This is a short story I wrote for a contest sponsored by NPR. The topic was a voicemail. Yep, they wanted us to write a short story that could have been left as a voicemail. I do not think that this is the best short story I’ve ever written, but here it is. I call it, “Gus.”
I know that you got rid of your phone, so I kinda feel like an idiot for leaving you a voicemail. I guess I’m hoping you’ll get a new one. I don’t why I’m calling, I guess I just gotta tell someone this.
I saw Gus today.
I pulled into that gas station at the intersection of Spring Valley and Lazy River. That’s when I saw him; he was going into the store. Anyway, I got outta my car, forgetting about the gas, with every intention of, I don’t know, punching him in the face? Kicking him in the crotch? Something like that.
You’ve said, ever since it happened, that if you ever saw Gus you’d kill him. You and I both know that the reason mom was stopped that day was to give him a dollar. If she hadn’t stopped, that idiot texting would never have rear-ended her.
Did you know that she gave Gus a dollar every day that she drove through that intersection? Did you know that she’s been giving him a dollar, every day, for ten years? When she used to drive me to school, I’d ask her why. I told her that Gus was a lazy piece of crap and that he was just going to buy beer. And you know what? She never really told me why. She just said, “Maybe this will make his day better.”
I’m sorry that I’m crying. I know you think that men shouldn’t cry, and blah, blah, blah, but I miss mom, ok?
So, I followed Gus into the gas station. I’ve never been so mad in my entire life. You know, I’ve never hit a man. I guess you were right: I should have played sports in school. But, I was ready to hit Gus. Honestly, I was ready to shoot Gus if I’d had a gun.
He was standing in front of one of those coolers with a bunch of beer. No surprise, right? “You’re a jerk,” I said. He, like, grunted and looked at me. He really didn’t seem that fazed by my comment. “What do you want?” he asked.
Then, I saw Gus up close.
I really think that he’s been wearing the same shirt for the last ten years. Well, probably not, but he’s definitely worn it before. His pants were stained, possibly by his own piss and other stuff I don’t want to think about. He wasn’t wearing any shoes. His hair made a strange pattern on his head, since clumps of it were missing. Gus doesn’t really have any teeth and I could smell his breath, even though I was standing ten feet away. It smelled like some sort of old cheese mixed with booze. But you know what the worst thing was? He was missing half of his right arm. I felt like it was mocking me, daring me to say something.
So I left.
I’m guessing that, after I left, Gus forgot about me. He probably forgot about mom a long time ago. He probably drank his Milwaukee’s Best and went back to his intersection.
I can’t say that I don’t hate Gus. I can’t say that I do hate Gus. All I know is, maybe the best part of Gus’ day was not being punched in the face by some dude that can’t get over his mom’s death. And maybe that’s ok, because, well, his kind of life just sucks. I don’t know that I think anybody deserves to have to live in urine-stained pants and without teeth.
Well, Dad, if you ever hear this, I miss talking to you. And if you do hear this, give me a call. Sorry about the long voicemail.