Driving Baby Home
The city has been decked out for the holidays with a total lack of restraint. The streetlights, the decorations, the headlights of other cars, reflections off windows and the slick roads. Giving me a killer headache, what my dad calls a “bastard behind the eyes”. At a stoplight, I press my eyelids down, push the knuckles of my fingers down into them to try and give some relief. The bright spots still intrude through the soft skin, white shapes swimming in the red, like something pure, drowned and drifting in blood.
When I open them again, the light has changed, and the car and I sit idle at a crossroads, the only car left on the road. I push down on the gas, and we both lurch on. I try not to think about the things behind me; the thing in the trunk, and the mess I left back at the apartment. After things went bad with Jenny.
A half-hour later, and I’m almost out, almost on the open highway. Not even been driving for an hour yet, and I’m already losing it. A song keeps cycling through my head, and I can’t shake it. I don’t know the tune that well, just know the one line, and it just repeats, over and over.
Driving home for Christmas.
Fucked if I know what I’m going to say to mom and dad. Haven’t seen them in four years, and they haven’t heard from me in nearly as many months. I have no idea why running to them occurred to me. I dread seeing them at the best of times.
Less than an hour down, and upward of four hours left on the road, and I’m already drifting, panicking. I guess that that’s why I stop for the guy.
I don’t spot him straight away, so I have to swerve in and slam on the brakes, and he has to jog a little to get up to me. His piece of cardboard tells me that he’s heading to the same place as I am. When he opens the passenger door, and pokes his head in, I see that he’s around eighteen, twenty. Gives me around ten years on him. I fight down the urge to tell him that he’s heading in the wrong direction.
“Buddy”, he tells me, when asked his name. He seems a little nervous, holds his backpack on his lap. Good looking kid, dark hair long enough that he has to keep shaking his head, flick it out of his face. He doesn’t look like a Buddy, but what the hell, I’m not a cop, I just need some company to keep my head straight for the long drive.
We’re driving around an hour, making good time out of the city, making a little small talk. I don’t find out much about him, but then, I’m not asking. Neither is he. After all this time, he starts to relax a little, decides the bag is getting heavy, tries to fit it into the footspace in front of him. It isn’t a big car, and he struggles. When I glance over to see what he’s doing, he’s bending forward, and I notice the hard metal bulge of the gun sticking out the back of his waistband, like something out of Tarantino.
He notices me noticing, and nerves flicker across his face again, like he’s trying to work out whether to try and look dangerous or go the other way, but I get the feeling his nature would get the better of him if he tried to push either stance too far.
I shrug, and look out the window, my message of “what the fuck do I care?” pretty clear.
He struggles some more with the bag, and I take pity on him.
“Hold on.” I say, and pull the car to the side of the dead highway. I pop the trunk, and when he looks back in the direction of the sound, I nod and say “Go ahead.”
“Thanks.” He says, and gets out.
A few moments later, I hear him yelp, and yell “What the fuck is that?”
Damn. I did too good a job of pushing it to the back of my mind. I get out, go round, and see him standing a few yards away from the back of the car, staring. I follow his look, down into the trunk. I’m guessing it isn’t the other assorted clutter he’s freaking about. I’m guessing that it’s the large sample jar, green tinted in the moonlight. It’s big enough to fit a human head. The shape swimming in the turbulent mess of formaldehyde in there is barely visible, but unmistakable all the same. The brain tries to retreat away from it all the same, pretend it hasn’t noticed the tiny fingers, the curve of the tiny head, and the result is more distressing, as if the object is less tangible, less real.
I cover the slippery curve of the jar with the gray blanket that I keep back there for emergencies. Hiding it calms him down some; enough, at least, to let me take the backpack and cram it down into the remaining space in the trunk. Slamming down the hood seems to snap him all the way back to the here and now, and he looks at me quizzically.
“Inside,” I say, “it’s fucking cold out here.”
Back in the car. It doesn’t start first time, and takes a little foreplay, a little coaxing. He stays quiet while I tease the rental to life. Once we’re back underway, I figure I might as well broach the subject, so that he doesn’t have to.
“The thing in the trunk,” I say, “is my son.”
“Your son?” He asks.
“Yeah.” I say, look over at him, look back out onto the blacktop. “I’m taking him home to my parents place, while I work things out.”
“Right.” He says. Looks at his hands. Then says “Right” again, but this time it’s obvious that that’s an end to it. He sighs, and the seat creaks gently as the tension seeps out of him for the first time, and into the car.
“You okay? You looked pretty freaked out.”
“No. I mean, yeah. I’m just… it’s been a hell of a day.” He says, and grins.
“You want a drink?” I say, eyes off the highway again.
“Hell yeah.” He replies, and I signal towards the glove-box, where the liquor is.
We share a drink, a few laughs, and drive on into the night, towards my home town, my parents, and whatever the fuck the future might bring.
This is a repost of a piece that was originally posted back in December 2007. It was actually the first Christmas Eve post at Elephant Words, and you can find it originally presented here, and you can see other writing from the same week here. We’ll be sharing Elephant Memories with you for the next few weeks, while we break for Christmas.
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