Last Minute Hugo
Hugo Snell is after my wife. There are photos of them on Facebook shooting shotguns off the deck of his guest house. He drinks Wild Turkey out of iced tea bottles and shakes my hand when we meet, saying “I heard you don’t like guns,” adding “Your wife is something else.”
I am worried–but only so much. He takes naps in the middle of the day and aside from the Bluetooth in his ear, he is a luddite. We get phone calls in the middle of the night from him asking how to work the camera on his phone, how to get rid of the menu screen on his TV, how to sign up for Medicare plan B. He has a long white beard and a pot belly. Our kids call him Santa Claus.
Tonight, we are following his erratic driving through an empty Walmart parking lot. He has forgotten the door to his dog kennel and his red-eye flight to his “Ancestral home of Shiloh, Georgia” leaves in an hour. My wife is on the phone shouting directions while I drive. She calls him “Buddy,” as in “Buddy, It’s right there in front of you.”
I add, “Any literate person could read…”
My wife stares me down.
Hugo finally sees the huge white and blue W of the Walmart storefront and his pickup veers across parking hash lines.
“I love you too, buddy,” my wife says before hanging up the phone.
Hugo used to climb telephone poles and my wife used to be a Marine–which I guess makes them buddies.
My wife grabs a cart and sprints down an aisle in tight black pants and boots. I walk half asleep next to Hugo, who shuffles in his old man way. I am present, but not helping. “Your wife is something else,” he says.
There are a dozen check stands, but only two are open. Standing at the end of one line with a half built dog kennel in his cart is Hugo. He yells, “This is an emergency. I need to get my dog on a plane.”
When no one moves, he yells, “E-MER-GEN-CY.”
A little woman moves her items off the belt.
He leans down towards her and whispers. “You have just done your fellow man a great service.”
I assemble the dog kennel on the sidewalk next to Hugo’s idling truck, while my wife wrangles Lucille (a huge baying coon dog), and talks on the phone with Beth. Beth is the next link in the chain of custody. She went to grade school with Hugo in Georgia. She calls him “Last Minute” Hugo. She is short and blonde and cheery looking. I have seen her on his Facebook page. I hear her say, “I told him to make sure to blow below a .05 before he got in his truck.” She had given him a home breathalyzer kit–not for any special occasion, but because she cares. She is a nurse. She thinks she can save him–at the very least, she thinks she could make a good third wife.
Through the terminal window, I watch Hugo mistreat the luggage cart dispenser. He dodges several people as he drives the cart through the automatic doors. “They’re hollerin at me. They say I’m not gonna make the plane.”
“Hell no,” I say loud enough for my wife to hear.
It takes a while to go to sleep. We have parked his truck on the grass next to our shed. He’ll be gone for six months, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be phone calls or text messages. At the airport, he hugged my wife and handed her a ring of keys. “I trust you with everything,” he tells her.
Then he shakes my hand and thanks me for her.
I said, “You’re welcome,” but laying in bed I am mad at myself for saying this. I am mad at her for letting him objectify her–though I’m not sure that’s the right word, or that it’s her fault. Hugo–despite his Santa Clausness, his stumbling, his lonely pleas for help, is immoveable and unchanging. I blame her for this too.
In the morning, it’s pitch black in our bedroom. I’m awake first, or at least I’m the first one to move. The sheets are twisted and I can feel the comforter starting to fall off the bed. I put my hand on my wife’s shoulder. “You remember Hugo’s asleep on the couch, right?”
She shoves my hand away. “Screw you, Mike.”
About the writer:
Matt Reed Lives in Anchorage, Alaska. He received his BA from Colorado College and his MFA from University of Alaska Anchorage. His fiction has appeared in Drafthorse, Hobo Pancakes, Blue Lake Review, and Kleft Jaw, among other magazines.. He is currently in a race against Global Warming as he tries to finish a novel set in the ski industry.
Image: “Kiss” (inspired by music of Scorpions & Nazareth) by Tove Aune, Norway.