The Decameron Stories – Day Two

In the year 1348, while the Black Death went scything through Italy, ten young people took refuge in the countryside outside of Florence. To pass the days as they waited for the Reaper to be on his way, they told each other stories.

On the second day of story-telling they elected Filomena their queen. She demanded from each of them a tale of misfortune, which must end unexpectedly with happiness. So one by one they went stumbling through hazards and sorrows, until ten happy endings left them breathless under the setting sun.

Then, as on the first day, they all looked up from Boccaccio’s dusty pages and waited to hear what I would say.

“We enjoyed your first story very much,” said Filomena, “and we appreciate that you told it according to our fourteenth century customs. But we beg you to speak more freely and in keeping with your own times. Shock us if you must. We won’t hold the centuries against you.”

So I told them a tale from my own time, inventing at will as I went along.

Day Two

the tale of the Ford

Once upon a time there was a

2013 Ford Fusion

tuxedo black with beige interior

front wheel drive

 some kind of engine

 automatic transmission

 120,000 miles

The lady wanted seven thousand for it, but Josh had talked her all the way down to five.  On condition that he paid cash today. 

Bafore two or it aint true no mo.

He could get there before two.  From Baltimore to DC it was only an hour.  No problem.  He called up his cousin Rig, who wasn’t worth a shit but could at least drive a Ford back from DC.  The two of them were pulling onto the 295 before noon, Josh with five grand in his pocket and Rig with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  Clear day, normal traffic.  January air.  If the sailing was smooth they’d be back in time for –

Aw fuck it.  There was nothing to be in time for.  Josh was cut from his job a week ago – not even Covid related – and Jenny wasn’t around anymore either.  She was the one who kept the clocks going.  Josh wasn’t as bad off as some – he at least had some savings and his sisters were both nurses – but he was bad off enough that the concept of being in time for something made him laugh.  Just for a moment.  Then he coughed into his hand and asked Rig what he’d been up to. 

But Rig was the worst conversationalist in Maryland’s history.  All Rig knew how to talk about was the latest update to Call of Duty.  Against his will Josh learned that there were new lines of sight in a place called Raid, that the AK was OP and the MP was a noob crutch, and you had to turn off crossplay if you were looking for a chain kill.

Git good, bro.

But at least it was talk.  Josh preferred anything to silence, and the radio in his Chevy no longer worked.  If the choice was between hearing about Rig’s favorite loadout and self reflection, he chose Rig’s loadout.   

They were halfway to DC when the engine started smoking.  Figured.  Josh pushed his luck for a rest stop a mile up the road, cut the engine in the lot outside the restrooms, popped the hood and checked for gremlins.  No gremlins.  He called Triple A and they said they’d come by in an hour.

But he didn’t have an hour.

Bafore two or it aint true no mo.

Git good, bro.

The rest stop was empty except for a big black truck and five thick rednecks.  There was something Tennessee about them.  Two of them wore plaid and might get lost in a crowd, two wore plaid but would never get lost in a crowd, and the fifth was a shirtless Viking with horns on his head and his face painted blue.  They were drinking out of paper bags. 

The truck was draped in TRUMP flags and JESUS sheets.

Josh asked them if they were going to DC.  None of them answered but the big one nodded his head.  After a few more questions and nods he ascertained they would give him a ride into the city.

“You sure about them, bro?” Rig said when he came back to the car, barely interested.  He was still in the passenger seat, flicking at his phone, probably scrolling through video game forums.  “They seem kinda revved up.”

“You don’t dig their loadout?”

Rig grinned.  “Bunch of sweaty try-hards.”

Josh agreed but he needed that Ford Fusion, now more than ever.  If he could just get to DC he could cab it or hoof it to the lady’s townhouse.   

“Can you handle sitting here till the tow comes?  Just have them take it Roy’s.  Here’s the card if they need it.  And the key.”

“How do I get home?”

“I don’t know.  Take a bus.”

“Weak sauce.”

He repeated the stuff about Roy’s and the card and went back over to the truck, where the rednecks were loading up and rolling out.  Declining a nip from the proffered paper bag, he climbed into the truck bed with two of the plaid shirts and the shirtless Viking, telling himself it was only half an hour to DC.

As the truck pulled out of the lot and back onto the 295, he performed his obligatory pocket check: wallet, keys (minus the Chevy key), covid mask, money clip –

And his heart jumped.  He’d left his phone in the car with Rig.

