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It may have started the night before. My wife and my two young sons went out for ice cream near the Dairy Queen across the street. The phone rang and it was her—no, not my wife—it was Carmen and she was angry. I had told her our little family trip had gone a bit out of the way. We were supposed to be home Friday night, just enough time to unpack and find me in bed with Carmen the next morning. The road between Texas and Arizona had different plans though and I found myself on the phone listening to her listless screams. It was Saturday night.
In the morning we took Henry and Gordon to the Denny’s near the gas station. Denise looked at me, cutting holes through my chest—her eyes were like daggers. She caused this—if I had problems with infidelity it was her fault—and those kids. Those are not my kids, they’re hers, brainwashed and unknowing of the truth. They sat in the car and cried when they were hungry or had to pee; they were what was really dragging this godforsaken trip. I needed to buy myself some time though, enough to throw Denise’s scent off of the trail.
That same morning, we all piled into the soccer mom van I had traded in my 2004 Corvette for. There was a time before marriage, before children where I was making six figures—but tell me where it’s gone? It’s those damn kids, always needing cold medicine or healthy food to eat, new backpacks every year. They are fucking growing out of their clothes by the day.
We took off in a hurry, Denise was just bitching and bitching.
“Honey, you’re driving too fast, we have so much time—slow down.”
She said this about every fifteen minutes while holding onto the railing above her head with one hand and the center console with the other. The kids playfully screamed as the car rocked side to side. I turned around,
“Everyone please shut up I am trying to focus on the road!”
“God Damn, just please shut up for one fucking second!”
I began to get angry and gripped the steering wheel with as much strength I could muster. The car turned deathly silent for a good few moments before Denise chimed in again.
“There’s no need to swear.”
The children echoed the support of their mother. You better believe I pulled that car over.
I made the kids get out and I looked back viciously at Denise—who, at this time, knew what I was starting to do.
Gordon was the oldest, so I grabbed him by his collar and threw him into the driver’s seat.
“You're driving now, go ahead!”
I knew I was going a bit too far, they were really pushing, and I wanted to get my point across.
“Mike, I can’t—I don’t know how.” Gordon tried to remove himself from the situation, but I found my arm stiffen as I shoved him back into the car.
“It’s easy, just like those video games I bought you right?”
Gordon started to cry and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t”
Denise sat there sinking in her chair, silently crying—humiliated—finally.
“Get the fuck back in the car. Turn the key and put your seatbelt on.”
The kid started to cry even harder, you would have never known he was twelve. I got into his seat in the back next to Henry who was only seven. He looked at me with those large green eyes, green eyes that were not mine. I hated that.
Through Gordon’s mumbled crying, he turned the key in the ignition and the car started. He started to drive, his feet barely reaching the pedals. Wiping his nose as he laid his foot further and further, timidly lifting and pressing. Trembling with agitation and fear.
“That slow enough for you Denise?” I looked at her and smiled while I laid back to take a nap.
I awoke an hour or so later, groggy and full of gummy candy. I wanted a burger but realized I was not driving. I sat up and saw Gordon starting to pull to the side of the road. The green highway sign on the left read, “One mile until Ash Fork AZ.”
“Stop at the gas station right there.”
“See Gordon, that wasn’t very hard was it?”
I smiled at him in the rearview mirror and patted him on the shoulder. I was not met with a thank you though, not even a smile back—just that dead gaze that he received from his mother. I smacked his head as he rolled into the shop.
The place was shabby—like the last customer to have strolled in must have been from the fifties. It looked really pretty, bright peeling colors and dead neon hung from the sign out front that read, “66 Station”. It wasn’t very large but it would do, there was a sign that hung large in the glass door that read, “Restrooms for customers only”.
“Stop the car.”
Gordon turned the car off and ran into the store, before he could do this though, I grabbed him by the arm.
“Good job, take your brother inside and get him a snack.”
