The Continuing Adventures of Sparky & His Guardian Friggin Angel by Marc D Regan

fire chapter 6

Previously in The Continuing Adventures of Sparky & His Guardian Friggin Angel:

“Strange world’a questions when Dwayno hits the wanderin’ road with the burn victim,” says the Guardian Friggin Angel as our misfits escape hillbilly shovels and missteps that nearly cost them their lives, and catch a ride going south. Will they make it to a reasonable altitude? Will Dwayne find the answers he seeks? Will Sparky get some sleep? Or will the unthinkable happen? Read on, dear friends, read on…

 

 

Dwayne:

After ridin’ with the professor, which’s what I called him on account’a his squeaky middle-aged looks and manner’a talkin’, I’m ready to roll off whatever exit he’s takin’ and set up camp on his goddamn couch. Spark, however, wakes up crabby as some long-forgot Maine shoreline and says he ain’t buyin’ into no more’a my detours.

 

Spark’s referinatin’ to our bad trip at Clampett Compound and prob’ly also to the NY, NY queen scene, which wasn’t my detour’a choice. That big apple trip was set rollin’ by Hedgehog Mulder. Which don’t really matter, but it does inspire me to ask him the obvious: How can a detour even friggin’ exist when you got no actual destination? Course pryin’ open a burn victim’s mind’s like tryin’ to crack open one’a them thunder eggs—a geo or what have you. The stubborn SOB don’t shed his stubborn.

 

Not to mention that bein’ back roadside at fadin’ light hour kinda friggin’ worries the fudge outta me, but, bein’ the easy goin’ guy, and since my bean’s lost some’a its ache, I don’t complain. In fact, me and Spark ain’t hardly said a word to each other since we got dropped in Independence, VA, which we avoid cause it’s got the stink of Anderson. But growin’ bored’a the standing and waiting, thumb flaggin’ at each potential ride, I reiterate the conceptual that me and him’re just a couple’a stupid little boats driftin’ pointless friggin’ circles in a big uncarin’ sea and that life’s good as we decide, but he acts like he ain’t heard—prob’ly cause I taught this wisdom already.

 

Still, I gotta stay positive so our recent hardships don’t win the friggin’ race to nowhere (a mental state I ain’t keen on visitin’) which ain’t too hard when a blushin’ sundown silhouettes the mountains purple and the cold ain’t arrived all the way—and here comes a car.

 

A small ride with a paintjob that’s twinklin’ like night’s first wish-I-may star.

 

A man behind the wheel.

 

A fat man.

 

This observation don’t bubble from some stagnant reservoir’a prejudice in me—I’m just statin’ fact. My thinkin’s that once you smooth the dirty bedclothes’a truth so they’re lookin’ politically correct neat, all you got’s hospital-cornered sheets in need of serious cleanin’. Or, put simpleton, speakin’ the truth no matter what other clowns might say keeps a guy from havin’ to apply elbow grease later. A’course Truth’s always ripe for a strong shot’a sprucin’ up or whatnot, which ain’t lyin’, it’s just Dwayno aimin’ to entertain.

 

Anyways, once we’re inside this spiffy little car that turns out to be a Karmann Ghia—Spark in his big blue hidin’ hood gettin’ the backseat (which’s tiny or cozy, your glass half-empty/-full kinda deal) and me snaggle-pussin’ the front ‘cause’a my superior conversin’ skills, which Spark calls bullshittin’—I see that this man’s more than plain old fat. This groovy-lookin’ dude ain’t just sportin’ a love handle, a spare tire, or your average pair’a all-American man boobs. This’s a guy who’s Sumo wrestler and champion glutton. A Hawaiian fatso. Or Jamaican. An island dude for sure, mon—who don’t speak a friggin’ syllable.

 

Like, he don’t vocabulate a Hi, Hello, or How’s it goin’, boys?

