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When my carbon monoxide sensor is tinged the sickly yellow of a used cigarette filter, what is that supposed to tell me?
This little unit has seen no cigarette smoke in its lifetime, which, according to its factory born-on date, began on June 27, 1993. If it had been exposed to second hand, I suppose it would have made decent fodder for one of those snarky TRUTH ads.
Anyway, I tested the thing, and it beeped. I guess that means it’s okay, but the color is not encouraging. Perhaps there’s some sort of metal that’s been emitting rays in those spectrums for the past fifteen years. Or maybe the steady current of electricity has slow-cooked the plastic like a good roux. (In another ten years, this baby will look like Dutch chocolate.)
Or maybe (perhaps obviously), I should just buy a new one. Still I hate to replace it. It’s been a real warrior to still beep after all these years.
David headed south out of McComb. The salvage yard was perched on the Mississippi side of the Mississippi/Louisiana border. He dropped his truck into a lower gear as he approached a hill. He squinted into the noonday sun. Crows apostrophee’d the telephone lines above lizards hiding beneath blown out bits of tire, and in the distance, a sign that said Louisiana Welcomes You! The road boiled and swirled. It was 103 degrees on a cloudless day, and it hadn’t rained in four weeks.
David flicked his blinker left and turned into the drive. The salvage yard sprawled down a shallow valley of stray cotton that suffered in the heat like southern snow on a red dirt robe. Accordion stacks of crumbling cars rose limply on either side. A congregation of bald tires surrounded a trio of Rottweilers fighting over a shoe. And everywhere, indiscernible collections of metal roasted on the grills of skeletal car seats or slept in barracks of old ovens and refrigerators.
You can make a living in scrap-iron. Just ask Major. He spent every day at the salvage yard, sifting through an endless, cascading flood of junk. Major was crazy of course, with a proclivity to talk when no one was listening or close enough to even understand.
Orange dust blew up alongside David’ truck as he pulled in the drive. He palmed the wheel around, backing slowly. He got out of his car and waved at Major and the wrecker, who sidelong glanced their approval from where they were, hunched over a resurrected lawnmower that shunted choppity chop. At length, Major recognized David and hobbled over. He started talking.
“Say what?” David shouted over the racket.
“How’s your wife? I know she’s been… I cain’t imagine really…”
“Yeah she’s doin all right.”
David jumped into the trailer and started unloading. Major sorted through the squalor. His dark, greasy fingers dragged through the nuts, bolts and nails that had gathered in the trailer bed. Major turned to David.
“You gonna throw away that?” He pointed at a rusted hotwater tank.
“You want it?”
Major thought a moment. “Mm… no.”
David turned and rolled his eyes, then why even ask about it. Major rummaged.
“You know. It’s prob’ly a perfectly good tank, but reckin I don’t feel right lootin George’s collection. He was such an honest cuss.”
“Well, you can take whatever you want. It’s all goin.”
Major cleared his throat and looked down the line of his nose at an old grocery cart. “George once told us about what happened to your leg.”
“Mm, long time ago.”
“How you holdin up these days.” David said.
Major smiled and tapped his cane on his metal leg.
“Reckin I get on just fine.”
“So you’re happy?”
“Hell no I ain’t happy.”
David kept unloading, tossing junk every which way. Major limped to the shack for shade. When David finished, he joined Major and the wrecker. The wrecker offered him some tea from a refrigerator that groaned in the heat. David slugged it down, cool and sweet and running with the sweat down his jaw. David shouldered it away. The wrecker refilled his glass.
“We got whiskey too but don’t reckin id do us a hill a beans a good.”
David nodded. He sat down in a lawn chair.
“So Skynyrd crashed around here, right?”
“Mhm. I was there,” the wrecker said. Yeah. Him and everyone else in McComb County. “The sight of it…” The wrecker closed his eyes gravely and shook his head. “Eyeballs poppin outta people’s heads… entrails strewn everywhere… horrible stuff like you never saw. We had to help the paramedics with the dead and wounded. Couldn’t git those ambulances back there good enough.”
“Seems like a lot of rock bands go down in planes. Buddy Holly. Jim Croce…”
“Though it did save George’s tokus,” Major said. “It bought him the day he needed to get back to work. After the union saw he’d turned, the strike was over in a couple days. George wasn’t the only one with money problems.”
“Do you suppose there was any providence in all that?”
“You mean that Skynyrd crashed soze George wouldn’t die at the hands of the Union.”
“Who knows. I don’t reckin the Union woulda hurt him too bad. Things was savage, though.”
“Yeah.” Major tapped his leg with his cane.