These are the first pages of a novel/novella/something. Based on a video concept I wrote for an as yet unreleased J Cole song.
How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.
-Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
4:55 AM. August, 15, 2012. Ancillary road to East Airline Highway, Laplace, western outskirts of New Orleans, Louisiana.
The rotating light of a police squad car casts a blue sheen on the lanes to its right, then the empty expanse of road behind, then the high-grassed edge of the tree line, then the Audi S8 sedan in front and the officer standing beside the driver’s window. The officer knocks on the heavily tinted window with increasing force. “Roll down the window. Roll down the window, please.” His eyes dart back and forth between the road, his squad car, the woods, his own hands and uniform, and the dark window in front of him housing an unresponsive driver.
Inside the black opacity of the Audi windows a dark-skinned, trim cut, clean-shaven man in his mid-twenties sits in silence. His wears the expression of grizzled logger, the posture of a retired dancer, and the all black attire of Steve Jobs. He is nondescript in every way but his soft green eyes. Malcolm turns to watch the officer knock on the window, pace back and forth, try the door handle, then stand and stare at the car while fingering his pistol with his right hand and his radio with the left. Malcolm reaches forward to switch on his police feed radio. No call on a grey Audi.
If the car’s theft been called in before Malcolm was pulled over the result would have been out of his hands. He would surrender himself to the officer, the court, two and a half years in state prison with good behavior, and a new life. Now Malcolm can simply start the car and drive away whenever he chooses. He will deal with disposing of the identifying elements of the car himself. Its value will decrease by at least thirty thousand and he will be further indebted.
The tires screech and the Audi is in the left lane by the time the officer has turned back from his walk to the squad car.
The Audi skids around a row of cypress and up a short gravel driveway into a concrete and corrugated metal shed. A squeal as the car stops. A rattle of metal tracking as the door is pulled down behind the car, shutting the shed, shutting out the sunlight. Malcolm hops out of his door and asks for a screwdriver and wrench, tossing the contents of his hands into a steel drum in the corner of the spartan garage space: a pair of electronic nodules both the size of an eyeglass lens and trailing a short length of wire along with a pair of plastic cards. A figure stands over Malcolm as he works, handing him tools as he requests them.
“I know he wants to talk to me but its going to have to wait,” Malcolm says to the silent figure without turning from his work. The figure holds a cell phone. Malcolm pulls off his own leather gloves and drops them into the steel drum then pours lighter fluid over it all and turns to take the cell phone from the figure. The figure proceeds to light a zippo and drop it into the drum.
“Pulled over. Yes. The VIN etchings will need to be taken care of but everything else is clean. I understand,” Malcolm says into the phone.
On the other line, a restrained tone pushes words through his teeth. “I know why you got pulled over. Don’t think that I don’t know. You got your reason for wanting to get booked and I’ll figure it out. Believe that.” says the disembodied voice.
Malcolm hangs up and tosses the cell to the silent figure sharing the garage space. “Don’t worry, I’m good without a ride,” Malcolm says. He pulls up the garage door and pulls it back down behind himself. He pulls his black turtleneck off to feel what little periodic breeze the swamp allows through his thin white tank top. Malcolm pulls out his own cell phone as he walks down the dirt road.
“Hello?” comes an elderly woman’s southern drawl over the line.
“Granny,” says Malcolm.
“It’s Malcolm, Granny.”
“Very funny Reggie. Your little Malcolm sounds just like you, right?”
“Did you eat?” says Malcolm.
“Yes, of course. I made chicken and potatoes. There’s more for when you get home, darling. You just get home safe, you hear?” she says.
“Alright, thank you, goodnight Granny,” says Malcolm.
“Stop playing Reggie,” Malcolm’s Granny signs off.
Gift of Fire
The dry rubber of a set of tires rests dormant on the dirt of a sunbaked lot. Weighing on the tires, an ’85 Corvette lays in the harsh sun and rusts in the Louisiana humidity. The red paint is faded and chipped in places where rust has eroded the finish.
The dirty boots tied tightly to Malcolm’s feet pad over the cracks of a side road. Perspiration beads and drips down his face. He wipes the sweat away with the black turtleneck hanging from his back pocket, permeated with the smell of new car fragrance mixed with lighter fluid. His eyes fix on the sign at the T-junction ahead.
