Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How To Drive In The Dark

          The long black car streaks through the darkness and slams into Adam's small pickup truck. The impact pushes the truck into a front yard and flings you into the passenger's side door. The engine sputters as the truck inches through the grass. You see the black car sitting in the middle of the street. A slow, slumping shadow cuts across the headlights and lurches towards you. You shove Adam towards the steering wheel.

            "Drive, man, just drive!"

            Adam nods and stomps the gas pedal. The back tires blubber in the mud, digging for traction, before the truck jumps onto the street. You are leaving the city with no truck hood, no headlights, and waves of rain are whipping the windshield. The engine roars and, when the lightning flashes, you see Adam hunching over the steering wheel.

            You are sixteen, full of beer, and racing to make your eleven o'clock curfew. You have friends with later curfews, or none at all, but your father says ten o'clock on weeknights, eleven on weekends. He says if someone is out at two in the morning, the chances are they're doing something they shouldn't be. You are doing something you shouldn't be doing at ten-twenty and fourteen wet miles away from home.

            "Anyone behind us, Karl?" Adam says.

            You look out the rear window and see nothing but pinhole blurs of house lights receding into the night. "No, there's no one there." Thunder explodes and lightning floods the truck cab. "How the fuck are we going to stay on the road, man? It gets curvy as hell."

            "Maybe the lightning will help me see."

            Fear and adrenaline make you shake. The crunch of colliding cars echoes in your ears and you wonder if the other driver is okay. Looking behind you again, you hear handcuffs snapping around your wrists and expect to see spinning red and blue lights pop over the horizon. You stare into the night and imagine the truck veering off the road during a lightning flash, tumbling end over end into a ravine. You cannot stop shaking.

            "Hey, I think there's a flashlight in the glove box!" Adam says. "Check!"

            You open the glove box and a flashlight falls out into your hands. "I'll shine the flashlight down at the road and tell you when you're too close to the white line."

            Adam looks at you and nods. You roll down the window and brace your feet against the floorboard. The truck is swaying, rain soaks your skin, and you grip the window frame to keep from tumbling out onto the road. You hang outside the window for ten miles, peering through the wind and rain, clinching down on the flashlight. You are not dying in a flaming wreck or riding to jail. There are four miles to go, but you will make curfew.

            The truck sputters and dies at a highway junction four miles from home. Adam slams his palm into the steering wheel. Deserting the truck, you walk down the highway with him hoping someone picks you up. You look for oncoming headlights, but see nothing. You are not making curfew. Adam tires of walking in the rain and goes up to the first house he sees. You will not go. Even if they will give you a ride home, it will take too long. You think you can get home quicker out here, in the storm, alone and waiting for a car to drive by. You throw up and start walking.

            It is five minutes later when headlights appear behind you. They weave fast through the rain, inches above the ground, and swell as they come closer. You are standing by the road when the car curls around a sharp corner, slows, and stops next to you. It is a silver sports car with dark window tinting and a purring engine. When you look into the open window, you see a short man in his mid-twenties with a thin brown mustache wearing a light purple shirt. His long black hair is in a ponytail and dark stubble covers his face. He will give you a ride home.

            You will make it home by eleven. Bursting with relief, you tell the driver everything. You tell him about going to the lake and drinking seven beers. The truck didn't have a hood, but it wasn't raining then. You tell him how the headlights went out on the west side of the city, just before the car hit them, but Adam got them working again. They are out within a minute, but you are not stopping. Adam keeps driving and you think the lightning will guide you home.

            The driver holds his hand up. "Wait, really?" He pauses. "I think you better slow down."

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