The Day of The Dieselfish
Name’s The Dieselfish, so’s his big rig: DIESELFISH.
As I walked into the Burger Time Machine & Station, he says, “Don’t mind if ya sit with me,” grinning gruesomely.
I thought he must mean someone else. So I stepped past. But he was stretching his oil-stained hand out to halt me at the door.
“Huh?” I asked, absolutely confounded at being called to a stranger’s table as if we’d already exchanged words or lives.
“I said sit down.”
“I was just going to get a burger,” I said, pointing my thumb defensively like a lost hitchhiker towards the counter where a withered Japanese woman wearing a white surgical facemask stood impatiently. Her lips were black, and she seemed to mouth some unintelligible words, with a glare of atomic rain she stared unrelentingly in buckets of impatience. My shades slipped down my nose like a fat kid covered in molasses being pushed down a slide. I was sweating skyless storms. Hastily, I pushed my pathetic shades back up to hide. "That's all."
“You’ll get one, don’t worry. Sit. Here!” He pointed a pudgy 24oz. can finger to the seat across from him by the window, right next to that infinitely forsaken rotten-smelling steel bin of trash. “They know me,” he said. And once I sat hesitatingly, feeling every jelly ounce of weight jigger and jump just in case I had to make a dash he said prophetically, “everyone here knows The Dieselfish.”
My body sat flat as a board. Right Angled. Not budging an inch. It was not a comfy pillow thought.
We looked over at the low falutin' counter and the shorn burgundy booths about the place. The place had the appearance of a renovated meth-lab, and the mothball people, whom apparently knew The Dieselfish, had not heard the Japanese woman's soft spoken words that it was no longer such an infamous abode. But, in a way, it was.
The Japanese woman, in her fifties diner outfit with pink poodles printed on the doily dress, humphed behind the surgical mask, strutting to the kitchen, to sounds of tinny twenties swing twinkling out of a tiny jukebox. She seemed to float as vapor, something of a shadow.
A cool, calm, twangy voice floated voluminously. It was Cole Porter, singing, “Times have changed, and we’ve often rewound the clock.”
I’d seen The Dieselfish’s big rig walking in. It had sharp shark’s teeth drawn on the front fenders with bloody slashes slung along the sides. And DIESELFISH in red-lightning type painted on the aluminum siding. The thing that caught my carelessness was a chicken’s foot dangling from the rearview, like a clawed compass, a rotten air freshener. And then there was this delinquent driver from The Douluoz Dream Diary, bending like a mad drunken desert angel to the burger shack that looked like an ill-lit meth lab, or moth attractor, and insect killer. Old teacup Christmas lights were strung about the eaves. A Pig Man, who was most likely the Japanese woman's wife, held a chalk-menu: Two For One Special.
I thought little of it.
“See my truck outside?” I said yes. His eyes twinkled proudly with a heavy sigh, “she’s a beaut,” but in truth she was grimy, caked with red mud on the wheels, bashed bedding, smokestacks oily like hell’s furnaces. I nodded, saying, “she is,” with a little sarcasm he couldn’t catch.
He wasn’t hauling any cargo, save his road-beat soul. And even then, that was no tick on his trucker cap conscience.
The Dieselfish commanded, “Ask where I’m from.” With a big bite into his burger, spilling bloody-grease along his huge hammer-gnarled hands, not wiping or anything, just letting the suet stream into his bovine beard. He was in sore need of a shave, or a total replacement of face, as well as head hairs shorn. His natty hair hung all over the table, obscuring some nasty crumpled napkins. I didn’t dare ask what demon -what hell- he’d been bornt from. “Go on, ask!” between two vile bites, which finished the bacon-bits and gooey ranch strands slathered between the buns, strung about his smile as wax.
“Okay, where’re you from?”
I expected him to say been everywhere man, like that Johnny Cash jam, but he said, “I ain’t gonna tell ya.” The man was made out of mud. Smirking, slurping through a straw until the ice at bottom rumbled and was vacuumed up. He boomed like a barrel rolling down a river. There was a bell on the table. He bangs ring-ring-ring-ring “hey I’m dry over here.” He fiddles his belly button like a broken bass guitar. Changing his voice to bellow brass, dry! Ring-ring! A nearly nude white woman whose name was probably Bessie bends, sideways, out of the back, wiping her meaty meat-and- cartilage-covered hands on her apron, angrily. She was a sour sow.
The Dieselfish held his essentially empty plastic cup up. “Whatchu drankan?” She asked, just like that, full of venom and spite. She sorta spat with fury. Would’ve sprayed both us, full of gristle, cartilage and flesh coming out of her high-powered nostril hoses, and toothless hole, that hag. She could’ve filled the cup full of vermillion venom, like a madman fire-woman.