 

But I’m cool with him, so I go: “Howdy dude-y!” Figurin’ it’s all good (as some dopes’re fond’a sayin’) since we’re tucked safe in a ride before high altitude dark-and-cold hits. Plus, Fatso’s pineapple-y cologne has me loungin’ on a tropical friggin’ beach.

 

A scan and it’s clear this’ll be a good night. Or so I hope when I spot the feather-ended roach clip hangin’ with other crap from the rearview. Fatso’s Hawaiian shirt and his asinine nub’a tied-back black hair and, well, his heritage shouts that he’s fresh off the boat from Ganja Island. After the hurt and humiliation me and Spark’ve endured, I’m prime for a relaxin’ toke-athon. And my money’s on Spark agreein’ (though it’s anyone’s guess with him in that grim reaper getup).

 

Yep, it’s headlights leadin’ us to the end’a the world I ain’t even seen yet, and I feel fine.

 

Even better when a doobie’s bit in that genuine feather (eagle? turkey?) clip. But the dude ain’t even said hello.

 

To speed up the party, I go: “I’m Dwayno and the mysterious cloaked clown in back’s usually called Sparky. Or on a night that’s good as this one, Sparkomatic.”

 

A faint grunt escapes Fatso’s blub-puckered lips. Then there’s only VW engine noise.

 

To drop the hint and lighten the mood, I go: “Puffin’ primo dope gives a gargantuan guy serious friggin’ munchies, aye?” No insult intended, just sleuthin’—not only for the key to his jolly side, but also cause’a his weightiness. I mean, the friggin’ car’s sunk on the driver’s side as it slithers up and down this snaky road.

 

Since I’m in the shotgun seat, he’s only gotta swivel his fat head on his fat shoulders a bit to aim his green eye outta a fat pocket where another guy’d have a lid and lashes. And I gotta admit: his pea-eyed glance ain’t too friggin’ friendly.

 

So I goes: “Gives you the munchies, don’t it, Spark?”

 

Spark also grunts. Or maybe not. The engine’s rappin’ like Eminem and Spark loses his friggin’ tongue in front’a strangers. Sure, burn victims develop your classic self-esteem issues, but we all got ‘em—like when you’re a guardian friggin’ angel who never enlisted or a fatso who’s luggin’ a quarter ton’a blubber around. And I’m theoryizin’ this universal cracked self-esteem factoid as the cause of our chauffer’s muteness.
Again, I do empathize—and, I’m deducin’ that the extra poundage ain’t even Fatso’s fault. See, after eyeballin’ the VW’s interior, I spy a roll-your-own snipe in the ashtray and this leads me to addin’ together roach and clip together and gettin’ that Fatso’s got four-times-ten years (judgin’ from his fortyish looks)’a spliff-puffin’ under his giganto-sized belt and when an island dude’s been tokin’ like a bastard Marley since he was dumpin’ in the diapers, he can’t help but develop a stout friggin’ appetite.

 

It’s common knowledge (least to me) that all island born-and-raiseds start token at friggin’ birth.

 

But since Fatso ain’t conversatin’ or makin’ a hotbox’a his peanut car, I try another tactic. Turnin’ to the guy, whose mug’s grim as one’a them cigar store Indians—‘cept the past-ripe banana skin tone confirms he’s for sure from some tropic (Caribbean or Polynesian) paradise—and ignorin’ his grim friggin’ face, I relate the Randy-becomes-Spark tale, in reverse, startin’ with Spark’s pitch in the abyss and endin’ with the ancient-history Big Bang that deep-fried the kid’s life.

 

A’course it ain’t no joke, none’a Sparky’s woes are, but I add a few giggle-bone ticklin’ tailspins and…zero chuckles from our chauffeurin’ blub-balloon. No goddamn words. Nothin’.

 

Deafness crosses my mind. But that ain’t for certain, so with that Clampett wallop’s still painin’ my brainpan and thinkin’a October’s dangerous-after-dark high-altitude super cold I cling to my hope’a him sharin’ a grin and maybe a bone’a primo bud so we’ll be he-he-hein’ all the way to our lack’a home and I goes: “Hey, ahh…mon, why the Stonewall Marley friggin’ face?” I laugh and elbow-nudge him.

