He sat in the driver’s seat, wipers beat rhythmically leaving an annoying streak, the glare of Whole Foods green on the dash. The car idled in a busy lot facing the commuter cluster crawling to the burbs, but he didn’t notice. He was lost in thought – loud, unavoidable thoughts. Some thoughts were spoken or yelled, like two versions of himself arguing.

“Christ!” No one else was in the car.

Type the note. Then do it. He thought this immediately, almost overriding the outburst.

He unlocked his phone and the screen shrank his pupils. In Notes, he typed these words: “I’m sorry, Alice. I’m not strong enough. Keep my love, give Frankie my charm. Find me in the next life.” He tossed the phone on the passenger side floor, the screen still lit.

“I don’t have a way to do it,” he said sighing. His face felt heavy, his shoulders dropped into a bent posture.

The gun range. Drive over, rent a Glock, and do it.

He pictured Highway 31 infested with strip malls and the gun range, the hive of this thought. The range was once a grocery store, now the brick building shone “Indoor Range” in fat red font. He had never fired a gun before.

“I’m not wastin’ money on a gun rental.”

It’ll be cheap and quick. You won’t feel it.

“I’m not drivin’ ‘cross town! Plus Alice’ll find out through what…Some AL.com reporter?!” This was yelled in an octave that’d make him hoarse if he continued.

She’ll find your phone, or the cops’ll give it to her.

“It’ll crush her…And my boy.”

Nah, it won’t affect him. He ain’t old enough to know you’re gone…but the longer you wait…

The rain sounded like applause, and he wondered which side of him the applause was encouraging.

What if you’re meant to die tonight? …And not dying prevents something great from happening. Something beyond you.

He paused, then before he could process this, Don’t try to reason. You can’t reason with the unreasonable.

“Absurd,” he said. “Even so, still don’t have a way to do it.”

You’re in a car…Top speed is 130. Floor it and let the rain do the rest.

He imagined speeding in a wet lane, his car fishtailing on a curve, then rolling into brush and pine saplings. He imagined an 18-wheeler horn – a high-toned honk that lowered as it drove by the scene like something out of Hollywood. It scared him.

“I’d probably screw it up, wind up bedridden with explaining to do. And a giant speeding ticket.”

Coward.

He squeezed the wheel, grunted through clenched teeth, and thrashed in the seat. He locked his hands behind his head and squeezed his elbows together like a vice around his skull. Eyes closed he said, “You’re ok…you’re ok…everything’s fine. It’s just in my head. Let go. I’m here for fish.

His arms fell to his lap. He took a deep breath. Then another.

You fail every damn day.

He turned off the car, slammed the door, and walked toward an automatic entrance. Moving, or doing something, was a way to distract him from himself. He couldn’t handle his mind spiraling again, it was exhausting. He squinted through rain that had slowed to a drizzle, but enough drizzle for him to think it might unstyle his hair. His body tensed at the thought. Alice always said his hair was his best feature and he agreed. He walked in the store, fluorescent lights beamed on overpriced food. Shoppers snarled through fake grins. A boy in red rain boots sped around him with a “Shopper in Training” cart, shouting toward his mother who looked back with tired eyes. He thought of Frankie who just started walking – it was more of a waddle with outstretched arms – and imagined shopping with him someday soon.

At Seafood, a fishmonger with white hair and a mustache recommended turbot for its buttery taste and discount. An easy sell. He turned and walked with purpose to an open Express Checkout. A girl with a filigreed owl on her neck and gauge earrings scanned the fish with a beep. “Anything else?”

“Just the fish,” as he raked his damp hair, then mechanically inserted a card. She handed him an oversized bag and he strolled to doors that opened like a curtain. The rain stopped for now, and in worn loafers he dodged puddles on the way back to his car. He switched the car to auto and it glided hands-free into the pulsing cluster while the smell of rubber and wet asphalt snuck through his cracked window. He sucked a pen and exhaled strawberry vapor while the speakers sang,

“Fill my head with dread
Flee the life I’ve led
I can’t go back to get ahead.”

The car coasted into home’s neighborhood, weaving by houses that looked stamped out of a factory, then parked itself under a moonless sky. He walked inside to Alice, kissed her, picked up Frankie, and lit the stove.

 

T.J. Hunter lives in Birmingham, AL and studied at the University of Montevallo. He has written for Time Inc. Studios and others.
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