Fifty-six

Glen combs his goatee with his fingers for a while.  He’s probably wondering what kind of crazy question I’m going to ask, now that it’s my turn.  “Okay, what’s the difficult question?” he finally asks, trepidation in his voice

“Do you like Molly?”

He blinks; he must have thought he was ready for me.  “What?”  There’s surprise and maybe even a touch of guilt in his voice. 

“I mean, I know you were looking at her tits–” I can practically hear his face sizzle with the blush, “–but that’s normal, everyone does that.  Hell, I do it, and I don’t even know what I’m looking for.  But do you like her?”

“Like her how?” 

“Like her with a cream sauce, sillyhead.  No!  You know what I mean, don’t dodge the question.”

I’m kind of surprised when he just says, “Yeah, sure,” like it’s the easiest, most obvious thing in the world. 

There’s something automatic about it at the same time, like a guy who’s saying, “I love you” because he knows it’s what’s expected of him.  But he’s defensive enough that he probably does like her, and doesn’t want to talk about it.  It’s time to drift away into safer waters.  “You were expecting a more terrible question, apparently.  Should I have asked you what you did with the body of Marilyn Monroe after you stole it?”  I feel a twitch of guilt for hitting him from whatever bass-ackward direction I can come up with, but I need him off-balance, need everyone off-balance.  I spend a few miles trying to convince myself that it’s okay since I hardly know him anyway, and I don’t owe him anything, but it doesn’t work.  He’s helped me a lot these past few days, and I shouldn’t treat him like shit if it can be helped.   

The sky’s getting darker.  The first few lacy clumps of snow are beginning to dawdle out of the sky, like reconnaissance for the coming storm. 

Glen’s quiet for a while, and we dance with Rainier through the snow that’s beginning to dust the road.  I worry for a bit that I’ve made him angry, but then realize that he’s probably sitting wondering the same thing about me.  So I ask, “Are you afraid you pissed me off?  I’m not upset, I just went off in my head for a bit.  It happens.”  Something’s not right, so I dive for the speed limit, big brakes sucking us forward in the seatbelts, and duck Rainier behind another car.

“You have a sixth sense for spotting cops,” he says.

“Occupational hazard.”

“The police, or the sense?”

“I don’t know.”  A Pennsylvania state cop appears in the median, nestled between two stands of trees.  As soon as we’re out of sight, I head for triple digits again.  Rainier squats and presses us back in our seats.  The snow’s not a problem.

“So why are we in such a hurry?” Glen asks, but before I can answer, his phone rings again.  I can’t decide if cell phones are handy, or a pain in the ass.  “Reasonably well,” he says to it, which means it’s probably Molly and she probably asked him how things were going.  “We’re in Pennsylvania.  I think we might do better than that.”  He takes the phone away from his face.  “Lexi, what time will we get to New York?”

I look at the dash clock.  “‘Round eight, I hope.  Does Molly want to do dinner?” 

Molly probably heard me, and I half expect her to make him give the phone to me, but she says something else to him and he says, “Sure thing.”  They talk for a while longer, but I kind of tune it out.  It’s not too too much farther, and oh, crumbs, I forgot the tape Cygnet made.  I lean over and fish it out of the glovebox.  When Glen’s off the phone, I slip it into the player. The first song is “Major Tom” by Peter Schilling.

“No fun to drive without tunes,” I tell Glen.  “Of course, I’m sure they’ve got plenty of good CDs in heaven, but better safe than sorry.”

“Do you think there are gas stations?” he teases.

“Would it be heaven if there weren’t?”

“Point taken.  So what made you choose this song?”

“I didn’t choose it–my friend Cygnet did.  She’s a DJ and I asked her to make it last night.  So I have no idea what’s on it.  She’s good at choosing the stuff people liked, and she remembers stuff like that forever.”

Glem just nods.  “So you were brought up around cars, is that right?”

“Sort of.  Bert, my father, was a handyman, but not necessarily a car nut.  Then again, he did make Grizzle’s bed.  Anyhow, I grew up learning to help him fix stuff.  That was what he did.  He couldn’t stand to see things that were broken.  Sometimes he used to buy stuff on the supercheap from the Salvation Army, or rescue it from apartment complex dumpsters, and fix it, and then give it away.  He liked helping people.”  I look at him.  “Dumpsters near colleges are the best, you know.  College students will throw anything away, I’m not even slightly kidding.  We once found a whole papasan chair, almost new.”

“You still go dumpster-diving?”

“I haven’t done much of anything for the past year or so, Glen.  But given the chance…I might.  I don’t really know.  You understand that I can’t really see my future, beyond this car, don’t you?”

“That’s a shame.  I was going to ask you about your future plans next.”

“Ask me in the morning,” I say.  “It’s going to be a long, dark night.”  As I say this, red and blue lights snap on behind us.  “Look at that,” I tell Glen.  “Sitting right on the state line, the booger.” 

“You’re not slowing down,” he says, and seems to find this at least slightly disturbing.

“No, I’m not.  I have more important things to do.  He can talk to me later, if he can keep up.”  I slap the shifter into fourth gear, and Rainier begins accelerating. I love the way our cars can pull hard from a hundred and ten.  The cop recedes rapidly.

“May I ask why not?”

“Because I’m driving an unregistered, uninsured car, and because I have a lot to do yet.  He can talk to me later.”

“You can’t outrun radios,” he says. 

“No, I suppose I can’t.  But it’s only fifty miles.  Long as the snow keeps getting better, they can slip and slide all they want to.”

“The snow was another one of my concerns.”

“It’s not one of mine,” I say, and I don’t smile.  “I’ve driven enough rally cars to know how fast is too fast.”  I turn the radio up.

The cop chasing us is already far behind.  Rainier’s tripping along the snow-dusted freeway at over one-fifty, and there isn’t a cop car in the state that can manage that kind of pace.  Of course, the problem now is that they’ll all be on the radios waiting for us.  Less than fifty miles to New York.  “How long will it take them to get the word out and get cars ahead of us, do you think?” Glen asks.

“With this storm blowing down on us, at least ten minutes, I hope.  And if we’re really lucky, they’ll underestimate our speed.”  I have to flash my brights at cars, to get them out of my way as we barrel up behind them like a ground-bound cruise missile.  Those that don’t move I pass on whichever side is convenient.

“This is not a good idea,” Glen says.

“Who said it was?” I reply, my voice curt.  “If you want to talk some more about my life or yours, please do.  If you’re going to nag, shut up.”

Glen opens his mouth, hesitates, and says, “Just…please don’t get us killed.”

“I won’t,” I tell him, and I mean it.  We swerve into the breakdown lane to cut around a semi truck.  As we go, the rear tires hit a patch of ice and step quickly out, tearing into the grass at almost one-fifty.  I gather the car up, hardly thinking about it except for the momentary floaty sensation.