 

Even his inch’a greased hair in the elastic’s serious as a hungover judge, as his fat digits twist on the outdated Kenwood system.

Bombs

Sparky:

I should be walking. My plan: no hitchhiking, no accepting rides. Yet I occupy another car, this one permeated with a stink so fruity my sinuses burn.

 

What does the pineapple-shaped air fresher dangling from the rearview mirror mask? Aside from all other scents? Why must people hide the truth? An odd question coming from a guy who hides in his hood maybe, but I can explain my motives: I cover my extensive scars to avoid attention I would otherwise draw. But, who knows, maybe this guy suffers from chronic gas and carpools.

 

Point is, I’d rather be elsewhere. Because, repugnant air freshener and personal intentions aside, bad vibes fill this little car. Depression. It could be my fatigue, pain and road weary sensibilities, but the driver strikes me as too quiet. Dangerous, maybe. He’s a big man, at least three hundred pounds, and, with the tiny ponytail, Hawaiian shirt and black sacks, he could be mafia. Or some sort of mob man.

 

Dwayne is oblivious, gleefully pouring his personal brand of salt in whatever wounds our driver carries. Firing caustic “jokes”. Thinly-veiled racial zingers. Insinuating rather than asking. After weeks of sharing air with Dwayne, I’m versed in Dwayne’s contorted linguistics and his wacko thinking and have ascertained two things:

  • Dwayne believes the guy behind the wheel is from Jamaica or Hawaii.
  • Dwayne has decided that this guy has pot on him.

Primo dope, Dwayne says, even as he mocks the guy’s obesity. A silently brooding man. A man that doesn’t seem stupid. So, instead of thawing ice, Dwayne adds to it.

 

A multi-speaker car stereo booming “classic rock” increases the tension.

 

Of course, I’m no help. Shoved in the backseat despite my wounds. I suppose I could whip off my hood and give the guy a rearview full of horrid. But the shock could cause him to steer us into thin air. Better to let Dwayne tell it—again—while I remain the specter. The character in Dwayne’s story isn’t me. He is an invention, a hybrid, and thanks to Dwayne’s Irritable Vowel Syndrome, the real me is forgotten. I’m fine with it—we are in a sporty VW, eluding hillbillies. The sun has fallen behind the peaks and the temperatures will follow suit. For now, we’re safe.

Bombs

Dwayne:

“What’s your name?” I shout, goin’ direct with Fatso. Inspired by a Skynyrd song on the radio.

 

Another viper glare, and: “Eke.” No Jamaica, mon accent.

 

“Eek, like you saw a friggin’ mouse?”

 

Nothin’.

 

“Okay. Alright. We’re makin’ friggin’ progress.” Eke gets my let’s-be-buds smile.

 

Which a’course gets met with a frown. Rear-end engine noise. And Ronnie Van Zant singin’ about takin’ groupie girls up to his hotel room and forgettin’ their names.

 

Next on Grandpa Kenwood’s oldie parade is Van Halen, and since Eke ain’t finger or toe tappin’ or head bobbin’ to “D.O.A.”, it’s clear that music don’t calm this beast. But Eke’s deadpan ain’t stoppin’ Diamond Dave from croonin’ about bein’ broke and dirty and wearin’ rags, but hearin’ the words has me twitchy for a motel room. A shower. A few cold ones. ‘Cause it don’t look like Eke’s gonna be lightin’ up any time soon. All this hammerin’ in my head, I goes: “And where we headed, my man?”

 

“I’ll drop you at my exit.” Short and frankly kinda sour.

 

My nod might look understandin’ or like I’m diggin’ the tune, but it’s pure frustration.

 

Eddie goes into his solo.

 

Eke tugs the wheel right and left to keep us on the zigzaggy cliff-hanger road.

 

I says: “Not the master’a conver-sayin-a-friggin’-thing, huh, Eke?”

