Ten miles out of Austin, Turner’s front wheel hit a chughole and the tire flatted. “Fuckitfuckfuckfuck!” he cursed, realizing that he had neither tube, nor patch kit, nor levers, nor pump. He didn’t know it, but he had also bonked. What he knew was that the flat had coincided with the weakest, most drained and exhausted emptiness that he’d ever felt.
“You okay, young feller?” The rusted Ford pickup pulled up next to him.
Turner looked gratefully at the farmer in overalls, and less gratefully at the mug of the dog who had his paws on the door and his head out the window, and who was softly snarling. “No, sir. I flatted and … ”
“Well I kind of reckoned you had. Toss ‘er in the bed and we’ll get ‘er patched and aired up and get you on the way back to wherever in the heck you’re goin’. Farm’s just a piece up the road here.”
Turner set the bike in the back of the pickup, pushed aside a bunch of boards, some rusted pipe, and what looked like a year’s supply of empty Lone Star beer cans. When he grabbed the door handle the dog, who hadn’t budged, growled louder. The old man laughed, showing a jagged set of mostly incomplete and missing teeth stained deep red from chewing tobacco. “Don’t you mind Pooter,” he said. “He wouldn’t hurt a flea.”
Pooter had short black hair, a flat head, big jaws, a long tail, a big chunk missing out of one ear, and a wall eye. Oh, and he had big, long, shiny white teeth. Turner got in and Pooter went completely silent. The moment the door slammed shut the dog reached over and bit the shit out of Turner’s hand. “Ow!” he yelled, jerking his hand away.
“Goddammit, Pooter!” the farmer said, slapping the dog in the head. “You okay, sonny?”
Turner looked at the broken skin on his hand and the blood drops. “I think so.”
The farmer glanced at the bite marks and concurred. “T’ain’t nothin’. We allus give him one free bite. After that he don’t get no table scraps. He don’t like you because you’re sittin’ next to the window. Scoot over here, nozzle your leg thisaway so you don’t hit the stick, and thataway Pooter can stick his nose out the window.”
Turner sidled over to the center of the bench seat, which was ripped and had foam stuffing coming out in big chunks. “My name’s Turner. Thanks for stopping, mister.”
“Name’s Clem,” said the farmer, handing out a big callused hand.
“Clem?” asked Turner, feeling weird as he looked at the man’s enormous belly and grizzled beard stubble.
“Yep. You know how come we call ‘im ‘Pooter’?”
Turner thought he’d try a joke. “Because he has bad gas?”
Clem laughed. “Darn tootin’ he does! That was a good guess, which makes you a purty fart smeller!” He laughed at his own joke and the dog ripped off a terrible canine stinker, with his butt pointed towards Turner’s face.
“Say, hold this for me, would you, sonny?” He reached down between his legs and handed Turner a styrofoam cup filled with tobacco spit. The pungent smell and the sight of the sloshing mess made him queasy. Clem reached over to the glove box and managed the complex task of shifting, driving, pulling out the tobacco round, and cutting a plug with his pocket knife all at the same time. As the truck lurched between gears, the cup jolted and about half of the warm, red spit spilled out onto Turner’s leg. Then the dog farted again.
“Can’t throw up,” he kept repeating. “Can’t throw up.”
That “piece up the road” turned out to be a very big piece, and when the old Ford bounced to a stop at the end of the long rutted driveway, Turner was completely nauseated. And starving.
Clem got out of the truck. “Lou Anne!” he yelled.
A very large grandmother with long gray hair stuck her head out of the back door. “What is it?”
“This young feller needs one of us to fix his flat tar and the other one to fill him up. He’s hungry, sure, ain’t you, sonny?”
“Yes, sir,” said Turner.
“I have plenty of pancake batter left over from breakfast, dear. Could you eat some pancakes?”
“Yes, ma’am. If it’s not too much trouble, ma’am.”
She smiled. “No trouble at all!”
“Let’s fix this ol’ tar,” said Clem, and Turner followed him into the garage. Clem took out a screwdriver and jammed it against the rim to lift off the tire. With a deft flick of his wrist he made a giant scratch on the edge of the aluminum rim, then shot the end of the screwdriver up through the tire and the tube, massively puncturing both. “Well, shit-I-reckon,” said Clem. “No damn wonder you flatted. This here tar cain’t even stand the blunt edge of a screwdriver.”
“No,” Turner agreed. “It sure can’t.”
“Looky here,” Clem said, holding the wheel by the hub and spinning it. “You must have banged it good. It ain’t running true no more.”
The wheel had a slight wobble in it as it spun. “No, it isn’t.”
“Well we can shore fix that right up.” Clem reached into a pile of tools and pulled out a small set of pliers. With a few hard twists on the spoke, it broke. “Well shitcakes and apple pie,” said Clem, spinning the wheel again, which was now completely out of true. “Bet we can tweak one of these boogers on the opposite side to sorta tensionize it right,” he said.
Turner felt like he was in an emergency room watching a physician perform malpractice on his baby as the old farmer broke out four more spokes. Clem threw down the pliers in disgust. “Them things ain’t made worth a durn,” he said. “You go on into the kitchen and get some grub and I’ll drive you back home. I’m shore sorry I couldn’t get you fixed up, sonny.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Clem,” Turner said, looking in despair at his mangled front wheel and destroyed tire and tube. “Thanks for trying.”