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Once, on the turnpike connecting Dallas with Ft. Worth, Vladimir Nabokov stopped for gas at a Sinclair station on a cross-country car trip. While cleaning the windshield, he discovered to his horror the splattered remains of a rare moth for which he had searched in vain for many years.
Eleven years or so later, a boy who knew nothing of Nabokov's moth left his mother's apartment, lifted the keys to her car, and headed for that same stretch of highway. The Turnpike road was silver white, lit by an August moon shining in a clear prairie sky. A Comanche moon.
So very late. Go to jail late. He didn't care. Smooth worn keys notched into the maroon Mustang's ignition, and fired the little six cylinder into noisy, clattering life. Slipping into reverse, he crept the car from the deep shadow of the parking shed, and rolled quietly out of the asphalt parking lot, onto the still hot concrete street. He waited until he was a block from home to tune the radio to KLIF. Steppenwolf, Magic Carpet Ride.
Turning right onto the wide six-lane leading to the turnpike, he lit a Winston. Nailing the throttle, he let the six wind up, then backed off just a little so it wouldn't shift, hanging on those high revs. He had the windows down, and he felt the wind, the music, the cigarette smoke and feel of the car all connect up somewhere inside him, just below his rib cage. At last, he let the automatic trans select another gear, and he cruised. Westbound. The Doors came on. Break On Through. He turned it up.
There were silver and black shadows all the way out the Loop to the Turnpike. He finished the Winston, and flicked it out the window. In the rearview, he saw the glowing ember sail high in the air, then explode into a galaxy of orange stars on the pavement.
Rolling on, he saw no more than a half dozen other cars. Pairs of red lamps hovered in the distance, or glowed yellow in his rearview. He was deliciously alone. As a spirit would, he moved over the face of the world. Belonging to the night, it moved in him, he in it.
In the near distance, an oasis of blue white fluorescence marked the tollbooth.
He slowed. In the light he could see how many insect lives had already been lost on his windshield. He turned the radio down. The tollbooth attendant stepped out, handed him his card, said Evenin', and he rolled back up to speed. As he exited the entrance ramp onto the highway, a lone red Corvette rocketed past and quickly became a glowing pair of double tail lamps shrinking in the blackness like the exhaust of a galactic cruiser blasting across the Milky Way.
The highway shone.
He turned the volume up again, louder now. Creedance Clearwater, Bad Moon Rising.
He thought Winston cigarettes were probably the best cigarette there was. Other guys liked Marlboro's, Viceroy, Tarleton. He liked Winston. He'd smoked them since he was fourteen. They hit the lungs just right.
The highway unfurled. There was a rhythm going, and he knew he was going to eat up the next thirty miles.
The road rolled across the undulations of the ancient sea bottom. Limestone bluffs blasted out by the Turnpike crews loomed and flattened. On either side of the road, at this hour, a vast, velvet blackness stretched all the way to where the stars came down to earth. The wind out here smelled of dirt, pasture, cattle, and nothingness.
He relaxed into the seat. The rhythm of the drive settled in. There were long stretches when his headlights drilled into the insect teeming darkness, undisturbed by oncoming headlights. Power lines stitched the sky with their heavy black cables, rising and falling. The tires droned.
For the first time, he let himself think of her. The thoughts came, something turned over inside of him. A violent thing, and it scared him. Always a start, like being jumped. Her blonde hair, the warmth of her tanned skin, the flash in her blue eyes. Her voice. He wanted to tear her to pieces, take her in, somehow. And, protect her. From himself? Maybe. She was something he wanted to do, over and over again. She had become the center about which he orbited. He'd become different in some way he couldn't say. The feelings came as invaders, previously unimagined. They were not possible. But, there they were.
It scared him, too, to think about anyone finding out. His mother with her awkward questioning. What did she know about this stuff? She'd run his father off five years ago. And the guys? He'd rather get caught with a boner in the locker room shower than have them know that he was in love. And that's what it was, wasn't it? Love. He'd fallen in love, and he couldn't get out. When every thing in him was saying, RUN! RUN AWAY! What did he do? He got up at two o'clock in the morning, snuck his mother's car out because it was nicer than his beat up old VW, and drove to Ft. Worth to be with the person who'd caused all this mess. Crazy as hell, is what it most certainly was.
This Magic Moment, by Jay and the Americans came on. He turned it up some more. He knew it was corny, but he didn't care. It was a magic moment. The car, the night, the hot summer wind. Bring it on, bring it on. Whatever you got. Bring it.
Now he was through the western tollbooths, crossing the viaducts into town. Slowing his speed into the concrete arroyos of that abandoned place, he felt like a visitor to the City of Oz, or the last survivor on a planet strangely abandoned. The streetllights glowed bright yellow orange. Red and blue neon shone from clubs now closed for the night. On a corner, he saw a silhouette take a cigarette to its mouth, the coal brightening for a moment, then dulling again as the arm swung down. Small animals had taken over his insides, and were in a struggle to make their way out. Would she be there? What if she were asleep? Maybe she'd gone out with Dwayne, her old boyfriend, who still lurked around, like all ex-boyfriends seem to do? And if her Dad was still up because he'd worked the late shift? Too much to think about. Just stay on course.
