Plastic Jesus – by Peter Jordan

Floors lay on the sofa taking the occasional hit off the pipe. He looked out through the fly screen. Directly across the street was a little Mexican kid riding his tricycle in a small back yard. He knew the kid’s parents; the father worked laboring, the mother waitressed in the Sunrise Diner. The parents were around the same age as Floors, and good people, but the house was right beside the Amtrak line. It was no place for a kid to play.

Floors inhaled deeply from the pipe and held it, idly hooked on the image of the kid on the tricycle moving in ever-tighter circles, and he got so high that when the Southwestern Chief roared past he thought it was an earthquake. He must have fallen asleep after that. When he woke the sun was just going down. He looked outside and saw a three quarter moon in the sky. It was big and bright but the sun hadn’t yet completely fallen. It just didn’t seem right to him; the sun and moon together in the sky like that. He was still lying on the sofa thinking about it when Crow arrived back.

“I was calling you to come get me. I had to pay ten bucks for a cab.”

“I fell asleep,” said Floors.

“Where’s my fuckin’ pipe, man?”

“It’s on the table in front of you.”

The pipe was a real work of art; all carved animal and Indian heads, and it had two little wheels on the bottom so you could pass it over to your smoking buddy. Crow lifted a bag of grass from the table, nipped off little bits of bud with his fingernails and filled up the bowl of the pipe. Then he lit it with a yellow disposable lighter, set his lips on the end of the pipe, and drew a deep breath. He had something on his mind.

“How much you owe me?”

Floors continued lying on the sofa looking at the ceiling. “Three months on the rent.”

“That’s twelve hundred, right?” said Crow.

Floors moved his chin up and down.

“You take me to Austin and back, I’ll forget about the rent and throw in an extra twelve hundred.”

Floors didn’t even need to think about it, he sat up, looked at Crow and said he’d do it.

“It’s a fifty hour round trip. No stopping. I’ll drive some of the way there but you’ll have to drive the whole way back.”

“Okay,” said Floors.

“Just one thing,” said Crow.

“Yeah, what?”

“You gotta stay clean for the trip. Drink as much caffeine as you want, but that’s it.”

“Okay,” said Floors again, and then he asked, “What’s in Austin?”

“Business.”

Two days later, Crow got up before lunch and made a phone call, then he walked into Floors’ room and said, “We’re going today?”

Floors said, “Yeah … okay … sure.”

He packed a change of socks and a warm coat, then walked to the bathroom for his toothbrush. When he walked past Crow’s room he saw him wrap a shirt around his .38 snub-nose and push it deep into his green duffel bag.

An hour later Floors was driving his big Dodge Ram Van out of town. Once he got on the interstate he put his foot on the gas. The drive was all straight road with nothing to see but paddle cactus, shredded tires and roadkill. Sometimes Floors would edge over the speed limit, and Crow would say, “Easy on the speed.”

Floors knew Crow from the reservation at Williams Junction. They’d grown up together, attending the little school at San Bernardino. He always knew Crow was headed for trouble. When they were barely out of their teens he’d hit a barman with a big glass ashtray over in Flagstaff. The guy went down like he’d been shot. He’d gotten away with that one, but trouble followed him and he’d done a stretch in Perryville for manslaughter; killed some guy in a fight in a casino parking lot. When Floors first visited him he asked him what happened. Crow said he didn’t remember much about it.

While Crow was in the State Pen Floors got his life together. He started as a floor-layer with his dad, Joe Tupi. Floor’s dad told him there was a streak that ran through Crow’s family. “Like crooked teeth,” he had said.

Floors turned the key and drove. And he started eating up the miles. For the next few hours he drove without stopping until it got dark. Then he looked in the back and saw that Crow was asleep. So he stopped the van and got out. He knew there were low mountains maybe twenty miles to the east. He couldn’t see them in the dark but he didn’t need to see them to know they were there. He thought he might like a joint. Instead, he lit a cigarette and looked up at the endless black sky. At first he just saw the bright stars, but when his eyes adjusted he saw just how many of them there were, and he could see all the little ones in the background, millions of them. They seemed to be getting closer and Floors felt real small, smaller and lonelier than he had ever felt.

