James H Duncan 

Two Kings

There’s a piece of red rope that sticks out from the bottom of my car door. It’s been there for a week. The rest is inside my car in a pile on the floor. Some guys used it to tie my Christmas tree to the top of my rusty Ford Focus and now it’s poking out of the door and I see it every day but only when I’m in a rush to leave the house, never when I’m home and might actually do something about it. Yeah, I could open the door and pull it in, but I gotta go, you know? To the doctor for my busted back. To work where there’s not actually enough work to do and they’re slowly firing us one by one. To get over to Central Avenue to trade in this gold necklace that a former girlfriend left lying on my dresser about six years ago. I’d give it back, but the Cash King is this store that pays cash for gold and I need the cash really bad, so…sorry, Gretchen.

Cash King is right next door to Tint King, some guy who tints windows even though I thought that was supposed to be illegal in New York. Guess not. I always sort of laugh a little because the Cash King doesn’t like the Tint King (who arrived in the neighborhood later) and I always ask about it when I stop in with this or that little thing to trade in. My old wedding ring. Some gold coins my grandpa left me. This necklace.

“Fuck that guy,” the Cash King says with one of those miniature microscopes wedged in his eye that he might use to inspect diamonds or jewels, which I don’t have. “That guy’s always telling his customers to park over here overnight and shit.”

“No shit?”

“No shit. Seventy-five bucks.”

“To tow them?”

“For the necklace.”

I take the seventy-five bucks.  

Outside I fumble with my key fob trying to open my crappy Focus and some guy calls out, “Hey, you got rope dragging.” He points at my passenger door.

“I know, thanks.”

“Here, I’ll get it.”

“Nah, I got it thanks.”

But as I unlock the door and open mine he opens the passenger door and flicks the tail of rope back inside. But then he leans in there a little with the door open and he starts talking about how he’s seen me around, with that rope dragging. It’s not a big town. Then he says, “Hey, why don’t you come over and get a tint job. I just did a Focus this morning. I’ll do you half off.”

“No thanks, I barely got enough for gas.”

“Well, if you change your mind.”

He just stands there, so I asked, “You’re the Tint King, huh?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll give you half off. I fuckin’ love these little Focuses. Shitboxes last forever, right?”

“Yeah,” I say but I don’t like anyone but me calling my own shitbox a shitbox.

“So how bout it?”

“Nah, I’m good, but do me a favor?”

“What’s that?” he says.

“Keep your goddamn customers out of the parking lot over here.”

He stares at me for a second like he doesn’t understand me, then he slams my car door shut. I start it and pull away to go spend my seventy-five bucks. I know which side my bread is buttered.

When I get back home I take the handful of rope (twine, really) and throw it in the dumpster and walk into the house, my ground floor apartment, and settle onto the couch. I don’t turn the lights on. I like to sit in the dark and think when I get home. It’s almost Christmas so it’s already getting real dark by three in the afternoon. There are no lights on my Christmas tree but I prefer it that way. I pull out the seventy-five bucks and slap it on the coffee table, then wonder where I could sell my coffee table and how much I could get. Ten or twenty, maybe.

Then I wonder if I did the right thing, getting involved with the parking lot thing between the two kings. Who cares? I don’t always step into other people’s petty problems though, my own petty problems are more than enough to drown me. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. The guy wasn’t so bad. Half off a tint job. But it doesn’t matter. It’s over. And other people’s petty problems will come toward me soon, some becoming my own, the whole world one long relay race of people handing off bad days and petty bullshit to one another like batons. But I have my Christmas tree here, and the room smells of balsam. Or pine. If there’s a difference I can’t tell, but it makes me happy. Still, that seventy-five bucks isn’t going to go far, so I rise and think about ways to make it through another day, further into the darkness ahead.

Published 1-22-18

James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and the author of We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine, a new poetry collection from Unknown Press. His work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Drunk Monkeys, Five:2:One, American Artist, Up The Staircase Quarterly, and other publications. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.