The truck was flipped upside down and the rain was pooling beside the windows. One of the headlights was out and the other was sort of blinking on and off. I remember thinking, it’s okay if I die. I won’t regret anything. Only, I could’ve done some things sooner, some other things later and some not at all, but everyone has that problem so I can die watching one light blink on and off, that would be just fine.
I reached up and touched my forehead and I could feel blood, but it wasn’t coming from my forehead it was flowing down from a gash on my chin and when the headlight flicked back on I could see that my whole face was covered in blood. Everything was red except my eyes—bright and wide and pale.
Thomas was wedged between the steering wheel and the ceiling. He started moaning. He coughed and a little bit of blood came out and hit the windshield. His dreads pooled black on the ceiling. Fuck he said, quietly to no one. Fuuuucccckkkk louder—something was listening. Jesus fuuuccckkkkkk! Top of his lungs. A roll of thunder and a bullfrog choir responded in unison and just when he got his audience he was all worn out. His head rolled back. He coughed again and stopped moving.
Some nights after work I’d just say fuck it and stay up. I’d get out around two or three in the morning depending on the show and I’d go to this little all-night café down the street. I’d order some coffee and eggs and toast. Read the paper or something. Pop out for a smoke, order more coffee. I had a tab going. This endless tab. The girl behind the counter, I think her name was Jane, didn’t care. Don’t know if I even ever paid it.
I’d watch people come and go. Sometimes Thomas would show up and we’d bullshit about whatever—work and women—he’d always be drunk so it never made much sense. But if you could get him going he’d tell you about the time his old girlfriend got an abortion, or the time he passed out with some other girl at his house and woke up to the sound of her husband trying to kick the door down. Then again, maybe it was the same girl. He slithered out the window. He used that word himself—slithered.
When the bars finally closed IU kids would wander in and try to stay drunk and keep the night going or at least end it well, but there was Thomas telling me about how he read Cosmo in the waiting room at the abortion clinic, thinking about just how not in love he was and just how many shifts he would need to pick up to cover the procedure and he’d always end up with some big statement like:
“It was a demon man. That shit was a demon tearing up her insides.”
And when he said shit like that it brought all those IU idiots down in a hurry. Thomas, throwing his arms in the air, his eyes huge and white like he was possessed, and me just nodding and sipping my coffee. Some nights I ordered pancakes and when they came I would butter them and pool syrup over them and cut them into quarters and let the syrup soak through until they were cold.
I wrenched the door open while Thomas looked under the hood. The cab was a bench-seat and the gray fake-leather was beaten down and worn. The handles on the door had been replaced with pieces of plywood screwed into the plastic—but this made it feel better to me. It would be wrong if I was stealing a new car. I don’t deserve to steal a new car. No one does.
“She’s good to go!” Thomas dropped the hood back into place.
I flashed the light at him and then back inside the truck.
“Shit.” I said.
“What?” I could smell the whiskey he’d been drinking and the rain in the air, all of it gathering up to burst.
“It’s a fucking stick.” I said and turned off the flashlight.
“I don’t drive stick.”
“Fuck it man, I’ll drive.”
I knew he was drunk and I knew he knew he was drunk and I could tell he didn’t care and if he didn’t care then I didn’t, and I wasn’t about to stop him even if I could have.
“OK.” I said. “Alright, you drive.”
“I’m getting you out of here. You’re not supposed to be here.”
“I already said yes.”
“The order’s all wrong. You shouldn’t be here. I’m putting it back together. I’m gettin’ you out of here.”
Thomas climbed into the truck and stuck his head under the steering column. I held the flash light and watched him mess with some wires by the ignition. It looked like we were prepping the stage for sound check. He was wearing a black tank top and I could see all his tattoos. A black cross on the meat of his shoulder, dark against his black skin. Farther down a face and the words “R.I.P ANTHONY” with a set of dates underneath. Sweat ran down his forearms. I felt like I should say something, but when I tried to ask who Anthony was I thought I was gonna vomit and then Thomas got the engine going.
I went around and sat on the passenger side. He put the truck in gear. I heard the thunder start and saw the bright flashes of light in the distance and the rain started falling just as we pulled onto the highway.
