Johnny America


Short Piece In­volv­ing an Au­to­mo­bile (5 of 5)


We’re round­ing tight­ly; the trees, the guardrail, and the Hon­da in the out­side lane re­cede in­to the al­fal­fa field be­yond. I’m look­ing at a trac­tor in the dis­tance when I re­al­ize I’m not in the dri­ver’s seat. The wheel straight­ens and we throt­tle back to 85. The ra­dio’s an AM-on­ly unit with a five push-but­ton mem­o­ry. Em­met’s a ’75 Dodge Dart. For his birth­day I’d giv­en him an af­ter­mar­ket steer­ing knob, one with a re­mov­able plas­tic face. I’d cut a pic­ture of me lean­ing against his hood in­to a cir­cle and put it un­der the tiny window.

We round an­oth­er cor­ner and I see the rest stop and the pic­nic ta­ble and the Benz and the kids and moth­er and fa­ther and I know Em­mett wants to play. We’re go­ing 80 so he rips his Emer­gency Break and his ass swings around, tires squeal­ing against the con­crete. We’re in a spin but our vec­tor’s locked on the fam­i­ly. Em­mett guns it. The lit­tle boy is look­ing at us. We lurch for­ward and he starts to­ward his dad, who’s pulling a two-liter of Co­ca-Co­la from the trunk of the Benz. The boy hangs in mid air, arms above his head. I’m gaz­ing at him hov­er­ing above the wind­shield when we smash through a pic­nic bas­ket. I hear a thud be­hind and turn to see grav­i­ty start­ing back up, the boy falling on­to Em­met­t’s trunk. I flinch, a new in­den­ta­tion in his flecked mint paint.

A jar of pick­les smash­es in front of us. The girl is wear­ing an A‑Line skirt, her arm pulled back like a pitch­er, a jar of may­on­naise in her grip. She hurls the jar at us and it hangs mid-air two or three feet away, its mo­men­tum halt­ed by the spheres of Sex­u­al En­er­gy sur­round­ing Em­mett and me. Mine orig­i­nates in my hy­po­thal­a­mus, his comes from the third left spark­plug of his Slant Six. I’m look­ing at her through the dri­ver’s side win­dow; I’m be­hind the wheel now, look­ing down at the pic­ture of Em­mett and me. She’s star­ing at me so I yell, “What the fuck­’s the mat­ter with you, bitch? Nev­er seen a clas­sic car you stu­pid cunt?”

She stands still, par­a­lyzed by my en­er­gy. I push the but­ton for sta­tion three. The in­di­ca­tor nee­dle jerks left and tunes in AM 1550. Em­mett rais­es the vol­ume; he likes the song. I open the door and pluck a jar of ketchup from where it’s hov­er­ing. I walk around Em­mett and pull the boy off his trunk. He’s par­a­lyzed too. My Sex­u­al En­er­gy af­fects on­ly fe­males, but Em­met­t’s was en­gi­neered by his man­u­fac­tur­er to have equal ef­fect on all sex­es. I throw the boy at his sis­ter and spread the ketchup over Em­met­t’s dent­ed body. I’ve been ne­glect­ing him late­ly. As I work the salve in­to his sheet met­al he com­mu­ni­cates to me psy­chi­cal­ly, “Thanks. That feels nice.”

“No prob­lem, bra,” I re­turn to him, “Sor­ry I’ve been so distant.”

“It’s noth­ing. Don’t wor­ry about it.”

“Re­al­ly, I feel…”

“It’s okay, it’s alright.”

Em­met­t’s en­gine revs and he flash­es his brights. He zips across the grav­el and as I turn back to the chil­dren I hear the clash of steel. He backs up, ram­ming the Benz again. I say, “Hey, what are your names? Wan­na be friends?”

The chil­dren lay on the ground, paralyzed.

Filed under Fiction on July 13th, 2003

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