“My phone!” he shouted over the rush of wheels and wind.  “I left my phone back there!”

The plaid shirts barely reacted to him.  They looked at him curiously, as though they thought it strange that a man should have such concerns.  The Viking grinned with blazing eyes, thumped his bare chest with his fist and cried:

Odin soar!

Josh was unsatisfied with this response, but he decided not to press the issue.  They were by now cruising along with the traffic, going about sixty down the highway with those red TRUMP and JESUS banners flapping all around them, and they weren’t going to turn back for him.

Hard to blame them.  It was his own dumbass fault.

But he wasn’t lost yet.  He had written the lady’s address and phone number down on a slip of paper and tucked it into his wallet – a habit that had followed him out of the old world – so he could get by without his phone for the afternoon.  He just had to survive this episode of Duck Dynasty

As they neared the city there were more and more flags flapping in the wind around them.  Stars and stripes and TRUMP 2020 and the ever-present incongruity of JESUS.  A few confederate flags snuck themselves in there too, either flying from antennas or taped up in rear windows.  

Must be some kind of rally going on.

Jenny had tried to get him into politics.  It never took.  He knew in his heart, deep down where rational arguments couldn’t reach him, that everyone was completely full of shit.  If you started believing in something you were just getting led by the nose into somebody else’s mess, and it was your own fault if you drowned in it.  Keeping clean was the name of his game; to win it all you had to do was say “fuck off” when politics came up.   

He didn’t say it to be an asshole.  Sometimes you had to throw fucks for your health.  And he had thrown a lot of fucks in the last few years. 

Probably why Jenny left him.

Probably why his boss fired him.

And now he was helping a Viking unload TRUMP and JESUS gear outside the Capitol.  He wondered what Jenny would say if she saw him now.

Probably “fuck off”.

He only did it to give thanks for the ride.  Even if these guys were a bit off, they did get him to the city.  He was cold from riding in the truck’s bed, phoneless, minus his cousin and a Chevy – but he made it. With an hour to spare, even.  He thanked the Viking, who thumped his chest again, nodded to the plaid shirts, then went wandering towards the Mall.

There were a lot of people around.  No more Vikings but plenty of plaid shirts and red banners.  Definitely some kind of rally.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet to check the lady’s address – and his money clip came leaping out with it.  Five thousand bucks clanked on the sidewalk.  His dive was quick but not quicker than the big black steal-toed boot that came stomping down on it. 

“I’m afraid that’s mine now, bud.”

From his knees Josh looked up at a behemoth wearing the stars and stripes for a cape.  Gift-shop sunglasses were looking down at him from under the brim of a Stetson.  

Oh come on.” 

Were those words for the cowboy or the goddess of Fortune? 

“Finders keepers,” the cowboy said, spitting next to his boot.

“This isn’t funny.”

“No it ain’t.  What’s funny is you walking the wrong way.”

“I’m just down here to buy a fucking car, man.”

Josh looked around for help but all he saw were laughing faces.  Everyone around him found his predicament hilarious.  He had no idea what to do.  His money was right there – right under that fucking boot – yet it was lost to him forever.  Irretrievable.  He understood from the cowboy’s tone and the crowd’s sense of humor that his five grand was gone, his dreams of a Ford Fusion dead.  But it was immoral to give up without a fight.  He clawed at the boot, tried to wedge his fingers between the rubber of the sole, pulled and pushed at the heel.  It was useless.  The cowboy was immovable.

He didn’t dare to stand up.  A real confrontation was too dangerous for him.  The cowboy knew it.  Eventually the cowboy tired of the game, kicked Josh aside, pocketed the cash, and continued on towards the Capitol.  Josh could do nothing but watch him vanish into the red wind of TRUMP and JESUS.  

Distraught, broken, frustrated, disoriented – he wandered around until he found a bench to sit on. 

How had everything fallen apart so fast?

Just a few hours ago he’d been cruising down the highway, listening to Rig’s tales of digital glory, with his phone at the draw and money in his pocket, a whole future roiling underneath him as his wheels cut open the universe.  And he had even dared to hope for something more, something like a

2013 Ford Fusion

tuxedo black with beige interior

front wheel drive

 some kind of engine

 automatic transmission

120,000 miles

Come to think of it, just a few short weeks ago he’d been Netflixing with Jenny, fondling her breasts as they watched what everyone was talking about.  That afternoon he’d achieved the one greatness available to the men of his generation: a quick one before his shift started.

