on down the road
by Johnny St. Clair
the heat can do strange and terrible things to even the healthiest of minds. that said, i've been trying to keep my wits about me, coolin' in the grass until all hours of the night, playin' my radio and drinkin' beer. but last night was too much to take...so i loaded up and headed off in my ride, windows down, Creedence on the stereo. i rode in a huge arc through slightly populated areas on roads that wind like a river bends. after I circled back around and was nearing home, i pulled into the gas station near my place at about 2:30 at night.
"you need a shirt on, man."
"yeah, but you're not even wearing one." i've been coming into this place for years and this guy is always working but i never got his name. he could be the owner for all i know, but it is much more likely he gets paid with old rags and gallons of gas. i thought about telling him there was a paint-huffing party in the woods down by the river. no doubt he would've high-tailed it outta there like a wild hog to water, and i could've had free reign over the stores aisles, loading my pockets with packs of gum and bottles of club soda, having my way with the cash register and pillaging the scratch-off lottery tickets.
"huh? what do you want from me?"
"30 bucks man, for the gas, come on...i don't got all day."
i handed him the money without looking, concentrating instead on the $1000-a week-for life ticket that seemed to mock me from its black plastic case, sitting with its brothers and sisters on the roll. could that be the one, i wondered. i imagined grass huts by the beach on a Carribean island, with my girl brading hair by the water, while my seeds ran butt-naked in the sand, and i sold mango juice to the tourists. the gas station attendant snapped me back to reality...he was enamored of the rather large wooden cross i wore around my neck on a thin leather strap fashioned from the skin of wolves.
"that's a nice van out there...it would look good with a big Aztec warrior airbrushed on the side. my cousin is real good with detailing. he'll hook you up."
"i bet he would."
"hey man, how's your girl?"
"yeah...that girl i see you with sometimes."
"that ain't my girl."
"you act like it's your girl."
"well it fuckin’ ain’t.” i had to spit.
"i'd make her my girl, homes.”
"i'm done with this."
"here, take this."
he held out a closed fist and opened it once my outstretched palm was underneath. he took his free hand and closed my hand into a fist, looked me in the eye and nodded. whatever the fuck it was, it seemed important, and i slipped it into my back pocket and didn't look at it until i got the fuck outta dodge.
it was time to go. i longed to get behind the wheel and let the tires eat the white lines on the road... just go, just drive...watch all this melt away behind me. i lifted the latch on the door to get in, and nothing. i pulled again, harder this time. nothing. i lifted the handle and then added more force, pulling upward. i stepped back to examine the door, it's outline, the van itself. i pulled on the handle yet again. nothing. i tried and tried, gentler at first, then more violently. i punched the door, pushed it in, pulled it. i yanked on the handle wildly, teeth bared. Nothing.
out here there were no stars.
i stopped and listened to the gentle cadence of cricket bows in warm August night. hands folded on cool metal, i leaned in and rested my forehead on the backs of my fingers.