For John

Zane went out on a test drive one random Autumn evening to pinpoint an electrical gremlin that was plaguing his Ford F-250. The fates dispersed a small amount of misfortune towards the curious mechanic that night, so the truck lost power and coasted to a stop along side of the lonely Mount Hood Highway. Zane was unaccustomed to such bad luck, and he shook his head from side to side as if to say, “this can’t be happening.” With a cool demeanor, Zane marshalled his resources and set about to gauge the severity of his dilemma. He opened the hood of the stricken vehicle and upon investigation, he concluded that the coil packs were overheating, causing the engine to stall. “If I’m lucky, it’ll start once they cool down,” Zane reasoned as he slowly trudged his way back through the mud. It was a typical rainy evening and the soggy topsoil that doubled as the road’s shoulder was saturated with seasonal precipitation.  Zane bided his time as he pondered the gravity of the situation. It was getting late, and as usual, he didn’t bother saying good-bye; instead Zane abruptly vanished after dinner. Renee would have no idea where he was, or what he was up to.

Zane realized that Renee was left at home without a car, and she wouldn’t be able to give him a ride. “It’s about a quarter mile to the Chevron station, and I could find a phone and let Renee know what’s going at least.” He intended to inform Renee that he would be walking home. It would be about five miles Zane concluded as he contemplated his only option. He was really beginning to regret leaving his cell phone behind when he decided to crank the engine. It had been at least ten minutes since he became stranded, and he reckoned the coils would have cooled down by now. If the engine started he intended to immediately reverse course and hobble his way back towards home. “Come on lady, give me some sugar baby,” he thought as he twisted the ignition switch. The starter motor engaged, and the Ford sprang back to life! Zane quietly thanked his lucky stars and proceeded to navigate the Ford back up onto the highway when the drive wheels sank into the muddy soil. The tires grabbed and churned against the soggy turf trying desperately to gain traction. It was to no avail. “Now I’m really screwed,” he thought as the rear end of the pick-up slowly drifted sideways and sank further into the soppy mess. The Shimeks were not exactly what you would call economically viable. He knew they couldn’t afford a tow, so now the choice was clear. “I’m going to be walking.”  He was contemplating how long it would take to traverse the quarter mile that separated him from the Chevron station. He sat there in silence and calculated whether or not their Isuzu Trooper would have enough gumption to drag the Ford out of the mud. “I could drop the Isuzu into four-wheel low and hook the vehicles together with a tow strap,” he reasoned. Zane was optimistically considering the procedure when he recalled how the Isuzu was inoperable due to a faulty battery. The situation was becoming more and more dire by the minute.         

Suddenly his gaze was bombarded with flashing red and blue warning strobes that were emanating from a lumbering fire engine. The pulsing swirls of colored beams lit up the evening sky for about a mile’s radius. Zane watched the approaching fire truck through a rear-view mirror as it dawned on him that the emergency vehicle was coming to a stop. “This is all I need,” he thought. Zane hated drawing attention to himself, and the arrival of the fire department fueled a latent contempt for authority. “What the fuck do these assholes want?” he thought as the rescue team drew nearer.  The anxiety was amplified because the Ford was not exactly legal. He had just recently purchased it and had yet to acquire liability insurance and current tags. Zane incorrectly assumed the fire crew would promptly radio the local sheriff upon realization that he was not in full compliance with local statutes, and it annoyed him. Zane’s heart sank upon hearing the obnoxious ‘popping HISS’ that emanated from the fire-engine as the driver activated the belligerent air brakes. The large red vehicle settled into position parallel to Zane’s bogged down pick-up, and he drew an uncomfortable deep breath.

