SHHH…LISTEN TO THE EKKO
Tuesday. Mostly sunny. High of 92 degrees. Enough humidity to sink an aircraft carrier. A man has no business drinking coffee in this weather; it’s murder. But here I am sweltering in this dingy little truck stop, knocking back coffee number three, waiting on a hot little broad/number who calls herself Ekko. I’m pretty damn sure that’s not her real name, especially since I first met her in an internet chat-room. You know how that goes.
Ekko is a nineteen year old, peanut butter blonde endowed with a perfect set of 34 C’s. I met her in an internet chat room three weeks ago.
I glance at my watch and scan the joint one last time. The place is swarming with truckers, bikers, and Mexican itinerant workers. All of them full of hard looks as they feast upon heaping stacks of flapjacks and ham steaks. I can feel their eyes on me, probing me, sizing me up. I must look like a foreigner to them, sitting here decked out in my Armani suit and tie. Shit, listening to them talk in their cryptic CB lingo about Harleys and rest-stop whores makes me FEEL like a foreigner. I don’t think we even speak the same language. Why the fuck Ekko picked this place to meet is beyond me.
I knock back the remainder of my coffee. Meanest fucking brew I’ve ever had. The shit scours my bowels like a fiberglass enema. Gonna’ take a quart of Mylanta to douse that fire. I wave down the waitress and order a tall glass of chocolate milk with a matching donut.
A minute later she shuffles back with the grub, and just as I take a bite, I notice the woman outside peering in the window. Shit, just to look at her: the ski-mask, the trench coat, the burgundy moon boots with feathers tacked to them; it’s the kind of exquisitely creepy fashion ensemble that announces, “Look at me! I’m psycho!”
I watch as the strange woman scans the place, her eyes slowly drifting from one table to the next. I try to avert my gaze but it’s too late. She catches me watching her and the edges of her eyes pucker as if she is trying to place me. She taps the window and waves. A bit unsure, I point to myself and mouth “who me?”
The woman nods.
I reply with a tense wave, hoping like hell that will be the end of it.
No such fucking luck.
The strange woman darts for the entrance, eyeing me the entire way, then shuffles inside. As she weaves her way through the maze of tables and booths, my body shudders with the nauseating realization that this is Ekko, the woman who was supposed to be here two hours ago. I take a deep breath and brace myself for the impending drama.
Ekko seats herself across from me, plucks the donut from my plate, wipes off the chocolate frosting, and slams it onto the table.
“Damn, another breakfast murdered,” I remark. “Does this mean we’re still not on speaking terms?”
A tense silence prevails. Then very slowly, she presses a finger to her lips.
“Shhh…listen to the echo,” she whispers, tilting her head to the side as if straining to catch some distant voice. That’s her quirky little way of greeting people. She thinks it’s clever. I, on the other hand, think it’s annoying.
“Come on Ekko, cut the bullshit charade. Okay? Just tell me what this is all about.”
She stares vacantly at the ruined donut for a moment then fishes a Marlboro from her pocket, lights it, and lets the smoke tumble from her lips. “Nathan…I have a slight problem.”
“No shit? The whole ski mask and moon boot ensemble was my first clue. You look like a fugitive from the fucking loony bin. Why don’t you take that ridiculous mask off?
“Can’t do that, Nathan.”
“Why the hell not? Is it stapled to your head or something?”
“Just forget it. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Wouldn’t understand? Come on babe, try me.”
She shifts restlessly in her seat, takes another hit from the cigarette, then leans in close as if imparting a dark, shameful secret. “I lost something when we were fooling around at that motel last Wednesday.”
“What do you mean ‘lost something?’ You promised me you weren’t a virgin.”
“NOT my VIRGINITY, you arrogant cockhead.”
“My right nostril.”
“I’m sorry, run that by me again.”
“I lost my right nostril.”
I take a deep breath and hold it for a moment, fighting like hell not to laugh. “Is that why you’re wearing the mask?”
Unable to contain my amusement, I reach across the table and pull the old “got your nose” trick, jamming my thumb between my fingers. “Hey look, here it is. I found it.”
“I’m being serious,” she hisses, extinguishing her cigarette on the donut between us.
“Okay, fine. Let me see your nose.”
“No. It’s too hideous.” She hangs her head shamefully.
“Ekko honey, you just don’t lose a nostril like you do a set of car keys. It’s physically impossible. Maybe you need professional help.”
“I don’t need professional help. I need YOU, Nathan. Please spend the night with me.”
“Fuck that! You know I can’t. My wife is onto us, Ekko. She found those e-mails you sent. Her and I have been fighting for three days straight because of them. I got two kids to think about. I can’t put them through this. It’s not fair.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying you and I are gonna’ have to cool it for a while.”
“Please don’t do this, Nathan. I can’t bear to be without you.”
“I’m sorry, but I told you once things started to get ugly that it was over. It’s not fair to my family.”
“Your family? What about me? Can’t you see I’m pining away for you? Every day we are apart I lose a little more of myself.”
Don’t know if it’s all the bad coffee or the humidity, but I start to feel dizzy and disoriented and everything suddenly seems so unreal, Ekko, the mask, the missing nostril, the burly truckers, even the ruined donut. I don’t want to be here anymore. I want this over with. “Listen Ekko, I got an eleven o’ clock appointment. I really have to go.”
I rise to leave and she snatches me by the wrist, yanks me back into my seat.
“Don’t leave me,” she says, her eyes welling with tears. She strokes my hand for a moment, then flies into a nervous rage and begins clawing at her head and pounding on the table.
“Shit Ekko, calm down. People are staring.”
She shakes her head and sneezes violently three times. A rope of blood and snot streams through the mask, oozes to the table.
“Oh god. I can’t breath. I can’t catch my breath,” she mutters, fumbling through her pockets. A bottle spills from her hand, scattering tiny yellow and green pills across the table. I try to help her, but she pushes me away. Then she cuts loose with a dreadful howl and buckles to the floor, a motionless heap of trench coat, snot and blood.
A creepy stillness grips the joint. I can feel anxious eyes probing me from every direction. I plunk a $10 bill on the table, weave my way to the door, and step out into the stifling August heat.