He got back in the van and drove right through the night. He didn’t stop until they were at a gas station somewhere in Curry County, just outside Texas. It was early morning and he was hungry. He woke Crow and they both went in. It was one of those little windblown units that always made Floors wonder how the hell they ever made any money. Floors held the door open for Crow and a little bell jingled. When he let the door go it sprang closed.

This old guy was sitting behind the counter. Floors lifted some chocolate bars and chips and then he noticed these little key-ring figures of Jesus, arm half-raised, holding his pale-blue robes. So he took one off the stand and looked at it.

“It’s a Personal Jesus key-ring,” said the old guy behind the counter.

“A what?”

“Personal Jesus.”

Crow stood at the back of the store. “Like a rabbit’s foot,” he said.

“Luck don’t mean nothing compared to faith, son,” said the old guy.

“How much is it?” asked Floors.

“Two ninety-nine.”

“I’ll take it.”

Floors put it on the counter.

Then he said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Go right ahead.”

“If I was headed to Austin and wanted to go back to Arizona is there another route, like further north?”

“You trying to avoid the Border Patrol?”

Floors didn’t say anything.

“Son, I was your age, I done a long stretch. Got out and found Jesus. Turned my life around.”

Floors just stood there looking at him.

“I was you, when you get to Austin, head north to Tulsa,” said the old guy.

“Thanks.”

When they got back to the van Crow said he’d drive from here on in. Before he got in the driver’s seat, he took some stuff out of the pockets of his jacket. Small stuff mostly: gum, air freshener, chocolate bars. Floors asked him if he was a kleptomaniac and he said, “Yeah … but I’m taking something for it.” And he laughed. And he continued laughing as he drove.

Floors lay down in the back and slept for a couple of hours. And he dreamt. In the dream he was at a school, waiting to pick up a child.

Then Crow woke him.

“We’re nearly there,” was all he said.

Crow drove through maybe fifteen sets of traffic lights, then he turned left in to a neighborhood of white stucco houses with neat lawns at the front. When he got close to the pick-up point he slowed the van, sat all hunched forward looking at the numbers, then he said, “This is it, stay here.”

Floors moved over to the driver’s seat while keeping an eye on the house. He sat waiting for maybe twenty minutes holding the Personal Jesus in the palm of his hand. And he looked at the house next door. On the front lawn a sprinkler was fizzing and there was a kid’s pink tricycle lying on its side on the driveway. Floors thought he might like a house like that.

When Crow came back outside he had a big black sports bag slung over his shoulder. Crow looked up the street one way and then the other; and he rubbed and pulled at his nose, and Floors knew right away he was high.

“Let’s go,” said Crow.

“You okay?”

“I will be.”

Floors drove all through the day while Crow lay in the back clutching his bag. He headed up toward Tulsa: just kept following the signs until he made his way through Oklahoma.

That night they hit some fog. It just started off as wisps that caught in the headlights and then all of a sudden there was a bank of it and Floors couldn’t see a thing. It was so bad he could hardly see the front of the van. He couldn’t pull over because he didn’t know what it was that he was pulling over into. So he just stopped, turned off the engine, climbed in the back and slept.

The next morning something woke Floors from a dreamless sleep. A big guy in uniform, with a big cowboy hat in one hand was looking in the side window, his other hand cupped over his eyes. It was the sheriff.

Floors woke Crow.

The sun was rising and the fog had lifted, though it was still cold. Floors had parked the car on a two-lane swing bridge. The bridge ran for about two hundred yards over a ravine. The van was parked smack bang in the middle of that bridge.

When they stepped out of the van Crow gave Floors a look that scared him.