And by the time we left the diner it’d be almost light out and this weird shade of red would start breaking through the gray and the birds would get going and the bugs, the endless bugs, and if it was Saturday we’d go down to the market and wait for it to open. I’d get a coffee and Thomas would pass out for a while on a bench and I’d stand around and watch the workers set up their stands—all the lettuce and tomatoes and shit—whole truckloads of stuff. It looked nice, all the colors flowing together in one place. Just to pass your hands through it. Just to see all of it bleeding together like that.
When the market opened and people started coming in, Thomas would wake up and be hung-over as fuck and ask for a cigarette and we’d smoke for a while. Then it was like some big parade started. Like all the girls in Bloomington were walking through the market for us. But it didn’t feel good. I was always tired and it was always hot and everyone around me seemed too happy to be real. The sun would come bouncing off the red brick buildings and it made my head hurt. Everything was thick and heavy. I would start to close my eyes but Thomas would shake me awake and he had a giant grin on his face and it looked like he was a cartoon of himself with this giant grin and this huge rolling laugh and all I could look at was Thomas’s face and all I could hear was Thomas’s laugh, and I would push him away from me and that’s when I’d leave – Thomas watching me, laughing his big laugh, smoking, his dreads swinging back and forth as he shook his head.
The only light came from the headlights, which were weak, and since the rain had started the moon was gone and everything around us was forest, so you couldn’t see shit except what was right in front of you. Thomas had an open bottle of whiskey in the cup holder and he was gunning it, talking the whole fucking time.
“You know man, I don’t even think that shit was real?”
“The kid—not the kid—the aborted fetus, shit, I don’t know what the fuck you’re supposed to call it. That shit wasn’t real.”
“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Fucking drive, man.” He was starting to swerve, grazing each side of the lane, getting closer and closer to the edge of the road.
“No, no, no; listen to me. It wasn’t anything real before she made it real okay? Like, it was just this thing in her stomach growing. When she said it was a baby, you know man, that’s when it started being. It was just a bunch of cells before that. You ever hear about anyone giving a fuck ‘bout a cell before? Shit, you ever fucked a cell before? Tell me man you fucking cells?”
“Shut the fuck up man. Just drive.”
“Ain’t nobody ever fucked a cell man!—lemme get a cigarette.”
I lit a cigarette and gave it to him. He calmed down a little and took a long drag. He let out this weird, satisfied sound and then pushed out his smoke.
“You know what that means?”
I shook my head.
“It means you weren’t real ‘til someone put you in you. You’re someone else, man. You’ll always be someone else.”
I shook my head again.
“You’re too drunk for this shit.”
He started laughing that big laugh and the rain was picking up and it was getting harder to see anything. He shook his head and popped the clutch and threw the truck in neutral. He put the wheel between his knees and his palms together and stared at the ceiling.
“I’m gonna put it all in order for you,” he said. “Just wait, just wait,” and then the headlights started blinking on and off like every moment was a frame in a movie and my eyes pushed out wide as the truck slipped out of its lane.
I was waiting for the bus. It was hot and my head hurt. I was leaning against the side of the bus shelter resting my head on my arm trying to block out all the sunlight. I was tired but I knew I couldn’t fall asleep. Beneath my feet about a million ants were scurrying around, flowing over and on top of each other. They were all trying to lift a chunk of apple, but it was too big so they were tearing it apart, piece-by-piece.
I let out a long trail of spit. It swayed for a moment and then broke and fell onto the ants.
“How old are you?” It was a man’s voice but I didn’t look up. I just kept looking at their little black bodies crawling over each other, drowning in the spit, everything sticking together and falling apart and sticking together again.
“I said how old are you?” If you can hear a man shake his head than I did, but it was too hot for all that. Too hot and bright and tired. There I was, wondering what would happen if all my blood turned to concrete. What a useless idea. A useless, dumb idea.
“That’s disgusting. I know you. You’re too old to do something like that.”
All the blood inside of me turning to concrete in an instant—that’s how heavy I was—and the sound of his voice echoing inside me and I spit again and watched them scurry away and I raised my foot and crushed the piece of apple with my heel.
“If you hadn’t seen me do it,” I said, “you wouldn’t even know they were there.”
Sam Smith is a writer and educator living in mpls, mn. You can find more of his work here.