Dec 15 2016 10:00am
Need More Road: New Excerpt
Need More Road by Stephen Jared follows Eddie, a bored bank teller who becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman whose father needs his help to rob his bank—suddenly, Eddie's boring life just got a little more exciting.
Eddie lives a life of uncommon routine. At nearly fifty-years-old, he’s only ever lived in one house. Bored with his bank job, he spends evenings at the movies where he lives vicariously through Rock Hudson and Robert Mitchum. With one screen in town he often sees the same picture repeatedly. He finds Hollywood fantasies infinitely more enticing than reality.
Late one Friday, a woman walks into the bank. Her name is Mary Rose, and she looks like Marilyn Monroe. Her father came into money and the two are looking to settle in a small town. Infatuated, Eddie breaks from routines and spends time with her.
While she couldn't be sweeter, her father is different. He has a roughness about him, an edge. This becomes especially clear when he requests Eddie's help with a bank heist.
Mary Rose’s interest in Eddie was only to lure him into helping her father. Eddie understands this now. Walking away is the obvious move. He knows it’s the right thing to do. Yet her attention and affection and beauty have made him feel alive for the first time.
All he has to do is unlock a door.
Eddie liked sitting to the right of center, halfway back from the screen. He sipped Pepsi, shoved popcorn in his face, and waited. After listening in on surrounding conversations, awkward flirting from a young man on a date, news about more heavy winds in the forecast from another, he fell into his own silent conversation. A typically grumpy sort, Eddie became more charitable when seated before a movie screen; even waving friendly to customers he loathed during the day.
Occasionally, he’d see women who, like him, came alone to the movies. He’d wonder about them, fantasize about romance, and then retreat from such imaginings, telling himself their husbands were probably working or playing cards. Eddie rarely looked for rings on fingers. Sometimes he’d see them laugh or cry and he envied the movie-light touching their faces. It wasn’t uncommon for him to investigate some of these faces for traces of loneliness when they’d exit The Barstow and head home. This particular night seemed unusual in that he saw no one else so obviously alone as he.
Written on the Wind was again beautiful, the colors more colorful than reality, and though the on-screen lives were filled with torment, Eddie aspired to be like them. They wallowed in luxury, something not only visible in their surroundings, but also in their emotional attachments to each another. The heartbreak to Eddie was leaving them behind. For him nothing was more bittersweet than the crashing finale of a film score and closing credits.
Shuffling through the crowd to a busy sidewalk, Eddie’s feet felt heavy but his spirit remained somewhat elevated by the make-believe melodrama. Beneath a fine desert sky, he walked home. Briefly, the comfort of strangers—fellow Thursday night movie fans—sustained his mood. Eventually the crowd thoroughly dispersed, and he walked alone, alongside the high-pitched throb of crickets. His questions about the plot no longer nagged. He couldn’t put his finger on why, but things seemed to make more sense. From Main Street, he counted twenty-three lampposts to his house, and when he arrived, he noticed the light fixture above his front door had burned out. Strangely, something about that darkened door added weight to his heart. He felt sad staring at it. After unlocking the backdoor, entering the home, and lighting the rooms, he turned on his television. The grip of solitude began to squeeze, until lessened by Playhouse 90. He awoke sometime later to loud hissing and flickering, late-night distortion from his set. He stared as if hypnotized for a moment, the nothingness on the screen staring back, and then he turned it off and went to bed.
Fridays were typically good, not bad, but this particular Friday clawed into Eddie’s nerves. Polite exchanges all preceded banking questions, endless questions and opinions about accounts, policies and services. One customer argued the lack of fairness in wealthy people getting better interest rates simply because of large deposits, whereas loyal customers—a customer with ten years at Security Pacific, for instance—paid higher rates. Interest rates were based on risks, Eddie wanted to explain, but he agonized over the thought of offending. In the end, he said, “It’s outside my control,” and the customer left in a huff. Eddie wanted to say, “So, if a gentleman puts a nickel in a bank for ten years the bank should loan that gentleman twenty thousand dollars because he didn’t take his nickel elsewhere?”
Eddie repeatedly grumbled over the exchange—he did this silently—occasionally shaking his head until, at fifteen minutes before lunch, his sister Connie entered. She always came to Eddie with eyes carrying a sizable amount of pity.
“Hi, Eddie.” Her face fell to his belly. “Did a button come off? Want me to sew something back on there for you?”
She picked at loose threads on his shirt, and he brushed her hand away, with a fast, “It’s okay.” Though well intentioned, Connie suffocated him. For years, she repeatedly invited him to her house, even though Eddie mostly turned her down, knowing she would expect reciprocation. She longed for them to be closer. Eddie didn’t know why, but he always pulled away.