The big sheriff put his hat back on and stood back a couple of yards from the van. “You boys any concealed weapons?”

“No, sir.”

“Step over to the side of the bridge, put both hands on the rail.”

“I couldn’t see a thing in the fog,” said Floors.

“Put your hands on the rail, keep your feet apart.”

As they did so the sheriff reached in and pulled the keys out of the ignition of the van. When he saw the Personal Jesus key-ring he said, “You boys all believe in Jesus?”

“Yes, sir,” said Crow.

“Uh huh. Well, I find anything in that van I shouldn’t, you’re sure as hell gonna need him.”

The sun was up now but there was a big ball of white moon still sitting in the sky. Floors put his hands on the rail, looked down at the mist rising off the water deep in the ravine below, and he looked at Crow. Crow stood looking down at the ravine saying, “Fuck” just quiet enough so the sheriff couldn’t hear, but Floors could hear him all right. And then he said, “No way I’m doing more time, no way.”

“Who’s the driver?”

“Me,” said Crow.

“Drivers’ license.”

“It’s in my bag in the van.”

“Get it.”

This was way beyond anything Floors had ever seen or done. He wanted to tell the sheriff that Crow planned to shoot him, but he just couldn’t, he felt like he was nailed to the bridge, that his mouth was sealed shut. The sheriff was standing with his feet apart and he had undone the clip of his holster. Floors watched it all unfold as if he wasn’t a part of it.

Crow got out of the van and handed their drivers’ licenses to the sheriff. He was more alive now than Floors had ever seen him. And the sheriff seemed to sense it. He told him to move back over to the rail.

Crow said, “No problem, sir.”

And Floors knew by the way he said it he had that little snub-nose in his belt, under his shirt.

“You boys any oustandin’ bench warrants?”

“No, sir.”

“Uh huh.”

Floors watched the sheriff turn to walk to his patrol car and he saw Crow reach down for the .38. But as he did so another patrol car pulled up behind them from the other end of the bridge.

A deputy hopped out. “You okay, sheriff?”

“Keep an eye on them a minute.”

“Sure thing.”

Crow spat into the water below. The sheriff radioed through their details, then walked back real slow, slapping the drivers’ licenses against his thigh. He walked past them and took a look in the back of the van, but not a real good look.

“Where you coming from?”

“Tulsa.”

“Where you headed?”

“Williams Junction, Arizona.”

“Uh huh,” said the sheriff. “Anything in the back you wanna tell me about before I take a look?”

“No, sir.”

He opened the side door of the van and Floors looked at Crow. He looked ill. Floors thought his knees would buckle. He didn’t see any way out of this now. Then he heard a voice speak on both the police car radios, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying through the static. The sheriff walked back to his car, only much quicker this time. He reached inside the car for the radio and said something into it. And that same voice came back through the static. The sheriff said he was on it. Floors heard an engine start. When he looked behind him the deputy had driven off.

The sheriff walked back to the van, placed their IDs on the driver’s seat, and the keys on the dashboard. “You boys want a piece of advice,” he said. “When you get to wherever it is you’re going, stay there.”

Then the sheriff got in his patrol car and drove past without even looking at them.

When they both got back in the van Crow said, “Got an urgent call, had to take it. I guess we just got lucky.”

Floors lifted his keys off the dashboard, but he didn’t immediately put them in the ignition. “I’m going straight,” he said.

“Sure you are,” said Crow.

Floors looked to the far end of the bridge, turned the key in the ignition, and drove toward it.

peterjordan

Peter Jordan is this year’s winner of the Bare Fiction Flash prize. His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and journals, including Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, The Pygmy Giant, Flash500, Thresholds, The Incubator, The Honest Ulsterman, The Avatar Review, Dogzplot, Crabfat and Sicklit. In addition, seven of his stories are in anthologies. He has taken time out from a PhD in Belfast’s Seamus Heaney Centre. His short story collection, Untouchable, will be published this summer. You will find him on twitter @pm_jordan.
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