Road Sodie by D.W. Davis

I got drunk first, but that’s not saying much; I’d been half-lit for the better part of a month. That night I started with the best rum I could afford. The pharmacy clerk hid her smirk as she rang me up. I was almost old enough to be her father. They start so young these days. I didn’t have a job until I was almost out of college. Of course, maybe she was in college. At some point in my life, I stopped being a good judge of anyone’s age except my own.

I already had beer but I knew enough to lay off that for a while. Beer just goes down too smooth. So I went with the rum, mixed it with some carbonated water for my health, and watched the Cardinals get the ever-loving shit kicked out of them by the Marlins. The pitcher just hung his head out there and the manager was punishing him by leaving him in. By my third tumbler, I was inventing a rather colorful backstory that involved the manager’s wife getting her some Dominican wang, but said wang is making too much money for the team to trade him, so he’s gonna stay out there until his arm falls off. I wondered if that had ever actually happened. It’d be something to see, that’s for sure.

I started around six, kept the curtains open on the picture window so the cars that drove by could look in at my sophisticated ass sitting in a recliner drinking away. Even the dog left me alone. I always wondered why she didn’t take the dog; he’d been hers, after all, and God knows I’d never taken to him. Xander. Who the fuck names a dog Xander? Maybe she left him as punishment, though she’d never struck me as the vindictive type. Aside from the leaving, I mean. And the steady string of one-night boyfriends thereafter. Aside from that.

By the ninth inning it was dark out and with half the bottle of rum gone I’d switched to beer to help mellow me out. Busch lattes, as my buddies called them. I used the restroom and stared at myself in the mirror, scraggly traces of a beard, hair hanging halfway down my ears. I’d put on weight. Classic sad-sap syndrome. A fucking joke. I thought about staying in. I thought about bashing my face into the mirror. I even thought about running the car in the garage for a few hours, go out listening to George Strait, except the radio hardly played real country anymore, and anyways I didn’t have a garage in this cheap rental, that’d been my old place before I lost the good job and took to telling kids how to flip burgers part-time.

In the end I did none of that and let the dog into the yard I shared with two others—one a meth head, the other probably her dealer—and went out to my car. Made sure to bring a few beers with me, of course. I kept a cooler behind the front seat of the truck. No ice anymore, but the beers were cold from the fridge so I just threw them in there and started the truck up. Finished my current beer and chucked it to the curb and grabbed another, then peeled away.

When she left me, she left her hometown, too. Just moved ten miles away, but there was something symbolic in those ten miles, I thought. Far enough for distance, close enough to act like nothing had changed. Her life continuing on as normal, just without me. Meanwhile, my life tail-spinned off the track and into the stands. Multiple casualties. National tragedy. Lower the damn flags.

 The radio blared some pop song about Wranglers and girls in bikinis. “Cheers to that,” I toasted the dash. I didn’t take Route 16—too obvious. County mounties loved to park on the sideroads and eat their donuts with the speed gun out. But I knew I couldn’t handle the backroads—too many deer, too much goddamn corn. So I took Old State Road, what had once been the main highway through the county back when my parents were a gleam in my grandparents’ eyes. Kept roughly to the speed limit, made sure there was no oncoming traffic when I tossed my empties out the window. Let the humid night air rush across my face to keep me alert. Turned the radio up. Cracked a fresh beer.

I liked to pile it all on her: losing the good job, the good rental. She made a convenient basket to put all my eggs in. Truth was, it was an incremental sort of thing. Didn’t know which I’d started to lose first. Like communism in Southeast Asia, it was a row of dominoes. Couldn’t say it was all her fault. But it was sure as shit easier that way, and what with the whole no communication thing, it was pretty damn convenient, too.

The ten miles ticked by slowly. I was halfway through my beers by the time I hit her town limits. She hadn’t told me where she’d moved to, but a mutual friend—before he stopped talking to me, or I to him, I’m not sure which—had told me about it, a decent little one-story house. Only three rooms, but three nice rooms. She worked in a lawyer’s office. Made good money. Maybe had once slept with her boss; she’d been coy about that.

I found the place easily enough. Parked right out front, sat there with the engine running. Wasn’t exactly sure what I had in mind; was pretty sure, actually, that I didn’t have anything in mind, no game plan whatsoever. I just sat there and stared at the house, nursing a Busch Lite. Couldn’t tell the color of the house, but I could tell the siding was intact, which was one-up on my apartment building. There were two windows facing the street and both were dark, but her car was in the drive. No garage; I smiled a little at that. A decent place for a single person. A single person who didn’t mind being single.

A car drove past. I watched its window but the driver didn’t give me a second glance. A nice enough neighborhood where everyone felt secure enough not to give a shit. I waved at their taillights.

I sat there through three or four song changes. They all sounded the same to me. Kids the age of the pharmacy clerk singing about things they couldn’t possibly have experience with. Who’s really suffered heartbreak at eighteen? My first real girlfriend had dumped me junior year of high school, left me for the quarterback—I’ve tried to convince myself I misremember that, but they had a picture together in the yearbook so I know it happened—and I’d thought the earth was gonna swallow me up. But the earth hadn’t wanted me. Spat me back out in two weeks, tops. I’d barely even broken a sweat. That wasn’t real heartbreak. Heartburn, maybe, but I hadn’t known jack about the real thing.

