My colleague sitting over there was meant for a different time. He refers to cars as ‘ponies’ and wears dilapidated boots made from Tibetan leatherworkers. In our laps we have steel; no spinning chambers or pipe-thick barrels, but I know he keeps that stuff at home. Probably near his bed or in a closet. I can make out the outline of nicotine patches through his Kmart, polyester buttoned-down, which explains why it is so very crisp inside his car.
When you hear about stabbings on the news, they don’t seem as gruesome as they are in movies. There’s just a flash of silver between discontented lovers or some cavemen spilling out into the street after last call, and then it’s all over. No precursor or after-curser. Nobody drags their nail on a piano wire and slams on the keys. Sid tells me this from the front of the car, with my dick to the threads of an open bottle. Too much coffee, and it’s only the third bottle so far. I’d say that four in the morning is the latest it can get at night. When it is so quiet that you can hear a clicking from the traffic lights. Moths all dead somewhere, or in the bellies of bats.
A screen flickers in someone’s upstairs apartment and I deduce that the occupant has an early shift at one of the nearby cable manufacturers, or that they haven’t been able to fall asleep yet. I move from the privacy of the back to the front-seat. Sid keeps saying the exhaust stacks on those factories are as close as it gets to Heaven. Whether he means figuratively or if he is speaking in a literal sense, I do not know. Some dew flashes on the hood and I take our silence as an invitation to sleep for five minutes.
“Do you catch the nightly cable shows?”
“No, I don’t.”
“They’re all so blue,” Sid says. “Like they’re tinted a blue hue,” and he whistles the last word.
I don’t want to say anything else because I don’t want to draw out any more whistling. The cops glide by without acknowledging us, lurking down the city rivers, illuminated by docked laptops. Sid uses tiny binoculars to bring everything closer. He gestures at a bus stop where I see household faces on posters that I cannot place. There’s scrubbed out graffiti on the route map that looks like some superimposed revision to the neatly laid veins.
“Wait, is that our guy?” It’s not, but whoever he is, he’s spitting a lot. Ducking into the motel. Ugly guy.
“Would you know I got my wife pregnant in one shot? First time we met.” Sid laughs like oil barons laugh. “Well, she was hostessing at a steak house back then, so we weren’t really married yet. She wanted to do it faced the other way so she could watch some live car chase. Sirens blarin’. Shoulder blades like broad axes.”
“A woman’s shoulder blades are everything.”
“Where’s your kid now?”
Sid doesn’t say anything and just kind of waits for me to forget. He follows a passing taxi. I ask him about this alleged stabbing and notice that the radio is on at a low volume. Looping commercial jingles or songs, I can’t tell. Sid has been humming some Loretta Lynn junk this entire time. It narrows to a dry whistling.
“Do you think a car can be haunted?” He asks no one in particular.
“Just think about it. Getting stabbed. Like god damn.”
Our pistols are empty. Just hunks of comfort metal we keep at our sides, in case we need to point something at someone. It’s tough to accept that the power lines overhead are not reflecting daylight on their bowed tendons. It seems to me the sun should have risen by now, or that an early bus should have passed along this route. But my worry kind of recedes, and I could pretend to sleep now.
“Look at these smokestacks,” Sid says with distinct yearning. He must know I’m faking.
“Just reaching up and up. It looks like they’re kind of praying, doesn’t it?”
All of the natives are hidden away, and I find myself missing them for a reason I cannot place. A street sweeper lurches by, on the way to clean somewhere else. The manufacturing district side of town doesn’t get a ton of housework. I get this sense that we are not going to get a visual on our guy. He’s somewhere else. It seems everyone is and I’m starting to get the feeling that I might never be elsewhere with them.
“She passed a good twelve ago. Sheila.”
Sid’s talking about his wife.
“Hey, that’s okay Sid.”
He waves his palms like he’s fanning a small fire. “The thing I always tell people, about Sheila. About what was so odd after she died, was these bars that she had made. Just regular molasses, bittersweet chocolate bars like always, some recipe from some dumb aunt I maybe met once or twice. Four days after it happened, there’s the plate sealed in Saran on the counter of our big, empty house. Only felt giant because it was so quiet I suppose. I kept ignoring them, you know. Trying to box up all her belongings and move on.”
I am struggling to remember those people on the bus stop billboard. I’m sure that I know them.
“Finally I tell myself it’s stupid and to just eat a bar. She didn’t bake ’em to just get all stale.” He gives himself a moment. The street sweeper brushes are alive, kicking up the cities dust and mica.
“What I tasted in those bars, it was the damnedest thing. Sheila’s thumbprints, hair, all her worries and sweat. Whatever was muddling around in her head while she laboured over them. I don’t know, maybe she was thinking about errands that needed to be done or some old memory. It all went in. Each one molded by her fingers. It’s just so strange.” Sid is still watching out the windshield, and I would kill to feel what he feels right now.
Me in the passenger seat, holding a warm bottle of my own urine. Sid eventually talks himself to sleep. Smokestacks stretch up higher and higher like skyscrapers in worship. I grab the binoculars from around Sid’s neck and look through them to distract myself. We wait just a little while longer.