February '04

Louise Howerow The Movie With All the Skeletons
Elizabeth Ellen That Which Is Revealed in the Absence of Light
Ian F. King Our Anniversary
Ryan Robert Mullen M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I
Mike McGowan A Brief Succession of Events in the American Southwest

A Brief Succession of Events in the American Southwest

           Mike McGowan

Matt was driving home through the desert. The voice on the radio said it was 107º outside. The radio itself said it was 68º because Matt had the air on. The Chevy truck he was driving was doing 80. The green sign on the overpass said 10 West, Los Angeles. Matt’s parents lived there, and he was moving back home with them, something he thought he’d never do. He missed the hectic, hustle-bustleness of the city. If nothing else, the fast pace made him feel important.

Heat-waves blistered across the pavement, which had become sticky under the sun. Sheets of sand blew in from the roadside; cacti seemed to wobble in the windy mirage. Miles of desolation stretched in every direction. Matt was glad to be leaving Phoenix. He’d been there a year and nothing significant had happened to him outside of being threatened once with a machete. Nothing ever happened in the desert. The people were as lost and forgotten as the ancient tribes that once shifted through the same dust.

Matt’s truck was piled high with boxes and furniture. The speakers blared country music, which he had come to tolerate over the year of living among desert people. That’s what he liked to call them, “desert people.” The clock on the dashboard said 2:00pm when it happened. A big-rig was chugging up the hill in the slow lane, spitting plumes of black exhaust. A rusty Volkswagen Bus was merging behind it. Matt was cruising in the fast lane, drumming on the steering wheel.

The Bus swerved and signaled simultaneously, cutting into the fast lane─ forcing Matt off the road and into the desert. There was the blur of a NASCAR sticker on the window of the Bus, and Matt found himself off-roading. He pumped the brakes in vain; the truck fishtailed through the sand, barreling over shrubs and cactus. Boxes of clothes and books flew from the bed, disappearing into huge clouds of dirt. Several slow seconds passed. The Bus was still visible in the distance, inching up the hill.

“Motherfucker!” Matt countered hard, punching the gas.

He pulled back onto the freeway and sped up the right lane, slowing next to the Bus. The man inside wore a gray wife-beater. He was large, bald on top, with long stringy hair in the back. A brown mustache covered his top lip. It had yellow cigarette stains burned into it.

“Fuck you!” Matt yelled out the window. The man stared at the road, pretending not to notice. Matt grabbed an unopened can of A&W from the cup-holder and side-armed it at the Bus. A loud thud echoed against the primered metal. The impact punctured the can, splattering frothy rootbeer across the cracked passenger window. The big man looked over.

“Fuck you!” Matt screamed again. The big man snarled and extended his middle finger.

“Pull over you fat son of a bitch!” Then the big man braked and they both pulled off into the desert.

Matt hopped out of the truck. The sun beat down like a flaming club, chapping his lips immediately. A dry, unforgiving gust of wind swirled in between the cars. The big man slid out of the Bus and waddled toward Matt.

“What the hell was that all about back there?” Matt said, pointing his finger.

The big man said nothing. Instead, he lunged and threw a heavy punch. It came slowly, leisurely─ as if thrown under water. The punch missed and Matt landed his fist directly onto the big man’s nose. He buckled and fell back into a pile of rocks, moaning.

“That’s what you get you fat hick!” Matt felt a rush of adrenaline coursing through him, culminating in the tips of his ears. He walked to the big man’s Bus, climbed in, and removed the keys from the ignition. There was a large roll of stained carpet in the back. The upholstery reeked of sweat and cigarettes. A soggy McDonald’s cup leaked coffee onto the passenger seat.

Matt walked back to his truck. The big man was lying in the dirt, hands over his face, rolling and writhing like a beached walrus.

“Asshole!” Matt said as he drove off with the big man’s keys. He didn’t drive back to pick up his things. Instead, he left them for the desert to swallow. A few miles later, he rolled down the window, and hurled the big man’s keys into the sand.

Mike McGowan likes to bowl. He witnessed his friend bowl a 252 mere days ago. He did not bowl as good a game but he "was really drunk and that's gotta count for somethin'."