Growing agitated Marcus pushes off the basement couch and stands. He stretches through musty air, pressing palms against the low hung ceiling. Dropping arms to his side he stomps well-worn Doc Martens before hollering over the sounds of Devo. “Dude, how much longer are we gonna wait for those assholes?”
Ignoring Marcus for the moment I approach the stereo. Squatting so I may see the dials, I twist the volume knob to “two”. Devo enters the realm of background noise as I stand to face my friend. Stepping toward Marcus I pat his chest. In response he makes a show of flexing his pecs behind a white wife beater. Across the chest of his sleeveless t-shirt the word “Clash” is scribbled in black Magic Marker. The handwriting is haphazard and disjointed.
“Marcus, be cool. I told my brother we’d hang here ‘till ten and it’s only a little after. So chill.” I swing my arm toward the basement bar. “Come on, let’s have another shot.”
He frowns before marching past a wall of stolen street signs toward the bar. He passes ‘Yield’, ‘Stop’, ‘Glen Avenue’, ‘Rock Road’, ‘Stay Right’, ‘Detour’, ‘Slow Children Ahead’, ‘Speed Limit 55 MPH’ and ‘Speed Limit 25 MPH’ before his eye seems to catch on a yellow ‘Children at Play’ sign hanging behind the bar. With great care, the ‘P’ has been scraped away so the sign reads ‘Children at lay’. Smirking, he makes a show of scuffing his boots across the red faux-brick tiled floor as he paces the length of the bar.
“Dude, what the fuck? You’re mark’n up the floor. Totally uncool, man. Totally.”
He stops and draws a dramatic breath. As if forced to do what he must do he closes his eyes. He expands his chest and, for no apparent reason, begins flexing teenage muscles. The routine continues for who knows how long as he first arches his back, then extends an arm to the ceiling assuming the position of a Greek Olympian. Tiring of this pose he begins popping biceps and pecs, alternating from right to left. He squats up and down like a shitting sumo wrestler. As if requiring great concentration his eyes remain sealed, his brow furrowed. Throughout the performance he holds his breath and the one man pose-off reaches its dramatic conclusion as his face, neck and upper chest bloom a bright crimson. Veins swell up his neck and across his forehead.
Then, just before he seems ready to burst, he opens his eyes and exhales. As he takes a concluding bow his whisky-soured breath pours over me.
Despite my puckering face he’s quite pleased with his performance. He now stands erect. Turning toward the far corner of the room he bows toward a mannequin recently liberated from a New Jersey display case and now standing tall behind a blinking pinball machine. “He’s speechless,” observes Marcus. Then, turning away from the silent sentry Marcus cocks an eyebrow and soaks in the size of his own bicep. “Dude, I am mother fucking huge!”
Ignoring the declaration I jut my chin to the floor. My friend places one hand over his crotch and squeezes hard before turning to the bar in search of paper towels. And finding a rag he bends to rub away the longest and blackest of the scuff marks.
He throws the rag behind the bar, his agitation mounting. “Fucking A, I wanna be danc’n at Maximus by 11:00 sharp, not jerking off in your basement wait’n for some dick smokers to show up. I mean, it’s kamikaze night at that place and we could be gett’n obliterated man. Obliter-fucking-rated, man!”
He holds up his hand, spreading five fingers wide. “It’s three for a dollar night! Three for a fucking dollar. And I got $40!”
I shake my head, confused. “Dude, what’s with five fingers?” Demonstrating my expectations I hold up three fingers. “When you say ‘three for a dollar’ you usually hold up three fingers, right? I mean, what the fuck. We’re seniors. We’re supposed to know math by now.”
With his hand still extended Marcus withdraws his thumb and index finger. He then withdraws his pinky and his ringless ring finger leaving his middle finger standing by its lonesome. And turning his hand ever so slowly he flips me off with a thick bobbing finger. “Fuck math!”
