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Gradation

Just a mile outside the city limits of Council, Oklahoma, a man in dirty jeans and a soiled gray sweatshirt stood above Interstate 40 on the Route 81 overpass. It was an early November morning, the sun just becoming visible in the East, and he rubbed his hands together in an attempt to alleviate the chill in his bones. Eighteen wheelers were starting to fly by in both directions. Trucks headed east went on into Oklahoma City, from there who knows. They could meet up with I-35 and travel south to Dallas or Houston. North to Kansas City, Omaha or maybe all the way to the Twin Cities. Possibly keep driving east over to Memphis or Nashville. Might take I-44 and go straight on to St. Louis. Be there by mid-afternoon.

     He decided he'd follow the westbound road. There just seemed to be fewer options that way. Trucks heading west had to go all the way to Amarillo for a decent stop. He'd gone that far west with his family once. It was years before at the age of thirteen when an uncle was married in Dumas, Texas. That had been nice. He remembered how when they reached Amarillo they went north up into the panhandle. Even though there weren't any mountains, he could still feel them climbing into higher altitude, but when they rolled into Dumas it was just as flat as western Oklahoma. "High plains," his father said from the front seat. He hadn't thought of there being a higher kind of flat.

     Walking with his head down along the interstate, his heartbeat rose whenever he caught sight of a plastic bottle, only to be let down when it didn't contain urine. He knew truck drivers used meth to stay awake on cross country drives. Knew that many of them would rather piss in a bottle and throw it out the window than lose fifteen minutes with a truck stop. Recycled meth wasn't as pure a dose, but a batch of good urine still got him five hours once.

     He found himself picking at the scab on his left hand as he continued walking. A nervous tic that had gotten out of control. He shoved his hands into his pockets, but kept thinking about the sores on his body, causing him to bring a hand up to his face and run it over the rough patches on his forehead. He wondered what he looked like. Probably homeless, and at that point, he supposed he kind of was. His girlfriend left the week before, less than a day after they shut off the electricity. Shut the water off a few days after that.

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     She had gone to stay with her folks in Hobart, which had its conditions. One, that she couldn't see him anymore her parents never had liked the fact she was eight years younger than him. And two, that her father the cop would administer a drug test every two weeks. She was a fool. So were her parents. He knew it would end badly.

     With his headache becoming more acute, he contemplated crossing the interstate to search the other side. He thought about the dynamics of driving how the driver was on the left side. Would they really lean across the passenger seat to toss out a bottle of piss? The stretch of grass separating eastbound and westbound was more likely.

     He was wondering if a highway patrolman would stop him for walking in the median when he caught sight of a plastic bottle lying in the grass. The unmistakable golden color was nearly concealed by the lifeless grass surrounding it. He slid down to his knees and picked up the bottle. It wasn't warm. He wondered if that mattered. With thoughts of separation and reconstitution he shook the bottle up like juice. He twisted the cap off and brought the bottle to his nose, wishing there was some way to know if it contained meth. He didn't think there was.

 

This story was originally published in Foliate Oak.

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