“The Ride Home”

The thing I remember as I stand in the back and shift my weight and check my watch is the way my finger felt when I used to press that M.C. Hammer tape into the deck of Dad’s beige Escort on the way home from Little League practice or band practice or whatever other kid-in-summer thing I was up to. The way that, for most of my childhood, he’d always wanted to leave his windows down in the summer but once I discovered that music, all the sudden he was a fan of air conditioning and the gas pedal, especially when we got back to the suburbs where someone familiar might hear.

I remember this especially as I lean forward on a grimy rail in the back row of the same club where I used to go with the guys to see Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction and even Nirvana once. Don’t worry—I saw Nirvana after they were ubiquitous. I, too, want to punch everyone who says they saw Nirvana before they were big because let’s just agree that they’re all lying. I reach for my flat cola because even when the music warrants lots of whisky, cola is what you drink when wedged between all the other parents, when the keys are in your pocket. Cola for us all—except the guy who pounds cheap bourbon three spaces down. Part of me wants to be that guy, but that looks like his wife next to him, which means he isn’t even driving but still has to be here, so no—I can’t and won’t envy him for a second.

The guy standing to my left nudges my elbow and I don’t particularly like it, but I turn and raise my eyebrows. He waits until he’s certain all my attention belongs to him and then asks, “What the hell is she singing about poker for when all her fans are kids?”

I shrug. A grown man stumble past in assless chaps and stilettos with a pair of filthy angel wings clipped on to what could best be described as his cape. No, they’re not all children. Technically.

“How far up there did you let your daughter go? Mine’s not allowed to go past the middle. There’s some stuff that happens up there I don’t need her seeing just yet, if you catch me.”

He puffs his chest, waiting for me to laud his parental excellence. I consider asking bourbon guy for a slug. This man needs a friend, something I’m not interested in being. He drink his own cola through a straw, all the way down to the bottom so it slurps. Who’s the child? I want to ask. He angles toward me, shoulders and all, waiting for a response. I think about the Hammer cassette that got played and played until the magnetic tape snapped in half, and even then, I carefully spliced it with Scotch tape and got another two months out of it—just when Dad thought the coast was clear for Billy Joel and REO Speedwagon. I think of the way Dad’s tunes sat there quiet in the ashtray as he gulped hard to let me be what I needed. I take a little drink—a measured one. I turn to my left, shoulders and all, look him square in the eyes and tell him my son stands wherever the hell he needs to, that I’m just the ride home.

 

About Brooks Rexroat

Brooks Rexroat lives and teaches in Huntington, West Virginia. A 2016-2017 Fulbright Scholar at Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University in Russia, he holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing-fiction from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and his work has appeared in such publications as Day One, Weave Magazine, The Montreal Review, Matchbook Literary Magazine, and Midwestern Gothic. Visit him online at http://brooksrexroat.com.