Card Sound by Manuel Martinez
At nineteen I stood up in the back of a convertible and peed on a car that was following close behind at over eighty miles an hour.
At nineteen, all-you-can-eat tacos and cheap pitchers of beer were worth the sixty mile drive from Miami to the Keys, and so we loaded eight guys into two cars and headed out of town. We hadn’t planned the trip ahead of time, so in order to go I had to blow off work as well as a date with a Swiss girl who used to pick me up at midnight when my shift at the gas station was over. She’d take me to a park or someplace where she would lean over the emergency brake to rub her nose into my neck and tell me that she loved the smell of gasoline and motor oil and sweat, and when I couldn’t stand to hear her talk anymore, I’d put my seat as far back as it would go so that I could pull her on top of me.
But I didn’t think too much about her as we weaved in and out of the traffic on the turnpike, or when we exited onto Card Sound Road which is a nine mile straightaway through the Everglades where was nothing to stop us from driving as fast as we could. And because we had already gotten a head start on the beer, had worked our way through the better part of a case before we’d even left town, I had to pee bad, the need to pee a portentous feeling in my life, just as it was years later when that same urgency sent me to the doctor for the first of many probings and grave discussions about how to save my life. But because there was no shoulder on that narrow strip of road, just a canal on one side and raggedy trees on the other, there was no place to pull over, no way to stop at all, so I stood up on the bare metal between the back seat and the folded down top and began to pee, trying to splash the car behind us. I could see my friends in that car laughing, their faces twisted in what almost looked like pain while the guys in the car with me shouted in admiration and disbelief, and that’s it. I finished peeing, climbed back down into my seat and was king for the day.
I still think about standing up in the back of that car, holding myself steady while watching my piss vaporize into the wind, but in my mind, I never make it back into my seat. Instead the driver swerves to avoid something—a turtle or a fallen branch or a worn-out tire in the middle of the road—and when he swerves, I can feel the car slipping out from under me. As my feet are rising up over my head, I am still aiming my piss and still looking in the direction I want it to go, but I can’t see the car behind me anymore, can’t see anything except for a patch of asphalt that is slowly growing larger. I hang above the road long enough to think about how if I were at work, I would already be dreading the time when I would have to push the Swiss girl away from me and tell her to drive me home so that I could get some sleep. In that moment, suspended inches away from the ground, I realize that I have been using her, and for the first time in my life, I understand exactly what that means. But I don’t know what to think about this insight except that it is as true and as real as the asphalt rising towards me, each piece of gravel growing larger and clearer until that is all I can see.
I think about this often now that I have faced a much quieter death, one with treatment plans, support groups and survival statistics, now that I don’t have seven friends to go anywhere with me, and now that avoiding mortal danger is a reflex that I can’t override. And I think about it now that can’t find anyone willing to let me use them, and even if I could, I wouldn’t have the heart to do so. The Swiss girl ruined me in that way. I sit in my chair with one beer more than I’m supposed to have and picture the road beneath me and a flash of something that I can’t quite make out but that I know is the sun reflecting off of the grill of the car behind, and in that instant when I can feel the other car almost on top of me—in the sliver of time that physicists use to measure the lives of exotic and unnatural elements or the contact between a bat and a perfectly hit ball, all I can think to myself is This is it—this is it. I am forever in that moment, forever suspended inches above Card Sound Road and forever realizing that I have been afraid of all the wrong things.
© Manuel Martinez 2013
Manuel Martinez earned his MFA in fiction writing from the University of Florida and is presently an Emerging Writers Fellow at The Center for Fiction in New York. His stories have been appeared in The Sun, Blackbird, The Los Angeles Review, The Quarterly, The Literarian, and others. The true story of how he faked his own murder appeared in Coral Living. He lives in Brooklyn. www.manuelmartinez.com
Card Sound was read by Jon Sprik for the Sickness & Health Show on 6th February 2013