His head tilts to the left. In quick succession he lets loose two sharp barks before bending low into a growl. Slowly rising from the floor he cocks his left eyebrow. Then he cocks his right. He stands motionless as his eyebrows begin to undulate, rolling gently across his forehead. And though the cellar is darkened by a half dozen black lights, I fold arms across my chest, captivated by my friend’s current performance.
With eyebrows continuing their dance the basement grows quiet as the needle concludes its journey across the album. Mechanically the record player arm swings back over the LP and begins anew. And as Devo’s Girl You Want leaks through oversized speakers procured with ill-gotten gains scooped from the Paramus Park waterfalls Marcus begins to bounce wildly before the bar.
I back away as his low rising Mohawk jerks right and left. LP scratches join Devo to tell the tale of many previous parties in this basement. With the song reaching its chorus Marcus’s head bobbing erupts into a gyrating frenzy as he throws his head this way and that, shaking violently as if the intent is to snap the meaty protrusion off at the neck. And failing to dislodge his round head from thick shoulders he begins to flail his arms. The outburst consumes half the song before Marcus lurches forward to fall into the coach. He lands hard, causing the furniture to jerk backward to bang the stereo. The song skips as another scratch is added to my Devo LP.
“Dude, come on.”
Turning away from the slumping Marcus I lean into the room’s homemade bar – a 10 foot sturdy mass formed from a wooden workbench discarded from dad’s place of employment and now lacquered to a rich shine. The bar is adorned with dozens of shot glasses clipped from bars on both sides of the Hudson. The area around the bar is poorly lit and I enjoy the lingering darkness. As our mannequin friend continues to silently monitor our pre-club activities I reach behind the bar and grab this evening’s bottle of Jack. Draining the last of the pint bottle I pour two shots.
Holding up two glasses recently removed from New York’s Danceteria I turn to Marcus. “Here we go, Dancing Man. Last round.”
Unresponsive, Marcus remains splayed across the couch. Annoyed, I place the half-filled glasses on the bar. I turn to the mannequin. “Watch these for me.”
I pause as footsteps rush up the outside porch steps.
Marcus jerks to attention. “About fucking time!” He slumps backward following his declaration. The clomping sound is that of unbridled horses. In the kitchen, at the top of the basement stairs, the back door swings open as my brother comes in from the autumn evening.
KJ and his friends rush down the steep basement stairs before my parents are able to move from the living room to intercept. Cold follows the three high school juniors as they lurch to a halt at the bottom of the stairs.
Falling in next to KJ are Magpie and Timbo, both in leather jackets and both sporting dime slots eyes. They stare from me to the prostrate Marcus and back to me.
I nod to my brother, “Dude, you’re late. And look at you. You’re baked; totally baked.”
KJ lolls his head to the side and shrugs, “So? Timbo’s got some for the ride so it’s cool.” Under a helmet of shoulder length hair my brother’s eyes are barely visible. A horizontal slit creases the lower portion of his face as he jerks his chin toward the stereo. “Is this fucking Devo? What the fuck? Put some fuck’n Zeppelin on, or something. This stuff blows!”
Jumping from the couch Marcus begins to wiggle 10 fingers in front of KJ. “Fucking Devo is here to stay man, so chill the fuck out.”
KJ looks from Marcus to me and back to Marcus before shaking his head in disgust. “I guess this is what I should expect for going to a shit hole like Maximus with you two disco boys, huh?”
Mimicking Tony Manero of Saturday Night Fever, Marcus juts out his left hip and throws his right hand high in the air. With his left hand he grabs a handful of his own crotch. My friend remains frozen in this position for quite some time.
Both Magpie and Timbo burst out laughing, then quickly silence themselves. Marcus remains unmoved, a stoic expression drawn across his face.
Taking my time I look from KJ to Magpie to Timbo. I shrug. “You blow fucks can stay here if you want. No one’s making you come with us.”
