Two A.M., The Open Road

by Sam Price

We cranked the heat and it came out steady from the vents. I angled mine upward, where I could hold my hands in front of the warmth and it would pass through my fingers and still reach my face. The snow kept at it as we drove along in the dark trying not to fishtail into any embankments. A friend died once, I told him. He said, Lots of people die. I said, No, in a car crash in the snow. He shrugged, but I think he slowed down a bit.

Watching his face was like looking at a rock just dug from the ground. I wanted to brush my hands against it, see if I could remove some of the grime. He was angular and knobby chinned. Sharp, comic book lines. I wasn’t one to get swept off my feet but now my feet were at altitude and I wasn’t sure how they got there. Maybe it was his arms, how they were crowded with muscle.

What I think about death is that it is an all together community experience and that nobody truly dies alone, I said.

He looked at me. I wanted to tell him to watch at the road but before I could he took his eyes from me. I reached into the glove box and pulled out a pack of half-flattened cigarettes someone else had stashed there. I lit two, gave him one.

What I mean is that even if you are alone, the loss is going to be felt somehow. Even if nobody cries or shows up to your funeral or whatever, it makes an impression somewhere—a shudder along the human chain connecting all of us.

When I die, he said, nobody is going to feel anything on any sort of chain.

Sure they are, I said. You don’t know how people are going to feel about you.

He reached to the knobs in the center to turn on the defroster. It took him a second to find the right button to hit.

This kind of shit should be standardized, he said. He went silent for a moment as the defroster dissipated the moisture on the inside of the windshield. I know how they feel about me now, he said.

I wanted to tell him I loved him but it wouldn’t have been true. Our headlights shown on rabbits leaping through the snow on the side of the road. I could barely tell that we were on a road. I wanted to tell him that if he had his own car and not a stolen one that he’d know where the buttons and knobs and even the belts and fuses were.

We should get some chains for the tires, I said.

Finally, he said, a smart thing comes out of that mouth.

Later, we pulled into the parking lot of an auto shop. We got out of the car and there was no noise anywhere but for shoes compressing snow. It was past two a.m. but the snow-covered ground gathered the moonlight and scattered it both.

He jimmied open the auto shop door and went inside. I stood at the entrance, looking out, blowing cigarette smoke into the twirling snow.

I thought about what an old teacher said once. He said, The choices we make are sometimes framed as obligations, but you should always take the time to step back and see if there really is a choice in there somewhere. Or maybe I’m just thinking that now, and putting it on my past self, waiting by that door.

He emerged armed with chains. He found a jack in the trunk and jacked the car up and put the chains on. I shivered and smoked and watched. It took a whole lot longer than it does to read that silly sentence. Maybe go back, read it a hundred times, a hundred fifty.

Sam Price lives in Philadelphia, PA.

How did you arrive at that final image (“Maybe go back, read it a hundred times, a hundred fifty.”)?

    I think the last line of my story has its beginnings in my education as a young boy. I remember being in class and reading ahead as someone read aloud from, say, our Social Studies book. I could read faster than someone reading aloud, but it didn’t necessarily help. The teacher would call on me to read next, and I wouldn’t know where we were. It looked instead like I wasn’t paying attention.

    Now I try to pay attention and take things slow. But sometimes fiction doesn’t make room for time as I’d like it to. Characters move through actions that would frustrate me or drive me nuts—like a high-anxiety situation, for instance, as I would imagine it is if you are in possession of a stolen car in the middle of a snowstorm—and act like everything is normal. I don’t think it’s fiction’s job to make these situations seem normal. Shit is fucked, and we should remember that.

    Also, it can be strangely fun to read the same sentence over and over. When you’re stuck in quicksand, you notice the world around you, or at least how there’s nothing to hang onto.

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