by Bud Smith
He turns the radio down. She turns the radio up.
“Don’t mess with the dial, I’m driving.”
A car cuts her off; she lays on the horn and speeds up, almost wrecks.
“Yo! What’re you doing?”
“I’m driving, shut the fuck up.”
They’ve been fighting all morning. He turns the radio dial down, she slaps his hand. The light turns green, the car jets forward.
“Yeah, pull over, I’m out of here.”
Baby girl cries in her car seat.
“Bitch, pull over.”
“Get a life, I’m not pulling over.”
They’re in the far right lane and she’s not slowing down. He opens the door and jumps out the car.
He crashes down, but rolls to his feet.
She keeps driving, baby girl crying, radio up. There’s a parking lot as big as a small country, he walks through it.
The bar is slow, its early afternoon. Kyle sits alone. The bartender is eating Chinese food on the wrong side of the bar.
Bob says, “I want your tallest and strongest drink.” But he’s bleeding severely from his head and doesn’t know it.
“Can’t serve you. Get going.” The bartender points to the door.
Kyle stands up, “Robbie?”
“Oh hey, man.” They haven’t seen each other since high school.
“You’re bleeding on the floor. Get out or I call the cops.”
Kyle says, “No! He’s with me, bro. He’s cool.” Ultimately though, they’re both not getting served now. Bartender crosses his arms and everything. Kyle grabs his car keys and says to Bob, “Let’s get out of here, this place is lame.”
They’re in Kyle’s Pontiac and pulling out of the parking lot, back onto the highway when Kyle finally says, “So how’d you get all mangled up?”
“Jumped out of my wife’s car.”
“Whoa. That’s intense. Trouble in paradise?”
“She’s a psycho.”
“She’s so crazy you jumped from a moving—oh, hold on—“ Kyle stops the car in traffic, rolls his window down, vomits.
Cars zip around the stopped Pontiac, horns sounding off.
“You better move!”
Kyle rolls the window up, puts the car into gear.
There are breath mints in the ash tray, which isn’t used as an ash tray; it’s used to hold wrapped mints.
Bob looks up at the infinite blue sky.
They park behind the Food Universe. Two reasons for that, Kyle has to piss and there’s a picnic table under a shady tree next to the cardboard dumpster. Kyle has a car bar. His trunk has fifths of bourbon, rum, vodka and even pilsners on ice in an Igloo cooler.
They sit at the picnic table and relax.
“Where are you supposed to be?” Kyle says.
“Mother-in-law’s house,” Bob says. “This is better.”
“What’s happening there?”
Kyle hands Bob a large leaf from an oak tree. Bob sticks the leaf on his head where the blood is trickling down. It works.
They’re both drinking now from the fifth of rum, passing it. And the air is cool behind the supermarket. And it feels like another world. The meadow is full of chirping birds and Bob says, “I can’t remember the last time I heard birds chirp.”
“Sometimes it’s the only joy I get.”
Bob remembers something, knows he shouldn’t mention it, but it’s already on the tip of his tongue so he just says it, “I watched Greg Pollock kick your ass in front of the school bus that day and I didn’t do anything about it.”
“Oh that’s a painful memory.”
“Sorry to bring it up. You were bleeding from your head. Worse than this.”
“Know why he did that?” Kyle says.
“I heard some things.”
“’Cause I’m a fag.”
“That’s just what some kids do.”
“My dad would have shot me,” Bob said.
“That’s just a myth. Your dad wouldn’t have shot you.”
“My dad would have though, for real. He did shoot me once.” Bob pulls his shirt sleeve up and shows where the bullet went through his bicep. There’s a scar on the tricep where it exited.
“For what? Why’d he shoot you?”
“When he was teaching me how to drive, he ditched me in the middle of nowhere. I came home with the car empty. Didn’t put gas in it.”
“Wow that’s extreme.”
“He drove me way out into the woods, must have driven down trails for three hours. Finally he stopped. There was another pickup truck there waiting. A friend of his. Dad said goodbye, climbed in the truck and said, ‘If you can find your way home you’re a man.’”
“People can be assholes.”
“I heard Greg Pollock got blown up in a desert.”
Kyle kills the last of the rum and says, “Well I gotta go inside and stock motherfucking cat food. This was fun. Let’s do this again sometime, yeah?”
“Sure. You work there? Didn’t know.”
“Life is a dark room but has curtains that work.”
He gives Bob some iced down beers, slips on his Food Universe smock and walks off with a wave.
Bob walks down the shoulder of the highway again. The blood has thinned. He wipes it with his shirt sleeve and now he looks like a murderer just moseying along.
A police car stops. Two female cops step out.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Haha, still coming out of the woods.”
One of the officers, Pam, recognizes Bob from high school and she says hi.
“Oh hi, Pam. This is all my own blood.”
“It’s cool,” she says. “You want to get in the car?” She opens the back of the squad car. Bob climbs in without resisting.
“What happened?” The lead officer says.
“Jumped out of a moving car.”
“Want to go to the hospital?”
Pam opens the medical kit in the glove box, she passes back some gauze through the partition.
“I’d like to just go home if that’s okay.”
“Pass your ID up. Gotta run it first to see if you’re a wanted man. Then, sure. No problem. Home.”
Bob looks out the window. Nothing to see. Strip Mall, America.
“Saw Kyle Yearling today,” he says. “Remember him?”
“Oh,” Pam says. “Of course, King of our prom.”
“He’s doing pretty good.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“Zen optimist. Cat food. Happy drunk.”
Bob’s cell phone rings. It’s his daughter. Baby girl.
“Daddy where are you?”
“Another car? I’m confused. Why’d you jump out of our car?”
“Sometimes people just make mistakes.”
“Remember yesterday when you threw your PBJ on the floor.”
“What’d I do?”
“You picked it up.”
“Yup, picked it up and I made you a new sandwich and then I ate the one you threw on the floor.”
“You know why I did that?”
“Because you love me.”
“You and mommy going to get a divorce?”
“No. No we aren’t.”
“Good. Daddy, I have to go, the cake just came out. Bye.”
Pam hands the ID back. “Off we go, you’re good.”
Bob leans against the glass. “Want to take me to a birthday party instead?”
“Would we have to bring a gift?” the driver says.
Bud Smith works heavy construction. He is from NJ, but currently lives in NYC. His latest novel is called F-250. www.budsmithwrites.com
Check out this interview with Bud Smith in The Rumpus: http://therumpus.net/2015/07/the-rumpus-interview-with-bud-smith/
July 15, 2015
Photo by: Gessy Alvarez