KJ frowns. Magpie’s eyes dart from me to Marcus and then to all points around the room in search of something on which to fixate. He settles on a black light poster featuring a dragon hovering over a castle on a hill. The young scholar quickly falls into an open mouthed trance.
Timbo takes one step forward before dramatically raising his right leg in a goose step and stamping it to the floor. With his foot firmly planted he bellows, “Shimminy knoggin sock floggin loggin!”
“What?” I look to KJ, “What the fuck is he saying?”
KJ shrugs as Timbo squats slowly to the floor as if preparing to shit. Then jumping up to a full stance he yells at no one in particular, startling Marcus from his disco pose. “Beeeeeeyyyyip! Snaggle-dorf!”
I throw my hands up and turn to my brother. “Dude, that’s not even a fucking language. I mean, come on. I don’t give a fuck if he speaks Chinese or Spanish … shit, man, the Puerto Ricans at Magic Pan in Paramus Park speak Spanish and at least I can understand some of what they’re say’n but this shit … man, this shit isn’t even words. He’s not even speaking a fucking known language!”
KJ sighs. “Dude, I understood him. He’s say’n we want to go to Maximus with you guys.”
Timbo nods slowly and steadily before leaning forward to whisper, “Snaggle-dorf.”
I bristle. “Our fucking fucked up country is so fucked. I mean the fucking commies must love the thought of morons like us running this place one day. Think about it. We really are fucked.” I sigh a dramatic sigh.
I am greeted by silence as I muster my resolve. I shrug. “Nothing left to do but drink.”
I scoop up a shot glass from the bar and hand it to KJ. “Here I’m already in for half a pint so down this shit and we’ll get the fuck outa here.”
KJ takes the shot and downs half of it before turning and sharing the remaining whisky with Magpie. Like KJ, Magpie is a junior in our local high school. Unlike KJ, though, he’s no football player. While KJ looms large and menacing in his brown bomber jacket, wide shoulders and helmet of Twisted Sister worthy hair Magpie looks the part of a musician, or an actor maybe. With wild Roger Daltrey-like blond hair, tangled and curly across his shoulders, he’s modestly sized and quick to smile. He’s short but not too short. And for whatever reason he’s never without a serious girlfriend. When applying himself, he’s capable of doing well in school. Though he has yet to speak this evening I have heard him speak normal languages.
Magpie gingerly accepts the shot glass and whispers, “This is such a beautiful story, man. I mean, really beautiful.”
Again I throw up my hands. “Really? Is that what you say when you drink Jack?”
KJ bursts out laughing. Magpie silently extends the glass in two hands toward the ceiling as if offering a chalice to the heavens. Slowly he draws the glass to his face and, rather than downing the shot, he begins sniffing the contents like a dog.
“Smells like wood and charcoal, man. Smells fucking woody. Really, really woody.” Ever so gently, Magpie begins to rub the side of the glass against his face.
I look to KJ. “I thought he was smart; what’s with this fucking moron?”
KJ shrugs, bringing the thick fur collar of his bomber jacket to his ears. He turns to Magpie, “Hey Maggie, if you’re not gonna drink that give it here.”
Without warning Timbo lunges forward, attempting to grab the drink from Magpie’s hands. A wrestler, Timbo’s larger, thicker through the middle, than the gentle Magpie. He begins to push Magpie toward the wall as they jostle for control of the sloshing shot glass. I intervene before Jack is spilled all over the basement floor. And placing my hand on Magpie’s face I push his head back and pry the drink from his hand. He falls back onto the couch. He rolls into a ball and laughs without abandon as I down the last shot.
Annoyed I turn to KJ, “Dude I said it was cool if you came with us and like, I said you could bring a friend but these two knuckleheads aren’t going anywhere. I mean look at them.”
KJ turns to see Magpie writhing on the couch. He’s now laughing so hard he’s crying. Above him Timbo entertains himself by shadow boxing a black light hanging limply before the glowing castle.
