THE POT RACK, continued

She was getting lazy in her old age, Linda thought. The Health Department was gonna shut her down if she didn't get to these things. Why couldn't things be easy? Hard. Everything's hard, and now Fred's hard. Wonder how long he'll keep it up this time? Hopefully, long enough to keep it interesting.

He had followed her into the kitchen. Linda touched the handles of the butcher knives stuck head first in a block of wood.

"Where you going, baby? Don't run away. I've come all this way to see you and you keep running."

She slowly turned around and faced him. "Shit! You've come all this way to see your wife and you just stopped by a for a quickie, that's all. You know it and I know it."

"Now that ain't true, baby. You know I ain't slept with Isa in over a year. I mean, we sleep in the same bed, but you know what I mean. She's just there, that's all."

"Well, why don't you leave her? I can close up this sink-hole. We can hit the road, see things together. Remember what a blast we had in Vegas?" Linda looked for confirmation, but his eyes held her breasts tight.

Fred pounded the stainless steel counter, once -- hard. The rack shook. "Listen. I'm out on the road every damn fucking day. Every damn fucking day, are you hearing me? I just like to come home. I like coming home to you, baby."

Linda faced hungry eyes. "You ain't coming home to me. I don't live here, in case you haven't noticed. You're going home to her -- to her. And I'm tired of being leftovers."

"You ain't leftovers," he said. "You're my main meal. And baby, the way you look in that shirt right now, I swear I'm ready to eat you like finger lickin' chicken." He walked toward her, his pale blue eyes unwavering and yesterday's stubble of white poking out of his square jaw. She turned and stared at the white box in front of her and the word FRIGIDAIRE, written in bold letters across its face.

"You got it up and ready, don't ya," she said, forehead resting against the cold metal.

"Hey, I was born ready."

"Yep, that's you, Fred. Always a good mechanic. Well, you think you can keep it up this time?" Linda winced from the harshness of her own words.

Fred slammed his fist on the counter again and swung her around to face him. "Shit, you're a mean bitch tonight. What's eating you, huh? I've been trying to be sweet. All I've been doing is thinking about you and you're insulting my manhood, telling me I'm old. I gotta say, this ain't doing it for me, gal. This ain't doing it. I've been trying to stay calm, but this ain't doing it."

A loud wind rattled the windows of the diner. He pinned her against the fridge. The pot rack swung. It gave her courage.

"Doing it for you...doing it for you. That's the problem. I'm not some goddamned fill-up and dump station. I'm not some whore on the road. I'm somebody, dammit. My name's Linda, remember? Not baby, not sugar, not honey, Linda. Linda. When was the last time you called me Linda? I'm here, ready to go with you, get out, travel. I can ride with you. But no. Here I sit, waiting, always waiting for you in between runs. That's the problem, Fred. You're always in-between, back and forth, up and down. I don't want to be in-between. I don't want to walk in circles. I want to stroll in a straight line and head on out of here with a man on my arm, unashamed." Linda straightened her shoulders and put up her chin.

"There's no need to be ashamed, baby," he said towering over her red head. Fred pulled a lone curl taut, tracing a line down to the top of her breasts heaving up and down as she breathed, heavy.

"Yes, there is. I feel like you're dragging a ghost by the hair. Sometimes I get all chilled when you walk in the door, like she's with you. I can feel her here watching, can't you?" Linda saw blood pump through the veins in Fred's throat, quick and insistent.

"What a bunch of fucking bullshit!" He grabbed her hard by the arms and shoved her against the fridge. "I don't feel her nowhere." He shoved her again. "She's not here. She's home, you got that?" He shoved her harder. "That's all. Home, where she belongs. And when I come home, she's there. That's all, just there," he shoved her until the door handle dug into her back. Linda grimaced. "Just like the sofa's there, the TV's there, she's just there. And that's where she stays." He pinned her to the fridge.

She struggled to move to the right to avoid the handle. Hanging her head she whispered, "I want her gone."

Fred pulled her chin up until her neck ached. "I know what I want," he said, loosening his grip, rubbing her pale, freckled arms up and down. His hands were rough, calloused, too hard, too fast. The irritation made her blonde arm hairs stand on end. Linda put her head back down and kept her arms down by her side, limp. He smelled like service station soap. Fred wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. She couldn't move. The stale food smell of the kitchen mixed with his sour breath.

"I want you, baby." Fred bent down and smelled her hair, pulled her up onto her tiptoes, buried his face in her breasts, quickly reached down to either side of her wide hips and pulled them into his. He pushed her back up against the Frigidaire, pulling her hips close to his, pumping back and forth, pumping her, pumping her with machine-like force. Linda stood pinned with her face turned towards the side wall, staring at the electric clock, watching its second hand circle around big black numbers, one full-circle, two full-circles. He pulled back, his hands still on her arms. She could see just a hint of wet on the front of his jeans. He must've struck oil, she thought.

"Sorry baby, I just couldn't hold it. You just made me so damn hungry." Linda didn't look up.

"Let me go," she said.

"Linda...please...." He still held her against the Frigidaire.

"No. Let me go."

"I don't want to let you go. I need you."

She looked up. The pot rack rocked, ticking off kitchen moments, back and forth, rocking in a giant circle, ever wider, ever looser, making a bigger and bigger hole in the center.

"I want you baby," he said. "You. This diner. Why, it's just like home to me."

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