It’s the summer of 1984, the summer of my fifteenth year, and I’m sweating in the backseat of a Volkswagen Bug. It’s late afternoon, and in the front seat is my best friend. In the passenger’s seat is his father. We’re on a slight incline, no more than 20 degrees, pointing upward. The engine is off but the sun is on all the way because this is an incline in Texas. Drivers honk and yell as they pull around beside us. Again, my best friend’s father says again. His voice is a firm grip on his son’s sweaty neck. He’s a man of ropy muscles and leashed temper. I’m there to serve as an impediment, but this is something I don’t come to understand until later. My best friend jiggles the gear stick in its neutral position and turns the ignition key. The engine comes to life. Unbuckled, I’m leaning forward, watching from between the seats. My best friend pushes the stick into first gear and then eases the clutch up with his left foot while pushing down on the gas pedal with his right. His father watches, too. When the pitch of the engine rises, the Bug rolls forward a bit, but then it dies with a shudder. The Bug then rolls backward down the incline but not for long. His father pulls the emergency brake up with a violent jerk, lurching me backward. Another driver honks at us as she pulls alongside us. Again, his father says, ignoring the angry driver. My best friend does everything again, including killing the engine. His father yanks the brake again, violently and silently, and I pitch backward again. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve done this. Again. We do it again. Again. We’re locked into a fixed rhythm of movement and sound. My best friend tries again to convince his father that he doesn’t even need to learn how to drive a stick to get his license. I can take the test in an automatic, he says. Again, his father says Again, and that’s all he says. His voice is the light on the glass, the light on the metal. My best friend does it again. The brake is cranked into place again. Sweat drips. Cars honk. He does it again. What started out as funny at this ordinary intersection of Galaxie Road and Apollo Avenue on this ordinary summer day faded long ago. Again. Soon, the sun will be setting. His father will tell him to turn on the headlights. Again. My parents will wonder where I am, and the moon will rise to watch. Again.
The other drivers see three heads in a Volkswagen Bug as they drive past, a man and two boys. They must be having car trouble.
I watch the side of his father’s sweat-slick, reddening face. Again.
The Bug, it should be noted, is the sun-faded blue of a robin’s egg cracked by the sidewalk.
Kevin Grauke has had work appear in The Southern Review, Fiction, Story Quarterly, Cimarron Review, and Quarterly West, to name a few. His collection of stories, Shadows of Men was awarded the Texas Institute of Letters’ Steven Turner Award for Best First Work of Fiction in 2013. Originally from Texas, he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia.