by Philip Elliott*
Saviours don’t come out of the rain. I knew this before I got in the car. I didn’t care.
The driver of my previous ride had turfed me and my battered backpack onto the side of the interstate after I refused to wrap my lips around his cock. The wind howled on that lonely stretch of forever like a soul torn apart by grief and fat fists of rain pummeled me without mercy, clattering onto the tarmac and gurgling at the sides of it. Tall corn stalks dipped their toes in and watched me drift down that placeless highway little more than a spirit. The pills I’d spent the day chewing had long since worn off, and as my next ride pulled up, a sticker on the windshield declaring GOD LUVS U in violent red letters all I could see through the hot glare of the headlights, I thought, How ridiculous it is to exist.
“Hey there stranger,” the driver roared over the rain. “Hop in and take some shelter. You’ll kill yourself out here in this weather.” He was young, a few years older than me, maybe twenty three, and a goofy kind of handsome.
I opened the door on the passenger side and collapsed into the seat breathless and shivering. Cheap cologne tried to smother me.
“You’re shaking like a dog,” he said, Southern drawl so exaggerated it was a parody of itself. “I have a jacket in the back—” reaching behind—”here, put this on.” It was puffy and red, like a life jacket, and in a sense was exactly that. “Here, you can have my coffee too, I don’t need it. Might just be a good idea I don’t drink any more. Don’t want this little ticker to explode.” He flashed a grin that was all lips, shocking blue eyes big and wet.
I grabbed the cup and downed it in one. The heat of it turned my cold fingers to live wire. “Thank you. I haven’t had a drink of something in over a day.”
“My my, that’s no good. We’ll have to get you some water. Where are you headed?”
I shrugged. The coffee had failed to banish the bitter chemical taste. “As far as you’ll take me.”
“Well, I’m goin to Auburn, Alabama. Home sweet home. I’ll gladly take you the whole way if you like?”
“Yeah, okay. Thanks. I’ve never been to Alabama.”
“Then you’re in for a real treat.” He ran a hand through his slicked-back hair and pulled out onto the highway. We raced into the darkness.
He said, “So what brings a pretty young lady like you to the middle of nowhere on a night like this?”
I fidgeted with one of the holes in my jeans. My drenched hair made my head hurt. “A lot of bad mistakes.”
He nodded, understanding dripping out of him. “It’s never too late to turn your life around. That’s what God told me when I was at my worst, and with His help I did. Did it all for Darlene.’ I noticed the crucifix dangling from the rear-view mirror, a tiny Christ being tortured on it, mouth forever expanding in silent agony. ‘That’s who I’m on my way to now. My darling Darlene.” He glanced at me, eyes alive. “Most beautiful girl in the world. She goin be so surprised. This day been a long time coming.”
I was too exhausted to care but knew curiosity was required of me. “A long time?”
“Yup. Three years, six months and twenty-seven days. Not that I was counting.” He winked. A smear of light whooshed past heading the opposite direction.
“Why so long?” I rubbed my eyes. They felt like they were coming loose. Soon they’d slip out of their sockets and I’d be left to wander blind and staggering this land of longing and ache. The things I would have done for a hit. If that asshole who had kicked me out onto the side of the road had offered me some junk I would have sucked anything he wanted, would have pleaded on my knees topless, would have let him plunge a hand through my ribs and tear out my heart, anything.
He said, “I had to go away and take care of some things and ended up in some trouble. I been in prison. Got out today. Her daddy didn’t want me near her so he changed the phone number and I know he been taking all the mail I sent her, cause I ain’t ever got no reply. But I’m coming home to you now, baby.” He slapped the steering wheel and yelled in excitement.
I tried to smile but it came out a queasy thing. My jaw was gyrating.
“You’re not from here, are you?” he said. ‘Merica I mean.’
“No. I’m Irish. The whole go to Hollywood and get famous thing . . . .” He observed me, an ocean splashing around his pupils. “The problem with dreams is at some point we have to wake up.”
“I hate being awake.”
“Being awake is hard. But we’re always alone while we sleep.”
I wouldn’t be alone if I had a hit, I thought. I’d know every pebble by its name; I’d tango with the wind; I’d make love to the fucking stars.
He said, “Reckon you goin be able to find a place to stay in Auburn?”
“I’ll figure it out.” He chewed on his lip. Headlights sliced through the rain. I thought it likely we weren’t even moving, doomed to watch the sky weep into this great void.
“You can stay with me for a while if you like,” he said. “My ma won’t mind. She’s a good lady.”
I hesitated. “It’s okay. I wouldn’t want to be a nuisance. But thank you, that’s very kind.”
“You won’t be a nuisance or nothin like it. Ma always said she’s glad to have guests and help those in need of it. I doubt she changed much since I left. And you can meet Darlene.” His face lit up again and he was gone, staring into Paradise. “I fell in love with that girl within two minutes of meeting her. We was sitting in this bar, my friend Billy Ray arranged the whole thing, it was a blind date, and he said to me, Daryl, I met this girl and I swear, when you meet her you’re goin fall in love right there. And he was right cause that’s exactly what happened. She had on this cute little dress with flowers on it, kind of like those on that bag you got there, and she had the brownest eyes you’d ever see. I mean, dark. Like the richest earth. When she looked at me with those eyes I felt like every part of me was going all mushy and turning to liquid.
“We left the bar and I kissed her under a full moon, fuzzy and warm from all the alcohol, high off all the blinking lights, as weightless as a feather in the breeze, and I said to her, Darlene, I’m goin marry you. And she looked right at me, didn’t even blink or nothin, just looked at me, and she said, Daryl, if you say you goin marry a girl, you better marry her. And I did. We got married the next day.” He raised an eyebrow at me, wonder doing laps around his face.
I ached to taste such life. “That’s an amazing story. I bet she’ll be real glad to see you.”
“Oh yeah, she goin be so happy.” He brushed a hand over his head. “So you goin stay with me for a while?”
A shy smile escaped me. I remembered when that man had pulled his chubby penis out of his trousers and started demanding things, hungering at me. The smile dulled. “Yeah, I will. I could do with getting off the road. Thank you.”
He grinned as wide as a sloth. “I’m delighted to hear it. We goin have a lot of fun. I can’t wait for you to meet Darlene. You’ll see why I’m so in love with her soon as you do.”
He pushed his foot down. The engine snarled.
“Hey, check this out.” He rolled up the sleeve of his checkered shirt. Tattooed beneath his wrist were two entwining black letters inside a chunky red heart pierced right through with an arrow. Both the letter ‘D,’ both curling backwards with the elegant flourish of fancy script. “It’s me and her forever,” he said, teeth glinting.
“It’s beautiful.” I meant it.
He smiled. “Say, I never did catch your name.”
I don’t remember anything about the moment the truck hit, don’t remember the truck at all until I saw it toppled on its side after I crawled out from the wreckage bloodied and screaming like I’d just been born. I don’t remember wrenching open his door and dragging him under the rain, or shouting at the truck driver to call an ambulance. I do remember how alive I felt when I looked at him, though, jaw hanging sideways, eyes like marbles, none of the squares on his shirt white anymore. I remember seeing something flutter high above my head, a shapeless, translucent orb, and drift off down the road in the direction we’d been heading, and knew it was him, determined even in death to reach his beloved Darlene. I remember feeling jealous of him, wishing I had something so whole and dripping with meaning, bursting with purpose, to pursue so recklessly and obsessively, even madly. And when I fell down on my knees beside him and whispered my name into his ear, holding his hand, thanking him for showing me his heart and sharing a slice of the love it contained, for being kind, I hated the fact that already, with his body still warm and the blood still flowing from it, I was dreaming of the pure, hospital-grade morphine.
*Philip Elliott is Irish, 23 years old and Editor-in-Chief of Into the Void Magazine. His writing can be found in various journals, most recently Otoliths, Squawk Back, GFT Press and Subprimal Poetry Art. He is currently working on a novella and a collection of short stories centered. Stalk him at philipelliottfiction.com.