Kevin Pentalow, Brushton
The Writing Contest for Young and Adult Writers 2004
Runner-up in Category: Short Fiction, age 21+
The sun was just starting to set. It illuminated the sky behind the freeway with a pinkish orange hue. The clouds were contorted and twisted so it looked as though there was a pink twister approaching from the distance. The sky reflected off the water of the creek below me, making me feel as though I was surrounded by sky. It was almost as if I was on a cloud.
In reality, I was sitting high up on an old railroad bridge. It had long been abandoned, so I didnt have to worry about trains. I could just sit in quiet reflection, looking at the tiny, slow-moving stream below with the massive speeding interstate beside it. They both seem to be flowing somewhere greater, somewhere more interesting than this small North Country town. They each had their own pace.
The streams water molecules would drive onto lakes, seas, and even the ocean some day. Of course, the ocean must be the goal of any self-respecting molecule. Not every molecule would make it to the great pond. Some molecules would be rerouted from their journey by events beyond their control; others would voluntarily stray off the course altogether. Does it matter? Droplets, that didnt make it, would remain stagnate in pools, or be soaked up merging with dirt. The dirt would steal their minerals and use their sediments to grow poison ivy. It was thinking of these molecules that made me so retrospective and so sad. I felt so similar to them. Trapped in this small town, my youth and creative juices were being soaked up by ignorance and time, wasted time.
My attention turned to the speeding cars, heading for cities, other states, and the unknown open highway. Their pace was fast and they were not wasting time. I envied them for their course. Here, I sat every day, at this time, just admiring the glory of the highway. My longing to become part of the endless parade was becoming too much to bare.
Paying close attention to each vehicle as it sped by, I would make up an elaborate story for each one according to its style and make. I thought my stories were profoundly interesting. If only I was an artist, musician, or a filmmaker, I would have an outlet for all these fast paced thoughts. I burnt with the knowledge that if I could only empty the contents of my mind, I would be freed from my entrapment in this small town. These thoughts went along with my recurring nightmare, in which I cut open my head, I take out my brain, but somehow I am still alive. I place it in a glass case. People pass by to admire it. They circle around the lump of gray matter. As they drink coffee in the cafes, they pontificate about the deep, inner meaning that my brain holds. When I start feeling embarrassed, I put it back in my head and run away.
With the sun setting in the west, I realized that I had wasted enough time here. Prying my eyes away from the interstate, I turned away to walk down the remains of the railroad track. I tried to balance myself the whole way on the steel track. Eventually, I jumped off onto the path into the bush that was worn down from my daily trampling. Thorn bushes pulled at my jacket, so I took it off and tied it around my neck. I hopped across some small stones to a big rock in the middle of the creek and lay down on the rock, letting my head hang down, almost touching the water. I stayed on my back, just sucking up what was left of the diminishing sun.
After staring into the water for some time, I felt as though I was moving. It was as if I was in a sitcom-driving scene, and the scenery was moving behind me while I was still. My floating was interrupted by two swooping barn swallows that seemed to think there was no room near their nest for me. I watched the light reflect off their shiny blue backs, as they dove down at me. They would gracefully ascend back to the winds with a minimal amount of wing movement. I took their hint, got up, and walked to where Id hidden my bike.
I pulled the bicycle out from under a bush and strapped on my black helmet. I had super-glued two small deer antlers, which I found in the woods, on the top of it. This was the helmet I planned to wear when I got my motorbike started and drove across America. Thats all I wanted to do, just drive from place to place, meeting people and then leaving again. Riding off into the sunset every night, instead of wasting time in my silly little town.
After nine, the streets are barren here: no cars, no people. There was not a lot of commotion during the day, either. But at night, you feel like you are the only one left on earth.
Nearing my home, I swerved back and forth on my bike, while ramping off the raised concrete curbs that were lowered in spots to allow cars access to driveways. The wind felt good on my face. The faster my pace, the harder the wind blew. It blew the black jacket, which I had tied around my neck up like a super-heros cape. I took the last jump, and circled the corner. The would-be adventurer was home.
Quietly, I put my bike away. Sliding with my back close to the houses wall, I became one with the wall in a successful attempt to enter the garage without turning on the ever-vigilant motion lights my mom had put up. I didnt want to draw any attention to myself. Avoiding the light added danger to my life. I felt like James Bond.
Tip-toeing around to the garage, I reverently went inside to where my dream sat, my future. It was a 1979, four-cylinder, Yamaha Maxima. I sat up on it, dreaming how it would feel speeding down the streets. I thought of how the ladies would fantasize about me when they saw me with my goggles and horn helmet on. How they would beg me for a ride! I had bought this bike when I was 15 and had hoped to have it started by now. I was 16 ½; it still hadnt turned over. I had read many books on fixing bikes but none of them seemed to help. I took a last glimpse of this vision of loveliness that sat without its heartbeat in my garage, and carefully crept into the house, closing the door gently to prevent any creaks.
