Ertle’s old, white four-door bounced down the road, tossing up gravel and dust in its wake. Banion was driving. He kept the speedometer at a perfect road-tripping speed of twenty-five miles. Ertle shouted in his obnoxiously loud voice over the distorted radio for Banion to pull over. At the crest of the next hill, Banion slid the car over as near to the ditch as he could and shut off the engine. When he got out of the car, he took the keys with him.
A few moments later, following the slamming of the trunk, he returned with five cans of beer. Two he kept for himself, two went to Ertle, and one was handed to the back seat to her. She pulled open the tab, then held the beer in her left hand while taking a long first drink. She and Banion drank with their left hands, but Ertle had to drink with his right. It was the middle of the afternoon. The day had just started.
Banion twisted the car down a never-ending trail of dirt, gravel and deserted roads. After almost every group of songs on the radio, when the disc jockey’s voice marked the oncoming commercials, Banion would pull the car over at the crest of a hill. She had to walk down to the bottom of the ditch to take care of business damn near every time they pulled over. Sometimes, Banion would be waiting for her at the top of the ditch as she sauntered back up the slight embankment, watching her pull her shorts back up. He would put his arms around her tiny waist when she got close enough, then pull her tightly in and squeeze her. The lighter the cooler in the trunk became the more frequent these encounters became. Always, however, they were abruptly ended by Ertle’s impatience to keep circling the county.
This time, before she exited the car, Ertle grabbed her tiny, left hand and shook it, sloshing around the beer inside to see how much remained in the can. He asked her if she needed a nipple for the beer she was sucking on. She smiled, and held her right, second finger up in Ertle’s face while downing the warmed liquid she held in her drinking hand. Banion came back to the car with the last five beer cans.
Banion still drove the car at twenty-five miles an hour, only this time he mapped the county roads back towards town. They seemed to reach the Countymart in no time at all. Ertle took money from Banion and walked slowly in to buy the beer and ice. While she and Banion waited in the lot, parked right next to the double doors of the small grocery, a little red car pulled up on the left beside them. She scrunched her face tightly as she saw that it was Kami. She turned her head to the side to stare out the passenger side window while Banion talked to Kami.
Anger started welling up inside of her the longer the little red car was there. She wanted Kami to drive away before Ertle had a chance to see her. She also knew, without a doubt, that was what Kami wanted. She locked eyes with Ertle, who was just exiting the large, glass doors. Then her little red car peeled out of the parking lot. Ertle refilled the cooler with the necessities and quietly sat back down in the front passenger seat of the boxy sedan. Banion slowly drove out of the parking lot, out of town, and back to the comfort of the maze of unnamed dirt and gravel roads.
That song came on the radio. It brought out one of those moods in Ertle. He loudly sang, “BA, BA, BAH, BA. BA, BA, BA, BA, BA. BA, BA, BAH, BA. BA, BA, BA, BA, BA. AH, AAH, AH, when the bullet hits the bone. So you’ll come to know. When the bullet hits the bone,” while banging harshly on the top of the dash over the glove box with his empty left hand. It felt to her in the back like the car might break apart if he kept banging and thrashing. Ertle reached his long arms over and fumbled with the keychain hanging from car ignition, still while singing and slamming his foot on the floorboard to the rhythm of that song. He finally released a small key and an army knife keychain; he held the knife in his teeth while using the small key to open the glovebox.
Ertle took a single gold and silver bullet from the glovebox. He took the army knife from his mouth, extended the blade out and held it skillfully in his left hand. He turned the music up as loud as it would go then steadily used the knife to carve onto the bullet he held in his right hand. Ertle turned the sound on the radio back to the rear speakers and had a long conversation with Banion. Banion kept nodding and looked at her often in the rear-view mirror.
Her long, dark hair was blowing back from her face as the rushes of summer air swept in from the four open windows. Her eyes were dark in color and from the thick, black mascara and eyeliner she wore, the way Banion liked. She looked out the window mostly, a couple of times she returned his glance in the rear-view mirror. She rubbed her dry lips together after every drink she took from the silver can in her left hand.
She didn’t care what they were talking about. She just enjoyed being lost in the countryside and in her drunken thoughts. She was content to just be; be in the backseat with the wind and the music and her beer. She took a final drink with her left hand and threw her empty beer can out the back, driver side window. They had not pulled over in a while, and she needed another roadside break. She leaned forward and tapped Banion on the shoulder.
When she climbed back from the ditch, Banion was waiting for her with a beer in his hand. He kissed her and kissed her. Ertle never yelled to stop them. Instead he climbed onto the trunk of the car. She followed, climbing to the middle of the trunk and sitting Indian-style. Banion sat on her left so he could put his free hand on her leg while still drinking. She nudged Banion in the side and pointed as Ertle took a long drink with his left hand. She and Banion shouted out at him simultaneously. Ertle elbowed her in the side for catching him. He reluctantly shot-gunned the rest of his beer. She and Banion laughed as beer dribbled out of the can and down Ertle’s chin and onto his shirt. Ertle cleaned himself up and, after grabbing five more beers, got back into the car. Banion chivalrously opened the back door for her and helped her slide back into the car before returning to the driver’s seat.
She had no idea where they were, but the darkness that was falling around them let her see that the lights of town were getting closer. She didn’t care where they were going.Banion continued to drive no faster that twenty-five. The lights of town were over them now. They drove on past Countymart, through the middle of town and around the park square. They drove around the park square through the small sea of parked cars until they had almost made it back to the main street where they started. She saw the little red car before Ertle and Banion did, but not by much. Around the car she could see several boys talking, laughing and drinking. From the middle of the back seat of the dusty car she let out a quiet sigh. She watched a skinny boy with a dirty face lean into the open window of the little red car; he pushed a wine cooler bottle away from Kami's mouth and put his lips in its place.
She watched Ertle step out of the car into the mud. He left the door open and stood there as she watched. None of the people near the little red car looked in his direction. She watched him put the engraved bullet into a pistol. He held it out in front of him with his left hand. Ertle took one step away from his car and fired out the bullet. Ertle got back in the car, but didn’t immediately close his door.
Banion looked in the rear-view mirror at her. She was staring blankly at the back of Ertle’s head. Ertle slammed the door shut as Banion put the car in gear and began quickly backtracking out of town and through the course of gravel roads. It was past ten-thirty by then. Neither Banion nor Ertle spoke. They both kept quietly looking in the back seat at her.
She let out a quiet sigh of relief and smiled to herself. She was happy to be returning back into the comfort of the county backroads. The gravel bouncing up and hitting the car’s undercarriage made a familiar sound as Banion slowed back down to road tripping speed. The radio was playing that song that she loved. She unconsciously took a drink from the warm beer can she had been holding. From the darkness of the back seat, she quickly threw the half-full beer can out of back, right window before anyone could notice that she had been drinking with the wrong hand.
© Copyright 2016 D Corbin. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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