“What’re you up to tonight? Could you use a good meal?” Connie wore a lime-green shirtdress. Her brown hair climbed big and sturdy. The muscles in her chin shoved her lips into a clown smile as she looked up him.
“Tonight’s not the best,” Eddie said.
“You have plans?” The subtle hint of skepticism in her voice rattled him. Agitated further, he reminded her, “You know I don’t like going to the movies on Saturday nights. I have to get there too early to get my seat.”
“Ann saw you at the movies last night.”
“They have a new one opening, and tomorrow night doesn’t work for me. Plus, tomorrow night is Halloween.”
“What are you doing for Halloween?”
“Go to the movies then. Most people will be trick-or-treating, spending time with their kids, not at the movies.”
“It doesn’t work for me.”
“Is it that you don’t like Lou?”
“What’re you talking about? You’re my sister. Of course I like Lou. I like the kids. I like everybody. I just want to go to the movies tonight. It’s Friday. A new one is opening. I just … it’s where I want to be.”
Connie turned to Mr. Teesdale, who approached with a friendly greeting calling her Mrs. Ackerman, her married name. Smiling, he said the bank was closing so employees could go to lunch, but Connie convinced him to stay so she could make a deposit. They talked about the upcoming weekend as Mr. Teesdale hustled through the transaction. Connie never had difficulty with small talk. It came naturally to her. Eddie, on the other hand, always had cruel barbs he wrestled into silent submission on his tongue.
Eddie lumbered into the back where an icebox kept his lunch cool. He always ate sitting on a bench across from Harold B. Seton Elementary. He liked watching the kids throwing balls, crying out. Each day memories returned from when he was a child running around on the same asphalt, making friends, not yet feeling so different.
Today, however, his reflective moods were disrupted by his sister’s clinging presence. Her transaction complete, she walked alongside Eddie toward the school. He didn’t know how to get rid of her.
“Don’t you ever go to lunch with your co-workers?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
When they sat, Eddie thought it odd she made no mention of the school yard. Not only had Connie spent years in the classrooms across the street, but her two kids had as well.
“Eddie, don’t you get tired of eating alone?”
“Last week you asked if I get tired of standing all the time.” Not one to savor his food, Eddie rapidly chomped through an apple and peanut butter sandwich.
“I just want you to be happy, Eddie.”
“I’m fine. The job’s fine, been doing it long enough.”
With a gentle pat on his forearm, Connie told Eddie that if he changed his mind about dinner they could always make room for him, and then she left. Eddie watched her walk along the hot sidewalk, glad to see her go. From a distance, the industrialized howl of a train cried. Always around lunchtime, going all the way back to his childhood, Eddie could count on the sound of that train. He loved hearing it.
After thirty minutes and a sigh of self-pity, Eddie returned to his customers. Years of working in a bank taught Eddie about money. A man sporting new shoes on a Tuesday didn’t smile half as much as the man cashing his check on a Friday. For the most part, the remainder of this Friday offered no surprises, nothing unusual; customers smiled, some complained and thanks to the hectic pace, hours rolled swiftly. Time seemed to stop, however, when shortly before closing, a woman, clearly from somewhere else, stepped inside. Heads turned to her. The woman fanned her face with a motel brochure. With her other hand she removed dark sunglasses.
Not all at once but relatively quickly, every person in the bank focused their attention her way. Eddie couldn’t take his eyes off her. She looked like a movie star. She looked like Marilyn Monroe.
She was not Marilyn of course, nor was this a Halloween act, but she had the same roundness in her chin, and cheekbones and hips. She was probably five-ten with high heels and big curls of lemon icing hair. She was a goddess, an undiscovered motion picture goldmine. Eddie thought of approaching, sifting through his brain for a greeting that sounded like Cary Grant, when suddenly Mr. Teesdale rushed to her first.
Eddie neared and listened. He didn’t catch the woman’s name but did pick up that she was seeking a home to buy for her father. She was from Los Angeles. She didn’t mention an occupation, didn’t mention a husband. She said she thought she’d stop in at the bank and see if the bank folks were friendly. She smiled a lot. She seemed unaware of the irritated, disapproving looks from other women in the bank. She soon left, not with a walk, but with a swaying, swinging movement, no bones, pure softness.
Copyright © 2016 Stephen Jared.
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Stephen Jared, as an actor, has appeared in numerous feature films and television series, as well as commercials for both radio and television. His writings, including articles and interviews, have appeared in various publications. In 2010, he self-published an adventure novel titled Jack and the Jungle Lion to much critical praise, including an honorable mention in the 2011 Hollywood Book Festival. He lives in Pasadena, California. Follow him on Facebook, or visit his website.