 

Fat fingers nudge the tunes louder.

 

Spark may sense the sea’a tension I’m tryin’ to part with cheery small talk but really that’s any clown’s guess. He says nada. Like he ain’t even friggin’ there.

 

But I ain’t quittin’. This guy—Eke, Fatso, take your pick—he ain’t lettin’ his good mood show, and don’t every bum got one? Fuck the puffables. Not that I’d refuse, but this’s his car, and any weed he’s got or don’t got is his.

 

But the sun’s gone. Along with the day’s heat.

 

Aimin’ for Eke’s giggle-bone—so we don’t get dumped cliff-side and left to freeze—I go: “So, Big Man. Whassup with your buttoned lip? ‘Fraid’a sinkin’ ships? Cause there’s no need frettin’ on that—me and Spark’s already caught in a suck-job vortex. Playin’ ring around the rosy-with-rust drain. Or maybe concern for our feelin’s ain’t the cat burglar’a your language skills. Could be the excess baggage you’re luggin’.” To illustrate—that he’s a blimp—I balloon my cheeks and pout my lips like I’m Alfred Hitchcock holdin’ a bong hit. “Either way’s cool.” I show him my happy teeth.

 

His island shirt—wearin’ a gaffer like that seems like it’d mean he’d be harborin’ a smidgeon’a humor, but no. Dead eyes. Flat-line mouth.

 

“Hey, I’m goin’ for a friggin’ giggle…can’t you cough one out?”

 

With every friggin’ word I say, Fatso gets more uptight. His green peepers look meaner. He’s bad mood times infinity and beyond. Like his ass’s been in saltwater for decades.

 

Maybe this dude ain’t the pot smokin’ island-vibe dude I took him for.

 

“Okay, Eke. Let’s try again.”

 

“Hey. Dwayne,” comes from the back. Friggin’ Spark, suffers from lockjaw till I’m employin’ Plan B with Fatso—loosen No-Speak Eke with a warm shower’a friggin’ compliments.

 

But I gotta yell over some moldy old song: “Nice friggin’ shirt! For serious! Wish I had one that nice!” I mean it, but I doubt Eke thinks so. A glance and he turns down the Kenwood, his nostrils blastin’ an angry bull plume of invisible breath. Quick Draw McGraw fast, I add: “And I love the friggin’ cologne. Like pineapples. Noticed it right away.”

 

His grunt’s now a snarlish snort—the kind that comes from one’a them big brutal hogs that John Locke’s always killin’ on that crazy TV island. Eke looks mad enough to bite off my nose.

 

“Nice car,” I try. “Ain’t seen one’a these fuckers…since…” Then nothin’. A blank. So, pullin’ the old switcheroo, I says: “Really, it’s a golden goddamn pleasure to meet a large dude such as yourself.” I stick out the universal hand’a friendly greetin’.

 

He ignores it. Don’t even look.

 

When I’m nervous I talk and right about now I’m nervous as friggin’ Nellie, so I go: “Where you headed anyway?”

 

“Laurel Springs.”

 

This road’s got 221 signs but each one might as well say nowhere, cause I got no idea where we are. “Like, what exit’s that?”

 

Still void’a human kindness, or even eye contact, Eke goes: “I take 113, west.”

 

This don’t strike me as particularly good news, but tryin’ to keep on the sunny side, I go: “Long as it ain’t Roanoke.” To add a smidgeon’a jest zest to the vinegar punch, I do my Maine accent: “Been thar, done that.”

 

No grin, no half grin, no fake chuckle. Big Daddy clearly don’t appreciate me.

 

So, ta-da, I yank a word rabbit outta my hat: “How’s a cold one sound?”

 

“Beer?” Eke’s a goliath statue, but his bulk relaxes and he looks to have had one’a them cartoon light bulbs.

 

“Sure,” I tell him.

 

Any clown can tell Eke’s now a lukewarm bath, which beats the ice water dunk he’s been, when he says: “I could bring ya to Laurel Springs, drop ya at Blue Ridge Parkway. More traffic there.”

