Rhubarb by M. H. van Keuren Read Free Book Online

Book: Rhubarb by M. H. van Keuren Read Free Book Online
Authors: M. H. van Keuren
Tags: Science-Fiction, Humour
things,” she said. She popped the
trunk. A dozen green oxygen tanks had been laid out on towels. “I have to go to
the clinic over in Lewistown to have them filled every couple of weeks,” she
said. They loaded them into the back of his truck.
    Martin invited Cheryl into the cab, in flagrant violation of
FastNCo.’s policy. Only the plywood radio box separated them. If he drove his
usual five miles over the speed limit, they’d be in Brixton in twenty minutes.
He set the cruise control for a safe and legal pace.
    “I’m glad it was you, and not some stranger,” said Cheryl.
“Are you staying in Brixton tonight?”
    “You can just take me to the motel, then.”
    “I’ll take you home,” said Martin. “It’s no problem. How’s
your stepfather?”
    Cheryl sighed. “So stubborn. I’ve tried everything to get
him to go down to Billings and get checked out by real doctors.”
    “But he won’t go?”
    “Says it won’t do any good,” said Cheryl. “I’ve spent so
much time on WebMD, they should give me a medical degree.”
    “He’s lucky to have you around,” Martin said, instantly
regretting it. But Cheryl didn’t seem to take it as any sort of double
    “Yes. He is,” she said.
    “How’s Lester doing? Has he upgraded that mechanical till to
a computer yet?”
    “Are you kidding?” said Cheryl. She began to dig in her
purse, a cloth thing hung around her neck and shoulder. Oh my god, she’s
looking for pepper spray, Martin thought. Or a taser. Cheryl popped the lid off
a tube of ChapStick and quickly smeared a bit on both lips. She snapped the lid
back on and zipped her purse closed. Martin felt as if she had tased him, but
he had no time to sort out the implications of her lip moisture. She poked at
the plywood box with her elbow. “What’s this thing?”
    “Satellite radio,” said Martin. “Company won’t let me
install the upgrade, so I had to make do.” Don’t ask me what I listen to,
Martin prayed. Don’t ask me what I listen to.
    “What do you listen to?”
    “Talk, mostly.”
    “Stewart listens to Beyond Insomnia religiously,”
said Cheryl.
    “Who? Oh, your stepfather?”
    “You ever listen to it?”
    “Will you hold it against me if I say yes?” asked Martin.
    “As long as you don’t believe all the crap.”
    “I take it you don’t.”
    “If even half of the stuff were true, we’d all be neck deep
in weirdness. And that Lee Danvers, you can tell he’s laughing all the way to
the bank.”
    “He’s always said he’s a skeptic,” said Martin.
    “Skeptic. Don’t give me that,” said Cheryl. “And Stewart
buys anything that man advertises, like a sucker.”
    Garmin GPS, national sponsor. The caffeine pills in the
ashtray, frequent advertiser. The wind-up emergency radio behind the passenger
seat, Lee Danvers recommended. The shake-up LED flashlight in the glove
compartment, no Waker should be without one. Had she noticed? “It’s a funny
show,” Martin offered. “And Lee’s one of the last guys who really knows how to
do radio, you know?”
    “The fastener guy before you, he definitely belonged in the
tinfoil hat crowd. He’d come in talking about conspiracies. The guv’ment’s out to get us. Lester told him off one day. You came along a couple months
after that.”
    That had been five years ago. That meant that Cheryl had
registered his presence, had mentally tied it to a positive, albeit
inconsequential, change in her life. And in those five years, he’d managed to
become “not some stranger,” but a regular and slightly welcome presence.
    “No tinfoil hat for me,” said Martin. “I want them to
read my thoughts.”
    Cheryl smiled at this, and laughed briefly. And then after a
silence, she asked, “How much do you think a transmission repair costs?”
    About a mile south of the co-op, before the pavement ran out,
a tiny cluster of lit windows and porch lights appeared amid the black fields.
Cheryl had Martin rumble across a

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