Ignoring the freak show in my basement I continue, “Besides, there’s only room for four in the Corolla; five’s too many.”
As if shocked with a toaster in the tub Magpie leaps from the couch. “No, man it’s cool. I mean we talked about it and I’m gonna ride in the trunk.” He places his hands together as if in prayer. “I thought about it; I can fit in there. I know I can.”
Marcus cocks an eyebrow as I place a hand on Magpie’s shoulder. His eyes struggle to hold my stare. “The trunk, huh? You sure about that, Maggie my boy? I mean, people piss themselves back there. And if you piss yourself back there I’m gonna have to pull you out in Maximus’ parking lot and take a big ‘ol shit on your head.”
Magpie steps back and, with deliberate care, he begins to frame his face with slow moving hands. His hands swirl around the perimeter of his face as he stares forward. He whispers, “I was in a kangaroo pouch. And I’m ready for that trunk.”
I look to KJ as he and Timbo begin to howl. “Dude, is this guy for real? I mean, you’re cool with this numb nuts in the trunk with us?” KJ nods. “You know when we get there I’m not watching him; that’s on you and (jerking my thumb toward Timbo) this freak.”
My brother shrugs. “It’s cool. I’ll take care of Maggie.”
I turn to Marcus. “Down your last shot disco boy, we’re outa here.”
Shutting off the stereo I tuck the empty pint bottle into my pants pocket and grab the two shot glasses, rinsing them in the slop sink next to the washing machine. I return the glasses, dripping, but not smelling of Jack, to their place upon the bar.
I turn to my four companions. “Keep your fucking mouths shut when we go upstairs, alright? Go right out the back door while I say goodnight to my mom and dad. KJ, you look too baked to talk with them so I’ll say you left already.” My brother nods. “And don’t slam the fucking door!”
Everyone agrees to our exit plan before creeping up the cellar stairs. Turning off the lights I grab my jacket and bring up the rear, just behind Magpie. Before making my way through the kitchen to Mom and Dad in the living room I wait inside the back door. Sure as shit, without thinking Magpie violently swings the door shut. Jerking my arm forward I stop the door just before it slams into the frame. Tugging the door closed I whisper to the empty kitchen, “You’re fucked Magpie.”
Work boots clomp across kitchen tiles before finding the carpet in the dining room. And peeking around the corner I stick my head into the living room to find Dad looking up. He stares expectantly.
He sits in his corner chair, dressed in sweatpants and a Manhattan College sweatshirt. A large glass of Coke rests on the radiator cover to his right. Behind the wooden cover the radiator gently clanks out an announcement of pending heat. A dessert plate, adorned with an overturned fork and a slice of chocolate cake, sits expectantly next to his Coke. In his lap sits the most recent issue of Civil Engineering. Upon seeing his eldest son he brushes silver hair to the left side of his face and frowns.
Across from Dad Mom is curled on the sofa as she sews a patch across a hole in my favorite blue jeans. Dressed in a red bathrobe she’s ready for bed. She bides her time with Dad as he reads his engineering news. Looking up from the jeans and a sewing kit tucked in her lap, she smiles.
“Oh wow Mom, thanks for sewing those pants for me.” Her smile widens. She holds the pants up and points to a nearly patched hole over the groin area. “And how, pray tell do you go about getting a hole here?” She’s smirking.
“Ah, well, I guess I take after Dad and it just rubs away the fabric.” Mom cackles as I look to Dad to see if he too enjoyed my joke. His frown deepens as he takes a measure of his failed son; my too long hair, my black leather jacket and my steel toed boots.
He takes a measure of my dim prospects.
Thoughtfully he plucks at his lower lip before leaning forward to set his magazine on the radiator next to his cake. I don’t want to give him a chance to lay into me so I rush my words, “I’m heading out – probably just going over to Lift the Latch and dropping the guys off afterwards so I’ll see ya. We’ll just have one drink so I’ll be back early. Love you.”