 

“After beer,” I says.

 

Eke grumbles agreement.

 

Satisfied, I study his fat face. Lit by console lights. I’m back to ruminatiin’ on origin. Could be Samoan. Or from a line’a Sumos…‘cept the southern twang don’t fit the bill.

 

Strange world’a questions when Dwayno hits the wanderin’ road with the burn victim.

 

In the green light’a the dash I see Eke’s fat tongue squirmin’ round his fat lips like a slug sluicin’ for a treat, and imaginin’ his thirst, I’m thirsty. Excited for beer. But why sour a sweet moment by quizzin’ Eke on how far we gotta go? I glance back at Spark, who’s good as a corpse in that goddamn hood. The sky’s turned cadaver gray. Mountains black. And bein’ in this mini hearse—it’s gonna friggin’ kill me. “How much farther?” I kinda squeal.

 

“A while.”

 

Judgin’ from what blue super hood’s emittin’—nothin’—I figure Spark’s out to friggin’ lunch.

 

I seize the day by the undercarriage: “Eke, my man, I ask a question?”

 

The dash lights reveal that friggin’ pea peerin’ outta folded flesh.

 

“Just thinkin’ heritage and shit, and I gotta ask, how’s the ganja sitch?”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Comin’ outta your homeland? De islands, mon?”

 

“What?”

 

“Hawaiian puffemilla?”

 

The Def Leppard guy on the radio yells pyromania!

 

“Samoan?”

 

His response don’t sound like an affirmatin’ ugh.

 

“Okay. Filipino.”

 

A dark scowl. The meanness’s back.

 

“Hell, I don’t know. Thailand? Point bein’, I’m askin’, any kin UPS goodies over from whatever island you call home?” And I make like I’m tokin’ on a giant spliff.

 

That fat-enfolded pea’s so piercin’ I look away.

 

“Okay. Your daddy. You and him share a tumble weed connection?”

 

Eke lets a wolfman howl.

 

“Hey,” I say. Like I’m askin’ for him to be reasonable, to try and understand all the broken shit me and Spark been through, that I just wanna have a good friggin’ time. That that’s all I ever want.

 

“Mothafuckah!” he says. “I’m comin’ from my pa’s funeral!” Mean pea glares at me. “And I’m not from any island, you bigot! I was adopted! Lived here all my life! Mothafuckah!”

Bombs

Sparky:

One trouble with allowing yourself to be objectified, with letting yourself be used as a mere prop in another’s anecdote, with hiding, becoming unreal, voiceless, a problem with donning the cloak of invisibility is, it’s hard to take it off. How does a ghost regain substance, reanimate enough to assert authority? How do I quit hiding? Do I wait for fear—of lice, for instance—to cause me to forget my anonymity? Do I wait for someone to pull away my hood? Do I obey orders?

 

In Eke’s backseat, I’m a shadow compared to the bright colors of Dwayne’s antagonistic banter. I feign sleep to avoid engagement but cannot escape the precarious situation: trapped in a small car that hugs a narrow and precipitous road, a car piloted by an inimical man who is continually prodded by Dwayne, and with each curve, we veer close to the edge—literally and figuratively. Dwayne has this effect on people. What lies ahead, I don’t know. I do know that Dwayne means no harm, that he’s simply being Dwayne, but I also know that to a stranger Dwayne Handy can seem like a real asshole—a fount of abrasive words. I know because I’ve been Eke.

 

The mention of beer seems to help and we’re back to the safety of the middle of our lane. I want to relax, sink into nonexistence, but Dwayne doesn’t know when to stop. He brings up Eke’s dad, who, it turns out, Eke just buried, and there’s no reversal. Eke explodes.

Bombs

Dwayne:

Nervous I talk, but scared, I laugh. Fiercer the friggin’ fear, the furiouser my guffaw—a loud, happy sound, when I’m scared as shit. “Sorry, Eke. Ha. I. Haha. Had no friggin’ idea. Hahaha!”

