“The Next Time” by Byron Hoot

Truck Stop Shell by Greg Clary, photo of a closed and abandoned Shell gas station

Image: “Truck Stop Shell” by Greg Clary. “The Next Time” was written by Byron Hoot for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2022, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Byron Hoot


They gather when they hear LaRue’s horn
on 80 sound. Rose smiles, starts thinking
of what she’s going to say when he says,
“What’s new with you?” The ghosts come
one by one, two by two. They know that horn,
they know the whine of that truck, they know
what’s left behind. Enter the Iron Kettle
Restaurant at The American Plaza truck stop.
They take their places at the counter; Cokes
and coffee and cigarettes and the smell
of the grill and soft conversation
and sudden laughter and softer sighs mix
with all of them looking for LaRue’s truck
to pull in. They talk as if they’re living, as though
yesterday was yesterday and tomorrow is tomorrow.
Jim says, “It was real.” Steve replies, “It was a dream.”
An old argument to which Reverend Smith decides—
“It was both.” They all look outside: the empty pumps,
the wind-damaged signs, the cracked concrete, no
trucks, no cars, no people. Rose says “He’s not
coming” like saying the Rosary. First light is breaking,
they get up slowly and leave, mumbling, “Maybe next time.”

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2022, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Greg Clary: “The story of ghosts gathering each evening in hopes of seeing their old trucker friend was imaginative and compelling. This is not a story of random travelers but that of a truck stop family whose nighttime vigil maintains and sustains their relationship. The scene and characters inside the Iron Kettle are vividly described and quite relatable to any traveler who has sought out a familiar roadside respite. The once vibrant, but now deserted truck stop’s impact on these likable spirits is melancholy. Yet, even as another dawn breaks without the return of their lost friend, LaRue, hope prevails—‘Maybe next time.’”

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