They rode in that once-magnificent car as if the streets possessed a current: The Pastor's Boy, his dry, bony hands clasped around the wheel's raw leather, and Ethan, searching for a station that played the music he liked, neither of them wanting to think about what was happening, believing that might erase its inevitability or at least, subside their knotting anxieties. Along with those bumpy motions, the night's increasing wind muttered its tired, one-syllabled secrets to the vehicle's rusted and paint-chipped exterior. Ethan stopped fiddling with the radio and turned it off. He glanced at The Pastor's Boy, who hadn't been a boy ever since the pastor had diedsoftly, they said the pastor had went on softly, that he'd closed his eyes and had started through this congested wheeze, Our Father which art in, and had exhaled at the next word's beginning, breathing, then, heavily on that H until he couldn't.
Now in the car that the congregation had pooled their money together and purchased for him, his boy, who'd recognized the necessity of manhood the same instant he, the pastor, became whatever man is after life, removed his grip from around the wheel and with his right hand, after uncurling its tenseness and flexing it, shifted. His face, masked in quiescent dark, brightened at constant intervals by strips flashing from the streetlights' burnt orange. The car stalled. After a twitch, it went on, though, as smooth as it would.
Assured by the steadiness, The Pastor's Boy tilted his head into the headrest's cushion and turned the radio back on, saying that they had to have something. To which Ethan, gazing ahead at those overgrown shadows drifting across the lineless concrete, did not respond. The Pastor's Boy reached behind his seat. He grabbed the plastic liter of warm vodka, unscrewed its top, and drank as close to recklessly as caution would allow. Static continued through the speakers. Holding the bottle by its neck, he waved it in front of Ethan.
"Nah, man. I'm good."
"A'ight, suit yourself. I definitely ain't gonna try and force you to drink my liquor."
"Anyway, you the one I'm worried about bein' sure or not."
"Me? I'm sure as hell. What you mean you worried?" said The Pastor's Boy, bottle resting in his lap.
"Well, what if he ain't even out there. What if one thing don't go the way you think it will. You know that's all it's gotta be, jus' one little thing."
After taking another sip of that clear liquid whose mouth-numbing harshness he'd grown accustomed toand, at moments, grateful for and comforted bythroughout that past week, The Pastor's Boy tightened the bottle's cap back on.
"He'll be there," he said. "It's where he lives at. It's where he'll be."
"What if he's doin' somethin else? What if, I'm sayin', like what if he jus' ain't outside? What then?"
"Listen, he ain't got shit else to do and he was outside every night of this last week. We all nothin' more than creatures of habit. Know what I mean? All of us. I gotta believe he'll be on the same shit he's been on."
The light up ahead was yellow. He slowed the car to a stop. Ethan took out a cigarette as to having something for his hands. It was his last, so he loosened the tobacco before sliding it back into his short-sleeve shirt's pocket alongside his lighter, shaped like a woman's head looking up in which the flame burned from an open mouth.
"If you don't want to, you don't gotta be here, E. You know that, right? I'm more than good by myself," said The Pastor's Boy, staring at the red light and then he glanced out of one of the other windows at the intersection's green light. "This would be your chance to go if that's what you wanna do."
"Nah, man. I'm here," Ethan said, clinging to this fugitive hope that the light might never change. "You know I am."
It went green. They started. The engine like a nearsighted dog's tentative and feeble barks.
"A'ight. We gettin' pretty close, too."
"If he's not out there will"
"Drop it, E. Jus' drop it."
The radio's static had found bits of music, strings and percussion, to place between itself. Ethan popped open the glove compartment and picked out a cassette, a piece of scotch tape on it labeled Jamz in cursive blue sharpie. He asked if he could put something in.
"Leave it. It's not important."
"I'm about to get out for a sec anyways."
They were approaching where The Center used to be. He stopped the car in front of the tiny, fenced-in building that stood with a lean that not even that large of a storm could have knocked off balance, a flat area of dead grass and hardened, chalky dirt underneath it. Putting the car in park and pulling the emergency brake, he looked across Ethan through the passenger side's window at the building's boarded-up windows, trying to see through the crevices what remained of where he'd learned how to share things and to stay within the lines and throw a spiral and spit watermelon seeds the furthest and wait his turn.
He took the key out and opened his door and jogged to the fence, on the way swiveling his head every direction to ensure that no one was watching. In one motion, he jumped the fence. Then he jogged to behind the building. Surrounded by trees spreading frail and sinking branches, he undug the hole he'd dug earlier that month. The soil was lukewarm and solid. Dirt got underneath his fingernails. He threw the clumps over his head. He picked up the gun. It was lukewarm and solid like the soil. He'd placed his finger on its trigger only once beforewhen he'd bought it, taking it out of a crumpled paper bag.
He walked back and climbed the fence. This time there was no checking around, just long strides, hesitant and resolved, toward the car. Forgetting the door was unlocked, he put the key in the driver side's keyhole and rotated the key and pulled the handle. Ethan reached and unlocked it. They both opened the door at near enough the same time. The Pastor's Boy got inside. He set the gun in back, on the floor, where the vodka had been, while Ethan viewed the wrecked building as though expecting it to do something unreal.
"You 'member our first day," Ethan said, "our first day at that place?"
