“Wait in the Car.”

You’re a mess. Pain. All through your body. Thirsty. Shaking. So sick. You speech is rapid, your words running together. You keep looking over at your nine-year-old son and thinking, “He can wait in the car. No big deal.” Then, the last rational thought you have (just before grabbing your keys, your son, and rushing out the door) is, “Naw. I can’t.” But your sickness says otherwise: He can wait in the car. Déjà vu. You’ve been here before and it worked out. He waited in the car. Fuck it, you say, and you grab your keys, your son, and you rush out the door. “Where are we going, daddy?” You tell him, “It’s okay. You can wait in the car.” Fidgeting, you point the fob at the car and hit unlock. The sound of door locks popping open gives you a rush as you and your son get climb in. It’s okay, right? He can wait in the car, right?

A sense of false peace washes over you as you pull up to the curb. Shutting the motor off, you sit ridged. Not even your legs will move.  Mind racing, holding you hostage, as you consider whether this is a good idea. Again, a rational inkling hits you and you glance at your son in the mirror and start the car. Hand on the gearshift, the engine of your Hellcat purring, you tap the throttle and the hemi announces its desire to go, go, go. Yes, let’s go. Let’s get out of here. Just before you drop it into drive, you cut the engine. “I can’t leave, “you say aloud. Your son asks, “What, daddy? What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” you tell him. “I’ll be right back. Wait in the car.”

You grab the door handle and pop out of your seat, nose running, muscles cramping, skin cold and sweaty. Restless becomes panic as you think What if Johnny’s not here? Desperation leads you to this moment: diarrhea and body aches, all mixed with depression and anxiety. You are about to make a huge mistake, but it is impossible right now to do anything except dwell on how sick you are. You’ve been here before and it all worked out alright. “I just wanna feel right,” you whisper. Turning to your son, you say what you’ve said before: “Wait in the car.”

But it’s different this time. You don’t have any money. Johnny will help me out, you think. You have known Johnny for years but not as a friend. Only as “your guy.” Still, you hope he’ll spot you. Going through a chain-link gate in a chain-link fence, you head straight to Johnny’s garage, passing another dude on the way back to his car. Yes! Johnny’s got a new batch! You knock three times, put your hand on the knob, and step into a reality that never quite feels real. Johnny nods, ‘Sup? he says, with no idea what’s coming next. “Johnny, hey, listen, I gotta get a bundle but I got no cash. Spot me?” He laughs and then just shakes his head no. “Come on, man! Here, take this,” you say, removing your 14-karat gold necklace. “Hold it till Monday and I’ll be back.”

He doesn’t go for it. Without thinking, you drop him with a sucker punch to the gut, knocking the wind out of him. Jumping on his back, you pound him in the the head a couple of times. Shoving your hands into his pockets, you grab a fist full of crumpled bills and all his dope, and you sprint to your car. Johnny regains his senses and starts out after you. You jump in your car, slamming the door, and reach over and push START. The engine perks up, ready to git er done. Popping the car into drive, you press the accelerator to the floor, fish-tailing. Johnny fires three shots. The first two miss, but the third blows out the back window and strikes the back of your son’s head. Five minutes later you skid to a stop in the ambulance bay and rush inside screaming for help as your son dies waiting in the backseat of the car.

© 2023 Steven Barto

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