I handed him a twenty and he grabbed Henry from the other side of the car and took him inside. He looked back at me with fear and disdain, wiping his eyes again, holding Henry close to him.
I was alone in the car with Denise, she didn’t look me in the eyes.
“I want a divorce,” she said in a quiet tone, removing her seatbelt.
“Michael, let’s not kid each other anymore—you’re not happy, I’m not happy—Why are we doing this?” I stood outside wiping off the windshield, thinking about what Carmen had told me. Carmen had said that if I divorced Denise, that she would take everything from me, not to mention the child support I’d have to pay. I’d be worth more dead than alive. What would be the point?
She wanted me to kill them.
I watched the boys inside the store, looking at route 66 keychains and shot glasses that hung in the window.
I grabbed the handgun I kept locked in the trunk of the car and held it in my hand. I thought about what I had done to Gordon, his look, her look. I was not a part of love—not a part of this family, that was for damn sure.
“Michael, we cannot do this.”
I looked at her and pointed and released my hand on the trigger. She had fallen out of the opened passenger door and onto the floor. The worker from inside the store had heard the gunshot and grabbed his weapon from beneath the cash register.
Before I had known anything, she was gone and I found myself running towards the boys, those innocent boys, the ones caught in my delusion. I walked inside and the store was eerily quiet. The Williams Brothers were playing on the radio and the lights had glowed on the laminate floors. It had reminded me of nights I would spend in the psychiatric unit at the age Gordon was now.
I would wake up in cold sweats because of the voices in my head. The bills nearly brought my parents to bankruptcy. Their ultimatum led me to run—run as fast as I could to save them from their burden, the great burden that runs the world. The one that leads me to today—to Carmen’s threat of leaving me, just like my parents did. To running into the old route 66 gas station near Ash Fork Arizona, and shooting.
There I saw them, they were hugging each other crying together. Gordon had a package of Beef Jerky clenched in his fists.
“Daddy—please—we want to go home.”
His eyes glowed like mine for a brief moment and I stopped myself. I stood for what seemed like years, watching a boy turn into me before my eyes. It truly scared me—it scared me to my core. I got up to feel a shotgun barrel sticking to the hairs on my neck. I grabbed it and softly placed it between my eyes; I knew what I had done.
“Shoot,” I said. My sons were screaming behind for the man to pull the trigger—for they were tired of the years of abuse we had put them through. Even crying through their screams, traumatized for life—knowing what I had done.
In the gas station, with the flickering lights, and the white mirrored floors: I had died right there. Blood had reached the boy’s feet and they could not move, not even when they knew they were safe.
Carmen got a call later that week and hung up on the police officer. My wife was laid to rest the week after that, friends and family gathering together. Gordon and Henry both were sent to the children psychiatry unit I had stayed in when I was a boy. But that gas station holds all their ghosts—the ones they never talk about. The ones that push them to the edge—the ones they dream about—and how Gordon led us there.
The boy awoke in sticky sweat covering his pillowcase. The rain seeped in through his window that stood open above his head. The cold had reached everywhere, and the darkness brought it’s own coldness as well. The radio from across the hall echoed from the security desk. Gordon walked toward his gated room and peered through the gridded wire window.
The Williams Brothers hurdled through the thickness that resided within the unit walls. Across from him, his brother stood on a stool and looked at Gordon.
He whispered, “I hate the Williams Brothers.”
The first sentence Henry consecutively had spoken since that day in the gas station. A smile began to grow in one corner in his mouth. Gordon stared blankly into the thin air that separated the two brothers. For a long time he stood dumbfounded, listening to the words that brought back so many terrible memories. Gordon had nightmares that he would turn into his father, all the terrible things his father had done, that they would somehow genetically pass on through him. He looked at Henry and said,
Gordon smiled and laughed just a bit because he had understood he was not like his father. He would never be like the man he had called, Mike. They both stood, their faces peering at each other through the small window and smiled as the music played on through the night.