The parts truck rattles and buzzes around us, screaming from years of abuse it has taken from drivers like Spanky. My father would shit himself if he really knew what kind of idiots worked in his parts department. We’re barreling down 219 with a stack of bed liners in back bouncing frantically under strained bungee cords. Spanky fiddles with the radio until he settles on a station, and the clatter of a loosened door panel is replaced by the shrill voice of a hip-hop deejay. After a moment, he has the wheel with his knee so he can work a glass bowl and lighter with his hands. My foot gravitates to an imaginary brake pedal the more we gain on the car in front of us.
“Shit’s fucked up, dude, you know?” This is less like a question when it seeps with a plume of smoke from Spanky’s chapped lips. I don’t respond because that’s what he says, no matter the context. He could be standing at the scene of a horrific accident, blood-drenched bodies and twisted metal, or he could just be walking out of church after a long, soul-quenching service, and in either case, he would probably give that look and say the same thing—Shit’s fucked up, dude, you know? Now he’s telling me another story about a young Canadian girl and what I’ve been missing all my life. I’m trying not to listen, actually, as he competes with the thumping and barking of the radio.
Outside, endless patches of frozen grass careen by along the shoulder as if on a conveyer belt, spinning the same lifeless scene past my window. The landscape is peppered with salt-darkened snow, bordered by bare trees that line the peripheral fence along a late-sixties suburban development. Give me a somber tune in the background—maybe some Louis Armstrong, “A Wonderful World.” I may just want to kill myself. I can hear old Louis armed with a new set of lyrics.
I see leafless trees,
clouds of gray,
and the inevitable doom of a gloomy day.
And I say to myself,
What an awful fucking world.
Spanky taps my arm and offers a hit, but I refuse the bowl. Then I hear something about how “she’s so wet” and about the time he “tapped that ass,” and I can’t tell if he said it or if that was a line from the song on the radio. Fact is, Spanky and me aren’t so far apart in age. Only I don’t say yo and I haven’t learned the appropriate use of izzle at the end of my words. The more he talks, the more I wonder why my father ever allowed him to work for Lanning Ford.
The song ends and I hear him groan, “Bitches.” He shakes his head and slides the bowl into a canvas sheath. Then, in a curt but exhausted way, he says, “Fuckin’ high schoolers.”
When I don’t reply, he gives me a hard look.
“Spanky, the road,” I say, and my foot reaches again for the brake pedal that isn’t there.
He glances at the road, then back to me and my face that I’m sure says, I’ll never have a daughter as long as there are Spankies in the world.
“C’mon, Edward,” he says. “Fuckin’ prude. It’s Canada. Canada!” He shouts it like that’s the only way to acknowledge the country. Yo, Canada, over here!
“High schoolers, Spank?”
“Their sixteen is our eighteen. It’s like a fuckin’ metric thing.”
I’m about to tell him he might lose his dick at customs the next time he crosses the Peace Bridge, but he puts his hand up and says, “What’d they say?” He turns up the radio to hear the deejay. “Where? Where did he say?”
“Eastern Hills Mall.”
“We got time,” he says. “Let’s go.”
98.7 The Verge has a contest going, and Spanky wants to win a new Ford Ranger. The station got four trucks from Pat Lanning Ford and the dealership made the keys for the contest—a thousand fake keys and four winners. Spanky cut the keys in the parts department and knows exactly what the winning keys look like. All he has to do is go to their remote broadcast location and answer a trivia question about a boy band. Maybe I’m giving Spanky too much credit but he really pulled one over on the dealership and the radio station.
“Go on your next run,” I tell him, because, as much as I want to see somebody screw the dealership, I don’t want it to be that easy. Spanky is one of those guys that has everything fall into his lap with no effort on his part. It’s imperative that somebody makes sure that if Spanky’s going to get everything he ever wants, he has to somehow earn it.
“What the fuck, fag,” he says. “Big Pat won’t know.”
“What about Frank?”
Spanky laughs because Frank barely manages himself, let alone runs the parts department. But he stops laughing because he doesn’t want to be involved when Big Pat comes around looking for me, especially if Big Pat needs something done right away, like have a car detailed or a VIP picked up. I can see Patty now, storming through the garage, unaware of the stream of antifreeze running to the center drain, now kicking up onto his pressed slacks. His arms flail, mouth wide, barking incoherent sentences where words bunch into one long cry—Wheresthatsonofabitch!
“Giddyup,” I say, because my father can scream his face blue. Once I get back, I’m taking off again. Spanky knows that, too. He just doesn’t want to be my accomplice. He’s like everyone else; he looks at me and sees the boss’s son. More than once I’ve heard, “It must be nice being a Lanning.” Well, there are perks when your father owns a car dealership, but it means nothing to be a Lanning.
I glance at Spanky to find his glazed-over eyes offset by a grimace.
“Oh, shut it, Spank,” I say. “Hit the fucking gas.”
Spanky punches it and the truck lulls a second between gears before it pulls us into the seats. He tries the presets on the radio until he finds Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” at that sweet spot where it breaks down into a Jamaican rhythm. Spanky cranks it and lets out a howl. We pass cars like they aren’t even moving and Zeppelin fills the cab the way it should. Neither of us hears the rumble at first, but we feel the truck shift like we caught a nasty crosswind. Spanky checks the rearview and his eyes widen. “Got a spill on highway 219,” he says, as if reporting the news from a traffic helicopter. “This may affect the rush-hour commute.”
I look back to see the second and third bed liners peel from the stack and flip through the air like giant graduation caps against the gray sky before skidding across the highway.
Spanky doesn’t slow down, just says, “It’s raining bed liners. A rare occurrence for this region’s climate.”
“Stop the truck, Spanky.”
We pull over and look back. A few cars pass, drivers shaking fists and fingers in our direction. The first bed liner is too far back to see.
Spanky gives off a raspy, high-pitched chuckle. He takes the truck in reverse along the shoulder to the closest bed liner and gives me a look like Don’t get all serious on me now, Eddie. I can’t hold a straight face. He coughs a few times before catching his breath and says, “We’re so screwed.”
I say, “Fuck ’em.”
As we restack the bed liners, the only words that pass are Spanky’s—“Shit’s fucked up, dude, you know?”
GREG SHEMKOVITZ teaches writing and literature at Elon University in North Carolina, and holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Lot Boy is his first novel and was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
Adapted from Lot Boy, by Greg Shemkovitz, Copyright © 2015 by Greg Shemkovitz. With the permission of the publisher, Sunnyoutside Press.