Thursday, August 20, 2009

Daily Story 127: When First We Practice

The car is on fire when it goes over the cliff, because Jake knows they don't explode on their own the way you see in movies. He had me load up the trunk with gunpowder too, and when the whole thing reaches the end of its road-flare orange arc through the night sky and crumples like an accordion the back blows out. I can feel the air compress as the blast goes by even though I'm what seems like a thousand feet away - too far for that light to warm my numb fingers or ears that sting as the air whistles over me. Something lands next to Jake and he laughs, he points at it and folds to the ground like the car crushing itself. Humor rather than momentum, but no less effective. He can't stop laughing but when I look I don't get the joke; it's just a piece of metal from the car. Jake finally manages to stand up and he walks away without even brushing off the dirt that's covering him, that red dirt that will stain your clothes. I pick up the piece of metal carefully with the rag we used to wipe off our fingerprints and I hold it tight, letting it thaw my hands.

We meet up with Chris a minute later at the old dirt road, climb into the bed of the pickup to let him chauffer us back home where we can pretend we never saw my dad's car. Our heads bounce off of the metal with each rut and hole and once the asphalt starts it's seventy mile wind that cuts into us like we were naked in the snow. Jake is excited and trying to talk to me but I'm watching the stars instead because I know that sickly orange glow that seeps up from the city will wash over us soon enough and blot them out. Jake can be mad at me for ignoring him if he wants; soon he'll be in jail or juvenile detention or a group home in another city and I can sleep at night again. A shiver runs down my spine and not from the cold - he's staring at me again with that serial killer look from the true crime shows. He asks me if I'm going to betray him and I say he has a Jesus complex, I'm cool and smooth as a professional actor and there's no way he could suspect me - except that he already does. He smiles at the thought of being compared to Jesus, all teeth and those sparking eyes that never leave mine.

His energy is a virus that spreads just from breathing the same air, charisma and presence and dominance. I was weak and vulnerable and out of control and wanted to hurt my father so Jake came to me with righteous anger and lit me on fire like the car, ignited my mind with the possibilities for revenge and justice. He made me talk, made me relive the times my father would beat me with that belt of his - the buckle still on, a giant oval of iron that he used to remove the lids from beer bottles and fracture my ribs. He held me like my mother should have and whispered that he would make it okay, and then he asked me if my father packed his own bullets when he went hunting. That's what he wanted; gunpowder to torture neighborhood cats. Chris joined us too and he put on a better show than I did, a loving and devoted disciple to the great leader, but when they ask us tomorrow we'll both deny knowing him - we'll be each others alibis until suspicion passes and takes Jake with it. My father will be furious at losing his car, his pride and joy, his years of patient repairs and restoration. Falling, on fire, I couldn't see the hot rod paintjob or the chrome fins but I know they were there, can picture them melting and flowing like candle wax. Hopefully Jake's dogtags will survive like they survived the war that killed his brother, hanging from the gearshift where I told Chris to put them.

When we stop we're at the edge of town, red dirt giving way to manicured golf courses as the desert transitions to suburbs. Chris gets out and walks around the back, and I don't ask why. I want us to be on the road, want this operation to be over before anyone sees us together - yes officer, I saw that boy with two others and of course I can describe them. Chris hands something to Jake and I know what it is just from the flash of moonlight off of silver. The dogtags slide over his head and hang there, accusing, freezing my soul deeper than the wind. Jake is laughing again, that uncontrolled eruption of manic energy, and Chris pulls me over the edge of the bed onto the ground. The truck's door closes again like a gunshot and they drive away with that laughter still rolling out into the air behind them. The engine sound recedes as the world falls away from me because I'm falling, dropping into a bottomless pit I helped to dig. I don't stand up, staring at the stars that have never been further away. In the corner of my vision a white shape flutters like an injured animal and I can see it's the rag that's fallen from my pocket. I clutch it tightly once more but the warmth is gone from that scrap of metal - feeling it dig into my palm, I find myself comparing its shape to my father's belt buckle.