THE DRIVE HOME
In the distance, black clouds blanket the sky like cake frosting, and streaks of rain shade the warm air. Strong winds jostle my buddy Jake’s rusted sedan, make minor corrections to our trajectory, whisper to us through cracked windows. We’re quiet. Making a sound might scare away the time we have left. Then lightning licks the ground, and we begin counting. We reach twelve Mississippi before we hear the boom. Three or four miles of sun-filled highway remains in front of us, but we continue toward the storm because it’s the way home, the only place we have left to go.
We departed as underdogs and will return as failures. Fans of walk-off home runs, of late-inning magic, we’d gone to become baseball players. The night before the open tryout, we watched the Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs the Curse of the Billy Goat on our motel’s television. We love when losers become winners. We’d forgotten, however, to spend the years and years mastering our swings, so baseball stayed a religion to be practiced in our living rooms instead of on the field.
It’s okay. We still have the rest of the drive.
Another bolt like a stripped tree branch touches down. We count again, this time reaching nine Mississippi. The windshield rattles. Jake glances at me, then at the fuel gauge. His eyes dart back and forth like a wild pitch. He taps the brake. He knows we’re getting close. Speed up or slow down, it doesn’t matter. We’ll get to where we’re going.
I slap the dash.
Why do we have to be so gloomy?
Why squander the here and now?
Why not have a little fun?
I insert the mix we burned for the trip and crank the volume. Our theme song blares from the sedan’s speakers, and we sing along like we used to as kids. Let me root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t win, it’s a shame. I roll down my window and stick my head out. The electricity in the air tickles the roof of my mouth as we cruise up a hill, Jake’s head bobbing to: For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.
At the top of the hill, a man paces next to a broken-down minivan. We pull onto the shoulder, park, and get out. Zap. Lightning strikes the pasture to our right. We make it to six Mississippi. Not much time left.
“What’s the problem?” Jake asks the man.
“I must have run over a nail or something sharp,” the man says, gesturing toward a flat tire.
“Have a spare?”
Jake pats my chest, and I follow him to the sedan’s trunk, where we retrieve a jack and a donut. I position the jack under the minivan’s undercarriage as Jake twists off the flat’s lug nuts. Lightning flashes behind us. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Boom. Once the minivan’s elevated, Jake slides on the donut and tightens. Then I lower the vehicle, a mist wetting my hair.
“I wouldn’t drive too far on that,” I say, kicking the wannabe tire. “Might not be too safe.”
The man thanks us, offers us a few dollars. We decline. Waving, we watch him hop into his minivan and peel away, heading opposite the storm. He vanishes down the hill.
Darkness covers us like a closing door. We rush to the sedan and get inside. The rain starts slow, like a leaky faucet, then ramps up, transforming into thousands of tiny, pummeling fists. We creep onto the highway, but the downpour makes it impossible to see. Jake lies his hand on the console, and I link my chapped fingers into his.
We’re trapped in the storm.
For how long?
I don’t know.
At least we were able to help one person escape.
At least, like our favorite ballplayers, we got to be last-second heroes.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, The Lumiere Review, Oyez Review, Tampa Review, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. Connect with him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.
Cover Design by Karen Rile