Flash fiction Tom Larsen ⇔ Art by Texas Fontanella
I catch a ride outside of Dallas, Gary, Lexus, Florida tags. Gary’s bound for Vegas and he’s ripped on something, speed, by the sound of it. Wouldn’t be a stretch to say the highways run on amphetamines. He goes on forever about his car wreck, his DUI and his gambling problem. Mostly he talks about his wife, Stupid Bitch.
“The stupid bitch blows in like a tsunami, BOOM, table goes one way, chips go the other. I’m holding three kings with a thumb up my ass! OOH, but when I’m on a roll you don’t hear a peep. Money can buy some peace and quiet, I can assure you.”
Gary likes to assure me of things. So far I have his assurance that the Rangers suck, the Cowboys suck, money makes money and Angelina Jolie’s tits are real. How he knows the last is what I want to know.
“Stupid bitch finds out I tapped the college fund and goes ballistic!” he waves his hands. “My kid is three! When you feel it you go for it, fuck the college fund. Sorry, that’s the way I am. She knew that going in, stupid bitch.”
Gary stops a few times for I know what and a cell phone call. Whoever he’s plaguing doesn’t answer, caller ID, a wonderful thing. After the last stop he comes back a mess.
“You all right?” I have to ask.
“Sure,” he just sits there. “I’m broke, I’m sick and my wife just left me. I’m fucking great!”
Christ, what do you say to that? In the first place it’s none of my business and in the second, I’m pulling for the stupid bitch.
“Maybe if I drive.”
“Stupid bitch,” Gary blubbers.
“Come on, switch seats,” I pop my seatbelt. “You can rest. It’s rough, I know.”
His eyes cut over. “What do you care? You don’t even know me.”
“You picked me up. I owe you,” I force a smile. “You wanna talk? I’ll listen. Put on some miles, it’ll do you good.”
We switch. He talks.
“I’ve known Jeanette since the seventh grade. We got married in high school. Can you believe it? Hell I would have married any girl who’d fuck me. High school, can you imagine? You don’t even know who you are yet!”
Nice car. It occurs to me that in my six decades I’ve never owned a nice car, or even a new car. My wife sprang for a Beetle when they came back out, but I rarely drive it. My own car is a twelve-year old station wagon with a hubcap missing and a check engine light that’s always on.
“I mean what do you know in high school? Nothing.” Gary rolls his head against the headrest. “If you could see the kid you were in tenth grade you’d cringe. Things you thought were important weren’t important and people you thought were cool weren’t cool. I just learned how to drive and now I’m getting married? You know who does that? An idiot does that. First class, I can assure you.”
“It works for some.”
“You know who it works for?” his head rolls my way. “People who peak in tenth grade. You can see the ones, 18 going on 50, the nobodies who know it.”
“Yeah well, …”
The thing about luxury cars, the luxury. I suppose you get used to it but I don’t see how.
“A guy your age. How many times have you been divorced?”
“I’ve never been divorced,” I level with him.
“Married twenty-five years,” I smile to think. “I’ve known my wife since we were kids.”
He waves me off. “You could tell me anything. How would I know?”
“You wouldn’t, but it’s true. The difference is I was over thirty when I got married.”
Gary thinks about that while I lock on the fast lane.
“So … that’s the way you planned it? You said to yourself I’m not getting married until I’m thirty.”
“No, not like that. It wasn’t really an issue.”
Push it to ninety, smooth as silk. Gary doesn’t seem to notice.
“It was my idea,” he tells me. “My wife, Jeanette is a piece of work. Type triple A with a face and body to match. I couldn’t let anyone come between us and I thought marrying her would be the way. Can you imagine that?”
“You were a kid.”
“So how come I’d do it again?”
I cut inside on a long banked curve. Not much traffic so I goose it to triple digits. “So, you love her, right?”
“From the neck down. I had a dream once where I could unscrew her head,” he laughs. “That was a good dream.”
Cruising at 120, the road unwinds like a video game. Lexus, nice, if I could afford one I wouldn’t get one. The thing about luxury, it makes me nervous. A nice car would mean too much to me. I’d obsess. Better to have a car you don’t care about. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the station wagon.
“Happily married, what a crock!” Gary snorts. “So what are you doing scuffling?”
I tell him the truth. I’m doing research for a hitchhiking memoir. I have to admit it sounds pretty wifty.
“So you’re a writer,” he bobs his head. “You’ve been published?”
“Not so you’d notice.”
“Another road book. Good luck with that.”
I give him a look. His head keeps bobbing.
“Anything memorable happen so far?”
“Depends on what you mean by memorable. Strangers confined together, it’s a unique situation. Somehow it always makes an impression.”
“I bet this never happened before,” Gary nods to the small handgun cradled in his lap. I ease off the gas as my limbs stiffen. Continue reading