Burn taps me on the shoulder and says that we need fireworks, that I should really open my eyes, that the night is calling and will be gone someday, that I should probably give him a hand, me being the navigator, that I should at least pretend to know where we are going.
I sit up and say I’m awake and the woods are dense and tightly packed along either side of us, a fog of black surrounding the hi-beams. Small frogs are hopping into the road, the lights whiting them out and I say where the fuck are we? and he says exactly, that I fell asleep at my post, that he’s just driving and can’t be held responsible for any wrong turns. I light a cigarette and ask when was the last time he’d seen a sign? and Burn takes the cigarette from my hand and says the Maine welcome sign, that he kind of just wanted to see if he could attain the speed of darkness.
I say what? and he looks at me, his pupils huge, his eyes manic and he smiles, the cigarette huffing out from the cherry, the smoke concentrated and he says what doesn’t make you stronger only kills you and he turns back to the road and I ask what he’s talking about? and he says nothing nothing, terrible, just just awful and I light another cigarette and say that he needs to stop and turn around and he says yeah yeah yeah, good idea, just an excellent idea and I say I’ll drive, that he can sleep a few hours and he says he’s fine, that we aren’t lost, that the right road is coming up, that it’s somewhere around the next bend and he turns and looks at me nodding and says don’t worry, that we’ll find our way and I say he already agreed to turn around and he says yeah yeah, that’s right and pulls over into the dirt.
Burn opens the car door, the night lit up by thousands of stars and gets out, throwing the butt into the road, the frogs croaking as they race to the other side of the street to the woods. He walks to the front of the car and sits on the hood, the headlights blazing ahead and I get out.
He lights a cigarette and says that rarely is a lesson learned without humiliation, that it’s the keystone to any religion or support group, that we must be humbled before redeemed, that it’s the trade-off and he lies on his back, the engine still running and I sit next to him and he says that we could just make up new constellations, that Orion was born nameless. that sometimes, every once in a while, not often though, everything lines up.
I tell him that I’d drive for the next few hours and he says yeah yeah and walks around the front of the car and falls into the passenger’s seat as I get down, the frogs still bleating in the darkness. I get in and he takes the eyedropper from his pocket and puts two drops on his tongue, his eyes seeming frantic and bulge and I call him an asshole and say what is that? and he says he can’t recall, that Cloud had told him, but…and I say never mind, that I needed a pickmeup and I turn the car around, the sound of small bodies being crushed waft up through the open windows and Burn opens the center console, grabbing the pill crusher and puts the small spoon to my nose, saying body of Christ.
I snort back, the dust coursing into my nasal cavity as the headlights flash from the bark of the trees and neon eyes peer from the black and I shake my head back and forth and he says his friend told him the kid would be about our age and I say what? and he says a friend of his once found out something about a couple who lived a few blocks away, that it was something bad, something irrevocable, something buried and not needing to be aired out and I ask him what is he talking about? what is in that eye dropper? and he says he doesn’t talk to his kid anymore, not after that day.
Burn tells me that most child abductors are usually the child’s parents, that it’s the convenience of relative safety.
He takes the pipe from the glove box, the bowl half-filled with black and grey and says at that least it’s their mom or dad, really how bad could it be? and he lowers the window and throws his cigarette out and looks straight ahead and says what about the minority? and I say the minority? and he says yeah, when the mom and dad are snuggled in their soft down comforter, dreaming about tomorrow and they sleep through the sound of a small window on the door breaking, right next to the deadbolt meant to keep these things out, that maybe it’s just a few inches to the handle.
I light a cigarette, the drip commencing down the back of my throat and Burns says that maybe the next morning mom and dad are eating breakfast, joking about the durability of little Timmy or Johnny’s heavy eyelids, that he’s usually up and annoying at this time of the morning and he hands me the bowl and says that this is before mom goes to wake him, that perhaps he doesn’t respond when she lightly raps at his door and looks, finding that he’s not in his room, that maybe her first thought was that he’s jerking off in the bathroom, that she probably felt proud that he had discovered this early for a kid, considering it is her son and she goes to the bathroom and she knocks and maybe gets no response as dad might notice the broken window, yelling to mom he’s calling the police, telling the dispatcher my son is gone, to please find him, to please help me.
I inhale and hand him the pipe and he says maybe the police show up and question the parents, that they say it’s odd that there is no ransom note, that nothing is being insinuated, but perhaps mom and dad should stick near a phone for a while and the police leave and mom and dad go to church and pray.
Burn says his friend found this out, this friend he doesn’t talk to anymore and I say since he’s my navigator now, he should be keeping an eye on the road and Burn says that this friend of his said that Burn might pass for the kid, that he should just knock on the door and say he’s their son.
I look at Burn and say you didn’t? and Burn says that he asked his friend why he would do that? and his friend could say that he doesn’t know, that it could be funny.