I turn to walk away but Dad yells after me. “Hey, Beasley, you and your shit-for-brain friends keep out of trouble understood?” Returning to my peeking spot at the edge of the living room I nod as he continues, “And no bullshit with Mom’s new Corolla, got it?”
“Got it. Thanks. Good night.” I turn away and head toward the kitchen.
Mom calls after me, “Is KJ going with you? “
KJ’s too young for a bar so I bend a malleable truth. “I’m just bringing him and his buddies up to Main Street.” I rush toward the back door, yelling over my shoulder, “I’ll see if he needs a ride anywhere else though. Love you.”
Mom yells after me. “Be careful, Beasley. Love you.”
Dad says nothing. And leaving Mom worried and Dad slowly stewing I exit the house, making sure not to slam the door.
In the driveway I find the crew smoking by the car. KJ extends an arm holding out a six pack of Buds. I nod, satisfied. “Very cool, dude.”
For his part Timbo unzips his jacket and pulls out a baggie of Hawaii’s finest. He holds it to the moon. “Snaggle-dorf!”
Seeing the baggie, Marcus loudly throws himself across the hood of the car and begins to writhe as if scorched by a blowtorch. He stops quickly as his body goes limp. Slowly, he slides off the hood and over the front bumper, landing on the driveway with a dull thud.
Instinctively I look back towards the house’s shaded windows. “Dude, put that bag away. If my father sees that we’ll both get the shit beat out of us.” Annoyed, I shove Timbo into the side of the car.
He shoves me back to a safe distance. He’s off put, however, I am pleased when he uses real words to respond to my affront. “Dude, chill the fuck out.” He tucks his stash into a front pocket. “It’s cool.”
I look to KJ, “Really?”
KJ shrugs. “Really.”
Magpie works his way to the front of the car where he comes to stand over Marcus, still resting dormant across the driveway. He’s unhurt; he’s simply spread out over the pavement, enjoying the evening coolness of the blacktop. Magpie bends down to face Marcus. He whispers, “What ya looking at, Marcus?”
In response Marcus points to the heavens. “Stars, man. The stars.”
Arching his head upward Magpie stares dumbstruck; as if seeing stars for the first time. “Whoa, dude. They’re beautiful. They have a story, you know? Each and every one. And they’re all wiggling and moving and shit.”
Magpie flops onto the pavement next to Marcus.
I hiss over them, “Get the fuck off the ground you two Neanderthals. We’re outa here.” I kick Magpie in the shoulder, “Maggie, that wasn’t nice what you did up there, was it?” He frowns, confused as I continue. “Come on. Get the fuck up and get in the car. Let’s move it.”
Opening the car, I pop the trunk. Raising himself Magpie joins me at the rear of the small vehicle and stares into a space without stars. Before us is a wide open trunk with nothing more than a jack, a blanket and some rope.
Turning toward Magpie I shrug as he evaluates the trunk. He speaks softly. “Not much back there, huh? I don’t see any stars in there. Do you?”
“Nope, Magpie; there’re no fucking stars in the trunk.”
He seems to grow concerned. “Got a flashlight for me?”
“Nope. You got a lighter?”
Magpie fishes a Cricket from his front pocket and proceeds to flick it on and off. He continues doing so until I place my hand over the lighter and push it down toward his pocket. “Yea, it works, Magpie. Nice going.”
I turn to KJ. “Hand me a Bud, will ya?”
KJ obliges my request and I hand the beer to Magpie. “Here if you get nervous drink this when we stop.”
“In the trunk you go.”
Gingerly he steps into the void.
He does so.
“Here, use the rope as a pillow.” Reaching in I grab the blanket and toss it over his legs. “There you go. And don’t spill any fucking beer back there, understood?”
He begins to speak but I slam the trunk shut and turn away.
“We’re outa here.”
KJ and Marcus jockey for the front seat. KJ wins shotgun as Marcus joins Timbo in the back seat. “Spark that shit up Timbo.”
