Below my window, I heard the sad grind of someone trying to start their car: rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
I got excited, and then felt bad. And then came the howling of the fire engine moving up John F. Kennedy Blvd. But still underneath that: rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
Rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek. The driver got out, a faceless nobody, who could have passed as my doppelgänger. A quick glance under the hood, a shrug, the driver returned to the wheel. Rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
Finally the engine caught. The wraithlike screech of the fan belt: eeeeeeeeeeeeee! But the engine died again flllrrrbbrbb. A hissing.
*More determined* Rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek, rek-rek-kek-kek-kek, rek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kek!
*Even more determined* Rek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kek!!
But this time the engine caught, and held! And the driver screamed in triumph! And the fan belt screamed in triumph, eeeeeeeeeeee! I jumped up and down in celebration too, the venetian blinds waved wildly. The driver gunned the rusted car up the street, turned left on a red light, left their birthplace—this predictable, dreamless east.
40 hrs later the driver arrived at the Pacific Ocean, jumped out of the car and went to the bathroom so it spilled off the side of the cliff. Relieved, and feeling like they had gained some previously unavailable power, they stood, hands on hips, overlooking the ocean. To no one, not to God, the driver said, ‘Dope luv it.’
And here’s what the car sounded like in the west after it stalled out on the cliff: Rek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
And here’s what the car sounded like as it was pushed off the cliff into the surging surf below: Ba-booooooossssh!
And the driver walked along the road as the sun set. It was time to snake blindly ahead. They walked all through the night, thinking, planning, encountering nothing but the pin prick pain of the past. In the morning they bought a blue Datsun from a used car dealership, drove headlong towards the source of that remembered pain.
The Datsun got them down through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, finally Costa Rica where it went: rek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
And the rain came down and the blue Datsun sunk in the mud, rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
It sank until it was obscured in the wet ooze of the earth, the driver still at the wheel. A sloth heard the muffled groan of the car beneath the mud. The car went: rek-rek-kek-kek-kek. The sloth smiled the slow way sloths do.
But the rain stopped! And the mud dried! And the next day the driver dug out of their grave, and ran, caked in dirt, into Columbia.
Having washed off in a waterfall, and having found a restful town, the driver put their feet up. A man dressed in white linen, tipped his hat and brought a cup of fine steaming coffee. “¿A dónde vas amigo?”
The driver answered, “I should have thought of this, I don’t speak your language.” The man in white said, “El camino es largo para los perdidos.”
And wow this Columbian sunshine! So much more desirable than Jersey City, New Jersey.
The driver continued on burro into South America, slicing through vines with a small sword; the travel was merciless, offering no reward. The burro laid down and died. The driver poked the burro, but the burro remained in its final state. And through the hot nights, terrible dreams of failure came to the driver, and the dreams of failure sounds like this: rek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
Venezuela. The driver woke up with a pink boa constrictor wrapped around them. French Guyana. Chased by a tiger across a raging river, the driver ducked and leapt and outsmarted and redirected death, away, away. Brazil. Scaling a green mountain, the driver looked down on an infinite wall of green jungle, and then descended that green mountain, began to cut through green jungle with the small sword, entering into the bluff of infinity, heart aimed at a seemingly lost cause. Out of sight, and out of contact, who knows what happens to the source of our pain?
Sunburnt, exhausted, near-death, the driver finally stood on the shore of the Southern Atlantic Ocean. Rio De Janeiro. Paradise. The driver looked up at the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer with his arms flung wide, looming on the tallest peak. The driver closed their eyes, believing the journey of life to be pointless. The driver’s mind went: rek-rek-kek-kek-kek, rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
But then a sweet voice called from over their shoulder. “Amore! I thought you’d never come.” The driver turned and looked at the face of their estranged lover. “Came here to say you’re an asshole, and I’m an asshole, too.”
They embraced! Swelling music! Kisses and promises! I’ll do better, what was I thinking??? Romance in Rio De Janeiro! A new beginning and the wounds of yesterday drowned in the shining sea, buried alive on the sands of Copocabana Beach, taken on a lovely visit to the Museum of Tomorrow.
Tomorrow, I like the sound of that. The possibility of that. A lot of people don’t even know that word. Tomorrow. Tomorrow in any language means the same thing.
And then three weeks later the reunited lovebirds sucked up their fear of jet airplanes and flew back here, to this gloomy, nothing-doing, gray gray block. They got married at the courthouse on Montgomery Ave. over by the sandwich shop and the karate dojo, and then they moved into the apartment above me. I began to hear them walking around sometimes. Such heavy shoes. I began to wonder.
One morning I finally saw them together in the foyer of the building. The driver was adding the lover’s name to the PO box. I officially introduced myself. The driver no longer looked anything like me. They each shook my hand, feigning enthusiasm. I got my mail. It’s all worthless junk. I said, “We should hang out sometime. Celebrate your joy.” They smiled. Together, they’re both so beautiful. I can’t believe they’ve come back here.
Two days later I look out the widow and there is a new rusted car in the spot where the old rusted car used to be. Both of them are in it—mad. Yelling. The car won’t start. It goes: rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
And then: rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek; rek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
*More determined* rek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kekrek-rek-kek-kek-kek.
The lover climbs out of the passenger side and walks away. The wind is whipping down Kennedy Blvd. The driver jumps out, abandons the car, leaves the door hanging open, shoulders that wind, follows. “Wait.” The lover looks back, holds out a hand. They hustle off, together. Then I hear the fire engines howling. And then the relative quiet of everything else, after. My fingers slip from the blind.
I called the liquor store when it opened for the day, and ordered two bottles of their bubbliest but not most expensive champagne. The clerk said, “The bubbliest is the most expensive.”
On three separate minor expeditions, I go upstairs, knocking loud on their mauve door, but they’re not home, or not answering. Later, I drank the champagne, alone, in my apartment, watching out the window, staring at their rusted car for what feels like more than a lifetime.
Bud Smith is the author of WORK (CCM), and the forthcoming books, Double Bird (Maudlin House), and Teenager (New York Tyrant). He works construction in New Jersey, and lives there too.