoop for the minnows, and he sighed a little to himself as she moved gracefully to the barrel.

“’Bout three dozen okay, or do you want some more?” she asked, her bright green eyes crinkling with a smile as she gazed expectantly at him.

Dallas swallowed. “Yeah, that should be good. Uh, could I also get some night crawlers? The real wiggly ones?” he asked as Loretta scooped out minnows into the pail.

She finished and fastened the lid to the little white bucket. “Sure. I’ll have to get some out of the back, though. Billy Dobbins just cleaned me out about ten minutes before you got here and I haven’t had a chance to restock yet. I can’t guarantee ya a lotta wriggle, but the fish sure seem to like ’em.”

Dallas smiled. “That’s fine. I got time to wait.”

Loretta smiled back at him as she pushed the pail across the counter. “All righty then, give me about five minutes, and I’ll be back with a whole mess of ‘em for ya.” She turned and headed to the back again, closing the door behind her with a quiet click.

Dallas stood and watched her, only after she was gone realizing that the radio had become louder. Patsy Cline was playing, and Jitter was swaying happily to the music. He held his arms out to Dallas.

“Daince with me.”

“What?” Dallas asked incredulously. He stepped back, bumping into the counter as he did. Jitter stepped forward until he was six inches from Dallas’ face.

“If you wanna go out with my sister, you’ll daince with me.” The stench wafting from Jitter Lee’s body was nothing compared to what was coming from his open mouth, and Dallas tried hard not to retch. After a long moment, he realized Jitter wasn’t going away.

“Fine, but can we make this quick?” Dallas murmured as Jitter slipped an arm around him to rest one hand on his back while he grabbed Dallas’ hand and twirled him around the gritty bait-shop floor. The strains of “Crazy” filled the air as Dallas realized that the motor oil wasn’t just on Jitter’s face — it was everywhere. Geez, the guy was a mechanic, but didn’t he believe in washing up between jobs? Jitter pulled him closer, humming to the music, eyes closed in bliss, and twirled him again. When the cough came, Dallas sprang out of his arms instantly.

“I’m sorry to interrupt.” Loretta said sheepishly. She held a small perforated tin pail in front of her. “Got yer night crawlers — the wriggliest I had.”

Dallas took the silvery pail from her and set it on top of the pail of minnows on the counter, then cleared his throat. “How much do I owe you?”

“It’s $7.50.” She watched as Dallas shakily fished the money out of his wallet and handed exact change to her, dropping a quarter as he did. “Thanks, Dallas. Hope you catch some big ‘uns!” She fastened her usual smile back on her face as he turned to leave, keeping it there till he made it out the door, then grimaced as she saw the oily handprint on his backside.

“Jitter Lee Bowden, why do you have to do that? Every single damn time someone I like comes in here! Are you trying to make sure I stay an old maid?” Her eyes were icy as she stared at her brother, who, as usual, was oblivious.

“Loretta, believe me, it’s no big loss with that one,” Jitter said as he munched on a Cheez Doodle he found in his shirt pocket.

“He let me lead way too easy.”

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