You aimed your silver BMW toward the only open lane at the six-wide toll booth and then handed the old man double the toll. When he took your money, you told him something along the line of wanting to pay for the next car. Maybe you saw headlights in your rearview mirror. Maybe you didn’t. But when the old guy caught your intentions, you probably noticed he didn’t have any teeth in his mouth but somehow made his words as clear as a redneck poet. And you were probably pleased with yourself behind the wheel of that fancy car as you eased onto the twenty mile stretch of empty causeway before you, and, while you drove, maybe you swept your mind of everything except the hum of your tires on pavement. But then, BRIGHTNESS! The interior of your car flared blinding white as high beams blasted through the prism of your rear window—we were right on your ass.
Throwing your money around like you’re doing a motherfucker a favor. As if you were Napoleon tossing coins to peasants. “Fuck you,” I’d said to the old man in the tollbooth. On this night, you pitied the wrong guy. The gulf between your kind of rich and the likes of me had always been wide, but on occasions when my path crossed with the likes of you, it was rarely peaceful.
It wasn’t yet midnight, but the road was plenty quiet to pay you back. And as if a train barreling through a tunnel, Randy’s rattling pickup truck roared closer behind you, the light intensifying. “I’m already in the right lane,” you gestured into the rearview mirror. Me and Randy just laughed. Our bumper inches from your bumper. You squinted through the glare bouncing off the rearview mirror, and suddenly we were so close you could no longer see headlights behind you. Then, I’ll bet you couldn’t see anything but the silhouette of the truck’s cab. Its engine felt like it was in your trunk and its vibration made you shake.
Randy swerved into the left lane and gunned it to pull along side as I leaned out the window, my arm raised, taking aim. My shirt was off so no sleeves could flap in the wind and interfere with my accuracy. As soon as I got even with your quarter panel I let one fly. It made solid contact like a chipping hammer on a ship’s bulwark. You swerved a little toward the guardrail.
I bounced the next shot off your door and Randy laughed us farther into your lane. You ducked, hunched you shoulders and squinted. I wondered if you shouted “Sonsofbitches,” or “Hail Marys.” I saw you tightened your grip on the wheel. You might have been considering pulling over. Maybe you hoped we’d pass. Maybe you wanted to stand on the gas pedal and try to outrun us. “Call the police!” you surely thought. Your hand might have trembled on the steering wheel as you reached for your phone. The next shot rang off your roof. You braced for the next shot, praying it wouldn’t shatter glass or hit you directly and for the first time maybe you saw the street lamps lining the bridge’s rail. Their halos reached into the night illuminating you. In the glow of a streetlight, I saw through your window. If I knew a woman was driving, I might not have thrown the quarters.
Maybe you thought of me as a hoodlum, or a white gangsta, but I was a genius, because geniuses are like thunderstorms. They go against the wind, terrify people and clean the air. Kierkegaard said so. You might think I’m too simple for philosophy, but I spent some time locked up in Kansas and a book about him was all I had to read my first year there.
There was no way for you to know this and so I ignored that as I ignored the sting of gnats on my shirtless torso as I leaned out the speeding truck, pumping my fist into my chest.
The truck leapt forward in spastic bursts of engine revving madness, but kept pace with your car. All you knew to do was maintain your lane. And as you did, your grip probably tightened on the wheel. You surely wished this were over.
I hurled insults to tell you what was up so you’d never pull any shit like that again. Not everybody would go this easy on you. I was tempted to have Randy follow you so I could fuck you up for sure, but in the next streetlight I caught another glimpse and you were beautiful. You were wearing some type of evening gown, your hair was up and you had these dangling earrings. You had fear on your face; real terror, as best I could tell, and it messed up your image behind the window. It reminded me of the face my ex-wife made before she took sole custody of our kids.
I raised my hand again.
You ducked further, fearful of driving, terrified of stopping.
My Uncle Earl visited me in Kansas one summer day after I got out of solitary for fighting. He didn’t bring me anything, but he leaned into the glass, with the phone at his ear and said, “Never swing an axe when a butter knife will do.”
I thought about that in that instant and for a second or two watched the crackled texture of the white stripes perforating the blacktop that passed beneath me.
You could probably still taste the chocolate in the truffles that waiters in bowties carried on silver trays. You looked like you wanted nothing more than to reconnect with that sweetness. That wanting – creamy bitches like you are always wanting what they don’t have. Just like my ex-wife. She was a creamy bitch like you and she ripped my heart out. You’d probably do that to me too.
