I’ve written this story numerous times in the past dozen years and am still trying to figure it out. Here’s another rendition.
Gone Down That Road Again
Saturday night, no, probably Sunday morning by now, I’m napping with my clothes on waiting for my cell to buzz and Luke to say: “Come pick him up.”
Out of obligation, Luke will have called JoBeth who won’t have answered, mostly because she turned her phone off. JoBeth doesn’t seem to mind that Luke calls me to bring her husband home. She stopped minding two years ago, showing that she’s probably a lot smarter than me.
I’m dreaming when the phone buzzes, something from the past when Bill and me were still making music, before he found god in the bottle and thought the only way he could compose was with more Jack than water in his body. Bill was my kerosene then, just a match and we went up in flames.
A part of me is still there when I hit “accept.” “Yeah?”
“Come get him.”
I lumber out of bed, yawning, slip into my jacket. I could use a swift cool breeze to wake me up, but the night’s sultry and the cicadas chirp a deafening chorus.
For a minute I sit in the car, turn the air conditioning so its blasting hot air on me. I slip my jacket off. I’ll give it a bit, hope that the AC cools and wakes me up. Bill isn’t going anywhere. Luke’s not likely to throw him out into the parking lot.
I punch a button and the music fills the car. Another pickup truck song lacking heart and subtlety, but it’ll do because it’s loud and crass.
The road leading into Jenkins is dark and twisty with sharp turns. For the first time in my life, I wonder why I’m going to pick up Bill. I’m tired, exhausted even because I’m taking care of my Dad more hours than not, and this road is not forgiving. Bill’s wife lives a half a mile away, not the raggedy four that I’m driving.
Ever thought that you’ve willed yourself into trouble just by thinking of everything that could go wrong?
The clouds open up with a torrential downpour. I’m now creeping along, the windshield wipers slapping a rhythm that’s still slower than my heart. Suddenly a deer leaps into the road. I twist the wheel, feel the tires slide as if they’ve become greased. I pull on the wheel with everything I have, but it doesn’t matter because the car has a will of its own now and keeps edging toward the drop-off.
Is this the way it ends? Everything?
I stomp on the brake and suddenly Bob Dylan is singing about knocking on heaven’s door and I’m thinking, no, I’m so not ready for that and if I make it out of this, things are going to change.
And the car stops.
I sit there, my mouth ajar, my hands trembling, and the earth throbbing as the thunder booms. I rest my forehead against the steering wheel, close my eyes, and thank whoever was looking out for me.
Punching in Luke’s number, I wait, feel tears coursing down my cheeks.
“I can’t make it.”
“What am I supposed to do with Bill?”
“He’s got a wife. Call her.”
I end the call.
The rain stops. Seconds later, moonlight spills across the road. If I were a woman who believed in signs, this would be mine.