In the Driver’s Seat
A little piece of short fiction. Enjoy!
When they cut me loose, Kurt picked me up in his ’84 Buick Skylark and tossed me a pack of cigarettes through the open passenger window as a way of hello. Nice to see you too. He saw the shirt, chambray blue and the name Thomas on the left breast. I stood with the car door opened so he’d see it as I smacked the cigarettes against my palm and opened the pack. I had the shirt tails tied at my stomach over the blue jeans that hadn’t been worn in 10 years, and I tucked the pack into the waistband. I could see it in how he looked at me, he didn’t like the shirt, but he didn’t say nothing about it. He just sat in the driver seat, his lanky arms draped over the steering wheel and his seat too far back.
“Girls don’t wear it like that no more,” he said. “You gotta watch you some TV or read a magazine.”
“I ain’t a girl no more neither, am I?” I got in.
He started the car. “What you want to do now?” he asked, eyes forward even though we still weren’t moving.
I put the cigarette to my lips and pressed the lighter into the dash. I looked back at the granite walls covered in dust and morning sunlight, the glassed in guard towers and the barbed wire. “Get the fuck away from here is what I want to do,” I said.
He laid with his head on my stomach, face turned away. We were twisted in the sheets that wrapped around my legs and his beard scratched the skin above my belly button when I breathed in. His breath hit on my thigh. I sucked in on a cigarette and tipped ash into the glass ash tray on the bed. My other hand hooked a finger into his dark hair and smoothed it back over his ear, over and over. I smelled like his sweat. The sunlight cut across the room and twirled smoke in slats of light.
“You kept that old CD player,” I said. I remembered the weight of it in my hands.
“It don’t work no more.”
“Why do you still have it then?”
“I don’t know. I can’t get rid of it, I guess.”
I took in another drag of smoke and blew it out. “Seems to me something like that you’d want to get rid of.”
“I think I keep it so I don’t forget.”
I let that stew a second. I thought to comment, but didn’t. Instead I smoked. “You could’ve come see me sometime, you know? Why didn’t you?”
He lifted his head up and looked toward me—not at me, just toward me. He didn’t look at me much when we made love. His eyes were on me, watching as he pawed at my breasts. He watched himself go in me, leaning back just enough to look down the length of our naked bodies. But he kissed with his eyes closed.
He put a thin arm over my stomach and propped his head into his palm. He’d lost a lot of weight since I’d seen him last. I remembered his arm a lot meatier. I remembered all of him meatier, filled out and healthy. Now there were really only his eyes and the shape of his face. The rest of him was flesh covering bone. A few more wrinkles around his eyes than I recalled too—crow’s feet. Probably ‘cause of him smoking too much, drinking too much. I got my wrinkles from more than just smoking and drinking.
“I went twice. First time to see if I was on your list. The second, I got up to the window and showed them my IDs—even got my birth certificate from my mom’s shit in storage.” He stopped and let his eyes drift down. “They took my picture. Weirded me out, you know?” He reached for my lit cigarette and took a drag then handed it back. “When they wanted me to walk through the metal detector—I don’t know. I think I got scared. I didn’t know what to say to you.”
“You keep a CD player so you don’t forget, but I don’t see you for ten years.” I pulled in a drag of the cigarette and forced it out, an angry cloud that disturbed the smoke caught in sunlight and twirled it. “It would’ve been nice to see you at some point, you know?”
“I didn’t forget you,” he said.
“I felt forgot.”
He laid his head down again on my stomach with his face turned away again. His body trembled. I felt it where his arm lay over me. It was like he was cold or he cried.
“I never forgot you,” he said.
I was supposed to put a hand on his shoulder, give it a pat, and tell him it was okay, that sitting in a cell for ten years was really nothing. A growing experience. Nothing else. I’m better for it and learned my lesson. Isn’t that what people say in situations like that?
I did put a hand on his shoulder…
“Get off me.” I gave him a shove. He didn’t move so I pushed him harder. “Get the fuck off me. I gotta get outside, get out of here.” I balled a fist and he finally moved to roll onto his back then come up naked on his knees still on the bed. He stared at me as I fished on the floor for the same panties I had on 10 years ago.
“What the fuck, Elaine?” he said.
I pulled on my underwear then pulled on my jeans. I couldn’t get dressed fast enough. The blue work shirt was thrown over a chair in his bedroom. I put it on and worked the buttons.
“What’s going on?” he said, getting to his feet. He stood almost a foot taller than me, skinny as pole and pale white.
“Throw that fuckin’ CD player away.”
“How about you throw that shirt away,” he said. He grabbed at the sleeve of it, and that’s when I hit him. I picked up a few things in prison, and how to knock somebody square in the jaw was among the best of ‘em. Hurt the fuck out of my knuckles. I was ready for him to swing back, but he didn’t. He just stood there like he was stunned, like his body was too weak to fight back. His hair fell over his eyes.
“This shirt ain’t what killed him, is it?” I’d put it on the day after, the day they came and arrested me, Tommy’s name sewn on the breast. I cried and drank Jack Daniels and I kept touching the smooth stitching of Tommy’s name when they knocked on my door. I told them I did it in a signed confession and Kurt told them nothing. They didn’t look no further. To them, I was just some kid looking to make some quick cash, and it all went wrong somehow. When they asked me who was driving, I lied and told them I was. Kurt told them nothing. I got ten for vehicular manslaughter and Kurt got nothing. Tommy… well, he got dead.
Scratch that. Kurt got a CD player.
“When you going to be a man, Kurt?” He said nothing back, so I left him there standing naked in his bedroom.