Terry Persun is a full-time writer, and has published two poetry collections, six poetry chapbooks, and six novels through small, independent presses. His latest novel, Cathedral of Dreams is a finalist for the ForeWord magazine Book of the Year Award, and his literary novel, Sweet Song won a Silver IPPY Award. Terry’s poems and short stories have been published in numerous independent and university journals, including Wisconsin Review, Yarrow, Riverrun, NEBO, Oyez Review, Hiram Poetry Review, Owen Wister Review, Kansas Quarterly, Rag Mag, Poet Lore, Whiskey Island, Colorado-North Review, Widener Review, Context South and many others. Website: http://www.TerryPersun.com
It was about three o’clock in the morning and I was driving like a son-of-a-bitch, heading home after a long business trip. Luckily, there were few cars on the road, including cops. When I did pass someone, their car flew by in a blur and their headlights receded so quickly into the distance that I swear the light hardly reflected into my rear-view mirror.
There was no sign of a moon. No stars. Pitch black sky. Had I pulled over, shut off the car, and stepped outside, I’d be hard pressed to see my own hand. But I wasn’t stopping for anything so silly as to prove that it was dark.
My wife, had she been along, would have bitched at me to slow down. “Watch your driving.” “What do you think you’re doing?” “Why do you have to live so recklessly?” I’d heard it all often enough to recall her voice as though she were sitting right next to me at that very second. Luckily, all those sentences stretched miles ahead of me. I didn’t feel the least bit angry, just relieved she wasn’t with me. The way I saw it, if she expected me to stop living life with gusto, if she wanted me to ‘slow down’ (her words), to ‘settle down’ (my words), then maybe she had the wrong man. She wasn’t to blame though; it had taken me several years to realize that I couldn’t comply. She always said that someday I’d get mine, and she was right in a way. That night I headed for an unexpected wake-up call.
PA 80 West lay flat as the Midwest in spots. I saw this car coming on fast in front of me. It was a big car, an old Lincoln with a V-8, but I was climbing up on its tail. Regardless what my wife believed, I wasn’t stupid. I pulled over in the other lane so I didn’t scare whoever drove that Lincoln. I imagined an old couple heading somewhere to visit grandchildren. That was until the driver saw me coming and bolted.
The car sped forward quickly, even though I was hauling ass. I slid up on them and eased off the gas in slow motion. In the moment or two we were side-by-side, a little more than a split second, I glanced over and there were four young black men in the car. The inside light was on and it looked as though three of them were arguing with the driver. Telling him to slow down, by the look of their motions.
Between one moment and the next, I swear all four of them stopped talking and looked right at me. All at once. Eight eyes. And they didn’t look happy.
My heart sunk, but my car didn’t hesitate. I was gone. Their headlights were getting smaller in my rearview mirror, but not as quickly as most other cars I’d passed that night.
Then something terrible happened. The headlights began to get bigger. “Shit,” I said.
I slammed the pedal down farther and my Toyota eased faster. My heart raced. As I said, I’m not stupid. I was going about 110. That was my limit. Fast, yes, but maybe I wasn’t as reckless as my wife thought. In fact, I wasn’t reckless at all.
But I was scared.
Those four men paced me, maybe a quarter or half mile back. I’d lose sight of them while pushing into a bend then there they would be again. This went on for a while until I decided to lose them.
I floored it. The slow bend in the road might as well have been the thirty-degree bank in a racetrack. My tires squealed. My steering wheel felt light in my grip. I slowed enough to feel comfortable. The tires tightened on the road. Then I saw it. An exit sign. GAS AND COFFEE. They’d pass by – I couldn’t see them in my rearview – and I could slow down and take it easy for a while.
I slammed the old Toyota onto the exit ramp and pressed hard against the brake to slow down before I hit the turn. One-ten to thirty in, hell, 100 yards. I breathed every bit of air out of my lungs through my mouth.
At the stop sign, I pulled to the right into the parking lot. I just sat there for a moment, and then went into the station. My legs fought against the stillness of the ground like a sailor’s legs after a long voyage.
The excitement must have pushed all the liquid in my body into my bladder. After I emptied that, I got a tall coffee, paid the cashier, and headed out to the car. The whole trip couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes.
And there it was.
The Lincoln had slipped into the parking space next to mine. There were at least forty spots in the lot with only two others occupied.
I swallowed hard. I pulled the lid from my coffee cup. It was the only weapon I had. I’m sorry about the stereotype, but all I could think was that I couldn’t take four black guys. The night got even darker as my eyes narrowed into slits. My breathing got thick. My stomach tightened into a knot.
The driver got out of the car. High-school football, maybe college. This guy stood six-six and must have weighed 250 pounds. I was dead meat in his hands. But I’d hold my own if I had to. Waiting for his buddies to come around the car, he looked right at me and said, “Hey, man.”
I lowered my eyes and sipped my coffee. The only thing I could think to do. “You,” he pointed as I approached. I thought of going back inside, but what would I do, stay there all night? Besides, I’d never be able to look myself in the mirror again if I chickened out.
“Yeah,” I said trying to sound calm. Friendly.
The other three guys came around and stood with the driver. He was the obvious leader in this little gang.
“Maaaannnn,” he said, drawing the word out longer than my breath could follow. “You are one fuckin’ hard driver.”
The other four nodded. Two mumbled, “Yeah, man.” They walked past me. And that was it. I felt like an ass, and promised myself I’d never act like that again. Still, they were right about one thing. I was – and still am – a fucking hard driver. Maybe not as hard as I originally thought, but hard.
I got home about 6:00 a.m. My wife woke up, surprised to see me. “The meeting didn’t end until late?” she questioned.
“Right,” I said.
“Safe drive?” she said.
She started in then, complaining about my driving, like she knew how fast I drove home. For the next few hours we argued. I finally got to sleep around 9:00 a.m. But it was okay. That night I realized that I was the only one who could live my life. I divorced her six months later.