Timbo nods, “All in good time, my brother. How ‘bout we get outa the Kinkade’s driveway first.”
I back out slowly and gingerly accelerate away from my parents’ house. I yell over my shoulder. “Maggie, you good back there?”
He doesn’t respond. Turning to KJ I shake my head, “That dick smoker tried to slam the back door after I asked him not to.” KJ shrugs. Turning away he cups his hands to light a cigarette.
“Hold on everyone!”
At the end of the street I slam the brakes hard. From the backseat both Marcus and Timbo protest. From the trunk Magpie wails. Through the thin rear wall of the Corolla his words are muffled. “Hey, what the fuck! What’s going on up there?!?”
Marcus yells back toward the trunk as I chirp the wheels in a sharp turn onto Main Street. Looking in the rear view mirror I see Marcus cocking his eyebrows. Rolling down the window I retrieve the empty bottle of Jack from my pants pocket and discard it into the street. We leave the sound of tinkling glass behind us.
And just before slamming the brakes again I warn my passengers, “Hold on!”
The car slams to a halt as Magpie pounds the wall of the trunk. I floor it, lurching the car forward. In turn Magpie pounds the opposite wall of the trunk. The pattern continues down Main Street until Magpie begins to yell in earnest. Concerned for Magpie, KJ, Marcus and Timbo start screaming and cursing. Turning back to witness the scene in the rear seat I see Marcus pressing his face into a crack between the seats, spinning a tale for Magpie. “Dude, it’s the cops; they’re on our asses and Beasley’s trying to outrun them! So just keep the fuck quiet back there.”
In response Magpie begins to yell; not words, simply random noises.
I accelerate as Marcus howls wildly in the back seat. And seeing a broad expanse of lawns along the left side of Main Street I swerve violently, jerking the car up over a driveway apron and onto the grass. The car lurches and heaves as I plow over lawns and through a low slung hedge separating two yards. We cover three or four front lawns before I yank the wheel to the right to exit the grasslands over the curb.
At this point the car is full of screaming teens, howling in as if on a roller coaster. From the trunk Magpie wails uncontrollably. My brother shoots me a ‘cool it’ frown and I slow the car to a law-abiding pace. Tracing a straight line down the remainder of Main Street Timbo has the opportunity to roll one up. I slip the B-52s into the tape player as we drive forward, listening to Planet Claire.
I monitor Timbo’s progress in the rearview mirror and in doing so watch as he and Marcus bang heads in time to the music. Next to me KJ rolls his eyes. “Fucking, B-52s, dude?”
I nod before peeking again into the back seat. Though I’m driving cautiously I hear a sharp pained yelp – like the sound a dog makes when you inadvertently step on its paw or tail – from the trunk. Marcus and Timbo stop their head banging. In the rearview mirror I see puckered frowns spread across both faces. Marcus turns to Timbo. “Dude, you smell that? Smells fucked up. Like burning shit or something.”
Now I smell it. Before Timbo can answer I slam the brakes and swing the car to the curb. Behind us Magpie dully bumps against the trunk’s rear wall. Swinging open the door I rush from the car and pop the trunk hood. I cringe as the smell of burnt hair pours past me. Below me Magpie is curled into a ball, a semicircle of blond hair missing from the right side of his forehead.
“Dude, what the fuck …”
Grabbing his collar I drag Magpie from the car. Throwing him to the ground I inspect the trunk to make sure the Corolla’s not on fire. Magpie stands and dusts himself off before reaching for the side of his head to gently dab the spot where his hair used to be. Finding no fire in the car I place my hands upon his shoulders and inspect the wide eyed boy. His newly asymmetrical hair style is captivating. Much of the signature blond mop is missing from the right side of his face. Singed hairs stab the air, ending in tiny black coils. My breathing slows as I softly brush away remnants of burnt hair. “Dude, what the fuck did you do? Are you hurt?”
