Oil slicks the tarmac, there’s a faint smell of burnt tyres and burning hair. Illuminated by the flickering headlights, dust motes from the skid dance lazily on the still night air. It is late September, 2012. This road leads to, or from, Albuquerque. Of course, you know this, it’s where you were headed. This desert road, the moths already descending, a lonely road. You haven’t seen another driver for hours. No cell reception. No signs of life beyond the insects that flutter and buzz.
Your head hurts. Two days ago, things were different. You were a champion. An award-winner. Nothing fancy, nothing too big, but in your chosen profession this accolade is really something. Surrounded by an audience of your peers, you, you young go-getter, you fresh-faced, free-thinking plucky young fuck, you gave your acceptance speech and grinned and flashed those pearly whites and thanked those who needed thanking. You took the statue, or the medal, or the cup, and you took the check, you posed for the press and grinned some more and then you got in the car – not your car, a limo, you were the man of the moment – and got a ride back to the hotel. That girl you’re seeing, just casually, you both have careers to think about and don’t want to settle down – that girl was with you. You were both a bit drunk and why not, you’d just won a fucking award after all. Tipsy, tip-toes, drunken giggles as you knocked over the hotel alarm clock, pawed at her formal wear, she fumbled with the buttons on your shirt. Wet, liquory kisses as you collapsed onto the bed, there’s no grace here, no sensual sexuality, just happy buzzy hungriness. After sex you lay in bed and ordered room service, grilled cheese and salmon and cake and another bottle of white.
The next day you left the girl at the airport. You told her you’d see her soon, back home, back in Seattle, then you took a rental car and drove to Albuquerque. Drove all day, stopped in a flea-pit motel at night, a far cry from that fancy hotel room, paid for in full by your proud, if smug, employers. The motel was booked on your credit card, discount rates, and you left first thing in the morning.
There was no motel on the road to Albuquerque, no place to stop, no time to stop until here, you stopped here, resting up against this rock outcrop. What would the audience say, the girl say, your employees say, if they saw you sitting here, retching at the smell of gasoline and roadkill? What made you swerve off the road in the first place? A rabbit, a deer? Out here in the desert, really? Tiredness? Or maybe swerving was just the right thing to do, right then, as the car skidded, you hammered on the brakes, tried to regain control, didn’t. Now you sit here waiting, and for what? The statue, or the medal, or the cup sits in the trunk of your car. Your future sits in the trunk of your car. It’s not your car, it’s just a rental. Your car’s back home, in Seattle. Just why were you driving to Albuquerque anyway?
Now your head still hurts, and your shoulder, and you’re pretty sure you pissed yourself when you tried to move and felt the bone of your elbow splitting the skin. Ribs grind, and there’s a cold sensation in your feet, or maybe you’re just imagining it. There’s blood and skin scrapings on the steering wheel, and you think with a wry internal smile that you never did get to see what an airbag looks like close up. You hear a faint ticking, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, and it’s the car, that stupid rental car, you’ve only known it for two days, but it’s important now isn’t it? You try to remember what was in Albuquerque. It dances just out of reach, in the corners of your mind, like the moths outside. Maybe nothing waited for you there. Maybe you were just trying to get away.