“What’s’it look like Bessie?” I knew her name, perfectly. Premonitions of people, whose persona could be only Carla Slacks or Seymour Glass, and she was Bessie, the nearly nude big-breasted broad, and no other.
“How in hell should I know Dieselfish? I look like a magic bag to ya?” Her nakedness came in hot sweaty cinnamon rolls, sweat dripping like icing.
“Ye got eyes don’t’cha?” Their eyes locked, like maybe they’d loved each other once, a rash decision in the darkness, both of their big bodies melding like ancient ignorant explorers into the heat of Vesuvius on a nasty molten night, which one, if not both, now regretted for reasons unapparent. They were both very ugly, almost metamorphosed into petrified-wood people.
With one mad Yogi Berra sweep she took the cup, spilling some ice cubes on the floor and vaulted all two tons of her spongy mass, and high-done hair, to the soda machine, stuck soda cup under, and back in five seconds flat, a big sweating sow gliding, slamming the cup down, and “anything else?” She was the model for the Michelin Woman, or Herman the German's blimp.
“Yeah, burger fer my buddy.”
“You want Mayo kid?” She asked. I ummed and sputtered my soul for the right answer. Like an engine misfiring I only said uh. I dunno. I noticed a deep gash above her right eye, slightly purple, running around her skull like a scabby bandana.
“Don’t eat mayo. Can’t ya tell? Krill’s all skinny, you smell the smoke?” -I did smoke cigarettes- “He don’t want no mayo. Just a quarter-pounder, hold the cheese, lest you got some smoked shit, smoked cheddar maybe, no mayo like I told ya, all the vegetables ya can stack- though it makes me sick- maybe?” –he searched my face, finding something there that would help him decide my dining preference- “yah, dallop’uh katsup, spread it though, not just one chomp-like, chop the onions, fry ‘em for a pinch, that’ll do. Ya need to write this down Bessie baby?” The Dieselfish motioned the pen sign in the air.
“No, I got it…” and she morosely recited: “Fourth-pound, slathered smoky, diced onins, table’uh veggs too boot, smothered cat, and NO Mayo, yes?” She stared at me like a spider to a fly, spitefully, awaiting my answer with fat web arms- that’s about right.
She sauntered off, that great white whale of a woman. That broad Beluga broad.
“So where was we?” Dieselfish asked, squeezing the ketchup bottle to bursting, filling up his plate with salty tomato-lava, that cayenne peppery crap, and commenced to empty a secret flask of hot sauce that smelled sulfuric and swished the concoction around with one spoony fry. He hid the death-juice in his fringed leather jacket and plunged into his plate, forgetting where we were.
“You were about to tell me where you’re from.”
Quickly he remonstrated, “no, no, ya got me wrong, I wasn’t tellin ya nothing. You got a hoity-toity sorta air about ya, ya know that? Betcha gone to that damn college down the way, what’s’it called?”
“Yah, thas’it. You readin books there?”
“Ya know, I read a book I wrote once, ya know.”
“Really?” I hardly believed him. He was not the sort-to-sort out fact and fiction into a readable or reliable form.
“Yep, betcha bottom dollar, sure as shit on a haystack, wrote it back in oh say sixty two, bout revolution’n sch.”
He looked more a belligerent Bandana-clad biker than a high-minded hippie in robes. “Revolution? For what?”
“Why ya mean. Yah I’se real smart in the sixties… now who was the president then?” He searched the ceiling.
“Kennedy, maybe Johnson, Nixon probably?”
“No, no, not of the United States, this was before that. Anyways, I could care less bout planetary pol’ticks. Nudist Colony of Cooley President, now what was his damn name?”
I didn’t know there ever was a nudist colony in Cooley, let alone that it would elect a president to legislate disrobing conduct.
“Fender.” It came to him. “Tom Fender. Yah know ‘im?”
“Can’t say so.”
“Sure ya can kid. I remember his runnin slogan, an au naturel Chief. Well anyway I ran against him, calling for clothes, cranial coverings. All in my book: Bare Blasphemy.”
“But it was a nudist colony right?”
“I,” he said seriously, with long lost pride in a pant-less campaign, “was pleadin fer hats.” Currently, The Dieselfish wore no covering on his balding scalp, probably due to defeat in popular polls. “But that dern school wouldn’t bother teachin ya bout stuff like that. Say, what’d’ya study?”
I cleared my throat, “Physics.”
“So ya know a bit bout revolutions than?” He boomed with laughter. Another waiter walked out, silent as shadow, dropping my burger and a cup of Mountain Dew in front of me then slinked away. “Thanks Char.” He said to the sallow cinder man. “Well ya got yer burger, so let’s get to it.”
I took a bite and began saying through mountainous mouthfuls, “gith dow to wath?” I was famished.
“That’s right, wath brought ya here?”
I swallowed, saying sarcastically, “the burgers.”
