Jerry cracked open a cold cola. The sun bouncing off all the metal around him made the junkyard feel like he was busting his back digging ditches in Death Valley all day. He drank the whole can in seconds, crushed it with one squeeze. Thirst quenched, he grabbed his tools and tried to finish up his latest project.

***

He took over the junkyard when his parents passed away years ago. The place suited him. Or maybe the silence and isolation did. He was a reticent boy who grew into a reclusive man. Never had a girlfriend, never had any real friends to speak of. Jerry didn’t feel comfortable around others, they made him nervous, as if they’d see through him, see how simple and plain he was. He never felt cool or funny or stylish or smart. He just preferred the solitary act of tinkering with things, like the time he rewired the stereo in his dad’s Chevy, or when he reconfigured the toaster so that it shot the toast two foot in the air. He was always messing around with household items and discarded gadgets to combat the loneliness that clung to him like shrink wrap. His only true friendships were with inanimate objects. They never mocked him. They never said he was weird.

***

Jerry finished the welds on two exhaust pipes ripped from wrecked cars. He rummaged for hours to come up with lug nuts and aluminum tubing and a grill grate and brake pedals to complete his sculpture. When he was done, he thought it was perfection. His finest work in years, maybe ever. He called her Jennifer, after a high school crush who probably never knew his name. Building a junk version of his unrequited love was the result of him longing for connection, real or not.

Hours later, he moved her to his spot by the flipped over cigarette machine, put her down. He placed his arm around her bike seat shoulder. They sat side by side in the dark, the sky choked with stars, the moon hovering above them like a concerned parent. Jerry thought: It’s beautiful, Jennifer. So beautiful. Do you see? Even a junkyard is glorious at night. He almost saw her smile. Almost.

Chris Milam lives in Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, Sidereal Magazine, (b)OINK, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. He was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2018. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.

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