And with that memory, I found myself opening the door and stepping out of the truck. “Not a good idea,” I said, but I was smiling and I laughed. I sauntered across her small front yard—the grass was patchy, as though it had just been planted—and stood before the front window. Looked around to see if anyone was watching, but it was dark and my vision was kind of blurry. I grinned at anyone who happened to be observing this—what fucking time was it, anyway?—and then I turned and in doing so raised my arm and chucked the beer can at the window.

To my credit, I regretted it even as I was doing it. Couldn’t stop myself, though, like I’d stepped out of my body and let some hobo take the reigns and he wanted to cause a scene. Also, and this was part of my regret, apparently I hadn’t finished the beer, in fact apparently I’d grabbed a new one and had only taken a couple of sips, because the can was heavy and it sailed through the air end-over-end, a little arch of liquid splashing back in my face, and then the can hit the window full-force, a harder pitch than anything I’d thrown in high school, the crack of the glass like a car backfiring, sharp and sudden. I yelled.

A light switched on inside the house. I heard a voice—distinctly male. I popped my neck and squared my shoulders, thinking I probably needed another beer for this, but my truck was several yards behind me and already the front door was opening.

The man who filled the frame wasn’t large, really—big men had never been her thing—but he was angry and I wasn’t, so advantage him. I couldn’t see much of his face with the light behind him, his beard almost as dark as the night, but he seemed to just stand there looking at me for a few seconds.

 “Fuck,” he said. A true wordsmith, he. 

I laughed.

 “It’s Darrel,” he said over his shoulder.

I heard her voice. Couldn’t make out the words, but the voice was enough. I loved that voice.

 “Fine,” he said. Then he turned back to me. “I’m gonna fuck you up, man.”

He came at me and I could’ve charged him, got in the first shot; no way was he expecting that. Go for his balls with my knee, his nose with my fist; maybe the throat. I’d never been in a fight and doubted I was any good at it, but if you strike quick you can end the fight before it begins, I’d learned that much from the movies, and they don’t make all of that up, I don’t think.

Could’ve done that, but instead I turned and ran for the truck. Couldn’t even feel my legs. Heard him coming after me but I was in the truck and slamming the door shut before he had a chance. I’d left the vehicle running so I threw it in drive and took off. Saw him start after me in the rearview but then I turned a corner and he never reappeared. Took a few more turns and several minutes before I realized I was laughing.

 Outside of town, I finally calmed down. A beer helped. By this point I was having trouble seeing the road clearly, but there was little traffic and I just trusted the deer to stay out of my way. Glanced at the clock and saw it was way later than I’d thought. How the time flies and such such. Turned the radio back up and twisted the dial until I found a song I actually knew. Confederate Railroad. What a name for a band, this day and age. Sang along about trashy women and drank my beer and didn’t give much of a shit about anything. Giddy.

I was on Old State Road, rounding a sharp curve that people of a certain generation called Dead Man’s Curve because they saw a James Dean movie once, when I saw taillights up ahead where there aren’t normally taillights. I blinked, but was fairly certain this wasn’t a side-effect of being drunker than shit. It seemed all sorts of wrong until I realized they were off to the right of the road and a little down, and also they were up in the air as opposed to low to the ground. I slowed the truck and put my beer in the cupholder. For some reason, I also fastened my seatbelt.

It was a car, make and model indistinguishable in the darkness and my muddled brain. Upside down in the ditch. Two figures stood at the top of the ditch. They turned to look at me as I pulled off onto the shoulder and put the truck in park. I glanced at the beer, then took off my seatbelt and stepped out.

They were just kids. College-aged, I guessed, and they were looking at me and looking at each other and looking at the car. I glanced into the ditch and saw a third kid laying in the grass.

 “He’s not moving,” one of the kids said to me as I walked up.

 “What happened?” I asked, because I felt I had to say something.

 “This is so fucked,” the other kid said.

I looked for broken glass and sniffed the air for gasoline and other things I thought I was supposed to do. I was the adult here, after all.

 “You been drinking, man?” the second kid asked.

 “He’s not moving,” said the first.

 “A little,” I said, wondering why he chose this moment to judge me. What the hell did he know? Life isn’t as easy as you think it is when you’re young and don’t have any responsibilities. I felt like chewing him out. I felt like decking him. I felt like crying. Most of all, I felt like grabbing the beer from the cupholder and killing it.

 “So’ve we,” the kid said. “We already called 911, man. Cops are on their way. You might wanna get outta here.”

I was supposed to help. I stared down at their friend in the ditch, who, as his reputation preceded him, was not moving. I glanced at the two kids who stood next to me, neither of them looking at me anymore, neither of them looking at much of anything, really. Their faces blurred together, and that wasn’t the beer, that was just the years between us. I’d never felt so out of place anywhere as I did at that moment, like I wasn’t even a part of this world, like I never really had been. I was of no place and no time, just a shadow in the night who happened upon these two, with whom I had nothing in common except an elevated blood alcohol content. And if that was the thread that tied me down, then I could cut it and float away at any moment.

I sighed. It seemed like the entire night had been pent up in my lungs and left me in one long exhalation. I felt smaller and weaker afterwards, but also freer.

 “You going to be okay?” I asked.

 Fortunately, neither answered. I left them and got back in my truck. Taking off, I watched them in the rearview mirror, until I finished rounding the curve and the car’s headlights were gone. I grabbed the beer I’d already opened and took a drink, then I chucked it out the window. I didn’t open another until I reached my apartment. I sat in the truck and drank slowly but completely, savoring every drop because it was the only thing I knew for certain was real. 

D.W. Davis is a native of rural Illinois. His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at Facebook.com/DanielDavis05, or @dan_davis86 on Twitter.