It was a typical fire engine with a forward compartment that would comfortably seat six. The crewman riding shotgun rolled down the passenger side glass and shouted, “Is everything alright?” The ambient rattle of the huge Diesel engine was drowning out his voice, so the concerned fireman repeated the inquiry. Zane thought it was a silly question, but he squelched his frustration and reported that the Ford had stalled. “It looks like you’re pretty stuck,” commented another fireman as he opened his rear door. Zane hoped the fire crew would remain in their vehicle, so he decided to preempt their departure from the noisy fire engine. To accomplish this, he quickly exited the stricken pick-up in attempt to intercept the firemen before they could approach the scene. As expected, the fireman swung his legs out from the opened door and started his ascent down the highly polished steps. The words, “You don’t need to get out,” quickly spewed form Zane’s mouth. It was his intention to keep prying eyes away from the expired license plates. With an artificial smile, he suggested the man should remain inside to avoid getting his boots muddy. The helpful fireman nodded subconsciously and asked, “are you in need of assistance?” Zane explained the situation and informed the crew that he had left his cell phone at home. There were two fire fighters in the back seat, one of whom offered up a ride to the Chevron. The man behind the steering wheel shouted, “There’s no sense walking in the rain if you don’t have to.” Zane knew resistance was futile and the man who attempted to exit the truck changed course and slid back towards the driver’s side, while motioning for the stricken motorist to “climb aboard.” Zane feigned appreciation as he half-heartedly kicked excess mud form his shoes and made his way inside of the large fire engine. Zane was not very skilled at small talk, and he reluctantly engaged the jovial crew as they bantered on. The driver piloted the large vehicle though the mist and back tracked towards the filling station. The entire voyage lasted no longer than five minutes.

By this time Zane was silently relieved because his eager benefactors had no intentions of ratting him out. Instead they were only being neighborly. He felt silly for worrying about the expired tags, and Zane was truly grateful for the kindness. Utilizing little more than facial expressions and body language, he thanked the crew for their assistance. With that, Zane hastily vacated the fire engine and proceeded towards the convenience store where he tried in vain to locate a pay phone. He realized that they ceased to exist in this new modern reality, so Zane informed the clerk that he had broken down and he needed to call for help. In an authoritative tone he asked, “do you have a phone I could use?” The cashier nodded agreeably and offered up his own personal device.

Zane had been absent for nearly an hour before she received a strange call from an anonymous number. Ordinarily Renee would let the incoming message go straight to voice mail, but on this occasion she reluctantly picked up the receiver. “Hello,” she asked with some nervous trepidation. “Hi Renee, it’s me,” came a voice from over the distance. “I’m broke down, and I got the truck stuck.” he informed her. “I was starting to wonder where you were.” Renee said to her husband. She was both perturbed and relieved. “Do you need a ride,” she asked in a nurturing tone? “Where are you,” she continued? “I got a ride in a fire truck, and now I’m at Chevron by the highway 26 cutoff,” he said with a sense of mild urgency. Renee responded by confirming the exact location and suggested that John could give him a lift. “No,” Zane said. “I don’t want to bother the neighbors. I was just calling to let you know I’m walking, and it will take a couple of hours to get home.” As the conversation continued Renee ascertained that her husband was being silly. “John would be super excited to give you a ride,” she informed him. “He really wants to get to know you anyway.” For some undisclosed reason, Zane had an aversion to John. Perhaps they both evoked each other’s own painful individual histories.

Renee confidently knocked upon John’s door which contained a relentless rhythmic pounding of biker friendly rock ‘n roll music. She knew John was home because his Toyota pick-up was strategically parked in the driveway and internal lighting was shining through opened blinds. Assuming John couldn’t hear, Renee knocked louder this time while crying out, “John! John are you home?” Suddenly the music went silent, and she correctly assumed that he had switched off his stereo.

John was a heart-sick lonely bachelor. On his day off John presented as a middle-aged biker, but during the week he earned a living by retailing industrial tools and equipment. On the weekends he would eagerly consume copious amounts of malt-liquor while smoking cannabis as if there were no tomorrow. Tonight was no exception. John was inebriated past the point of coherency because it was the beginning of another lonely weekend. He would consistently drink himself blind to escape from the crippling despair that had been thrust upon him since the completion of his divorce. By John’s skewed reasoning, the end of his marriage meant the end of hope, and everything that gave him pleasure in life had been reduced to a collection of sad memories. John depended upon his vices to help ease the pain, so he insisted upon self-medication to alleviate the heart ache. His efforts were in vain however, and loneliness only managed to intensify upon each subsequent drink.

Through a drug induced haze, John could hear Renee as she pleaded with him to open up. “John! John, can you open up? Zane is in trouble!” In his state of chemically induced delirium, he realized what was happening. He realized someone was knocking at his door! It took more than a few moments for John to re-establish command of his motor functions. John was totally out of synch with reality by this time, and he asked himself if he had ordered a pizza as he clumsily made his way from his sofa to the entryway. The music had stopped, and the only sound was coming from the deadbolt as the drunken man fumbled with the lock from within the confines of a studio apartment that would become his tomb.

…To be continued

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