The following piece was presented at Jersey City Writers’ literary event – Blackout! A Night of Memoirs. Please enjoy.
We picked up the kid a couple miles south of Kansas City on 49, which used to be 71. We were the ride that taught him not to hitchhike.
Lonny’s hands had shivered on the steering wheel since the last pit stop. I figured he’d done a line in bathroom. He veered to the right, almost knocked the skinny kid with the Misfits t-shirt off the road. The kid chased us waving his loose guitar and I jumped out.
“Get out.” I spoke hard and opened the driver’s door. “I’ll drive.”
Lonny didn’t argue.
The kid muttered something to my dad, who was in the front passenger seat, then clambered in behind him, and I helped shove Lonny behind me. The kid looked sideways at his balding, three hundred pound, tweaking companion but said nothing. I got behind the wheel, and pulled the seat all the way forward, and still couldn’t touch the pedals.
“Fast, girl,” dad muttered beside me, and I gunned it. “Where you going kid?”
The hitchhiker was watching Lonny closely. Lonny was muttering and knocking his head into the door.
“Boy?” Dad punched his door and the kid snapped to attention.
“Uh…I’m Kyle. I’m headed to Oklahoma.”
“We gitcha partway there,” dad said. He turned on the radio then which meant no more talking. Alice Cooper came on. Hey Stoopid.
We got about fifty miles.
Dad rolled down the window near Butler and dumped out the 32oz coke he’d got at the gas station. He pulled a bottle of Bombay Safire from under his seat and emptied it into his cup. He opened the glove box and fiddled around with dark scurrying hands, brown from east Germany, rough from his trade.
He took out an orange prescription bottle and popped it open with shaking hands. It was full of white gritty powder, poorly crushed. He shook it out into the Styrofoam cup.
“Nothin for you in Oklahoma,” dad said. “Nothin for us here.”
I glanced back at the hitchhiker, whose eyes had gone wide. They met mine and he seemed to guess–wrongly–that I was in control of the car. He relaxed a little.
Dad took a drink, then passed it back to Lonny. Lonny took a drink and offered it to the kid, who declined. Lonny passed it to dad again, back and forth. We made it about twenty more miles.
We got out of the radio range and dad snapped it off. “Neesome tunes,” he said. He got out a battered leather CD case, one he’d had forever, since back when we were little and took a road trip across the Mojave desert. Tyler and I played games in the backseat, Sam got carsick, mom and dad sang along to Bon Jovi and Guns N Roses, and kissed, and threw ice at us when we complained.
Dad flipped through the battered plastic sheets and popped something in. I glanced back at Lonny, drooling, eyes glazed, and the kid, still tense but looking out the window, holding his guitar.
– Welcome to my nightmare –
I’d used to like Alice Cooper. Dad nodded along and his limp hand dropped the Styrofoam cup on the floor. It was empty. He sang in his wheezy voice, out of tune. He’d always been tonedeaf.
– feel right at home –
He opened the glove box and took out another bottle, this one with tablets. He chewed two of them.
– sweat and laugh and s-s-s-s-s-scream –
“Fucker.” Dad punched the door and slammed the glove box shut. I shivered.
“I’ll clean it.” I reached for the CD player and he slapped my hand away.
“Leave’ih,” he muttered. “Ih’ll play.”
The kid in the back was alert again. I guessed he might not understand dad’s slurred, muttered words, a language only he and I spoke.
– w-w-w-w-welcome –
“Gotta stop,” Lonny muttered from behind me. He’d crash soon.
– to my b-b-b-b-b-break-d-d-d-d-own – breakdown – b-b-b-br –
“Motherfucker!” Dad shrieked and plunged a hand under his seat. With a sharp sing a blade came loose from its scabbard, the kabar, military-grade twelve inch steel. He slammed it through the mouth of the CD player. Lonny screamed behind me and threw himself sideways jerking the car to the left. I swerved, the dashboard emitted blue and yellow sparks, and the kid in the back lifted his guitar like a shield. The tires screeched back into our lane. Everyone got quiet.
“ ‘s better,” dad said, slumped back in his seat, and started to snore. We drove the rest of the way to Joplin with the blade’s hilt sticking out of the dash, which crackled quietly. When we got inside city limits I told the kid the ride was over, and dropped him at the greyhound station.