Jim shades the edge of the cliff with the front bumper and puts the car in neutral. We watch the fire swathe the metal, spread quickly to the trunk, then trickle to the engine. The airbags deploy and begin to melt into marshmallows; two tires blow, giving the car momentum to slowly dip off the cliff.
This land is stark and unbound and things can get lost in the margins. The sun rolls downward trading three shades of sultry orange for an obsidian chill by the time we reach the summit.
Knickknacks of Christ surf the dashboard. Jim circles for beer with his right hand, corkscrewing around traffic with his left hand, leaving helixes of rabbit blood, squinting past rain falling syrupy like bird droppings, skidding on buttered-down Goodyears through intersections. When we break and turn off the main road, we split the seas, and 65 feels slow again.
We stop at a gas station. Stock on beer, sweets, and protein bars. Jim goes to the bathroom. From the pump, I hear him scream, followed by a release of sorrow that crescendos on the wave of the echo. A cop steps out of his vehicle as Jim exits the bathroom, and Jim stops, so the cop stops. Ay, buddy, I say, and inconvenience trumps intuition. Jim floors it and gulps down his first beer.
I tell him, a real small town or a real big city, or whatever first ticket out is. He says nothing, except, got no gas.
He’s carrying a small red suitcase. I tell him, do not go outside until you change. I put the suitcase in the trunk of the Dynasty, and he shortly follows with wet hair and a fresh t-shirt.
Jim leaves a message in a succession of wheezing sentences that ducks and dodges the point — asking for me.
When he bites off his last nail, Jim begins to stockpile, accumulating things, picking up small things, big things, examining them and deciding if it would suit this new life. He spots a small red suitcase and thinks it will be big enough.
While Jim watched Grace, his sister’s waddling and whirling toddler, waddle and whirl, he became drowsy, and dozed off chin into chest. He didn’t feel her tiny hands, (her barely visible fingernails painted pink), reach into his coat pocket for the mysterious pearl object that gleamed inside. Delicate fingers set off a delicate button, ejecting a three-inch blade through an air socket between Jim’s ribs, shooting his right leg off like a bucking horse. In the twinge between breath and shriek, Jim was reminded how gentle things can so easily curl.
ZACK STEIN lives and writes in New York City. He was known as “Shakes” in prison for writing love letters for fellow inmates. He’s a man of the people, just not your type of people. Don’t listen to rumors of his brilliant, life-changing masterpiece, a 2000-page poem with crayon illustrations, buried in a nearby cemetery — they are unsubstantiated.