The Automobile

The automobile, propelling toward its destination, is an extension of his thoughts. It is four in the morning, and the moon is falling asleep behind brightening clouds. One hand is holding onto the wheel of the vehicle, between the fingers resting a marijuana cigarette, he hasn’t smoked a marijuana cigarette in seven years. The other hand holds onto a Berretta tucked next to him on the car seat. The automobile is flying forward, and possibly, driving him backward. His thoughts have turned backward, and fly forward, and then return to this moment. They fly backward and drive forward again. He is thinking about the night before, with his sister, his mother, his father and his aunt, and he is thinking about his uncle molesting his sister, and he is thinking about drinking all that night, and waking up the next morning on his bedroom floor, the fan burned out, and the morning heat sweating through the window.

Downstairs he can smell the smell of his mother’s cooking. She is making bacon and eggs, and he feels sick, wondering how she can get up and cook and eat like any other morning. He comes downstairs, and the whole family is there: mother, father, sister, aunt. They are sitting around the dining room table, frozen like mannequins. He walks over and sits down. His mother says: “Don’t sit down at the table without washing your hands. And put something on your feet.” She pauses. “In fact, shower up. You smell like a brewery. If you’re going to behave this way at twenty-eight, you could at least get your own place.”

He doesn’t say anything. He turns around and heads back up the stairs to take a shower. There is a feeling of impotence – and anger. He takes a shower. When he is finished and clean, and dressed in clean clothes he comes back downstairs, and they are sitting there just like before: the party of mannequins. He takes his place with them. Nobody is speaking. He looks over at his sister, and her face is blank. What could she be thinking about? He looks over to his aunt, and her face is blank. What about her? What is she thinking about her husband? Why is everyone here so complacent? When his mother comes back in with breakfast, he says: “So, dad, what should we do?”

His father looks up from his plate with the same blank face. “Son, there is nothing to do. It happened a long time ago, and the man is sick anyway. He will be dead in a year or two. God takes his Justice. It is not our place.”

“I want to kill the sonofabitch,” he tells his father. Does he mean it? He doesn’t know; after all, it is what someone would say in the movies. It is the right thing to say in this situation.

“There is nothing noble or good in taking revenge,” his father disagrees. “Right now we just need to be here for your sister. That’s the important thing. I don’t want to put your sister through a trial, and there will be no vigilante justice in this family. We are a good, Christian family, and it is God’s place to judge. Not ours.”

“I hope he howls,” his sister says; and his sister’s tone brings tears to his eyes. He says to her: “I will make things right again.”

After breakfast he goes upstairs and sits on his bed, and thinks. He wonders did he really mean it. A real man would go and do something. He thinks about the breakfast table again, all the blank faces, the family of defeated individuals, the defeated family; is he happy to be like this? He is impotent – impotent! Not a real man at all – a phony, like his father, sitting petrified at the dining room table, waiting for someone else to take charge. He looks in face of his father, going back into a memory of the morning, and he sees himself in it. It will not be long before he and his father are one and the same. Bad enough he was always waiting around corners for himself. Worse yet, here he was life half gone and still at home.

Somewhere in the early afternoon he goes out for a drive. He ends up at Stephanie’s house. She answers the door in a light green summer dress, and her hair runs bright, scented, all down her neck. He smiles, and she smiles and she says come in. He sits down, and when she looks at him a little closer, she says: “What’s wrong?” He folds his hands in his lap, and doesn’t say anything. She repeats the question, and he asks for a drink. She comes back with a bottle of white wine. She pours them both a glass.

“I learned something pretty disturbing last night,” he tells her. “It’s about my sister.” Stephanie doesn’t say anything. She knows he wants to tell her and she waits, because he will say it in time. He sits and looks down, then looks back up at her. “It involves my uncle,” he says. Stephanie sits and listens and looks serious through the whole thing. “Nothing like that ever happened to you, did it?” she asks quiet after he’s finished.

His face flushes and his eyes go deep. “No! Of course not! For Christ’s sake, I’m not my sister!” Stephanie’s face is slack and kind and sympathetic. “It’s just that you must be the most repressed person I’ve ever met,” she says. He stands up and paces a couple paces and turns to her and says: “And just what the hell do you mean by that?” Stephanie shrugs and her face is blank. “I didn’t mean to say anything to offend you.” He sits back down. His mind is racing, he doesn’t know what to say. He looks back up at Stephanie, and says: “Anyway, I’ve decided I’m going to kill the sonofabitch.” Stephanie says, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“And why not? No one else is gonna do anything? What kind of world do we live in where people just get away with this kind of thing? My mother and father want to believe Jesus will serve justice in the end, but I don’t believe in Jesus. Someone has to stand up and be a man.”

“I think you should think about what your sister needs,” Stephanie says.

Well to hell what Stephanie says, he thinks, back in his car, and not sure where he’s driving to. To hell with Stephanie all around. He’s a little bit tipsy, and he’s thinking about the light green sundress Stephanie was wearing and in the early evening sun, he is remembering the way that she smelled, and he is thinking about her posture, and poise and prettiness when she says: “It’s just that you must be the most repressed person I’ve ever met.”

He picks up a six-pack before going home, and decides not to go home. He parks the car off on a quiet road by the side of great rolling long fields, where twilight’s orange sun spills like pale blood on the grassy fingers. He drinks, and smokes cigarettes and thinks about what he should do. He pulls open his glove compartment and looks at the joint Stephanie gave him earlier. He hasn’t smoked reefer in seven years. If he is going to do what he thinks he is going to do he is going to have to smoke this thing first, he tells himself.

The sound of the crickets comes through with the setting night. He has been sitting out here for hours, trying to determine what he is going to do. He turns around in his car and goes home. The family of mannequins has shifted to the living room, blank faces all, sitting quiet on the couch when he walks in the door. His father asks him: “Where were you?”

“I went to Stephanie’s house,” he says. And then he goes upstairs without saying anything else. Upstairs he lets himself into his mother and father’s bedroom. He opens the drawer on the night table and takes out his father’s Beretta. He checks it for ammo, and makes sure the safety is on, and then he tucks it in the small of his back. He goes back downstairs to where the family looks up at him coming down the stairs, still blankfaced, all.

“I need to go for a drive,” he tells them.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” says his sister.

He stops at a bar he knows along the way to his Uncle’s house. It is a depressing dive bar where old men sit with one shot and one beer and repeat this concoction for an eight hour workday. He drinks fast and hard. He will need the fuel in him before he smokes the reefer. He remembers that he used to feel like he was dreaming whenever he did that.

Around four in the morning he feels like he is dreaming. The present is the sum of the past. The automobile, propelling towards its destination, is an extension of his thoughts.

-Whit Frazier, 2005

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