The Pastor's Boy twisted the key in the ignition. Once the car had started, he pushed down the pedal almost all the way, reviving the engine. He shifted to drive and took off.
"Well, I damn sure 'member it clear," Ethan said. "Pete Morse, big Pete Morse and his kinda slow cousin Freddy. You member them?" He did, of course. Everything but their faces. He remembered them completing each other's vulgarities like cellmates serving life sentences together and that their off-brand clothes were too small for either of them and how they'd have beaten up Ethan, probably given him a bloody nose and a black eye like they'd done those other kidsPaul Smithers, Mexican Mike, and Skinny Moall in that same recess, without any remorse. "You do, don't you? Black as Coke and ashy like they never heard of no lotion. You saved my ass that day, though. You really did."
"Here's the street right here. He lives a bit down on it. But this is Bluestone," The Pastor's Boy said and he let the car go to a crawling pace.
"What if he ain't alone? What if he outside, but he ain't alone outside?"
"He'll be outside. He'll be alone."
Ethan reached for the plastic liter. He examined its Russian logo and took too long of a swig. Through the coughs, he tried to start talking, but couldn't. Then he said, "This ain't what your pops woulda wanted. You know that. Let's forget all this. It's jus' you and me."
They'd already passed the beige house with the For Sale sign in its yard, an old tire-swing hanging from that unkempt yard's oak tree. The Pastor's Boy recalled the next house. Dented garage, the basketball hoop with no net and a fading red square on its backboard, tall grass.
"Forget it?" said The Pastor's Boy.
"Yeah, forget it."
"You don't understand. There's no way you could, but I can't forget. I been reminded about it every day and ain't been able to do nothin' but think about it every, single, goddamn day, from when I wake up in the morning and brush my teeth to when I brush my teeth at night and go to bed." He had only one hand on the wheel. The other was illustrating something wild. "And you know what, I'm jus' gonna keep thinkin' and bein' reminded about it, unless I do somethin'."
"I understand, but this won't help a thing, though."
"No, that's exactly what I'm sayin', you don't understand. I'm tellin' you that you don't."
"Well, I'm tryin' to. I know this, though, that what you about to do won't help or fix nothin'."
"Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. Who knows. What I know, or, I guess, more how I see it is that if all those powers that be won't take care of you and yours, after a while, you gotta realize that it's up to you. Do you see what I'm sayin?" The Pastor's Boy grabbed the vodka from Ethan's lap and finished what was left, which was more than he could swallow in one gulp. "If you do, you do. If you don't, you don't. Point is, though, that, right now, this is somethin' I basically can't be talked outta. There he is."
"That's him. That's him, right there. Outside and alone."
"What if he's got somethin' on him? What if he end up shootin' you or stabbin' you or somethin' like that?"
"It's dark. I'll be in front of him before he even knows what's happenin'."
The Pastor's Boy stopped the car, easing to the curb. Ethan's half-hearted plea of wait went unheard into the radio's static and strings and cymbals. The Pastor's Boy took the gun from where he'd kept the vodka, clenched it with both hands like it were a long sought discovery.
"Don't be stupid," he said and he pushed the safety and opened the door. "The keys are in my pocket. Don't be a idiot and do somethin' we'd both wind up wishin' you hadn't."
He stepped out of what had been the congregation's gift to his father, something they weren't just pleased but honored to present to someone they felt deserving of it and so much more. He lifted his head and looked above that neighborhood that looked like his own at the stars and at the moon and that lasted less time than it took for him to close the door. After it was closed, he glimpsed, with swallowed emotions and a strained for expressionlessness, at those different and familiar things. He crossed the street. He placed his finger on the gun's trigger and recalled that the safety was already off, this nerved assertion added to his steps. Still, on the pavement, his shoes dragged, a quiet noise like fingernails scratching downward on a fresh canvas. Everything changed when he entered the yard. He felt it in his drying throat and in the entirety that seemed to compress.
Noticing the someone coming, Victor Green tapped the ash off his blunt's end, thinking nothing of anything, and he said, "Who's there? Mel, is that you?"
The Pastor's Boy advanced wordlessly. Victor Green lifted the blunt. It showed like a red speck floating into the air. "As you can see I done already started a little bit here without you, Mel. I'll admit that's my bad," Victor said and snorted, laughing.
No one responded. That same no one scuttled on the grass. Victor Green used the armrests to push himself up from his chair.
"You betta say somethin', Mel. I ain't playin'. Shit, whoeva you is, you betta say somethin'. You betta say somethin' if you know what's good for you. I don't care who you is."
"Bobby Wright's son," The Pastor's Boy said. "That's who I am. I'm Bobby Wright's son."
"Who the hell is you talkin' about? Bobby Wright? I don't know no Bobby Wright."
Victor Green questioned the name one more time to himself. He was certain that he knew no Bobby Wrights. Then, without fully realizing how, he'd fallen to his knees and his kneecaps were aching and were wet in the grass. The blunt went out and the smell of peaches divided upward. He gazed at the dark outline, almost formless within what was behind it, standing in front of him. Its arm jerked with every loud pop that brightened and hit his body. The pastor, he remembered and was going to say, while his eyes were shutting, and he plummeted forward.
Copyright © 2014 Jay Nunnery.
Jay Nunnery lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he writes and occasionally teaches. His work has appeared in the Echolocations Anthology and in Xenith Online.