Since I didnt want to wake my Mom, I went directly to my room. Here, I felt safe among my possessions. I put some more tape on my Incredible Hulk poster, the right corner was starting to come off the wall. I picked up the book I was reading at the time, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but my eyes couldnt focus on the words. My head began to feel as if it was high in the air looking down through a circular pipe at the tiny little print of the book. My mind was elsewhere. It was time for my evening ritual to begin. Every night before drifting to sleep, I had to watch Easy Rider. I put it in the VCR; Peter Fonda had just made the drug deal when I dosed off.
Minutes later, some old guy next door began mowing his lawn. Who would mow their lawn in the early morning? I tried to ignore it but that combined with the hot sun was too much to sleep through. I shook my head, wondering what parts of my life were the dream and what was real. I was running and running with something chasing me but I couldnt see it. I was running to find a safe spot where it couldnt get me. Then, I realized I was running the wrong way. Thats when I heard the lawn mower. I remembered the old man next door and his fanatical lawn mowing. Dreams are so real while theyre happening, can one say any more of reality.
Looking up at the clock, I saw that it was one p.m. already. I jump to my feet, went to the bathroom, and ran a comb through my long black hair, and I was off. My mom had already left. I went into her room, and shifted through her ashtray for cigarettes. I took out the two biggest butts, emptied out the tobacco, and then rolled it up in my last zigzag. I smoked it slow, holding the smoke in for as long as I could on each puff, not knowing when I would have another. I watched as the smoke spiraled out the open window and out into the road.
I decided to head to Joshs house. I knew Nate would be there. Hes always where free tea is. I cut through crabby Mr. Browns lawn, hopped over a barbed wire fence, and landed on Joshs lawn.
Josh was 17, one year older then me. Josh had been friends with Nate and me since we were small. Nate was 21. He liked Josh but he liked Joshs belongings more. Joshs parents had a lot of money, and had made him a little apartment out of the garage. He never really went anywhere and never really seemed motivated to do anything. I thought he was amotivational from smoking too much pot. I mean, I smoked a lot of trees but somehow it affects me differently.
Being such a recluse, Josh collected things. He had acquired a Japanese Anime figurine collection that any 13-year old girl would envy. However, It was his second hobby horticulture, which interested me. Josh had quite a green thumb.
Josh was the kind of guy who would do anything for his friends, even if he took a loss. For example, Nates friend, someone he met in jail no doubt, had borrowed Joshs car and said he was just going to the store. Three days went by and Josh was still waiting on the porch saying if Nates friend is not here in 5 more minutes, Im calling the police. Two weeks later, Josh was still saying the same thing. One month later the telephone operator heard him saying in the background, If he doesnt come back in a few days, Im going to call the police, while I give her the necessary information. That story perfectly illustrates the friendship of the two.
The light was on and I walked right in. Hey, Freedom, how you been? Nate said as he jumped up to give me a high five and a chest bump. Josh just waved pensively from his seat.
Yes, my name is Freedom, funny right? When I first meet people, they always ask if thats my real name. Next, they say, Your parents must have been hippies. I always just say Sort of, but the truth is my dad was a prisoner at Upstate who conceived me in a conjugal visit. He didnt really do anything that bad, just a few too many DWIs. He thought of me as a little bit of him, escaping to the outside.
Josh, Nate, and I sat there talking about whether aliens were real or not. We went round and round with no real progress. Then, Nate said exuberantly, Yo Freedom, we got to go into the city tonight.
Sure, I dont want to waste anymore time here, but I cant stay out that late. I have to go to school in the morning, I said.
It was hard to say no to Nate. Nate asked Josh one last time if he wanted to come, but like always he declined. Nate rolled up a nice little jay for the ride and we were off, armed with nothing but a joint and a dream. He spun the tires as we left Joshs dirt driveway. On the freeway, I rolled down my window and stuck out my arm. I moved it in a serpentine way. Not using my muscles, but instead letting the wind be my strength, I thought back to the barn swallows. Then, I saw the most beautiful girl I had ever seen driving a green Neon in the next lane. Her curly, long, black hair blew out of her car window as if she was an angel. I thought of her riding on the back of my motorbike; her hair flowing in the same manner only now slightly contained by a black helmet. I could almost feel her hands on my sides. She needed me for stability. Her life was in my hands and she knew it and liked it that way. As we sped down the freeway at speeds unknown she slid her hands slowly down my sides and began to rub my thigh.
