I ain’t scared, asshole.
It’s not like I ain’t changed a tire before, right? It’s just that the bulb light is shot and I got so much shit in the trunk I can’t find the jack. The cold rain is blowing in from the left across the median in dark wailing sheets, and I’m reminded of Jesse James, this little black guy who works in the warehouse moving pallets. We break his balls ‘cause his mama named him Jesse, and he ain’t even no sports player like Milton Bradley or Coco Crisp. But mostly, we give him shit because he uses these old school sayings like “Stop coming at my neck,” and this is sweeping rain, machine gun rain, Forest Gump rain pounding the asphalt like a snare drum and my neck like a cowbell; I got drops coming off my eyelids, and I ain’t laughing now, brutha.
I got an empty box for a hubcap in here, a dented toolbox, a fly reel, an old mini stepladder missing a stair tread, and a blanket with a design of mooses and an elks on it. My mother got it for me when I was like seven, and for some reason I dragged it around all these years. My mother was half Lenape Indian. She used to tell me I had the spirit of a warrior, but my feminine side made me cautious. She said this blanket had my dreams wrapped up in it, and that someday I was gonna make some powerful woman happy.
I work for men. I’m six foot five. I got a granite jaw and deep carved lines around my mouth like judgments. I fix gas compressors, slab saws, and power tools. I keep dirty magazines under my workbench even though the Internet is better, and I wear a blue canvas monkey suit with my name stitched in an oval on my chest.
A truck is coming; I can tell by the drone. Eighteen wheeler. International cab-over shitbucket with a 6V-53 most probably. The lights sneak over the ridge and wash across, and when I look down to the side I see the reflections in the long black puddle snaking along the edge of the breakdown lane, rain making needle dashes in it. He can see it too, I know he can, but the hillbilly-fucker roars right on through, sending up a sheet of gutter flush and road grit.
I stalk out to the middle of the highway shouting into the roar of his back-spray. I put up both middle fingers and almost hope he pulls a Michael Myers, screeching those Firestones, fishtailing a bit on the wet asphalt, halting there like a ghost-ship on a black sea, exhaust making twists and threads in the air like serpents and omens.
He does kiss the brakes actually, but I ain’t scared, asshole. Rearviews distort, but don’t lie. He don’t want no showdown between the slick reflection of his tail lights and my long, slanted shadow…that big hulking silhouette standing on the double yellow, arms hanging down, long black hair sketching patterns of rage into the driving rain. No thank you, right? Safer up in the cab there, ain’t it brutha?
I’m back at the rear of my vehicle, wind rising and moaning, black clouds cutting across the moon, and I see that it’s not just the back left tire that’s pancaked, but the right one as well, pulling a monkey-see-monkey-do, starting to belly down and bulge like some pregnant little immigrant. I only got one spare, but I ain’t scared, asshole. I can ride that bastard for at least a few miles before its sunken down to the rim like its twin, maybe a bit after that. Enough to get off 95.
I lean back into the trunk and force myself not to start throwing shit around. Last time I had the jack out, I think I threw the tire iron back by the dented tin that once had three types of popcorn in it. I should have tucked the little black bitch away in its sheath within the triangular leather pouch that goes in its place under the false-bottom particle board covering the tire well. But I didn’t, and it was irresponsible. That was my nickname growing up: “Irresponsible.” Through dark magic and psychological power of attorney, Mother appointed it Godfather to my chores, my hygiene, my attitude, my study habits. I have tattoos that brag of convictions, but I don’t believe them. I have trust, but it’s an old corpse. I have a soul, but I loaned it to the church. I hear they keep it in a basement cage to contrast the robed and polished ivory standing behind the first floor podium.
I lift the particle board and have to put my back into it, considering all the parts stored under the blanket with the mooses and elks on it. Stuff shifts and tumbles a bit off left making muted sounds in the rain, and I paw around in the dark recess. No pouch. Only what feels like a catcher’s knee pad, a gas can lid with old caterpillar webs caught under the lip, and a moldy Garfield toy I won at the State Fair three years ago, tossing wooden rings into bowls slicked with Wesson Oil.
I ain’t scared though, asshole. I am going to have to drive this shit-can as it is, bumping along the dark highway just the three of us, a pancake, a pregnant immigrant, and one drenched soldier, pressing forward like a band of brutha’s riding this wounded stallion straight into the hardpan. I try to dig for my keys and I can’t get my fingers in, ‘cause leather pants fall in love with you when they’re drenched. There are lights coming over the rise now.
They ain’t white and glowing.
They’re circus red and neon blue, rotating in sick pulse up along the slow rise of the craggy rock-face and making the road signs flash like mirrors. Now I’m groping in my pockets a bit more desperate-like, and I’m looking in the trunk, shadows moving off and back like the gauzy wings of some dark beast.
I see the popcorn tin winking through the advancing streaks, the catcher’s knee pad with a broken buckle and “Macgregor” written across in white flaked cursive, some empty Deer Park bottles in the outer crevices, a stepladder, a pickle barrel, a length of frayed manila rope, a spade shovel with paint drops splattered up the shaft, a ripping saw, a roll of plastic, and an old blanket with mooses and elks on it, wet with more than the rain, only partially covering the parts underneath it now, the most noticeable – the dainty hand with the pale curling fingers sticking out from under the edge by the lock release.
I move the blanket back over her, thinking how much she’d looked like mother, with those penetrating eyes and imperial shoulders.
They all looked like mother.
I pull the trunk lid down, but it catches on something, the edge of mother’s blanket perhaps, and from within the sounds of the recoiling hinge pistons beneath the trunk lid I hear the hiss of her laughter.
I have been irresponsible.
The blue and red lights wash straight across my back now, making the landscape grin and laugh and revolve like some lunatic carousel. The engine cuts off, and I hear a door open in the rain. Then there’s the distinct wet grit of boot soles finding purchase on the blacktop, approaching footsteps, the snap of his poncho in the wind, and I can imagine him pulling down the brim of his hat with one hand, and the other unclipping the strap across the top of his firearm, The Lone Ranger, Superman.
A ripping saw makes a poor attack weapon.
I never could find that tire iron.
My secrets are naked.
And I’m scared, asshole.
* * *
Michael Aronovitz’s debut collection Seven Deadly Pleasures was published by Hippocampus Press in 2009, and his debut novel Alice Walks is coming out through Centipede Press in June of this year. Aronovitz has his short story, “The Girl Between the Slats” appearing in S.T. Joshi’s Searchers After Horror Anthology later in 2013, and his short ghost story, “How Bria Died” was featured in Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, 2011. Aronovitz has published short fiction in Weird Tales, The Weird Fiction Review, Polluto, Kaleidotrope, Nameless (coming soon), Black Petals, The University of Tampa Press, Philly Fiction, Demon Minds, Metal Scratches, Death Head Grin, Schlock Webzine, Lost Souls, The Turks Head Review, Fiction on the Web, and many others. The piece of flash fiction you just read titled, “The Matriarch,” is currently the first pre-chapter in Aronovitz’s newest novel in progress. Michael Aronovitz is a Professor of English and lives with his wife Kim and their son Max in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.