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Fiction

I sold the building business to my brother for five big ones. He’ll make that back in a few weeks. It was worth so much more, but that’s all the cash he had. I swapped motors with him. He kept the truck. I took his ‘66 Beetle. Slept on his sofa. Slept? Not much.  

I had packed a few changes of clothes and a few things I wanted to keep. My plastic miniature of the Thinker. The framed copy of the Constitution. Asimov’s I Robot which I still haven’t read. Ten vinyl records. One day I’ll get a record player. Tent and sleeping bag. Climbing harness and boots. She can keep the ropes and the gear. I withdrew half what was in our bank account. She got everything else, even cancelled our joint cards. 

I headed for Vegas.

When a candle gets to the end it sinks into the wax and dies. Me and the light of my life, guttering. Conversations that sank into silence. Wishes that sank into regrets. Hope that languished. Desire that found its own sad sunset. Then the phone message. The bullet that burst through the armour. 

Goodbye my pal, my heart that ached, my ardour that soared, my loss that slammed that steel door shut.

And so to the road. Me and the Beetle, a rucksack, a suitcase and $6000. Yee haa! Ride ‘em doughboy.

...

Out of the clapboard on Kentucky Avenue in bedraggled Sugar Creek, down East Winner, along Independence and like a line drawn on a page, like a pain drawn along a vein, loop onto 35 and slide onto 70. The West calls and you leave Chiefs-land behind. Screw up your face to avoid thinking about what’s being left behind, stretch your mouth wide to tense face muscles then relax because out there is tomorrow and someone else and the unknown streak that is time is calling you, begging you to come. 

I’m coming. I’m coming. I’m gone. I’m burbling 65 mph, Beetle hammering speed. 

Long is the road and hard the surface. Eye-grinding light, horizon shimmering. Kenworths and Macks shake the Beetle as they pass, their eyes on the next down-payment, the next drop-off and pickup. F-150s gun-wrack their fatness. Caddies purr and prowl. They all shudder at the thought of the 40-year-old driving a 60-year-old car too slowly. ‘Thank God that’s not me!’ 

Well, it sure as hell is me. 

Time passes in clouds that rear and fade. Distant heavy greyness, flinging lightning, aiming to die in Nebraska. As things do. Closer white puffs, dreaming of hail and the harvest of hurricanes. Everything wishes it was something else. Everyone wishes things were different, somehow. Just, you know, better than this.  

So I drive for something better. Vegas isn’t first choice for life improvement. But it’s a pile of ridiculous lights on the way to LA and maybe I’ll blow half my stash on hope. If it pays up I’ll smile. If I lose, well, a grimace is just a smile gone bad. 

Getting low so I gas her up at a Conoco in WaKeeney. Two freaks hauling speedboats jackass around on the forecourt. Pretending to piss in their gas tanks. Yeah, that’ll burn baby. That’ll make your motor sing. You’re as funny as the smell of piss on a campfire.

Out and on and on. Night creeping like a canvas. Drab and ill-intending. The Rockies quiver and beckon. Finally Denver collapses around me with lights, horns, high-rises, low-lifes and the scum that gathers at the edge of the limitless plains. Through, through and into cliffs and trees, rocky impasses and pressure-cooker emptiness. The sky is dark. The road teeters on the edge of couldn’t-give-a-damn, disappearing wherever the weak Beetle headlights never penetrate. 

Night driving is like going over a waterfall. Sometimes you just stare into the dark and hope you come out the other side alive. The boom and crash of headlights daring you not to drive into them. 

Gas looking low again I see a Shell sign out left and take the right off old I-70. Sign says the town is called Gypsum. Must have been a mine there some lifetimes back. Black and white photos of workers cloaked in white dust. No need for calcium supplements in this town. Dry scrub and dead grass litter the roadside. 

I drive onto the forecourt but they don’t have a café so I drive out again. A sign saying ‘Food and Gas’ pointed towards Gypsum. I fill up at a Kum & Go, with an eye on the Subway across the road. While I am pumping gas a shiny purple Peterbilt without a trailer pulls up at the diesel pump. The driver climbs down and heads into the store. A few minutes later I follow him in to pay, wondering why he hadn’t pumped any diesel first.

He is talking to the old guy behind the counter. 

“But Jake you know I’m good for it. I come here every week. Fill up. Coffee up.”

“I know, I know but I can’t give credit to anyone. Company rules. If you don’t come back it comes out of my butt and I can’t afford to lose $100 bucks.”

“I’ll have the money tomorrow. They’re paying me tonight.” 

“So stay the night and get your diesel in the morning.”

“Man I can’t do that. I have to be in Vegas tomorrow morning for my kid’s party. I’ll be back here in two days and pay you on the dime.” 

