Pawn

by Josh Weil

12/30/2012

That morning they’d awoke in South Dakota.  Tonight they’d sleep somewhere in Texas.  Tomorrow: Mexico.  “You know,” his father said, “you can call her from down there, too.”  But a promise was a promise, and they pulled up to a bar in a panhandle town too small to have anything else.

Inside, the bartender poured him juice in a shot glass as a joke.  His father laughed for him.  Then started to ask questions in a language he didn’t know.  By the bathroom, a line of empty boots stood below a single wall-scrawled word: pawn.  Beside the ‘p’ a bag hung heavy with what looked, through stretched yellow plastic, like a bunch of shriveled hands.  Beside the ‘n’: a belt hanging like a snake nailed up by its head.

“You like that?” The bartender said.  He said, “just a few hours ago,” and “straight off the res,” and “swapped it for a fifth.”  Laying it out, he traced the patterns, talked of its Indian beauty.

His father took out a twenty.  “Throw in a call?”  Pulled up the phone, set him on his lap.

“Oh thank God!” she said.

“Tell her,” his father said, “we’re in a bar.”

“Frank?”

“I bought him a belt.”

“Frank!” she shouted.

“Choctaw.”

“I swear if you don’t tell me where —“

“Oklahoma,” the boy said.

In the silence after the bar phone slammed down, he could still hear his mother’s breath about to turn into a word.

At the door, his father stopped him, crouched.  The belt was so long it wrapped three times around his waist, the palm-sized buckle pressing at his belly.

Outside, there was a man leaning against the car.  Brownfaced, blackeyed, a bottle in his hands.  He saw them, straightened.  “You think that’s yours?” he said.