After cresting the apex, you knew the police wouldn’t make it there in time. “Those bastards,” you probably said.
You didn’t know us and you didn’t know what we were capable of. If you would have been thinking clearly, you might have trusted German engineering to leave us in your dust.
Maybe you felt dirty for the endorphin-rush that made you squeeze your thighs together beneath your beaded dress. Your heart pounded in rhythm with the truck’s tires as they clacked over lane reflectors. The galloping through your ears made it impossible to hear my words and instinctively, your finger lowered the window an inch.
Randy kept us lined up with your car. With your window lowered that inch, I saw someone next to you. Was that your old man? What’s wrong with that guy? He’s not moving. Is he sick? Or drunk? Either way, he wasn’t getting it up. He looked hollow and out of it. Maybe this party you’re coming from was pretty fun, and you got a little high on Moet, maybe even did a little coke in the fancy marble-lined bathroom with six sinks and a nice little Guatemalan woman to hand you a linen hand-towel embroidered with the hotel’s initial. Either case you were going home to nothing rigid south of his belt, but I had something to get you through the night.
You wanted to tell your man how scared you were–how dying behind the wheel or on that dark stretch of pavement was the last thing you wanted for either of you–but he was in no condition to offer strength or security.
The smell of brackish water on either side of the causeway was foreign to you, but it filled your nose from the death-black surface so far below the bridge that jumping wouldn’t be an option for either one of you. Even if not for the height, the effort would be too much for that guy in your car. If we got you, you’d be a rag doll in our clutches and that guy would be forced to watch, disregarded in the passenger seat.
You probably feared your sister or your daughter having to settle the affairs left behind if you died on that causeway. Your earthly remains. Of all things, your personal effects. You wondered who would touch your underwear–if they would find the stash of dildos and vibrators you hid in an old shoebox on the top shelf of your closet, the box you haven’t touched in far too long.
With your black beaded dress and up-doo hair, you’d obviously been social all evening, maybe you wanted just to talk. You eased up on the accelerator. Tried to hear. You had such passion and ambition on your face that I wanted to reach out to you, but your hands gripped the wheel with fear.
I hollered more. You watched the veins in my neck, surging and venomous.
The truck sped up and slowed down. Lunging.
You looked at the man in the seat next to you, his suit coat swallowing him, maybe you pretended he was shirtless and the tie loosened around his neck was a tattooed snake winding over his heart like it is on me. Maybe you weren’t. But you couldn’t pretend I wasn’t right there on the other side of you. I was the passion, the coarse hair and muskiness you missed atop you all those afternoons, home alone, and now I raced along beside you. Images of candlelight give way to the reality of street lights and these maniacs in the pickup truck that was edging closer toward you.
You slowed down.
When Randy got close enough, I saw your face covered in the black trails women get from crying. I’d seen so many faces striped this way in my life that the last thing I wanted was to make another one. Two streetlights later, I noticed your hands on top of the steering wheel, palms and fingers together—prayer hands on the steering wheel. Fingers straight as if you say Ah-men instead of A-men. Prayer hands and crying. That’s when I showed you the remaining quarter in my hand and then exaggerated the act of tossing it down harmlessly so you wouldn’t misinterpret my actions. “I’m done,” I said, wiggling my fingers. “No more. See?”
Randy swerved quickly out of and then back into place.
I reached around and smacked the truck’s roof. The wind was a steady shove on the left side of my face and it started to burn like too much sun. “Keep it straight and slow,” I hollered back to him.
You put your hand on your window; palm flat up against it like they do in prison, but it wasn’t like that, was it? You were putting up one of the prayer hands, and I reached out to become the other.
The smile spread across your lips was like my ex-wife’s on our wedding day. Her smile was reason enough to marry her. And yours was similar. I wondered if you smelled like her, but realized you must buy perfume from the expensive counters I passed on the way into the mall. It didn’t matter.
Our hands separated as we approached the first exit a mile after the causeway ended, and I assumed you lived in one of the designer homes along the bay.
We were heading to the other side, toward the power plant that threw ninety-eight percent steam into the air through the giant smoke stacks barely visible on the other end.
“You want me to follow that bitch?” Randy said.
“Don’t follow her,” I said. After taking my seat, I punched him in the neck. “And don’t ever call her that.”
As your brake lights faded from my side-view mirror, I was left looking at my hand.