Big Jim & Rose
by Brian Fugett
A quarter past midnight. The motel room is in shambles. Empty beer bottles and fast-food wrappers litter the floor. Big Jim and Rose, half-naked and drunk, wrestle playfully over a pint of whiskey. They roll across the floor thumping into walls and laughing. Pretzel crumbs and cigarette butts cling to their sweaty bodies as they go.
“Knock that shit off!” someone shouts from the next room. Big Jim and Rose freeze, exchange startled looks, then break into a series of drunken snorts and giggles. They resume assailing each other with clumsy chokeholds until Big Jim finally succeeds in prying the whiskey from Rose’s fingers. Breathless and dazed, the two of them collapse among a heap of discarded pizza boxes.
“Well hell, Rose,” Big Jim says, voice heavy with something akin to an Appalachian drawl, “I reckon we musta’ pissed off the neighbors.” He belts a shot of whiskey and grins.
Rose smiles back then settles her head on Big Jim’s chest. She gazes down the vast expanse of his bulky 6’4” frame and begins staring at his wooden leg. Thick, brown and knobby, it has all the charm of an old weathered tree stump. Carved into it are the initials of every girl, woman, and puppy dog he’s ever loved. Rose reaches down and runs her finger along the list of names.
“There are so many,” she says, a bit distressed. “Did you really love them all?”
A cold breeze knifes the air. The curtains flutter, tap the wall like nervous fingers. Rose shivers.
“Do you still find me desirable?”
“Of course I do, Rose.”
“I mean do you still desire me? You know, like you did in the beginning?”
He nods. Opens a fresh beer. Takes a slug.
Rose continues running her finger down the list of initials. Most of the carvings have a clumsy, child-like quality to them that reminds her of graffiti on a park bench. She notices that many of the older initials are splintered, pockmarked and faded, some to the point of being illegible. For some reason that makes her sad. She doesn’t know why exactly; it just does. Eventually her finger comes to rest on the initials DF, the letters of which are done in an ornate gothic style. They have a fresh, artsy appearance that makes them stand out from the rest. Obviously much care and thought have been invested in this DF. Rose is a little more than intrigued.
“Wow, who was this one?” she asks, fingering the ornate little DF.
Big Jim glances down at his stump then stares off in the distance as if struck by a memory. “Well…I reckon that hadta’ been Darlene Fugate.”
“How come her initials are so much fancier than the rest?”
Big Jim shrugs.
“How long were you and this Darlene an item?”
“Don’t know exactly. Seven and a half years, maybe eight.”
“Was she pretty?”
“Well…yes…I suppose she was.”
“Prettier than me?”
He thinks about it for a second. “Nah.”
“Are you sure?” she says, her voice appealing for a word of encouragement or praise.
Jim sighs irritably. Burps.
There is a silence. Rose stands up. Paces drunkenly about the room. After a moment, she staggers to a halt. Fixes him with a stern gaze. Shafts of neon filter through the blinds, highlighting the mad tufts and strangled curls of her rooster red hair and a mouthful of smudged lipstick. From his vantage point, she looks menacing in a Ronald McDonald strung-out-on-Benzedrine-sort-of-way.
“You’ve just seemed so distant lately, Jim,” she whispers coldly. “When people get distant it usually means there is a secret. Are you harboring secrets, Jim?”
He polishes off his beer. Starts a fresh one. Looks at her with cool disinterest.
“God damn you! There you go again with that arrogant detachment of yours. That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” She looks down at her hands. They are trembling. “See what you’ve done,” she shrieks, holding out her hands. “See! Look at my little earthquakes! They got secrets too, you know! Secrets, Jim! Just like all them names on your leg!”
“Right,” he says. “Whatever.”
She resumes pacing the room, pausing every few steps to glance over at him. Then out of nowhere she blurts, “We’ve been together now for two years, seven months, and sixteen days! Right Jim? Am I right?”
“Well, why can’t you love me like that?”
“Like that! Like that!” she shouts, pointing at the list of initials on his wooden leg.
Big Jim looks up, a bit annoyed, but manages a weak smile. “Like I told you before, honey, this leg is a memorial. If your initials are carved on it, then that means our relationship is a thing of the past. You understand? We’d be history. Done. Over. Do you hear me, Rose?”
A look of suspicion etches into her expression. “My astrologer said this would happen! She warned me! Damn it!” She punches the wall then shuffles into the bathroom and slams the door.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” he yells after her. “Huh, Rose? What?”
She says nothing.
Big Jim drains the last of his beer and stares at the ceiling. He tries to imagine what goes through that mind of hers during these paranoid episodes. Must be dark inside there, he thought. Pitch fucking black. His lids grow heavy. Within a matter of seconds, he drifts into a deep, alcohol induced sleep.
Several minutes pass. A creepy stillness has settled upon the room. The bathroom door creaks open. A much calmer, subdued Rose emerges. She makes her way across the room and finds Big Jim passed out among the empty pizza boxes. Except for the steady rise and fall of his chest, he is a motionless heap.
“How typical,” she mutters. And just then she knows what has to be done. She snatches Big Jim’s trousers from the bed and fishes out his pocketknife. She kneels next to that huge wooden leg of his. Damn that leg, she thought. That hideous thing had been a constant source of resentment and jealousy since the first day they had met. Something of a smile tugs at her lips as she turns the knife thoughtfully between her fingers. Very carefully, she pulls out the blade and presses it against the leg. She looks at all the other initials. For a brief moment, she is seized with the overwhelming urge to scratch them out. Every last damn one of them. But she doesn’t. Instead, she carves her own initials, a fairly plain yet healthy looking “RW” just to the right of that fancy DF. She puts on her blouse and slacks then collects her purse from the dresser.
It’s best this way, she thought. No tearful goodbyes. No last dramatic kiss. No final embrace. Just a clean break. She slips out of the room and quietly closes the door behind her.