The Drive Home
"Yes, is this William Michaels?"
He hesitated. Whenever someone on the phone asked if he was who they were calling, it was never good. Finally he answered "Yes."
The voice on the other end softened somewhat when they returned "Sir, I hate to have to tell you this, but your brother is dead."
Stunned, Bill could only stand there, phone in hand and a disbelieving look on his face. "W-w-what? David? Dead? How? When? Oh God NOOOOO!!!"
He pushed the button on his cheap cell phone, ending the conversation. A few moments were spent in tears and memories before he gathered himself enough to go talk to his boss.
"Sir? Could I speak with you for a moment?"
His boss, Dan Johnson, was the epitome of a horrible boss. Crass, mean-spirited, unwilling to bend one iota, he demanded his people toe the line and beyond in order to keep their miserable jobs. If one stepped out of line he first demeaned them then threatened them often saying "It won't be hard to replace your sorry self! All I'll need to do is go to the soup kitchen downtown and drag one of those carcasses outta there and put 'em in your slot. They'll be every bit as good as you are which ain't a helluva lot to begin with!"
A look preceded a grudging "One minute."
Bill stammered for a second then said "Sir? I just got a call and they told me my brother's dead. He had some kind of heart attack they say. I was wondering, that is, do you think I could...maybe..."
Johnson stared at him and asked "What? You need a day off? For what? Your brother's dead; he's gone and you're here. I've got orders that need filled and you're gonna do 'em! If you can't I'll get someone who can. Now get outta here and get back to work!"
Bill stood there for a second or two, looking at this, this monster. Turning around he left the office and walked straight back to the break room, gathered his things and walked out the door.
He didn't even clock out.
Walking to his car, an anger set in, a deep anger at the kind of person who would deny another to feel sorrow at a loss of a family member. As he crossed the parking lot the anger began to subside as a flood of memories threatened his every step until he simply stopped, halted right there in the middle of a lake of asphalt. The sun was slowly setting in the West and cast a glow across the landscape, bathing him in a warm glow. But he felt anything but warm; in fact a cold dark feeling was settling in his heart. Finally, grudgingly his feet began to work once more and he continued to his car.
Opening the door, he settled into place and buckled up. He didn't even realized he did this and had he been thinking he probably wouldn't have. At this point he did not care a lick for himself: his brother was dead. Shutting the door he stuck the key into the ignition and started the car. From the speakers came a song; one very familiar to him. In fact, it was one he and his brother had listened to, sang with, and driven their cars while listening to countless times when they both were in their younger days.
He sat back, a smile flitting across his lips. Thinking back to the times they had driven that road between Flippin and Bull Shoals in northern Arkansas doing their best to cover half of the ten mile stretch between the two in the time it took for the song to play. It was a twisting, turning road full of curves and no straight stretches but every now and again they managed to fulfill their goal. He remembered the first time they had done this, in a Mustang Mach I flying around curve after curve, hair flying in the wind, screaming the words to the song at the top of their lungs, finally whooping with satisfaction at doing what they set out to do, no matter how dangerous it had been. What was danger in a fast car to a twenty year old kid?
The commercials faded and another song came across the speakers. Another driving song playing just for him on this horrible evening. Another song from his past, reminding him of his brother.
God, what year had that come out? '78? '79? He remembered the old Craig Powerplay 8 track player he had in his car and the girl who had given him the tape for Christmas. The first time he and his brother had listened to the tape, driving the road between Harrison and Flippin late at night, coming back from a basketball game. they had covered the forty odd miles in just over twenty minutes; far too fast late at night. And that included slowing down for two towns! They had been racing another guy in his truck back to the gym parking lot and were waiting for another twenty minutes before he showed up. They had listened to about half the tape driving, the other half waiting. When he rolled into the lot, they were sitting on the hood, laughing. What happened to those days?
He finished listening to the song, then waited for a few heartbeats for the next song. He was feeling a bit better; well, maybe. Remembering his brother in better times was making him feel somewhat happier. Then, out of those old speakers came another song from the past. And with it, more memories.
He remembered listening to this one driving across the Mojave Desert one year long ago. He and his brother had gotten a wild hair and driven cross country for the sole reason of seeing the Pacific Ocean. It had been late at night, the sky ablaze with stars on that moonless night. Orion followed them across the sky, standing guard over them as the drove and the Dippers trailing along. It had been something, that night; watching the sun set before them then hours later watching it rise behind them. They had chased the lengthening shadows until they disappeared then watched, fascinated as they arose behind them, the shadows now chasing them.
A full smile now creased his face, and had anyone familiar with him been watching it would have looked odd. He never smiled anymore; Life had thrown him so many cruelties and harsh realities that he simply forgot how to smile. How odd that he now smiled remembering his brother. Odd that, to get him to smile, it had taken a death.
By now he realized that this night was going to be for him, the songs on the radio directed to he and his brother. It was as though someone up above was spinning the wax, controlling his memories for a specific reason.
When the first chords came out of the speakers, he was off again; driving down memory lane once more.
The memories were coming fast and furiously now. One after another, he was reliving the memory of his brother. The hot, sunny days working on their cars in the driveway, tools and parts scattered everywhere. He wouldn't be surprised if they had intermingled parts to their respective cars. Everything he did to his Mach, his brother had done to his Camaro. The nights spent drag racing on the road near the airport, sometimes even sneaking onto the airport itself and draggin' on the landing strip. Always at night, and they had never been caught. A couple of times it had been close and only some fast driving in separate directions had saved their butts. The old Sheriff hadn't known which one to go after and as a result hadn't chased either. Oh, he had known it was them but it had been important to him to catch them in the act of drag racing but he had never done so.
Then, another song came on the radio, a slightly slower one that reminded him of their senior prom. He had stolen his brother's girlfriend away the week before prom and taken her to the prom. A slow dance during the night had found her back in his arms and eventually they had made up, leaving him alone for the drive home. He had been furious, but then realized it had worked out. he really didn't like her all that much, he had just been angry with his brother because he liked her first, but she had liked his brother. He had tried his best to steal her away but in the end, she just liked his brother more. What was her name? He shook his head realizing he couldn't remember and it really didn't matter anyway.
The night was lengthening and a storm lay ahead. Lightning and thunder could bee seen and heard, rolling off the hillsides around him. He drove on listening to the bedlam outside his little corner of the world and deciding that tonight, like that night long ago, he was just going to drive all night long, listening to the songs on the radio and thinking about better days with his brother. No greater memorial could he think of. He had no reason to go home, no one there for him and no job to go back to, Tonight it was the drive for his brother's memory that mattered.
Hours later found him arriving in California. He had made good time this night and directed himself towards the ocean once more. As the sun came up behind him, one final song came on the radio, one that caused the tears to flow once more. It was a song that spoke of times passed, time flowing by never to return. It was a song that spoke to him of the fact that his brother was gone. As he pulled into a parking lot overlooking a beach, a car drove by. It was a candy apple red 1969 Camaro and as he turned his head to watch it pass and saw a sticker on the bumper.
It was a Dead Head. And while it wasn't on a Cadillac it was close enough.
Finally shutting off the radio and the car with it, he settled down in the back seat for some shut eye. Later he would wake up and find someplace to live out here. No reason to go back there. His brother had lived out West and he decided that he would to from this point on he was going to live out his brother's dreams out here. With that thought, sleep overtook him and he was lost to this world, dreams moving through his sleep as he and his brother were driving together one last time.