He slaps the steering wheel with his big hand and whoops.
“Goddam, that’s a good one,” he says as my soul slips beneath the passenger seat. “You want some chips?”
I look at him, and I don’t know what to say. He’s not looking at me, eyes on the road, but he’s got the chip bag held out in front of my face. I do, but I don’t—want some chips, I mean—I’m starving, and God, I love grease, but I’m holding out hope that this outing will end with a dick in my ass instead of a nail in my head, and the last thing I need is for half-digested flaming hot potato puree to come exploding out of me on the first poke.
“Whoops!” he yelps as the truck rides over a pothole, and a few flakes fall out of the shiny bag and onto my lap.
“Sorry about that,” he says, glancing at my dirty crotch. “This truck’s a piece a shit and ridin in it is like sittin on a washin machine suckin on bricks.”
Okay, I think, sure, and it dawns on me that I’ve crossed over from the part of New Jersey that’s the domain of New York City hangers-on to a land that ebbs in from somewhere to the west, somewhere vaguely Appalachian, definitely rural, and aggressively white, that brings with it a country twang, murderous homophobia, and shitty weed. It was only when his pickup swung out of his parking lot too tightly and I was pressed against the passenger door that I realized that his shitty weed had gotten me high. And not just high, but high high, like my feet aren’t on the ground anymore high, like my head is floating off my body high, like I’m having a panic attack because I can’t feel my heart beating high, like I just want this guy to fuck me but instead he’s driving me somewhere and we’re alone with his nail gun and he’s got me paralyzingly high high.
“Cowboy, take me away!” he yells and lets out a laugh that numbs my face.
No one knows where I am, of course. I told my parents that I needed to get some air (I’ve been living a life derailed to their house in Peapack, penultimate stop of the Gladstone line) and that I’d be back by five before the sun went down and the snow was supposed to start. My cellphone croaked when we passed Budd Lake, and I have no idea where we’re going. I’d ask, but I’m not sure I could get a coherent question out, out here beyond the realm of protective allies and decent cognitive motor control. I’ll be lucky if they find the body.
“This one’s my favorite.”
We round a turn, and he pulls the truck into higher gear. My tummy tingles, and as we straighten out, I try to breathe and focus on his favorite song, which he’s accompanying with something I wouldn’t describe as singing so much as yelling, his tawny, shaggy hair whipping into my periphery as he thrashes. The truck swings around another curve, and his big paw grips my shoulder to keep me from falling in his lap.
“Sorry bout that.”
He’s polite. That’s a good sign. A murderous psychopath wouldn’t be polite, right? Drugged up and whisked away to an undisclosed location—this could all be fine. Just a little sexual salvation set to a country song.
“Don’t you love the Chicks?”
He doesn’t even look at me when he asks it, eyes guzzling asphalt. He’s got the jawline of an angel, and for a moment, his greasy, slicked-back hair becomes his ringlets of gold.
No—I mean, to answer his question, I do, obviously, love the Chicks, née Dixie—but no, I mean, no, no, no, this isn’t going anywhere good. A psychopath isn’t polite, he’s sly. Of course he wants to make sure I love the tunes; he’s only put them on to put me at ease. You know the music they play at slaughterhouses before the carnage so the cows don’t get stressed and their flesh turn tough in their long last moments? Late nineties country pop serves that purpose for me. We don’t want the adrenaline associated with existential terror ruining our steak tartare, we want me tender and defenseless for my shitkicker divine. I’m high and immobilized and don’t stand a chance. He’ll pistol whip me for the hell of it.
Ur really cute he had said alongside a blurry muscled torso of him at a gym, and I let myself dream that I’d found the one, the needle in the hayseed haystack who might deliver me from the routine of shitty hookups and erotic unfun with the sad single dads I normally settle on. Anonymous hate crime: Idiotic twenty-something actually believed he was wanted by a country stud. My deliverance turned Deliverance, what I get for accepting the invitation of a faceless Grindr account promising big meat and big fun.
He was listening to Fly when I walked into his apartment in the back of the Mount Calvary condo complex.
“Is it okay if we don’t fuck right away?”
He had those swampy sort of eyes and arms that stretched the seams of his Carhartt hoodie.
“Yeah,” I said. Anything is okay when you have biceps that big. Section 8, verse 10 of the New Jersey legal code. “Sure.”
His apartment smelled like cigarettes and Old Spice, and with the littleness of his movements he hid himself, I assumed out of bashfulness regarding our budding romance.
“What if we go somewhere?” He passed me a joint on an old red leather couch. “You wanna get outta here?”
Do I want to get out of here? What is “here,” baby? Out of this basement level studio apartment? Out of the great Garden State? Or out of this hollow shell of a life I call my existence? It’s the suicidal hours of a Saturday afternoon, Valentine’s Day too close for comfort, and you sit on a shelf I never thought I’d reach, so, mister, you don’t have to ask. Your bulk excites a fight or flight, and I choose flight, with you my taciturn stranger. Cowboy, take me away.
“Fly this girl as high as you can into the wild blue!”