Magic Bus, by the Who, was on. The opening notes blasted loud as he cut speed, took the exit, rolled down the side street. everyday I get to you, get on the bus that takes me to youthere it was, the apartment complex where she lived with her Mom and Dad. Careful now, go slow, go easy, don't attract attention, turn that radio DOWN! They lived in one of those complexes that had landscaping and banana trees and kidney shaped pools with fiberglass slides, almost like a luxury motel. Not at all like the one he lived in. It reminded him of Galveston, which somehow fit with her blonde hair and her caramel tan, blue eyes.
He parked. He sat for a moment, his ears still roaring from the wind, the radio, the speed. He started to light another Winston, but decided not to. His heart was pounding boogaloo. He twisted the rearview so he could see himself.
He was sixteen. He knew what was going on. His sideburns grew down his jaw, a dark lock brushed over his forehead from the side, which he hoped made him look life a surfer from California. When he reached eighteen, he planned on moving to California. California was a place where you could be whatever you wanted to be. He knew this because she had told him so. She was an expert on California.
You were free in California.
He pushed his hair back behind his ears. A kind of a sullen, 'cool' face looked back at him from the mirror. Unlit, a cigarette hung from his lips. He unbuttoned his blue oxford short sleeve button down shirt a couple notches. Grinning, he got out of the car, walked over to the gravel by the building, grabbed a handful, threw it up at her window, and waited.
The light popped on almost right away. He looked at his watch. Two fifty a.m. He heard the window slide open, he saw blonde hair. The thing inside him came out of its hiding place, shook itself, fully awakened. Hey, he stage whispered. Hey, she said back.
You comin'? he whispered. SSShhhhh.came back out of the window. Hang ON! She said. Go start the car.
He sprinted back to the car. She was coming! That wild thing that had been growing and building all the way over on the Turnpike was now fully alive and awake, and it no longer belonged to him. He belonged to it. It would take him somewhere, take them somewhere, into the night, the dark, the unknown, a place where stars hung and comets fell across black voids.
She came around the corner of the building, a sun hat on, for disguise, covering her face. She was wearing a pair of white shorts, and little sandals, and one of those Indian blouses like you got at Pier One, in the back, near the incense holders and Pappa-San chairs. Her blonde hair a wild flag draped around her face. His breath caught, and something in his body changed, ready for whatever would happen next.
She got in the car, freshly anointed in Jungle Gardenia. In the bronze light of the parking lot falling through the windshield, he could see the blonde stubble on her legs glinting spangles, as if she were doused in gold dust. She had thick pink lipstick on, and her eyes were heavily made up in dark mascara. Never, ever, had he known that he could have someone like her. She was Jane Fonda, Sharon Tate, Marianne Faithfull, and more.
Hi, he said. Hi.she looked at him for some seconds, then began plunging through her purse, glanced up at him again, staring back at her in a trance and she said, Aren't we going? and he said, Oh.yeah, and he put it in gear, and they rolled out of the lot, onto the street, back up to the four lane thoroughfare, back up to the turnpike, and back up to speed on the pike, the semi's blasting by, a giant moon bearing forth on the summer night, the darkness full of insects ready to die on windshields.
She found what she was looking for in her purse, her pack of Salem's. She pulled one out, and held it gorgeously in the soft corner of her pinked lips, and searched in the console to depress the lighter, as no flame could stay lit in the whirlwind of the car's cabin.
He turned the radio up, I Feel Good, James Brown, and in the same, smooth, effortless move, found the lighter in the console, and, found her hand. His hand became a living thing and it covered hers for a moment, their skin blending on the console of his mother's Mustang, and it was the most adventurous, exciting, and pleasurable thing he had ever done.
The lighter popped out, and he withdrew it for her, all the while piloting their missile at eighty-five miles an hour with one hand and one eye, the others occupied with lighting her Salem cigarette.
While he held the lighter, she slid over onto the transmission tunnel to sit next to him. She placed the Salem's tip into the glowing red circle and puffed, steadying his hand with hers.
She pressed her body over against his as he drove, resting her arm on his thigh. Drawing smoke from her cigarette, she blew it in his ear, saying, You have cute ears.
Something clicked inside him. They went into hyper-drive, beings of wind and darkness drilling the night open with the yellow cones of headlights. She pressed herself closer, she entered him somehow, his skin cooled by the moisture of her lips as she shouted in his ear the music, the cigarettes
They drove back east in the early morning darkness, the girl shouting half-heard phrases into his ear, the night tossing millions of doomed insects at the windshield. They listened to the radio, and smoked their cigarettes, on their own. So very much on their own...
...and they rode on into a night world of their own making, a night which, as it turned out, would never end.
by James Dolan
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