Jul/Aug 2008  •   Fiction

Two Flashes

by Merle Drown

Some Get There Faster

When we were teenagers, Tom could get second gear rubber with his mother's old Chevy. He took curves on the inside and pulled bootlegger reverses to beat the cops. Fast and wild, he drove us through seamless hours with no worries, no waits, no seething submissions. Speed screamed a sexual rhythm beating sharply in our hearts.

One night, frustrated by Reed's leading us down two miles of dirt road to a house empty of girls, Tom declared if we couldn't find girls, we'd settle for violence and destruction. He swiped tomatoes from a farm stand, and in the night's warm dark, we threw them at houses Tom chose. The town selectman got the license plate after a hard, green one broke his picture window. Claiming the cops already knew he couldn't have driven and thrown simultaneously, Tom ratted us out. That ended my adventuring with him.

For a couple of years Tom nurtured Reed's believing heart, teaching him how to break and enter, how to set a fire. When they burned the garage full of junked machinery, Tom got the money for the job and Reed got jail time. Then Tom disappeared into the service, leaving a pregnant girlfriend behind. He said she wouldn't be happy with him anyway.

A few months after basic, the military dishonorably discharged Tom. Back home he found no more believing hearts among the guys, no more foolish virgins. We had learned Tom always saved his ass, no matter the cost to his friends or his women. He took to riding a motorcycle.

The last time the cops pursued Tom, as much on principle as for the outstanding warrants, he led them to the Interstate, tore north, flipped, and riding southbound at 120 miles an hour, arm gloriously outstretched, shot the finger to the blue pulsing parade across the highway. The bike, unbalanced, took him end over end.


I Wept, I Weep

At 16 we wouldn't let Reed ride shotgun because he'd lean out the window and say, "Hey, girls, how they hanging?" We wouldn't rely on his directions because as the car flew into a four corner, he'd yell, "Turn right," and point left. By 18 we wouldn't follow Reed on any adventures because he always ran out of gas, got caught, went to court. Sweet as he was, Reed always had the meat. Even so, some would take advantage of him, then laugh and say, "If Reed were a girl, he'd be constantly pregnant."

When Reed turned 21, a married woman invited him to park his bright red Corvair in front of her house. Within a week her husband took a tire iron to the Corvair, smashing windows, banging hood, and crushing trunk. He finished by whacking Reed's knee so hard, to this day Reed walks like a man wearing one boot.

At 25, Reed walked his woman and their toddler to an ice cream stand out on old Route 3. Ice cream was a week's vacation for Gloria and little Danny. Reed himself didn't care for ice cream, so he bought just two cones, coffee for Gloria, strawberry for Danny. As he hobbled beside the road, facing traffic as he was supposed to, Reed marveled how the ice cream kept its shape even as it grew smaller and smaller.

At a curve sign, he stepped away from the road into the weeds and dirt and pointed his little camera. In his viewfinder he saw Gloria and Danny, smiling, holding their cones, backs to the road. Then he saw the pick-up truck. Thump, thump, and the two people he loved most in the world were dead.

Two years later Reed returned from San Francisco, where he had acquired a fondness for brain sweets from pot to heroin. I visited him in a rat's warren he shared with three shaggy kids and a dog. They all looked on the nod, including the dog, who peed on my leg as I sat drinking coffee I hoped had been boiled at least five minutes.

Before the year was out, Reed sat in jail awaiting drug charges. His roomies, all free because they were underage, told me the cops had broken into the apartment without a warrant. They'd keep Reed in jail six months until trial, then drop charges because they knew the judge would throw out their evidence. Once before, the cops had made Reed do time without having to convict him.

$300 to a bail bondsman sprung Reed, and sure enough, charges against him were dropped. Reed swore he'd pay me back, but I considered the money a gift, not a loan. I knew it benefited me as much as it did Reed.

The following April Reed sent the $300 entire, his IRS refund money. He said it was the only money he'd ever saved.

At 62, teeth gone, mind slinking off, he lives in a friend's garage. In perfect detail he recalls every car we drove, every road we ran away on, pursued girls on, crashed on. "The garage ain't bad," he says. "Free and no drafts." But he shivers.