We never made eye contact. Even in his apartment, his eyes were stuck on a can of Bud that he kicked back and crushed before he grabbed some keys and a nail gun off a particleboard counter. “For work,” he said, and I should’ve run, but, reader, I held onto my faith in the freedom found in fucking, so now I’m clinging onto to the flappy little safety handle hanging above my head in this silver Ford pickup as he flies us through a yellow light, whistling and pressing on the gas. I’m just like David Copperfield riding in Mr. Barkis’s coach, and boy, Barkis is willin’, but to do what, I’m scared to know. This is a big man, a tall man, the kind of man Lana del Rey would write a song about, the kind of man who’d advertise cleaning products to horny housewives, an American man full of hormones and steak, and now, windows rolled down in the middle of the winter, wind rushing around my sad, scrawny little face, this big man is whistling, Mary, he is whistling Chicks, no Dixie, no femme-phobic irony, no power-paranoid posturing from a social pariah—just this big man and I.
This is when I know for sure I’m gonna die. This carefree hunk is gonna kill me without batting an eye. Maybe in a frozen field outside Parsippany, ditch my body in the dust in Jenny Jump, I don’t know. I’m shit at details.
I’m shit at big picture too, actually.
“Hey, didja hear me, little guy?”
He tousles my hair while I stare into the abyss descending in front of me.
“You don’t have to talk if you don’t wanna.”
See, this is how I know I’m going to die. If a guy like this fucks guys, he still doesn’t fuck me. A guy like this would fuck quarterbacks and Hulk Hogan, closeted celebrities and aesthetic athletes, a guy like this would fuck whatever he pleases. He doesn’t please me. I could never please him. I’m not even a capital I, just some lower case sad sack filled with too much weed and a wheezy dream. i don’t matter. Lower case i i i don’t matter. Just a tiny little i already disintegrating, a little bit still visible as it gets jettisoned from the end. Not a strong continuous infinitely extending I. Not strong enough for kids or a life story that would fill a column of the obituary section in a local paper that doesn’t even exist anymore—Rupert Murdoch and the internet put them all out of business, and now everyone only lasts fifteen seconds, and i’ll last less, and fifteen days after i’m gone, people will think of me only when their serotonin drops or they want to feel sweetly sentimental: Remember him? lower case him? He didn’t really matter, so we can think of him and not feel too sad, only sad enough to make us feel safer for still being here, for still being upper case. But even upper case They won’t feel safe for long because there are no more local papers, so now it’s just fascism, now it’s white nationalism, now there’s no more God, just Ted Cruz with an AK-47 and his hillbilly saints, just the economy the economy the economy the economy and oh God, oh GOD, I’m so high--
“You doin okay little guy?”
He’s looking at me again.
“You never answered me before.”
Focus on the road you big galoot or you’ll kill us both. I don’t want to die.
He looks back at the road, thank God, and my heart settles down.
I really don’t want to die. I’m scared of a lot of things, everything, even, but death really gets me. One night in seventh grade it dawned on me that I had always implicitly thought of death as the end of an actor’s part in a play—all the world’s a stage and that sort of thing—and when it was our time, we’d recede into the background, silent and stony while the story went on without us. Sad, but bearable and humbling in its beauty. But here’s the rub: at the end of the play, the cast comes back and takes a bow and happily moves on to whatever’s next. They go home, go to bed, have sex, eat dinner, get high on their comfy couch, dormant but waiting to be recast in some other, as yet unwritten drama. But that night in bed the truth unfurled across my preadolescent mind that when we die we disappear not only until the end of the production, but forever after, and forever after that, and so on and so forth into the imponderable eternity. We’re not actors; we’re characters in a short story in the only copy of a book that gets burned.
“What’re you thinkin about little guy?”
And this is how I’ll go. I’m sorry, God, for being weak. Is this what I get? For praying for you, Jesus, to deliver me from getting horny and hunting for dick, to deliver me from the orgasms that always disappoint, if not in the moment, then in the moments after?
I turn to him, and he smiles. He smiles so bright it hurts in my chest, and God glows in distributing justice from on high.
Jesus has taken the wheel, and he says: “You’re a funny little guy.”
The cloud-capped light slices through the trees. We’re stopped at a red, and I glance over to see the sun burning a halo around his face. Ecce homo, this maybe homo who may be delivering me to my demise. Set me free, oh I pray, closer to heaven above and closer to you.
“Do you like the ride?” he asks.
I shake my head but mumble: “Yeah.”
“No, you don’t.” He grins his saintly smile. “You’re too polite,” he says. “It’ll be the death of you.”
An open road unfurls in front of us, and he floors it. Maybe I’m getting carried away. Maybe this is fine. Maybe this is the beginning of a life-long love—have faith! My heart bursts, my chest compresses. Maybe we don’t die, maybe we ride shotgun forever in God’s glorious mind, maybe every lift takes us closer to that fuck, that jubilant climax only the divine can design.
The seatbelt digs into my side. Maybe we shouldn’t be driving so fast.
