You squint at the horizon and the slowly dropping sun, a burnt orange ball throbbing through the dust and heat of the day’s end. You glance in the rearview mirror and catch your right eye in the reflection. You stare at where the red splotches zig-zag across your sclera and fade into the puffy purple flesh covering your cheekbone. A heavy tear quivers there in the corner. When you blink, it rolls out of your eye and drags a clean streak over the raw gash from your father’s Special Forces ring.
You push harder on the gas pedal. The needle quivers above ninety as the four-barrel carburetor growls and the engine gorges on what gasoline is left in the tank. The back end rattles hard enough for you to feel it in the steering wheel. Your father’s sandpaper voice simmers in the back of your mind: Damn brakes.
The vents haven’t offered so much as a whisper of cold air for the last sixty miles, despite your attempts at pounding cooperation out of the controls on the dashboard. But the headlights are the greatest concern. The right one is completely broken; the left one flickers. The rez police might ignore that wink-and-blink routine, instead recognizing an Oldsmobile with a smashed front end as an Indian car, and not bother with pulling it over. Off the rez, that wink-and-blink invites a pair of handcuffs biting into your wrists. A nightstick jabbing your ribs. A redneck cop breathing in your face: “Whatchoo doin off the reservation?.... You been drinkin’, Indian boy?... Prolly wring some eighty-proof sweat outta that t-shirt....”
Your father won’t realize you’re gone until he crawls out of his bottle of Kessler and asks around about what’s up with you. All anybody can say is dunno. Because nobody knows you left. Nobody. Your father could report the car stolen. Okay. The rez police would spend as much time looking for it as they spend on for-real protecting and serving. Which is to say zero time because it means one less wrecked car bombing around the rez. Your father would have to find another way to get himself to the rare contracting job or to the grocery or package store, but life is tough on the rez, huh?
Damn brakes. It’s not like the car doesn’t stop. You might slam your foot through the floorboard, but the car stops. That’s enough for the rez. What about off the rez? Don’t even think about it, you crazy fuck. Yet here you are, pushing the needle to the right to get as far away as possible as fast as possible.
Your father could report you missing if he is ready for the rez police’s cold counsel: Have you looked around here? Who doesn’t want to be missing? He’ll be back if he wants his big money. Maybe he’s looking for his mother. Ever think of that?
Besides, you’ll be the last thing on everybody’s mind after they open their mailboxes next week and find their per-cap checks. The circle of life will renew, starting with a rez hog roast your father will throw together. “Helluva guy,” they’ll say, toasting with cold cans of beer, warm grease running down their chins. Then your father will find his way to Rez Motors. Throw down cash for something with some muscle. Race the damn thing against all the other new cars. Drive those bastards hard! The crash is only a matter of when. Limp away. Work the usual repair scam. Collect the insurance money.
The damn thing is drivable. So what’s the problem? Where you going anyhow, boy?
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Nothing changes except the make, model, and color of the car. Nothing changes until you’ve had enough.
Damn brakes stops simmering in your mind and grows cold as dusk sets in. You glance again in the rearview mirror and lose your thoughts in the cloud of blinding, choking dust covering your escape.
Here’s your one throw of the dice, the alabaster cubes rattling in your hand like the keys dangling from the ignition.
is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program. His writing has been published in The Baseball Research Journal, Imitation Fruit, BULL: Men’s Fiction, KYSO Flash, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Mount Hope, Soliloquies Anthology, Third Wednesday, and Dislocate. He was judged a winner of the First Memorial George Dila Flash Fiction Contest, and his nonfiction writing A Familiar Problem, a Familiar Face was recognized by Mensa as Best Unpublished Novel. Mr. Burd lives in Gurnee, Illinois, where he spends his time exercising, reading, writing, working in the kitchen, and watching Tottenham Hotspur. He works as a Reading Specialist at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, IL.
Get, flash fiction in Burningwood Literary Journal (July 2020);
see also Jeff Burd’s commentary in his blog, The Seeker (29 July 2020):
Double Your Pleasure
Training and Comfort, flash fiction here in MacQ
(Issue 3, May 2020)
⚡ For the Love of Practice: Chatting with Jeff Burd About Baseball, Hybrids, and High Altitude Inspiration by Nancy Stohlman in Flash Fiction Retreats (8 April 2019)