With both hands he rubs his face before shaking his head in the negative.
His head keeps shaking until I pinch his chin between my thumb and forefinger.
“Hey, Maggie, what’s going on, man? Are you OK?”
He looks up to the sky. “I was looking for stars.”
“The stars; I needed light to see them.” He points to the trunk. “In there.”
I lean in close and rest my forehead on his. The smell of burnt hair fills my nostrils. “Jesus Christ on a crutch, your eyes are as wide as saucers. You’re dosed aren’t you?”
He nods and whispers. “Yes. And it’s beautiful. Really, really beautiful. And, Beasley, you’re beautiful.” He tries to hug me but I step back, now yelling at KJ and Timbo as they exit the car to join our discussion.
“What the fuck, you two! You know my number one rule for safety, right? No mother fucking hallucinating people in the trunk! You know that, man!” I kick the bumper of the car, shaking the chassis as I continue screaming. “I mean, what the fuck! Magpie’s completely dosed back here and you let me throw him in the trunk.”
I shake my head. “Jesus Christ, he coulda died back there. Or lit the car on fire!”
I turn to Magpie. “Look, you’re not too fucked up or anything are you? You’re not sick are you? Like, puking sick?” I take a breath as he smiles at my concern.
I continue, “You’re OK? I mean except for that fucking huge burnt circle of missing hair on the side of your head, you’re not hurt or freaking out or anything, right?”
He nods. “I’m good, man. Real good.” He pauses before looking to the stars above and then to me. He leans forward to whisper in my ear. “I was, you know?” I shake my head in confusion as Magpie continues, “in a kangaroo pouch I mean.”
“All right, fuck it. You three assholes are not coming with me and Marcus to Maximus!” I turn to my brother. “This guy thinks he was in a fucking kangaroo’s pouch or something.”
KJ lays into me. “What the fuck! Just put Magpie up in the car with us.” He turns to Timbo and points to the back of the car, “You’re in the trunk.”
Timbo protests, “Fuck that, you saw the way your brother drives. You get in there; he won’t be doing that shit if you’re back there. You’re his brother!”
I step forward and place my hand on Timbo’s shoulder. I speak slowly. “Dude, it’s our mother’s car and KJ’s not getting in the fucking trunk. Besides, you know you’re like another brother to me. So I promise – I mean truly promise – if you’re in the trunk I will not drive crazy.”
He steps back, shaking his head as he compares my promise to my recent behavior. Patiently, I continue, “I mean it.” I turn to my brother. “KJ, give Timbo here a couple of Buds.”
KJ hands Timbo two beers as I lean forward and lower my voice. “Look, Timbo, as soon as you get in the trunk, crack a beer. That’s your protection ‘cause you know I’m not gonna risk spilling beer in my mom’s car, right?”
Timbo looks to KJ and KJ nods. He looks to Marcus and Marcus adds his two cents. “I believe him, man.” Finally, Timbo looks to Magpie. Ignoring the conversation Magpie simply stares at his own fingers.
“It’s up to you Timbo. But I promise; I promise I’ll be cool. I mean come on; just twist up a fatty and get in there with some Buds and you’ll be fine.”
I turn to Magpie. “Right Magpie?”
He nods. “The trunk is full of stars if you look hard enough.”
Marcus kicks Magpie in the ass, lifting him off the ground. “You’re not helping.”
After some back and forth Timbo reluctantly enters the trunk. Gingerly I shut the hood.
We drive 30 minutes to New York and I keep my word the entire journey.
Toward the end of our trip smoke begins to pour through the crack between the rear seats and into the Corolla cabin. Marcus cocks an eyebrow. Soon we add our own smoke to the ride. Quickly the car is filled with a blue-grey haze.
About five or so minutes before arriving at Maximus Timbo starts pounding on the trunk’s rear wall. His muffled words drift through the smoke. “Hey man, pull over, I gotta pee! I need to piss bad so pull over.”