“There’s nothing better than the Chicks!” he yells, and my heart surges again. I close my eyes—if we crash, I don’t want to see it coming. I don’t want my last moments to be in terror. I want to arrive in hell fresh, smelling like chips and humming country songs, and thanks to whatever homegrown methamphetamine byproduct this weed is laced with, as soon as my eyelids clasp their hands in prayer, I am already well on my way. The slouching winter light turns the blood flowing through the veins in my eyeball-covering skin into divine lines of infernal liberation, and I am following them to somewhere spectacular even though I know I’m more likely just in Pennsylvania headed toward a shallow ditch, not an ungodly city of brotherly love for some fraternal fucking. It’s only when I feel the funny bumps and thuds of a rough ride that I realize I’m not hurtling through the dark unknown. We’re slowing down on an unpaved road, my pilot steering me to my final destination.
“Look alive,” he says with a clap on the back as we stop. “This’ll work?”
This is it. Judging from the surrounding silence, we must’ve left any real road a long time ago, and there won’t be any life-saving passersby. The only person I see is him, already outside, so brightly backlit I can’t see his face, can’t see anything, can only tell that the truck’s dead and the music’s gone. The only sound I hear aside from his belabored breathing is the cracking of ice, and I know that the netherworld isn’t far.
“Come on, bud.”
He’s in front the truck, behind him must be the edge of a hill that we’re on top of because now that my eyes have adjusted to the gray winter glow, I see he’s framed by bare branches against a frozen lake that must be a long cliff’s fall beneath us. I get dizzy at the sight. So high. So very, very high. I could run, but how far would I get? Drugged up like this, I’d probably tumble into the ice before he even started chasing. I’ve come too far. My only option is to fall out of the truck and into his waiting arms.
“Goddam, this looks good.”
He bends me over the hood of the truck, and my legs start to shake.
Ecce homo, this maybe homo who may be delivering me to my demise.
“You’re a good little boy.”
“Thank you, father,” my smooshed face manages to mumble into the sheet of warm metal, a last ditch effort to get on God’s good side, though I’m sure he didn’t hear. I barely heard myself, but that might be because I’m desensitized. I barely even feel the cold, though my pants are pulled down to my ankles along with my black boxer briefs. At least it’ll hurt less this way. I thank God for that, trying to remember the words to some long-forgotten prayer when he grunts, and it happens, so fast I can’t resist. Like a thunderclap, one hand wraps around the back of my head, the other smacks my ass, and a cannon of hot spit lands across my anus. It’s done—he nails me. No warning, no prep, no last words before I go, just Brokeback Mountain–style breaking my back.
“Jesus!” I yelp, and he laughs at this maudlin Mary before bending over, too, and I’m pinned down by the mountain on top of me. No gun, only the pumping of his loins.
“You like that?” he whispers in my ear.
I equivocate for a while as I consider. His body on mine, my flaccid weenie smushed against the grill, my spirit spread eagle, flying into the blue. I want to scream, yes, fuck me father, this is exactly what I like, but it wouldn’t be true. I don’t like this. His stick burns in my ass, and I feel myself start to cry. I like pop music and bubble tea, I don’t like this. The tears are welling up in my eyes. I like sunny days and laughing at videos of people falling, I don’t like this. I hold back a whimper as he pummels my pancreas. I don’t like this. “Like” isn’t the word that can capture how I feel about this, but I don’t know what is, and I certainly can’t find the right word now with a dick tickling my brain stem.
My head jerks back as he pulls my hair and asks, “Is this what you wanted?”
I don’t even try to answer this time. I just open my mouth and wail, singing the song of sodomy, wishing someone would hear me, see me, carry on my name, but all I see are three wise Chicks peering at me through the snowflakes falling through the trees, strumming to the sounds of the thwap thwap thwap of his thighs.
“Thank you,” I eventually say again not to the big man immediately above me but to the one up much higher. Emily, Martie, Natalie, angels we have heard when high, please take my words on wing.
“I’m close!” he roars before long, and I don’t say it, but I am too, though I’m not sure to what. The passing pleasure of destroying one more man’s monstrous boner? Fleeting postcoital relief, maybe, of my lizard-brain fears or needs? Drug-induced ego death?
“Yes,” he chants, “yes, yes, yes!”
Snow and sex sweat collect on my eyelashes while he speeds up inside me, and the fire rips across my insides. Our voices rise in harmony. Yes, yes, this is what I wanted. Yes, yes, yes, we sing together. This is it, yes—yes! I feel his load explode inside me, his voice—hallelujah—carries out into the empyrean, and for a moment the world rings with clarity. This is it. This—the momentary corporeal confirmation of my eternal platonic reality—is it: indisputably and inexplicably, I am absolutely fucked.
“Thank you,” he says before kissing the back of my head.
In the dying light I see a blanket of snow put the world to bed. The burning subsides as he collapses, and I wonder what’s for dinner while my senses slowly return. His dick lingers in me.
It isn’t heaven, but I’ll take it.
Jack Balderrama Morley (they/he) is a queer, Xicanx-Anglo writer who enjoys pop music and long walks on the beach. Jack’s fiction has appeared in Issue Sixteen of No Contact. Jack is represented by Danielle Bukowski at Sterling Lord Literistic. Jack’s Twitter and Instagram handles are @jackbaldmo and website is jackbalderramamorley.com.