You always rattle your nails up and down the dash when we’re driving. Lining the grooves with your finger, always having to feel your way around. Your momma said you was always grabby, pulling at things, poking, feeling. Gots to get your fingerprints all over it all, she said. Incriminating, she said. Doing hard time is what you’re set for if you keep putting your scent on everything six times over. Like a little kitty-cat marking what’s yours. This, right here? That’s mine. And that? That’s mine right there, too. Sometimes you look at me, brushing the wind through your hair like some damn model on a dye box, dragging on your cigarette, closing your eyes with every inhale, then opening them up all over again and looking straight at me with some mighty sense of love and hope – and I know, somewhere right deep down inside, that I’m yours too. You crawled up onto the hood last night, tail lights across the red sand and the dusk coming down to where we lay. You arched your back and sung straight up to the moon, your colours swaying: “We did it, baby,” like a spring of sound, over and over till your throat got sore and the desert went dark.
We got a shit-ton of beers to mark the occasion. You didn’t get carded this time; maybe because of Nevada, maybe because you’re impossibly together. That way you’ve got about you, a force of command, owning your spot like you’re the best thing that’s ever gonna be there. Past, present, future, this spot ain’t never gonna be nothing as good as it is right now with you in it. You looked that fucker right in the face and bought up the whole show, world be damned.
“I think about it a lot. It’d be nice to end up like that, being a momma.”
We lay under the stars, a stained sheet, your hair a mess. You took one last drag and passed it to me.
“You ever think about that? Like what they’d be like? They’d be cute, I know that much. Real cute kids. A little overbite, hair in bunches. They’d better look like me, else I’m gone be pissed.”
You laughed at that, stroking my chest. We felt each other breathe for a little while, subtle moves, rising and falling. You dropped off first, and I imagined you fading to black, passing through it, the curves of light hovering and then drifting away, leaving me alone with the night. Think I do it on purpose. Want to know you’re safe.
We rise and drive. The engine spits and staggers and we fill with gas, reload, tick-tick, numbers and dials and your face – god your face.
“You’re always looking for something, Bobby. That’s you all over. I mean we all got to look for something, that’s what we do, searching and watching, looking at the world, trying, and hoping it’s gone make us something we weren’t meant to be and then giving up on that shit when it won’t budge. And we all the same like that. We all stupid like that. But you? You look at me like I’m different.”
“You are different.”
“Yeah I am. Course I am. But you looking at me that way makes me feel like I’m different, you know? I love that. Ain’t nobody done that for me till you. Nobody. Now kiss me.”
“We shudda had flowers, some roses or azaleas. I straight hate myself that we didn’t. Momma said that she and Pop never worked out ’cause neither of them had flowers that day, and that it cursed them.”
“You had that corr-sayge.”
“You know what, your corr-sayge.”
“What you talking about, Bobby?”
“That wrist shit they gave you.”
“Oh my word, Bobby! Corr-sahhge! Corr-sahhge! You gotta say the ‘ahhhh’, Bobby.”
You stretch your arm over to me, gripping my hand, splaying your palm over the back of my wrist, sliding it up and intertwining your fingers with mine, before clenching down so hard it’s like we’re one. It’s a need that pulses through, a need to be felt, to be held. The wind changes and you shiver, your eyes hazy from the dust in the air.
“But the corsage don’t count, not really. Not when you had to hand it right back straight after. Pulled outta some box probably. I wonder how many other girls wore that same damn corsage, huh? Probably hundreds. All skanks and strippers. But then I don’t know which one that makes me, right?”
I see you. Don’t worry, I see you. I look straight ahead, but I can see you next to me, bouncing ’tween the road and back to me, road and back, road and back. Don’t say nothing. Swear to god, don’t say nothing. I love you so much. But don’t say nothing.
“Are you happy?”
“Goddamnit! Can’t you see I’m trying to drive?”
“Well fuck, Bobby! You ain’t barely said nothing since we left Vegas and what am I supposed to say? Huh? Just leave it at that with you being fucking miserable?”
“I ain’t miserable.”
“Then why ain’t you happy? This should be it, Bobby. It for us. And if this ain’t it then, hell, when you ever gone be happy?”
I ache with sorries, straight from my gut, and I pull over.
“Get out the car.”
“We’re in the middle of the desert, Bobby!”
“Get out the damn car!”
You freeze with your arms crossed, rip off your seatbelt, silver trinkets clattering along the dash. You thrust that door wide open, hitting a wall that ain’t there. You circle round the car, a whirl of fucks: fuck you, fuck this, fuck everything. You beat at my chest with those little fists of yours, tiny little fists like the fourth of July, pit-patterin’, pockets of thunder, explosives.
“I don’t want you angry when you’re driving. Not on this day. That ain’t fair on me, is it? Huh? You want me to get hurt, Bobby? Do you? We’ll crash, you know that, right? You want us to crash?”
“We ain’t gone crash.”
“Well say something, Bobby.”
“You know it just ain’t smart of me to talk out loud. Always saying dumb shit. Hurtful shit. And I don’t want to hurt you. Not now, not never. So I just keep my mouth shut, locked up, real tight.”
Your face goes resigned, your smile gone south, eyes sunk. We splinter for a little while, shadows of bodies like ghouls on the ground, separate vocations, disparate souls. We find a rock, I don’t know which one of us found it first. You rest your head on my shoulder, your body close.
“But do you feel it, Bobby? Even if you don’t say it? Right deep, do you feel those things?”
The stars are watching us.
I say nothing.
You peek up from my chest and kiss me light on the side of my lips. I feel the soft of it but you pull away too quick, your hair drifting away from my face. You shuffle off this rock and pad back to the car, your head down. I don’t see your expression as you slip back into your seat, but I know what it is.
I wait with my lie, that burning inside, ripping at my heart of the waste, pulling to and fro like a sea. I’ll keep it safe and I’ll keep it tight, not letting it creep out, not letting anybody see it, not even you. But one day there’s gone be a marching band, I swear. One day when we get old and the sun’s hurting our eyes so we head back inside because you say it’s too hot today to sit on the porch, that day. And that’s what keeps this old thing moving, keeps me running with the best of the dogs. The look on your face when I eventually tell. The promise that someday I’m gone surprise you.