Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
By the end of the week we had exhausted our supply of Elvis paintings and the interest of the local townsfolk. It was time to head home, so we hit the road, our cars in a line and moving like a modern day gypsy caravan.
Paul and Conrad drove the truck back home, Athena was shotgun with Lonnie, I was in the last car in our little parade and all alone. About halfway back to Albany the first wave of drowsiness hit me; this was more than just a nodding off in math class kind of thing this was more of blacking out only to wake up just as you’re about to hit the guardrail kind of thing. I did everything I could to stay awake; I sang Christmas Carols to myself, I quoted dialogue from Doctor Who, I even ran my favorite sexual fantasies through my head but it was no use.
Self-preservation and maybe a dab of common sense made me pull off to the side of the interstate. I wasn’t sure if the others noticed but I was too tired to care.
The hazard lights were blinking but I was well out of the way of traffic. The air conditioner was on full blast and I kept telling myself that I just needed to clear by head but my eyes were closing and staying closed for moments that seemed to stretch on forever.
My first love was there in the darkness, looking just like she had the first time we met. The sight of her in her pale pink sweater, blue jeans and black boots had hit me a bolt of lightning and I was in love.
For all the good it would do me.
Lilly was trying to say something but the sound of the traffic roaring past drowned her out. I wanted to ask her what I had done wrong, what I could have done right.
“…kid are you all right?”
I snapped awake to see Paul’s face pressed against the driver’s side window. Each truck that roared past set the edges of his toupee fluttering like something living and agitated. I rolled down the window. “Uhm,” I said.
“What are you doing?” He asked, “We need to get back by sundown, Debbie’s making meatloaf tonight.”
Debbie was Paul’s wife. She was appallingly attractive in her own way but at nineteen I couldn’t imagine myself ever being attracted to a woman in her forties.
(Don’t tell my wife I said that Ok?)
Still though, I will never understand how Paul landed Debbie, unless of course she had some kind of twisted bad hairpiece fetish.
I’ll wait while you Google it to see if there really is such a thing.
Ok. Now where were we?
Ah yes. Debbie’s meatloaf.
“I’m sorry.” I yawned, “I’m just so tired. Conrad kept crying and screaming in his sleep.”
“Yeah,” Paul lit a cigarette. “He’s good for that.”
“You could have said something.”
“You could have told him to shut the Hell up.”
“No I couldn’t,” I slumped back in my seat.
“You kill me kid you really do. Hang on a second.”
Leaning my head against the seat I watched him jog back to the U-Haul truck. The only breeze I could feel was clammy and smoky with automobile exhaust. I closed my eyes trying to catch some scrap of the dream again but it was lost to me. Just like Lilly.
You’ve got to let this go, I thought. She’s not your girl, she never was. Time to move on.
Paul opened the car door, “Get in the back seat. I’ll drive for a while. Try to rest up.”
“Thanks.” I climbed into the back and was out before we even pulled into traffic. The next hours passed in what felt like moments but those moments were punctuated with snatches of what was going on in the waking world; the car speeding up, the car slowing down, the smell of cigarette smoke, the gentle discord of the radio.
Finally a voice roused me, “Hey wake up. We’re almost there.”
There are naps that refresh you and naps that end up making you feel worse, guess what kind this one was? The voice addressing me was too beautiful to be Paul’s. “Athena?”
“You slept the whole way back,” she said. “You slept through the gas station and me and Paul switching up. Man you can snore.”
“Sorry about that.”
“No problem,” Athena winked into the rearview mirror, “it was kinda cute.”