O’s Used Trade Junk Repair. No punctuation. All caps. All in black lettering until the last word, which features narrower lettering and gray paint, squeezed in at the end as an afterthought. The sign is nailed atop a decrepit office and garage. Inside the office, a man reclines with a squeaky, knocking box fan cooling him, his untied, oil-stained boots propped, one foot over the other, next to a fuzzy TV playing an episode of The Office. Michael Scott addresses the staff as the reclining man chews on a hickory twig.
Malcolm halts his progression down the road to reach down and roll up his pant legs. The air moving across his hairs brings goose bumps to his skin. He crosses the street in the T-junction without looking either direction, hearing only cicadas.
He knocks on the wood of the junkyard office doorway.
“Yes?” Comes the garbled response from a tongue wielding a hickory stick. Pause.
Then Malcolm says, “I’d like to look around the lot at whatever cars you got if I could.”
With a slight nod the man waves him on. Malcolm turns to explore. The reclining man turns back to the TV and chews his twig twice, taking a deep, luxurious breath.
Malcolm makes his way around the garage to the array of scattered parts and hollow shells of vehicles blanketing the dirt and grass expanse. Beyond the hundred or so yards in either direction, thickets of trees and brush and intermittent chain link fences border the adjacent homes and their own yards full of broken cars, bikes, and boats. Rows of bent and stripped cars sit on makeshift blocks, shoeless with their feet up, distinguished in comparison to the other cars piled haphazardly like a mass grave.
Malcolm walks through the rows scanning the wheel-less cars with their hoods and trunks akimbo. He looks more closely at a Bonneville with the doors removed but the drive-train in the engine entirely eroded. A Monte Carlo seems promising until he sees that the rear axle and the engine block is broken. Then he notices a Corvette with an apparently intact engine. The transmission and motor are nothing but dusty. He climbs underneath to examine. The corroded undercarriage allow the sun to shine through, light to his investigation until darkened as boots crunch the gravel nearby.
“Look useful to you?” the yard manager asks before returning to his chewing.
“Yeah, maybe,” says Malcolm.
“This for you? You want to have it for life?” the manager asks.
“I guess that’s the plan if everything works out,” says Malcolm.
Malcolm crawls out from under the car, squinting into the sun as he rises to speak to the man. “What would you want for it? I’d just push this out of here and leave you with $100,” says Malcolm.
“$250,” says the manager.
“It ain’t got no parts to sell down there,” says Malcolm.
The man chews his hickory and looks back at Malcolm, squinting in the glare of the sun reflected on the car's hood but never breaking his gaze through Malcolm's eyes.
“$200 and you robbing me. I gotta push this my damn self,” says Malcolm.
The man spreads a smile across his face. “But you gonna be attracting alotta attention in that thang. You fixin it up and all. You ready fo dat kinda attention?” he says.
“Are you still negotiating?” says Malcolm.
The man shrugs and continues smiling. Then he holds out his hand. “Name’s Orias. Guess we got a deal.”
Malcolm takes his hand and squeezes hard. But then he laughs away his nerves and turns to clearing the area around the car to push it.
Lifting and tossing aside stray components, sweeping puncture dangers with his shoe, and planning the angle necessary to turn out of it’s longtime wallow, Malcolm designs the car’s exit. He then cranks the steering wheel into position, walks around behind the car, takes a deep breath, and lays his weight into it. The car complies and finds every possible groove and divot in the packed dirt as if they were rail tracks on its path out of the lot and toward Malcolm’s home. The man chuckles to himself as he settles back into his seat in the office. He rubs his fingers against the crispness of the bills in his hand before shoving them into his pocket. Malcolm passes across the view from the office window and onto the street.
Malcolm takes frequent breaks from pushing the car and adjusting the steering wheel, walking along inside the open driver-side door. He gives it a good push and the car absorbs every bit of his work, transferring into momentum, dismissing any opposing forces. The car increases its speed and Malcolm jogs up to the driver’s door, opening it and hopping in. He winces and shifts his weight to lift a money clip from the seat. It is tarnished and dusty but still gold. He places it in the small compartment between the front seats. He shuts the door behind him and puts the key in the ignition. The seat envelops him. The doors pulls in tighter toward him as the car’s new centre. He turns the key. The dashboard flickers and the engine kicks twice before turning over. A monstrously loud rumble coughs from its unmuffled lungs.