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by Ian Birnbaum
“You know that hum that you can only get from pavement? You know, that noise that just sorta- just sorta vibrates in your brain, and the only thing that can make that sound is rubber on road for hundreds of miles at a stretch?” Brian looked away from the lines of the highway blurring past beneath the aging Cadillac and looked to the passenger side at his – for lack of an official job title – closest friend in the world. The companion in question was staring devotedly at the tip of his own nose, trying to pluck an overgrown hair with the tips of his fingers. Brian observed his efforts for just long enough to be considered recklessly negligent, then returned his eyes to the two globes of light in front of him that revealed the dark surface of I-90. The tires hummed in unison in the hot night. Silence prevailed until he tried again. “Sam?”
Sam started in his seat, an action that not only brought his attention back to the present world, but also brought his attempts to pluck the offending hair to an abruptly successful conclusion.
“Owwww- fuck…” Sam swiveled his face towards Brian while massaging the tip of his nose with one hand. “Somethin’ about hummers?” he ventured after a moment of guilty silence. Brian regarded Sam coldly from out of the corner of his right eye, his face pointed stubbornly at the road, the shine of the headlights, the blurred yellow streaks rushing past into the darkness behind them.
Brian repeated himself. Sam grunted his assent, which was characteristically the most elaborate use of phrase for his half of any of Brian’s metaphorical conversations. The tires hummed, a third voice in this conversation on the lonely road.
“Because when you really think about it,” Brian continued, pleased that his audience was, indeed, thoroughly captive, “right, when you really ponder on it that sound, that damned humming, is just a big metaphor for – wait for it – for women,” he declared, spitting the last word triumphantly.
Sam groaned. The tires hummed.
For the three days that the two of them had been on the road headed east, Brian had spent the days sleeping and the nights driving and imagining analogies to describe all of the various ways that women, as a population, were collectively plotting to make any owner of a penis very unhappy. This had been prompted, of course, by the unceremonial and unapologetic dumping of Brian by his longtime on-again/off-again girlfriend, a feminist speaker and author who was rather well known, in their small town outside Seattle, for being a total bitch.
“Come on bro, lets hit the fucking road man,” Brian had yelled at Sam through the rolled-down window of the Cadillac. Sam had been walking back to his apartment from the central mailbox of the complex when Brian had turned the corner and almost run him over, his tires and the road slick from the near-constant Washingtonian rain. Sam had opened the passenger door against the lazy evening storm drifting sideways across the coast and climbed inside as Brian slammed the accelerator, nearly running down two stray dogs and an elderly couple.
They turned out of Sam’s apartment complex and started east on I-90 from Issaquah, Washington and continued east on I-90 for the rest of the night. At first it was driving just to get away, but when the morning sun’s glaze illuminated rain-clouds directly before them and Brian continued driving in silence, it became driving to get somewhere else. Sam saw, but could not decipher, the look on Brian’s scowling features: his eyes were strained from looking but not seeing, mind clouded by its contents, too proud to cry, too angry to be proud, heart too broken to be truly angry, driving himself and his thoughts and his friend through the rain and away from everything behind him.