The Getaway Car
I start out on Moss Park Road, driving slowly. I don’t know if it’s the tuxedo I’m wearing but I’m sweating. I test my confidence. I haven’t ever driven a car, the indispensable possession of the suburbs. Well, not like this. Not on the open road. But it’s prom night.
I’m on the open road where dreams turn to dust and where I get arrested and deported, in those dreams. Illegal or undocumented or illegalized. Pick your poison. The poison I pick is half Paco Rabanne, half hidden tears. Be straight with me, I won’t be much longer. Tell me the truth: When was the last time the lawyer called?
I’m late and my date awaits and I don’t know it yet but I wish I could pin another boutonnière. I shaved, brushed my teeth, picked up flowers for her mother. The light turns amber and before I know it I’m speeding. It’s rush hour and what I want to feel is freedom. I fear the sound of metal gnashing metal less than a siren. The odometer vaults in slow motion to 80. Maybe it’s 90.
I steer the rental car smoothly into the driveway like a good American boy named Cody. Later, in the thick air of the ballroom, beads of sweat dive off his brown curls into a sea of rental polyester.
Yes, sir, she’ll be back by midnight. No, I lie, we are good immigrants.
10:32 P.M. I fall asleep in fetal position worrying about an early meeting, a stupid observation I made to a friend.
I extend a leg. It crashes through a pane of ice, sinks into a needle cold lake. A trio of crows is startled by the noise, shooting into the air. They settle in the trees just behind a hooded figure, who bites off a tune mid-song. Before him burns a small fire, and he dips his hands into a barrel of soaking laundry. How could he do such a mundane thing as wash tunics? While crows shoot off behind him? While strange women appear and fall through thin ice? But this is a very long time ago. I am no longer in my waking world. I don’t know the rules of this place.
I pull my pillow closer with two hands, and tug open a door. I enter a poison shop. A beautiful white-haired woman stands at the register, toys with her high silk collar. The shelves are lined with little glass bottles often five deep: fluted blue ampoules that threaten to tumble to the floor, frosted vials with menacing red liquids, oxidized flasks with delicate silver chains. The woman hums the crow-man’s tune, chooses three poisons for me, and wraps them in a beautiful wooden box. As soon as my fingers graze the surface, I know I have absorbed its toxic contents. The chemicals live within me, and I’ll love every green gasp of it.
I roll onto my back, and I’m in the backseat of a fast car. This is a four-lane highway, but the traffic makes it six. A gold charm swings from the rearview mirror. It tinkles when we hit a pothole. The driver sucks an inhale through clenched teeth. The radio plays a familiar melody, the poison-seller’s tune. My mother hid a lucky wooden frog in my glove compartment when I got my driver’s license, far from this continent, in a desolate American suburb. She never learned to say I love you and the worry wore her thin. This is not my car, but I know the frog will be there if I open the glovebox currently at my knees. It’s my gonggong’s black Town Car, the one who died thirty days after I was born.
I open my eyes and it is 2:16 A.M. My baby is awake and standing in his crib. He wants me to comfort him, but he hasn’t started crying yet. I pick him up and sway him back to slumber, singing an old tune I didn’t know before I drifted off to sleep last night.
Jesús Rodríguez is a political reporter for The Washington Post’s Style section, where he writes features and profiles that chronicle the intriguing characters, movements and trends of this political moment. Before joining The Post, he wrote on politics and law in the Atlantic, the Nation and Politico Magazine, where he was a staff writer. He is a native of Maracaibo, Venezuela.
Ash Huang’s fiction appears in Alien Magazine, and her essays are featured in Catapult, Fast Company, and elsewhere. She won the 2022 Diverse Worlds Grant from the Speculative Literature Foundation for her novel-in-progress, and is an alum of the Roots. Wounds. Words. Workshop and the Tin House Winter Workshop. She is a 2021 Periplus Fellow. Find her online at ashsmash.com.