Exercise in Fiction: Forgotten Youth in American Southwest

There was once a young man, Traylor I think, that had a problem with his car. You see, every time that he turned his wheels, the right front tire would rub hard against the wheel wall, with a loud screech. "Dog-gam!" he'd say, as he didn't want to curse in public, but wanted to vent his frustration into the burning Southwest air -- and how he yelled. "You futher-mucker! I'll get you yet!" -- his exclamations would often draw curious looks from the folks waiting at bus stops, staring aimlessly, trying to forget their dreary service-industry fates.

He knew somehow that the wheel may eventually break, but he said to himself, "I hate working on cars. I'll just pay someone to fix the SOB." Problem was that he was low on cash. After all, his income as a Wal-Mart overnight stocker was only enough to cover his rent so he didn't have to live at home -- the bane of 19-year-old existence. He did, however, find the funds to smoke marijuana and drink Keystone light with his fellow townies.

"Justin, get that goddamn thing fixed," his girlfriend said. They were in the parking lot of a grocery store, parked tenuously in the handicapped spot, with Traylor taking a slow drag from a cigarette -- Camel light -- and fingering his cellphone. "I'll just turn wider," he said. "Less rubbing that way."

His girlfriend, Elise, was one of convenience. Her low self-esteem placed her in a good position to lay on her back, Justin would sometimes think (not in those terms, of course). She worked in a local restaurant, serving wealthy folks from the suburbs, making snide comments about coworkers. She enjoyed sneaking outside for a cigarette; at times one could see the tracing of a tattoo on her lower back, a signifier of sluttiness that the Dodge truck salesmen liked to gaze upon, droolingly. Yes, she was a looker, but preternaturally gifted in her inability to perceive herself.

At long last, on a Saturday night on their way back from the townie bar, both of them sauced, Justin took a drunken right turn going much too fast for the Japanese-made small car. When the wheel came off, the right front of the vehicle dropped like a reindeer from a cliff. The wheel went off, with perfect balance, thirty-five miles an hour through the center of the intersection. The car started skidding away, out of control. "Fuck," Justin said under his breath, in the few seconds before the vehicle careened to its final destination. That place happened to be a pole in the median of the street where pedestians, caught between traffic, could press a button to shorten the green light.

"This is just the kind of shit that always happens with you! What the fuck are we going to do?" Elise said. "Shut the fuck up," Justin responded drily. Elise shot back: "You're drunk. The cops are on the way. We can't fucking get out of this. It's DUI for sure, bastard." When she got angry, her teeth would grind in between her words, her mouth in a shape that would paradoxically pique her male patrons -- and lesbians -- at the restaurant.

"Everybody all right?" a middle-aged man said, his smoky, hirsute Vietnam-vet face a few feet from the open passenger side window. "Thank you, sir," Justin said simply. "We're fine."

"This is just a clusterfuck," Elise said.

"Well, fuck this," Justin said. "I'm getting the wheel, and we're driving away," he said with watery eyes. Just like that, he hopped out of the car, past the Vietnam vet. "Damn that went a long way," he thought of the wheel that lay a full hundred yards down the road. He ran as best he could, impaired of course, and grabbed the wheel. He thought he heard sirens in the distance. He bear-hugged the wheel and dashed to the vehicle, angled like a beached whale on the median. "It's this or jail," he said to himself. Like a true hero, his movements were graceful and sure. In little time he had the wheel in place, holding the cross-shaped tool to drive in the bolt.

"What the fuck are you doing now?" Elise asked pointedly. Like a gallant knight, his appendages moved with dexterity -- call it an ass-saving adrenalin high. "No time to talk," he responded. "The cops have never caught me and they never will. The pigs."

There were flashing police lights in the distance. "One bolt in. That'll have to do," he thought. The onlookers were shocked as he pulled the car over the street pole, straightened the vehicle out, and put it in drive. With a squeal, Elise and Justin sped east on Netherway Drive.

"Haha!" Justin shouted with glee as the cop cars passed by. He hooked a left onto a less busy road. "You'll spend time in Hell for this," Elise said with an ironic smile, now joining Justin with rebel glee.

Later on: "Oh fuck, I don't know if it'll make it," Justin said of the car, now loudly clanking with the right front tire near collapse. Presently they got to Justin's cut-rate apartment complex. As they pulled in near the front entrance, the right front wheel grazed the curb, fell with a thud on the curb. "Parked, mutha-fucka!" he rejoiced.

Elise had been quiet, staring into the night sky's myriad stars, viewable in the city because of luminosity laws protecting the town's languishing astronomy industry. "Come on, baby," Justin said, helping her out of the splayed-out car.

In the apartment, they had frenzied sex and passed out. An apposite end to a night of heroics in the desert Southwest.

May 2017

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