“Bet ya didn’t dare imagine ya’d die and meet The Dieselfish did yah?” He took a handful of catsup-soaked Texas-style waffle potatoes and tossed them into his mouth, moaning with eating ecstasy, ingesting by letting saliva, and its enzymes, slowly liquefy the fatty fries. “Now,” he said, clearing his palette, “can’t tell ya where from, that wouldn’t be right, but I can answer why here.”
Disinterested I continued chewing my burger along the edges until only the juicy center remained. “Why’s that?” I sipped some soda and layback, all tingly, taking food too quick, feeling my metabolism make me meditative, sweaty, sedated by salt. God it felt good.
“Same reason y’are I suppose. See I come from Cooley, ain’t from here a’course, just passin through when my compass turns its talons towards this place. I got gas and strolled inside, knowing I knew everyone already.”
“You’ve been here before then?” I nodded, noticing the way his arms seemed to spread across the tabletop, nudging my tray, which crept off the edge inch-by-inch. I held my drink casually, trying to keep it from spilling. Trying to keep him from thinking I doubted him.
“Nope, neither’ve you been here.”
Now why’d he lie? If he knew me so well, or pretended to, he would’ve known this was a regular haunt of mine, the Burger Time Machine & Station, a pitiful place.
“Know how I know that? Now guess!” His toad face bulged under his chin, and his eyes bulged out like underground bomb buttons.
I shrugged, letting the shades slip slightly from my eyes. In that moment time stalled, or, seemed to stall, and he stared straight through my empty eyes, boring into my brain, breaking the keratinous barrier.
His eyes were old and watery, bloodshot, a hellhound, full of fire, a Moth-Man seeking a veiled flame, hidden by centuries of dust and ash. I felt I had nothing to reveal, but somewhere, in the back of my mind an answer broke forth, for The Dieselfish drove a drill right between my eyes.
Prophetically I pronounced, “There is no been.”
“Nope, Ben’s over there,” he shifted his gaze to the lone railroad conductor named Been Rushing by the jukebox, beating his hands wickedly against the glass, trying to change the song- to what? Ben Rushing had been rushing his entire life. His hands were bandaged, probably broken, as he beat the jukebox with his mustard colored mummified wrists.
“There’s only being?” I tried again, knowing that this answer was similar to the first, yet vatic.
“Yer findin IT.” His eyes glazed over, as if some creamy congealing substance slid over his lids like a dog’s.
“I give up. What?” This seemed so unacademic anyways.
“There IT IS!” He clapped his coal hands, spreading dust and dirt into the air, which floated in the tumultuous sunbeams, caught in slivers of light like lines of fog. “Yes!” He slammed his hands down shaking the table, and beaming; the big brute rocked the table with knobby knees.
“What?” He had scared me then, but I kept myself and the table equanimous.
“No need goin further.”
I said, “I’m sorry,” I was so lost, “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
“I ain’t saying nothing, see? You said it all. Giving up. Now what did you mean by that? Don’t answer out loud.”
I couldn’t consider it further, finding an answer I hadn’t truly found beyond the question, my tied tongue tried around the word “I” but Dieselfish stopped me short.
“Nough talkin, too much talkin makes a man say some silly things. Stay silent a second. Listen. Yes! Hear it?”
I didn’t know what I was meant to hear. The diner was dead silent, except for some rustling napkins caught in the current of a whirring floor-fan that ticked-tick. Why was giving up so important? Giving up what exactly? Only the Dieselfish knew. He knew everybody better than they knew themselves it seemed.
Ben Rushing, the conductor, stopped slapping the jukebox for a new tune. Ben Rushing gave up.
The Dieselfish closed his eyes, and I saw tattoos over them, two snakes eating their tails, then disappearing as his eyes dilated and opened up, opining keep quiet.
“Wh…?” It was some meteor of meditation he was channeling, violent and voluntary, still and staggeringly energetic. I sipped my soda. And stared at his bloodshot eyes.
His eyes had never closed. I could see now.
"Even a closed eye can see?"
“Nope. Stay-.” Silent. The silence was time in a tomb. The seconds and hours and days and months and years and decades and centuries and millenniums flitted by, and still we sat, seeing the Burger Time Machine & Station just as it always was and would be, this greasy tomb.
