Kernal Infernal sat atop his bike and eyed the jump. Eight school buses stood between him and the ramp on the other end of the track. The noonday sun glinted off his crash helmet. His cape–a Confederate battle flag–fluttered in the warm summer breeze. Kernal Infernal’s Christian name was Marion Hoyt but nobody called him that. Not when he was wearing the jump suit. Not when he was on the bike.
He was built short and skinny like a jockey and in another life maybe he might have been but in this one he was born to a fourteen year old girl named Abilene so his lot was to be a motorcycle stuntman working the county fair circuit for a thousand dollars a jump.
The Kernal exhaled. He goosed the throttle and fucking flew. The engine growled like something hungry and alive beneath him. He closed the distance between his starting position and the ramp in ten seconds flat and then he was shooting up it at eighty miles per hour. The back tire left the ramp and he was airborne.
The six cylinders between his legs were irrelevant now. The only thing keeping the Kernal moving forward was the momentum he had generated on his way up the ramp. His testicles rescinded. At the height of the jump he attained a dreamy clarity that told him, You were meant for this.
And then he was falling. Yellow roofs came up at him fast. Too fast. That voice was still there but now it was saying, Oh shit oh shit oh shit. His rear tire hit the downward slope of the ramp a split second before the front one slammed down on the concrete and silenced the voice. He stuck the landing. The Kernal pulled off his helmet.
The pit crew swarmed him. Paxton thrust an open beer into the Kernal’s hand. Bud slapped him on the back. Otis said, “White men may not be able to jump but they can sure as shit fly.”
The trackside celebration segued into a trailer front celebration at Bud’s place. A double wide a mile out from the fairgrounds. Bud, Paxton, and Otis rode there in Paxton’s truck. The Kernal took his bike.
They sat in a semicircle of lawn chairs around a rusted fire ring roasting hotdogs and talking up the Kernal’s big jump. Today was a dry run. Tomorrow would be for real. With an audience. For pay.
“I betcha you could add another bus in there and still make it, Kernal,” Paxton said.
“Yeah, you had plenty of room there at the end,” Bud added.
The Kernal flashed his wedding band and said, “And make Francine a widow at twenty two? That’s suicide and you both know it.”
Paxton pantomimed a whip. Bud snickered and spit a wad of dip on the ground. The Kernal flushed.
“C’mon now, don’t antagonize the talent,” Otis laughed.
“Speaking of talent, where the fuck is Tucker? I wanted him to check the clutch before tomorrow and I don’t trust either one of these two to do it.”
“Dunno,” Otis said.
“I ain’t seen him all day,” Bud said.
Paxton downed his beer and said, “Probably balls deep in some poor girl. He’ll turn up ‘ventually.”
That settled the matter for them and the conversation turned to who was the better lay, Roseanne Cash in her prime or Dolly Parton now. The Kernal, Bud, and Paxton said Cash. Otis was in the minority. He insisted on Parton “on account of her jugs.” After an hour or two of back and forth the Kernal announced that he was headed home to see what Francine had cooked for dinner. “Give ‘er a kiss for me,” Paxton said. The Kernal flipped him off and got on his bike.
He took the backroads home. The scenic route through the cornfields. Grain elevators and decrepit barns dotted the horizon. Strange and unseen creatures stirred in the roadside ditches. The dying sun painted the horizon red.
Tucker’s pickup was waiting for him in front of his trailer when he got there. The Kernal parked his bike beside it. He didn’t stop to think. He ran up the steps to his own front door and threw it wide.
The trailer was silent. He scanned the living room looking for confirmation of what he already knew to be true but found none. Just dirty dishes and old editions of Reader’s Digest. Francine was always talking about going back to school.
The Kernal knew where he would find them but wasn’t sure what he would do when he did. He pushed open the bedroom door.
They were passed out in bed together. Empty beer bottles and condom wrappers framed the scene. Tucker’s body was pressed against Francine’s the way the Kernal’s should’ve been. The Kernal grabbed the baseball bat from beside the bed and swung it into the wall over the sleeping lovers’ head. They woke up covered in drywall dust muttering curses.
“The fuck?” Tucker slurred. Still drunk. Things became clear for the Kernal–
All the too long looks between his Francine and Tucker.
The in-jokes they had that he never got.
“Baby, Marion, please, I didn’t mean to–” The Kernal brought the bat down overhand on Tucker’s head. Francine screamed and he did it again. Then he took the bat to Francine.
He walked to the wall phone in the kitchen dragging the bat behind him. It left a sticky red trail of busted teeth and bottle blonde hair on the linoleum. The Kernal dialed Bud’s number. He answered on the fourth ring.
“Bud, it’s the Kernal.”
“You leave something here?”
“No. Bud, add another bus to the jump tomorrow.”