Another five days have passed and another Friday Flash Fiction is complete. If you’re not familiar, we get a sentence on Friday and the story is due Tuesday. The starting sentence was given to us by David. And you should check out the site for the other fine contributors.
Back In the 50’s Miles Played Something New; It Still Is
“It was a shortcut that I would regret for the rest of my life.”
It was May and my beater of a Chevy barreled on down the highway toward Pittsburgh. I was going to see my girlfriend. Well, barreled may not have been the best way to describe my car chugging along. And although technically speaking Kristy broke up with me, I didn’t think it counted because I didn’t accept her “I want to be friends” death knell.
My car started acting up in the middle of the sloping hills of nowhere Virginia. The countryside was beautiful I guess. The Beech and Oak trees pushing against small farms while cows grazed in fields that shot into my vision as I rounded a corner. I suppose I could see someone wanting to have a family in a place like that: removed, quiet, simple, a place that would keep the kids safe. To me, it seemed more like a place a person would want to come and die in; I mean I could see my grandma saying “this is perfect” and then the next time I saw her she’d be a painted mannequin laying in a box.
My car was getting low on gas, and even though Slipknot pushed me on, I edged off onto the exit and headed for the Mom & Pop station. The station was a plain cinderblock building with a large front window. A Coke sign flashed next to their “2 Hotdogs a Dollar” followed by a smiley face. It was written on a poster board and hung with duct tape. I kid you not.
No one was there when I pulled in. These pumps were so old they didn’t even have the card readers so I wasn’t sure what to do. Shit, I figured, I’ll give it a go and if it’s a problem, someone will come out. I pumped and no one came out.
Inside a squat woman sat behind the counter. She had deep purple pits in her face probably from bad acne when she was growing up. Too bad too, cause she wasn’t ugly besides that. Dark hair, blue eyes, perfect little nose. Kristy always said you can know a lot about a person just by the shape of his or her nose. I thought she was crazy. Then one day we were at the mall and she pointed out this guy and asked what my first impression of him was.
“I don’t know. We’ve never met.”
“That’s why it’s a first impression.”
“Don’t you have to meet to get an impression?”
“You believe in love at first sight?” she asked leaning into me and making me blush. I admit it. I’m an easy blusher. She would say I want you inside me and my face would light on fire.
I looked at the him. He was a completely average, nondescript guy. Slacks, shirt, tie, crew cut, name tag, a little scruff on his chin.
“I dunno. He looks like a jerk,” I say.
“So not a nice guy?” she asks. I shake my head no. “Why?” she responds.
“Look at his nose. It’s turned up just a little.”
“He could be the best guy you ever met, but the nose.” She tapped her beautifully shaped nose and smiled.
I paid the woman and headed back for the interstate, but the interstate wasn’t there. I drove a mile down, then back and I could see the exit for whatever town I was in, but no ramp to get back on. I knew it had to be a bad practical joke.
When I walk back into the gas station, the woman doesn’t seem surprised at all.
“You’re looking for the interstate,” she said.
I started blushing because clearly there was something she knew and I did not which ultimately made me look like an ass right at that moment.
“There isn’t an on ramp. Only an exit.”
I looked out the window in disbelief, and I have to admit, hoping that it would magically appear.
“Happens all the time. There’s a sign, but people miss it or have to get off for the gas. Here,” she says pulling out a photocopied map of roads through town that would get me back on.
“Oh, thanks,” I said. “Who does that? Puts and exit without and entrance?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “You want a hotdog?”
“I have somewhere I have to be.” I imagined Kristy out with her friends and newly free of me, of us. They are egging her on to go to this club or that party. I imagined other men sliding up to her with false smiles and beautiful eyes. My stomach was a ball of dirt.
She looked out the window then turned back to me saying, “There’s a shortcut.”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
She started writing directions on the photocopied map. It seemed silly they wouldn’t just put the shortcut on there in the first place.
Back in my car, I followed the map closely. The sparse houses came closer and closer together and soon I was passing stereotypical named neighborhoods: Red River, Foxborough, Blue Haven. At least the outskirts had some character, but here it was the exactly like suburbs where Kristy and I met, kissed, snuck off to screw in our respective basements while our parents were working.