 

Eke’s definitely not caught the world’s-a-friggin’-beautiful-place-when-you-hang-with-Dwayno giggle virus. His fat knuckles glow doughy on the wheel. His face’s a friggin’ storm cloud.

 

“Haha. Okay. Ha. Ya still up for scorin’ a rack’a suds? Drink to Pa’s memory?”

 

“Shut up,” Eke shouts, unexpectedly heel-hammerin’ the brake pedal. The car’s spinnin’ a circle and layin’ rubber, scary as hell cause the road up here’s narrow. And off the side’s vast.

 

I’m shocked into goin’: “Ho shit! Eke, man! Whoa-hoho!” The voice I make sounds like Granny Clampett gettin’ poked by the real Jethro, and petrified—I roar laughter. Plus Eke’s got a sudden outbreak’a hemorrhoids, pinworms, or some ass ailment shit, cause he’s squirmin’ and drummin’ on the steerin wheel and howlin’ tears, and seein’ an agonized fat man wiggin’ out so severe’s a real jaw-dropper. I mean, a blow from one’a them super-sized elbows could be deadly. So, with the Volks stopped diagonal in the mountain road and him slammin’ and sobbin’, I’m bellowin’ fuckin’ laughter, and coughin’.

 

And outta this chaos rises Spark’s hood-muffled: “What the fuck, Dwayne!”

 

“Spark, hehe, all our folks’re dead or gonzo—and looks like Eke’s got friggin’ crabs!”

 

A factoid: most clowns got no sense’a humor—‘specially dark. But tonight, picturin’ a world’a dull-faced shit-suckers tickles my gigglebone all the more.

 

Eke grabs me by the front of my t-shirt and drags me outta his Karmann Ghia and throws me on the tar. He’s just a black shape—swayin’ like his bouncer bulk just might pancake yours truly—a shape that’s gaggin’ and chokin’.

 

“Dwayne! Roll!”

 

I’m so freaked I believe it’s another order from Clarence, and roll I friggin’ do.

 

I’m standin’ in middle’a the mountain road when I realize Spark’s beside me, hood off, and we both’re eyeballin’ Eke. Spark could be thinkin’ any friggin’ thing, but I’m waitin’ for the guy to crash land on the spot that was me. Instead’a that, still urpin’ like he inhaled a gerbil, he staggers and staggers some more, till he’s staggered to the edge’a the big nothin’. It’s way worse than the depths Spark stumbled into, cause Spark had trees and dead shit to slow and soften his long fall. The edge Eke’s near, it’s got nothin’. As in air. And rocks hundreds’a feet below.

 

“Spark! We’re all three of us, stupid little boats circlin’ the drain—we gotta do somethin to save this adopted guy, an orphan who’s too fat, and too sad!”

 

“Eke! Stop!” we both friggin’ bellow, but I’m thinkin’ he prob’ly wants to die.
I know I did when my mom got killed by tumors. I wanted the same tumors in me. When I found her on the kitchen floor—her body just gave up the fight—the kid I was grabbed a steak knife to cut her open, not to hurt her more, but to find those cancer bastards and carve ‘em out. I planned to eat ‘em. Then we’d both be dead on that dirty vinyl floor.

 

But before that could happen, hands hoisted me in the air. My dad must’a heard her hit the floor. He held me high and in front’a him, even as I swiped and slashed, racin’ to the neighbor’s house and settin’ me on the floor. Through my tears I saw blood—from the serrated-edge knife I lost in the run between yards. Goddamn blade tore his button-up shirt, white with blue pin stripes, and his skin leaked blood in more places than I could count.

 

Later, when Pops went whacko, mumblin’ to himself, totin’ my mom’s clothes—first scarfs, then dresses, and finally her under things, lacy bits I’d never seen but soon learned were her lingerie, I blamed myself. A guy loses his one-and-only, just to have his snot-nose Norman-Bates him with a steak knife—how fucked is that?

