“Lazy Leonard’s Year-Round Fireworks and Tanning”

was, of course, open. When wasn’t this place ready to make a buck? After all, people might at any time need fireworks at noon on a Sunday in late August.  Leonard’s only boy, a tall and scrawny, on the verge of pimply, proud early teen, was behind the pay counter over-watching the big yellow roadside tent gorged full of tables burdened with the finest in Tennessee-legal fireworks. (I’d heard if you knew a secret call-sign they’d let you on the “good stuff,” but I wasn’t about to get accidentally wrapped up in some Alcohol, Tobacco, and Fireworks sting operation) His daddy, Leonard, had the day off, claiming it wasn’t right for him to work the Sabbath, though the sounds of his hoeing the vegetable garden behind the main building was clear from the tent. The boy, Jiffy, was awkwardly brandishing an extra-long rust-encrusted tire iron, but without sufficient disposition of authority, taking his responsibility of care taking the tent and its contents possibly overboard and unconvincingly to the keen of eye. I saw some woman’s red-painted toe nails stretching, and curling, and wiggling from the end of one Leonard’s patriotically done up tanning beds, situated under the tent and safely behind the pay area where no kids might accidentally cause any unnecessary lawsuits by getting too toasted while an fireworks excited parent neglected watching them. The way the turtle shell top part of that that hinged tanner was painted, it looked like a military coffin draped in the American flag. It gave me the willies and I made a note never to tan here. It I ever tanned artificially at all, that is. It was about to rain and was getting a little dark in the east, so that part of the tent had a weird glow to it, silhouetting Jiffy as he tumbled his makeshift weapon end-over-end, sometimes catching it, sometimes banging it on the cash register when he missed, once causing the lady inside to jump and ask if everything was “ok out there?” Jiffy assured her it was and that he was still keeping an eye on things just like she’d asked him and that “ain’t it about time for lunch?” About then, as if I’d found them under a table randomly, Jiffy noticed I was carrying my sack of a dozen Krystals (with cheese) around with me in the Black Cat firecracker display section. Of course, it was more like nine by then. I was hungry, so I thought I’d walk and eat on my lunch break rather than chowing down in the usual miscellaneous parking lot. He stopped twirling his tire iron, caught it, gripped it tight, blinked once, and stared sort of serious like, as if he’d caught me striking up a blowtorch to light a cigar in this potential tent of flammable horrors. “Hey, you.” My mouth was full with half a sandwich. All I did was nod and shrug my shoulders, what? “You can’t have them things in here.” He sort of whispered it. I wondered what he was referring to and looked around. Maybe he was chiding someone else. I had no idea he meant me and my meal. About that time the lady in the tanning bed yelled out, “By God, I smell me some Krystals!” It sounded like she was clawing her way out of that machine without disengaging the lock properly. Jiffy looked worried, turned and lied through the gap in his teeth. “No, Bailey.” That’s when I knew the woman was his older sister, Bailey. I’d dated her for half a week back in high school. “That’s just Hardee’s kickin up the noon smoke.” “If Daddy’s out there messin with me again there’ll be hell to pay, whether it’s the Lord’s Day or not!” “No, Bailey, he’s inside watching the MMA Hour now. He’s done with the carrot rows. I think he got too hot.” I swallowed what I’d been chewing and pushed the other half of that sandwich back in the back and rolled the top of the bag as air tight as I could to show some cooperation. Thought curious, I decided I wasn’t sticking around for an explanation of why Jiffy had to lie about what his sister’s fine sense of smell had pegged so accurately out in the midst of so much gunpowder, so I made for my car, trying not to make too much noise stepping quick on the gravel. I couldn’t remember Bailey’s senses being so keen back in school. I was trying to back out of my spot and the next thing I know, Jiffy was up at the driver’s window sniffing through the crack at the top I’d left for the heat to vent. He stared sort of wild-eyed at the bag that was safe now behind my locked car doors and resting in the passenger seat. “You want some of these, Jiffy?” I felt like I owed him. He only nodded. I squeezed one through the crack of the window, crushing it through, box and all, causing a fine drip of melted cheese and mustard to cascade down the outside of my glass, mixing with a few first rain drops. The sky was so dark by now. Something awful was on the way. I didn’t need to stick around to find out what it would be. I caught a glimpse of the lid of that tanning bed fly up by the rear view. Bailey was pretty as ever, only tanner, and a little scary with those tanning bed goggles clamped to her eyes, but when she high-jumped the sparkler table and almost made it, I punched the gas, hearing Jiffy’s tongue lap across the glass with a high-pitched squeak. I wasn’t staying around for any reunions, even if I was getting full and could have shared. I raced hell out of that gravel lot and haven’t been back.

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About Larry Thacker

Larry D. Thacker’s poetry is in over one-hundred-and-fifty publications including Spillway, Still: The Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, American Journal of Poetry, Poetry South, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Mojave River Review, The Lake, Illuminations Literary Magazine, and Appalachian Heritage. His books include Mountain Mysteries, and the poetry books, Drifting in Awe, Voice Hunting, Memory Train, and the forthcoming full collections, Feasts of Evasion and Grave Robber Confessional. His MFA in poetry and fiction is earned from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Visit his website at: www.larrydthacker.com