“You can only hope to be happier. You’ll never be happy.” The alarm clock radio told Lloyd in the early hours of the morning. Gray sunlight spilled across his face and he grimaced at it. He slapped his hand down on the radio and rolled away from the sunlight. His feet found the floor, but the circulation in his long, thin legs was bad. All he could feel was random tingles and aches. He kept his eyes closed because his eyes felt like they were being compressed. Tears bled from his eyes and a shivering breath drained from his mouth.
He was a killer, not of men but that didn’t matter much. Soon enough, he’d be gone with a sledgehammer in his hands, off to knock in the skulls of cattle. Out west, they had special guns that fired a steel rod with compressed air, but Lloyd did it the old fashion way. On hammer. One skull. The cow goes down. His hand ran through his sweaty gray hair. It was thinning. His hands were stiff, rough like rawhide and Lloyd kept flexing them, kneading what little hair he still had. That stiffness didn’t go away. That stiffness turned to sour strain as it crept across his shoulders and down his back. One hand worked through his hair and the other rested on his potbelly. He had stomach troubles. He couldn’t move his bowls easy and he felt like he would be sick at any moment. Lloyd imagined that he would die with his sledgehammer in his hands, knocking out the brains of an old heifer standing in her own shit.
Lloyd gardened. That is, he tilled some soil behind his home, he made hollows in the ground and filled those hollows with seeds. He couldn’t get anything to grow right. He had planted flowers but the stocks bowed over and the pedals turned gray and brown. Most of them died without ever budding. The dead flowers rotted in the ground, putrefied and reeking. He tried for vegetables; celery, cabbage, cucumber, peas. All of it died or somehow became poisonous. Little, red veins etched throughout his plants and they might have been the beginning of his intestinal troubles. Lloyd was a killer. He had no business bringing up life.
He wore an ashen-gray jumpsuit when he smashed in cow skulls. His work was bloody work and his gray jumpsuit was permanently dotted with orange circles of poorly washed blood. He rolled his sleeves up around his elbows, exposing faded tattoos of Spanish slogans written in tight, black, blocked letters. He lit a damp cigarillo that smelt vaguely of spilt beer. He wasn’t a drunk, but he drank. He kept beer on hand and his breath normally smelt of it. He was a killer, but he needed not to think about it.
It was a gray day with streaks of black in the sky. It would rain but not before Lloyd slid his sledge into the passenger’s seat of his old, rusted Ford and then slid himself into the driver’s side. Raindrops dotted the windshield while he was on the road, puttering along while puffing on his last cigarillo. The rain crept on him slowly and his windshield was slick and sliding with the rain before he turned on the windshield wipers. He had been drifting out of his lane without knowing it, straddling the faded yellow lines that marked the middle of the road. Big, swaying trees jutted over the road, obscuring the edges and stealing away the light. Thunder rumbled over Lloyd’s head, sending more and more rain down upon the roof of his truck. The road was bucking him slightly, fighting the frustration between rubber and road.
Lloyd puffed on his cigarillo, biting on the unfiltered tip while his hand wrested with wheel, trying to keep his path true. He pulled the truck off to the side of the road underneath the shade of a bowing tree limb, expecting that the weather would sooner see him crash into a tree if he continued. There he waited, with his sledge perched in the passenger’s seat, for the rain to slow. They might miss him and his sledge at the slaughterhouse, but Lloyd doubted it. He was a killer but he didn’t think that he was a necessary killer.
The rain clattered against the roof of his old, rusted Ford, rattling methodically. Thunderclaps streaked across the sky, jutting like a blue-silver bullet-train. The sky twisted and swirled, black curling into gray and every once and a while, there was a streak of blue-silver lightening. The air was electric and the ground rumbled underneath Lloyd’s truck vibrated. There was a moment where the rain stopped being a sound. It was a quavering in his inner ear. The rain was a throbbing working through his muscles and all of a sudden, there was a tinny knocking at his truck’s passenger’s side window. Lloyd looked out the passenger’s window and saw an old, black man in an overcoat and a fedora. He was soaked in the downpour, rain droplets beading off his chin and saturating through his clothing. Lloyd leaned over the passenger’s side and opened his truck without fully understand why he did so. Lloyd pulled his sledge over closer to himself, freeing the seat for the old man. The old man stepped into his truck and closed the door behind him.
“Thank you, sir.” The old man said, smiling with a soaked face.
“Not a problem.” Lloyd shook his head slowly and then grimaced at the rain.
“But it’s still good of you.” The old man said, offering another smile.
“Yeah.” Lloyd said.
“It’s coming down, ain’t it?” The old man asked, leaning back in the passenger’s seat and studying the rainstorm. The old man kept his hands folded in his lap. He had a wedding ring on his right hand.
“Yeah.” Lloyd said, stared down the running road which was looking like a painting of a road placed under a stream of running water.
“You’re a killer, Lloyd.” The old man said, still staring down the black stretch of road.
“What?” Lloyd asked, looking at the old man.
“Just what I said. Lloyd, you are a killer. You have a killer’s hands and a killer’s remorse. You’re a strong man as well.”
“How do you know my name?” Lloyd asked.
“Same way I know you, Lloyd. You are without joy. You are without love.”
“Who are you?” Lloyd said.
“Just a man like you.” The old man said.
“What’s your name?” Lloyd asked.
“Curtis.” The old man said.
“How do I know you, Curtis?”
“You don’t. I just know you. I’ve come along to set things right.” Curtis said and somehow, Lloyd accepted this. He turned his head back toward the rolling rain. It didn’t seem to be close to abating. Lightening flashes licked through the sky, the rain fell and together, they sat and stared out at the runaway world.
“You smoke?” Curtis asked. Lloyd nodded without looking at the old man.
“Mind if I?” Curtis asked. Lloyd shook his head. No, he didn’t mind. The old man fished a soaked pack of mentholated Double Diamond cigarillos. He plucked a damp cigarillo out from the pack and pulled out a golden lighter from his breast pocket. Lloyd didn’t except the old man could light the tip, but he did and smoke issued as he puffed on the filter.
“American.” Lloyd said, bringing his gaze to the soggy cigarillo pack. It’d been written in English. Lloyd had been used to seeing everything, except for the Coca Cola and Pepsi logos, in Portuguese.