When my car jerked and sputtered, my stomach followed suit. It chugged again. Popped a bit and I glided it roadside. I sat there for a minute, mind racing, and tried to crank it again. Nothing. Not even a grumble. First my girlfriend and now this, I thought. How could I show her I loved her and we belonged together if I couldn’t even get to her? Hitting the steering seemed like the only thing I could do, but that only left me with a throbbing palm.
I got out and felt the sun on my face. It was warming up. I opened the hood and stood there staring down at the Chevy’s innards as if I knew what I was looking at. It was a dead carcass for all I was concerned and I wasn’t Jesus.
So I trotted off toward the closest street, Plum Rd. Houses lined the streets and a few cars squatted in the driveways. The first house had two black men sweating in the sun in front of it. One man mixed and wheel burrowed mortar while the other layed brick upon brick, his belly sweat soaking his T-shirt while he finished what looked to be a mailbox. I figured one of them had a cell or the owner would let me use her phone to get a tow.
As I got closer, I could hear his whistle stealing the silence. It was Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and it was fantastic. It was the type of talent that immediately makes a person want to learn how to do it. Passion counted for something and he made tune sound like springtime itself. Kristy would have loved it.
“Hey,” I said interrupting his melody.
“Hey.” His voice was deep and his eyes were gentle.
“You have a phone? My car died and I need a tow,” I said pointing to the road. His eyes followed my finger but the car was just around the corner.
“Yeah, yeah, my man. I have ya’ back,” he said reaching into his pocket and handing his phone to me.
I called AAA, something my mom forced me to get when I started driving, and handed his phone back.
“Thanks,” I said. “I can’t believe this happened.”
“Such is life.”
“I guess it could’ve been worse, I could’ve been stuck on the interstate.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said wiping the sweat from his forehead. “So you just passin’ through?”
“Heading to see my girlfriend. Well,” I started then trailed off. His booming laughter caught me off guard.
“Oh I knows those ‘wells’ too good, my man. Where this girl at?”
“Where you from?”
The man nodded, laughed to himself, and grabbed a cigarette from his pants’ pocket. “Usually them girls ain’t worth it.”
“Mine is,” I said all too quickly. He didn’t know Kristy, or me, so I didn’t feel like hearing his advice.
He lit the cigarette and took a deep inhale. “Can I tell you sum’thin’ my daddy tole’ me a long time ago?”
I looked down the street. I didn’t want to listen but it was better than sitting in my dead car. “Sure.”
“There are no more stories, my man, not like we used to hear anyways. No beginnings, middles, ends. A young man doesn’t have to be afraid of change.”
Interrupting him, I turned my gaze back on his soft features. “I’m not afraid of change.”
He nodded and took another drag on the cigarette. “I didn’t say you were, my man. You ever see dem chairs made sticks?”
“And people say, don’t sit on ‘em cause they afraid it break under your weight.”
“You ever wonder why they make that chair if they afraid it will break as soon as a man sits in it?”
I looked at his partner sitting in the shade. He was a scrawny man with tight muscles who seemed too slight to do the work he did and he seemed glad for the break.
“That ain’t a righteous fear,” he continues. “You hear me, my man?”
The simple things with Kristy kept pushing into my mind so it was hard to concentrate: the finger dances we had when sitting in the dark movie theatres; the way she would turn toward me, hair falling across the side of her face, eyes smiling; the way her chap stick smelled when we kissed.
“Fear is thinking a story falls into a place where it can’t rise up again. A righteous fear is the lack of meaning, and maybe this girl of yours ain’t your meaning.”
I didn’t know what to say. “Thanks for letting me use your phone. The truck should be here soon.”
A broad smile appeared on his face and he threw his cigarette butt into the street.
“No problem, my man,” he said, then coaxed the scrawny man up from his break, “Yo Perry, let’s git.”
As I turned to walk back to my car, I heard him break into song again. It was a simple tune, something Kristy would’ve fell in love with. The melody diminished with each step toward my hulking car, until I was left with nothing but the sound of my own syncopated breath and the tow truck rumbling to save me.