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by Samuel Snoek-Brown

It'd been a month nearly since he'd impulsively bought the cell phone for the feed business, and Lemuel hadn't seen any use for it until that day in San Antonio when the semi tipped and stopped traffic flat. Some people had killed their engines, and Lemuel killed his, too. He left the windows up against the winter snap, but he took out a white-tipped Swisher anyway and he let the smoke rest up at the roof of the old Ford's steel cab. Sometimes he turned to check the feed in the bed of the truck, but mostly he just smoked and watched the people in traffic. A lot of them were on their cell phones, shouting, their faces stretched funny in the silent standstill.

When he finished his smoke, he cracked his window and pitched out the plastic tip; someone honked at him; his lips tasted of mint, and of smoke. The person honked again--Lemuel turned and scanned out the back window, over the feed sacks, at the woman in the blue Jetta who pointed at the street beside him and mouthed her own shouts. He nodded and tipped two fingers to the bill of his cap. She gave him a finger--just one--and blared the horn again.

He looked around at the rest of the traffic, people on phones telling loved ones, bosses, friends about the semi up ahead, the things they weren't getting done, the things they wanted to do. Lemuel's phone lay on the seat beside him. No one.

There was one woman to his right in a faded old Corvette, the black gone cloudy in patches. Lemuel watched her: she sang along to some song, slapping the steering wheel like a man. Lemuel liked her. Her blonde hair streaked with ashy brown, shortish up front but thick and wild down her back. She had a tough look to her, like she could handle feed and pick-ups and men who dealt with those things. A woman, too, though, and sexy. She had the same look as the rubbed-gray paint on her Corvette, not faded but broken in and easy to look at in the winter cool, smoothed over at the curves without losing her edge. Soft but sleek. That kind of woman. This was all he could see, and Lemuel didn't really know what he thought about the woman or about women in general or even about love; but he felt that he was getting to know this woman just sitting there in his truck, watching her, and he thought that with her he could figure out love.

So Lemuel tried something. He flipped open the phone to check the number that called it, the one he'd never bothered to memorize, and he wrote the number in big numerals on the back of the insurance card from his glove box. Then he honked his horn, the blaring of compressed air echoing in the Ford's big blocky hood, until she turned to look. He smiled, he waved his phone at her, and he slapped the number against his passenger window. She stared at it, and at Lemuel's big grin, but she turned her head away.

Nawh, Lemuel thought, nawh, you don't know, I'm a gentle guy. I'd take care a ya.

He sounded the horn again, grinned bigger with his eyes wide and his eyebrows high, and he nodded at her and said out loud, "I'd love you good." And swearing by the good Lord Jesus, he meant it.

She squinted at him, for the sun, he thought, which came down hard like a hand flat across the face in San Antonio, even in winter--dear Lord, he hated coming to the city--and shook her head. Lemuel laughed for her and said out loud, his voice drumming around in the empty pick-up cab, "Aw, I see, you just don't understand."

He waved his phone again, pointed its little antenna at her and then at himself and then at his pen-scrawled number on the insurance card. He nodded across the asphalt, his heart reaching right out the plaid of his button-down and through their windows to show her how he felt.

She rolled her eyes away and to her seat, then she looked across and smiled back, a toothy mirror across the frozen highway, and she took up her own phone beside her, dialed, held it to her ear. Then Lemuel's phone rang, foreign but musical to him. He smiled still bigger, his stubble-patched face split across the middle, and he looked for the button that answered the phone, found and pressed it, held the tiny thing awkwardly to his ear.

"Fuck off," she said. He saw her close and toss away her phone, turn back to the dead traffic ahead. She put her splayed left hand up to her face like a screen, her elbow on the door.

Lemuel sat with the phone still to his head, watching. He looked into the bed, the feed back there cold in spite of the sun, the woman behind him still glaring at the Swisher tip in the road. He looked ahead at the long, long line of traffic stretched around Loop 410. He turned again to the ‘Vette. Phone to his ear the whole time. Then he said into the hazy, empty cab, "What's your name?"

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