What I'd taken to be the road wasn't the road at all. Under my feet I felt a nice patch of lawn that I'd turned the car on to. More worrisome, though, I'd made it almost halfway over a line of large, decorative boulders. My carmy father's carhad impaled itself on one. Now, together, rock and vehicle made something like a Pontiac lean-to. Stonehenge, I thought.
My Stonehenge had its tourists, too. Their eyes watched me from inside the gas station's store. Nobody approached, though, and nobody seemed interested in offering me some engineering advice. Maybe the two gas jockeys hadn't noticed what I'd done to their lawn, after all. Either way, I wanted out of my embarrassment as fast as possible. Damages shmamages, if it took a little more grinding to get the job done.
I climbed back in, which is to say I climbed back up, and put the car into neutral. My hope was that the car might slide off the rock. Reptiles and dead things always slid off rocks on those animal documentaries. The Acadian didn't give. I got out and tried to push, but it still wasn't going anywhere. A voice called from the gas station's door. One of the two jockeys.
"Hey, man! Are you, like, stuck or something?"
"No, I'm just fine," I shouted back. I waved, too, the way people do when they pass on pleasure boats. I thought the affectation would deter him. Long, long way to go if you want to walk over here. Got to wave, it's so far. "There's no problem," I said. "I'm just, I'm just checking something."
I hopped up into the car again. I had to leave, no matter what. How would I explain to my parents that I was perched on a stone about ten feet shy of the turn? I started the engine, put the car in gear, and fed it all the gas I could. The tires spun, caught, and set off a fantastic noise as I launched from the rock and landed on the lawn in front of it. Now, instead of crucified on a boulder, I was safe and level. Sort of.
A new challenge revealed itself. Had I looked harder, I might have noticed the lawn wasn't simply edged by boulders, but encircled by them. My father's car was free, and in the middle.
I got out and tried to look confident. I was a man with a plan, a stranded-car plan. This time a different voice called from the gas station.
"That's much better! Good for you!"
Over the car's roof I could see the two jeering gas jockeys silhouetted in the store's doorway.
"That's it, I'm gonna call Clover Towing," the first voice said. "Don't do anything. I'll get a tow truck to . . . I dunno, lift you or something."
"No," I called back. "It's all fine! I'm just . . . leaving. See you later. Thanks anyway."
I was uncertain what to do other than go. I put the car in gear, aimed for the smallest big rock, and gunned for it. The anticipated noise erupted underneath. The car lifted and dropped on a slant as I humped over the wall and back into the gas station's tiny parking lot, a couple of decorative boulders rolling after me, a few feet from their craters.
"Very good thinking!" The cheerleading gas guy could barely contain himself. "You are a smart one, aren't you."
His colleague was less impressed. "You stupid fuckhead!" he shouted. "You big fucking fuckhead!"
I nosed the car to the edge of the road. When I found it for sure, I lit my turn signal for the gas jockeys, and sped away. The word "fuckhead" floated in my open window one more time, so I gave a couple toots on the horn.
I intended to keep the story to myself, but the light of day didn't help. The next morning my father left the house for work. A few minutes later, his heavy boots stomped back into the kitchen. Oil covered his hands and wrists like a pair of evening gloves. I continued to shovel cereal into my mouth and pretended not to notice him. Standing at the sink, he lathered his hands and broke the silence.
From Cockeyed: A Memoir by Ryan Knighton, pages 22-35. Copyright Ryan Knighton. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Public Affairs.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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