My daydreaming was interrupted when she looked over, directly into my eyes, as if she heard my thoughts. I look away quickly. When I looked up again, she was gone. In the review mirror, I saw her car taking the exit behind us. Nate took a long pull off the J and spoke, still holding in the smoke, Those bitches always look good in passing cars. Theyre going by so fast, you can never really get a good look at them. You never hear them talk, so they never say anything dumb. And you never see the body. That one could have had an ass like Juba, the Slut.
Nate always had a way of knowing what you where thinking and making you feel good. He never seemed like he had any regrets about anything. He went though life the way he drove, swerving in and out of lanes with wild abandon. He slid in front of a red Mustang. The driver beeped the horn frantically.
See, I never understood the whole, nice car thing. You get a big fast car and you cant even drive fast because youre so worried about it getting hurt. Nate explained as smoked licked from his mouth. This freeway here is like a war, these guys come wearing their best suits and I got army fatigues on. Now which one of us is going to be scared to jump in the mud-filled trenches? Nate took another hit and turned up a rap song called Bling Bling on the tape deck. What he was saying was a bunch of bull. Sure, but I think he made himself believe it so it worked for him. And it made me feel a little better, too. We were not very far now from Montreal. I told Nate again, I have to be up for school in the morning. I cant miss the first day.
Youll be home, dont worry. Nate assured me.
I knew I wouldnt but I didnt care. I was on the freeway, going to the city. Maybe I wouldnt go home at all. I had wasted too much time there already.
So hows your girl, anyway? Nate asked.
All right, I guess, I replied. I was really thinking of the mad, hot women I would see in the city. I have wasted enough time with Jane. It was already 10 p.m. when we pulled into the bar that I guess our destination. Nate turned up the stereo, more for people outside the car than for us. Its funny how people think others are going to judge them by what theyre blaring in their car. Nate was proud of what was playing, as if he had composed it himself by candlelight.
Inside, I saw it was a very young crowd, some even my age. Nate went to the bar and got us two Molson Ice bottles. We sat at a table for a minute talking about the best weed we had ever smoked. Then, my attention turned to the car that was pulling in the parking lot. It looked just like the car I had seen that beautiful girl in. when it got close, I saw it was not the same car at all. There was some older, fat guy in this one, no dark-haired beauty. I bought the next round from a passing waitress. We chugged them down as if we had just got to the oasis after walking through the Sahara. I pointed out the girl I thought was the nicest looking in the room. That blond one over there, that is a perfect ass, I said. Perfect, I dont think so, Nate said and then pulsed before saying shit still comes out of it. We laughed at that for a minute then I got up and went to the bathroom. Some guys were looking at me hard as I passed them but I didnt even look back. It wasnt worth it. When I came out, Nate was talking to the blond girl. I walked over near them and she was telling him of some trick she had played in college. She said she had put a wanted poster up for a moose. She seemed to think it was the funniest thing that ever happened. People in their freshman year of college always think everything they do is so very humorous. I could see Nate trying hard not to look unimpressed. I didnt want to mess up his flow so I took a seat at the bar.
Again, I thought of the girl in the car again. I should have looked up sooner. Who knows what could have happened? I should have held up a sign saying, give me you number. I looked about the room and saw mostly couples. I had came too late, and all the slutiest clicks were taken.
Then, across the bar I saw a girl I was sure would understand my sadness. She was dressed all in black. Her skin was a ghostly white and I thought it might cheer me up talking to someone more depressed then me. So in my drunken state, I went right up to her and introduced myself. Hi, the names Freedom. Hi, my names Joy, she said, after sending me though the whole name story thing. I went through the list, you know the meeting people question list, so where do you live, what do you do in your free time, all that played-out stuff. The bar was starting to close. I was sure I was going to bring her home, or at lest to the car. I had been talking to her for quite some time. Then, she just got up and walked out with some other guy. I didnt know why but I didnt really care, either.
I looked over and saw that Nate and the blond girl were gone. I said to myself, theyre just out in the car. Let me just go out and check. I stumbled out to where Nate had parked the car and it was gone.
Having no where to go I began to aimlessly walk the city streets. On the sidewalk, I came across a man whose life style and fashion tastes made him appear to not be a man at all; just a mass of dreads, playing guitar. He had an eye patch and he held a sign with the words, world veteran on it. I felt every chord played. I almost cried at the beautiful sight of the notes. In my drunken state, I touched his blue aura. He asked for a dime and I give him a quarter. I kept on walking, hoping Id find somewhere to sit.
The sun was just starting to come out now and the street was beginning to get crowded with suits, trying to get a head start on rush hour. I was surrounded be tons of people and I had never felt so alone in all of my life, alone among millions. I bummed a smoke off a passerby, some younger guy in a back suit. He had his hair parted with a perfect line running down the right side of his head. I sat on the curb and smoked the Virginia Slim slowly, enjoying every toxin. I blew out with strong exhales just to see if I was getting good pulls off it. I couldnt tell if I was blowing out smoke or if it was just my breath in the cold air. I crossed the road to the other side where the sun was hitting. I watched the people curiously. They all seemed to be looking for something; some for money, others for fame and notoriety, some for love, and others for sex. These people all had it good. At least, I thought they knew what they were looking for; most of the people I knew were just looking for something to look for.
