The following Mudflat story is in a collection of 12 stories titled Rock’s Dogs and is told from the viewpoint of Claire, Rock’s neighbor.
He ran out of the grocery store so fast, I kind of wondered if the bags he was carrying were full of shoplifted stuff, and isn't that an awful thing to think about a neighbor. Sorry. Can't help it. Where there's petty theft there's Rock Decko.
Listen, I didn't run after him shouting, "Stop, thief!" I am no snitch. And he is a smash wizard. Rock is almost six feet tall and every inch hard muscle, even where the brain is supposed to be. The wizard bit gives him extra strength. He tries to control it, but he sometimes flunks due to a shortness of temper.
What I did, rather than mind my own business and walk away, was stand with my armload of groceries, one more twenty-something woman in jeans and sweater in a grocery store parking lot, which made me almost invisible, and I watched. There was something going on. For curiosity, no other reason, I wanted to know what.
Rock stopped by a gray car and set his paper bags of groceries down on the pavement and opened the car door. And let out a howl. Not loud. Just something stifled into a gagging noise. Like maybe there was a dead body inside that car. Or more likely, in midday in a parking lot, a stray cat who had managed to sneak in the car and then got sick on the front seat.
Now I was really curious, so much so I walked slowly toward him.
He did a lot of muttering and cursing in a low tone, but he didn't reach in and haul out a sick cat, so I said, "Hey, Rock."
He turned a glare at me that switched to a small smile. For reasons I will never figure, he still has a slight crush on me even though we haven't dated since high school and that was years ago.
"Hi, Claire. Need a ride?" He's a nice looking guy, dark hair, good bones, and eyes the color of copper pennies. It's his personality that needs a makeover.
"No. Is something wrong with your car?"
He did a classic head scratch and shoulder shrug. "Yeah, this is weird. I can't figure what happened. The seat is the wrong height and the steering wheel is tilted down. So now they are too close together. I can't get in there."
As I drive an ancient car where the front seats can be pulled forward a little bit and that is the only adjustment possible, I asked, "Is that stuff you can do on purpose?"
"I guess. The dealer fixed everything where I wanted it. I don't remember what he did."
"Then something slipped out of place, maybe. Where is the manual for your car?"
No, I did not expect Rock Decko to read a manual, but if he had one I could read it and tell him which button to push or whatever needed doing. Talk about talking to the wind.
"This stuff must all move." Being a guy with smash wizard strength, he bent into the car, put one hand under the seat and the other hand on the headrest and did a fast jerk.
The seat did a kind of screeching noise. The headrest came off in his hand. His head banged on the inside of the roof.
He tossed the headrest onto the passenger seat, backed out of the car and stood rubbing his head. As often as he does that, you would think he might get some circulation to his brain. Guess not.
"The seat moved but it still doesn't look right. It's still too close to the wheel. How am I supposed to fit in there?"
"Is there a latch or button or something to adjust the wheel?"
"Somewhere near the wheel. Maybe on the steering column. Did you lose the manual?"
He crouched down between the open door and the car and ran his hands around the steering wheel and along the column. "Huh. Don't feel anything."
Bracing his hands beneath the wheel, he bulged those smash wizard muscles and gave a shove and the wheel snapped sideways at an angle. "Still too close together."
"Rock, you must have a manual. Find it before you wreck your car."
He glanced up over his shoulder and gave me a sassy grin. "Okay, doll, you win."
Stretching across the front seat and console, he popped open the glove compartment and rummaged around with his hand. And then he backed slowly out of the car. The grin was gone. His forehead scrunched into a bunch of worry lines.
"What's wrong? Not there? Maybe it's in the door pockets."
He shook his head slowly. And spoke slowly. "Uh, Claire, you know what is in that glove compartment? Sunglasses with pink frames. Also gloves, little pink ones. And uh, now that I look, I kind of think this isn't my car."
"What? You opened it. You must have unlocked it."
"It wasn't locked. Uh, let's go." He closed the door, picked up his grocery bags, and started along the line of parked cars. He stopped a dozen cars down the line and peered through the windshield of a gray car. "Here's mine. That's my jacket on the seat. Come on, I'll drive you home."
Now it was me who had trouble thinking. But I got there. "Rock, you pushed a bunch of stuff out of place in that other car. You better go back and fix it before the owner turns up."
From the direction of the other car a howl rose. And rose. And thinned into a screech. If the voice had been male, I think he would have returned and tried to fix what he had broken, although with Rock, it's hard to know.
What I did know right away, from the way his jaw dropped and those copper eyes widened, was that there was not a man in the world he was afraid of. But an angry woman?
Rock slid into the driver's seat, whipped his car back and out and around where I was standing behind an adjacent parked car, and shot out of the lot. I clutched my bag of groceries. And then I noticed his, still there, on the pavement next to me.
Okay, there wasn't anything I could do to help about the car he had manhandled, but at least I could do a good deed to sort of balance the score. I juggled my one bag into the crook of my arm and then picked up his sacks. The sales slip was in one of them which meant I had been wrong, Rock had paid for his groceries. And so I walked back to the store, went to the Donation bin for the local Food Bank, and put his bags of groceries in the bin.
As I walked across the parking lot toward the sidewalk I could still hear screaming.
Copyright (c) Phoebe Matthews
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