--THE RAZOR’S DULL, THE WATER COLD AGAINST MY SKIN. THE RADIO HUMS, THE STATIC BUZZING AROUND LIKE TIN.
CrackedSunday, December 14, 2014
It’s not even dawn. I’m broke, somewhere in the middle of East Jesus, Wyoming, and all the radio will pick up is twangy honkytonk or stations playing rambunctious Mexican music. Not only that, but my gas gauge is leaning its elbow on E.
This little joy ride of mine--almost a year now--has been an adventure, but it’s done nothing to transport me out of the funk of having been dumped by my wife. If anything, I feel worse than when I first set out. Seeking adventure is fine, so long as you have a safe harbor to return to afterward. Without an anchor somewhere, a man might as well keep driving, fly his car right off a cliff, or drink himself dead.
The dashboard lights up in the far right corner, flashing strawberry red: Get gas now!
I’m not sure what to do. I check my wallet and pockets. I’ve got a buck twenty. That’d get me a third of a gallon of gas. But I need to eat because I’m starving.
Get gas now!
The landscape is a shroud of darkness. I’m going to run out of gas and die in the desert, be eaten alive by lizards. Panic sets in, as if termites have invaded my chest and are trying to gnaw their way through my flesh.
I try to keep my eyes off the dashboard but it’s like trying to ignore your favorite pornography rippling across a computer screen.
Get gas now!
A spark of rage ambushes me. I feel the urge to break something, hurt someone, leave a life in ruins.
Get gas now!
Up ahead, the craggy, bone-dry land shows the semblance of a town coming into view—barn-shaped buildings and flat-topped domes.
I pull off at the first exit. It’s December and chilly yet my armpits are drenched and I reek.
I find the gun in the cubby and tuck it between my waistband and belly. I have no idea what I’m doing but as soon as I enter the AM/PM mini mart the smell of scorched wieners reminds me that I’m ravenous.
I grab a basket and fill it with Ho Hos and Hostess fruit pies (cherry and chocolate) and toss in a six pack of Budweiser and some Doritos and aspirins and bags and bags of beer nuts, plus rolls of SweeTARTS and an enormous sack of gummy bears.
At the counter, the teller rings the items up as if in a trance. He’s got a shaved head, a stud through his nose, and gauges the size of quarters in his earlobes.
“Thirty-seven fifty-nine,” he says, without looking me in the eye.
I whip out the pistol and point it at his forehead where a yoke-yellow pimple stares back at me.
“Hand me the money in the till.”
“Are you shitting me?”
“I’m going to be shooting you in a second.”
“There’s a camera,” he says, calm as can be, pointing up over his right shoulder.
“Do I look like I give a shit?” I jiggle the snout of the gun at him, hoping he doesn’t notice that my hand is shaking.
“Suit yourself,” the kid says, bored as death, stuffing bills into a brown paper bag that might have once contained his lunch.
“Change, too,” I say, feeling greedy and desperate, thinking if I’m going to go through with this, I might as well get it all.
“Where’s the duct tape?” I ask.
“Duct tape? We don’t have no duct tape.”
“Fine, then step around and get on your knees.”
“There’s no way I’m giving you a blow job.”
“You’re getting a little wishful,” I say. “I need to tie you up.”
When I cock the gun, it makes a teeth--scritching noise, and the kid obliges.
Once he’s on the floor, I realize I don’t have anything to tie him up with. I am probably the worst criminal ever.
“On second thought, get up. Give me the keys and your cell phone.”
The guy hands them over. His phone cover is a Hello Kitty logo. “It’s my sisters,” he says, reading my expression. “I dropped mine in the toilet.”
I lock him in the back office and stuff a stool up against the door knob so there’s no way he’s getting out on his own. I grab my money and goodies and fly out the door, waving at the camera on the way.
The only other car in the lot is the kid’s and so I take it instead of mine. His is a vintage Volkswagen Rabbit, painted purple, that smells like a combination of Lysol and sweaty feet. Surprisingly, the gas tank is full. Surprisingly, the car has some guts.
I head west doing ninety-five, keeping my eyes peeled for lurking state troopers. My idea is to go as far as I can until the gas runs dry, then catch a bus. I figure it’s the last place the cops would be looking for me, and besides, all they know is what the kid can tell them. My image on that camera won’t do a bit of good.
I take a big bite of a cherry fruit pie, pop open a can of beer and take a swig to wash the fruity taste down. I’m feeling confident now, burning with a felonious high. It’s the best I’ve felt all year. Even though I’ve committed a crime, I’ve accomplished something, something brave and daring. I wonder if my wife would be proud or scared or what. I wonder why I still care about her and what she thinks of me. Her new guy is probably doing her doggy-style right now.
Then I get a picture of her and him in bed, him mounted behind my wife, grunting and thrusting. My eyes sting. As I cross the border into Idaho, I start to bawl. It’s only the second time I’ve cried in a decade, but now that I’ve started I can’t stop. I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing. I think about the gun I’ve stashed in the kid’s glove compartment, next to his book of cigarette rolling papers. I could blow my brains out and not have to worry about my next move or how to make something of my life. I could fly off the curve up ahead where the road winds around a mountain. I’ve got a hundred different choices, and none of them are good.
It’s nightfall and I’m on a Greyhound bus seated next to a young man with two prosthetic arms. I want to ask how he got them, how he lost his others. When he catches me staring, I shift in my seat and stare out the black window.
“IED,” he says. “Afghanistan. “
I look back. He’s actually grinning.
“Could have been a lot worse,” he says. “The guy that actually stepped on it, PFC Raymond Williams from Kentucky, he lost everything.”
“God, I’m sorry.”
“It’s true what they say; war is hell.”
“But you made it out.”
“Most of me did. I’m thankful for that.”
I feel a sense of shame wash in. Here I’ve been feeling sorry for myself all year and this guy lost two of his arms yet wears a bright smile.
We make small talk for the next hour. When I tell him I robbed a convenience store earlier today, he laughs. Nothing seems to faze him.
So I tell him about my last year, how I’ve been searching for something all this time since my wife left me.
“That’s a shitty deal, a woman cheating on a guy. Not much worse, but you’ve got a choice to make.”
“You can let it haunt you forever or else burn all your memories of her and start fresh.”
“Is that what you did, with your experiences in the war?”
“I guess so. Of course, I’ve got these two reminders,” he says, lifting his fake arms.
I feel guilty again for all my self-pity, yet it’s easy to say, burn all your memories, and another thing doing it.
“Look,” the guy says, “it’s your life and who am I to say, but maybe what you went searching for was something that was in you all along.”
He punches me lightly in the chest with his fake fist. “Heart.”
I’m not sure what he means exactly, but all the same he’s got me thinking about courage and renewal.
The bus driver comes on the speaker telling us we’re twenty minutes from Seattle.
“Say, did you really rob a convenience store?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Man, you’re a real crack up.”
Cracked, I think, but with luck and a lot of hard work, fixable.