The Midnight Run

First, the dials on the instrument panel went nuts. They flung their individual arms from extreme to respective extreme. Then either steam or smoke began rising from under the hood.

“Damn.” the man said.

“What’s going on?” the boy asked.

“This damn…” he searched for the words that he meant. “Truck.”

He aimed the F250 at the only visible structure along the dark highway. It was an abandoned gas station with tufts of grass poking out in the concrete. When he cut the truck off it was really steaming.

The radiator cap hissed at them when they opened the hood. It hissed the kind reserved for jugglers at the opera.

With a towel over his hand, the man removed the radiator cap and the hissing stopped.

“Water.” and he pointed to the truck bed.

“What?” the boy asked.

They walked around to the back of the truck and the boy understood. There were a half-dozen two gallon orange juice jugs filled with water. They carried the jugs to the front and lined them up above the grill. There weren’t any bugs in the grill. The man took pride in keeping his truck clean.

He opened one of the jugs and began pouring it slowly into the steaming radiator. It spit and hissed and most of the water evaporated on contact. After he’d done half a gallon like this, the boy piped up: “Maybe we should wait an’ let it cool down.”

“Yeah.” the man sighed.

They sat on the concrete platforms under the rain guard where the gas pumps used to be. They tried to talk to one another. The man had lost some of his ability to speak due to a stroke. They still tried for a while before letting the silence settle. Over the course of 45 minutes they both went behind the building to urinate.

“Want to check it?” the boy asked.

“Sure.”

They went to the truck and found that it had cooled enough to silently accept the water. A splashing sound came from under the engine. The boy looked on his hands and knees but it was too dark to see.

They climbed back into the truck and drove for ten miles. They stopped at an open gas station to refill the radiator and water jugs. Before he got out of the truck the man said, “Get some beer.”

“What kind?”

He smiled, “Heineken.”

The boy bought a six-pack of Heineken and sixer of Yuengling. He showed his ID to the clerk and paid with a twenty. “I figure it’s going to be a long ride.” He said upon returning.

They each opened a beer and sat on the tailgate. The truck cooled. They swung their legs.

“Has this been going on long?” the boy asked.

“Yeah…”

“How long?”

The man thought for a bit, “Three… Three… Oh shit.” He paused, “Three months.” He finally said.

“Damn.”

“Yeah. Radiator’s leaking.”

“Are you going to put it in the shop?”

“Well,” he shrugged. “No money.”

“Damn.”

They slugged the last few gulps of their beers and got up. there was a garden hose connected to the spigot so they filled up the radiator directly and continued driving.

“Give me another beer.” the man said.

The boy did and got one for himself. They drove with their windows down listening to Bob Dylan for thirty miles to the next gas station. This one  had just closed but the spigot was available. They did the same routine, sitting, drinking, talking on the tailgate while the truck cooled.

A police cruiser passed the station without slowing down or giving a second glance. They drove through a town that had shut down for the night. After passing the city limits they cracked open another beer and drove thirty miles down an old country highway dotted with less traffic than homes.

There were a few more closed service stations along the way. When they finally got home it was 1:30 in the morning. The only sounds were the frogs and the happy groaning of Catfish Dog.

Catfish.
Catfish.
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