I was cold, and tired. I thought of my nice warm bed waiting for me at home. I saw only one way out. I found the freeway and lowered my thumb parallel to it. I walked for a good two hours before Nate pulled up in front of me. I saw that one of the back windows of Joshs car was broken. I wondered if someone had tried to rob him or something. I hopped in and he asked me where I had been. I was looking everywhere for you, he said, as if he really was. He pulled over at a Dennys and bought me a big slam breakfast, as if that would make up for leaving me in the cold all night.
I felt my legs throbbing, from walking all night as Nate began to tell me of his encounter with the blond girl. Man that was the craziest night of my life. I started to put my arm around that girl right. I was pulling her closer and closer to me. Then, she just starts unzipping my pants while Im driving and starts giving me brains right on the freeway. So shes really getting into it, so I want to see her doing it you know. So drunk as I am I look down at her just for a sec. When I look up, Im going down the wrong side of the road and theres a huge truck coming at me. I swerved out of the way and the car starts sliding sideways. I got it back in control, stopped the car, and pulled it over. My heart was betting out of control and I look at her and say did you see that we almost died! She looks over at me and screams out, no I didnt see it my head was busy. I wasnt sure if Nate was exaggerating or if it was true. Thats not the end of it Nate went on. Then, I bring her down this dead end road and Im in the back set with her, and Im hittin it from the back. Im so drunk by this time. Her head is hitting the window and I dont care, she not saying anything so I just keep doing it harder. Then all of a sudden, the chicks head goes though the back window and glass flies everywhere. She looks up at me and says, give it to me harder. I was laughing so hard, I had forgotten I was mad at Nate.
Back home, I went to my house, my mom saw me and told me not to come in. I was to go right to school. She wouldnt even open the door. So thats what I did. The school day was already half over and I went into my math class. Everyone turned and looked at me as I walked in. I took the seat closest to the door, so as not to let them stare at me for one more second then they needed to. Mr. Holmes, the teacher, didnt even look at me. He just kept droning on in his monotone voice. I rested my head on my hand and felt myself fading in and out of consciousness.
When I woke up, and the people around me had changed. I had slept through two periods. I tried to get out of my desk but my leg was asleep. I wiped the drool from my face with the sleeve of my shirt and stumbled into the hall.
I heard the bell ring again and like a Pavlov dog, ran for my next class. It was an English class and Miss. Delmonico was my teacher. I began to think of me doing to Miss Delmonico what Nate had told me he had done to the blond girl from the bar, only right in front of the whole class. I thought of how Jan, the girl next to me with the thick glasses would react, and how Howard, with the long back hair who sat in the back row, would chant me on. A large smile grew on my face. Then, Miss Delmonico stopped her speech on Lord of the Flies and looked at me and said, Im so glad to see someone enjoying my class so much. Its nice to look out and see someone with a big smile on their face. This made me smile more for the rest of the day. The last bell rang and I pushed my way though the crowds of running girls and boys. I met my girlfriend behind the school. We walked home together through the trails in the woods. We dont really say anything to each other, I didnt really think we needed to. We just held each others hands, and I looked at her and saw how pretty she was for the first time. I had long forgotten the girl in the car, I couldnt even remember what she looked like, but one thing was sure: she couldnt have looked as good as Jane did right now.
While we walked, I thought of how I had wanted to find something in the city that I felt was missing from my life. When maybe what I was looking for I didnt really want, or maybe I already had it. Maybe the key to life is not going a new place every sundown but being happy where you are. I guess one should be a tourist in their own country, in their own land, in their own head. I had been so concerned about wasting time but maybe its all a waste of time, everything. I mean, you can run and do your Ti Bo but your body will still grow old and decrepit with age. You can read all the books and improve your mind but it will all be forgotten in time. Maybe thats the key. You should waste time and waste it every chance you get. Time is meant to be wasted so life can be tasted. I gave Jane a peck good bye and we walked our separate ways home.
At home, I went right for my motorcycle. I had come to the realization that it might never start. But its a dream, something to look forward to. A reason to make it through one more day. I got up on the bike and put my foot on the kick-start. I kicked it with all my might and it turned over. The engine purred. I put the kickstand down and jumped in the air, thrashing my fist in punching motions. Then, I looked around to see if anyone had seen me. I walked back to the bike and turned the key to the off position. I looked around again, then pulled out one of the spark plugs. I thought, maybe I will wait till I am 18 to hit the road. Then, I went to my bed and went right to sleep. I didnt turn on the Easy Rider. I didnt need to anymore.