“I just can’t. You know I just can’t. If it was my place I’d stump you the readies. I’m really sorry Andy. Anyway, you look like you need a sleep. Park here overnight. I’ll make sure it’s OK with the sheriff. You can be off as soon as you have money in your card.”

“I should have signed up for another card.”

“Man that’s no way to manage your money. You tried three cards and they all said No.”

“Ah Jake I gotta get to Vegas tonight, you know I do.”

“Hold on, let me serve this feller,” Jake says, looking at me. 

“You sure?” I say. 

“Yeah, get you out of here,” he smiles. 

I realise I only have the roll of cash from my brother in my pocket. Too embarrassing to flash that in front of a man on his last dregs. 

“Look,” I said. “This is for mine.” I fold out a hundred. “This is for his.” I fold out another and nod at Andy Peterbilt. “Him and his kid.” 

Jake looks at him. He stares back at Jake briefly, then at me. “I can pay you back, just give me your phone number.”

“No,” I say. “It’s a breakup present. Pay it on some time. And get those credit cards under control.” 

“Mmmm,” he murmurs to himself, thinking, then says: “No. Look, no offence but I don’t take charity and I won’t start now.”

“This isn’t charity. It’s a birthday present for your kid. You can’t knock back a birthday present.”

“Anyway he’s not giving you anything Andy. He’s giving money to me and I’m giving you diesel,” Jake says.

“Good luck,” I say. I push the $200 across the counter and turn to leave.

“Breakup present?” the trucker asks.

“She dumped me yesterday for a jerk with a Merc. My future is in that Beetle and in this roll. Life eh!” 

“Well bless you. What’s your name?”

“John Hardover–yours?”

“Andy Garrigan.”

“What’s your kid’s name?”

“Angel. His mother’s Spanish.” He shrugs. 

I drive across to the Subway, saunter in and order a Steak and Cheese sub and a coffee. Take them out and sit under the awning watching him pour diesel. The Peterbilt airbrakes hiss and Andy waves as he heads out for the I-70. I wave back. 

I eat and sip and think. That felt good, helping someone out who needed helping. I absorb the cold night air, the sound of the highway out behind the trees, crickets chirruping, voices going in and out of the Subway glass doors. Lives being led. Time escaping and constantly running away, demanding that things happen, that lives move on and that entropy leads the dance. 

The cup and bag go in the bin and I settle into the driver’s seat. 

“Onward!” I say to no-one but myself and turn the ignition. Two police cars shoot down the road, sirens and lights ablaze. I turn onto to road followed them at a more sedate pace. The blue lights and the noise reflect off the trees ahead into the blear of night. 

...

The Interstate 70 follows the Colorado River to Grand Rapids then sidles off West while the big old river heads for the Gulf of California. I-70 isn’t the widest road in the USA and sometimes it could do with a little more upkeep than it gets, and what it gets tends to slow the traffic right down. It’s no surprise when I hit the tailback and it quickly builds up behind me. 

Soon it starts moving again, very slowly. As I crawl towards the Hanging Lake bridge the police lights ahead bounce off the canyon walls. Then just at the lasty of the canyon’s rock walls I see the truck. A mangled purple wreck. The cabin crushed in on itself. An ambulance is approaching from the direction of Glenwood Springs, coming the wrong way up the highway. I wind the passenger window down and yell at a cop who is directing traffic. 

“What happened?”

“Fell asleep at the wheel. Dead. Move along.” He waves me past. 

... 

I drive in a haze through the Hanging Lake tunnel and pull into Glenwood Springs. I was going to drive through the night but... 

I take the smallest room at the La Quinta Inn and spend half the night looking at the ceiling. I ensured Andy would die before he got to see his little Angel again. 

Sleep eventually comes but it’s ragged. I have a coffee and toast for breakfast. Hard to swallow. I pay, though they don’t seem to know what to do with cash, and I get into the driver’s seat. 

“Onward!” I whisper, and no-one hears.  

April 14, 2023 19:14

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4 comments

Tanya Humphreys
01:31 May 27, 2023

You do have some writing talent, I will agree. But it's not the sort of writing style I like. It reads like something poetic by a meth head or a guy at three am guzzling coffee. Please don't let my critiquing discourage you in any way. I don't mean to be unkind, I'm just trying to express why it was hard to read for me. And that's just it, hard for me but obviously liked by others, hence the whole entire world of writing. Keep it up, getting out there is the hardest part.

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Lyle Closs
20:51 May 27, 2023

Thanks Tanya - it's wonderful to find people reading something you have written. I know it won't appeal to everyone, but I really appreciate your comments.

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Wally Schmidt
14:31 Apr 19, 2023

This is a beguiling story. The set up, how it builds, the ending, but mostly the way you have of twisting the words around in a phrase. You have a truly unique talent. Please write more. I want to read it all.

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Lyle Closs
07:05 Apr 20, 2023

Thanks so much Wally. Nothing like someone enjoying your writing to give the day a lift.

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