He was hearing Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car for the first time, on his car radio, driving down Wishkah Street. By the end of the first chorus, he had to pull over because he didn’t know how he could possibly listen and drive at the same time, given that he’d had his license only a month, and given that the song fuckingbegs you to pull over and listen. He was stopped in front of the church that used to be a theater – something he’d passed a hundred-million times – but by the time the singer got to telling about her old man’s problems – living with the bottle and such – he’d forgotten where he was: that he was sitting in his ’76 Nova, downtown, and it was raining. Hard. That’s when Max looked up, a little bleary-eyed, and saw him standing under the church/theater marquee.
He cracked his window and called: “Hey.” (Something about the song made this seem okay.) The man waved a little. “Need a lift?” The man nodded and came around to the passenger door and let himself in. “Hey,” Max repeated.
“Hey,” said the man.
“I’m Max,” said Max.
“Janky Bourbon,” said the man and Max reflexively laughed.
“Dude, are you describing yourself? Or are you trying to tell me that’s actually your name?”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
Max nodded. “Okay. I getcha. So…where to?”
“Anywhere,” said Janky.
Max glanced back at the church/theater marquee. “You go to that church?” he asked.
“Oh, nah, man. Me and Christ, we’ve gone our separate ways. We don’t see eye to eye. You know? Nothing personal, but religion and me, we’re not on speaking terms.”
“I getcha. But, you know, you actually look a little like Jesus.”
“Yeah. You know, the pictures they show us.”
“Yeah,” Max conceded. “So,” he asked again. “Where to?”
“Where you going?”
“Me? I’m supposed to be in school right now, so anywhere else is good with me.”
Janky smiled, nodded, and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his breast pocket. He offered one to Max and after they’d both lit their smokes, he said: “Anywhere else is good for me, too.”
Max drove them to the park above the Catholic hospital and pulled the Nova into a space below the tennis courts. The rain was even harder than before, and the windshield was awash so as to render the red brick of the old hospital an amorphous distortion. Janky said, a slight grin on his beard, “You know, Ted Bundy was from these parts.”
Max nodded. “Yeah. He was my uncle.” This disarmed them both and they laughed and laughed, though somewhat nervously.
“So,” said Janky when they finally settled down, “I’d totally blow you.”
“Cool,” said Max.
After, as they were enjoying their cigarettes, Max asked Janky if he was hungry.
“No cash,” said Janky.
“I got a few bucks.”
They went to Denny’s and Max got the clam chowder. Janky said he was fine with coffee, if he could also have Max’s oyster crackers.
“Sure. Sure,” said Max.
After a considerable silence, Janky asked: “Are you a pool player?”
“I am not,” said Max. “Why?”
“I don’t know, you just look like a pool player.”
“I look like a shark?”
Janky seemed to take the question literally, and seriously. “More porpoise-y. I guess because of the nose.”
Max spooned his soup. The clams were rubbery, and he thought to say to Janky that it’s probably a mistake to order seafood at a Denny’s, but he feared that would make him seem flaky, since he’d picked the restaurant, and willingly ordered the chowder. Instead, he surprised himself by blurting: “I have to tell you something.”
“This is, like, the first date I’ve ever really been on. Well, that’s kinda a lie. Because I went to the movies with Brenda Franke. But, you know, she askedme, and I didn’t really want to go but I figured it was a way to tell my mom to get off my back: Okay? See? I’m on a fucking date already. Happy?
“Anyway, am I stupid to call this a date?” asked Max.
Janky smiled. “Hey man, call it macaroni if you want.”
“So. Okay. Then, what’s your real name?”
He smiled. “William.”
“So, William. Have you heard this song called Fast Car? It’s super awesome, about this woman who’s with this deadbeat guy, only she keeps telling herself he’s not a deadbeat and that they’re going to make it because he’s, like, got this fast car and if they get in and go real fast, it will, like, I don’t know, take them where they need to go. You know? You ever thought about that, William? That sometimes we just hold on tight and hope that we’re taken where we need to go? You know, even if we’re totally jonesing up the wrong tree?”
William popped an oyster cracker in his mouth and smiled.
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He is a Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in several journals, including Soft Cartel and Typehouse Literary Magazine. He loves fried zucchini blossoms and wishes they were available year-round. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com.