He asked a simple thing: go for a ride in his car, just around the park’s edge, just this once. I was a girl who felt guilty refusing.
We drove along the park in a slow dissolve, like an ice cube on a finger. I watched children my age surround a boy with a gold horn and beat him with their fists, then with his horn.
He let me off where we started and asked if I’d like to ride another day. He seemed lonely, and I was lonely, so I told him yes.
He began to change the routes, and I didn’t complain: I liked the gentle slide of the neighbourhood through the windows and the attention of an adult. Our rides made me special.
The kids who knew not to talk to strangers watched me slip into his car. For my part, I made it look natural as water finding the ocean.
What did we talk about? We didn’t talk. We listened to the radio. He turned the dials and pointed at the songs he liked. His fingers had black hairs on the knuckles like my dad’s.
Our rides were the best part of my week. I waited on the park bench and clapped my knees. I had to sit on my tingling hands. My friends would ask me to play, but I had something better to do.
Once he didn’t show up. I cried, feeling smaller than a molecule. A woman asked me what was the matter, and I told her the matter was not mattering. I wanted to disappear.
In the backseat he kept a revolver with a wooden handle. It shined on the vinyl like a seal on a rock. Sometimes he would reach back to touch it, and I reached over to correct the wheel.
How do I explain? I knew our rides were dangerous. That chance hovered over them like a scalpel. That one day he might turn off the radio, say a word, lift the revolver. Change everything.
But I also felt grace. I felt so long as I sat in his car and the songs on the radio changed and he pointed at the ones he liked, grace was mine. Who else was so blessed?
The routes changed. We left the city and drove beside fields of sunny wheat. He liked to pull into driveways and tap his straight fingers on the vinyl behind my neck.
But he didn’t live in the houses whose driveways we stopped at. He’d wait a moment and then put the car in reverse, returning to the road.
I kept our rides secret from my husband. My friend had grown old and frail. A rust hole bloomed on the side of his car, but he still picked me up at the park once a week.
I considered our rides the happiest parts of my life. And the densest: they sank through my memories like witches tied to stones.
I warned my daughters never to get in the cars of strangers, but when I said this my tongue was a knife waving through my mouth.
I loved our quiet. I loved the silences we created. I loved sensing him guess me out, getting me wrong, and it not mattering. At least we didn’t matter together.
And I knew this would be the last ride: his skin scaled, the scales sifting to the floor mats. I could hear his bones clap. The car choked over the yellow line and he shook his head sorry.
We drove farther away than we ever had. I felt the sweaty heat of a river. Then a turn in the road he refused to take, and the car drowning through dry corn stalks.
The stalks bent and cracked outside the windows. Sunlight slitted my hands in my lap. He switched the radio off and tapped his crooked fingers on the vinyl behind my neck.
I wept. I wept for my life but also his. We’d waited so long. Practiced a holy patience with the other. He turned to me, and his spine popped in his skin like toast.
I knew he wanted to reach into the backseat for the revolver. It would be difficult for him to do it alone. I knew he had always been hungry as I had always been hungry. That we’d fed on each other like cannibals.
So I listened to the stalks crack and waited. I would help him if he wanted. He only had to ask.
Jonathan Volk was born in Kentucky. He has a story about Frank Lloyd Wright in DIAGRAM (it’s more fun than it sounds) and work forthcoming in Caketrain. He’s an MFA candidate in creative writing at UMass Amherst. He wants you to like him. But not too much too soon. Maybe you should meet in a public place first? Twitter works for him.
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