Now all of those things were gone.  Job, girl, money, car – gone, gone, gone, gone. He was sitting on a bench on the National Mall with nothing but a scrap of paper in his hands, upon which was scrawled in his own sloppy hand the address of some lady’s townhouse.

Bafore two or it ain’t true no mo.

Funny – he still had time.  He figured he might as well go have a look at the damn thing.  If these were the last hours of his American dream, before he finally woke up under that bridge his dad used to warn him about, he at least wanted a glimpse of the Ford that did him in.

He knew DC well enough to find the lady’s address, which happened to be just nine or ten blocks away from the action.  It was a funny city that way: you could walk for miles and miles around the Mall, spend weeks touring through all the grand architecture and history, without ever knowing that a few blocks over there was a normal rundown sprawl of neighborhoods.  Rows and rows of yellow and brown and red townhouses, with paint peeling off them and junk in their little fenced-in yards.

And suddenly there it was: a 2013 Ford Fusion, black and dirty, dinged up like an old glove.  Parked in the street under a sycamore tree.

It filled him with dread and awe to see it sitting there – alone, unremarkable, abandoned.  He wondered if its meaning would ever be guessed at by anyone, whether or not the next owner would smell in that fake-leather interior his failure as man, his disgrace as an American. 

Maybe he himself had sniffed the ruin of a thousand others, who had gazed emptily at the last car they would never afford.  Every car did have its smell.

While he looked long and wistfully upon the Ford under the sycamore, a couple came exploding out of a nearby townhouse.  The man was escaping, the woman pursuing.

“You go then!  Get yours!  Go get it, you white devil, you crème de la bitch!  You ain’t even white.  You taupe motherfucker.  Go get it.  Go fucking get it!”

She hounded him for half a block before stopping suddenly and crossing her arms, as if there were an invisible barrier beyond which she couldn’t be bothered.  As the man hurried past Josh, with his hands in his pockets and his chin on his chest, he turned his head up and their eyes briefly met.  Josh recognized in those eyes a flash of his own confusion and despair; but there was also something foreign in them, a far away rage that did not want to be understood.

The rage went quietly up the street and disappeared around a corner, towards the Capitol Building.

“What the fuck you looking at?”

Josh realized that he was now standing like an idiot on the sidewalk and staring at the woman.  She wasn’t exactly beautiful, but the fire in her was attractive.

“I think I’m here to look at your car,” he said.

“You Josh?”

“That’s me.”

“You got my money?”

“Nope.”

That word came out so strangely that the woman, who was clearly one of the most garrulous creatures on earth, possessed no natural replies to it.  Her openmouthed incredulity showed Josh a new picture of himself, and he couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous he looked in it.

“Did every taupe motherfucker wake up crazy today?” she said.

That question was either for the indigent on her doorstep, or it was the goddess’s to answer.

Josh had not intended to burden this woman with his story.  He hadn’t even considered knocking on her door, much less speaking with her.  But now that they were lost together in the same moment he felt compelled to share with her the most recent evidence of his catastrophic existence.  He told her about his car breaking down, the loss of his phone, hitching into the city with a shirtless blue Viking and getting jacked by an all-American cowboy.  He even told her about losing his job and his girlfriend – not because he wanted pity but because he was beginning to find it all very funny.  For the moment his life seemed like a joke worth telling.

“I really didn’t come here to tell you all this,” he said when he was finished.  “I just wanted to see that damn car with my own eyes.  It was important for some reason.”

They looked at it together for a while.  It was still a

2013 Ford Fusion

tuxedo black with beige interior

front wheel drive

 some kind of engine

 automatic transmission

120,000 miles

parked under a sycamore tree.

“My name is Dee,” she said, after they absorbed its new essence.  “I like you, Josh.”

In less than an hour she had packed her things into the car and Josh was behind the wheel and pulling back onto the 295. 

When the radio told them that the Capitol Building had been stormed, that America was on fire and under siege, they looked at one another sheepishly and somewhat guiltily.  Because they didn’t care.  They were a man and a woman with a car and a roof.  The goddess had spared them. 

Their fortune was now their own, and it waited for them an hour up the road.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed the story consider following the blog. And you can always support me by purchasing one of my books, which can be viewed on my home page.

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