Travis crashed into the tree as gently as he could because this time he actually wasn’t trying to kill himself. He also didn’t want to get another DWI, so this was probably the first Saturday night since Freshman year of high school that he hadn’t had any beers.
The front of the Pontiac gave a dainty crunch as it kissed the trunk of the big tree alongside International Speedway Boulevard, just past the municipal airport on the way from DeLand to Daytona Beach. Travis winced. The strained wrinkles on the blue hood reminded him of Kerry’s skirt at Club Europe last month, when her new boyfriend Rick hadn’t bothered to try to hide just how far up between her legs his hand was reaching.
He wiped a hand across his upper lip. He could smell his own sweat and so could the mosquitoes. They buzzed in through the open windows of the car.
That try must have been too soft, because nothing was happening. He backed up and crashed again, hard enough to give himself a little shock of whiplash.
Her voice came to him then, just the way he imagined the voice of God, seeming to pour from every surface on the interior of the Pontiac’s cab. “Mr. Desmond, this is OnStar. Do you need help?”
The air rushed out of Travis’s lungs. “Yes. Yes, Denise. Please. I need help.”
The voice paused for a long moment. Travis had spent a lot of nights trying to figure out what she must look like. Her voice was so big and strong that he imagined her breasts and thighs had to be the same. Sometimes, he went to sleep with big pillows on either side of his body, pretending they were warm, fleshy bits of Denise. He thought maybe she was black, but he could never quite decide if he was hearing a hint of ebonics in her deep Southern accent.
“Denise, you remember me, right?”
She sighed. Travis let it wash over him, the sound of the universe finally being honest about the way it felt about him.
“Yes, Mr. Desmond. I remember you. The protocol is that I have to call 911 for you unless you confirm for me that you’re not injured and you don’t need help.”
The moon was shining right in his eyes. Travis shaded his face with his hand. “I felt a lot better after you came on the line last time.”
“Mr. Desmond, I’m only going to ask once more. Are you injured?”
“Please. Denise.” He would have to explain this whole awkward thing over and over if the police came. He bit his lower lip. “No. I’m not injured.”
“Then I’m going to have to terminate the call, sir.”
“Wait! I’m sorry. I know they’re probably… monitoring this. But can you do it for just a minute?”
Travis batted mosquitoes away from his face. He could hear her breathing soft and full all around him.
Kerry’s body had been thin and sharp, waking him up in the middle of the night sometimes with an elbow digging into the small of his back or a knee stabbing the middle of his thigh. He’d thought about that when she’d left him, when her words had seemed just as bony and hard as the rest of her.
“This has to be the last time,” Denise said. “You need help, Mr. Desmond.”
“I’m not drinking this time,” Travis said quickly.
“That’s good.” It was clear from her tone that she didn’t believe him.
Rustling sounds came over the speakers as she settled herself in. Then her voice came back, so much closer than it had been before. She sang to him, the rich notes washing over him along with the salty ocean of humid night air.
Denise sang about having bad dreams, about fine times being gone from her sad home, about friends who’d once cared walking out the door. The words hurt, but they cleaned Travis out at the same time. For just a moment, he felt sure that he could do it all different next time.
He swallowed hard to fight the sobs until Denise’s voice broke through his last resistance. She let the last note linger before clearing her throat. “No more of this now, you hear?” she said.
“Yes,” Travis promised, “no more.” But he could tell that she was already gone. On the other side of the dark highway, he saw flashing blue lights approaching.
Erica Naone is a technology journalist by day and a fiction writer during early mornings, lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends. Her fiction has appeared in Best of Every Day Fiction Two, Flashquake, and Storyglossia.