Turkey House Publishing

short stories, vignettes, and other shenanigans

The news called the winter storm historic. Texas hadn't seen anything like it in over thirty years. Power plants were forced offline, and millions of Texans were subject to rolling blackouts.

My wife and I were looking out our living room bay window, out at the snow-covered everything of the outside world.

“Do you know about the Waffle House Index?” I asked. My wife shook her head. “If you ever want to know how bad a storm is, see if your local Waffle House has shut down. If it has, you know things are bad.”

“Is that legit?”

“Governments keep an eye on it.”

“You're telling me that leaders determine states of emergency based on whether or not a Waffle House shuts down?”

I nodded.

“Do you think our Waffle House is open?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“I haven't seen any Amazon deliveries the last few days,” she said.

“Damn,” I said. “This storm really is historic.”

#vignettes

“Oil Prices Slip on Surprise Inventory Build”—that's what the headline says.

I don't know how this stuff works, and I don't care to know. I prefer to imagine someone who recently finished counting one by one the millions of barrels in reserve. This guy has had only eight hours of sleep over the last three days. And those few hours were had on the floor underneath his desk. He's gone three days without seeing his family. Three days without shaving. Three days without a shower. Thank goodness he keeps a spare toothbrush and spray-on deodorant in the top drawer of his desk.

But this man—this analyst—he's smiling as he reviews his report. Here it is, he tells himself, all my hard work. This is why I get paid the big bucks. All those hours, all that time spent accounting for every single barrel of oil in the whole wide world—all that work is here on the few pages that comprise this report.

Before the analyst can hit Send on his email, there's a knock on his door. The door creaks open to reveal Jeff, the top-of-his-class Ivy League intern.

“Excuse me, sir,” Jeff says. Jeff is looking at the floor, avoiding eye contact.

The analyst sighs and lifts his hands from his keyboard and mouse. He crosses his arms as he plops against the back of his chair. “What is it, Jeff?”

“Well,” Jeff says and then takes a deep breath, “there's some surprise inventory.”

The analyst's eyebrow raises. “Surprise inventory? Oil doesn't just magically appear, you know. It doesn't grow on trees.”

“Most of it's drilled in the desert,” Jeff says.

So he has been paying attention.

“We forgot that we stashed some barrels in New Jersey,” Jeff says.

“New Jersey? Why would we do that?”

“I didn't know where else to put them.”

The analyst sighs. “It can't be that much, right?”

“It's not a little.”

“How much are we talking?”

“I don't know, sir. You'll need to count them.”

The analyst stares at Jeff.

“The boss says you should cancel your dinner plans with your family,” Jeff tells the analyst. “Actually, you should clear your calendar for the next couple days.”

The analyst sighs again and looks to the ceiling.

“I'll book you a flight for New Jersey,” Jeff says. The analyst nods and leans forward and plops his elbows on the table and rests his head in his hands.

“Are you o—”

“Just book the flight,” the analyst barks at Jeff.

Yes, sir,” Jeff says and turns to leave.

“Not New Jersey,” Jeff hears as he's stepping into the hallway. “Not New Jersey again.”

#vignettes

We live near DFW airport, and in the spring, we frequent a bike trail that runs parallel to an airport landing path. In the early days of the pandemic, we might have sat for half an hour at a bench along the trail and have seen only a couple planes approach and descend for landing.

But last night...

Last night I counted nine such planes in less than ten minutes. I don't know if the sight was inspiring or concerning or a mixture of both and yet so much more. But, in one way or the other, it was exciting.

#vignettes

“1979” by Smashing Pumpkins always makes me nostalgic for moments that never happened. The song is playing while I'm on my phone and looking at a picture my wife took of our daughter and sent to me earlier in the day. Our daughter's hands, pressed against her cheeks, are covered in paint after an afternoon arts and crafts project.

As I admire the picture, I wish I could send it to my mother, with whom my daughter shares a name. I don't know if my daughter looks like my mother—I've always been bad at recognizing that sort of thing—but in that moment, I like to think I can see my mother in her.

And I like to think my mother would love the picture, just as I'm sure she would love to know my daughter is named after her. And also in that moment, I can't help feeling as if my mother is still with me. And I also feel as I'm taking care of the woman who once took care of me.

#vignettes

The engine turns. The car cranks up. The dash lights turn on and flash a time or two and then go blank. Except the tire pressure light. You stare at the orange light with the obnoxious exclamation point inside that strange curvy figure. The light wasn't on yesterday. You know because you check every single time you start the car. The temperature has dropped almost thirty degrees since your last drive. Maybe that explains the light's appearance. But you're cutting it close. You'll be late for work if you take the time to air up your tires now. You don't have time to resolve this inconvenience.

