I couldn't help it. Coming back was always like this: something would vibrate inside me so furiously it would shake itself still.
Kilbey promised to pick me up and there he was waiting outside the small airport, khaki jump suit bleaching in the sunlight, arms crossed, leaning against his truck, and that grin of his, cut hungry across his face. He looked like a clever little lizard. Hey, he said, look at you. A prop-plane coughed through the sky behind him. Kilbey pulled a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket and offered me one. No thanks. I told him I had quit.
I put my bags in the truck bed, reluctantly, seeing how filthy it was, the edges crowded with beer cans and burger wrappers, large psoriatic patches of rust, grease and dried mud. This thing still runs? I kicked a tire and looked up and down the old Ford. Of course, Kilbey said. He opened the door and the sound echoed even in the empty parking lot. Built tough, man, indestructible.
We drove out through the airport, down the mile long stretch of used car dealerships, diners, motels, the rest of the boredom that decorates any post-airport area, and turned onto the expressway. Kilbey slumped over the steering wheel as if he had trouble seeing out the windshield, a cigarette dangled from the corner of his mouth. I thought that he might be drunk. How are you, I asked, half hoping he'd say something simple, final, something that wouldn't require questions or comments.
Well, he choked out, a fist of smoke slung from his mouth. Ash flaked onto his lap, unnoticed. Goddam Clarice left me, Kilbey said. He pounded the wheel with a palm, more smoke, more ash. Left me, a whole lot about children, dogs, mortgages, and who knows what else. Kilbey shook his head, took one last drag and flicked his cigarette butt out the open window. But that's all done and done, man, keep on trucking. Right?
Too bad, I said, I thought she was good girl. Truthfully, I never knew a Clarice, nor an Angela or an oft-talked-about Isabella. As a matter of fact, I never knew any women, girls or whatever that would take a chance with Kilbey. It wasn't that his appearance, roughly made and bird-chested, limited him. That was just part of the package. You had to accept that Kilbey was loud and crude and sometimes smelled like dry cheese. Otherwise you would want to kill him.
Yeah, man, Kilbey said, I really thought I had that one bagged, you know, another Isabella. He turned to me. A frown stretched his face in craggy angles. He exhaled, letting his lips flutter dramatically. The scent of cheese filled the cab. Another smell too, almost sinister, like damp metal. He had certainly been drinking. I turned away and pretended to study the landscape.