by Kyle Proehl
There were three of them in the car. Anthony was behind the wheel, the sun in his lap on its way to his face. Neil sat beside him, James behind Neil. All the windows were open. Dark distant ridges framed the hard low land by the road, the dirt’s color suggesting a long slow attempt to mirror the sun, the bitter green of cactuses and spoiled brown of the scrub like an expression of resentment at the sun’s nightly absence. In the car there was no music. For a while nobody spoke.
James had been trying to sleep with his head thrown back over the top of the seat, mouth open like a baby bird. His parched throat choked him awake. He looked briefly out the window, managed with some difficulty to swallow, and returned his head to where it had been.
The desert never changes, he said.
What happened to the music? Neil said, eyes closed.
I needed a break, Anthony said.
A passing car stirred James, who decided he could use some water, but wasn’t sure if they had any. If not, what was the point of even opening your eyes? Save your strength, he thought, then coughed and sat up.
Dude, James said. How long have we been sitting here?
Go back to sleep, Neil said.
I needed a break, Anthony said.
James found a bottle of water on the seat beside him. He took a drink, not expecting it to be cold, but shocked at how hot it was. Another car passed and he stared a long time at the road to their left, then at the desert to the right.
Anthony, James said.
I couldn’t do it man, Anthony said.
Where are we? James said.
Neil lifted his head. Aw man, did you get us lost?
We’re right where we need to be, Anthony said.
You mean you just pulled over? Didn’t even look for an exit?
I can’t do it anymore.
How long have we been on the road?
You mean how long have we been off it.
It doesn’t matter, Anthony said.
Neil read the dashboard clock, tried to remember what time they’d left. They were not, as he’d hoped, in the middle of nowhere. That much was clear.
James, Neil said, can you drive?
James tried keeping his eyes open for more than a few seconds but this pain kept cutting through the back of his face like a pulse. My blood hurts, he thought.
I don’t think I’m ready to find out just yet, he said. Can you?
Maybe, Neil said. In a little while.
We should probably get to an exit. What if a cop drives by?
We’re not doing anything.
I’m not doing anything ever again, Anthony said.
Somebody was on fire last night.
I think we all were.
Who decided to let Anthony drive?
Poor group judgment.
Why do I feel like we left longer ago than the drive should be?
We’ve barely even started. I’m pretty sure we’re just outside the city.
You know those things in your brain that make you feel good, that block out the pain? Anthony said.
All of them. I used up all of them last night.
What happened to us? James said.
Took too much of everything, Neil said. Lost all our money. Scared away the girls.
I mean besides that.
Never again, Anthony said.
They were quiet again for a while, no one really sleeping, everyone sweating freely. Anthony felt the burns beginning on his arm, neck and face, but couldn’t locate the effort to change anything. I could turn the car around, he thought, and let them burn. Or I could get out and crawl underneath. But these were barely even thoughts and he let the sun do whatever it wanted, finding a tiny invigoration in the discomfort. The noise of passing cars was frequent, close, and caustic. All of them seated facing the same direction but not looking, feeling the space around them shrinking, as if because of its motionlessness the whole contraption had begun to decay.
We could always go back, James said, spend another night.
The desert was still. Nobody answered.
Kyle Proehl lives in Harlem.