 

When he had me be his one-and-only, I didn’t feel mad or blame him, at first—I felt like I’d got what I wanted—to be dead. Bein’ my mom for him made me dead. A’course it was him that’d died, only his body didn’t know it, and seein’ that dead in his eyes, those black holes not even seein’ me after I dialed 911 and they were draggin’ him away, yeah, I wanted to die.

 

“Dwayne. He’s gone.”
Spark’s standin’ over where I’m sprawled on the asphalt. He tries to help me up, but I fight it. Spark, bein’ the former ace athlete, dodges my punches and pins me in roadside dirt.

 

“I killed him, Spark. I friggin’ killed him.”

 

“No, Dwayne. Life killed him. How he lived life and how life lived him, that’s what killed him.” Spark’s eyes’re serious as ana-allergic shock.

Bombs

Sparky:

Gotta move the car is all I can say.

 

If a car takes the blind curve, it will hit Eke’s car. One death tonight is more than enough.

 

The Karmann Ghia parked on the narrow shoulder, the cold shut out, I check the gas: half full. But not knowing where we are or what to do, the car stays off. Fatigue hits like a tsunami.

Bombs

Dwayne:

When little red ride’s safe on the shoulder that ain’t overlookin’ Eke’s friggin’ dive, we sit in it, me and Spark leakin’ friggin’ sadness for the Sumo we didn’t know but did. When the windows steam over from our breath and the cold gets unbearable cause Spark won’t let that ignition key turn, sayin’ We’ll need the gas, if we decide to escape with the car, I go: “Spark. We might’a got new IDs but we got the same fingerprints as ever and mine’re on record. Warrants for me’re out there floatin’ in cop cyber-somewheres. So. My brilliance says we crank this krautmobile up and blast the heat. Then we won’t lose fingers or toes from frostbite or ice-cube to death. I say we sit in here warm and alive and turn on Grandpa friggin’ Kenwood and chill with some’a that classic rock radio Eke was boomin’ and then, when we’re back to normal as we can be this soon after all that’s happened and the sky’s pink and the sun’s gettin’ higher, what I say’s we shove this car off the cliff, so when some clown spots the car, they’ll find Eke’s body nearby.”

 

Spark starts the engine; I set the heat on high.

 

“Spark. Hit the radio—”

 

“What we were listening to was a tape. A cassette.” Spark pops it outta the deck.

 

“Somethin’ wrong?” I ask cause’a the look on his face.

 

“The tape,” he mumbles, passin’ it my way.

 

Not yet lookin’ at the cassette, I go: “Spark. A tape’s a friggin’ ta—” Seein’ the writin’ on the tape makes my tongue go dry, my whole mouth.

 

Dad’s Mixed Bag of Oldies (But Goodies)

 

And under the mix-tape headline, in neat cursive, it says: I love you, Ezekiel.

 

It’s like the words’re volcano ooze rushin’ from my optic area, solidifyin’ to a big friggin’ lump in my throat, and the lump says: What if your dad did this? I shake it off. “It’s from his friggin’ dad. So? Tunes’re tunes.” I say it harsh cause’a feelin’ weak after the cryin’. To survive I gotta be strong. Hard as friggin’ diamonds. I know Sparky’s dad’s a classic music collector guy who’s got like three thousand more albums than my dad ever dreamed’a havin’, but acknowledgin’ this factoid’ll do nothin’ but remind Spark’a what he lost, so I say: “Hey. French Fry. Just play it.”

 

Soon Jimi Hendrix floods the space, and it’s a good flood with 6s and 9s splashin’ and mutatin’ into each other, not carin’ which’s which. ‘Cause really it don’t matter. This song’s an old friend advisin’ me to live while I got the friggin’ chance. And to be true to me. Which means guardian friggin’ angelin’ Spark, no matter what. The tune’s from that movie I used’ta watch. Easy Rider. Recallin’ them rebel dudes blazin’ their goddamn way across the USA, I think’a me and Spark. I wanna say, Don’t give a redneck the finger, Spark, but instead I just listen.

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