After our immovable venture, The Dieselfish spoke, “Now, Listen little man, okay? Keep quiet. Long time go, can’t count it, I was a Moth, little man like you, flying for the light, seeking that source of sun in the litt-le-er lamplights. Can you tell me if it was day or dark when you came crawling into the diner?” –I opened my mouth to state my truth and opinion, but The Dieselfish said- “No, ya can’t, you could but it wouldn’t matter, day and night, night and day, wouldn’t matter. Moths see the light, like this diner, lights are like their morsels, out of the darkness they come careening famished towards it. Don’t know why we do what we do but we do, foller? Once, won’t tell you where was, I’se working out on a railroad, late night, least dark ‘nuff ta be, and people were hollerin get off the damn tracks ya fool, train’ll roll ya flat as a pancake, but still I stood. I began walkin towards two hot orange orbs, ordering myself, stepping like a soldier on the battlefield, each step careful and carefree-like, knowing slow time, no time. Then after I was splattered into syrup my world was light,” Ben Rushing began to dance to the sounds of a violent train crash, “and in the light I stayed, hot, hungry, thank ya ma’am,” Dieselfish said cordially as Bessie brought him another beastly soggy burger, “couldn’t stay satisfied, ya know, went hovel to hovel, digging deep, darkness, man, did I know it.” The withered Japanese woman poked her head out, maybe to hear. “But then that big rig ya saw outside came steaming down out of the darkness and ate me up, swallowed me whole, pushing me up its gullet into the brain where I beat the hard pad goin past the speed of light, but in it see, like some hellhound of the road, and there I’m still livin in the light every night.”
I was absolutely lost. He was here and there. “How?” I fumbled for an appropriate answer. He’d died twice, maybe more, that monstrous Moth-Man, dying, destroying, and dining.
“Time’s like a track, can’t go back, but ya don’t always have to go forward neither, sometimes lines get crossed, diverted so to speak see? Our lines got crossed the second you saw two big headlight eyes and smokestack nostrils steamin towards ya. Then old Ben pulled the brake, that's all it takes.”
“So?” What was this nasty nightmare? Shrill bell. Ben Rushing pounding upon the jukebox glass weakly like a grandma beating her brains against an asylum's walls. “What’re you…”
“Said keep quiet didn’t I? Sure they taught ya something bout silence up in that school of yourn. Like the movies, silence is golden, aye. Well keep the silence of space in mind while I devour this here burger.” And in two gargantuan bites he did. His soda seemed to refill every time it was emptied. Burgers formed from vapor as he rung-rung-rung the silver bell.
We devoured countless courses that way. And always that endless ringing. A feast, and bells, and Christmas lights.
Eventually the elder Char came to take out the trash. He bundled the big black sack behind his back, a working hobo, shuffling out the front door, where, through the blackness of day, I could see two hot headlights heading for the station, steam surrounding the machine, madness.
The wheels moved but never made it anywhere. They spun and spun and spun, like snakes caught in a windmill, like The Dieselfish's eyes. Although it didn't move, I did. Although The Dieselfish never left his seat, and his truck never left the parking space, I slid, feet first, for the front door, head still inside, mind you, and there was nothing I could do.
I gave up. A great grin enveloped me in its metallic incisors and I slid inside, up the gullet into the brain where my foot fell rooted to the road. Oh deer! I thought, swerving.
Then I thought of Moths mashed and melded into mounds of putrescent pancakes, grasshoppers grinded into gooey green swaths, with the stench of skunk, a bloody pus-filled tarp of fur under the tires, deathly mephitic oil, molded into the upholstery, and high atop sits a mad meth-addicted Mothman, making eighty in a forty, a crude and cold oil skeletal hand holds the steering wheel and another joggles the radio knob; out of the silent peace and blackness the high-vibrato twill of an Alabaman Shakespeare, that Hillbilly Drifter Hank Williams, singing like a shrill kid it’ll all be alright anyhow cuz I’ll never get out of this world alive, so surely none of us cornhusk humans leave this world unscathed by the scythe, not knowing where we’ve driven from or driving to ‘cept a Dreamy Duluouz Diary, our demise, so I’m sure it’ll happen sometime soon, on the day of The Dieselfish.
How’d it happen? Going for Gas off golden plains on Interstate 380. The Clawed Compass points evermore forward, corn cut by the smiling shark scythe. The scythe stretches out, held by Mothmen, Great Eaters of The Road, Killers of Careless Creatures, Lights at the end, of every sleepy turn, trampling tiny critters under a heavy steel toe and rubber heel.
We won’t ask how it been ringing again, Ben Rushing. The track is diverted.
Sit still in the diner. And drink soda. And delve into big burgers, silent gold. And in the parking lot, DIESELFISH hums, lights blaring, two mad moons glistening gruesome, huge hunger hemmed in.
Char calls the cops. He takes out the trash. The cops close in. “Good ‘ol Red ‘n Blue, been waitin for you.”
“YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!” The Dieselfish swears. Takes death-juice from his muddy leather jacket and drinks. Slumping in his seat as cops come in, guns flashing. And outside, on the corner, a coroner stands over our body, broken by the big rig, eyes blown out of our sockets, shoes stuck to asphalt, vapors rising, nevermore moving, oil and blood. Tar. Char. Krill on the road, consumed by the big rig.
And back inside the Burger Time Machine & Station! For more burgers for eternity.