Burn puts the pipe to his lips, the fire from his lighter illuminating the bowl and I put on the Descendents and Burn says that one must be broken down before they can be rebuilt, that maybe, just maybe, some things are better off dead.
He opens the center console and looks for what is left of the pot and we are still lost in Maine, but heading in the right direction, houses passing by every now and then and Burn says that maybe mom and dad move on, that maybe they even get over the night their precious little angel disappeared. I tell him to give me the eye dropper, that I’d like to sample whatever that is and he reaches in his pocket and gives it to me and says just a taste, that I don’t need much more and he exhales and says that maybe mom shuffled down empty hallways, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine late at night looking at pictures of little Timmy or Johnny, thinking that pictures wouldn’t keep her warm, that they’re hard to see through the tears, that maybe the pictures are harder to see covered in a thick dust and smoke residue, that maybe she didn’t clean much anymore, that maybe the best part of her died that morning, that maybe this is how the minority grieves.
I feel the drop hit my tongue, a burning and searing sensation coating my mouth and I cough and gag and shake my head and wonder if I made a wise decision? and ask how Burn’s friend found this out? and he lights the bowl and says his friend was doing a project for school, using microfilm and saw the front page news that a child disappeared, someone else’s child, gone and lost.
Burn may ask his friend why he would do that? and his friend may smile and say there’s twenty bucks in it and it’s just like Burn, quantity over quality and maybe Burn and his friend smoke a joint before they do this, behind an old willow tree and maybe Burn’s friend gives him the money there and Burn says that the mom and dad would have drive to the honorary grave and lay flowers on little Timmy or Johnny’s birthday because they never found his body, their son’s body, their lost son.
So Burn may knock on the door and maybe the dad may answer and Burn could say DAD! in his most excited voice, just loud enough so his friend who could be in the bushes should be able to hear him and he says dad? again and the dad would say really? is it you? after all this time? and maybe then Burn feels like shit, maybe he no longer wants to be redeemed, maybe this dad doesn’t like pranks, maybe Burn feels guilty, that maybe some line had been crossed and the dad says he knew it, that when the police said his son might have been cut up into little tiny pieces, he knew it wasn’t true and how mom still kisses that old little league picture before she falls asleep, how she cries in the dark, how they said his son might have been sold into slavery as a young prostitute in Southeast Asia and how he knew it didn’t happen and that he never looked in the newspaper when they found that incestuous cult up in the woods, that he knew his son wasn’t there.
So maybe the dad may ask where have you been son? and maybe the dad doesn’t move, doesn’t smile, doesn’t do anything, just looks, maybe overcome.
Burn has nothing to say and can’t even look dad in the eye and dad says it doesn’t matter, that even when they found those pajamas out on the interstate that he knew his son wasn’t locked in someone’s basement, starring in a snuff film and says he knew, that he knew and Burn asks him how? why was he so sure? and the dad looks to Burn’s feet and says because he buried his son under the porch and Burn meets his eyes and the dad says son.
Burn says he never went down that street again.
He points and says we made it out of Maine, the New Hampshire welcome sign lit up by lights on the ground pointed skyward and he says it’s what you love that will end up hurting you and you will destroy whatever loves you enough to care.
Burn tells me this and doesn’t know why though as I light a cigarette and he starts looking for the bag of mushrooms from Cloud’s rucksack as the sun was rising behind us. He says he’s hungry, that we should stop and grab something to eat, that we really need to stop here and he hands me a brochure, a group of kids surrounding Snow White on the glossy front, all smiles and joy and I glance it over and say yeah, that could be fun as a fast food restaurant appears, the large yellow sign fifty feet in the air and Burn says to pull in, that he just wants some homefries, maybe an English muffin.
I say yeah, that I’ll go through the drive-thru and he says no no no, that he wants to powder his nose, that he’d also like to wash his face and I say alright and pull into the parking lot, finding an empty space and he opens his door and disappears inside as I finish my cigarette. I open the front door and get in the line, the girl behind the counter wearing hollowed out sunken features, small crusted scabs on the rims of her nostrils and I wonder why I can’t get away from these people? and she taps her fingers on her thigh as I get up to her and she asks what I would like? and I tell her coffee and she enters my order in the register, pushing a big plastic picture of a coffee mug and asks if I would like hash browns? and I shake my head slowly and say no just coffee, all I want is coffee.
Burn comes from behind me, handing me a napkin, his face damp and says he wrote a haiku and wants to know what I think? and I tell him that poetry can’t explain the sheer coherence of the universe and he asks if I’ve actually looked at that brochure yet? and I tell him that I’ll see him in the car, that he’s driving.
Brendan Connolly‘s work has been featured by Genre: Urban Arts, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, Gravel Magazine and elsewhere. He lives and writes in Salem, Ma.