“There’s hardly any avocado in this and I asked for extra,” Jordan said, crossing his pseudo-stoned eyes, squinting between the half-chomped layers of the foot-long Subway Club sandwich he’d bought when they’d stopped to fuel up at the New England border. “Aren’t I supposed to have it my way? ‘Have it your way.’ That’s what well-proportioned celebrity/athletes say on the commercials, right?” “Probably most of the avocado is on your shirt,” she said, turning onto another nameless pastoral byway. “And I think it’s ‘Eat fresh.’”
Jordan giggled in the passenger seat. “Eat fresh,” he repeated before taking another bite of his grade-D, fit-for-human-consumption lunch. He turned his eyes down and started to pick at the green sludge that had congregated at the confluence of his salmon-colored button-down and khaki shorts. He looked like a decade-older version of the generically suburban kid from one of the more Adderall-friendly prep schools she’d met in Boston in the parking lot of a Dave Matthews concert, whose generically obnoxious friends had called him “Jordie” and who’d made a weak attempt to sell her a sheet of acid that was clearly a strip of candy buttons; the only thing missing today was the hemp necklace containing a specific number of quartz healing crystals.
Jordan balanced the sandwich remains on the dashboard and started feeling around his gut. When he found the last avocado glob he grunted victory and wiped it off on his seatbelt.
At some point he’d changed the Pandora—pumping via USB from his phone—to the Jam Bands Radio station. The antiquated grooves fell out of their windows and joined the rusty wind that had pursued them since they’d left the city, into a sky unshackled of buildings, leering in its vacancy.
She tried to focus on the farm-worried road and not Jordan’s ash-kneed legs, which looked especially sallow against the black vinyl seats of the Kia she’d picked up from the carsharing service that morning. She’d picked the car up because today was her idea, orchestrated after she’d seen a subway ad for the service featuring a photo of a young couple embracing against the hood of a convertible, smiling amidst a pixilated sunset, the overlaid text reading, “No booty call shall go unanswered.” In the two years since they’d randomly reconnected at a charity bartending event thrown by a mutual Facebook friend who ran a pop-up animal shelter, she and Jordan been hanging out, at first casually and then tri-weekly, and it was cool. A show here and there, a gallery opening she’d read about, the subway ride with no transfers between their similar “warehouse-to-loft” neighborhoods: it was comfortable. Booty calls seldom went unanswered.
But they’d never ridden in a car together that wasn’t a cab, she’d realized, never played bocce even though both of them claimed proficiency, never been to a beach that wasn’t home to an overabundance of seedy Russians or the world’s biggest hot dog eating contest. A day trip through sort-of-shared, once-recognizable locales might be a nice exhaling of the summer stink that had begun to permeate the city. There was some serious stuff to talk about later, but as far Jordan was concerned, they would be zipping around, ironic-tourist-style, through rolling hills and second homes, en route to her ex-hippie Aunt Karen’s cabin in a village named after slaughtered Native Americans for an early, locally sourced dinner.
That Jordan had shrugged his consent to the excursion without even one smart-ass crack about cow-tipping was odd. When he’d jogged out of his apartment that morning minus the black denim he always favored, with the gung-ho of a too-old Homecoming drunk, shit had officially gotten weird. It wasn’t just the clothes. His enthusiasm had stayed at a constant plateau the entire morning as he meticulously assumed DJ duties, chain smoked joints on the parkway like they were going to a festival instead of toward retirees and mass dairy production, insisted on rest-stop fast food because “we must revert to a primitive state”—an energy she’d found annoying, then impossible. She had to focus on the drive.
The road sloped down a lazy, gradual hill, ending at the first stoplight they’d seen in miles. Ahead stretched the major avenue of another small town where neither of them knew the name of the town (Jordan had forbidden the use of GPS), but where she vaguely remembered years ago taking a shaky bike ride on her aunt’s two-seater to purchase Nutella. They crawled past paint-chipped Victorian mansions converted into chiropractors’ offices and seasonal accounting firms; past an L-shaped shopping center rife with antiques, nutritional supplements, and used Christian textbooks; past the requisite shuttered Mom and Pops. Then the modest nineteenth-century town hall with a dandelion-laced green where a handful of sunscreened villagers—none between the ages of ten and fifty—lounged about on folding chairs or the grass. A trout-lipped shell of a former Stepford Wife was reading something on a tablet to a dazed boy in her lap. She laughed, flicked her finger across the screen.
The boy’s jaw stayed mannequin-slack.
Jordan put his arm out into the rush of air, undulating his open palm in slow waves. A pot-bellied dwarf with a Geraldo Rivera mustache operating a small produce stand waved back as they passed. His shirt was the same color as Jordan’s.
“I could chill here,” Jordan said. He dropped the empty Subway Club wrapper between his legs, licked his fingers.
A pair of leash-less dogs were sniffing and pawing at the gravel that constituted the parking lot of a roadside café. For a second she hoped one or both of them would wander close to the street, creating the opportunity for a collision that wouldn’t be fatal but might serve as a means to rouse their tea-swilling owner (who was immersed in a crochet project that looked like a rooster with sepsis), but she couldn’t.
Not just the vehicular battery. The entire thing. The sluggish cruise through lawns of the semi-living, the dinner with a relative who in the 1970s had lost a dangerous amount of bone marrow starving in solidarity with imprisoned farmers union organizers but who would probably get off on the farm-to-table app on Jordan’s phone more than anything else, the misplaced expectation that removing themselves from their respective apartments might reinforce what she vaguely remembered from a blog post as a “shared ideal.” The unassuming but meaningful way she was planning to mention the check-up last month that had led to the recommended appointment that had led to the pap smear that had led to the pelvic ultrasound that might lead to a series of significant and uncomfortable conversations in the immediate future and maybe for a long time.
She couldn’t focus.
A live version of the Talking Heads’ “Naïve Melody” came on, not bychance. This must be the place, she knew Jordan was mouthing as he hand-surfed to the beat.
“Could you change the music back to the radio?” she asked.
Jordan pulled his arm in and fiddled around for a second, not changing the song, then ran his phone-free hand along the bareness of her leg, halting a short distance from the inseam of her cut-offs.
He told her to ease up on the pedal and that he’d just decided he wanted to get a dog, “like a burly-ass rescue mutt, you know, where it might be less than ideal to confine him to leash-walking and beating up on all the pug-rats at the dog park, but we could always rent a car and take him up here to run around for an afternoon, you know?”
“Have it your way,” she said to the air in front of her lips.
It was June and that air reeked of lilies and bovine-produced fertilizer.
She rolled up all the windows, jacked up the AC, not glancing over for Jordan’s reaction. At the next intersection she turned onto a wider road flanked by signs that looked like they might point to a real highway—the choke of fuel, the stomach-lurch of architecture, a digestive race through hard organs toward an afterlife with a face as blank as a smooth turd. She started singing along with the Talking Heads.
About the Author: Chris Vola lives in Manhattan and can be found at smalldrunkencog.blogspot.com.