Mike let off the gas, coasting to the four-way at County B. Tanker truck easing up, and Mike wanted it to clear the intersection so he could roll through in second gear. Tranny was making a nasty noise in first, and there was no money for that. No money for anything.
“Whataya slowin’ down for?” Kayla wheezing through her third Virginia Slim on the thirty minute drive to Platteville. Usually they shopped at the Pamida in Lancaster, but Kayla said they had to get to the Super Walmart for Black Friday because Pamida wouldn’t have the Wii shit she wanted.
Mike didn’t answer. That would mean explaining that he was trying to save the tranny because they couldn’t afford to fix it, and that would spill into explaining that they really couldn’t afford the Wii shit, and then he’d have to point out that they couldn’t afford half a carton of cigarettes a day, and that they couldn’t afford to pull in at the Stop and Go for Kayla’s Ding Dong fix– which, since Kayla was pushing 220 these days tied into not being able to afford to fix the goddamn struts that were starting to bounce for a good five seconds every time she hoisted her fat ass out of the car.
“And pull into the Stop and Go – gotta get some Ding Dongs and take a pee.”
Mike asked her to grab him a coffee and parked at the top of the hill on the east end of the lot. Any luck, he could pop it in neutral, pick up a little speed and start out in second. He could see Kayla at the register – two packs of Ding Dongs, another carton of Slims, running the card through the reader. He’d paid that all the way down back in June when word of the layoffs started filtering through the plant. By New Year’s, the credit line would be shot, and he’d have one month of unemployment left.
Through the windshield, he could see the sun was coming up. Or he could surmise. Whatever the sun was doing, it was doing on the other side of another day’s worth of sludge colored sky. He could see the hills rolling away in front of him.
Broken stubble littering a corduroy of plowed under fields following the side of the hill to a filigree of empty trees against a dead sky pocked with crows.
Sort of thing he used to write down, back when he still pretended to work on the next novel. Sort of thing that still popped into his head, reminding him what he’d become.
Kayla flopped back into the car, the car settling into its passenger side list. She already had a Ding Dong crammed in her mouth.
“Didn’t get your coffee,” she muttered, spitting out a chunk of choclate that stuck to the inside of the windshield like bird shit. “They had to make a new pot, said it was gonna be like another five minutes. We’re gonna miss the door busters.” She set the Ding Dong on the dash while she lit up another Slim and wedged her IPod buds in her ears.
Mike thought about pointing out they’d be five minutes down the road now if she could have waited until Plateville to buy her fucking Ding Dongs, which cost less at Walmart anyway, thought about just getting out of the car and walking back into the Stop and Go himself. Instead, he fired up the engine, slipped the car into neutral and let it roll down the hill, watching the side mirror. Nothing coming. He popped it into second.
She’d left her seat belt off again – said it was broken, always felt too tight. Yeah, like a couple thousand Ding Dongs too tight. So Mike had to drive with the alarm pinging at him. Kayla didn’t give a shit, she had the IPod cranked – he could hear Brittney Spears leaking out. Worse than the fucking seat belt alarm. At least they were in the car. If they were home, she’d be doing her oozing, gelatinous bump-and-grind and looking back at him over her shoulder like he was supposed to be getting hard or something.
Fuck. Big-ass county dump truck barreling down the hill on the right coming to the intersection. Mike had the stop sign, but he was hoping to roll through. Now he’d have to start out in first. He could see the sign for the damn Walmart at the top of the hill.
Kayla still had the belt off, damn bell still dinging at him – and it was an old car, no airbag on her side.
It came to him like the words used to, perfect and all at once. He lifted his foot off the brake, watching the truck, timing it. Didn’t want to get T-boned, needed to take the truck in the side. He’d take a beating for sure, maybe worse. But she’d get a face full of GMC point plank. Mike cinched his belt tight, then hit the down button for the driver’s window, didn’t need to bounce his head off that.
“Fuck are you doin’?” Kayla hissed. “Fuckin’ freezing out there.”
Mike just smiled and hit the gas, looking off to the left at a filigree of empty trees against a dead sky pocked with crows. From a place he didn’t live anymore he heard a scream.