Road Train

It is only three o’clock in the afternoon, but the sky is black. The headlights only illuminate the flood of rain, drawing out the details of each droplet. He thinks that he remembers where the road is.

The truth is that he has hated every godforsaken place he has been in those years: it is all filth and deprivation, but cheap — on his severance he has camped-out all over the world for years. He had big dreams at the outset, but once he landed somewhere moving-on felt like climbing out of a hot bath and into an Eskimo winter: he only left when it became impossible to stay. He had standards of course: only places with toilet paper, hot water and electricity. But the radio stations were always crap, there was never anything good on TV, it was harassing to go into town and have the native kids beg him for money, he always had to watch for pickpockets and the old ladies in the market clawed at him with dirty hands and pleaded with foul breath. It was unbearable.

He was never a part of any of these places anyway. He lived on the outskirts — hostels and cheap international hotels. They were their own universe; a gap, a non-place that appeared again and again exactly the same no matter how many oceans he crossed. He reached outside these liquid boundaries only in dire situations, which is why he is out on this damned afternoon. He knows that somewhere there is a highway, and about a quarter of a mile down the highway is a bottle store. He is hills and curves away from it, but he peers past the furiously beating wipers looking for the pink and blue neon sign in the distance.

He lived on the outskirts — hostels and cheap international hotels. They were their own universe;
a gap, a non-place that appeared again and again exactly the same no matter how many oceans he crossed.

When he hits the highway he does see light, a tremendous, bright orange that bleeds out into the rain. It seems to billow, to dance and jump. Then he hears howling again. A figure is standing at the side of the road waving, a flapping blur in the shots of rain, birdlike. The drifter pulls over. It’s a man with a beard like a fat, gray animal curled up under his chin. The bearded man is yelling at the drifter through the window and the drifter rolls the window down with great effort. Rain floods in. The bearded man is as gray as the sky. He has a strong accent that is only further jumbled as it is drowned out by the thrashing of the storm against the car. The drifter jerks the car into park and slides out.

The light comes from a truck behind the bearded man. It has tipped over and caught fire. It’s not just a truck, but a road train pulling three regular sized slick-silver, cylinder tankers. “They’re all gonna blow,” the bearded man tells him. The drifter nods. He’s wondering what the hell the bearded man is doing driving an explosive road train in this weather, but he doesn’t ask. They stand together by the Brazilian’s car, far from the orange glow. The drifter smells gasoline. He can’t make out the road train at all, just the sprawling red diluting like liquid into the haze between them and the bottle store. After awhile he asks the bearded man if he wants to get in the car. They both climb in and sit until their breath fogs up the windows and their clothes feel warm and sticky.

The first tank blows. It’s magnificent. A burst of light cuts through the deluge and the drifter sees the road train clearly. The blast happens in slow motion, and when he shuts his eyes he sees it again and again on the insides of his eyelids: the yellow bulb growing like a flower, shooting seeds into the air. It settles to the same dull red and keeps burning, blowing a spray of smoke into the air.

They are at the top of a hill. The highway is visible as it winds down, around the burning road train and to the bottle store. The rain rinses over them, cleansing them, washing the mud from the high road and spilling the gasoline down the hill in a trail of fire that flows beyond where they can see, eventually making its way to the house where the little girl is watching her family drown. The bearded man is talking to the drifter in his heavily inflected English, saying things about what a terrible storm it is, and where the drifter is from, and how he should have taken the frontage road. Then the bearded man says, “There’s a car coming.” He points down the hill to the highway where a green blur is creeping towards them. In it are two girls. Sixteen and Eighteen. They are on their way home from checking on their grandmother. They will be on the news the next day.

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