At this moment, forces are aligning against you, all those devils that keep you up at night. So you get in your car, and you drive, down the two-lane country road just outside the city proper, hypnotized by the broken white line that flickers past like frames of Super 8 film. You drive to get away, from everything, from nothing. You drive to lose yourself. You briefly consider, a subconscious response, stopping at the Quickie Mart at the last intersection, the one with the buzzing neon beer signs and flashing Keno numbers, for a pack of cigarettes, Marlboro Lights, but you don’t smoke anymore, quit years ago, because of her, and you have neither the patience nor the inclination to reaclimate your body to the toxins. So you just drive.
You listen to the radio (who listens to the radio anymore?) and Chris Cornell crackles through the blown speakers, a version of “Black Hole Sun” you haven’t heard before and you figure you’d heard them all. You recall when you saw him at the Palace, sitting all the way at the top in the stuffy last row of the balcony because someone on the street that evening handed you a ticket. Less than a year and he’s dead, hung himself they said. You had read an article in the newspaper (who reads the newspaper anymore?) shortly after he died about how the suicide rate for men his age, and yours, has increased of late, and you can kind of relate. But you vow not to let the devils take you out like that, not without a fight.
You remember, vaguely, yet you still remember, when you had hope, when you had opportunity, when you could sleep through the night, no sweat. Before those bastards beat you into submission. That stupid Greek who spat in your face and that bald son-of-a-bitch who kicked you in the nuts. The girl who got away. That week in the ICU, your body a pin cushion for needles and tubes, your belly a gaping wound, the doctors stingy with the morphine – drip, drip, drip. It just became easier to just not care. Whatever happens, happens, and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. That alone is liberating, that alone is freeing, accepting that it’s out of your hands.
There was a time when you had faith, when you were devoted, when you used to sit in the middle pew on the left side on Sunday mornings, dutifully, and you believed (you actually, truly, believed) that it made a difference, that you were somehow better for it, a spring in your stride, a lightness to your being, another step closer to salvation. You said those prayers like everyone else. You looked unto the heavens. You genuflected and kneeled and fasted and abstained. You confessed. But all those devils found a way to return, and so at some point you decided why bother, what the hell.
Your mother warned you, admit it, you can’t say she didn’t, early on, and often, that the devils would try and speak to you, creep inside your head, in all sorts of voices, some you recognized, but you shouldn’t listen, couldn’t listen, the key was not to listen, pay them no mind. Easier said, you thought then, and still do, as you smirk and snicker and listen to the radio (who listens to the radio anymore, especially at this time of night, or is it technically day?) tune to a different station, to someone yammering with a frenzied urgency about something you don’t understand, and you can’t tell if the person is ecstatic or melting down. You linger longer than necessary and still you can’t tell. What you wouldn’t give to hear “Nightswimming” over and over and over on a loop. You tune to another station, to some ball game, grown-ass men paid millions to wear short pants and kick or hit or toss a ball, but the tedium becomes too much, even for you, and you turn the radio off (and maybe no one listens to the radio anymore).
The silence of the white noise of the low dim humming of the engine, and the pitch black darkness of whatever lies beyond the two streaming headlights, are soothing, and comforting, a warm blanket in a hospital bed. You start to believe you’re the only one who matters, you’re the only one who … You kill the headlights, and nothing, nothing but the dull glow of the dashboard showing a half-tank of gas, you’re running hot, and a couple more clicks until you hit one-twenty. But nothing in front of you, and nothing beside you, only the silence, and the darkness. You could disappear here. You could be hurdling through space, or straight into a brick wall, and you wouldn’t know the difference until it’s too late. There could be someone racing in the opposite direction, as otherwise as directionless as you, chasing this same fix, your paths destined to collide. You startle and you gasp and you lurch to flip the headlights on, refusing to let the devils take you out that easily.
So you drive. You just drive. You drive until the first stray rays of sun begin to shyly streak over the horizon, the homey aroma of bacon and eggs from someone’s kitchen drifts through your open windows. You drive until your heart rate dips below redline, until you are able to take an uninterrupted breath, fill your lungs with the crisp morning air. You drive until your grip on the steering wheel relaxes, your knuckles cracking and popping, and your palms dry. You drive until the devils scatter, all those devils that keep you up at night, until that one lone voice buried deep within you, weak and distant but no less persistent, whispers that today might be different, better maybe. And then you turn around and drive back home.
Peter J. Stavros is a writer in Louisville, Kentucky. His work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, The Boston Globe Magazine, The East Bay Review, Hypertext Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Juked, and Literary Orphans, among others. More can be found at www.peterjstavros.wordpress.com.
Photo: Beth Solano