The tires need to warm up. That'll fix the problem. A few miles on the tires will make the light go away.

You put the gear shift in D and you're off. You creep through the neighborhood and approach a stop sign and you come to a complete stop. You look both ways. No one around. You look at the dashboard lights. The tire pressure light is still on. Of course it is. The tires haven't had a chance to warm up. You resume driving and turn onto the main road.

The road is bumpy. The car rides low, so you can't help feeling every rumble, every texture vibrating on the back of your legs and your rear end so near the ground. You turn the radio off even though your favorite song is playing. You can't afford to sing along today. You need to be tapped in, undistracted, fully aware. Your tire pressure is low. This could get ugly.

You approach the highway. You're cautious. No point in being reckless. You settle on a speed that feels right—about 10 miles under the limit—during the morning rush. No tailgating today. No unnecessary risks. Your tire pressure is low.

You look at the dash again. The tire pressure light is still on. Why didn't you fill your tires? Stupid. Oh well, what's done is done.

Your grip on the steering wheel tightens. It vibrates with every change in the road. It's because the tire pressure is low, you whisper.

Another car—a sportier model—closes in on you and rides your rear end. You hear a light thud. Have you hit something? Has your tire popped? The driver behind you flashes his headlights.

I'm in the slow lane for a reason, you yell into the rearview.

The sporty car swerves into the left lane and passes you—the driver is gesturing for you to roll down your window.

You ignore him. You approach your exit, so you take it and continue toward the office. You find comfort as you pass through a school zone.

You get to work and pull into a parking spot. You sigh. Relief.

In the breakroom, in the line for the coffee pot, your co-workers share their morning commute horror stories.

Sharon tells that she was sitting still on the highway for nearly 30 minutes. Bill complains about taking the toll road. Deborah, who always shares too much, reveals that her irritable bowel syndrome gave her reason for concern during her last mile and a half.

You tell them your commute was fine. They stare at you. You take your coffee and head to your desk and start your day.

You spend the first hour and a half of the workday browsing the internet and researching how long you can drive with low tire pressure. Though the specifics vary, every site tells you the same thing: not long.

Of course they have to make it sound bad. They just want to sell tires. You decide to forget about the low tire and get about your day.

At lunch, you and some co-workers stand in the lobby of the office and decide who's driving.

Nathan's car is running on E. Phyllis has a couple of car seats in the back and she doesn't want to bother with taking them out. They look to you, waiting for your excuse.

The tire pressure light is on. You mumble this, wanting to move on. The three of you resign to walk somewhere for lunch. As you walk, Nathan tells you about his cousin's friend from church. Her car flipped when her tire blew out because the tire pressure was low.

The light had been on for only a couple of days, Nathan says. Her car flipped when she was going over an overpass. It flipped over the railing and crashed onto the street below. The roof of her car caved in. Her family didn't recognize her after the accident.

Is that true?

Nathan accuses you of calling his cousin a liar. She goes to church twice on Sundays.

Phyllis says the restaurant has amazing chicken fried steak as you approach. Nathan grumbles that it was dry the last time he tried it.

When you return from lunch, you try to verify Nathan's story. You stalk him on social media in an attempt to identify his cousin. You can't find Nathan's saintly relative. Your trail runs cold. You can never trust anything Nathan says.

Before you know it, it's quitting time. You decide that now—at this very time on this very day—might be a good time to stay late and catch up on some loose ends you've been neglecting. You hear a ding on your computer. A new email from IT. Emergency maintenance will be performed in a few minutes. The internet and the internal network will be down until tomorrow morning.

This is why you can never get ahead. You shut down your computer.

Sitting in your car, you stare at the tire pressure light. You had hoped it would go away now that the temperature had risen throughout the day. But there it is. You curse.

You consider driving to a gas station with one of those air fill-up hoses, but all the gas stations will be busy at evening rush hour, and you don't have any change, so you'll have to go through the trouble of going to an ATM and breaking a twenty-dollar bill. You do not have time for this.

Shortly after you've departed, you hit a bump. The car feels off. The tires are affecting the ride.

You hit traffic. Relief. Everyone in the left lane is negotiating their way into the right lanes. Accident up ahead. Flames. You creep past the scene. There's a car—the same model as yours—flipped over. Burning. You try to get a good look at the car's tires. Are they melted? Are they the same tires as yours? You can't make sense of the scene. The driver behind you honks and you refocus on the road ahead of you.

As you continue home, the image—the burning car, the smoke, the chaos of it all—replays on an infinite loop in your head.

When you get home, you grab a drink. The day has been especially stressful. After a few sips, you realize you should fill up your tires. But you're tired. The sun is already setting. And the cold is especially bitter now. You don't have time for.

You'll take care of it tomorrow.

#stories

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