Speaking over my shoulder I ask Marcus to relay a message to Timbo. “Tell him to hold it. We’re gonna be there in a couple a minutes.”
Marcus shares the message, momentarily silencing Timbo. A minute later the banging resumes. He ratchets up the volume on his demands as he hollers through the rear seats. “Dude, I really gotta pee back here!”
Marcus yells into the crack between the two seats. “Shut the fuck up and hold your beer you fucking minor leaguer!”
For his part Magpie begins to explain his thoughts on pee. “It’s really just part of you, ya know? It’s like blood that goes outside your skin; but yellow.”
Marcus places his hand over Magpie’s mouth and pushes his head against the side window, “Just look at the lights and stars, Magpie. And stop talking!”
Magpie complies, whispering, “Don’t you think this is a beautiful story?”
Next to me KJ lights up a Marlboro. He smokes in silence, staring ahead at a blooming collection of brake lights on Route 304.
He jerks his chin forward. “I hate these fucking lights, man. Who puts lights on a busy road like this anyway?”
I shrug as I have no idea who would do such a thing. “A civil engineer, I guess.”
Slowing from 50 MPH I downshift as we approach a red light. Timbo continues to pound the inside hood of the trunk. “Let me out.”
“Almost there, dude.”
Joining a line of traffic before a red light I come to a complete stop. As cars join the line behind our vehicle I lower the music to listen in on Timbo. Patiently we wait for the light to turn green.
We listen as he rustles about. Then, a loud metallic ping fills the car as Timbo discovers if he plucks a slender steel cable on the inside hood of the trunk the hood will pop open. In the rearview mirror I watch as the trunk drifts upward.
I turn to KJ. “That clever mother fucker just popped the trunk!”
A thick cloud of smoke belches from the newly opened trunk as Timbo cautiously lifts his head to peek toward the car behind us. And, though I cannot see Timbo, with the trunk open just half way my view of the car behind us is unobstructed. I watch as the eyes of a middle aged couple bulge wide. The woman covers her mouth in horror as the man stares mouth agape at what they must conclude to be a kidnapping in progress.
I turn to my brother. “Jesus Mary and Joseph, we’re on a fucking highway and he’s trying to climb outa the trunk. Fix that shit before the light turns green, will you?’
KJ throws open the passenger door and stands next to the car. I watch as he’s enveloped in a cloud of blue smoke pouring from his open passenger door. The man in the car next to us stares up at my leather clad looming 6’2” brother. Quickly the man averts his eyes forward.
Behind us the occupants of various cars remain frozen as KJ looks from car to car before turning his attention to the open trunk. He flicks his cigarette to the ground. As he approaches the trunk the man in the car directly behind us reaches over across the chest of the woman in the passenger seat and locks the passenger side door. He then locks his own door.
KJ wastes no time and is quickly at the rear of the car, peering down at Timbo as our friend tries to climb out of the trunk. My brother looks to the couple behind us and, without a word, holds his index finger to his lips. The man nods once before KJ places a large hand on top of Timbo’s head and shoves him back from whence he came. As Timbo tumbles backward KJ slowly pushes the hood down against Timbo’s protesting shoulder. My brother bends down and, with his face an inch or so away from the closed trunk yells as loud as he can. “Stay the fuck in there or I’ll have my brother back into a fucking telephone pole, got it?”
Satisfied with the exchange KJ stands tall and places his right hand above his eyes as if shielding his vision from the glare of overhead street lights. He turns to face the couple sitting frozen in the car behind us and gives them a crisp salute before jumping back in the car and slamming the door. In the rearview mirror I watch as the man swallows hard. His passenger reaches over and grips his shoulder tight.
The light turns green, though the cars behind us remain still, giving us a wide birth.
From the trunk, Timbo lets loose a steady stream of explicatives.
And as we pull away, Magpie leans forward from the backseat and whispers in my ear. “This is really happening, you know? And it’s our very own beautiful story.”