The Night Driver (after Calvino)

by Joe Kapitan

Every night driver burns, aflame with a need that sends them speeding down vectors of pavement split into two lanes, thin yellow lines slicing through the dead hours and sorting the things they love from the things they hate, the cold wind through the open window urging them to stay focused; the rest is darkness and ceases to exist; the music loud, escalating, headlights reaching and sharpening, the coffee cold and souring, tires pounding out rhythm on the joints in the concrete and the rhythm becomes the reciting of the things you hate, like when a person promises to be your always/everything but then after a while they cut their hair too short or gain weight or lose weight or stop smoking when you don’t or change jobs and pretty soon their touch is all wrong and they kiss like a Freudian slip and their voice hits your ears as broken glass and they start spending more time with other people and you act like you don’t like it but you have to admit the absences do bring some relief. I hate when these people pretend like this self-inflicted distance is something that concerns them greatly and they say they want to work on the relationship and they enroll us both in activities like that wine appreciation class, which reminds me how much I hate wine guys with perfect teeth and a shadow of stubble, wine guys who say stuff like: a bottle of wine is a living being; a larva cocooned in a dark cellar, breathing, morphing, dreaming of the glass and the lips. I hate wine guys who try to be poets and married women who drink it up. I hate when there seems to be some inside joke between those two, a joke that me and the living, breathing, naive decanter of wine aren’t getting. I hate that the wine guy is a contact in our cell phones, and I hate cell phones that tell our secrets; they play at being secure but if you pick up your wife’s cell phone when she’s not paying attention and tap the screen quickly enough, before the screen locks, it spills all like a drunken friend which soon leads one to night driving, the twin lanes in perfect balance so you must also admit there are things you love, like cars—metal cocoons that take you wherever you want to go and let you writhe, never try to talk you out of what you’re considering and I love knives for a similar reason, they are born with singular purpose and don’t try to be marriage counselors or divorce attorneys; they are simple creatures, whether cutting steak or resting on your passenger seat at night, catching and tossing the ghosts of passing streetlights, not dead, just sleeping, perhaps fitfully, dreaming of resistance and of pushing past, of separating things that should never have been joined in the first place.

Joe Kapitan writes from a glacial ridge line south of Cleveland. He has had many short fictions and a few creative non-fiction works published in wonderful venues both online and in print. His collection of short stories is out looking for love in all the wrong places. He is also pregnant with a slowly-gestating novel.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Night Driver”?

    I had just finished reading Calvino’s short story collection The Complete Cosmicomics, and two of the stories in the collection were really haunting me, in a good way: “The Night Driver” and “World Memory”. Several nights later, I woke at 4AM with a fairly complete story in my head—a story that seemed to blend elements of both those Calvino stories into something new and bizarre. I got out of bed, fired up the laptop and typed it in the best I could before it evaporated. Over the next four or five days, I would revisit it and make a few edits, but I started to fear that I was spending too much time in conscious thought with something that came straight out of the subconscious almost fully formed, so I saved the file and let the little freak fly.
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